from Ed D’Angelo (Anytime Now Discussion Forum)
I think racial politics in the anarchist movement derives from the broader American Left, for which race has been a key issue since the abolitionists of the pre-Civil War period. Class based analysis is not common in American politics, especially in the present day. Most Americans view themselves as middle class, which is not entirely inaccurate. The American working class is either invisible or is seen only through the lens of race, as if to be working class can be equated with being a “minority” (ie, non-white or non-native born). Although a class struggle perspective is found in the revolutionary anarchist tradition (Bakunin and the communist anarchists), I think the larger source of class struggle perspectives is the Marxist tradition, which is relatively weak in the USA. Even some Marxist parties, such as the Revolutionary Communist Party, a Maoist Party with roots in SDS and the 60s New Left, is more focused on race (particularly the black race) than class (or confuses the two). In this case, it’s clear that the preoccupation with blacks derives from the Civil Rights struggles of the 50s and 60s.
So, racial reductionism in the anarchist movement is due, I think, to the influence of the larger American Left, and beyond that, American culture in general, on the American anarchist movement. As radical as we might think we are, we are all still products of our cultures.
Because the American working class, at least since WW II, has been so conservative –coopted by business unions in the early post-war years and by consumerism, suburban sprawl, etc. — anarchism in the USA has had little appeal to workers. Most anarchists in the USA are bohemians with roots in the (largely, but not exclusively, white) college educated middle class. For them, anarchism is not about their own struggle for liberation and autonomy, but is a moral mission to help the oppressed other. And in mainstream American culture, the face of oppression is black. So it’s not surprising that you would find many white anarchists with a moral concern for racial issues. This tendency in the anarchist movement goes back at least to the 1940s, when anarchists were among the first to participate in the early Civil Rights movement.
What can we do? The only way to free yourself from the past, I think, is to become aware of how it continues to shape your views, even when it is past. So we can try to educate ourselves and others about this history, and how circumstances have changed. The same can be said for the influence of mainstream culture. The more we become critically aware of mainstream culture, the more we can free ourselves of it. I think it’s a good idea to turn off the mainstream media, too, because to some extent it’s impossible to immunize yourself against it, no matter how sharp your critical reasoning skills are.
We can also educate ourselves about anarchist history. In this respect, I am finding Eugene Lunn’s book, “Prophet of Community: The Romantic Socialism of Gustav Landauer,” to be particularly interesting, because Landauer’s anarchism is a prime example of an anarchism that is not class or race based, that was explicitly formulated in opposition to Marxist currents, and that is based in the individual spirit (understood as a mystical microcosm of the community and volk). Landauer was a pacifist and evolutionary anarchist who believed that the road to anarchism is paved with the construction of voluntary cooperative communties within the interstice so the old, rather than in the violent overthrow of existing structures. Violent revolution, Landauer would have argued, is impossible because authority is sustained by the voluntary servitude of the oppressed who would reconstruct oppressive structures once the old ones were destroyed — as occurred in the Soviet Union. What is needed is a cultural revolution not a political one.