Friday, April 11, 2008

Anti-Authoritarianism and the Black Experience: Draft

African Americana study group draft of Anti-Authoritarianism in the Black Experience.

Introduction / What is Anti-Authoritarianism

The Black Experience is one which has found African Americans on the opposite side of America's rapid accumulation of capital. If the process of capital accumulation is a principal motor of modern history, then the brutal exploitation of Blacks, particularly slavery, is what set the wheels in motion. The high rate of exploitation, combined with the expropriation of surplus value from Black labor is not only the cause of America's vast amount of wealth, but also the reason why that wealth is disproportionately allocated.

"America's democratic government and free enterprise system are structured deliberately and specifically to maximize Black Oppression", notes activist and scholar Marable Manning. Capitalist development not only created and maintained institutional racism through it's state apparatus, but inherently depends on it. Consequently, structural inequality did not end after the abolition of slavery, but continued into present times. The Urban League's The State of Black America 2008 executive summary points out that Black unemployment is over 2 times of that as whites, widening an economic divide where three times as many Blacks as whites live below 125% of the poverty line.

This paper however is not a comprehensive reference to the economic, social and political history of Black America; nor is it explanation for the current status and underdevelopment of Black America. It is, instead, a discussion of what we come to understand as key features that have sporadically appeared throughout the Black Liberation Struggle.

African resistance occurred at every stage in American history. Slave rebellions exploded in all corners of the "New World"; from North America to the West Indies to South America. The Civil Rights movement rebelled against Segregation and Jim Crow laws that denied Blacks the most basic of rights. The Black Power Movement further challenged structural inequality and state oppression. At present times the African American community continually finds itself at odds with the State in the form of police brutality and gentrification.

In all cases Liberty, the right to act according to one's own will, were denied from African Americans. The conditions African Americans suffered from the State during these periods developed anti-statist and/or anti-authoritarian tendencies within the community. As CLR James said,"What Negro, particularly below the Mason-Dixon line, believes that the bourgeois state is a state above all classes, serving the needs of all the people? They may not formulate their belief in Marxist terms, but their experience drives them to reject this shibboleth of bourgeois democracy." Ultimately, the Black Experience is one which constitutes an ongoing struggle by African Americans to free themselves from oppression, tyranny, exploitation and control.

We argue that both historically and in the future, anarchistic principles and values play an integral part in the struggle for Black Liberation in the United States. The framework from which we constructed our analysis is twofold: (1)An empirical observation of anarchistic values and practices in the struggle; and (2)to try to explain these occurrences in their proper historical context. Our argument centres on the analysis of the ways in which anarchistic values, such as anti-authoritarianism, have developed within the Black Liberation struggle both by the circumstances of the Black Experience and by certain ideologies and political currents of the times. And although there are obviously vast differences between the main ideologies in the struggle for Black Liberation, we argue that these struggles shared a generalized value of anti-authoritarianism and an acute sense of anti-establishment.

We have to come to realize that anti-authoritarianism is not conditional - it doesn't exist to an "extent", doesn't stop at a point where convenience becomes a factor. Anti-authoritarianism is not an element of a movement - it IS the movement. As such, even though the target of African Americans were anti-authoritarian in nature, there were not always organized along the same values. If the next stage of Black Liberation is to be successful it must fully adopt anti-authoritarianism and other anarchistic values(self-management, solidarity, etc) in practice. We support the development of mass anti-authoritarian organizations controlled by its membership. We advocate this method of self-management in order to counteract bureaucratic or authoritarian tendencies from developing within the organization and movement. In order to fully grasp the reasoning behind this call, Africana people must connect past with present.


Mary Prince in her narrative declared, “All slaves want to be free” and states, “I can tell by myself what other slaves feel, and by what they have told me. The man that says slaves be quite happy in slavery – that they don’t want to be free – that man is either ignorant or a lying person. I never heard a slave say so.”

Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself is the earliest know slave narrative by a woman, which highlights the treatment of slaves. It was published in 1831, almost 300 years after the first African slave was transported from the African coast. It is a saga of overwork, abuse and sexual violence that well over 15 million unnamed slaves had experienced during Colonial Slavery.

The practice of slavery existed in many societies, however American chattel slavery developed a more brutal and racial character. Tens of millions of Africans were enslaved and transported to perform unfree labor in the Americas, Asia and Europe. The population of Africa soon became the source of cheap labor needed by Europeans to accumulate capital. It is estimated Portugal was responsible for transporting over 4.5 million Africans, not counting the many millions who perished inroute to the Americas. As black historian W.E.B DeBois noted, "It was the rape of a continent seldom if ever paralleled in ancient or modern history".

Legally owned throughout their lives, black labor created the wealth that made economic growth possible in the US and further developed capitalist production. The slaves went unrewarded for the work they were forced to regularly perform. The product of their labor was not owned by them but by their slaveowners. This surplus labor - unpaid labor - was both the source of wealth for the slave owning class and the industrializing North. South Carolina delegate Rawlin Lowndes said, "Without Negroes, this state would degenerate into one of the most contempible in the union..Negroes are our wealth, our only natural resource".

The exploitation of black slave labor was the backbone for US economic activity and prosperity. It was essential then for the US state apparatus to "facilitate the expansion and entrenchment of institutional racism in both slave and non-slave holding states". The Barbados Slave Code of 1661 served as the basis for the slave codes that would be developed in British North America. South Carolina in 1696 passed a law reducing the status of enslaved Africans to that of chattel property and other colonies soon followed. In 1705 Virginia passed a law stating that only people of African descent can be slaves. Similar to the Virginia laws, Kentucky defined enslaved Blacks as real estate legally speaking, with no civil or human rights. The evolution of slave codes further stripped away any protection enslaved and free blacks would have under the law.

The Constitutional Convetion of 1787 was essentially a compromise between the slaveholding class of the South and the monied North. The delegates "chief concern was the the creation of a strong national government that would gurantee property rights - slavery being among them. The convention First, for purposes of electoral represention and taxation slaves were counted as three-fifths of a human being. Second, federal authorities were prohibited from interfering with the slave trade before the year 1808. Lastly, states were obliged to return all fugitive slaves to their rightful owners.The ratification of the US Constitution protected the institution of slavery and wove institutional racism into the fabric of American society. White supremacy trumped Black liberty, as various states established laws prohibited blacks from voting, leaving the plantation without certification, owning weapons, and gathering with other blacks for more than four hours. Though these laws were installed essentially to protect the institutions for economic and political prosperity, the underlying cause for their creation in most cases were in fact due to African resistance.

Numerous black slave rebellions and insurrections took place in North America during the 17th and 18th centuries. There is documentary evidence of more than 313 uprisings or attempted uprisings of ten or more slaves. Virginia had 84 documented cases of slave insurrections, twice as many Louisiana and South Carolina. As early as 1663 black slaves in Gloucester County, Virginia conspired with white indentured servents to revolt but were betrayed by the servents. The New York Slave Revolt of 1712 was the result of enslaved Africans communicating and conspiring with other enslaved Africans and free blacks. On the night of April, 1712 the men set fire to a building and attacked the white colonists as they tried to put out the flame. Their actions left 9 whites dead and new slave codes to be created prohibiting blacks from carrying firearms andgathering in groups of more than three. The Stono Rebellion was a slave rebellion begun on Sunday, September 9, 1739, in the colony of South Carolina. The rebellion started with a group of 20 before recruiting 60 other slaves. Chanting the word "liberty" as they marched, the group burned seven plantations and killed around 20 whites before being suppressed by a South Carolina militia. The rebellion inspired future slave uprisings in South Carolina and prompted officials to enforce stricter slave codes; prohibiting assembly, movement and education of enslaved blacks. Yet, at each corner slaves defied laws denying them their liberty and continued to learn to read and assemble to plot their freedom. Inspired by the Haitian Revolution, former slave Denmark Vessey in (year) plotted with other slaves and free blacks to lead an insurrection to slay plantation owners and seize the city of Charleston before fleeing to Haiti. Arguably though the most famous revolt was Nat Turner's slave rebellion of 1831. Slaves in the rebellion killed approximately 60 whites, the highest number of fatalities caused by slave uprisings in the South. Again the natural response of the state apparatus was to further limit the liberty of blacks, both slave and free, by denying the rights to assemble or for education. However, it seems the moreso black liberty was stifled the resistance and struggle for freedom increased.

It must be also noted that rebellion often took place even before slaves took foot on foreign soil. Captured Africans often mutinied on board slave trading vessels. In 1765 Africans launched an unsuccessful revolt onboard the Connecticut vessel Hope, killing one crew member and injuring several others before being suppressed. In November of 1841 the 135 Africans onboard Creole overpowered it's crew members and changed the course of destination from New Orleans to the Bahamas where they were declared free. In 1839, Africans, led by Cinque, rebelled and killed the captain and three crewmen. They ordered the cew to sail to Africa but instead the ship was steered the ship along the coast of the US where it was seized by US authorities. In January 1841, the Supreme Court rendered its decision relating to the Amistad affair. The court ruled in favor of the slaves and the Africans were returned to Africa.

Throughout the America resistance to slavery and the plantation system took the form of runaway slave communities called maroons, quilombos or mocambos.The most famous runaway slave community of the Americas was Quilombo dos Palmares, a series of Brazilian mocambos founded in the end of the 16th century which survived up until 1694 before being crushed by Portuguese, Indian and white forces. Palmares was formed when a small group of slaves escaped from their home plantation after a rebellion . They violentetly turned on their masters before taking to the forrests with supplies and all of their worldly possessions. They ventured over the harsh terrain and settled in a valley that came to be the quilombo at Palmares. What began as a small fugitive camp quickly grew in size and complexity. Estimates place the population of Palmares in the 1690's at around 10,000 to 20,000 inhabitants. The autonomous region succesfully defended the territory while simultaneously performing raids on nearby plantaitions, freeing slaves, destroying crops and stealing supplies. When the territory was finally captured 200 Palmarista soldiers committed suicide rather than return to bondage. In an effort to demoralize and intimidate Africans, the Palmarista general Zambi was decapitated in a public execution and head put on display. But instead, quilombos continued to exist in Brazil and lore of Zambi spread, as more fugitive slaves formed settlements in Brazil. In the United States, at least 50 maroons existed between 1672 and 1864. In the late 1600s large amounts of African slaves fled the British American colonies to Spanish Florida to establish maroons. Establishing an alliance with Seminole Indians, by 1822 it was estimated the maroons of Florida had a population over 800. However, the existence of free and armed black communities was a major concern to American slaveholders. A effort to relocated the Seminole Indians(and possible re-enslavement of Blacks) led to the rebellion. The Black Seminole rebellion in Florida evolved into a maroon war that inspired the country's largest slave rebellion. Eugene Genovese claims the "most impressive slave revolts in the hemisphere proceeded in alliance with maroons or took place in periods in which maroon activity was directly undermining the slave regime or inspiring the slaves by example." Over 400 slaves rebelled on plantations and fled to join the Seminoles in their pursuit of freedom from US opression.

The Black Experience is different from other ethnic groups in America due to the fact they did not immigrate "in search of Liberty" but were transplanted by force and subsequently denied Liberty. As such, resistance towards domination occured at the very beginning of the history of Africans in America. As noted, resistance took the form of running away, the establishment of slave communities, sabotage, and "slow downs". These actions of rebellion , particularly mass flight to the North drained the Southern economy of its human property - the creator of its wealth. DuBois,argued that the massive flight of slaves from the Southern plantations during the Civil War constituted a "general strike" of workers: "This was not merely the desire to stop work," but "a strike on a wide basis against the conditions of work," which "directly involved in the end perhaps a half million people." The struggle for emancipation displayed by Blacks both enslaved and free was a leading cause to the destruction of the institution of slavery.

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