For Working Class Self-Defense
The Tubman-Brown Organization emerged from several contexts. Many of us were deeply inspired by the Ferguson rebellion of 2014 and the Baltimore rebellion of 2015, both rebellions in direct response to police violence. For us, these events provided tangible openings for a mass revolutionary alternative to the capitalist social order in the United States.
More recently, there’s been an upsurge of far-right populism since the 2016 election of Donald Trump, mirroring global developments. In this moment, we want to do everything in our power to counter the drift towards far-right politics, while at the same time proliferating revolutionary left politics.
Right-wing populism is an ideology that pits an imaginary, homogenous, “sovereign people,” against an elite that is perceived to be compromising with a dangerous “other”—immigrants, Arabs, Muslims, black people, LGBTQ people, etc. This “other” is seen as depriving the “sovereign people” of their prosperity. Emboldened by Trump’s presidential victory and his reactionary policies, extreme-right populism has grown throughout the nation, including in Philadelphia.
The election of a right-wing populist to the most powerful political office in the world is the culmination of several interrelated, long-term processes. As capitalism spread throughout the world in search of cheaper labor and unregulated markets, this led to the deterioration of wage-labor and the rise of unemployment and poverty in the most developed countries. At the same time, as U.S. capital expanded into other countries like Mexico and China, disrupting their local economies, this, in turn, spurred the global movement of labor. In the US, the proportion of foreign-born residents grew from 4.7% in 1970, to 13.7% in 2015. This trend is comparable to the high levels of immigration in the early 20th century (14.7% in 1910 and 13.2% in 1920) when another form of far-right populism, known as white nativism, helped bring about the largest Klan membership in history and the racist Immigration Act of 1924.
Today, right-wing populism represents a conservative reaction to the effects of capitalist globalization which have been unfolding for over four decades. As the Democratic Party and the established left tremble before this new stage of capitalism (known as neo-liberalism), right-wing populism continues to entrench itself within sections of the working class, promoting xenophobia, misogyny, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry, under the guise of political radicalism. The only way to defend ourselves in this situation is to develop revolutionary left politics and strategies based on the revolutionary desires and realities of our class, which contains a multitude of people and experiences.
Trump personifies the vanity and depravity of elite capitalist culture in a way that many different sections of the working class can unite against. Millions of people have responded to Trump and his supporters with protests, street-battles, riots, and strikes. These forms of working-class self-defense are much needed in this moment. But the capitalist system that Trump so brazenly represents, continues as strong as ever.
The working class is still under attack, from all sides. Police, white nationalists, homophobes, and sexists continue to wage an undeclared war against the most marginalized sections of the working class. The inherent crises and tensions of capitalism also continue to deepen. The days of mass industrial employment and the political structures made possible by that stage of capitalism are long gone. As the economy and the social-welfare state (public education, public healthcare, government assistance, etc.) continue to decline, the punitive-state (police, prisons, the military, etc.) continues to strengthen its position as the primary enforcer of capitalist social relations.
The contradictions building up within the U.S. economy and political structure cannot hold forever. The specter of another Civil War haunts American society.
For Practice and Theory
We believe that it is imperative that we organize ourselves and other working class people for self-defense of the working class as a whole.
On a practical level, this means training ourselves in the use of firearms and hand-to-hand combat. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we want to start a war. We understand that revolutionary struggles emerge in response to the development of specific historical and social contradictions, not because of the isolated actions of a small group of militants. Instead, we want to better adapt ourselves to an increasingly polarizing and radicalizing political landscape. Our focus on self-defense is thus a strategic focus.
As it stands, the radical right exercises the greatest influence on working-class gun culture in the U.S. They also sometimes overshadow us in their capacity for street fighting. If another Civil War brakes out, it is likely that our forces will be quickly defeated, not just in terms of firepower and tactical strength, but more importantly, in terms of political vision, strategy, and popular support.
Ultimately, our strength must be derived from our vision, strategy, and mass base, not our weapons. Working class self-defense is not just about learning how to fight and physically defend ourselves; it is also educating ourselves about revolutionary theory and history, and studying the class composition of Philadelphia and its various regions. This is needed in order to refine our strategy and tactics, to reflect on the contradictions of contemporary working-class life, and to build a base of mass support.
All too often, revolutionary theory is seen as the domain of college-educated elites; however, this view implicitly assumes that oppressed people are too dumb for theory, and ignores the rich theory we have continually produced over the centuries in our struggles for freedom. There’s a reason why the Black Panthers studied Marx and why slaves risked their lives in order to learn how to read and write: revolutionary theory is a vital weapon in the struggle for liberation. It can be used to grasp everyday experiences, to evaluate organizational practices, to study the realities of our time, and to develop the best strategy possible for gaining our freedom.
For Multi-racial, Multi-gender, Class Struggle
While building the capacity to defend our class interests in the present, our long-term goal is to contribute to the development of a mass movement towards a free society. A social movement of this scope would have to encompass the many subjectivities of the proletariat. For this reason, we support the autonomy and self-determination of women, black people, LGBTQ people, people of color, and other oppressed people, because we recognize the universal revolutionary class interests embedded within the struggles of these particular groups. In other words, we recognize that the struggles against gender and race oppression are central components of the class struggle. For these reasons, we believe that a multi-racial, multi-gender, working class organization is possible and necessary, although we are fully aware of the challenges involved.
Breaking down the internal divisions within the working class is one of the most important things we can do as revolutionaries. A working-class organization should function as a node within a vast network, where the different sectors of the working class come together to develop their practical and theoretical skills, to learn how to struggle together against their common enemies. This is the only way that working class people can emancipate themselves in the long run: through the development of a revolutionary spiritedness amongst everyone in their class. It won’t be easy, but with the right tools, the right people, and the right analysis, we can organize ourselves to challenge the power of capitalist society and anticipate a new one.
Of course, we know that oppression cannot be abolished at will. Revolutions require the growth of mass movements over protracted periods of time. These movements must involve the participation of thousands of people to succeed.
There is nothing we can do to instantly create a revolutionary situation, however, there are many things we can do to prepare ourselves for one and to accelerate the process of its development. We can build the capacity for working class self-defense and survival, we can study the present moment, and we can learn from the past. We can also participate in mass movements and struggles against the forces and institutions that perpetuate the divisions within society—like the police, the prisons, the far right, and the capitalists. Along this path, the Philadelphia proletariat can begin to develop the tactics, strategies, and politics that will be needed in the battles that are coming.