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“Expose The Contradiction”: William C Anderson On Anarchism, Mutual Aid, What Comes Nest
by William C Anderson
Friday Oct 23rd, 2020 9:59 AM
“Expose The Contradiction”: William C Anderson On Anarchism, Mutual Aid, And What Comes Next
Introduction and Interview by William C. Anderson

The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has highlighted the daily disasters of capitalism. A lack of healthcare, a safe environment, housing, and food are an everyday question for a growing segment of vulnerable people. This has brought about a noticeable interest in anarchism for many. The failures of the state were made plain by ineffective solutions, willful neglect, and utter disregard for human life. It exposed deeper questions (for some) about the plausibility of statist solutions. In concert with all this, authorities began to take notice, evidenced by its mounting attacks and scapegoating of anarchists. President Trump and many others seemingly identified a set of politics they found threatening and worthy of blame. This is no coincidence and it follows a historical pattern.

As usual, anarchism was denied its complexity by shallow, willful misreadings. The intricacy of various sets of anarchist politics, principles, and approaches were reduced to the trope of the terroristic bomb-thrower. Even as anarchists organize and take part in mutual aid projects around the country during this pandemic, this is not what anarchism represents to many people. In the midst of a global pandemic, the effectiveness of these sorts of projects paired with other survival programs has become especially relevant. Although, for opponents, so did the necessity to attack these politics from all sides. Still, growing interest in Black anarchism has remained undeterred.

Black anarchism has long been sustained by the works of often overlooked thinkers and revolutionaries. Among them is Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin. I first met Lorenzo in 2012 at an organizing workshop I helped lead alongside different organizers across the South. My friend (who’d come up with the idea) invited Lorenzo to speak based on the recommendation of someone she knew. It didn’t take long for Lorenzo and his partner JoNina Ervin to make the truths of anarchism clear to me. It started me on my journey to fully embracing Black anarchism.

Lorenzo has lived a revolutionary life to say the least. After being introduced to anarchism by Martin Sostre, a jailhouse lawyer that was one of the architects of the prisoner’s rights movement as we know it, he’s had to battle and flee U.S. authorities more than once. He’s lived all over the world while teaching and organizing. These are just some of the reasons it’s important to hear his insights about the current predicament we’re facing.

I spoke with Lorenzo about Black autonomy, fascism, and what’s needed as we confront the crisis.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

William C. Anderson (WCA): What do you think about the current uprisings happening throughout the country in response to police violence?

Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin (LKE): I think the uprisings are good but we’re seeing that they have limitations as a revolutionary uprising. These limitations allow the state to subvert the nature of uprisings as well as the issues as mere reforms. The state and the liberal politicians and others are able to utilize that against the movement. This kind of cooptation has been happening for a while. I’ve watched 60 years of protests and so-called “riots” and rebellions and uprisings in major cities and small towns like Ferguson, Missouri. I’ve watched 60 years of them going back to 1964 with the Harlem rebellion in Harlem, New York. It was always something to do with the police. One form or another, they kill somebody, beat somebody, or just came in the community and did some kind of atrocity. And the people responded with a fight back. What’s been allowed to happen in this instance is that the people rebel, the people fight back, and people put up a mass front of protests. Then the politicians and the others claim to be using their issues or their drive to then turn around and propose some liberal reforms, which aren’t liberal at all, actually.

What we see is that each time the police terror or racism becomes worse or it just becomes prolonged. So we have to ask ourselves, “Okay we’re having protests. We’re going up against the man. But are we also not understanding that the role here now is to transform the society as a whole?” We’re not trying to just get some “defund the police” or whatever. The government is not giving anything, and even with the protests pressuring them, they have yet to come up with anything in terms of any kind of program to prevent further atrocities against Black people. There have been thousands of people killed by the police in the United States and the government has given impunity to the killer cops.

This is a form, in my estimation, of class warfare or fascist policing, and we need to understand that. They are using the most violent statist agents, especially in the Black community and in poor communities. They are using them to beat down any grassroots political opposition as well. They’re using them to create a new kind of criminal system where they are summarily charging people and putting them in prison for long periods of time with draconian sentences. And this has been going on for quite some time. So, rebellions are great. They’re wonderful, it’s great to see people standing up. The only thing is, you know my standpoint as an old long-term activist and everything, I try to look at the actual essence of a struggle, not just the fact that it’s happening. The orientation of the struggle today is very similar to what I saw in the final stages of the civil rights movement. You see them win reforms, but not transform the system itself. That’s the difference between revolutionaries and reformers, we want to smash the state entirely.

We can’t organize the way we organized back in the 60s, we can’t organize the way we organized even 30 years ago, 20 years ago. We’ve got to break new political ground and have new political theory and new political tactics.

WCA: What sort of advice would you have for young radicals then who want to transform this society? What advice do you have for those who are politicized and looking for some direction on how to go about doing the things you think need to be done?

LKE: We as activists, as organizers, have to make ourselves and our communities ungovernable. I know you’ve heard that term before. That means what it says. We have to make it so that we create a new kind of political system of our own, whether it’s dual power or revolutionary direct democracy, whatever we want to call it in this period. We need to create that kind of movement, a mass anti-fascist movement on one hand. And on the other hand, we need to have the capacity on a mass scale to build a community-based mass economic survival tendency, based on cooperatives in the ghetto for housing the poor, rebuilding the cities, and taking care of the material needs of the poor. We need to be able to build that. I’m not opposed to some of these groups that are coming about because although not now radical, potentially they could turn into something else. But what needs to happen is that we need to be reaching the masses of urban poor people with these programs. We’re not fighting just to have a cult or a group, or some leaders. We’re fighting to put power in the hands of the people in a new society. Presumably, revolutionaries know some things in some areas of organizing that people don’t know. So we need to be training them, we need to be equipping them to be independent of this political structure. I also think the Black Panther Party was right, we need to have survival programs and we need to be going beyond just what they had. We should be trying to build the survival economy in this period right now.

We should go from this period where there are some people who understand or are practicing mutual aid, but the masses do not. So we need to go beyond “just helping,” to working toward some sort of different economy, a survival economy on the way to full on anarchist communism. Maybe that’s the name we know of, as anarchists, but in some parts of the world, they call it a “solidarity economy” to help them survive capitalism. Whatever it’s called, we need to have that so we’re not totally dependent on the capitalist state. I don’t claim to know it all, but I do know some things and I know one thing that’s not going to work—is when you allow the same corrupt, racist cops to claim that they’re reformed now or you got the same politicians claiming “Well, this is not the same system, we’ve never found a way to defund the police, but we’re reorganizing it, so be patient!” George Jackson, a radical prisoner in California and member of the Black Panther Party in the 1960’s, himself, said that such police or prison reforms are nothing but the further rise of fascism. They help fascism become acceptable to the people.

We’ve dealt with that for years because you see how the police have been using different kinds of psychological warfare and pseudo campaigns like Weed and Seed, or community policing over the years. That stuff was designed to put the police in power over the community. They were intentional racial profiling and control measures, and we need to understand what’s been happening up to this point. This stuff with Trump is just the culmination or the end stage of their building of fascism. They built the prison system which is the biggest in the world. They built that back years ago. They started using paramilitary policing years ago, especially in the Black community. All these things that we see, these forms of what would constitute a fascist state in another country, they don’t have to build it. They’ve already got segments of it built in America.

You have to ask yourself some critical questions like how is this ever being allowed to happen at a time when you’ve got all these so-called anti-racist, anti-fascists in name. But they even don’t do anything to deal with this kind of fascist struggle against itself. They go and get in the street and fight some drunk Nazi, some low grade kind of organizing campaign. We need more than that in this period, now coming up especially. We need the ability to have a mass base, not just youth but communities, a broad segment of the people. We need that mass base added to a new kind of politics where the people are being put in control, rather than the politicians or preachers or whomever all these people they’ve chosen. Tell the youth to build movements from the grassroots up. Build resistance movements and build a large enough movement that cannot be controlled by the state so that, as I said before, it’s ungovernable. And ungovernable means a number of things to people in the movement right now: it means the kind of tactics you engage in in the street, it means how the community is organized that they don’t have to depend on these politicians, it means a mass boycott of capitalist corporations, a new transitional economy, and many others things as part of a resistance.

One thing I’ll be most anxious to say to people is we can’t organize the way we organize back in the 60s, we can’t organize the way we organized even 30 years ago, 20 years ago. We’ve got to break new political ground and have new political theory and new political tactics. These don’t come from one person or group alone, it must be decided by the people themselves.

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