Members of the community turned out recently for a screening of the documentary “Finally Got the News” (1970), about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW). The event was hosted by the Initiative for a Central Brooklyn Struggle Committee (ICBSC). The film screening was followed by a wide-ranging discussion.
—One participant, struck by the link between national oppression and the class struggle depicted in the film, asserted that the question of the minimum wage mainly affects Black and brown workers. She then linked this question to the high cost of public transportation in New York City, which forces people to jump turnstiles and ask for swipes. This in turn results in high fines that only reinforce the problem of low wages.
This observation underscores the need to link the question of racism and national oppression to the concrete social dynamics of a determined geographical area. In this way, we can avoid the symmetrical idealisms of, on the one hand, a Garveyist-type metaphysics of race divorced from national oppression and the class struggle, and on the other hand, a class politics abstracted from the specific forms of racial and national oppression through which class contradictions are actualized.
—One participant, after talking about the problems he faces working 13-hour days for a net $500 per week, said that violent uprisings by the masses are inevitable. The question is whether this violence will be organized, so that the masses can build their power instead of exhausting it through dispersed rebellions.
How can our own work relate to the militancy displayed by the masses in eruptions like the recent revolt in Ferguson? We must grasp such events not simply as spontaneous, but as partial forms of organization that the masses discover and put to the test in the course of the struggle. Mao says: “The masses have boundless creative power. They can organize themselves and concentrate on places and branches of work where they can give full play to their energy.” Genuine leadership can only proceed from a recognition of the primacy of mass initiative.
—One participant was stung by the way the film framed the problems faced by Black female workers as “the last hired and the first fired.” She said that this characterization rang true in her experience. Black women are not only restricted to low-paying jobs in certain sectors, but are lower-paid and more insecure in their particular jobs relative to other workers.
It is essential to confront the problem of workplace hierarchies, which are rooted in a gendered and racialized differentiation of labor powers. This objective process of differentiation is the condition of reproduction of the capitalist organization of labor. The class struggle of the proletariat must put on the agenda a revolutionary program that seeks to transform social relations in the workplace. Such a program can only be fully realized at the end of a revolutionary sequence that organizes the proletariat into a class dictatorship. The dictatorship of the proletariat has as its fundamental task to extinguish itself—or what is the same, to put an end to all class contradictions and their corresponding systems of national and gender oppression.
—One participant talked about the difficulty of organizing in a geographical area, as opposed to organizing in a factory, the site of the activities of the LRBW and the various Revolutionary Union Movements (RUMs) that are the subject of the film.
In a proletarian neighborhood, the diversity of problems can lead to a lack of clarity regarding the identity of the class enemy. This can reinforce contradictions among the people, which in turn prevent the masses from forging a combative unity. The nature of the class enemy is clarified, and contradictions among the people resolved, only in the course of concrete political struggles. In such struggles, the enemy reveals itself as that material force which opposes the just aspirations of the masses.
—One participant talked about the lack of cheap, healthy food in the neighborhood. She asked: why do supermarket retailers like Key Foods sell inexpensive junk food and expensive, low-quality produce?
If capitalism only indirectly meets social needs—capitalist production is organized around maximizing profitability—then we must link our own political work to meeting social needs directly, without falling into the trap of economism that characterizes the work of groups like the anarchist solidarity networks. This requires mobilizing the proletariat and the people to seize their power through their own efforts, rather than relying on professional activists, NGOs or the capitalist state. The autonomy of the masses has a determined revolutionary sense: advanced sections of the masses must take the initiative in constructing mass organizations that can pose the question of political power in each concrete situation.
—One participant shared a story about how a friend of his growing up in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn was arrested and convicted for a crime he did not commit. Upon his release from prison, he joined a gang and engaged in activities that preyed on the community. This was the result of his experience while incarcerated, compounded by the difficulties he faced in attempting to re-enter the labor market after a long absence.
We must take seriously contradictions between the masses and lumpen criminal syndicates. In our mass meetings and neighborhood conversations, the subject of lumpen activities and their harmful effects has been a persistent refrain. The ‘lumpen line’ of groups like the Black Panther Party has proved to be a disaster in every historical situation in which it has been applied. At the same time, we must make a distinction between lumpen organizations and low-level individuals caught up in lumpen activities, many of whom have a partial understanding of the antagonistic relationship between themselves and the white-supremacist and capitalist state. This understanding can only take on a strategic significance if it is transformed—that is, put in the service of the people and placed under the command of proletarian ideology.
Finally, we collectively discussed the possibility of launching a people’s survey in the proletarian neighborhoods of Central Brooklyn. We consider the proposed people’s survey and our regular mass meetings to be different forms of social investigation. We will continue to publish sporadic reports on our mass meetings and other activities.