White Workers Resisting Capitalism and White Supremacy: An Interview with RedNeck RevoltDevon Douglas-Bowers I Social Movement Studies I Interview I July 28th, 2016
Below is the transcript of an interview I had with the admin of the Facebook page RedNeck Revolt, where we discuss the history of the page/organization, white working-class resistance to capitalism, and how the white working class is being manipulated by Trump.
So, what exactly led you to create Red Neck Revolt?
Redneck Revolt came out of the original work of the John Brown Gun Club, a working group of the Kansas Mutual Aid Collective based out of Lawrence, Kansas from 2002-2008. The John Brown Gun Club focused on attempting to simultaneously grow a militant and armed culture within already existing liberatory and revolutionary movements, and attempting to stem the tide of right wing reactionary recruitment within white working class communities. Our work had two main focuses then: providing armed community and tactical defense trainings to build the capacity of our movements and demystify the firearm, and to be present at social and economic gatherings of white working people where groups like the Klan, Minutemen, and white reactionary militias recruited. Over the course of several years, we trained hundreds of members of social movement organizations from across the country, as well as attended dozens of gun shows and similar events to head off racist recruitment.
When Kansas Mutual Aid ended its work in 2008, the John Brown Gun Club went with it. In early 2009, Redneck Revolt was founded in Colorado, and enjoyed a limited life within local gun shows as well as being present at Tea Party rallies in the Denver area. Redneck Revolt started to focus less on armed defense within already existing social movement organizations, and to refocus on the other goal of the John Brown Gun Club: to engage in anti-racist movement building within the white working class.
Redneck Revolt went on hiatus in late 2009. A decision was made to dust off the concept and the project in June of 2016, as the rise of street level fascism and reactionary ideology has swept across the United States in response to the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. Several of us felt that it was far past time for this project to be active again. We feel that the specific analysis offered by Redneck Revolt is essential at this historical moment as part of a multi-faceted strategy for combating this rise in reactionary politics.
Do any of you have a particular political ideology? If so, what led you to it? If not, why?
Overwhelmingly, our members are anti-capitalist libertarians, or anarchists. Our politics are colored by primarily coming from working class communities and seeing the failures of capitalism and the nation-state project that protects it. We come out of communities already deeply seething with distrust for politicians, bosses, rich people, and law enforcement.
This class background and a focus on class within our organizing also makes us markedly different than groups like SURJ (Standing Up For Racial Justice) in that we are organizing around the impact that white supremacy has had on the white working class, and not just our roles in replicating and perpetuating white supremacy.
What we see is that historically, the white working class continues to align themselves as the foot soldiers of capitalism by adhering to a politics of white supremacy. We end up becoming the enforcers of the rule and will of the capitalist and political classes. Our goal is to push the understanding that this doesn't just harm, threaten, and destroy communities of color, but also ends up ensuring that working class whites accumulate little to no economic or political power as well. White supremacy is a tool used against us, even as we end up being the people wielding it against people who are not white.
We don't believe in a politics built upon white guilt, white savior paternalism, or merely being proper or good allies to other people's struggle. We see our struggle as enmeshed within the struggle of working class communities of color. We understand that we have a stake in seeing white supremacy abolished and capitalism and the nation-state project also dismantled and replaced with a truly liberatory, social, economic, and political project.
Talk about white resistance to capitalism. It isn't something we really learn about, beyond some minor discussions in school about the US labor movement.
White working people have been resisting capitalism since its inception. Just as white poor and working people resisted Feudalism and all other forms of economic and political subservience. Whenever a system of domination has been cemented into dominant culture, there has been resistance to it. From the Luddites in Europe, to the Paris Commune, to the revolutions that waged across Spain and Russia, to the massive labor movements here in the United States, there has been resistance to capitalism.
However, the times that this resistance has been truly potent in North America, is when white workers also see a joint struggle with communities of color and start to build movements across race, gender, religion, etc.. to create a truly revolutionary working class movement. We can see historical moments like that embodied in struggles like the Redneck War/Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia in 1921, when thousands of white workers, alongside black and Italian migrant miners, created an armed insurrection against the mining bosses and fought for nine days in open warfare. The U.S. Army was brought in to quell the worker insurrection. Ultimately, the strike was defeated by overwhelming force, but the lessons remain: the gravest threat to capitalism is when white working people see that they have mutual interests with working people of color. When white workers stop being the foot soldiers of repression and oppression and instead fight for liberation of all people, the capitalist class is in real trouble.
How did Socialists and Communists in the 19th and 20th centuries attempt to bridge the racial gap between all workers?
While not necessarily a Communist or Socialist, we can't really talk about attempts to "bridge the racial gap between all workers" in the 19th century without talking about John Brown and the somewhat limited legacy of white militant resistance to chattel slavery in the early to mid 1800's. While John Brown was not the only militant white to aid in the struggle against slavery, he was perhaps the most effective and has become the symbol of white resistance to white supremacy.
Brown believed that whites had to put their lives on the line and wage a revolutionary war against slavery and servitude. And he did just that. He helped wage an intense war in Kansas and Missouri for the abolition of slavery, and then eventually led a small armed band to seize and briefly hold the Federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry (in what was then Virginia, but now West Virginia). Brown and nearly all of his co-combatants paid the ultimate price for their attempted insurrection. But Harper's Ferry became a pivotal moment that propelled the country toward what would be the Civil War.
Socialist, communist, and anarchist organizing in the late 19th century and early 20th century had a unique presence in recent migrant communities, mobilizing poor and working class migrant labor for strikes and other workplace action. Liberatory organizers pushed for the desegregation of trade unions, as well as building inclusive unions like the Industrial Workers of the World, that focused on organizing all workers, regardless of race, religion, language, or gender.
Later in the 20th century, one of the most important political formations of recent history was created, when the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Chicago allied itself with formations from a variety of national-liberation and working class struggles and created the Rainbow Coalition (not to be confused with the reactionary formation of the same name started by Reverend Jesse Jackson). The Rainbow Coalition was a street level working class formation that brought together groups like the Young Lords, the American Indian Movement, Brown Berets, I Wor Kuen, and Young Patriots (among other organizations) to form a cross race movement against capitalism.
This single act by Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party perhaps represents one of the most potent and dangerous efforts of the BPP, bringing together, black, brown, white, and Asian working class youth into a street level movement that could threaten the very foundations of white supremacy and capitalism in the United States. Ultimately, Fred Hampton would be assassinated for his efforts at building the Rainbow Coalition among other successes of his organizing in Chicago.
Would you say that there is currently a racial gap between workers, given the tensions surrounding immigration?
Definitely. Migration has always been among the factors that splits the working class in the United States and internationally. It was this conflict between migrant workers and "nativist" workers in the late 19th century and early 20th century that made it difficult at many junctures for the efforts of organized labor to be more effective. This was one of the main reasons why the Battle of Blair Mountain was such a potent threat. Members of the United Mine Workers had started to work directly with and encourage union membership of not only black workers, but also migrant workers, primarily Italians, who had been shipped into the region to destabilize worker cohesion and union organizing.
Migrants and people of color become easy scapegoats for the failures of capitalism. As long as you can blame some outsider for the problems you and your community are facing, you don't look at the real enemy: the primarily white rich class profiting off everyone else's misery and exploitation.
Would you say that due to this economic climate of joblessness, free trade deals, and outsourced labor, it is easier to espouse an anti-capitalist ideology? That people are more receptive to it?
We are at a historical moment where many people from a broad spectrum of the working class are truly questioning capitalism. However, being anti-capitalist is not enough. In fact, being anti-capitalist but also reactionary can be genocidal. As Fascism is also inherently an anti-capitalist ideology, we have to understand that at this historical moment, when many are suffering under capitalism, and looking for better ways to live, that the working class, and particularly the white working class, is much more susceptible to reactionary and fascistic ideologies and influences. It is precisely because capitalism is a failure for nearly all people, including the white working class, that white supremacy has a foothold in the first place.
We, as people who want a liberatory world, must be very committed at this historical moment to working within the white working class to help change the trajectory away from reactionary and white supremacist politics. We have to not only speak from some moral platitude about how white supremacy is "wrong". We have to speak to the physical conditions of working class communities. We have to be able to show white working people that their misery is not caused by black, brown, or migrant working people. We have to be able to help point them at the actual enemy: the rich, mostly white people profiting at our communities' expense.
People are becoming more desperate as capitalism continues to unravel. Will we just let them become the shock troops of a new version of white supremacy? Or will we be there to show an alternative?
Given the recent events in Dallas, what do you think are going to be the short-term effects? We are already seeing stories being spread such as there being a plot to kill Baton Rouge cops.
Obviously the game has changed somewhat, especially for those of us who espouse armed defense as a viable tactic within our toolbox. However, something important and remarkable happened after the Dallas and Baton Rouge shootings that didn't happen after the assassination of police officers in New York City in 2014: the street movement intensified. After the attacks in New York City, the movement recoiled and allowed some relative social peace to return. The opposite was true after the incidents in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Being in the streets in the immediate aftermath, nearly no one was talking about Dallas or the police being shot. It was nearly impossible for the energy to be redirected or recuperated by the political class.
However, one immediate outcome that we must respond to is the increased response by right wing paramilitary formations to street level demonstrations by organizations like Black Lives Matter. In Phoenix, Oregon, Missouri, and other locales, there were immediately reports of demonstrations having sizeable armed reactionary elements standing against them. We have to prepare for the armed right wing to have a renewed and sizable response to our demonstrations and protests.
This is definitely the wrong time to be talking about disarming our own social movements.
What do you make of the fact, as was noted in the article This Was All Inevitable, that "the same right-wing reactionaries who call on people to arm themselves against their despotic government will rush to the defense of law and order and the state, and the police who serve these ends?"
The white working class has steadily been pushed to have more allegiance to those who protect what they assume are white interests, even if in doing so, these same white working folks contradict their supposedly deeply held stances on the state. The reactionary elements of the white working class tend to be anti-state until the topics of border patrol or law and order are discussed. It's precisely because these white working people have been fooled into thinking their interests are determined by their race, or the relative privileges they receive because they are white or "legally" in this country. However, for most of these people, this choice isn't as intentionally calculated as it may seem from the outside.
How is the white working class getting played by Trump? Do you think that the situation will worsen when Trump isn't elected?
The white working class gets played by all sides; we should be clear on that. When it comes to institutional organizations and political parties, we get played by the right wing, and we definitely get played by the left wing. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have the interests of any members of the working class at heart.
But Trump is speaking a language that the white working class understands and can relate to, even using some language from more liberatory elements of the left when discussing economics and conditions within working class communities. He stands against Free Trade, for example, a hallmark of globalized capitalism. He talks about bringing jobs back to the United States. And then he mixes in attacks on migrants and other xenophobic remarks that speak to the fear in the white community. He plays off the fear and misery that white working people feel. He speaks in clear and easy to understand soundbites. Although he is a billionaire, he has convinced millions that he speaks for them and their conditions.
The problem is that for decades now, those of us on the liberatory left have abandoned the white working class to the right wing. We don't enter those communities to do the hard work of organizing. We have relegated white working people to be backwards and inherently racist. While groups like SURJ and other "anti-racist" white groups use the same language of white supremacy to dictate that white people all experience the same privileges and power within our society, regardless of class or real economic or political power, upper class liberals have consistently positioned themselves as being superior or better to working class whites, especially from rural areas. We have all created a situation where working class whites have been alienated and pushed toward the right wing, where reactionaries stand with open arms to welcome white working people into the fold.
This is not to say that the white working class has not historically earned some of this venom and derision. After all, the white working class has overwhelmingly found itself on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the struggle of other working class people. But that said, how have the efforts of those on the Left helped cement that relationship? How has the Left been complicit, especially in the last twenty years, to handing the white working class on a platter over to the racist right wing?
Whether Trump wins or loses, the terrain is dangerous and deadly at this current moment. Which brings us back to one of the other main focuses of our former work with the John Brown Gun Club that we want to revisit and revive. We need real formulated responses for the upsurge in reactionary and racist violence. We need armed community defense programs in every community. We need to be ready to rapidly respond to the armed right wing threat that menaces our communities. We need to stop being reactionaries when it comes to the topic of armed defense. We are approaching truly dangerous times. Will we be ready?
In what ways can white people support Black Lives Matter?
Again, it's important to conceptualize struggle in a way that does away with moral platitudes and calls for white people to feel guilt for their situations. It's nearly impossible to get most white working people to admit they have some relative privilege in society and that racism does in fact exist, when they are struggling to make ends meet and not get evicted from their decaying home. So, we must first understand that until we start to build movements in a way where white working class people also see that their interests are tied in ending white supremacy, white working class folks will consistently be found on the wrong side of social struggles including Black Lives Matter.
It is up to us then, as whites, to organize within white working class communities, speaking to the conditions on the ground, and building off the rich history and culture of white working people standing in solidarity with poor and working people of color to challenge capitalist, state, and white supremacist power. Putting out ally checklists and having endless workshops on white privilege will never cut it, and has helped maintain the situation we find ourselves in. We need people on the ground. At the gun shows, at the NASCAR races, at the swap meets and flea markets... We need people in the white working class communities speaking their language and bringing them over to the a liberatory political orientation. We need to be able to relate the conditions that white working people face to the conditions on the ground in communities of color.
We have to abandon paternalistic ally politics that speak of white working class people through the same language of white supremacy. White working people do not have more in common with white rich people merely because we are all white. We have more in common with working class people from all races and religions. Until we as anti-racist white working people put in the work to shed light on that reality to others from our community, then we are failing.
Black Lives Matter and communities of color don't need more feel good white allies. They need white accomplices who are preventing other whites from being the footsoldiers of genocide and colonial capitalism and bringing those whites over to our side. The real question is whether other white people are up to that task. Because we have a lot of work to do, and the current efforts of the vast majority of "anti-racist" whites are more counter productive than anything else at creating this reality.
How can people keep up with RedNeck Revolt?