Violence & Street Fighting: Who Says It Alienates the People?

 

"Revolutionary politics and militant tactics are inherently shocking to powerful sections of society. It is certainly unacceptable to that liberal establishment (that some want to ally with). It is offensive and infuriating to the more backward. And any serious revolutionary movement needs to travel (with enthusiasm) straight into those hostile winds -- with a deep strategic sense that there are other forces who in class society who are not nearly so conservative."

* * * * * * *

This discussion is about general politics and overall evaluations -- it does not advocate any specific acts, in any specific timeframe.

by Mike Ely

An anarchist wrote in a neighboring thread:

"i find it a little odd the way Marxists in the US always associate militant action with anarchists almost exclusively."

That is a misunderstanding. I think you are talking to the wrong Marxists. The experience of the Maoist movement in the U.S. (to take just one example) is closely tied with many forms of militancy -- starting with the Black Panther policies of armed self defense, and then also with the militant combativity of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). And denoucing militancy is (in my view) associated with very particular currents within the Left -- whose strategic errors are closely tied up with those tactical views..

 

Learning and Practicing Street-Fighting in 1968

While in high school, those of us attracted to SDS took classes at a local "Free University" in radical theory and the street fighting snake dances of the Japanese Zengakuren.

In Washington Square park squads of us practiced -- using 5 foot cardboard tubing from the garment district -- in how to unhorse "cossacks" sent against us. Over and over we would organize anti-imperialist feeder marches to the growing antiwar parades -- and march in ranks through the main streets of Manhattan without permits, defying and confronting the cops.

And speaking for ourselves, the violence of the National Liberation Front, of the Paris fighters  in May 1968, or of the Zengakuren in Japan, or our fearless young brothers and sisters of Black urban rebellions.... that violence did not alienate us, or disturb us... it was an inspiration and a beacon. And it is hard to imagine the great upsurges of the 1960s without such beacons of revolutionary violence.

It is worth mentioning that this scene among youth in the U.S. was politically very diverse, and emerged in many parts of the country (and on many campuses).

Where I was (i.e. NYC) included at the time Workers World Party (and its youth group YAWF) who were, then, far more militant than you could possibly imagine (especially knowing them today). Their favorite slogan was "The Streets Belong to the People" -- and they were an important force arguing for heightened militancy and bolder anti-imperialist politics. And along side them were those of us who would congeal within the Maoist and anarchist currents of the new wave of organizations -- including quite a few of us who joined Revolutionary Union. One key figure was Walter Teague, a fearless radical at that time, who led the "U.S. Committee to Aid the NLF." (I remember scouring New York City to find one of their buttons. It said "Support Our Boys in Vietnam, Victory to the National Liberation Front."

Out of  high schools, SDS, the local Free University, Loisada anarchist groups, and forces like WWP, we formed the early   "Coalition for an Anti-Imperialist Movement" (CoAIM) -- dedicated to a rupture with peace parade politics. In one event, when we circled and circled the Washington Square fountain until the signal was given -- someone had occupied the Washington Square arch the night before and unleashed a gigantic NLF flag that suddenly appeared hanging down the monument. And on that signal we darted off at a run going west, broke through police lines. Free in the West Village! and then turned north through Chelsea and the Garment District into Midtown toward Central Park. And i remember sweatshop workers from Latin America hanging out their windows as we streamed past their factories with huge red flags, and they were waving red in reply.

I recently wrote about May Day 1970 -- where tens of thousands traveled (under threatening conditions) to New Haven to fight for the then-imprisoned Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party... which (for many of us, including the proto-Revolutionary Union forces) meant being prepared for street combat (with helmets, first aid, group tactics etc.)

And lets not forget that this was a time when SDS chapters (and similar radical groups) were burning ROTC building and banks across the U.S., and urban rebellions of Black people were considered a central feature of each "long hot summer."

There, then and now, some self-described communists who hated all this militancy. Who thought it was always inappropriate and counterproductive. Who secretly called it lunacy. Who associated street fighting with anarchism, and who labeled us "adventurers," or "ultraleftists," or even "probably police agents" for organizing such militancy.

Cambridge 1970: Street Fighting for Bobby Seale and those who denounced it

In Boston, during the spring of 1970, ten thousand people rioted for Bobby Seale after trashing parts of MIT and occupying Harvard Square. The fighting was intense with cops driving people into subway tunnels and trying to gas them there. And it was the first time many of us had seen police unleash dogs on the people (in a way imitating the tactics of the notorious Southern bubba sheriffs.)

It was a rather magnificent action, where the street militancy was genuinely a mass affair, and where there was a common consciousness of the need to fight, and to fight hard.

At that action, I saw a team of white working class youth from the nearby factory town of Lynn who came (literally) with bags of rocks, so they would have material to throw as they fought. (Think about this: an affinity group of white working class youth traveling to Cambridge Mass, to fight the white Boston cops in the name of the Black Panther Party's chairman Bobby Seale!)

And they  weren't just fighting in the streets for some immediate demand, but rallying support to a notorious outrageous political party who had "ideologized the gun" back onto the stage of political possibilities.

And predictably there were left forces (even supposedly radical ones) who considered all this quite terrible. Progressive Labor Party (a left split from the CPUSA, and then leader of the Worker-Student Alliance faction of SDS) considered the demonstration awful (for a number of reasons) and issued a leaflet headlining "NAC Leaders Bait Police Trap."

NAC was the November Action Coalition made up of the Revolutionary Youth Movement factions. And so this leaflet was making the claim that the successful mass demonstration was a "police trap" -- implying that the organizers of the highly militant action were, somehow, suspiciously serving police purposes. It was typical of a certain Communist Party USA and post-CP mindset.

A Divide within SDS and RYM2

it is worth noting that the emerging division within RYM2 of SDS involved (among other things) a debate of "social pacifism vs. adventurism."

The first time I ever heard of Bob Avakian was following the 1969 Atlanta conference of RYM2 when I heard a vague report that RYM2 (which I identified with) had split -- with the Klonsky faction opposing street militancy and armed self-defense, and the Avakian faction opposing their "social pacifism." I immediately took note -- and  aligned myself with Avakian.

Part of what I'm saying by running down this partisan pre-history of the New Communist Movement is that major currents of the Maoist movement were rooted in an eager militancy -- what we later called "combativity." And there were other currents (much more influenced by the old CP) that rather automatically branded street militancy as "anarchist," "ultraleft," and as something that objectively served the ruling order.

I raise all this not to rake the coals of old splits and arguments. And still less, to provoke those who (one way or the other) were on the other side of those debates. But I raise this history to raise to ideological and political points that have current relevance.

Does Militancy and Violence Automatically Alienate The People?

The assumption of those who we've called "the social pacifists" was (and often still is) that violence is automatically self-isolating and alienating. And that "the masses of people" can't possibly "relate" to violence, and will be "turned off."

They find that a potent argument. I find it absurd.

First, it is often (what we Maoists call) a confession without torture. Political forces fixated on respectability assert their tactical orientations in the name of appealing to "the people" -- but really they want a politics and a set of tactics that are acceptable to sections of the ruling establishment and Democratic party.

If left to them, we would have a uninspired world of voting and agonizingly boring peace parades.

It is, of course, possible to carry out militant tactics that do alienate people. And those tactics often have to do with getting bystanders and "innocent people" hurt. Provoking police attack on unprepared people is not generally a good idea. Attacking ambiguous symbols that many ordinary people identify with is also not a great idea (why burn a supermarket in an urban rebellion? why target small grocery store owners?). Black Blocs sometimes are rather arrogantly indifferent to their surroundings, and like a great deal of anarchist politics is seen as an act of self-expression.

But the issue there is not violence per se. Many among the people respect violence and militancy, and find it attractive politically. (And you need go no further than Northern Ireland to see a world-class example of that.)

This was certainly true among working people. Anyone who thinks that "violence just turns people off" knows nothing about the working class. And should spend a night in  a West Virginia beer joint, or on a wildcat picket line!

Anti-Teng Demo -- Not a Trade Union Moment

It is worth noting that a pivotal moment in the history of the RCP was the 1979 streetfighting in front of the White House, where almost a thousand Maoists rioted -- in a melee that spread over a dozen or more square blocks -- consciously creating the headlines of an "international incident" as Deng Xiaoping arrived to meet President Carter.

This action was not designed to appeal to bystanders in DC, or even for any particular audience in the U.S. itself. It was a way of "lighting the sky" worldwide -- and I later met Maoists from different parts of the world that said this was the first time they had realize that they were not alone in opposing the 1976 capitalist coup d'etat in China. It was quite successful in that intended effect.

I imagine there are people who still think that this kind of action exemplifies the "ultra-leftism" of the RCP -- because to them raising the reversal of socialism in the world is a kind of lunacy (because they think working people in the U.S. can't possibly "relate" to all that). I don't agree, and its a good example to sharpen a theoretical debate today.

Before going to the RCP's Teng demo, we did some wide scale agitation about the event in the coalfields. Everyone at my mine knew I was going. And there was actually quite a bit of interest: it was a bit "ho hum" to go to Washington DC to fight for Black Lung benefits, but the fact that I was going there to help confront the leader of China, made people want to know more.

But then I came back after having been in the thick of the fighting -- and I had been badly beaten by police with stitches and bruises that cover a whole side of my body. And as I stood there naked in the bathhouse, looking like a pink and black zebra, people suddenly really wanted to know why China was important to us revolutionaries (who they already identified closely with working class militancy). Why should their most die-hard militants want to fight over the events in China? And they wanted to know about the fighting. I told how they had brought both demonstrators and injured cops into the same emergency room, and how we had started to fight there in the hospital, and how the doctors had to create two emergency rooms to separate us, so that the demonstration would not spill further into the hospital itself. And how TV camera crews had come to the hospital to fill the carnage, and how the cops had attacked them, right there, in the waiting room, and smashed their cameras and driven them out.

And, many political forces would say that it is nuts to raise (among coal miners) the question of defending socialism in china, or of bringing people to DC to engage sharply with the authorities that were hosting that pig Deng Xiaoping.

But the truth is that i had never before encountered (or unleashed) so much interest in socialism and world affairs as i did standing naked there with black and blue stripes up my legs and back. People wanted to know.

And anyone who thinks that the violence of that action would be inherently alienating to the people -- well, you should have been there in that bathhouse. Because these miners were not afraid of violence and risk -- including "senseless" violence of everyday life. Anger is not alien to them. Real militancy is something they respect.

So, again, I want to make the basic point:

The "social pacifists" (then and now) are basically wrong when they argue that violence and militancy is inherently alienating. It reveals what their prejudices (and strategies) are, and who they are afraid of alienating. But among the oppressed this is just not automatically and universally the case.

Protracted Peoples War Cannot Work in an Advanced Country

Just like it is wrong to direct violence against ordinary people, you also cannot in the U.S. go over "to a war footing" in ordinary times.

It is wrong for left forces to act like they are already at "war" with the government. The power of the state and the coherence of the system means that those foolish people who move to such a war footing will either be hunted down and captured (relatively quickly), or else they will be forced to burrow so deep into an isolated "underground" that they will politically self-neutralize.

Venceremos was rounded up quickly. Weatherman basically just hide out, and made a few symbolic acts with made pompous declarations. The Puerto Rican armed groups were broken up and captured. The BLA and allied groups like May 19 were a fiasco.  Their politics were (at best) symbolic -- manifestos without prospects of influence or power. They were not about "preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution."

The only exception has been, as Mao pointed out, when imperialist countries were under occupation -- and where the political conditions for some anti-fascist armed struggle existed in Nazi-occupied  Europe (or where the Brits occupied nationalist communities in Ireland):

"The seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution. This Marxist-Leninist principle of revolution holds good universally, for China and for all other countries.

"But while the principle remains the same, its application by the party of the proletariat finds expression in varying ways according to the varying conditions.

"Internally, capitalist countries practice bourgeois democracy (not feudalism) when they are not fascist or not at war; in their external relations, they are not oppressed by, but themselves oppress, other nations. Because of these characteristics, it is the task of the party of the proletariat in the capitalist countries to educate the workers and build up strength through a long period of legal struggle, and thus prepare for the final overthrow of capitalism. In these countries, the question is one of a long legal struggle, of utilizing parliament as a platform, of economic and political strikes, of organizing trade unions and educating the workers. There the form of organization is legal and the form of struggle bloodless (non-military). On the issue of war, the Communist Parties in the capitalist countries oppose the imperialist wars waged by their own countries; if such wars occur, the policy of these Parties is to bring about the defeat of the reactionary governments of their own countries. The one war they want to fight is the civil war for which they are preparing.

"But this insurrection and war should not be launched until the bourgeoisie becomes really helpless, until the majority of the proletariat are determined to rise in arms and fight, and until the rural masses are giving willing help to the proletariat. And when the time comes to launch such an insurrection and war, the first step will be to seize the cities, and then advance into the countryside' and not the other way about. All this has been done by Communist Parties in capitalist countries, and it has been proved correct by the October Revolution in Russia."

The problem with groups like Weather Underground or the Black Liberation Army was not a matter of  tactical militancy itself, but their disastrous strategic decision to go over onto an actual war footing (which then defined their tactical forms of struggle and organization).

 

Revolution Involves Combativity and the De-Legitimizing of Power

TNL makes an important point:

"Lets stipulate that the Black Bloc doesn’t generally think its actions through in terms of their strategic consequences and that the elevation of trashing to a strategy in its own right is foolish. That said, we shouldn’t measure the effects of these actions simply in terms of how they are popularly received. Strikes can also be unpopular and “alienating.” Indeed many many people don’t approve of political demonstrations at all. The tactics we use are not just for passive consumption through the mass media, they are also about developing our capacities. One of the capacities any revolutionary movement needs to develop is a capacity to fight."

A revolutionary movement needs a capacity to fight. It also needs to train its audiences and supporter ideologically to politically appreciate and actively uphold militant resistance. And such a movement needs to understand (deeply and viscerally) why the pulls and impulses of "respectability" lead onto the wrong road.

 

Revolutionary politics is inherently shocking to powerful sections of society. It is certainly unacceptable to that liberal establishment (that some want to ally with). It is offensive and infuriating to the more backward. And any serious revolutionary movement needs to travel (with enthusiasm) straight into those hostile winds -- with a deep strategic sense that there are other forces who in class society who are not so conservative.

And a revolutionary movement that can't appreciate mass acts of rebellion is not a revolutionary movement.

When coal miners arm themselves and defy the state police and national guard, when the oppressed of LA light the sky in 1992 and drive out the authorities for a few days, and when (in decisive moments) like the Teng demo or the May Day for Bobby Seale or the streets of Paris in May 1968, or a dozen other moments around the world we could mention, when more politically radical forces decide to raise the tactical level to make a manifesto of combativity and resolve. There are times when people speak about their distain for this system and their dream of something else using the language of militancy. And when they do so, we should politically uphold it.

Militancy is (in fact) part of the preparation for revolution, and part of the hardening of forces that can lead or make a revolution.

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  • Guest - land

    This is a great article.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    Mike writes:

    <blockquote>So, again, I want to make the basic point: the “social pacifists” (then and now) are basically wrong when they argue that violence and militancy is inherently alienating. It reveals what their prejudices (and strategies) are, and who they are afraid of alienating. But among the oppressed this is just not automatically and universally the case.</blockquote>

    Why the caveats, 'inherently' and 'automatically'?

    The basic point, actually, is what's appropriate in a given set of time, place and circumstance. That requires making an assessment prior to an action, and an assessment of its impact afterwards.

    I think it's our 'Black Blockers' who seem to think that certain tactics, ie, smashing store windows, are 'inherently' or 'automatically' radicalizing or revolutionary.

    For what it's worth, I tried to get a good number of workers, youth and retirees, to go with me to the Pittsburgh G20 events. I got one. All the rest said they thought the demands and such were fine, but they had no interest in being set up to play tag or fighting with cops in the streets, which was the media hype.

  • No, Carl, on the contrary:

    The "basic point" is <em>not</em> simply that tactics are a matter of "time place and circumstance."

    The issue is more generally that some people are making their tactical decisions based on very different <em>strategic</em> plans. It is a matter of road <em>first</em>, and mere circumstance second.

    I say that because it is said (and believed) that violence is inherently alienating. That it "turns off the people" -- when in fact, those arguing this (starting with the CPUSA historically) are not worried about "the people" but about that wing of the ruling class that they are seeking to forge an "objective united front" with (or, as they called it, "anti-monopoly coalition.")

  • Guest - redguard

    This is an interesting piece and well worth a read, though I disagree with the Mike's implication that Workers World Party is less militant or oriented toward street fighting than in the 1960s -- it's been a very different period, but our outlook has never been "peaceful, legal" at all costs like some groups.

    WWP has sometimes been accused of being "activists without theory" because we focus so much effort on organizing demonstrations -- large and small. But this is an orientation toward the training and hardening you speak of, to always be in conflict with the state, to be able to train cadre and supporters to be fearless in the face of the cops. Sam Marcy called it "being able to spin on a dime."

    Sometimes this takes the form of fighting the cops (I remember the WWP-organized NYC demo after the LA rebellion, for example); sometimes it takes the form of civil disobedience; sometimes it is just getting people to come out publicly and picket in an especially tense situation.

    For revolutionaries, it's not only about being militant, but about being able to judge the balance of forces, including the mood and militancy (or lack of it) among the people who are in the street.

    That said, we continue to distinguish ourselves from many groups by always standing in solidarity with the militant youth at events like the Toronto G20 protests. Although we may disagree with a particular tactic or assessment of the balance of forces, we always stand in solidarity with the fighting activists and point the finger of blame where it should be pointed: the capitalist state.

  • My point, Redguard, is not to slap around the Workers World Party. And I was actually wanting to give their cadre and efforts props -- because of the important role they played in that period (especially in NYC, where I was, but even in the work of someone like Andy Stapp who did such radical work organizing GIs within the army.)

    And even now, the WWP is not some major proponent of the "social-pacifism" and respectability I'm critiquing. There core seems more radical than that.

    But as someone who has watched Workers World Party closely over 40 years, I will just repeat that you can't imagine how different they are -- then and now.

    And I watched the change come over the course of 1970s -- as their political orientation shifted from an alignment with Mao's China, to a much closer alignment with Breznev's Soviet Union. Where they really changed from being a quite radical organization to an organization that I can't now see as much different from or more radical than many other left formations.

    Routinism and orthodoxy, movementism with a thin veneer of sociaism. And a kind of resigned pessimism of lowered sights, and fading expectation. This is not particular to the WWP -- it is a <em>general</em> rightist malaise of the organized left, that makes me feel they are <em>in general</em> exhausted.

    * * * * * * *

    There was a major change in the U.S. after 1973 -- as you point out, the society became much more conservative. And we all (all of us!) adjusted in various ways to the decline of the 60s upsurge.

    But I am saying that there was a real sea change in the WWP which was quite different from merely a tactical adjustment "to the times." And it involved a specific turn to a kind of approach to working people and especially a radically different <em>international</em> orientation (a pragmatic pro-soviet path that conservatized many formerly radical currents in the 70s-80s worldwide).

    In 1970, the WWP was a party actively looking for a revolutionary opening. Sam Marcy reportedly told his cadre around the 1970 May Day for Bobby -- that they should realize such an opening might be coming, and that this had important strategic implications for their party and its work. It never had my politics -- including because of what you call "activists without a theory" -- but it was once clearly a quite revolutionary party (in its strategic orientation, not just its tactics and verbal coloration).

    And my impression over the last twenty years, is that the WWP has become oriented toward building and administering coalitions (taking over from the collapsed 1960s SWP) -- and that its overlay of socialist politics has a quite different meaning before (compared to the movementist orientation now).

    I'm arguing it's not just a matter of more conservative times -- but a matter of some organizations (including both the WWP and the RCP) emerging as objectively more conservative formations. I know you don't want to hear that, brother. I suspect you may not want to believe that. But i'm just saying....

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    To MikeE: You can't have any impact, one way or another, on any potential allies at the top unless you first have some allies at the base. I'd measure the appropriateness of tactics by their impact on the people I work with, live on my street, at the corner gas station, and so on, horizontally. I could care less what my Blue Dog Congressman thinks about them, save for not giving him any undue advantages.

    But seriously, does the Black Bloc even have a strategy? I can't see one, at least in the way we use the term.

  • Carl writes:

    <blockquote>"You can’t have any impact, one way or another, on any potential allies at the top unless you first have some allies at the base."</blockquote>

    This idea is central to non-revolutionary politics of pressure and structural reform.

    And the whole idea that there are "potential allies at the top" is a basic dividing line of politics.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    What 'basic dividing line' is that? Of course there are allies 'at the top,' although I'll admit there are far too few of them at the moment, both tactically and strategically, and their scope and reliability is always problematic. Are the divisions at the top part of our 'indirect reserves' or not? Do we use them to our advantage or not? Do you really think it's better to fight all your adversaries at once? Our problem is a lack of grassroots organizational strength to make the most of them, not that they don't exist.

  • Guest - worker antagonism

    @Carl Davidson
    first thing the original "black bloc" in western Europe was just as much an anti-revisionist ML and pro-Soviet anti-imp creation as an anarchist one.
    secondly as hard as it maybe to believe from looking at some of its alleged exponents (especially in the US) insurrectionism as a strategic orientation born in the antagonistic movement of 70's Italy, is based on the organization of revolutionary minorities with the intent of catalyzing and extending mass struggles for intermediate (not directly revolutionary) objectives.
    what distinguishes it is
    -informal and decentralized organizational structures.
    -permanent conflictuality.
    insurrectionism is in fact a methodology for the intervention of revolutionary minorities within the class and mass struggle, it may be correct or mistaken but you should be clear as to what it is.

  • Guest - redguard

    Readers may find this relevant to the discussion.

    Chicago 1968, Toronto 2010: In Defense of Militant Resistance

    http://absent-cause.blogspot.com/2010/06/chicago-1968-toronto-2010-in-defense-of.html

  • I realize, Carl, that this point of view is fundamental to your politics. (And that it is an "of course" to you.) That is what we are discussing.

    Fighting your enemies one by one (which is sometime possible) does not mean that all other enemies but that one are your allies.

    Example: In warfare, battle is engaged when you have overwhelming tactical advantage. (Mao says "tactics, ten against one; strategy, one against ten.") But the fact that a wise commander facing ten armies seeks to overwhelm them one by one, doesn't mean that (for a single second) those other nine armies are allies (or potential allies or whatever).

    On the contrary, that is "lesser evil" politics that subordinates the people (precisely) to the politics and framework of their enemies's politics, and would condemn them forever to capitalism.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    To Mike: To use your metaphor, if one of the armies of your adversaries is fighting another in that camp that is also fighting you, then they are your 'indirect reserves.' The term is not mine, but Stalin's, Mao's and Troung Chinh's. Lenin used the concept, too. I don't know the Russian, Chinese or Vietnamese original for the English term. But the concept is clear enough to those who realize that 'class vs. class' isn't much of a strategy or set of tactics.

    'Lesser evil' politics is mainly when you are on the defensive and relatively weak organizationally, ie, you don't have enough strength to field candidates of your own, but the electoral arena matters nonetheless. If you leave it at that, it is a trap. But the point is to grow your forces to where you can set it aside, and the relation of forces shifts to one where you have positive options, or you move beyond non-revolutionary conditions altogether.

    To WA: I'm very clear on 'insurrectionism.' The first thing to note is that it's not a play toy. I wonder how clear its advocates are on its consequences here and now.

  • Carl first writes:

    <blockquote>"Of course there are allies ‘at the top,’ although I’ll admit there are far too few of them at the moment, both tactically and strategically, and their scope and reliability is always problematic. Are the divisions at the top part of our ‘indirect reserves’ or not? Do we use them to our advantage or not?"</blockquote>

    Then he writes:

    <blockquote>"if one of the armies of your adversaries is fighting another in that camp that is also fighting you, then they are your ‘indirect reserves.’"</blockquote>

    You have deliberately confused the term "indirect reserves" with "allies." And you do it because you want to portray "contradictions among our enemies" as an arena for discovering and recruiting powerful progressive "allies."

    And then you denounced the mechanical 1930 comintern slogans "class vs. class" -- talk about dragging an irrelevant red herring into the room. (Especially after I wrote a <a href="/http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/02/09/cpusa-in-30s-slipping-into-darkness/" rel="nofollow">whole piece exposing that line</a>!)

    What i am arguing against is a well-worn and well-known approach that sees <em>an alliance</em> with U.S. imperialism (parts of U.S. imperialism, or its White House, or whatever) as a central <em>strategy</em> -- and that in practice frames its politics and constraints to that strategy, i.e. it <em>confines</em> the oppressed and their struggle to what is acceptable to their <em>oppressors</em>.

    We should not seek allies among the U.S. imperialists. If they savage and delegitimize each other, we should exploit it. If they expose each other, we should exploit it. But we should not tell the people that they have potential allies and progressive friends in high places of this filthy empire -- they don't.

    We should not seek to ally with their empire's war-making commander in chief. We should not pretend that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" in some mechanical way. We should not portray the motley teaparty as somehow our real enemy or our main enemy, or our momentary enemy -- in such a way that the Presiden suddenly is falsely portrayed as a potential "ally". We should not imagine or invent "progressive" aspects to the war-makers and ruling capitalists in the U.S.

    And frankly, I don't care where your justifications come from, nor am I somehow bound (or even vaguely impressed) by what Stalin or Troung Chinh may have said at this or that point. Quote-slinging doesn't trump reality.

    We should form a core that <em>wants</em> to overthrow U.S. imperialism -- that is dogged, firm, and determined to expose U.S. imperialism, rally people against it, delegitimize it and defeat it. I think we should be clear about that. And we should oppose those who want to unite <em>with</em> U.S. imperialism.

    And from that core, we should unite broadly and creatively with many different kinds of people and political forces (including well meaning liberals and progressives.)

    This is not a sectarian or confusing matter.

    We need to unite all who can be united against the real enemy. The real enemy here is imperialism, and for us (here in the U.S.) it is specifically <em>U.S. imperialism</em> -- (not the some semi-permanent main enemy envisioned as the "ultra right" within the Republican party.)

    It is a basic underlying strategic matter:

    Do we seek to unite with sections of U.S. imperialism against other sections of U.S. imperialism, in an endless political game that remains (by its nature) within the confines of this system?

    Or are we seeking to overthrow U.S. imperialism in the service of the people of the world?

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    I'm trying to replace capitalism in this country, ie, imperialism, with socialism as the first strategic step in the direction of a classless society.

    There are many battles along the way. Ending the war in Afghanistan will be one. At the beginning, only Barbara Lee voted against it. Now there are a few more. When it does end, the faction of imperialism in Congress that votes to cut off the money and end the war will be a tactical ally in a fight that weakens imperialism overall.

    The central allies of the working class are the national liberation movements, women's movements, youth, soldiers, retirees and other forces among the people.

    In many economic battles, the working class also has temporary allies in the contention between productive capital and speculative capital, and among them the 'low roaders' vs 'high roaders.' The fight for green jobs and clean energy is a case in point. This is critical to organizing among the underemployed and unemployed strata of the population. It's the underlying focus of the Oct. 2 March on DC for jobs and the AFL-CIO's demand for a financial transaction tax on Wall St.

    We need to be campaigning for an end to the wars and for full employment as a way out of the crisis, especially where the burden of it weighs the most, on the inner city poor. If you have a better approach, spell it out. I'm all ears.

  • Guest - sks

    I think some of the historic appreciations that Mike has are a little one-sided (ie represent a political rather than a historical appreciation), but the point he raises is very important, probably a key dividing line and litmus test for self-described socialists and communists in the USA today: military policy.

    Yes, military policy.

    Because is we are serious about revolutionary study, to develop a scientific perspective on revolution, we must not ignore military science. Street fighting might not seem like something into which military science applies - to many it is but a bar brawl with an analysis.

    But this is a mistake: street fights are military engagements, with tactics, logistics, fog of war, etc. War doesn't require killing. War is politics by other means, so almost any political action beyond the simple protest and the debate of ideas is war.

    Even the "social pacifist" groups have a de facto military policy: they place their trust on the police and the armed power of the State. They ignore violence against them in a masochistic acceptance of the "few rotten apples" argument.

    Some groups in the left have military policies, but do nothing in practice.

    The simplest explanation for the black blocs is that the anarchist movement is the only revolutionary movement that seriously grapples with military policy in a way that resonates with a significant enough segment of the population that they can act on their tactics.

    There is a lesson there...

  • Guest - worker antagonism

    how will a US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan weaken imperialism?
    imperialism is the world system of international capital and regardless of what bourgeoisie faction rules in Afghanistan, imperialism will do just fine.
    also in what way are the national liberation movements, woman, youth, soldiers, retirees outside of the working class as a potentially combative social subject and reduced to the status of "central allies"?
    also supporting US capital factions and their drive for a whole new cycle of accumulation and renewed international competitiveness on the base of "green" technology seems a bit strange as an "anti-imperialist" position, not to mention that speculative capital is hardly opposed to such policies nor for that matter necessarily to new taxes ( eg Soros).
    to cut to the chase, the above statement seems to exemplify why socialism in Negri's sense of the term is a sure alley of "progressive" capitalist restructuring.

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    Insofar as an independent anti-war movement is able to raise the social and political costs of continuing the war in Afghanistan, sections of the ruling class will likely come to see the war as not worth continuing and the representatives of those sections in Congress will simultaneously push for cutting off funding AND channeling the movement into forms that are less threatening to the system. Calling those representatives "allies" fundamentally obscures their real intentions which are precisely the preservation of capitalism and US global power.

    In any event, whether you want to call members of congress allies or not, the anti-war movement is not going to have any serious impact on the conduct of the war if it doesn't in a fundamental way threaten social peace and stability. The ability to pose such a threat involves the movement growing in size, in political independence, and in combativity and there is an inevitable dialectical tension between those aspects that will be expressed in different groups engaging in different kinds of action. To my mind the role of revolutionaries in this should be to struggle with all those groups to act in a manner that is synergistic. That is to say more militant actions should be organized in a manner that doesn't scare people away from all actions and the leaders of large peaceful legal actions shouldn't run around denouncing the street fighters. But this brings us back to the question of who we view as allies. If the leaders of the peaceful legal actions view members of congress as more valuable allies than the kids wearing bandanas over their faces, because they don't really understand the importance of their combativity (and what its fusion with broader masses) represents, they will most likely continue to distance and denounce. The overall effect of this distancing will be to weaken the movement by reducing its potential to threaten social peace and stability. So long as the leadership of the anti-war movement can be counted on to demonize and marginalize the most combative elements, the ruling class has little to fear from peace demonstrations, no matter how big, and they are unlikely to have any appreciable effect on actual policy.

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    <blockquote>"The simplest explanation for the black blocs is that the anarchist movement is the only revolutionary movement that seriously grapples with military policy in a way that resonates with a significant enough segment of the population that they can act on their tactics."</blockquote>

    This seems to me essentially correct. It would be less damning if other revolutionary trends were racking up political successes in other arenas, but they aren't. It isn't proof that the anarchists have a coherent strategy (I don't think they do), but it does suggest that a base exists, even if it is still quite small, for more radical politics, and communists should be asking themselves how they are relating to that base.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    You're assuming the Black Bloc types are the 'most combative.' In Denver, IVAW was much more so, and quite successful, but 'combative' had a different 'militant but nonviolent' content there.

    All the antiwar forces at the moment are stuck in a rut. IMHO, the way out is to build a 'jobs not war, out now' contingent for the Oct 2 Jobs rally in DC, where we can make some broader alliances with labor and community groups in the local efforts to build for it.

    The Iraq and Afghan vets need all the help and support they can get, so lend a hand there as well.

    The Black Bloc types shouldn't be given an automatic pass to do whatever they feel like, especially in it directly impacts on everyone else. Judge it case by case. Apply some pressure and leadership. Otherwise, you're just setting up a playpen for provocateurs.

    The wars end when three things happen:

    --the streets become ungovernable, ie, demos become MUCH larger and involve more of the basic masses.
    --the soldiers won't fight and youth won't be recruited
    --Congress cuts off the money.

    Naturally, a lot depends on what happens abroad, at the fronts. But these we can work on here.

    If you don't like one, work on the others. But work on all three fronts is valuable and needed. We need more of a culture of organizing than anything else. That goes on every day; street tactics are episodic.

  • I don't want to quibble over words -- but militant street fighting at demos is not war.... neither is a strike with armed violence... the Attica takeover was militant, armed and included violence on both sides -- but it was not warfare.

    Yes there are elements of armed engagement, there are tactics. There is violence on both sides. Sure there is in fast moving actions a kind of "fog of war" (certainly there was in the Days of May in Kathmandu)...

    Such actions may be a "school of war," it may train certain forces for <em>later</em> wars.


    But they are not war itself -- in the sense that the laws of war apply -- in that sense, war is something else.

    And it is a problem of certain political currents that they <em>imagine</em> their militant actions as the early stages of a protracted war. That is fantasy and playacting.

    (Weatherman for example thought that the Days of Rage were the first steps in building a new REd Army in the U.S., and then imagined their small clandestine operations as some kind of war, and so on... completely confusing symbolic acts with actual warfare.)

    The distinctions matter, precisely because of the ongoing debates over whether a strategy of protracted peoples war is possible in modern imperialist countries. And because proponents of some lines seek to blur the distinction between symbolic and militant acts -- and warfare itself.

    My view is that it isn't possible to start armed actions "small" in the U.S. and build in a protracted way. It is not possible to develop quasi independent political base areas in a country that is not semifeudal. It is not possible to exclude the modern integrated imperialist state from geographical territory (with very few exceptions) -- certainly not the way you could in warlord riddled China.

    And as a rresult of such objective conditions, to "go onto a war footing" (i.e. to actually start to engage in war) without the active support of millions, is foolish (and inevitably disastrous).

    And for precisely these reasons, it is important to have some clear sense of the difference between militancy and "schools of war" within relatively non-revolutionary times, and actual warfare in revolutionary situations.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    With this last post, Mike, I'm in agreement.

  • Guest - John Brown

    I'm not interested in getting into a debate. I just want to say I think the article totally downplays the role of Weather, most especially in the SDS debates.

    Further, I think the analysis, if that is what you want to call it of Weather and the BLA is so shallow that is obvious the author really just wants to dismiss them and wipe them from history.

    Talking about protracted war and casting out phrases like "war footing" is meaningless. To write "Weatherman basically just hide out, and made a few symbolic acts with made pompous declarations. The Puerto Rican armed groups were broken up and captured. The BLA and allied groups like May 19 were a fiasco. Their politics were (at best) symbolic — manifestos without prospects of influence or power. They were not about “preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution.”'
    is a ridiculous understatement. If you don't like em, just say so, don't revise history to suit your agenda...and never make light of the contributions of those of us who spent time (and many who are still spending time) in America's prisons as if we were just misguided simpletons. There was more to it then that, and you know it.

    Also, your lack of any real discussion of the Black movement in all this, I find distressing. Immersing the Black Liberation Movement into the working class struggle, or the overall left is a huge error. I'm sure you find the notion of white skin privilege worthless, but I don't. In fact, I find parts of the above piece a pretty good example of it.

    Finally, I always found the major accomplishment of the New Communist Movement to have been managing to make us all so damn boring to everyone outside of our "Parties, grouplets and the like" that those who might have come behind us, especially youth, found better ways to spend their time. I do not absolve myself of this error.

    Still despite it all, I'm glad to see this discussion happen. LIke I said to begin with I have absolutely no interest in a back and forth. I'm done.

  • Guest - Nick R

    I don't really think the North American black block is very good at fighting police. I was at the Anarchist march in Pittsburgh during the G20 and what I saw was a lot of retreating and disorganized running away from the police. To the point where the entire march was broken up into small units, which the cops chased around the city all night. The sorts of militancy we are talking about in the current era in the US at least are largely good at symbolic acts like breaking and burning things. They do this in ways which often endangers other people. (The black block in Pittsburgh attacked stores with presumably mostly working class customers in them.) It gives the police excuses for greater repression of everyone. Imagine all the lies, which could be easily exposed, they would have to make up to justify beating up peaceful demonstrators if they didn't have the excuse of the "dangerous anarchist element". The black block technique is usually carried out by strains of the anarchist movement who have no strategic ideas at all and are connected to the most 'lifestyle' elements of the movement.

    The groups in Greece are nothing like what we have on this side of the Atlantic. And really I think the Greeks had some serious strategic limitations. I read they attacked the offices of other leftist groups including the Anarcho-syndicalist union. If that is true then they are being dangerously secretarian, basically doing the police's job for them.

    I think there are far greater limitations to how these people act then many of you are acknowledging.

  • John writes:

    <blockquote>"I’m not interested in getting into a debate."</blockquote>

    You have, in fact, entered in a debate. Are you saying that you just want to issue your own views and verdicts, while not hearing what others say in response?

    <blockquote>"I think the article totally downplays the role of Weather, most especially in the SDS debates."</blockquote>

    This is an article about forces who think all violence is wrong.

    It only mentions (in passing) the views of Weatherman in the SDS debates -- in the sense that the article critiques the notion that it is possible to wage a protracted peoples war in the U.S. The actual weather position on warfare changed radically (from their advocacy of a Red Army in summer of 1969, to their eventual view that their actions were a militant and symbolic part of the antiwar movement.)

    But this is not a piece trying to describe the complex debates of SDS in an all around way -- however interesting and productive <em>that</em> other discussion might also be.

    <blockquote>"Further, I think the analysis, if that is what you want to call it of Weather and the BLA is so shallow that is obvious the author really just wants to dismiss them and wipe them from history."</blockquote>

    They are in our history, and there is no reason to remove them. I watched a lot of this closely in real time -- as Weatherman tried to form itself in the fall of 1969.

    My opinion of their politics and thoughtfulness is not particularly high -- while their passion, sincerity and willingness to sacrifice deserve mention. They were anti imperialist, antiracist, and very militant. Those were their good points.

    What actually characterized Avakian (and the forces he drew out of RYM 2) was a position of <em>opposing</em> any kneejerk socialpacifist dismissal of Weatherman, and argued that they should be considered sincere anti-imperialist forces (even while their proposals and strategies were subjected to criticism).

    Put another way: the Weather Underground and Prairie Fire have always been highly hostile toward forces like the RCP (for reasons I have never understood), but the hostility was (in fact) not returned.

    <blockquote>"Talking about protracted war and casting out phrases like “war footing” is meaningless."</blockquote>

    It is in fact an issue (if only a secondary one in passing) in this discussion. This is a post criticizing social pacifism.... that is (as you may have noticed) the subject of the discussion. The view of the PPW advocates is mentioned (and criticized) in passing, because that is relevant to the specific discussion at hand (i.e. of social pacifism).

    <blockquote>"To write “Weatherman basically just hide out, and made a few symbolic acts with made pompous declarations. The Puerto Rican armed groups were broken up and captured. The BLA and allied groups like May 19 were a fiasco. Their politics were (at best) symbolic — manifestos without prospects of influence or power. They were not about “preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution.”’ is a ridiculous understatement. If you don’t like em, just say so, don’t revise history to suit your agenda…and never make light of the contributions of those of us who spent time (and many who are still spending time) in America’s prisons as if we were just misguided simpletons. There was more to it then that, and you know it."</blockquote>

    This is a discussion of their strategy and its results. It is accurate -- if a bit short. If that is painful, then that is understandable.

    I didn't like those politics then, and don't like them now. And believe they caused some unnecessary damage to the radical movement -- first by injecting a fantasy for strategy, and then by dragging some people into the consequences of that path.

    None of us make light of those who suffered in prison for these actions and views. We have consistently supported the political prisoners to spent time for their radical views and activities -- and I have (personally) written and advocated for the anti-imperialist prisoners (literally for decades).

    our political disagreements should not (and does not) get in the way of common support for political prisoners. But upholding their right to freedom, and condemning their imprisonment does not require any romanticization of the terrible judgment or self-deluded politics in certain political roads (like the BLA, Weather Underground or May 19).

    <blockquote>"Also, your lack of any real discussion of the Black movement in all this, I find distressing. Immersing the Black Liberation Movement into the working class struggle, or the overall left is a huge error."</blockquote>

    Anyone reading this piece can see that it does, in fact, place the impact of the Black Liberation struggle quite central to its discussion (especially describing the role and impact of the Black Panther Party), and (at the same time) describes how the internationaly important actions of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front were important in the creation of revolutionary forces in the U.S.

    There may be some reason that this discussion still causes you personal distress... perhaps you can help us understand why.

    On a point of agreement: I think it is important to note that the Black Liberation struggle was not then (and is not now) simply some subset of a larger working class struggle. And reading the article again, I'm sure you can notice that this analysis consciously does not treat the Black Liberation struggle as just some side car to a workers revolution.

    In my view the revolutionary movement in the U.S. has always required a dynamic alliance between internal national liberation struggles and a movement for socialism -- an potential alliance that has not yet emerged in the real world.

    <blockquote>"I’m sure you find the notion of white skin privilege worthless, but I don’t. In fact, I find parts of the above piece a pretty good example of it."</blockquote>

    DO you think that rudely assigning views to others is a principled way of discussion?

    <blockquote>"Finally, I always found the major accomplishment of the New Communist Movement to have been managing to make us all so damn boring to everyone outside of our “Parties, grouplets and the like” that those who might have come behind us, especially youth, found better ways to spend their time. I do not absolve myself of this error."</blockquote>

    I think that is a sad, pessimistic and defeated summation. And I urge you to raise your sights.

    <blockquote>"Still despite it all, I’m glad to see this discussion happen. LIke I said to begin with I have absolutely no interest in a back and forth. I’m done.</blockquote>

    You have contributed something important already to this discussion -- and you are free to stop the engagement at any time.

    Speaking for myself, i would be interested to hear more of your experience and views.

  • Guest - saoirse

    echoing land this is a great article.

  • Guest - Maksym

    This is an interesting article on Mike, especially for young people that do not have any immediate experience with politics from the time.

    An interesting characterisitc of the G20 protests, which might not have been highlighted outside of Canada, was the spontaneous mobilizaiton of people to the chaos. The Canadian national and local media was covering the Black Bloc rioting live and giving the impression the police and state were in an impotent position. An impotent position where the police could not control the "mob", protect Toronto's exclusive shops and centre's of corporate finance. This presentation of the situation had the effect of attracting 1000's of people to the downtown, mobilized through social media to take on the state. I think this youtube video really gets to the core with what was happening:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkwazCJG0vc&amp;feature=related

    Crowds of people, which the media described as not belonging to the protest or having "political persuasion", were attracted to challenge the police when the feeling was the state had lost control of the downtown core. I do not buy the line the spontaneous crowds lacked "political persuasion", though they did lack a party structure and democratic centralist "line". I think it demonstrates people can be mobilized to a central issue, though their journey to taking a similar political view can have multiple paths. What impact this has on the Leninist conception of the traditional party structure, I'm not fully sure at the moment.

    Finally, an intelligent position taken on self-defence, along the lines of Malcolm X, might have the possibility to mobolize people to political action. A self-defence action that puts the state into an impotent position and gives the people belief they can challenge the powers at hand.

  • Guest - John Brown

    NO, I'm interested in voicing my thoughts, and hearing from others, but I've better things to do than go back and forth forever. Been there, done that. I appreciate y your comments.

    I'll limit mine to this.

    As to the Black Liberation movement, maybe, I'm missing something (certainly possible) but all I read here was the section "Cambridge 1970: Street Fighting for Bobby Seale and those who denounced it" which really isn't any sort of discussion relating to the Black Liberation movement or even the Black Panther Party. What you wrote about there was mostly pertained to November Action Coalition, I think. You did have a line that read, "starting with the Black Panther policies of armed self defense," also. Maybe I'm missing something. By the way, there was armed self defense before the BP, which you probably know. I recoment people the book by a friend of mine Lance Hill about the Deacons for Defense in that regard.

    I do not accept your blanket statement concerning Weather, "This is a discussion of their strategy and its results. It is accurate — if a bit short. If that is painful, then that is understandable." That is your opinion and your entitled to it, but I don't have to accept it as fact. (I was there in real time, also, by the way). I absolutely believe that you, "... didn’t like those politics then, and don’t like them now. And believe they caused some unnecessary damage to the radical movement — first by injecting a fantasy for strategy, and then by dragging some people into the consequences of that path." I, in fact, believe that feeling colors your view of everything associated with Weather. Again, your entitled to your opinion, but again that doesn't make it an objective fact. I know that that view is the one generally passed along by many who opposed Weather and has become an accepted part of history for some, but not for me.

    No, I don't, " think that rudely assigning views to others is a principled way of discussion?" I apologize. However, just out of curiosity what do you think about," the notion of white skin privilege."

    Finally, my feelings about the New Communist movement are sad, but in my view, largely true. I realize, of course, that the New Communist movement wasn't totally worthless, but overall I feel its impact was a negative one, set the movement back, and wasted a lot of time, while turning off droves of people with endless "theoretical" debate overt arcane points of Marxism-Leninism.

    My experiences go back to the mid 60s, included participation in pretty much everything you mentioned and much more (probably like yourself, I presume) including spending time in federal prison after being convicted in a bombing conspiracy. My experiences continue today. However, I'm a big believer in not spending too much time talking about glory days accept maybe where directly relevant. More important is what happens now.

    So, you got me to do what I said I wouldn't. Really though, I again am happy to hear from others, but I think I've said enough for now. Okay?

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    John Brown,
    I'd really like to hear what you have to say in response to Mike's comments. While many here have histories in the NCM, not all of us do and there is a sincere desire not to be trapped by old verdicts.

    I can understand how you might read the brief characterization of Weather, the FLN, BLA, and May 19 as glib, (no more glib than your characterization of the NCM, but glib nonetheless). Those experiences are not the main theme of this discussion, which grew out of the recent Black Bloc action in Toronto, but there are many folks here for whom that history is important, including myself. While I think the experience of the clandestine armed groups in the 70s was pretty clearly a failure, that is not a commentary on the sincerity of the people who followed it, nor a denial that there are other things to learn from those experiences. If we acknowledge that any future revolutionary movement in the US will have a military component these are experiences we will have to study closely and not just be content with simple verdicts.

  • Guest - observer

    Mike,
    When you refer to the Puerto Rican armed groups, are you mainly referring to those that operated within the U.S. itself, or are you including those in Puerto Rico? Isn't it possible that there is a potential for a very different kind of revolutionry movement on the Puerto Rican island itself, or do you think Puerto Rico has become so integrated into the U.S. economy and state that there couldn't be a revolution there independent of one in the U.S.?

  • Guest - TOR

    Mike Ely,
    To be honest with you, I've lived in Toronto my whole life and have worked in some factories that had terrible conditions that posed many health dangers to the workers and probably broke several important health and safety laws, and where workers were making minimum wage and would often not get paid for half-an-hour of their work each week. Most of the workers were either from the Caribbean, Latin America or Africa, with white workers being something of a minority. If this wasn't the proletariat, then nothing is. I can tell you without any hesitation that none of those workers support actions like those the Black Bloc recently took in Toronto. I don't think fighting the cops or breaking windows is wrong, but it must either have an actual purpose, as it did in your case with the Teng riots, or emerge somewhat spontaneously out of community anger (eg. the Rodney King riots). Workers as a mass will never support a bunch of teenagers burning cars and smashing store windows for no particular purpose other than their hatred for the system, especially if they call themselves anarchists, which is a term people really don't like (really, the black bloc has nothing to do with anarcho-syndicalism).

    So, basically, there is a place for violent demonstrations that go much further than the black bloc kids went in Toronto, though we must have a way of separating a correct use of violence from an incorrect use of violence and do so on a scientific political basis rather than just defending any use of violence against claims that it hurts the movement or justifies the arrests of peaceful protesters and plays into the police's hands. In the case of the Toronto G-20, I unfortunately believe that those accusations against the black bloc are correct, though this doesn't mean that there will never be a time or political basis in Toronto for extremely violent demonstrations that go much further than the black bloc did. For instance, if people had risen up against the killing of Junior Manon by police (a black youth living in Jane and Finch) and smashed main streets in the northwest part of the city indiscriminately, I don't think anyone on the revolutionary left would complain that it alienates the white working class or some bullshit like that. Actually, I would say that there should have been riots and fighting with police directly in response to what happened to Manon.

  • Guest - nando

    The argument that working people are not automatically alienated by violence (see above) is not an argument that working people are enthusiastic about <em>any</em> violence.

    No one here has argued that the Black Bloc tactics were well considered, or that they are effective forms of outreach.

    And it is quite interesting to hear, from TOR, what a slice of workers think about the Bloc.

    In general, anarchists view their politics as an act of self-expression. There are different currents among anarchists (so generalizing is unfair and misleading). But if your vision of change is expanding zones of self-empowerment and self-expression, then there isn't must strategy or outreach involved. You simple act and do, and create your "space" by doing so.

    I also think the argument has been made that tactics can't <em>simply</em> be judged by whether they help in broad political outreach. Sometimes actions may have other purposes -- and they can't be judged by whether onlookers (direct or tv-indirect) appreciate it or not.

    For example: the Teng Demo in 1979 was not intended as an outreach vehicle (in the main). It was intended to send a flare (into a dark sky) to reach the scattered (and often underground or unknown) Maoist forces of the world -- to create a manifesto that could help a global regroupment of a dispersed movement.

    Similarly, the storming of the Winter Palace in 1917 was a military act (and here the distinction between militant demonstration and war stands out). The seizure of the Winter Palace by Bolshevik squads may have been popular or not (by onlookers, by those who read about it)... but it was not a manifesto, or an act of symbolic theater. It was a preemptive seizure by military means -- and its value needed to be measured <em>mainly</em> by its military value (i.e. that night left the Bolshevik party in control of the capital.) In revolutionary war, actions cannot be measured by "purely military" criteria -- since these wars need the active support of people, and so the military actions need to be conducted using forms and timing that help build the political united front and the activism of the social base. But the laws of war ARE different from the laws of political preparation in non-revolutionary ties.

    (One example of the difference between actual war and militant demonstrations: In warfare, a basic dynamic is "preserve yourself, destroy your enemy." In militant demonstrations you do seek to preserve your own forces, but are generally not intending with literally "destroy your enemy." This is a major difference. And another is the relative importance of the political measure of operational success.)

  • Guest - carldavidson

    On Nando's point about anarchism and self-expression, John Sanbonmatsu's 'The Postmodern Prince' is a interesting read. It re-interprets 1968 up to now, from a Gramscian viewpoint, as a dynamic tension between the politics of self-expression and the politics of strategy, favoring the latter. That's also a key part of the debate going on here, with the Black Bloc folks being all about the 'war of manuever' at the expense, unnecessarily, of the 'war of position.'

  • Guest - sks

    Mike (and Carl! - OMG!):

    I think you have a mechanical appreciation of what I mean by "military policy" and "war". One of the problems of adventurism - the Weatherfolk, Venceremos etc, is that they mistook the need for a military policy - something even the CPUSA at the time had, even if it was basically do the KBG's bidding - and actually waging armed struggle for state power.

    Also, I am surprised that as students of protracted people's war, you fail to see the distinction: the long march was a military operation, even if it largely consisted of, well, a long march with no weapons fired. The fact is that the small band of guerrillas that Mao had under his command, was able to become the de facto center of the CPC because unlike the other scattered bands it developed an effective military policy, even if it was not waging armed struggle for state power, just fighting for its physical survival under a disastrous defeat of the urban adventures. Military policy + personal courage and sacrifice = win.

    The narrow definition of war in strictly Clausewitzian terms of operational art and placement of regular forces is insufficient today. War can be waged without killing - and this not only true of irregular forces but of the world's largest armies: the USA invests billions of dollars running and researching for "cyberwar" and using and researching "less-than-lethal" and "non-lethal" weapons.

    (in a concrete example I took part in, during the struggle aganist the US Navy in Vieques many of us consciously adopted guerrilla tactics to infiltrate the Navy base, including logistics, tactics, training such as E&amp;E-Survival, equipment such as night vision and GPS, and were successful many times in entering and exciting the ranges, including many times to perform medical evacuations and re-supply of action teams. But none of them were armed. Yet I cannot but help calling this a military engagement, and one we won.)

    The black blocs are not in my opinion a *good* military policy - they are often ineffective, have serious security issues for the participants, alienate potential allies with less consciousness, and in general represent politics I disagree with. It does however expose a fundamental problem of the far-left forces: since it is the only military policy around that confronts the state, it becomes the hegemonic military policy by default. Nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of an alternative, this is the one that dominates.

    To go back to the Weatherfolk etc, one has to ask oneself why is that those groups were so short lived even with spectacular operations, while the black blocs are about to turn 15 years old soon?

    One of the reasons is that the Weatherfolk emerged from a movement that took military policy seriously - and we have evidence in this thread: you and Carl Davidson have many differences spanning decades, yet agree around one of the questions posed. And the reason is clear, you both chose the path that opposed the adventurism of Weatherfolk etc. That Carl choose a path that eliminates open confrontation, while Mike choose the path that allows for its application under specific circumstances, is what I talk about a conversation on military policy. From the conversations that SDS and RYMII etc had emerged sometimes sharply contradictory policies, but they were conscious and practical expressions of revolutionary theory and practice taking military policy seriously.

    Today, unfortunately, there is no such tradition in the left. I speak with comrades my age and down, and none of them have a true understanding of military policy, of the question it poses, of the history of its development, and of the failures of the past, that doesn't stem from the black bloc and the responses to it or from nostalgia from a mythical past.

    Until which time this is fixed, the black blocs will fill the vacuum. Militancy will happen, the issue is who leads it. That is a question a correct military policy, with an actual existence in real life, can deal with.

  • Guest - sks

    @carldavidson

    "That’s also a key part of the debate going on here, with the Black Bloc folks being all about the ‘war of manuever’ at the expense, unnecessarily, of the ‘war of position.’"

    I agree. And I like you see it in those terms... it is a far more useful and thoughtful position to take than the near-pigwork of screaming venom at the black blocs while ignoring military policy as a burning need.

  • Guest - nando

    SKS writes:

    <blockquote>"To go back to the Weatherfolk etc, one has to ask oneself why is that those groups were so short lived even with spectacular operations, while the black blocs are about to turn 15 years old soon?</blockquote>

    Weatherman went over to a "war footing" with U.S. imperialism, under conditions where it was not possible to bring large numbers of people into play.

    By contrast, the Black Blocs are simply militant demos that lead to some arrests.

    This is only confusing if one doesn't see the differences between militant demos and a "war footing."

  • Guest - sks

    @nando

    "(One example of the difference between actual war and militant demonstrations: In warfare, a basic dynamic is “preserve yourself, destroy your enemy.” In militant demonstrations you do seek to preserve your own forces, but are generally not intending with literally “destroy your enemy.” This is a major difference. And another is the relative importance of the political measure of operational success.)"


    I think this distinction is mechanical in terms of the military policy of revolutionary forces and in the Maoist milieu stems from treating Mao's military thinking anachronistically: it is a different kind of military situation when you are on a long march, than what it is on the anti-Japanese struggle, than it is to fight a civil war. Sometimes war is about sheer survival, sometimes it is about strategic balance, sometimes (but not always) it is about destroying your enemy.

    Ultimately military policy, in the sense I use it, is about the policies of engaging the State - whose Leninist definition includes "special bodies of armed men" at the forefront - from the perspective of action. Every strike and demonstration is in part a military action. There is conscious recognition of this fact by the existence of security stewards in both - people whose job is to interface with force if necessary either internally or externally with any forces that stand in the way of the goals of the demonstration or strike.

    The black blocs *recognize* this. Facile dismissal of the language of "self-expression" throws a smokescreen that hides this intuitive - and in the case of platformist and other materialist anarchists, studied - understanding of how taking over the streets changes the power relationships at the moment - however temporary that is.

    The black blocs are a tactic, but also a strategy for a set of politics. Anyone remember "Condition Red Quarterly" from the Tactical Defense Caucus of the ABCF? It was the finest military policy journal I have seen come out of the North American revolutionary movement in decades. Anarchism in North America has been the only force doing serious study of military policy in a public way in the last 20 years, and the black bloc is a *result* of that lively tradition, even if many of its participants are unaware and just engaging in self-expression. That is one of my key points. Where is the communist equivalent to CRQ?

    It also mistakes the goal of offensive operations and defensive operations: in the strategic defense the goal is never to destroy your enemy, but to outlive him. In Vietnam, the NLF was soundly destroyed in every large-scale engagement with the US forces in a military sense - probably more NLF cadre died in the Tet Offensive alone than US soldiers in the entire war - yet, since it was a defensive war this was irrelevant, it was sufficient to destroy the will of the enemy to continue their offensive operations.

    We are in the deep defensive. But it doesn't imply that then we should ignore the need for theoretical and practical advancement of a coherent military policy/policies that advances communist politics.

  • Guest - nando

    SKS writes:

    <blockquote>"Also, I am surprised that as students of protracted people’s war, you fail to see the distinction: the long march was a military operation, even if it largely consisted of, well, a long march with no weapons fired."</blockquote>

    The Long March was a protracted military campaign within a larger civil war.

    I realize you are making a larger point and I don't want to nit-pick. But in fact it is not true that it was "largely a long march with no weapons fired."

    The long march was waged in maneuver against major opposing armies, and there was frequent contact (i.e. firing). Some accounts say that there averaged one battle a day (by which I assume they are including any skirmish where shooting is involved).

    They lost almost a third of their fighters just in the first battles of escaping from their original base area -- as their heroic rear guard fought to the death to buy time for the escape of the remaining forces.

    And there were numerous battles. (Just go look up the crossing of the Dadu River over the famous "8 chain bridge" .... one of my favorite and most inspiring moments in world history -- now called the <a href="/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luding_Bridge" rel="nofollow">Luding Bridge</a>.)

    There was, of course, a lot of marching (duh...), and the march route eventually veered west through Tibetan ethnic areas to evade the pursuing GMD Nationalist armies. But these were maneuvers and evasions in the course of a war.

    War (is this the difference being debated) is not simply "armed struggle" -- war is a particular form of armed struggle. And it is not the case that soldiers are at war only when they are actually shooting, but somehow <em>not</em> at war when they are (for example) evading battle by rapid marches.

    In moments of evasion, maneuver, retreat, disengagement, concealement etc., an armed force may not actually be fighting and it may be avoiding engagement with their enemy -- but those decisions and tactics are taking place <em>in the context of war</em> (i.e. in the context of a contest that follows the distinctive laws of war.)

    War is not a matter of tactics. It is not equivalent to the tactics of violence, force, combat, and even armed attack -- all of those things can happen outside war (in bitter strikes, militant demonstrations, etc.)

    * * * * * * *

    As for your term "military policy"....

    Any movement I have been part of has had tactical policies. There are all kinds of reasons (legal, political, reality) why they may not be called "military policy." And dare I speculate that there may be reasons why forces might describe their own non-miliatary tactics as a "military policy."

    Sneaking into a base during a political siege and protest may <em>borrow</em> some tactics and lessons from guerrilla war... but they are not actually guerrilla <em>warfare</em> (unless there is actually a war going on)... even if they (hypothetically) carry out sabotage etc.

    Similarly, the PCP (Shining Path) viewed non-military struggle in Peru during their peoples war as <em>part of that peoples war</em> -- so the way they approached strikes, urban uprisings, and even prison organizing was marked by the fact that these events took place in the context</em> of an actual war (and was seen by them as subordinate to and serving that actual war) -- which affected everything including their tactics (for better or for worse).

  • Guest - carldavidson

    I hardly chose a path that opposes or eliminates 'open confrontation.'

    Even during the 'Days of Rage,' there were two demonstrations in Chicago that day. A few hundred Weathermen broke windows on the 'Magnificent Mile', while about 8-10,000 of us, led by the BBP, RYM2, and the YLO marched through working-class neighborhoods, drew people out, and supported strike rallies at Harvester and Cook County Hospital. The Weather folk drew the media, while ours went down the memory hole. Channel 11 in Chicago, however, retains the footage of our action. Bill Ayers and I were on a program together contrasting the two events decades later.

    My trend has a serious military policy, but it's quite different than the Black Bloc. Let's just say it starts with helping to organize and do revolutionary education among soldiers and veterans, and leave it at that.

    The Iraq Vets pulled off a very militant and illegal street action in Denver of 10,000 at the DNC. But it was very well organized, disciplined and kept together by a well-trained security squad. We achieved our objectives WITHOUT breaking windows or skirmishes with cops, because we didn't have to.

    I was on the streets of Chicago's West Side the night King was killed. About 100 of us made it our business to move up and down Madison St, dodging cops, but talking with the kids in the National Guard. 'Don't kill for the Slumlords! If you have to shoot, shoot in the air!' Things of that nature, which went on for hours, and had some impact. It was quite militant, played cat and mouse with police, but we didn't smash a single window. We had a different objective, which was to neutralize and reach out to the Guard, which were mainly youngsters like us trying to dodge the draft. In that way, we rendered concrete assistance to the Black community, even if on a small scale.

    Again, I think the point about 'politics of strategy' vs. 'politics of self-expression' on this topic is well taken.

    Gramsci's whole point is to combine the 'war of maneuver' with the 'war of position', both strategically and tactically. But timing makes all the difference in the world. The right liquidates one; the 'left' the other.

  • Guest - Greg

    Mike,

    Let me echo what others have said and also say 'great article'.

    Based upon my own experiences (I've been 'in the game' seriously since '92) and what former BPP and BLA members who mentored me had to say about it, I now see it this way:

    1. There is a qualitative difference between launching a military offensive against the state, and armed self-defense of ones own community. Compare and contrast the tactics and line of the African Blood Brotherhood vs. that of the Black Liberation Army.

    2. The power and reach of the state security aparatus (including its support base amongst the population) in a 1st world country is far greater than that of the guerilla cadre and its support base in the 1st world (or that of the 1st world movement generally).

    Or, to put it crudely, there is more support in the 1st world for killing trees, i.e. printing and publishing that exposes the genuinely oppressive, than there is for killing the oppressive!

    Looking back over to 40 years ago would any of you movement vets agree that this is so today? Would you say this was so back then also?

    I know it is true today and from what I've read, this has not changed since that time. "On The Defection of Eldridge Cleaver..." is instructive in pointing this out and its implications, especially if the revolutionaries do things out-of-step with where the majority of your base is ideologically in actual, concrete reality; regardless of what they may say or do in 'the heat of the moment'.

    3. While there may have been more militant students in the 1960's ready to "do the deed" hands-on, they did not have the broad suppport of the U.S. 'white' working class, unlike vanguard organizations such as the Black Panther Party, American Indian Movement, and the Young Lords who DID have broad support amongst their respective communities.

    4. Today, there is very little support for revolutionary struggle from any population in the 1st world, especially in Amerikkka. Much of that can be attributed to the ways in which we get our information. To put it crudely (again), the "masses" aren't checkin' for Kasamaproject.org, but they will seek out the local Fox affiliate station (and not for "news", but sports scores).

    5. To demonize the black bloc for what they do is to cut off your own foot. Nowadays, they often embody the idea of "Marxism is not a dogma, but a guide to action" even moreso than many of these so-called 'Marxist' parties, despite their errors and misjudgements.

    I agree with the anarchists that marches and protests are a waste of time unless you're going somewhere to do something, besides run your mouth (or listen to others run their mouths).
    I can watch and listen to the various U.S. movement rock stars, from Arrundati Roy to Bob Avakian on You Tube from the comfort of my own room. Dogmatic sloganeering and phrase mongering doesn't stop pepper spray...or bullets, let alone raise the general level of political understanding of the intended audience. If I want "church", I'll go to church!

    At the same time, Marxists do not have the exclusive monopoly on 'militant' posturing, more-emotional-than-dialectical reasoning (and rhetoric), and tailing after the demokkkrats and their flunkies (Anarchists do it too), since that's where the "action" is right now (example: the Immigrant Rights movement in the U.S. at this time).

    I believe the question we need to pose to everybody is how does destroying [insert place or thing here] and/or boxing it out with our opposition cripple our opposition and advance our general agenda short-term and long-term?

    True, destroying police vehicles can have the effect of slowing their deployment of reinforcements, via blocking roadways and subtracting units the security forces can bring to bear.

    But what is the final objective of the day, besides getting high off the adrenaline/endorphine rush (a.k.a.- the "revolutionary holy ghost") and physically expressing ones anger at the devil and those who support them by destroying both public and private property, or handing out ass-whuppins,....or taking one yourself?

    We also need to also ask ourselves what does self-defense vs. the state and its supporters in the 1st world look like in the 21st century? Politics is the realm of the living, which means you have to remain among the living in order to participate! So, the idea is to stay alive long enough to fight another day.

  • Guest - jp

    story and link to pdf of 6/29 ACLU report on surveillance in the USA; thanks to CounterPunch: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/06/aclu-surveillance/

  • Guest - Otto

    worker antagonism said

    "how will a US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan weaken imperialism?
    imperialism is the world system of international capital and regardless of what bourgeoisie faction rules in Afghanistan, imperialism will do just fine."

    So you are saying that forcing the US out of Afghanistan will not be an anti-imperialist victory? I don't understand that rational.
    The victory in Vietnam help set back imperialism for many years and some congresspeople helped either by weakening the effort or, as in the case of George McGovern, actually opposed an imperialist war.
    I realize imperialism goes beyond the two wars in the Middle-east and that it is deeper than that. But occasionally we can find a temporary ally (Which really hasn't happened much lately)and I don't see why we wouldn't use a united front to stop at least the two main wars the US is involved in now.
    Alliances as that are rarely permanent and they don't need to be. But I believe in using any tactic we can to kill imperialism. At present, it is the major policy that unites the Democrats and Republicans. But if that were to change I would want to take advantage of it, as was done in Vietnam.