Current events bring to mind two stories which might be overlapping allegories about what this country is faced with in regard to the various movements against oppression and exploitation today. Almost six or seven years ago the movement that was flowing and cresting was the movement for immigrant rights, and at a time the movement of queer and trans folks.
At this moment the movement to dismantle white supremacy embodied in the Black Lives Matters has brought to the fore again the continued struggle of African Americans for survival, power and the acknowledgment of their human dignity. In the face of daily aggression and trauma leading up and including the violent loss of life. No need here to go over the trail of blood that has inflamed the Black Lives Matter movement. The allegories that come to mind are these. The story of the Gordian Knot and the story of the Matrix.
The Gordian Knot of legend was a knot that was tied so intricately that it was impossible to untie. According to the legend people would look at the knot and struggle over how to untie this knot. As legend would have it the person who could unravel this knot was destined to be the future ruler of Asia. Supposedly, Alexander of Macedonia simply cut the knot in half, resorting to an obvious but an inconceivable solution to the problem of the knot. The Gordian Knot has been held up as a metaphor for an impossible problem solved only by “thinking outside of the box.”
The overlapping allegory in this case, is the story of the Matrix. People are most likely aware of the dystopian movie series where people find themselves entrapped in a simulated reality called the Matrix. The majority of the inhabitants believe that they are actually living in the simulated reality when in reality their bodies are locked in pods where they are kept alive only in order to provide energy for those who really hold power. In truth they are living only to be exploited.
One definition of a matrix is something (such as a situation or a set of conditions) in which something else develops or forms. It was revolutionary feminists of color who first popularized the concept of intersectionality: the recognition that different forms of oppression intersect. The reality is that one can not be addressed without the others if we are to achieve freedom and self-determination for all people. Louis Althusser, the French Marxist philosopher, also approaches the experience of multiple and intersecting oppression with the the theory of overdetermination based on his study of Mao Zedong’s work “On Contradiction.”
Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter movement right now is addressing the major fault line of a system that oppresses and exploits all people. Black Lives Matter addresses the question that has divided and separated all oppressed people and particularly a system that uses white supremacy and racism to encourage white people. Most notably the leaders of Black Lives Matter recognize intersectionality by addressing the impact of patriarchy, homophobia, ableism, transphobia and classism on members of the Black community on a daily basis. In other words they have consistently focused on interlocking systems of oppression.
In the light of recent events when Black Lives Matter activists sought to question presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, with some very clear questions, “If you are elected president what would be your plan to dismantle the system of white supremacy?” “Say the names of the Black men, women and children who have lost their lives due to state violence.” Neither one was ready for prime time, at least not in the Black community.
The response by many white people on the left, besides saying that the activist were disrespectful, was to say that they were focused on a single issue and that presidential candidates have to have a multi-issue platform and others said that activists did not understand class, etc. “It’s just identity politics.” How condescending and trivializing of the day to day lived experience of Black people. How condescending to assume to teach folks about something that we know about and live out on a daily basis. If one is truly talking about making a political revolution as Bernie Sanders is saying, then one has to acknowledge that the Black Lives Matter movement is integral to this current historical moment for moving that revolution.
Intersection of Oppression/Intersection of Struggle
Humanity can’t wait for the society that truly recognizes the value of the human person over material things and profit. Humanity can’t wait for the society that truly recognizes that all lives matter in a way that is more than a useless retort to the slogan “black lives matter.” The fight to dismantle this Matrix is to have us envision a society beyond the Matrix not in some distant future but endeavor now to create it now. This is not directed at the Black Lives Matter movement or any movement in particular.
I would say we need a socialist society. And when I say socialist I don’t mean the the economist, class reductionist baggage that Bernie Sanders and some other at their best represent. At best there are openings to form a richer vision of socialism and socialist discourse because of Sanders’ claim to be a socialist. Since Bernie Sanders is talking about the need for a political revolution I’m going to piggyback on that. We don’t need a political revolution because of income inequality. Resolving the distribution of wealth is not the fundamental problem. This doesn’t begin to address the role of the state in regard to maintaining the matrix of oppression. But I jumped a little ahead. I need to step back. Let me leave it at this. We need to seriously not only talk about what we are against but what we envision concretely as a society without capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, ablelism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. We need to get beyond the vagueness of “Another World is Possible”
The intersection or matrix or resistance and struggle upholds the value of solidarity and inclusion. It recognizes the need to uphold and value the leadership of women, trans, and queer folks. It has to be recognized that there is no real change about us without us. In other words the very people who are impacted by oppressive systems and structures are recognized as the protagonists, the agents of the change that they need.
We should want all people to be able to achieve their highest human potential. In order to accomplish this people should have access to all that the need to do this, food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and the opportunity to make decisions regarding their lives, both individually and collectively. Concretely in the world that we live in it means addressing not only class oppression, but racism, sexism, etc that systemically reinforces and perpetuates each other in a cycle of misery and oppression for numerous people.
This human development doesn’t just happen by magic but in the real revolutionary practice of the people themselves. We change ourselves in the down and dirty practice of changing the world. This is fundamental regarding truly revolutionary movements.
Social movements have ebbs and flows. At the beginning of the last decade we had what was called the immigrant worker upsurge. Thousands of immigrants and their allies were making their voices heard as they took to the street demanding comprehensive immigrant reform. Various leaders sincere and opportunists sought to channel that movement to achieve various goals. The movement is still functioning but it is at an ebb. The movement essentially challenged the status quo but was not linked to a strategy and program that would have led to fundamentally building power, exercising power over and outside of the “logic” of existing systems. The same can be said for the LGBTQ movement which brought forth so many activists and brought forth actions and demands that challenged the status quo, but also made demands like “gays in the military.” But the point to be taken here is that these movements also exemplified the typical ebb and flow of a movement.
The Need to Develop and Unite Around a Strategy
I would venture to say that folks tend to discuss strategy or believe that they do. What I mean by strategy is how to address the question of power and to be more blunt the seizure of power by the dispossessed. Tactically we can win position and win certain reforms. These are real victories in the battle but these reforms in and of themselves do not represent a fundamental victory regarding the power of the people and seeing our way out of the barbarism of this system. One of the main questions we need to ask ourselves is how prepared are the people to govern if this system collapses tomorrow?
It probably won’t but anything can happen. Oppressed people should have a significant ability to exercise power in order to seize power. Our strategy is not the total sum of tactics. It is rather how do we get to the exercise of power.
One of the key things that is happening is the creation of counter-hegemonic narratives that unite broad numbers of people, challenging and dismantling the prevailing hegemony: for example, “Black Lives Matter.” In order to win broad numbers of people, the script must be flipped. The prevailing sense that this is the only way things are and will be must be changed. More and more people must be won to a vision of another world and that vision must become more and more concrete.
Secondly, people are establishing in seminal stages, alternative, protagonistic and democratic ways to organize society; people’s assemblies, cooperatives of producers, addressing public safety without relying on the police apparatus of the state etc. These institutions are where the people learn democracy by practicing democracy within their own communities, workplaces, etc. While tactically it is critical to throw a monkey wrench in to things, to block traffic, shut down things etc. the people can also learn to run things in the way and manner that they envision the future society will be ran. In this manner we deepen the struggle for democracy not only by demanding that intransigent elected officials act but by creating real institutions of people’s democratic action.
Thirdly, it is possible to envision an organization or organizations that can effectively articulate and exercise a strategic view, and reflects the presence and leadership of those who are at the matrices of oppression. We need an organization that can navigate the ebb and flows of social movements. This organization should be able to synthesize the experience of the various movements and articulate a course for the “movement of movements.”
We need to be able to programmatically and organizationally to engage in all the contested terrains of society where oppressed people can gain political experience, challenge the prevailing discourse of the ruling class and win power, including but not only on the electoral front.
Fundamentally we need a vision, movement and organization that can facilitate the forging of a new identity that is reflective of and celebrates our diversity as embodied in each and every individual as well as practicing the vision of a new society. Frankly many people will come forth in the various movements. Because of the weaknesses of revolutionary organization fewer people are won over to the need to smash the Matrix and build a new society. That has to change.
Fourth, who are the people and what are we against? We have some clarity about what we are against but I think the challenge is to be clear as to who are the actual protagonists in the struggle to transform society. What are contradictions between the people and their actual enemies and what are contradictions among the people and how do we address them? Flowing from this analysis, what does the United Front look like? The United front reflects the unity of a significant minority, if not a majority of the dispossessed rising up from the various movements of the dispossessed who have been won over to a program for dismantling the matrix and building a new society. This essay I hope can be part of the discourse that can spark some dialog and a vision for action for the work to come.
Badili Jones is a Black queer socialist writer and political activist living in Miami, Florida. He participates in the Black Lives Matter movement through the Miami Committee Against State Violence.Download this piece as a PDF