They Institutions Vs. Ours

In one of their tracks, titled They Schools, M-1 and Stic Man, a.k.a the rap duo, Dead Prez, rapped about the horrors of the U.S. school system. In this song, Stic Man described James S Rickards’ High School, the school he attended and graduated from in his youth, as an institution with a White supremacist curriculum that focused only on glorifying historical racists. This school was also full of helpless students in a variety of desperate situations ranging from teenage mothers struggling to stay afloat in school while going through the many difficulties of pregnancy, to kids selling dope in the hallways to make enough money to get by, who were all ‘perpetually overseen, interrogated, accused and harassed by the armed police that patrolled the school like prison guards. James S Rickards’ High was one of ‘they’ schools, just like every school within the U.S. education system, and a particularly horrendous one at that. Now ‘they’ aren’t some secret society, mysterious cabal, shadow government, or any other ill-defined product of popular social relations mystifying conspiracy theories. No, ‘they’ are an easily identifiable class along with the sub-classes aligned with it, which is why Dead Prez simply tells us just who ‘they’ are, right there in the song lyrics:

“The same people who control the school system control

The prison system, and the whole social system

Ever since slavery, naw I’m saying?”

‘They’ are the ruling class of America; ‘they’ schools are one of the social institutions that are components of the capitalist society ‘theycontrol. ‘They’ prisons are one of those institutions as well, and ‘They’ plantations used to be. Marx taught us that the capitalist mode of production moulds society in its image, and turns it into a capitalist society with capitalist institutions that exist solely to benefit capitalists. That’s why it’s a ‘They’ social system, and not ours. This is not only true in America, but in every capitalist country on this Earth. Now I know Black folks are sick and tired of hearing about what ‘They’ have and what ‘They’ control, so we need to be thinking about how we can build up what’s collectively ‘ours’. We need to create ‘our’ schools, we need ‘our’ hospitals, and ‘our’ housing too, because all of those institutions need to be serving the interests of our people, and the bourgeois ones we have today are most certainly not doing that, as they are serving the interests of the capitalists who aren’t interested in anything but profit. Ultimately, we need to replace ‘they’ social system with ‘our’ social system, which the revolutionary science of Maoism teaches us can only be done through people’s war, but as we work toward overthrowing ‘they’ social system, we must establish ‘our’ alternative institutions to compete with and expose ‘they’ institutions while ensuring our own survival. 

The part of the introduction about Stic Man’s old high school was but one example of the bourgeois institutions of the capitalists that clearly possess the primary function of subjugating the masses. To illustrate the fact that subjugation of rival classes is a function of capitalist institutions in general, as well as the purpose behind that subjugation, I will turn to the essay, “War For the Cities”, by the Black communist and revolutionary nationalist theorist James Yaki Sayles, which can be found in his book Meditations on Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. This first quote from the text, which describes the function (or lack thereof) that U.S. social institutions have when it comes to the poor Black community, reads, “… there is a ‘vacuum’ which has been created by the absence of ‘goods and services’ in our communities. This ‘vacuum’ serves to weaken our areas, and to weaken us as peoples/nations, to lessen our powers of resistance. Those who rule amerikkka have deliberately gone about the business of making us dependent upon its ‘boards of education,’ its ‘kourts of Just-Us,’ its welfare agencies, city housing authorities, etc.”

Sayles recognized the fact that the bourgeoisie, by depriving poor Black communities of basic necessities while simultaneously maintaining institutions such as the bourgeois court system, housing authorities, etc. has managed to reduce the capability of our communities to resist white supremacist capitalist oppression. The U.S. bourgeoisie, like the Nazi Germans, desperately fear the communistic tendencies of the so-called “lower” races. In many ways, those oppressors are right to fear the revolutionary potential of our people, who George Jackson believed could, “build the commune that will guide people into a significant challenge to property rights,” as a socialist revolution carried out by our people, who have been, enslaved, ghettoized, and marginalized all for the benefit of the propertied classes, would certainly threaten the “property rights” that ensure the opulence of the exploiters at the expense of the oppressed. In order to keep Black people from rising up, the ruling classes must keep us held down.

 Sayles further illuminated the true intentions behind bourgeois social institutions in the following quote, “…those who rule amerikkka are neither willing nor capable of satisfying our needs. It is not in their interest to have us employed, fed, clothed, properly housed, educated, and healthy.”

As much as White conservatives like to imagine the existence of black “welfare queens,” who lead easy lives thanks to government subsidies, the actual situation for poor Black people dependent on welfare and other bourgeois social institutions couldn’t be far from that. In fact, the cycle of intense poverty in Black communities continues just fine no matter how many people in it are on welfare, and James Yaki Sayles’ provides a spot on explanation of the reason why. The ruling class of the United States has no intention of meeting the needs of poor Black people, but it has every intention of making us dependent on institutions that benefit them by tearing our communities apart at their very foundations. Thus, the welfare agencies will never help black folks get back on our feet, but give us just enough money to make us dependent on the capitalist institutions, while we are stabbed in the back by the justice system which jails as many of us as possible, and the housing authority which rapidly relocates members of our communities. Sayles clearly understood that the reliance of our people on these bourgeois institutions was destroying the Black community.

Based on his understanding of this aspect of the oppression of our people, Sayles came to the following conclusion, “…the first phase of our war for the cities must involve recreating a sense of community. If black/non-white/poor people are to survive and have a future in amerikkka, we must become responsible to and for each other. We must have mutual respect, and we must come to depend on ourselves/each other, and break our dependence upon the enemy.”

James Yaki Sayles firmly believed in the possibility and necessity of the achievement of some level of independence of oppressed people from the social institutions of the bourgeoisie. He also recognized that in order to make that happen, the oppressed must rely on one another for the things that they need, and take responsibility for each other’s survival. All of this, Sayles thought, could be an important part of the much broader struggle to defeat the enemy class. 

What comrade Sayles called for in his article is embodied perfectly in building independent institutions of the oppressed, which are revolutionary formations described in the following manner by PTT of the Maoist Internationalist Movement (Ministry of Prisons) in the article titled Importance of Independent Institutions. PTT wrote, “ Independent institutions of the oppressed are designed to simultaneously meet the peoples’ present needs, while organizing against imperialism. When coupled with political education in building public opinion for socialism, these institutions help to advance our movement toward communism. People can see in practice what it would look like (and that it’s possible) to meet the social needs that the government is failing on. And people learn how to work collectively.

Maybe this is obvious, but independent institutions don’t have ties to the power structure that we are fighting to dismantle. Our goal is the full liberation of ALL people, not just some people, and not just our people. To do that, we need to have true independence, so we can say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done, without one arm tied behind our backs.”

Through independent social institutions of the oppressed produced in revolutionary struggle, Black people can have some of our needs met despite the various forms of hardship induced by capitalism, without relying on the bourgeois social institutions of America. Such independent social institutions also help raise the consciousness of our people, by showing them what people’s power looks like even before the emergence of our own state. These institutions can have both functions, while never becoming separated from the revolutionary movement to destroy capitalism and imperialism. One example of independent institutions of the oppressed is the community garden that was developed by Community Movement Builders in Atlanta, which has provided a food source for poor Black people that is independent of bourgeois agricultural conglomerates, in which they may eat from without giving money or food stamps in exchange. Since the ruling class of the U.S. has no intention of feeding Black people with no money, Community Movement Builders has made a way for Black people to feed ourselves.

Now, it is very important to take note of the clarification of the role of the independent institutions of the masses in the revolutionary movement made by PTT in the following quote, “Our institutions in themselves will not cause the transition to socialism, because the bourgeoisie will not allow us to carry out a quiet coup on their power.”

Black revolutionaries can not delude ourselves into thinking that building independent institutions of the masses is a replacement for actual revolution through people’s war. Under no circumstances will the bourgeoisie give up political power without a fight, so if it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight we’ll give them. However, building ‘our’ institutions and breaking our dependency on ‘they’ institutions is an important early step in our long march toward liberation.

By Marte White

About Community Movement Builders (159 Articles)
Community Movement Builders (CMB) is a member-based collective of black people dedicated to being a force for creating sustainable self-determining communities through cooperative economic advancement and collective community organizing. Our mission is rooted in Black love and equity. Grassroots Thinking is our newsletter/community blog about our work and movement activity

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