The pamphlet opens with an a quote from Frederick Douglass, from a speech in 1857:
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.”
So Black youth are the frontlines for the violence while everyone else gets to “support” from their labor unions, lefty group or student group?
If I’m wrong, please correct me and I will humbly apologize to the authors, whomever they are.
I think the spirit is more about challenging the young people who rebelled to take a leadership role in uniting the various forces in (in this case) NYC. The pamphlet doesn’t call on people to go out and be violent on the front lines while others direct the struggle. It calls on them to plan, and develop a program to lead and direct other forces.
There’s a difference between being ordered to go take lumps while those giving the orders hide behind you, vs. actively taking a leading role and helping other forces take part alongside you. It’s like the difference between the role black people played in the U.S. army in Vietnam in the 1960s/70s, and the role they played in revolutionary movements at home: in Vietnam they were cannon fodder, in the movement they were a social vanguard.
Also, I don’t think it ever mentions labor unions.
Reblogged this on Baltimore Feminist Reading Group.
Interesting…. What kind of responce has it gotten?
I want to congratulate the authors and FNT for publishing this amazing pamphlet. I think militants should be distributing this pamphlet everywhere–not just in Flatbush or NYC–for the more general political lessons it distills. This pamphlet does a terrific job of exemplifying the task of revolutionaries to create institutions of historical memory. Furthermore, it has an explicit orientation toward non-revolutionaries that doesn’t sacrifice quality and content because of the wrong idea that it will be over the heads of ordinary youth and working folks.
I also like the form in which the pamphlet was written; that is, it is couched in the language of “we” and “us, and not in the stale reporting style of the Socialist Worker and other lefty media. It takes an ownership over the struggle that doesn’t confound the very real material divisions between the protestors but which doesn’t reify the subject-object dialectic. If that is obscure, lemme know and I’ll elaborate. Finally and relatedly, it holds well the tension between not fetishizing the rebellion (being “spontaneist”) nor shits on it because of its limitations and lack of organization.
I have a couple of questions for the authors as well as what I would consider a rather minor critique. It is minor because I don’t think it sacrifices the general validity of the pamphlet. If I was in NYC, I would be handing the pamphlet out with y’all.
1) The racial dynamics are confined largely to the demographics of the crowd and to the racist NYPD. Why isn’t the legacy of the “rainbow coalition” from above not dealt with directly? Meaning, why isn’t Jumaanee Williams’ role as a mediator placed in the context of the failures of Black Power, that in fact, what Williams represents is a higher and more complicated form of white supremacy, where black politicians use the appearance and body politics of blackness to both create authenticity for themselves and to the deflect attention away from the system? Is it that this dynamic didn’t really serve as much of a means to rein in the rebellion as it has been used in the past? This is the only thing I can think of. The other part I can see as to why this wouldn’t be included is because I think the pamphlet is just the right amount in terms of length and there’s only so much content you can include. The most immediate dynamics need to take precedence.
2) As a question/semi-critique, why do y’all argue that militants should not attack small shops? Kinda of timely, I suppose, because I was just having this conversation with my partner. Perhaps its more of a strategic question. But broadly on the political question, I don’t think we should advocate this. Unless a shop is being attacked by skinheads on some fascist shit should rev’ys ever think about defending shops. But in this case, it wouldn’t be for defense of property but for principled anti-racist politics. Of course, y’all aren’t saying shops should be defended, but you’re also saying they shouldn’t be attacked. In the case of LA 1992, that was cited in the pamphlet, a good amount of the destruction was leveled against small shops, owned largely by Asian Americans, who daily exploit the black community and treat them like thugs (killing them in some cases). I know NYC has not been immune to similar dynamics. In fact, this same thing was the thrust of Sonny Carson’s organizing in the 1980s and 90s if my knowledge serves me well. The racial tensions shrouded the traditions and resistance of the Asian working classes and those things remain to be linked up in practice. But in general private property, small or large, owned by a bank or by a family has no validity and in fact its small capital form is the basis for the large one. It isn’t simply about the racial antagonisms.
3) And finally for my critique. As both a hip-hop head and as an organic intellectual that has spent 15 years at various points theorizing on hip-hop, the short dismissal it finds in the pamphlet does an injustice to your fundamental point. On the one hand, for the inherent limitations of a pamphlet, I think it does a decent job of historicizing the transformation of gang organizations in NYC into forms of hip-hop organization, such as the Universal Zulu Nation. But then y’all hit a major snag by divorcing the hip-hop of today from the hip-hop of then, concluding today it consists in “shallow music and self-destruction.” Firstly, if it is true that hip-hop is shallow and self-destructive, then it can only be that everyday people are also shallow and self-destructive. To an extent this is true, but it’s far too one-sided to capture the totality of hip-hop. As Mos Def has basically said, hip-hop can’t be anything other than what we are. Secondly, and concluding from the first point, if the failures of Black Panthers in LA gave rise to the Bloods and Crips, a necessary historical development, why isn’t hip-hop afforded the same consideration? If the Bloods and Crips aren’t simply shallow and self-destructive, but represent a moment, if only a moment, of autonomy and self-activity, can’t hip-hop be the same? Finally, what is hip-hop? Is it simply a product, or as Marx says of the products of labor in chapter seven of Capital I, the premises of its own existence? Hip-hop is an activity of, the labor of, everyday people, particularly black youth. And in it you find, of course one-sidedly, an immanent critique of the prevailing system, and in particular the police! But hip-hop cannot be mechanically separated from its limitations nor confined to those very limitations. If y’all want to win over the youth in NYC, their needs to be a much more nuanced orientation toward hip-hop, and by nuanced I mean an embracing that isn’t uncritical. After all, it is the hip-hop generation that took the heat to the police in Flatbush.
Hey thanks TZ. Quick responses:
1.) If the authors were to have added one more section, I would have advocated one about the role of black clergy/politicians and the changing nature of white supremacy, but yeah it didn’t seem like we had the space beyond just focusing on their role in this particular case. Also, confused: do you mean failures of the Panther “rainbow coalition,” or the Jesse Jackson “rainbow coalition”?
2.) Hm, good point about small shops. I don’t think revs should actively defend the petit-bourgeoisie either, and certainly in NYC the same racialized dynamic appears, say between Arab bodega owners and Black/Latino communities. In this case I felt the need to insert this point, though, maybe because of the degree to which Flatbush includes its own Afro-Caribbean petit-bourgeoisie, which basically runs the institutions where all the working-class parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles of the kids who rebelled form their opinions about the rebellion (like barbershops, little restaurants, nail salons etc). And just thinking strategically, I’d say the young people at this juncture don’t have enough leadership/sway to be able to overcome the negative effects hitting those small shops wd have, though that cd change in future cycles of struggle.
3.) It’s a good point about hip hop too. First I’d say the authors definitely felt compelled to bend the stick to shake up young readers’ attachment to the all the bullshit commercial hip hop that’s out there, and juxtapose it with a time when the culture in the main was actively produced and controlled by young people on the streets, when the majority of people could freestyle, like when the streets were hegemonic. I think the “hip hop slowly came to mean X,Y,Z” line was meant to imply that the capitalists who buy up hip hop want to make it mean X,Y,Z. But in the process we may have implied that nobody in the underground or on a label is producing good stuff, or that there isn’t a duality to lots of the stuff which is produced, which isn’t true. I DO think bending the stick is justified, bc many young ppl think the worst, most one-sided music is what hip hop IS (i.e. that’s what’s hegemonic) and so they don’t actively seek out the much more rich, contradictory stuff that’s out there. We just should also acknowledge and point to that stuff.
Comment from the London:
Thanks for doing the pamphlet and putting it on-line. It read to me like a good summary of what went down.
I just want to chip on the small shops issue. I kinda think you’re right. When we have had uprisings in London, sometimes particular establishments have been burnt down – such as a racist pub – and that’s understandable. But as you say, when you’re talking about the places where the community hang out, what is to be gained by trashing them? I don’t think it’s just a matter of whether the young people have enough political experience to overcome the negative effects – it’s more about what it really means.
During the uprisings that spread across the UK in August 2011, three young Asians died defending shops. (This situation also arose through the murder of a young Black man – Mark Duggan – at the hands of the police). Not attacking small shops doesn’t mean prioritizing defending them.
I thought the discussion of gangs was good. There are parallels with what happened in Northern Ireland with para-military groups (actually both Republican and Loyalist) in the way they turned to racketeering when the class struggle went into a down turn. I look at is as people using the skills they gained in the class struggle in a different way when that struggle has abated. Other people compromise with the system by becoming union hacks.
Could the authors discuss more about how they would attract solidarity from the working class? You mentioned those working in transportation and nursing, for example. What about education?
I share some similar thoughts as TZ’s 3rd critique, but overall I was really excited about this pamphlet and thought it was well done. So much so, that I printed a handful out at work and shared them with neighbors in my building, and I’m following up with hope for continued discussion or some reflection on how useful it might have been as an organizing tool or conversation-builder, if at all.
I appreciated that the pamphlet reads as a sincere attempt to bridge discussion between revolutionaries and local youth who might have participated in the rebellion or been attracted to it, while additionally serving a clarifying purpose for debates ‘internal’ to the left. Like TZ, I appreciated that it addresses “we” and “us”, while avoiding condescending/embarrassing slang and simplifying language that might not come natural or eliding some clear differences between the people who produced and likely distributed the pamphlet and the people being addressed. On that note, I’m curious and not in a cynical rubbernecky way if y’all have met folks on the block with active interest in figuring out how to operationalize some of the “9 steps” you outlined? If folks from the block have emailed you, or if you know of them taking initiative in reproducing and distributing the pamphlet? What are some highlights or challenges that emerged in discussion with folks when these pamphlets were being distributed? In recognition that more than a couple of the books you recommended are out of print or mad expensive new or used, I was wondering if you’ve considered whether they’re readily available at Brooklyn libraries, donating them to a community space where people might access them, or if they might be worth scanning and sharing as PDFs?