Alan Lipman and Howard Harris, 1997, “Democratic Architecture: A challenge to the working class,” South African Labour Bulletin, volume 21, number 2, pp. 39-41.
Get the PDF here
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!!!
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).
There is an interesting video, captured from a VHS, from a report on the TV station M-Net, on the Newtown power complex in what looks like the late 1980s. The Newtown power complex, in downtown Johannesburg, was the site of the old municipal power station. It was all but abandoned by the late 1980s: the state of the building attests to this, and so does the fact that the council’s main interest (in the video) is to move some old trees from the premises, to another owned by the municipality. The decrepit building visible from 03.34 (time on video) was the old housing section that was refurbished as the Workers Library and Museum (WLM) in the 1990s. (Below the video you can see a photo of how the building looked before used as the WLM, and how the WLM looked in its early years).
Several posts on the history of the Workers Library and Museum (WLM) and the role of anarchists in this body in the late 1990s and early 2000s can be found on this site: see here.
There is an interesting account of this period by a one-time member of the Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) here (off-site link).
The Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) actively tried to build links with Zimbabwe, providing a free subscription of its paper Workers Solidarity to the library at the University of Zimbabwe (then still the site of a radical student movement), sending copies for sale at the late, lamented Grassroots Books in Harare, and doing its best to distribute its analyses of the Zimbabwean situation to activists in Zimbabwe and in the Zim diaspora. Beyond this, it also did some solidarity work with various Zimbabwean struggles. Many people have now forgotten that the ZANU-PF/ Robert Mugabe regime was almost toppled in the late 1990s by massive student and worker protests: the nationalist myth of Mugabe as a progressive and popular radical — popular in recent years — is breaking down these days, but helped hide a history of massive repression against the povo (masses, the people), by simply writing the povo out of history while controlling the streets.
Below are two recently recovered emails — one sent by WSF to the international anarchist movement, and another to the South African left — to appeal for solidarity against the massive crackdowns that took place in early 1998:
Received: from […] 21 Jan 98 10:31:37 GMT +2:00
Received: from […]
From: “Lucien W.” […]
Subject: org: EMERGENCY-defend Zimbabwe workers
Today Robert Mugabe, the ruler of Zimbabwe, a country next to South Africa, ordered soldiers into Harare, the capital. The soldiers have been sent to crush a spotaneous general strike and rioting by the workers.
The soldiers were sent in after riot polce failed to contain the situation. The soldiers have orders to “shoot to kill” anyone disturbing “law and order”. It is possible that a full State of Emergency will be declared later today.
The workers and the poor are protesting high prices and low wages.
The press presents the struggles as “isolated looting”. But it is a mass protest movement with widespread support.
The regime says it is the work of reactionary opponents of land reform and of the government- outrageous lies by a de facto one party state which has broken every promise of land reform it has ever made since independence in 1980.
The facts show otherwise. The 3 day revolt follows on weeks of consumer boycotts in the townships by the workers. These boycotts in turn follow the succesful general strike of 9 December 1997 for lower prices. The strikers were driven off the streets by riot police that day.
I will post more background on the simmering revolt in Zimbabwe tomorrow.
FOR NOW, I CALL ON ALL COMRADES TO SEND MESSAGES OF PROTEST TO THE ZIMBAWE GOVERNMENT. STATE YOUR OPPOSITION TO THE USE OF SOLDIERS EMPOWERED TO USE LETHAL FORCE BEING DEPLOYED AGAINST WORKERS WITH LEGITMATE GREVIANCES. TAKE OTHER ACTIONS IF YOU CAN. CALL ON THE REGIME TO DESIST FROM KILLING THE WORKERS.
PLEASE COMRADES- IF ANYONE HAS ADDRESSES, FAX NUMBERS, E-MAIL NUMBERS FOR THE ZIMBABWE GOVERNMENT SEND THEM TO ‘ORGANISE’ [list serv] NOW.
An Injury to One is an Injury to All!
Received: from […]
22 Jan 98 09:02:55 GMT +2:00
From: “Lucien W.” […]
Subject: Defend Zimbabwe workers and poor
For those who would like to register their protests at the clampdown on protest in Zimbabwe, there is a web page
with loads of phone, fax etc number for Zimbabwe state institutions, including at it happens a lot of the army barracks. The most relevant may be
Ministry of Public Service Labour & Social Welfare
12 TH Floor
CentralAvenue/ 4th Street
The early 1990s saw a new interest in anarchism in South Africa, one expression of which was the emergence of reading and discussion groups. Elsewhere this site collects materials from the reading groups associated with a wing of the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM). But there was certainly some such groups in Durban. There was also reportedly a group around this time at Stellenbosch, among young Afrikaners, and evidence of interest in anarchism also emerged from Pretoria in the form of a long letter to published in the Vrye Weekblad, a liberal, anti-apartheid Afrikaans weekly newspaper (now defunct), 3-9 July 1992 (issue 181), from a P.M. de Kock in Pretoria. You can get a PDF of the original text here, with the text extracted below (sourced from the https://digital.lib.sun.ac.za/)
Vrye Weekblad, 3-9 July 1992 (issue 181), p. 4
ANARGIE IS ORDE!
PMde Kock van Pretoria skryf:
Na aanleidlng van 16 Junie dink ek onwillekeurig aan die woorde van Max Stirner:”Every state is a despotism, be
the despot one or many.” 16 Junie mag dalk die versinnebeelding van die draaipunt in Suid-Afrika se geskiedenis wees, maarwragtig, ons kan dit as dag van bevryding vier tot ons almal blou in die gesig is, maar dit sal nie die korrupte struktuur wat bo ons gestel is uit die kussings lig nie. En ook nie verhoed dat dit net weer vervang word met ‘n kabinet vol mooi, vetgevrete swart gesigte om die hele proses weer van veor af te laat begin nie.
Hier gaan dit nie vir my om swart of blank nie, dit gaan omdie idee — staat. As ek so kyk na wat die afgelope tyd in die pers verskyn het, besef ek al hoe meer dat die NP regering nou begin met’n proses van klou aan die rokspante van mag tot hy uiteindelik net met geweld daarvan afstand sal doen, en in die proses sal hy seker nog ‘n paar onskuldige mense saam neem (of eerder ‘n paar duisend).
Dis juis hierteen wat ons moet waak. Dis ‘n feit dat die ANC een of ander tyd die Uniegebou gaan betree en al die strukture, soos dit tans daar uitsien, net so sal oorneem. Maar meanwhile back at the ranch, sit ons steeds met ‘n staat.
Dis tyd dat die mense wakkerskrik uit hul gemaklike slaap, die staat het homself reeds keer op keer bawys as die grootste euwel wat die mens tot nog toe kon bedink. Of dit nou ‘n demokrasie of totalitêre regime is, dit het dieselfde effek– die verslawing van die mens tot daar niks van hom oorbly nie: Die hele opset is onlogles.Wat het geword van
baslese regering, die verskaffing van net die nodige dienste aan die gemeenskap, en daarmee bedoel ek nie op nasionale vlak nie, maar bloot op plaaslike v1ak?
Dit mag dalk na emosionele dagdromery klink, maar ek dink daar moet ‘n algehele omwenteling in die menslike bastaan kom. Kyk wat het die afgelope eeu gebeur? Die staat as entiteit het toenemend mag begin verkry, juis as gevolg van die verdelings konflikte wat binne elke gemeenskap afspeel. Politieke mag is die instrument wat gebruik word om rykdom te verdeel en die staat sal voortdurend daarna streef om die struktuur van mag tot eie voordeel te manipuleer.
Die wanverspreiding van rykdom is die staat se werk, maar dan moet die volgende groep wat die regeringsbootjie kaap, nie bloot voortgaan endieselfde doen deur net in ‘n ander rigting te roel nie.
Ek sien dié proses in Suid-Afrika afspeel. Swart strewes gaan nie vervul word di edag as daar ‘n nuwe swartregering is nie. 0 nee, hulle sal verdeel en aksies loods om die people op te hef.
Maar dit sal nie gebeur nie, omdat die hele proses verkeerd is. Ons verruil dan net blanke Afrikaner bevoordeling vir swart bevoordeling. Nie dat dit die sogenaamde Afrikaner gehelp het nie, hulle is nou, juis as gevolg van dié bevoordeling, in groter kak as ooit tevore. Ons moet vergeet van die staat, en terug kom na die mense toe, laat
die mense op grondvlak beheer oor mekaar uitoefen en verhoudings só reël.
Ek sal enige staat, of hy nou wit of swart is, tot in alle ewigheid verwerp. Laat die gesag terug kom na die individu toe, soos die Anargisme ons leer, dan sal dié land uit die as uit opstaan!
Soos Pierre-Joseph Proudhon gesê het: “Anargie is orde.”
(Brief verkort – Red)