There is a nodal point that marks the final playing out of the contradictions of neo-colonial politics within the 1960's revolutionary movements. That point was the founding of the Revolutionary Armed Task Force (RATF). By nodal point we locate where the quantitative development of a thing becomes qualitative, dominant or characteristic of the whole. In RATF neo-colonialism finally became dominant. The New Afrikan elements within RATF had turned away from the New Afrikan proletariat to merge with an element of the petty-bourgeois Euro-Amerikan New Left. And those Euro-Amerikans fled from the criticisms, political struggle and difficulties of their own movement to instantly elevate themselves as the only whites "heavy" enough to be within the New Afrikan Liberation Movement. Instead of communist politics--which instructs that problems are solved by “going deeper, down into the oppressed masses”--RATF tried to relaunch the armed struggle by petty-bourgeois integrationism. Not surprisingly, RATF also represented the FBI's most successful penetration of the New Afrikan Independence Movement.
RATF became front-page news with the failure of its $1.6 million Brinks expropriation attempt near Nyack, N.Y. on October 20, 1981. Within hours it was being flashed coast-to-coast as an extraordinary event. A merger of elements of the old Black Liberation Army and elements from the old Weather Underground Organization surfaced in the national news. The bourgeois press reacted in a predictable way: the Readers Digest, for example, called its round-up article on RATF, “Terror Network, U.S.A.” And the New York Times headlined its main story “Behind the Brink's Case: Return of the Radical Left.” The Times centered on the personal stories of the arrested “former Black Panther and Weather Underground leaders, now in their middle '30s, who returned suddenly and dramatically to public attention after a decade in which their names had been largely forgotten.”(1)
The special importance of the Nyack action to us is that it was a nodal point. RATF represented a last attempt to make the exhausted politics of the '60s work, by boldly combining the remaining resources of several small organizations, New Afrikan and settler, into one more military-political offensive. Although each represented only a small element in their respective movements, their alliance exposed fundamental problems. While organizational remnants may go through the motions of repeating over and over again what hasn't worked before, to us the failure of the RATF is the end of an entire, undeveloped way of approaching revolution. It proves more conclusively than any words can the need for new deeper and more developed politics.
There are several reasons why the Nyack case and RATF have not been publicly evaluated by the movements (as opposed to limited circulation critiques by participants). In general, the '60s movements have usually been reluctant to put out any serious analysis of military work. The usual reason given is security. We strongly disagree here. The Political-military situation is obscured with smoke--artificial smoke. Movements are told almost nothing about the real situation, no real political-military programs are put forward, no serious explanations or criticisms of setbacks are made. On the other hand, the State knows far, far too much. The revolutionary organizations have few secrets from the state, just from the people. This is what is mistakenly called "security." We believe that the artificial smoke, which is now only the cover for bad politics, must be blown away.
The other reason for keeping the Nyack action smoke-screened was the widespread fear of demoralizing people in already-weakened movements. In other words, cadres try to hold things together by “putting a good face on things”. New Afrikan revolutionary nationalists politically associated with RATF have certainly tried to do this in the past. After the main Brinks trials in 1983, which ended in the defendants being convicted with long sentences, and after the public existence of the flippers and informers was widespread, the New Afrikan (journal of the PG-RNA) ran major stories proclaiming the trial as a victory. Headlines read “New Afrika Wins!” and “After U.S.-Brinks' Defeat”.(2) At a Los Angeles meeting on August 21, 1982, a representative of the National Committee to Defend New Afrikan Freedom Fighters tried to downplay Nyack as just one incident.
"And finally, Brothers and Sisters, let's not dwell on the negative. Because if we've been looking at, in any way, what has been happening in the press, even the crackers themselves have to acknowledge that although what happened in October of '81 may not have been a success, our Brothers and Sisters, our combatants have had numerous successes priro to that event. Now you gonna tell me, you gonna abandon the struggle because of one setback?"(3)
That is an example of what can go wrong with "putting a good face on things." Everyone can appreciate the need for revs to keep morale up, to orient folks positively to moving forward. But if you can't tell the basic truth to the people, you aren't giving correct leadership. Nyack was not just "one set-back amidst a growing stream of military successes. It exposed a major political defeat. What that political defeat was, how it happened, its relationship to the respective strategies of one group of Euro-Amerikan fighters, an element in the Black Liberation Movement, and the imperialist security forces, is too important to the future not to bring into the daylight.
By mid-1983 Euro-Amerikan RATF combatants Judy Clark and David Gilbert, together with the May 19th Communist Organization, had struggled to reach a self-criticism of their initial "...stand through the first year and a half that claimed October 20th as a victory, promoted a multi-national model of the Revolutionary Armed Task Force, and fought against doing serious self-criticism in the face of mounting losses and the emergence of traitors and corruption within the ranks."(4) We can see that the problems involved in RATF went far beyond the usual security or tactical errors. That is, Nyack was not primarily a matter of a tactical set-back, but rather a strategic one.
RATF was a "Black-White" alliance, under New Afrikan leadership, whose immediate political goal was to take over direction of the revolutionary nationalist movement. New Afrikan cadre and fighters were veterans of the BPP, PG-RNA, and BLA, struggling to survive and turn their 1971-72 defeats around. The Euro-Amerikans were from WUO and the N.Y. pfoc, which became the May 19th Communist Organization. The correct part of their intentions were to revert the past flightism of their Movement, to finally act fully in solidarity with national liberation fighters. Unfortunately, that was only a part of it.
The New Afrikan leadership involved believed strongly in revitalizing the urban guerrilla forces that relate to one faction of the Provisional Government-Republic of New Afrika. But they blamed the low state of both the PG-RNA itself and the armed movement on the then-current leaderships. They held RNA President Imari Obadelle's strategy of “prematurely” setting up a nation-building center in the Deep South as primarily responsible for the set-backs of the early 1970's and the PG-RNA's loss of momentum. Similarly, they felt that the existing BLA-CC structure, much of which was inside the kamps, to be righteous but hopelessly misled. In both cases they believed that the incumbent PG-RNA and BLA-CC leaderships were incompetent at best, roadblocks to the Black Revolution.* Their highest priority, then, was to remove these obstacles, as they saw them, to revitalizing things. RATF was not just a series of armed actions, but actions guided by and serving a definite political tendency, the faction of the PG-RNA that is at present part of the New Afrikan Peoples Organization, in its efforts to gain hegemony within the movement. May 19th Communist Organization chose to ally itself to one faction against the rest of the liberation movement.
* There has been some confusion over the BLA. Confusing statements have been put out that the Black Liberation Army is divided into different “wings,” one of which is in support of the PG-RNA (and was in RATF). This is apt to create misimpressions. Originally, the BLA was composed of "autonomous and decentralized" units, with a variety of different political views. In the mid-1970s a "Call to Consolidate was issued, to create a unified organization. The majority of the BLA who accepted consolidation formed the BLA-CC (Coordinating Committee). The minority who did not agree with consolidation formed a completely separate group. We use the term BLA to refer to the “autonomous and decentralized” units before the Call was issued, BLA-CC to refer to the consolidated structure of the 1970s, and BLA-RATF to refer to the minority who united with the ex-WUO people. Contrary to any misimpressions, the BLA-CC did support the PG-RNA but was not involved in the factional struggle within it. It is misleading to think of the BLA as one organization with different "wings."
There was considerable criticism of RATF's integrated composition within the nationalist community, once it became known after the arrests. In its defense, RATF and its New Afrikan supporters justified the relationship as a limited, practical necessity in fighting the armed white right. This, incidentally, is the same line used in the mid-1970s by the old WUO, which tried to justify itself by false claiming to be initiating clandestine operations against the Klan and other white supremacist groups. As one RATF supporter put it.
“I am for National Liberation for Black people but I am also not a fool. Now if we're serious, if we're serious about talking about dealing with the Ku Klux Klan, if we're talking about dealing with these white paramilitary organizations, then we know we have to have intelligence. Show me somebody black that's gonna infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan, huh? We have to have intelligence. The role of allies are to perform those tasks that are difficult that we cannot perform. Our white allies have been doing this.”(5)
That, of course, wasn't true. Over five years of practice was the proof. The New Afrikan-led RATF struck no blows at the armed white right or at killer cops. “Our white allies” were recruited primarily to strike at other New Afrikans. Euro-Amerikan funds, public support, lawyers, defense committees, petty-bourgeois privileges and connections, were all considered and used as factional advantages in a drive to defeat other political tendencies and finally assume overall leadership of the revolutionary nationalist movement. May 19th Communist Organization used the excuse of "following Third World leadership" to isolate themselves from criticism both from other white people and from other New Afrikans.
So RATF was not just a matter of a few Euro-Amerikan combatants joining a New Afrikan guerrilla unit. Far from it. The entire East Coast pfoc, renamed the May 19th Communist Organization, was incorporated into one wing of the PG-RNA and placed under nominal New Afrikan command. Integrating the New Afrikan movement was incorrect, and it was very different from supposedly having "white allies" infiltrate the KKK for you. It wasn't the Klan that was infiltrated.
Under RATF's strategy the Euro-Amerikan May 19th Communist Organization quickly became ever-present in their new movement. Settler anti-imperialists marched in Harlem demonstrations, spoke at Harlem political meetings, became behind the scenes support staff, and played and active role in opposing other New Afrikan political tendencies. Just like the old Communist Party USA in the 1930's.
For five years RATF led a charmed life, as the saying goes. Major expropriations and other actions were pulled off. On November 2, 1979 RATF removed Assata Shakur from a New Jersey prison in one of the most important military actions of the 1970's. Three days later a large Black rally for Black Human Rights at the U.N. Building listened to Assata's tape-recorded message of solidarity from underground. RATF seemed to have made a breakthrough. by combining New Afrikan fighters with Euro-Amerikan organization and weapons, set up safehouses, did tactical intelligence and helped drive vehicles during actions, the BLA-RATF seemed to have found the key that earlier BLA units lacked. Even the Government confirmed this, saying publicly that integrating the BLA made it much more powerful. One Justice Department investigator later praised RATF in a typical comment: "By acting together they were more of a menace than we realized."(6)
That all changed sharply on October 20, 1981, when RATF was set-back in its attempted $1.6 million Brinks expropriation near Nyack, N.Y. Four RATF members were captured while leaving the scene that day. Those arrests made RATF front-page news coast-to-coast, since one of the four was famed Weather Underground fugitive Kathy Boudin. Within hours RATF began unraveling under rapid-fire blows from the FBI. On October 23, 1981, two RATF fighters were overcome by police in a Queens shootout. One, Mtayari Shabaka Sundiata, was killed. Like falling dominoes, Nyack triggered a series of set-backs and arrests, with each new FBI advance producing the intelligence for the next wave of arrests. Within hours of the attempted expropriation, FBI forces began cracking RATF safe-houses. People who had had contact with RATF began receiving FBI visits. It soon became obvious that the security forces had extensive knowledge of RATF, including lists of telephone numbers called, supporters' names, and so on. On January 21, 1982, Kuwesi Balagoon was captured by the FBI's "Joint Terrorist Task Force" in the Bronx, N.Y.
There was a brief tactical slowdown in the FBI offensive as they set up the next round of arrests. For four months the FBI maneuvered to let the above-ground RATF members use FBI-tapped telephones and FBI-bugged meeting rooms. On March 26, 1982 the FBI raided the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America (BAAANA) in Harlem, and associated residences all over NYC. More RATF members are supporters were arrested. During this period RATF tried mobilizing mass support for defense campaigns, and was surprised to find that it had very little. By that point RATF as a New Afrikan military operation was finished, having been crushed with relative ease by the FBI.
The defense campaign was undercut by the well-publicized defection of captured New Afrikans: Tyrone Rison, Ema Rison, Peter Middleton, Solomon Brown, Yvonne Thomas. It was a new thing in the Black Liberation Movement for so much betrayal to take place. In case after case—the RNA-11, the Wilmington 10, the Panther 21, the many BLA units that were cracked, etc.—New Afrikans historically have withstood set-backs and imprisonment without giving way. Even in enemy hands, the public steadfastness of fighters Sekou Odinga and Kuwesi Balagoon and the courage of patriots such as Yaasmyn Fula and Shaheem Jabbar was in that heroic tradition. But it is still true that the amount of betrayal in RATF was a shocking exception from this culture of resistance. It also became publicly known that part of RATF had been involved in cocaine use and dealing. Despite its early show of strength, despite its endorsements from Euro-Amerikan Anti-Imperialists, RATF was decayed at its heart.
A handful of May 19th Communist Organization fugitives continued as best they could, although in relative isolation. Again, like dominoes falling in a row, the May 19th fugitives fell in the Winter and Spring months of 1984-85. Susan Rosenberg and Tim Blunk in New Jersey, in November 1984. Marilyn Buck and Linda Evans on May 11, 1985 in New York. And finally, Alan Berkman and Elizabeth Duke in Pennsylvania on May 25, 1985. Because of the political isolation of the armed struggle at this time the security forces have also been able to use proliferating Grand Jury investigations to force activists and supporters into prison on contempt charges, bypassing the necessity for criminal charges and trials.
The failed Brinks expropriation of October 20, 1981 was the point at which the political initiative openly passed from RATF into the hands of the security forces. How could one tactical set-back produce such a change?
RATF, for all its apparent armed successes, was very brittle. It was a hollow structure that collapsed under the first blow. This was not technical, but political; not tactical but strategic. Much criticism has centered on the many security lapses. While important (and also equally present in other organizations today) these were effects rather than a cause. The problem was that RATF believed that the old revolutionary politics of the 1960s could still be made to work. They believed that the defeat o the '60s Movements was because their politics were never fully applied, due to the combination of white flightism and Black lack of resources. By adding these two missing factors while combining their respective strengths, RATF believed that the defeats could be reversed. RATF was the most backward, neo-colonial aspect of the old '60s politics in action.
RATF was not just a "Black-white" alliance. It was a class alliance of people who, though from different nations, shared petty-bourgeois/lumpen class politics. Just as in the 1930's, when the revisionist Black Intelligentsia chose to unite with the settler petty-bourgeois inside the Communist Party USA--as opposed to uniting with their own proletarian and peasant classes. Why did some New Afrikan leaders want to build on this isolated handful of Euro-Amerikan middle-class people? The millions of the Black proletariat have every skill and physical resource need to sustain the liberation struggle—knowledge, cars, arms, apartments, intelligence, access to technology, etc.—plus the life-or-death need to find an answer outside Babylon.
Further, Marxism-Leninism is not an abstract philosophy or a set of rules. It is the revolutionary science of a specific class, the world proletariat, and its development in a national situation is only possible as part of the political development of that proletariat. In turning away from the New Afrikan proletariat, the New Afrikan leadership of the RATF affirmed their non-communist, neo-colonial politics. They were unable to reach the Black proletariat because they had antagonistic class goals. They united in RATF with the people who they had the most in common with, petty-bourgeois/lumpen from the oppressor nation.
RATF was not a clandestine organization in the Marxist-Leninist sense (although it was armed and illegal). Its organizational and political focus was aboveground. While a small number of fighters (and Kathy Boudin) were clandestine fugitives, a larger number of RATF members and even leaders were aboveground. Nor were they anonymous. There were well-known under their true identities as leading activists and supporters of one faction of the nationalist movement and the BLA-RATF. Their New Afrikan activities were centered in one very "hot" Harlem nationalist health facility, while their Euro-Amerikan activities were centered in the equally "hot" May 19th Communist Organization. Neither the people nor the politics, nor the relationships, were at all hidden from view.
In a classic example of one style of work that emerged from the '60s, by day May 19th leaders were the most public white supporters of urban guerrilla warfare (BLA, RAF, FALN, etc.) in New York City, and by night they slipped away to be the guerrillas they supported during the day. If that didn't fool the security forces in 1968, why should folks have thought the state would be fooled in 1980? Judy Clark, for example, was put forward by the PG-RNA in their newspaper, the New Afrikan, as an exceptional white woman. She toured the country making speeches supporting RATF and one tendency of the PG-RNA. Was anyone who followed the struggle surprised that she was in RATF? There is nothing clandestine in a serious sense about such a primitive, "radical chic" style of work that clearly relied on being exceptionally privileged.
The political backwardness of the RATF was the deciding factor in all areas of its political work. While RATF and its supporters promoted itself as “a qualitative advance in the military response to U.S. imperialism,” and put RATF forward as the revolutionary leadership for all struggles in the continental U.S. Empire, RATF's shared politics were actually very backward.(7) This can be seen in the 1983 Euro-Amerikan self-criticisms around RATF, which were certainly the product of much painful examination and struggle. While those self-criticisms accept responsibility for some errors, they still shy away from admitting what they really did. Limited self-criticism is still used as a tactic, if only unconsciously, to ward off taking responsibility for the political defeat. To hide its real meaning.
The political line of the 1983 self-criticisms by Clark and Gilbert, as well as the May 19th Communist Organization, was simple: 1. Accept criticism for mistakenly intervening within the BLM, trying to join it as exceptional white people rather than struggling to change the settler movement. They do not admit to having to learn from other white people, or to having to change themselves. Nor do they admit to the opportunistic game they played, where they proclaimed some New Afrikans as the supreme leadership of the New Afrikan Nation--and then those same New Afrikans turned around and returned the favor, proclaiming the May 19th-WUO folks as the leading white revolutionaries.
2. Completely separate from the first point, vague statements that "the revolutionary movements" have to overcome unspecified "internal weaknesses" to deal with traitors, drug use, and pimping-prostitution of women. Which movements, who within these movements, and what weaknesses is never said. This is clearly a touchy matter for RATF people. In the self-criticism, Clark and Gilbert treat this awkward subject with self-protective vagueness: "Over the past two years, corruption in the revolutionary movements--the use and tolerance of drugs and pimping—has come to light; and a new revolutionary morality is being fought for... Prostitution, pimping and the tolerance of both are counter-revolutionary--they work against our ability to build revolutionary struggle."(8)
While the Euro-Amerikans appeared, on the surface, to nominally accept some responsibility by the repeated use of the plural phrase “the revolutionary movements,” that was not true. Their real position was to place the blame on the BLM and criticize themselves only for being liberal in not raising criticisms of the BLM — i.e., "clean hands." Since the only publicly reported cases of flipping, drug use, dealing and pimping involved Blacks, to be vague was to support the belief that these degenerations were solely a Black phenomenon. Their vagueness and lack of self-criticism played right along with the imperialist media campaign that portrays New Afrikans as all pimps, violent criminals, dope dealers—“animals” in the popular settler expression. Euro-Amerikan RATF supporters were heard to put out pointed comments like: “At least none of the white people have become informers”—implying their moral superiority compared to the BLM.
Two things are true: that the New Afrikan Liberation Movement has not 50% responsibility, not shared responsibility (“the revolutionary movements”), but 100% responsibility for all political weaknesses and moral degenerations within its own ranks—which unfortunately includes RATF; that the Euro-Amerikan “allies”do not have clean hands in this matter, and have 100% responsibility for the degeneration in their own ranks. Even the attempted evasions are transparent: “The use and tolerance of drugs and pimping...has come to light; a new revolutionary morality is being fought for.” What “new” morality do they mean? Is it “new” to communism that selling drugs, pimping and the sexual exploitation of women is a crime? Was it “new” to Harriet Tubman in 1860? Was it “new” to Malcolm in 1960? Was it “new” to Ho Chi Minh? Who was it “new” to besides RATF and the May 19th Communist Organization? To see that these politics are very very backward in revolutionary terms is not difficult.
We have to go back and unite the two, disjointed parts in their 1983 self-criticism: settler “Anti-Imperialist” intervention inside the BLM and security weaknesses and “moral corruption”. It's clear from all descriptions of the flippers and informers that the BLA-RATF had an excessive number of weak, confused, and opportunistic people inside it. The number of the traitors, in relation to just one unit, was qualitatively significant. Peter Middleton, who had a long history with this grouping, was revealed to be a cocaine addict who was embezzling movement funds. Tyrone Rison is a lumpen mercenary who while in the U.S. army tortured Vietnamese women. Yvonne Thomas, the wife of Mtayari Shabaka Sundiata, was said to have long been mentally ill. And so on. In every oppressed community under imperialist occupation there are damaged people, there are politically unenlightened people, there are people who for various reasons are only tactically or temporarily siding with the movement, etc. That was true in Ali Aponte's Casbah in 1955, as well as in Harlem in 1985. That these people exist around and in the struggle is simply the real world.
But how did a unit with so many treacherous or damaged people get to be thought of as “a qualitative advance in the military response to U.S. imperialism” (to quote May 19th)? The small New Afrikan nucleus that started RATF had their roots in the Black Panther Party, the RNA and the early armed struggles. Like so many others, they were stranded after the 1971-73 defeats by the unresolved class contradictions of their Movement, which had left the armed struggle in disarray.
Imperialism's neo-colonial counter-offensive in the 1960s had struck most heavily at the New Afrikan proletariat, tearing up and dislocating neighborhood after neighborhood. In the chaos, warlordism grew to fill the social vacuum. The large monies from the growing narcotics trade became, as in old China, the material basis for layers of mercenary armed groups parasitic on the masses. Stranded fighters increasingly found the "street force," the source of their new recruitment in the 1960s, tied up in warlord organizations. At the same time so much of the petty-bourgeois leadership was using the neo-colonial road to escape the ghetto, personally and politically.
In those circumstances many stranded fighters reduced themselves to surviving as just another small armed group within the overall sub-culture of warlord-ism. Expropriations for personal funds together with drug dealing became major activities. Political drift and the individualistic erosion of warlordism took their toll on some individuals. Just as in warlord China at the turn of the century, at a time when the masses of armed men and amount of armed violence is at an all-time high within the Nation, the liberation struggle is in disarray and has relatively few forces. The stranded fighters, like all other sectors of the Black Nation, needed the rise of New Afrikan communism to resolve these contradictions.
There was no offensive on the part of the one New Afrikan faction prior to RATF because they were mostly just trying to stay alive, politically and personally. There was not enough organized support in the community to sustain them in an exchange of blows with the state (i.e. there were small handfuls of fighters, but there was no revolutionary infra-structure among the people to sustain guerrilla operations). This is not just weakness, but a sign of transition between old and new and the inability of the old movement to meet the demands of the masses.
In this period many revs complain, if only privately, about the lack of support from the people. A superior attitude is adopted towards the masses, such as: “We're out here fighting, risking ourselves for you, but you aren't supporting us the way you should.” This is one-sided and subjective as a position. In many ways this lack of support is also a positive element in change. Sometimes when the Movement doesn't have enough popular support that's because the masses are right not to give it. Sometimes that's a message from the grassroots. RATF, to use one example, didn't need support from the masses. First, they needed to either clean their own house or go out of business. BLA-RATF's political center was at a drug abuse clinic, they preached to the people how drugs were imperialist counter-insurgency to poison the New Afrikan Nation--yet some of them secretly took part in and/or condoned cocaine use and dealing. One standard for the New Afrikan petty-bourgeois/lumpen elite. Why should the New Afrikan masses have supported such a mess.
Whether or not that small New Afrikan armed nucleus would have made any inner transformation is moot, since the intervention of the May 19th Communist Organization short-circuited any such possibilities. That small nucleus never was forced to transform themselves or die politically. Because when their leadership recruited May 19th to join them, it provided an alternative, artificial answer to their practical dilemma. With a complete Euro-Amerikan organization providing money, safehouses, cars, weapons, intelligence, assistance at armed actions--to say nothing about arranging public forums after the actions--what did BLA-RATF need the New Afrikan Nation for? RATF could free-wheel totally away from the rest of the revolutionary nationalist movement, including other fighters, and the masses of the New Afrikan Nation. The withholding of support by New Afrikans, including other revs, no longer could restrain and temper a small armed group that was still politically confused.
So what the May 19th people called being “allies” was actually substituting themselves fro the New Afrikan Nation. An arrogant and fore-doomed conceit. By helping to launch a guerrilla offensive with such an imaginary foundation they only created another certain military defeat, another certain political victory for the State security forces. RATF was an artificial construct, alien to the New Afrikan masses, that boosted an unstable group into the spotlight as a supposed armed vanguard. False internationalism helped put Tyrone Rison into the position to betray so much. What united RATF was not internationalism, but shared false internationalism. Thus, settler intervention within the New Afrikan liberation movement, neo-colonial attitudes within the Movement, poor security, weak military organization, and abuses of revolutionary morality are not separate problems, but interrelated aspects of the same backward politics.
The amateurishness that has plagued all revolutionaries in the U.S. Empire was shown in the political defeat of the Revolutionary Armed Task Force. We mean no put-down by the use of the word “amateur”, it is a scientific description of revolutionaries who have not succeeded in reaching a professional revolutionary level. Communists define professional revolutionaries by one measure—ability to combat the political police. RATF was totally out-planned and out-maneuvered by the State security forces, despite the courage and fighting ability of individual RATF fighters. The FBI had a superior grasp of strategic political-military factors, and was playing a deeper political game. Which was how they could not only wipe RATF out militarily, but inflict a stinging political defeat.
Often set-backs, even major ones, are turned around by the struggle. The imprisonment of Leonard Peltier, for example, has become an international rallying point to build greater support for the Native Amerikan struggle. But in this case weakness cannot be turned around without a full understanding of how revolutionary amateurishness and neo-colonial attitudes are linked, and how they led to a political-military defeat at the hands of the State security apparatus.
RATF hoped that its growing public visibility, their record of pulling off action after action, would be powerful armed propaganda to help relaunch themselves. Instead, at the end of the contest, it was the FBI that had scored a dramatic political-military blow and walked off with everything:
1. The State security forces used the crushing of RATF to falsely put themselves forward as all-powerful. For five years they had withheld their first, waiting as RATF built up its image. By 1981 RATF was claiming to be the only armed vanguard of the New Afrikan Liberation struggle. Much of the nationalist movement and most of the settler anti-imperialist supporters backed RATF, which had removed Assata Shakur and carried her endorsement. So when the imperialist security forc es defeated RATF in rapid-fire blows after October 20, 1981, it was dramatic propaganda. Not only that RATF was militarily overcome in well-publicized arrests and raids, but that the State security forces crushed RATF so quickly, so easily, and decisively. “The bigger the build-up, the bigger the let-down.”
2. FBI exposure of the moral corruption within RATF was perhaps the most damaging political blow. It was a propaganda coup to be able to smear the New Afrikan Independence Movement and the BLA as being associated with cowards, traitors, confused people, drug dealing, and pimping. This was worth any price to the imperialists. To degrade the Revolution of its moral superiority, its integrity in the eyes of the masses, is the worst blow of all. The enemy knows this. That is why the FBI tried unsuccessfully in the 1960s to portray Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a “moral degenerate.” That's why “Hill St. Blues,” “Miami Vice,” Hollywood movies, imperialist media in general all portray revolutionaries as vicious “terrorists.” When RATF failed to maintain proletarian standards of morality while at the same time pushing itself forward as the armed vanguard, it was only blindly playing the FBI's game. As were all those who supported RATF.
3. Once the State publicized who made up RATF it was an automatic set-back. The grassroots of the New Afrikan Nation has never asked for and has never supported these alliances of New Afrikan men and settler women. No matter how well-intentioned, such distorted alliances have both sexist and neo-colonial aspects. The May 19th Communist Organization, which was primarily women, recreated the customary male-dominated movement only with New Afrikan Men instead of white men. There was a pattern of such alliances in the 1960s and 1970s, in many solidarity committees and anti-imperialist groups, as radical white women broke with white men but not with patriarchal ways of seeing the world.
4. Playing on political weaknesses, the State security apparatus got the most celebrated defendant to disavow armed struggle explicitly and the BLM implicitly. Defendants who refused to turn their backs on the liberation struggle, such as David Gilbert and Judy Clark, were given extremely heavy sentences (ranging up to 75 years). But Kathy Boudin, the most famous of all the Brinks defendants, worked out a deal for a heavy but lesser sentence. In return for some leniency, she had to express public remorse over the deaths of police and guards, plead guilty, and disassociate herself from armed struggle. This confession was heavily publicized in TV news, newspapers and the white Women's Movement press. Her lawyer explained their decision as “pragmatic.”
As her trial neared, Kathy Boudin's defense began one of those media blitzes that WUO/radical chic do so well. The plan was to win settler public acceptance of her as a nice, middle-class white woman who accidentally got involved in Black violence because of her youthful humanitarianism. Mademoiselle, the upper-class fashion magazine, ran a five-page story presenting her in a very mushy, sympathetic light. Mademoiselle’s interviewer and Kathy, talking in the Goshen jail, found out that they had so much in common:
“Her cheekbones are high, her lips chiseled, her hair short, a little tousled. No makeup. Her voice is very low. 'You look like someone from my generation,' she says. 'How old are you?'”
“We have things in common: my father was a biochemist, a professional like hers. I was in Harvard's student and women's movements when she was organizing the welfare mothers in Cleveland. I finished graduate school; she started law school...Her eyes rest on me warmly as I talk. She is still, very attentive. Her smile—a kind of encouraging smile... The talk turns to books—as it often does when talking with friends, although in this context even so small a thing is charged with significance. 'Yes, I read here a lot,' says Kathy. Mainly books by black women writers like The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. She's loaned them to the other women and to some of the guards..."(9)
When questioned on it, Boudin refused to express support for either the BLA or Kuwesi Balagoon's statement that the Brinks action wasn't robbery but a revolutionary expropriation. She did willingly tell Mademoiselle, however, that even before her arrest she had already decided to surface, to return—as she put it—to “her own people.” A similar, although much more political, sympathetic eleven-page interview in the liberal Village Voice was important in that it set forth her position of “feeling terrible about the loss of lives,” both police and New Afrikan, as well as being concerned about the “suffering” of the policemen's families. The Washington Post ran a major interview as well. This media blitz was a carefully orchestrated campaign using her family's exceptional connections. It paid off, impressing her trial judge and playing a role in his decision to let her repent.(10)
This opportunistic vacillation characterized her part of the Brinks defense. On the one hand, Kathy Boudin did not want to become an informer and give up her standing as a revolutionary. On the other hand, she claimed the right to maneuver around politically and make whatever deals with the State she could to get some sentence reduction. In the final deal she agreed to plead guilty and repent in return for a 20 years to life sentence (first parole in 18 years). She also took (and passed) an NYPD lie detector test to back up her claim to have never in her whole life engaged in violence against the Government. While she admitted to being captured fleeing the expropriation, she stressed to the court that unlike the others: “I was unarmed throughout.”
In addition to repeating her position of repenting the deaths, Boudin had to recite aloud in court a statement jointly worked out with the State: “I have led a life of commitment to political principles, and I think I can be true to those principles without engaging in violent acts.”*(11)
* Typical of her vacillating stand, on her next court appearance for sentencing Boudin read a statement saying: “I was there out of my commitment to the Black liberation struggle, and its underground movement. I am a white woman who does not want the crimes committed against Black people carried out in my name.” She and her supporters are trying to use this after-the-deal statement to maintain her image as a radical.
The State security apparatus was quite satisfied with that. It was good propaganda for them to have a prominent settler radical, underground for 12 years, publicly beg them to be considered non-violent. The security forces always like to make a display of weak people. And Kathy Boudin's new image as a submissive white woman, respectful of imperialist authority, was used politically against the other defendants. The imperialist media gleefully played up her “sorrow” over police losses and her deliberate distancing herself from other “terrorist” defendants.
The rest of May 19th did not deal with this vacillation. In large measure because it was just one side of a common position. All three of the Euro-Amerikan Nyack defendants insisted on their personal right to be exceptional white people. Judy Clark and David Gilbert actually claimed to be Prisoners-of-War. By late 1983 they were criticizing themselves for having stuck to that unreal position for a year and a half, until pressure from the liberation movement forced them to see how untenable it was.(12) Kathy Boudin was just a different version of being an exceptional white person: one who could be a WUO fugitive for years, but also be conveniently non-violent; one who claimed that everything she did was motivated by her love for Black people, but who also was free to give the State propaganda against them.
None of these exceptional white people were willing to criticize each other, no matter how wildly different their stances, as their relationship was built on mutual self-protection. For years other Euro-Amerikans had told May 19th how misdirected their interventionism was. But May 19th claimed to be so exceptional as an organization that it didn't need to learn from other Euro-Amerikans or even answer their political criticisms. Just like the WUO.
On their part, Judy Clark and David Gilbert have now admitted the error of claiming for so long to P.O.W.s, and have placed that error as originating their thinking of themselves as exceptional white people working within the New Afrikan Liberation Movement. We need to help deepen that self-criticism. They said:
“We changed our positions as a result of a larger process of struggle to open up the errors of our strategy and line... Addressing these errors made us look at the problems of our defining ourselves as POWs. As New Afrikans organizing around the case argued to us, our position of multi-nationalism undercut the anti-colonial character of their struggle.”(13)
This was a very limited self-criticism; one that was still grudging and self-protective, holding onto the backward politics of Nyack. While no one except a few misguided people ever thought that Judy Clark and David Gilbert were really P.O.W.s, this question is too important to handle carelessly. The political struggle by New Afrikan liberation fighters to gain recognition of their status as P.O.W.s is not a personal question. Recognition of P.O.W. status is recognition of the existence of the New Afrikan Nation, and its War of Independence. For two Euro-Amerikans to jump up and tell the world that they, too, are P.O.W.s just muddied the waters around the issue. Judy Clark and David Gilbert treated being P.O.W.s as a revolutionary prestige symbol, as being "heavy." Being a P.O.W. says nothing about someone personally, just that they are a captured citizen/soldier of the Nation. Which these two captured comrades definitely were not.
This was not an innocent error on their part. It was not due to lack of simple understanding. Nor was it honest ignorance on the part of their New Afrikan “allies,” who shared their errors. Judy Clark and David Gilbert say nothing about them, still trying to cover up the neo-colonial nature of the relationship. The question of who are P.O.W.s, the respective definition of P.O.W.s and political prisoners, was not a brand-new issue in 1981. It was not a mystery.
What makes this error so heavy is that during the mid-1970s the New Afrikan prison movement and the BLA-CC struggled through precisely these definitions of P.O.W.s and political prisoners. Major documents were written on this subject. Those comrades did this out of necessity, to give greater clarity to their Movement and to prevent the individualistic confusions that RATF willfully fell into. So for Judy Clark and David Gilbert to make that error--and stubbornly refuse to see it for a year and a half--meant that they knowingly refused to listen to the political guidance of the Movement. They only reconsidered when their New Afrikan “allies”, who were feeling the heat from the grassroots, urged them to. But the rest of the liberation movement was so unimportant to Clark and Gilbert that they could willfully ignore its political decisions—even though, as they admit, they were operating within the New Afrikan movement. “Allies” shouldn't look the same as “divide-and-conquer”.
The fact is that the rank-and-file of the revolutionary nationalist movement never approved of integrating their movement, and never approved of RATF. And the grassroots never approved of any of this. This is well known.
So Judy Clark and David Gilbert were still not seeing the main point in their error—that they were involved in neo-colonial politics against the wishes of most of the nationalist movement and the grassroots of the New Afrikan Nation. Sliding your way illegitimately into another nation's liberation movement, disregarding the political guidelines of revolutionary activists, fighters, and prisoners, reusing to heed or even answer any criticism except from your selected "allies," is nothing but neo-colonialism. That it comes from Anti-Imperialists is only worse. What does that have to do with heritage of Malcolm? The primary error is not with confused Euro-Amerikans, but is the unresolved neo-colonial influences in the liberation movement. Alliances based on these politics are so disastrous not because these alliances are wrong, per se, but because these are cases of false internationalism.
Judy Clark, David Gilbert and others had struggled to reverse the flightism of the WUO, and cross the line into armed struggle. That they did so is an achievement. Unfortunately, they and May 19th as a whole did not overcome the WUO's neo-colonialism, but only continued it onto a higher level. It is so important to criticize their errors (while it is relatively unimportant to criticize the errors of a Bob Avakian or Irwin Silber), because these are weaknesses still embedded within the Revolution.
The Revolutionary Armed Task Force's inability to withstand the political police, their amateur strategy of non-clandestine armed struggle with politically unreliable forces, had its roots in neo-colonial attitudes. While their New Afrikan leadership was not inexperienced, being veterans of the armed struggle, no amount of practical expertise can make up for neo-colonial mis-orientation.
RATF's amateur strategy was based on the thesis that the defeat of the '60s Black Liberation Movement was the fault of apathetic Euro-Amerikans. By 1977 they were putting forward the line that the 1971-73 BLA defeats were mainly due to lack of Euro-Amerikan radical support. In other words, that white supporters were the decisive factor in the New Afrikan Revolution. Basing their military strategy around this neo-colonial error led to the terrible consequences.
To evaluate RATF we need see not only its own strategy, but the interrelated strategy of the State security forces. Some comrades have advanced the hypothesis that RATF was a “pseudo-gang” — a State-controlled dummy guerrilla unit—and that it was no accident that so many traitors and confused people were incorporated in it. While we have no evidence that this is so, it is beyond any doubt that RATF was at least a State-tolerated and monitored counter-insurgency operation. What is called an “encapsulated gang.” We should explain more fully what this is.
“Pseudo-gang” tactics were systematized and popularized by General Frank Kitson of the British Army, during the suppression of the 1952-56 Kenyan Revolution. But they were by no means invented there. “Pseudo-gang” use in counter-insurgency has an extensive history. In the 1946 Huk rebellion in the Philippines, C.I.A. experts formed “Force X,” one of the most famous “pseudo-gangs.”(14) The C.I.A.'s “Force X” even included real wounded men, and briefly penetrated the Huk underground to identify sympathizers, set up traps for real guerrillas, and visibly commit criminal acts while posing as guerrillas. “Force X” specialized in stealing from peasants and abusing women, while supposedly being guerrillas.
A “pseudo-gang” is made up of traitors and mercenaries, who use the cover of being an entire guerrilla unit to penetrate the struggle and disrupt it from within. Sometimes only imperialist agents make up the dummy unit; in some circumstances the “pseudo-gang” recruits honest new revolutionaries as an even deeper layer of cover.
In its most sophisticated form, this becomes the “encapsulated-gang.” That starts with a genuine revolutionary cell or unit, with a bonafide record in the movement, which has mistakenly let the State security apparatus completely encapsulate it in a bubble of surveillance. As the “encapsulated-gang” goes about its work, maintaining contacts and communications, the State security forces use it as a guide dog to map the underground. Knowing the unit's plans and activities, it is easy for the security forces to arrange for informers to be at the right times and places to be recruited into it. No one doubts the legitimacy of the “encapsulated-gang,” since its leading members have a solid history in the Revolution. Unaware revolutionaries become as agents and don't even know it.
The next-to-final step is for the security forces to permit the “contaminated” unit some successes to boost their image and lull any suspicions (while at the same time perhaps arranging set-backs for political rivals), so that they can play a more leading role struggle. The security forces actually want this “encapsulated-gang,” which provides invaluable intelligence and which can be wiped out at any time, to play as central a role as possible. “Contamination” is promoted.
Permitting the State's “encapsulated-gang” to kill some soldiers or police, or bomb things, or even pull off a big armed action is a cheap price to pay for infecting the heart of a revolutionary movement. This is true in all penetration operations. There are many examples: On October 8, 1969, Brazilian guerrillas took over an airliner with 44 people aboard and escaped to Cuba. It turned out that the C.I.A. secretly knew all about this major action beforehand. With the prior approval of U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, the C.I.A. had permitted the Brazilian guerrillas to successfully pull off the action. This further set up the position of their agents, who on November 4, 1969 finally trapped and killed Carlos Marighela, the famed guerrilla leader.(15) A hijacking in return for Carlos Marighela was a good trade for the C.I.A.
It is necessary for the imperialist security forces to permit or even arrange for their "encapsulated-gang" to do successful actions. Otherwise the unit would be discredited or arrested. The stakes are quite high in these operations. In the Fall of 1957 the FLN, the Algerian national liberation front, bombed the French military headquarters in the most heavily guarded area of Algiers. This action received great publicity and was joyfully received by the hard-pressed Movement. Coming as it did right after bitter setbacks, the death of guerrilla organizer Ali Aponte and the set-back of the FLN guerrillas in the city of Algiers, this action signaled an attempted come-back.
The new FLN Military Commander for the East Algiers Zone (Casbah), “Safy-le-Pur,” was one of the few surviving guerrilla veterans in the city. His new actions, daring and well-publicized, confirmed his leadership;. Soon many new people were recruited, as the urban guerrilla underground was rebuilt out of the ranks of sympathizers. Only, the entire East Algiers FLN unit was an “encapsulated-gang.” “Safy-le-Pur” had survived because he was a traitor working for French intelligence. He was the one who had betrayed Ali Aponte. To promote the role of the “encapsulated-gang” and give it the necessary cover, French intelligence had permitted the bombing of their own headquarters.(16) It was a cheap price to pay for an "encapsulated-gang" operation that eventually took the lives of literally thousands of Algerian patriots.
The point is that the imperialist security forces are capable of sophisticated tactics and strategies, boldly carried out with considerable deception. That, after all, is their job.
None of this was really understood by the RATF leadership, who were concentrating on trying to make their own strategy work. RATF was not just a physical alliance, not just a simple joining of forces. It was itself born of a special political-military strategy, a child born of the 1971-73 BLA defeats. The one small unit of New Afrikan fighters that would initiate RATF found themselves stalemated by 1975. Underground they were only a surviving handful. Aboveground they were more numerous, but still small, with a precarious base in Harlem community health work. But they knew that the FBI understood who and what they really were, and was keeping track of them. As veterans of the Black Panther Party, the RNA security forces, and the first BLA units themselves, the aboveground people were well known to the State and were still among the “hottest” people in New York City.
They had learned the hard way from the BLA setbacks in 1971-1973 that their very small forces with a small network of known supporters was not capable of withstanding a full FBI counter-offensive. Around them they had seen small units of isolated BLA fighters, usually recently released from prison, just go into activity and get wiped out. That was a dead-end that only burned up scarce fighters. Yet without taking the political-military offensive again, they foresaw that the armed movement could just grow weaker and fewer in a downward spiral That was the trap that RATF was designed to burst out of.
The new strategy that would be embodied in RATF grew out of the relationship between those New Afrikan fighters and East Coast elements of the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee (PFOC) and former WUO members. These New Afrikan revolutionaries had envied the relative immunity from repression that settler radicals had. WUO's long record of going without casualties or even arrests was noted. They saw how the FBI's harassment of anti-war activists (including WUO members) was reined in by the liberal Establishment, with media scandals and even demotions of FBI officials. To them the amount of privilege that settler liberals and radicals had was so great as to force the State security apparatus to keep "hands off," for fear of more Watergate type public explosions. The ability of Euro-Amerikan radicals like Judy Clark to get some public support for lawsuits against past FBI COINTELPRO break-ins and surveillance, only further convinced them that they were on the right road.
RATF's strategy was to take advantage of that settler privilege in two ways. The first was to form an integrated "Black-white" military unit, which the FBI would inescapably know about but would have to keep away from. Kathy Boudin and Judy Clark would be a shield for the BLA-RATF, using their settler privilege to supposedly hold off repression. Second, bringing as large a part of the ex-WUO under New Afrikan leadership as possible, forming a settler front that would mobilize liberals against any anti-New Afrikan counter-insurgency drive by the State. The New Afrikan RATF leadership believed that petty-bourgeois settler "allies" could evenly counter-balance the power of the settler political police. The reformist strategy of Huey Newton and the Oakland BPP, of dependency on white allies to survive repression, had never been overturned, and now infected even armed struggle. Old politics still helped shape new alliances, however unconsciously.
Holding off the FBI—together with the plentiful resources that settler organization would provide the BLA-RATF fighters—would hopefully give them space and momentum to establish stronger roots. This particular unit had for years tried to set up ties with the WUO, and with the breakup of WUO in 1977 was at long last starting to recruit anti-imperialists. By 1978 the entire May 19th Communist Organization was nominally under the direction of New Afrikans.
This was not a clandestine relationship. Far from it. The very RATF strategy called for settlers and New Afrikans to organizationally intertwine as closely as possible and as publicly as possible—to warn the FBI off. By 1978 the New Afrikan RATF leadership felt certain their risky strategy, which was admittedly very unpopular within their Movement, was working. They summed it up: “The FBI is afraid of us because they know we control May 19th.” A more amateurish understanding of the political-military situation is hard to imagine.
By that point RATF, which was seemingly successful in an escalating series of armed actions, was living in a fools' paradise. Aboveground RATF people would organize armed struggle support rallies as public leaders, and then slip away to work on the next armed action. Nothing was really clandestine. The ritualistic pretense of security in such a fools' paradise was like a narcotic, making some feel stronger as they got weaker. It is possible that traitors helped maintain the political confusion. In any case, the amateurish mis-estimation that “The FBI are afraid of us” directly sprang from a neo-colonial awe of the magical power of white people—and the neo-colonial error that white people are the answer to the problems of the New Afrikan Nation.
The political-military disaster of the Revolutionary Armed Task Force was in a long-term sense healthy, like a hard blow awakening revolutionaries out of their amateurish games and daydreams. It is possible that the State security forces made a major miscalculation around RATF, showing too much of their real methodology. Perhaps the enemy became over-confident, thinking that people would never catch on to how they work despite repeated beatings.
What imperialism is doing is simple—it is called protracted war. Whether revolutionaries do it or not, the State security apparatus is right now conducting war 365 days a year, year in and year out. This is currently a one-sided war, with all the political strategy, military offensives and total command of the battlefield being held by only one side. A one-sided war is still a war. Just because people are not together or ready doesn't mean that the State security forces are going to call a time-out. Although they always like revs to think that they are not really active whenever revs don't see them. “Out of sight, out of mind” is the motto of the amateur revolutionary.
The imperialist security apparatus has been through many wars. Including many losing wars that forced them through harsh lessons. They have continually learned and reshaped themselves. While ten years after the Fall of Saigon we still haven't learned the first thing from the Vietnamese Revolution—as judged by practice, which never lies. Literally not the first thing.
It is past time to leave the fools' paradise. Past time to master the real world of protracted war, with all its complexities and deceptions. For the security apparatus is never going to be hospitable enough to hand over their secrets. On the contrary, not only does the enemy try to conceal their methods and plans (as any serious army would), but they try to get the revs to have misconceptions about them. Even the liberated FBI COINTELPRO documents only brought to daylight a tiny fraction of the enemy's activities and distorted some (which is why past COINTELPRO revelations cannot be leaned upon as a crutch).
In the first place, it is the dominant petty-bourgeois/lumpen politics of the old movements that has kept us from learning even the simplest tricks of the enemy. Like a political lobotomy. What are called "security violations" or "errors" are not really errors in the usual sense of the word. Done every day by hundreds of activists in dozens of units and organizations, these "errors" are simply established, unofficial policy of the movements. It has been our consistent policy, year after year, to refuse to see even the oldest, simplest maneuver of the security forces. Thus, understanding the enemy can only develop while simultaneously struggling to understand ourselves and overturning our bad politics.
We can prove this by examining practice. What is the oldest, most simple-minded tactic that the security forces use? One of them, in any case, must be the old trick of infiltration by the male military vet who supposedly now wants to join the Rev and use his weapons savvy in doing "heavy" stuff. Haven't we all heard of this many times?
Let us mention just a few of the better known cases of this tactic: In February 1968 "Yedwah Sudan," an airborne veteran, joined the N.Y. BPP and quickly became a leading Bronx BPP activist. He was really NYPD rookie Ralph White, who tried to set up the Panther 21 for various bombings and assassination conspiracies. In October 1964 Larry Grathwohl joined the Cincinnati WUO collective, claiming the usual Vietnam vet rap. He, too, was an agent, and arranged Linda Evans' 1970 arrest (she was the first of the WUO fugitives to be caught by the FBI). The FBI and local police used this fairly primitive tactic dozens of times in the 1960s and early 1970s against every movement around. They used it because the cover story both fit what the Movement wanted to hear, and because the "heavy" Vietnam vet act gave plausible cover to reactionary men who obviously had questionable politics but were talking up armed conspiracies.
Did revs learn from all these well-publicized cases? Well... The "Revolutionary Committee of the WUO" built its West Coast military cell in 1976 around two FBI agents, one of whom played the by now classic role of the Vietnam vet weapons expert. At the same time the New Afrikan nucleus of the BLA-RATF was recruiting another "heavy" Vietnam vet combat expert to help do expropriations--name: Tyrone Rison. And in 1981, yet another "heavy" veteran joined a New Afrikan collective that was publishing "an illegal newspaper." This veteran specialized in weapons training and trying to set up more expropriations--name: Howard Bonds. Can we see any pattern here?
Howard Bonds became the Government's star witness at the 1985 trial of the New York 8+. The defendants were members of the Sunrise Collective, which conducted political study classes at the Harlem Fightback Center, did community organizing and secretly published Arm the Masses. ATM, according to NY 8+ Omowale Clay, was “an illegal newspaper. It was an underground newspaper.” One liberal newspaper report on the case stated: “When you examine the profile of Bonds that emerged at the trial, it matches up with classic COINTELPRO double agent. Bonds approached Chimurenga (defendant Coltrane Chimurenga—ed.) in 1981 professing military expertise. His function within the group became weapons procurement and training... According to Wareham, (defendant Roger Wareham — ed.) Bonds disdained the rest of the group's dedication to study of political theory and always sought to engage them in adventurous activity.” FBI pre-arrest surveillance records admit that Bonds made daily drug buys and spent many nights at the expensive sex club Plato's Retreat. In part because Bonds was discredited, the NY 8+ won a trial victory, with only seven months of community service for weapons and false I.D. charges. One defendant, Jose Rios, was acquitted completely. His former 'rads now believe that Bonds is a self-serving mercenary, who either was always an informer or who flipped months before the arrests.
If someone claimed to be a mathematician but didn't know that 1+1=2, we might wonder. Yet it's unfortunately “normal” that those who fight the State security apparatus, don't know one single thing (literally) about security. It's a costly clown show, where year after year the State agents can sucker revs in with the same, tired-out, simple-minded tactics. Folks who are righteous veterans of firefights, folks experienced with the BPP and WUO, folks who went to Harvard, who have law degrees, don't know that “1+1=2” in political-military terms. Practice is the proof, of amateurishness and everything else. We are sharp here, not in a personal sense, but because it is absolutely time as the No. 1 priority to end all such revolutionary backwardness.
This police tactic is just a minor thing in and of itself. What is important is an unofficial policy of being fools for the same simple tricks, taking beating after beating, year after year. Isn't that unnatural? “Custeristic”? What it proves is that this is not a matter of individual errors, of “street smarts,” of knowing the past famous cases of infiltrators, or of better technique. The fundamental ideological view of the old '60s movements is the cause--which is why these "errors" are so universal and so persistently hard to stamp out.
In this particular example, the State security forces are taking advantage of our petty-bourgeois subjectivism, manifested in rev's insistence of seeing things as they wish them to be, rather than as they really are. Because Vietnam veterans made important contributions to the '60s revolutionary organizations, folks started hoping that they were an easy solution to practical needs. The common fantasy is that recruiting ready-made fighters and ready-made experts will be a free short-cut to building. And folks are willing to have little or no political standards for such “heavy” fighters. The imperialist security forces feed upon our amateur fantasies. (But Attica and Marion are very real) This example also shows how deeply folks still believe that Peoples War is a “macho man” exercise, where the eagerness to engage in violence is all there is. That's why in practice folks couldn't tell the difference between revolutionary fighters and imperialistic mercenaries. It looked the same. “Macho, macho man...”
When we become objective instead of subjective, we can readily see that the State security forces have certain developed tactics, short-term strategies, and long-term strategies. All of which they attempt to conceal from our eyes. That the security apparatus too has its own contradictions and limiting conditions. This is too long a discussion for us to go into here, but it is still necessary to keep this generalization in mind.
It is not the long-range strategy of the security apparatus to wipe out all revolutionary opposition. For the simple reason that they do not believe that this is possible. For example: a classified counter-insurgency analysis by an official in the FBI's Latin Amerikan division concluded that revolutionary opposition was a permanent fixture, because the mass discontent that produced it could never be avoided in capitalist societies ("even in the United States"). This is an objective recognition on their part. Nor is it just part of the FBI that has this view. In 1976 the U.S. Justice Department's Task Force on Disorders and Terrorism concluded:
“A substantial segment of the community is not merely politically apathetic but surprisingly naive in its beliefs and reactions. This segment is easy prey for extremists and is materially influenced by the apparent successes of radical action. Civil authorities cannot afford to ignore the existence and attitudes of this passive mass or wait until it has thrown its support in a crisis to those seeking change by violent means.”(17)
In other words, the professionals in the State security apparatus recognize that revolutionary discontent is continually being reborn and sustained within the masses, and therefore that its total eradication is not practical. Their long-range strategy is thus one of controlling and indirectly managing the inevitable revolutionary opposition. That is, they recognize and adapt in their own way to the necessarily protracted nature of the conflict. For this information is their primary necessity, the alpha and omega of counterinsurgency. Given the superior resources of the Imperialist State, anything and anyone they know about fully (names, locations, etc.) they can neutralize. Their strategy involves trading conditional tolerance for numbers of already-known revolutionaries (who are being observed) in order to ensure a continuing flow of information about all new people and developments.
Such deceptions have a long history, being standard operating procedures of the Russian Czarist Okhrana (secret political police). Whenever the Okhrana broke up a local underground revolutionary collective (the Russians called them “circles”) they always let at least one rev “escape.” This survivor was kept under surveillance so that when a new underground group was built, he or she would lead the Okhrana to it. The Russian underground called these people “breeders.” The same idea expanded becomes the “encapsulated-gang.”
When we point out that the enemy works to keep their methods and plans a secret, this is not just because they don't want us to know. They are also constrained by the general political situation. The U.S. is not yet Kenya, Algeria, or Vietnam before independence, where open war without limitations could be waged. Regular “pseudo-gangs” are in theory illegal in the U.S., since the Government is not supposed to have its own security officers rob banks, do jailbreaks, shoot police, and plant bombs. Their use here has meant several alterations, all directed at concealment: the use of “encapsulated-gangs,” using lumpen mercenaries instead of security officers to infiltrate, and never admitting that any operation existed at all. This has meant that mercenary agents planted in the “encapsulated-gang” must conceal their role—either “escaping” or pretending to turn traitor only after the group is arrested, as Howard Bonds and the FBI did after the arrests of the New York 8+.
In their RATF operation the State security apparatus depended upon both tactical and strategic deception. For their “encapsulated-gang” operation to work the FBI's “Joint Terrorist Task Force” had to keep the RATF cadre lulled and unaware. The lengths to which they went was shown by their line around the April 20, 1981 shooting in Queens that left two police down (one dying). The two officers were cut down in a barrage of 9mm. bullets, after stopping a van for questioning. Their assailants fled the scene. Police allegedly identified the two fighters involved by fingerprints and witnesses.
Within hours the NYPD had put out a nationwide alert for Abdul Majid (sn Anthony LaBorde) and Basheer Hameed (sn James York). Both had long political records, and had in the past been accused by authorities of being in the BLA. Early news reports featured sensationalistic police speculation that a BLA operation was involved, either an ambush or shooting to protect fugitive Assata Shakur (who the police had conjectured was possibly in the van). This created a problem for the political police. A renewed spotlight on the BLA in general--plus public demands for an "anti-terrorist" campaign—might jolt RATF awake and stir folks into fleeing the trap. So the FBI and NYPD put on an act to lull everyone, putting out that the shooting wasn't political and that they thought the BLA didn't even exist anymore!
At a press conference the night of the incident, NY Chief of Detectives James T. Sullivan, backed up by FBI officials, told the press with a straight face: “The BLA came to an end in the early 1970s.” He even said that Federal authorities had "no indications" of any "BLA" activity anywhere in the U.S. When wounded police officer John Scarangella finally died on May 1, 1981, the police and FBI once again used a press conference to put out the same reassurance that they had “no indications” of any “BLA” activity.(18)
That was amazing. Over a year since Assata Shakur had been liberated from prison, followed by public BLA-RATF support meetings in various cities playing the tape-recorded message from Assata, the State security forces were clumsily pretending that they knew nothing about any "BLA." But their flimsy deception worked. RATF remained confident that there was no cause or alarm. Things were going well on the road to Nyack.
However clumsy, these tactical deceptions worked within the larger context of the security forces' strategic deceptions. RATF cadre just could not see the warning lights, because action after action was successful. They mistakenly thought the job of the State security apparatus was to stop them from doing actions; so if they were pulling off expropriations and prison breaks then the FBI must be powerless to stop them. As though the political police were just cops on the street. Those cadre were still under the conditioning of the colonial/criminal mentality.*
* See "Transforming the Colonial/Criminal Mentality," Notes from a New Afrikan P.O.W. Journal Book One.
The political police have long-range concern for political goals. They don’t care primarily about bank-jobs, prison escapes, hijackings or symbolic bombings per se. The CIA/FBI, etc. are concerned about winning protracted war, not about small skirmishes along the way. If you will help them stage a front-page propaganda show trial, help them morally discredit the BLA, help them deepen splits in the liberation movement, help them appear all-powerful, then they'll be glad to let you stage some actions before your arrests. And the security forces will be especially glad to let you attract all the new (and old) people possible into their trap.
The State security apparatus knows that the breakup of the U.S. Empire is a possibility. They know that oppressed masses have moved from protest to rebellion, putting armed struggle to the forefront, and that when U.S. imperialism's neo-colonial scheme breaks down liberation war will break out on a higher level. In their own way, they have faith in the masses. More, perhaps, than we do. For our movements do not really yet believe that the masses are the element of liberation. That's why there are still no actual plans for the breakup of the Empire, no beginnings of laying the roots of socialism among the masses. What we can learn from RATF is that ending backwardness means understanding armed struggle in a communist way. In the real world, “Rambo” is scared of Madame Binh.
1. It is necessary to sum up the past after each particular period--not to dwell in it, but precisely to be able to move sure-footed into the future. We have all heard of athletes who are haunted by a losing match or game, replaying it over and over in their minds. Some folks are still haunted by the set-backs of the '60s movements, replaying it over and over, bitterly blaming others for the defeats, trying the same moves all over again hoping that the page of history can be rewritten. We as communists must reach a consolidated understanding of the past period, so that its lessons can be used in the new period of rebuilding. Sum up the past to leave the past.
2. We have seen that false internationalism has been a significant factor in the world struggle. While false internationalism exploits the genuine respect for proletarian unity that exists, it is not merely a trick. False internationalism is an opportunistic alliance between petty-bourgeois-minded elements of different nations. In pre-liberation China false internationalism was used to promote very different policies at different times--from the disarming of the masses in 1926027 to the reckless military adventurism of 1934-35. What was consistent was their inner political content. Each involved unrealistic subjectivism and opportunism. Each promoted a certain petty-bourgeois clique and the expense of the Revolution (but in its name).
There are two kinds of neo-colonialism present in the world. The first and more obvious kind is represented by the Marcos Regime in the Philippines, the former Shah of Iran, Andy Youngs and Jesse Jacksons. That is, national psuedo-bourgeois and petty-bourgeois who are openly pro-imperialist and pro-U.S. Empire. They stand for some kind of independence but only within the framework of being puppets for imperialism. The second kind of neo-colonialism is by far the more dangerous. It is the neo-colonialism within the revolution. Even the strongest liberation movement can lose in the two-line struggle within its ranks. The temporary victory of the capitalist roaders in China is an inescapable example. In our own movements, even in armed units, there are neo-colonial elements, trends of thought, policies. False internationalism that has plagued the '60s revolutionary movements here in the U.S. is neo-colonial in essence.
False internationalism, no matter how "nationalist" or "Marxist" its outward dress, inevitable promotes slavish attitudes of the supposed superiority of oppressor nations, of the imperialistic way of doing things, etc. This may be done crudely--such as the treacherous replacement of Mao Zedong by the European revolutionary tourist Otto Braun. It may be done more subtly: the Revolutionary Armed Task Force, for example, took the line that "Black-White" political integration was good so long as selected New Afrikans gave the orders instead of settlers. But RATF's basic principle was the slavish idea that white people are the answer to the problems of the New Afrikan Nation. In this type of relationship the oppressor nation acts as a Rear Base Area for opportunism within the national liberation movement (and vice-versa). False internationalism confronts us with this choice--slavishness or self-reliance.
3. It is not enough to just change one wrong policy. To end backwardness we must overturn the entire petty-bourgeois/lumpen way of life and thought of the old movements. The '60s style of political work promoted individualism, to use one example. For fifteen years revolutionary organizations here in the U.S. Empire have correctly criticized individualist politics. The progress has been less than spectacular, however. May 19th and ex-WUO people were determined to reverse the history of flightism of the Anti-Imperialist tendency. And they did cross the line into armed activity. But they did so as individuals (exceptional white people), joining the New Afrikan liberation movement, leaving their own movement and leaving it unchanged. Ten years after it all began with the split inside the WUO, there is still the same approximate amount of Euro-Amerikan support for armed struggle that there was a decade ago. Almost zero. The Euro-Amerikan movement is still primarily flightist.
4. Because people are still circling around under the guidance of petty-bourgeois/lumpen class politics, all the talk of building revolutionary culture is still just lip-service. WUO, as we saw, spoke of revolutionary culture but kept being drawn to the most reactionary aspects of the alternative culture--opposing Women's Liberation and allying itself with the patriarchal drug subculture. Picking up the gun in no way changes this. RATF and May 19th Communist Organization proved that by continuing the same policy as the WUO.
The Women's Movement, for all its weaknesses and settleristic limitations, was at the center of cultural change in the U.S. oppressor nation. Because that was where the spark of Women's Liberation had been struck. Like WUO and the rest of the patriarchal settler Left, pfoc and May 19th paid lip-service to Women's Liberation while opposing it.
May 19th related to the Women's Movement only in an opportunistic way. They always sought to recruit radical women out of the women's community, turned to it as the only community in White Amerika that would give them a hearing (the full meaning of that fact never penetrated their arrogance), but only wanted to take and never to give. Although May 19th and pfoc congratulated themselves as the supposed communist leadership for white women, they led no new struggles to strengthen the Women's Movement, contributed to new ideas or strategies, and made no secret of the fact that they considered themselves above other white women. It is not a surprise that such a backward, slavish attitude should lead them into association with the reactionary drug subculture, dope dealing, FBI agents, traitors, and the oppression of New Afrikan women. Their thoughtless approach to armed struggle was as a macho playground. Revolutionary armed struggle, whether its forces be large or small, seeks to encourage and represent the most rebellious mass political currents, the most honest and serious thinking sectors of society. To be practical about revolutionary military work demands this understanding.
5. The fact that RATF marked a nodal point where neo-colonialism was clearly dominant in the armed movement reminds us again that the fundamental struggle is between socialism and capitalism. Too often words like "socialism" or "armed struggle" get ritualistically tossed around by folks who don't even know what they mean. Key concepts get demeaned and robbed of their serious meaning.
Socialism is not a type of government that goes into effect the day after the Revolution, as many believe. Neither is capitalism merely a society with private ownership of capital and a ruling class that embodies this. Capitalism is the dominant world culture, a prevalent way of organizing social life, of solving problems, a distinctive structure of thought. As a human system it is many hundreds of years old, has absorbed within it older social systems such as patriarchy, slavery and feudalism, and has spread to root itself within many different nations and peoples.
Socialism in comparison is very new and still in our historical infancy. We can win state power but we cannot “win” socialism. Socialism is also a certain structure of relations between people, a certain culture, a certain ideology and way of solving problems. It must be built, developed, created and understood, particularized to the needs of specific nations and peoples. As we know, socialism is the class rule of the proletariat. It is the social system of the proletarian class. The modern proletariat is the newest world class, still centuries away from assuming fully developed form anywhere in the world. As a class the proletariat has, like all other classes, definite characteristics--modern thinking, communal, scientific, leading the oppressed of the world. To be a socialist is to be a partisan of one particular world class.
There are only two great, opposing class systems and ideologies in the world--capitalism and socialism. If we are not thinking and living is a socialist manner, then irregardless of what we may subjectively think, we are thinking and living in a capitalist way. We can only go one way or the other. There is no third choice or halfway ground. Because capitalism is so much more established, older everywhere, rooted in the daily habits of millions, we can only "win" socialism by struggling to self-consciously build it in all aspects of life.
Those who do not struggle, consciously struggle, to become fully socialist in their thought will inevitably remain capitalistic in their thought. Those who do not consciously struggle to become fully socialist in their way of life are inevitably drawn backward to neocolonialism and patriarchy. That is the most important lesson of the RATF experience. If we can pick up that understanding, then the losses and sacrifices of the revolutionaries involved in RATF will have contributed in full.
THE STRUGGLE NEVER ENDS
Men learn and reach correct judgments only by experience. To test a certain line of action is not to make a mistake but take the first step toward discovering the correct line. If that test proves that certain line to be wrong, the test itself was correct, was experiment in search of correctness, and therefore necessary. There are no controlled conditions in the great laboratory of social science.
I have not always reasoned this way. Until 1932 I sat like a judge, mercilessly condemning “mistakes” and beating recalcitrants into line like a drill sergeant. When I saw men killed and movements broken because of stupid leadership and stupid following, a fury possessed me. I could not forgive. When Han and another Korean party leader were on trial in Shanghai in 1928, I did not care whether they were spies and traitors, but I felt earnestly that they deserved punishment for their objective criminal stupidity in having a party organization so weak that the Japanese could a arrest a thousand men in a few days.
For myself, I no longer condemn a man by asking what is good or what is bad, what is right or what is wrong, what is correct or what is mistaken. I ask what is value and what is waste, what is necessary and what is futile, what is important and what is secondary. Through many years of heartache and tears, I have learned that "mistakes" are necessary and therefore good. They are an integral part of the development of men and of the process of social change. Men are not so foolish as to believe in words; they learn wisdom only by experiment. This is their safeguard and their right. He knows not what is true who learns not what is false. The textbook of Marxism and Leninism is written not in ink but blood and suffering. To lead men to death and failure is easy; to lead men to victory is hard.