UNITY AND STRUGGLE: Reportback and Analysis of Albany Park “Gang War”

Comrade Bobby Sands

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”

– Mao Zedong

ALBANY PARK, CHICAGO — Since the beginning of August, there has been a major uptick in shootings and killings in Albany Park, as well as across the city of Chicago.

In the Albany Park neighborhood which many of FTP-CHI cadre call home, it was recently reported that shootings have more than doubled in the past year. This correlates with a city-wide trend of increased shootings and homicides. Chicago has recorded a 52% increase in homicides and shootings this year compared to 2019, following a pattern that marks other major cities across the so-called u.s.

The majority of the shootings in Albany Park are due to an escalating war between rival street organizations (“gangs”). Most of these groups have been in Albany Park for over thirty years. The recent war comes at a time of worsening economic conditions due to the pandemic on top of a prolonged effort to gentrify the neighborhood.

In the wake of the 2008 market crash, there has been a systematic effort to “redevelop” Albany Park with the driving force coming from wealthy neighborhoods to the East, namely Ravenswood Manor and Lincoln Square. The host of street organizations, however, make this job difficult for those who wish to change the neighborhood’s class character.

Many discussions have occurred online and in the community about how to resolve the “gang” issue, including a recent peace march and vigil. The gentrification of the neighborhood has cut the contending ideological lines of liberals in two.

The reactionary trend, represented by the gentrifiers, developers, and wealthy residents in and around Albany Park, calls for the age-old settler demand of more pig occupation of the neighborhood and stricter punishment for crime. They insist the precinct has been understaffed. This is a lie. Anyone who walks around the neighborhood at night can clearly see the pigs patrol every corner. Even though the 17th Precinct is currently a fully-staffed department and federal operatives are active in the neighborhood under Operation Legend, the reactionaries continue to rally their forces — particularly through the placing of blame for the violence on the ward’s alderperson, DSA member Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, and her phony “socialist” policies in the neighborhood.

The second vocal ideological trend is expressed through the existing reformist coalition in the neighborhood we have described previously. This line consists of the reformist demands to defund the police, increase social services to neighborhoods like AP, and institute “violence interrupters”. While these demands may have some immediate positive gains upon their implementation, they are reformist in essence and reject any notion of class struggle. The alderperson herself has even had to capitulate to demands from the right, calling on the Mayor to have pigs remain in the precinct on patrols. While these debates continue online, in the local CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) meetings, and city hall, the masses are the ones bearing the brunt of it all.

The masses instinctively distrust the pigs. They do not call them, out of fear of harm to themselves or their loved ones. Yet, we also recognize that many intermediate individuals among the masses believe that more police would stop the street violence due to a lack of any revolutionary alternative. Every class under capitalism is susceptible to bourgeois ideology, and it is up to revolutionaries to break this ideological hegemony down through struggle.

Violence and crime are a direct product of the conditions of poverty and exploitation imposed on the people by those with power.  Inter-community violence is a permanent feature of all capitalist-imperialist societies, especially within settler-colonial arrangements. Within colonized and nationally oppressed communities, inter-community violence is a common occurrence, usually in the context of rival gangs. 

We must never kid ourselves: the violence from gang rivalries pales in comparison to the violence committed by capitalism-imperialism. The violence of the state and white supremacy has always been the most intense form of violence inflicted on nationally oppressed communities by the US, at home and abroad, and it is qualitatively different from violence among community members. However, the “Left’s” negligence to the question of the street organization and the lumpen-proletariat more generally has created a huge divide between activists and the streets.

Ideological struggle with the masses has been neglected by the mainstream Left. Tactical unity and class struggle have fallen by the wayside, and revolutionary seizure of power is out of the question for the right-opportunists and revisionists that populate the mainstream Left. But between the right and the left, both sides refuse to acknowledge the state’s role in the genocide of colonized and oppressed people through the state’s manipulation of gang violence, as well as refuse to recognize the revolutionary potential within the gangs themselves.

Comrade Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, New Afrikan revolutionary and political prisoner, explains the phenomenon of the state’s role in manipulating street organizations to war with one another, as well as the revolutionary potential they harness. We unite with the analysis and conclusion Rashid puts forward to resolve this contradiction through the “Clenched Fist Alliance”, the revolutionary unity among the gangs to play a role in a real revolutionary movement. Rashid paints a picture of this future:

“Looking to history and the future, the street formations can and should formally unite in a common revolutionary alliance: A Clenched Fist and Red Front Alliance. The various formations’ colors and flags wouldn’t change, but as Clenched Fist and Red Front allies, they’d have the opportunity to explain and distinguish their changes in orientation, to present a revolutionary option for other sets and gangs to follow their example and lead….The Clenched Fist Alliance would lead and organize our urban youth whose job would be to defend the communities and back up striking workers or rent strikers, discourage drug dealing and street crime. It would promote and enforce a gang truce and channel youth’s energies into productive activities and community service programs, lead in conducting political education and train in the methods of community defense, martial arts and urban combat.”

Unity, struggle, and the seizure of power is the only way to free all our oppressed Peoples and communities from the oppression and violence of the settler-colonial apparatus. Each gang, set, and formation must realize they are more powerful if united, and if they remain divided, will continually play into the hands of the oppressor. The pigs do not care about preventing gang violence—they encourage it. They use it to legitimize calls for increased funding and domination of the community, working in tandem with developers to increasingly gentrify colonized communities of color and change the class character of the neighborhoods.

The immediate task for revolutionaries must be to heighten these contradictions through agitational propaganda among the people, intensify the struggles in their respective cities and neighborhoods, and seek unity with the People, unite with the gangs where unity is possible, and build alliances to combat the true enemy, capitalism-imperialism and its running dogs!

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