emory-douglas-08

The following piece was written by Will, a member of FNT. It examines the race, gender and authenticity dynamics on college campuses and in the left, especially in regard to study and theory, and grapples with the implications of these dynamics for working class people of color militants.

Part 2 of Developing Militants:
The Left’s Minstrel Show and How College Educated Revolutionaries of all Colors Keep the Working Class Shucking and Jiving

 

Introduction

 

The White revolutionary left is largely college educated young people. Whether they work at a cafe, wash dishes, teach in public schools, or drive trains, they share the common experience of a college education. Their experiences in college have profoundly shaped their politics in a variety of ways.  Two particular sets of politics are race relations and relationship to revolutionary theory.  These White College Educated Revolutionaries (WCER) have never broken from the experiences in college.  Worst of all they unknowingly impose their particular college experiences on the revolutionary movement and particularly the working class whites and working class People of Color (POC)[1].  Lastly, People of Color College Educated Revolutionaries (POCCER) have played a crucial role in working with WCER in unknowingly preventing any working class leadership from developing.

This has resulted in a devastating consequence for potential POC working class revolutionaries.  They are denied the very intellectual benefits which WCER have received.  While WCER have all the best intentions, this is objectively white supremacy in motion. This results in the control of most organizations by WCER.  The POCCER in particular are rarely in genuine leadership because of this dynamic and their own contradictory relationship to education and revolutionary theory.  This results in a minstrel show where authenticity is defined by lack of knowledge of the past and the romanticization of someone’s experience.  Fundamentally it says that theory, writing, and education is not for POC.  White college educated revolutionaries control the movement and usually forefront only their experiences and expect POC and white working class people to conform to them.

I will expand on these points in this essay.  This is one of the many crises of the revolutionary left today. Sadly, much of what I describe is done under the best of intentions.  While it might sound like it at times, I do not believe there is a coordinated and evil plot to keep down working class people in the revolutionary left.  I do not believe any of these WCER are white supremacists.  They are serious revolutionaries.  But they are revolutionaries who are the product of the general historical moment and their particular life experiences. Regardless of what they say and think, I am most interested in the objective results and process of their actions.

The White College Educated Revolutionary (WCER)

 

The category of WCER is very broad and needs some political refinement. While I cannot draw extremely sharp demarcations, some minimal ones will be helpful.  I have noticed that WCER in Trotskyist and Maoist organizations do not display this problem.  If anything the Maoists are the most serious about developing well rounded revolutionaries as far as their tradition understands it.  WCER Trotskysts also display a fair amount of seriousness and fall outside the critiques I am making.

I have noticed Anarchists are some of the poorest in this sense. While there are exceptions, those who I can point out are exactly that, exceptions.  Then there are those coming out of the Johnson-Forest tradition which have most in common with the problems of the white Anarchists and WCER.  Lastly, there are the independent activists who are radicals or revolutionaries, but most importantly have not joined any revolutionary organizational form.  The core of my critique is centered around independent activists, those influenced by the Johnson-Forest tradition, and Anarchists, with all of them having in common their college education.  When using WCER, I will tend to refer to this layer as a general rule.

Most of the WCER left has had minimal contact with POC working class and unemployed.  They come out of the suburbs or small towns and go to fairly elite private or public university.  They rightly developed a moral anger against the white supremacy geared towards many communities in the USA and around the world.  They learned about Marxism in the university and often it was discussed as Stalinism. Marxism was paraded around as completely male, Euro-centric etc.  What was missing was any mention of Walter Rodney, Rosa Luxemburg, Grace Lee Boggs etc.  Or how many movements in Asia, Latin America, and Africa were marxist/ communist, although of highly Stalinist-Maoist varieties.  Nor do they study in college the Grundrisse, Johnson-Forest Tendency, Socialism or Barbarism, etc.

What first developed for these WCER as a critique of Marxism, led to a criticism of theory and universal ideas as destroying oppressed groups’ particular experiences. Theory and universalism became a stand-in for the white straight man.  While there is a strain of truth to it, it does not explain any of the women and POC militants and movements I have mentioned so far. What stood in its place was the romanticism of the individual experience of Queers, women of color, Trans-people, men of color, etc.  The class dimensions of these identities were usually hallowed out because class also became the bogey man for Marxism.  Sociological academic words like intersectionality, privilege, and positionality came to fill in for the revolutionary past.  Bourgeois thought had once again defanged revolutionary theory.

If revolutionary theory was not totally hollowed out, what was learned at best was an incomprehensible academic Marxism.  Giving certain insights to many WCERs, it also left them unable to speak plainly to anyone outside of academia.  As soon as WCERs stepped out of school, they discovered no one understood a word they spoke unless they spoke plain.  This further deepened the idea that revolutionary theory was not for the working classes.  This created a private versus public distinction of where revolutionary ideas are discussed.

Back on the college campuses, the WCER did some organizing where the only POC they encountered were their class counterparts.  The political experiences and relationship developed on college campuses had a definitive impact on how both of these groups imagine politics, organizing and race relations to be.  And these POC had been waiting their entire life to give it to the man and they found a group of WCER who were only too happy to oblige their POC counterparts.  Both the WCER and the POC revolutionaries had a sickness of revenge, guilt and an inner cowardice.

 

Authenticity + Representation: Attack on Revolutionary Theory

 

Everyone on college campuses recognized that there was a profound difference between their class reality and what people outside the campus were experiencing.  Usually this was understood in some shallow-sociological form of class.  That no one was able to make deeper connections with those outside college campuses was a reality no one could ignore.  This is part of the material basis of the politics of representation which came to fill such a role in the contemporary revolutionary left.  WCERs needed representatives to play a fill-in role since none could be found outside of college campuses.  These representatives were almost always POCCERs.

But to be representative of something, you need some claim to authenticity.  No discussion of authenticity can happen without discussing the problems of race which are inherent to the concept.  We can expose the problem by framing it in terms of a question.  Who is an authentic POC? What kind of music does an authentic POC listen to? How does an authentic POC talk? How does an authentic POC dress? Where does an authentic POC live?  What does an authentic POC eat? What are the politics of an authentic POC? The list is endless.  But this line of questions exposes the racialist/ white supremacist thinking which are the very foundations of the questions themselves.

No one in the WCER would openly ask such questions. Their white skin prevents such public statements.  But the way WCER behave in college, exposes their method of thinking.  This is where the POCCER enters.  I will not forget when I recently heard a POCCER claim that he sagged his pants low so he could make a political statement, connect with the hood, and remind others of his true origins.  This is a classic moment of authentic representation. The WCER sees someone who they believe has an accurate understanding of the POC working class.

The authentic representation combination leads to an attack on revolutionary theory.  The authentic representative is someone who hates revolutionary theory.  The following things are essential for this authentic representative to say: a) people in the hood do not read or care about books; b) people in the hood worry about the police, wages, or rent; c) people in the hoods’ experiences are enough to politicize them.

Ignorance or White Supremacy?

 

College campuses are so politically correct that open white supremacy is rare in the left.  There is something to be said of young people coming together.  Mistakes will be made and often very silly things will be said.  It is difficult to be a white revolutionary today around POC revolutionaries.  The slightest slip is taken as white supremacy and the POC revolutionary is quick to make accusations. Strangely, I have noticed that POC often say as many ridiculous things about other POC from different religions, nationalities, class backgrounds, gender etc.  However, there is much more negotiating and conversation going on within the POC space then with white counterpart.

The reality of white supremacy and the broader ignorance of white people regarding white supremacy has a lot to do with the frustrations POC revolutionaries have.  Too many white people know little of what is happening in POC workplaces, schools and neighborhoods.  Many well intentioned, but slightly naive WCER get caught in this dynamic.  Unfortunately, nobody grows out of this dynamic.  They continue to perpetuate it well past their years in college.

Buried in this field of land mines is the assumption that politics and history is something you know or you don’t, but it cannot be taught.  The anti-educational bent of the WCER and POCCER  re-enforces the notion that either you know it or you don’t.  The most common statement coming from POCCER is that people in the hood do not need to read about police brutality, they experience it everyday. How are white people supposed to know about police brutality?

If something is learned from a book, its cultural credibility is put into question. Knowledge from a book is seen as less pure, authentic, etc. The real knowledge, the claim goes, is from the streets, from poverty, and raw oppression. The common refrain usually goes, “I do not need a book to tell me about oppression” x, y or z. This is often very radical sounding positions, but underlying them is poverty of knowledge, history, and strategy in how to fundamentally defeat the root causes of oppression.

If politics is something you either know or you do not, the implications are deep.  People who advocate this position should think very carefully about what those implications are. Why/ how would white working class people have solidarity with working class POC?  Why/ how would POC have solidarity with one another considering the amount of internal divisions within POC?  Why/ how should working class POC/ whites stop believing in the anti-Semitic theories of the Illuminati? Why should men stop thinking women are ‘bitches’? Why/ how do some of these changes occur? The point of is in a society filled with horrible ideas spewed from ruling class media and oppressed people, how do new liberatory ideas gain traction? Of course, part of the story is people struggle, and change their views. But, is that enough? Obviously, I do not think so. Theoretical engagement with the working class is crucial.

Related to this is that politics is purely culture and personal interactions.  This is has particular origins in the United States. This has its own deeper history going back to feminism, rejection of vanguard Maoist-Stalinist parties of the 1970s, and the defeat of the 1980s all leading to contradictory developments.  I do not mean to slight in any way the important insights regarding how the personal is political, the importance of unpaid care work, or the destructive nature of the voluntarism of the New Communist Movement.  Attached to these healthy developments have also come the singular focus on culture and personal interactions as representative of political struggle.

This intersects with the contemporary experience of WCER and POCCER in countless classrooms where they are trained to be professional cultural critics.  This should not be dismissed as something minuscule.  I argue that the highest form of counter-revolutionary culture today is the radical chic cultural critic which is the emblem of sexy and cool politics.  This is criticism with no historical, strategic, and organizational perspective.  It is the cultural criticism of neo-liberalism disguised as radical politics which has fundamentally shaped WCER and POCCER. It is the practice of people who are not responsible for building a community, but only act as ‘critical dissenters’ who ultimately land a job at a university ‘speaking truth to power’ while actually never challenging it.

At best, many WCER and POCCER walk away from college hating such cultural critics, but I argue the essence of those critics are stamped permanently on the former. And unknowingly it becomes a part of political practice, social life, and relationships.  Culture and personal interactions absolutely matter.  But they cannot be divorced from broader material and ideological realities of this system.  This means that if we take white supremacy seriously, then we should take into account that our little groupings cannot be divorced from the effects of white supremacy.

Considering everything I have said, I want to end this section on a different note.  The revolutionary left in the USA has had its fair share of internal white supremacy.  What else is to be expected in a society so saturated with such a sickening racial order?  This is not meant to excuse the failures of the past, but to place them in a certain ideological and material reality which we continue to deal with today.  It is undeniable the revolutionary left has made gigantic leaps from the days of the Socialist Party of America when Eugene Debs could foolishly proclaim that socialism has nothing special to offer to the Black man.  Today, I could not imagine anyone saying something like that without facing serious challenges from all quarters.

This begs the question of having some measurable standard for what constitutes white supremacy. Signs of white supremacy in the revolutionary left are: a) a lack of POC leadership b) a political program that does not take racial oppression seriously c) no organizing with racially oppressed groups d) the dismissal of POC revolutionary militants, thinkers, and histories.  It seems that these four criteria are clear and measurable points of struggle that every revolutionary formation should be measured on.

The People of Color College Educated Revolutionary

 

Who is the POCCER?  Just like the WCER from Maoist and Trotskyist backgrounds, the POCCER from the same backgrounds also has a serious commitment to the working class. The one addition for POCCER, are nationalists, who are also some of the most committed to the development of working class people of color.  Whether it is the determination of slaves to read or Malcolm X, the importance of being a well rounded and educated revolutionary is taken seriously.  It is a particular point of honor in a society which has done everything to deny the masses of Black people decent education.  And it is one of the most powerful ways to exist as equals with other whites.

POCCER can be divided into two camps on the question of revolutionary theory based on their reaction to the chapter “Saved,” in Malcolm X’s autobiography.  For one set of POCCER it only made a momentary impact on their lives.  It was just another moment. But another group of POCCER read it and it changed them forever.  It recast their entire life.  Their lack of knowledge of the past, their feelings of insecurity, their failures in school, their peoples’ oppression, etc. all got reworked by this chapter.  And one of the dramatic lessons of this chapter was that ignorance was not a gift, but a great curse which had to be overcome. For these POCCER, reading and writing would become a crucial part of revolutionary politics and liberation.  I do not mean to say that it was simply this chapter which was the magic trick.  I am only using this chapter as a pivot into what was a developing current in the second set of POCCER.  They were waiting to read such a piece of literature their entire life, as if all the events in their life had prepared them to sit in that lonely prison cell with Malcolm X and finally discover the power of knowledge.

The attraction to purely personal experiences by POCCER is a classic sign of weakness.  It is weakness in a particular social context.  In revolutionary organization where abstract thinking, theory, generalizations, history, etc. matter so immensely, POCCER who have been so poorly educated, in a moment of being intellectually overwhelmed, defend themselves by reverting to personal experiences.  It is not just being intellectually overwhelmed, it is an emotional reaction.  It is a reaction of bitterness. Even in the struggle for liberation, they cannot compete with many white revolutionaries.  I am not saying personal experiences are not vital, but I see it in a 3-way relationship with theory/ history, experiences of political struggle, in relationship with personal experiences.  That is a liberatory way of looking at one’s life and what many white and POC revolutionaries in the past have done.

There is a defensiveness when an “other,” but especially WCER, know the internal politics of POC.  There is insecurity.  The dirty secrets of the POC community have been revealed to an interloper.  How did they learn this?  The sad truth is that there are no more secrets.  The current access to information is unlike anything humanity has known before.  Gone are the days when secrets can be hidden.  In a world of multi-racial dating, books, youtube, twitter, etc., the racial secrets are out.  POC who are resentful over the dirty secrets are living in the 19th century.  This  gives further ammunition to POCCER who think that theory and history are no good.  It is purely an emotional reaction.

Healthy, multi-racial, working class politics do not exist in WCER and POCCER scenes.  Instead of strategy and revolutionary politics being the driving force, it is our feelings. Much of how we treat each other reflects the experiences of WCER and POCCER more than an anarchist/ communist movement rooted in the working classes.  Something new has to be built.

 

The People of Color Alliance with White College Educated Revolutionaries Against the Working Class of All Colors

 

For POCCER there are conflicts with the POC working class revolutionaries. I see two conflicts: a) who gets to represent the authentic person of color and b) who will be the organizational top dog and the gatekeeper of the POC community to whites.  This struggle is actually a mini class struggle which has so far gone unnoticed in the entire revolutionary left.  The WCER with the POCCER who do not like to read, discourage working class people of color from reading so they can play a role in revolutionary organization, politics, and struggle.

Earlier, I wrote that WCER impose their experiences and needs on working class people of color. That is not entirely true. A more accurate formulation is that the POCCER and WCER together accomplish this goal.  Although these two groups have slightly different reasons and approaches, the results are the same.

Both, WCER and POCCER argue that what they are doing is completely justified. They both tend to know academic versions of Marxism, academic versions of feminism, academic versions of fill in the blank.  If social consciousness is the product of social being, what else is to be expected.  Those four years of undergraduate school and more years of graduate school in the defining intellectual years of WCER/ POCCER play an over-determining role. Both tend to have a theory of pedagogy that says personal experiences are what counts and that politics is something you either know or you don’t, in contrast to something you learn.

Both have fundamentally accepted in a-historical terms the profound attacks on the working class.  Every bit of historical evidence shows that the working classes in the USA before the 1970s had a profoundly rich political culture, whether Nationalist, Maoist, Stalinist, Trotskyste, Anarchist, etc. It was a political defeat of epic proportions that these currents were separated from the working class. It is also accepted as eternal that working class people cannot read, do not like to read, do not like to think…etc.

Neither takes seriously what the working class thinks.  My case in point is that no current in the United States has written one serious essay on what young working class people are thinking about today: New World Order and the Illumanti.  How many people in the revolutionary left have heard of books like The Pale Horse? This is what the young working class is reading.

Perhaps most dangerous of all are thoughts which imply that working class people of color have an inherent disposition to learn through song and dance, i.e. hip hop.  There is no doubt of the rich history of resistance in musical form.  To ignore that is to have a reductionist understanding of politics and culture.  At the same time, there is a romanticization of the form/content of pedagogy.  It is borderline white-supremacist and very patronizing.

For POCCER, being a gatekeeper is a vital part of who they are.  There is a crucial social relationship which is masked by this gate keeper function.  That the POCCER are not able to ‘mobilize’ POC working class communities any better than their white counterparts is a painful admission.  The POCCER usually chalk this up to the fact that white culture, politics and ways of doing do not resonate with POC. Or that there is a lack of multi-racial solidarity.  All these points have a grain of truth which are a factor. But I argue that the fundamental reasons why whites or POC cannot mobilize POC working class communities are:  a) POC working class communities are not revolutionary in this period b) they are trying different strategies other than militant confrontation with the system c) they do not see a real winnable alternative in the revolutionary left d) the one thing which the revolutionary left could provide, strategies and intellectual discussions, it does not do, because it does not take those questions seriously e) paradoxically, and most importantly, when there is an immense militancy or ‘revolutionary’ discussion going on in the working class, WCER and POCCER are nowhere to be found .

In the absence of working class struggle and politics, it is the middle class whites and POC which have defined everything about the revolutionary left.  It is understandable.  It is very difficult to escape your class background. What is not understandable is the intellectual failure by the WCER and POCCER to understand themselves in light of this particular problem.  

The Left Minstrel Show: Time to Dance for the College Educated!

 

I have come to believe one of the most dangerous places in America for POC is the left. Where overthrowing capitalism will require excellence, the revolutionary left is the home of intellectual mediocrity, and for POC who have had education denied to them, this is not an option for freedom, but for ignorance and death.  To be an authentic POC, you have to play the game of personal experiences, tragedy, etc.  If you discuss things at the level of white revolutionaries, they will begin seeing you less as a POC, less as someone part of the POC community, etc. They will deny that any such POC could possibly come out of such conditions.  At best they will see you as the exceptional POC or simply erase your identity as a POC. Your best chance of getting heard in the WCER scene is by playing a very specific role which has been mapped out for a long time.

The WCER and POCCER ultimately create one of the fundamental divisions in capitalist society in its own relationship with POC working class revolutionaries. This is a racialized mental and manual division of labor.  Secretly the WCER and POCCER are on powerful email lists, have their own blogs where everything is debated, and journals, etc. Most of these forums are largely white. The POCCER/ WCER does not develop the skills of the POC working class revolutionaries so that they can participate in these forums. What happens is that the WCER are the thinkers while the POC working class revolutionaries are the brawn/workhorses of the group.  Occasionally the POC working class revolutionaries will write about their own personal experiences, but rarely in a broader historical or theoretical sense. That is the job of the WCER.

The POCCER/ WCER cannot see that this mental and manual division of labor must be transcended.  The POCCER/ WCER has no conception of a worker-militant; no conception of the relationship between theory and practice; no conception of the relationship between personal experiences, history, and political struggle.  Both groups ultimately have a rigid divide between theory and practice.  Theory is for private discussions among mostly white college educated people. Everything else is for working class people.

The job of the authentic person of color is to dance a game of ignorance, personal experiences, tragedy, and sob stories which all the POCCER and WCER can listen to.  After a while, most sensible working class people leave such formations, because one does not go to meetings to share personal stories.  It is called hanging out with friends.  Without a clear revolutionary vision, one does not need to organize protests.  A Sunday afternoon watching NFL is much more entertaining and potentially liberatory.  This reveals that the revolutionary left has very little to offer working class people.

At times in this essay it might sound like I believe it is WCER who will teach working class people of color.  As if the only relationship that can be developed with WCER is one of them as teachers and the working class people of color as obedient students.  I believe that what the WCER and POCCER have to teach the working class is fairly limited today.  Largely because of the degradation of revolutionary politics and theory. In some ways, I believe the working class is on its own and has been abandoned by the revolutionary left. But even if the WCER and POCCER did have things to teach, it would be a dynamic relationship of theory and key skills informed by political work and experiences.

College educated people, especially from the middle class or working class, will tend to have a leg up in terms of reading, writing, and speaking skills.  There is no point in denying that. The question is toward what ends are those skills used. Currently little of those skills are used to develop working class revolutionaries.  If the trajectory of the past is any indication, most of the WCER and POCCER today will be the chic professors, gentrifiers, and ‘progressive’ state bureaucrats of tomorrow.

Being Scared to Say Anything

 

The worst is that the WCER is always afraid to say anything critical of their POC college educated comrades or the POC working class comrades–especially if they are in the same group. Every speech a person of color gives is powerful.  If you say a POC was being inarticulate, is that racist?  It becomes impossible for the WCER to help their comrade grow because they are trapped in a psychology of guilt.

For the POCCER what is at stake is their confidence. They are always worried that what they are doing is reflective of their race.  And failure in a specific task speaks for the entire race. This is a specific problem white revolutionaries do not face.  POC revolutionaries tend to be defensive and come off as authoritarian because criticism is taken not only personally, but ultimately as a commentary about their ability to be race men/ women/ non-gender identifying.  That is the crux of the problem.  Psychologically, while understandable in a historical sense, this is completely destructive for the individual militant.  The white college educated militant, while usually not aware of this internal war going on in the POC militant, claps endlessly, regardless of the quality of the writing, speech, contact work, organizing event, etc.

We need to destroy these behavior’s of white-POC college educated revolutionaries.  They are in the way of oppressed people learning. These so called revolutionaries are closer to Booker T Washington than anything resembling revolutionary politics.  Yes, WCER and their counterparts are no different than Booker T Washington on many fundamental questions of education.  For those who want to see a real contrast, compare it with W.E.B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James or Malcolm X.

The Hidden Battle: College Educated Revolutionaries Obscured from Working Class Women of Color

 

Due to patriarchy across the globe, historically, there has arisen a larger grouping of men of color who have left their mark in the written word: Amilcar Cabral, Steve Biko, M.N.  Roy, CLR James, Jose Carlos Mariategui, Ali Shariati, Walter Rodney, to name some.  The list of women is considerably shorter although that is beginning to change.  One of the factors which unites many of the men is that they were able to go to the university. The women were not.  The very ideological, social and material divisions created by patriarchy end up creating a powerful problem to overcome.  The WCER and POCCER take the results of oppression and naturalize them into their own internal dynamics.

Many women and feminists will jump and shout that I am ignoring the efforts of Lucy Parons, Elma Francois, Laila Khaled, Elizabeth Gurley Flyn, Assata Shakur, and/ or Rosa Luxemburg.  My point is that few of these women left considerable theories or histories behind.  For the super majority of these women, we read their autobiographies.  This is not because women are biologically or inherently more prone to write autobiographies.  That is not true. It is because they were denied the education that more of their men counterparts received.  Many had to take care of children.  Others were also the secretaries of the very men comrades who were supposed to be fighting for ‘their’ liberation. Many of these women subordinated the struggle for women’s liberation in the hopes that class or race liberation would grant them increased freedom. The reasons are many, but all tied to patriarchy.

Working class women of color are just as capable as their male counterparts in doing what the latter has done.  There is nothing inherent in men which allows them to be more theoretical. But the debate as it has been dominated by WCER and POCCER blocks this development.

Female WCER fail to politically understand the specific battle that women of color must have with men of color.  When female WCER push against theory, reading, and writing, they rob women of color revolutionaries of an important weapon which is specific to their historical experiences. And of course many male WCER think they are doing their duty by supporting their sisters in attacking theory and study.

The WCER think they are developing a block around  their oppressed women counterparts.  It is an opportunistic block not based on liberation, but based on sociological and romantic desires to be close to women of color.  Male POCCER can continue to speak on questions of race in a gendered way which equates race with male gendered identified people and continue being the authentic representatives of POC with no challenge to their perspectives.  But what gets lost in the debate is the battles that women of color must have with men of color in asserting their legitimate need to do exactly what men of color have done on a world stage.  

In the one place where serious education and theory could be learned, the revolutionary formation, the WCER and the PCCER block them from doing so. The framework of WCER is most damaging for working class women of color.

What About the Working Class?

 

It is true that there are plenty of working class people who hate to read and write. Many who disagree with what I have wrote, can point to many examples of this reality. Many will also correctly point out how the K-12 education system is designed to create McDonald’s workers, prisoners, and unemployed workers. Many will also point out that for many working class people, the best defense mechanism for survival is to ignore the racist, patriarchal, and homophobic education taught in school. These are only some of the realities working class kids face in school.

The question then becomes what conclusions are to be drawn from this situation. Basic questions should be asked. What kinds of knowledge is needed to destroy capitalism and social relations of oppression?  Is reading and writing automatically white supremacist? Patriarchal? Class based? If you are trying to organize with millions of people is some type of reading and writing required? If music or youtube is your response, are those things any less patriarchal, homophobic and potentially white supremacist than reading and writing?

Many working class people, after being told by their teachers and peers in K-12 that they are stupid for not being able to read and write as fast, react by never taking forms of intellectual practice seriously. Again, this makes sense.

Working class people also have a contradictory relationship to these questions. I have been told by working class POC that I am an achievement of the race for my ability to speak and write well. I have been looked at as a white-boy by other POC working class people. There is probably no principled position I could discover by doing a sociological study of what working class people think about education, especially the young folks.  Perhaps from the adults with young children, we could see a general trend towards the importance of education as a key concern.

Another critique is that working class people need to think about bread and butter issues and do not have time for theory. I am currently reading Red Star Over China. In this book, peasant soldiers, in the middle of a war, are taking 3-4 months to study theory! Let me say that again, in a middle of a war, where their comrades are being hunted down and killed, they are taking time out to study. Where their daily caloric intake is probably less than what many working class Americans eat in one McDonald’s meal! At a certain point, some of these arguments are simply just racist arguments which implicitly say POC in America are too dumb to think about anything other than bread and water. And besides, I also notice that whenever POC think about more than bread and water, the common revolutionary response is that those POC are bought off. It seems a trap has been set up: if you are a poor working class POC, then you can only think of food, shelter, and cops; but if you are able to think about other things, then you are bought off.

It is probably true that the most common encounters that revolutionaries have today with working class people tends to re-affirm that working class people do not like to read or write. There is a truth to this. A few words regarding the choices of the working class. To the extent that the working class can be thought of as a unit, as a conscious being, as a subject in capitalism, it certainly makes choices based on need and survival. The working class fundamentally needs to make choices on how to get food on the plate. What are the choices which will allow this to happen? At what point do working class adolescents in school figure out that their childhood dreams are no longer achievable? To what extent is this a realistic assessment of white supremacy, class, and patriarchy? This has huge political potentials which everyone recognizes. It is an insight about the realities of the system. It is gained through lived experiences.

At the same time, what is the difference between being an object and a subject?  We should not ignore that working class people are also objects in this society. They are objects for the capitalists to impose their ‘rationality’ upon. If this dimension is not understood, then the very premise of oppression cannot be grappled with.  Oppressed people are made into objects by the system. There is a dynamic tension between this object-subject relationship.

The point of bringing up this subject-object relationship is not to discount the real and sensible choices that many working class K-12 or college people make. To point is to look at how these choices also lead to limitations in destroying the very system which created the oppression.  In the immediate sense of the question, the choice to stop paying attention in school makes sense.  But it becomes much more complicated when it comes to figuring out what amount/type of knowledge is needed to overthrow the system.  I want to recognize that it was millions of peasants or slaves who could not read or write (which does not mean they were not smart) who destroyed oppression in China, Russia, Haiti, and many other places.

This reality should not lead to sloppy understandings of the education required to overthrow the system. Every revolutionary movement has had a set of educated (either from the university setting, through revolutionary organizations, or through their own networks) revolutionaries who have either led or fundamentally shaped the revolution.  In my years of study, I have not encountered a single movement that escapes this dynamic.

The other choice which I do not want to discount is that the subjects/ working class–as I mentioned earlier in the essay– determined to continue learning, dropout of school, to continue their education.  Some find themselves tucked away in libraries, some in front of youtube videos watching Illuminati vidoes, others at the corner of the street talking about politics.  There are a million ways to learn outside of bourgeois educational institutions.

Conclusion

 

It should be no surprise that the revolutionary left is shaped by the class, gender and racial politics of this country.  A big part of that shaping has been done by the counter-reaction to the college experience by the WCER and POCCER. Both currents have failed to historicize themselves in the proper way.  They take their experiences for granted.  They impose their experiences with learning and education onto the working class.  They impose their experiences of race onto the working class. This cannot go on any longer.

To be clear: in no way is this meant to say that POC working class people only learn through reading and writing.  There are a thousand ways to learn and revolutionaries should ferociously support and develop such ways.  The only reason this piece was so one-sided is because many revolutionaries are anti-intellectuals, anti-reading, anti-writing etc. except when it comes to their private lives.  And of course this is racialized, as I have noticed in my experiences. The white revolutionaries who argue in public against theory and reading, read and theorize privately. So the argument was forceful in emphasizing key dimensions. Everyone learns through experience.  And to be more precise, they learn through mass struggle and in their daily lived experiences against oppression.  The challenge is to connect this to a broader understanding of capitalism, anti-capitalism, and revolution.  

It might appear that I have argued for separate organizations of POC only.  I can certainly see why people would draw such a conclusion.  That is not the conclusion I hope people reach. While I do not feel confident there are any organizations which can pass the tests of this essay, the tasks still remain. Yes many tears will be shed, as the color of your skin will not be your savior from criticism. Encouragement and hard ass work to develop ourselves as better humans and revolutionaries is the only path.

My argument still rests on building a multiracial movement with WCER. At the same time there needs to be a massive reconstruction of the revolutionary left.  While I hope to see it happen, with millions of working class people of color joining, I also recognize that it will not happen overnight.  Millions of people do not join revolutionary organizations or become involved in revolutionary struggle casually.  It takes immense crisis and self-development before such social relationships are created.  It is not something revolutionaries can conjure out of thin air. To the extent revolutionaries exist in non-revolutionary times, they will be a small minority of society.  We need to become comfortable with that.

Many will point out that the very author of this piece is a college educated revolutionary person of color.  While this observation is correct, this is a continued reflection of the fetishization of sociology in the United States political scene.  Radical sociology is not revolutionary politics, but has become one of the most powerful substitutes for what counts as such.  Based on how ‘American’ revolutionaries conduct themselves, they would have ignored Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunasia, because he did not fit the correct sociological profile.

Lastly this essay is not promoting ‘consciousness raising’ or that revolutionaries are saviors of the working class. I have emphasized certain things which can only be understood in the context of the US revolutionary left.

Books Which Influenced the Writing of this Essay

 

Black Boy by Richard Wright
Auto-Biography of Malcolm X
Modern Politics by CLR James
Hubert Harrison by Jeff Perry
Revolutionary Suicide by Huey Newton
Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon

 

-by WILL


[1] I recognize the problems of the People of Color category.  Most who use it ignore the specifics of race in the United States and the globe. I stand by my usage of POC in this essay largely because it explains a general trend of a reality which does affect POC.  This is not to say it is equal across racial groups. No doubt more specific pieces should be written on what this means for different racialized groups.