A Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement


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With the stroke of a pen the US managed to abolish slavery while re-instituting it at the same time. In 1865 the US ratified the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, establishing the notion that “slavery” and “involuntary servitude” were permitted as “punishment for crime.” Today we are living with that legacy. It is a legacy of servitude and genocide, of patriarchal violence and enclosure, of pain and suffering. We must not forget, however, that we have a legacy of resistance. Our struggles in the 19th century brought the country to its knees, but instead of earnestly attempting to resolve the question of anti-black dehumanization and native genocide, the government chose to retrench its position. This is why we must rebuild our previous strength, orient our strategies for the present, and rekindle the flame of abolition.

When we speak of abolitionism we are not harkening back to a time with no relation to the present. Rather, we are acknowledging our lineage in this struggle. The Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement in the 21st century, then, must recognize the mistakes of previous conflicts, make adjustments, and broaden our sights so that counter-revolutionary forces cannot steal our victories, and so we aren’t outmaneuvered. After the Civil War, northern abolitionists were content with the Union victory and applauded themselves and the country for abolishing chattel slavery. Black people in the South began building progressive institutions but were left defenseless against the counter-revolutionary onslaught. There may not have been a concrete strategy that would have beat back Andrew Johnson and the planter class, but it is clear the reliance on US forces and the overarching political system was not sufficient, and ended up being detrimental in the long run.

In the second revolutionary upheaval (1960s and 1970s), abolitionist forces made serious advances. The Black Panther Party had a tremendous political infrastructure, and like-minded groups like the Young Lords, the American Indian Movement, and the Weather Underground gained experience and coordinated effectively. Their political intentions were clear and well-articulated, and they managed to gain popular momentum. The formation of the Black Liberation Army marked a clear turning point in the revolutionary movement in the US. This was the most efficient guerrilla resistance in the US in the 20th century. But, as noted earlier, the BPP and BLA did not adequately coordinate. Russell Maroon Shoatz writes, “The same mistake that the civil rights movement had made was revisited upon the BPP: Both had put too much stock in one facet of the resistance. With the civil rights movement there was too much focus on political work and not nearly enough on military components, and with the guerrilla group it was just the opposite.” [3] For this struggle to have progressed it would have required greater coordination and a broader array of activities; solely focusing on one aspect of resistance is inherently inimical to political growth. For the abolitionist movement to expand in both depth and numbers we must encourage different organizing models to function cooperatively with precise political motivations, while also charting a militant strategy.

First, the revolutionary movement must vigorously direct its activities towards slavery/prison abolition and the abolition of all forms of captivity. The war against these institutions and their larger political appendages cannot be viewed as distinct struggles from the larger revolutionary conflict. These are the core stabilizing institutions for the entire state system; this is where the mechanisms of capitalism, slavery, anti-blackness, and the ever-expanding carceral system are created. The slave/prison relation has remained intact and its barbarism is now being unleashed on the entire populace.

It is telling that 46% of the federal prison population, almost half, is for drug offenses, essentially the underground economy of those excluded from economic opportunities. The second highest prison population, 16%, is for weapons charges: the criminalization of those trying to regain a measure of self-defense.

Yet one cannot calculate the pain so many families are forced to endure simply because of their social position. This cannot and will not be allowed to continue. In order to destroy this social relation, we have to abolish the prisons, the ICE facilities, the detention centers, and the American plantation as a whole.

Second, our longterm vision must be to abolish the State itself. It is clear that the nation-state, and the capitalist economy it upholds, make continued suppression inevitable. It removes people from political participation, and institutes control through institutionalized racism, patriarchy, and domination, turning life or death decisions over to a powerful minority. This violent apparatus is maintained by the entire judicial system, civic legislation and its threat of incarceration. Meanwhile, the State’s relationship with capitalism keeps people in a constant state of pliability, as the resources they need to live are withheld.

The overarching scope of our struggle must focus on building abolitionist counter-power and helping people escape the plantation. While we fight to abolish prisons and the state structure, we must unequivocally fight alongside those who are now the target of state violence, with the intent of ending the entirety of this heinous system.

The basic focus of our struggle:

These points should be the basic focus of our struggle, and in their light, we can then consider short-term and longer-term objectives in building a lasting, abolitionist revolutionary current, with a revolutionary purview to create a society without the State.

Next: Short-Term Goals