ANTI GENTRIFICATION, CAPITALISM, AND THE NEED FOR A REVOLUTIONARY PARTY
On Saturday evening, the community of Boyle Heights came together to give a simple and direct message to the art galleries, their owners, and their patrons who are currently invading the community with their hideous bourgeois art: GET THE FUCK OUT. You are not welcome here.
This confrontation has been a long-time coming and will be only the first in a long line of such confrontations if these galleries do not heed the demands being made by the community. Members of Red Guards- Los Angeles have been active participants in the Defend Boyle Heights coalition that was formed earlier this year in order to confront the rapidly approaching gentrification of the community of Boyle Heights. Our time organizing among the residents of this community has been humbling for us. We have been inspired by this community’s willingness to stand together in the face of bourgeois developers, speculators, and gallery owners with far greater access to capital and the repressive machinery of the State than this working class, largely immigrant community will ever have while this land remains the dominion of capitalists and their pig footsoldiers. And despite the glaring imbalance of power, this community remains defiant and steadfast in its goals.
The anti-gentrification struggle in Boyle Heights makes abundantly clear to us the Maoist principle that has been instrumental in guiding our work: the masses of people, and the masses of people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history. The unified resistance of this community is powerful enough to move mountains, and will prove itself powerful enough to push back the forces of gentrification that have begun to show their faces as art galleries and other businesses which cater to the wealthy, with callous disregard for the destruction of community and culture which they leave in their wake.
The recent tactics of direct and hostile confrontation with these forces of gentrification demonstrate that the community itself—the palateras and palateros, the immigrant families, the senoras who overcame the scourge of gang violence within their communities, the muralists who have enriched their community with the colorful paintings and street art that adorn every wall and building in the neighborhood, the youth, the punks with their backyard-show scene—this community understands very well that the only reliable factor in this struggle is themselves and their ability, when unified, to resist even the most well funded galleriests, landlords, and investors seeking to rip the community apart.
This Saturday’s action was not a pleasant experience for those on the receiving end of it. There was no pretense of openness to dialogue or conversation with the gallery owners and their patrons. There was no coddling of the white liberal sentiment of “support” for the “message” but “disapproval” of the “tactics”. There was no willingness to dilute or defuse the righteous anger that was directed at the galleries like a shotgun blast. Standing side-by-side were older senoras who boldly denounced the presence of the galleries and detailed the material effect these galleries have on rent prices, with young, masked militants who made abundantly clear just how unwelcome the community at large feels the presence of high-priced art galleries, funded by west-siders and outsiders, to be.
Gallery attendees were harassed and harangued, pelted with water and bottles and an endless barrage of verbal assault. They were stopped in their tracks, surrounded, chased back to their vehicles and out of the around Anderson Street and Mission Road where the majority of these galleries have begun opening up. The galleries themselves were surrounded while members of the community banged on their windows, entered their galleries to smash bottles, and continued the barrage of verbal assault. The initial expressions of smug amusement turned into palpable fear from the gallery attendees as the confrontation continued to escalate with no signs of winding down. The gallery owners rushed to their doors to lock them and pull down the metal barricades over their windows. The community succeeded in shutting down several openings that night, ran many dozens of yuppies and rich hipsters out of the neighborhood, and undeniably birthed in many more an unwillingness to ever step foot in Boyle Heights for a gallery opening again.
So what does this confrontation teach us? We have learned that this community recognizes the importance of taking matter into its own hands. This community knows instinctively and through experience that politicians, city councils, and electoral politics will do nothing to come to its aid, and will in fact stand behind the very forces of gentrification that want to break the community up and sell each piece of it to the highest bidder. There is an awareness, sometimes spoken and sometimes unspoken, of the shared class interests among these politicians and the investors, speculators, and gallery owners currently driving much of the gentrification in Boyle Heights.
There is the knowledge, firsthand, that the police forces they are told to rely on to “protect” and “serve” them will likewise stand in defense of the forces of the bourgeoisie and will do nothing to protect the livelihoods of the working class residents that characterize the community—they will enter with guns drawn and chains ready to shoot them dead and drag the ones that remain to prison under pretenses of gang-injuctions, or, in the case of 14 year-old boys like the recently murdered Jesse Romero, petty vandalism. They know the pigs stand ready to do the brutal grunt work that the delicate hands and sensibilities of the bourgeois galleriests are unwilling to do themselves.
With this near complete inaccessibility to institutional power, our community is recognizing the importance of building its own power, outside of the system, as the only effective method for serving its people and protecting its livelihood and culture. While we wholeheartedly support and endorse the actions taken by the community on Saturday evening, we know that the only long-term solution to the problem of gentrification is the formation of working class institutions of power that are dedicated to serving the interests of the people. Concessions from city and state government, deals and collusion with galleries and landlords, temporary acquiescence to the demands of the community—these things are not enough. They amount to bones tossed to us by the representatives of the ruling class for the express purpose of derailing our anger and stunting our ability to build organizations that will claim all political power for ourselves and our community. They are carrots dangled before our heads which these ruling class elites hope will distract us long enough to forget that they still retain the power to dictate the terms of our engagement with them.
These confrontations teach us the truth that all correct ideas emerge from the masses of people, and it is only through the process of engaging with our community, learning from their history of struggle and standing shoulder to shoulder with them in their current struggle, that necessary revolutionary leadership can be developed to guide them into confrontation not only with the forces of gentrification but all the forces of capitalism that exploit and oppress our people. The history of struggle within our community, the experience of struggle in the communities surrounding us which have fallen to gentrification, and our daily struggles to survive, are a breeding ground for the revolutionary ideas that are currently taking root in Boyle Heights and finding their outlet in these direct confrontations.
Just as we understand that the history of struggle within our community is the basis for their correct ideas, we must also recognize that capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and the ideological divisions they create along class, gender, and racial lines also foster the creation of incorrect and backwards ideas within our community. Revolutionary leadership entails that we encourage and develop the correct ideas within our community and that we use our understanding of revolutionary theory to combat the manifestations of the backwards ideas that likewise exist.
We must be wary of those who continue to advocate for dialogue with the forces of gentrification. We must be wary of those who continue to push the idealistic line that if we simply convince the gentrifiers of our humanity and essential goodness as human beings perhaps they will abandon their plans to seize our community—that being “too confrontational” somehow reaffirms the gentrifiers conception of us as thugs and hoodlums who don’t deserve the space to live.
These positions fundamentally misunderstand the mechanics of capitalism and its auxiliary force of white supremacy that are at play in the urban removal currently being experienced in our community. Let us be clear: the gentrification of our community is and will continue to be driven by the opportunity to profit that exists in purchasing the relatively cheap land in our neighborhood, repurposing it in a way desirable as a playground for the wealthy, and then selling it back at much higher prices to the community of wealthy people who would now desire to live here. This process is independent of ethics and morality, for the only “morality” under capitalism is profit. The racialized justifications for this process are nothing more than ideological rationalizations for the profit-driven conquest of our communities. If we were somehow able to combat the racist caricatures of our community that are utilized by those who advocate for its gentrification, the opportunity to profit from low-priced real estate would still exist and thus the motivation for gentrifying it would still exist.
We cannot fall into a trap of respectability politics or give weight to the idea that only opposing urban removal in “legitimate” and “respectable” ways will be successful: not only does this argument replicate the racist narrative of the white supremacists, but it is also entirely unsuccessful. Silverlake, Echo Park, Highland Park, and countless other communities did not succumb to gentrification because their residents failed to protest in a respectable enough manner. These communities made spectacular pleas to city and state government officials for affordable housing measures and rent control measures. They protested and lobbied city council officials, put out calls to vote for or against city council representatives based on their stance re: gentrification. They made cultural and artistic displays the demonstrated the vibrancy and artistic spirit of the community in hopes that the investors, speculators and landlords would be so moved they would be unwilling to displace the community: this did not work. These communities are currently crawling with the same yuppies and hipsters that are thankfully, mostly confined to the area around “Gallery Row” in Boyle Heights.
We must also be wary of and combat the notions that gentrification makes the community “safer”, more “beautiful”, or that “gente-fication” (the gentrification of the community by petty-bourgeois, brown gentrifiers) is an acceptable alternative to “gentrification”.
1. There is nothing “safe” about the forced, often violent removal of families from their homes and businesses. There is nothing “safe” about the threat of homelessness. Eviction is not “safe”. Increased police patrols and the violence and criminalization that accompany them are not “safe” for a community preyed upon by the pigs daily. This illusion of “safety” can only be enjoyed and its benefits touted by those with the economic resources to remain in the community after rents have doubled or tripled and the original community, with all of its contradictions and socially rooted problems, are displaced violently.
2. The “beautification” of the community is not for the working class residents who currently live there. Developers and the city only make efforts to “beautify” when they are preparing the area to be sold to a new class of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois residents, so we hardly care whether or not the neighborhood is going to be made more “beautiful” when that beautification necessarily comes at the expense of the community currently living there.
3. “Gente-fication” is no different from “gentrification” and results in the exact same large-scale displacement of working class communities. The fact that some number of brown and black oppressed nationalities have been able to gain access to wealth and capital, and can thus afford to live in a “redeveloped” neighborhood, is no excuse for the fact that the majority of our people have been systematically denied this access to wealth and capital due to the collusion of capitalism and white supremacy, and will therefore experience the process of “gente-fication” exactly the same as they would experience the process of “gentrification”–evicted, displaced, removed, uprooted and erased from the community.
Lastly, we must be wary of the sell-outs and opportunists, the “radicals” of yesteryear who have long since abandoned whatever genuine revolutionary spirit may have at one time flowed through their bones. These people come to us with a facade radicalism, but when the community finds an outlet for their outrage these will be the first people to hold them back, selling out the trust they have established in the community to carve out a niche of power for themselves on neighborhood councils, city councils, or non-profit organizations.
We see this clearly in figures like Carlos Montes, neighborhood council member and leader of Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) and their community front group Centro-CSO, who uses every instance of community outrage to position himself in front of news cameras, squeeze himself between grieving mothers after their children are murdered by the police, to give another tired and bland speech recycling rhetoric that hasn’t inspired anyone in 40 years. He uses his space at these events to sell the community watered-down, reformist solutions to problems that require genuine revolutionary analysis under the pretense that the community is not ready to hear the truth about the need for armed struggle and revolution, that they are not ready to rebel and engage in direct confrontation with the forces of capitalism that threaten their existence. When the storm of revolution arrives these vendidxs will be washed away in the tide, their newspapers and badges of honor from the “glory days” washed away with them.
Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) present themselves to our community in a similar manner, wagging their fingers and critiquing our actions from afar. When our community accurately identifies the influx of galleries and their wealthy patrons as a gear turning the wheels in the process of gentrification, they come to us with condescending declarations that we are too stupid to understand these galleries are just a “symptom”, our anger is misguided and misdirected, and we should be directing our activities towards the “real culprits” who, in their class-reductionists analysis, are always banks which they provide no indication of how to meaningfully target at our current level of organization. Maybe if we subscribe to their newspaper they will teach the community how to achieve this. Regardless, the positions taken by these so-called radicals serve only to defuse the anger of the community, condescendingly “correct” their mistaken ideas from a position that is removed from their concrete struggle, and offer go-nowhere alternatives to a community that is achieving far more by engaging in direct confrontation, occasionally making mistakes, learning from and correcting those mistakes as the struggle advances.
Revolutionary leadership does not come from afar, in the form of condescension and finger wagging, and it does not lord itself over the community in the form of paternalistic advice from washed up old radicals who sell the community short at every turn. Revolutionary leadership emerges from within the concrete struggles of our community, by combining the community’s most forward and progressive ideas with revolutionary theory that encourages them in their rebellion rather than holds them back or leads them into the dead-ends of reformism and electoral politics.
Because gentrification, in the final analysis, is intimately tied to the mechanics of capitalism, we understand that only an end to capitalism will do away with the process of gentrification entirely. Only a recognition of the necessity for a revolutionary Party, institutions controlled by and in service of the working class and oppressed nations as a whole, and a revolution in the heart of the imperialist beast of America, will be sufficient to defend the livelihoods of working class people.
Our only hope in these conditions is to unite the various struggles of all working class and oppressed nationalities people under the banner of a revolutionary Party that will be capable of providing leadership and structure in a fight with the highly organized forces of capitalism, the bourgeoisie, and gentrification. Only the unity of these working class institutions, under the banner of a revolutionary Party, defended and reinforced by a People’s Army, will be capable of waging the struggle for national liberation for the oppressed Chicanx nation (and all other oppressed nations) and revolution that will deal the death blow to the forces of capitalism that destroy our families and our communities. We understand that all political power grows from the barrel of a gun, the traitors who say otherwise—be damned! Only a willingness to struggle on these same terms will lead us to victory.
In Boyle Heights we must stand in solidarity with the vigorous efforts being made to combat gentrification and to wrest control over our communities and our lives from the vulture capitalists who currently dictate where, how, and whether or not we live. The direct actions undertaken by this community on Saturday represent the initial steps towards creating that political power that in the long term will be necessary to establish control over our own communities and our own lives. We support and stand beside them in their rebellion. We respect and are humbled by their spirit of resistance. We know that it is right to rebel.
Down with the art galleries!
Down with landlords, speculators, and investors!
Down with vedidxs and false radicals!
Up with the rebellion! Up with revolution!
Defend Boyle Heights!