Click here to download a PDF of v30 n01 Jan-Mar 2018
SELF-CRITICISM Regarding my Relationship with T.A.C.O. and the Black Riders Liberation Party
by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)
This is an attempt to begin to rectify serious errors I have made, and stubbornly and individualistically persisted in for a protracted period, in maintaining a relationship with the BRLP under its current leadership, in defiance of and contradiction with sanctions against their leader T.A.C.O., subsequently extended to me. I incorrectly saw the matter as a dispute within the Black Liberation movement which I wanted to avoid intervening in. I incorrectly tried to rely on the fact that some in the Black movement said nothing about the sanctions or continued to work with the BRLP or with me. I incorrectly allowed my personal loyalty and indebtedness to the BRLP, because they had had my back repeatedly around threats from white supremacists, and had demonstrated resilience against state repression, to serve as an excuse not to respect principles over personalities, or to criticize and oppose improper practice.
I incorrectly allowed my personal stake in the time, effort and resources I had devoted to solidarity with the BRLP to blind me to failings and offenses that I refused to believe were true. The expressed anti-capitalist, inter-communal political perspectives of the BRLP and some of their anti-fascist, anti-repression practice and revolutionary education efforts with gangs and prisoners have been important contributions to the movement, but they have been undermined and outweighed by a pattern and practice of unacceptable, abusive and patriarchal behavior and leadership. Their practice of severe physical discipline and personalistic, paternalistic and unaccountable leadership was correctly exposed and condemned by the Committee and the Tribunal, and I have been wrong in continuing to support the current leadership in their lack of accountability. This was a manifestation of my own political weaknesses and errors. I incorrectly valued my partial and subjective assessment of the BRLP and its leadership over the longer, more complete and well-documented assessment made by the Committee and the Tribunal.
I accommodated myself to fundamental, unacceptable errors in the BRLP leadership’s practice and approach that I should have gone public about rather than only critiquing privately. I allowed resentment against people who called me out for these failures, to increase my stubborn persistence in them. I enmeshed myself further in material aid relationships with the BRLP by using my good financial credit on their behalf in ways that were difficult to extract myself from. For all that, I am self-critical; the BRLP’s leadership errors have become my errors and I need to acknowledge them. Otherwise, I will do further damage to my capacity to sustain the solidarity I have tried to engage in with the Black liberation movement as a whole, with Puerto Rican independentistas, the Chicano/Mexicano struggle, Native American and other indigenous sovereignty efforts, and Asian/Pacific Islander activists and movements. My refusal to speak out, and my persistence in publishing BRLP writings in disregard of the sanctions, has abetted the BRLP leadership’s non-responsiveness to the charges and conclusions of the Tribunal and the sanctions to enforce its findings.
Like an ostrich burying its head in the sand, I thought somehow by remaining silent I could seal off my continuing relationship with the BRLP under its existing leadership from the rest of my political practice. This was wrong-headed, destructive and ultimately impossible. My persistence in that approach and resistance to the judgment and sanctions has done damage to the TORCH Antifa Network, to whom I was not forthcoming about the extent or nature of the issue. By maintaining a public silence about the charges and sanctions, I withheld critical information from TORCH, and self-protectively avoided opening up the extent of my contradiction with other anti-fascists and anti-racists, which would have allowed me to get criticism and counsel from my comrades. Comrades from TORCH who learned independently about the sanctions correctly challenged me, which, along with the stepped-up sanctions against me, cadres continuing to leave the BRLP, and the increasing social exposures of the widespread plague of patriarchal violence and sexual abuse and harassment, forced me to recognize that my position was wrong and counter-productive. I noted with some bitter irony that, according to CNN, Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama US Senate candidate charged with sexual abuse and harassment of young girls, declared to his supporters: “We are neck deep in alligators.” This is the same terminology the BRLP has used to discount the Tribunal and the sanctions. Although I did not print such attacks on the Committee or Tribunal in Turning The Tide, I incorrectly assisted the BRLP in producing an issue of their own newspaper that did so, for which, again, I apologize.
The BRLP has been the target of state repression and COINTELPRO, but The Committee and the African People’s Liberation Tribunal were correct in bringing forth community charges against the BRLP’s leader. That was not a COINTELPRO operation, because both the members of The Committee and the Tribunal have been open about who they are, their movement histories and their process. None of that dovetails with COINTELPRO, which generally operates through secrecy, false identities and covert ops. Additionally, unlike COINTELPRO operations, which sought and seek to promote factional violence in the Black Liberation movement, American Indian Movement and other struggles, the Committee and Tribunal have specifically sought to forestall and prevent such violence and to carry out a process of community criticism and enforcement of ethical standards. They sought a way to deal with the issues without turning to the state by proposing a path towards accountability to the community. I should have immediately united with and upheld that process and its conclusions, and that I am doing so only belatedly reveals weaknesses of individualism and arrogance on my part.
The charges that treatment of some BRLP members amounted to torture cannot be discounted by the idea that severe physical discipline was part of an agreed-to disciplinary process. This is unacceptable and inconsistent with the BRLP’s professed revolutionary goals. I am not a Maoist and have always been open with them and others about the fact that I disagree with vanguardism or democratic centralism, but I pointed out privately to them that in “On Guerrilla Warfare” by Mao Tse-Tung, Mao says (p. 90-91 in the Dover edition) “… the basis for guerrilla discipline must be the individual conscience. With guerrillas, a discipline of compulsion is ineffective. … within such an army, discipline is self-imposed…” Mao continues a bit later: “In any system where discipline is externally imposed, the relationship that exists between officer and man [sic] is characterized by the indifference of the one to the other. The idea that officers can physically beat or severely tongue-lash their men [sic] is a feudal one and is not in accord with the conception of self-imposed discipline. Discipline of the feudal type will destroy internal unity and fighting strength.” I think this applies to the BRLP leadership’s unacceptable practices with cadres and associates.
The fact that the Riders operate in a lumpen milieu, and aim to transform people towards revolutionary politics from street organizations that engage in violence towards each other and towards other Black people, does not excuse or justify improper conduct by the BRLP leadership towards its own cadre or others. The BRLP had always prided itself that it had never been infiltrated by agents, but the degree to which a significant number of former cadres have left and continue to leave, and that some have denounced the BRLP and its leadership, is an indication that the BRLP leadership has made significant, serious errors, and that the criticisms must be responded to with self-criticism and correction of those errors.
Improper physical discipline transforms an understanding of the need for a revolutionary consciousness about military or martial matters into an incorrect, counter-revolutionary militarism and commandism. It reflects broader and deeper errors of a patriarchal or even misogynistic and hierarchical leadership, that sanctioned abuse under the guise of ‘security’ or ‘discipline’. The BRLP was a unique combination of politicized lumpen from street tribes and prison, offspring of Black radicals, and radicalized Black collegians and did not properly deal with the resulting internal contradictions.
At the time the Tribunal took place and made its findings known, I was part of the “Inter-communal Solidarity Committee,” a group which the BRLP participated in and helped initiate and lead, incorporating in particular a number of people like me involved in the former radical caucus of Occupy LA. The Inter-communal Solidarity Committee (ISC) in L.A. was predicated on building internationalist, inter-communal anti-fascist, anti-imperialist capacity, based on a strategy of a Black United Front and Black-Brown unity. The ISC helped build survival type programs such as the Hood Health program, worked to end the solitary confinement of political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz, and with BRLP leadership, took one of the most significant actions to support CA prisoner hunger strikers, a mobilization that shut down a CDC-R office in south LA to oppose proposed torturous force feeding of hunger strikers. But due to the practice by the BRLP leadership that needs self-criticism and correction, due to my own incorrect intransigence, and to the resultant sanctions, instead of a Black united front or Black-Brown unity, there are now substantial sectors of Black and Brown, indigenous, Asian and European-descent political and community forces that are united in opposition to the BRLP under T.A.C.O.’s leadership, and sanctioned me as a result of my non-compliance. In not speaking out, I set myself against them all. The ISC at the time accepted the denials (of sexual assault and domestic abuse) that were made by T.A.C.O. and several women leaders in the BRLP, including one identified as the target of abuse, relating those charges to intra-familial disputes. We erroneously decided collectively not to relate to the Tribunal process, and I incorrectly concurred in that. Worse, I continued to maintain my silent defiance of the community sanctions even after the collapse of the ISC.
This is also a self-criticism of my own practice with the European-descent people I had attempted to help recruit to and worked with in the Inter-communal Solidarity Committee. That formation crumbled and scattered because I (among others) did not apply good methods to evaluating or retaining cadre or deal properly with the sanctions. I think this is reflective of long-standing weaknesses of mine as an organizer. I have always relied on coalition-type efforts, whether out of individualism, an inability to make deeper personal connections, or being incapable of winning people to my political positions. The ISC represented the strongest formation I had been part of in years that incorporated European-descent people in an anti-fascist, anti-colonial, and anti-sexist collectivity with others, and I attributed that to the role of the BRLP in pushing for it. I regret the ISC’s disintegration and accept my share of the responsibility for its errors and its consequent failure.
I allowed my disagreement with some of the procedures or findings of The Committee and the Tribunal to rationalize my refusal to acknowledge the basic correctness of their approach and the principal aspect, which was unprincipled activity on the part of the BRLP’s leadership. (Some of those disagreements: I don’t think the Tribunal should have considered the BRLP’s silence as proof of guilt, given the heavy state repression against the BRLP going on simultaneously. The charge that TACO and the BRLP are enriching themselves at the peoples’ expense is contradicted by the reality that they arise from and live within the same conditions of poverty, police brutality and harassment, un- and under-employment, poor housing and poor schools that plague the people they live among and organize.) I believe it was correct to defend Mecca and Etana Shakur of the BRLP against state charges brought against them in Inglewood for defending themselves against a racist, sexist assault by a cop. It was correct to urge people to denounce LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the LAPD’s deputy chief for Homeland Security for targeting the BRLP. It was correct to defend the BRLP against false charges by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which collaborates closely with law enforcement, that the Riders are a Black separatist “hate group”. It would have been wrong to stay silent about those state attacks.
Despite all that, however, I should have spoken out publicly and honored the sanctions sooner. T.A.C.O. and the BRLP need to overcome their contradiction with Black radical and community forces expressed in the judgment of the Tribunal, by responding affirmatively and self-critically to the ethical standards, corrective measures, and the sanctions that enforce them.
I was also made aware of the situation regarding mistreatment of a sister from the Brown Riders. I was given credible testimony from a Mexicano/indigenous comrade that she suffered serious injury requiring hospitalization when leaving that organization and disassociating from the BRLP. As a result, many organizations and individuals in that community want nothing to do with T.A.C.O. or the Black Riders, or with me as long as I have continued to associate with and promote them. The BRLP can only rectify their relationship with the Mexicano/indigenous community by dealing with this, perhaps by finding some way to make amends and to correct improper practice. I need to do the same.
I should note that the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) issued a statement rejecting the sanctions and in doing so, quoted and referred to me. The BRLP and the NABPP (PC) have their own separate relationship and differences, unrelated to the fact that material from both has appeared in TTT. I was never consulted about the NABPP (PC) statement. However, while I never spoke out publicly against the sanctions, I also said nothing about the NABPP (PC) statement, did not share with them my private criticisms or concerns, nor disassociated myself from their quoting of my remarks about the BRLP. This was a disservice to the NABPP (PC).
I failed to recognize two key things that play out in all contradictions. 1) In any set of contradictions, one is primary, and the primary contradiction here is the improper, abusive physical mistreatment of women and men within or associated with the BRLP or in interpersonal relationships with T.A.C.O. 2) Contradictions can cause things to turn into their opposite — the improper practices undermined the revolutionary character or aspirations of the party, and my unprincipled silence, and defiance of the communities’ sanctions, undermined and transgressed my commitment to anti-racism and inter-communal solidarity.
BRLP disregard of the sanctions on T.A.C.O., which my practice helped enable, has also allowed further, false rumors, such as of pimping and drug-dealing, to gain traction. The pimping rumors as far as I am aware, were first raised, falsely, regarding the solidarity with the BRLP of ‘white’ members of the Inter-communal Solidarity Committee, some of whom were independent radical queer sex workers. Given the level of state repression and surveillance constantly directed against the BRLP, which has been repeatedly named as a threat by high-ranking members of the LAPD and which has recently been named in press reports of the FBI’s invention of “Black Identity Extremists”, if any current party members or leaders were engaged in drug-dealing or prostitution, I think they would be immediately arrested and charged, and the arrests ballyhooed. The state’s enmity towards radical Black organizations, particularly those that espouse and practice self-defense, has only intensified under the Trump regime. But such attacks mean that it is all the more important for Black radical groups and those in solidarity with them to rectify improper practice and thereby overcome divisions and isolation.
My stubborn silence had no positive effect on resolving or even minimizing the contradictions, and reflected an incorrect “white savior” attitude. My response was both individualistic and resistant to Black, Asian, Mexicano, Puerto Rican, indigenous and European-descent comrades who tried to engage me and correct my error.
My silence was deceptive to readers of Turning The Tide, especially prisoners, and to other political associates and affiliates less aware of the issues, and for that deception I again apologize. I abetted the BRLP leadership’s resistance to correcting their practice or responding more self-critically. The disbanding of the LA chapter of the Jericho Movement, for example, was a set-back to efforts to free political prisoners. The BRLP’s self-imposed isolation has limited their capacity to struggle for peace or truces in the hood. Although the Black Riders have developed new chapters nationally since the Tribunal, there are reports that persistent errors rooted in patriarchal, hierarchical and personalistic leadership and thinking have resulted in new setbacks and departures. I acknowledge that I have damaged my capacity to do work and to unite with others in struggle. As a result I notified the BRLP that I am breaking off my relationship with them, and making this public self-criticism, as well as making public the criticisms I had made privately to them. I have also been in the process of extricating myself from material aid connections to them.
So I am speaking out and acting to try to correct my own errors and to invite further criticism to understand those errors and failings more deeply. I believe that the BRLP must also be self-critical and seek to correct their errors and improper practice, leadership methods and structure. I cannot and will not continue my prior practice of printing BRLP material in TTT unless such a response is forthcoming from T.A.C.O. and the BRLP, satisfactory to the Black and Brown forces who brought the charges and imposed the sanctions. I will not provide any further material aid or services. I had previously printed material in Turning The Tide from the Black Riders, (and from many other Black liberation formations as well as other liberation movements) without regard to my political differences with the BRLP or the others, or differences and rivalries those various formations may have with each other. For example, the “Extreme Loyalty is African Royalty” graphic that was printed as part of a BRLP article in the March-April 2017 issue of TTT represents their political position, not my own or that generally reflected in TTT. But that is not the issue; this is clearly about improper, unethical practice, not just ideological differences or disagreements.
The last issue of TTT (Nov.-Dec. 2017) as a result had no material by the BRLP. Since the disintegration of the Inter-communal Solidarity Committee, printing BRLP material in TTT has been the main aspect of my connection with them. I have not been involved in any joint work such as the Hood Health project or other “serve the people” programs. I am making this statement public in TTT and other media platforms. I hope that the BRLP will be forthcoming with transformative public responses that rectify and make amends for their erroneous practice, correct any structural errors, resolve contradictions moving forward, and hopefully rebuild unity. That rectification must respond to the sanctions from the Tribunal and to the critique of T.A.C.O. from Mexicano/indigenous activists.
I look for guidance from Black, Brown, Native & Asian comrades who publicly raised correct criticisms of T.A.C.O. and the BRLP, and me, for what my own path forward should be. I hope that I can undertake a rectification process of my own with those comrades to overcome the contradictions I have created for myself, and reverse the isolation I have brought on myself vis a vis other anti-racist and anti-fascist groups and individuals. I spent several years feeling myself on the horns of a dilemma, torn between conflicting personal and political loyalties and beliefs. Admitting my errors and breaking with T.A.C.O. and the BRLP under his leadership is also painful, but I hope it will push them to correct their errors and overcome them. I do not expect that errors I have persisted in for a substantial period of time can be reversed overnight, and I recognize that I cannot seal off my errors and the weaknesses that produced them from the rest of my work. In response to the sanctions, I have previously withdrawn from some significant associations and participation, including White People for Black Lives, the TORCH Antifa Network, and most recently the December 10 Repression Breeds Resistance Human Rights Day coalition. I hope I can rebuild those relationships on a more accountable basis in the future.
Note: The findings and discussion of the African People’s Liberation Tribunal initiated by The Committee can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/TheCommitteePeoplesTribunal/posts/1554633668100765 or email <[email protected]>