Building Power To Win Is The Revolutionary Approach To Bourgeois Electoralism

| Strategize!

We must make clear that it is imperialism that degrades and destroys the earth, makes water a commodity, food a luxury, education an impossibility, and health care a distant dream.

“The struggle is for power not reform.”

The following is excerpted from a presentation by Ajamu Baraka to a national webinar Electoral School of the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations, June 13 and 14.

The Context of Struggle:

The great African revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, reminded us that without revolutionary theory there can be no revolution.

His reminder was not a call for abstract theorizing, quite the contrary. What he meant was that one cannot advance in practice unless that practice is guided by the most advanced understanding of the material and ideological conditions that revolutionary forces face.

Over the next two days, we will ground ourselves in our particular realities as they relate to our strategic and tactical engagement with bourgeois electoral system in the United States.

Let’s begin:

The ongoing and current capitalist crisis has created the most serious crisis of legitimacy since the collapse of the capitalist economy during the years referred to as the Great Depression.

The economic collapse comes on the heels of the deep crisis of the economy that occurred in 2007-8. With the economic instability and the increasing economic competition among capitalist states, divisions have emerged among the nations that those of us in BAP refer to as the U.S./EU/NATO Axis of Domination.

The U.S. has responded by moving toward a more confrontational posture, not only with its allies in Europe. It has also elevated China and Russia as national security threats.

Domestically, the African working class never recovered from the collapse of 2007-8. The continued restructuring of the U.S. economy to a low-wage economy has resulted in the African working class being relegated to the lower rungs of the labor force joining undocumented migrants, immigrants, and other colonized workers.

“The African working class never recovered from the collapse of 2007-8.”

We are now seeing with the economy the genocidal implications of economic conditions, in which young Black workers have more value as human generators of profit locked up in prisons than as participants in the economy as low-wage workers. This reality is one of the factors driving the obscene phenomenon of Black and Brown mass incarceration in the largest prison system on the planet.

Astronomical youth unemployment, millions of Africans without health care, poisoned environments, and crumbling schools reflect the objective conditions that, with COVID-19, are ravaging the Black communities.

This is the colonial/capitalist system in its neoliberal stage. And that was before the coronavirus pandemic!

The Pandemic pulled the ideological curtain from the system and exposed the brutal realities of a rapacious system of greed, human exploitation and degradation, social insecurity, corruption, and the normalization of coercive state violence.

Bipartisan support for neoliberal capitalist policies over last four decades revealed the devastating impacts of neoliberal policies – the closing of public healthcare facilities, including hospitals as giant for-profit hospital chains consolidated; millions, disproportionately Africans, living precarious lives at the bottom of the labor markets and as gig workers with no benefits, no sick leave, no vacation, no security when ordered to shutter in place by capitalist state because the privatization of healthcare resulted in a healthcare system unable to respond to a national healthcare crisis.

“The Pandemic pulled the ideological curtain from the system.”

Hundreds of Africans are dying unnecessarily from the virus because of conditions of colonial oppression, which amounts to state-sanctioned murder!

So, the murders of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey and the phenomenon of vicious killer cops are just the tip of the iceberg

But because there was no video of grandma, alone and shoveled into a corner of the hospital taking her last breath on a ventilator, along with all of the other thousands of Africans who are unnecessarily dying from COVID-19, it took the video of George Floyd to bring the people out of their houses and into the streets.

This is context for the current Black is Back election school as we approach the next round of bourgeois elections. This context informs the ideological, political, and economic issues of the bourgeois electoral arena, and how we see and approach the electoral system.

The Context Determines the Strategy:

Let me share a few points that I believe must inform how we see and engage the electoral arena in a way that develops and advances our forces.

1. There can be no ideological confusion – we must be clear in language that cannot be co-opted or commodified by the state or its associated institutions like liberal funders. So, we must state in unequivocal language that it is the Western colonial/capitalist imperialist system, now led by the U.S., that is responsible for the billions of human beings living in poverty. It is imperialism that degrades and destroys the earth, that makes water a commodity, food a luxury, education an impossibility, and health care a distant dream. It is the rapacious greed and absolute disregard for human life by imperialism that drives the arms trade, turns human incarceration into a profitable enterprise, and transforms millions into migrants and refugees because of war and economic plunder. This parasitic imperialist domination would be impossible without imperialism’s core instrument of enforcement and control – state violence. Beginning with the European invasion of the Americas’ in 1492 to this very moment, previously unimaginable brutality and systematic violence was used to enslave, commit genocide, steal lands, despoil cultures and assault the earth, all in the service of what became the Pan-European colonial/capitalist white supremacist patriarchal project. When you start from that foundation, not only are you clear but everyone that you engage with will be clear where you stand.

It is the Western colonial/capitalist imperialist system, now led by the U.S., that is responsible for the billions of human beings living in poverty.”

2. The struggle is for power not reform. We make demands against the state and the system, but it is clear that those demands are in context of a program for winning power. Demands are strategic – participation in electoral system must be seen as an aspect of the process of building dual and contending power. The BIB 19-point program  represents a useful roadmap for building and shifting power to the people.

3. The entry point for participating in electoral process must be through organization. Reject candidate centered politics. Engagement with electoral system by progressive forces must be informed by a collective power-building strategy that is part of a broader strategy for building independent popular power. Individualistic, candidate-centered politics lacks accountability and is inherently corruptible.

Issue selection – focus on issues that if won will reflect a significant shift in power to the people. Defund the police – questionable, but if linked to community control of the police, stopping Israeli training of police, cutting the military budget and transferring money to the people; and electoral proportional representation represent demands that can’t be easily co-opted by the state.

“Reject candidate centered politics.”

4. Focus on local races – county commissions, city councils, school board, mayors. The emphasis on the local is connected to what I see as the inevitable disintegration of the U.S. state. As a settler colonial state, the U.S. is, and has always been, a fragile and inauthentic state. That is precisely why a civil war was fought just 70 years after its inception as a constitutional republic in 1791.

We remember the importance of having some degree of local control with the Katrina crisis, where the surrounding white municipalities used their local power to prevent Black people, escaping from the hurricane, to enter their communities. And we watched how regional coalitions were formed during COVID-19 crisis as the Federal Government failed to provide national leadership.

As national and state power become increasingly unable to hold on to a centralized power and there is generalized descent into chaos, having some degree of local control of the state apparatus will be especially important.

In closing.

We are facing some difficult times, but we have faced difficult times before. As we ground ourselves over these next two days during our electoral school, we acknowledge that we are an African people and we are at war! We did not ask for this war – and it has been a one-sided war so far – but we do not intent for that situation to last that long because we do not intend to lose. We understand that we must win this war – for ourselves and for global humanity!

All Power to the People

No Compromise, No Retreat!


Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. Baraka serves on the Executive Committee of the U.S. Peace Council and leadership body of the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC). He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch. He was recently awarded the US Peace Memorial 2019 Peace Prize and the Serena Shirm award for uncompromised integrity in journalism.

  • il corvo

    It bears repeating “The struggle is for power not reform.” I might also state that most folks will be surprised that the people have always held the power but were to frightened to see that or use it. Reform is usually crumbs of incremental change that are soon forgotten.

  • John R.

    It’s good to see you here IC. I always appreciate your POV.

  • Stephen Morrell

    Much of this is hard to agree with because the strategy presented here is “so mercifully free of the ravages of”… a class-conscious perspective. Absent is any notion of where real social power lies under capitalism: the ability to shut down production and distribution, to dictate whether material resources are produced or distributed. Such power, normally and ‘legally’ monopolised by the bourgeoisie, actually resides in the working class, in its ‘illegal’ ability to shut down production and distribution. This power is so important it’s the one that the bourgeoisie is most anxious to never allow to be exercised by anyone but itself. But once the working class begins to use it, and becomes accustomed to using it with impunity, then the bourgeoisie’s control over its ‘own’ productive capital is qualitatively degraded, and something must be done. If generalised, it’s rule is challenged.

    This is what puts the working class in a unique position to making a revolution. While it’s useful to take over the streets, such can’t last indefinitely because protesters on their own in the absence of organised armed defense with substantial working class involvement can spill only so blood at the hands of the cops and the other terrorists of the repressive apparatus of the state. Street protests can stop traffic but not much more, and huge demonstrations can certainly be used to good effect to intimidate the rulers. But the intervention of the working class, using its numbers and power to shut down society indefinitely, rather than just traffic, is the necessary condition for taking street protests beyond the streets and protesting, to the taking of power. And blacks certainly will play the dominant role in leading the US working class to a socialist revolution.

    France 1968 is a useful lesson that really hasn’t been digested that well in the Anglophone left. Sparked by student rebellions at Nanterre University and the Sorbonne, France 1968 really only exploded into a pre-revolutionary situation — lasting about a week in late May — when the working class occupied the factories and went on a general strike that paralysed the French economy. The question of who rules was directly posed by the working class, and it took a lot of strong-arm bullying by the the CGT trade union federation bureaucracy and the Stalinist French Communist Party (PCF) to force the workers back to work with their back-to-work movements, misdirection into parliamentarism and substitution of purely economic, non-political demands for political ones. De Gaulle may have fled to Switzerland, but it was the PCF who harangued his interior minister with ‘don’t give in’, who slandered the students as provocateurs, German-baited Cohn-Bendit, and betrayed the French working class. After the defeat, every organisation to the left of the PCF was made illegal. The PCF have been on the fringes of power ever since, its loyalty rewarded.

    Dual power didn’t quite emerge in France in 1968 despite widespread ‘action committees’ based only on neighbourhoods which had little direct social power because few were linked to factory committees, and there were few factory committees. Organs of workers power (eg, soviets) did not manifest. Nonetheless, France 1968 was not far from these developments, and the intervention of strategically placed Bolsheviks in the labour movement could have made a huge difference.

    Three main lessons from 1968 are these: (i) the working class was not hopelessly lost after all, forever ‘bought off’ and therefore no longer a revolutionary force. The ‘theories’ of Herbert Marcuse and all other New Left notions of ‘student vanguards’, ‘revolutions from the countryside’, ‘the new mass vanguard’ and so on were blown out of the water; (ii) the situation of dual power necessary to bring about a revolutionary change must have its basis in workplaces, in workers councils and soviets that can start and stop the economy at will; (iii) that leadership is key, and a non-revolutionary leadership will lead every pre-revolutionary situation to certain defeat, without exception.

    It’s thus misleading to claim that “participation in electoral [sic] system must be seen as an aspect of the process of building dual and contending power.” It really shouldn’t be seen that way at all. Participation in bourgeois elections is a useful tactic to broadcast revolutionary propaganda and agitation to a wider audience than normal; and if elected, revolutionaries certainly can use bourgeois assemblies as platforms to great advantage for the same. And on occasion, a vote in the assembly by a red can make a difference. But to claim electoral participation builds ‘dual and contending power’ is absurd.

    Dual power isn’t ‘built’. It emerges most often spontaneously from intense class struggle in times of deep crisis and by definition acts against the rule of the government. The highest expression of dual power is when a wing of the military comes over to the side of workers soviets, and orders from the government are countermanded by the workers and soldiers soviets. A revolution is not far away if things get to this stage. However, dual power can’t last long and will only have a favourable revolutionary outcome if the insurgents are led by a steeled Bolshevik party that leads and organises the workers and soldiers soviets and other organs of dual power to shatter the old state and form their own state power with their own organs of power to implement and defend the new social order: expropriating the capitalist class, collectivising the means of production and subjecting them to planning through soviet rule.

    Right now, the ILWU apparently is shutting down the west coast in protest against the murderous cops, with east coast longshoremen likely to follow. This first intervention of organised labour can make a monumental difference, but only if it’s not some limited, symbolic and ultimately cynical action used by the ILWU hierarchy to blow off steam of the ILWU rank and file. If such action spreads to other sections of the working class, that will be a great development indeed, and a time of real dual power may not be far off — without an election in sight.

    Never has the following been so true: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen” (Lenin).