Members of the Detroit branch of First of May Anarchist Alliance recently co-hosted a reading group for the book, Captive Genders: Transembodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex.
We wanted to post the notes and review one of our members, Miriam, made and presented during that discussion.
Our book for discussion today, Captive Genders, [Stanley, Eric A. & Smith, Nat, Editors. Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex. AK Press, 2011] begins with a recounting of the Stonewall fight back. This highlights the fact that our theory must be rooted in action. It is responsible for helping us understand our actions and for pushing our action forward, as far as we can go. What I want out of this discussion is a deeper understanding of how we are confined by capitalist narrative, in terms of who we are, how we identify ourselves and our potential. We are limited by how the system magnifies its own power, so that we become afraid to challenge it. I want us to deepen our understanding of self defense as more than individual fight back; our movement is a form of self defense; the revolution itself is self defense. I want us to deepen our support and practice of self defense. I want us to promote self defense and defend those who practice it. I want us to develop networks so that we can move quickly and effectively. No one should have to fight alone, although many of us do, out of necessity. In this, as in many other situations, we cannot rely on other forces; we have to defend ourselves.
The people highlighted in our book, as well as the people coming into our movement, already practice self defense. It is in the nature of the attacks they face, that they have to fight for their own survival. One job of our movement is to help unify and coordinate this fight back, so that we grow stronger. We look to increase awareness, and to build a framework within which people can see themselves as part of the movement, as Vanguard (a San Francisco – based gay organization in the 1960s) did by placing ads in their newspaper requesting people to come forward with their stories of police harassment. (52) Mutual solidarity and defense, along with coalition building, are important facets of our movement.
Prisons include jails, detention centers, juvie, relocation camps, psychiatric institutions, along with all the boxes that imprison us without walls, especially the normative assumptions of the society that are used to ostracize and isolate those who do not fit in. These prisons are supported by a web of government, laws, legal systems and corporations that profit directly and indirectly off the prison industrial complex. They are rooted in class system, now capitalist system. The PIC naturalizes abuse and violence, making it appear ordinary. It also naturalizes the view that there is no alternative, so that people who desire safety default into supporting the police as protection, even as they themselves do not feel safe around the police. On p. 134, in Lal and Juan’s support for UAFA, they “echo support for measures that contradict the realities of their existence [which] only proves the power of the discursive frameworks within which such immigrants must operate.”
There are economic reasons that the family as a necessary social unit is promoted in this system: women do unpaid labor in maintaining the home, raising children and providing sexual service to their husbands. There is a veil of acceptance that allows for domestic abuse and violence, a reproduction of the hierarchy of authority, the passing on of religious and cultural values, all of which are necessary for a smooth functioning of capitalist system. The Trans/Queer challenge to this system is so deep that there is strong and immediate reaction: violent, intransigent, hostile.
Historically there are other ways of being that have queered society, challenged its assumptions. Heretics, non-believers, were burned at the stake in the 12th century. It is no accident that the wood used was called faggots. Independent women were called witches, also burned. In our time, Communists, anarchists, immigrants, the foreign born, African Americans, Muslims along with transgender people, gays, lesbians, those with alternate identities are all stereotyped, demonized, seen as dirty, or unclean, either expected to stay within a certain predetermined place in society or ostracized and kept from full public participation in society. Queer is, or can be, a political approach, that questions, disrupts and transforms dominant ideas about what is normal, (237) and who has a right to public space.
Because prisons depend on strict male-female division, the life and sanity of the transgender prisoner is at high risk. So how can our movement, dedicated to freedom for all, collectively create safe space for the voice and development of this section of our movement? One, break down the assumptions and prejudices within our movement: prisoner does not mean “Black male”, transgender does not mean “white fairy”. Also, we need to collectively create space for the voices of transgender prisoners, so that their needs and issues can be identified by themselves, to be addressed by our movement as a whole. By centering the most vulnerable sections of our movement, their issues become all our issues, we fight together with mutual solidarity, our struggle as a whole is greatly strengthened. People who stand outside the system have much experience in self defense; we seek to build on their momentum, to encourage political analysis and action, so that the lessons they have learned through their struggles can be shared and incorporated into our larger struggle.
The resistance that followed the Stonewall rebellion was part of a general resistance to late 20th century capitalist oppression. The Black Power movement, the movement for Women’s Liberation, Chicana/o liberation, American Indian Movement, Young Lords, anti-war and anti-draft movements, Students for a Democratic Society or SDS, the Gay and Lesbian Liberation movements all awakened communities to their potential for development and change, previously limited by a narrow capitalist vision. This strong awakened movement met strong resistance from the ruling class. Murder, assassinations, the bombing of neighborhoods, criminalization through imprisonment, torture, sabotage were all practiced, accompanied by media promotion of the dangers our movement posed to society as a whole.
Along with direct attack from the ruling class, the liberals in our movement derailed our most deep-reaching demands by focusing money and attention on demands that met the needs of a small section, and marginalized or attacked the rest of our movement. They corralled our movement into safe channels. Within the gay movement, demands for marriage equality, the right to fight in the military and demands for passage of hate crime legislation took precedence over demands to end police oppression, the right to employment and all social services, the right to self determination and the right to choose our own living situations, the right to public space. The demands of the liberals were accommodated by the capitalist state, and promoted as great victories. The needs of the majority of the trans/gay communities were swept under the rug. Most vulnerable are “excluded or marginalized from entire categories of political advocacy. Criminalization also works to eliminate certain people from the realm of legitimate politics.” (339) We work to undo the narrative of “progress under capitalism” by concentrating on the antagonism between trans/queer folk and the police. We understand that the state cannot allow trans/queer people to express themselves fully, as it cannot allow anyone to grow to full potential. They allow us freedom, as long as it is freedom to do what they allow.
Domination generates resistance. We do not believe in prison reform, or that the system is broken. It is working very well, to the detriment of queer/trans people, as well as the rest of the working class and oppressed, and all who step outside the bounds of normative behavior. The book says “imagine a different world.” (p. 8) We say the system must be overthrown. A revolution is necessary to break out of ruling class prisons, to destroy the web and connections of capitalists worldwide, the practices of surveillance, policing, screening, profiling and all the technologies used to control populations.
On p. 17, violence is cited as a problem, but the obvious (to me) approach is ignored, that of self defense. The book says join with movements and build community relationships. Good, but not enough. Our movement is a defense of our larger, inclusive self and should be fought for as such. We also support individual self defense and defend those who are attacked for defending themselves.
On p. 18, an unfair and punitive immigration system is cited as a problem. Their approach ignores the demand to open the borders!
On p. 18, the problem cited is vulnerability of families to legal separation and removal of children from homes. Our demands must include community help and support for abused children in families. Some children need to be separated from birth families and need support in working out a living arrangement.
On p. 20 the very important point is made that “we might characterize the past many decades as a time in which policies and ideas were promoted. . .to destroy the minimal safety nets set up for vulnerable people, dismantle the gains made by social movements and redistribute wealth and resources. . .away from the poor and toward the elite.”
On p. 23 another very important point, that of the systemic nature of oppression. Prison time does not come solely from an individual behavior or bad intention but from a web of institutions, policies and practices that make it normal and necessary to “warehouse, displace, discard or annihilate poor people and people of color.”
Stories of mass struggle are framed as heroic individual acts. Cite Rosa Parks. Charismatic leaders take credit so that activism by regular people is devalued. Cite Martin Luther King, Jr. Struggle is framed in ways that ignore base building and movement building activity.
The radical organizing that surged in late 20th century was undermined by 2 strategies: one, criminalization through prisons, assassination, media-promoted hysteria, etc. The other was the growth of the non profits, which turned movements away from valuing independent action and organizing. They “professionalize, chase philanthropic dollars, separate into “issue areas” and move toward social services and legal reform projects.” Both of these developments left significant sections of the left traumatized and decimated, the movement channeled into the system.
In centering our most vulnerable sections, the concerns of the few become the concerns of all. When we put those with the fewest resources and those facing multiple systems of oppression at the center of our organizing, we all benefit. Collectivity or how we work together is to be valued over individual, hierarchical leadership. Instead of looking for a “most oppressed” group, we can talk about different forms of violence faced by different groups. We can end the cycle of oppressed people being pitted against one another.
On p. 36, the book says “Abolition is not just about closing the doors to violent institutions, but also about building up and recovering institutions and practices and relationships that nurture wholeness, self-determination and transformation.” M-1 feels that we need revolution to be free. In our studies, when revolution did not go all the way, the backlash/state and fascist repression was so vicious and violent to leave our movement in worse shape than when it started. In fact, to go forward and not consciously prepare to go all the way through to revolutionary break-up of power away from the ruling class, is to leave our movement undefended and helpless against a sure reaction.
The different chapters that eloquently detail the depth of the oppression faced by trans/queer people as well as the vitality of their resistance is very inspiring reading; I can’t do it justice in this presentation. Each experience gives weight and provides a fuller picture of how we can move ahead with a stronger, more inclusive movement. We need to fight prejudice within our own movements and use the abilities and talents of each of us. We build our free society based on meeting the needs of all its members, collectively working for space for each of us to develop our full potentials.
For more information on Captive Genders see the website.
Jerome Jackson Remembered (view PDF, here)
By First of May Anarchist Alliance – Detroit Branch
Jerome Jackson, our good friend and a fighter for justice, died on Sunday, May 11, 2014. Jerome, in recent months, had been battling cancer, but his death is untimely and came much too soon. Jerome died at his home in Inkster, Michigan, a home he had battled to save for the past five years.
Jerome had been shot in the back at age 14 in 1969, and the shooting left him a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. But Jerome’s spirit and his determination to fight against injustice were never confined. He became a leading fighter for the rights of persons with disabilities and was an active and leading member of Detroit Eviction Defense. Jerome lived independently and with dignity at his home in Inkster for the past ten years.
This is an interesting interview with our comrade Miriam (M1 Detroit) on her history of “Industrialization” with her organization at the time the Revolutionary Socialist League. “Industrialization” was the term that the Left used to describe the strategy of getting mainly University and counter-culture youth activists to commit to point-of-production organizing in factories as part of the working-class. It was different than what is today known as “salting” – as “Industrialization” was not usually seen as a short-term stint around a specific campaign, but rather a long-term commitment to building a revolutionary presence in the class.
The organized entrance of a few hundred revolutionaries into the industrial working-class was one of the factors (along with the Black Power consciousness, returning Vietnam vets, and the broad influence of the counter-culture) in the upsurge in radical struggle in the workplace. In some sections of the Left “Industrialization” was encouraged in a top-down, authoritarian manner. Many New Left-era activists who “Industrialized” did end up leaving working-class jobs for academia and the professions after some time spent in the factories. Others eventually made home for themselves within the Union bureaucracy and left radical politics behind.
Miriam agrees that this interview can be posted widely, in order to share lessons and spark discussion. She adds:
”If we had had an anarchist understanding of bottom up organizing, incorporating community work we could maybe have gotten farther. Lessons indeed!”
Preliminary Interview Questions:
*Did you industrialize as part of an organization or a group?
Miriam: Yes, as part of the Revolutionary Socialist League.
[Note: The RSL was an unusual Trotskyist group that over time criticized and abandoned first orthodox Trotskyism, then Leninism, and began questioning Marx. The RSL dissolved in 1989 with several former members helping found the anarchist network Love & Rage. -K]
*If as a group, when did your group begin sending comrades into industry? Why did you all take this “turn” to industry, so to speak?
M: The Detroit branch of the Revolutionary Socialist League began industrializing in 1974-75. We felt it imperative to get work in the auto factories, work alongside, get to know and recruit auto workers to the revolutionary cause.
*Which industries did you and your comrades target in particular, and why? Was there any discussion about service or agricultural labor?
M: The auto industry was targeted in Detroit. We also had cadre in the post office. The Chicago branch had workers in steel and auto. The New York branch had people in auto and the post office. We were looking for the larger unions, where we could possibly have a national impact. We looked for a diverse workforce.
*Why did you personally decide to industrialize? Was this a personal choice or did your group direct its members into industrialization?
M: I was asked if I wanted to move to the Midwest and go to work in the factory. I was in my early 20s, needed work and thought this could work for me.
*Where did you industrialize? Why? Was this also your choice?
M: When I moved to Detroit in 1975, I first got a job at the post office. I was hired as an NTE (not to exceed 89 days) and rehired on that basis 3 times. We were not allowed to participate in the union. I attempted to go to union meetings and did a little agitation around that. When I was called for an interview at General Motors, I made that move and began work at GM in 1976. I was 26 years old, one of very few women in the plant, one of even fewer Jews, a closeted lesbian.
*What were your objectives, both short term and long term, in industrializing?
M: My first objective was to make a life for myself, a secure job, friends, a safe place to live. Within that we needed a revolution to change the way the system works, and I saw it as my job to talk that idea up, to convince people we were right and to join with us, in their own interests.
The following is a review of the new book , The Tyranny of Theory: A Contribution to the Anarchist Critique of Marxism. The review by Wayne Price first appeared on the Anarkismo.net site. Ron Tabor is a member of the Utopian Journal and of First of May Anarchist Alliance. The book has been published by Black Cat Press in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Review of Ronald D. Tabor, The Tyranny of Theory: A Contribution to the Anarchist Critique of Marxism (2013). 349 pages.
By Wayne Price
There is a paradox to Marxism, a central contradiction. Like anarchism, it originated in the 19th century movements for democracy, socialism, and working class liberation. Its stated goals were the end of capitalism, of classes, of the state, and of all other oppressions. Hundreds of millions of workers, peasants, and others have mobilized under its program, aiming for a better world.
But what was the result? The first Marxist movement resulted in the social-democratic parties of Europe and elsewhere. These ended up supporting capitalism and opposing revolutions. They supported the existing state, bourgeois democracy, and Western imperialism and its wars. Currently they have abandoned all pretense of advocating a new social system.
Lenin, Trotsky, and others sought to return to revolutionary Marxism. Their activities resulted in “Stalinism”: a series of monstrous, state capitalist, tyrannies, which killed millions of workers and peasants (and thousands of Communists). Currently these have collapsed into traditional capitalism.
How did Marxism start off so well and end so badly? No doubt there have been “objective forces,” as the capitalist system pressures and distorts even the most liberatory doctrine. But isn’t this to be expected under capitalism? Which aspects of Marxism made it most vulnerable to these pressures? What was there in the original Marxism of Marx and Engels which lent itself to these terrible results? Continue Reading…
Chile has a long history of working class struggle in shanty towns, factories, mines, community organizations, and schools. In the 20 years after the US supported coup which overthrew Salvador Allende’s government, much of the organizing was done underground. However after the fall of the dictatorship in 1990, there was a new rise of mass popular organization in the country. Anarchists have been a major force in the social movements, strategically organizing to build power. This has manifested in solidarity for the Mapuches, anarchists winning the student union elections at the University of Chile, militant pro-abortion actions, and libertarian labor organizations.
This national tour brings three individuals involved in these struggles to talk about the lessons learned and to create solidarity across hemispheres. From January to the end of February, the speakers will be traveling throughout the country and we hope that you can spread the word and hear about the important work that is happening in Chile.
This project has been endorsed by the First of May Anarchist Alliance. Late last year we published a discussion document on the revolution and war in Syria.
The MENA Solidarity Network-US promotes awareness of, and support for, the ongoing wave of mass revolutionary struggles in the Middle East and North Africa–popularly known as the Arab Revolutions.
The MENA Solidarity Network-US promotes awareness of, and support for, the ongoing wave of mass revolutionary struggles in the Middle East and North Africa-popularly known as the Arab Revolutions.
We were founded by groups and individuals from the left and workers’ movements who recognized the need to oppose Western imperialist threats to attack Syria while also continuing to defend Syria’s popular revolution against the Assad dictatorship and its allies. We thus oppose all forms of imperialist intervention in the region while supporting popular struggles against all who would deny democratic rights or enforce economic exploitation. By the same token, we oppose all forms of Zionist expropriation of land and resources, apartheid and repression, while supporting Palestinian refugees’ right of return.
We are committed to the principle of international solidarity from below, which supports the struggles of the oppressed against their oppressors in all of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Bahrain, and other countries. We cannot, as people of conscience, ignore the call for “Freedom, Dignity, and Social Justice” coming from revolutionaries throughout the region.
We defend the rights of all people to practice, or not practice, any religious faith of their choosing. Based in the United States, we see a particular responsibility to defend Muslims from Islamophobic vilification and discrimination.
We highlight and applaud the role of women in the revolutions, and support their full rights and equal participation in society and in the revolutionary process.
And we pay particular attention to the struggles of workers and poor people, defending their rights and drawing attention to their struggles.
We call upon all groups and people who agree with us to sign onto our statement and join our network to oppose US intervention and help build solidarity with our brothers and sisters struggling for freedom and justice in the Middle East and North Africa.
by First of May Anarchist Alliance – Minnesota Collective
Download PDF file here
Socialist and Democrat campaign signs compliment each other in Minneapolis
All across the Central, Corcoran, Phillips, and Powderhorn neighborhoods of Minneapolis you can see the red & white “Ty Moore for City Council” yard signs, symbolic of the impressive effort the campaign is mounting. The Campaign literature emphasizes social justice, in particular the ongoing movement to defend homeowners from foreclosure and eviction. The Green Party (Minneapolis’ 2nd party) and, significantly, the SEIU union leadership have endorsed Ty’s campaign – signaling an apparent challenge to Democratic-Farmer-Labor rule in Minneapolis. What could be wrong with all of this?
Plenty, actually. Electoral campaigns, including this one, have as their aim to get “our guy” into a place of power – the government – and to “educate” the public on issues of importance. But what kind of power is this? And what are people being taught?
The government is not a democratic institution. It is bureaucracy in the shape of a pyramid with more power and fewer people the higher you climb. “The State”, as anarchists call the government – including City Hall – is a system imposed over the people and land in which self-determination is “taken from the people and confided to certain individuals, and these, whether by usurpation or delegation, are invested with the right to make laws over and for all, and to constrain the public to respect them, making use of the collective force of the community to this end.” (Malatesta, an old-school Italian anarchist)
The State overlaps with and is usually subordinate to the economic hierarchy of the super-rich, their corporations and banks – what the Occupy movement called “the 1%” and what anarchists refer to as “the ruling class”. Together, the ruling class and the State control the system of exploitation, oppression, and alienation – and the resultant wars, low pay, police brutality, sexual harassment, gentrification, environmental destruction, boredom and depression – that dominate our lives.
Prioritizing a campaign for City Council can be seen as akin to saying that workers should focus their energies around getting the right person to be their CEO or on the board of directors.
Historically there have been two ways people have organized to confront this system:
Reform or Revolution. Continue Reading…
October 2012: Volume 12
The Utopian Content:
Who We Are
Towards an M1 Policy on Syria…First of May Anarchist Alliance
Dignity Campaign Response to the Senate Immigration Bill S. 744
M1AA Statement on Anti-Gay Violence
Trayvon Martin—A Personal Response…Christopher Z. Hobson
Beneath Mount Saint Rosalie—1866…Bob McGlynn
Lift Every Voice and Sing (1900)…James Weldon Johns on Theory and History
“True to Our Native Land”—African Americans and the United States…Christopher Z. Hobson
Totalitarians Come in Many Guises (Review-Essay)…Ron Tabor
Neither East Nor West, NYC—Some History…Bob McGlynn
The Utopian Publishing Co.
Christopher Z. Hobson
P.O. Box 1355
Bronx, NY 10471
Christopher Z. Hobson, Mary Robinson, Ron Tabor.
$8.00 per single print copy. Send check or money order in U.S. dollars, payable to Christopher Hobson, to the address above. Do not send cash. We cannot accept credit/debit payments
In the spirit of solidarity and us developing a greater understanding and analysis we are posting the following article, Syria: The Struggle Continues: Syria’s grass-roots civil opposition.
We have much appreciated the critical responses from comrades at the Tahrir-ICN project (as well as individual commentators at other sites such as Anarkismo.net and LIBCOM.org) in response to our most recent document, Toward an Anarchist Policy on Syria.
-C. Alexander, M1 Secretary
By Leila Shrooms for Tahrir-ICN
The discourse on Syria has been dominated by discussions of militarization, Islamization, sectarianism and geopolitical concerns. Conversely there has been relatively little focus on Syria’s grass roots civil opposition. This has led to a lack of knowledge outside of Syria for activists who want to stand in solidarity with Syria’s revolutionaries but don’t know where to start. This article attempts to provide an introduction to some of the many civil resistance initiatives taking place on the ground and efforts at revolutionary self-organization. It is by no means a comprehensive overview. It focuses on initiatives that are non-party political or religiously aligned. It must be remembered that prior to March 2011 there was not a functioning civil society in Syria as rights to free expression, assembly and association were highly restricted with severe consequences for those who failed to comply.
Who are the grass roots civil opposition?
The core of the grassroots civil opposition is the youth, mainly from the working and middle-classes, in which women and diverse religious and ethnic groups play active roles. Many of these activists remain non-affiliated to traditional political ideologies but are motivated by concerns for freedom, dignity, social justice and basic human rights.
Local committees and local councils
The main form of revolutionary organization in Syria has been at the local level, through the work of local committees and local councils. These were influenced by the work of Syrian anarchist Omar Aziz. He argued that it was inconsistent for revolutionaries to participate in protests by day and then return to living within the hierarchical and authoritarian structures imposed by the state. Aziz believed that revolutionary activity should permeate all aspects of life and advocated for radical changes to social relationships and organization. He called for autonomous, non-hierarchical organization and self-governance, based of principles of cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid. Together with comrades he founded the first local committee in Barzeh, Damascus. Continue Reading…
There has been posted a lengthy response to the M1 document, Toward an Anarchist Policy on Syria. The purpose of our document was to be a small voice and help develop the needed discussion towards analysis and action for our movements. We appreciate all the critical responses and would like to share the following that was posted on the international anarchist site, Anarkismo.net:
Response by a Syrian Anarchist to the First of May statement on Syria
Tue Sep 17, 2013 16:13
I was delighted to see that, finally, an anarchist group in the global north has made a serious attempt to make sense of what’s happening in Syria and clearly state its position on the Syrian revolution. I really like, and mostly agree with, the statements expressed in the ‘Our Position’ section at the end, but I have quite a few issues with the preceding introduction and background sections. So here are a few comments in the spirit of your invitation for “input from others, particularly those with greater background in the area, especially anarchists living in the region”, and in the hope that this will contribute to a more informed discussion among anarchists and a better understanding, position and action on Syria. Continue Reading…