1993: “The Fire Next Time: Lessons of the Los Angeles (LA) Uprising”

This was an introduction written by Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg in early 1994 for an U.S.-originated pamphlet called No Justice, No Peace: An Eyewitness Account of the Los Angeles Riots. The 1992 riots followed the Rodney King case and — while cast in the media as a “race riot” — involved large numbers of Hispanic and white rioters (and arrests) too. The introduction appeared in a South African edition of No Justice, No Peace: An Eyewitness Account of the Los Angeles Riots. The authorship of No Justice, No Peace was not given in the pamphlet. An earlier local edition (without introduction) was also published by the Backstreet Abortions distro in Johannesburg, which carried a range of materials including by ARM and which was established by two ARM founders.

THE FIRE NEXT TIME: LESSONS OF THE LOS ANGELES (LA) UPRISING

At a meeting at the First A.M.E. Church during the first hours of the rioting, the mayor, clergy, and community leaders were booed and ignored by much of the audience. A young black woman charged the podium, and took control of the microphone. “We can’t rely on these people up here to act … I believe they have our best interests at heart, but we cannot rely on them … You know what we need to do … ” (from Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Newsmonthly June  1992. New York)

The LA uprising of 1992 was a class rebellion in the heart of capitalist America. Triggered by the acquittal of four White cops videotaped beating a black truck driver, Rodney King, the uprising spread through dozens of American cities, and even internationally: in Berlin, masked youths battled police under banners calling for the destruction of capitalism and proclaiming “LA did the right thing.” While people of many different backgrounds participated in the action, there is no doubt that poor blacks, one of the most oppressed segments of the US working class led the way. This shows that black liberation must be central to any real working class challenge to the system. By the time the military and police forces of the regime managed to put down the uprising, there had been 58 deaths (mostly black), 4,000 injuries, 12,000 arrests, 10,000 businesses destroyed and countless shops looted.

The bulk of this pamphlet provides an eyewitness account of the revolt as it happened in Los Angeles itself. A final section looks draws out some of the significance of the uprising. In this introduction we argue that this sort of rising can and should be turned into a revolutionary attack on the State and capitalist system. We also suggest what anarchist revolutionaries can do to achieve this.

Its quite clear that capitalism and the State lie at the heart of the oppressive and marginalised experiences faced by working class people in America’s inner-cities. Lower class black Americans were supposedly “emancipated” over a 125 years ago but racism and poverty is still an everyday experience. “Of black men between the ages 20 to 29. 1 in 4 will go to prison or be placed on probation. 60% of women in prison are women of color. Poverty and the absence of other opportunities to escape it compel many black youth to turn to gangs, drugs, and anti- social crime … Half of all black and Hispanic youth of South Central LA belong to gangs. in Central LA, half of the black families fall below the poverty line, and youth unemployment hovers at 50%.” (Love and Rage June 1992).

This oppression is clearly rooted in a racist capitalist order that has roots in the slave trade, where racism was used to justify the sale of human beings. Today, racism still serves the ruling class who divide working class people into fractions on the basis of different levels of privileges and rights (eg. different wages, jobs, social services), with blacks and women at the bottom of the heap. This hampers united resistance, and it makes for super- exploitation of disempowered sections of the workforce. At the same time, the extreme poverty of the inner-cities is linked to capitalism’s incessant hunger for profits, as usual at the expense of people. The inner-cities were mostly built around large factories which have since migrated from the high taxes and wages of the cities to suburbs and third world countries. Here unions are often repressed, wages low, and environmental controls non-existent. At the same time as inner city wages fall, the corporations are making huge profits and the bosses receiving record pay increases (LA Today … 1992, Minneapolis, p1). In the USA, the top 4% earns as much as the bottom 50% of the population (Plain Words, 1994, New Jersey, p4).

Quite obviously then, we need to destroy capitalism and the State once and for all. We need to establish a new society based on grassroots worker and community councils, and distribution and production according to need not profit. This is anarchism or free socialism (as opposed to the state capitalist dictatorships set up by the Marxist “communists” since 1917). This must be the task of the working class (white- and blue- collar workers, workers’ families and youth, the unemployed and the rural poor).

Why? Firstly, only a productive class can set up a truly free society, for the simple reason that only a productive class does not need to exploit and dominate others in order to survive. Secondly, class position fundamentally shapes the experience of oppression. The black middle/ upper class (professionals and capitalists) that led the civil rights movement has expanded rapidly, living off the sweat of all American workers. While between 1967 and 1990 the proportion of black families at the lowest income level grew by 50%, the percentage of high income black families more than doubled (New York Times, September 25, 1992). Not surprisingly, the black middle class and capitalists firmly supported the military occupation of the ghettos!

Clearly, the arguments of black nationalists that all blacks should unite across color lines is very wrong, basically because blacks do not have the same class interests. Working class blacks have more in common with working class whites, also at the shit end of the bosses stick. But we do not take a simplistic “class unity” line. Precisely because of the historic divisions in the working class, its especially oppressed segments (like women, blacks, and homosexuals) need to organize themselves to be able to put their own specific problems firmly on the agenda of the revolutionary working class movement. This is the basis for a real principled class unity, and a revolution that will smash all oppression.

What can anarchists do to turn revolts such as the LA uprisings in a revolutionary direction? Firstly, we must get involved with and support all genuine working class resistance. At the same time, however, we need to spread the ideals of revolutionary anarchism through the working class. In practical terms this means debate as equals, and cheap revolutionary literature. In both cases we must argue against authoritarian (or top-down) politics on the left and right, spread information about resistance, and draw the lessons of earlier struggles. We must argue that the working class takes direct action to secure its own particular interests (eg. for housing, jobs, peace, and freedom), and to ultimately smash the system. In no case do we assume, as the Marxists do, that our analysis gives us the right to speak for or act in the place of the working class (this is called vanguardism).

Secondly, we need to start to build practical alternative structures which demonstrate the viability of anarchist politics. Some of these demonstrate new ways of organizing production and distribution: collective childcare facilities, community- run clinics, free shops that redistribute old clothes, community gardens, local newspapers, workers theater etc.

Other counter-institutions will play a more confrontational role: street committees, revolutionary trade unions that aim to seize and democratically administer the land and factories, and self- defense units which are internally democratic and accountable to the community. In no case do we place any faith in the parliamentary system.

THE REVOLUTION BEGINS NOW!!!

Our choice is clear: revolution or destitution.
FORWARD TO DEMOCRATIC WORKING CLASS POWER FORWARD!!!
FORWARD TO STATELESS SOCIALISM FORWARD!!!

LV, 1994

Advertisements

New Nation (1990): “South African Working Class Organisation and the Downfall of the Smuts Government”

New Nation, 1990, “South African working class organisation and the downfall of the Smuts government,” 10-16 August, Matric History section of Learning Nation supplement.

A discussion of the struggles of the working class movement from 1920-1924 which examines the role of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) from 1919, the 1920 Bulhoek Massacre, and the 1922 Rand Revolt in the fall of the Jan Smuts government in 1924.

A good account from the old anti-apartheid weekly, but — as always — rather silent on the the role of anarchism and syndicalism — a factor in both ICU and the 1922 revolt.

Get the PDF here

 

ZACF (2005): Anarchist arrested by Swazi regime

Several weeks ago “MK”, a member of the Soutern African Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation’s underground structures in Swaziland was arrested.

He was among eight Swaziland youth congress (SWAYOCO) members detained by police following a SWAYOCO demonstration in the city of Manzini on Saturday, October 1st.

The SWAYOCO demonstration was to protest against King Sobhuza II’s autocratic decree of 1973 that outlawed all pro-democratic political activity in this, Africa’s last remaining “white” (monarchist) dictatorship. Today Sobhuza’s successor, King Mswati III, presides over one of the world’s highest HIV/AIDS infection rates, in a country where for people to draw water from a stream without permission is a crime – while he continues to splurge millions of rands on a private jet, swan around in a r2-million luxury Maybach vehicle and a string of palaces, and kidnap schoolgirls as his brides.

Over the past two years, the ZACF has established a presence in Swaziland as the only grassroots revolutionary organisation pushing for the overthrow of the king and of the british-south african extractive capitalism he supports.

Working within and outside of SWAYOCO, the ZACF has popularised anarchist class struggle ideas among politically-conscious youth. Countering Saturday’s SWAYOCO demonstration in which the ZACF participated, the royal Swazi police fired warning shots and in the resulting chaos, arrested “MK” and seven SWAYOCO comrades. Last month, however, the shoe was on the other foot, when an armoured police “hippo” that wandered into comrade-controlled territory found itself stoned and petrol-bombed.

“MK” and his seven comrades have apparently been charged with “disturbing the peace” – a charge that was of course not levelled at the police who started the shooting. “MK” was visited in the “Zakhele Detention Centre” in Manzini and was in high spirits, but is an ill man and is not able to take his regular medication. Bail has been set at r1,500 by the state, but civic organisations are trying to get the bail reduced to r500 – still a huge sum in this extremely poor southern African country.

For more information, contact the ZACF

MI & MD,
International Secretaries,
Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation,
South Africa & Swaziland

ZACF
Postnet Suite 153
Private Bag X42
Braamfontein
2017
South Africa

www.zabalaza.net

VIDEO: Motsoaledi Concerned Residents (MCR) protest, Soweto, April 2009

This is a news report from a protest by the Motsoaledi Concerned Residents (MCR) in Soweto, April 2009. Motsoaledi was a squatter camp in Soweto behind Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital. Anarchists played an important role in Motsoaledi, and initiated the MCR, which joined the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF). By 2009, the direct anarchist role in MCR was pretty much gone, but at least one Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front founder member was active in the protest, and is interviewed by the media in this report. More on anarchists at Motsoaledi here.

 

Biography: Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Thibedi, Thibedi William (1888–1960), South African revolutionary syndicalist and Communist,” in DAB

Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Thibedi, Thibedi William (1888–1960), South African revolutionary syndicalist and Communist,” in Emmanuel K. Akyeampong and Henry Louis Gates, Jr (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of African Biography, Oxford University Press.

Get the PDF here.

[Archived webpage]: The Workers’ Library and Museum (Johannesburg)

Previous posts have looked at the Workers’ Library and Museum (WLM) in Newtown, Johannesburg, and mentioned the role of anarchists (mainly, Bikisha Media Collective) in it from the late 1990s into the early 2000s: see here.

The WLM webpage from those days is long gone, but happily, there is a navigable snapshot of it here (off-site).