Friday, May 8, 2009

Joel Olson: Politics of Protestant Violence: Abolitionists and Anti-Abortionists

Phoenix Insurgent

Joel Olson's politics have influenced those of us in PCWC a great deal, there's no doubt about that. Not so much when it comes to the organizational question (Joel is a founding member of Bring the Ruckus, a group that PCWC has come into conflict with several times), but certainly when it comes to the fundamental importance of white supremacy in American society. Of course, that's just fine because we at PCWC take what we think is worth taking from wherever it needs taking from.

For those that don't know, essentially boiled down to its essence, race traitor politics is an analysis that puts forward the hypothesis that white supremacy is the primary contradiction in American politics. Whiteness is a political relationship and a political alliance. Said another way, whiteness is the agreement between what we call white people of all classes that, in exchange for not upsetting the capitalist applecart, even poor whites will receive a series of benefits above and beyond similarly classed people of other races. And this necessarily means the continued exploitation and reduced status of people of color. Thus it puts white people's political aspirations in contradiction to those of the rest of the working class and therefore likewise against the cause of revolution.

For instance, much more than people of color, even a poor white can expect not to be harassed by the police as much (and therefore to remain out of the prison system), to have better access to schools and health care, to have access to better jobs and higher income, and to accumulate family wealth and a variety of other benefits. In order to receive these benefits, poor and middle class white folks have to agree to a devil's bargain with rich whites. This cross-class alliance is responsible for the otherwise unexplainable and bizarre political behavior of whites, who consistently refuse (much to the consternation of liberals and leftists of all stripes) to take revolutionary or even progressive positions of solidarity with people of color (witness the immigration question here in Arizona, where Sheriff Joe's electoral numbers are dwarfed by the totals in favor of anti-immigrant propositions). It explains why whites do not find common cause with people of color from their own class: they have been given a sort of aristocratic position within the class. It's what DuBois called the "wages of whiteness". Thus, whites wind up reactionaries that defend the current order. They defend their whiteness. And that sustains capitalism, despite the fact that even white folks who aren't rich are exploited under the system as well.

Of course, strategically this has implications for the way we organize. The analysis suggests that, if white supremacy is so important to the maintenance of capitalist domination in the US, then the way to attack that domination is to put that glue, white supremacy, into crisis. In essence, not to act politically like a white person. The idea is that if the elite can no longer count on the allegiance of white folks to white supremacy, then the opportunity for a real attack on capitalism and the state become possible.

Anyhow, there's more to it than that, but that's it in a nutshell. One of the other interesting things that Joel researches is the role of fanaticism in politics. A couple years ago, he gave a talk at ASU on fanatacism which I recommend everyone listen to, and I did an analysis of it at my old blog, Phoenix Insurgent (check both out here). As Joel puts it, fanaticism is "a critique and a rejection of political moderation - not a rejection of reason, of rationality or anything like that. And, as such, fanaticism and reason can be consistent. And furthermore, it can be consistent with justice and democracy in times when moderation lends support to the enemies of democracy."

In essence, fanaticism is a political orientation towards both one's enemies and the middle ground at the same time. It seeks to evaporate the middle ground occupied by political moderates at the same time it engages its enemies. That's because the fanatic wants to force sides to be drawn on an issue. The fanatic seeks to polarize.

This jibes really well with the anti- or post-leftism that guides many of PCWC's actions and ideas. Leftism, as I see it is a false political alliance that assumes relationships and a continuity of ideas and goals that is simply not generally borne out by history. That is, if the anarchist and the communist are both leftists, then why does the communist sell out the anarchist (and everyone else, for that matter) so frequently in history? Likewise the liberal. So often the mantra on the left is that "we're all on the same side". But the results of political struggle tell a different story. That's reason to question the existence of the left, then, at least in terms of revolutionary strategy.

So, whereas the post-leftist looks for alliances that break out of or defy the tired old leftist spectrum, the fanatic seeks to do a very similar thing, although by pointing a good deal of its arrows at political moderates -- many of whom may pose as more pragmatic allies. To the fanatic, the existence of the moderate is a political problem that must be resolved if progress is to be made. The moderate is a political impediment. To this end, the fanatic takes positions and actions that force the middle to make a choice.

Anyhow, the long and short of it is that Joel has been doing some interesting research that brings the two main currents that PCWC agrees with him on together in his study of the abolitionists and fanatacism. Here in Phoenix, PCWC has been circulating and promoting his ideas in this regard (and we carry his book, "The Abolition of White Democracy") and so it was with some excitement that it came to my attention via Collin Sick that Joel had recently given a talk on the topic at NAU (where he teaches) and that the video had made it onto the internet. Thanks to whoever put it up we can now all enjoy it. I recommend it highly and I've posted the first of four parts below. Check it out. The other four parts are posted here.

1 comment:

chaparral said...

What you're referencing as far as fanaticism goes really requires a bit more of the context of his research, since in this talk, he just focuses on religious violence.
I'm interested in to what extent the fanaticism question is just very interesting, whether he seeks to justify or legitimize some of it, or whether he sees it useful for strategy.