Building Campaigns Through Black Solidarity platforms

Prepared by Mphutlane wa Bofelo for BCMU Political Education Program, 16 June 2021

“Mara ha a sena dihlwela a wela”. Loosely translated this Sesotho idiom means that a fortress or citadel without sentinels or sentries falls or collapses. This speaks to the importance of vigilance and watchfulness. It speaks to the importance of securing and protecting the frontline. It speaks to the importance of defending what you have or what you have gained. It speaks to the significance of a vanguard. A fortress that has warring sentinels is as good as a fort without a vanguard. It cannot stand. A strong bond and fellowship among sentinels are indispensable for a secure citadel. People charged with the responsibility to be vanguard over a fortress cannot afford petty squabbles, lest the enemy besiege and smash the fortress while they are busy quibbling over trivialities at the expense of compromising the collective security and lives of the entire community or army. In the context of the national and class struggle in Azania, the vanguard of the struggle must be the Black working-class because as the victims of colonial dispossession and racial and class oppression, they have nothing to lose but all to gain from the destruction of neo-colonialism and racial-capitalism. The unity and solidarity of the Black working-class is so indispensable that the question of today is not why we must build our campaigns and struggle around solidarity and build our solidarity through campaigns but rather how. From 21 March 1960 to 16 June 1976 to 3 September 1984 and the historical moments and phases of the struggle that these days represent, there is enough evidence from South African history that solidarity is built around practical political action in response to social and political challenges facing people and that political campaigns get more power from united action. However, when the question of, for what and why we engage in political campaigns and solidarity is lost, the how becomes a methodology without substance or a purposeless method. Therefore, the how part of building campaigns around solidarity and building solidarity through campaigns can benefit a lot from continuous critical reflections on the why part of this question. This is exactly where I would like to start in engaging with this subject.

I must indicate that while the Black Consciousness Movement United (BCMU) subscribes to Black Consciousness, Historical and Dialectic Materialism and Scientific Socialism without a bias against or towards any current of Marxism, my input on this subject, as it is the case with my views on many subjects, are informed by Black Consciousness and Marxist Humanism. It is my view that the Black Consciousness perspective that an oppressed and exploited people should be the subject, objects and agents of their own liberation fits like a hand in glove in the notion of Marxist Humanism that people are subjects and centers of consciousness and values, that science is embedded in the totalizing perspective of human philosophy, and that a theoretical understanding of society should be based in empathy with and participation in the social activities that theory seeks to investigate. What makes Black Consciousness and Marxist Humanism a useful frame of reference for the subject of the day is that they both seek to reclaim the dignity and humanity of people by enhancing their consciousness, conscience and agency for people to rely on themselves rather than on other people or on dominant institutions for boundless possibilities for more just, equitable, humane and sustainable ways of producing, distributing and consuming wealth and knowledge.

From this perspective, I argue that in dealing with the subject of building campaigns through solidarity, the key question to address is what is the ideological basis and sociopolitical intent and objective of political campaigns and what is the ideological motive and sociopolitical goal of building solidarity. To me, one of the key barricades to revolutionary political campaigns and a radical vision of solidarity is the fact that very often the campaigns of political parties and social movements and their solidarity efforts and platforms are solely aimed at building their capacity to force concessions from the state or to enhance their chances to be in government or to seize state power. In my view the excessive obsession with a parliamentary route to state power, the notion that state power is the sum total of power and the tendency to treat the state as an eternal reality and the god of everything is responsible for the inability of national and class struggles in Africa and the Global South to go beyond flag-waving and national anthems.

The idea that human liberation and socio-political and economic liberation can only be achieved by either the state or the corporates or a partnership between the state and the corporates not only lock the people out as the movers and makers of history. It confines forms and expressions of power and means of advancing social and political change or revolution to lobbying and advocating for policy change and reforms within the system and to elections and parliamentary politics. It treats the state and the capitalist markets as absolute and eternal realities. It completely shutout possibilities of mass insurrection and the chances of popular social revolution wherein oppressed people take power with the purpose of dismantling the elements of the state that makes it a repressive instrument of the rule of one class over others and with the objective of using the apparatus of the dying bourgeoisie state to smash private property, liquidate class distinction, and devolve power to the people to render the state as the state obsolete by making it the representative of entire society rather than an instrument of class rule.

Sivanandan once observed that politicians and political parties often take power, meaning state power, on behalf people but seldom hand the power over to the people. This is precisely because they understand that devolving power to the people to create genuine rule of the people or a people’s state effectively means crushing the bourgeois state and private property. Unfortunately, once political parties have tasted state power and the access to private wealth that it provides, they cannot afford to move outside the comfort zones of the bourgeois state and private property. The prospects of decentralising power and socializing wealth becomes a nightmare to them, too ghastly to contemplate. Therefore, in many neo-colonial and liberal democracies such as South Africa, the main focus and ultimate objective of so-called opposition parties and ostensibly radical political and social movement is often becoming the government or part of government to join the eaters at the table of the state than on replacing the power of the bourgeois state with the power of the people.

This scenario presents us with two choices. We can choose to confine ourselves to using campaigns and solidarity as instruments to roll back the power of the bourgeoisie state to pursue state power with the aim of maintaining the state as an eternal entity and upholding state power as the de facto power. Or we can opt for the revolutionary agenda of seizing state power with the aim of dismantling the repressive weapons of the bourgeoisie state, using some elements of the dying bourgeoise state (e.g. the legislature, the executive, the bureaucracy and the judiciary) to devolve power to the people, transform the state into the real representative of society rather than a repressive instrument of the rule of one class. This will render the state as no longer necessary or in the words of Frederick Engels, to the abolition of the state as the state. In other words, we could either pursue state power as an end itself and perceive the state and the market as absolute movers of history or we could pursue popular power and perceive the people as the movers, makers and re-makers of history.

The first option is based on the common understanding of power as “power over”, meaning the exercise of force, coercion, domination and control over people through physical weapons or through the control physical resources such as natural resources, money, food, medical care and other social services and subtle resources such as information, knowledge, approval and love. It is informed by the perception of power as a finite resource held by some individuals or entities, which others do not possess. This theory of monolithic power leads to the proclivity of conventional left politics to focus on changing policy and laws to protect and win people’s power. The belief that the people in power and government are the primary means of change also results in the use of issue-based activism and lobbying and campaigns policy issues to win elections. The reality is that mobilizing around policy change or winning an election does not build a movement but it creates silos and fractures people. The second and alternative position is informed by a comprehensive view of power as a dynamic that is present in every relationship and that depends on a myriad of external factors and subtle agreements.

This concept of power goes beyond “power over” to recognize power with (i.e. collective action and the ability to act together through mutual support, solidarity, influence, empowerment and collaborative decision-making), “power to” (i.e. the unique potential of individuals to change their lives and the world through choices, decisions and actions to make a difference, create something new or achieve goals) and “power within”” (i.e. sense of self-knowledge, self-worth, and belief in one’s capacity which makes people to realize their power with, thereby enhancing their belief that they can make a difference”. Simply put, power within + power to + power leads to agency for social change. As Saul Alinsky observed, the obstacle to Community Power is institutional resistance by people in power, and the conflict between communities and the people in power is not lack of knowledge but a different set of interests. In other words, the problem is not misunderstanding between the people and the people in power or the state. The solution is definitely not trying to mediate the conflicting interests nor does the solution lie in developing a common understanding or trying to recruit the powerful and the state into the logic of the oppressed people.

The solution lies in building individual and collective agency. It lies in making people discover and unleash the power of their collective action. Therefore, the task of revolutionary organizers is to enable people to anticipate success in the near-future. This requires that we organise around immediate, specific and winnable issues not as an end itself but to expose people to the experience of winning to build their power and confidence in themselves and in the power of their solidarity. Collective-action built around immediate issues and gains and transitional demands must be approached and understood as tools to build power and tackle more deeply embedded issues. The aim of collective action and short-term gains should be to get more people to participate in the struggle. Why? Because more participation of people in the struggles is more people’s power. The best tool of building greater participation of people is multi-issue organizing that addresses all concerns and is able to force concessions out of the state so as to paint a picture of what people’s power can achieve. Hence, Alinsky’s view that the Professional Organizer is the painter, thinking through with the people. This means testing ideas on the terrain of struggle. Therefore, to build people’s power through solidarity requires that we eschew rigid and fixed dogmas, orthodoxies, canons and hierarchies to articulate new voices and build new values. It calls for us to eschew and combat dogmatism, economism, sectarianism, sexism, male-supremacism, misogyny, heteronormativity, racism, and imperialism.

Leon Trotsky teaches us that “the most dangerous thing in politics is to fall captive to one’s own formula which was appropriate yesterday but is bereft of all content today”. In the same breath Trotsky cautions that “those who demand guarantees in advance should in general renounce revolutionary politics”. I think we can benefit a lot from heeding to Trotsky’s advice that to do proper review of the prevailing politics and regime and to explore and open ourselves to theoretical possibilities, we must locate the source of disintegration and downfall of the movement in concrete historical process and relate it to the struggle of the living social forces. According to Trotsky, this requires that we subject our own subjective disillusion and dissatisfaction to the objective march of class struggle so that we are guided by mass criteria, not personal and sentimental considerations. Furthermore, Trotsky advises us to “differentiate principled irreconcilability from sectarian snobbishness” to allow for open discussions and collaborative action among revolutionary organizations. I find myself at home with Trotsky when he suggests that if we shift discussions of formal organizational questions to programmatic political plane, we will be able to attract reformist workers into the camp of revolution instead of repelling revolutionary workers into the camp of fascism. This means that the focus of our political and social practice must be movement-building. In practice, movement building is connecting struggles through united action or a united front. This must be sustained by applying the principle of uniting around the daily struggles and consolidating the unity built in struggle through collective reflections. The actions and collective engagement and deliberations on what can be done to resist the reversals and machinations of the system, defend the gains of struggle, and advance the cause of political and social revolution.

Contrary to the narrow focus on changing policies or seeking to win elections, movement-building is an ongoing process of building leadership, relationships, spaces and platforms of social action for social change. Movement-building catalyzes communities and explores and experiments with localized ways of building a unified strategy. Movement-building must combine incremental institutional change with social power. Hence our conclusion is campaign building around solidarity and building a united front around into a practical ad protracted political program or permanent revolution must entail:

- Applying a pedagogy and praxis based on the cycle of reflection-action-reflection and the values and practices of "learn and teach", "each one teach one”, "educate o liberate", and "free the mind to free the land"

- Applying the principle of Struggle-Unity-Struggle

- Applying the methodology of Resist, Defend and Advance

- Developing and injecting the philosophy of Black Consciousness and the science of Marxism into the spontaneous, ideological movement of the Working-Class

- Multi-issue organizing and agitating, organizing and educating around issues that tangibly affect people.

- Building strategic unity and common purpose.

- Developing a participatory leadership that builds participatory communities

- Strategic Action.

- Centering the political program on front-line communities

- Facilitating and mobilizing large-scale and continuing involvement of people at the base

- Ensuring continual leadership development

- Organizing, Mobilizing and Educating around the notion of Marema tlou a ntswe leng…. Ntja pedi ha e hlolwe ke sebata…Letshwele le beta poho

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