by BaoYunCheng

In this following post, I argue for movement builders and revolutionaries to take seriously the task of organizing with low-income people of color in the ghetto—the unemployed, the homeless, the gang members. I hope to engage with two primary audiences: white anti-racist progressives and revolutionaries. In my first section, I criticize white anti-racists and how they use the idea of white privilege (aka privilege politics) to distance themselves from directly organizing with people of color. In the later sections, I lay out the urgent need for revolutionaries and movement builders to organize with street people of color (POCs) and thus avoid reproducing the problems of social distancing by white anti-racists and avoid the rigid conception of working-class-led revolution by contemporary revolutionaries.


It happens so much it’s become ritual now. Every time I hear the overstated progressive truism “the oppressed peoples must lead the movement” put forth by an organizer/activist who’s completely disconnected from the day-to-day interactions with oppressed communities—and believe me, when you’re around the organizing scenes in Seattle, you hear it as frequent as it rains—the song “Black Boy” by Tech N9ne plays in my head. I can just hear a more movement-oriented Tech N9ne singing, “I was told by your movement I was a fool…I think I know why organizers would look in my eye and say that, and why’s that?” with Krizz Kaliko (Kali) responding in his opera-esque voice, “Cuz I’m a BLACKBOY!…Scared to see me, frauds disappear like a genie.”

I think Kali’s line “frauds disappear like a genie” is particularly appropriate for white anti-racists who talk the big talk of people of color movements and the need for people of color (POC) leadership, but don’t walk the walk in building this movement together with street folks and low-income POCs. White anti-racists, this day and age, seem intent on organizing in comfortable spaces while using the aforementioned truism to validate their own distance from low-income workers, unemployed, and street people of color based in the inner cities and ghettos of Amerikkka.

The added irony is that many white anti-racists, if they are in majority white organizations, proudly use the language of ANTI-RACISM as an excuse to not organize with street people of color. They correctly point to past histories of militant people of color movements co-opted by white folks, at the same time blatantly forgetting groups like the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Congress of African Peoples, the Young Lords, and the Black Panther Party, none of whom could be dismissed as folks who were intimidated and co-opted by white anti-racists. This is extremely important when thinking about the possibilities of multi-racial organizations for the contemporary period. However, there is a host of real history, theories, and organizations which have devolved a multi-racial way of organizing into separate movement building based on “privilege”: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Freedom Summer, Fanon’s “Black Skin White Masks,” Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement, the Black Panther Party’s call to organize in one’s respective community, and Noel Ignatiev’s “Race Traitor.” A lot has been lumped together, and what is of interest is how each of these examples has been interpreted to justify specific social relations in terms of race.

To get to the point, the interpretations of this historical line up determine how white anti-racists are supposed to behave in a room full of people of color. One line of interpretation that exists is that anytime a white anti-racist walks in a room with other POCs, this strips agency and independent decision-making ability from oppressed people. How can this but assume that oppressed folks are stupid and silent when next to white anti-racists? As long as there’s distance between low-income street POCs and more organizers who consciously avoid organizing on the streets because of their “privilege”, there’s a problem.

To be clear, I most definitely disagree with Kali’s term, “fraud,” to indict white anti-racists. The sentiment that oppressed peoples must lead the movement is, in fact, real talk. However, what these progressives wholly miscalculate and fail to recognize is that in the inner city today, we don’t have the Black Liberation Army, the Panthers, the Young Lords, or the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. We have the Crips, the Bloods, the Surenos, the MS-13. As B.o.B. puts it, “I ain’t have neighbors, that’s why they call it hood.” Among progressives, there’s often a romanticization of the black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s that is projected onto today’s black community. With this romantic projection comes another misguided expectation that today’s inner city POCs will organize and move independently because their objective conditions (white supremacist and capitalist Amerikkka systematically and completely fucking over inner cities) are far beyond intolerable. And when they move, there’s an expectation that they’ll move towards anti-patriarchy, anti-homophobia, anti-ableism because in the analytical minds of progressives, it makes sense that liberation is connected. In reality, when POCs have moved since the fall of the South African apartheid regime, it has taken on a middle-class leadership and orientation that fails to challenge capitalism, patriarchy, homophobia, and ableism (i.e. the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, the Million Man March, Jesse Jackson, Obamanation). Because white anti-racists who may have sound stances on patriarchy et al. don’t organize in the hood though, it’s no surprise that many overlook, postpone, or even change their own analysis on patriarchy when giving unconditional support to or becoming allies with existing middle-class POC organizations rooted in low-income POC communities. This results in reproducing the failures of having separate movements for black liberation and women’s liberation in the 1960s, should a patriarchal black middle-class organization become the vanguard for a contemporary black liberation movement. Perhaps two street prophets and activists, Tupac Shakur and Cle “Bone” Sloan (former Blood who made the excellent documentary “Bastards of the Party”), give more insight into the reality of depoliticization in the hood. They both criticize past (black male) movement leaders of the 1960s and 1970s for failing to spread political ideas and lessons and militant traditions to the current generation of POC youth. This failure of past leaders has allowed for a middle-class POC elite to emerge and reign in the militancy of our current generation, instead turning us into believers of “Change!” and reforming the system through electoral politics at best, or turning us into “suicidal thugs” (to invoke both Huey Newton and Tupac) at worst.

Hand-in-hand with white anti-racists distancing from the hood is a more nuanced, subconscious racist fear of the “other” (the unknown) that gets to the spirit of Tupac and Bone’s grim reflection: fear of thugs or, as Kali sings it, “BLACKBOY!” More often than not, because white anti-racist progressives never set foot near the ghetto and get to know its population on a genuine basis, their own fear is shaped by the media’s dehumanization of street POCs into cold-blooded predators. Progressives then conflate mainstream hip hop or gangsta rap to thug culture and distance themselves from that as well. When they ostracize hip hop, progressives who do come in contact with street POCs quickly become irrelevant like the mainstream school system because they have no common basis to jump from. Though many progressives are quick to recognize the social context behind gang participation, their own act of social distancing exposes the contradiction between their sympathy for the unfortunate predicament of street POCs, and their lack of true solidarity in active movement building with street POCs. In the following section, I will lay out why it’s urgent and necessary to organize with street POCs.


I’m going to shift focus away from the white anti-racist progressives and re-orient the rest of this post to revolutionaries who recognize the need for total change of structure, of system from oppression to liberation, and to build an interconnected movement to do so. I wanted to start with a critique on white anti-racist progressives in hopes of cautioning revolutionaries from assuming similar positions of deliberate social distancing from the streets, both in theory and in practice. As much as this post has criticized white anti-racists, I also want to challenge revolutionaries today (i.e. many Trotskyists) who rigidly view the working class (i.e. those employed in a workplace) as the agents of revolutionary change, and thus associate unemployed street POCs as either secondary or altogether insignificant in the initial process for social change.

Today, more and more youth are getting initiated into gangs because the 1960s and 1970s are drifting farther and farther away. More and more youth will be stuck in gangs because capitalist Amerikkka has decided to cut jobs, cut public services, defund education, lower wages, bust unions, destroy homes, gentrify communities, and bail out shadow bankers who caused the global economic crisis in the first place. Most importantly, more and more youth will be driven to individual suicide because there’s no revolutionary suicide (Huey Newton) tradition present. More and more will be driven to deathstyle (versus lifestyle, to invoke a phrase from “Bastards of the Party”) in gangbanging because there’s no alternative revolutionary organization in the hood to channel the widespread anger to a productive and necessary fight against the racist system. Street youth today lack a positive political vision of a genuine democratic, people-run society provided to them. If we are rhetorically serious about the necessity of the most oppressed to participate in and lead a movement, then we need to be actively serious in seeing through street POCs getting politicized (with perspectives of third world feminism, queer liberation, from-below democracy, etc). The task of organizing with street POCs is urgent. In the coming days of economic depression in the hood, will street youth be faced with a choice between Bloods or Crips, or gangs or revolutionary organization?

Revolutionaries need to seriously study efforts from past organizations that have organized the lumpen to avoid repeating mistakes and build off their strengths. Instead of demobilizing based on the paper-thin excuse that the BPP failed because of gang members themselves (that gang members inherently brought their violent tendencies and gang mentality and lowered the political consciousness of the organization, as Chris Booker argues in “The Black Panthers: Reconsidered”), we need to ask ourselves why gang members were not getting politicized and how the gang mentality trumped revolutionary discipline in the BPP. I have heard this paper-thin argument invoked many times to forewarn the impossibility and impracticality of organizing with gang youth. One of the more common arguments I hear is that gang members’ loyalties are volatile, that they can turn back to deathstyle at any moment. My counter to that is absence of a positive political vision and alternative, this is true, but in my own conversations with local gang youth, none have expressed a long-term desire of banging. In fact, most tell me they desire a college degree, or to go to culinary school, in recognition that banging is, indeed, a sentence to death or incarceration. Their desire points to the urgency and practicality of street organizing. Imagine a thousands-deep movement of street youth demanding access to higher education on the front steps of the University of Washington. When we talk about higher education, we don’t think affordability for middle-class students currently enrolled at UW. We talk about education is a right to all who want it, regardless of income level, and one that, like the student struggles of the late 1960s demanded, should be community-oriented and community-serving. Curriculums should not reflect the class interests of the rulers, but should be empowering and disseminating of the ideas and instruments needed to further fight racism, patriarchy, homophobia, and ableism in society. Without the element of street POCs in the fight for higher education who bring the numbers, urgency, and community vision, any higher education movement will devolve into a reformist affordability campaign that may successfully increase enrollment for a few more students from the inner city, but will co-opt them into the individualistic and disempowering way of middle-class life and “official society.” We see this today in the middle-class and cultural orientation of student of color groups today on campus, which have devolved from their political-militant and broader community roots of the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, when we say the oppressed must lead the movement, we need to ensure that those from the hood who are currently priced out of the university—their interests, as opposed to the interests of middle-class POCs already enrolled—must be foregrounded and they must lead the movement.

Volatility and lack of commitment aren’t problems endemic to the hood either. In my own campus and labor organizing, college students and workers have exhibited a spotty turnout. Because UW has already undergone much privatization in the last decade, many students are not low-income and don’t feel the urgency of the tuition hikes/budget cuts and consequently, the urgency to organize. Among the low-income students who are not channeled into the individualistic mindset of college or middle-class oriented ethnic cultural groups, many commute from longer distances and can’t attend meetings, or else work a few jobs just to stay enrolled. It has been extremely difficult to find low-income students who remain committed to building a long-term movement, given these factors, and given the lack of others from their own situation with whom they can organize. With workers like custodians who initially turned out in hundreds to protest the cuts when it first came down, many have now backed out from organizing because they’ve experienced intense management retaliation, police harassment, and union bureaucracy backlash. Their jobs are on the line, so over time, without solidarity actions from other workplaces or among the community (i.e. unemployed street POCs who want jobs that pay well and are unionized, so they should fight with UW workers to ensure that wages are high and unions are strong because UW is one of the largest employers in state and their labor practices affect other workplaces), we have seen a decrease of worker optimism and involvement in labor organizing. Because few, if any, opportunities and jobs are available in the hood, street POCs don’t face the question of college complacency or getting fired. Absent of movement organizing, the choices are few and grim. The situation is urgent. Just as we say that black worker demands need to be met in the workplace to elevate the conditions of both black and white workers, a mobilized hood fighting for jobs and opportunities will not only save the hood, but bolster the collective power and confidence of worker movements.


So, why did the BPP fail? In her autobiography, ex-Panther Assata Shakur points to the male chauvinism and the vanguard authoritarianism of the Panther leadership. Loosely based on Maoist vanguard organization instead of democratic organization culture, the Panthers centralized political leadership among the top echelon of the Party and failed to build leadership and develop political consciousness among their rank and file. When the FBI’s COINTELPRO brought down Huey, the BPP was all but dead. Therefore, political education of street POCs must be prioritized. Revolutionaries cannot assume the role of vanguard and lead the liberation of the hood. This will fail either in the course of the movement, as it becomes attacked by the state and leaders are picked off one by one, or after the overthrow of the state, as the vanguard revolutionary leadership becomes the new oppressive ruling class exploiting those they purported to have fought for. As I have stated repeatedly already, oppressed peoples are NOT stupid, they do NOT need to be led by a vanguard and they need to lead the movement. As I have also stated in my critique of white anti-racists, this does NOT mean that revolutionaries do NOT share information and sound analyses like anti-patriarchy with oppressed folks. We need to re-conceptualize education from the undemocratic, authoritarian standard banking-model where more enlightened teachers deposit information to learning students. The task of education is a task of leadership development. But, the educational process cannot be truly liberating if it’s a one-way street. It must be a mutual, dialectical process in which both revolutionary and street POCs teach and learn from each other, strategize together in order to advance the struggle. This is a concept that Paulo Friere outlines in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

A dialectical education means that revolutionaries are NEITHER dismissive nor judgmental towards the interests of street POCs. Far too many revolutionary individuals and groups are quick to attack mainstream and gangsta rap for its misogyny and violence, thereby stripping away one big feature in which they could be relevant to street POCs. Conversely, being versed in hip hop allows a revolutionary not only to open seemingly nonpolitical, unintimidating conversations with street POCs, but also opens the door to more political conversations of patriarchy and homophobia using the language of hip hop. We’ve got to remember that the misogyny and violence in hip hop is merely a reflection of the patriarchal and violent system, and any condemnation towards individual songs and artists incorrectly shift blame from the system. The key task is to contextualize patriarchal lyrics of songs familiar to street POCs into this broader systemic analysis. It’s a false expectation to jump straight into women’s liberation and recreates the worst of vanguard authoritarianism in that revolutionaries who go into the hood don’t care about the individuals—their unique personalities, their interests, their needs, but just the cookie cutter program of disseminating revolution to the masses.

Early in the fall, I worked in a high school in the Central District with students diagnosed with Emotional Behavioral Disorder (EBD). (I’ve subsequently worked in many of these classrooms and have noticed a severely disproportionate number of black and Latino street youth diagnosed with this. It is a socially constructed disability. Many are diagnosed at an early age because they have not performed academically on par with the rest of their grade, and do not choose to engage with classroom material. Once you get to know these youth, you’ll find that they are extremely smart, can list out many real-life experiences of racism in ways I cannot articulate, and can read if presented with relevant material. They are a testament to the irrelevance of the standardized school curriculum to street POCs). The lead teacher, a middle-aged white woman, unsuccessfully tried to run a by-the-textbook world history lesson on Buddhism. The students were blasting their ipods, myspacing on the computers, and mad disrespecting the teacher and running the classroom, calling her a “fat b****” and “pop that p****” to her face. She ineptly and nervously laughed at these situations, while trying to play friend to the students. When a student made a comment of how he heard another female student in the room fucking someone else in the school, the teacher obnoxiously jumped in saying to the male student, “oh Jamal, you know so much about everyone else. You should be a matchmaker.” It was painful for me to watch her attempt to teach. I jumped in and broadly related the classroom lesson to spirituality and religion in hip hop (many of the concepts I had thought out already from my previous blog entry “Hip Hop Has Saved My Spirituality”), which paved the way for a more focused lesson on Buddhism, which I also related to hip hop. I related Buddha’s contemplative journey towards self-realization and meditation to Tupac’s spiritual journey of challenging contemporary religious authorities like the Pope and his ultimate self-realization that gangstas had their own heaven or thugz mansion free of police harassment; I related Buddha’s divine laws to the laws of hip hop godfather Afrika Bambaataa’s Universal Zulu Nation. The classroom dynamic immediately changed and the students were focused. The hip hop references gave me an edge of credibility and respect because I respect and I myself identified with the hip hop generation. More importantly, by introducing gangsta rappers like DMX into the spirituality and religion discussion, I was able to draw from DMX the following day and have a rich discussion on his quote, “Look thru my eyes, see what I see, do as I do, be as I be, walk in my shoes, hurt your feet, then know why I do dirt in the street,” which gave students an opportunity to reflect, journal on and then share about their experiences with racism, law and authority, and growing up in black and poor in the ghetto. Without even explicitly bringing up politics, hip hop had turned the classroom political and allowed students to bond on their common experiences with racism, and allowed me to situate their personal experiences into a broader system of racist oppression. Just like that, hip hop saved the day. By drawing from my own experience, I hope this illustrates the need to be relevant and NOT be a broken record screaming “REVOLUTION!”

Education is a dialectical, mutually reinforcing process. I’ve worked with a lot of young street POCs this past year and have learned immensely about gangs, racism, gentrification—in short, the “real” Seattle, from the run-down motels along Aurora Ave of the otherwise white bourgie North End, to the increasingly gentrified neighborhoods of High Point and White Center in West Seattle, to the bastion of the white homeless juggalo family hovering around downtown Westlake. I’ve come to respect the positive values that gang membership brings, while develop a more thorough critique of gangs and, consequently, believe in the urgency of developing revolutionary organization in the hood. The best values of gangs reflect the unflinching loyalty and commitment to the cause, and militancy and confrontational attitude from the revolutionary organizations of the 1960s and 1970s that is sorely needed in many more organizations today. Of course, the worst—the preying on other community members, the self-destruction, minority-on-minority violence, the patriarchal and homophobic culture—reflect on the failures of yesterday’s movement to transmit lessons of the past. Many more rank-and-file gang members realize the fatality of gangbanging and are searching for an alternative vision. They scoff at the school system for patronizing them and treating them like youth when, as one Blood validly pointed out to me as he was unrolling a stack of benjamins, he’s had so much more real life experiences than myself or any other counselor or teacher. At the same time, they cling onto the one alternative that they hear from teachers day in and day out, that one day they can be restaurant owners, lawyers, businessmen, heads of painting companies, if they stopped banging, get their act together, and concentrate in school. With the economic crisis deepening, and governments turning to austerity measures resulting in social service cutbacks and even fewer opportunities, can movement-building revolutionaries help chart a new and real positive alternative that street POCs devote their lives to? Can movements once again become an ordinary social activity today among ordinary folks as they were just a few decades ago? Will revolutionaries step up to the task to organize with street POCs in a non-patronizing, non-authoritarian way? If we can’t, then any broad movement will leave out some of the most oppressed folks and violate the sentiment that oppressed folks must lead the movement. I hope this post will be the start of more serious studying and discussions around past and contemporary efforts of organizing with street POCs, and more serious engagement with street POCs.

14 thoughts on “No More Excuses, Time to Organize in the Ghetto

  1. BYC,
    This is a great article, you pose a lot of crucial questions that everyone on the Left should be wrestling with on a daily basis. This is the sort of thing that usually gets drowned out in a series of sectarian polemics that entirely miss the point so I hope our readership here will avoid that (we’ve got a good track record of discussing hella controversial shit on here in a productive way, let’s keep it up). I generally agree with every argument you put forward, especially your thoughtful criticism of “privilege politics”, the idea that white activists should organize only among white folks and should defer to people of color leadership even if this leadership is middle class, reformist, patriarchal, and supportive of the white supremacist system.

    I want to focus on the second part of your argument, where you talk about why revolutionaries should organize folks you call “street people of color.” Here are a few quick thoughts, and hopefully I’ll write more later:

    1) I know you don’t mean this at all but the piece could be misread as suggesting that anti-patriarchal perspectives can only come from outside the hood, by revolutionaries or white anti-racist activists. I know you don’t think this is the case, and in practice you have tremendous respect for the ability of folks in the hood, lead by women and transfolks of color, to deal with their own shit and overcome some of these issues. This is obvious in how you talk about hip hop and gender later in the piece but I think it could have been made clearer from jump.

    2) I agree with you it’s a really shallow argument to say that the Black Panthers fell apart because there were too many gang members in it. I also agree that gang members are not necessarily any less consistent and committed than working class folks or middle class folks. (in the short term though there might be more at stake in terms of immediate violence and security concerns if gang members revert to previous loyalties that might not be there if working folks do the same. But over the long run working folks reverting to previous loyalties like US nationalism and joining the military, etc. can be even more dangerous than any gang!). So I feel you on those points.

    3) On the other hand, I think you may be missing a deeper point Booker’s trying to get across with the Black Panther Party Reconsidered book, or at least the point we’ve tried to get at when we’ve discussed it in Unity and Struggle study groups in the past. If I remember correctly, Booker said a lot of middle class folks, college students, etc. glorified gang members in the Panthers as more authentically revolutionary or militant. They tried to talk in a way that imitated how gang members talked and this lead at times to imprecise formulations and big talk about violence that were confusing and brought down unnecessary heat from the cops. They held the lumpen up as the vanguard of the struggle in a way that is just as flat, reductionistic, and dangerous as the Trotskyists you describe holding the working class up as the vanguard. It’s another side of the same coin, reducing class struggle to a dead sociological analysis that fails to see class as a dynamic process. This was part of a whole Maoist tendency at the time that saw the lumpen as the “peasantry” of the US who would be at the forefront of guerilla warfare just like peasants in the 3rd world were.

    4) My sense is you would disagree with all of that. But the question is then how can we avoid creating a situation in our own organizations where folks coming from middle class backgrounds end up glorifying folks you call “street pocs”? One way is to make sure that our organizations have lots of leadership by WORKING class people of color, including folks from the hood. This doesn’t mean we should only organize working class pocs at the expense of pocs in gangs. But I would argue that no organization will be able to successfully organize gang members without strong leadership of working class pocs from the hood. I agree with everything you lay out about pedagogy of the oppressed, drawing from hip hop as a means of communicating theory and practice, etc. However, who is this “revolutionary” person you imagine teaching and learning from street pocs? I imagine you would agree with me that she can’t just be a lower middle class/ skilled working class alternative school teacher like you and I. She can’t just be someone who has a college degree. I mean folks like us will certainly continue to play an important role in the struggle and we need to defend what we’re doing against all those haters who will dismiss it as either unimportant or dangerous. But we also can’t privilege our own role, which I don’t imagine you have any intention of doing… we need to recognize that a lot of our students parents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. who are longshormen, nurses, service industry workers, unemployed folks living on public assistance, etc.- in short working class, non-lumpen members of the hood – are also doing a lot of that teaching and learning and need to play a more central role in it by becoming revolutionaries. In our group some folks from these backgrounds are revolutionaries or are becoming revolutionaries, which is great, but I think we need to make a consistent, focused effort to reach more folks from these layers. The custodian oragnizing is not separate from that becuase a lot of the custodians’ are from the same neighborhoods and communiteis as the “street pocs” you’re talking about. Without that kind of leadership, any revolutionary group including our own simply wont’ have the respect, stability, roots, grounding, dynamism, and legitimacy to attempt things like gang truces, uniting former gang members from rival gangs into the same organization, organizing city wide mobilizations that cross lines of inter-neighborhood or inter-ethnic beefs, uniting urban rebellions with general strikes, etc. which will desperately need to be done in the upcoming decades. I agree strongly with your statement: “Just as we say that black worker demands need to be met in the workplace to elevate the conditions of both black and white workers, a mobilized hood fighting for jobs and opportunities will not only save the hood, but bolster the collective power and confidence of worker movements.” But I see the time-sequence of the organizing processes here a little differently. With race in the workplace we say that we should start with the demands of the most oppressed workers first then try to win over less oppressed workers to those demands by showing it’s in their interest to fight together. I definitely do not think we should follow the same pattern by organizing gang members first then working class people of color. I think both types of organizing need to happen at the same time, adjusting of course for the particularities of specific neighborhoods and cities, the demands put forward in specific campaigns, etc.

    5) But back to the Booker peice. The key thing is we need to recognize there a multiple ways to be a militant person of color, multiple ways to rep the hood and fight for the liberation of the hood, and experiences that emerge out of gangs are not the only ways; just like they are not irrelevant or secondary to revolutionary politics, they are also not somehow more revolutionary than the working class. CLR James, Frantz Fanon, Jimmy Boggs, etc. all were serious, tough, committed, loyal Black militants whose inspiring swagger and confidence did not come from a gang background but from other sets of experiences. I do think that a lot of youth of color need to see that there are multiple ways to be tough and to stick together in the face of haters, and being a gang member is not the only way. I was just thinking about the Korean workers who occupied the Ssyangyong factory. They beat the police with clubs, threw moltov cocktails, and made catapults/ slingshots to fire bolts and spare parts to fuck up the cops. This is also what we should be thinking about when we think about militant people of color. When you look at working class history there are some though motherfuckers who make a lot of gang members today looks soft by comparison. And, of course, toughness is not the only virtue needed in a revolutionary movement, as you acknowledge in your piece.

    6) I’m not harping on this point to invalidate anything you said. I’m also not accusing you of glorifying the lumpen, I’m just emphasizing that this is a danger Booker tried to raise which you are a bit too quick to dismiss in your valid critique of shallow readings of the history he presents. I’m so adamant about this because I also work with youth in the hood in a classroom with a lot of folks who are in some way gang affiliated. But I’ve consistently met students who are not gang members and who are revolutionaries. I’ve seen some of these folks get frustrated that gang culture dominates so much of the classroom, the neighborhood, etc. and suppresses their own aspirations and experiences. I remember we were talking about stateless societies in some parts of Africa and were debating whether we should have cops, courts, etc in society. A self-identified Blood was saying yeah get rid of all that and then he would rule as a kind of warlord and everyone would follow him. In reaction to this, a more working class student said that folks like that Blood have beef with the cops and the state for very different reasons then he does and while he’s against the cops and the state folks like that make it hard for him to imagine an alternative. That’s real, it’s not some internalized racism/ classism, or some attempt to distance himself as an individual from the hood or pull himself up by his bootstraps. It’s real class tension between the working class and the lumpenproletariat that plays out every day in the hood. Working class poc in the hood don’t like getting robbed, shot, etc. by gang members or by drug addicts the gang members make their money off of. That’s real. These folks will ask questions like how do you stop this shit without calling the racist pigs? Is it possible for the hood to be self-governing with folks taking advantage of their own communities like this? These are real questions and if revolutionaries can’t answer them then working class poc in the hood could end up buying into middle class “law and order” perspectives because the alternative we are proposing does not seem credible.

    7) I think in a lot of ways the experiences of working class pocs are often erased both by official society and the Left. Think about the show the Wire. It portrays really sharply the social relations and contradictions among Black cops, teachers, and gang members, and largely white longshoremen, but where is the Black working class? Where are the aunties of the gang members and the younger brothers of the cops in Baltimore who work overtime at the Minute Maid factory or a small electronics parts supplier or Wal Mart or Dennys to get by every day? Or folks who work for a while, collect unemployment, then work for a bit, then are laid off again? After all there are a lot of unemployed workers who don’t fall into the Marxist term “lumpenproletariat” because they don’t make a living off of illegal activity, they just make do with very little. I’m not trying to glorify that and I’m not trying to lecture gang members and tell them they should settle for poverty and a slim unemployment check instead of slanging, I’m just saying that the experiences of folks who DO choose that path should not be erased or seen as somehow less legitimate then those who get involved in gangs. A lot of these folks are mocked, even within some strands of contemporary Hip Hop, as somehow not as ambitious, intelligent, or daring as gang members. When we think of Hip Hop there is so much obvious reflection on gang life that the more working class themes that run through the music and culture is often lost… I was just listening to Ludacris’ “Slap” where he talks about wanting to kill his boss after a bad day at work and he talks about hearing George Bush on TV and saying “I don’t want to hear shit that he has to say…” This sort of working class rage is there in hip hop for sure but it needs to be drawn out as much as the dialectic of positive and negative gang experiences you talk about.

    8) So to conclude, I think this is the key lesson we can learn from the Panthers: at their worst, their legacy has become an unhealthy alliance between the middle class and the lumpen. This has happened through middle class revolutionaries glorifying and trying to act like gang members as part of some obsession with guerilla warfare or being tough. Perhaps this came from folks overcompensating for their anxieties about their own class background and their feelings of inadequacy. At times it also happens through nonprofits doing “survival programs” or educational programs and setting up ways for middle class folks to serve the lumpen without the militant organized resistance the Panthers did as part of their day to day work. At their best, the Panthers legacy has become an alliance between the working class and the lumpen where both learn from each other to build a revolutionary movement in the hood. As long as you’re talking about the later legacy and not the former then I completely agree with you, the Panthers can still serve as a model for what we have to build today.

    In any case, I agree with you, the Left, including us, should get to work organizing in the hood. Any critical study of the Panthers should serve to help us do this better, not to generate excuses for not doing it.

  2. This is a great piece, very thought-provoking and necessary, raising the crucial point of the concept of the lumpen and its implications for organizing.

    Fanon and Cleaver are two people to read on the subject, who have a lot to offer theoretically (esp. since Marxism has been very dubious and moralistic when it comes to the lumpen). Let’s face it: the category of the lumpen is both very incoherent but also indispensable, since it points to very real challenges that we need to face in our organizing.

    One concern I have is with the seeming opposition between “gangs” and those with “consciousness.” I think the task is a little more complex and dialectical than teaching consciousness to would-be gangbangers. It’s also about recognizing the substantial knowledge and capacity for dual power that so-called gang members possess (without glorifying them, of course, which is sometimes easier said than done).

    Your dialectical approach to hip-hop is right on, and indicative of how we should deal with questions of the lumpen in general.

    I disagree with Mamos, who makes it sound as though “working” people should lead the “non-working.” First of all, I’m not sure I know what is meant by “working.” What kind of work? Second, what is it that “working” provides in terms of enlightened capacity for leadership? (One could argue the opposite). Finally, Newton/Cleaver define the lumpen as un-employable, and claim that this represents many POCs and will represent more in the future. How does an insistence on leadership by the “working” avoid instituting a new hierarchy of leadership within the revolutionary community?

  3. This is a great piece, very thought-provoking and necessary, raising the crucial point of the concept of the lumpen and its implications for organizing.

    Fanon and Cleaver are two people to read on the subject, who have a lot to offer theoretically (esp. since Marxism has been very dubious and moralistic when it comes to the lumpen). Let’s face it: the category of the lumpen is both very incoherent but also indispensable, since it points to very real challenges that we need to face in our organizing.

    One concern I have is with the seeming opposition between “gangs” and those with “consciousness.” I think the task is a little more complex and dialectical than teaching consciousness to would-be gangbangers. It’s also about recognizing the substantial knowledge and capacity for dual power that so-called gang members possess (without glorifying them, of course, which is sometimes easier said than done).

    Your dialectical approach to hip-hop is right on, and indicative of how we should deal with questions of the lumpen in general.

    I disagree with Mamos, who makes it sound as though “working” people should lead the “non-working.” First of all, I’m not sure I know what is meant by “working.” What kind of work? Second, what is it that “working” provides in terms of enlightened capacity for leadership? (One could argue the opposite).

    Finally, Newton/Cleaver define the lumpen as un-employable, and claim that this represents many POCs and will represent more in the future. How does an insistence on leadership by the “working” avoid instituting a new hierarchy of leadership within the revolutionary community?

  4. Gio thanks for your response. Just to clarify, I’m not saying that working people are the only ones who can lead. Gang members, former gang members, etc. can also lead. But what will it take for these folks to be long-term revolutionary leaders who can build powerful anti-capitalist organizations in the ghetto? There are HUGE challenges here which cannot easily be dismissed simply because we want to “bend the stick” away from the Left’s dogmatic insistence that only workers can lead. I work with gang members on a day to day basis and am constantly trying to encourage them to become revolutionaries, and I’m constantly learning from some of the very revolutionary ideas and practice they express on a daily basis, but I also have no illusions about them suddenly leading the movement considering how much they’re up against. Also, to be real, I hear them saying a lot of reactionary shit too and me and other students in the class challenge that. I’m not giving up on these folks and I’m most definitely not saying unless you’re in a factory you’re hopeless, but I’m also under no illusions that the Left making a turn to “organize the ghetto” as BYC calls for will suddenly mean that hundreds or thousands of gang members will become revolutionary leaders. It’s gonna be a hard road and there are no shortcuts.

    The reality is as you get older it gets harder and harder to survive off of illegal activity, a lot of folks either end up in highly professionalized hustles, dead, in jail, living off of public assistance, or sitting outside the gas station convenience store all day. I doubt folks in highly professionalized hustles are the ones who are gonna become revolutionaries – I think BYC is thinking more of rank and file gang members, the “workers” of gangs whose labor is exploited to make profit for higher ups in the gang hierarchies, the more professionalized dealers/ pimps/ trafickers/etc. Of course folks in jail, on public assistance, or working can all play crucial roles in the movement. All of this illustrates your point about the instability of the category “lumpen”. So when I talk about working people I’m not necessarily opposing “working people” to “gang members” or creating a hierarchy of the former over the later, I’m just trying to be realistic about the challenges of organizing in the ghetto and am trying to avoid glorifying living off illegal activity as somehow “more revolutionary” than working. There are tendencies on the Left and in popular culture to do just that, and as I argued, this silences the knowledge and consciousness of a lot of working class youth in the ghetto who are trying to get out of the gangs and into the workplace.

    Also, I think you’re misunderstanding what I mean by leadership and consciousness. In my comments above I am taking for granted a vision of leadership that I think BYC shares, which is that a leader should build on aspects of revolutionary consciousness that everyday people in our communities already express on a day to day basis -what CLR James called the Invading Socialist Society. If you are the same Gio who wrote the excellent piece on the Oscar Grant uprising then I imagine you would agree – you really draw out the rationality of folks who participated in the Oakland rebellions Put differently, a leader should teach but should also learn, and “teaching” and “learning” are not separate. This is a vision of Pedagogy of the Oppressed I hear BYC articulating. I was just trying to say that folks deeper in the working class can engage in this form of leadership/ teaching/learning too, not just skilled workers/lower middle class folks with college education who have the formal title of “teacher”. (As revolutionaries we need to break down the division between “teachers” and everyone else, between the classroom and the neighborhood, and that’s all I was trying to get at in my argument. I think a certain reading of the Panthers reinforces an unhealthy alliance between the middle class and the lumpen, but again if you’re the same Gio I imagine you’d agree considering your sharp critiques of the Oakland nonprofits who claim the Panther’s legacy. )
    Again, I would consider former gang members and even some currently gang affiliated folks to be part of this category of “working people” or working class leaders in the ghetto who can teach. Especially if folks are rank and file gang members whose labor is exploited. Another way to put it is a lot of thee folks can become organic intellectuals. You see that happening today especially through hip hop as BYC argues.

    You ask what about working contributes to revolutionary consciousness. That’s an excellent question but I don’t have time to get into it… perhaps someone else could take it up.

    Finally, can you please elaborate on your point about gangs and dual power? I’m not sure where you’re going with this. From what I understand, dual power is the emergence of popular self-management like neighborhood civil defense committees that could replace the cops, or workers councils that could replace bosses. It emerges during revolutions when the state is on the brink of collapse. How do you see gangs contributing to this?

  5. Hi Mamos,

    Thanks for the clarifications. I think we’re pretty much on the same page.

    Regarding dual power, I understand the concept as building institutions of the future now, which as you say, have the possibility of replacing the police and the state more generally.

    For Lenin, this dual power must necessarily be armed, which makes some sense, since privileges are not given up without a fight.

    To replace the police, however, we face a dual task: to create institutions that are both better than the police (reflecting our new world), but which are also capable of challenging the police in this world.

    On the latter, we have a lot we can learn from those institutions which currently exist beyond state/police control. Gangs are one such institution, but as you well note, they often have a complicated relation to the institutions of the free world of the future.

    Our task is to work with their actually existing dual power potential and turn it toward the sort of society we hope to build.

  6. Thanks for the clarification. This is a really crucial discussion.

    I’m not sure if I agree with your overall analysis of dual power, I’d have to think about it a lot more though to make a solid critique. Let me try to get back to you on this.

    Assuming for a second though that your analysis is correct, I’m not sure that gangs really prefigure the new society in any way. The self-activity of some gang members when they participate in actions against the police might point a way forward but the gangs structures themselves are another story. I know there is variation among gang structures, but which gangs do you imagine having dual power potential and why? Aren’t a lot of gangs, especially larger ones, involved in exploitation and the generation of profit? Aren’t a lot of gangs internally authoritarian, with a strict hierarchy of leadership that can’t easily be challenged by rank and file gang members? How does that prefigure a direct democratic society? And, the no snitching rule aside, some gangs do work with the police, or as mercenaries for whoever can pay them, which could at times include ruling class interests.

    In my class we did a simulated strike scenario. A student who is a gang leader said he would sign on as a pinkerton mercenary to kill the strikers if the bosses paid him enough. Other students racialized the situation and basically called him a sell out/ uncle tom because they were assuming that the workers would be workers of color from the hood and he changed his position and said he’d organize his gang to fight the pinkertons and to support the picket line. This is not far fetched and could actually happen in real life. Historically gangs have been on both sides of picket lines.

    Isn’t the US government experimenting with governing through gangs and mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan? They’ve put a lot of thugs and drug cartel leaders in power and have paid off gang leaders to help kill insurgents… what if they decide to apply some of these techniques here in the US if society polarizes or mass movements and rebellions break out? If I understand him correctly, Don Hamerquist argued something like this is likely in his piece on Barack, Badiou, and Bilal Al Hasan; I don’t necessarily agree with his entire argument but I do think that war is often a laboratory of new methods of social control. We need to watch out for this if the chickens come home to roost. If this happens, which gangs would accept the government’s offers and which would join the resistance? How can the Left respond if this happens?

    I’m not sure if a framework of dual power helps us answer these questions, though I do think that we need to answer them clearly to prepare for possible dual power situations and the state’s attempts to crush the new, second power (direct democracy) before it can consolidate itself.

  7. I think the discussion of white privilege analysis as often causing social distancing is spot on. I’ve run into this a ton of times and haven’t had a vocabulary to talk about it, I think social distancing is a great term for it, so thanks for that.

    I have a few scattered thoughts on the rest and about the discussion. About gang members and the categories ‘street’ and ‘lumpen’ – I don’t know much about gangs but if gangs are criminalized commercial enterprises then I’m not sure that gang members should be thought of as outside the working class. I don’t see why legality should loom that large in the definition – I know Marx makes a lot out of legal categories (‘free labor’), but I think that was a mistake. Gang members have a very particular sort of work (but so do intermodal truckers who are legally considered independent contractors) – they still work for pay. I don’t know that much hangs on the distinction either way, I’m just don’t get what the reasoning would be to draw a conceptual line on which one side is the working class and on the other side are gang members (among others). Clearly the distinction might be tactically important (it’s a whole different ball of wax to get involved in someone’s struggle against their employer if they’re a truck driver vs a low level drug dealer, say), but beyond that I don’t get it.

    About gangs and dual power, I’d like to see a discussion between Gio and Mamos on the category of dual power. That aside, I know Gio so I know he didn’t mean this but it’s not clear from his post — it’s important not to mistake fighting the police for being progressive or revolutionary. As an analogy, think about inter-imperialist conflict, or competition between larger and smaller capitalist enterprises. That some entity is opposing something we oppose doesn’t mean the entity is on our side. And, as Mamos points out, there are instances of collusion between gangs and police – thinking about the parallels he draws with Hamerquist’s work we might say in some cases gangs form a privatized extension of the repressive apparatus of the state. None of that speaks to the capacities of gang *members* – I think that there’s an important distinction to be held onto between gang members and gangs as institutions, just as we’d distinguish between a company and the people who work there, or between a union as an institution and the people who belong to it as members.

    Getting back to the article, I’d like to hear more about what Bao Yun Cheng and others think the organizing called for should be about. I quite like the call for access to higher education. I’d like to hear more examples of what y’all have in mind, and about the balance of short term/collective goals (like, say, lots more people of color having access to decent education, to go with one suggested in this article) with long term and I think more individualized goals (relationship building and developing leaders who are revolutionary cadre). For whatever it’s worth, I was very briefly involved in tenant organizing on the far north side of Chicago before the real estate bubble collapsed. We were working with two main constituencies, people who were being pushed out of rental units due to illegal condo conversions, and people who lived in public housing and were being reshuffled repeatedly in the city’s “conversion” plan. In both groups, and even more so the public housing residents, women with kids were some of the key people involved. There were various challenges with that, but that was who got most plugged in. The ones with waged work tended to be involved out of love for their kids and outrage that their kids were dealing with the shit happening to their families. The ones without waged work tended to be on some form of assistance and have more kids, likewise motivated and they had a bit more time available in the sense that they were doing unwaged reproductive work that took place mostly in their homes, so they were relatively easy to find and talk to. Our efforts laid some decent groundwork for mass work, including touching off a rent strike. That work was hard but I think no harder probably than the stuff that y’all are doing with custodians etc – it was mostly a matter of putting in the time, plugging away and after while stuff started to come together. From my admittedly limited experience I think that sort of stuff is definitely do-able, and a lot of versions of white privilege analysis mostly get in the way or are a non sequitur for it. I wasn’t around long enough to know if there was any cadre development (I doubt it – we didn’t prioritize it or have any ideas how to do so), I moved out of Chicago shortly after and am sadly no longer in touch with anyone from that time.

  8. This is a great post, BYC, and there was just so much that resonated with me, I don’t know where to start.

    1) As a white anti-racist, I think you are right on with part 1 of your piece. For me, at its best, the process of white folks (at least middle class white folks) becoming conscious and revolutionary is like a spiral…that is, as we grow through praxis, it’s healthy to circle back and forth between more and less social distancing with whom we’re working with…but only if the distancing is continuously decreasing! So, at the beginning I think it does make sense to spend time in spaces with other white folks to work on some stuff and save poc’s some of the time of helping us through our defensiveness, etc. After all, those remain our “home bases.” But there is a point where that social distancing, as you call it, becomes another form of racism, and we are challenged to loop back toward multi-racial work. Then, inevitably, we’ll fuck up in some way, and break some trust, and it’ll make sense to get support and accountability from other white folks who know where we’re from…but the key is to keep spiraling back to multiracial relationships. And as we grow, I think, like a spiral, that circle gets smaller and smaller, until our genuine community, our relationships of trust and struggle, are multiracial.

    But I think the contemporary language around privilege, especially in Seattle white progressive circles, is so mechanical and formulaic that we don’t have any sense of that dialectic, of that moving through contradictions, toward a new “home base.” We just stagnate in these wooden, awkward, guilty formations that give us no revolutionary agency, and at the same time are completely patronizing of poc’s. So yeah, I really, really agree with you.

    I also really agree with the observation of how current privilege analysis doesn’t give white people the tools to actually differentiate between authentic grassroots leadership of people of color, and self-proclaimed, middle class, non-profit leadership from the most visible people of color white people see. So often, I see white folks like me falling into the trap of fawning over organizations and individuals of color that aren’t revolutionary, aren’t principled, and–crucially important–don’t even have a base in their communities!

    2) I am enjoying the discussion of the organizing relationship between street poc’s and working class poc’s, and whether there’s a difference. I don’t have much to add at this point, because I agree with most of what’s being unearthed.

    I do agree strongly with the original point that revolutionaries should be organizing with these youth (because most of them are youth), and building power with them. I’ve been working with gang affiliated and non-affilitated youth of color in the Seattle area for almost 7 years now, first at Tyee High School, now at Seattle Young People’s Project, and my experiences run parallel with both BYC’s stories (disproportionate tracking into special ed and other programs, lack of relevant connection to what’s being taught, an unhelpful obsession by white teachers on being seen as friends) and Mamos’ stories (the contradictory consciousness of gang affiliated youth, and the frustrations of non-affiliated youth with how much space the youth who bang are taking up, whether in the media, with adults’ attention, or even in physical spaces like the bus). There is a lot here, and it is so, so worth diving into.

    If this is something that any of you are actively working on in Seattle, I would love to be involved, or for even SYPP to try discussing with you. Not to have this kind of work colonized by a non-profit, but from an earnest, movement building place, because that’s where I’m coming from.

    3) Two points that I think should be added to this discussion are 1) the relationship of white street youth to this conversation, and 2) the importance of taking trauma and healing seriously in revolutionary work like this.

    One thing I’ve learned about race and whiteness amongst working class and poor youth in South King County is that middle class notions of white privilege just don’t fit. Even my spiral example doesn’t fit. There are plenty of poor white youth in SeaTac and Tukwilla who have grown up their whole lives sharing apartment buildings with their friends of color. They understand white privilege just fine, because they see it in how the cops and store clerks and teachers treat them differently than their friends. But if you talk to them about forming separate spaces with other white folks, they will look at you like you’re crazy…because you are crazy! Their home is in multiracial relationships, and their relationship to both privilege and accountability is in those relationships. Their dress and swagger is not cultural appropriation, it’s what they know.

    The second point is that in my work with gang affiliated youth, I’ve gotten a sense of what they’ve faced, what they suffer, and the survival mechanisms they have found within gang relationships. But to think about organizing for the long haul–and also thinking about the BPP example here–means thinking about trauma and healing as well. I think bangers are fully capable of developing organic feminist and queer positive politics, but to move through those spaces requires a whole level of trust and emotional support, support to work through a whole lot of pain and a bunch of ideas about manhood that go in contradiction to what they learn and what is reinforced in gang culture. This requires revolutionary relationships that don’t just validate all of the macho shit they say and believe, but which challenge them, from a humble place, to feel deeper and relate to their sisters and brothers in struggle. What I’m trying to say is sort of agreeing with Mamos’ point about Booker’s book (which I haven’t read): we can’t just mimic or play into bangers’ militance and masculinity as a way to build relationships or organizations…we’ve got to come to the table with space for vulnerability and authentic challenges to be better people, especially in relationship to women, and to themselves…not moralizing, mind you, but working from their own expressed desires to be better people. Because they do share that desire.

    4) I think the discussion hip-hop, dialogue, and Pedagogy of the Oppressed is solid! The examples you give, BYC, of songs and lines fits really well with Freire’s discussion of generative themes and of coded situations. This is something that revolutionary educators can really be exploring more, not just in creating “hip-hop textbooks”, but more dialogical ways of using hip-hop in theory-building.

    5) BYC: In late August, SYPP is having it’s week long Youth Organizing Institute…any interest in testing out some of this hip-hop pop ed with a 2-hour workshop with 20-25 local youth, almost all youth of color? If you are interested, I’ll talk with the youth organizers about it.

    6) I’m all about this discussion of dual-power! I agree with Gio about the overall definition of dual-power as spaces that can be built now, not just when the state is about to collapse.

    However I don’t see gangs as authentic forms of dual-power, for all the reasons Mamos’ as stated. But I do think they point out spaces in poor and working class communities in which dual-power can be built. The fact that gangs exist shows that there are vast spaces, even in the heart of Empire, that aren’t colonized by the State…that is, spaces with the potential for different formations that can be sustained without immediate State interference. Think about the “No Snitches” movement, for example…super complicated, but there is a lot of potential space there for dual power thinking, I believe.

    However, just because a space isn’t colonized by the State doesn’t mean it’s a liberated space, either. But I do think it offers more fluid opportunities for movement building than other spaces, even if gangs as they often currently exist are reactionary and exploitative in the big picture.

    It’s a pleasure to join this discussion…it’s really good!

  9. Hey BYC and all,
    Thanks for this discussion. Here are some quick thoughts:

    1) It is true that Trotskyists who have a rigid conception of what the “working class” is, have given scant consideration to the questions of organizing street youth or youth organizing for that matter. But in my experience, this is a theme that Maoists and other revolutionaries have taken up and experimented with. That whole camp of contemporary organizers and thinkers are missing from this piece. It is important not to lump all revolutionaries under the Trot camp cos it skews our understanding of who is out there, and whose past experiences we need to learn from and/or challenge.

    The BPP is not an anachronism. Many progressive non profits draw from and betray aspects of the BPP politics today.As much as I disagree with the politics and form of progressive non profits, it is also simplistic to think that they simply have bad politics, or desire to be the next ruling POC bureaucrats. Some do, but it doesnt explain the many talented, radical organizers that progressive non profits attract. We need to challenge these orgs and their radical narratives to draw future organizers away from the bureaucratic non-profit camp. We can’t do that without looking seriously looking at how organizations that were formed as fighting organizations became bureaucratic non profits over time. What were the pressures of organizing and building alternative institutions, that led to the openings for bureaucratic politics? How would we do it differently? How do we work with economically oppressed folks and sustain ourselves as fighting organizations who dont end up relying on the state for resources? What are the challenges of these?

    2) My experience with working with street poc has also been with street sex workers, queer and/or female. Very few of them have been independent sex workers, and instead more of them are under 18 with pimps who are involved in gangs. Oftentimes, the sex workers themselves dont get to keep the money and instead get it as allowances form the pimp. Yes, sex work may be a job women choose, but these conditions are extremely exploitative, oppressive and patriarchal. There are many layers of trauma and fear related to this and young women who try to get out keep getting sucked back into the game either through desperation or violence. Non profits dont deal with the fundamental questions of poverty, gender oppression and gangs and rely only on the state to resolve any issues of violence. A revolutionary vision of street organizing needs to take this reality into account and I hope, be ready to back up women by any means necessary who are trying to leave the game. There is a way to reclaim the histories of resistance that led to the formation of gangs, while also looking at how some of them have degenerated and attacked those in their own communities.

    3) I think there is a distinction b/w organizing gangs from within, and creating fighting organizations in the community that are open to gang members and channels the aspirations that BYC talks about, of many rank and file gang members, toward a fighting vision that involves the best of the gang culture and replaces its worst aspects with new values, toward a reclaiming of the neighborhood and community space from gentrifiers, racists and the cops. These two different models may overlap, but I think they present different organizing scenarios and challenges.

    4) We need to stop using the frameworks of old school Trots and let them shape where we are headed. The working class consists of various layers (employed, unemployed, intermittently employed) with various roles in capitalist production, with some that are more crucial for capitalism’s continuation, than others. The beefing b/w unemployed and employed just buys into a whole divide and conquer within communities. As revolutionaries, we say EVERYONE needs to organize to struggle side by side with one another against privatization, neoliberalism, capitalism etc. Folks here have commented on this already. I think we also need also to be heading toward breaking down what “work” is in capitalist terms. Like I mentioned in an earlier piece, the homeless youth I worked with hated working cos they hated the authoritarianism of the workplace and the miserly paycheck they got for working their asses off. Likewise, many workers on the job are rebelling against this exact authoritarianism and discipline. What divides these struggles for labor that is fulfilling, satisfying and fun, is that one is a “productive member of society” while the other is “lazy and homeless.” Without negating the real need for income on our society, the desire for responsibility as a value, and pride individuals feel in their productivity, can we also move toward thinking about productivity in non-capitalist and non-ableist ways that can help us bridge this divide between workers and non-workers? I would like to explore this more.

  10. Jomo asks, “…can we also move toward thinking about productivity in non-capitalist and non-ableist ways that can help us bridge this divide between workers and non-workers?”

    Ask a housewife! As odd is it may sound, I think there are some parallels to be found here, as long as we are talking about people living outside, but in many ways dominated by, the wage-labor system.

    These are all people who are doing work that is not directly connected to wages. There are no “non-workers,” unless we only define work as waged labor. Many of us have been exploring the question of the role of reproductive labor under capitalism and we often focus on how the work isn’t paid, or perhaps is indirectly paid by wages paid to a laborer who is then cared for (reproduced) by an unpaid laborer. But what we don’t often consider is the way that this work that the housewife does is work that humans will always do regardless of wages (and its unfortunately work that is invisible to many Marxists who think that clean underwear just appears magically.) Living well, living contentedly and fully and free (which is what I hope we’re aiming for) involves work. At a minimum it involves cooking and cleaning, building shelters, caring for our little ones, and growing and harvesting food. This is also work that becomes onerous and oppressive only to the extent to which it is dominated by the wage-labor system, either directly or indirectly. Otherwise it is the work that actually reflects and contributes to the meaningfulness of life itself.

    Interestingly to me, the housewife in today’s world is seen as a “non-worker” in a different way than she was seen before feminism created a wider opening for women to enter the wage-labor system. Keeping in mind that poor women have long worked for wages outside their homes, and that wealthy women have long stayed out of the workforce while paying those same poor women to do all the reproductive labor in the home for them, the mass influx of women into the wage-labor system in the 70’s ushered in an era during which any so-called “housewife” was to be viewed with suspicion. Once women generally had the option of working for wages, the decision to remain a reproductive laborer in the home became socially unacceptable and an indication of laziness and unproductivity. However, just in simple, short-term home-economic terms, it is often financially untenable and irrational for working-class families to have two “earners,” one of whose pay is completely absorbed by the cost of the childcare necessary to make it possible to go to work. (My own family decided that one of us staying home and raising the kids and caring for the family generally made sense even on our limited income from a construction job because of this economic conundrum, as well as the acknowledgment that the work was crucial for our well-being. I spent years feeling ashamed and worried that it made me look lazy, even though the work was non-stop. Maybe the fact that I was self-managed, and that the work involved love and caring and nurturing, the fact that it was “fulfilling, satisfying and fun,” to use Jomo’s phrase, contributed to the assumption that it was “unproductive” and therefore worthless. I further question the symbiotic relationship between mainstream feminism’s push for access to wages and the concurrent flat-lining of workers’ wages in the late seventies. Capitalism ended up getting two workers for the price of one.)

    Jomo states, “…the homeless youth I worked with hated working cos they hated the authoritarianism of the workplace and the miserly paycheck they got for working their asses off. Likewise, many workers on the job are rebelling against this exact authoritarianism and discipline. What divides these struggles for labor that is fulfilling, satisfying and fun, is that one is a ‘productive member of society’ while the other is ‘lazy and homeless.’” My question is about the work that these homeless youth are inevitably doing, even if it is invisible to us, as the housewife’s work is often made invisible. Any work that is taking place outside of the ‘authoritarianism and discipline’ of the wage labor system should be examined for any kind of key it may hold for our liberation.

  11. It is important to acknowledge the role and legacy of COINTELPRO in the destruction of the movement, in particular the genuine black liberation movement, happening in Seattle and globally (in the form of national liberation movements seeking to establish socialist/communist states and kick Europe or Amerikkka out of their lands).

    Leaders in this city were in fact KILLED and imprisoned, leaving only lower-level party leaders, who were (over time) systematically rendered ineffective and irrelevant by their own political short-sightedness, ideological contradictions, and often mental illness (counter-insurgency includes psychological warfare as a ‘pillar’ of its effectiveness) made even more pronounced by attacks upon those persons from outright reactionaries from within and outside the black community; coupled with the larger changing political climate in the U.S. going from the late 1960’s and into the 70’s.

    Even in such acknowledgement, many activists still sleep on the “carrot” part of the essentially ‘carrot and stick’ approach used by both the Johnson and Nixon administration, and led by then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

    One example of a ‘carrot’ for the masses was affirmative action. Another was expansion of food stamp programs. As these programs were being rolled out, there was even more active recruitment of people of color, especially black people, into law enforcement (aka ‘local counter-insurgency’).

    Affirmative action was specific counter-insurgency tactic designed to undermine the economic base of the black community (of all classes), making it even more dependent on the federal government and white-owned/controlled philanpthropy and investment.

    Affirmative action was also a way to silence those who sought reparations and self-determination; especially those groups and individuals who equated those two things as part of a creating a larger socialist economic and political reality, and openly advocated such.

    After neutralizing the genuine revolutionary vanguard (a REAL vanguard, as demonstrated by a 1969 poll that showed the 85% of blacks nationally supported the platform and program of the BPP; as opposed to a “vanguard” party that is a self-defined as such, a vanguard in dogmatic proclaimation only), the field was wide open for knee-grow uncle toms (preachers, politicians, poverty pimps from amongst the grassroots looking for a ‘come up’, and religous charlatans of all types to assume political leadership.

    This was also around the time that:

    – Free clinics set-up by the Black Panther Party in Seattle were taken over by King County.

    – Institutions that were fought for and established by the people, such as SOIC (now known as SVI) and Liberty Bank (Seattle’s only Black-owned bank…ever) were destroyed from within by local neo-colonial knee-grow “leadership” appointed to these various administrative positions by the city, state, county, or feds (depending, of course, on which particular bureaucracy we are speaking of).

    – The majority of the white left in Seattle and elsewhere in the U.S., taking advantage of the destruction of the BPP, and even while to a lesser degree facing repression themselves, decided that they were the all-knowing “vanguard” and began the repeated missionary-style forays into “da ghetto” that continue to this day; which help neither them nor the community.

    These forces often purposely hide their actual program, organizational history, and the ‘hidden’ history of the movement in the U.S. and globally, especially when that history reveals the treachery that black movements (and other movement of color) have faced at the hands of both ‘friend’ and ‘foe’ alike from the white population, from outright racists to democrats to “socialists”.

    Those of us who are aware of all of this, who are and have been ‘in the trenches’ doing the work, who dare to question or critique are viewed as impediments to their organization’s “progress” by many of the white left, and roundly denounced as “reactionary black nationalists” by the leadership or leading elements who, materially (and thus ideoligcally), are the radicalized petit-bourgoeis/labor aristocrat descendants of those whose current wealth as a nation was obtained by the free labor of our ancestors on the stolen land of our fellow oppressed nations/internal colonies.

    Based upon the real-world implications of this fact alone, the most directly effected have every right (and in fact a duty) to interrogate and all who proclaim themselves to be the “vanguard”/the “messiah”!

    – Even as Vietnam was ‘winding down’, U.S. imperialism was busying itself clandestinely in starting (or fanning the flames of existing) conflicts in the Middle East and Central America; consciously setting the stage for what we see happening globally.

    This is done, of course, to open new markets to Amerikkkan companies to take the resources, manufacture consumer goods using the chear or free labor of the people of that particular 3rd world neo-colony, and then ship the product(s) back to Amerikkka and Europe for consumption.

    However, due to people of all classes and nationalities in Amerikkka having relative access to the tickle-down wealth that comes from these numerous wars of conquest in the name of “the war on terror”, our actual material basis for revolution is greatly diminished! This is starting to change; in an especially proletarianizing way (at least economically; the politcal content of their proletarianization still, for the most part, decidedly reactionary) amongst whites, as we are seeing with the rise of the Tea Party movement and re-birth of openly facsist organizations. The middle class in the U.S. is erroding even faster now, which is a good thing.

    However, at this time, a homeless person in NYC is still a part of the 15% of the world’s wealthiest!

    So, yes where there is repression, there is resistance: but how that resistance plays out (popular resistance that is co-opted by the state at the hands of its neo-colonial knee-grow puppets vs. evolving that popular resistance into revolution in our lifetime) is also greatly influenced by the relative desperation of those most directly effected by an issue or set of issues. If you know anything about Palestine, it is no mystery as to why young men and women over there now strap bombs to themselves as a method of resistance!

    With the relative economic privilege that most Amerikkkan’s enjoy (including many oppressed peoples in “da ghetto”, even with 40% unemployment nationally amongst black people) with a corporate-controlled/compliant media and educational institutional machine that dumbs-down the people with propaganda and lies 24/7/365, we have a clearer, albeit grimmer, picture of what we’re really up against.

    The days of simpleton solutions are done. Science must previal over swift game!

  12. @ Huli:
    Thanks alot for sharing your experiences and bringing up new questions!

    I have some quick thoughts that your comments spurred. Sorry it’s all scattered. I am trying to think through this!!

    1) Unwaged labor also has its own form of alienation. This is what Selma and folks are also addressing in Sex Race and Class, and this is also how patriarchy manifests itself. This is also how waged labor (through its pretense of freedom) has gained currency and weight in feminist revolts.

    What I mean is, in the same way that under waged labor, workers are commodified and the products of their labor end up defining who they are, similarly for unwaged labor in the household (housewives), the reproductive labor that they do end up defining who they are. Marx says “whatever the product of [the worker] is, [the worker] is not.”

    Under waged labor, this process is commodification. For women doing reproductive work, this is patriarchy and it is racialized as well.

    In reality, as experiences and histories of many low-income women of color show, the alienation and exploitation of unwaged and waged labor are both undesired dichotomies that need to be destroyed.

    2) “Work” in our society is defined by alienation. You need to feel pain, discipline, to feel like a productive person [which is why when we have fun doing productive things we are told we have to feel guilty/are slacking.] Capitalism tells us you need to have displaced certain aspects of who you are (aka be professional, aka dont be “too” gay, “too” ethnic, etc etc), to freeze urself as an emotional, fully functioning, creative being, to be a worker. In fact, the work schedule is formed around these expectations.

    In my experience as a healthcare worker, this alienation/freezing of one’s human qualities takes the form speed up — I am expected to take care of X number of residents in my 8 hour shift and I am not supposed to care more for them in my shift than the basic. For folks we organize with who are custodians, this means their workload is determined by the X amount of time it takes to clean a classroom; it doesnt include the time it takes to socialize with the students/users of the space, or of having conversations with your co-worker about your bad day, etc.

    YET! Capitalism MARKETS itself — and in my experience, the healthcare industry competes among itself and individual nursing homes MARKET themselves as being able to provide excellent care and support for the residents. Custodial companies market themselves by saying they have great custodians who are friendly and polite, etc. Capitalism commodifies care and love and yet in doing tries to takes the life out of any acts of care or love.

    In reality, they fail at this but only because of the self activity/relationality that workers push. My former co-workers and myself take it upon ourselves to converse with the elderly, empathize with their fears of dying and talks of their former life. We take it upon ourselves to both provide GENUINE care, AND finish the job. In fact, having relationships with the people you care for makes the job of showering them, cleaning them, feeding them etc MORE effective and quicker! The same goes for the custodians we organize with. They have relationships with the staff in the buildings they work with, and in the process they make their jobs much easier cos they know where they need to clean, they know when a new function is coming up etc.

    I know you asked many more questions and I will tackle that soon!

  13. Jomo – “there is a distinction b/w organizing gangs from within, and creating fighting organizations in the community that are open to gang members”

    That’s super helpful and made me think of something. I worked with an older African American guy for a while in Chicago who had done a lot of work on the Harold Washington mayoral election. There’s a lot to criticize there but I think a lot to learn from too. Among other things, he said that one of the inspiring things in that experience was that some of the neighborhood based committees of the Washington campaign recruited gang members to help with doing voter registration among public housing residents. I’m sure that this is not what you/we have in mind because of our politics but I think this is a good example or analogy for what you said. I also think it shows that in some case reformists can mobilize these populations, so that if revolutionaries don’t do so, someone else might.

    Hulli – I really like your comment about housewives and work, that speaks to a lot of experiences in my immediate and extended family. This stuff is a bit dry, but if you haven’t read it you might be interested in some marxist analyses of housework. Jomo mentioned Sex Race and Class by Selma James. There’s also The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community by Mariarosa Dallacosta. There’s some good books on this too. The Arcane of Reproduction, by Leopoldina Fortunati is a theoretical analysis of housework through marxist categories. Home and Work by Jeanne Boydston is a history of the relationship between housework and waged work in the US, among other things it talks about where the idea of a breadwinner wage came from and how it ended up that people came to think that “providing for a family” meant just earning a wage for the household – so that all the other important ways of providing for a family get obscured. It’s only partly related but Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici is another good book, about how the roots of capitalism involved restructuring gender roles and unwaged labor, through the violence of witch hunts.

  14. Hey GCL1,
    I am looking forward to more conversations around the hidden history of Seattle’s Black power and POC liberation movement. I am curious to know about the history of the Central District and the International District/Chinatown, particularly in how, if afro-asian identities and influences played any role in movement politics in Seattle. We get the same ol’ narrative from the UW and bureaucratic/middle class organizations that put up certain politics and individuals as poster child of the movements who then suggest that the militancy of the BPP is no longer relevant for today. It is also disgusting how the UW has coopted that history. Just step onto campus and you can see the “walking museum” of radicalism that has faceless POC and random quotations.

    Some thoughts and questions around what you raised:

    – The issue with affirmative action “carrot” that is a product of capitalism’s cooptation of BPP militancy is underscored and analyzed in Robert Allen’s Black Awakening in Capitalist America.

    In the excerpt included in “The Revolution Will Not be Funded,” Allen highlights the intricate process that capitalists (government and corporations) went through to subtly though decisively absorb and coopt the militancy of the Black Power movement. He lists the example of CORE and the Ford Foundation. It is the beginnings of the progressive non profit industrial complex, where militancy in culture and rhetoric is embraced, precisely to stave off any violent disruptions to capitalism. These organizations once again play out their historical demobilizing role in the Oscar Grant rebellion in Oakland.

    – Allen also analyzes how CORE’s (lack of) political program left it open to corporate penetration. Jimmy Boggs and the Panthers similarly make these points on how the issue is not simply about control of the community and its resources, but toward what economic end and benefit that control serves. Otherwise, in the case of CORE, it serves as a foil to support the black elite and bourgeoisie that would not flinch to work with the cops, to be an accomplice to white supremacy, to enforce its own class position. Slick and deliberate.

    That said, it is exactly that which is a tragedy, that oppressed people who are struggling for our liberation face a lot of pressure to be precise, exact and clear in our political objectives. In some ways, we do not have much space to fuck up as a movement. This pressure is there simply because white supremacy and capitalism are like vultures trying to capitalize on our political confusion and inclarity. This has happened time and again in the third world anti-colonial revolts and revolutions. Countless people have died because of the failed promises of anti-colonial revolts and revolutions. This explain today’s neo-colonial relationships b.w most of the world and the US ruling class.

    For me, what this points to is the need for seriously study and for oppressed people to HUMBLY and SERIOUSLY learn form the mistakes of those who came before us. What may seem like “post colonial theory” to the ivory tower academics are matters of LIFE AND DEATH FOR OPPRESSED PEOPLE AND OUR FUTURE. Like with any study , we have to be inquisitive, curious, and creative so that we dont become stagnant and mere dogmatic ideologues but always thinking ahead. We have to experiment with many different learning styles and methods with the objective of making this knowledge accessible. I can’t stand how academics and crusty old white leftists have monopolized the study of history and theory and in doing so, diminished its importance for the rest of us. Ours needs always to be a dynamic relationship and back and forth between theory and practice.

    – I dont agree with the sentiment that the US working class and poor are bought off by the US imperialist efforts abroad. How do we explain the continual privatization and attacks on the working class here that is precisely related to those overseas ventures? the examples you cited of US imperialists and capitalists going over to the ME as well as Asia and Africa to extract even more resources and cheap labor, doesnt really benefit US society. It seems like these imperialist ventures are an experiment to figure out how too to control the population here if any rebellions break out; seems too that this exploitation of Asian workers is accompanied by the creation of Third World conditions in formerly industrialized regions in the US. The incarceration of Black and Brown men, decay of infrastructure in majority Black areas in the US seem to indicate that the capitalists do not care about the surplus labor in deindustrialized areas; their way of managing surplus labor is to generate a profit. Rather than the US working class and ruling class benefitting from the attack on the third world, it seems more like the US and the multi-racial/national ruling class collaborating to make maximum profit out of their working class and poor.

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