This extract from the book Anarchism and the Black Revolution: The Definitive Edition is the first part of our Black History series on the Pluto Press blog, chosen for Black History Month. Starting with a focus on contemporary activism, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin takes the experience he has gained through his extraordinary life and lists the numerous ways a new revolutionary protest movement could be built today.
You can also check out our Black History Month Reading List – 30% off until the end of February.
If we are to build a new Black revolutionary protest movement we must ask ourselves how we can hurt this capitalist system and how have we hurt it in the past when we have led social movements against some aspect of our oppression. Boycotts, mass demonstrations, rent strikes, picketing, work strikes, sit-ins and other such protests have been used by the Black movement at different times in its history, along with armed self defense and open rebellion. Put simply, what we need to do is take our struggle to a new and higher level: we need to take these tried and true tactics (which have been used primarily on the local level up to this point) and utilize them on a national level and then couple them with as yet untried tactics, for a strategic attack on the major capitalist corporations and governmental apparatus. We shall discuss a few of them.
A Black Tax Boycott
Black people (and all people) should refuse to pay any taxes to the racist government, including federal income, estate and sales taxes, while we are being subjected to exploitation and brutality by racist cops, starved and imprisoned by the government. The rich and their corporations pay virtually no taxes; it is the poor and workers who bear the brunt of taxation anyway. Yet, we receive nothing in return.
The Black Autonomy movement should establish a mass tax resistance movement to lead a Black tax boycott as a means of protest and also as a method to create a fund to finance Black community projects and organizations. Why should we continue to voluntarily support our own slavery?
This so-called “Black Tax boycott” can be used as the starting phase of a mass boycott against the government and the capitalist corporations generally. We should think about a mass boycott against the Koch enterprises which are funding right-wing attacks on social programs like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, as well as Teachers Unions, public sector workers, while also seeking to defund all programs for the poor and unemployed.
A National Rent Strike and Urban Squatting
Hand-in-glove with a tax boycott should be a refusal to pay rent for dilapidated housing. Historically, these rent boycotts have been used to great effect to fight back against rent gouging by landlords. At one time they were so effective in Harlem (NY) that they caused the creation of rent control legislation, laws preventing evictions, regulations against unjustified price increases and tenant rules requiring reasonable upkeep by the owners and the property management company. A mass movement could bring a rent strike to areas (such as in the Southeast and Southwest) where poor people are being ripped off by the greedy landlords, but are not familiar with such tactics, as part of a national campaign. Unfair laws now on the books, so-called Landlord-Tenant laws (where the only “right” the tenants have is to pay the rent or be evicted) should also be liberalized or overturned entirely. These laws only help slumlords stay in business and keep exploiting the poor and working class. They account for mass evictions, which in turn account for homelessness. We should fight to rollback rents, prevent mass evictions and house the poor and the homeless in decent affordable places.
A Boycott of American Business Products
A strong weapon of the Civil Rights movement was a Black consumer boycott of a community’s white merchants and public services. Merchants, bankers and other businesspeople, of course, are the “leading citizens” of any community and the local ruling class and boss of the government. In the 1960s when Blacks refused to trade with Southern merchants as long as they allowed racial discrimination, their loss of revenue drove them to make concessions and mediate the struggle, even hold the cops and the Klan at bay. It was also used against Northern businesses to make them cut ties or change segregationist policies by their Southern company affiliates.
What is true at the local level is certainly true at the national level. The major corporations and elite families run the country; the government is its mere tool. Blacks spend over $550–$700 billion a year in this capitalist economy as consumers and could just as easily wage economic warfare against the corporate structure with a well-planned boycott to win political concessions.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized the potential revolutionary power of a national Black boycott of America’s major corporations, which is why he established “Operation Breadbasket” shortly before an assassin killed him. This wing of his organization, with offices in Chicago was designed to be the conduit for the funds that the corporations were going to be forced to pour money into for a national Black community development project for poor communities. And although he was assassinated before this could happen and Jesse Jackson corrupted the campaign for his own purposes, we must continue Dr. King’s work in this matter.
A Black/POC General Strike
Black and other workers of color are potentially the most powerful sector of the Black/POC community in the struggle for freedom. The vast majority of the Black community are working-class people, as are most workers of color. Barring the disproportionate numbers of unemployed, millions of Black men and women are today part of the workforce of the United States, with similar numbers in the Latino community. Before the 2008 capitalist economic recession, we could say that about 5–6 million of these were in basic industry, such as steel and metal fabrication, retail trades, food production and processing, meatpacking, the automobile industry, railroading, medical service and communications. For instance, Blacks numbered a third to a half of the basic blue-collar workers and a third of clerical laborers. Black labor is therefore very important to the capitalist economy.
Although there will definitely be an attempt to involve white workers; where they are willing to cooperate, the strike would be under the leadership of Blacks, Chicanos and other people of color because only those workers can effectively raise those issues which most affect them. White workers have to support the democratic rights of Blacks and other nationally oppressed laborers, instead of just “white rights campaigns” on so-called “common economic issues,” led by the North American left. That is vulgar socialism, and racism in its own right.
White-dominated labor union locals as well as progressive North American individuals or union caucuses should be recruited. They are not the decisive force to lead this struggle, although their help can be indispensable in a particular campaign. It takes major organizing to make them break free of their racist and conservative nature. So although we want and need the support of our fellow workers of other nationalities and genders, it is ridiculous and condescending to just tell Black, Asian or Chicano workers to sit around and wait for a “white workers’ vanguard” to decide it wants to fight before they can do anything. This is nonsense. We will educate our fellow workers to the issues and why they should fight white supremacy at our side, but we will not defer our struggle for anyone!
Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin is an American writer, activist and black anarchist. He is a former member of SNCC, the Black Panther Party and Concerned Citizens for Justice. Following an attempt to frame him on weapons charges and for threatening the life of a Ku Klux Klan leader, Ervin hijacked a plane to Cuba in February 1969. While in Cuba, and later Czechoslovakia, Ervin grew disillusioned with the authoritarianism of state socialism. Captured by the CIA in Eastern Europe, he was extradited to the US, put on trial and sentenced to life in prison in 1970. He was introduced to anarchism whilst in prison, inspiring him to write Anarchism and the Black Revolution in 1979. Released after 15 years, Ervin remains politically active.