Tuesday, July 18, 2006

[Review] Hot Lead is Medicine

My only love affair was to be knowledge that I had blood on my hands and I wanted it to be some confused, afraid cop. Because tonight, we weren’t in the Denver I called home. We weren’t at the permitted feel-good-fest where we’d watch ourselves on the 9-o-clock news. Tonight the minority, the out-side agitators, would be the sign holders. Tonight we were falling a little further and embracing our rage. On the eve of March 20th 2003, we didn’t march for peace.

It turns out that Texas Slim, the author of the above words, never did bash a cop that night, but the experience recounted above nevertheless marked, pushed, and led them to grow and think in important and promising ways about what it does and will mean to “do the right thing” in this world of ours. Concluding early on that “entering into the world of revolutionary violence may be the most compassionate thing someone can do.”

Texas – who describes themself as a “white (queer, genderqueer with male privilege) service class worker” – put these thoughts on violence and revolution to paper in a snappy little pamphlet, Hot Lead is Medicine; Thoughts on Whiteness, privilege and violence. I met them briefly at the Mid-Atlantic Radical Bookfair a couple of weeks ago, checked out Hot Lead… (and many other titles they were distributing under the moniker “Institute for Experimental Freedom”) and was impressed in the way that only a pleasant surprise can impress me.

You see, Texas is clearly from the “insurrectional”, “anti-civilization” end of the anarchist spectrum, a place i often associate with self-styled post-leftists, meaning… well… shall we say “people i disagree with”?

In my experience the loudest of these anarchists commonly embody a nauseating combination of arrogance and tunnel-vision, ignoring or dismissing or simply lying about those struggles and experiences which contradict their worldview. They so often end up reminding me of the “cool kids” in high school, the ones who insisted they were more “in the know” than anybody else and as a result were often the most clueless.

Take the most significant events of the twentieth century: the anti-colonial revolutions, the women’s liberation movement, the Soviet experiment, the Nazi Holocaust… you name it and some ideologues seem to have the most wacked out weird explanations/evaluations of these events (or “non-events”, as some of them insist) which are not only completely disconnected from reality, but which are often so abstract and arcane that it is difficult to tie them into any present-day struggles, or the real lives of radicals or would-be revolutionaries today.

Which is probably why Hot Lead… gets so much right, where so many others get it all wrong.

Unlike so many whose theories and decrees seem disconnected from anybody’s real life, Texas explains exactly where their journey started, what their beginning point was:

What radicalized me, forced me to conceptualize my survival and recognize that I am oppressed and exploited was my experience in alcoholism/addiction and recovery. When I started going to programs it became abundantly clear that there were corporations – an entire business made from addicting people to poison. Even killing them. When I heard about sweatshops and ‘globalization’ it was really easy to see a connection there. Corporations, businessmen, the rich, all make money off of harming people (the earth, and non-human animals.) The last conclusion I made through alcoholism/addiction was more personal and haunting. The proto-community we were all a part of was not homogenous and we weren’t all in it together. There were rich kids and there were poor kids. When rich kids relapsed, they continued being able to afford their coke habit if they don’t get caught. Whereas, poor folk relapse, go to jail, OD and die or commit suicide. I lost three close friends from my entering the programs at age fourteen till when I was around eighteen. I recognized myself as part of the latter positionality, and saw similar experiences with addiction/alcoholism through-out all of my family. I got mad. I got class-jealousy. I got class-hatred. I got the kind of mad some people call class-war.

Now if you’re part of the anarchist scene, i’m betting you’ll agree that the above paragraph is not typical, either of the post-lefty crowd or of the organizational groups like NEFAC etc. What’s striking and unusual about it is the power that comes from grounding one’s politics in one’s personal experiences, in one’s own life. Something which should be commonplace, but is so rare as to be striking.

And what do we get when real life and honesty form the ground on which we stand? Quickly class politics are at the fore, though not at all restricted to “point of production” or even place of employment. Perhaps outside the bounds of bourgeois economics, but spelling life and death just the same.


The impending socialist revolution of the 60s/70s was snuffed not merely because of COINTELPRO nor the fact that only a handful of white radicals attempted a conversation about the possibility of snuffing at all, but rather, the inability of the white radical consciousness to think in terms of survival; organize under that assumption and build (white, anti-white) communities of revolutionary struggle.

Sorry – i hope i didn’t give anyone the impression that Hot Lead… was a personal zine. Though it may be written in an informal style, and starts in an almost-stream-of-consciousness way, it’s got some important political points to make…

Texas starts the discussion by looking at violence, and its almost complete absence from the white left. They quite correctly describe the “riot” as the way that many may feel they are breaking with the corrupt and privileged First World, but point out that this break is often as illusionary as the white activist “riot” is exaggerated – with property damage being as close as it ever really gets to being violent.

Violence – real violence, not simple property damage – is described as a psychic barrier separating those who are “in” from those who are “out”. In one of the few high-falutin’ phrases they permit themself, Texas states that “structural violence sometimes manifested in physical brutality does shape the experience of many white wimmin, queers, and poor folk, but it is at the exact point of this violence that, from here on shapes the experience and develops an ontology of Other.”

Not sure if i agree or not – but it certainly seems to be a promising line of thought. For although representations of violence may loom large in popular culture – and equally so in certain sectors of the anarchist milieu – actual violence which you can’t escape, which targets you because of who you are, which is endemic to your life, which is “real” not “spectacular”… this is something that all kinds of official and unofficial social mechanisms work real hard to keep focused on certain (classes of) people and far away from others.

Could it be that this tells as much about class as what’s in your bank account? Or at least that we shouldn’t look at one without thinking about the other?

Like i said: a promising line of thought…

But violence in and of itself is just the entry point from which Texas takes on the question of how to engage in revolutionary struggle. They point out that the critical question for white radicals is not “violence or non-violence”, but rather the question of what is motivating the struggle itself, arguing that “the only way an actual revolutionary struggle can be conceived is through a politics of survival.” The rest of Hot Lead… is concerned with what this means for white leftists, the vast majority of whom live lives of privilege, blinded to the fact our survival may ever even be at issue.

This thing about survival being the basis for revolutionary struggle strikes me as dead on. Not abstract survival, not even necessarily survival of some greater collectivity, but one’s own survival, one’s own existence and experience. It’s only in grounding oneself in this way, and forging ties with others who are similarly grounded, that there is likely to be any solid foundation for the battles to come.

If it is difficult, even highly statistically improbable, that people from certain privileged groups will be able to grasp issues of their own survival… well, that’s just another way of looking at Texas’ observation that it is our inability to deal with violence which often pushes white radicals to back down from revolutionary struggle… and that’s just another way of saying class counts. So nothing surprising there.

In a certain way it’s the logical complement to the observations about violence above. Or as a friend once explained it to be when we were discussing who would or would not be attracted to militant anti-fascism, “It has a lot to do with whether or not you’ve had your head kicked in.” Not an absolute truth by any stretch, but undeniably a factor.

Referring to J. Sakai’s Settlers: Mythology of the White Proletariat, Texas agrees that “the white working-class – or service class – is less defined by it’s class consciousness and more by it’s identity with a Settler Nation,” and this makes white privilege key in making “a discussion about authentic revolutionary struggle almost impossible for white folk to have in a meaningful way.” Yet Texas insists that they find hope in “the John Browns of history”, suggesting that global capitalism has led to important changes which make a discussion about survival and class consciousness “more probable.”

Texas writes that “For the privileged body that can conceptualize survival, there is a self-interest in change that would eradicate privilege. Why? Because it would be a part of my liberation from capitalism.” (italics in original)

This is the way in which survival politics can lead even the privileged to revolutionary consciousness, to side with the most oppressed, because it is in their liberation that everyone’s liberation can be found. In the words of an unnamed indigenous woman, popular with many on the left, “If you have come to help me, please go home. But if you have come because your liberation is somehow bound with mine, then we may work together.”

To me this focus on survival is a critically important insight, yet i fear things are not quite so smooth and clear-cut as Hot Lead… may suggest. For this question of survival does not automatically lead to revolutionary consciousness, indeed it can also lead to reaction….

…and this other side of the equation needs to be stated, for at the moment it is dominant. Namely that many people – and the higher you move up the food chain, the more this is true – prefer to bet that their survival is bound with the system, not with the oppressed. Just take a look at the sad love affair the unofficial leadership of the queer, Jewish, and feminist “communities” are angling for with the ruling class, and you’ll see what i mean.

But there are other, anti-system possibilities, some of which are even worst: like the Nazis of the past some people are tying their distorted idea of survival to a nightmare vision of a new, even more oppressive order.

So as global capitalism shuffles the cards and many white folk worry that the next hand may be rigged against them, it is not a given that a “discussion about survival and class consciousness” becomes “more probable.” In fact, today in North America even when white guys give up on “the system” guaranteeing their survival, they are more likely to gravitate towards the final solutions of the far right than the revolutionary left.

That this is partly the fault of the left – which is overwhelmingly privileged, confused, and alienating – may be true, but it is also undeniably a part of the legacy of whiteness and patriarchy in North America. Indeed, “survival” itself for many white folks is a distorted concept, having as much to do with keeping faggots away from their children and getting evolution out of the schools as it does with putting food on the table. And this is so even in some households which are materially struggling.

Even though it is a short little thing, i think Hot Lead… would have benefited from some discussion of this. It is a question that is very relevant – indeed, coming from roughly the same political perspective, we can see that some anarchists went so far as to seek an embrace with the right-wing militia movement in the 90s (see James Murray’s Chiapas and Montana, which has been distributed along with Hot Lead…, and was adequately refuted by Ken Tengu here).

This is a tightrope that white radicals have a long tradition of diving off of – how to be a revolutionary (not just a supporter of other people’s revolutions), how to organize in our own communities… while tearing up the foundations of racism and sexism and homophobia which our communities are built upon. Made all the more difficult because when many of us think “our communities”, we think of people who in truth we have nothing in common with…

Texas’ strategy seems to be to keep “anti-white” politics front and center while insisting on a politics of actual survival, defined (if perhaps simplistically) as something that is always necessarily bound up with violence. This does make some sense, especially in North America, but i would argue that an explicit anti-sexist and pro-queer position is also necessary, as there are increasing numbers of men around the world and also in our own societies who are dreaming up ideas of their own “survival” and “liberation” which involve retrenching and reinforcing gender and sexual oppression.

Indeed, with women as a group being continually forced into the role of shock absorbers for the world of men, absorbing the violence, frustration, boredom and exploitation that overflows as the male cup runneth over, opposing patriarchal relations seems be of critical importance for any kind of project of liberation. Even more so as the main pole of anti-imperialist resistance globally is currently right-wing Islam, which is both deeply sexist and homophobic. So opposing patriarchy is a “make it or break it” kind of thing…

But this criticism should be kept in perspective: Hot Lead is Medicine is a good piece of writing, which is already in a whole different ballpark than most anarchist stuff (and i mean that in a nice way!). It tries to answer questions many of us are still afraid to ask.

As Texas Slim concludes:

We need a praxis of revolt that settles for nothing short of a new collective survival here-and-now and consequent collective liberation for all. Through inter-generational, radical labor organizing (outside and perhaps against unions), rent strikes, political squats and land occupations, food distribution, re-learning wild skills, anti-addiction programs, radical media, home schooling networks, childcare programs, counter-economics, riots/bombings and revolutionary/insurgent violence (to name a few specifics), we will survive and the world, recognized in it’s totality – domination culture, will end.

Now wouldn’t that be nice…


Hot Lead Is Medicine; Thoughts on Whiteness, privilege and violence is a snappy 12-page pamphlet, now available from Kersplebedeb for $1.00 US plus postage (normally $2.00 to the United States). Email info@kersplebedeb.com for more details!

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