The Political Pre-History of Love & Rage: Anarchist Struggle in the 1980s and 1990s

The Political Pre-History of Love & Rage: Anarchist Struggle in the 1980s and 1990s presents a history of anarchist organizing efforts in North America. From the introduction:

This zine presents one version of the history of the anarchist context out of which the Love & Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation emerged in the early 1990s. There is no doubt much that could be said about the period and many different conclusions could be drawn. One route some anarchists took – very controversial at the time – was to form a federation to increase the level of organization amongst anarchists in the U.S.

Love and Rage broke apart in 1998 following wide-ranging internal debates over politics and goals (for example, some folks became Marxists). AK Press published a short book titled A New World In Our Hearts: Eight Years of Writings from the Love & Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation on the federation, but folks would do well to dig up the various critiques of Love & Rage’s politics (and practice) that circulated within the anarchist space.

This zine presents Love & Rage’s interpretation of anarchist struggle in the 1980s and 1990s (the history originally appeared in the “1997 Member Handbook” published by the New York Local, it’s been trimmed here for relevance). To be sure, its bias is towards making the case for a federation style of organization. Setting that aside (as hard as that may be), it presents a history that has been largely lost. We present it not to advocate for federations (which have a rather long history of not working out so well), but rather out of interest in the accomplishments and missteps of previous generations of anarchists.

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R Totale
Oct 2 2020 11:48

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syndicalist
Oct 2 2020 20:37

Hmmmm. Look forward to looking this over. Curious how they rep and portray themselves.

Hieronymous
Oct 2 2020 23:34

I did a quick read. It's interesting that it ends with the 1993 San Diego conference, which I attended. L&R continued another 5 years, but that was my last involvement. It also doesn't mention the 1992 San Francisco "500 Years of Resistance," which I also participated in as well as having attended planning meetings beforehand. What's unique about the latter is that L&R joined forces with a militant people-of-color group called "Roots Against War" to form a black bloc to disrupt the annual Columbus Day Parade marching through the city's traditional Italian neighborhood North Beach. I stand to be corrected, but I think it was the first black bloc in North America, that with the 2 groups was over 1000 strong. It was also the first -- and only -- time I've seen someone throw a molotov cocktail in a demo in the U.S., unfortunately the guy who made a direct hit on a pig squad car got busted and was taken immediately to a mental hospital. Then he was transferred and comrades doing jail support lost track of him. Those were pretty volatile days.

Back to the San Diego conference: I was traveling with my Oakland housemate, Bruce Agostiniac who was originally from Chicago and who went through the transition from Trot RSL to anarchist Love & Rage. Interesting guy, but who sadly went back to Chicago to work as a union field organizer and drank himself to death. Bruce, myself and many others were close to the recently deceased Mike Lee. In San Diego, the heavy who dominated most of the discussions was Ron Tabor, who'd been one of the instigators to the anarchist turn by RSL. During open discussions, he kinda filibustered and talked on and on and on. I think in one discussion he carried on for 45 minutes. He was ol' school, but he didn't win over many of the younger radicals. Me and my crew went head-to-head with Tabor over political positions. He was toeing the line of "pillars of oppression" (racism, sexism & homophobia if memory serves) and we didn't disagree, but wanted it to be part of a class struggle approach. We took an anti-capitialist and anti-work position (influenced by the Italians and Zerowork in the U.S.), but had to go up against Tabor's argument that following the trends of the time was very much Post-Modern. If I remember correctly, Tabor had some garbled theory against "historical narratives," so something sounding like it was from a university Critical Theory professor talking about the de-centered subject and post-coloniality in deconstructing French literature.

Syndicalist, did you have any connection with L&R on the East Coast?

syndicalist
Oct 2 2020 23:46
Hieronymous wrote:
Syndicalist, did you have any connection with L&R on the East Coast?

Yes. But on cell. I will not be popular with many, but I was never politically impressed.There were some decent folks involved. I just don’t share their views or their approach

Hieronymous
Oct 3 2020 00:31
syndicalist wrote:
. . . I was never politically impressed.

Nor was I.

Black Badger
Oct 3 2020 13:52

i was witness to the first (attempted) black bloc in the US. it was in 1984 during the run-up to the Democratic Party Convention in San Francisco. there were a million different projects being organized for that summer, many of them taking specific advantage of the presence of international media in the approximately 6 weeks leading up to it. one such event was the annual Gay Pride Parade -- in those days starting at Castro and Market and ending at the Embarcadero, not the other way around as it happens now. most of the anarchist and unaffiliated but radical projects would have their meetings at Bound Together Bookstore after hours, and there was plenty of overlap among the different groups and projects. squatters (and there were a ton in the mid-80s) would meet there to share resource leads and plan which buildings to explore for future squats, and folks from out of town would drop by to plug in to various activities, etc. there were a few folks from the midwest who were more Maoist than anarchist in outlook, but were far more direct-action oriented than the local RCP zombies. they plugged themselves into several projects, mostly demonstration ideas. when people discussed joining the Pride march as a recognizably radical contingent, the midwesterners were eager to participate. on the day of the march, the anarchists and radicals gathered near the Safeway parking lot at Church and Market. lots of the radicals were wearing their standard radical uniforms, but the guys from the midwest were dressed all in black with motorcycle helmets, in a deliberate homage to the German autonomen. they infiltrated the march with their sub-Maoist flyers and within less than two blocks were identified by the march monitors, who liaised with the cops, and the four members of the black bloc were promptly arrested for wearing provocative costumes. at a Gay Pride march.

R Totale
Oct 3 2020 15:29

I think I probably always say this, but all these things would be worth writing up as short articles in their own right so the history doesn't get lost if people have the time and energy.

syndicalist
Oct 3 2020 17:08
R Totale wrote:
I think I probably always say this, but all these things would be worth writing up as short articles in their own right so the history doesn't get lost if people have the time and energy.

One day I’d love to write about the past near 50 years of engagement. I just have a fear of writing

Red Marriott
Oct 3 2020 22:10
Quote:
I just have a fear of writing

Then try just talking off the top of your head into a recorder. Edit and type it up later.

Hieronymous
Oct 4 2020 11:49
Black Badger wrote:
i was witness to the first (attempted) black bloc in the US. it was in 1984 during the run-up to the Democratic Party Convention in San Francisco.

I stand corrected. I didn't move to the Bay until 1986. In 1992, once the dude threw the molotov, SFPD's Tac Squad counter-attacked and the black bloc was splintered. In the end, it didn't amount to much either.

Black Badger wrote:
there were a million different projects being organized for that summer, many of them taking specific advantage of the presence of international media in the approximately 6 weeks leading up to it. one such event was the annual Gay Pride Parade

As I got to thinking about the topic from the original post, I started searching the 'net for more details about those black blocs. Although it's not directly connected, yesterday I came across Barbara Epstein's article "The Antiwar Movement During the Gulf War," (published in the journal Social Justice in Spring 1992) about the resistance movement in the Bay Area (and Santa Cruz, where Epstein was a professor, although she lived in Berkeley). The street actions began when the bombing campaign against Iraq started on January 16, 1991. As Black Badger mentioned above, Epstein's article reminded me how queer liberation groups were the most militant in those struggles. Yet identity politics were all the rage:

Epstein wrote:
The movements, and constituencies, that made up the antiwar movement in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz mostly fall into the category that over the last 10 years or so has come to be called "the new social movements." According to the terminology introduced by Alain Touraine, Alberto Melucci, and other European social analysts -- and now increasingly adopted by analysts in the U.S. as well -- the "old social movements," the movements of the 19th century and the first several decades of the 20th, were those organized around class, especially the movements of the working class. These movements, often defining themselves as socialist, regarded sustained organization as a necessity and tended toward hierarchy and bureaucracy. The "The "new social movements" are those of the 1960s and beyond, those organized around issues and identities not immediately related to class; these movements have often been infused with an anarchist sensibility, rejected institutional politics, and attempted to work outside of it. The women's movement, the gay and lesbian movements, and movements of people of color are all examples of movements concerned with the redefinition of social identity and the defense or creation of communities around those identities. The peace movement and the environmental movement are examples of movements concerned with issues that transcend or at least operate at a remove from issues of class. These have been among the most vital movements of the 1970s and 1980s in the U.S. It was from these arenas that the antiwar movement emerged.

To the extent that "New Social Movement" theory recommends a strategy or direction for the movements of this period, it is a focus on the defense or creation of communities and the articulation of new identities and cultures, or sets of values. The movement against the Gulf War was in large part based on communities engaged in redefining identity, assigning new meaning to identities and social positions that are frequently devalued. In the Bay Area, the gay and lesbian community was the strongest base for antiwar activism and gave the antiwar movement much of its vitality.

Based on my memory, this was true. But there is an historical discontinuity between that generation and the struggles of today. What would be worthwhile is someone writing a critique of why that happened.

R Totale
Oct 5 2020 07:47
Red Marriott wrote:
Quote:
I just have a fear of writing

Then try just talking off the top of your head into a recorder. Edit and type it up later.

Good advice - or, if that feels a bit self-conscious, could even do it in the form of a conversation with a comrade (I guess more likely to be a distanced online call these days) with them asking questions and you answering? That'd still be a decent record of some kind to work from.

Hieronymous
Nov 27 2020 14:22

Reading that original post brought back so many memories, especially some of those riots led by queer militants. Black Badger's account reminded me how radical protests originating in San Francisco's Castro District had been.

On September 30, 1991, when Republican California governor Pete Wilson vetoed a proposed law, AB 101 for gay rights against discrimination at work and in housing, an angry group 50,000 strong marched out of the Castro and literally trashed the California State Building at the corner of Van Ness and McAllister, chasing the pigs defending it back inside in a fearful retreat. I was living in Berkeley at the time and heard about the riot too late to cross the Bay to join in. But watching the video below, I saw some of my anarchist comrades -- including a few active in Bay Area Love & Rage:

Back then I remember seeing a couple L&R comrades on the TV news, together with a militant group of rioters, take the pigs' metal barricade, turn it lengthwise, and use it as a ladder to break out the windows and climb into offices of the State Building. Once inside, they started fires and threw computers and furniture out the window, smashing them onto the street below (visible at the 4:00 minute mark of the video). Due to being recorded by TV news crews, that footage was used as evidence in court to prosecute one of those L&R comrades, sending him to jail for a couple months, with tens of thousands of dollars in restitution. Masked comrades who trashed the building side-by-side with him didn't get busted.

Riots in San Francisco during the national Rodney King Rebellion the next spring (1992) were even more intense, with looting and the burning of cop cars and motorcycles down Market Street (in photo below), the main commercial district. The Food-not-Bombs guy who torched the pigs bike did 6 months in jail for it. Call me naïve, but back then I was still in my 20s and thought we were on the verge of a revolution. Especially as large parts of south central Los Angeles were on fire at the same time. Ah, the good ol' days . . .