A Soldier’s Story
reviewed by Allan Antliff
in Alternative Press Review
This is a collection of statements, letters, and a few articles by Kuwasi Balagoon, who died in prison on December 13, 1986. Balagoon became radical in the late 1960s, when many leftist Americans pinned their hopes for revolution on nationalist movements in the “third world” and the United States. This led to the formation of the African-American Black Liberation Army (BLA) and the European-American dominated Weathermen Underground (WU).
The BLA fought for a “New Afrikan” homeland in the US. It embraced the idea of race-based nationalism and aligned itself with armed struggle in Vietnam and elsewhere against imperialism, and, presumably, capitalism. The WU shared the BLA position, arguing the impossibility of a revolutionary movement among the majority of Americans due to “white privilege” determined that the WU could only act as a “solidarity group” for struggles elsewhere (see Weatherman, edited by Harold Jacobs).
Beginning in the 1970s, both organizations engaged in political assassinations bombings, and expropriations to foment their agendas, however neither had the numbers to sustain the effort beyond the 1980s. What was life like in a milieu where the colour of one’s skin counted for so much? BLA supporter Meg Starr gives this description of the scene in the early 1980s.
“The movement was very sectarian, defensive and hierarchical,” she writes. “The ‘problem of racism’ was ‘solved’ – at least according to my sector of the left-by only allowing white leaders to black leaders, and for us white followers to have almost no contact with the Black movement.” Sound liberating?
Balagoon tells us he turned to anarchism after a period of long reflection on why so many national liberation movements were degenerating into dictatorships or simply collapsing. He offers the decline of New York’s Black Panther Party as an example of this phenomena. In the early 1970s the local leadership began to live high off the hog on money raised by “the cadre” for BP legal defence. They got away with it because the BP was a Marxist-Leninist organization and blind obedience to the higher-ups was its political cornerstone. “The cadre accepted their leadership and accepted their command regardless of what their intellect had or had not made clear to them,” he observes. Ironically, “the true democratic process which they [the cadre] were willing to die for for the sake of their
children they would not claim for themselves.” This tragic state of affairs was writ large in China and the now defunct Soviet Union, “liberated nations” with a problematic record of support for anti-imperialist struggles because they were run by self-interested Communist Party elites. An anarchist model of organizing, he concluded, was the sole guarantee of real democracy in a revolutionary movement. So far so good, but Balagoon never overcame the racist rot at the core of the BLA/WU apple.
He died imagining a grotesque post-imperialist, post-capitalist US in which “Native, New Afrikan, Chicano, and Puerto Rican nationals” as well as “Whites who wish to live separately” would all get their own homelands.
In The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism Freddy Perlman writes that nation states are a product of capitalism, battened on racism, which frequently spawn mirror images of themselves among those they oppress. “There’s no earthly reason for the descendants of the persecuted to remain persecuted when nationalism offers them
the prospect of becoming persecutors” – hence the “continuing appeal of a system which has spread the world over thanks to national liberation movements. Died in
the wool of US racism, Balagoon caught a glimpse of this truth, but only a glimpse.