The Revolutionary Response To Racism: Reply To A Kommunique By Azzurra Crispino (2017)


Fred Hampton

The Dispatch

Recently, I received a copy of a communique issued by Azzurra Crispino, an ethics professor, who is also an anarchist, a Gandhian pacifist, a founder of Prison Abolition Prisoner Support (PAPS), and the elected media co-chair of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWOC/IWW).

Azzurra’s statement defended her having corresponded with a man while he was imprisoned who is apparently a white supremacist, and whom she brought onto a radio program to give his personal account of living in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, in refutation of others who spoke in support of solitary without knowing its tortures and inhumane reality.

Apparently others within anarchist circles and the IWOC came down on her for interacting with the white supremacist and giving him a platform from which to speak on the radio show. From her account, she’s been met with reactions ranging from being called a Nazi sympathizer, to being threatened, to being asked to voluntarily resign from her IWOC media position.

Azzurra rejects these label and critiques, contending that as a Gandhian her political strategy embraces working to win opponents over and by “patient and sympathetic” persuasion not violence. Her statement addressed other matters but the above points were the principal issues.

Where We Differ Where We Agree

As someone who has corresponded with Azzurra off and on for some time, as a fellow member of the IWW, but foremost as a Panther whose duty it is to speak truth to the people in service to their/our struggle to overthrow this oppressive capitalist imperialist system, I feel a duty to weigh in on this situation.

First I should distinguish myself and my worldview from Azzurra’s. I’m neither an anarchist, nor a pacifist. I’m a Communist of the Maoist persuasion, and a firm believer in the right of self-defense and that the only way that this system of mass exploitation and oppression can be ultimately destroyed is through the extremes of armed struggle. This because it is history’s most violent and destructive political economic system, and its ruling class has not and will never relinquish its hold on power and monopoly over social wealth peacefully. In fact they maintain this power through the greatest excesses of violence, and not only against the world’s masses of innocent people, but against the very environment and entire planet on which our species depends for its survival. In this light I see strategic non-violence as suicidal and fundamentally irresponsible.

Anyone familiar with Maoism knows that it created the first comprehensive Marxist military line, and method of engaging in oppressed people’s war that even the U.S. military admits inability to contend with.

With that said, Azzurra and I clearly have very different political and ideological views. Indeed, our class perspectives differ quite a bit, with hers originating from a petty bourgeois (PB) line and mine from a revolutionary proletarian one.

Yet, despite our differences, we have unity on the issue of struggling to win over everyone we can by persuasion, where we can and when we can. This is an inherent aspect of the Maoist or mass line. Gandhians have no exclusive claim to this approach.

One reason Azzurra’s anarchist peers have clashed with her over this line is because their line generally rejects anything like the mass line. They imagine instead that small collectives can somehow engineer a revolution, and that it will be an instantaneous process, that the capitalist system can be toppled in one fell swoop and an egalitarian social order set up in its place overnight without need of a protracted struggle to remould the views and values of the broad masses that have beeningrained in them over their entire lives, generations, and centuries even, by capitalist culture; which will only regenerate capitalism if they are not systematically reeducated with revolutionary values and morality.

The Gandhian line recognized a need to change peoples’ views over a protracted period because it was to a vast oppressed population that it appealed, namely the colonized peoples of India who were subjugated by a tiny British elite and neo­-colonial Indian elite and military/police system. But Gandhi’s wasn’t a revolutionary philosophy or movement. It wasn’t anti-capitalist. And it didn’t grasp the nature of capitalist class relations and oppression, and that there is indeed an irreconcilable class enemy with whom we cannot negotiate and strike bargains, namely the imperialist bourgeoisie.

And I know from experience in living under people corrupted by absolute power and grown drunk from its impunitous abuse, passivity and weakness on the part of a victim only invites abuse and greater violence.

Whence Racism?

But let’s look more closely at the particular question that Azzurra and her detractors are struggling over; namely that of interacting with racial supremacists –­ should we and if so to what extent? Since I’ve had quite a bit of experience with this issue from a theoretical and practical standpoint, I think I can offer particular insights on it.

Now, Azzurra’s exactly right that the IWOC never set out a “no platform” policy toward white supremacists, and the IWOC newsletter did endorse the cessation of hostilities agreement signed by various prisoner leaders in California, which included several “confirmed” white supremacists.

It’s important to understand that the concepts of race and racism were manufactured by the capitalist class less than 500 years ago. This in response to frequent united rebellions of Afrikan, Indian and European slaves and bond servants, which culminated in the 1676 revolt under the leadership of a rebellious planter, Nathaniel Bacon (Bacon’s Rebellion), that succeeded in overthrowing the colonial system in Jamestown, Virginia.[1]

These rebellions showed the ruling class that united in resistance the laborers were the one internal force that could quickly and completely throw them out of power, so they devised to polarize them and give one sector a slightly privileged status to police the other completely degraded sector. They did this by inventing race and using it to ally the poor Europeans (now classified as “white”) to themselves based upon a shared “race” as against the Afrikan (now classified as “Negro”) who were reduced to a permanent status of hereditary slavery. Servitude and slavery of “whites” was then phased out.

This tactic of racial privilege and polarization has been employed ever since and spread abroad, to keep the laboring classes divided against themselves, and competing against each other for the meager scraps the capitalist class leaves to them from the massive wealth they steal that the laborers produce with their labor power. It’s the old Roman dictum of “divide, agitate and rule.”

So to the extent that those who proclaim to struggle against the capitalist system refuse to struggle to overcome racist programming within the ranks of the laboring and poor masses, they are ceding victory to the enemy class and system by default.

Panther Politics on Race

The original Black Panther Party, during its most revolutionary stages, dealt most effectively with the race question, in the interest of the New Afrikan/Black masses and all oppressed and working sectors in Amerika. And the example they set was one that saw them struggle directly to change racist programming, while isolating the more die hard racists and identifying the system as the source and cause of racial division and oppression.

Comrade George Jackson, the founder of the BPP’s first prison chapter, struggled mightily to unite the races in the California prison system in struggle against the abuses of the guards and administrations. This while those same officials repeatedly angled to have him killed by those “die hard” racist prisoners whom they allied with themselves. He also struggled to have his Black peers understand that some of the whites could be won over to the united struggle but they had to stop pushing those potential allies away with their own polarizing racial attitudes and behaviors. As he stated:

“I’m always telling the brothers that some of those whites are willing to work with us against the pigs. All they got to do is stop talking honky. When the races start fighting, all you have is one maniac group against another. That’s just what the pigs want.”[2]

Comrade Tom Big Warrior made the point precisely in a recent article:

“Those who argue that ‘Black people can’t be racist’ because Black people don’t have institutional power, ignore that racism is a weapon to divide the masses in the interests of the class that does hold power. It doesn’t matter if they divide whites from Blacks or Blacks from whites, the result is the same.”[3]

Comrade George saw the correct approach against the overall capitalist system, and correctly recognized that capitalism created racial divisions.

As communists, we also recognize that racial contradictions are really contradictions of nationality distorted by the bourgeoisie, to serve their own class interests. And it’s manipulated to the benefit of not only the white bourgeoisie but to that of the Black bourgeoisie and those of all races as well. Comrade Big Warrior spoke to this as well:

“Historically, the Black political class has sought accommodation with the white ruling class and opposed solidarity between Black and white working class people. Marcus Garvey allied with the KKK and met with their national leader to seek support for his back to Afrika movement. He is quoted as saying: ‘I regard the Klan, the Anglo-Saxon clubs and White American societies, as far as the Negro is concerned, as better friends of the race than all other groups of hypocritical whites put together.

“With few exceptions — most notably the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) and the BPP — Black political figures and associations in Amerika have either sought to assimilate into the white capitalist class or, in the case of nationalists, to replicate the capitalist system somewhere with themselves on top exploiting the Black masses. Fred Hampton [Chairperson of the Chicago chapter of the BPP], was wise to their nature:

“‘We have to understand very clearly that there’s a man in our community called a capitalist. Sometimes he’s black and sometimes he’s white. But that man has to be driven out of our community, because anybody who comes into the community to make profit off the people by exploiting them can be defined as a capitalist. And we don’t care how many programs they have, how long a dashiki they have. Because political power does not flow from the sleeve of a dashiki: political power flows from the barrel of a gun. It flows from the barrel of a gun!’”[4]

Fred Hampton proved the most advanced revolutionary and Panther of that era, and the most feared by the pigs. Not only was he a good teacher and leader of the oppressed Black masses, but he was able to turn white racists into revolutionaries. And it’s he who we should measure our work in this regard by and take lessons from. As I pointed out in a past discussion on race and racism; upon the NABPP- PC’s founding of the White Panther Organization as an arm of our Party:

“It was Fred’s work that led to the formation of the Young Patriots Party (YPP), a revolutionary party of poor redneck white Appalachian youth whose symbol was a confederate flag with a red star emblazoned on it. Fred’s approach was to appeal to class instead of being sidetracked by race. He walked into a redneck Hillbilly bar in Chicago. When they asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ he said, ‘I’m here to organize the Niggers.’ They said, ‘No Niggers come in here,’ and were ready to fight. He said, ‘Oh yeah? Well the way I see it, they work y’all like Niggers, treat y’all like Niggers, and make y’all live like Niggers. So that makes y’all Niggers in my book, and I say it’s time to get organized and deal with this shit!’”[5]

Fred enlarged on the point and the point made by Comrade Big Warrior, that the work must be based on unity and also struggle against racism, so as to change its programming. And this in the context of Blacks confronting white racism which we see programmed in many whites other than those who are more overt in their attitudes. In fact many whites who might like to believe themselves free of racist programming are deeply racist, including some who think themselves champions of anti-racism. Should we reject them too, because they’re racist? Here’s Fred on the entire question:

“We have to grasp onto our leaders and protect our leaders before they’re taken away. You’ve got to stop identifying people with being your brothers because they’ve got the same skin color that you have. And you’ve got to stop getting hung up in a whole race question, because this is a class struggle, whether we want to face it or not. The Black Panther Party hears a lot of people saying let’s fight fire with fire. But we say, No, no, no! We’re not gonna fight fire with fire. We’re gonna fight fire with water. We’re not gonna fight racism with racism, we’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We’re not gonna fight capitalism with Black capitalism, we’re gonna fight capitalism with socialism.’”[6]

As all of us from the oppressed communities know, most of the street and prison tribes (so-called gangs) organize and polarize along “racial” lines, consistent with the segregated character of our communities and racialized social values inculcated into many of us by a society polarized along racial lines by the ruling class. Fred recognized this and in response, he sought not only to politicize the street tribes but also to unite them and other groups in a revolutionary “racial” unity, which he called the “Rainbow Coalition,” a name that Black capitalist Jesse Jackson later ripped off and gave to his capitalist program.

Because of his proven success in this work and the danger that unifying the oppressed across color lines posed to the system, the pigs outright murdered Fred. Similarly, Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X were assassinated at just the point they recognized that the struggle was really one compelling unity of all oppressed sectors against the capitalist system and that racism was a tool used to polarize and incite the oppressed against themselves along color lines.

If we’re to reject white supremacists out of hand, then it would be impossible to ever struggle against the imperialist system since the contradictions of race are programmed into it and affect most everyone at every level of society. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the system has for several decades conditioned much of the white population in Amerika to adopt what has been called “unconscious racism.”[7]

In this context, it would be impossible to join with few if any whites in the struggle against the imperialist system, since most have been influenced by white supremacist values and views, although not aware of it.

Pigs Aim to Racialize the Struggle

I have long recognized and personally experienced officials’ use of racial polarizations to incite conflict against those who oppose and organize against their abuses and the capitalist system.

Following co-founding the NABPP-PC in 2005 and having exposes and articles published exposing the inhumane and abusive conditions that pervade U.S. prisons with marked results, I was the target of false profiling as a Black separatist by the Virginia State Police, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security and FBI in a 2009 Terrorism Threat Assessment Report.

Subsequently my lines of communication to the outside of prison were largely cut and in 2012 I was abruptly interstate transferred to the Oregon prison system. Oregon’s is one of the very few prison systems in the U.S. that has a majority white prisoner population, and where over a dozen white supremacist tribes operate openly in the general prison populations.

I’d spent over 17 years in solitary confinement in Virginia’s prisons prior to the transfer to Oregon, whereupon I was immediately released into the general population. Upon my release officials began spreading amongst the white groups that I was a Panther, which they falsely portrayed as a Black supremacist group that sought to engage all whites in a race war. Many whites already entertain such stereotypes of Panthers in general based upon similar efforts of the pigs to portray the BPP thusly in the 1960s-70s, and the antics of the so-called New Black Panther Party today that dressed up the racialist views of the Nation of Islam in a fake Panther garb.

Indeed the pigs have persistently angled to push all Black revolutionary formations into adopting racialized platforms or reacting in a racialized way to conditions they manufacture or facilitate, such as what they attempted to do to me. In fact they routinely use such racialized groups to target revolutionary ones. They used or manipulated the US organization against the BPP, Garvey’s UNIA-ACL against the ABB, the NOI against Malcolm X, any untold numbers of such individuals against other revolutionaries. This was the principal tactic the German Nazis used against Communists, anarchists, and others who opposed the fascist regime. Whether it’s white separatists or those of the minority “races” the function is the same, to polarize the masses and neutralize those who would struggle against the enemy order.

But in Oregon I peeped the pigs’ game and countered it by not getting distracted by race but instead focusing on us prisoners as a common class, and working to politicize the white groups and individuals along these lines. I met with significant success. I wrote about the experience in an expose.[8] My efforts ended with the Oregon prisoners joining California’s prisoners in the 2013 hunger strike that saw 30,000 prisoners participate across California, Oregon, my home state of Virginia, and Washington state.

When the pigs’ ploy failed to have its intended effect of seeing me embroiled in violent conflict with the Oregon prisoners, they again interstate transferred me just a month before the 2013 hunger strike was set to begin. This time I was sent to Texas, where I remain, and where they’ve attempted again to play up racial conditions in the prison system to isolate and target me.

In the Texas system I’ve been kept in solitary at the William P. Clements Unit, and at all times housed with only “confirmed” members of white or Mexican/Chicano separatist tribes around me. The very few Black prisoners whom they’ve ever housed nearby me were extremely mentally ill.

Guards on numerous occasions have remarked to or around me that the administration wants to keep only prisoners around me that they feel I have “nothing in common with.” In essence they want those around me whom they think will distance themselves based on racial views. Guards, including gang investigators, have often verbally tried to incite these prisoners against me with whom they share the same race.

These ploys have seldom if ever worked, which they very likely would if I elected to refuse to politically engage my peers, specifically because of their racialist views and prejudices. The result has often been to change the views of many and even win some over. This is consistent with years that I’d spent in struggle with a Black Comrade who is now a member of the NABPP-PC. He was deeply indoctrinated with a visceral hatred of whites, but I saw in him particular potential and commitment should I ever win him over, which ultimately I did. And he has proven just as I thought he would to be one of the most committed revolutionaries I know, and a powerful voice against the counterproductive effects of racial programming. He was recently targeted by Virginia prison officials for interstate transfer to Rhode Island, another state with a majority white (and tiny Black) prisoner population. You do the math. Both this Comrade, Kelvin “Khaysi” Canada, and I have written about the struggle I engaged him in to change his reactionary views on race.[9]

Also telling is on December 21, 2017, I was assaulted by guards who gassed me while I was handcuffed from behind and locked inside the cell. They’d also taken a large amount of my personal property. In this Texas system most prisoners are not willing to speak up as witnesses to abuse by guards, fearing as they do retaliation in return. However, six prisoners readily wrote witness statements for me and were willing to speak up as witnesses in any disciplinary or legal proceedings about what they witnessed. Five of the six were men who are “confirmed” members of white or Mexican/Chicano separatist tribes. All of them are men I’ve engaged with politically or otherwise to confront their racial conditioning, and all have seen my willingness to speak up on behalf of all prisoners regardless of race, affiliation, mental state, etc. So, in turn they proved willing to come to my aid despite the threat of personal abuse from guards. This speaks volumes on the value of engaging others who have racialist views and prejudices and struggling to remould them.

Each of these examples shows the benefits that may be gained from this approach to such people. If I had refused to engage them, there would have been violence (very likely deadly violence) between me and the Oregon and Texas groups just as the pigs intended to see. The Oregonians would not have joined the Cali prisoner strike (they also entered into an agreement to end hostilities in Oregon following the example of Cali’s prisoners). The various Comrades, allies and neutrals I was able to influence to these ends would not have been won over to an anti-racist position. And so on.

The Maoist Line on Combatting Chauvinism

As in many areas of revolutionary struggle, the Maoist line has proven superior in its approach to uniting the oppressed, even in the area of combatting chauvinism on both the “majority” and “minority” sides of the social divide.

The Chinese revolution that Mao Tse-tung led, was compelled to unite many distinct and polarized nationalities of Chinese into a force capable of reckoning with and defeating both multiple foreign imperialist powers, and native warlords, and bourgeois forces in pawn to the imperialists. Mao was himself a member of the Han majority who had for centuries reigned over and oppressed the many other minority nationalities. He led the struggle to purge these chauvinistic relations from Chinese society, by reeducating and confronting those who adhered to chauvinistic views and attitudes. He specifically opposed any position that would allow people to avoid or shun those who harbored polarizing attitudes, which included his own Party Comrades. He correctly recognized that they were remnants of bourgeois thinking that had to be reeducated to be overcome.

His work in this regard proved so effective that it had a profound influence on BPP co-founder Comrade Huey P. Newton, when he visited and was allowed unrestricted access to tour Mao’s revolutionary China. Huey saw in Mao’s work a solution to racism in Amerika. He expressed as much in an interview:

“I saw crystal clear how we can start to reduce the kinds of conflicts that we’re having in this country. I saw an example of that in China… What I saw was this: when I went there I was very unenlightened and I thought, as it has been said so often, that China would be a homogenous kind of racial/ethnic territory. Then I found that 50 percent of the Chinese territory is occupied by a 54 percent population of national minorities, large ethnic minorities. They speak different languages, they look very different, they eat different foods. Yet, there is no conflict. I observed one day that each region — we call them cities — is actually controlled by these ethnic minorities, yet they’re still Chinese… I’m talking about a general condition in China where ethnic minorities I’ve observed control their whole regions. They have a right to have representation in the Chinese Communist Party. At the same time they have their own principles… The cities in this country could be organized like that, with community control. At the same time, not black control so that no whites can come in. I’m saying there would be democracy in the inner city. The administration should reflect the population of people there.”[10]

But things were not always so harmonious. So how did they reach this state? Mao gives the answer as one of confronting the chauvinists and chauvinistic values as reflections of the influences of the old enemy order that must be confronted and reeducated. Avoiding them clearly offered no solution, except to allow them to prevail unchallenged.

Here’s Mao; just a few decades before Huey was to witness the harmonious condition that he found in Mao’s revolutionary China:

“In some places the relations between nationalities are far from normal. For Communists this is an intolerable situation. We must go to the root and criticize Han chauvinist ideas which exist to a serious degree among many Party members and cadres, namely, the reactionary ideas of the landlord class and the bourgeoisie or the ideas characteristic of the Kuomintang, which are manifested in the relations between nationalities. Mistakes in this respect must be corrected at once. Delegations led by comrades who are familiar with our nationality policy and full of sympathy for our minority nationalities, make a serious effort at investigation and study and help Party and government organizations in the localities discover and solve problems. The visits should not be those of ‘looking at flowers on horseback.’

“Judging from the mass of information on hand, the Central Committee holds that wherever there are minority nationalities the general rule is that there are problems calling for solution and in some cases very serious ones. On the surface all is quiet, but actually there are some very serious problems. What has come to light in various places in the last two or three years shows that Han chauvinism exists almost everywhere. It will be very dangerous if we fail now to give timely education and resolutely overcome Han chauvinism in the Party and among the people. The problem in the relations between nationalities which reveals itself in the Party and among the people in many places is the existence of Han chauvinism to a serious degree and not just a matter of its vestiges. In other words, bourgeois ideas dominate the minds of those comrades and people who have no Marxist education and have not grasped the nationality policy of the Central Committee. Therefore, education must be assiduously carried out so that this problem can be solved step by step. Moreover, the newspapers should publish more articles based on specific facts to criticize Han chauvinism openly and educate the Party members and the people.”[11]

And Mao understood, as do we, that this sort of polarizing chauvinism infects not merely the “majority” nationality group, but also the “minority” nationalities, and must be struggled with among the “minority” groups as well. This is the same with New Afrikans/Blacks and others who hold polarizing “racial” views as against the white majority.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it should be rather apparent that the problem of white supremacy cannot be resolved by shunning those who harbor such views as Azzurra’s detractors believe; and that to the extent that Azzurra’s interaction with them is based upon a conscious commitment to struggle to remould racist programming, then her position is exactly right.

But as for die hard racist reactionaries, they must be dealt with by isolating them and mobilizing revolutionary forces to minimize their influence on others, and to repress them by force where they present a genuine threat of violence. In either case unless we actively struggle to change the conditioning of people, they will not change. As Mao said, “everything reactionary is the same, if you don’t hit it it won’t fall.” It’s like a dirty floor, the dirt will not remove itself.

Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the people!

Notes

[1] Bacon led the revolt against the Virginia colonial government because the governor would not support his efforts to invade and seize lands from Indian tribes living near the colonial settlements. So he brought servants, slaves and poor farmers together in the rebellion promising them land and freedom. The revolt succeeded in overthrowing the colonial government and burning down the capitol. Six months into the rebellion Bacon died of swamp fever and the rebellion, deprived of its leader, was ultimately put down and the colonial government restored to power. But the lesson that was taken from this event was the need to counter such a united resistance of laborers again, which prompted the invention of racialized statuses amongst the population and the polarization of the laborers along racial lines by the colonial ruling class and its government.

[2] From the preface of George Jackson’s, Blood in My Eye (1971).

[3] Tom “Big Warrior” Watts, “Mao More Than Ever 2017” (2017).

[4] Ibid., quoting, Fred Hampton, “Power Anywhere There’s People”, Vita Wa Watu: A New Afrikan Theoretical Journal, Book 11, Aug. 1987, p.4.

[5] Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “On the Questions of Race and Racism: Revolutionary National Liberation and Building the United Front Against Imperialism — A Statement in Support of the White Panther Organization” (2006), http://rashidmod.com/?p=288

[6] Op.cit., note 4, Vita Wa Watu, Book 11, p.23.

[7] Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Racialization and Incarceration: The Politics of Polarization and Containment in Amerika” (2016), http://rashidmod.com/?p=2225

[8] Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “Political Struggle in the Teeth of Prison Reaction: From Virginia to Oregon,” Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 27, No.1 (March 2013), pp. 54-59, http://www.sdonline.org

[9] Kelvin “Khaysi” Canada, “Pantherizing the Masses,” http://rashidmod.com/?p=2169, and Op cit., note 5.

[10] David Hilliard & Donald Weiss, eds., The Huey P. Newton Reader (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002), pp. 279-80.

[11] Mao Tse-tung, “Criticize Han Chauvinism,” March 16, 1953.

 

source: The Revolutionary Response To Racism: Reply To A Communique By Azzurra Crispino (2017)

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