by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson
Serving the people and my political growth
In discussing the differences between advocacy and serving the people, I want to begin with an account of my own political development to illustrate how I came to grasp this distinction, and what it looks like to put the interests of others (whom one does not have personal relationships with) before oneself even in the context of rebellion versus revolutionary practice.
Currently I’ve been in prison for over 32 years. I spent the first 15 years physically battling guards and their goon squads, typically in response to their mistreating others. Serious injuries on both sides were common, in addition to their routine punitive response of leaving me chained up and naked in cold cells for days, often strapped to bare steel or concrete bed frames. Most of the other prisoners, whom I clashed with the pigs for abusing, I didn’t know.
In some cases I was derided by those I’d fought for and others, who’d argue that my involvement wasn’t requested. On many occasions I was also asked why I persisted in fighting for those who didn’t fight for themselves or didn’t appreciate me getting involved.
I’d explain my involvement wasn’t about me but US, that so long as the guards believed they could abuse any of us without consequences, they would abuse everyone, creating and normalizing a culture of abuse.
As I developed politically, my physical clashes with the pigs lessened.
I understood that not everyone could do the hard things or was willing or able to weather the consequences of resisting the pigs. Because I didn’t seek or need praise or recognition, I wasn’t deterred by repression nor demoralized by lack of praise.
But as I developed politically, my physical clashes with the pigs lessened. I came to see the bigger picture and need of ideological unity and collective effort on a larger scale to bring about real change. But in all cases it was the interests of the people that were the priority and trumped one’s individual interests. It was this political development and understanding that led me to co-found the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (NABPP), now the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party (RIBPP), and contribute to developing its ideological and political line and strategy.
Getting our politics right
Although we adhere to the ideological and political line of Maoism, the RIBPP is not a traditional Communist Party (CP) and our strategy of Pantherism or Revolutionary Intercommunalism is not the traditional method of Communist organizations.
Unlike traditional CPs, our role is not to organize the proletariat at the point of production nor lead revolutionary national independence struggles.
Our mass base and orientation is specifically towards the huge numbers of people across the globe who have been pushed out of productive relations by modern advances in technology and automation and live on the margins of society or who are otherwise unable to maintain secure employment. These are largely lumpen proletarians, displaced farmers and peasants, and the permanently unemployed; people who survive by hustling or otherwise by any means necessary.
Our role is to agitate, educate and organize these growing masses of people to collectively meet their needs, to unite with them . . .
Most of these billions of people live in poor urbanized settings and concentrations such as ghettos, barrios, shanty towns, favelas and certainly prisons and have been influenced by lumpen culture and its lifestyle.
Our role is to agitate, educate and organize these growing masses of people to collectively meet their needs, to unite with them applying the Maoist mass line, and unite them with the traditional communist struggle and its vanguard class, the proletariat, so they are proletarianized and become assets to the revolutionary movement to overthrow the global capitalist imperialist system rather than being used as agents of reaction against revolutionary movements.
We understand, as did Frantz Fanon, V.I. Lenin, Mao tse Tung and especially the original Black Panther Party (BPP), that the lumpen and lumpenized people are especially targets of the ruling class and its armed enforcers to be turned and used as agents of violence and reaction against revolutionary forces. It was with this understanding that the BPP developed a revolutionary theory and organizational strategy that explains the causes of these groups’ conditions and is tailored to revolutionizing them. This is in part what the RIBPP is building on.
The key to organizing these sectors is that the party of Pantherism must be composed of people who, not only grasp, but are also thoroughly rooted in our ideological and political line and strategy. This is particularly important because these Comrades must not only be capable of leading the lumpen and lumpenized masses in remolding themselves, but they must be able to remain steadfast in their own revolutionary principles and practice in the face of the resistance and reactionary tendencies of this mass base, and living and struggling within this base. They must be able to and actually lead by example.
Comrades who have not internalized this commitment and discipline cannot possibly give principled leadership to a base whose very class conditioning is reactionary and often predatory. This is why members of our Party must not only know and understand and have the love and respect of the people, but they must have in every way disposed of and be fortified against lumpen or petty bourgeois influences and, to the extent that they originated from these classes, have committed class suicide – that is they must have thoroughly developed the class outlook and practice of the revolutionary proletariat.
They called themselves revolutionaries or individuals devoted to serving the people – many of them were not.
In these respects a number of RIBPP cadre fail. These tendencies have come into the RIBPP because of cadre resisting committing class suicide, also from erroneous practices inherited from the NABPP and other groups that our members were formerly part of. We cannot deal lightly with these errors as they go to the very heart of our ability to fulfill our organization’s principles, purpose and role.
The contrast of advocacy
While my characterization of advocacy is a general one, the following critical discussion focuses on people whom I’ve encountered and worked with as part of revolutionary parties. I am not critiquing individuals involved in independent work or working within general mass type groups, because these are not people who, like party cadres, have made an explicit commitment to the line and practice of a revolutionary vanguard. This discussion also does not in any way contradict the role and need of vanguard organizations, but speaks to and confirms the dangers of unremolded petty bourgeois (PB) elements within revolutionary organizations.
During my process of political growth, I encountered many outside “movement” people; most were PB. Many represented themselves as committed to the betterment of the conditions of the oppressed. They called themselves revolutionaries or individuals devoted to serving the people. Many of them were not.
While most had good intentions, they were at best advocates – people who had a very limited commitment to the interests of the oppressed and the struggle or otherwise placed their personal interests before those of the oppressed and the struggle. They often limited themselves to doing what was convenient for themselves. While they certainly made sacrifices, they weren’t willing to suffer for the people or to give up their privileges and comforts in a significant way.
They sought to impose their own wants, ideas and values on the people and struggled only to achieve those things, instead of struggling to learn and support what the people themselves needed and found important, and to do not what was convenient for them or made them feel needed or good about themselves, but rather what circumstances demanded. Some were motivated by their own personal therapeutic needs to feel validated or a part of something, which again made their own interests their driving and main priority.
Then there were those who wanted acknowledgment and praise, and even expressed demoralization when they didn’t receive it. Some maneuvered for special controls. Often while paying lip service to serving the people they spent a lot of time praising their own contributions, reflecting PB liberalism. Most could not take genuine criticism or took it only selectively or superficially.
Indeed this struggle will continue until classes are eliminated.
Not ironically, these people could and did criticize others’ behaviors as liberal while overlooking or downplaying their own. As Mao said, they applied the principles of Marxism to others but liberalism to themselves, and sought, as George Jackson criticized, special consideration and treatment from others within revolutionary organizations.
They criticized others’ perceived mistakes and their negative effects on the organization and its development and work but ignored their own errors and the fact that the Party’s failures were as much a reflection of their own erroneous practices and non-proletarian class perspectives as anyone else’s.
Often they wanted to create what Lenin struggled against, namely a political group where members related to one another with subjective attachments and loyalties like families, instead of as Comrades objectively committed to a brutally scientific and unified set of ideological and political principles and adherence to rules of discipline. (1) They took offense to having to stand firm on such principles and to others who did not subjectively accept or support these positions based upon such special loyalties. I have fallen into such errors with these people but have corrected these practices with self criticism and detaching myself from those who refuse to practice honest criticism and self criticism and correct these errors themselves. I’ve “offended” these people many times because I’ve resisted these inclinations, sometimes publicly.
In extreme cases there is a particular competitiveness, pretentiousness, narcissism and conceit present in such individuals, which are features of ego centric self-absorption generated by the competitive individualism of bourgeois society, especially present in the PB and lumpen, and which can only be countered by rooting oneself among the oppressed masses and engaging in cooperative relations with and serving the people, or in other words committing class suicide. I spoke a bit about this process in a recent article, ‘‘On the Pitfalls of Petty Bourgeois Revolutionary Leadership and the Necessity of Class Suicide.” (2)
The perils of a ‘party’ of advocates
The results of building a revolutionary organization composed of such advocates or people who fail to immerse themselves with the masses, who basically hide themselves
in a hothouse for fear of facing certain hardships and challenges, is that the organization will shrink and become demoralized, bureaucratic and irrelevant. The opposite error is to allow the organization to become immersed in the spontaneous day-to-day struggles of the people (tailing mass reaction) with the temptation of growing quickly but without the correct ideological foundation.
Both of these erroneous paths embody the PB advocacy mindset – a class tendency that doesn’t really want revolutionary change, but only better conditions for itself under the existing system. The former error (failure to immerse our leadership and engage energetically with the masses) has become prominent in the outside RIBPP and must be uprooted if we are to grow and become and remain relevant to the people. The latter error (energetically engaging in spontaneous “activism” without ideological focus) was deeply rooted in the NABPP.
The only way out of this dilemma is class suicide, which is hard to do and makes people very upset.
Maintaining the correct foundation compels practicing collective criticism and self criticism without regard for people’s individual loyalties and allegiances, subjective reactions, or egos in search of validation, recognition or praise.
In making these points, it’s important to keep in mind that we don’t judge the importance of an organization by the bourgeois criteria of size and influence but rather by the depth and development (correctness) and application of its ideological and political line. Everything else will come with the correct line and its application.
Two line struggle
In any case, a Party’s class character is determined by the line that leads the organization. Keeping the correct ideological and political line in command demands continuous internal struggle against opportunist and revisionist lines, or in other words between proletarian and bourgeois perspectives for control (two-line struggle).
In this struggle, the Party must be continuously bent to the will of the proletariat by revolutionary cadre, a struggle that will continue even after the proletarian class has won political power under socialism. Indeed this struggle will continue until classes are eliminated. Actually because of the concentration of leading class forces within it, under socialism the revolutionary Party will provide the main avenue for climbing back into the old class relations, hence the need to struggle without quarter to keep the proletarian line in command.
Too many good Comrades have given their lives and suffered torture for us to compromise with people who aren’t committed to being all the way revolutionaries within a revolutionary Party.
By the very nature of their methods, those who seek to influence – or should I say manipulate – Party members through cultivating and/or appealing to individual subjective loyalties are acting to advance a bourgeois and reactionary line.
In the revolutions so far it has been the bourgeoisie in the party that has undermined and reversed the revolution by changing the ideological and political line of the party making it a bourgeois and reactionary party. For the most part these elements began as PB radicals (advocates) who joined the party because it was the only effective force challenging the old order and imperialism. They were vacillating allies who supported some of what the genuine revolutionaries were about, basically the continuation of the bourgeois democratic revolution, but not all of what the genuine communists were about. Essentially they didn’t want to fully unite with the masses and lose or give up their class privileges. This is the dilemma of the PB.
Some were openly rightist and others left in form and rightist in essence – but in essence all reflected the dilemma of the PB. The only way out of this dilemma is class suicide, which is hard to do and makes people very upset. Revolutionaries understand that life is hard but revolution is harder. If we choose it – we must do it! One can’t keep agonizing over which side they are on, trying to have their cake and eat it too.
On top of the fact that we will not compromise ideologically and politically, too many good Comrades have given their lives and suffered torture for us to compromise with people who aren’t committed to being all the way revolutionaries within a revolutionary Party. It isn’t easy for Comrades within these razor wire plantations. It isn’t easy for Comrades within the third world. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be called “the struggle.”
Within the RIBPP there is ongoing 2-line struggle, the proletarian line has not yet won out. To assure the correct class orientation, the Party must overcome PB influences within its leadership, root its entire leadership within the masses and their struggles on the ground, and give correct and active ideological and political guidance to its rank and file membership and its mass organizations. As Mao explained of revolutionary organizations:
“[T]he whole party [must] be vigilant and … see that no comrade at any post is divorced from the masses. It should teach every comrade to love the people and listen attentively to the voice of the masses; to identify himself with the masses wherever he goes, instead of standing above them, to immerse himself among them; and according to their present level, to awaken them or raise their political consciousness and help them gradually to organize themselves voluntarily and to set going all essential struggles permitted by the internal and external circumstances of the given time and place.” (3)
If we fail to do this, we will become, like other PB groups that are revolutionary in name alone, increasingly small (and small-circle oriented), irrelevant, demoralized and isolated.
Dare to Struggle Dare to Win! All Power to the People!
1. In party work and decisions Lenin rejected allowing personal motives to influence comrades and emphasized the need for strict adherence to rules that preserved a business-like functioning. See for example, V.I. Lenin, COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 34, pp. 161-66 (Progress Publishers)
3. Mao tse Tung, “On Coalition Government,” SELECTED WORKS, Vol. 3, pp. 315-16 (Foreign Languages Press). As did Mao, Lenin struggled relentlessly against the liberal “live and let live” Trotskyist position of compromising party ideology in order to reconcile party members, groups and institutions. See Lenin, SELECTED WORKS, Vol. 4, p. 41 (N.Y.: International Publishers)
Send our brother some love and light: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1007485, Sussex I, 24414 Musselwhite Dr., Waverly VA 23891.