Wednesday, July 06, 2011

“We are not interested in a polemic,” -- but we got one anyway.

TurningThe Tide has published a response to a previous article, Off the Nazis!...but how? We had previously linked to it and post this response here to continue the discussion.

A response to Bring the Ruckus

by Jerry Bellow

I read with interest the recent article from Bring the Ruckus (or The Brigade, presumably some subset of BTR, which is itself a multi-tendency organization) concerning the recent Anti-Fascist events in and around Trenton NJ. It is clear that the author(s) or their informants were intimately in the actual actions, as I was.

They seek to bring a critical perspective to what happened that weekend, and in some cases they are mostly dead on. With other conclusions, I feel as though they head in a direction that is dangerous to both the aboveground and underground portions of the movement.

BTR points out serious flaws in ARA’s organizing leading up the public mobilization in Trenton. I agree that much more time and energy should have been spent out in the community, meeting people, explaining who we are, what we do, why we are there, and why it would be fun to join in.

In the organizing for ARA I have done in the past in the Midwest (mostly Ohio), a lot of time was spent on this sort of activity, both in big cities and in very small towns. The small towns were harder to do this in, because you are organizing among poor rural white folks, and there was always that fear that someone you met might be the enemy or one of their sympathizers. But, We Go Where They Go even if it’s a space and place where their comfort level is much greater than our own.

Hub City ARA, which is the ARA Network chapter local to Trenton, didn’t do enough of this base-building type work in a place where one could be 100% certain that the fascists had no sympathizers one might encounter unknowingly by chance.

But each ARA chapter is autonomous, each has to organize permanently in its own community, and each has to deal with the political repercussions of its actions in the long term. How Hub City chose to turn a Neo-Nazi mobilization to its own local advantage is Hub City’s choice, not the choice of the network as a whole.

To Hub City’s credit, their local organizing leading up to the event centered on exposing the locations and (sex) crimes of local NSM members. Despite the overall lack of base building, the NSM now has zero chance of gaining a foothold or building a base in Trenton. We Go Where They Go, and Hub City ARA rooted them out and exposed them.

The other point BTR raises in their article, and the one I find problematic is this one:

“Doing the aboveground organizing in the same space and time as the underground organizing is strategically paralyzing and decreases the effectiveness of both the more and the less militant elements from pursuing their separate goals.”

The conceptualization therein is a straw man. “More Militant” and “Less Militant” elements within ARA and within the anti-fascist movement do not have separate goals.

They have one goal and that is to defeat and dismantle fascist organizations. “Elements” (or that is to say, people) are not more or less militant, tactics are more or less militant.

People, as individuals, have more or less military capability.

The formulation that BTR suggests we use essentially places the more militarily capable people within the organization in a separate political and organizing space from the more aboveground and “less militant” (although it takes a lot of work to carry out militant action in broad daylight downtown) people. This is an error.

The clandestine operation, the sudden strike by night, the essentially more illegal actions with high potential for physical violence (which is what I think BTR means by “more militant”) are tactics.

These tactics must be employed from time to time, and the capability to employ these tactics must be built, honed and maintained for the sake of both effectiveness and credibility. Clandestine activity however, is still only a tactical adjunct to the core work of Anti-fascism, which is mass organizing.

Separating these elements leads to disaster in the long term. Time and again, revolutionary organizations have separated their clandestine elements from their mass elements, or failed to build mass elements at all. This leads to a focus and fetishizing of clandestine activity at the expense mass organizing and mass militancy.

As the clandestine political operator slides further down this road she or he becomes more and more separated from the masses, from dialogue with mass political organizing, with the realities of day to day life. When the Red Army Faction disbanded itself in 1998, one of the key self-criticisms they cited was a failure to engage in any above-ground work. They wrote:

“It Was A Strategic Mistake Not To Build Up A Political-Social Organization Alongside The Illegal, Armed Organization

“...In no phase of our [RAF’s] history was an outreaching, political organization realized in addition to the political-military struggle. The concept of the RAF knew only the armed struggle, with a focus on the political-military attack.”

In light of this, and the experiences of many clandestine underground organizations, the fault of ARA in Trenton was not the failure to separate the clandestine from public, but the failure to better coordinate the two. ARA and other antifa failed to communicate WHY we chose the tactic of wearing black, WHAT the relationship of this or that corporate institution is to fascism or WHY some of us chose to target them along with the open nazis. We failed to communicate why the population of Trenton should support us, why they should join us in these actions.

Separation would not have helped with that. Searching for new methods of communication, integration and inclusion are the way forward.

5 comments:

Arturo said...

Bellows’ makes many false insinuations in his response to an article published in May on the Bring the Ruckus website entitled “Off the Nazis!...but How?” BTR is not interested in engaging in a debate with someone who makes two incorrect assumptions in the first sentence of their writing. But we are required by rules of common decency not to take credit for other people’s Nazi-bashing.

The “Off the Nazis!” piece was submitted to members of BTR by people not in BTR. We often publish writings by non-BTR members if we think they raise good points and questions. As stated in the Editors’ Note of our website, “if a writer is a member of BTR, it's indicated at the end of an article. All articles that reflect an official BTR position are identified as such."

Peace by piece,
Arturo

Anonymous said...

Okay let me state pretty plainly a couple of things. I didnt read the article on BTR's website. It was circulated fairly widely as being "from BTR".

If BTR wishes to publish anonymous criticisms, and with the statement "we are not interested in a polemic", and then get angry when somebody responds in a thoughtful, respectful manner, there is probably not much any author can do to make them happy.

If BTR wants to respond to the substance of the article, in detail, it is welcome to do so. Jumping up and saying "We didnt write the orginal source material, and therefore your response is bullshit and you're an asshole" is not good debate of issues at all.

I'm interested in hearing BTR's "official" take on this, and anybody else's for that matter, as long as you've got footnotes.

Comradely,
Jerry Bellow

Anonymous said...

The following statement is from the Coordinating Committee of Bring the Ruckus:

Bring the Ruckus does not have a problem with those who confront fascists and racists physically and politically, as long as such actions don't further the rule of the state. That should be obvious from our history.

We do have a problem with being given credit for the actions or writings of others.

A "Response to Bring the Ruckus" from Jerry Bellow has appeared in various forums on the Internet and elsewhere. Bellow was replying to the article "Off the Nazis…but how?: Potential and Limitations of Militant Anti-fascism", which originally appeared [on the Bring the Ruckus website] May 12th, 2011.

Bellow's opening sentences state: "I read with interest the recent article from Bring the Ruckus (or The Brigade, presumably some subset of BTR, which is itself a multi-tendency organization) concerning the recent Anti-Fascist events in and around Trenton NJ. It is clear that the author(s) or their informants were intimately (sic) in the actual actions, as I was."

Let's clear away the mistakes and assumptions one by one.

1. If there is a group called "The Brigade", it is not a subset of Bring the Ruckus.

2. We don't know what Bellow means by "a multi-tendency organization". No one within our organization uses such phrases.

3. Most importantly, we didn't write the piece. Bellow repeatedly refers to "BTR" as the author. Since there has been no discussion within our organization about this article or the action, it is a major presumption - and an incorrect one - to claim it as our position on fascism, fascists, the state or any number of topics raised in the article.

4. Leaving aside whether the author(s) were present or not, we can say that, as an organization, Bring the Ruckus wasn't.

We post numerous articles and commentary on our website. We sign those articles or documents that represent our collective decisions and actions. We welcome debate on the article and the issues it raises and hope that it can proceed - without the presumptions and assumptions and errors.

-- The coordinating committee of Bring the Ruckus.

becca said...

The conclusions of the Brigade piece do not lead to conclusions that we should support. We must utilize multiple tactics when confronting potentially fascist movements. Such tactics should be simultaneous and not independent of each other. The Brigade piece makes the counter argument, "We recognize (and support the fact) that ARA is flexible enough to contain both elements, but it must also be capable of clearly distinguishing between the two forms of work. Doing the aboveground organizing in the same space and time as the underground organizing is strategically paralyzing and decreases the effectiveness of both the more and the less militant elements from pursuing their separate goals."


This would lead us down a slippery slope. It is wrong to think that in moments of countering tendencies that are using multiple tactics that we not also employ such tactics. Bellow's piece takes on the Brigade's conclusions and I think is right on, "Separating these elements leads to disaster in the long term. Time and again, revolutionary organizations have separated their clandestine elements from their mass elements, or failed to build mass elements at all. This leads to a focus and fetishizing of clandestine activity at the expense mass organizing and mass militancy."


The problem to me is that there can be isolation on one side if anti-fa/anti-racist organizing is limited to only small groupings of people and on the other side if tendencies lead to strengthening state structures as a way to fight the right. We should simultaneously use multiple tactics in countering the right. Joint actions should include push the event further by utilizing such tactics.

Anonymous said...

On Strategic Armed Defense

The Brigade respects the fact that people are taking the time to respond to our writing on the antifascist actions in Pemberton and Trenton, NJ in April, 2011. This gives us a chance to reconsider the limitations of our arguments and to revise and further develop our ideas. But to do so we must first burn down the straw men erected in this debate. In reflecting on the conjured up spirits of the failed RAF, we feel the need to explicitly emphasize that nowhere in our writing did we argue for “separation” or “isolation” between the underground and the aboveground. An armed fighting formation, just as much as a public campaign, action, service, or institution, stays or becomes extraneous if its tactics and strategy have no relation to the practical aspirations of the population. Any student of guerrilla warfare understands that it does not survive its protracted struggle without a mass base—which requires love, that unconquerable instinct.

We acknowledge that we may have encouraged assumptions of adventurism by framing the writing through an “underground-aboveground” binary. This makes the generalized realms of action—of defensive war on one hand and public militancy on the other—seem mechanistically related. We should have also given clear examples of what we are basing our arguments on, like the Underground Railroad, John Brown’s posse, the African Blood Brotherhood, the Deacons of Defense, and RAM’s Black Guards. So we agree with the correction—that all elements of true revolutionary activity do indeed have the same broad objective and strategy, despite varying subjects and tactics, with which to build a new world and destroy the old one.

The Many Headed Hydra

Not the dragon, but the hydra.The little modern revolutionary praxis which exists in the United States is very fragmented and multifaceted. This is no cause for concern, as the development of independent forces allows the people to strike the beast from many different angles, rather than relying on just one, preventing any one form from controlling all others and allowing for greater looseness and specificity of method. What we encourage is a specialized guerilla defensive which has to be derived from public organizing and agitation, and more importantly, based in the day to day self-activity of the masses.
It is not about winning enough people over or having the perfect strategy beforehand, but rather, of the power of the spontaneous creativity of the people and the ability of revolutionists to adapt to it. We personally know that many of the rebels from the slums of Trenton were armed and ready to defend themselves against the fascists and the police. Because of these personal experiences, we still hold that clandestine tactics should be discussed on a need-to-know basis, in a differnt space from abovegorund ones. When local friends and newcomers wanting to participate in a militant protest are alienated because of security fetishes and underground posturing—that is a mistake.
We are trying to learn something new from these experiences. Just because grandmas and children in the Basque Country or Mexico or Ireland openly support guerillas that protect their neighborhoods—this does not necessarily mean that they themselves are guerrillas. A popular culture of publicly and casually supporting strategic armed defense is common sense to most poor people of the world. The harder they come, the harder they fall!