Electoral and Revolutionary Politics: Reflections on the Struggle to Implement the Jackson-Kush Pla
“Our agenda includes topics whose importance and acuteness are beyond doubt and in which one concern is predominant: The Struggle. We note, however, that one type of struggle we regard as fundamental is not explicitly mentioned in this agenda, although we are sure that it was present in the minds of those who drew it up. We are referring to the struggle against our own weaknesses. We admit that other cases may differ from ours. Our experience in the broad framework of the daily struggle we wage has shown us that, whatever the difficulties the enemy may create, the aforenamed is the most difficult struggle for the present and the future of our peoples. This struggle is the expression of the internal contradictions in the economic, social and cultural (therefore historical) reality of each of our countries. We are convinced that any national or social revolution which is not founded on adequate knowledge of this reality runs grave risks of poor results or of being doomed to failure” – Amilcar Cabral
When navigating treacherous waters or dimly illuminated paths, it is necessary to have a stable mind, a steady hand, and clear vision. And when trying to help others navigate out of similar journeys, it is necessary to provide clear and concise lessons and instructions.
Politics anywhere and everywhere has always been complicated and tricky. The electoral dimension of “modern” politics is no different. The electoral systems that we’ve been subjected to and institutionalized within over the last two hundred plus years of the US settler colonial project are treacherous, particularly for the colonized and subjugated peoples in this colonial empire, and those drawn from its laboring and exploited classes. These sectors of society have been forced to “perform” for power and influence in the main, and contest for power on rare occasion, within a rigged game, wherein the very limited choices on order merely allow one to engage in symbolic gestures centered on regulating aspects of the capitalist economy, making minor adjustments to who reaps the most benefits from the system and how those benefits will be disbursed. On occasion, we’ve been able to raise our voices regarding whether to expand or contract the repressive mechanisms and institutions that reinforce the systems of white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy, and to adjust the degrees of pollution and waste we are subjected to by the capitalist social order of extreme extraction and exploitation.
It is within this oppressive and undemocratic social order that those of us seeking liberation are constantly searching for pathways to emancipation. The Jackson-Kush Plan was and is one of these pathways. The broad and multifaceted effort to execute this plan, euphemistically called the J-K Plan for short, has recently been the subject of some public controversy and come under some scrutiny, primarily by its own author – myself. Statements I made on October 21st, and widely broadcast to the world on October 25th via the Black Agenda Report prompted much of the controversy. But, this was only kindling apparently as the main controversy was stirred up by Bruce Dixon’s article in the Black Agenda Report on November 1st, entitled “Democratic Party affiliation in Mississippi a compromise made in error says Cooperation Jackson’s Kali Akuno.”
Unfortunately, comrade Bruce Dixon missed the mark in providing a clear and concise rendering of the lessons I was trying to provide about the ongoing struggle to implement the Jackson-Kush Plan and realize its promise and potential towards making a substantive contribution to the social transformation of the US empire. Now, before going too deep into this essay, let me say unequivocally that I support Bruce Dixon’s cause of trying to educate people, most particularly a younger generation of Black activists and organizers, about the treachery of the Democratic Party, in the hope of dissuading them from joining it or aligning with it in any form or fashion. But, it is essential that I correct some mischaracterizations of the struggle in Jackson that have been advanced by Bruce Dixon over the course of the last several weeks. These mischaracterizations only serve to distort the contradictions at play in the ongoing struggle in Jackson, and in my view hinder folks from learning the critical lessons I was trying to convey on October 21st.
Let it also be known that while I disagree with many of the policy and programmatic priorities articulated by the Mayoral administration of Chokwe Antar Lumumba thus far, as well as Mayor Lumumba’s increasing public alignment with the Democratic Party (particularly the so-called Bernie wing of the Party), I have a vested interest in doing all that I can to help the Lumumba administration succeed. I am committed to struggling with the administration internally where possible and externally when necessary, to stay the course of pursuing radical social transformation as articulated in the Jackson-Kush Plan. However, the central question that must be addressed is how is “success” being defined and assessed, and by whom? These are critical questions that will be returned to shortly, to help everyone clearly understand what the fundamental “compromise made in error” was (and is) that I referenced in October.
Since the release of the Jackson-Kush Plan in 2012, thousands of people throughout the US empire and the world have stated that the plan, and the work that has emanated from its pursuit, have been a major source of inspiration for those seeking a more democratic and equitable future in general, and those on the left seeking to build political and social power more particularly. In short, the Plan rests on three pillars: 1) the construction of a dual power in the form of a People’s Assembly to build collective power (power with as opposed to power over) from the ground up to build a new society and to nullify the power of the settler-colonial state; 2) to build an independent political party (originally stated as a political force in the document as a result of an internal compromise) to serve the will of the People’s Assembly, and: 3) to initiate the process of constructing socialism by building a comprehensive solidarity economy from the ground up through the autonomous, self-managed initiatives of the organized community to build the local productive forces and provide an alternative to capitalism and it forced impositions which force the vast majority of us to work for wages and pay rent (or mortgages) in order to survive.
It must be noted, for the sake of clarity and transparency, that there was a political organization behind the development of this plan, and until fairly recently, its coordinated execution. The political organization is the New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO) and its mass association, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Both organizations are partisans of the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM) and highly influenced by the democratic centralist organizations of the 20th century that fought for national liberation and state power as the primary means to advance the development of socialism and emancipate New Afrikan people. The J-K Plan was not and could not be a spontaneous development. It took years to formulate, and it was built on decades of hard work and experimentation, that was synthesized through years of study and reflection. So, there was a conductor, as it were, driving its advance which is critical to note as a lesson for anyone trying to pursue a similar strategy. Knowing what went into its development and execution cannot be ignored or overlooked.
That said, of all the things that the J-K Plan conveys, the component of it that has far and away drawn the most attention has been its electoral component. Like it or not, this has been the primary source of inspiration engendered by this document. Given how the media is focused in this society, and how power is too often narrowly understood, this sadly is what the overwhelming majority of people focus on in reference to the radical work in Jackson. In our specific case, it would seem that the J-K Plan provides a straightforward rationale for the city council victory of Chokwe Lumumba in 2009, and justifies the pursuit of the mayoralty of Jackson by Chokwe Lumumba in 2013, Chokwe Antar Lumumba in 2014 and 2017, and seems to provide a roadmap to building municipal and eventually regional (i.e. the Kush), and state level power in Mississippi. And while there undoubtedly is some truth to this perception, it should be noted that it fails to grasp the deeper meanings and pursuits of the strategy. For instance, the electoral component of the strategy was originally intended to be an adjunct component of a broader objective, which was to build a transformative, anti-colonial power from the ground up through the People’s Assembly as an autonomous vehicle of self-governance that would engage in a developmental process of socialist construction by building a dynamic social and solidarity economy on the local level to create new social relations and means of production (which is the mission of Cooperation Jackson). Building a new independent political party that would engage in electoral politics, but not be bound by its pursuits, was just one component of this radical strategy. Sadly, this understanding has been lost or ignored, and even more disappointing, has not really been pursued by the forces claiming adherence to the J-K Plan over the past 10 years. Why this is so brings us to the heart of the contradiction or “compromise made in error”.
When me and my comrade Kamau Franklin first conceived of the idea and advanced the proposal to NAPO and MXGM that Chokwe Lumumba run for mayor in 2008, our primary objective was to use the campaign to: a) gather concrete information about who and how many people in Jackson believed in and would openly support the pursuit of New Afrikan (Black) self-determination and sovereignty, and b) to use the data gathered from this social experiment to advance our base building work in the city (and beyond) to build power. The power we were focused on building was the enhancement of the capacity of a self-organized community to collectively exercise its will by transforming the social means to meet its material and social needs. The focus was on changing social relationships from below, by moving people to pool their resources, skills, and intellectual capacities to more effectively utilize what they have to improve their lives and to struggle to either build or appropriate the resources (land, capital, and social institutions) needed to suit this end. It should be noted, that we did not rule out the notion that Chokwe should win the election, but this was not our initial focus.
However, in the process of agreeing to pursue this course of action, comrades in the Jackson chapter (keep in mind that neither me or Kamau lived in Jackson in 2008) stated that they did not want to engage in a “symbolic action”, that they wanted to “win”, meaning actually attain the office (which as it turns out became focused on the Ward 2 council seat, as the initial proposal to run for Mayor was modified based on commitments the chapter had already made to an existing candidate). Given that we had done some preliminary research on the possibility of winning an election that was favorable, I initially offered no resistance to this notion. For my part, I went along with this notion because I thought that we all agreed with the power building objectives stated above. As it turns out, we did not. The problem was that we failed to collectively define what we meant by “winning” beyond this point, and herein was the fundamental “compromise made in error”. We did not agree on whether the victory was defined as building power, or winning and holding office. Or, if the answer was both/and, how would this advance the liberation of Black people within the US in the short and midterm? How would this victory support the building of the New Afrikan Nation, the decolonization of Turtle Island, and the dismantling of the US government? We moved forward on the basis of assumptions, not on the basis of concrete clarity. And moving forward on this basis is what has led us to the impasse that we find ourselves in today.
For this, I have to be very self-critical, and address my own failings. For my part, I had assumed that as a result of working closely with comrades in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement for well over a decade and a half, that we had fundamental clarity and agreement on these and many other central questions. I didn’t heed a warning issued by Amilcar Cabral decades earlier about always struggling for the utmost clarity when attempting to move forward strategically, primarily to overcome the underdevelopment of our political forces and our movements overall. I didn’t do this at this critical juncture. Struggles for clarity were made in earnest down the road, and proposal after proposal was sent to press for clarity. But, most fell on deaf ears, particularly when they challenged the notion of why we were continuing to engage in electoral politics if it wasn’t serving the primary function of building power.
As a result of this compromise, winning elections became the primary focus of the “on the ground“ work in Jackson from 2009 on. In practice this election centered focus has translated into downplaying the politics of the New Afrikan Independence Movement, limiting public discussion of the Jackson-Kush Plan, crafting a more “popular” political platform called the “people’s platform” that orientated itself towards the restitution of a welfare state as opposed to the construction of socialism, and making public overtures to appease capital expressed in statements that “Jackson is open for business” and “we want corporations to come here and get rich”. All of these moves were made to enable the candidates to become more “electable”. These actions and orientations are in contradiction with the focus and pursuits of the original campaign proposal. This development sadly repeats a time worn pattern of revolutionaries throughout the world over the past 200 + years who turn to electoral politics to allegedly transform the system from within, who along the way get transformed by the system and step by step become revisionists, reformers, and agents of neo-colonial subjugation and neo-liberal social destruction.
Therefore, the choice of which electoral vehicle to employ in pursuit of the original proposals aims was and is a secondary contradiction, not a primary one. Bruce’s article mistakenly makes the vehicle question the primary contradiction, i.e. whether we should have engaged in electoral politics at all given the objectives being pursued, which is an error. Radicals and radical movements must seriously interrogate when and where to engage in electoral politics. For my part, I see electoral politics as a field of struggle that revolutionaries cannot ignore, given the balance of forces in society as a whole. But, I don’t think we need to give much of our limited time and energy towards this pursuit. Rather, I argue that we need to put the majority of our time and energy into building working class organizations that are focused on enhancing the productive capacities of the class in its comprehensive composition (meaning those who are employed, under employed, structurally unemployable, those who labor in the fields, and those who labor in prison) and amassing the skills and resources to transform society and defeat the corrosive powers of capital.
However, this does not negate the fact that one of the original pursuits of the J-K Plan was to build a new political party, one that would engage in electoral politics, but be more of a facilitator of the political pursuits of the social movements than a traditional “American” political party. That such a party has not been built after 10 years of this experiment is, without question, one of the critical failings of the project thus far. But, when “winning” elections under the present social conditions becomes the primary objective, the primary contradiction we’ve confronted negates the pursuit of autonomous power, the execution of a radical program, and the building of a revolutionary vehicle all at the same time.
But, in reference to the vehicle question itself, there are a few mischaracterizations comrade Bruce has made that must be clarified. The first notion is that we, particularly those of us in Cooperation Jackson, broke with the Democratic Party. On this point it must be noted, that it is hard to break with something that you never joined. Cooperation Jackson has never been associated with the Democratic Party. And nor have I. In fact, over the past 12 years as it relates to electoral politics I worked hard to either build new electoral vehicles, like the Reconstruction Party (ReconP) while situated in New Orleans from 2006 to 2008, or supported Green Party (GP) candidates like the McKinney/Clemente (2008) and Stein/Baraka (2016) tickets in particular, or help rebuild the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which still exists and generally poses as a left alternative to the Democratic Party in the state of Mississippi. Further, it should be noted that when Chokwe Lumumba ran for office in 2008/2009 and then again in 2012/2013 he did so as a member of the MFDP, which won access to the Democratic Party primary in 1968 as a part of an effort to empower Black voters in Mississippi (the vast majority of whom only gained access to the ballot in 1965). In addition, NAPO and MXGM, to my knowledge, have never made a formal decision to join the Democratic Party, here in Mississippi or anywhere else. That said, the organizations unofficial slide into the orbit of the Democratic Party and all its open and discrete machinery has progressively gotten worse since 2008, when neither organization chose to support the Reconstruction Party or the campaign efforts of an MXGM member, Rosa Clemente, who was then running for Vice-President under the Green Party ticket. The primary reason being that the vast majority of the members of these organizations at that time did not want to isolate the organizations or themselves from the Black masses who were overwhelmingly rallying to the Obama campaign. So, yes, there is a lesson here again about the need to be clear, centered, and focused in one’s strategic pursuits, but it centers more on strategic focus then it does on questions of tactical implementation (which in the case of the J-K Plan is what an electoral apparatus would be).
So, if there is a fundamental lesson to be learned from the struggle to implement the Jackson-Kush Plan over the last 10 years, as noted, it is the need to be clear, and to constantly struggle with yourself, with your comrades, and with the social actors and movements you are engaged with for clarity and consensus. In my honest view, the New Afrikan People’s Organization, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Jackson People’s Assembly, the Lumumba administrations and Cooperation Jackson have all contributed a fair amount towards the reinvigoration of the left over the last 10 years, particularly in the realm of providing those on the left with a sense of hope – albeit misplaced hope in many respects because it is sadly being employed to prop up liberal notions about the utility of electoral politics to the left (as can be seen by recent efforts of the Movement for Black Lives , MoveOn.org and others). But, as it relates to the advance of the Jackson-Kush Plan we could have and should have done a lot more towards the realization of its objectives over this span of time. As it stands, the forces publicly aligned with the J-K Plan (which truth be told is not altogether clear anymore to this author) are now (objectively and subjectively) fortifying (intentionally and unintentionally) several misleading narratives that are being widely promoted by liberal and revisionist forces to justify their reformist worldview and politics. The primary danger is that our labors will be utilized to uphold and promote the false notion that capitalism can be tamed and reformed through electoral politics. It cannot. And connected with this, there is the danger of reinforcing the false notion that the state is or can be a neutral arbitrator of various conflicting social interests. The state is not neutral in any form, but most particularly in its settler-colonial form, which we are subject to in the US. The state is an historic vehicle that exercises power over society that must be transgressed through human action. This requires democratic vision, the self-organization of the working class and oppressed peoples, and radical practices of material production (the goods and services we need to live) and social reproduction (nurturing and caring for each other and our children and grandchildren) over generations to create a new society.
The aims and objectives of the Jackson-Kush Plan are still a viable radical pursuit. Despite the mounting resistance to the program being mounted by reactionary forces in Mississippi, there is still enough time and political space to fully implement the strategy and realize its aims. However, it requires a major course correction in my view that demands a realignment of the constituent forces related to the J-K Plan that focuses on building a transformative power from the ground up, breaks with the politics of reform and accommodation with neo-liberalism, and fortifies the position of the radical social movements within Jackson. The “success” that I spoke to earlier, would for its part, include the Lumumba administration being a part of this realignment and entail it centering on processes of social transformation, and the struggles this would inevitably invite, over and above merely serving as an instrument of “good governance”. Focusing on transformation means advancing the final goals of self-determination and the construction of socialism through the agency of the working class and fortifying these constructions with every decision the administration makes executing the functions of state governance within the municipality.
For my part, I will continue to struggle for the realization of the Jackson-Kush Plan through the work and contributions of Cooperation Jackson and the construction of a new political organization to help fill in some critical gaps that exist in the movements for revolutionary social transformation in the US. It is my sincere hope that the New Afrikan People’s Organization, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the administration of Chokwe Antar Lumumba will make the course corrections suggested herein. Our movement has nothing to gain by pursuing the path of collaboration and compromise. If anything, without a major course correction, the Lumumba administration is structurally poised to reenact an “American” version of the neo-liberal tragedy currently being executed and administered on the Greek people by Syriza. It is only by pursuing a revolutionary path, however difficult it may appear in the short-term from the perspective of having to be a “responsible” administrative force, that we, as a movement, will gain. This would entail pursuing things like a comprehensive food sovereignty program, with the elicit aid of working class vehicles like Cooperation Jackson and the People’s Assembly, to eliminate the threat of food being used as a weapon, that would require converting most, if not all, of the cities vacant properties into urban farms. This would entail creating administration supported people’s markets and distribution centers, and support for a local alternative currency or token, to help facilitate the exchange of this community produced value.
The Syriza Trap is not completely inevitable. Clear leadership, with a clear plan, and uncompromising will can still go another route. I say this because I know all conscious political actors make mistakes and we all have the ability to learn from them, and most importantly, correct them. It is in this light that I note that despite our present differences, we have to be cognizant of that fact that in the face of the concentrated power of our enemies, that none of our differences ultimately rise above those posed to us collectively by the systems of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, white supremacy, and hetero-patriarchy and their conscious and willing agents and enablers. The process of “unity-struggle-unity” is still applicable on the level of alliances, fronts, and blocs. When and where possible, I look forward to allying with the Lumumba administration, NAPO, MXGM and many other organizations in the common struggle to dismantle the systems of hierarchy, alienation, and oppression and construct a new world, beginning in Jackson, but in no way limited to it.
Much more could and will be said in due time on the subject of sharing some hard lessons from the ongoing struggle for radical social transformation in Jackson. However, it is my hope that this short essay helps to illuminate a path of struggle just a bit more, and helps to inform those who have been inspired by the collective works in Jackson to not repeat our critical mistakes.
“Policy is the starting-point of all the practical actions of a revolutionary party and manifests itself in the process and the end-result of that party’s actions. A revolutionary party is carrying out a policy whenever it takes any action. If it is not carrying out a correct policy, it is carrying out a wrong policy; if it is not carrying out a given policy consciously, it is doing so blindly. What we call experience is the process and the end-result of carrying out a policy. Only through the practice of the people, that is, through experience, can we verify whether a policy is correct or wrong and determine to what extent it is correct or wrong. However, people’s practice, especially the practice of a revolutionary party and the revolutionary masses, cannot but be bound up with one policy or another. Therefore, before any action is taken, we must explain the policy, which we have formulated in the light of the given circumstances, to Party members and to the masses. Otherwise, Party members and the masses will depart from the guidance of our policy, act blindly and carry out a wrong policy.” – Mao Tse Tung