Letter to the Editor: Two lines on ‘Autonomous Zones’

PHOTO: Capitol Hill in Seattle, with sign emulating Free Derry in Northern Ireland

Tribune of the People received the following letter from a reader in Austin proposing an ‘Autonomous Zone’ in the model of the ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ)’ which has cropped up in Seattle. We have chosen to publish the letter below in the interests of encouraging discussion on important events, with our own reply following it.

A Case for an Autonomous Austin

Across America the State’s monopoly on violence approaches its terminus. The people now left with the question what is to come next?  In Seattle the revolutionaries have created an autonomous zone, free from state enforced directions. This begs the question “Can this be done elsewhere?”

On May 30th hundreds of Austinites were baptized together in the tear gas. Since then calls to [defund] the Austin police department have been at the forefront of the citizens’ minds.  On Thursday, June 11th, Austin City council  unanimously  approved a ban on using “less lethal” munitions during protests. The council also asked the city manager to create a set of reductions to the police department’s budget and transfer some of those funds to social services. These changes come after the people marched in great numbers to demand them – an event never seen before in Austin. But these changes come a week after the council approved a $430,000 increase to the police departments budget. It appears they are pandering to the masses to keep their council seats. Austinites need to recognize that they are being played by an oligarchy.

Instead Austinites should use this opportunity to go the way of Seattle’s Capitol Hill. A true community led Austin must be the end goal.  We can no longer rely on a city council’s leadership as they refuse to remove systems of oppression – they only limit them.

But how could this be done? What would it look like? First the Austin Police Department must be completely [defunded] and disbanded.

The end of the police’s monopoly on violence is the end of childhood. A new system needs to take shape.  Not one lead by a formal dogmatic system or inept council of a few but by a method of direct democratic action by the people of Austin for the people of Austin. Radical self ownership requires radical self responsibility. If the people are to lead they must learn to be responsible for themselves. The answer to the age old question “Who will guard the guardians?” must be themselves and each other. A circle of accountability needs to be created.  One man yells his goal, another man holds his hand and says he will support him, but only if he follows though, accepts the criticism of his peers, and is not clouded by ego or greed. This way each man or woman to the left and the right will be responsible for one another. Each link in the chain will make sure his neighbor links do not fail and follow though. The mass line moves with its own intentions reflected on trends of the whole of Austin’s society.

– A Citizen of Austin

Response to a ‘Case for an Autonomous Austin’ from the Tribune of the People Editorial Board

Tribune of the People values all genuine submissions to our paper, and welcomes views we do not fully agree with for the sake of discussion and mutual growth.

According to the letter, the “State’s monopoly on violence approaches its terminus.” The state has no monopoly on violence, in our view this is a myth presented by the state itself to discourage revolutionary violence being grasped by the people. In fact, all great change in labor struggles and the struggles of Black and other oppressed people’s have all been linked to the masses of people grasping violence and turning it against their oppressors. In short, everything in history was won through revolutionary violence.

Likewise, the state’s violence is not reaching its terminus. Of course its violence will not be terminated as long as the class which it represents exists, that is the capitalist imperialist ruling class–the bourgeoisie, which persist and become more acute even once workers have taken power.

The state’s use of violence will persist as long as the state exists, and even when it is toppled the class it serves will continue being violent, trying to reverse the revolution and restore profit and inequality, the only prevention for this is to continue revolutionary struggle in all aspects of life, while suppressing the old ruling class with the rule of the workers. This means the continuation of socialist revolution until there are no longer states or classes.

Our second major objection is to the idea that real ‘Autonomous Zones’ in fact exist at all. While it is undoubtedly a good thing that temporary no-cop zones have been erected in Seattle, and conquered briefly in Minneapolis, the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” or CHAZ does not really qualify as either genuinely autonomous or liberated. The occupiers themselves can’t even agree on whether to call it an ‘Autonomous Zone’ or the ‘Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP).’ The originators of the Zone can not maintain basic ideological agreement among its participants, reflecting a weak ideological foundation. The CHAZ or CHOP has become more of a festival space, with tourists and the spectator mentality that comes with it.

The state still exists, it has just given breath to demonstrators in hopes to keep them peaceful and to reach a resolution of the protests. If this is impossible, the police forces which have not been smashed stand at the ready to brutalize and return to normal.

The 6-block zone still remains within the capitalist system, even if items are distributed for free, those items are by necessity purchased, they are not separate from the capitalist system, the workers have not taken control of producing all socially necessary commodities, and exploited workers are still the producers of the items the CHAZ requires to even temporarily maintain itself. It cannot be established elsewhere, when it was not really established in Seattle to begin with.

What is remarkable and of great interest is driving the police out, even temporarily, forcing them to retreat and leave the movement alone for a time. This is something all those who love freedom should support and commend. It was of course not separated from the uprising, as only uprisings (and revolutionary warfare) can cause the enemy to retreat.

A bourgeois created map showing estimated areas of India under control or influence of the People’s War led by the CPI(Maoist)

A revolutionary war, involving and being carried out by the masses of people can accomplish much greater than a 6 block no-cop zone. It can come to control, with some stability, whole regions. Revolutionaries in India have accomplished this with the massive “Red Corridor” which stretches nearly the length of the whole country.

This is in contrast to the other so-called Autonomous Zones, in Greece at certain universities and in Chiapas, Mexico under the reformist and electoralist EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, i.e. the Zapatistas). The latter examples are both much larger no-cop zones, but have not established workers power or control over production. In many cases, areas not essential to the police will be ceded temporarily to quell unrest, like a large kettling. In contrast, Indian revolutionaries use the “Red Corridor” as an area of operations and to launch operations, with which they stage their war, expanding and conquering new areas, with the steady development of democratic and people’s administration directly over their own lives as part of the broader war effort to completely dismantle and destroy the old state.

The Case for an Autonomous Austin states that:

On May 30th hundreds of Austinites were baptized  together in the teargas. Since then calls to defund the Austin police department have been at the forefront of the citizens’ minds.  On Thursday, June 11th, Austin City council  unanimously  approved a ban on using “less lethal” munitions during protests. The council also asked the city manager to create a set of reductions to the police department’s budget and transfer some of those funds to social services. These changes come after the people marched in great numbers to demand them – an event never seen before in Austin.  But these changes come a week after the council approved a $430,000 increase to the police department’s budget. It appears they are pandering to the masses to keep their council seats. Austinites need to recognize that they are being played by an oligarchy.

It is undoubtedly true that Austin has not seen an uprising on the scale of the Saturday, May 30 protests. The fact that people were forced to fight back and rise up against the police is something of a baptism. Any action taken against the police which harms their ability to recruit and fund their racist oppression is progressive, the popularity of such is inspiring. The reforms that the ruling class and city have been forced to pass are conquests of the peoples uprising, but they are still simply breadcrumbs wrested from the table of the enemy by a desperate, enraged people. In short they are not enough, there seems to be no major disagreement on this point. The pandering of city politicians is also palpable, on this all people of a revolutionary viewpoint should unite.

We object of course to a community-led Austin being the end goal, the goal must be the total abolition of the old state, and on a world scale, the abolition of classes and states. “Going the way of Seattle” on the surface sounds appealing, but it is as limited as the reforms in making lasting change, because it lacks the conquest of power, the ability to permanently keep the old police and class enemies out, and what is more, it cannot measurably transform society without taking control of the schools, media, entertainment and other necessary functions. The people cry out for power, and not simply to be left alone temporarily. A society which values human well being and equality must be defended and enforced, and such a society can only come about via armed struggle and it is maintained with arms.

Proud Boys with Tusitala “Tiny” Toese (right) visiting the CHAZ

The failure to defend the people in the CHAZ has only become clearer as it progresses. On Monday, June 15, the CHAZ allowed the Proud Boys to enter the space and be confronted with little more than heated debate and social media call-outs. After the Proud Boys were able to propagandize to people and appear to simply have differing views, as they left, they assaulted one CHAZ visitor who got too close to them, stealing and smashing his phone while brandishing weapons.

A truly liberated area would see protecting the people from reactionary elements as one of its key purposes, knowing that it is correct to also go on the offensive against fascists such as the Proud Boys should they enter. A liberated zone for the people and workers does not allow intimidation or attacks against its people to go unchallenged. Unlike the dominant petty bourgeois liberals and idealists of Capitol Hill, the Proud Boys don’t hesitate to intimidate and enact violence against their ideological enemies, which they will continue to do until they are defeated by revolutionary violence. The Proud Boys have exposed the total emptiness of the CHAZ’s claims to be a space for the people. The Imperialist state’s police have left the CHAZ alone for now, but this only gives space for its reactionary foot soldiers such as the Proud Boys to intimidate, brutalize, and carry out its agenda.

As they left the CHAZ, the Proud Boys assaulted one man, stealing his phone

To defend the People, the old state must be abolished, and the New State must be constructed in the struggle to abolish the old. Democracy in such a system would work on the basis of People’s Committees everywhere which administer to the direct needs of the people, are elected and subject to recall at any time. The divide between worker, intellectual, professional, state, military and Party would be overcome by balancing the People’s Committees so that comprehensive socially oriented class solutions can be reached. No longer would politicians and administrators reap profits from the people’s labor. The people themselves would rule through commissioners of the committees. This takes root among the people as they fight in an organized way to conquer power, and it germinates in the struggles.

Many critics of this view would rightly state that this is not possible right now, which brings up the next point. For such a revolutionary program to be carried out, work must be done right now, and this work cannot be limited to no-cop-zones. It has to be comprehensive and form the type of stable organizations which the working class and the oppressed need to accomplish power. This means the wide scale formations of revolutionary mass organizations which unite the divided struggles of the people. These must be led by the most advanced detachment of the working class in the form of a highly disciplined Party. And all of them must come together to form a united front.

‘People’ has been painted over ‘Police’ in Capitol Hill’s police precinct, but without an actual way to defend the people, i.e. a People’s Army, it’s nothing more than paint and posturing.

History has confirmed that the gains of the people cannot be maintained without developing an army to carry out production, fighting, and social work. These three instruments, the united front, the army and the Party which leads them are indispensable for revolution. Such stable organizations can and must be developed right now, and mainly at this juncture the revolutionary mass organizations. These are developed in the struggle itself. So that when the wave of uprisings subside there are bodies developed to carry things forward. Importantly the Party of the working class must be reconstituted and it must be able to defend itself. In conditions where the imperialist police have militarized such a Party must also militarize, otherwise it will be defeated at the start.

Accepting criticism and accountability within the movement is another point in which we find agreement with the letter. This is of vital importance, those who lead the struggles and inspire others to struggle must transform from the old-self serving ways into those who serve the people wholeheartedly. These people of course are stronger together and when organized. This is not just a changing of views, but a changing of class stand and a remolding of all the deepest thinking, and it is impossible to accomplish without mass based revolutionary struggle. The method of leadership must be to take the diverse and disorganized ideas of the people, systematize and organize them into action, spread the concentrated ideas among the people to make sure they are correct, and importantly advance the struggles and bring the ideas ever forward in a reiterative motion toward more and more revolutionary conclusions. This is what is called the Mass Line method of leadership.

The role of the revolutionary in the current juncture is to carry out the above methods of leadership, they must challenge the traitorous ideas of the ruling class which manifest in the movement, sweeping away unscientific methods and ideas, while going to the most oppressed and organizing them for the long term strategic goal of conquering real power, that is power for the working class.

The words of the great revolutionary Vladimir Lenin must be repeated, “without power, all is illusion,” and we must assert the words of the greatest revolutionary of all time, Mao Zedong that, “without a people’s army, the people have nothing.” It was Karl Marx who initially pointed out the shortcomings of the much higher reaching Paris Commune while defending it, he pointed out that the commune lacked the ability to defend itself and survive, because it had not smashed the old state, and did not develop the ability of the working class to suppress its class enemies. For further reading on these topics we suggest Lenin, Chapter 4 of What is to be done? , The State and Revolution, as well as Marx, The Civil War in France.

We welcome contributions proposing and discussing ideas and questions facing the current movements, in the interest of exchange and debate which is objectively beneficial to the people in their righteous rebellion.

-In Solidarity, Tribune of the People, Editorial Board