The MCG-generated Initiative for a Central Brooklyn Struggle Committee recently held its second mass meeting. Around 30 people came together to discuss issues facing the neighborhood, including severe landlord neglect, police harassment of youth and the changing class character of the community. For several hours, participants exchanged experiences, proposed ideas for organization and actively engaged in ideological debate with one another. Several participants brought active struggles in the neighborhood before the group. One participant proposed organizing a rent strike to remedy the awful conditions in her building. Another participant raised the need for people’s education to address the problem of failing schools.
Several participants posed the question: how can we bring the militant struggle to the youth, the social force among the masses least dominated by bourgeois ideology and quickest to rebel? The weakness of youth lies in their isolation and narrowness of perspective, reinforced by a lack of the ideological and political direction needed to counter bourgeois and white supremacist lies. In order to overcome this weakness, participants discussed the need to involve more young people in the process of forming struggle committees.
The meeting served as an example of militant mass democracy. Mass democracy demands that we never cover over ideological struggle with sentimental pleas for civility, but that we always go to the limit in our thought and practice. Such a dynamic exchange of experiences and ideas is precisely what bourgeois ‘democracy’ forbids at every turn. Mass democracy is the only path along which a genuine combative unity of the people can be organized.
At the end of the meeting, a member of the MCG presented some remarks to the assembled participants, a transcript of which follows.
— Our different struggles, against cops, against bosses, against landlords, are connected: How?
We are taught every day to view the state as neutral. However, the capitalist state—not just who you vote for, but the whole machinery of the state, from the army recruiter at the local high school, to the manager at the unemployment office, to the local politician who tries to calm the masses after the latest police shooting, to the cop who gives you a ticket for asking for a swipe at the subway—the capitalist state is a tool of the capitalist class, the class of business owners.
Just like the state under slavery was a state of the slaveholding class, just like the state under feudalism was a state of the feudal landlord class… in this same way, the state under capitalism is a state of the capitalist class. The capitalist state is not neutral. The notion that the state is neutral—for example, that the role of the police is to protect and serve us—is a myth. The role of the police is to protect and serve the mainly white capitalist class. We can see this if we look at class societies from the past: no one would claim that the troops of some medieval king were neutral between the king and the lowest peasants. It is just as absurd to think that the police are neutral between the dominant class and the masses.
In capitalism, the police have a special role. The police are the sharp stick that the capitalist class uses to keep us in our place so that exploitation can occur. Keeping us in our place allows the capitalist class to reproduce the capitalist system, to keep exploiting us.
What do we mean by ‘exploitation’? The capitalist class lives off the labor of workers, just like the slaveholding class lived off the labor of slaves and the feudal lords of the Middle Ages lived off the labor of peasants. ‘Exploitation’ refers to one part of society appropriating for itself the labor of another part of society. This means that capitalism, like slavery and feudalism, is constituted out of the struggle between opposed classes. Workers and capitalists relate to each other only as antagonists: we see this in continuous struggles over wages, over hours, over benefits, over sick leave, over equal pay, over layoffs….
However, our society is not just capitalist, but also white supremacist. The capitalist system itself has been built on the oppression of the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Native American and various Pacific Islander nations. These nations have in turn been formed through the history of their oppression.
The Black national question is closely linked to the class struggle. Blacks have served as a social caste that, within the confines of the Euro-American capitalist state, has been prevented from developing a class structure in anything but a mutilated and incomplete way. Today, oppression of the Black nation is visible in its class composition, marked by a strong working class and a weak capitalist class. We also see oppression of the Black nation in the highly disproportionate imprisonment, harassment and police brutality directed against it. National oppression of Blacks has been an essential means through which the working class has been concretely reproduced and reconfigured to meet the needs of US capital.
What this amounts to is that working class Blacks are subjected to a double oppression:
(1) National oppression
—There is oppression by the dominant Euro-American nation’s ruling classes against the Black nation as a whole.
—There is a regime of exploitation by the capitalist class against the multinational working class.
Many of the attacks on the masses in general begin with concentrated attacks on the Black nation in particular. Such attacks have included the dismantling of social benefits, deregulation of the labor market and rise of the prison state. The capitalist state has dismantled welfare and other social benefits through a series of racist campaigns that represent Black women as lazy. The capitalist state has extended the reach of the prison state through a series of racist campaigns that represent Black men as violent. The capitalist state has attacked organized labor through a series of racist campaigns that represent the mainly Black and brown working class as selfish.
These attacks are concentrated on oppressed nations, but the result is that the broad masses as a whole are weakened, although not equally. Mass imprisonment, weak labor and reduced social benefits affect us all. It is thus in the interest of all the masses, of whatever nationality, to struggle for full equality and for the right to self-determination for the Black nation and all oppressed nations. Divisions between us only strengthen the class enemy, which always aims to turn objective contradictions between us into subjective contradictions that prevent us from growing our power.
At the same time, liberation of the Black nation can only be fragmentary and partial in the current state of the class struggle, dominated as it is by the white supremacist, capitalist state. The full democratic right of the Black nation to self-determination, up to and including formation of a separate Black state, can only be genuinely realized through the overthrow of the capitalist state, and this requires broad alliances between all layers of society who have an interest in socialist revolution.
The state, with the violent institution of the police at its core, exists to keep us in our place so that capitalists can live off our labor. Our task, the task of the masses, is to destroy the very places in which that system imprisons us. We can begin to take up that task by forming struggle committees that defend the people in our daily encounters with police violence, landlord evictions, mass layoffs, social service cuts, etc., and link these issues to a protracted struggle for power.
The path to forming struggle committees must pass through neighborhood mass meetings such as this one. What is the political significance of holding mass meetings?
Over the past six months, we’ve had innumerable one-on-one conversations with workers, tenants and others in the neighborhood about various issues that people in the community face on a daily basis, from landlord neglect and evictions to the endless harassment that Black people face at the hands of the racist police.
These conversations have led us to the idea of bringing people together collectively to exchange experiences and ideas for self-organization.
The political significance of exchanging experiences in meetings like this must be grasped at several levels:
1—We can speak. The first political significance of exchanging experiences in meetings like this is that working class people—and particularly Black and brown working class people—are effectively silenced in our capitalist and white supremacist society. In capitalist language, freedom to speak means freedom of the white and wealthy to use their wealth to shape so-called public opinion through the press. On TV, in newspapers, on major websites, we never hear the voices of the working masses. In politics, our voices are reduced to a single act of voting, which only resolves the question: which representative of the capitalist class, which of our oppressors, will represent and oppress us during the coming period? US ‘democracy’ is nothing more than a machine for the suppression of the working class by a handful of capitalists. Mass democracy in meetings like this provides us with an opportunity to discuss the problems we face.
2—We can see the social nature of the struggle. The second political significance of exchanging experiences in meetings like this is that it allows us to see that our individual experiences are shared by many others—that we are not simply individuals, but participants in a systematic struggle. The systematic nature of the struggle means that we need to form broad organizations that unite all who can be united in the face of a strong class enemy. We have many problems, but the unified nature of the class enemy makes these problems systematic. The enemy is powerful precisely because we are disunited and disorganized.
3—We gain knowledge. The third political significance of exchanging experiences in meetings like this is that talking about our experiences will help us understand the material nature of our oppression. It is only on the basis of a concrete understanding of our oppression and exploitation that we will be able to build revolutionary power capable, in the long run, of transforming the conditions we face. What is principal in this process is the progressive clarification of the nature of the class enemy. Only a democratic process can provide us with knowledge of the cause of the problems we must collectively address. This is because ultimately correct ideas have their source in the people’s struggle.
In addition to exchanging our own experiences through mass democratic discussion, we must also study the historical experiences of the people that have been accumulated over centuries, through struggles against slavery and semi-feudal sharecropping, as well as struggles brought under capitalism (including those for limits to the working day, for the right of women and Blacks to vote, etc). Only by recollecting such historical experiences will we be able to understand the current state of the class struggle and the revolutionary task that lies before us. We must draw lessons from the successes and failures of the past in order to transform the present.
Truth does not come from some enlightened individual or sect, but ultimately comes from the experiences of the people—the people in this room and the people who have struggled before us. Our group, the group that organized this event, is a communist group. This means that our goal is a society free from all forms of exploitation and oppression. For communists, both the process of forming knowledge and the process of organizing for revolution are grounded in the struggles of the masses.
The communist revolutionary Mao said:
“Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice, and from it alone; …It is man’s social being that determines his thinking. Once the correct ideas characteristic of the advanced class are grasped by the masses, these ideas turn into a material force which changes society and the world.”
4—We can begin to organize. The fourth political significance of exchanging experiences in meetings like this is that exchanging experiences can provide the basis for unity on which we can form genuine people’s organizations, struggle committees, that can fight on many fronts.
Our struggle is with the capitalist class and their state. We must build our power by building a movement against the enemy. But in order to do this, we must at the same time build unity among ourselves, among the working masses.
It is our hope that these discussions will begin to develop unity among us. Unity requires that we gather our forces, that we engage in collective discussion and decision-making. We see in this room a place for mass democracy that can guarantee the unity of the movement. Only through unity in the struggle can we become conscious of our relation to the class enemy and constitute ourselves as a material force for social transformation.
Through mass democracy we learn that a unity without foundation is insufficient. What is a unity without foundation? It is a unity that does not affirm our own independence, that does not break with all forms of power of the class enemy. We must depend on no one but ourselves, on nothing but our own initiative, as we bring the battle to the oppressor.
This unity, and the power that flows from unity, must come from the people as its source. We do not unite and seize our power through the state, through the police, through the boss, through the landlord, through the corporate organization that lives on grants from the state and wealthy donors….
It is through ourselves that we must lay hold of our offensive capacity and activate it in order to advance our position in relation to that of the class enemy.
Our unity is our most powerful weapon to transform our oppression, to transform history.
Mass democracy cannot then simply be a conversation club without direction. Mass democracy must lead to an offensive unity, a combative unity.
The essence of mass democracy is not dialogue for its own sake, not pluralism, and not the expression of inner feelings. These elements define the false democracy that is promoted every day through the media, schools and other institutions that exist to perpetuate the system of class rule that oppresses us. Mass democracy is the means by which the direction of the struggle can be centralized, forged into an offensive weapon of the people against our oppressors.
Here we must look to example of Ferguson, Missouri. In Ferguson, a cop executed an unarmed kid for nothing more than being Black. The people of this small town of only 21,000—less than 15% the size of Bed-Stuy—united themselves through their anger over the execution. People advanced together on the pigs, militants formed tactical committees in order to organize a plan of combat, Bloods and Crips worked side by side to defend local shops from looters, people’s medics provided first aid for injured rebels… in this way, the semi-organized masses brought a battle to the capitalist state.
The rebellion in this small Midwestern town unsettled the ruling class. The capitalist state sent in police outfitted like Marines to clear the streets of demonstrators, shooting rubber bullets at people whose only crime was speaking out, even tear gassing journalists reporting on the rebellion. When that didn’t work, the capitalist state sent in Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to try to pacify the masses, and they were literally run out of town. The combative unity of the people was only reinforced by these clumsy attempts at repression and pacification. If the masses of Ferguson can shake the ruling class through their combative unity, we can only imagine what such unity could accomplish on the streets of New York City.
For this reason, we need to orient our discussions toward the building of strong, democratic and militant organizations that can fight on many fronts, but which will have a single goal: to grow our own power so that our daily struggles can eventually take on revolutionary significance.