Against liberal ally politics and class reductive settler socialism, and for the end of world white supremacy
Our historical moment is characterized by a deep and widening gulf between language and action, for leftists and progressive liberals alike, and the realm of anti-racist praxis is no exception. For middle class progressives and the communities that follow in their ideological footsteps, anti-oppression politics, which adapts radical language to the state project of multicultural inclusion in the middle class, has become the hegemonic norm for understanding race. But the typical working class oriented socialist response to the methodological shortcomings of anti-oppressive identity politics – socialist class reductionism – is no more a fighting theory against white supremacy than the mystifying tenets of anti-oppression, as it focuses exclusively on the short-term, economic interests of a privileged sector of the national working class.
Against both anti-oppressive individualism and eurocentric class reductionism, Red Braid adopts a stance of white abolitionist multiplicity, which is our fighting strategy for, and vision of, a non-capitalist, non-imperial, and non-colonial world where social-national organization is multiple.
Our struggle is not for equality with whites, inclusion in white supremacist institutions, or a more diverse representation of colonized and racialized people within capitalist, colonial, and imperial civil society; rather, we aim for the abolition of whiteness.
In place of global capitalism, we imagine a world materially based in the actualization and development of multiple, non-alienated economies and political structures in a federation of autonomous states, including sovereign Indigenous nations.
To fight for white abolitionist multiplicity means to fight on the basis of the liberation of the global working class as a whole, and all Indigenous nations. To wage this struggle we cannot rely on the dominant left techniques of confronting racism, which are fundamentally reformist in nature and represent, at best, only partial class interests. Anti-oppressive identity politics is petty-bourgeois integrationism, and class reductionist socialism focuses on promoting and expanding the civil society belonging of a national aristocracy of labour.
Against these strategies we argue that global liberation and the end of white supremacy require a total, irreconcilable struggle against the state, and against all forms of being and belonging premised on white, bourgeois identification.
To fight for white abolitionist multiplicity, we need to build organizations and sharpen an anti-racist group politics that steers people away from the individual project of improving the behaviours of white allies and roots itself in understanding how white supremacy is produced and reproduced. White supremacy is not a morally bad ideology leftover from the past, propagated by the uneducated masses, which we can educate out of bourgeois society. But neither is it a scam wielded by puppet master capitalists, used to mislead and divert workers into the dead end of white nationalism. White supremacy is a fundamental, practiced part of bourgeois society that is organized every day through coercion at the peripheries of society, at the border, through the military and police, trade agreements, and also in the consent-producing promises of inclusion in the liberal structures at the core of civil society.
Setting out to overthrow settler colonial, capitalist, and imperialist nations means identifying, critiquing, and fighting against the racist, coercive, and murderous power of the state, and also identifying and fighting against middle class oriented civil society – those slippery, cultural, social, legal, and institutional spaces that reproduce the state ideologically, organizing race into social bodies and social bodies into race. Anti-racist struggle is the province of revolutionary movements and organizations, not atomized individuals looking to cleanse their liberal selves of bad behaviours, nor reformist class projects that seek to expand the social wage of a privileged sector of the working class within imperial nations.
Part 1: The problem with dominant understandings of race and class
You can’t fight the state with a lifestyle choice: Against anti-oppression politics
Anti-oppressive identity politics reduce social relations rooted in material processes and structures to the category of “identity.” Doing so not only contorts how race, class, and gender actually operate in society, but also narrows the field of anti-racist action to individual agency and an attendant reform of civil society institutions. For white people, anti-racist identity politics is the performative repudiation of “privilege” through lifestyle choices, moral rituals, and endless deferrals to those who are “more” oppressed – a collection of guilt-sublimating behaviours driven by the terrifying prospect of being labelled racist that leaves their power over racialized people and their investment in whiteness as a source of identity completely undisrupted. For racialized and colonized individuals, anti-racist identity politics promises assimilation into white supremacist civil society under the superficially anti-racist covers of “representation” and “inclusivity.” And for the consultants, internet personalities, NGOs, and career intellectuals whose bread and butter is “anti-o” identity politics, anti-racism is about making a fundamentally white supremacist society a little more comfortable for select minorities.
The anti-oppressive intelligentsia use workshops, media platforms, and speaking or consulting careers to make college campuses, non-profit organizations, social wage institutions, and private companies that hire white collar workers more “inclusive,” “equitable,” and “diverse,” facilitating the integration of marginalized individuals into the middle class through the work of ideologically reproducing an “anti-racism” that existing institutions can accommodate. One such speaker outlines the assimilationist vision of institutional reform: “Imagine a workplace where people of all colors and races are able to climb every rung of the corporate ladder…” Another commentator argues that inclusivity is empty without “reparations,” understood as giving marginalized people “money, resources, and power” by centering them in “platforms, companies, and organizations.”
While anti-oppressive identity politics claims to map out the contours of white supremacy in service of resisting it, the individualizing framework it depends on undermines the organized, collective struggle we need to liberate ourselves. At the core of this politics is the idealist assumption that recruiting racialized people into state and civil society institutions will somehow make Canadian and US society less racist while conveniently remaining capitalist, colonial, and imperial. Although individuals do express race power individually – through microaggressions, bias, prejudice, and discrimination – white supremacy cannot be reduced to these individualized constructs, and anti-racist struggle cannot be reduced to the depoliticized fronts of “inclusivity,” “equity,” and “diversity,” because white race power is a global, dynamic system rooted in material and historical conditions.
The material foundation of white supremacy & the liberal individual
Within Canada today, white supremacy is characterized by state and civil society initiatives to legitimize ongoing colonial, racist, bourgeois rule by posturing as post-racial and post-colonial through policies of “multiculturalism” and “reconciliation.” Internationally, white supremacy helps maintain Euro-American imperial hegemony, protecting its economic, military, and ideological interests against peasants, workers, and Indigenous peoples of the Global South. White supremacy materially relies on imperial nation-states and international capitalist markets and processes – structures that must be fought collectively and internationally.
Anti-oppressive individualism is a strategic dead end because it misses the national and international economic basis of white supremacy, instead locating the axis of whiteness and race in individual experience. Its accompanying fixation with the endless labyrinth of privilege and oppression that composes individuals logically leads to a disbelief that shared material interests might be found between groups whose exploitation and oppression are shaped and determined by different inflections of power. If an essentialized experience is the only bellwether of anti-oppressive leadership, then no person or group can be authorized to act in strategic defence of another, and any unified mobilization is suspect.
Anti-oppression is also dismissive of the liberatory power of the working class and tends to treat the possibilities of material class struggle as inherently racist and sexist, because the constituency of anti-oppressive identity politics is the middle class and bourgeoisie, whose classed interests are expressed ideologically through liberal discourse. But the fundamental liberalism of anti-oppressive politics is more reflexive than deliberate, and the contradictory strains of clinging to an ideal of “radical” change on the one hand, and the liberal individual on the other, reveal a truth that can neither be recognized nor reconciled except through revolutionary theory and praxis: the liberal individual, a rights-bearing subject whose body is recognized by the legal-political apparatus of the property-enshrining state, is itself a creation of white supremacist, settler colonial, misogynist capitalism.
Rather than exploit that contradiction, anti-oppression politics manages it, using discursive frameworks to smooth the halls of middle management, social wage institutions, and college campuses for elite racialized and gendered others. Lacking a strategy for overthrowing and replacing white supremacist, cis heteropatriarchal, settler colonial capitalism, its end game is, in practice, the reform of the gender and race composition of some parts of the middle class and bourgeoisie.
While we agree that the ways power shapes subjectivity are both profound and deeply under-attended to by many historically white-dominated Marxist and social democratic movements, our understanding of and strategy for fighting white supremacy is totally at odds with the middle class integrationist goals of anti-oppressive identity politics.
Esperanto is not anti-racism: Against socialist class reductionism
Anti-oppressive identity politics took root in the left as a reaction against economistic, class reductionist politics that were dominant, particularly in white-majority socialist organizations and movements in North America and Europe during the postwar period. “Class reductionist” socialism treats race, gender, sexual orientation, and other experiences of the processes of capitalist production and reproduction as secondary (or worse, irrelevant) to “class,” which it misidentifies as existing only at the point of capitalist production, coded as white, male, industrial, and wage-earning.
But class and race are dialectically co-constitutive. To paraphrase Stuart Hall, race is a field through which class is lived – so race and class identities are both formed through class struggles, including struggles over race and national organization. Liberal anti-oppression politics treats race as an ideological problem that can be solved by convincing middle class and bourgeois elites to change their ideas, and socialist class reductionism treats race as a secondary, inevitable feature of capitalist rule that a universal class struggle will automatically disrupt.
At a strategic level, class reductionism collapses the interests of racialized workers into a broader working class that is coded as white and male, limiting the activity of class struggle to those bread and butter issues that affect “all workers,” meaning white workers as well as Black and Asian workers. While few socialists would say so as directly today, the class reductionist idea remains that we’ll get rid of racism “after the revolution.” For example, in January 2020, prominent democratic socialist Bernie Sanders said that white workers embrace racism because of their economic desperation. This analysis implies that race is a static weapon on hand for use by capitalists and bourgeois politicians to divide the working class, rather than part of how workers understand themselves within national contexts, crafting hierarchies based on who they consider part of their community of interests.
Class reductionism is colonial
In settler colonial contexts, class reductionism commits a worse sin. By equating Indigenous struggle with class struggle, class reductionist socialism ignores the unique relationships Indigenous peoples have to both capital and land. Indigenous nations are confronted by capitalism, and Canadian and US civil society, as an external, invading force that arrives in gunships and helicopters to occupy and plunder their lands. Indigenous peoples in Canada and the US have not been proletarianized and absorbed into a regular circuit of capitalist production as wage labourers, even if some work wage labour jobs.
The premise held by class reductionist socialists, which is also elaborated in some of Karl Marx’s writings, is that socialist revolution must be led by workers at the industrial point of production. This is a racist, sexist, Eurocentric fantasy, which misidentifies the struggle for justice as “progress” – a linear version of history that mechanically pairs the rate of production with the level of development of any given society. Class reductionist socialism excludes Indigenous peoples from the process of making revolution, and proposes a settler colonial socialist society to replace the settler colonial capitalist society we are fighting against.
Class reductionist socialism fails to fight racism and capitalism because it imagines white workers as passive dupes of the ruling class, rather than active agents in maintaining white supremacy and settler colonialism, both materially as well as ideologically. Although settler colonial capitalism benefits capitalists, and its civil society is dominated and organized by the middle class, white working class settlers have at times been at the forefront of maintaining settler colonialism and white supremacy in Canada – but not all white workers and not all the time. Class reductionist socialism posits what Marxists call the “aristocracy of labour” as the vanguard of class struggle, and awaits the movement of this relatively privileged group, the group most closely identified with the middle class, to sound the bell of revolution.
Class reductionism centres the aristocracy of labour
The term “aristocracy of labour,” or what we’ll call privileged workers, refers to the sub-group within the working class in imperialist countries that gathers a greater share of wealth stolen through imperialist and colonial war and occupation. In 1916, Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin wrote, “Because monopoly yields superprofits, i.e., a surplus of profits over and above the capitalist profits that are normal and customary all over the world, the capitalists can devote a part (and not a small one, at that!) of these superprofits to bribe their own workers, to create something like an alliance… between the workers of the given nation and their capitalists, against the other countries.” This “economic bribe” of the “upper strata” of workers works to produce racial as well as national difference within the working class. The bribery that forms the sub-group of privileged workers is not delivered as a benevolent gift of the capitalists downwards, but is formed through the priorities set by that self-selecting group of workers who move to civil society belonging by excluding others.
In western Canada, as settler colonial domination was consolidated, it was British workers, understanding themselves as partners and citizens of empire, who rallied for the exclusion of Chinese and South Asian workers from their industries and the country itself. All over Canada, white resource workers and their trade unions have allied with logging and mining corporations to invade and steal from Indigenous lands. In the prairie provinces, white workers threatened Black migrants during the Great Migration with lyching, swearing to block any “Black spots” from tarnishing the white west. Settler colonialism and imperialism has profoundly shaped white workers’ participation and identification with the project of Canadian nation-building.
The tendency to overlook how this upper tier of mostly white workers identify with their colonial and imperial nations is class reductionist, because it substitutes a concrete analysis of how race and nation constitute class identities and practices with an hyperbolically optimistic and historically unfounded determinism, promising that when that magic day arrives and revolution comes, white workers will lead in the interests of all.
Part 2: White abolitionist multiplicity
The class character of anti-oppressive identity politics is petty bourgeois because it is oriented towards the race and gender integration and perfection of the middle class and bourgeoisie, and class reductive socialism is a politics of the aristocracy of labour because it is oriented towards those upper tiers of the working class that are invested in their inclusion in hegemonic civil society, including in their property interests over Indigenous nations. So what is white abolitionist multiplicity and who are the actors who can fight and end the totalizing structures and social processes of white supremacy?
Our theory of white abolitionist multiplicity analyses race power, envisions a revolutionary world without white supremacy, and proposes a strategic division for how we can get there, because the work of multiplicity asks and does different things for whites than for racialized people and Indigenous people.
Working class whites can best fight white supremacy through revolutionary class struggle, because through fighting for their class interests on an international basis, white workers can come to see that they share more, in the long term and the big picture, with the global working class than the white bourgeoisie of imperial nation states.
But the struggle looks different for Indigenous nations and racialized workers suffering under the boot of colonialism, imperialism, and white supremacy, because our fight is not reducible to class struggle: there are times when we need to ally with other classes.
Class struggle and why it’s not “okay to be white”
White workers are “white” because they experience whiteness as a social benefit in a white supremacist society, but their experience is different from that of the white middle class and bourgeoisie. For white workers, whiteness is like a balloon filled with the helium of a lifetime of entitled social expectations – the balloon is large, but the actual benefits it provides are as thin as its skin. But for the white middle class and bourgeoisie, as anti-colonial theorist and fighter Franz Fanon wrote, whiteness is structural and superstructural: the bourgeois man is rich because he is white and he is white because he is rich.
The whiteness of white workers has a different currency because of their exploited relationship to economic production. W.E.B. Du Bois, in his study of the reorganization of white supremacy in the US South after the end of chattel slavery, wrote that for the poor white, whiteness was characterized by the ambition to be white – to be an owner of slaves. “It fed the vanity” of the poor white to participate in the policing, hunting, and punishment of enslaved Black people, Du Bois explains, “because it associated him with the masters.”
Racism is the experience of feeling white, and for white workers, their investment in whiteness is an investment in their own exploitation and alienation as junior, exploited partners of white bosses. White workers can be homeless, living in deep poverty and social marginalization, and yet continue to cling to their whiteness by experiencing their material condition as a betrayal of what they believe themselves entitled to – rather than what it is: a natural and intrinsic result of the machinations of capitalism. Overcoming whiteness, then, means feeling and acting as workers who are part of an international social group, rather than as white people.
The leadership of the global subaltern is a brake on fascism
Understood as part of an international social group, white workers who are part of that privileged group, the aristocracy of labour, represent just a tiny splinter in the body of the world’s working class, and a more substantial but still minority part of the working class inside imperialist countries. Like the petty bourgeoisie, privileged workers get more attention from civil society, and from the social democrat and class reductionist socialists than the majority, subaltern, socially excluded workers. While we do not write off relatively privileged workers in imperial nations who are heavily invested in white supremacy, settler-colonialism, and imperialism, we are also not waiting for them to be won over to the side of the global subaltern, because despite their exploitation as workers, their subjective and historically tenacious attachment to the nation is constitutive of white supremacy.
What Fanon suggests the white bourgeoisie experience as a unity, white workers experience as a contradiction that we see deepening through the increasing impoverishment of formerly privileged workers in imperial nations. The social position of this upper tier of workers is even more insecure than the increasingly precarious position of the middle class. Resource industry workers may invest themselves politically, and through a white settler identity, in the theft of Indigenous peoples’ lands, but when they are seasonally laid off, injured, or aged-out, their $100,000 salary is suddenly gone and they find themselves scrounging to survive. The gap between their social entitlements, as white, privileged workers, and this new reality of poverty can result in their turn towards racism, white nationalism, and fascism. But this is a problem of political struggle because these disappointed workers can also turn to the cause of the global subaltern, if only that politics is ready, available, and relevant to them.
The material incentives that whiteness offers means that rational persuasion is not enough to divest white workers of their race consciousness and identification. That these benefits are doled out within an exploitative and alienating system that happily discards workers as soon as they are unable to contribute to the production of value, or profit – white or not – does not mean that white supremacy is purely a problem of consciousness. Radical, anti-racist transformation in the white working class can only be brought about through direct, revolutionary confrontations with class exploitation, because nothing short of revolution, including the everyday revolutionary processes of survival and political struggle, can offer white workers something better than the psychological and material wages of whiteness, and nothing short of revolutionary struggle can unify the world’s working class against capital.
The liberation of racialized people from white supremacy
If the task of white workers is to overcome their whiteness so that they feel and act like workers, then the task of racialized and Indigenous people is to lead our own, autonomous charge against white race power and white hegemony, in the broader world as well as in our movements. While white workers experience white race power as a barrier to the class unity they need to free themselves from the totalizing power of capital, Indigenous and racialized peoples’ oppression under white supremacy cannot be collapsed into class struggle, because there are times when we need to ally with other classes to defend ourselves from imperialism. These fields of struggle certainly overlap but necessarily demand their own strategies.
The hierarchies that white supremacy enforces within racialized and Indigenous peoples and between nations complicates our anti-racist struggle, particularly in light of the relatively recent integration of non-Black and non-Indigenous people of colour into national structures of white supremacy. While marginalized people are not immune to absorbing racist and bourgeois values, the shifting nature of white supremacy and the state’s embrace of multiculturalism offer structural opportunities for the assimilation of racialized elites in ruling class structures. The ascension of certain petty-bourgeois and bourgeois racialized groups does not make them white, but it does consolidate and legitimize anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and anti-migrant race power. We see the rising prominence of petty-bourgeois and bourgeois Chinese Canadian nationalists as an example of racialized people colluding with the racist, colonial, and imperial state for their corporate benefit.
One of the dangers of white supremacist hierarchies and their historical contingency is that proximity to centres of race power can be bought, however precariously, by participating in the racist exclusion of those most marginal to whiteness, or through the ascension of elites into civil society and, in some cases, the capitalist class. Our solution to this phenomenon is to understand and fight white supremacy as a totality that consists of both a material foundation and an ideological, or cultural, life. Against a racist hierarchy that reflects national domination, constructing Black and Indigenous people as the furthest from whiteness, and people from non-western nations as “backwards” and illiberal, we are fighting to build a world of non-alienated economies and cultures predicated on mutually generative relationships, rather than the lines of exclusion drawn by imperial wars and borders, racial designations, and classed exploitation.
Culture as a terrain of struggle
Culture is typically defined as a set of symbols and practices that hold common meaning for groups of people, but we see culture through a political lens: as a theater of struggle through which people come to terms with the contradictions of any given society and become aware of themselves as political actors. Culture is a politicizing force that has no inherent quality, because the content of that force depends on the situation at hand. Culture in the context of imperialism, capitalism, and colonialism is a fraught terrain, but nonetheless a terrain worth fighting on, particularly because it is through the realm of culture, including the culture of the oppressed, that imperialism cultivates consent amongst its subjects.
If culture helps reconcile the contradictions of any society, then hegemonic cultures do so by mystifying and sublimating them. It is difficult to peer through the obfuscating mesh and neon of the present imperialist hellscape to say what an anti-imperialist culture could look like, but we know that it must be fought for through international struggle. We see revolutionary culture as practices of subaltern people being together and expressing ourselves and our messy social being in ways that emerge through collective struggle, that expose the fundamental, violent contradictions of our society and help propel us toward their ultimate social resolution.
Indigenous liberation is decolonization
For Indigenous revolutionaries, our moment is characterized by the need to clarify and fight the assimilationist imperatives of the federal Liberal government’s 2019-2020 Indigenous Rights Framework, a wide-reaching set of policies that seek to extinguish Indigenous rights and title, and assimilate Indigenous peoples into Canada. This new settler colonial turn to eradicate Indigenous sovereignty under the pretense of “reconciliation” is the colonialism of the 21st century – it is not a departure, but a continuation of the genocidal projects of the 20th century.
Indigenous sovereignty cannot be reconciled with or integrated into Canada. Under the banner of reconciliation, the colonial state attempts to subdue Indigenous anger and resistance, treating Indigenous peoples as one of many satellites of cultural diversity orbiting in service of a white, settler colonial centre. Canada celebrates Indigenous cultural practices when they can be sold as commodities, but when Indigenous people assert national cultures through sovereign home and land defense struggles, Canada sends the RCMP’s “lethal overwatch” snipers.
Behind the feel-good, liberal veneer of “reconciliation,” the housing, opioid, and climate crises rage on, disproportionately killing Indigenous communities. And while settler civil society prides itself on mastering territory acknowledgements, social workers barge into Indigenous homes to kidnap and incarcerate children in the foster system, cops criminalize and imprison Indigenous youth and adults, bylaw officers steal the belongings of unhoused, low-income Indigneous people, supportive housing operators lock in isolation those who have made it indoors, energy companies invade Indigenous territories without consent, landlords evict Indigenous tenants onto the streets, and Canadians, acting as perfect embodiments of the state, contribute to the extermination of Indigenous people through murder and rape.
Canada wants to kill the sovereign Indian and make a racialized Indigenous-Canadian. But Canada will fail, because our practices of political and national sovereignty preexist Canada and will be stronger still when Canada is gone. We practice our cultures and economies outside of and against Canada, and in our refusal we heal ourselves, our nations, and the land. The truth of our decolonization is that for our nations to survive, Canada must be destroyed.
In defense of autonomous struggle
Autonomy is self-activity. In asserting that only the autonomous activity of Indigenous people will end colonialism, and that only racialized people, through our own self-activity, can end white supremacy, we are arguing that no other actors can substitute themselves in these struggles. While white people can join the fight against white supremacy, its abolition depends on those oppressed by it to rise up together. Recognizing the revolutionary value of self-activity means supporting and creating space for the autonomous struggles of Indigenous and racialized people both within our organizations and in the movement as a whole.
Respecting autonomous struggle also means defending the rights of workers, peasants, and Indigenous people in the global south to engage in their own, organic struggles against capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism. We oppose the wars of imperialist nations – trade, diplomatic, or military – because they interfere with the self-activity of oppressed and exploited peoples within nations on the receiving end of imperialist aggression. When the US calls on Canada to attack China, we oppose it, not in defense of the Chinese state, but in defense of the working class and Indigenous peoples in China.
White abolitionist multiplicity as a revolutionary praxis
Our fundamental political commitment is to global revolution: the unequivocal end of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. And we believe that only the self-activity of the global working class and Indigenous peoples can achieve this goal. Identity politics and class reductionism, despite the frequency with which they are cited as “radical” or “revolutionary,” are fundamentally reformist because their theoretical content can only be put into motion by, on the one hand, individuals who are part of a particular cultural sphere dominant in the West right now, or on the other, a national, privileged working class coded as white. Because these ideologies are founded on theoretical elisions and inadequacies, the strategies they promote and class interests they represent fail to challenge, and thereby offer a leftist cover for, the ongoing hegemony of white supremacist and imperialist capitalism.
Political struggle is truth-making. Against the narrow visions of identity politics and class reductionism, we fight for a politics that can capture the imagination and long term interests of a global, subaltern majority capable of wielding the power necessary to transform revolutionary vision into reality. That imperialism has equalized the precarity, poverty, and alienation of masses of people around the world, across the designations of core and periphery, or global north and global south, is a material truth, but it is not yet a political truth – a truth that is felt, understood, and acted upon collectively. The goal of revolutionaries today is to develop a praxis that can make true the political reality that in order for humanity to survive, we must wage a global war against capitalism – including its deranged co-systems of colonialism, white supremacy, and imperialism.
A world free from whiteness is a world where Indigenous and working class people have smashed capitalism to liberate our spirits and unleash new panoramas of human activity and creativity, founded on many, non-alienated economies and cultures. Against the totalizing force of capitalism, and against the totalizing socialist vision of a global, unitary proletariat, we fight for a future that is multiple.