Thoughts on “Jackson Rising” and Cooperation Jackson
I recently finished reading Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self Determination in Jackson, Mississippi by Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya of Cooperation Jackson. I’m glad I did, and I encourage every revolutionary Black nationalist to pick it up. The movement building in Jackson is something that people in communities of similar size and demographic composition can learn from. My own city, Saint Louis, has similar characteristics to Jackson, but it also differs in various ways, namely, it is larger and whereas Jackson has had very little industrial development (industrialization is actually one of the major goals of the movement there), the Saint Louis Metropolitan area is an area de-industrialized by neoliberal economic policies begun in the 1970s. East Saint Louis used to be a major industrial center and there are still various industrial concerns scattered around the region, polluting like all hell (that particular area has some of the highest rates of asthma in the country. There is still much to be learned from the Jackson movement led by Cooperation Jackson and the MXGM (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement) that can be applied to the concrete conditions of my city and similar ones such as Memphis, New Orleans, Houston, Birmingham, and Detroit.
Cooperation Jackson and the MXGM have their roots in the Republic of New Afrika movement, which brought Chokwe Lumumba to the region from his hometown of Detroit in the early 1970s in the first place. The goal of this movement was to “free the land” (this is still a rallying call of the movement to this day), meaning the Black belt region of the South, which had been seen as the national homeland of my people. This analysis was forcefully presented and accepted as official line of the Communist International led by Lenin and Stalin in the 1920s, working off analysis presented by Harry Haywood and other New Afrikan Communists of this time. “National Liberation for the Black Belt” was a rallying cry of the International Communist Movement for decades until the revisionists captured leadership of both the Communist Party of the United States and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, leading ultimately to the abandonment of this call and betrayal of the New Afrikan people. The revolutionary line shifted to Mao Zedong and other third world communists in Africa, Latin America, and Asia who, after liberating their own countries, continued to serve as our stalwart friends and comrades in arms, defending us in the international arena, meeting with our revolutionaries such as R.F. Williams, and presenting our cases to the masses of their people. The Black Belt thesis is a product of the material conditions of the 1920s and 1930s, and the struggle for national liberation of the New Afrikan people needs to be theoretically developed to match today’s material conditions. One major error that I see is that the MXGM continues the RNA’s dogmatic adherence to the outdated black belt thesis while attempting to update it to the 21st century. The land is important, and we definitely need to get access to as much land, money, weapons and resources as humanly possible, but land is not of utmost importance. Our nation does not have a predominately peasant character anymore, we are a proletarianized and, now, heavily lumpenized nation due to neoliberalism. Our analysis must reflect this fact and recognize the true character of our nation. We don’t work the fields picking cotton anymore, nor do we work in factories anymore. Mechanization ended the first, neo-liberalism ended the second. This all being said, it’s obvious that what is being done in Jackson bears close attention simply because of the fact that we see power being shifted away from the reactionary white business elite and comprador Black political establishment that ate up most of the gains of the Civil Rights movement and into the hands of a movement that calls itself socialist and seeks its own version of self-determination. Even though Black people are moving back to the South in droves, however, we are not our ancestors and we can’t continue picking up our ancestors’ calls in a new era.
Cooperation Jackson is heavily inspired by the Mondragon network of cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain. The Basques are a nationally oppressed people forced into the Spanish state, much like the Catalans. There is a history among them, just as there is a history among the New Afrikan people, of developing cooperatives and working as a collective unit for the greater economic benefit of the community. Jackson is also heavily inspired by the Popular Assemblies that exist in Venezuela and other progressive Latin American countries. There are both good and bad things to be said about both. As a Maoist, I recognize that there must be centralization and a vanguard party that ultimately seeks to wage protracted peoples war and capture power through armed struggle. This is the maximum program, the ultimate goal, and all political work done must ultimately be towards this purpose. This being said, Popular Assemblies and cooperatives can be a critical and important step towards building dual power, and I am grateful to the Jackson movement for giving a concrete example of what these can look like on American terrain, applied to the concrete conditions of Black people. Cooperatives can play an important role in raising living standards, helping solve the issues of food deserts, and providing good employment to the masses, with the masses, owned by the masses and run to their liking and with their input. I am not against cooperatives or raising living standards. Maoists should pay more attention to these things if we want to be an actual material force in society and move off the fringe and into the daily lives of the masses, meaning millions. However, the important thing, and one thing that I hope Jackson pays close attention to, is the importance of political line and not deviating into economism. They use Cabral’s quote about people “not fighting for the ideas in people’s heads, but for material gains” often, but this can easily be interpreted by politically undeveloped or unscrupulous elements as a call to forget about political line forged through struggle and the ultimate best interests of the masses and the necessity of destroying America through force. There was no mention of armed struggle in the book at all, although the original P-RNA cadre were armed and stood down a police, FBI, and Klan blockade in 1971 when they occupied their initial land purchase. This tradition should be remembered and applied today. As Mao said, walk on two legs.
Speaking of walking on two legs, the Jackson movement has gotten most of its notoriety from the fact that it has been able to get people into office. As a Maoist, I don’t see getting people into office to be a top goal or an ideologically solid/sound one, because even if you have revolutionary aspirations going in, you’re going to be transformed by the system before you transform it. Go in a revolutionary, come out Jesse Jackson (who stole most of his rhetoric from Fred Hampton). Ask all the former Panthers who stuck with Huey Newton after the split and ended up working for the California Democratic Party. This being said, I think there is an opportunity to use elections creatively to secure gains for the masses, prove a point, mobilize people, and give breathing room. However, this must be done under the guidance and auspices of a revolutionary party. There is a time to boycott, and there is a time to participate. The time is determined by the dialectics of a situation. Dogmatically and blindly arguing for boycott or for participation without analyzing the dialectics of a situation is, essentially, left and right opportunism and will lead to errors that go along with them. If there is a gain to be had from participating in an election, there is no reason other than stupidity arising from dogmatism that would lead a Party to argue for abstention. Jackson is a unique case and this is pointed out in Jackson Rising. Running for office against entrenched political machines in places like Philadelphia, New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, or Detroit would probably result in an objective failure and waste/demoralization of revolutionary forces. Jackson is a mid-level city with a heavily Black population in which activists saw an opportunity to engage with elections to the benefit of the masses. Until opportunities like these present themselves in the North, we should avoid elections and focus on base-building, meaning going directly to the people, standing with them, sharing weal and woe, and building alternative power structures.
Accepting money from the government/private foundations. Again, creativity and analysis of concrete conditions. Huey Newton once had to deal with an FBI agent who offered BPP cadre a million dollars. They, of course, refused. Huey got upset and told them they should have taken it. Of course, this is a wild example from a simpler time. To do what we have to do, as revolutionaries, requires money lots of it, and creative methods to get it. If an opportunity presents itself to gain access to a lot of money that can then be applied to the revolutionary struggle, take it. Jackson gets access to money and funds through donations, grants, and various other methods. Depending more on these sources than you do on your own efforts and the efforts of the community is a sugar coated bullet that many an erstwhile revolutionary has gulped down to their own detriment and the detriment of the masses. This being said, you can not organize the financial support needed to do work at the level that we must to have a chance of overthrowing capitalism by relying on GoFundMe or Patreon or other crowdfunding sources. When you need to get people out of jail or do other things, you need money. This is amateurishness. A lot of people are afraid of founding nonprofits and legal organizations out of some sense of revolutionary purity but are still constantly hounding and hustling for money. Resolve the contradiction and don’t act like money is toxic or poisonous. What is poisonous is turning down resources that you can use to serve the people out of some stupid sense of revolutionary cred or purity.
One major thing that Jackson uses money for is to purchase land. Not only for community gardens and other things, but to combat gentrification. They have declared Fortification Street as a line that gentrification will not cross. They have also taken concrete steps to protect the demographic integrity of their community, maintaining it at a certain level of Blackness. If your organization holds land, the line is solid and it won’t be sold. This keeps out developers who will come in and either sit on it, awaiting gentrification while it fills up with spent hypodermic needles and the occasional corpse, or develop it and develop everybody right on out of the neighborhood. There is no reason that a revolutionary organization or mass organization guided by one should not seek to obtain as much land as possible and resolve to develop it for the use of the masses of the community. We also should look into how to squat vacant buildings, rehab them, and produce affordable housing, community gardens on roofs, renewable electricity sources, and other things that can not only improve the immediate conditions of the masses but also demonstrate, in practice, what the seeds of dual power look like. Dual power involves the masses (Jackson defines “mass” as 1/5, or 20% of a community’s population) actively participating in meetings and initiatives of a Party or revolutionary formation. Most of the organizations in the United States currently calling themselves “mass organizations” are not, because they cannot unite with and organize the masses. If you live in a city with 30,000 people, or 3,000,000 people, 30 people showing up to your demonstration where you yell about something nobody cares about is not mass. That’s called a tourist attraction. Cooperation Jackson is a mass organization because it has delivered actual, lasting, concrete gains to the masses, and has demonstrated an ability to manifest actual change by getting people released from prison and defending their homes in a big and real way.
Another aspect of Jackson that I like is its openness. It engages with and has the interest and participation of the masses because people can engage with and talk to their members. This doesn’t make them “not a threat”, Lumumba used to receive death threats. Anything Black and organized is a threat, more so than white kids running around with unloaded guns. They unmask their faces because they know that their community is defending them and they are prepared to also defend themselves, without fear and with right on their side. They go door to door talking about their programs, sitting with people in their houses, going into churches, going into businesses. Getting ideas from the people, discussing them at meetings, and bringing them back to the people in the form of programs. This is a form of the mass line. In essence, they apply the mass line better than most so-called Maoists do in the US, and it bears fruit. This is something we need to learn and apply. One thing that I do wish would be done is recognize the limitations of ultra-democracy and develop more centralization.
I definitely am thinking about going to Jackson and participating in this growing movement when I graduate university. Regardless of errors and shortcomings, it’s good to see Black people doing good things and developing some semblance of power in this country and I think that I will learn lessons in both developing strategy and tactics that I think will be well suited, with modification, to the development of Saint Louis as a revolutionary base and a center of revolutionary Black/Maoist consciousness and praxis. The essential thing is to avoid/isolate white opportunists and political bandits who’ll come sneaking around seeking to wreck or change line and also beware of getting wrapped up in bourgeois politics and economism. I think both can be done if enough black people and race traitors are organized. In short, I like Jackson and I wish them well. Look forward to getting involved and being around my own people for once. White people are a bore. I’d advise Maoists, particularly those who aren’t white, to pay less attention to stupidness like Redneck Revolt that only exist for the self-aggrandizement of rich white punk scene dropouts (and apparently have very few actual working class white people, as if walking around with expensive ass guns is something actual working class white people do, lol) and more to things like what are going on in Jackson. When they crumble, I’m sure Jackson will still be there, since it’s real.