Foreword: Class, Organisation, Struggle

We have translated Unity and Struggle’s interview in the magazine Viewpoint’s ( article series “Strategy after Fergusson” which consists of interviews with a few different radical groups on the subject of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It is, in short, a fantastic text whose content is applicable far outside it’s context. For us this is also a part of our mobilisation leading up to the revolutionary May Day demonstrations in Scania and Copenhagen since the text resounds with us and how we view class, organisation and struggle, and are issues raised in these marches. We translated the text so as to show in a concrete manner our appreciation of the brilliance and to make it available to a broader, radical Swedish audience. Since U&S presents itself in the text, we will refrain from doing it here. Also, we want to start off by saying that the theoretical level of the text is higher than those which we usually produce. It also contains a great deal of references to American culture in general and radical political culture in specific. Therefore the text can at times be testing. A tip to keep in mind is that you do not need to understand or know of all of the authors or texts that U&S refers to in able to grasp their article.

All translations have to relate to the tension between on the one hand trying reproduce the spirit of the original text and on the other hand reproduce the literal words. We have tried our best to find the sweet spot without losing either. In certain parts we have written short notes about a words or concepts within parenthesis ended with “AO:s note”. Also, we have retained certain English words that often appear untranslated in everyday conversational Swedish. We’ve translated the word patronage to “klientsystem” (client system). At times we could have used wordings that could have fit in better in the different contexts that the concept is used in. We still chose to keep using the same word to show that it is a theoretical term and therefore repeated as a part of an ongoing, cohesive, analysis. 


Class, Gender and Ethnicity

We translated this text for several reasons. Above all, we agree with the underlying worldview it expresses. We are deeply impressed by the nuanced and dynamic analysis of class that colors the text. Both the working class and the ruling class are analyzed as consisting of separate strata with internal rifts and antagonisms. We find it important to analyze what the classes actually look like, which strata they are comprised of and the diffences in political power that are found within them. This is important when trying to make sound strategic decisions while trying to understand why different political subjects act as they do within the frame of class struggle. Hence we are convinced that U&S’s theoretical approach is a fruitful method when analyzing current class composition and creating a dynamic political theory and practice.


One of the most important lessons to be drawn from the text is that class, ethnicity and gender have to be theorized simultaneously in concrete situations. They are, as highlighted by U&S, necessary parts of a each other.

Without class, it is impossible to discuss gender, without gender it is impossible to understand ethnicity. That is not to say that socialism or the struggle will solve all of these antagonisms, as U&S exeplifies with the reference to the oversimplifying chant “Black and white, unite and fight!”. This means that we need to build an understanding of each strata’s specific conditions, needs and political culture.


The critique of identity politics


U&S delivers a broadside to the type of identity politics that simplifies all political expression to a question of identity, in which knowledge can only derive from belonging to a specific political subject. In Sweden the concept of who has the “power of definition” (based on gender, ethnicity, etc.) considering social or political issues has been a main theme in feminist and leftist debate. Unfortunately, this debate has often ended up in entrenched, essentialist warfare over identity politics in which knowledge and political agency becomes essentialized to groups and positions of subjectivity. This is of course a part of resisting the appropriation and exclusion that marginalized groups are exposed to both in society at large and specifically political movements. This particular tendency is often associated with a very faulty analysis of power. One example is Aleksa Lundberg, a trans activist and actress who wrote “In other words, I would say that all oppression is derived from the normative image of a human being as a white, cisgendered rich person with a common range of bodily functionality” in SVT opinion (the debate section of Swedish public broadcasting’s webpage). This is problematic since it completely lacks a material understanding of oppression and analysis of differences between different structures of power. The oppression of the working class does not derive from a norm of affluence, it is a social relation in which one group exploits another groups labour. In the same way, racism and sexism are not only normative systems but social relations in which one group gains (money and power) through the other’s subordination. When pushed to the limit these identity politics are isolating: it becomes impossible to bridge the gaps between immigrant women and white, Swedish working class men. As U&S highlights: we can’t stay in our identity political lanes isolated from each other, we have to destroy the things that seperate us. That being said, we can’t just brush off differences in political power; we have to analyze the actual situations and find openings and possibilities to intervene. So, even as we try to build understanding of every specific strata of the working class we must also work towards dismantling the divisions between them through practical politics. U&S’s stab at this remind us in many ways of the tactics we use, by trying to move comrades from one point of struggle to another and in that way crosspollinate struggles and strata. We shouldn’t condemn white, Swedish construction workers for striking (as the Feminist Party in Lund did approaching May Day) but instead try to build and combine their struggle with the struggles of queers, municipal workers and students. It’s all  about making struggles and practices jump from one space to another while creating unity but at the same time without neglecting the specific needs of any proletarian group.


Racialization, Riots, and Police Control


One of the benefits of the text that we would like to give prominence to is that it gives us the possibility to start thinking strategically about racialization and ethnicity. There are many differences between the situation for black people in the United States and for racialized groups in Sweden. We’ve discussed a lot about if the struggle against the cops really is a node in Swedish class struggle in the same way as in the States. We belive that there absolutely are instances which are very concrete, when conflict with the police is very imortant and most of all educational. It is common that in riots, police attacks on demonstations and mass militant actions people give up their illuisions about the state and become radicalized. At the same time the historical relationship between the police and racialized groups isn’t exactly the same in Sweden and the USA, we lack a history of police being slave hunters and scabs. There is police oppression in racialized working class housing projects in Sweden but it is not at all on the same level as in the States. But, we believe that U&S’s analyis of riot situations as openings for a  “mass questioning of the system beyond their immediate social base” also applies for Sweden. We think that the riots in the projects leads to a social, cultural and political questioning of the system. These questionings exist in specific situations that create new opportunities, At the same time there is also the chance that, as in the situation with certain strata of the white American working class, other strata of the class turn on the rebels.

One of the great values in the text is the insights from American radicals into movements and developments we in Sweden seldom gain any deeper understanding to. The critique of Bernie Sanders and parts of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is almost intuitivly understandable for the Swedish audience. This is because the mechanisms in which class peace is instituted are very similiar in both Sweden and the United States. Bernie, the black bourgousie and the more respectable parts of #BlackLivesMatter feed off the stuggles and developments of radical movements but use these to sell class peace. Just as the function of unions is to ensure that the unionized workers won’t strike independently for higher wages and better conditions, so is the function of politicians, both professionals and those who dress up as such (such as the NGO:s in the text). Behind every successful leftist is a movement made invisible that put them where they are.


 The clearest paralells when it comes to the class struggles of racialized groups and how this is dealt with by the ruling class are the Rosengård riots of 2008 and the Husby riots of 2013. In Rosengård, local social democrats, imams from the local mosques, and “social entrepreurs” like Behrang Miri (“lefty” NGO guy) were mobilized to both to plead the cause of the insurgent youth and to make the rioting stop. This in turn brought social investment upon Rosengård and legal procedings against neglectful landlords there. In a way even criminal gangs were on the side of law and order after the riots stopped giving them “violence capital” and instead created too much police presence for them to be able to sell drugs in peace.  This has also meant that a new police station has been built in the area and that the level of policing has been raised. This may be an embryo to a situation that may reflect the American condition. The exact turn of events and after effects in Husby are beyond our knowledge but we have understood that they are very similiar.

Beyond the politics of representation

Political elites of different kinds, including those with good intentions, allways sell out movements and militants to gain power. Beyond this, groups that intend to sell class peace, either through electoral politics, the media or by creating a grassroots project with the support of the municipality, are always pulled into respectability. Respectability always entails dodging actions and statements that may undermine their bargaining position by upsetting bourgousie society. We as revolutionaries must put an end to this process. We have to make movements understand that they need to organize beyonde state and capital and that they must do this by tearing away parts of the state into autonomy. Thus, we have to create self organized physical, organizational and social links beyond capital. It is concrete, it’s about buildings, organizations, money and it’s about people in general.

At the same time, every conscious political action – that is in itself incapable of creating total insurrection – is always a type of peace negotiation. When we go home after demos, or when we choose to march with are arms linked but don’t throw molotov cocktails, or when we choose to throw molotov cocktails but only at the police and only if they start the fight… all of these things are selling and negotiation for peace even if they don’t happen in a meeting around a table. It is an inevitable part of capitalist representaitonal politics that even affects very radical movements, but there is still a difference between having a direct relationship to bourgousie public sphere and being in direct conflict with it.


    Here we have tried to paint a picture of how we see that class, organization and struggle are linked together currently and how we as revolutionaries should act. We hope to have contributed to the debate and above all we hope that you learn as much from U&S’s text as we have. Finally, we agree with the beautiful words from Selma James as quoted in the text: we wish for “continual process of development, that creates the possibility for ever higher levels of unity and struggle”.
Organising Autonomously, april 2016.  
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