[This interview was conducted for and originally published at People of Color Organize.]
Debated by many on the radical left for its political stand, the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement and groups like it simultaneously create conversations about accountability, privilege, strategy, solidarity and race in the United States, as well as globally.
RAIM is buoyed by a provocative ideology which maintains in essence that First World life relies on the oppression of people in the Third World, and that a revolution will mean those in the First World will ultimately receive less than they have now. To such notions there are many challengers. In addition, RAIM’s confrontational activism — a Columbus Day protest featured signs such as “Kick Cracker Bum$ Off Stolen Indian Lands” and “No Amnesty for Pilgrims or Their Anchor Babies” – often goes where even most on the radical left won’t go. Some characterize such organizing as misunderstanding America’s poor, attacking whites or dismissing U.S. labor history. Others claim such political positions are nihilist and simplistic. The discussion is interesting enough to go right to a source on the issues.
Nick Brown of RAIM talked with People Of Color Organize! about RAIM and its politics. During the interview, common criticisms and political strategy were raised. We also discussed race in North America and organizing by communities of color, among other matters.
POCO: The Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement gained national media attention for its spirited protests again the Tea Party rallies and against Columbus Day. What is RAIM and what is the story of its political evolution?
NB: First off, let me say that it’s obvious there is no active revolutionary movement per se in Amerika and the First World, and this is largely due to imperialism’s ability to maintain for its citizens a lifestyle vastly above the rest of the world. Any genuine internationalist revolution will be based on the people of the poorest 80 percent of humanity, the vast majority of which live in the Third World. Any global egalitarian redistribution of wealth and power will result in a lowering of such for First Worlders, and thus be against their class interests.
With that in mind, the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement is a network of individuals and cells, mostly in Occupied North America, who, in betrayal of their own class background, organize as agents of this larger, international, revolutionary movement.
RAIM’s first cell officially came together in 2007 in Denver, Colorado, bringing together supporters of national liberation, Maoists, particularly precursors of the Maoist-Third Worldist movement, and younger activists, myself and others included. Around that time the Maoist Internationalist Movement, then a leading Maoist organization in the First World with whom we shared a similar analysis of the First World labor aristocracy, was degenerating, and RAIM inadvertently stepped in to fill a void that was forming.
Early on, we did a lot of work within and responding to the anti-war movement. We gained an early notoriety with short pamphlets such as “Fuck the Troops.” We did study groups, informal discussion and a lot of projects for upcoming protests. Since then we’ve also been involved in work against white supremacy and the Minutemen, Zionism, police brutality and in solidarity with imprisoned migrants. We’re known for calling things as the are, for being very inciteful and controversial, and we think that’s a good thing.
More importantly, we gained a sharper degree of political clarity and professionalism. This has been due to the nearly four years of steady practice, as well as informal and formal study and individual determination. The number of books I’ve read over the last four years is mind-blowing. Additionally, we’ve built a lot of skills in areas which we’ve applied ourselves too, such as writing and magazine production, and other oddball things such as silkscreening t-shirts.
More recently, we’ve grown as a larger network, with individual activists and cells in Seattle, Toronto and around Occupied North America. We’ve received many expressions of affinity from elsewhere, such as Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
You have a particularly insightful analysis on class in relationship to the emergence of the Tea Party movement. Would you share that?
We’ve pointed out how “middle” and “working”-class whites have rallied around the reactionary Tea Party, as opposed to any number of pre-existing or new First Worldist “leftist” organizations to highlight the fact that whites are themselves a bed of reaction.
Some activists argue the Tea Party is going to usher in fascism in the United States, just as the left alleged about the Religious Right in the 1980s. How do you respond to that?
There is a certain amount of chauvinism to this argument. It’s an argument from the First Worldist ‘left’ which sees the nature of fascism through it own narrow field of vision. What is a country founded on genocide, annexation and slavery other than a nation founded on fascism of a type? Amerika is fascist today. If you’re a peasant or nomad in any number of countries where the U.S. is waging or supporting bourgeois aggression.
For the First Worldist ‘left,’ there is always a predicted major event around the corner that seems to inform and justify their work. We’ve tried to avoid that at RAIM, while nonetheless pointing out the larger class dynamics at play.
Some, including RAIM, have noted the white supremacist streak running through the Tea Party. Overall though, the U.S. seems satisfied to base itself on a lopsided multi-national coalition of support from within. It’s unlikely that this national collaborationism, like class collaborationism, prevalent in the U.S., will drastically break down: what the First Worldist “left” would describe as fascism.
Would you describe the political ideology that inspires RAIM’s actions? What is Maoism-Third Worldism?
Speaking for myself, I see the world as a casual nexus of social and economic interactions. Nothing is disconnected. Wealth on one hand is causative of poverty and environmental destruction on the other. Privilege is connected to oppression. This is global. Any political ideology that looks at things in a disconnected way, especially if it’s being expressed in English, is one of chauvinism. Most of the so-called First World “left” has a political ideology that spans only the First World or their respective country. This isn’t true with RAIM. Our worldview doesn’t end at the Rio Grande, the U.S.’s militarily imposed and enforced border.
Specifically, RAIM is about a collectivist future of global equality and mutuality. The First World, if we have our way, will submit the an ethical global moral standard.
Maoism-Third Worldism is a synthesis of the lessons of 20th century revolution. It’s an ideology of global class struggle against imperialism, its agents and ideology. It incorporates Marxism-Leninism, Chinese Maoism (including the ideas embodied by the Cultural Revolution left), and a modern, global, class analysis. Maoism-Third Worldism is mainly associated with the Leading Light Communist Organization and its journal, Monkey Smashes Heaven. The Leading Light Communist Organization sees its principle task as spreading Maoism-Third Worldism to the Third World as a precursor to the independent organizing of various people’s war and a united front against imperialism.
How does LLCO and RAIM compare to other First World groups whose ideas some politically associate as communist?
Maoism-Third Worldists, and members of RAIM for that matter, are not interested in organizing First Worlders under the banner of their own material self-interest.
I don’t know how more unequivocal about this I can be. We organize for anti-imperialism, but not in a way that pretends Amerikans in general have some overriding immediate material interest in this cause. If an Amerikan wants more things, they should go to school and conform. If they want to really change the world in a way that dissolves the negative impacts of their class and in a way that tackles oppression generally, they should work with RAIM or hook up with the LLCO.
In our internal discourse, we tend to lump all First Worldists together. For us, there isn’t much difference between ‘communist’ First Worldists, ‘anarchist’ First Worldists and nondescript First Worldists. Their differences are pretty minimal and usually come down to organizational questions, in my experience. RAIM and LLCO are on a different plane. Even when we are doing work in Denver or wherever in the First World, we are not chauvinists and opportunistic about it. Both RAIM and LLCO have strategic confidence in the world’s majority in the Third World.
Can you explain more about First Worldism. What is it and why does RAIM criticize it.
My opinion is that First Worldism, which I loosely define as First World chauvinism and/or worship under ‘leftist’ pretenses, is an ideological poison in the Third World, one that misrepresents to the proletariat the scope of class struggle. The danger of fake, First Worldist “communism” is not that it is holding back revolution in the First World — which is due to material conditions associated with parasitism — but that it’s holding it back in the Third. You have a small, affluent minority of First Worldists overrepresented and privileged in international ‘social justice movements,’ who are effectively derailing real strategies for liberation with their First Worldist obscurations of global class.
First Worldism has long-term consequences for Third World revolutionary movements. Basically, if you mistakenly think that the First World masses are exploited, and if you are a Russian, Chinese, Cuban or Venezuelan proletarian part of a nation-wide program to blaze a new path away from exploitation and oppression, it’s going to be pretty discouraging over the long run when supposedly ‘exploited’ First Worlders have an obviously much higher standard of living than you. The response is degeneration: ‘Hey, being liberated and trying to build a new world isn’t working. Let’s try Amerikan-style capitalism, since supposedly ‘exploited’ workers there have it way better than we do.’ People have to understand that First Worlders themselves, in the main, are part of the exploiting classes: that their affluence and lifestyle is directly tied to exploitation of the Third World and a possible future ecological collapse, and that the revolutionary struggle is one to value people, relationships and things in a very different way than currently under capitalist-imperialism. Rejecting First Worldist ideologies goes hand and hand with anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist struggles.
The conception of the Third World of a great many people in the United States is that the Third World simply does not have adequate resources, inadequate controls on corruption and financial backing to break the cycle of poverty. How does that sort of positioning privilege power, and push those in the Third World into comprador roles and the like?
I would ask why it is the Third World does not have “adequate resources, inadequate controls on corruption and financial backing to break the cycle of poverty,” other than imperialism. Technology, like wealth, is intimately connected with exploitation. Saying the Third World is poor because it does not have technological, capital and political ‘resources’ is tantamount to saying the Third World ‘is poor because it’s poor.’ It under-reflects the role of power and exploitation in maintaining technological, capital and even military disparities. It shifts the blame on the victim. In reality, the Third World has plenty of resources, so much that every First Worlder benefits from it. The First World has set about doing everything it can, from psyops campaigns, propaganda, assassinations, coups, targeted bombing, dirty weapons and invasions, to keep the Third World under its boot and extend its control to every possible facet of life.
These Third World compradors, managers of empire in given countries and locales, have very little real support in their own countries. Instead, they derive their support mostly from the imperialist bourgeoise and by extension the First World masses. It’s not the Indian people who think the Indian state is legitimate. It’s the overall Western-led political system and its masses of citizen-lackeys.
Part of the discussion needs to include the fact that life will not be rosy during class struggle. The goal is not to make it so everyone in the world can live like little consumeristic Amerikans. That’s a lie pushed by both the First Worldist “left” and imperialism. It’s about providing for the basic material and social needs and allowing for additional liberties for the proletariat. For the some within the First World left, not having a new cell phone every year or two, closets full of fresh, clean clothes and access to private vehicles must seem like real poverty. But for most people around the world, these things are terminally out of reach, specifically because of exploitation.
In Settlers, J. Sakai explores the history of First World White workers in betraying the interests of oppressed and colonized people in North America and elsewhere. Sakai was widely criticized as “writing off” White workers. How does How Maoism-Third Worldism see an issue like this?
Were Marx and Engels guilty of “writing off” the bourgeoisie in The Communist Manifesto? Of course! Because by the 1840 the bourgeoisie had ceased to be revolutionary agents in Europe.
Maoism-Third Worldism has set about looking at modern social configurations relative to the revolutionary struggle. In this regard, Maoist-Third Worldists follows Mao, who expounded on the importance of uniting real friends of the revolution against real enemies of the revolution. Actually, the first words of Selected Readings from the Works of Mao are, “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?”
I know that some First Worldist, nominal “Maoists” get teary-eyed at the thought of disregarding and denigrating their beloved First World or white “proletariat,” but RAIM and the LLCO movement don’t have time for sentimentality. We need to know how social classes actually line up, in order to inform a correct practice. If the First World had some amount of a proletariat capable of standing on its own, one would think the various First Worldists would have something to show for it. But they don’t. Instead of complaining about how Sakai, RAIM or the LLCO ‘writes off’ this or that group, First Worldists should account for their own inability to gain traction with virtually any segment of First World society outside of small academic and activist circles. Sakai, RAIM and LLCO all contribute to an analysis which explains why things happen like they do; we’re not to be blame for the facts, especially when we’re talking about a historical analysis.
Some people have called RAIM and the Leading Light Communist Movement anti-white. Is there more to it? How do these movements approach ideas of race?
It’s about how power operates and the history of such. Amerika began as a settler-empire: the white nation socially organized around land theft, slavery and genocide. That’s just the way it was. To pretend otherwise is idealistic dogma.
Today though, the main social dynamic really is between the First and Third World, not between oppressed and oppressor nations (as typically represented through ideas on race). Typically, national oppression and a generalized ‘white’ supremacy in the First World creates a kind of margin, but it is defined particularly.
There is room for a “people of color” analysis which draws out the nuance in social and cultural disparity and discourse between whites and non-whites in Occupied North America. Ultimately though, this speaks to the need to organize members of oppressed nations and non-whites along the lines of unity with the Third World and not around making it so Chicanos and Blacks can simply live equal to whites, everything else unchanged. The latter is a betrayal of internationalism.
Speaking somewhat of race, how do these ideas contrast with the ideas of groups like Race Traitor, which imply rejecting whiteness as a political strategy?
I’m not sure how one “rejects whiteness.” To be fair, I’m not very familiar with Race Traitor. We are working to get rid of the relationship that defines whiteness, i.e. imperialism and national oppression, through global social revolution.
In the future, my own belief is that the white nation needs to be destroyed and its members assimilated into existing and emerging social constructions, i.e. the ‘New People’ of national liberation and global socialism. We certainly welcome early volunteers. They should join RAIM.
One issue I believe is relevant to that particular activism is how the idea of “treason to whiteness” centers the white experience and makes one’s movement inherently about persuading white people, who have historically sided with Empire en masse for virtually all of history. What do you see as your responsibilities as a revolutionary group?
For RAIM, our primary responsibility is towards the global masses. One of the main ways we are accountable to the world’s bottom 80% is by not lying to them about the scope of the struggle. Before we publish anything, we are very careful about the message it sends. We try to avoid releasing anything that will send the wrong message to Third World peoples.
Of course, we give vocal support to those resisting imperialist aggression and exploitation.
We also work to promote a vision of revolution in which the wealth and power of the U.S. is vastly decreased, a one of the future where the US and First World does not functionally or in actuality exist. We pursue this as a minoritarian strategy, in that we see such a change being imposed from without with very little support from within. Our role is the act as a social fifth column in support of global anti-Amerikanism and anti-imperialism: the Amerikan right’s worst nightmare manifested.
In reality, the responsibility is cemented in two ways. First, we maintain a blog and have a PDF-print journal. The ‘RAIM Global Digest’ has been in print for two years now. We are getting ready to change the format a bit, retitling it ‘Seize the Time.’
In the RAIM Global Digest and Seize the Time, we report on a wide array of relevant news from both the First and Third World, of course with our unique analysis. We also have culture reviews, reportbacks from events, etc. With our blog, print journals and other creative productions, we hope to inspire and provide a central pivot for a much larger movement that is distinct from what is largely out there today.
The other part of the equation of putting our revolutionary responsibility into motion is the work we do locally. This really takes on a lot of forms. Generally, RAIM members are public and social figures working to build this larger organization and culture of anti-imperialist solidarity and revolutionary aspiration.
How does RAIM see the role of people of color in the First World — oppressed and colonized people, many brought to the United States as slaves — especially with Obama’s ascension sharpening contradictions for us?
As I mentioned earlier, the existence of national oppression does create a kind of social margin, not as a broad category for which we can base a universal strategy, but to account for the nuance of power in the world.
Generally, to non-Whites and members of the oppressed, captive nations in Occupied North America, we say this, “If you want to be liberated as part of a different conception of humanity, to help push this bus over the cliff rather than be trapped inside with its empire-supporting occupants, then throw your lot in with the struggles of the Third World masses.” To the exploited masses of the Third World, we say, “don’t expect consistent support from captive, oppressed nations and non-Whites in the First World.” We can’t pretend the Black, Chicano or any generalized Indigenous nation are hotbeds of revolutionary struggle. Each is obviously a minority and all face far better conditions and life prospects than someone born a Third World peasant or in a megaslum.
How should those same people of color be organizing in these times, in your assessment?
I think any organizing which occurs in the First World needs to be internationalist. It’s appropriate to organize along national and community lines, but not around issues of material betterment as promoted by capitalist-imperialism and the white nation and not primarily for reforms from the state. People who want to organize communities of color should, in my opinion, work around issues of independence and sovereignty, i.e. control over their own lives, communities and culture, in a way that specifically ties the struggle to the broader Third World-centered anti-imperialist revolutionary movement. I actually think there is plenty of room for community-centered organizing for oppressed nations, but I think it needs to be done carefully and even then it’s an uphill battle largely dependent on the success of the Third World movements.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions and/or misinformation about Maoism-Third Worldism?
That Maoists-Third Worldists are against organizing in the First World.
Maoist-Third Worldists support organizing First Worlders in service of the larger revolutionary movement, much in the same way the Marx and Engels favored organizing the 19th century bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie in service to the then-developing proletarian movements. Maoist-Third Worldists support organizing First Worlders against their own class interests, but they are also against pretending that this is a feasible strategic route to take for the overall revolutionary movement.
One criticism of Maosim-Third Worldism states the ideology is based on false assumptions is that one can tell the revolutionary potential of a people merely by studying their income and position within the international income ladder. How do you feel about that, and the contention some have that revolutionary potential is determined by specific conditions and history?
That’s exactly what Maoist-Third Worldists are saying: “revolutionary potential is determined by specific conditions and history,” as opposed to the line that says, “all workers are revolutionary.”
Specifically, imperialism has rid the First World masses of any revolutionary potential. Maoism-Third Worldism is interdisciplinary and incorporates history and modern cultural critique as much as economics.
Another criticism out there is that because people in the First World receive benefits from imperialism doesn’t mean they are imperialists. How do you address that?
I don’t know if any Maoist-Third Worldist organization or RAIM has said that every or even most First Worlders are themselves imperialists. Both Maoist-Third Worldists and RAIMers agree that the vast majority of First Worlders are among the exploiting classes; that First World workers receive enough of a benefit to make it to where that absorb more value than they create and thus are themselves net-exploiters. Additionally, the point has been made a number of times on Monkey Smashes Heaven that First World workers have more in common, including outlook, with their own bourgeoisie than the global proletariat.
No one is saying that First Worlders are in the driver’s seat, but they certainly enjoy the ride.
The American Party of Labor offered a long critique in which it asserts proletarians in imperialist countries have no say in the politics and governance of the country. That group says proletarians can’t exactly refuse the bribe, or else they would starve. How do you respond to that?
There are a number of problems here.
First, it’s hard to call the APL piece a ‘long critique’ considering how silly and error-ridden it was. A three-part response was posted at Monkey Smashes Heaven.
Second, it’s a plainly chauvinist argument. It elevates the privileged’s ‘desire to act’ to the level of strategy: akin to what you mentioned about Race Traitor. The world’s exploited masses are over five billion people strong and by comparison includes almost no Amerikans. You know there is a level of chauvinism when it always comes right back to, ‘ya, but what should Joe Amerika and I do?’
I would like to know how many people actually starve to death in the U.S. and under what specific conditions. Perhaps the APL has some hotline to starving Americans that I don’t know about. I do know of plenty of services provided to people in the U.S. which prevents starvation, something not available to 35,000 who otherwise die every day of such.
APL should read up on what class is about. It really doesn’t matter if First Worlders individually attempt “give up” being an exploiter any more than it does individual capitalists attempt to do so. The bottom line is that First Worlders won’t organize against their own privilege. Instead, they will organize to defend it.
Would not a capitalist starve if they gave up their wealth and position in society? I guess the APL also expects us to weep for capitalists, who are just as much stuck in a ethical dilemma as your average First Worlder.
The idea that there’s a backroom ‘bribe’ happening being imperialism and individual First Worlders lacks nuance. If anything, First Worlders can’t refuse the bride, i.e. parasitism, because it is inextricably interwoven into their culture and the material means on which it exists. This ‘bribe’ is historic and social in the widest sense.
There are marginal movements in the First World in which individuals seek to supposedly extract themselves in one way or another from the system. I’m thinking here of everything from CrimethInc, to Race Traitor, to diet-based politics, communes and the Degrowth Movement. So clearly, there are options out there. The vast majority of Amerikans simply aren’t down for for stuff like this because they really have no reason for it. They’d rather drive passenger cars and live in the comfort provided for them.
After all this time, I’m not even sure what their criticism was about. This is true with some critics on the so-called “left.” It’s almost as if they are saying, “You’re right, but we’re going to pretend otherwise and oppose you anyways.” Doesn’t this seem to be the case with APL, if they are admitting First Worlders are helplessly coopted into supporting imperialism? Doesn’t this support the LLCO and RAIM line on the revolutionary masses being in the Third World?
What does RAIM support politically? You are deliberately different from most other activist and protest groups in terms of how you organize, correct?
RAIM supports the struggle against imperialism, as it exists and as it could be, and the building of independent sovereignty where values such as social egalitarianism dominate. As I mentioned earlier, we support lowering the overall material standard of living and power for First Worlders, so we never get involved in economist/reformist issues such as unions, housing, electoral campaigns or public transit fares.
RAIM does a lot of things. ‘Organizing’ is only one aspect. Sometimes we engage in very confrontation actions. We, along with others, did a good job of countering a Zionist speaker at a Denver-area campus, as well as earlier actions against Newmont Mining and Madeline Albright. We’ve also been active in protesting the Kolumbus Day hate parade, last year showing up to the parade organizers after-event as well as the parade itself. We try to be present and visible at anti-war stuff, insofar as it still exists. Often, in terms of activism and organizing, we tend to organize as part of coalitions, playing a variety of roles. We even played a role in organizing in the ‘ReCreate ’68′ pole of opposition to the 2008 Democratic National Convention as well as against the 2010 Olympics.
We also do a lot outside of activism and protests and try to connect with people outside of such circles. A lot of what we do is social, showing up to meetings and talking politics, going to speaking events and asking questions, having potlucks and leading study groups. Of course, we usually have copies of the RAIM Global Digest or Seize the Time to give away.
That’s another way we’re not like traditional activist groups. Everything is paid for out of our own pockets. We rely on donations of time and money from our members and supporters. We have a PDF-print journal that looks more like a zine that we’ll gladly give you, not a newspaper we’re trying to sell for a dollar.
How can people reach you?
What should people be reading to learn more about Maoism-Third Worldism?
Monkey Smashes Heaven is published by the Leading Light Communist Organization. It can be found at: http://llco.org/msh
There is also a Polish Maoist-Third Worldist website at http://trzeciswiat.wordpress.com/
As far as other readings, I would suggest ‘Mao Zedong on the Chinese Revolution’ by Chen Boda for a really systemic overview on Maoism, as well as ‘Long Live the Victory of People’s War’ by Lin Biao.
Otherwise, Monkey Smashes Heaven has a fairly large reading list at http://llco.org/archives/9102
It contains a lot of the Marxist classics. Settlers is on there, as well as a limited selection from MIM. There’s some readings on the Cultural Revolution and some of the most important writings by MSH are listed.
What are some of the books you’ve really liked over the past few years?
I was pretty well read prior to RAIM’s official founding, but since some impactful titles have been Culture and Imperialism by Edward Said, Taking Power by John Foran, Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Zedong (minus ‘On Contradiction’), How Capitalism Works by Pierre Jalee, The Creation of World Poverty by Teresa Hayter, Black Bolshevik by Harry Haywood and False Nationalism, False Internationalism.
How can people get involved with RAIM?
As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of room for a lot of different work. Pending someone understands global class analysis and the implication of such, I always tend to ask them the same question.
People should apply the skills they have and develop new ones with RAIM. We encourage our cadre to not just be out there talking about RAIM and our politics, but to actively get involved through writing and other cultural production.
We really rely on people’s own initiation in developing a solid political line and from there a praxis. While we encourage people to do this, we can’t hold their hands through it the entire time. People can contact us for direction, but at some point they just have to make the leap and start doing RAIM work where they’re at, however that manifests, or begin making preparation to do such.