Civil War, Dialectics, and the Possibility of Revolution

A member of SM28 sat down with a revolutionary from the Midwest to learn more about the George Floyd uprising. The resulting interview is vast in scope, touching on questions such as the possibility of revolution in the United States, what we can learn from the 2019 Hong Kong uprising, the current state of the American anarchist movement, the Party of George Floyd, cybernetics, dialectics, and the risk of civil war, among other issues.


What was your motivation for taking part in the George Floyd uprising?

I’ve been a revolutionary my whole life, and the theory of revolution that I come out of – insurrectionary anarchism – posited that the ultimate contradiction in the United States is race, specifically around policing and police violence against black people. Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, there were riots, and near uprisings, around this particular contention. And then in 2020 it finally happened, the thing that we knew was going to happen eventually. And once it started, it was like, “Drop everything. This is the moment we've been waiting for.” At the time, nobody knew that the uprising was going to fail. I thought that we were possibly entering a revolutionary period in the United States, and that great struggle and great risks were necessary to push it as far as possible.

So you think revolution is possible in the United States?


In the heart of the empire?

In the heart of the empire.

Well, that’s good to hear, because I’m not sure most people think so.

Revolution might be impossible. But when a mass uprising takes place in nearly every large city in the country simultaneously, while people are expropriating every ounce of property that they can – if it is possible for there to be a revolution in the United States, that seems to be the moment. But then it reached its limits and it did not move forward. I don't know if it could have. So maybe it is impossible. I like to think that it reached a set of limits and we just need to go beyond them next time. But there's no possible way of predicting when the next time is. It could be tomorrow, it could be 100 years. It was 50 between 1968 and 2020.

But also, history seems to be accelerating, right?

Totally. I try to take a world-systems approach.¹ And the fact that there's been uprisings and insurrections happening around the world in a seemingly accelerating fashion, signifies some kind of crisis within the broader capitalist, global system. If there is a mass crisis at a global systemic level, I think that there can be chain reactions, something bigger than the Arab Spring, something bigger than 1848. That could happen. And given that this is the heart of the empire, it could be particularly ripe for struggle here to spread to the periphery of the global empire. If the metropole can be in civil war² and if the periphery can rise up at some level, then maybe that's how capitalism will die. But this is sort of a religious idea as much as it is intellectual, so who knows?

But I think that the reason one takes part in revolt and takes all the risks is for the possibility of the world changing in a decisive way. Not just because there's some spiritual goodness to it, or because it's fun, or even because of anger. What it’s really about is standing up to a system that wants to destroy you, that chews people out. It's about posing the possibility that things could be otherwise. So if you want the end of capitalism, then you have to be gunning for revolution.

I also think that there are a lot of possibilities for digital technology. While the internet is obviously a contentious space that is dictated and run by the enemy, it can also be used to coordinate revolt. The Hong Kong revolt used digital technology to compose itself and reflect upon itself as a movement, and to fight the police with a higher degree of collective intelligence. What if a digital cybernetic party emerged, whereby the party of insurrection can reflect upon itself at a global level so that simultaneous revolts can strategize in real-time with each other through some kind of feedback apparatus?

In Hong Kong the revolt used digital technology to intentionally disseminate information on a mass scale – how to use umbrellas and lasers, how to make a mask out of your t-shirt, how to make and throw molotov cocktails, how to put out tear gas with street cones. All of this collective intelligence was turned into memes in Hong Kong, but here we only saw glimpses of that. 

With the advent of digital technologies, a new international could be even more international and even more dialectical.³ A central part of the dialectic is the spirit understanding itself as subject and object. If the proletariat is that part of capital which is the underside of capital, the part of itself which capital cannot ever fully encompass, in other words, the remainder that is hostile to capital, if that section of society can understand itself as spirit in this way, reflecting upon itself as an object and as a subject, being conscious of itself as a process, then maybe a lot more becomes possible. 

The rate at which ideas and actions can spread is just so much faster now. I drove from Minneapolis to Chicago in late May 2020 and saw burning cop cars not just in those cities, but in small cities we stopped at along the way. This was happening all at the same time. And if that's possible, what else is possible? How can we discount the possibility of revolution? There's no way of proving that revolution is possible or impossible. History is unpredictable. It blows our expectations out of the water. I hoped, I prayed but never thought I would see the Chicago police getting chased out of neighborhoods where they previously had free reign. I never thought I would see so much looting to the point where I walk into a grocery store and there's only one thing left on the shelf and that's a carbonated coffee soda that no one wants. Everything else is gone. What is possible after that? 

People came up to me all the time during the uprising and were like, “This is a revolution. We are in the middle of a revolution.” That was the language of the riots. And these were not activists or anarchists.

Yes. I had the same experience. People were not messing around. But people also seemed to be looking for something more.

And this is why Hong Kong is so interesting because they developed a process for the movement to feed back upon itself, using Telegram and other digital mediums. And in that way, they created an emergent strategy. And that's really inspiring to me because it seems like the old school way – in which you join the Party and then make the plan and follow it – this seems very out of touch. Instead, it's more about creating a density of revolutionary sensibility, such that when an incipient revolutionary strategy emerges within the contours of revolt, we can feed into that and try to potentiate it.⁴

We should also recognize that there are already dozens and dozens of overlapping, positive, anti-social conspiracies, focused on expropriating property. And these people may not be anarchists or communists, but they aren’t dumb, and they believe in revolution.

Sometimes more than anarchists and communists do!

Yeah. To me, this reflects the mediocrity of the revolutionary left, when large segments of it are not preparing for revolution. The dismissal of the revolutionary potential of the uprising is a reaction against the audacity of those who maintain fidelity to that potential. And because so many anarchists deny that potential, I don’t even call myself an anarchist anymore. The counter-revolutionary element within anarchism is too great. Even if those people also throw down, there is little idea of what to do and for what purpose.

Can you say more about the anarchist movement?

So now there's a segment of the anarchist movement that is revolutionary. These are people who fought in the uprising and are actively preparing for more unrest. But there's also a segment that is not – people who deny the possibility of revolution. And in a bizarre way, the segment that is counterrevolutionary likes to say that the segment that is revolutionary is not really anarchist, or is authoritarian, or is conspiratorial in a bad way. And so, the meaning of anarchism is topsy-turvy right now. 

I think anarchism is in complete disarray today and should be abandoned. But when people who are pro-revolution leave the anarchist movement and start calling themselves communists, it's also kind of confusing. 

Do you think communism is ever going to work as a political category in the US? 

No, but then what else do we have?

It seems like Americans have an easier time digesting anarchism than they do socialism or communism…

Yes, but at the expense of embracing the inherent liberalism within anarchism. And the best part of anarchism, the revolutionary communist part – that part is submerged. So what we get is radical liberalism calling itself anarchism. 

A revolutionary movement will have to be able to discern what it wants and what it needs, and either a new term will emerge to describe this mass consciousness or it will have to clarify what the revolutionary movement means by the word “communist.” So, for now I think it's the best word we have, because anarchism is irredeemably liberal.

You said before that the category of “revolution” came up for you during the uprising. Did “anarchism” or “communism”?

Not really. “Black Lives Matter” came up. “Antifa” came up. There was a cool moment where my white clique merged with a black clique – the party of George Floyd, right? – and we understood ourselves as “BLM-Antifa.” We would chant “Black Power.” That felt good. The group also had a very spiritual vibe to it. It was very, very inspiring. That group fell apart, though. 

How long did it last?

Just for the uprising. That was really disappointing when it fell apart, which was partially because of the racial segregation of material life in America. Some of the black comrades were stuck working shitty jobs. Some were also facing much higher legal charges than the white comrades. And then the white comrades were doing the counterculture stuff, with a lot more economic resources than the black comrades. And then it just fizzled. 

That's unfortunate but makes sense. But damn, the BLM-Antifa synthesis. That’s it, isn’t it?

Totally. We would be running around with these young black militants and eventually, we were like, “Look, we're gonna level with you. We're Antifa.” And they'd be like, “Oh, it all makes sense now, because honestly, I wanted to join Antifa, but I didn't know how to.” So there we were, BLM-Antifa synthesizing.

It’s interesting because some people say that race was suspended during the riot, but for me, it’s more like it took on a new meaning. White people chanting Black Power with their black comrades doesn’t exactly escape the racial dynamic, but it does subvert it.

The worst moment was when race was reinscribed within a segregationist mentality, by the left itself. Left racialism was very much at play where there was a dialectical reversal of the script, where it’s white people washing black people’s feet, white people acting as pawns. There was a flipping of racial categories without any challenge to the categories themselves. The liberal counterinsurgency mobilized this tendency within people, which was very much built around an apparatus of white guilt. 

So there’s the counterinsurgent moment of race. But the moment that was the most powerful reminded me of the last chapter of Black Skin White Masks, when Fanon describes how the point of the decolonial struggle isn’t to demand reparations from the white man but to create a new humanity. He talks about how racism is this force of death that affects us all, explaining how it affects black people, how it affects white people. And then he talks about how we need to destroy the racial schema through mass revolutionary struggle, which creates a new concept of what it means to be human. At its best, the George Floyd rebellion posed that possibility. There were multiple rebellions, in multiple cities, where older black men came up to me and said: “All lives matter.” And what they were signaling was that you are white and I am black, and I’m aware that you have been part of a power structure that has oppressed me, but we are here together because we want to explode the categories of racial humanity and create a new category of what it means to exist together. Young people don’t say that kind of stuff, because they know that “All lives matter” is a racial dog whistle used by the right wing. But these older black men didn't seem to think about it that way. They were just trying to say: “I see you. You're with me, I'm with you. Let's destroy the police and create a life worth living together.”

The best moments in the uprising felt like an overcoming of race and a redeeming of humanity. We’re in the midst of the riot, the police are getting pummeled with rocks, everything’s getting looted, the third precinct is on fire, and this dude comes up to me and he’s like “All lives matter, man. Here’s some beer.” And I’m like “Cool, I have some liquor, here you go.” And we drink together for a minute. And then, “Alright, let’s go.” It felt like I experienced humanity for the first time. It felt really good. It felt like we were on the same side. The devastating part is that after the rebellion the racial divisions returned. 

Can you say more about the return of racial divisions?

In some ways, race relations are worse now. The racialized liberal politics that have become so popular since the uprising are very confusing. Everyone is woke as fuck, but it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a Gramscian hegemony that slowly takes root in the mainstream. It’s actually worse. Everyone is anti-racist now but it's all meaningless.

But having lived through the real shit, and coming out on the other side, do you think we have anything to show for it?

Well, we know what we did and what actually happened. We know that there are down-ass people all across the country who want to fight. There’s a new wave of ecological direct action happening in the US, and that hasn’t happened since at least the 2000s. I don’t think it's coincidental. 

Before the uprising, I was trying to build a force that could respond to and encourage participation in a revolutionary situation. After the uprising, I'm still trying to do the same thing, except I got different projects now. The projects that I'd been part of proved to be vastly insufficient. 

So I do believe that the conditions are ripe for the development of a revolutionary movement in America, between now and the next uprising. I believe that that's possible today in a way that wasn’t before the uprising.

So you think we’re in an intermediary period?

There’s always an interlude. Revolts and holding patterns, that’s what it is in capitalism. There’s never true peace. People are very discontent. I know I am. It's getting harder to get by. The police are still killing people, even more than before. And the state can’t do anything to release the social tension. Even with something like student loans, it can’t do shit. The far right is ready for war. So, if nothing changes, it’s going to happen again.

And right now there are probably many people on both the left and the right trying to organize themselves for what they want the outcome to be for the next major wave of contention in America. And what that’s going to look like is undetermined, but my experience in Kenosha tells me that after the initial honeymoon period of an uprising, you have the solidification of different armed factions. And how did that shake out in Kenosha? A couple of people were shot dead and someone's arm was blown off. So we see that a revolutionary moment in America is also a kind of civil war. 

The question is, how do we create a feedback loop between the conscious militants and the masses of people who are going to continue to rise up? How do we harness the energy of civil war and direct it toward revolutionary purposes? Is the next stage of the struggle arming the mob? Putting a pistol in everyone’s hand?

Well the thing is that a lot of people were already armed in the uprising, right?

Concealed, yeah.

How did you experience that?

A memory that I have – which is so crazy that it doesn’t even feel real – is when a crowd of people was approaching the police, but there was still some distance from them, and an armed, black insurgent went in front of the crowd and unloaded a clip at the police. That was crazy.

That kinda thing definitely happened during the uprising, all over the place.

It felt like the sleeping bear of the American proletariat finally woke up. 

Compared to the European proletariat, the popularity and accessibility of guns in the US seems to change the equation of class struggle, no?

The possibility of violence in America is much higher here. It’s very concerning. I worry about the civil war going down and an anti-black genocide happening. It’s sad and fucked up to even think about it.

That’s what happened in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. White business owners and their militias shot any black person out in the street. And then, of course, anti-black pogroms have happened many times going back to the beginning of this country. So it's a possibility that lurks within the fabric of white American society, especially among the downwardly mobile middle class.

When I go back to where I’m from, which is a one-hundred percent white rural town in the Midwest, I can’t stand the atmosphere. I am constantly on the verge of getting into fistfights over really basic stuff. Now people from there look at me and I’m considered to be “urban,” which for them means “black.” I feel the hate. They’re all Trumpers. So, I look around these small rural towns and I wonder how this doesn’t come to a head, at some point.

People can debate guns, but that doesn’t change the way shit goes here. I was there when Kyle Rittenhouse killed Joseph Rosebaum and Anthony Huber. I was a few feet away from Rittenhouse and ran away when I saw someone rush at him. I knew he was going to start shooting. I heard the shots right behind me. Right after that happened, me and all these other people escaped to the beach on Lake Michigan. So then we were on the beach, and there's a big line of trucks, and they’re shining their headlights at us. We were on the ground trying to hide, but they knew we were there. And then someone asked, “Does anyone have a gun? Does anyone have a gun?” And we didn't. That was the way it went when shit got heavy. There was no playing around anymore. So, civil war isn’t an ideological question. It's a pragmatic one. 

Yes, the question is how to transform the dynamic of civil war into a process of social revolution and mass expropriation. Because if it’s only about civil war, we lose.

Yes, but the revolutionary cities might also just have to crush and occupy the reactionary rural areas at some point. I don’t say this lightly. It’s where I’m from. But there are too many reactionaries in certain parts of the countryside. I mean, peasants are chill, but there aren’t peasants in the US.

True. It’s a difficult question. We will have to return to it at some point. But for now, is there anything else you want to say about the uprising?

The fact that the party of George Floyd was interracial and anti-racist bodes well for the future. But its limit is that it had no way to counter the black-led counterinsurgency, which was also anti-racist, but in a liberal way. When black counterinsurgents told people to stop doing this or that, everyone generally stopped. People with megaphones are effective. At the same time, regardless of the megaphones, most people just didn’t want to take it all the way. People don’t want a civil war, obviously. Things are bad, people don’t want black people to be gunned down by police, but are they willing to lose their lives to stop it? We aren’t there yet. 

This is because there is no paradigm for revolution in the US, which fits and speaks to our current historical moment.

Right. That is something that will have to be innovated, and I believe that the innovation will come from the unfolding of the capitalist death spiral. The possibility of revolution has been posed by masses of Americans. It’s just a matter of how we will rise to that occasion. 

What if the different revolutionary tendencies synthesized a program distilled from the experience of 2020? That hasn’t happened yet.

And it's not like it has to be rigidly adhered to. There can be multiple programs. People just need to experiment with putting something down on paper that they believe in. And then people can debate the program and it can be a living program. That’s a way that people can start to think more seriously about revolution. We don’t have to figure everything out, but we need to create a dialectical process where everyone is participating in the thinking and making of the program. 

–February 2nd, 2023

  1. 1. A "world-systems" approach emphasizes the world-system (and not nation states) as the primary (although not exclusive) unit of social analysis. World Systems Theory was articulated in large part by Immanuel Wallerstein, who argued that there are three types of transnational divisions of labor - the core, the semi-periphery, and the periphery. The core consists of those countries which have a dominant relationship with the semi-periphery and periphery. The periphery consists of those countries which are being dominated. In between these two is the semi-periphery, in which countries are included that both have dominating relationships with the periphery and less dominant ones with the core.
  2. 2. By “civil war” we refer not only to full-blown conventional warfare, but to the internal fracturing of the revolt itself. If revolution is a war in which one class overthrows another, then civil war is the war within the class war. It is Black against Black. White against white. It is proletarians having to rise up not only against external enemies like the police and the National Guard, but against armed business owners and militias and even against progressive community activists. This interview begins to sketch a preliminary theory of civil war, but an in depth investigation of this question remains to be done.
  3. 3. By "dialectical" we are refering to a philosophical method popularized by Hegel, but which stretches back to Lao Tzu and Heraclitus. In a nutshell, dialectics involves a contradictory process of opposing sides, through which phenomena change and develop over time and space.
  4. 4. To "potentiate" the revolt means to expand and deepen the potential of the revolt.