This brief meditation/article on the link between a particular ethic and politic of coalition building and the devaluation of the capacity to act was inspired by a conversation in the car yesterday between myself and fellow Indigenous PhD student and Anishinaabekwe/kweer philosopher @revolutionkwe.
Time and again we hear this as a truism, so supposedly obvious that it needs no explanation. When we examine it, however, it blows away into dust.
– E. Tani & Kae Sera (1985, 202)
The truism that is being discussed in this opening epigraph by E. Tani and Kae Sera, authors of the underground militant classic False Nationalism, False Internationalism: Class Contradictions in the Armed Struggle (1985), is the oft recited trope that the colonized & racialized multitudes must wait for the white worker to move before we can start to make revolution and begin the process of overturning our 500 years of oppression.
In the face of the fact that the white/settler/master working class is one that is marked, and, I would argue, always has been marked by white supremacy, settler colonialism and anti-Black racism, seated with relative comfort within the hegemony of the colonial matrix of power and the capitalist world-system, and, as such, historically and currently aligned with imperialism, fascism and the parasitic global designs of its own bourgeoisie generally which see life extracted from the colonies and death exported in return, this would seem, prima facie, to be an absolute absurdity (to partially paraphrase the Twitter user and Marxist-Leninist Izak Novák).
The absurdity contains, at least, two levels. The first is that we, the colonized and racialized multitudes, must wait for a national-class strata that is so materially, and not just ideologically, invested in settler colonialism, parasitism and the worldwide oppression of Black people that is has historically blocked and denigrated the movements of Red and Black people for freedom—even from within its erstwhile most radical, most revolutionary, most left-wing formations—and which, more so, also has generally, in times of political and economic crisis, when its position on the predators perch overlooking the world has been most threatened, readily turned to not only system-loyal forms of right-wing national-populism, such as that of Donald Trump, the Brexit, Doug Ford and François Legault, but even towards what Matthew Lyons calls “insurgent supremacy” (2018).
The second layer is that we, the colonized and racialized multitudes, the survivors of 500 years of colonialism and settler colonialism, trans-Atlantic capture, and colonial brigandage do not have the capacity to act on our own and in our own interests without the support or consent of those who, quite often, are indistinguishable from the state apparatus. This is a profoundly defeatist position which places our liberation and freedom at the whim of our oppressor. It recapitulates the old ontological dualism of Euro-modernity that says that we are never the subjects of history, only its objects; it reconfirms that our movements for liberation are always in a state of teleological suspension with reference to the movement of the true human subject: the white/settler/master worker. We do not move the world; we are only moved by it.
Yet this is often the refrain, more often than it is not, from white communists and anarchists, who are increasingly confronted by, and in turn forced to confront, the tide of rising insurgent and resurgent demands for decolonization, decoloniality and abolition by Indigenous and African people within the current confines of the northern bloc of settler colonialism (what we might call North America, or the United States and Canada should we choose to obey the arbitrary and capricious line drawn across the northern part of the territory by these twinned settler colonial powers). We are told, over and over again, that we must make allies of the white/settler/master population, in particular the working class, because we are a “minority”, and as such we cannot possibly hope to win against the all-consuming apparatus of the settler/master state, its civil society and its garrison population. Tani & Sera put it quite aptly when they say that were are bombarded constantly with the message that we “will get genocidally wiped out if [we] push settler Amerika too far, and that only ‘majority’ white support can shield [us]” (202).
In particular the white communist and the white anarchist, whether eager to cover up centuries of white proletarian inability or unwillingness to act for liberation, or simple unable to explain this fact of history, is quite prone towards the first of these layers. In large part this is due to their ethico-political project being born at the heart of modernity/coloniality, and thus fundamentally housing a Eurocentric particularism disguised as an abstract universalism. That is, they rely on the mythological notion of an ineluctably borderless and global proletarian class. The faith in this essential proposition of so much of the global anti-capitalist project at times approaches the level of a religious fidelity, which should not be surprising to us in the wake of Cedric Robinson’s adroit demonstration of the messianic apocalypticism inherited by the historical materialist methodology as it is deployed by the Euro-Left (1999).
Because it conflicts at a fundamental level with the creedal oaths and statements of faith of the Euro-Left, they thus deny that the working class of the settler/master garrison population could have a direct material interest in continuing settler colonialism, parasitism and Black oppression. They instead make recourse to ultimately conspiratorial theories that hold that the problems of white supremacy, settler colonialism and anti-Black racism which supposedly harry this ostensibly undivided class are the cynical products of the bourgeoisie who would see the class divided and thus lessen its ability to overthrow the capitalist system.
However this is not only the refrain of white communists and anarchists who would see themselves and their movements positioned as the necessary allies of Red and Black Liberation on Occupied Turtle Island. It is also the line of others who, while not part of the settler/master strata themselves, sing the songs of their movement. In my own movement through Indigenous spaces and the Indigenous liberation movement I have observed directly that this is often manifested in a practice that prioritizes the construction of allies amongst the settler population rather than where, I would argue, our efforts should really be placed, which is the building of alliances first amongst ourselves and our own nations, and then between ourselves and other colonized and racialized peoples, here and around the world. The reasoning most often given for the prioritization of white allyship or white solidarity is that it is necessary because it is they who have the power. This form of politics, as I have already said, ultimately leashes our movement to the assumed movement of whites/settlers. While we, in these movements, may speak of ourselves as leaders, this kind of politics is one where we are anything but. We can never be leaders, because we will be dependent, and the range of our movement is always-already placed under the surveillence and control of the settler.
These kinds of politics must be unmasked for what they are, which is a profound pessimism and defeatism. And those who promulgate them throughout our movements, often by din of their own positions within our society or their adherence to Eurocentric politics, are the defeatists and the pessimists who ultimately hold us back from within our own selves. As Tani and Sera tell us, “Defeatism is colonial in that it is an oppressor nation view, an alien, imperialist view, rather than one that reflects the natural reality and interests of the oppressed nation” (205) and as revolutionaries it is our responsibility to toss these ideas down.
Both of these tendencies would see our movements towards decolonization, abolition and liberation undermined, either explicitly or implicitly. Both of these tendencies, from the white communist and anarchist movements, and from the pseudo-liberationists within our own movements for freedom, see white/settler/master people ultimately as the answer to our problems. These politics robs hope from our peoples in their own independence. As retold in Tani and Sera (1985) this politics has long manifested in the material practice of tying our liberation to the largesse of the colonizer through financial dependency (204). This material practice is one of dependency, and which makes the gaining of white allies for their power, financial or otherwise, the primary consideration for Red and Black liberation.
However this is not a meditation of the centuries of betrayal by the white/settler/master working class, nor is it an exploration of a politics either for or against the concept of coalition building with regards to white people, and white workers in particular. Rather it is about our autonomous, self-determined and sovereign capacity to act towards our own liberation.
Thus for me the question regarding the idea of coalition building is not whether or not coalitions are bad or good, effective or ineffective, or whether or not they are possible or ultimately impossible, or whether they can be built in such a way that they do not form on the basis of, and continuously reinscribe, relations of dependency. Indeed I would argue that they are in fact possible, given that certain base conditions are met. With regards to the white/settler/master working class, whom we are always told we must tie our aspirations of liberation to, this must be said to be an active disinvestment in their centuries long attachment—materially and ideologically—in the hegemony of white supremacy, settler colonialism, parasitism and anti-Black oppression. This however must be more than a passive and performative declaration of support for movements towards decolonization, decoloniality and abolition, alongside their already stated commitments to anti-capitalism and the building of communism. This is already the practice of the vast majority of the Euro-Left on Occupied Turtle Island. A brief tour of the programmatic statements made by Marxist-Leninists, Maoists, Marcyists, Trotskyists, anarchists and the whole host of left-wing formations shows a spectrum of statements, some better, some worse, calling for anti-racism, anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism etc.
It must be more than this, because this has not been enough since the birth of the movement for communism-qua-communism. Rather the fundamental ground condition must be material disinvestment in the colonial matrix of power, and active material support for the movements of Red and Black peoples for liberation. This however is also not meant to be a sketch of what precisely the form of this support should be, as it is well beyond the scope of what I want to do here to make such a programmatic statement of my own. I am here simply stating the underlying problematic.
To begin to conclude this short piece, let us returning to the question of coalitions as coalition. What I have been building to is saying that the problem is not any of the oppositional binaries stated above, but rather the question of the necessity of building coalitions, in particular the building of coalitions with white/settler/master workers, either explicitly stated, or implied by their status as the particularism-disguised-as-universal-abstract when discussing the so-called “revolutionary subject.” The fundamental problem then in what I have been saying is this: if the presupposition of any ethico-political project of coalition building is that colonized and racialized peoples must do so, that they must unite with the white/settler/master working class, white/settler/master communists and anarchists, then there is a radical and implicit devaluation in the capacity of colonized and racialized people to act autonomously towards our own liberation (Ball & Gordon 2018). This is colonial, parasitic and anti-Black in the deepest possible regard.
The extent to which the communist and anarchist movements are, more often than not, tied to this conception of coalition building, and the promotion of it to the extent of actually actively undermining and denigrating the independent movements of Red and Black peoples, is demonstrative of the extent to which the white communist and anarchist movements are ultimately agents of the colonial matrix of power and tied by their interests to maintenance of it.
Beyond the question of coalition building by colonized and racialized peoples, this critique could likely I imagine be extended to the question of the liberation of women (building coalitions with men), the liberation of trans*, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people (building coalitions with cisgendered people) and the liberation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and other sexually nonconforming people (building coalitions with heterosexuals). The extent to which any nominally revolutionary individual, organization or movements presupposes the necessity of the coalition of the oppressed with the oppressor is the extent to which they promote the idea of the oppressed’s fundamental incapacity to act autonomously. Ultimately any iteration or dispensation of this kind of politics around coalition building is a fundamentally oppressive politics disguised as revolutionary politics, and it should always be one of the primary missions of those claiming genuine revolution to uproot and do away with them.
Ball, Jared & Lewis R. Gordon. 2018. “Dr. Lewis Gordon: Afropessimism, Africana Philosophy and Theory.” IMiXWHATiLiKE! Retrieved December 16, 2018 (https://imixwhatilike.org/2018/03/02/dr-lewis-gordon-afropessimism-africana-philosophy-theory/).
Lyons, Matthew N. 2018. Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire. Montreal, QC: Kersplebedeb.
Robinson, Cedric J. 1999. An Anthropology of Marxism. London, UK: Ashgate Publishing.
Tani, E. & Kae Sera. 1985. False Nationalism False Internationalism: Class Contradictions in the Armed Struggle. Chicago, IL: Seeds Beneath the Snow Publications.