TALKININKAI / CONTRIBUTORS
|INSTITUTIONAL RACISM IN THE LEFT|
|Written by A Situationist Worker|
But I was first struck by the true dimensions of that problem in 1970, when Faith and I attended a guerilla art action protest against Art Strike, which was itself a protest against ‘racism, war and repression’. A group of famous white male artists led by Robert Morris decided to withdraw their work from the Venice Biennale, a prestigious international exhibition, in order to protest US bombing of Cambodia and the murder of college students at Kent, Jackson and Augusta. Although the protest was supposed to be against ‘Racism, War, and Repression’ (sexism was not yet on their agenda), Art Strike then expected to mount a counter-Biennale in New York without altering the all-white male composition of the show. This seems to be the key to understanding the intrinsic limits of Western cultural avant-gardism: while it can no longer deny its own white male supremacist presuppositions it cannot be rid of them either.
In the first years of our feminism, working through an organization that we founded called Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation (WSABAL), Faith and others succeeded in opening this exhibition to women and people of color. WSABAL was also influential in the subsequent development of Ad Hoc Women Artists, led by Lucy Lippard. This group repeated WSABAL’s 50 per cent women demand in their protest against the Whitney Biennial, which was in the habit of including white male artists almost exclusively. Specifically because of Faith’s research and support of Ad Hoc, black women artists Barbara Chase Riboud and Bettye Saar were included in the next Whitney Biennial.
[Michele Wallace “Invisibility Blues”]
In 2009 artists in Alytus responded to the EU city of culture award to Vilnius, by declaring an Art Strike and hosting an Art Strike Biennial. I was involved with the IWW at the time and put forward the idea of creating a psychic workers union. This was to counter Bolshevik ideas of a division between cultural, political and economic organization of workers as well as the bourgeois Eurocentric ideas of art production as separate from other creative activities.
The Psychic workers union was indeed formed when I left the IWW in 2009 after briefly organizing with the Cambridge branch as they would not support the terms of myself and the Art Strikers of Alytus – so we created the DAta Miners Travailleurs Psychique. This summer we have been attacking the Manifesta Biennale, the Berlin Biennale and also linking up with the artists of the Dakar Biennale. We saw it imnportant to not only attack Eurocentric bourgeois culture at its source (the art biennial) but also in its neo-colonial form in Dakar, Senegal while also extending the hand of comradeship to the African black and coloured artists there.
This is not about identity politics – but about (re)defining what we mean by the Proletariat! Any situation is defined in Time, Space and Class – and its measurement begins with the here and now – our own situation as workers who are constructing it.
That’s why recent texts of the psychic workers are always talking about black power. The failure to link up the strikes (of workers), the protests (of students) and the riots (of the so-called “lumpen” proletariat) in a time when the most vulnerable in society are being hit by government cuts is not necessarily the sign of total defeat. Much is going on which is invisible - unrepresentatable – outside and beyond the surface of the spectacle. However international proletarian organizing and uprising will inevitably make contact with the spectacle in order to destroy it.
There are 3 instances I want to bring up which I think illustrate the manifestation of institutional racism in the everyday reality of organizing and interaction between people. These occurred while working at LARC where we helped organize a Global Conference in Serbia for the PGA. The PGA has since become defunct and collapsed, unable to recover from the infiltration by New-Right groups which we helped to expose.
1. During the organizing of the conference we asked why African groups had not been invited. We were told that the problem with African groups was that they were made up organizations created solely in order to get visas for European travel. The implication of course here is that having a Shengen visa – being European - grants political authenticity.
2. When planning the conference literature we continually pushed for all material to be made available in Serbian as well as English. This was ignored in the event and lead to confrontations at the conference.
3. Back at LARC when a refugee tried to join the directors of the company that runs the building we were told that this was not practical because of a lack of papers. So rather than try to make this possible it was dismissed without discussion. We also tried to arrange for it to be mandatory for a refugee to be part of the user group – again this was dismissed. There fore there is a tendency to reproduce positions of power on the lines of the state
What happened subsequent to this and countless other incidents is that myself and another member of the Voice forum was expelled from LARC. At the time there were 4 members of the Voice forum – and we were the 2 who were most vocal and known – one other was a refugee. Soon after the remaining member so the Voice forum were also hounded out with demands for phone bills with no negotiation or concessions made or support given for a refugee group to arrange payment of phone bill.
It was only then that NO Borders London began operating and meeting at LARC. This was no coincidence. The group was set up by Anarchists of the WOMBLES who were instrumental in our expulsion. They even knew that I was facing a police case for obstructing the police at an anti- BNP demo because another member of the WOMBLES was up in court with me on the same charge.
When I brought this up in Alytus I was interested to hear of another comrade’s experience of how refugees were treated at a NB social centre in Rome. There was a case of a refugee who was effectively treated as a servant in the “social centre” in exchange for lodging! Even if this is not typical it is The politics of No Borders which only deals with getting people across borders and not with the day to day life and work of people once they are in Europe that is the problem. At worst these NB activists are exploiting someone else’s struggle in order to don the pose of radical activists.
Some aspects of NB maybe worthwhile, e.g. supporting hunger strikers in detention. However these transitory and fragmentary support is no compensation for the derailment of refugee struggle.
IWW have recently started to have meetings at the LARC. While the IWW are very distinct form the groups previously because they are working class lead. There is a clear organizational structure which means that informal power structures and hierarchies do not remain invisible and cannot become as damaging as they can in Anarchist organizations.
Since the IWW has become registered in the UK they have been able to organize non-unionized workers. A good example is the Latin American workers in London. Clearly they are going beyond the
Internationally the IWW has remained restricted to mainly white /European areas in the US, Europe and Australia. This has to do with language – but also with the notion of industries which are closely associated to nation – the 1st world i.e. European colonies that have remained dominated by Europeans (us/Australia) are service industry lead.
If the aim of one union for all workers is serious then the IWW must look to overcoming the institutional racism inherent in the left: overcoming language restraints, overcoming the bias for those who are recognized by the state already and beginning to empower those who are already disempowered by the state.
Going beyond nationalism also means going beyond industrialism. Non-unionized workers includes the vast majority of people who are not in paid employment at all. Not just non-0productive and productive workers but also reproductive workers.
As reproductive workers we constitute the unpaid workers who continually create life. Our unionization is the intersection of everyday life and political organization.
The occupy movement was a good sign of where this in action but again limited by Eurocentrism. Occupations were indeed workers strikes –strikes of those producers and consumers of psychic space, occupying a space of psychic production and consumption and distribution.
The positions outlined in the “de-occupy Glasgow” blogpost and the DisOccupy blog challenging sexism and racism in the occupy movements show these limits in action – and these things can only be dealt with through the self organization of the working class - ie a movement that is conscious of itself as proletarian.
The Occupations proved unable to re-connect to the so-called Arab Spring which were a starting point for the camps in Spain. While the internationalism of this influence is a revolutionary move, we must reject this term Arab Spring - firstly we prefer the translation of الثورات as Revolution rather than Spring. Secondly the racialising of the countries in the north of Africa as Arab is as a nationalistic and racist maneuver and reveals the structural spatial and temporal limits that psychic workers must resist. It is no coincidence that the most successful occupations have been in the UK, USA and Australia. These places are all part of the Former British Empire – but unlike African and Indian ex-colonies they are controlled by those who still bear European names and family ties.
In resisting the capitalist atomization of social and community life, we must not let ourselves be pushed back into a reactionary position of defending the family as this will only strengthen the national and aristocratic groups that this organizational form derives from. We must refuse the bourgeois choice of marriage or prostitution and push forwards towards proletarian workers organization. Perhaps it is time for a lovers union.
In the Capitalist era and nations of advanced Capitalism, this nationalism has taken on an industrial structure – countries are now divided by industrial production –it is no coincidence that the occupy countries are those focused on capital intensive production while the countries of the “Arab Revolution” are geared towards land and labor intensive production. It is also no coincidence that while the so-called “Arab” revolution have matured into armed struggle and have met with heavy and violent state repression from the outset, the Occupations have chosen so-called non violent protest and have met with less direct or covert state repression. The internalization of industrial identity has lead to a Peace Police set up with in the Occupy camp, at the Oakland Occupations joining of the General Strike last month, to physically repress Black Bloc and Anarchist groups. Despite our criticisms of black bloc as a tactic and anarchism as political position, we find this unacceptable as attacking buildings (capital or land) can never be compared to attacking people (labor). It is in this regard that the riots and looting in London this summer were of a more politically revolutionary nature than the occupations—in a practical negation of the commodity and of capital. The choice of targets in the future will depend on the drawing of picket lines by revolutionary workers unions and groups. Attacking of the police as self defense is a revolutionary act and is as inevitable as the confrontation with any worker who crosses the picket line. This will need discussion in the very near future.
Our immediate concern however is the attacks on the people of the occupation from outside the camp and the failure of the commune to protect them. The publicized rapes in the US and UK occupations have lead to attacks from the right, the state and also criticism from within the movement. It is vital we reject out of hand any criticism from the right or the state and foster and encourage the criticism from within and from those who seek to join the occupation on its declared terms. So while we reject Mayor Nutter calling for the Philly occupation to close after a rape there, we support the Black-Out by Black workers who boycotted the occupation after the racism experienced there could not be combated effectively within the camp. We also support the Glasgow Women’s Activist Forum who criticized the Glasgow occupations handling of the rape that happened in their camp.
For the empowerment of reproductive workers we look to Sylvia Pankhurst and Workers Dreadnought’s Constitution of British Soviets where the Household Soviets were to be put under the control of all women members of households over 20 years old. However we wish to go further in internationalizing the union. We must look towards reproductive workers lead by women in other countries where organization is so weak that reproduction is failing and mortality is higher than it is here.
Traditional unions and even revolutionary unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World, who we split from after they refused to recognize the renegade psychic workers IU 007/700, have proved incapable of going beyond national industrialism. The only way to do so is to unionize across all time as well as space and class – across tribal and feudal as well as the capitalist era. Those families who are from outside of England and Europe must be given power in this strike action. A simple way we can do this is by empowering their relatives who are in our locality.