Signalfire is pleased to present a guest post by a member of the Ignite collective in NYC on the mobilization around the Trayvon Martin killing.
On National Oppression of New Afrika
The murder of Trayvon Martin is yet another life taken from us in the past few years that reminds us of the continued white supremacist oppression of New Afrikan people. It is also a watershed moment that clarifies some basic issues that we’ve been having to understand in the continuation of this national oppression. The issue of course being that fundamentally that such national oppression has transformed in certain rights, for instance the ambiguity of racial diversity among the perpetrators of this ethnic cleansing in the oppressed nationality communities has been something that has been a hurdle for the argument of the persistence of this oppression. National oppression of New Afrikan people is not simply the residue of the bygone days of Slavery or Jim Crow, but a structural reality that is the basis for class structure within the u.s. Empire. In other words the oppression of New Afrikan people is a pillar of class society in this country, it is key in the overdetermination of the basic relationships of power which manifests itself in politically, economically, and within all forms of civil society.
There has been transformation of this structure of oppression as the white supremacist state has now contracted all sorts of compradors, toms, and vende patrias’ into its apparatus structures – up to the office of president. Though the mass of oppressed nationality people, especially the lowest and deepest sections of the working class and among the lumpen, saw the racism in the murders of Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and Ramarley Graham, it was difficult to clarify how this was not simply an issue of sensitivity of police or the lingering racism of their apparatus but firmly what is expected of them. It is in fact simply just the excess of what is encouraged among them, which is the criminalization of young men of color.
The execution of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia and the refusal of the Obama administration to involve itself in the good ol’ boys lynching of a black man wrongfully convicted of the murder of an off-duty police officer laid it on the table for everyone to know – the state is still actively involved in the oppression of New Afrikan people. With the popularization of Michelle Alexander’s book many began to understand how it has changed, the New Jim Crow. The legal structure of the state transformed its measures to contain the oppressed nationality populations. Such transformation of the legal mechanism of the state in relationship to controlling and housing the populations of New Afrikan people of course corresponds with their location within the means of production and the New Afrikan struggle for self-determination/liberation. The Slave Codes inscribed the very basis for chattel slavery and how to discipline the slave. When the Southern gentry were smashed and bondage of chattel slavery was dissolved, the fear of the old landed white class alongside its collaborators throughout the white country immediately bonded the former slaves back to the land by depriving them the right of becoming free labor through the Black Codes. It was then through the defeat of Reconstruction and the establishment of the Jim Crow laws that the former slaves were bound to the land again through neo-feudal institution of sharecropping.
The struggle against Jim Crow in the multiclass civil rights movement led quickly the birth of the Black Liberation Movement. With the turnover of Jim Crow, a turnover advanced by the fact that in many respects even the very conditions of Jim Crow were eliminated with the proletarianization of New Afrikan people. The Black Liberation Movement marked a turning point – the working class of the New Afrikan people now were leaders of the struggle against white supremacy; they actively and consciously put forward against the integrationist will of much of the national bourgeoisie the demand of self-determination. The New Afrikan working class also became the advant-guard of struggle altogether of the working class. This fact is often lost in the movement. Its condensation of thought found in organizations such as the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Black Panther Party, Congress of African People, and others. Its militant expression found through thousands of urban uprisings throughout the late 60s’ into the 70s’. The danger of the New Afrikan working class presented itself in very real ways – its coming into consciousness of itself in the midst of general anti-colonial struggle and movements for national liberation led by Communist Parties and Left-wing fronts throughout the world sparked the whole of the oppressed nationality people within the United States to create analogous formations based in the lowest and deepest sections of their communities – The Young Lords Party (to become Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers’ Organization), August 29th Movement, I Wor Kuen, to name a few of those who grabbed on to a Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong Thought line. The New Afrikan worker proliferated throughout the core cities of the north in the ghetto internal colonies but kept and maintained relationships with their family kin in the South. The New Afrikan worker also represented a new militant subject at the point of production with the euro-amerikan workers, faced with the daunting task to challenge the pathological racism of the white worker. Their integration at the point of production gave as much opportunity to break the hold of the labor aristocracy and criminal lumpen elements who have consistently maintained their relationship to capital as slowly ceded our common ruin.
However in many respects the State infiltrated and smashed these movements in their embryo (many still in their party building process) and unfortunately among them much of their remnant parts drifted towards liquidationism as the repression of the movement mounted. The counter-revolution of the state was finding new mechanisms to re-codify national oppression. The State’s role of intervention in these communities first began to smash the leadership of these movements as we have suggested, they then proceeded to bring charity functionaries into the communities to establish a line of social management (poverty pimps) of the internal communities in the same sense (in the same way they had eliminated the communist from the trade unions and established the labor aristocrats). Moreover the racism in many unions prevailed, where many black workers were lockout of production. The introduction of an international drug trade further cemented the counter-revolution. Employing agents recruited from the lumpen, it smuggled in the cocaine, the heroin, etc. to destroy the community of people.
The New Jim Crow is in essence the unofficial designation (given to it in by a growing mass movement) to a set of laws, measures, and practices of the state in relationship to New Afrikan people. The precise basis and conscious logic of them is to criminalize New Afrikan people in such a manner as to push them altogether and effectively away from any means of production, to push them to precarious existence as real subaltern class under the kingpinship of lumpen lords and poverty pimps. The danger of the New Afrikan people at the point of production, as newly emerged proletarian subjects gave for the first time in the United States a real viable political subject to lead the struggle to eliminate capitalist organization of the mode of production and to bring forward socialism.
What Zimmerman Reveals to Us
While the general mass of people righteously call for justice against Zimmerman, the frank matter – as opposed to the liberal discourse which is attempting to isolate this into an individual issue – is that Zimmerman is merely the excess of what is systematically deeply rooted within the white supremacist psyche of social-relations in this country. That a half-Latino troubled man is being protected by a white supremacist law enforcement and state should not be lost; he in the end, despite being as brown as he can, was trained in the very system of white supremacist regulation and discipline which accompanies the non-legal social relationships, the mere relationships among the people themselves.
So how does a brown man become the excess of the white supremacist state? As I have noted in a previous piece entitled Objectivity of the Streets
“[we must] recognize that the development of the repressive state apparatus is informed and carried forward by the whole history, the political policy of the settler-expansionism, the legacy of chattel slavery, colonial occupations, and imperialist exploitation of the u.s. Empire. That with this more thorough-going exploitation of whole peoples, white settler people of all classes were purchased off or compromised through the super-profits provided by imperialism and national/racial oppression at home. One section of labor bought off through employment as the thugs of the State. For more than a century oppressed nationality people have known both the paramilitary and military/police oppression of the State. The collaboration of the two forms have had consistent coordination with each other – settlers and cavalry to KKK and sheriffs. Even in midst of civil rights struggle, its local and state levels joined white reaction in murdering leaders, in repressing the people. This is the relationship of white supremacy, of white Amerika, with the State and the police in particular.”
Throughout the history of the white supremacist state there have been auxiliaries to its conduct among the masses of people, especially euro-amerikan people. The strong relationship between police and racist vigilante and all other sorts of thugs to keep in line the oppressed and exploited majority ensured the disciplining of whole populations of people. Such auxiliary groupings have been maintained by the ideological reproduction of various racist memes that produce the ideology of danger of the oppressed nationality people – to protect property, family, etc. against all such dangerous populations. But these auxiliaries are not simply ideologically fed but also have real tight relationships with the state that protect definite material interests.
Zimmerman is one such auxiliary of the state, encouraged by the state to act in excess. The excess of white supremacy has a dual character. First, all excess is by its nature a surplus of the original source. In this sense Zimmerman didn’t conspire with the police to kill Trayvon Martin, he was not officially designated in anyway or sanctioned. He went too far in the account of many people, it was too much. But such excess is a necessary surplus for the system in that it is the very surplus which really teaches and disciplines the people, so they can know the meaning of the law. In reality the excess is tolerable and encouraged – the very fact there was the existence of a “gated-community” meant the defense of property by what means? Self-armed property owners in organized squads who collaborate with police against undesirables. With the addition of the “stand-your-ground” law which gives the discretion to shoot to kill to “citizens” in legal possession of a gun (a right denied of course to the oppressed nationality people and proletariat), the state has readied many more Zimmermans’ for the same exact purpose. Zimmermans’ neighbors say they would in fact have done the same – of course they would.
What is perhaps frightening is of course – despite being protected by a white supremacist state with the backup of a well-to-do white family – is that Zimmerman himself is a brown persyn. His family even going as far to state that he even has African ancestry. Nonetheless he is an agent of the white supremacist state and ideologically identifies with it. It is perhaps, of course, his overidentification with it that makes him unsuitable to be a part of its official apparatus. Such overidentification with the white supremacist state is well known to anyone who has dealt with New York Police Department (NYPD). Despite 40% of officers being “people of color,” in the experience of our organizing the masses have reported the worst sort of brutality, the worst aggressiveness among the cops of color. We know of cops who have a real hate for their own people, other cops who patrol their own communities like cowboys. The overidentification is necessary with the white supremacist system and these people have turned into real compradors. How such overidentification traumatically affects these people is not very well known, but the colonizer is certainly there in the head and heart. Zimmerman was a prospective pig in training, his unhinged character perhaps delayed him in his efforts, but it was perfectly fine within the context of the unpaid auxiliary force of the state.
What Trayvon Reveals to Us
Trayvon Martin was a young man murdered by the white supremacist state through one of its agents. The story of this murder reveals closely to us what is both a national and global phenomenon of the transformation of youth of color (particularly those of Afrikan decent) into de facto criminals and the ideological repercussions of this transformation in the contradictions among the people. Trayvon was merely 17 years old, he was killed on his way back to the house of family from a 7-11. He was only shortly before watching the NBA All-star game with his farther. He purchased skittles and snapple. He was a student, an athlete, a boyfriend, and much other things. He once saved the life of his father when he was trapped in a burning kitchen.
This is Trayvon. As a political subject in relationship to a white supremacist state, this was unknown and not necessary to know. Trayvon was already a concrete political subject despite whatever will he could have had to the contrary, always interpellated within the realm of state politics and its ideology. Louis Althusser wrote in Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatus
“..individuals are always-already subjects. Hence individuals are ‘abstract’ with respect to the subjects which they always already are. This proposition might seem paradoxical. That an individual is always-already a subject, even before he is born, is nevertheless the plain reality, accessible to everyone and not a paradox at all.”
The tragedy of this truth is fully realize in the death of Trayvon Martin. The humanization of this story is unfortunately its own monstrosity, perfectly suited for the liberal discourse. We see the banal story like many other young men of promise, showing promising character and the other we see a troubled man in his late 20s’ trying to dispel what is for all to see the obvious lack of trajectory through vigilantism. We see a family in grief, a police outfit attempting to undo its fumblings, etc. We now even have Obama emerging to state that Trayvon would have looked like a possible hypothetical son of his own (the irony is whether or not Ramarley Graham wouldn’t have looked like his newphew, if Troy Davis couldn’t have been a cousin, or Mumia Abu-Jamal could not be an uncle). The story of individual precision in reality is what is abstract and allows for the sweep of the state back into the situation in order to remedy the frustration of the people.
Trayvon was black, he was a man, he was young and wore a hoody. All these things alerted each sense of danger for Zimmerman, these “fucking coons” were a problem for him. His death came because of his life as a black young man within a white supremacist system, there is no justice or solace to be found in merely the apprehension of Zimmerman. There can be no justice gotten from within this system, there can be no longer any individual resolvement of the issue without dealing completely with the structural reality that has created this sorrow. Trayvon is Ramarley Graham displaced in the urban internal colony of the Bronx, Trayvon was Troy Davis lynched by the State, Trayvon was Oscar Grant a worker and father in Oakland. Trayvon is a close cousin of Mark Duggan of London and the nearly 3,000 people murdered by the police since 2005 in the Dominican Republic. Trayvon was also a friend of Alexandros Grigoropoulos of Athens, who shared a fondness of hoodies. Obama with the blood of Africans, of Afghans, of Filipinos, of Mexicans, and all sorts of people, with the knowledge of over 2 million people (disproportionately African-American) languishing in cells across this country – fundamentally as the head of u.s. Imperialism, as the police commissioner of the world – states if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon…
If Minister of Defense of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson, had a son, a nephew, or any other relative they might look like Trayvon too. Comrade Rashid has written this in his article “The International Oppression of Youth of Color”
“Because the oppression and super exploitation of people of color is the norm in the imperialist countries, and the youth are particularly targeted for police repression, we must recognize the need for intercommunal (multi-ethnic) and Pan-Afrikan unity to resist this oppression and to struggle to put an end to the imperialist (monopoly capitalist) system and replace it with People’s Power.”
If Trayvon had comrades in the fight they’d look like us and with each other we would smash this state.
Million Hoodies March; Issues of the Movement
I approach the Million Hoodies March as a young proletarian man in a collectivity of people who share common interests and attitudes to overthrowing the white supremacist, settler colonial capitalist state in this country. I came as a Communist who supports the right of New Afrikan people to self-determination and autonomy. What I witnessed was immense and uplifting. Thousands of people of all sorts, primarily from the black and brown communities entered Union Square. We rallied around to hear the speakers, who no matter their political orientation, shared the common unity that there needed to be immediate justice in the arrest of Zimmerman and that many of us could have been easily a victim like Trayvon Martin.
Many were clad in hoodies, many not so because the spring weather made it very warm. A few thousand people went into the streets and marched. The march lent itself to the spontaneity of the people, with no clear organization at the lead and no clear trajectory, the dynamics of the march were decided in very quick fashion by the front. Various splintters went through the city militantly taking the streets, opposing police control, and finding solidarity with each other. The most popular chant was of course “We’re Trayvon Martin,” followed by various incantations of “whose streets..” and “no justice, no peace.” There has been much controversy now created over the chants that rang out and gained popular appeal that ended in “fuck the police!” The opposition ran most loud among now various liberals among the petty-bourgeois oppressed nationality who are now attacking the militant actions of the masses as merely those as famously put by Elon James White those in “skinny jeans” and “Justin Bieber haircuts.”
Even so-called revolutionary socialists shyed away from the “fuck the police” chant instead chanting “no racist police”- as if we just wanted to change a certain character of our repression, as if that character of the police could ever really change. However largely this was drowned out by the militancy and spontaneity of the masses, their creative action in leading various marches through the streets of NYC – uptown and downtown. It can’t be denied the role of militant communists and anarchists played in hyping the militancy; however to ignore the role of the people here is a means of class control over the young proletarianized oppressed nationality youth in their own agency. Youth, mothers, fathers, all flocked to take our leaflets with a heading that ran “Know your Enemy;” whereas many other political, revolutionary or not, outfits struggled to put out their own.
The people were hungry for knowledge of the state, hungry to know what to do, the movement against police brutality, stop and frisk, the prison industrial complex have strengthened in this city among primarily the Left intelligensia and is emerging in the common language of the people broadly. The masses were activated consciously long before the million hoodies march, they saw their numbers, they saw the violence of the police, and they took direct action.
There were of course short-comings to this march. There was no leadership in reality, though now Elon James White talks about the “wishes” of the organizers and family, they were in fact never really visible at all throughout the march. Moreover against the anarchists who celebrate the spontaneity of action, clearly the people themselves were frustrated over the lack of leadership and ability to coordinate the marches. Errors were made throughout the march in regards to destination, to the practice of people; however never did the people actually pull back from the militancy but engaged in it further. Only in our long march did we end up losing momentum of the people because people had become tired and frustrated with the lack of leadership.That people were doing a “mic-check” during a speakers list is in fact regrettable and clearly disrespectful, but to those who want to level blame on “OWS” ignore that fundamentally the very tools of OWS have become to speak very bluntly generalized to the struggle of all politically conscious people in this city, active in “social-justice” work of whatever type.
The role of OWS is now under serious attack from the left and right positions within our movement, and what is a common theme in such criticisms of OWS or outright attacks is in fact the issue of white-chauvinism in practice. OWS plainly lends itself to this criticism in this city because its composition and its character is overwhelmingly determined by petty-bourgeois white radical forces. There has also been certain criticism of OWS to deal with particular figures of representatives of communities despite having little to no base, often utilizing people in tokenistic gesture. However criticism of OWS stretching from the right and the left seems overly opportunist in attempting to “race-bait” political questions and tactics in the march. It is from one side an attempt by the right liberal Obamaite “people of color” to control the resistance of the people, to tame them under the mocking of the stereotyped young anglo white male.
On the other side it is the attempt to utilize “white-guilt” (the flip-aspect of white privilege) to maneuver for leadership in a broad movement. The facts are what drove people out had nothing to do with the organized forces at hand but only from the movement of work that had already been conducted through OWS, the New Jim Crow, Stop Stop and Frisk, and the popular indignation around this issue. Neither campaign can claim hegemony nor attempt to legitimize itself in regards to the rally and march in terms of identity; such an attempt is unprincipled and dangerous terrain where no legitimate political summation can be drawn.
The only legitimate site of criticism (among genuine radical forces outside of the rule of capital) is that within the march itself OWS was overly concerned from nearly the beginning with occupation of Union Square as they see this as the next step to start of a spring offensive around their movement. This has been a consistent error of economist populism which of course centers the struggle in the white petty-bourgeoisie. This issue is fundamentally one of political consideration, where the struggle in the streets was actually lost by those closest to OWS. Our forces that have been insistent on doing the work among the proletarian section of the masses, among oppressed nationality however for whatever it’s worth have yet to articulate themselves in demarcation to the set of politics of OWS.
Where are our new Panthers? Our new Lords? Is this not the wakeup call to mature not just in our work, but our organization, our analysis, and our theory? Analysis rooted in superficial lines of privilege theory are themselves leading the radical potential of our communities in the doldrums. If you listened close, the masses themselves wanted leadership and direction, but perhaps we were simply too impoverished to provide it. Of course it is always necessary to expose opportunists, white-chauvinists, and other erroneous lines in our movement and to harshly criticize them. All criticism should however be mindful to win the new allies over and to transform the basis for organization broadly within the movement. It is also important to be mindful of ploys being engaged by the enemy to simultaneously disrupt and control our activity.
We must be clear what is at stake – the liberal democrats have been unable to co-opt the mass of Occupy under its wing and with the outbreak of the oppressed nationality people into struggle in proximity to a mass movement (which still has a particular petty-bourgeois character) that is outside the party apparatus and is liable only to movement dynamics. It is necessary first and foremost as proletarian agents, particularly in relationship to militant actions, to focus on our demarcation with us and the enemy primarily and the criticisms with our possible allies to be secondary; otherwise we enable objectively for confused sections among our people to unite with the right, discouraged from the prospects of white controlled struggle.
Let a Million Hoodies into the Streets, Let the Garbage Fly! Educated Violence and Spontaneity
From here on out the issues of the day is to build and strengthen resistance; to master it to face our enemies. We begin with modest weapons – the mass of our bodies in the streets. Such weapons are always precious and should be used consciously with care of it as it is both the strongest and simultaneously weakest of our weapons. It is best to take care of it. Often the psychic-trauma from state violence can push many of us to become the Ahab of the streets, in many respects our anarchist friends (so often complained about) are in fact guilty of this. Rather one must always consciously preserve oneself for protracted war in a stage we find ourselves without anything but our bodies and agitprop material to wage this war with.
Confusion in the face of attack presents itself not in retreat but in the attempts by all sorts of opportunists to render fatal blows to the movement(s) through unprincipled measures to struggle for position after the retreat. The main enemy is always the reactionaries and their state, and whatever representatives they send into our circles – both ideological agents of the bourgeoisie or their real agents of disruption and violence. Cowardice presents itself by sheepishly watching the proletarian masses militantly fight and struggle, to chant slogans of an objective pacifist character, to narrate a version of history which attempts to cover up the militant aspect of struggle for one which seeks to white-wash (because you tail the white masses) the character of the fight.
Proletarian revolutionaries must prepare for the million hoodies and to let the garbage fly. Preparation requires real discipline of unity among conscious forces, to prepare for the coming future where more than trash will fly. That preparation is ideological and organizational in scope while carrying out agitation and propaganda among the people. The creation of mass formations which bring the common people into active life of struggle; the consolidation of vanguard elements into vaguard organization(s) which are able to be proper general staff to conduct war. This is still for many a dubious position within our ranks, but how is one to ensure “accountability” in a movement beyond the hope of a common shaming of individuals? How is one to resolve the basic issue the masses have with us in our disorganization, sectarianism, our tyranny of structurelessness? How is one to combat the attempts of the state to disrupt our formations and at least establish lines of continuity in the trajectory of a protracted class struggle? Dependency on spontaneity is the hope someone else has organized what you have not done so for yourself. There is always the unknown factor, the variables of struggle, but it is necessary to attempt to account for them to place the cleanest shot against the enemy.
The distinction becomes one of educated violence by our forces vs. spontaneous violence of the masses which even agent provocateurs can take part in acting out. Educated violence means the ability to conduct our work, at this stage the militant use of our bodies, with enough precision as to minimize any unfortunate undue burden for our ranks.
This never means of course the active attempt to co-opt and control the masses outright. The resistance of the proletarian masses and their allies has its own excess, the law of the street is the right of self-defense against pigs. We stand-by and not against the excess, we fully assume it as part of the process unlike the hypocrites of the state in relationship to their vigilante thug. Revolution is never made by halves, but in fact it has the element of surplus; a 100% and then some more. In truth the workers and peasants of Soviet Union and China gave a 110% in making revolution and exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat for some time.
1) Prepare for the insurrectionary potential of the masses through integration, fusion, combination, and the establishment of disciplined organizations, cells, etc. among the advanced forces. Build and lead mass organizations for new activity among the people (I will add organizations among the proletarian and oppressed nationality people generally, in their communities).
2) Educated violence is superior to celebration of spontaneity – we have a protracted struggle against us and the measures we engage in always need to be considered from the vantage point of such a view. In intoxicating oneself in the mythology of resistance that comes attached to many bandanas these days, you’re in danger of confusing amateur radicalism with the real thing. We aim to smash the state by means of our violence, an aim yet to be sufficed by the movement which can make no claim in having done so.
3) We do not and will not turn against the masses in whatever resistance they find, even in its excess. We moreover accept the excess as a legitimate part of the process of struggle. It is right to rebel against reactionaries!
ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!
SMASH THE STATE!