GROUNDINGS

2 Toward Economic Democracy, Labor Self-management and Self-determination

Kali Akuno & Ajamu Nangwaya

To recapitulate: we cannot follow the class structure of America; we do not have the economic or political power, the ownership of machines and materials, the power to direct the processes of industry, the monopoly of capital and credit. On the other hand, even if we cannot follow this method of structure, nevertheless we must do something. We cannot stand still; we cannot permit ourselves simply to be the victims of exploitation and social exclusion. —William Edward Burghardt Du Bois.[1]

“The new militancy on the part of blacks and many young whites have caused, not only in the Deep South but the North as well, to realize that racism is an unnecessary evil which must be dealt with by “men and governments” or by “men and guns.” If survival is to be the name of the game, then men and governments must not move just to postpone violent confrontations, but seek ways and means of channeling legitimate discontentment into creative and progressive action for change.

Politics will occupy the attention of the nation in the ’70s as the Black man makes his reentry into the political arena. Step by step he will achieve many victories as we have seen in our northern big cities. While this is important, I believe that the key to real progress and the survival of all men, not just the Black man, must begin at the local, county, and state levels of governments. While politics will not cure all of our ills, it is the first step toward erecting a representative and a responsive government that will deal with the basic needs.

“Land, too, is important in the ’70s and beyond, as we move toward our ultimate goal of total freedom. Because of my belief in land reform, I have taken steps of acquiring land through cooperative ownership. In this manner, no individual has title to, or complete use of, the land. The concept of total individual ownership of huge acreages of land, by individuals, is at the base of our struggle for survival. In order for any people or nation to survive, land is necessary. However, individual ownership of land should not exceed the amount necessary to make a living. Cooperative ownership of land opens the door to many opportunities for group development of economic enterprises, which develop the total community, rather than create monopolies that monopolize the resources of a community.

—Fannie Lou Hamer[2]

The revolution can only achieve the emancipation of labor only by gradual decentralization, by developing the individual worker into a more conscious and determining factor in the processes of industry by making him [or her] the impulse whence proceeds all industrial and social activity. The deep significance of the social revolution lies in the abolition of the mastery of [humans over humans], putting in its place the management of things. Only thus can be achieved industrial and social freedom. —Alexander Berkman[3]

Part 1: Introduction and Reasoning: Short Narrative of an Experiment

For many people in Jackson, Mississippi, Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 will forever be remembered as a day of infamy. On this day, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba died without warning or clear explanation. And with Chokwe’s untimely death, the hope and promise he embodied for Jackson was nearly extinguished, for when he died the vision of liberation he projected and the transformative plan he offered to attain it was almost buried with him.

Some of what was concretely lost is best illustrated by outlining what Mayor Lumumba was intending on doing on this fateful day to help advance some of the objectives of the Jackson-Kush Plan. February 25, 2014 was a regularly scheduled City Council meeting and at this particular meeting the Lumumba administration was set to launch three critical items. The first was to secure the formal approval of the council for the administration’s choice of director for the department of public works. The second was to secure the council’s approval of the “Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference”. And the third was to layout his administration’s plans to facilitate the building of a vibrant, social and solidarity economy in Jackson to improve the overall quality of life and transform the social relationships in the community.

Unfortunately, none of these items were ever presented to or considered by the council. When Chokwe died, the council delayed engaging or initiating any critical action for months to concentrate on the special election that was called to determine who his successor would be. This was further complicated by the fact that two members of council ran in the special election for Mayor.[4] Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the youngest son of Chokwe Lumumba, also ran for Mayor during the special election. However, he finished second in the race, losing the Mayoral seat to former councilman Tony T. Yarber. It should be noted that Chokwe Antar won the majority of the Black vote during the special election, but lost the election on account of two interrelated factors: a historically high white voter turnout in support of councilman Yarber and a relatively low Black voter turnout.

In many people’s minds, this electoral defeat was interpreted as the death of the Jackson-Kush Plan. Many equated the plan with Chokwe Lumumba and electoral politics, and did not think there was more to the work in Jackson other than Chokwe’s notoriety and popularity. As time has demonstrated, nothing could be further from the truth.

There should be no doubt about it, Chokwe’s death was a hard blow to the New Afrikan People’s Organization, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the People’s Assembly, and progressive forces in Jackson overall, as the accumulated experience, knowledge, skill, and leadership capacities developed by Chokwe were fundamentally irreplaceable. But, what turned out to be the fundamental saving grace for the revolutionary forces in Jackson was the Jackson-Kush Plan. The Plan has served as our guiding light, our North Star.

The Jackson-Kush Plan is grounded in over forty years of community organizing and base building by the likes of forces such as the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (PG-RNA), the New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO), and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM). It is not a fly by night idea. It is a vision and plan with an organic base that has long been committed to the politics of revolutionary transformation and far beyond being dependent upon one man or one organization.

After Chokwe’s death, the forces guided by the Jackson-Kush Plan rallied to fulfill many of the uncompleted or half completed tasks central to the plan. The New Afrikan People’s Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement rallied to get Chokwe Antar Lumumba elected in the immediate months following Chokwe’s death. The People’s Assembly successfully held a session just days after Chokwe’s passing, and played a key role in launching the Coalition for Economic Justice in January 2016 to fight a series of policy threats that were hostile to Jackson’s municipal sovereignty and Black political control.[5]  The motion to advance the Jackson-Kush Plan was certainly stunted by Chokwe’s death, but it was not halted.

The first clear indication that the Plan did not die with Chokwe was the hosting of the Jackson Rising Conference and the launch of Cooperation Jackson. Cooperation Jackson was launched on Thursday, May 1st, 2014 and the Jackson Rising Conference was held Friday, May 2nd through Sunday, May 4th, 2014. Both events indicated that the forces associated with the Jackson-Kush Plan still possessed the will, fortitude, and capacity to move forward with the expansion of the Plan as designed.

The Jackson Rising Conference was originally planned and conceived as a joint initiative of the Lumumba administration and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. It was supported by the Southern Grassroots Economies Project (SGEP), which included Cooperation Texas, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC), the Fund for Democratic Communities (F4DC), and the Highlander Research and Education Center. However, upon Chokwe’s death, the conference lost support from the City, and became the exclusive province of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the conference planning committee. The conference was originally planned and designed to rollout the Lumumba administration’s plans to foster the growth of a vibrant, locally grounded solidarity economy.

Some of the things that the administration was planning on rolling out were: a) the creation of a unit within the city’s economic development department that would focus on promoting cooperative development and supporting new cooperative enterprises with technical assistance; b) the creation of a loan fund that would be jointly capitalized by the city and several local, regional, and national credit unions; and c) the introduction of new municipal policies and procedures that would incentivize the development of cooperatives and allow the city to serve as an anchor institution in  advancing their development.

However, given the absence of governmental support, the Jackson Rising Conference was utilized to launch the next phase of the Jackson-Kush Plan’s execution: the development of a strong, autonomously oriented social and solidarity economy. Cooperation Jackson was created to execute this pillar of the Jackson-Kush Plan and in the three intervening years since Chokwe’s passing it has worked diligently to build a dynamic and integrated solidarity economy in Jackson anchored by a growing network of worker cooperatives, a community land trust, a growing network of urban farms, along with the steady incorporation of a number of mutual aid practices. In order for Cooperation Jackson to reach the scale and scope of the development of the solidarity economy envisioned in the Jackson-Kush Plan it has a long, long way to go before it attains some of its mid-term goals, such as making cooperatives responsible for over 10% of Jackson’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, the initiative has been launched and we are indeed “making the road while walking it”, as is demonstrated in the “Build and Fight” chapter in this volume written by Kali Akuno.

Cooperation Jackson it trying to make cooperative economics, labor self-management, ecological sustainability, and the democratization of new technologies central to the project of revitalizing the Black liberation movement, to establishing the collective ownership of the means of production and the emancipation of the working class. White supremacy, settler colonialism, capitalist exploitation and patriarchal domination have prevented the Black working class from exercising substantive control over their lives for centuries. To counter these systems of oppression, Cooperation Jackson maintains that its preferred path of “build and fight” development is a necessity to transform the oppressive social relations conditioned by the advance of late-capitalism in its neoliberal form. This orientation draws on a long tradition of self-help, mutual aid, collective entrepreneurship and group economics practiced by Black people in the United States. A snapshot into the depth of this history is captured in the book Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black Americans: A Reconsideration of Race and Economics.[6] The harsh reality of American apartheid in the South and de facto segregation in the North forced Blacks to depend on their collective resources in the pursuit of self-determination and collective liberation.

Cooperation Jackson is promoting cooperative economics as an alternative to capitalism and not just as a way to pragmatically get by in an anti-Black economic, social and political environment. Cooperation Jackson embraces cooperative economics because it is primarily centered on putting people before profits and the promotion of democracy at work. These are necessary practices to facilitate worker control, ownership and management of the economic enterprise and supports the practice of self-reliance amongst workers that underscores the quest for self-determination long pursued by the forces of the Black liberation movement.

From its inception as an idea in a Malcolm X Grassroots Movement study group, the organizers of Cooperation Jackson have identified labor self-management, that is workers exercising the intellectual, strategic and operational control of the workplace, as central to the project of building economic democracy through the social and solidarity economy. Under labor self-management, the workers own, manage and control their place of work and make all of the decisions around matters such as the level of employment, introduction of technology, the level of profit to set aside for distribution, making hiring decisions and determining the level of investment. Essentially, the workers make all the decisions in a worker cooperative or labor self-managed firm. We must never forget, that it was capitalism’s need for a servile, available and dependable source of plantation labor that was the driving force behind the importation and enslavement of millions of Afrikans in the Americas. Cooperation Jackson’s commitment to cooperative economics and labor self-management is an effort to eliminate the dynamic of labor exploitation that is at the heart of capitalism. It is also addressing the need to create workplaces that give workers control over how their labor is used and how the value created from this labor is disbursed or shared.

The Focus of this Work

The purpose of Jackson Rising: the Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-determination in Jackson, Mississippi, is to share some of the collective experience that has been accumulated by the forces advancing the Jackson-Kush Plan over the last decade. The collection of essays assembled in this work represent the best summations of the struggle in Jackson in the humble opinion of the editors. The book covers a broad range of subjects and experiences, including reflections of the Jackson-Kush Plan itself, the organizing work leading to the election of Chokwe Lumumba as councilman of Ward 2 in 2008 and 2009, the campaign to elect Chokwe Lumumba mayor in 2012 and 2013, experiences from the mayoral administration of Chokwe Lumumba from July 2013 through February 2014, and numerous reflections on the social and political impact of Chokwe’s death and what organizers in Jackson did in response to sustain and advance the Jackson-Kush Plan.

However, we have placed a particular focus on the effort to advance cooperative economics and build economic democracy. Why this emphasis? As the old saying goes, “politics without economics is symbol without substance”. We think that economic transformation is central to the project of dismantling the capitalist and imperialist systems and creating new transformative relationships that heal society and foster harmony with the life generating and sustaining systems of our planet. Unfortunately, in our view, too much emphasis has been placed on electoral politics in reference to the Jackson-Kush Plan, both by the mainstream capitalist press and in left and progressive media circles. This emphasis reflects a deep, manufactured bias in bourgeois societies that orients the public towards paying more attention and giving more credence to the illusions of alleged “democratic governance”, rather than the real contests for political and social power reflected in the motion of capital and the perpetuation of capitalist social relationships which the sham of democratic governance enables in these societies (even with reforms or moderations in the case of left or social democratic governments in bourgeois states). We aim to re-center every reader’s gaze towards the challenges to the “free” motion of capital (meaning the domination of capital over labor and the natural world) and the rejection of capitalist social relationships represented by the thought, strategy, and work of Cooperation Jackson.

Part 2: The Necessity of Cooperative Economics, Labor Self-Management and the Struggle for Economic Democracy

Compelling Reasons for Cooperative Economics and Labor Self-management

A compelling reason for us to embrace cooperative economics and labor self-management is tied to the simple fact that capitalism is not working for hundreds of millions of people across the globe. It is creating chronic joblessness, underemployment, poverty, homelessness, limited access to educational opportunities, exploitative and insecure work-life that is closely mimicking the nasty and brutish experience of nineteenth century capitalism  and concentrating income, power and wealth in the hands of the ruling class and their enablers (the bourgeoisie). On the latter issue of wealth and concentration of income in the hands of the economic elite, the United States leads the pack with the top twenty per cent of income earners capturing over fifty per cent of its national income on an annual basis.[7] In 2012, the top ten per cent of the households in the United States commandeered seventy-seven per cent of its net worth, while the bottom forty per cent of households had a negative or zero net worth.[8] In countries such as Austria, The Netherlands, Germany, the top ten per cent of households grabbed over sixty per cent of the net worth in 2012, while in Portugal, Luxembourg Norway and France over fifty per cent of the net worth is controlled by the top ten per cent of households.[9] Even Sweden, which is often seen as a socialist paradise by some political liberals in North America, had the second highest Gini coefficient[10] score for wealth inequality in 2014, which stood at 79.90, while that of the United States came in at 80.56.[11] Since capitalist societies encourage selfish, individualistic and self-regarding values and behaviors, this level of wealth hoarding in the hands of a class that is hostile and antagonistic to the interest and wellbeing of the laboring class cannot be a positive development.

In capitalist societies across the globe, the operational logic and practice of the old adage: “He [or she] who pays the piper calls the tune” is in effect. Given the fact that getting elected is a very expensive affair and deep-pocketed donors are essential to campaign financing, this state of affairs has enabled the bourgeoisie to get its preferred laws and policies in the realm of liberal capitalist democracy. In the article, “Why 21st Century Capitalism Can’t Last,” the editor and publisher of the socialist magazine Jacobin Bhaskar Sunkara shares his perspective  on the corrosive mixture and unholy alliance of money and power in society:

It isn’t that the rich are getting richer; it’s that they’re also getting more powerful. Across the world, inroads against economic democracy — collective bargaining rights and robust social welfare programs — since the 1970s have undermined political democracy, and that’s going to make mere policy shifts even more difficult to achieve. Workers aren’t pushing for wealth redistribution anymore; in fact, they’re actually losing battles to preserve gains won in past generations. No longer threatened at the grassroots, the ability of the world’s wealthiest citizens to shape politics is nearly absolute.

Developments in the United States, such as the Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings eliminating limits on campaign fundraising restrictions, have made the connection between financial wealth and political influence even more apparent. But despite public outrage — almost 90 percent of Americans think there’s too much money in politics ­— reform appears to be a faint hope.[12]

Cooperative economics and labor self-management provide the members of the laboring classes who experience class exploitation and domination and non-class forms of oppression with practical economic tools to challenge the economic and political power of the economic and political elite. The oppressed are in a position to build a counterhegemonic practice that mirrors the embryonic values and institutions of the future socialist society, while living within the existing capitalist, patriarchal and racist social order.

It was not an accidental occurrence or for flippant reasons that Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin saw cooperative economics and labor self-management as useful tools in the struggle for socialism and the undermining of capitalism. In 1864, Marx made the comment below on cooperative economics and labor self-management over production:

But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labor over the political economy of property. We speak of the cooperative movement, especially of the cooperative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold ‘hands’. The value of these great social experiments cannot be over-rated. By deed, instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behest of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labor need not be monopolised as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the laboring man himself; and that, like slave labor, like serf labor, hired labor is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.[13]

Marx saw the labor self-managed factories as spaces that prepared the workers for life in the communist society. Further, the practice of labor self-management provides proof of the capabilities of the workers to self-organize without the oppressive overlordship of capital or its representatives.[14]

Bakunin viewed the cooperatives as preparatory arenas of struggle for the stateless, self-managed and classless (anarchist communist) society:

Let us, whenever possible, establish producer-consumer cooperatives and mutual credit societies [credit unions] which, though under the present economic conditions they cannot in any real or adequate way free us, are nevertheless important inasmuch as they train workers in the practice of managing the economy and plant the precious seeds for the organization of the future.[15]

Bakunin was quite perceptive in his understanding that the institutional environment of capitalism, which would be the operational context of the producer, consumer and financial cooperatives would not by themselves emancipate the laboring classes and other oppressed groups. There must be a political struggle to wrest power from the ruling class and start the process of creating the classless, stateless and self-managed society of socialism. The initiative to create a solidarity economy in Jackson cannot divorce itself from social movement activism and the class struggle. To do so would be tantamount to conceding that capitalism is the only game in town.

The collapse of the former Soviet Union and, with it, its version of socialism has led many members of society to believe that there is no viable alternative to capitalism. The proponents of capitalism have used all available means to reinforce the preceding perception, even while conceding that there are problematic behaviour among certain agents of this economic system:

The revival of anti-capitalist rhetoric owes much to the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath. The crisis was merely the latest example of the inherent stability of capitalism, a process that, while allowing the economy to benefit from “creative destruction”, causes a lot of collateral damage along the way. The real problem is that capitalism has become associated with high finance, rather than the heroic entrepreneurship of Thomas Edison, whose inventions still surround us. It is not just that few people can see the benefits of complex financial products like credit default swaps. He adds that “bankers have undoubtedly done their best to give capitalism a bad name. The extraordinary scale on which big banks have been rigging interest rates and foreign-exchange markets and ripping off their customers is almost beyond comprehension.”[16]

Contrary to the propagandistic claim about capitalism being the only game in town, there are alternatives to this system. One example that demonstrates in practice elements of a post-capitalist practice is the Mondragon cooperative experiment in the Basque region of Spain. Some key lessons from this experiment are documented in Making Mondragon: The Growth and Dynamics of the Worker Cooperatives Complex and Values at Work: Employee Participation Meets Market Pressure at Mondragon.[17] The Mondragon Corporation is a network of cooperatives and other organizations with worker cooperatives at its centre. In 2015, the Mondragon Corporation generated €12.11 billion in income, provided 74,335 jobs, invested €317 million in its operation, achieved the figure of 43 per cent of the worker members being women and had workers owners constituting 81 per cent of the cooperatives’ workforce.[18] The Jackson–Kush Plan and the emerging cooperative experiment in Jackson are heavily influenced by the Mondragon experiment and its interrelationship with the Basque movement for self-determination and sovereignty. In these movements, we have found many parallels with our struggle for self-determination and economic democracy in Mississippi and throughout the Black Belt region of the US South.

The Basque history of organizing their people for self-reliance, as reflected in the Mondragon experiment, is a compelling reason to embrace cooperative economics in general and labor self-management in particular. Cooperative economics is based on organizing and meeting the needs of your members or community and doing so with the strategic objectives of satisfying self-determined human needs and social bonding, not the generation or pursuit of profits. In the process of the people reflecting on why the institutional context in which they are located has prevented them from being able to adequately meet their need for high quality and affordable goods and services, the revolutionary or progressive organizers have the opportunity to pose questions that encourage the people to think critically and interrogate the structural shortcomings of capitalism. In other words, as a result of posing questions about the basic features of capitalism and the predictable anti-people or anti-working class economic, social and political outcomes that it produces, a critical mass of people might come to the conclusion that capitalism must become history in order for them to lead decent, just and ecologically sustainable lives.

The revolutionary organizers ought to predicate their organizing intervention among the oppressed around their self-defined needs. By utilizing the critical problem-posing methodology of the late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, on the basis that the exploited are and can act as the architects of their own emancipation, we increase the likelihood of turning the people on to a radically transformative approach to relating to the world:

Critical and liberating dialogue, which presupposes action, must be carried on with the oppressed at whatever stage of their struggle for liberation. The content of that dialogue can and should vary in accordance with historical conditions and at the level at which the oppressed perceive reality. But to substitute monologue, slogans, and communiqués for dialogue is to attempt to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building: it is to lead them into the populist pitfall and transform them into masses which can be manipulated.

At all stage of their liberation, the oppressed must see themselves as women and men engaged in the ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. Reflection and action become imperative when one does not erroneously attempt to dichotomize the content of humanity from its historical forms.

The insistence that the oppressed engage in reflection on their concrete situation is not a call to armchair revolution. On the contrary, reflection — true reflection — leads to action. On the other hand, when the situation calls for action, the action will continue an authentic praxis only if its consequences become the object of critical reflection. In this sense, the praxis is the new raison d’etre of the oppressed; and the revolution, which inaugurates the historical moment of this raison d’etre, is not viable apart from their concomitant conscious involvement.[19]

When cooperatives employ a genuine participatory and democratic framework of labor self-management to address the needs of the people for food, housing, employment, childcare services and other basic necessities, it helps enable people to better compare and contrast the difference between the capitalist system and the emerging post-capitalist systems that are emerging. The first contrast typically emerges in the arena of decision-making and operational control. Democratic, self-managed cooperatives enable workers to have greater control over the decisions that impact their lives as opposed to the authoritarian and alienating organizational structures and processes that are associated with capitalism.

Organizing people around their needs, which includes their social and cultural needs for human contact and connection, enables our social movements to make quantum leaps towards the development of a protagonistic consciousness that calls on people to utilize and/or create opportunities to engage in transformative practice. As Amilcar Cabral, the revolutionary, educator, organizer and military strategist from Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau makes it clear, our organizing strategy must center experiences of the people and address their concrete material needs:

Always remember that the people do not fight for ideas, for the things that exist only in the heads of individuals. The people fight and accept the necessary sacrifices. But they do it in order to gain material advantages, to live in peace and to improve their lives, to experience progress, and to be able to guarantee a future for their children. National liberation, the struggle against colonialism, working for peace and progress, independence – all of these will be empty words without significance for the people unless they are translated into real improvements in the conditions of life.[20]

The people are likely to make greater sacrifices and commitments to social change projects that respond to their here-and-now daily needs, but which also offer a vision of how to solve the major issues confronting society that limit their freedom and constrain their aspirations. Cooperatives and the practices of democratic self-management, mutual aid and solidarity, we believe, present the Black working class in Jackson (and well beyond) with an organizational form and philosophical outlook that literally allows them to put their future in their hands.

Another compelling reason for cooperative economics and labor self-management is the emphasis that it places on developing the capacities of the members or cooperators to shape the world in their image and interest. When we refer to capacity building, we are highlighting the necessity of equipping the cooperators with the requisite knowledge, skills and attitude to collectively build the economic and social infrastructure of a humanistic, caring and participatory democratic present and future. A key principle of the international cooperative movement affirms the need to educate and train cooperative stakeholders and the sharing of information with the public:

Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of cooperation.[21]

We believe the commitment to ‘developing the individual worker into a more conscious and determining factor in the processes of industry’” will only emerge from the systematic and purposive educational program that must be carried out among the cooperators, or targets of liberation, as noted by Berkman.[22] Our character and psychological predisposition have been shaped under undemocratic, authoritarian relations and processes and our possession of the requisite knowledge, skills and attitude of self-management and participatory democracy is uneven. As a result, we tend to demonstrate behaviours that are not unlike those of our oppressors and exploiters. Critical education is essential to the process of exorcising the ghosts of conformity within the status quo from the psyche and behaviour of the oppressed to enable the development of a cultural revolution. Cultural revolutions typically precede political revolutions, as the former creates the social conditions for a critical mass of the people to embrace new social values that orient them toward the possibility of another world. Therefore, training and development programs, the constant dissemination of critical information, and mass educational initiatives are central to the goal of preparing the people for self-management and self-determination.

The abilities and knowledges that worker collectives need to manage their own affairs, or oppressed people need to exercise self-determination are unevenly distributed and developed. And without education initiatives to intervene, the better skilled and more formally educated members in our collectives and organizations often dominate decision-making and organizational processes. The preceding condition often unintentionally recreate relations of domination within our cooperative or labor self-managed structures. But, to be truly effective our education initiatives have to be fortified by clear accountability and harm reduction practices that reinforce our democratic practices and strivings for human development.

Another compelling reason to embrace and promote cooperative economics and labor self-management in this period of triumphant neoliberal capitalism is their capacity to serve as antidotes to liberal individualism, selfishness and rampant competition. On the collectivism/individualism continuum, the United States and its inhabitants are classified as being highly individualist. Sadly, Black people tend to score high on individualism in these studies and the article “Cultural Orientations in the United States: (Re)Examining Differences Among Ethnic Groups,” provides contextual factors that explain this behavioural phenomenon among Blacks.[23] Economic and social cooperation will encourage and cultivate values such as unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, collective purpose, solidarity, in-group trust and faith. It would certainly help in reversing the unacceptably high level of individualism in the Afrikan community and the general society inside the United States. The ideological realm is a site of struggle in winning the people over to socialism and away from their commitment to philosophical liberalism, which is the dominant ideology in the United States and other societies in the global North. The possibility of revolution in capitalist society, in particular this capitalist society with its settler-colonial foundations and imperialist imperatives, becomes stronger when a critical mass of people embrace the antidote of cooperation, collectivism, solidarity, mutual aid, and sharing in thought and action. This is what we are trying to cultivate and build in Jackson.

Enabling Structures and Supportive Organizations for Cooperative Economics

The act of thinking about the possibility of another world outside of capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy meets an untimely demise when it rams into the iceberg of a non-enabling social and economic environment. In other words, the ideas of emancipation that are grounded in the construction of alternative institutions are thrown into the barren soil of an institutional environment that only nurtures and supports structures, which facilitate exploitation and top-down or authoritarian relations with the people. Cooperative economics and labor self-management can only thrive and expand, if they have the necessary enabling structures and organizations that will allow them to successfully compete and challenge capitalist firms for the hearts and souls of the people in their capacity as the purchasers of goods and services. We are not looking to establish an alternative economic practice that is a quaint little infrastructure that exists on the margins of the mainstream economy. Our aim ought to be the development of a counterhegemonic, liberating economic and social infrastructure whose aim is the liquidation of the predatory, exploitative and alienating economic system that is making the lives of the dispossessed a living hell. Capitalism cannot exist in the absence of the support that it gets from varied institutions and programmes abroad in society.

What exactly are we alluding to when we make reference to ‘enabling structures and supportive organizations’ for cooperative economics and labor self-management? We are going to attempt an answer to the preceding question by illustrating how essential they are to the survival of capitalist firms. The companies that follow the capitalist ownership patterns, method of handling workers, and approach to operating and managing a business benefit from the business education and conventional economic programmes that are taught in primary or elementary, secondary and tertiary levels of the education system. The taxes from the laboring classes are used to finance the business regime that exploit the workers and make capitalist business ideas and practices second nature in our consciousness. It ought to be clear to the reader that the public education system is an enabling structure that provides the existing economic system with ideologically prepared and technically trained or educated personnel to function in capitalist firms. Most of the students who take high school economics and business management courses are not normally expose to consumer, financial and worker cooperatives as viable business forms that promote economic democracy and privilege the needs of their members—not the making of profits for their stakeholders.

Even at the college and university level of the education system, only a few students are trained to work in cooperatives and worker self-managed firms. The educational programmes that address the need of the cooperatives for cooperators and staff with the knowledge, skills and attitude to effectively and efficiently function in these democratic, member owned and controlled economic enterprises were specifically designed for this purpose. Cooperative economics and labor self-management projects do not have an available pool of prospective cooperators who are trained at taxpayers’ expense or trained at all as is the case with economic initiatives that are following the orthodox path of capitalist economic development. The Mondragon cooperatives have created their own educational structures over the years to meet their need for trained cooperators at the shop-floor, technical and administrative levels of the cooperative workforce.[24]

The Mondragon University was created in 1997 and it offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The “university is in effect the training and research-and-development arm of a wider network of interlocking cooperatives” and it is governed by the students, members and the stakeholders in the other cooperatives. Mondragon has other training and development entities within its Knowledge Group such as the Politeknika Ikastegia Txorierri, the Lea Artibailkastetxea, and the Otalora as well as research and development organizations. We cannot exaggerate the importance of educating the members in Cooperation Jackson and the community at large for this developing economic democracy and self-determination project.

The conservative path to creating or running businesses finds a much more enabling environment in the area of access to start-up and working capital than cooperatives. Conventional businesses, especially large corporations, have supportive financial structures such as the stock exchange and venture capital funds and institutions such as commercial and investment banks to finance their projects. The Rochdalian cooperatives have been around (in one form or another) since the 1840’s, but are still viewed in both mainstream and alternative economic circles as strange organizational creatures with their collectivistic pattern of ownership and control, especially worker cooperative and labor self-managed firms. In the modern era, almost all businesses need loans in order to survive and grow. Consumer and worker cooperatives are at a distinct disadvantage in this respect. Small businesses, which constitute the vast majority of cooperatives worldwide, are usually undercapitalized. But, the problem is quite severe for cooperatives because of the orientation of most banks and financial institutions, which were constructed to fortify capitalism, capitalist social relations, and firms that adhere to capitalist logic. Most banks and other financial institutions are not comfortable or willing to support social enterprises structured around collective ownership. They view them as extremely risky investments. Throughout its history, the cooperative movement has created its own financial institutions to address this problem. However, most have been grossly inadequate to address the comprehensive needs of the movement. But, there are several successful models that are worth noting, studying and emulating based on critical assessments of one’s space, time and conditions.

Mondragon’s Caja Laboral Popular is perhaps the most instructive. The Caja Laboral Popular (CL), is the provider of financial services and technical assistance, advice and promotion to the Mondragon cooperatives. The Caja Laboral was instrumental in establishing the insurance and social security infrastructure of the Mondragon cooperative confederation, the Seguros Lagun Aro. With respect to the supportive financial structures of the Mondragon cooperatives, Ramon Flecha and Ignacio Santa Cruz illuminate the indispensable role these financial and technical assistance institutions play in the success of the Mondragon cooperatives:

The creation of the Mondragon Corporation and its financial group, organized through Caja Laboral and Lagun Aro, allowed the cooperatives to develop a wide range of reciprocal and mutually supportive mechanisms. These included knowledge transfer, the reallocation of capital and workers (when required) between cooperatives, shared support services, the creation of common funds, a shared strategy for new entrepreneurial projects, and a specific strategy to cover basic needs, such as social security.[25]

The Caja Laboral Popular is a major mobilizer of capital for the cooperatives by way of the savings of the people in the Basque Country and the rest of Spain. It is one of the largest financial institutions in the country. In addition to the Mondragon experience, there are two additional large-scale experiences that are worth citing. These include the Desjardins Group of financial institutions, mainly credit unions, in Quebec (and beyond), and the cooperative Populari banks in Emilia Romagna and throughout Italy (although these have come under serve political attack over the last decade or more by neoliberal political forces).[26] These examples have much to offer, both positive and negative, to Cooperation Jackson and those of us seeking to make another world possible under the constraints of living under the oppressive conditions of the current world-system.

As these examples illustrate, credit unions, as financial cooperatives, will have an important part to play in the development of Cooperation Jackson and the solidarity economy movement in Jackson. Following the example of Caja Laboral Popular, people of a progressive persuasion in Jackson and beyond could start shifting their savings and financial transactions from banks to credit unions or other forms of mutual financial aid to help capitalize cooperatives in the city. They would have to complement this action with being active in the running of the credit unions, and charting a new direction for them as instruments of the class struggle.

As you will read throughout this work, Cooperation Jackson is developing a mutually integrated systems approach to the organizing of the cooperatives it is building and will rely on a high degree of coordination and mutual aid among the cooperatives and supporting organizations to be successful. The cooperatives will have to balance their desire for autonomy with the objective need for integration. A principle of the cooperative movement in general is cooperation amongst cooperatives and cooperatives have to develop the structures and organizations that will transform them into a cohesive and integrated system. This type of cooperative development on a large scale would enable democratic enterprises to both defend themselves from capitalist organizations and compete for the hearts and minds of the people in the struggle over how best to balance the delivery of essential goods and services with social justice and ecological balance. As these cooperating cooperatives with their supportive structures bulk up in size, they would be better able to withstand the competitive onslaught of conventional capitalist firms. They would also be able to strategically extract some level of support from the state for various reasons that are relevant to the particular contexts of struggle.

Role of the State in Cooperative Economics and Labor Self-management

At present, the state is a fact of life that the agents of anti-capitalist and post-capitalist struggle are compelled to contend with and address in their strategic pursuit of liberation. In spite of the state being an agent and enabler of the wealthy and other socially dominant groups, the state controls economic resources that are the product of the labor of the working class. The working class must struggle to control these resources, and not just surrender them to the capitalists and the dominant operative forces that manage the state to reinforce and reproduce capitalist social relations. These captured and appropriated resources can and should be used to advance the development of the social and solidarity economy. Through working class struggle on a mass scale, the possibility exists to recapture and redirect the resources controlled by the state in the form of social and income-security programs, like universal basic income (UBI), or the provisioning of cooperatives and other social economy projects that may undermine and gradually transform the operative social relationships that presently exist to reinforce capitalism in the long-term.

One of the functions of the state in advanced capitalist countries like the United States, Canada, Germany, Sweden and others with liberal bourgeois democratic political systems is the legitimizing of the social order in the eyes and worldviews of the masses. This function is critical to the construction of hegemony in capitalist societies, which is primarily executed through social institutions such as schools, the media, the police, and health and welfare agencies. This legitimation function compels the liberal capitalist state to carry out minimally necessary initiatives that alleviate the lot of the oppressed, often through welfare programs. This action on the part of the state also assists in staving off the masses’ receptivity to radical and revolutionary ideas of social movements. This legitimation function often compels the masses to project the fulfillment of their hopes and aspirations onto the same system that is crushing their dreams and systematically exploiting and oppressing them. When the bourgeois state regulates certain outrageous actions of capitalist firms or other power brokers in society, it is done to prevent the system from falling into disrepute and inspiring revulsion against it. The preceding act is an expression of the liberal bourgeois state fulfilling its legitimation function to ensure the reproduction of systems of extraction and the private appropriation of socially produced value that define the capitalist system.

History has demonstrated that strong working class and people’s movements can create tremendous tensions within liberal bourgeois states that challenge their legitimation function and apparatus. They do this by creating tension between the function of the state as a facilitator of capital accumulation and a guarantor of “basic” democratic rights. It is by exploiting the structural tensions within the bourgeois state, particularly the legitimation function of its hegemonic apparatus, that interventions can be made by radical activists to compel the state to utilize some of the resources it has extracted from the people to support cooperative economic development. Ajamu Nangwaya’s article in this volume speaks to the ways that the state is able to provide cooperatives with valuable support, such as financing, education, technical assistance and other services.

In order for cooperatives to be utilized as a tool of revolutionary social transformation their members must constantly struggle against being coopted by the institutions and other instruments of the bourgeois state. To sustain a revolutionary orientation and practice, our cooperatives cannot become dependent upon the concessions or largess of the bourgeois state, nor the protected markets the state confers in limited cases. Sadly, however, there is a long history of cooperatives pursuing this route and succumbing to the logic of capitalism and the perpetuation of the system. As a result, many cooperatives simply come to see themselves as one sector in the capitalist political economy alongside the private and public sectors. This political orientation has enabled many cooperatives to be viewed as non-threatening to the system, and relatively safe to the operatives of the state.

However, in most cases where progressive political parties or social forces have employed cooperatives and other types of mutual aid institutions and practices to help advance a socialist or non-capitalist path of development, they were viewed as a dire threat to the established social order by the dominant forces of capital and the state, and were often the target of destabilization or repression. This was definitely the case in Jackson when the administration of Chokwe Lumumba promoted cooperatives as an essential plank in its platform for the transformation of the municipality, which is duly noted by Nathan Schneider in “the Revolutionary Life and Strange Death of a Radical Black Mayor”.[27]

Outline of the Book

The focus of this book is the sharing of the story of how the Jackson-Kush Plan emerged, how the forces that are committed to it have planned and worked to bring it to fruition, and what lessons we have learned from our collective successes and failures. As previously noted, the book gives particular focus to the effort to develop the social and solidarity economy pillar of the Jackson-Kush Plan through the work of Cooperation Jackson.

Jackson Rising includes nine new works, never published on any website, newspaper, or book. These include a Forward by Rukia Lumumba that speaks to the contributions of her late father, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba. It also includes Afterwords by internationally  organizers, Ajamu Baraka and Hakima Abbas, encouraging people to critically examine the struggle in Jackson, Mississippi and to apply its lessons wherever Afrikan people are struggling.

The first section of the book, “Groundings”, lays the critical foundation to understand how Cooperation Jackson is expanding the vision of the Jackson-Kush Plan towards fulfilling its mission to build a dynamic, social and solidarity economy in Jackson to provide a solid material foundation for the transformation that is being envisioned and struggled for. “Build and Fight”, written by Kali Akuno on behalf of Cooperation Jackson, is the most comprehensive statement written to date on the theory and programmatic outline of the work that Cooperation Jackson is pursuing. We think it can and will be instructive to practitioners everywhere.

The second section of the book, “Emergence”, provides us with the public write up of the now famous Jackson-Kush Plan, written by Kali Akuno. It also provides us with several other works that address dimensions of how the Jackson –Kush Plan emerged and was unveiled to the world. The first chapter in this section, is written by human rights activist and attorney Kamau Franklin, and outlines the early electoral work conducted under the auspices of the Jackson-Kush Plan, which focused on getting Chokwe Lumumba elected to the city council, and how this was buttressed by decades of base building work in the community. Kali Akuno wrote the next two works in this section, the “People’s Assembly Overview” and the “Jackson Rising Policy Statement”. The People’s Assembly Overview was written to demonstrate to a broad public audience how the Assembly emerged in Jackson and what its basic historic characteristics have been. The Jackson Rising Statement was written on behalf of the Mayoral administration of the late Chokwe Lumumba. This statement outlined the core elements of the transformative vision and programs that the Lumumba administration was working towards to make Jackson a Transition City. The last chapter in this section, “Seek ye first the worker self-management kingdom”, was written by one of the co-editors, Ajamu Nangwaya, to highlight the transformative potential of the Jackson-Kush Plan, and how the municipalist orientation of the plan could enable the transformation of Jackson’s economy through cooperative development and worker self-management.

The third section of the book, “Building Substance”, focuses on the process of organizing the Jackson Rising conference and some of the immediate outcomes that emerged from it. The first essay in this section, “Free the Land”, is a narration from one of the last interviews given by Mayor Chokwe Lumumba to Bhaskar Sunkara, the founder and editor of Jacobin magazine. In this interview, Bhaskar outlines some of ways Chokwe was envisioning taking on the question of democratically transforming the economy, including engaging in ongoing initiatives like the Jackson Rising conference. The second essay in this section comes from veteran radical organizer and intellectual, Carl Davidson, who wrote one of the first insightful articles to correctly grasp the link between our efforts to use electoral politics to build power and transform the local economy. The final article in this section, written by militant journalist and former Black Panther Party member, Bruce Dixon, focuses on the centrality of Black working class organizing to the effort to democratically transform the economy through cooperative economics. It also addresses, how this type of self-organization is a necessary heightening of the class struggle within the Black community.

The fourth section of the book, “Critical Examinations”, addresses a number of key issues and challenges confronting Cooperation Jackson and the execution of the Jackson-Kush Plan. The first essay, “Why the Left should look to Jackson, Mississippi”, by human rights lawyer and activist Michael Siegel, takes a short look at how left forces in Jackson are seeking to address many of the structural and political challenges that have been haunting the left for decades. The second essay, “The Centrality of Land and the Jackson-Kush Plan”, by renowned housing and human rights activist Max Rameau, addresses the question of land ownership and property relations, and how these systems and how they are controlled are central to any people’s struggle for liberation. The third essay, “The City as Liberated Zone”, by movement strategist and theoretician Makani Themba, addresses the critical role of people’s assemblies in the struggle to build municipal democracy and socialism. The fourth essay, “A Long and Strong History with Southern Roots”, by Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, the chief intellectual on Black cooperative history and development in our age, attempts to situate the birth and development of Cooperation Jackson in the long thread of Black cooperative development in the South. The fifth essay of this section, “The Challenge of Building Urban Cooperatives in the South”, by Elandria Williams and Jazmine Walker, addresses the challenges confronting Cooperation Jackson in its effort to build viable, self-sustaining worker cooperatives in Jackson. The final work of this section, “Coming Full Circle: the Intersection of Gender Justice and the Solidarity Economy”, is an interview by renowned journalist Thandisizwe Chimurenga with Cooperation Jackson co-founder and executive committee member, Sacajawea “Saki” Hall. The interview addresses how Cooperation Jackson is struggling to eliminate the systemic dynamics of sexism, patriarchy and heterosexism and incorporate a dynamic analysis and practice of inter-sectionality into its work and worldview.

The fifth and final section of this book, “Going Forward”, provides us with a series of reflections on the overall work to implement the Jackson-Kush Plan, and what lessons can and should be drawn from these experiences. The first essay, “After the death of a Radical Mayor”, by award winning progressive journalist Laura Flanders, is the last interview given by Chokwe Lumumba. This is a critical essay, as it presents the most in-depth illustration of what Chokwe was thinking shortly before his death, and where he was planning on heading, as he was reflecting on his first seven months in office. The second essay in this section, “The Jackson Just Transition Plan”, written by Kali Akuno, outlines Cooperation Jackson’s basic vision for how it is going to aid the city of Jackson fulfill the pledge made by the Lumumba administration to become the greenest, most sustainable city in the United States empire. The third essay in this section, “A green utopia in Mississippi”, by progressive journalist Sara Bernard, highlights how Cooperation Jackson links the local with the global in the struggle institute systems change to halt climate change and eliminate the extractive and exploitative logic of the capitalist system. The forth essay in this section, “Casting Shadows”, was written by Kali Akuno nearly a year after the death of Chokwe Lumumba to provide a public assessment of the experiences of the first Lumumba administration. After more than two years since its publication, the work remains as critical and insightful as ever, which is why we are including it in this critical work. The fifth and final essay in this section is, “The Socialist Experiment: a new-society vision for Jackson Mississippi“, by Katie Gilbert. This essay is the newest work in this entire volume. It was published by the Oxford American, with the support Economic Hardship Reporting Project in September 2017, after more than 2 years of in-depth interviews with Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Sacajawea “Saki’ Hall, Kali Akuno, brandon king and several other members of Cooperation Jackson, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Coalition for Economic Justice, and the People’s Task Force. The essay is one of the most comprehensive works written about the ongoing effort to implement the Jackson-Kush Plan, and the various internal and external struggles that have arisen in the course of this work, and some lessons that can be learned from it. 

Work, Reflect, Study, Improve! And Repeat.

 


  1. W.E.B. DuBois, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept. Oxford University Press, 2007.
  2. The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell It Like It Is. Maegan Parker Brooks, 2001.
  3. Alexander Berkman, 'The Pattern of Life Under Decentralized Communism,' In Patterns of Anarchy: A Collection of writings on the Anarchist Tradition, ed., Leonard I. Krimerman and Lewis Perry, New York: Anchor Books, 1966, 344.
  4. The two council member’s that ran for Mayor during the special election of 2014 were Tony Yarber and Melvin Priester, Jr.
  5. For more background on the Coalition for Economic Justice (CEJ) see, “Countering the Confederate Spring: the Assault on Black Political Power in Jackson, MS”, by Kali Akuno at http://navigatingthestorm.blogspot.com/2016/03/countering-confederate-spring-assault.html.
  6. John Sibley Butler, Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black Americans: A Reconsideration of Race and Economics, Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1991, 79-142.
  7. Christopher Ingraham, “If you thought income inequality was bad, get a load of wealth inequality,” The Washington Post, May 21, 2015. Accessed from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/05/21/the-top-10-of-americans-own-76-of-the-stuff-and-its-dragging-our-economy-down/?utm_term=.e7e7031bad7f.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. For more information on the Gini coefficient see, “Who, What, Why: What is the Gini coefficient”, at http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-31847943.
  11. Erik Sherman, “America is the richest, and most unequal, country,” Fortune, September 20, 2015. Accessed from http://fortune.com/2015/09/30/america-wealth-inequality/.
  12.  Bhaskar Sunkara, “Why 21st Century Capitalism Can’t Last,” Al Jazeera America, April 26, 2014. Accessed from http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/4/thomas-piketty-capitalism21stcentury.html.
  13. Bruno Jossa, “Marx, Marxism and the Cooperative Movement,” Cambridge Journal of Economics, 29 (2005): 4.
  14. Ibid., 6.
  15. Sam Dolgoff, ed., Bakunin on Anarchism, Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1980, 173.
  16. The Economist, “What’s the alternative?,” The Economist, August 15, 2015. Accessed from http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21660952-capitalism-not-perfect-its-better-other-systems-whats-alternative. The quote in the excerpt is from John Plender’s book Capitalism: Money, Morals and Markets.
  17. George Cheney, Values at Work: Employee Participation Meets Market Pressure at Mondragon, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999; William Foote Whyte and Kathleen King Whyte, Making Mondragon: The Growth and Dynamics of the Worker Cooperatives Complex, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988.
  18. Mondragon Corporation, “Highlights,” Accessed on February 18, 2017, http://www.mondragon-corporation.com/eng/about-us/economic-and-financial-indicators/highlights/
  19. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition, New York: Continuum, 2000, 65-66.
  20. Lar Rudebeck, Guinea-Bissau: A Study of Political Mobilization, Uppsala, The Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1974, 91.
  21. International Co-operative Alliance, Co-operative identity, values & principles.
  22. See Note 1
  23. Heather M. Coon and Markus Kemmelmeier, “Cultural Orientations in the United States: (Re)Examining Differences Among Ethnic Groups,” Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology, 32, No. 3, (2001).
  24. Sharryn Kasmir, The Myth of Mondragon: Cooperatives, Politics, and Working-class Life in a Basque Town, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996, 153-154.
  25. Ramon Flecha and Ignacio Santa Cruz, “Cooperation for Economic Success: The Mondragon Case,” Analyse & Kritik, 33, 1 (2011): 163. Accessed from  http://burawoy.berkeley.edu/Public Sociology, Live/Flecha&Santacruz.Mondragon.pdf.
  26. For the attacks on the Popolari see “Not so Popolari: Reform of Italy’s biggest cooperative banks will help the sector to consolidate” at http://www.economist.com/news/business-and-finance/21640571-reform-italys-biggest-cooperative-banks-will-help-sector-consolidate-not-so-popolari.
  27. To read this article view https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/5gj7da/free-the-land-v23n2.

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