This week on Live Like the World is Dying, Inmn is joined by author and activist, Michael Novick. They talk about just how horrible fascism really is. Thankfully, there’s a simple solution, antifascism. Michael talks about their work with Anti-Racist Action Network, the Turning The Tide newspaper, and his newest book with Oso Blanco, The Blue Agave Revolution.
Inmn can be found on Instagram @shadowtail.artificery.
Michael (he/they) and The Blue Agave Revolution can be found at www.antiracist.org
If you want to take over the Turning The Tide newspaper, find Michael at antiracistaction_ firstname.lastname@example.org
This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org, or on Twitter @TangledWild and Instagram @Tangled_Wilderness. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.
Live Like the World is Dying: Michael Novick on Antifascism
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host Inmn Neruin and I use they/them pronouns. This week we are talking about something that is very scary and, in terms of things we think about being prepared for, something that is far more likely to impact our lives than say, a zombie apocalypse. Or I mean, we’re already being impacted by this. It is actively killing us. But, if I had to choose between preparing for this and preparing for living in a bunker for 10 years, I would choose this. Oh, golly, I really hope preparing for this doesn’t involve living in a bunker for 10 years, though. But the monster of this week is fascism. However, there’s a really great solution to fascism…antifascism. And we have a guest today who has spent a lot of their life thinking about and participating in antifascism. But first, we are a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts. And so here’s a jingle from another show on that network. Doo doo doo doo doo. [Singing the words like a cheesy melody]
And we’re back. And I have with me today writer and organizer Michael Novick, co founder of the John Brown Anti Klan Committee, People Against Racist Terror, Anti-racist Action Network, the TORCH Antifa network and White People For Black Lives. Michael, would you like to introduce yourself with your name, pronouns and kind of…I guess like your history in anti-racist, antifascist struggles and a little bit about what you want to tell us about today?
Sure. Thanks, Inmn. So yeah, Michael Novick. Pronouns he or they. I’ve been doing anti-racist and antifascist organizing and educating and work for many many decades at this point. I’m in my 70s. I got involved in political activism in kind of anti-war, civil rights, student rights work in the 60s. I was an SDS at Brooklyn College. And I’ve been doing that work from an anti white supremacist, anticapitalist, anti-imperialist perspective. And I think that particularly trying to understand fascism in the US context, you have to look at questions of settler colonialism. And, you know, people sometimes use the term racial capitalism. I think that land theft, genocide, enslavement of people of African descent, especially is central to understanding the social formation of this country. I was struck by the name of the podcast in terms of "live like the world is ending," because for a long time, I had an analysis that said that the fear of the end of the world had to do with the projection of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie feels that its rule is coming to an end and therefore thinks the world is coming to an end, but the world will get on fire without the bourgeoisie and the rulers and the imperialists. Except that because of the lease on life that this empire has gotten repeatedly by the setbacks caused by white and male supremacy and the way it undermines people’s movements, the bourgeoisie is actually in a position to bring the world to an end. I think that’s what we’re facing is a global crisis of the Earth’s system based on imperialism, based on settler colonialism, and exploitation of the Earth itself. And so I think it’s not just preparing for individual survival in those circumstances. We have to think about really how we can put an end to a system that’s destroying the basis for life on the planet. And so I think that those are critical understandings. And the turn towards fascism that we’re seeing across the…you know, Anti-Racist Action’s analysis has always been that fascism is built from above and below and that there are forces within society. I think particularly because settler colonialism is a mass base for fascism in this country, as well as an elite preference for it under the kind of circumstances that we’re looking at, in which, you know, as I said the basis for life itself has been damaged by imperialism, capitalism, and its manifestations. And so the need for extreme repressive measures, and for genocidal approaches, and exterminationist approaches are at hand. So, I think that, again, I think that the question of preparation is preparation for those kinds of circumstances. I think we’re living in a kind of low intensity civil war situation already, in which you see the use of violence by the State, obviously, but also by non state forces that people have to deal with. So I think that that’s the overall approach that I think we need to think about. And that comes out of, as I said, decades of doing work. I think that there are a few key things that we have to understand about this system, which is that it’s not just issues that we face, but there is an enemy, there is a system that is trying to propagate and sustain itself that is inimical to life and inimical to freedom. And that if we want to protect our lives and the lives of other species and if we want to protect people’s freedom going forward, we have to recognize that there’s an irreconcilable contradiction between those things and between the system that we live in. So that’s kind of a sobering perspective. But, I think it’s an important one.
Yeah, yeah, no, it is. And it’s funny, something that you said, kind of made a gear turn in my head. So, you know, normally, yeah, we do talk about in preparing to live like the world is dying, we do usually come at it from this context of that being a bad thing that we need to prepare for bad things to happen. But, the way you were talking about like fascism and empire and stuff, I suddenly thought, "Wait, maybe we should live like that world is dying and like there is something better ahead." Because, you know, we do like to approach the show from…I feel like we like to talk about the bad things that are happening and could happen but also the hopefulness and like the brighter futures that we can imagine.
I think that’s right. And I think it’s really important to have both of those understandings. I think that, you know, people do not actually get well organized out of despair. I think they do, you know, you want to have…You know, there used to be a group called Love and Rage. And you have to have both those aspects. You have to have the rage against the machine and the rage against the system that’s destroying people, but you have to have the love, you have to have that sense of solidarity and the idea of a culture of not just resistance but a culture of liberation and a culture of solidarity. And I think that, you know, there’s a dialectic between the power of the State and the power of these oppressive forces and the power of the people and to the extent that the people can exert their power and to the extent that we can free ourselves from the, you know, the chains of mental slavery is…[Sings a sort of tune] you hear in reggae, you know, that actually weakens the power of the State and the power of the corporations. And they [the State] understand that sometimes better than we do. So there is, you know, there’s some lessons I feel like I’ve learned and one of them is that every time there is a liberatory movement based out of people’s experiences and the contradictions that are experienced in their lives, whether it’s the gay liberation movement, women’s liberation movement, or Black liberation and freedom struggle, there’s always an attempt by the rulers to take that over and to reintegrate it into, you know, bourgeois ways of thinking. And, you know, people talk about hegemony and the idea that ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class, and I think that, you know, I’ve seen it happen over and over again with different movements. And so, you know, I was involved with the Bay Area gay liberation in the 80s and, you know, one of the things that happened there is that you saw very quickly a different language coming up and different issues coming up. And so suddenly the question of gays in the military was put forward, or we have to be concerned about the fact that gay people have to hide when they’re in the military, and the question of normalizing gay relationships in the contract form of marriage came forward. And those were basically efforts to circumscribe and contain the struggle for gay liberation and to break down gender binaries and stuff within the confines of bourgeois conceptions of rights and bourgeois integration into militarism and contractual economic relationships. And you saw that over and over again in terms of the Women’s Liberation Movement, and then all of a sudden you’ve got bourgeois feminism and white white feminism. And I think that that’s really important to understand because it means that there’s a struggle inside every movement to grasp the contradiction that…and to maintain a kind of self determined analysis and strategy for how that movement is going to carry itself forward in opposition to what the rulers of this society–who rely heavily on, as I say, white supremacy, male supremacy, settler colonialism, and its manifestations–to try to contain and suppress insurrectionary…And you see the same thing within the preparedness movement. There’s the dominant politics of the preparedness movement I think that I’ve seen over many years are actually white supremacist. They’re maintaining the homestead of settler colonial land theft. So you have to understand that that’s a contradiction in that movement that has to be faced and overcome and struggled with. I think having an understanding is critical to really trying to chart a path forward that will kind of break…create wedge issues on our side of the of the ledger, so to speak, and begin to break people away from identification with the Empire, identification with whiteness, identification with privilege. And, you know, one of the issues I’ve had over a long time, for example, what I struggle for is people’s understanding about the question of privilege. You know, I come out of the…as I said, there were struggles in the 60s and early 70s about what we called white skin privilege. And I think that it’s critical to understand that privilege functions throughout the system all the time. It’s not a burden of guilt, it’s a mechanism of social control. And anything you have as privilege can be taken away. Privilege is a mechanism of actually obtaining consent and adherence to…You know, parents use privileges with their kids to try to get their kids to do what they want. Teachers use privilege with students to get the students to do what they want, Prison guards use privileges with prisoners to get the prisoners to follow the rules and stay incarcerated. And so, you know, that’s a mechanism of Imperial domination, of settler colonialism, and certainly within that context. So, it’s not an illness or a…It’s not something to be guilty about. It’s something to contend with and deal with and understand that if there are things you have as privileges that you think are used by right or by merit, you’re deluding yourself and you can’t actually function facing reality. So when you understand that they are privileges, you understand that they’re there to obtain your consent and your adherence, and your compliance, your complicity, your complacency, and then you have to actually resist those privileges or turn those privileges into weapons that you can use to actually weaken the powers that be. And I think that that approach is important to understand that, you know…I used to do a lot of work with people in the Philippines struggle, and they talked about the fact that, you know, on some of the…outside the US Army bases that were imposed in the Philippines, there was a rank order of privilege, like where people could dig in the garbage dumps of the US military to get better quality stuff that was being thrown out by the military. And so that kind of hierarchy and sense of organizing people by by hierarchy, by privilege, is how the system functions at every level. In the workplace they find different privileges that people have to try to divide workers from each other and get people to struggle for privilege as opposed to actually struggle for solidarity and resistance and a different world. And I think that having that understanding begins to free people. Steven Biko was the leader of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa that really helped propel it moving forward. One of the things he said is that, "The greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the minds of the oppressed." And, you know, I think to the extent that we can start to free our minds of these structures, we can actually begin to weaken the oppressor and strengthen the struggling and creative powers and energies of people to really build a different world.
Yeah, yeah. Sorry, this is gonna seem like a silly question because it feels very basic. But, I love to kind of break things down into their base levels. But, what is fascism?
Yeah, good question. I think that an important analysis of fascism that I came across is from Cesare Amè. And what he said is that, "Fascism is the application in the metropole (of the colonizing power) of the methods of rule that have been used in the colonies." I think that that has a critical understanding because, as I said, the US is a separate colonial system, so elements of fascism have always been present within the political, economic, and social structure of the United States because they’re internally colonized people and stolen land. So, if you’re looking at elements of fascism, there’s hyper masculinity, there’s hyper nationalism, there’s obviously slave labor, there’s incorporation of a mass base into kind of a visceral identification with a leader. And all of those things really have manifest themselves in US history before we used the term, "fascism." And so, the US is based on land theft, on genocide, on exterminationist policies towards the indigenous people, the enslavement of African people, and also on the incorporation of a mass base based on settler colonialism and the offering of privileges to a sector of the population to say, "Okay, you know, we’re going to participate along with the rulers in this system." And so I think that it’s important to get that understanding because people often think that fascism is an aberration or it’s a particularly extreme form of dictatorial rule or something like that. But I think that it’s really a way of trying to reorganize people’s personalities around their role within an empire and within, you know, it’s trying to control the way people think, and control the way people see themselves in relation to other people. And so, you know, that’s why I think that idea that fascism is built from above and below is important because we do see fascist elements that have some contradictions with the state. And we’ve seen, for example, in January 6th. You know, the government has gone after certain of these elements because they have moved too quickly. Or, the same way that there were premature antifascists during the World War II period and they went after the people in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Sometimes there are sort of premature proto-fascist in this society that have contradictions with the State, and they’re operating somewhat independently. So, you know, I think that it’s important to understand that and that there are elements in the State and within the different sections of the State that have their own operative plan. So, you know, when you look at the question of police abuse and police brutality, there’s one approach to it that certain elements in the State take, which is about command and control. They want to make sure that they control the police forces and that individual officers are not acting independently but are carrying out cohesive state strategies. At the same time, there are elements within law enforcement that are trying to organize individual cops for organized white supremacy. And, it’s the same thing in the military. And so there are contradictions there that we have to be aware of, but at the same time, they’re operating within a framework of settler colonialism, of organized white supremacy, So, one of the things that’s come up recently, for example, is this idea that there…how can there be non-white white supremacists? And, you know, I think it has to do with the fact that it’s not just your identity, or your racial identity that’s there but who do you…What’s your identification? Are you identifying with the Empire? Are you identifying with the bourgeois? Are you identifying with the settler colonial project that has shaped, really, the whole globe over the course of half a millennium? Or, are you identifying with the indigenous? Are you identifying with the struggling people? And it’s less a…It’s not a question of your particular skin color but which side of the line are you on?
How does attempts by the State or by society to kind of like assimilate various oppressed people into the Empire? Like, how does that kind of factor factor into this?
Well, if you look at the history of, let’s say, Central America is one case in point, that there were fascist forces in Central America and their base was not really within their own society. Their base was within the Empire. And so, you had death squads operating, you had mercenaries operating, you had contras [counter revolutionaries] operating in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, carrying out genocidal policies, in many cases, against indigenous people and people of African descent within their own societies. And so, you know, that’s not exactly fascism in the same way, but it certainly is aspects of police state and death squad activity that has to be resisted. So I think that, you know, when you see Enrique Tarrio and some of these people that are, quote unquote, "Hispanic," operating as proto-fascists with the Proud Boys or these other formations in the United States that’s a manifestation of the same thing, that there are people who have identified themselves with a system of white supremacy and a system of domination, a system of exploitation, and they’re trying to make their own individual piece with it and they have collective mechanisms that reinforce that. And they see…So, you know, I think that the fascism has presented itself at times as a decolonizing element in Latin America and Asia and other places where…For example, when the Japanese Empire was trying to strengthen itself and formed an alliance with Italian fascism and German Nazism, they also presented themselves in Asia as liberators of Asia from European colonialism. And, you know, then they carried out atrocities of their own in China, Indochina, and Korea. So, I think that nobody is exempt from this. It’s not a genetic factor. It is what ideology…What’s the organizing principle that people are operating under to form their society and generate their power? If that’s militaristic, if it’s hierarchical, if it’s exploitative, then regardless of what the skin tone of somebody carrying that out is, it can be fascistic in its nature.
Yeah, I like something that you said earlier, which I think is an interesting frame. So, I feel like people in the United States, you might hear people like, talk about the rise of fascism, or the like, emergence of fascism, as if it’s this new thing, you know? And I like how you read it, in the formation of the United States as a nationalistic identity with this idea that fascism has always been here, fascism has always been a part of the settler colonial project of the United States.
Well, I was gonna follow up that is if you look at the countries in which fascism came to power in Europe, they were mainly countries where they felt they were not adequate empires in their own right. In other words, Spain, even Portugal, France, England, you know, had empires. Germany came late to imperialism. And even to the formation of a German state, the German bourgeoisie was not able to really unify all the Germans into a single nation. Same thing with Italy. Italy was, you know, a bunch of kind of mini states and city states and came late to the formation of a national sense of Italy. And so I think that fascism presented itself as a overarching ideology that could galvanize a nation and launch it into an imperial mode where it could compete with other empires. So the US context is a little different because, as I say, from the very beginning it had that element of settler colonialism and cross-class alliance in which not only the bourgeoisie but even working people could be induced to participate in that project of land theft and genocide. There’s a famous book called "How the Irish Became White" by Noel Ignatiev who talked about, you know, how white supremacy affected Irish workers. And what he didn’t really look at was that there was some Irish involved right from the very beginning and trying to overturn the land relationships between settlers. They wanted, you know, there was a land theft and a land hunger that they had, and so, for example, even before the question of relation between Irish workers and Black workers came up, there were Irish in the United States that wanted to overturn the agreements that had been reached in Pennsylvania between the Quakers and the indigenous people in Pennsylvania. The Irish wanted land and they wanted to participate in taking that land from the native people. And then that had repercussions back in Ireland itself because that the US Empire and those land thefts then affected the consciousness of the Irish within Ireland itself and weaken the Irish struggle for independence from British colonialism because there was a safety valve of the US Empire. And so I think that it’s critical to look at these things because it gives us a sense of what is at stake at different times and what’s at issue. And I think that looking at the question of decolonization, looking at the question of solidarity and unity, is the flip sides to this. If we only look at the power of the bourgeois, if we look at the power of the fascists, it can be intimidating or overwhelming or depressing. And I think that that’s the…You know, when you talk about preparedness and some of these things, you’re talking about what are the generative powers of the people themselves because Imperialism and Capitalism are based on a kind of parasitical relationship. They’re extracting wealth from the Earth itself and from the labor of people and turning it into a power over the Earth and over the people. And I think that understanding that actually all that wealth that the system has, all the power that the system has is actually coming out of the people who are oppressed and exploited in the land gives us a sense of what our own powers are and what our own capacity to be creative and generative are. To the extent we exercise those, it weakens them. And I think that that’s a critical understanding.
Yeah. Are there ways that fascism is currently manifesting that feel different from say, I don’t know, like 40 years ago?
Well, I think the whole phenomenon of social media and the way in which they very effectively organized these Neofascist forces through the gaming…hypermasculine gaming stuff and, you know, I think…We talked a little bit about the..I think the reason that people approached me to do this podcast had to do with my essay in "¡No Pasarán!: Antifascist Dispatches from a World in Crisis." And so that’s a piece where I talked about, you know, some of this history of different struggles and how they…what lessons to extract from them. But the other book I’ve been working on and put out recently, is called "The Blue Agave Revolution: Poetry of the Blind Rebel." This was a book…I was approached by Oso Blanco, an indigenous political prisoner here in the United States who was involved with actually robbing banks to support the Zapatistas in Mexico, and he was getting "Turning the Tide," the newspaper I’ve been working on for many years that we send free to prisoners, and he approached me. He wanted to work on a book and he said he wanted me to work on the book with him. And he had…"The Poetry of the Blind Rebel" is a story arc and poetry arc of his work that is a story about the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century, the 1910s-1920. It’s kind of magical realism. But, he asked me to write some fiction. And so I wrote kind of a short story cycle of a three way fight between vampires, zombies, and humans. And the vampires are basically–I mean, it’s Dracula–but, you know, there’s one point where there’s a woman who has been trying to grapple with this and she forms a cross with two wooden tent stakes and he kind of laughs and says, "Oh, you bought that old wive’s tale. We totally integrated into the church and into the State," you know. Basically, the vampires represent the bourgeoisie because they [the bourgeoisie] are vampiric and parasitic and they have powers. The zombies in this story are a group of incels that have captured a vampire and they think that they can create a potion from vampire blood that will give them power over women and make them…you know…And instead, they turn themselves into zombies. And so then there’s a sort of three way fight between the bourgeoisie on the one hand, these vampires, the fascists from below, these sort of incel zombies that have to eat brains, and then the humans who are trying to deal with both of them. And I think that that’s an important understanding that, you know, there are contradictions between the vampires and zombies but they’re both our enemy. And so, I think that that’s an approach that we have to understand that they’re….You know, it’s not a simple linear equation that’s going on. There’s a lot of things happening. I think that the fascists from below have contradictions with the fascists above, and we can take advantage of that. And then…but, we have to understand that their, you know, it’s not…I think there are weaknesses…[Trails off] Let me go back to this. You know, historically, people have talked about antifascism and anti-imperialism, and there’s been an element in both of those of class collaboration. A lot of people in the anti-imperialist movement think, "Oh, well, there’s a sort of a national bourgeoisie that also doesn’t like the Empire and wants to exert itself. And we have to ally with them. And a lot of people in antifascist movements have thought, "Oh, well, there’s, you know, bourgeois Democrats who also hate fascism," and I think that those have been weaknesses historically. And also the contradiction between people who concentrate mostly antifascism, the people who concentrate mostly on anti-imperialism has weakened people’s movements. I think having a kind of overarching understanding that fascism is rooted in Empire, particularly in settler colonialism, and that there isn’t a contradiction. We have to find the forces of popular resistance that will overturn both fascism and imperialism…and capitalism. And, that we have to, you know, have a self determined struggle for decolonization and recognize people’s self determination in their own struggles and their own capacity to live in a different way and to begin to create, you know, the solidarity forever, we say, you know, "Build a new world from the ashes of the old." And, I think that in terms of my own work, I’ve tried to–although, you might think I’m aging out at this point, but I’ve been involved at every point that there’s an upsurge in struggle. I’ve tried to participate in that as part of Occupy LA. And more recently, I’ve been involved with some of the dual power organizing that’s going on. And I don’t know how much your people are familiar with that, but it is a conception related to, let’s say, Cooperation Jackson, in Mississippi, where they’re trying to figure out ways of organizing themselves economically and also resisting the power of the State. And so I was at the Dual Power Gathering that took place in Indiana last summer and there’s one on the West Coast that’s coming up in the Portland area.
Yeah, could you explain what–for our listeners–what is dual power?
Yeah, so dual power is the concept that we have a power and we can exercise that power, and within the framework of this contemporary society, which is so destructive, we can begin to generate and exercise that power, and that there’s, as I said, a kind of dialectic between the power of the people and the power of the State, and the corporations, and the power of the fascist, and that the different prefigurative elements of the kind of society we want to live in in the future can be created now. And, that as we exercise that power, it weakens the power of the State. It weakens the power of the bourgeoisie and the power of the imperialists. I went to that Dual Power Gathering in Indiana–I mean, it’s not my bio region, but I did used to live in Chicago–and I felt some affinities with it. You know, they were…To talk about the idea of, you know, what’s the relationship between dual power and our three-way fight, with a different conception with what the three-way fight is, that we are having to contend with two different enemies, you know, these fascists from below and the fascist from above, the State, and corporate power, and then also right-wing elements. And I think that in terms of both of those, we have to understand what are the powers that we have to organize ourselves to, as they say, to apply the generative and regenerative powers to…So that people have a sense of what they’re fighting for. It’s not just anti-this and anti-that. So for example, the newspaper I’ve worked in for many years, "Turning the Tide," originally, we called it the "Journal of Anti-Racist Action," or "Anti-Racist Action Edcuation & Research," and then we changed the subtitle a few years ago to, "The Journal of Intercommunal Solidarity," in the sense that you have to say what you’re fighting for? What are we trying to build? What are we trying to create? What are we creating? And how does that give us the capacity to continue to resist and continue to shape the future, not just react always to what they’re doing but actually have a proactive, generative stance. And so, you know, people’s creative cultural expressions, people’s capacity to do permaculture in urban environments or many other things like that, that say, that we want to restore the biological diversity, you know. We want to restore the capacity of the soil. We want to restore the clarity of the water and the air in the process of struggling for our own liberation. And that, you know, those are things that can happen and must happen now. We can’t wait for some revolution that will happen in the future in which you know, we’ll create a better world. We have to start in the context and the interstices of the system in the place that people are being pulverized. And so, you know, in Los Angeles, people are involved in various kinds of mutual aid work and working with the homeless, working with people being evicted to take over homes and restore them. And I think all those manifestations, that’s the question of dual power there. We’re looking at the incapacity of the people ruling this society to actually meet basic human needs and we’re trying to figure out how to meet them. So, I think that’s where it coincides with this question of preparedness is that I think that is a sense that people have to rely on their own resources, their own energies, and understanding that there’s a contradiction between the system, the way it functions, and its implications and impact on us. And it’s incapacity, its powerlessness, to really protect people from the kinds of calamities it’s creating, whether it’s flooding, or firestorms, or, you know, all the other manifestations of this global crisis of the Earth’s system that is growing out of Capitalism. We have to deal with that now. We can’t wait, you know, till sometime in the future when we have, you know, "power," quote unquote, you know? We have the power to start to deal with it.
Yeah, and, I feel like there have been different ways that people have tried to do exactly that in the past. And I don’t know, like, I’m thinking of a lot of the stuff that the Black Panthers were doing, like creating communities that they…like, declaring that they had power and that they had the power to build the communities that they wanted and to preserve those communities. And then they faced an incredible amount of repression, like, as much for arming themselves as for giving kids lunch and breakfast. And I’m wondering, in what ways does the State try to like…or in what ways has the State tried to destabilize dual power movements in the past? And what can we kind of expect them to do now? Or what are they doing now? Does that make sense?
Yeah, I think there’s always a two-pronged approach by the state. And, sometimes it’s referred to as, "The carrot and the stick." You know, it’s co-optation ad coercion. And so they always attempt both to control as they modify people’s thinking and try to create bourgeois alternatives to liberatory thinking and liberatory organizing. And then simultaneously, they have the repressive aspects, the criminalization of those efforts. And so in relation to the Black Panther Party, for example, they were simultaneously pushing what they called Black Capitalism, and saying, "Oh, yes, you know, we’ll give you, you know, we’ll find the sector of Black community that can integrate into the system." And then, along with that, they were carrying out COINTELPRO, which was a war strategy of creating contradictions inside Black Liberation organizations, setting one against the other, trying to execute and/or incarcerate people who were not willing to compromise their principles. So I think we have to be aware that you’re seeing the same thing go on around policing issues. You know, they constantly want to put forward different reforms and accountability measures and ways that people can participate in civilian oversight mechanisms that really don’t do anything. And at the same time, they’re, you know, attacking people who are doing Copwatch or groups like the Stop LAPD Spying Network, which has exposed a lot of stuff about this constantly being targeted. So, I think that those, that the two-pronged approach by the State is something we have to be very aware of. It’s not only coercion and criminalization and repression, but it’s also co-optation and, you know, giving people individual solutions and mechanisms that are…they call it the nonprofit industrial complex, you know, this whole mechanism of structures that are set up to get people involved in grant writing and looking to philanthropists to somehow support them in their work. And I think that trying..You know, one of the things the Black Panther Party did was it had its own self generated funding by going to the base community they were trying to organize in, talking to small shopkeepers, and talking to churches, and trying to integrate that into these Liberatory efforts. So, I think that, you know, looking at that model, when I started doing, for example, People Against Racist Terror, there were a lot of small anti-racist groups around the country and a lot of them ended up going the route of looking for grants and looking for nonprofit organizations that they could fold themselves into, and I think that that kind of denatured them. They became, you know…As opposed to being grassroots, they became board and staff organizations, and individuals would create careers out of it. And I think that that mechanism of transforming popular movements into nonprofit organizations or nongovernmental organizations that accommodate themselves to existing power structures, existing economic realities, is one of the things that we need to try to avoid happening in this current period.
That makes that makes a lot of sense. Yeah, it’s, it’s funny, because I feel like I’m seeing a lot of groups involved in mutual aid, who are, I think, taking that lesson of the nonprofit industrial complex but are also trying to access larger swaths of money than the communities that they’re part of can provide, like this model of, it’s important to involve your community base in those things and to generate those things ourselves, but there is this problem sometimes of like, you’re passing the hat and the same 20 people are kicking into the bail fund. And I don’t know, I think maybe this is just me being hopeful, but I’m seeing a lot of mutual aid groups kind of dip into grant writing or dip into utilizing nonprofit statuses more so than structures in order to access funding and things like that. But what I’m seeing is people coming at it from like, hopefully, what is a different perspective of taking these lessons of the past and being like, "Well, we don’t want to become some horrifying, large nonprofit, but we do want the State to give us 10 grand so that we can build infrastructure. Like I guess my question is, are there ways to responsibly interact with that? Or is this a trap?
I guess I’d have hear more details. I think it’s imperative that it has to come from below and from the grassroots. I think that, you know, I’ve been involved with the opposite, for example, Pacifica Radio, and Pacifica is listener sponsored radio and is a constant struggle about how much can we accept cooperation of broadcasting funding. They cut us off some years ago and we’re trying to get it back Or, there’s struggles about trying to get some underwriting. It depends who you’re accountable to for the money that you’re getting. Are you accountable primarily to the funder? Are you accountable primarily to the people who are using that money and the people who are self organizing for community power and community sustainability, and, you know, some of the things we’re talking about of self determined strategies. And, you know, I do think that what happened to a lot of the 60s movements is that there was an ebb in the mass movement. And then people made their separate peace. People were like flotsam and jetsam as the tide of people’s power movements were negatively impacted because of white supremacy, male supremacy, COINTELPRO, and an inadequate response to deal with it. Then, you know, people ended up in labor unions where they were doing some good work, but basically they became part of a labor bureaucracy where they ended up in government social services/ They were doing some good work, but they became part of that mechanism. So, I think the critical thing is trying to keep control of what’s going on in the hands of the people who are actually organizing themselves and their communities.
Yeah. No, that makes sense. What are strategies that we should be embracing for countering this current current escalation in fascist tendencies?
Well, you know, I’ve done a lot of work over the years, and as I say, "Turning the Tide" is a newspaper, we send a couple of thousand copies almost every issue into the prisons and we’re in touch with a lot of stuff that’s going on in the prisons. And I think that that’s a critical place to look for some understanding about how to deal with this because we do see under what are essentially very naked fascist conditions of domination inside the prisons, which are very hierarchical. There’s a lot of negative activity within the prisons themselves. There’s the power of the guards and the wardens in the system and yet you find struggles going on against racism, against sexism, for solidarity against the solitary confinement of people who have been victims of torture are organizing themselves. And I think that understanding of that capacity and looking at that, those are some of the leading struggles in the United States. There have been hunger strikes, there have been labor strikes, the Alabama Prisoners Movement [Free Alabama Movement] here in California and elsewhere. And I think that sense that people under the most severe repression are actually capable of making human connections among themselves and beginning to actually, in a self critical way, look at how they incorporated toxic masculinity and racism into their own approach to reality, and by beginning to purge themselves of those things, they can begin to create multiracial solidarity among all prisoners to actually resist the conditions of incarceration and resist enslavement. So I think that that’s very important to look at. I think that here in Los Angeles, there are, as they say, organizations like LACAN, that are working among homeless people and with homeless people to organize themselves to have street watches. They have a community garden on the roof of a building. They have cultural expression. They have theatrical groups…coral…You know, it’s like all those things connect people’s love and rage, as I say, people’s ability to generate creative cultural expression and to use that to strengthen their solidarity and their unity and their ability to resist the coercive power of the State or the police sweeps or to expose what’s going on and begin to put out a challenge to the way that society is organized. So I think that those are some critical things. I think that having the capacity to defend ourselves, both physically and also legally is very very important. I think that if you look at stuff like the Stop Cop City struggle that the escalation of repression and the use of charges of terrorism on people that are obviously not terrorists is indicates that the State sees this as a very, very serious threat and is trying to eradicate it and is trying to intimidate people. And I think to the extent that we can turn that around and use it to say to people, you know, "Is this the kind of State you want to live in? Is this the kind of society you want to have?" is a way to begin to change minds and hearts of people who have been going along with the system. I lived through a whole period where we freed many many political prisoners. We freed Bobby. We freed Huey. We freed Angela. And, you know, even the Panther 21 in New York, you know, it’s like the jury met for about 30 minutes and acquitted them all because the power of those organized forces affected the consciousness of the jurors. And I think that understanding that we actually have the power to begin to shape not just own consciousness, to ways that struggle with people, to, "Which side are you on?" and to give people a sense that there is a side that they can identify with and become part of, and transform their own lives, and transform society in the process of doing that. So, I think, you know, for example, the stuff around preparedness is vital that, you know, we’re living in a world in which there are incredibly destructive wildfires, floods, tornadoes, and it’s very clear that the state is incapable of even dealing with it after the fact, let alone preventing it. And so I think that gives us an opening to talk to very wide sectors of the population in cities and in rural areas as well. I think that, you know, for example, Anti-Racist Action Network in its heyday had hundreds of chapters around the country in small towns because young people were, in their own high schools and music scenes, were suddenly faced with this threat of fascism and said, "Hey, we have to get organized." And so I think that, you know, we need to see these things as opportunities to really very massively begin to engage with people and begin to offer an alternative way of thinking about the world that gives some hope and some prospect of dealing not just with the crises and the repression but a way forward for people.
Yeah, yeah. And that kind of ties into–I love that you use this phrase. We’ve had this phrase come up lot with Cindy Milstein, who we’ve interviewed on the podcast before and who we’ve published their newest book last year, "Try Anarchism For Life," and they talk a lot about prefigurative organizing and prefigurative spaces. And I think this kind of ties into what you’re talking about, but I was wondering if you could kind of give us your take on the importance of building prefigurative spaces?
Yeah, I think that we have to find ways to bring people together and to give people a sense, as I say, of our own power and our own creative and generative capacity. So I think that that says that whether it’s free schools, or it’s breakfast for children, or any of the things that the Black Panther Party did and that many other people of color movements did in a certain period are here at our disposal. I know that, for example, there’s a crisis in childcare and child rearing that’s going on and so organizing people into childcare collectives and people jointly taking responsibility for each other’s children and creating trust relationships that make people feel comfortable with that would be one example of that. In food deserts, organizing people to break up some sidewalks and grow some food and I think they’re…One of the things that I’ve come to understand from doing this work for a long time is we live in a kind of fractal or holographic world in which the same contradictions are shot all the way through the system. It’s at any level of magnification in fractals. If you look at the coast of Norway, something in the fjords, you know, it’s the same pattern is reproduced at every level. And, you know, in a holographic image, any piece of the hologram has the whole hologram in it. So, I think that any area that people want to choose to struggle in, I think as long as they understand that they’re struggling against the entirety of the system in that area and that there’s an enmity built into that relationship between the system and we see what they’re trying to do, I think that’s the critical understanding. So if people are engaged in, you know, community gardens, as long as they understand that that’s a piece of a larger struggle to create a world in which nature has, has space to reassert itself, and that people can eat different food and better food. And any area that you know, whether it’s the struggle over transgender, nonbinary, or anything else, once people see that it’s the same system throughout that they’re struggling with, it lays a basis for solidarity, for unity, and for a struggle on many fronts simultaneously that says, you know, sort of the "War of the Flea," [A book on guerrilla warfare] the system is vulnerable in a million places because the system is in all those places simultaneously and, you know, they have a lot of money, a lot of power to deal with that, and they’re organized in these systems of command and control and artificial intelligence and all the rest of it to keep track of everything, but we’re in all those places simultaneously as well because we’re everywhere. And trying to coordinate those things, I think, is very important.
This is a little bit of a backup that I remembered that I wanted to ask you about it. So, like, we’re currently seeing like a pretty horrific and intense wave of legislation against against trans people and against queer people, and nonbinary people. And, yeah, I’m wondering what your take on that is as a kind of indicator, if we have to imagine like fascism as a spectrum of where we could be going, like what is that kind of legislation and repression an indicator of?
Yeah, you know, I think that obviously fascism always tries to target the people they think are the most vulnerable. And also, as I say, I think they want to create what they see as wedge issues that they can use to divide people and segment people off. And so I think, to the extent that we can reverse that and we can try to unite people around a different conception. You know, one of the things that struck me is that you saw that they sort of had this victory with controlling the courts and overturning Roe v. Wade, for example. And, what that revealed was actually how narrow that really was, the forces that were pushing for that. Because then, you know, Nebraska and Kansas and these various states suddenly had electoral reinforcement of abortion rights happening. And I think the same thing can happen here. I think that there’s so many families that they’re concerned about their own kids or…and the parental rights. It reveals that these fault lines go through the whole system. That’s what I’m trying to say is all of their power is based on repression and exploitation, and to the extent that people begin to see that and how it impacts on them, it opens up the vistas of possibility to say, you know, if you’re concerned about your child’s right to get the medical assistance they need, why is the State coming in to prevent you from doing that? And what are the interests that are trying to pick this as a threat to the stability of society?
So, you know, I think that since every crisis is an opportunity, I think the other thing I did want to talk about a little bit was the whole Covid pandemic, you know, going back to the prepper thing. I think you saw, again, you know, a lot of right-wing exploitation of that issue. And I think that the extent that we can get out ahead of that and look at…Okay, for example, in a society like Cuba, which had a completely different relationship to this because they’re organized in a different way and, you know, they actually have a public health system and they actually created their own vaccines, not the ones from big pharma here in this country, and begin to get people to think about that and why Cuba is stigmatized by this society? Why are they embargoing Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, all these countries? You know, the connection to a global sense of what are the possibilities in the world? What are the prefigurative formations that are happening inside imperialism by countries that are actually resisting it? And so, if you look at, you know, the medical care system in Cuba, for example, you know, they have…Every neighborhood has a doctor that lives in the neighborhood–and nursing staff and other people–and [the doctor] works door to door with the people in that neighborhood to be concerned about their health and their well being not just, you know, responding to a particular medical crisis, and they have that systematized and they…So in that context, they were able to vaccinate people, not through coercive measures but through trusted people that were part of their community that could reassure them about the fact that they developed the vaccines themselves and that the Cuban pharmaceutical industry came out of their effort to deal with chemical and biological warfare by the United States. The US was like putting in swine fever as a way to destroy pigs that every family in Cuba had their own little pig to raise and, you know, supplement their food. And so they developed animal vaccines first to protect those animals and then they work their way up from there. So I think that that sense of, you know…I had a good friend recently who passed away from complications of diabetes and the Cubans have developed treatments for diabetes and to prevent amputation of limbs and other stuff. And all of that is unavailable to us because of the US imperialist embargo on Cuba and blockade. And giving people a sense that, you know, there actually are people living in the world in much better conditions. The United States is number one in incarceration, number one in many social ills, number one in overdose deaths, and, you know, on and on and on…number one in evictions. And we can begin to, you know, really give a sense to people that this system has nothing to offer them but destruction and that we have the capacity to create something different.
Yeah. Thanks. I have only to say that…yes. Yes to all of that. We are nearing the end…of the recording, not of the world. [Said as a dry joke] And, yeah, is there any any kind of last things that you want to say before–I’ll ask you to plug anything that you want to plug at the end–I mean, that was such a beautiful wrap up, I feel like. But, if there’s anything else you want to talk about, that we haven’t talked about?
Well, you know, years ago, I was part of a group in Berkeley that took over the California College of Arts and Crafts to create an anti-war poster making facility during the Vietnam War. And out of that group, there was a singing group called the Red Star Singers, and they had a song called "The Power of the People’s the Force of Life." And I think we really have to have that sense. It’s, you know, it is a dialectic. That’s what I think the main thing I want to try to convey is that, you know, to the extent that we can build the people’s power, it actually weakens that system. And, you know, just that sense that all the power that they have is actually derived from their exploitation and oppression of people. And that’s our power, you know, manifest that against us. And if we take our power back, it actually does weaken them and increases our possibilities of struggling to for a different world. So, I will do the plugs. I, for 35 years, I’ve been working and I actually wanted to sort of break the story here. I’m looking for a collective that will take over "Turning the Tide." I’ve been putting it out for a long, long time. Volume 35 # 2 is just about to come out. It’s up on antiracist.org. You can reach me at antiracistaction_ email@example.com. But, you know, like I say, I’m 76. I’m currently the interim general manager of KPFK radio in Los Angeles and it’s a huge time commitment. And I want I want to see the paper, you know, become, in some way or shape, institutionalized, to continue to meet, you know, send out the 1700-1800 copies to prisoners. And so, if anybody’s interested in taking over that project and fulfilling that commitment, I’d love to hear from them. And then, as I say, I have a chapter in "¡No Pasarán!: Antifascist Dispatches from a World in Crisis" edited by Shane Burley from AK Press. And I contributed a lot of material archival stuff and was interviewed extensively for "We Go Where They Go: The Story of Anti-Racist Action" from PM press. Two really, really important books and well worth reading. And then I did, self published and co-authored "The Blue Agave Revolution: The Poetry of the Blind Rebel" with Oso Blanco, Byron Shane Chubbuck. And you can get that again from Anti-Racist Action. So it’s PO Box 1055, Culver City, California 90232. And online, just Antiracist.org.
Wonderful, in "The Blue Agave Revolution," is that Is that where we can find your short story about the three-way fight between vampires, zombies and humans?
It’s a kind of a novella. There’s about seven chapters of a longer thing. And there’s also a shorter one about a group of teenage mutants called Black Bloc, that they have these kind of minor powers. One of them can, you know, it’s Jackpot and Crackpot. Crackpot can kind of break out of anything and Jackpot can just affect the odds slightly in their favor and a bunch of other young people, nonbinary and so on. But they’re also some different essays of mine in there and a lot of poetry and, yeah…Just the mathematics of the enormity of social economic inequality. People don’t understand exactly what it is, but essentially, about 45% of the US population has the equivalent of 50 cents in assets. You know, people don’t understand exactly what the class divide and the contradictions inside the society are, you know. We’re we’re duped into thinking that this is the richest country on the face of the Earth and the most powerful, you know. There’s an enormous, hidden social cost and pain behind that and we have to figure out how to galvanize that into the power that actually those people possess and the creativity that they have.
Yeah. Great. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Yeah, of course. And I’ll we’ll drop links to all the things that you mentioned in the show notes for people to find. And yeah, thank you.
Okay. Take care. Have a great day.
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