FIVE DIALECTICS: BLACK LIBERATION AND ELECTORAL POLITICS
This is the beginning of a process to have national discussions of critical issues facing the Black Liberation Movement. This is an open invitation to activists to join in this conversation. We call on all militants of the Black liberation struggle to study these dialogues. Statements have been made that revolutionary advances were constructed in certain mayoral contests; demanding that the Black liberation movement should join with the Green Party. If not, all electoral struggles are futile. The conflicting views between these two fronts need to be discussed if we are to have a serious unity building process. We caution against rushing to a polarizing debate. However we urge for a process to find unity where experiences can be discussed in order to evaluate contending points of view. If it is not based on a summation of experience, a point of view cannot be taken seriously.
The Draft Freedom Manifesto has stated a general position on the electoral struggle on page 29:
The capitalist state is a rigged game controlled by the ruling class. They don’t play fair and we can’t win by getting in it and trying to reform things. All too often we have been lured into local politics as mayors and city council officials, only to try and fix a broken system that can’t be fixed with minimal reforms. But electoral politics is a terrain of struggle where debate and discussion can raise the consciousness of people. This can present people with an alternative to the hypocrisy and illusions of mainstream politicians. The movement must remain autonomous from state and NGO control. On the other hand, Black power at the local level can be used by the movement, especially if we build the independent power of the forces in struggle for unionization, livable wages, eminent domain to house the homeless, money for public schools not charter schools, and so on. Hold elected officials accountable to serve the community!
We will deal with five contradictions as a way of providing a framework for discussion and the summation of experience. We accept the reality that what works in one situation may not get the same results in another. But we don’t just assume this result without a serious analysis of what actually happens in any particular case. We begin with the general statement in the Draft Freedom Manifesto. But in this paper we want to step back and think our way into the positon taken by the Draft Manifesto and retrace how we got there. We have to identify the key issues to find where we agree and where there might be any disagreement. Remember our approach is 80-20; Therefore as long as we mainly agree, the remaining differences should not stop us from uniting as we continue our study, dialogue and debate.
We have five contradictions to discuss:
#1. Reform vs. Revolution
This contradiction is fundamental for all movements of social change. Reform is trying to make the system work better, to improve things. Revolution is the process of making a leap to destroy the old and create a new system.
The basic system we fight is capitalism; an economic system based on a small number of people owning the major aspects of the economy (banks and businesses, etc.) and getting rich on the basis of exploiting the rest of us.
An example of the reform struggle is fighting for an increase of the minimum wage for workers up to $15 an hour. For people making less this is a major fight that can involve life or death issues. The same is true when fighting for universal health care, for a clean environment, for clean water, and for so many other things. But as reforms they are temporary fixes to a system that creates such problems as normal because that’s how the system works. The fight for reforms under capitalism is necessary but not sufficient for the revolutionary change that we need.
A revolution would remove the capitalist owners and turn the businesses and banks over to the people who work in them and reorganize the production and distribution of the economy into what serves everyone in society. Wealth would become a public resource to improve the lives of everyone beginning with those most in need.
The electoral system can be used for reform but it can’t be used for revolution.
#2. Democracy vs. Dictatorship
This contradiction is between how the capitalist electoral system appears to work as a democratic process but it is actually a closed system that legitimates the capitalist dictatorship over society. In theory an election is open to everyone who meets basic qualifications: citizenship, age, and residence. But it is well known that there has been a history of preventing Black people and women from voting. More currently there have been various tactics to limit who can vote or what votes mean:
a. The system is rigged against any political parties others than the two capitalist parties, Republican and Democrat.
b. Campaign finance laws allow the capitalists to rig elections based on millions of cash to hire staff and run ads to influence the voting public
c. ID laws that set a barrier to voting by Blacks. Latinos, and poor people generally
drawing electoral districts to prevent majority Black districts which is called gerrymandering
d. Running the presidential election not on the popular vote but on a capitalist controlled Electoral College (only way Trump could be elected)!
Congress is run by millionaires and the executive branch of the federal government is currently run by billionaires and military generals. Marx stated this clearly in the Communist Manifesto: “The executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
On the other hand to the extent that an electoral campaign is possible (mass interest, funding, possible candidates, etc.). It can identify issues and be a process for educating the masses of people, mobilizing them, and preparing for higher levels of struggle whether the campaign wins or loses. The difference between the fight for reform and reformism is that the fight for reform is merely a tactic as part of a revolutionary strategy (knowing that the system can’t be fixed by reform) whereas reformism is the positon that all one can do is fight for one reform after another.
So how do we fight for revolution?
#3. United Front vs. Working class struggle
We need a strategic, long term plan to end the capitalist system and create a system of equality with justice for all. A strategy answers the question of who and how an old system can be destroyed and a new one can be created. On the level of the economic forces at play, a technological revolution has humanity on the verge of ending scarcity. One kind of industrial system is being destroyed and a new one coming into existence, one was dependent on human labor and one has most human labor on the way to being replaced by computers and robots. We have the capacity to feed, cloth, house, and provide necessary services for all of humanity. However we have the way but not the will because the greedy capitalists and their economic, political and social systems are creating the opposite whereby the majority of humanity starves and lives in squalid insecurity. The masses of people spontaneously rise up to defend themselves when attacked including people from all classes and ethnic groups, from all regions, rural and urban. There are many battlefronts, every issue creates one. On each battlefront unity is essential covering the total diversity of those rising up to fight back. In addition, we need unity across all battlefronts because each battlefront leads to the same enemy, the same decadent capitalist system. We need to resist the temptation to create a hierarchy of oppression by which some issue is deemed more important than the rest. What is consistent on all battlefronts is a class question, because the fundamental social struggle is between the capitalist class and their opposite enemy the working class and the impoverished masses of people. Both in terms of quantity and quality workers and poor people are the heart of the matter. So while all fighters in the struggle have a clear interest in the reform struggle only the marginalized workers and poor people need to destroy the system to get what they really need, to solve their problems once and for all by marching forward in revolutionary struggle for a new system.This has become clear as workers are being replaced by machines – computers and robots are driving workers out of their jobs just like the mechanical cotton picker kicked Black people out of the cotton field. With this motion toward the end of work there is also the end of the social contract, all welfare and social service policy is being cut. Workers and poor people have no choice but to fight for reforms. It is the task of the cadre of the Black liberation movement to link these reform struggles to the revolutionary vision needed to get people to fight to end the whole damn system.
#4. Inside game vs outside game
The strategy for revolution begins in the tactical struggle for reforms. The spontaneous movement is the birth of a transient form of a united front, and within this broad terrain of struggle the workers and poor people, the wretched of the earth, begin to stir and form into a decisive social force. Part of this takes place in electoral politics because government policy is the universal tool for the masses to fight for reforms.
Given this, and in anticipation of limited success, especially at the local level but soon to once again include congress, it is important to be clear on the tactics needed to advance the strategic forces of the united front and the working class. We need an inside game and an outside game.
The main game is outside of the electoral process, outside of the state. The inside game (within the electoral system, the state) has to be subordinate to the outside game (the autonomous movement, both the united front in general but anchored in the needs of the working class and poor people). The elected officials need to use their rostrum to educate, agitate, and motivate the masses to join the movement. The masses on the outside are the primary source of pressure to make reforms happen by those on the inside and to expose the limitations of the system as it is fundamentally limited by the dominant interests of the ruling capitalist class.
#5. Fight to fail vs Fight on to victory
Mostly we fight only to fail, but let’s get into the dialectics of this matter. Sometimes to succeed is to fail and sometimes to fail is to succeed. The reform struggle even when successful fails to make revolutionary change and sometimes makes the system stronger in that it can appear that the system can be made to work. If the system can be made to work then the masses of people can be hoodwinked into believing that reform is all we need. On the other hand, when we fight for change and lose we can analyze the struggle and strengthen the movement with better understanding on how to proceed with the struggles to come.
But given that the battles we fight are battles to win, we fight to better the material conditions fo our people and therefore every reform struggle is a righteous battle we want to win.
The critical task is to sum up our experiences and learn. We have to be willing to learn from what actually happens. Our current movement has not been very good at this. To advance this process we have a study program based on the experience of the world revolutionary movement and the Black liberation movement. This will include my practice to demonstrate that I am arguing from personal experience. Here are some questions to take up and some material to study:
What is the nature of the state and what kind of struggle do we need?
a. Lenin, The State https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/jul/11.htm
b. Stalin, On strategy and tactics https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1924/foundations-leninism/ch07.htm
What can we learn from the experience of an electoral campaign? The case of the mayoral campaign of Harold Washington the first Black Mayor of Chicago.
a. Harold Washington, a video where he exposes the corruption of the capitalist state of the city government of Chicago http://eblackchicago.org/HAROLD/uofi82.htm
b. Documentation in the media of the primary electoral campaign http://eblackchicago.org/HAROLD/pdf/part1.pdf#zoom=60
c. Analysis of the inside and outside game that elected Harold Washington http://eblackchicago.org/HAROLD/pdf/1.pdf#zoom=60
d. Criticism of how the outside game subordinated itself to the inside game
e. How did the united front discuss the Harold Washington experience? http://eblackchicago.org/HAROLD/pdf/proceedings.pdf#zoom=60
f. How did the left debate the Harold Washington experience? http://eblackchicago.org/HAROLD/pdf/3.pdf#zoom=60
Questions to answer in the summation and analysis of an electoral campaign
a. What is the electoral history and previous electoral campaign experience of the area?
b. What are the social and economic characteristics of the electoral population?
c. What has been the level of voter registration and voter turnout in the electoral district?
d. Who are the movement candidates that can represent the peoples interests?
e. What are the critical issues and what positions are being taken by different interests?
f. What kind of campaign organization was developed – who, what, when. how, why?
g. What kind of tactics developed and what actually happened? – Pay attention to numbers
h. What were the main documents? – Position papers, major speeches, media coverage
i. What was the turn out and the results? – Again pay attention to numbers
j. What are the lessons for future struggles? Was it worth the effort?