For anarchists in the South, fighting white supremacy has to be one of the most important things we do, and there are a lot of questions on how we do it. I don’t feel that there needs to be much explanation on this point, but briefly, white supremacy is one of the strongest, most deeply entrenched forms of oppression in this country, and it arguably holds the capitalist class system together in the U.S, and the South is a uniquely strategic place to attack it. As anarchists who are against all oppression and exploitation, we have to fight white supremacy alongside anything else we do, or we will fail.
Being in Atlanta, which is still for the time being a majority black city, members of the heavily white populated and mostly east side Left, have a lot to grapple with when it comes to tackling white supremacy, both externally in fighting efforts like gentrification and school closure, policing, etc, but also internally, in building organizations that do their best to keep from perpetuating white supremacy in their own activity. There are multiple approaches to this. One approach from history has been to recognize that whites need to organize themselves against racism and capitalism, and build organizations that are rooted in and aim to organize “our own” communities. This has had great successes and many drawbacks, and although I think it might be a viable strategy for some community organizations, there are reasons I am not in favor of starting down this path. 1)Although heavily whitely populated, our left is not white only, and it would be wrong to artificially separate it by ethnicity. 2) I would specifically like to see the IWW do a better job of dealing with race in its organization, and by its nature as a revolutionary economic organization open to all workers, this sort of nationalist separation cannot be an option.
In the IWW this conversation has come up before. As one fellow worker put it, there are two general responses to the lack of diversity in the IWW. One is to call for an explicit means of addressing it within the organization, and the other is to call for “more organizing”. The former usually comes from FWs of color that are already in the organization and want to expand the diversity, and the latter usually comes from white FWs.
Another fact is that white dominated organizations don’t easily tend to change themselves into inclusive ones, often regardless of the hopes and goals of the current members. The reasons for this are many, and should be discussed, but I won’t get into those here. However, it is possible. And I think there are some aspects of organization that can make reorganization and chipping away at internal white supremacy a bigger possibility. To start, a truly democratic structure is one. The IWW, for all it has yet to realize or regain, has a truly democratic structure and culture. Another is a culture of debate and critical reasoning regarding the path the organization is taking. This should come along with the former, and in the IWW it definitely does. We are a growing union/movement, and for this reason I think everyone invested in the organization takes what it is doing seriously and is willing to critically engage in that conversation. The last and maybe most important point is that because the IWW combines organizing for immediate gains in material conditions, with a revolutionary vision for the future, it is accessible to people of all different walks of life, but inspiring enough to hold peoples attention and commit to the fight. This is what gives me hope that the IWW can become the fully inclusive one big union for ALL workers that we strive to be. The accessibility and vision for the future are what can allow us to do the initial organizing to bring wider swaths of people in, and the democratic structures and critical culture can allow us to make the changes in the organization itself required to create a more inclusive union.
So with those things in our favor, what are some possibilities for moving forward now? When this conversation came up at the Food and Retail Workers founding convention, one FW explained how he was a member of two organizations, the IWW and the National Lawyers Guild. Both are white dominated, but one, the NLG, has been making advances in changing this much more than the IWW has. He said that the difference in his mind is the NLG has a People of Color caucus that can recommend changes to the way organization works, to address the issues the caucus recognizes within the organization. I think that this sounds like a great idea for our international structure. We have a Gender Equity committee already, there is really no reason not to have a more or less analogous committee regarding race. I think in the coming year we should encourage other branches to join us in drafting a proposal for such a committee, to be voted on at next year’s convention, and along with it, branches will be encouraged to tackle this issue in their own local branches in intentional and democratic ways.
Point of clarification: The Industrial Workers of the World is not and has not ever been an anarchist organization, it is a radically democratic revolutionary labor union. As such, many of us who maintain this blog, who may believe in separate, specific anarchist organizations, see it as a good place to put our efforts for social and economic organizing. But it is a union, open to all who agree with the preamble. See IWW, Political Parties, and Anarchism.
That being the case, it is precisely anarchists who should be leading the struggle against white supremacy in the organization because as noted above, it should be one of our highest priorities. This struggle will be in the organization as a whole but also with other anarchists that disagree with the importance of it.
Bringing it back out to anarchist movement in Atlanta, I think that this will mean, aside from addressing the internal operations of an organization, doing the sort of external work on conditions that affect the whole class or the most exploited sections, not just the white working class. This may mean working in new struggles that we initiate, or it may mean linking up with and supporting those already engaged in these sorts of struggles, or allying with other people and organizations just beginning to go in the directions that we wish to. This is a conversation that we should continue having across the board, but I hope this piece helps provide some ideas to start with.