Meet the People Where They Are - Replace Rhetoric With Reality
Abasi Shomari Baruti
In trying to understand the weaknesses of the African Liberation Movement in the 21st century, and what needs to happen to fix those weaknesses, it is important to have a decent understanding of how things have gotten to be the way that they are. My PICC comrades and I have lain out in other places before now, what we see as the general character of the African liberation movement (ALM) at this point. Our position is that the movement is isolated from the main life of the African working class and is struggling to revive the African revolution. We recognize that there are a number of forces doing good work and we see the advances that are being made, especially in what has become an era of mass rebellion against naked imperialist robbery and rape. However, the positive tendencies are still in the minority of the ALM and those of us who are fighting to win still have plenty work to do in order to get the movement back on track.
One of the things that we are faced with in our struggle to re-mount the African revolution are the traps we set for ourselves. After severe repression by the U.S. government, and some real backwards nonsense coming from within the movement, the masses of African workers do not relate to revolutionary ideas in a serious way. In fact, if you have tried to recruit our people into revolutionary work in the last ten years, you have probably heard all kinds of responses about why our people just do not unite with "that black power shit.” This attitude is reflective of the effect of U.S. government propaganda, but it is also tied to our own mistakes and errors. Many of us have either fallen into the traps set for us by our enemies, or we have shot ourselves in the foot and hindered our own progress. Of the many ways that we trip ourselves up, one is of deep importance: being so caught up in our own rhetoric that we lose the people when we talk with and try to organize them - in short we, too often, confuse ideological principles with strategic principles.
All too often, the discussions that happen among us play out like arguments in petty-bourgeois families where one spouse is a republican and the other a democrat: its bloody war to the knife. How many times have we seen it: a fervent believer, normally new to the belief, goes on a rampage like a European crusader, demanding that everyone get with their ideas or perish? How many times have we seen, right in the midst of our movement, die-hard believers dismiss everything that is not of their own understanding and leave nothing but destruction and disarray in their wake? And, how many times have we seen people dress up nonsense, negativism, and pessimism in the clothing of "passion" and "commitment"? And when it has all been said and done, usually more has been said than done. This is a real problem. What is worse, is that, while we criticize the religious believers for their vehement "bible-thumping" or even "Qur’an-thumping,” we turn right around and beat our people upside the head with our ideologies, special language, and theories. The real fact is that the leading elements of the ALM must do more of what have not been doing, and that is leading - effective leading.
I want to deal with the question of working with the masses of African people, because, in the final analysis, our ideologies, platforms, programs, rap, and fieldwork must be aimed squarely at winning our folks to struggle. There is the tendency, for some of us, to confuse rhetoric with what is real. There are comrades who are so focused on being correct in theory, that they completely miss the point of our theory, and that is to win the people. In a place like Kansas City, MO where, as far as I can tell, there has not been a truly revolutionary organization that was anything more significant than a small study group since the 1980's, the strategy and tactics that have to be used to build the movement here are far different from what must happen in a place like New York, Atlanta, or Chicago. Here, African people continually reject overt radicalism, and stay away from African revolutionary politics. We know the score, we understand the why's and what for's However, since the 1980's, organization after organization has sprung up in this town, simply to die out due to near complete isolation from the African working class. My experience, and the experience of others, has pointed to a number of problems with the previous attempts. The one problem that seems to stand out is that the revolutionaries have been so caught up in showing just how revolutionary we are that we could never really understand or get past the resistance that African people put up to the kind of organizing we have tried to establish. Time and again, we have fallen back, disgusted; rejected by phrases like
"I ain't fuckin' with that black power shit", or "Man, I'm tryin' to get this money, and that shit you talkin' 'bout ain't 'bout to make me no paper, so I ain't really tryin' to hear it"
and so on. And, almost like clockwork, the despondent revolutionary organizer blames the inability to organize the people ON THE PEOPLE!
"Niggas don't want revolution." "Niggas scared of struggle."
And so on.
Now, last I recalled, if the revolution fails, it is the fault of the revolutionaries. In other words, if we claim to be the leaders, the advanced force, the most conscious of our people, but fail to get our folks on freedom's road, then we have got to begin with a self-criticism and proceed from there. The easy thing to do is to close one's ears and eyes to the truth, regurgitate the "line" to those who already believe it, blame the people, and run in place, mistaking activity for progress. It is simple to do what we can, remain at the fringes of the African colony, talk about the '60s and hope that the ruling class will make a mistake so openly despicable that the people will come running to us, begging for us to tell them how to make the revolution. That is the easy thing to do. The only problem is: it ain't worked all this time, and, regardless of what anyone thinks, it ain't bout to start working.
Let's begin with the basics. The first problem, especially in a place like Kansas City, MO, that so many of us find out the hard way, is that the language we use is so foreign to the masses of our people that when they hear it, they immediately tune out or go into defense. We go to the streets with revolutionary jargon on our lips and come back with little more than frustration. However, when the idea is proposed that we try to talk to folks in language that they understand, it is rejected as non-revolution, backwards, and incorrect. When the idea is suggested that we begin with simple programs that the people can get with, instead of more advanced strategies, our comrades look at us as if we have lost our minds. And so, we find ourselves in a trap, running on a revolutionary tread mill to nowhere, and in the mean time, the people, the ones we are supposed to be the "vanguard" of, continue on, working out their own problems with little concern about whatever the hell we talkin' about.
What we must do is take a hard look at our rhetoric and ask the honest question: is this working? If it isn’t, then we have got to take the next step, and honestly, ask the next question: what will work better? As dialectical materialist, we talk endlessly about investigation and scientific struggle, well, the most basic thing a "scientist" or "dialectician" can do is investigate and find out the answer to those question. After some years of working in Kansas City, MO, finding a little success here, and a little success there, but mostly finding failure, I had to swallow the hard pill, and admit that if the revolution is going to happen here because of something I said or did, I had better find a better way to say it or do it. What I have come to find is that on the one hand, we don't have to be non-revolutionary in our strategy and tactics, but on the other hand, our strategy and tactics have to meet the understanding of the people. So instead of focusing on producing a revolutionary news paper that talks about the merits of scientific materialism and the dynamics of socialist economic theory, for instance, we need to produce something that is begins with how dope, unemployment, and the democrats are all linked together. Instead of putting on programs that castigate the people about being unhealthy and points the finger of blame at the people and our self-destructive habits, we need to build programs that seek to demonstrate a better way through servicing the real needs of the people. We begin with a simple screening, then talk about some simple ways get the high blood pressure under control, and continually follow up. At some point during our interaction with our people, we can discuss Monsanto and why HMO's are a bunch of crooks and how genetically modified foods are harming our people. Once the people trust that we are serious about what they are serious about, we can some real success in winning our people to pick up a healthier lifestyle. In short, the African working class in this town is like any other group of people, if they don't understand it or don't see their self-interest in it, they ain't getting ready to deal with it. If we want the people here to not only deal with, but commit to revolutionary struggle, we have got to start with words and actions that don't require a whole lot of explanation, that the people understand right away, and build from there.
When we let the letter of our ideals and positions become more important than the realization of the content, we are, in the illustrious words of my Uncle Gregory, "baggin' the fuck up" - we're losing. But when we get serious about dealing with the reality as it is, then we can start winning, and then it won't be long before Kansas City, MO becomes a place where a revolutionary is born every day. When we let being ideologically pure and squeaky clean in the way we approach the mission become more important than actually accomplishing the mission, what we are doing is being the dogmatists we claim to hate; we are setting ourselves up to be isolated and marginalized. If it is the masses of the people that make the revolution, then the last place the revolutionary organizer can afford to be is on the sidelines.
The Chinese Communist Party, before it became the vanguard of Chinese imperialism, developed a slogan that I think is one of the best formulas a revolutionary could ever adopt: "From the People, to the Party. From the Party to the People." In other words, we have to go to the people and see what THEY want, take that back to the huddle, sharpen it, and take a position and program back to the people that reflects the their point of view and interests. When we do this, we can start winning the people to basic work. Once we win them to basic work, then we set ourselves up to winning our people to intermediate work. Once we get them into intermediate work, then winning them to become advance, revolutionaries is not far off.
In the end, we must never forget that our task is to meet the people where they are, win them to unity right where they are, and then walk with them, arm-in-arm, to where we all need to be - free from oppression and exploitation for all time.
Uhuru Sasa! Uhuru Daima!