A New World in Our Hearts: Eight Years of Writing from the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation
Edited by Roy San Filippo
Reviewed by Aaron Shuman
Sunday, October 5 2003, 4:41 PM
Back in my college day -- which began the same year as Love and Rage, in 1989 --Marxists were white people who presumed to correct your ideology on the way to the benefit, usually driving in their Lexus. Every moment was their moment to teach, whereas the anarchists had better parties. Sure, some people were there because no one else would let them talk so long. But more damningly, there were always some white anarchists who reactedl, like Marxistsnever I'd bring up race: with a shock and horror that I'd raised something that would segment the revolutionary whatever, and a determination to talk me down. As a white man with a black woman, attending USC in Rodney King Los Angeles, these radical white people simply weren't for real: they weren't from where I was; they didn't walk the same streets I did; they weren't confronted by and wrestling with the same issues my girlfriend and I had to, every day.
I still remember taking her to see grrrl bands Bikini Kill and Oiler; she wore a t-shirt, overalls, and clogs -- simple, well-kept clothes. I still remember how furious and humiliated she was afterwards, because no one talked to her and everyone stared, she felt, because she didn't have the requisite layer of grunge. The show was at Macondo, in the shadow of L.A.C.C., so the crowd was more Latino and mixed than it would have been elsewhere. But this wasn't appreciably different from the time a white boy from the Valley in a Revolution Is the Solution-shirt stepped to her, noted her hair which she'd just had straightened, and said one word: Sellout.
Such are the politics of style, and this is one way I came to believe that white Leftists who don't discuss racism -- and punks of all colors who would legislate choices for people of color, and draw political lines over their bodies -- full of their own shit. Being with my woman meant passing through communities that defined membership in ways that operated against us and sought to deny the reality of us. Note here that I've spoken only of the forces that would separate us, and not the equally obnoxious pressures that sought to consolidate us behind regimes of meaning that also did not request or require our input.
For example, on the second or third day of the L.A. riots, my lady and I went downtown to stand in the streets. The police were moving out from their headquarters at Parker Center, attempting to clear the surrounding blocks, and a thin line of protesters was holding an intersection, attempting to pen the cops in. As the line began to break, I remember watching an individual sit down in the street and get hauled off as soon as the advancing police line swallowed him. I wasn't into making symbolic gestures, and I wasn't going anywhere without my woman. My woman, having called First A.M.E. and been told not to bring her white boyfriend into the neighborhood, had already decided not to go anywhere without me. And so we stood, holding hands in the middle of the street, making the police come up directly behind us and command us to move, then taking only one step forward, forcing them to repeat the entire process. I don't recall discussing this, and I do recall not wanting to say anything in front of the copsworked this out in silence, with a logic between us.
Pretty soon, we were the only protesters left standing, and I remember suddenly realizing there were a lot of people in front of us, including a bunch of photographers. They ran up to us and back from us, trying to find the right distance, trying to size us up and frame our bodies. It only occurred to one personlack womanapproach us and offer any aid. She told us, "I love what you're doing," anded us a water bottle, and by that point, I was so paranoid that I looked at the flecks of pulp floating in the water and thought it might be poisoned. The water was sweetened with strawberries; the policeman was jabbing me in the ribs, to make me step forward; the police had finally cleared a lane, and motorcycle cops were streaming through, flashing peace signs -- or were they V's for Victory?. I had this growing discomfort that we had become the focal point of everyone who remained on the block, and they were all lifting our bodies from us, the photographers and the police alike.
Later, a white friend of ours, travelling in her own multiracial crew, was surprised to discover that they had been photographed with newspapers they had been handed proclaiming "No Justice, No Peace." They hadn't thought about making signs until they got downtown, and were happy to take something that said "No Justice, No Peace" in fat 98-point type. They didn't expect to become poster girls for the next issue, projecting the correct multiracial image above the subscription box for a white Marxist sect. Of all the political groupings to emerge after the riots, it's no surprise to me now that we ended up forming our own group consisting almost entirely of interracial black/white couples, and that our efforts collapsed because of our lack of ties and our inability to mobilize the resources of a community. We were simply too naive, too inexperienced, and too claimed by our college identity -- no matter how much we lived our lives off-campus -- to do everything we dreamed of doing in the city. For each of us to stand for ourselves alone, with our partner, and for our people, while standing apart from the claims they would put upon us and the funk we would take from others -- without much to root us "in the community" on the one hand, and with much to distrust about rooting ourselves in easy ideology, surrounded by people who wanted to be our friends, so long as we spoke with their tonguel, we couldn't even begin to untangle the complexity of such a task, let alone undertake it.
As "the first primarily white anarchist group to make a serious commitment to fight white supremacy," Love and Rage was for real, or at least it was engaged in the struggle to be. Of course, white Leftists who discuss racism are full of their own shit, too, but at least, they put it out there and commit to work through it. I remember picking up the newspaper for the latest on the Zapatistas, before I was aware of websites broadcasting them. You won't get a sense of the newspaper's flavor from this collection, because it's shaped by the editor's desire to communicate to a post-Seattle generation of activists who "ask[ed] many of the same questions and debated the same issues that Love and Rage had first addressed nearly ten years earlier." Consequently, most of the essays are position papers drawn from L&R's final two years, before it dissolved in 1998. The significance of a revolutionary anarchist federation splintering before the Battle of Seattle goes unexamined here. So does the book's claim to represent eight years of writing from L&R, which former member Wayne Price picks apart here. But it's easy enough to pick up the threads of individual members' ongoing commitments through such on-line organs as the North Eastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and Bring the Ruckus.
This collection has been edited for easy readability and maximum applicability, with essays grouped into sectionsanarchy, organization, race, Love and Raget will be quickly digestible by activists with questions about organization building. Often, the result is political writing of a battle-hewn maturity that people of whatever ideological stripe can respect. For the newcomer to anarchism, Christopher Day's essays on "The Revolutionary Anarchist Tradition," "Love and Rage in the New World Order," and "Dual Power in the Selva Lacondon," offer a great introduction to anarchist history and one critique of that history.
The writing in the section on race suffers from an insularity that often marks arguments between white activists over race, in a room where few activists of color are present and participating. Here, the argument is between those who believe in smashing white supremacy, white skin privilege, and L&R's internal "culture of whiteness" versus those who "call on white workers to give up their apparent, petty privileges over people of color. The latter is read to suggest that the benefits accrued from the wages of whiteness are petty and apparent, and it's off to the flame war we go.
From a group that gained much of its organizational coherence confronting mobilizations of the racist rightn the early 1990s, this section features Noel Ignatiev, co-editor of the journal Race Traitor, declaiming in 1994, "An anti-fascist counter-rally where people gather to hear speeches, chant slogans, and shake their fists in rage is a display of impotence." Ignatiev may be knocking Anti-Racist Action, but more important than keeping score is the book's suggestion that race traitor politics -- which shifted a critique of racism from its most buffoonish caricatures to institutions of the State itself -- helped open the door to anti-prison, anti-austerity, and other working groups that sought to define principled bases for anarchists working across race, class, and gender. If Ignatiev's take on white impotence (and much of the writing that follows) reads like an unfunky Eldridge Cleaver with extra spleen -- skipping over the need to ground one's critique of white supremacy in one's own parents -- also yields moments of clarity and attempts to define political positions beyond posturing.
It's to Love & Rage's credit that thoughts on race can't be pigeonholed in a single section but run throughout the book. In fact, the writing outside the section on race is often fresher, pulling theory from first-person accounts of experience, rather than an apparent need to theorize the existence of people of color. Brad Sigal's account of the "Demise of the Beehive Collective" is a good piece for those attempting "to move beyond the confines of the punk scene and to become more involved with and relevant to other communities" and its prevailing sentiment -- "infoshops ain't the revolution" -- is important for information and cultural workers to consider. Sigal's essay is just one of the book's several political post-mortems, grappling in impressive fashion with the death of an organization. For the most part, the writing collected in A New World in Our Hearts is contemporary and urgent, sometimes strikingly so, as in the opening essay, Futura Demibold's "Always More People Than Cops." Offering a critical, first-person account of Chicago 1968, Demibold contrasts "our riot" with a strike of mostly black rank-and-file workers occurring simultaneously during the Democratic National Convention. Demibold recounts a surreal scene in which the workers march towards Lincoln Park to show support for the protesters, but the two contingents don't recognize and nearly pass each other in the street. Demibold notes, "while the drivers know about the protesters...the protesters have seemingly never heard of the strike," and concludes "today as much as in 1968, the link-up that didn't quite happen on North Avenue that night has to be created, or there will be no social revolution. Written in 1996 to precede Chicago's next DNC and the Active Resistance "Counter Convention," Demibold's point was as relevant then as it was in Los Angeles 1992 as it is in the antiwar movement today. That makes this book a vital collection to think through the past decade, and beyond.
A New World is available from AK Press.