Another Response to Black Armed Joy
2022 04 08
From Haters Cafe
The piece this text responds to is Black Armed Joy. Another response is referenced in the piece, it can be found here.
Here we have another response to Black Armed Joy that was emailed to us. We hope that it further continues the conversations sparked by the original piece. Again, we want to emphasize this does not necessarily align with the views of the “haters collective”, we are not the authors, and we have no intention to speak for the author.
Another Response to Black Armed Joy
I was very excited when I came across Black Armed Joy! I’m longing for Black anarchist writings and Black anarchist action, and I was especially happy to see something new that came from an insurrectionary perspective instead of the same old socialism dressed up as anarchy. Personally I’m an insurrectionary anarchist, although I think my ideas of insurrection feel more anti-social than the authors’. For me insurrection starts on the individual level with the decision to not allow oneself to be managed. It’s not necessarily about revolution for me, I’m pretty pessimistic about that possibility, but if a revolution happens and it’s anarchist that could be interesting. I include my politics here to give some contexts for where my ideas are coming from. I think my politics are pretty different from the authors of Black Armed Joy, so take my critique with a grain of salt.
The authors mention the masses and specifically the Black masses, as well as the people, and even the whole of humanity. For me these groups are too big to think of as uniform. I don’t think it makes sense to say that “the Black masses proved they were uninterested in “Defund” or “Community Control” of the police or to talk about “the whole of humanity in constant conflictuality with forces of oppression”. These flatten large groups of people, and is a set up to be disappointed when those groups are more mixed up and complicated than that. Some Black people are cops, or have liberal politics, or own businesses, or don’t care. The whole of humanity is not going to rise up all together, if they did there wouldn’t even need to be an insurrection or a revolution since everyone would already be on the same page in that scenario. Some people will rise up sometimes, many won’t.
One of the interesting things about insurrectionary anarchy is that rebels don’t need everyone to be on the same page as them before they struggle. Insurrectionary anarchy is proactive, creating struggle by struggling. Attacking, self-organizing, and developing the affinity to do it is a way of starting to fight, and it doesn’t require anyone but maybe an accomplice or two to start. From a more social/revolutionary point of view it makes examples of how others can start to fight domination and hopefully inspire other people to take initiative autonomously. What I’m trying to say is that insurrectionary anarchy has lots of space to expand and scale up but it’s not tied up with or limited to mass-struggle and can even be practiced alone.
Often when insurrection — as an event — is mentioned by the authors, it’s assumed to be coming. Either generally on the way or provoked by a catalyzing event. This brings up two dilemmas: 1) an insurrection might not come at all, then what? 2) what does one do when there isn’t an insurrection happening? Again the beauty of insurrectionary anarchy is that it skirts both these issues by simply beginning to struggle regardless! If insurrections comes, great, there will be some rebels who have already started revolting, and have experience and confidence as participants, and if it isn’t happening now (yet?) there are rebels fighting, that at least are coming into conflict with domination and maybe agitating for insurrection.
For a text so focused on the potential of the Black masses to revolt I was surprised to not see much about propaganda and dialogue to build up insurrectional desire and capacity in the Black population as a means to get to a mass insurrection/revolution. I think that by assuming that an insurrection is on the way the authors have left out that they can be part of actively creating the conditions to make it possible. They mention briefly community-led interventions and cultivating revolutionary culture. I feel it’s important to flesh out what this could look like if mass participation is a goal rather than an assumption.
One thing I feel it’s important to mention is that as much as someone may want unity, by having radical and anti-authoritarian politics, rebellious individuals and groups are going to bring some people together and also drive some people apart. My experience has been that most people aren’t anarchists and that being Black isn’t enough to drive someone to agree with, let alone participate in anarchist struggles. Radical ideas lead people to grapple with issues that they might not all be on the same page about, and are likely to pit Black people against other Black people who are invested in better integrating into and moving up within society. This is okay, as has been said before; not all our skin folk are our kin folk.
In all honestly, I’m tired of the critique of the white left. It’s not that the white left is great (it’s not), or that critiques of the white left are often wrong (they aren’t). It’s that the white left, and the left in general are mostly irrelevant outside of the world of activism. In moments of big pop-off sometimes the left tries to intervene but they’re usually pretty behind and playing catch up. It’s correctly pointed out by the authors that the white left has failed Black people over and over again. Still the white left is held up as an important force within insurrections, treated as a sort of ally/enemy that needs to be coerced into doing the right thing. It seems strange that so much energy is spent trying to convince white leftists (and threaten them), when the authors know that the white left is historically unreliable and cowardly. There are many more interesting people to engage with than white leftists; non-politicized Black people, other Black radicals, non-Black people we can find solidarity with as Black people, even unaffiliated white people.
My questions to the authors are why so much focus on the white left? Does it make sense to invest energy into them or would Black struggle be better served by doing our own thing and letting the left catch up as seems to happen organically? What would it look like to focus on our autonomy and liberation as anti-authoritarian Black people? What do our struggles have in common with the struggles of non-Black people and who can we team up with?
Black Armed Joy has a really militant tone. It critiques the fear of Black armed rebellion that is so common among white leftists and anarchists, and I think it’s right to do so. The state is ready and willing to kill Black people and let vigilantes do so too. In “An Enthusiastic Response to “Black Armed Joy”” it’s said that when rebels escalate the level of violence it makes sense to expect an escalation from enemies also. That text also points out that there’s so much to learn from past and present Black struggle and armed struggle, on Turtle Island and elsewhere. I wanted to throw my support behind those statements, there’s a lot to learn, a lot to be careful about, and the stakes are really high.
One confusing thing about Black Armed Joy was that the authors say that they’re intent on showing that their lives aren’t dispensable (“The white left may believe that either we have a death wish or that our lives are dispensable and we are intent on proving otherwise.”) and also that if the white left doesn’t make a good enough coalition that they’re ready to kill and be killed about it (“”If nothing, we will prove that we are all humans that can live and die by violence all the same and at the same rates.). I’m not sure what to make of this and it seems like something that’s important to think through.
Despite all my criticism I’m glad that Black Armed Joy was written and there’s a lot I liked about it. I wanted to respond to it to broaden the conversations around Black insurrectionary anarchy and among Black anarchists. I’m trying to write from a place of solidarity and I hope that that shows through. I’m also happy to see that someone else has already responded to Black Armed Joy, I’m excited that dialogue among Black anarchists of different perspectives is developing in writing and I’m happy to be able to contribute to it.
The critique of mutual aid without teeth rang true to me. Especially since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, mutual aid has been watered down to mean something indistinguishable from charity. Placing mutual aid alongside and as a part of insurrectionary approaches to struggle makes so much more sense, and has a much more pointed potential than giving stuff away just because things are hard right now.
Black Armed Joy takes some uncompromising positions and refuses to clean up history for the sake of liberalism. The authors remind readers that the history of Black struggle is much more that civil disobedience and peaceful protest. The recent riots, the movements in the 1960s and 1970s, and even as far back as the maroons and slave insurrections are all remembered and reiterated. It not surprising that they hold up uncompromising struggle in the present, rejecting liberal stances, reformism, and self-victimization. They hold up taking apart oppression in the present, they remind readers that alternatives and “opting out” won’t destroy capitalism and that attack is a way forward. In light of so much Black liberalism and recuperation of Black struggles seeing these perspectives written out is a breath of fresh air.
I really like the questions that the authors of Black Armed Joy are asking. I want to see more Black anarchists grappling with them. Finding, making, and developing Black insurrectionary anarchist positions, and experimenting with pushing and extending insurrections as Black radicals to me feel like worthwhile goals! Critiquing the white insurrectionary anarchist space is not usually a top priority for me, but it’s a generous thing to do, especially coming from a Black anarchist perspective that also seeks out insurrection. Beyond the three questions that Black Armed Joy aims to address, I also feel strongly that Black anarchist thought can be both broadened and deepened. I hope that others continue to engage with the questions the authors are asking and bring up new questions as well.