WSF (1996): “Anarchist- Syndicalist History: Anarchist Anti- Racism In Action

WSF (1996): “Anarchist- Syndicalist History: Anarchist Anti- Racism In Action”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 2, number 2, third quarter 1996. Complete PDF is here

We Anarchist Syndicalists are sworn opponents of racism. Racism is a tool of the bosses and rulers and must be destroyed through a revolutionary international class- struggle for a free stateless socialist (Anarchist) society.

REVOLUTIONARY FOUNDERS
The theorist- activist founders of Anarchist Syndicalism were anti- racist revolutionaries. Mikhail Bakunin was a lifelong opponent of colonialism and national oppression. He was imprisoned for his activities several times. Bakunin stated that there must be a “recognition of human right and dignity in every man, of whatever race or colour.”

Other activists, like Elisee Reclus and Rudolph Rocker, also did important work demolishing racist theories and campaigning against the racists lies.

CUBA
Anarchist- Syndicalists placed the fight against racism at the centre of their struggles. For example, the Anarchists won over the Cuban labour movement from mid 1880s onwards. They led massive strikes and were active in the anti- colonial struggle against Spain. The Anarchists united people of Africa, European and mixed decent in struggles against the legacy of slavery, such as racial discrimination and the physical punishment of apprentices.

THE IWW IN THE USA
From the beginning, Anarchists were in the forefront of the fight against racism in the USA. The (Anarchist) International Working People’s Association, founded in the 1880s, had as one of the central points of its programme equality for all, regardless of race or sex.

Members of the International Working Peoples Association were central to the general strike for an 8 hour day in 1886. This brought out tens and thousands of workers on strike- both Black and White. In Chicago, the predominantly Anarchist Central Labour Union brought out 65,00 workers on strike- both Black and White. One of the main activists here was Lucy Parsons, a woman of colour and a working class revolutionary. Her husband, Albert Parsons, was among 8 Anarchist union militants sentenced to death on false charges, as the bosses sought to crush the struggle. May day, the workers day, began as an anniversary of this frame- up and legal murder.

The 1905 militants founded the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) founded in the USA. The IWW was an Anarchist- Syndicalist trade union. It believed unions should both fight the bosses in the daily struggle and organise the workers to seize the land, mines and factories.

Unlike the racist reformist unions, the IWW organised all workers including African-Americans, European immigrants, Chinese and Mexicans. The IWW combated racist barbarism like lynching, segregation, and unequal wages. It recruited tens of thousands of Africans, particularly in the timber industry and the waterfront. Many of its activists were people of colour, like Lucy Parsons and Ben Fletcher.

By 1917, the IWW had issued membership cards to more than half a million workers. However, it was crushed by the state in the USA’s biggest international counter- insurgency programme ever. 101 militants, including Ben Fletcher, received more than 10,000 years in total sentences.

REVOLUTIONARY UKRAINE
The Russian Revolution of 1917 began as a genuine mass uprising but was soon destroyed by the Communist Party who built a one party state and State Capitalism on the bones of the masses.

But in the Ukraine, the second biggest country in the Russian empire, the Anarchists were the most popular political force. Between 1918 and 1921 they organised a mass revolutionary peasant- worker movement which distributed the land, and set up anti- authoritarian peasant communes and workers councils. The region was defended against Communist and other counter- revolutionary forces by a democratic Revolutionary Insurgent Army. The movement came to be known as Makhnovschina (it was named after Nestor Makhno, one of its founders).

The Makhnovist movement struggled tirelessly against anti- Jewish racism in the area. Extensive propaganda work was done. From the start, the movement included poor peasants of all nationalities, including Ukrainians, Greeks, and Jews. Guns and ammunition were given to Jewish communities for self- defence against attack. Any Makhnovist who took part in acts against Jews were promptly and severely punished.

ANARCHISTS AND PANTHERS
Anarchist- Syndicalists also played a role in the US Black Liberation movement of the 1950s and 1960s. For example, Martin Sostre, an Anarchist of Black Puerto Rican decent, organised the Buffalo, New York Black ghetto uprising of 1967 against police brutality. As a result he was than framed for “drug dealing” and only released after an international defence campaign in the 1970s.

The Black Panther Party was the most advanced wing of the Black movement. It criticised cultural nationalist and Black capitalist frauds, stating that it fought on the basis of “proletarian internationalism born of socialist realism.”

Anarchist- Syndicalism had some influence on the Panthers. Huey Newton once called for a “communist world in which statehood no longer exists” and called the Anarchists the Revolutionary wing of the First International (Marxists were the other!!). However, Marxist- Leninism’s was more important, resulting in a highly centralised leadership and limited inner- party democracy. This authoritarianism (along with a lack of allies in the rest of the working class, and also massive FBI repression) contributed to the Panthers collapse.

Several ex- Panthers also converted to Anarchism in jail, such as Kuwasi Balagoon and Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin. Balagoon converted to Anarchism as a result of his negative experiences with the Marxist- inspired bureaucracy and authoritarian leadership of the Panthers. He died in prison in 1986 of AIDS- related pneumonia. Ervin is currently active in the (Anarchist) Federation of Black Community Partisans.

Ojore Lutalo, who was imprisoned for his activities in the Black Liberation Army, also became an Anarchist in jail. He has been kept in solidarity since 1986 after being framed for a non- existent escape plot. The comrade appeals for letter and communications. Please write to him directly at: Ojore Lutalo CN- 861-59860, Trenton, NJ 08625. United States of America.

Or send your letter to us and we will make sure he receives it.

This is our tradition: revolutionary anti- racism!

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About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).