Interviews – Hannah Q&A

Questions and Answers On Support, Federation Politics and Membership

Preface

The following response is part and parcel of a dialogue that is long overdue, not just with ABCF, but also among revolutionaries generally. Too often, some sectors of the activist and anarchist movements allow themselves to operate on the basis of assumptions, gossip, claims which lack evidence, and one-sided communications. It must be emphasized that the spreading of gossip, et al., sets a dangerous precedent all anarchists and revolutionaries should combat.

On January 26, 2001, activist Jamal Hannah contacted the Anarchist Black Cross Federation (ABCF), inquiring about several issues that have been speculated about and rumored of ABCF for some time. What follows are responses to these questions.

First, thanks to Jamal Hannah for giving ABCF the opportunity to answer these questions, and for being considerate in requesting our feedback.

It must be noted that for anyone to operate under presumptions is tremendously damaging to all organizations and the movement, and gives the state and police plenty of fodder to exploit our differences, divide us and neutralize us. The anarchist movement, of which the ABCF is part, is growing more and more. The state knows this and will use every weapon at its disposal to crush it, even if that means using people to attack one another based on assumptions, splits or misinformation. This is what COINTELPRO is about.

The questions listed are presented verbatim, and no changes have been made to them.

Thank you for this opportunity to address these concerns. Please feel free to bring forward any other queries you have. Everyone who has questions about ABCF is welcome to ask and dialogue with us.

– Ernesto Aguilar
[with input from April R., Matt T., Tim F., Justin H., Neil B. and others]
On behalf of the Anarchist Black Cross Federation
2 March 2001

Questions and Answers

“1) Does ABCF uncritically support revolutionary nationalist or Maoist prisoners? I have read on the ABCF web page and also in an ad for ABCF printed in ‘Barricada’ magazine that ABCF offers “non-partisan” and “non-sectarian” support for prisoners. However, the fact remains that left-wing nationalists are fighting for the establishment of new states, in which anarchists would be suppressed, as has happened in countries like Russia, China, Viet Nam, Cuba, etc. How can such un-critical support be justified by an organization like ABCF, which uses the word “anarchist” in its name?”

There are several components to this question. They are:
a.) What prisoners does ABCF support;
b.) What is the nature of the relationship with these prisoners; and
c.) How can anarchists conduct non-sectarian support of prisoners when some prisoners do not share our ideology, or may have been involved with movements whose motivations seem to contradict the anarchist position?

ABCF conducts support for and works with people who have been imprisoned for (or, in some cases, in retaliation for) their conscious struggles against the state, the U.S. government, imperialism, colonialism and oppression, among other issues. All PP/POWs we support come from different viewpoints, but all share a class concious view towards their actions and of engaging in the “class war.” ABCF programs like the Warchest, in addition to these criteria, are based on greatest need; those prisoners who have no outside aid at all are often recipients of ABCF financial help. Whether prisoners hold particular politics is not a litmus test for ABCF’s support work, as we base support on whether people consciously struggled for freedom in defining them as Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War.

We believe in freedom for Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War held captive for their struggles against the state and for revolutionary change. ABCF does not believe that only those who share our anarchist politics should be free from the hands of our enemies, and does not make counts of what prisoners have particular ideologies. Our struggle is for liberation for all .

This position was borne of our struggles when the ABCF formed in 1995. At that time, and preceding that period, Anarchist Black Cross formations were organizing around a plethora of issues. But ABCs struggled with unity and practical application and development of our ideas. Part of what made the ABC movement in North America so scattered, as Jim Campbell of the Bulldozer collective observed at the 1994 New York City ABC conference “is not that we haven’t sufficiently refined our political lines, but that we generally haven’t developed a political praxis.” [1]

The Anarchist Black Cross Federation chose to focus on Political Prisoner and Prisoner of War support when it formed because this was an area we could all find unity around. Before, during and after that period, many anarchists united around freedom for Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War, and organized campaigns for freedom of PP/POWs like Leonard Peltier and others. We could all agree that these freedom fighters needed support. In addition, we saw that practical development of support was sorely needed. Comrades like New Afrikan anarchist and Prisoner of War Kuwasi Balagoon died in prison with little to no support from the anarchist community. New Afrikan anarchist Political Prisoner Ojore Lutalo had no regular support from anarchists prior to the ABCF developing. We agreed that struggling against situations like this was something we could be united around.

This does not mean that ABCF does not find important the addressing the struggles of all prisoners, the growing prison-industrial complex, criminalization, class struggle, prison abolition and anarchy. Many ABCF collectives have worked around such issues and supported prisoners who aren’t expressly PP/POWs. Many continue to do so. This particular issue of PP/POWs, however, was one that united us and it is the basis for ABCF.

In the past, as now, the ABCF has been involved with many principled and dynamic comrades. Many of these captives have been active combatants against colonialism, racism, oppression in all its forms and on behalf of freedom. All are revolutionaries and themselves act in solidarity with oppressed people’s struggles. All are open and interested in dialogue and struggle around political ideas and issues, and it is important we remember these are human beings who are revolutionaries with evolving ideologies and with experiences to share with young activists like many of us. They are not robots, nor simply “revolutionary nationalist or Maoist prisoners” clamoring for “uncritical” support.

ABCF makes clear in its constitution and documents that all prisoners, regardless of ideology, must make efforts to respect the ABCF’s anti-authoritarian structure and process. [2] Prisoners who work with ABCF are respectful of this request and want to dialogue around our ideas and theirs. As mentioned before, many of these prisoners are former activists themselves, and have a wealth of organizing experiences to share with us, if we’re open enough and strong enough in our own convictions to meet with them, discuss and debate ideas as fellow revolutionaries.

This has not been easy, In doing nonpartisan work among folks who have very strong political views, we face challenges every day. Politically, we must confront oppressors who seek to brand revolutionaries “criminals” and who attempt to intimidate us because of our position (Jacksonville ABC was raided by the Jacksonville SWAT team in 1996, and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) questioned several ABC activists, as well as their landlords and others, in 2000-2001 about Azikikwe Onipedo, who the FBI claims is a member of the Black Liberation Army). We also struggle with others in maintaining our politics as well as dealing with challenges from those who disagree with nonsectarian approaches. However, we believe the work we’re doing is critical. ABCF has done this work consistently, long after many other anarchist formations which claimed to do support, defense and freedom work disappeared, often without word of their whereabouts.

The above question is phrased somewhat vaguely, and thus comes with the predisposition that non-anarchists are to be regarded as enemies. If there are specific prisoners whom are being claimed to be “fighting for the establishment of new states, in which anarchists would be suppressed,” it’s appropriate to speak to those prisoners themselves as well as supporters. When raising such accusations, it is necessary to provide verifiable examples of such statements by the specific prisoners being criticized around which we can dialogue. Particularly with such serious charges, it should be clear generalization is not productive. As the question reads, it is presumed that all “left-wing nationalist” prisoners, by presumption rather actual proof, are thus advocates of a totalitarian state, which is misleading and false.

It is very much our belief that, as anarchists, we cannot conduct ourselves as vanguards or as revolutionaries who are somehow above or morally superior to other revolutionaries because they do not share our ideology. Movements for change do not solely involve thinkers of a single idea or activists who pass the litmus tests of a precious few. Life itself cannot be lived if we choose to engage ourselves only with people with whom we agree on personal laundry lists. Such narrow-minded positions presume human beings are incapable of change, struggle or growth. Many people over the years have evolved in their ideas or maintain their beliefs and evolve as we all do. All have experiences we can learn from. Revolutionaries who do not share our ideology are not automatically or potentially inflexible, anarchist-killing enemies, and such personal prejudices need to be confronted by all of us.

It should be noted, as Kuwasi Balagoon said “anarchy can’t fight alone,” and to attack, refuse to work with or support other revolutionaries who are in the crosshairs of the state because we might have differences is indefensible. As freedom fighters, many anarchists who took up arms have recognized the real enemy is the state. Ojore Lutalo’s perspective, articulated via Bonnie Kerness in an interview about the Anarchist Black Cross, is that “ABC groups should support non-anarchists interned for their revolutionary and political activities, because if it were not for some of these non-anarchist combatants, the late Kuwasi Balagoon and I would have been waged armed resistance against the fascist state alone as anarchists.” [3]

From the same interview, Ojore adds to this dialogue: “it is important for people to support PP/POWs because these sisters and brothers took the initiative prior to their internment and dared to struggle because they grew weary of oppression.” He continues: “It is my understanding that a lot of anarchists involved with the ABC and other prisoner support groups criticize the ABCF for supporting nationalists and communists, etc. I would like to seize this opportunity to rehash Kuwasi Balagoon’s struggle maxim that says ‘anarchy can’t fight alone.’ and to explain these word anarchist that there is nothiong politically or strategically incorrect about supporting and forging unity agreements, be they temporary or permanent accords, with nationalist and communist elements structured around a beginning, a middle and an end. They have fought and are still willing to fight against the government on the battlefeild unlike those anarchists of only words who who have never fought or are willing to fight now.”

It should also be acknowledged that criticism by some of PP/POW support by anarchists has become an issue that contradicts practice in other areas. Anarchists have been active in labor, environmental, anti-globalization and social justice movements for years, often alongside those with whom we might differ in tactics, ideology and goals. Seldom do anarchists retreat from these issues or treat with suspicion those anarchists who unite with non-anarchists to accomplish goals.

The support of Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War, regardless of ideology, has been a contentious one over the years. ABCF respects everyone’s right to disagree, and looks for unity whenever we can find such. One suggestion that is important to bear in mind to all those who do not agree with this position, particularly in regard in solidarity with non-anarchists: when you ask “do you uncritically support so-and-so,” is there such a thing as “critical support,” or is the question “why do you support so-and-so at all?” If there are to be disclaimers on political work, with pains taken to distance oneself from an individual prisoner’s perspectives, what is the objective value of this in terms of the relationship, or it is merely for moral purity or show? If there is such a position as “critical support” in this posit, it’s helpful to define and explain that position, put it into day-to-day practice, and make it open for discussion in the larger anarchist movement. Thus far, no one has come forward with a program of “critical support” which has been practiced for a protracted period by a group or collective.

“2) Does ABCF have members who do not actually consider themselves anarchists, but instead are revolutionary nationalists or Maoists? Do you think it makes sense to have an anarchist organization that has such people as members?”

ABCF does not establish methods to gauge the scope of members’ opinions. Most groups don’t. ABCF does have supporters from many walks of life and belief systems. Some ABCF members likely may define themselves as anti-authoritarians instead of anarchists or claim a particular stripe of anarchism. Unlike several parties, however, it has never been ABCF’s position to discriminate against members who do not fall into a neat cubbyhole.

The spirit in which many federations are founded is to unite people around given issues and to work on behalf of same. In the ABCF’s case, the issue is Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War and specifically their defense, support and freedom.

Clearly, not everyone in ABCF agrees with every ABCF member’s personal politics and some may sympathize with anti-communist concerns. However, a guilt-by-association approach is backwards. It is unfair to the rest of the activists who work hard on these issues and a disservice to their struggles to claim everyone shares the same viewpoint because a few have a particular perspective.

It must be strongly noted the ABCF does not endorse “red-baiting” tactics used by the state and provocateurs to divide us. The state and others often raise convenient definitions like “Communists,” “nationalists,” “Maoists” or “anarchists” in an attempt to discredit and isolate activists. While it is important to discuss and debate differences, we ourselves as activists need to be careful about playing the state’s game, which hinges on us refusing to work together or communicate because we have political differences.

Short answer: ABCF does not background check members, but it’s accurate to presume ABCF members’ personal beliefs don’t affect their work with the organization. It is false to claim ABCF has Maoist or revolutionary nationalist members, because no one in ABCF is a Maoist or revolutionary nationalist. Regardless, it is doubtful ABCF would engage in purges against anyone who didn’t fit our personal ideas of “correct” ideology. Commitment, principle, willingness to struggle and respect are far more valuable commodities than personal perspectives which never come into play during ABCF work anyway. We’re interested in unity, connecting with other activists and building a movement for revolutionary change and freedom.

“3) Does ABCF distribute revolutionary nationalist or Maoist literature and propaganda to prisoners and people wishing to join ABCF? If so, does this make much sense? Wouldn’t it be best for ABCF to distribute anarchist literature and propaganda first and foremost?”

Due to mailing costs, etc., ABCF collectives usually do not distribute literature of any kind to prisoners or collectives unless requested. Several claims and rumors have been made about ABCF distributing Maoist literature. None of these allegations has ever been substantiated with evidence or specific, verifiable sources.

In addition, all gossip or innuendo regarding the Anarchist Black Cross Federation and literature, including sending Mao’s Red Book with an ABCF starter kit or similar rumors, are completely false, and anyone spreading such information should be certainly questioned about their motivations.

The vast majority of ABCF-published literature does not ascribe to any particular ideology. Many tend to focus on themes of revolutionary struggle, organization and history.

Several ABCF collectives have published and distributed writings by PP/POWs. How and what literature is distributed is primarily the collective’s responsibility, however, and ABCF does not, as an organization, seek approval over what collectives choose to publish. We regard this as an autonomy issue.

Several ABCF collectives send prisoners literature they may write and ask for, often at no cost to the prisoner. Collectives receive requests from politicized prisoners for all types of literature, and the collectives do their best to get those materials to help those prisoners in educating themselves and for study. Again, how and what literature is distributed is primarily the collective’s responsibility, and is not reviewed by ABCF.

Regardless, it should be noted that ABCF is not a general literature clearinghouse and leaves the larger distribution of literature to wonderful community resources such as AK Press.

“4) Does ABCF consider itself anarchist at all? Or is it simply an organization using the name anarchist and the prestige that comes with being identified as anarchist and associated with anarchist history? (Along with using an anarchist-like federated structure.)”

It should first be noted that many ABCF members and supporters do not unite with the organization merely because of the “prestige” of its name or politics or anarchist history. ABCF has been successful for six years because it puts anarchist principles to practice. This is often what draws people to the organization.

That said, ABCF is a federation organized around the support, defense and freedom of Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War. The federation is not an organization created specifically to simply promote the philosophy of anarchy, but to accomplish the goals we came together around, in a manner consistent with anarchist principles. Historically, the Anarchist Black Cross movement itself has worked on prisoner issues primarily, and what ABCF does is not new. We feel that, by acting on our principles rather than merely promoting them, our ideas are best represented.

It should not be construed that ABCF activists feel promoting anarchy is unimportant. Many of us are active in collectives and do this type of work as well.

ABCF has always considered itself a federation built on the concepts of anti-authoritarianism, mutual aid, autonomy, solidarity and struggle. ABCF has developed anarchist/anti-authoritarian programs, methods and structures which work, and allows people from across the country to work with one another and get things done in a democratic and anti-authoritarian manner. ABCF process has been working for six years and continues to work and improve — tasks that for the most part, groups who appear more anarchist than we have failed dismally to accomplish.

ABCF collectives are autonomous and work within an anti-authoritarian structure. Collectives voluntarily join the federation, and decisionmaking is collective.

ABCF believes strongly in solidarity, as well as showing the strength of our convictions and anarchist position by working in a principled manner with fellow anarchists and other revolutionaries.

It should be reiterated that, contrary to several claims, ABCF is not a Maoist group; does not endorse Maoism; does not define itself as “Anarchist Maoist”; does not support the Shining Path/Sendero Luminoso; and does not present its organizational process as Maoist in nature.

On the flip side of the coin, it must also be noted that ABCF is an anarchist federation and not an organization “using” the anarchist label, or any similar derivative. Any such claims are false.

“5) Does ABCF support revolutionary nationalist prisoners primarily? If so, wouldn’t it make more sense to support anarchist prisoners like Rob Los Ricos (I believe he’s in prison in Oregon) or Nikos Maziotis (in prison in Greece). Shouldn’t ABCF offer some criticism of the positions of revolutionary nationalist prisoners, at the least, indicating that as an anarchist organization the ABCF does not support the establishment of states or any other authoritarian, hierarchical entities?”

The Anarchist Black Cross Federation supports Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War. We do not base support on philosophies, nor do we tally philosophies of PP/POWs.

Citing disagreements with the organization, Robert Thaxton (known to some by his pseudonym, Rob Los Ricos) stated, as of January 30, 2001, he did not want contact with ABCF. [4] Several attempts to dialogue and find unity with Thaxton have been made, and all have been rejected.

ABCF has not been in contact with Greek anarchist Nikos Maziotis, although certainly there is interest in his case. Many ABC collectives work on a variety of cases specific to their regions, and not all are anarchist. ABCF member collectives are currently all in the United States and Canada, and there has been more focus on Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War in North America. This should not be construed as disinterest in Nikos Maziotis’ case.

The ABCF has and does, however, dialogue with several anti-authoritarian prisoners, and created the Anarchist Subsistence Program as a means to offer support to anarchist Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War. After communicating with several such prisoners, ABCF determined Ojore Lutalo, an anarchist locked up in Trenton, New Jersey, to be in greatest need. The Anarchist Subsistence Program has sent Ojore over $2,000 since 1997, and we welcome you to find another program that serves this same function for anarchists, and has done so reliably and to this day. Anyone interested in supporting this program is welcome to get in touch.

It should be noted that ABCF has worked to publicize, raise funds for and support international anarchist PPs and prisoners like Mark Barnsley [see ABCF page in Onward # 2], Michal Petera [see ABCF Update #23, #24, #25, #26], anarchist PPs in Italy [see ABCF Update # 17] and a fellow ABC member in Spain who is in prison [see ABCF page in Onward #4]. We are also continuing to keep with anarchist prisoners abroad by sending them copies of the Update and other material. It might also be good to question, after all of this, what other existing U.S. prison support or anarchist group has collectively raised more funds or consistently raised more awareness than the ABCF. ABCF does focus on U.S. PP/POWs, but please be aware of all of the other work we do to support U.S. prisoners and international anarchist [and other] PP/POWs. Claims we don’t support other prisoners, struggles or international work are false. The record given here is merely an incomplete bigger picture a few people sadly fail to recognize.

It should not be presumed that ABCF has not offered “some criticism of the positions” of any prisoner or dialogued with prisoners about our positions and their own. Many ABCF collectives do, in fact, dialogue with PP/POWs on a spectrum of issues. Often, these collectives choose to not make such critiques for public consumption or spectacle. Each has its own reason for keeping such discussions internal, and ABCF respects the autonomy of its collectives in doing such.

For the record, many in ABCF do run into impasses, and we do have occasional disagreements with our comrades, jailed as well as on the outside. We don’t always agree (politically or otherwise) with a prisoner, and many don’t always agree (politically or otherwise) with us. This is part of what a movement is about. However, that does not detract from the importance of this work and, more than anything, our solidarity and class consciousness in coming together and demanding freedom for Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War.

It should be noted that ABCF, as an organization, does not advocate the establishment of states or “authoritarian, hierarchical entities.”

Again, we encourage dialogue around these issues, and welcome further discussion.

Footnotes:
[1] “ABC Conference” by Jim Campbell, http://www.spunk.org/texts/groups/abc/sp000596.html
[2] ABCF Constitution
[3] New Afrikan Anarchist Ojore N. Lutalo: Thoughts on the Anarchist Black Cross pamphlet, available from Wpg for two dollars, with all proceeds going to Ojore. Send funds to Winnipeg ABC-BG, Box 64028 RPO Morse Pl., Winnipeg, MB Canada, R2K 4K2.
[4] Letter from Robert Thaxton to Ernesto Aguilar, January 30, 2001.

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