The real story of black anarchists

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Opponents of racial justice protests taking place across the country often denounce activists as “anarchists.” This is largely a false characterization intended to label the protesters as violent and nihilistic. And yet, as sociologist Dana M. Williams writes, modern anarchism – a political philosophy that generally opposes coercion, hierarchy and inequality, both within militant movements and within the world in general –has a decades-long history in the black-led anti-racist organization.

Williams writes that there was some interaction between the 1950s civil rights organization and largely white-led anarcho-pacifist groups. But black anarchism really got its start in the late 1960s, occurring mostly separately from the white American anarchist tradition.

The civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s were largely based on centralized structures. Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin, who helped found the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO) and the Federation of Black Community Partisans (FBCP), wrote that the Black Panther Party, influenced by Marxist-Leninists, “ failed in part because of the authoritarian regime. leadership style of Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale and other members of the Central Committee… There was not much democracy within the party, and when contradictions arose, it was the leaders who decided to resolution, not the members.

By the late 1960s, the Black Panther Party was fracturing under the weight of police and FBI violence, internal divisions, and continued white resistance to anti-racist change. Some former members have turned to cultural nationalism, communism or Democratic Party politics. But others have become anarchists.

Some black radicals, including Ervin, Ashanti Alston, who now sits on the steering committee of the National Jericho Movement to Free American Political Prisoners, and Kuwasi Balagoon, a former member of the militant Black Liberation Army, first encountered ideas anarchists in prison. Like some white European anarchists, they saw ideology as an antidote to the corrupting influence of power within leftist organizations. As Alston wrote in 1999:

Top-down organizations [and] governing body[s] are relationships based on the fact that some are brains and most are brainless and therefore NEED those with brains. I reject that. I love myself and I love people and so we all have brains and together are smarter than any little group of muthafuckas claiming to be my / our leaders.

Balagoon, who identified himself as a neo-Afrikan anarchist, pointed out that the anti-state orientation of the anarchists made them anti-imperialists. Ervin, meanwhile, argued that anarchism opposes all forms of oppression, including “patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, state communism, religious precepts, discrimination against homosexuals, etc. He has supported community welfare societies, worker-controlled food systems, tax denial, rent strikes and opposition to police brutality.

While anarchism never became a central feature of radical black thought, Williams notes that many prominent figures, including Angela Davis, Bell Hooks, and Audre Lorde, have analyzed political issues in an anti-authoritarian manner. These ideas continue to influence today’s black-led anti-racist protests, many of which embrace local mutual aid strategies, political goals such as the abolition of police and prisons, and non-hierarchical actions. .leader“structures.


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By: Dana M. Williams

Journal of Black Studies, vol. 46, n ° 7 (OCTOBER 2015), pp. 678-703

Sage Publications, Inc.

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