Black Anarchists Publish Critique of 2020 Uprising and Call for "Revolutionary Violence"
On January 18th, an unnamed group of self-identified Black anarchists released a statement entitled: Black Armed Joy: Some Notes towards a Black Theory of Insurrectionary Anarchy which includes an overt call for armed violence and criticizes the contemporary anarchist movement in North America, particularly the role white anarchists, for being insufficiently committed to revolutionary violence.
The title is an apparent homage to insurrectionary anarchist author Alfredo Bonnano’s 1977 work Armed Joy. Bonnano’s publication, which has a poetic almost stream of consciousness style also contains a critique of hierarchical leftist organizing methods and includes a call for violent action.
The document is dedicated to former Black Liberation Army (BLA) member Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, who died in December of 2021 following a compassionate release from prison where he was serving a life sentence for the 1970 murder of Philadelphia police officer Frank Von Colln.
Shoatz is the author of The Dragon and the Hydra, a criticism of Leninist-style Democratic Centralism, which takes examples of historic black revolts in the Caribbean to argue for a de-centralized revolutionary effort.
Black Armed Joy was posted on several websites including The Haters Cafe (a blog which describes itself as a “project run by Black and Brown proletarians”) and the website of the Online Anarchist Federation which aggregates a wide variety of anarchist content online.
The ‘zine (as such publications are called in counter-cultural circles) begins with definitional terms for both anarchism and insurrection, emphasizing a quote from former Black Panther and convicted plane-hijacker Lorenzo “Kom'boa” Ervin, a Tennessee-based Black radical and author of Anarchism and the Black Revolution.
The authors criticize what they call the “reformist and authoritarian ends of the Black Left.” This appears to be an indictment of the high-profile Black Lives Matter (BLM) and affiliated organizations. The authors write:
Despite lifting up figures such as Assata, they label any sort of Black rebellious activity as “too fast” or “not ready” or complain about the ultra-left “ruining” their plans for revolution despite the rebellious actions of Black youth in the summer of 2020. They do not want black people to study the Black Liberation Army’s tactics. They wish to erase [Black Liberation Army member and Black anarchist] Kuwasi Balagoon and his rebellious ways. They wish to erase how Assata Shakur was liberated. They wish to erase the general strike of the Slaves. They wish to ignore the Maroons. They just want us to participate in their reformist campaigns to “Defund the Police” or “Community Control of the Police”.
The Black insurrectionary must reject these positions.
While the best known of the BLM organizations, Black Lives Matter Global Foundation has been led by self-identified “trained Marxists,” the organization itself has been under fire from the militant left for some time over what is perceived as an overly reformist rather than revolutionary agenda, and the shortchanging of radical street-organizers and local chapters while the national organization has taken in millions in donations.
The authors of Black Armed Joy go on to criticize the widespread emphasis of “mutual aid” projects, which have flourished on the revolutionary left in the aftermath of the 2020 George Floyd uprising. “Mutual Aid” is based on an anarchist organizing theory that seeks to supplant the role of the state in providing for basic needs through revolutionary, but voluntary, organization. The authors complain that much of the current mutual aid work has lost its revolutionary flavor, and contrast what they see as ultimately non-confrontational and non-radical “charity” work with the ongoing phenomena of “mass looting”:
Black people liberating resources and commodities from corporations is far more revolutionary than much of the “organizing” done by leftist or abolitionist formations in this kountry [sic]. Expropriation from the capitalists will create the basis for our subsistence economy. We must think of the revolutionary bravery and solidarity these acts inspired as we look toward militant property, land reclamations, and capital expropriations in the future. We should look more toward these types of examples of mutual aid as opposed to a more charity-NGO driven model. Our critique of mutual aid is similar to our critique of “dual power” or the “solidarity economy”. Alone, mutual aid is not enough to confront and destroy capital.
The authors go on to criticize “white insurrectionists” for minimizing the black experience, and for emphasizing European anarchist tactics instead of the history of Black revolutionary violence. In particular, the authors oppose what they perceive as opposition to the carrying of firearms, noting,
“Armed struggle has always been a part of Black insurrectionary activity. Further, it makes absolutely no sense to struggle against state and fascist violence using lesser means of violence compared to their own.”
The authors hold up the actions of Michael Reinhoel, Eric G. King, and David Gilbert as the kind of “white insurrectionists” who are worthy of emulation.
Reinhoel was killed by a U.S. Marshals Fugitive Taskforce after a manhunt following Reinhoel’s killing of Trump supporter and Patriot Prayer member Aaron Danielson. Reinhoel, who described himself as “100% Antifa” admitted to the shooting, but described the incident as a matter of self-defense.
King is a Kansas City anarchist and member of the “KC Fight Back Insurrectionist Collective” who was arrested and convicted of the 2016 Molotov cocktail attack against the offices of Congressman U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II. Cleaver is a black Democrat and former chairman of the black congressional caucus.
Gilbert was a member of the Weather Underground and the May 19th Communist Organization (M19CO). Gilbert served a 75-to-life sentence for his role in the 1981 Brinks Armed Car Robbery, carried out by members of the Black Liberation Army with support from the M19CO. He was paroled and released in November of last year.
The authors contrast these actions, particularly Reinhoel’s, with the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), in which “two black boys ended up shot and one ended up dead.” The authors declare that such “white-led” autonomous zones must be attacked “with the same ferocity that we attack the cops and the white militias. It goes without saying that white leftists who kill black people and reimpose white supremacy onto supposedly liberated spaces are our enemies.”
This suggests ideological opposition to the tendency among predominately white autonomist, anarchist and Antifa groups to establish spaces in absence of legitimate authorities. The implication seems to be that white radicals should emphasize attacking elements of the state and perceived fascist opposition, rather than asserting their control over spaces.
The authors do see a place for black-led autonomous cooperatives and territories (“Black communes”), but only if such projects are themselves tied to promoting insurrectionary violence:
Leftist cooperatives or projects that do not serve the spontaneous revolt of the black masses are simply vanity projects. We see this with how most “infrastructure” built by leftists was irrelevant to the George Floyd uprising. Dual Power, as defined in anarchic terms, is the strategies of building self-organized counter-institutions to combat the current decadent, capitalistic institutions. Emphasis on the combat part of that sentence.
This internal argument mirrors the history of New Left revolutionary violence in the 1970s, as the authors are themselves clearly aware, citing the BLA pamphlet, “OPEN LETTER TO THE WHITE LEFT IN THE U.S.” The BLA in its time heavily criticized both white radicals and the “socialist and communist intellectual Black bourgeoisie” for insufficient revolutionary zeal and willingness to countenance direct violence.
The BLA was an increasingly militant faction of the Black Panthers which formed a decentralized, cellular organization for conducting “expropriations” (i.e. armed robberies) and assassinations, particularly targeting police officers. BLA’s criticism had a significant impact on the white, largely middle and upper-middle class ranks of the Weather Underground Organization (WUO), whose enthusiasm for violence had waned following the 1970 Greenwich Village townhouse explosion, which killed three WUO members. This, in turn, led to a split within the WUO, with the California-led faction emphasizing mass organizing through the Prairie Fire Organizing Committees and a return to above-ground organizing, while the New York WUO faction formed the May 19th Communist Organization, which doubled down on underground operations and oriented itself towards providing material support for the BLA.
References within the document and chatter on anarchist social media accounts suggest the piece may have been authored at least partially in response to an interview in an online website Ill Will with Marquis Bey, author of Anarcho-Blackness: Notes Toward a Black Anarchism. Criticism of the piece came from anarchists who opposed the author’s emphasis on racial rather than class division. This debate too has long roots in the American militant left and played a major role in the original crackup of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1969.
While Black Armed Joy is not the only ‘zine that emphasizes these themes, it is a persuasively written piece sure to resonate with its intended audience of both black and white anarchists who have expressed frustration with the post-2020 “George Floyd uprising” activity of the militant left, and who desire to see more armed action, and less talk.
This much the same audience as for Bonnano’s original Armed Joy, the people “tired of meetings, the classics, pointless marches, theoretical discussions…” but prefer to “…sleep, laugh, play, kill policemen, lame journalists, kill judges, blow up barracks.”