Kuwasi Balagoon: A Soldier’s Story reviewed by International Minister, MIM Notes 230, March 15, 2001
This pamphlet comes from the better section of anarchists. We have the political prisoners from the Black Liberation Army — e.g. the Panther 21 — and people like J. Sakai writing supplementary material to the material Balagoon wrote. Although this posthumous booklet of a New Afrikan soldier who died in 1986 is firmly anti- imperialist and strongly internationalist, we will not recommend it.
Armed struggle now?
The Balagoon attack on our line would be that we oppose armed struggle at this time. Balagoon ended up in prison for the last time for expropriating (robbing from the bourgeois point of view) a Brinks truck in which two cops and a security guard resisted and ended up dead.
Balagoon correctly points out that Stalin robbed banks. However, armed struggle is a scientific matter not simply a moral duty. It is not expedient in all times and places although its necessity is universal. The conditions for Stalin to rob banks were much better than those faced now. The U.$. capitalists pay the state much better now to track down the bank robbers. Transportation and communication is also improved. We follow Mao on this question– that it does not make sense to attack the imperialists frontally where they have great forces, speed and communication. In contrast, in many areas of the world, the revolutionaries can base themselves somewhere far from the reach of the central government or powerful local police forces.
This does not mean we in MIM believe we have no obligations toward the armed struggle simply because we reside in North America. First Nations still have armed struggle to defend their territory and others find themselves in self-defense situations. Geographically people in North Amerika generally face powerful ruling classes still able to rule; yet the people inside the imperialist countries also have high technology and legal ways of making money open to them more easily than anywhere else. Furthermore, the comrades across the globe complain about the Amerikan propaganda machine and we are in a unique position to do something about that as well. Hence, in the international division of labor, the comrades of the imperialist countries should be supporting armed struggles, just not where they have the highest chance of being defeated. Mao wrote several books on military science and we find no reference to military science in this collection.
In addition to the question of armed struggle, we favor disciplined vanguard organization and hence qualify as “authoritarian” in the books of these anarchists. We will address this theoretically and practically.
In theory, Balagoon says on the back cover, “the foundation of the revolution must rest upon the bones of the oppressors.” That is a correct statement to make and it is Balagoon’s. We certainly agree with him that the violence of revolution is nothing compared with the violence inherent to the system. That is the first and perhaps most important scientific point to understand and nothing else is worth talking about until that fact is clear. Balagoon and MIM reached the same scientific conclusion on this. Hence it is not a matter of putting these words in his mouth, and defining anarchism for the anarchists, but the fact is that his statement implies “hierarchy.”
It becomes a semantic quibble to talk about violent revolution without hierarchy. Violence is intimately wound up with hierarchy. To stand on someone’s else’s bones is a matter of hierarchy. We cannot think of anything involving more hierarchy than that. It means saying you are above someone else. For MIM it is not something ever to think except in respect to a well-defined enemy in a well-defined plan of People’s War led by a Maoist party. Those “anti-authoritarians” and “anarchists” in favor of violent revolution are lost in semantics. A state is nothing but organized force used by one group over another. To stand on the bones of the oppressor means a state whether the anarchists are responsible enough to call it that or not. The only consistent anarchism of the internationalist sort is pacifist-anarchism. The better anarchism for organized violence is simply an unconscious and hence unaccountable form of bastard Marxism.
Hence, we stress that we are not putting words in Balagoon’s mouth. We are addressing the contradiction in what he thought, no doubt because we have covered the same ground. This is our theoretical point, that to be both for organized violence and no hierarchy is a contradiction in terms. Anarchy is only achievable as the last stage of communism where violence is no longer necessary.
This brings us to applying this theory in practice. The basic difference between us and the better anarchists is that we at MIM are accountable and less authoritarian than they are. While in words we make clear what authority exists and has to exist in the revolutionary movement, in practice we achieve less authoritarianism than the “anarchists” and “anti-authoritarians” do. The fact is that Balagoon was an authoritarian whether he said so or not.
Even the publication of this booklet serves as a demonstration. MIM has misgivings about it because it makes clear that Balagoon was bisexual, when we at MIM –despite being in on the lingo — cannot tell for sure that Balagoon would have wanted that. Having spent so much time in prison was it really Balagoon’s choice? Would Balagoon have covered the subject the same way his publishers did? MIM does not know. We do not know who has the authority to publish this booklet.
The reason MIM does not know what Balagoon would have wanted is that even though he wrote quite a bit, he did not belong to or support a party with a worked out position. He even admitted at the end of life shortened by AIDS that he found himself working without any comrades of his pole of thought, something that should have caused him to realize the fallacies of his science. If Balagoon had been more accountable, we could go to what he said or a certain section of the party’s work, read it and know what he would have wanted. Instead, what happened is that Balagoon opposed hierarchy. Perhaps he would have regarded the publication of his work by people who well could have been his political antagonists as a kind of theft. MIM does not know and the masses cannot tell either.
For that matter, the organization distributing this book “kersplebedeb” claims that it is authorized to xerox Sakai’s book and we are not supposed to xerox it. This is fascinating on two levels. First, kersplebedeb was able to say “authorized.” Secondly, it means there is someone with authority to do something and someone who does not have authority to do it. Thirdly, this is a fascinating question, because as “kersplebedeb” surely knows, they are thousands of miles from the last place we obtained our “authorized” purchase of Sakai’s book. How are we to know Sakai really authorized this? Could a cop set up shop and tell us the same thing? Heck yes. Hence, the “anti-authoritarian” line as it is practiced everywhere we have seen it is in fact not “anti- authoritarian.” The “anti-authoritarian” line is in fact a cover for unaccountable power, one easily manipulated by the capitalists in a time of upsurge by the oppressed and exploited.
The troubling thing about the better anarchists is that their line is the best cover-up for degeneration that there is–a purely verbal criticism of those of us who are accountable authoritarians as opposed to unaccountable authoritarians like the “anarchists” and “anti-authoritarians.” The true choice is between pacifist- anarchism–a purely mental construct yet to exist in the world– and Marxism, the science concerned with what gets implemented.
On this point, we have to complain that Balagoon put some words in the mouths of us Marxists. Of us Maoists he says, “This is key because this is what separates anarchist revolutionaries from Maoist, socialist and nationalist revolutionaries who from the onset do not embrace complete revolution. They cannot envision a truly free and equalitarian society.”(p. 72) The problem is not that we cannot envision it; the problem is that we cannot implement it. Those are two separate questions and Balagoon’s critique of us is idealist in the same fashion as Trotskyism. If it were just a problem of vision, then why haven’t the Trotskyists or anarchists implemented what they are talking about while we Maoists so lack in vision?
Mao Zedong rammed through the communist program by kicking out the Japanese and U.$. imperialists and putting national health care in place. This by itself reduced violence against Chinese people by the millions of people each year. That is what it means for that cold statistic called “life expectancy” to double in a generation. That life expectancy statistic says a lot about the degree of hierarchy, more than Balagoon’s whole booklet, because no one voluntarily and cooperatively gives up life unless there is an enemy lording it over them. That’s not to mention how Mao altered the global balance of power on behalf of the colonized.
It is important not to let semantics, talk of “humyn rights” or “free speech” or “right to choice” or anything else get in the way of understanding the real situation: no one chooses to die without underlying compulsion, so when the capitalists say a country is “free” and even the people vote now and then for the Yankee lackey candidate, but their life expectancy would be better under socialism, we have to say “bullshit” both to the imperialists and even the people when they vote for those lackeys.
Likewise, we have to say bullshit to Balagoon when he runs down Maoism and then offers us what–the ability “to envision a truly free and equalitarian society”? Words and even dreams are not a substitute for a real life, no matter what the churches or television would say. The failure of a drug to cure AIDS–and even in 2001 none have completely cured it–does not mean it is right to give up those drugs and start taking chicken soup instead. Giving up Maoism for anarchism is liking taking chicken soup for AIDS: it’s pre-scientific.
An essayist in the booklet named Freddy Perlman offers us the following instead of the advances in China and the USSR: “i think that the building of revolutionary collectives and forming of federations of collectives is the most practical and righteously rewarding process of preserving and enhancing life and developing the character of all nations.”(p. 80) Balagoon said the same thing over and over: “Making the most of everything is exemplified pretty well by working in a collective setting and living in a co- op, and it seems like it would be an easy thing to found an anarchist food co-op somewhere like Toronto.”(p. 110)
How is that these anarchists fail to compare the degeneration of co-ops into capitalist institutions while they run down the advances under Mao? Countless co-ops have become simple unabashed capitalist institutions within the United $tates, and that’s leaving aside that they are all capitalist institutions, with anarchist management or not. Balagoon envisions it this way: “If a collective chooses to recycle and accumulate capital for a co-op of sorts, people will see people working together.”(p. 112) We notice he said “capital,” but apparently he thought that small groups of individuals could rise above the laws of capitalist economics in oases of anarchist lifestyle. It is not far from there to saying there are only free individuals and no classes. If some anarchists put together a community to support strikes, recycling etc., Balagoon says the masses “will see what’s happening with their support and more importantly they will have access to a new way of living.”(p. 113) The belief in dreamy lifestyles doing things that millions have tried without generating anarchism or less violence is a sure sign of pre- scientific thinking.
There is no monopoly on degeneration that Maoism has; quite the contrary, the anarchists in China started with a massive headstart over the Maoists. Even university presidents supported the anarchist movement, but while quantitatively ahead in both members and resources at their disposal, the anarchists just had no scientific process of thought and fell behind as the struggle of the 1900s wore on in China. The most thorough anarchists ended up as monarchists, snitches and top leaders in the Kuomintang regime in Taiwan, buried with full honors by Chiang Kai-shek. See Peter Zarrow’s, “Anarchism and Chinese Political Culture” available in our reviewed section of the MIM online bookstore. So even on the question of degeneration at the organizational level, spouting words against hierarchy does not prevent degeneration. Maoism’s accomplishments exceed those of anarchism’s: cooperatives went much farther in the People’s Republic than in any anarchist federation in any country. That is what is important, not the poetry or dreams of activists–and yes, shall we say unfortunately?–Balagoon was a poet. Perhaps that explains his outlook toward revolutionary science.
Agreements with Balagoon:
gems in his writing
Having defended Maoism on the question of armed struggle in imperialist countries and “anti-authoritarianism,” we turn to agreements with Balagoon. Of course he was right that the New Afrikan and anti-imperialist fighters are not “terrorists” the way the state says, even if they are “terrorists” in the way that Lenin said–and he knew because his brother died as one. Balagoon favored attacks on the state and people that attacked the revolutionaries and he opposed attacks on the people, so the manipulations of the ruling class to try him with a secret jury were simply propaganda by the state. Here we just want to point out some of the best things Balagoon said in the booklet.
- “Lech Walesa didn’t do half the time that Jerry Gaines, Shaheem Jabbar, Yaasmyn Fula or Asha Thornton has, and they are still in, because America is a hypocritical empire.”(pp. 34-5)
- “This constitutional set up has resulted in a white person never having been legally executed for the murder of a Black person, in the history of the United States.”(p. 36) “Not one, in all of the fifty states or colonies before them, during 400 years, is an incredible statistic.”(p. 68) The reviewer finds this astonishing too, and cannot vouch for its truthfulness in 1983. We can say that Amnesty International found that in 500 executions from 1977 to 1998 Blacks killing whites were 11 times more likely to get the death penalty than whites killing Blacks. Once convicted of murder, Blacks get more death sentences than white convicts. Then there is the actual carrying out of death sentences after a death penalty sentence. As we see from President Clinton’s pardons, the rich get pardoned.
Calculations on super-profits
In that wing of the North Amerikan movement originated in the 1960s called “anti-imperialist” and for armed struggle, the question of super-exploitation has always been the sharpest– though even so not sharp enough. Balagoon calculated in 1983 that super-profits in 1947 obtained from Black workers were $4 billion.(p. 43)
Balagoon erred in a nationalist direction on just this one point– calling Blacks the largest source of super-profits for U.$. imperialism.(p. 42) MIM holds that the Blacks within U.$. borders- -as a group–are oppressed but not exploited because of the inflow of super-profits from abroad which Balagoon underestimates.
It is not to say he was a narrow nationalist–far from it. “It is clear to anyone that Native peoples are repressed more so than anyone else, that genocide has been practiced against them more so than any people still exist as a people.”(p. 108)
Having accepted Sakai’s book “Settlers,” Balagoon did not draw the correct conclusion. The fact that such a nation of parasites exists that killed the First Nation peoples and enslaved the Blacks means that “the working class” Balagoon continually refers to is in fact a petty-bourgeoisie, and ally of imperialism. There is no “people” here that can spontaneously go for anarchism. We cannot rely on anarchist good will to generate an anarchist society in the United $tates. The first step toward anarchy will have to be de-lousing. Forcing a country of parasites to give up their super-profit soaked lifestyles cannot be accomplished by New Age individualist rhetoric anymore than it ended slavery. Organized force–an international state–needs to settle the question of U.$. imperialism. For this reason alone, anarchism can never have the most thorough internationalist credentials. Reparations need to be paid in an organized way and the class structure changed before the peoples of North Amerika can see eye- to-eye with the international proletariat. Ironically, while the anarchists are the ones to realize that white workers are bought- off in the imperialist countries, they are the last to draw the conclusion of what will be necessary to change that situation–a dictatorship of the international proletariat, principally of the oppressed nations outside North America.