Anarchism and the Black Radical Tradition

A review of Atticus Bagby-Williams and Nsambu Za Suekama, Black Anarchism and the Black Radical Tradition: Moving Beyond Racial Capitalism (Cantley, Québec: Daraja, 2022).

A couple of years ago, we looked at William C. Anderson’s book The Nation on No Map: Black Anarchism and Abolition. Now, there is a new release on black anarchism: Black Anarchism and the Black Radical Tradition: Moving Beyond Racial Capitalism, authored by Atticus Bagby-Williams and Nsambu Za Suekama.

It’s a short book looking at anarchism through a Black radical lens. In the opening chapter, “Anarchists We See You,” the authors state:

“There are clear contradictions between Black radicalism and European anarchism. We argue that European-North American anarchism, despite its purported anti-domination politics, maintains an orientation toward a (white) universal working class that has failed comprehensively to theorize and fully embrace a resistance to racial capitalism.”

Atticus Bagby-Williams and Nsambu Za Suekama argue that Black anarchism derives primarily from the Black anarchist tradition, not European anarchism. They divide Black anarchism into two waves:

“The first wave, which we place between 1965 and 2000, includes the figures who initially applied anarchist ideas as participants in the Black liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of these anarchists were members of the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, or other Black revolutionary organizations. … The second wave of Black anarchists emerged in the 21st century, especially around the struggles against the police and prisons in the post-Ferguson moment. This wave has only deepened and grown since the George Floyd Rebellion, which happened after we began this project. Many participants in the second wave engage directly with the work of the first wave while including new frameworks, especially Black feminism and queer theory.”

William C. Anderson’s work is considered part of the second wave, as is the anonymously authored Anarkata Statement.

Besides prominent Black anarchists such as Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin and Kuwasi Balagoon (whose main works – Anarchism and the Black Revolution and A Soldier’s Story: Revolutionary Writings by a New Afrikan Anarchist, respectively – have recently seen new editions), Atticus Bagby-Williams and Nsambu Za Suekama discuss radical Black theorists such as Frantz Fanon and Cedric Robinson. The engagement with the latter is of particular interest, as Robinson is mainly known for his work on Black Marxism. However, the subtitle of Robinson’s main work, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, suggests why Atticus Bagby-Williams and Nsambu Za Suekama would find it useful to relate Robinson’s studies to the emergence of Black anarchism. By doing so, they are making a very valuable contribution to the history of radical thought.

In their concluding chapter, “Toward Black Autonomy,” Atticus Bagby-Williams and Nsambu Za Suekama write that “contributions of Black anarchist politics will be vital towards building a more liberated post-capitalist world.” This, without doubt, is true. Track down a copy, read, and learn.

Gabriel Kuhn

(July 30, 2023)