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Raw Notes from Rochester Red and Black’s Building a Revolutionary Anarchism

(A friend asked me to post this because his site is down)

Yesterday, Rochester Red and Black hosted a lecture titled “Building a Revolutionary Anarchism”. It was quite interesting!

Read on for a quick description of the event and my copious notes.

The lecturer, Rochester local Colin O’Malley, had spent the last seven weeks traveling the country giving this talk, and now ended his tour repeating it to a friendly local audience.

I counted at least 28 people there (not including the speaker). Nine expressed interest in joining Red and Black after the talk – a real coup for the organization!

A written version of this argument is here.Colin’s updates from the road are here. There’ll be a real report on the talk soon. For now, here’s the audio of the presentation and my detailed notes: (For your convenience, I frequently put the approximate time in the notes, so you can fast forward the audio clip to the correct time)

  • “The standard talk on this doesn’t really include a talk on Anarchism.” But this one will
  • What is an Anarchist Communist?
    • Communists aren’t Stalin. The basic idea is: “All wealth belongs to all people”
    • “Unlike social democrats who slice off a bit of wealth of the 1% and give it to people so they don’t freak out”
    • On the political side, we’re anti-State. Not anti-government. “Government is how we collectively decide things.” Current government isn’t great, but we can build something different.
    • The state is the coercive apparatus: military, police, prisons. The “legitimacy of violence” of the government. That’s what we’re against.
    • (3:50)
  • We should be revolutionary, not reformist: (4:30)
    • “I don’t think we evolve into that”.
    • Changing our habits, our votes, etc won’t work.
    • (5:20) To me, revolution is that movement when workers are so organized that they say we don’t need bosses anymore .. ..popular assemblies say we don’t need representatives anymore
    • Revolution isn’t necessarily gun-running.
    • Revolution supposes building organizes. It’s not just spontaneous.
  • Outline of how the talk will go:
    • Narrative of how I [Colin] have changed
    • How Argentinian’s organize [so differently!]
    • Big picture
  • Colin’s story (8:15):
    • Buffalo. (Grew up some in Buffalo some in Salt Lake City)
    • Saw the movie “The Take”
    • “My mother lives in a neighborhood where Bethlehem steel was”
    • Bethlehem Steel, GM, and Ford, was most of the economy of Buffalo.
    • (10:15)
    • ‘Cycle of hopelessness’ in Buffalo
    • People in Buffalo to this day … are always looking for a capitalist silver bullet.
      • “Someone will come reopen Bethlehem”
      • People are waiting for a great capitalist hope.
    • I have a friend who grew up in Cambridge. He gave me a movie called “The Take”
      • It’s about the formation of worker cooperatives in Argentina.
      • He gives me the movie and says this is exciting. Cooperatives are cool!
      • When I see that, I had a different reaction:
        • “What’s wrong with my family, my community that forming a cooperative didn’t even occur to us?”
        • “Why isn’t that happening here?”
      • 12:50
      • I’m thinking “oh they must run their meeting differently. They must have slightly different messaging”. I didn’t get that there were doing something fundamentally different.
    • With 0 plan whatsoever, I get an OK from school to do study abroad in Argentina.
      • 14:50
    • Background to why the economy of Argentina exploded:
      • In the late 90′s, Argentina is the model of perfect capitalism.
      • There’s a group called Picateros that show up in rural Argentina. In the context that people die of starvation.
        • Local people would picket/blockade the main road to oil extraction, and held it hostage until they get some wealth.
      • In 2001, it turns out that Argentina isn’t a huge success but instead has a bunch of credit.
      • Default on their loans.
      • Government gets an IMF loan unless they depeg form the dollar
      • BUT FIRST they tell the Rich (who take their money out of the country)
      • Then freeze the banks for everyone else.
      • Mass Uprising.
      • Motto is “they all must go”.
    • Argentina organizing
      • Neighborhood Assemblies show up.
      • Charity, food, anti-eviction
      • As workplaces were shut down, already-unionized workers took over shuttered factories.
      • (23:00)
    • Back to Colin’s story: get to Hotel
      • He comes in as an anarchist with an anti-organizing mindset.
      • In the hotel, there’s a bunch of organizers shooting the shit.
      • One of the things I immediately noticed was there wasn’t nearly the discomfort we have about ideology in this country. People used ideological terms freely without whispering around like they do in the US.
      • The remaining workers cooperatives hadn’t sold themselves or hired a new boss. They were the radical ones.
      • Asked how they took over the hotel and made it a cooperative: “We broke in one night, we took a few rooms, made them livable, and slowly took over”
      • 28:30
      • Woman says: “I was part of a revolutionary anarchist society. We had an understanding that there was a crisis in capitalism, we saw a way to organize around it, so I worked in a hotel for 7 years waiting for that moment”
      • That blew my mind.
        • My idea was that socialists hijack rallies, anarchists throw bricks, or instead have meetings debating whether they should have meetings and make decisions.
    • 32:00
    • The Thought of Malatesta
      • I was like “omg just organize don’t wank around talking theory. What’s the point?”
      • 150 people there at this discussion group to talk about Malatesa.
        • Nice library
        • Few punks.
        • Grandparents and their grandchildren
        • 40, 50, year olds
        • slick fashionistas
      • Everyone is a member of red libertarian and also a member of another organizing group
      • They weren’t talking about “in a post-revolutionary society, should we have currency or not?”
      • Anarchist isn’t just a vision for a future world, it’s a roadmap for struggle.
      • 35:30
      • When Malatesta was organizing in Buenos Aires, what challenges did they face and how did they deal with it?
        • CASE STUDY
      • And what does that mean for where we’re at now?
    • Specifics of how they run things? 37:15
      • “Of all the people you have, how do you come to consensus about what to read/ where to organize?”
        • “We don’t use consensus, and we’re not sure why your American anarchist organizations do”
        • None of the organizations in Argentina use consensus
        • Consensus comes from Quakers in anarchist circles in the 70′s .
        • 39:00
      • “How do you deal with the debate of ‘do we have meetings’ ‘do w make decisions’ or not?” “How do you deal with conflicts between the communist who wants to take over factories vs the primitivist who wants to burn them down?”
        • We don’t. It’s our 12-page paper on aims and principles and if you disagree don’t join.
        • 40:30
      • “Okay, I walked into your library. You handed me a book. You give away papers. Where do you get all your money?”
        • Dues!
        • Shantytown debate and vote on doubling dues.
        • 44:15
        • Our money works better pooled.
        • People in shantytowns had a vote on what to do with their collective budget.
      • The difference between anarchists here and there is that they make no bones about making an organization.
      • Whereas in the US we call ad-hoc things organizations.
      • 48:00
  • (Break for questions and comments)
    • Q: Are there low-hanging fruit efforts in Rochester that could really use organization?
      • A: I’ll get to that.
      • The notion of business entrepreneurialism is not “what’s the next great project?” instead of “what should I join?”
    • Q: What’s the relation between workers coops and political organizations?
      • That’s my next thing I talk about!
      • You’re totally right! I skipped from workers coops to revolutionary political entities
      • Pretty all the major (true) cooperatives I ran into said “a cooperative isn’t the point. It’s a tool to class struggle”
      • 53:00
    • Q: But I like cooperatives!
      • remember they’re a means to an end and sometimes don’t work
    • Q: What was the educational background of the people in Argentina?
      • All over the map.
      • The way we organize is that we ask people to be very intellectual.
      • I never ran into people saying that the poor/working class couldn’t understand intellectual ideology.
    • Q: Can you talk more about people trusting others with their dues money?
      • Lets talk about this at the end.
    • 60:00
  • Especifismo is the core of the organizing model
    • “The theory of the role of revolutionary organization”
    • Breakdown into 3 pieces:
    1. Anarchists should have their own explicitly anarchist organization built along the unity of theory and practice.
    2. That anarchist organization shouldn’t rest on that theory and practice, but instead should work to develop a relevant theory and practice to that movement today.
      • “I’m a member of an anarchist organization, we had theories and views, we applied them to the economy and figured out where it would be going.”
    3. Social Insertion
      • Revolutionaries in South America have worked on the view that there are 2 different sorts of movements necessary for revolution. And they’re quite different.
        • One: Revolutionary Anarchist organization. Unity of theory and practice. Document of uniting principles. By it’s nature, it’s a small organization because it expects a lot from people. A lot of people won’t join it.
        • Two: Social Movement. Massive broad-based organization that derives it’s power from numbers and the unity along an action. It’s only relevant if it attempts to incorporate everyone in a particular grouping. The social movement must incorporate a lot of ideas that aren’t ours.
        • 68:00
      • The revolutionary anarchist organization should embed itself in social movements. The members of the organization should be actively engaged in social movements.
        • This sounds Leninist! But it’s not!
        • Leninists do this:
          • Try to take over leadership
          • Showing up, try to take over leadership, don’t, then poach all the revolutionaries from it
          • Disrupt the social movement that isn’t a recruiting competitor to us
        • Anarchists do this:
          • We should engage as members of social movements genuinely
            • Capturing leadership doesn’t work because your members won’t follow you.
          • “Engage in productive ways as people who have something to offer”
          • Engage in the battle of ideas. Try to change people’s minds.
            • Don’t leave if you don’t get your way.
            • Maybe you were right, and they’ll see it and trust you more.
            • Maybe you were wrong, and you’ll learn.
    • Why social movements need anarchists
      • Anarchists in the US have over the last 50 years been on the sidelines spitballing
      • There’s a long-term tendency of social movements to succumb to the hegemonic ideas of the society.
        • Typically, mass movements have been started by good organizers with revolutionary ideas, community buy-in, etc.
        • What they do, typically, is (because Saul Alinsky said “don’t talk about ideology”) only message.
        • New members come in because of the message. The new organizing core is ideologically adrift. They hit roadblocks and then do “common sense”.
        • Drift down to centrist (non-revolutionary) strategies.
        • Social movement organizations have a basis in class struggle. Need revolutionaries to remind them.
    • Why anarchists need social movements
      • Anarchists in this country suck at organizing.
        • 83:60
        • (Colin “I’ve seen this all over the country”)
        • “If I meet some mcdonalds workers who need help with a fight, there are very few anarchists who I could point them to”
        • The organizations who anarchists sling shit at, can turn out people much better than we can.
        • Lovely Warren is offering nothing, but has connections and can turn so many more people than we can.
        • We need theories and models that are actually connected to reality.
        • We’re “interesting philosophy club” 86:00
      • What happens at the moment right after say the George Zimmerman trial, when you need a response but don’t have the strength to do anything?
        • Random anarchist: “Let’s stop having babies!”
        • How the hell would that be a meaningful response to Trayvon Martin’s mother?
    • 89:30
    • Especifismo history:
      • An idea out of Uruguay in the 80′s.
      • Why? Anarchists had a ton of power then. (General strikes, armed insurrection, anarchist labor unions). Then they were crushed anyways.
      • Those not fighting the dictatorship thought a lot for 20 years about how to win next time.
      • 92:30
      • Not silly infoshop anarchists, but revolutionary anarchists that almost won, writing about how not to lose to fascism next time.
  • 95:00 end

That was Colin’s full talk. What follows are the notes from the discussion after the talk.

  • Q/A:
    • Q: How do we get over people being afraid of dues?
      • There’s a big problem with individualism here
      • People need to stop sucking and thinking “I need to agree 100% to join”
      • 0:00 starts here
      • There are a lot of scams out there!
    • Churches
      • Let’s not blame Americans for our failures.
      • People want to bear witness. That leads to not thinking about effectiveness.
    • “Fighting against” vs “Let’s have fun!” Give ‘em hope.
      • Jake Allen: Leninist “heighten the contradictions” is dumb. Let’s talk about victory.
      • Colin: Most people engage with us as ‘lightbulb lefties’. Intellectual. Aha moments. How many people join social justice because it materially makes their lives better? That joy thing is a bit individual. We need to engage people in actual material fights that improve their day-to-day life.
        • When we find real material wins for people.
      • Shenzie: When we win, that’s really fun.
      • Sahar: Ceasar Chavez was a legendary organizer that had 19 years without a victory.
      • Zora: “Culture of resistance”. Meetings suck. It’s hard work to organize. Community picnics etc can be strategic and effective.
        • If we’re all assholes, no one will want to go to a meeting with us because we treat them like shit.
      • Patton Mannix: But living in a bubble sucks! Talk to your neighbors.
      • Colin (respond to Zora): One thing that worked in Buenos Aires. They took over a chunk of the street (with a permit), do a play, then have a stew on. Dance.
        •  Then in the end tear down a stage back and show a meeting.
      • Alykhan: Respond to Zora: Gandhi institute is cool. Show up to community organizations that actually have members.
    • Q: Melissa: How do you deal with people who beg off due to time or money constraints?
      • Crickets
    • Q: I took time off from the left because they suck. Are they good now?
      • Colin: Yeah, they still kind of suck.
      • Colin: Implicit: But yeah Red and Black doesn’t suck.
    • Talking about Red and Black. Jake talking about SDS -> Red and Black.
    • Q: Mara : How can we engage with things like Enough is Enough to help them be better? (not sure I understand)
      • Krauss: I’ve been going to EiE for 3 weeks now. It’s A. mostly PoC, B. trying to organize.
        • It’s discouraging to not see class-struggle politics in EiE.
        • AKA I’m on board with Social Insertion.
    • Q: Root: There needs to be safer spaces.
      • Kat: Go to the R&B consent thing
      • Zora: Single-issue organizations aren’t built in a sustainable way. R&B is good because people can say stuff like “can you actually pull this off?” “are we treating ourselves well?” “how do we make decisions?”
    • Shenzie: Things like EiE or TBTL are good, but imagine a city where each neighborhood associations did all of that.
      • Colin: Let’s self-reflect on Rochester. The anti-organizational impulse in rochester has lead people to only do issue-based groupings, decide that they’ll stay ad-hoc, and not let it structuralize.
        • Some of that kind of organizing using affected people as interesting adornments in our struggle but never allow them to feel ownership.
        • It’s not only that we don’t win, we burn people away from wanting to engage in our work.
        • Our work is completely important and it’s dangerous to treat it as a hobby.
  • I’m interested in Red and Black, how do I get involved?
    • Facebook
    • Talk to a member
    • Read the platform
    • Hang out with us
    • Education committee meets at 1pm next Sunday at Starry Nites
    • Normal meetings are at 7pm on the first Thursday of every month.

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