Sunday, May 06, 2012


Scission theoretical weekends presents:  African Liberation vs. The White Left...

Thanks to People of Color Organize...

African Liberation vs. The White Left

My history as an organizer went from being an unofficial member of the International Socialist Organization to President of the United Socialist Movement of the Americas- Buffalo Chapter to the President of Fight the Power UB. That history has been one of narrowing the struggles I fight and one I stand by fully. As many of you have seen, over the past few months, more and more of my articles and posts have been less about the class struggle and socialism and more about racism and anti-imperialism/settler colonialism. I want to, for those that care to know, explain why I think my primary place right now should be in the African liberation struggle vs the socialist movement proper.

My personal experience as an organizer has been some of the best, and worse, of my life. I’ve witnessed massive victories for events, actions, and movements I have been part of and at the same time I’ve seen massive failure in the same. Part of my experience is that of being the son of Pan-Africanists. I won’t go too deep into it, but my experiences as an organizer and revolutionary have always been shaped and directed very much by the struggles of my own people for liberation from imperialism abroad and settler colonialism here.

Part of why I became a socialist is because I realized that slavery, Jim Crow, imperialism, colonialism, and indeed racism are all part of the same fabric that has been woven by the profit motive. Our 500 years of suffering and dehumanization has and is enabled by capitalism and the necessity of humans able to be exploited. Seeing a human being as chattel or a work animal is a great way to justify said exploitation. Therefore I spend much of my time in USMA especially trying to bring black people into the organization, since we have a direct interest in overthrowing the system.

This work became impossible to do because I started to see that my approach was all wrong. The Occupy Movement, particularly Occupy Buffalo, showed me why black people (political or not) tend to shy away from these movements. I posted an article a while ago about why I don’t support the Occupy Movement and an excerpt from it explains an incident that’s indicative of why I’ve been shying away from the Left:

“A very good instance of this was when an older black woman at Occupy Buffalo during one of the first GA’s brought up a proposal to boycott the Buffalo news establishment (the Buffalo News, Channel 2, 4, and 7 and other outlets) because of the years of racism, classism, and suburban bias that all these institutions have exhibited. Now for anyone who’s black in Buffalo the Buffalo News is worth little to nothing because of how bad it is at reporting on issues in the city and portraying our community in particular in a very negative light while ignoring much of the corruption and nefarious activity that goes on in City Hall or in the suburbs. After making the proposal there was a few blocks that came up and when the facilitator asked one of the women why she blocked the proposal she said “I understand why this is an issue for you but since the news is reporting on the occupation nicely and not slandering us it would hurt the movement to go along with this” aka I don’t really give a hoot since the movement is more important than that issue.”  (From: The 99% Isn’t Me: Being the Minority in the 99%)

What I saw there was the willingness of my “comrades” to throw us under the bus for their goals. I know the racism of the Right very well and I’ve known how to deal with that since I was a child but this kind of racism was new to me consciously but it’s something that I’ve know in the back of my mind for years. Left Racism is something that people treat like the concept of a butt plug, we know it exists and people have them, but everyone denies that THEY have one because they don’t want to be seen as an outcast. Left Racism is something that’s endemic on the Left mostly because most of the Left (being white) has not openly dealt with their white privilege or their own racism, unconscious or not.

I began to study the socialist/anti-capitalist movements in relation to race and their record is abysmal. The Communist and Socialist Parties both were schizophrenic in their placement of blacks in their organizations and movement, especially in the 20′s and 30′s. We were always seen as political pawns much like how many in the Communist Party looked at peasants before Mao came along. This mentality, due to the paternalism of European socialists and the racism of American ones, pushed away many blacks who would have joined the CP and SP (along with other leftist orgs). We left because the struggle to survive the KKK, lynching, Jim Crow, and poverty was seen as an afterthought that’ll be solved when we put in work to overthrow capitalism.

A worse pattern that continues today came on the scene in the 50′s. Here we saw the Civil Rights Movement and related movements take shape and after a while many whites began to support the calls for equality. The problem however was that their equality and our equality were very different. We chanted “Freedom Now”, they responded “Integration right!?”.  From there our struggle for survival became the fight to be able to eat at white lunch counters in Macy’s. After seeing the farce that was the Voting and Civil Rights Acts they killed Malcolm and King and even the few white leaders who were bold enough to speak in public about racism, so we burned America. Whites turned on us as we created the Black Panther Party, All African People’s Revolutionary Parties, and Black Student Unions at schools, saying we were being too violent and angry. After 500 years of not being considered a full person and being treated as such, they should be grateful that they only got one Nat Turner vs. millions.

The above historical example played itself out based on the unspoken assumption from whites that our freedom must be done in a way that is convenient for them, or else we shouldn’t have it at all. The Left joined in this game, once again reducing our struggles for national liberation to pawn pieces to kick capitalism in the balls. The Soviet Union especially was guilty of this, playing one movement off another in order to make sure whoever won was beholden to the party line of the USSR. Early on, China refused to defer it’s movement to the directives of Moscow, and Russia in turn decided to abandon (mostly) China because the Chinese thought they had a right to decide how socialism would work for them. This same game played out in Africa, Latin America and even Yugoslavia.

This paternalism continues today with little and big things. Most socialist organizations spend little time dealing with racism as a distinct oppressive system and still feel the need to reduce it into the capitalist system for the sake of preserving the ideological purity of Marxism in most cases. This make me feel, as a socialist no less, like we don’t matter except as again, pawns to be steered into the direction they want us to go. Also the simple assumption among most socialists that Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism are universal and applicable to every society is itself quite racist. African and Latin American society for instance has had little problem integrating religion into the socialist movement as a positive force. Also it’s hard to use any European socialist model when there is no traditional working class to speak of to be the “vanguard”. These are daily annoyances for me and things that until now never fit together in my head.

At the end of the day I realized, as a whole, whites would quite willingly (and perhaps without knowing) throw POC under the bus in order to preserve their middle class lifestyle, get their guy elected (eg. Reconstruction era), or have a revolution that benefits mostly them and their people (American Revolution, Cuba and it’s race problems, the 70′s backlash against the Black Power Movement). Malcolm X and others were right when they said that in many ways we have no place among whites, because at this point in history we really don’t, at least not as equal participants. There needs to be a critical self-reflection on the part of the white left to challenge their own racism and privilege before many of us will decide to stand on the frontline with them. Too it’s hard to see the Wall Street executive when Joe Cop and KKK McGee is killing and oppressing us right up in our faces with burning crosses and mandatory sentencing.

The above conclusion is why I have been re-positioning myself in the movement. I realize the ultimate importance of the class struggle but at the same time without any redress of the race and gender struggle there can be no stable class unity. If blacks are to be involved in the world socialist movement we demand we do it as equals and on our own terms not those of the white Left. It’s not to say I want separatism or any of that, but I do agree that my people and other oppressed people need their own independent movements and organizations so that we may assert our own power on our own terms. The one time when black people, in the US at least, really had some independent power was with the Black Panthers. They were socialists and were committed to the revolution but they also knew that it couldn’t happen without black people having self-determination; otherwise the cycle of racial oppression would continue under whatever system replaced this one. Before they were killed off by the FBI the BPP had a real chance at creating a free black nation able to fully participate in the revolution.

I’ve done much of my work over the past year with Fight the Power, a radical, left wing, black power organization dedicated to the African revolution here and abroad. We understand our common struggle with other oppressed people, including poor whites, but we know we are also the only ones who can really fight our struggle therefore we put our primary focus there. I do the same, stand in solidarity with other oppressed people while building up my own community. From there I can only hope those whites who are truly allies educate and organize their communities against racism so that we can come together (we may already have with the Occupy movement although I see it has severe flaws) where we can fight for a new world.

Well that’s my thoughts on race and class and my place within the movement. I hope some of this is useful for people to think about these relationships. Regardless, it takes a lot of intellectual and emotional weight off my shoulders so that I can continue my work. Regardless of the above I still see my white comrades as brothers and sisters of the same race and struggle and I hope that those I can truly call allies will be blessed because of their will to challenge themselves and their peers. Thank all of you and continue the struggle for freedom and liberation!

- William Richardson