Self-Defense Training as a Necessity and As An Organizing Tool
An audio version of this article is available on SoundCloud
Inspired by its mantra of “Serve the People” the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast Program for children in the ‘60’s—as a material manifestation of this first commandment—set out a model that could and ought be followed by all revolutionaries and, in particular, all revolutionary organizations. That recipe was as simple as it was effective:
Identify a need
Find a way to solve the problem(s)
Do so regularly in the same place at the same time
There is a fourth dimension to this formula and it is both the most important and most difficult thing(s) to accomplish because it depends upon the will, not of the existing organization in question, but of (an)other organization(s) elsewhere:
Export the model by being a success in applying and executing those first 3 dimensions of organizational building, such that other comrades in other places would voluntarily decide to emulate the model presented by such an archetype organization; and to communicate with that`organization(s) and change and be changed by exchanging informations as learned through our work, study and discussion
In this way a proto-network consisting of separately localized proto-councils, proto-communes or -soviets, if you will—organized around and dedicated to bringing into existence the mantra of “Serve the People”—might come into existence and with it force multiple possibilities of cooperation amongst those neighborhood-based organizations through communication with and exchange of ideas, decisions, plans and actions.
In November of 2007, following the attack upon the Migrant Human Rights March on May Day of that year which resulted in the Police Riot in McArthur Park, a group of committed comrades, following months of discussion and study, made the bold step of planning and executing regular distribution of fresh foodstuffs to the poor, the homeless, the lowly-paid and the constantly afraid migrant workers without papers. The distribution was initiated, and continues, every Sunday from 1 to 5PM at the SE corner of Wilshire Bl and Parkview St, Los Angeles 90057. Those homeless, poor, working poor, and migrants were the constituency that the Revolutionary Autonomous Communities-Los Angeles, the RAC-LA, chose to engage. It was soon not only for that constituency. It became of and by that constituency.
The self-less aid given by the people’s free soldiers of the RAC-LA was matched and then surpassed by those, initially receivers of food who then became givers of food. Through their own efforts, ideas and, most importantly, their commitment, they became active with and within RAC-LA; abolishing the distinction between committed revolutionaries and, what are called (really a ‘put-down’) the ‘ordinary’ people. ‘Ordinary’ people who took it upon themselves to do extraordinary things. The RAC-LA food program, ‘La Programa Comida’, continues. The program has extend through more than 500 straight Sundays. At its height, 200 baskets of food were distributed on a single day. Over 60,000 baskets have been distributed regardless of the weather. Companeras and comrades inspired, some perhaps only if unconsciously, by another mantra, this from Che: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality”.
RAC-LA’s decision to focus upon vegetables and fruits also brought with it another element in addition to mitigation of hunger; the plant-based foodstuffs distributed brought vitamins and nutrition otherwise difficult to obtain in ‘food desert’ that is the MacArthur Park neighborhood.
“Serving the People”.
The execution of this slogan is not limited to breakfasts nor vegetables and fruits nor cooked, packaged or frozen foods. “Serve the People” is not limited to food. A revolution is not a restaurant. It will have restaurants and schools and skills teachers and doctors, even church services. One must not forget that the Negro church at the beginnings and throughout the Civil Rights movement played key, critical and crucial parts in that great struggle for recognition of an entire people’s humanity. And ministers were lynched; churches burned; and children bombed. The fires and the and bombings continue to this day and, no doubt, will be on the increase even more so now. [Change the “and the and” to just “and the”] In 2015 nine people were shot by a white racist as they attended Bible study. Indeed, the most successful of socialist organizations in the history of the United States, the Socialist party, operated Sunday schools. Even the Catholic Church saw its priests propounding ‘liberation’ theology’ in Central America. For the nail in the coffin regarding an absolutist view of faith and faiths as inherently counter-revolutionary one need look no farther than the Christian Bible, specifically Acts of the Apostles Chapter 4, Verses 32 to 35 which reads:
32 The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, as everything they owned was held in common.
33 The apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, and they were all accorded great respect.
34 None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from the sale of them,
35 to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any who might be in need.
Now we are met on a great battlefield where the humanity of not only black but brown and red and yellow people and now Muslim and ‘Messicans’ and migrants, youth threatened by jail, old people catching hell; and women and gays denied a fulfilling lives by the patriotic, male-chauvinistic, fundamentalist homophobic mechanisms used by the ruling class to keep us divided, weakened, de-skilled, physically as well as mentally doped and drugged with potions of poisons concocted of equal parts subjective paranoia and objective threat. In short, “Who are the People We Serve”? The People, Our People are all those who must participate or are denied full participation in their lives, in their ‘living’ and in life by the Great Wage-slaver, Capitalism.
And thus the mass mantra, to “Serve the People”, can come into being through any of many possible metamorphoses: primary need solving (a la the RAC-LA and the BPP’s Free Breakfast Program); after-school tutoring; study groups; occupation and utilization of shuttered public properties belonging to us, the public, such as closed facilities, that could be used for regularly scheduled medical or legal or tenants rights seminars and consultations; etc.
Examples of this last include those that had—and those that might have—anchored themselves in their chosen neighborhood by seizing public property and wielding it for our own purposes:
The attempted seizure of a closed library in Hyde Park by members of the Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles in 2011 and actions around it continue to this day;
The seizure of a closed elementary school in Oakland by a coalition of organizations in 2012 and its use for after-school programs conducted by radicals and revolutionaries;
The previous Occupy movements had they been centered upon the social control of public infrastructure and not merely the occupation of public space.
It is a truism that before we can seize the private ownership of the major means of production, we must first seize the commons, public properties, not being used and left to fall into disrepair. It belongs to us. Why can’t we use it? To do so successfully, it is imperative that we must first acquaint ourselves with the neighborhood and the neighbors. There is a wealth of support yet to be tapped if we simply went into the areas surrounding the targeted property asking, “Hey, we wanna open up, e.g. an after-school tutoring class, in that (fill in the blank) that is owned by the (fill in the blank) government and is not being used. What do you think of that”? Who is going to respond to that with negativity? Not only that, there is a wealth of unused labor-power in the citizenry of the neighborhood (especially amongst the retired) whose help can be enlisted in the classes and tutoring sessions. And these are people who vote. A discussion on the worth of elections is not germane to this discussion but recruitment of the retired to our revolutionary efforts will help to place some degree of political and social constraints upon the reactions of the politicians and the policing forces who are, to some degree but only to that extent, controlled by them.
To work, study and discussion with comrades, a fourth aspect can and ought be aimed at: training. Specifically training in self-defense. There is no need to repeat the daily stories of the Trumpist right attacks upon even the ‘soft left.’ Nor need we go back to the Greensboro Massacre where 5 good communists were shot and killed by Klansmen. There is a need to talk about today…and tomorrow.
“On the Morrow” when we will have established a vibrant and viable socialist commonwealth we will have done so only after surviving (and thriving while doing so) the attacks of not only the bourgeoisie’s policing forces and the military, and also the ruling class’ class-conscious-dead allies, the alt-right members of the, basically, white working class. Lest we forget there are also black and brown race-traitors in their midst egging those ‘crackers’ on in their ‘pitchforks and torches’ ‘mentality’, killing East Indians mistaking them for Arabs, etc. Ignorance, hatred and weapons (and economic insecurity) make for a volatile and vile brew.
The cops and the military know how to fight and shoot. The rednecks got plenty of woods to play paint-ball imagining each other as a “Nigger” “towel-head” or “spic” to ‘take down’, in their minds, while in their trunks are AR-15s when it’s time to do more than just practice.
Now these last might not know how to fight but you can bet that they know guns and how to use them. Cause they do it. ‘Niggahs’ got guns and can’t even shoot straight. Trying to shoot each other. Missing. Hitting babies in the head. We need not only training but a revolution in our thinking akin to that which swept out to sea gangs like ‘The Slausons’ in LA; but bringing back to shore, Panthers in its wake. In the city there is no place to train with a firearm save for a few pig-infested shooting ranges. So this will be a difficult
Make note. I am not advocating, foreseeing, nor focusing on “the violent overthrow of the government of the United States”. Just to be sure, I most certainly do advocate just that if it becomes necessary to replace this decrepit, pathological politco-social-economic (wo)man-killing system and the coming attacks upon ourselves force no other option, I just do not think that it will be necessary. Among the great thoughts that emerged in the ‘60’s was this by Jim Morrison and the Doors: “They got the guns, we got the numbers.” Then why have weapons? Same reason as the example to be used in this paper: utilizing martial arts trainings as a means of organizing comrades and friends on their way to becoming comrades. And that reason, as indicated in the notes on Greensboro, etc, above is self-defense. And, more specifically, self-defense trainings as a means of attracting, organizing, and collaborating with cadre.
The necessity for self-defense is obvious. Clashes with the alt-right are almost a daily occurrence and will only increase in frequency and intensity. This will bring clashes at protests with the policing forces that are already politicized and rife with far rightists. In addition, crowd-protection strategies must be developed and disseminated.
Women, preyed upon by bullies motivated by more than “just” politics, need means of protecting themselves.
The minorities of color, gays and lesbians, abortion-rights activists, protesters, the homeless, migrants without papers and those who look like migrants without papers, white allies and comrades. In short, every sector of our class, the working class, will come under attack whenever and wherever we seek to make change. Even most of those who have drunk the Trumpist racist and nationalist Kool-Aid, in due time, will come to their senses, I do believe. If we want to see how this has already been worked out, look no further than the autodefensas in Guerrero:
“…citizens in Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero who banded together to take up arms and create autodefensas, or self-defense groups, to protect their communities as Mexico’s increasingly complicated drug war continues. They formed out of a simultaneous need to control the cartels in this region and growing distrust in the local, state and federal authorities to help them.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-sight/wp/2014/12/08/vigilante-justice-in-the-heart-of-mexico-drug-war/?utm_term=.75e8960650b7
De Te Fabula Narratur America. De te Fabula Narratur.
So it doesn’t matter what problematic area of the capitalist arena—where daily our humanity is challenged, threatened, denied—that revolutionaries choose to work in, so long as a need is identified, a means of solving it proposed, and these means are utilized at a regular place at a regular time.
Episodic ventures into this or that sector at this or that time is not organizing. It is charity, and it really doesn’t aid the negation of the persistent problems of sclerotic capitalism. It only soothes the conscious of a liberal while, admittedly, bringing a bit of relief to the recipient of that type of aid. But…if that is all you can do, then do it. Ex-’Slauson’ gangster turned leader of the Black Panther Party in LA, Alprentice ‘Bunchy’ Carter, said it best, “Do something. Do something, ‘Niggah’ if you just spit”. Spit if you can, when you can, where you can and how you can. Spit at and spit on this system, this Morlockian eater of humans dining solely upon our flesh. A system that when it expels labor from its bowels, as it must expel labor from its bowels, regurgitates and spits out in mere pieces that human beings are, and must be, in this system.
So do something. Do something if you just spit. Do charity work, if you must. Some may do ‘Black Bloc’ work as episodic radicals who go from this to that event and disappear in between. Do even that, if you must. But the revolutionary on the revolutionary road must work to construct a mechanism for long-term organizing and must thus follow the ‘same thing, same time, same place’ mantra. The results to be obtained by doing so recalls to mind a modern adage:
There is much in John Imani’s article with which we disagree, not the least of which is the attempted “reconciliation” of Christianity with socialism. It was in the Manifesto of the Communist Party that Marx wrote, “Nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a Socialist tinge.” Throughout the history of the workers’ movement up to and beyond the post-war communist movement, fractions of varying degrees of influence and size have adapted themselves to forms of social Christianity (or faith in general), trying to mine the ‘progressive’ elements of religion for use in the emancipation of the working-class and the revolutionary movement toward communism. But these adaptations can only mimic the construction of a revolutionary movement. Whether talking about Christian trade unions, past and present (Germany, Canada, France), labor priests (and one doesn’t have to go far back in history to find their reactionary role—i.e. A.E. Staley lock-out in the 1990’s) or attempts by revolutionaries to co-opt religious institutions (Latin America)—it is a heritage of practical capitulation to what are inherently reactionary institutions and ideologies. The socialist revolution will be made against religion because religion will be, as it always has been, against the socialist revolution– and the existence of religious faith will be, as it always has been, a major barrier to communism.
Moreover, we disagree with the separation of “private property”– privately owned commercial buildings, privately owned means of production– and government property. Government and class are indissolubly linked by and in the reproduction of property through the exploitation of labor. While it may be tactically easier to seize ostensibly ‘public’ property that has been abandoned, it should not go without comment that all property belongs to us, we just haven’t seized it yet. The establishment of property, public or private, comes only at the use of batons, bayonets, bullets, and bombs. The entire existing means of production today was of course created by the working class, whether or not those means of production are State owned or privately held, they had to be first wrested from the hands of the workers that produced them. We should not make a fetish of ‘public’ land, as though we are entitled to the use of it in distinction from ‘private’ land which we are not entitled to the use of. All property was created by the working class, and as such we must make no distinction in our theoretical approach to seizing State assets as opposed to private assets, one may be easier or more difficult as the situation exists, but in principal all property was created and belongs to the working class.
We don’t believe that “charity” plays a role in the struggle against exploitation, as charity is essentially a gesture made to the helpless.
Nevertheless, John’s emphasis on the importance of self-defense training as a collective endeavor, as building a collaborative organization, is something with which we agree wholeheartedly.
JAI’s reply to the editorial comments from Anti-Capital:
Reply to the Editorial Notes on the asserted “attempted “reconciliation” of Christianity with socialism”
I am not a Christian. I was not advocating Christianity. I do not advocate for or against any religion. This, my, position on religion is political not theological; the same for my views on God. I simply do not have sufficient information to either declare for God’s existence nor against it. But I await no pie-in-the-sky deliverance from evil. If such were the case then I would be monk and not a revolutionary.
My point on the Socialist Party and its Sunday schools was to demonstrate the depth and breadth that a successful revolutionary organization must wield if it is to be successful. I also predicted that revolutionaries would operate restaurants. By the same token, the attack upon my ‘religiosity’ then ought be accompanied by the charge of my advocating petit-bourgeois capitalism which I certainly do not.
Indeed the point of the inclusion of the quotation from the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 4, Verses 32 to 35 was to unveil to the many unaware of its existence and significance the weapon against capitalism posed in words that those ancient Christians were communists.
And Marx is neither God nor a god. In my opinion, he makes a tremendous fundamental mistake in the politics of his political economy with his comments in his passage on the ‘Commanding Will’ when he writes: “On the one hand, all labour in which many individuals co-operate necessarily requires a commanding will to co-ordinate and unify the process, and functions which apply not to partial operations but to the total activity of the workshop, much as that of an orchestra conductor. This is a productive job, which must be performed in every combined mode of production.” In this Trotsky’s militarization of labor paved the way to the latter’s reduction to an appendage to the Communist Party and the end of any hope of communism. The same was so with the re-initiation of rank in the Red Army. And more can be justified with reference to that quote from Marx.
The church of his time was a political as well as an economic bulwark of the existing orders wielding an influence to a degree it does not possess today. And Marx was not only right to attack its authority but compelled to by its position as backstop of ancien regimes, still-existing feudalism and capitalism. And the underpinning of its political-economic power was its hold on the question of morality. Thus religious morality (where class-based) was, ought and must be attacked.
Those who wish to rail against religion most certainly have their rights to do so. But they do not and cannot make such a position a requirement for entree into, by what such rules would amount to being, a club of revolutionaries whose religion is no religion.
Please direct all comments to this Red Marx thread