With the conclusion of 2018, we wish to summarize the experiences and struggles of our ‘For the People’ mass organization in Atlantic City. This analysis was delayed due to recent developments in the city over the past three months, and the rectification of many errors. This caused an intensification of our work, and therefore we slacked on some of our writing duties. We complete this analysis now, for not only the benefit of ourselves and the masses of people we are serving and organizing with, but also as a way for other revolutionary and mass organizations to understand our errors and triumphs, and ultimately learn from them.
I. CREATION OF FTP–AC
Throughout the year 2017, and a few months into 2018, the group of organizers which would eventually become known as the South Jersey Revolutionary Collective struggled to keep up with the constant influx of protests, direct action, and solidarity efforts to support and revolutionize the new popular movements against the rapidly developing fascism and intensifying imperialism of the US. Our mistakes during this period were great and numerous. Chief among them was the ultimate failure to get the masses of poor and oppressed people to take leadership over and really get involved in these actions. As mass participation of these mobilization efforts steadily decreased, so too did our hope of realizing a revolutionary movement. The solution came when we discovered another way forward- the mass line method of leadership, and the works and ideas of Mao Tse-Tung. At this time, there was no clear political ideology in which the membership of our collective had undertaken as a guiding light towards what needed to be done. Much of our conclusions just so happened to align with Maoism because we realized their necessity. That necessity was in the construction of revolutionary base areas, where the masses could fight for their own liberation, seize control over their own resources, and govern their own communities according to their material needs- and then use these base areas to launch protracted struggle against fascist-imperialism. As our political ideas developed, so too did our understanding of how these base areas would be constructed.
Our collective reconstituted itself and resolved to start our new project by serving the people. However, we didn’t know where to start. It was around this time, March of 2018, that we met the lead organizers of the MCP-OC, discovered the ‘For the People’ project in St. Louis, and decided it was a model worth adopting in South Jersey.
We decided to start in Atlantic City because it was an area without any revolutionary organizing efforts, without any organized mass movement, and the contradictions of capitalism were astronomically sharpened.
1. Problems affecting the city.
Atlantic City is unique in New Jersey. For one, it is home to many massive hotel-casinos. It is situated on an island along the coast which draws in over 24 million tourists every year, despite there only being 39,000 residents. The income generated from this tourist industry is substantial- over $205 billion from the casinos alone every year. In 1976, gambling was made legal in Atlantic City under the stipulation that 14% of all revenue would go towards housing and utility needs of the disabled and the elderly. These promises have, for the most part, remained unfulfilled, and instead the casinos are a yolk of oppression on the people.
Despite the massive amount of wealth generated by the casino-tourist industry, over 25% of the population live below the poverty line. The majority of the city’s residents sit on the fence of poverty and cannot afford necessities. The city has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, at around 14%. Over 60% of the city is Black and Latino, and the city also has among the highest cases of police brutality per capita in the country, not including record numbers of uninvestigated claims made against the police. Drug addiction, homelessness, violent crime, and human trafficking are widespread phenomenon, and often serve as the basis of the underground economy.
Starting in 2013, several casinos took the city to court and demanded hundreds of millions of dollars in back taxes, claiming that the assessment of their property value was too high. Through a corrupt process, the casinos won the case and effectively bankrupted the city, which caused the State of New Jersey to step in and seize control over the city’s finances. This has led to union-busting efforts, attempts to privatize the city’s water, and the implementation of austerity programs. Additionally, the State sends its own representative to make financial decisions for the city, effectively denying the masses of people the right to political representation in their city.
Of course, we recognize all bourgeois democracy in the US as an illusion- but in Atlantic City, these contradictions are especially heightened.
An in-depth class analysis and social investigation will be released concerning all the specific problems of the city- but listed above are the most pressing.
2. Heightened contradictions lead to greater revolutionary potential.
It is not an understatement to say that the livelihoods and basic rights of the people of Atlantic City have been thoroughly tarnished and are actively being destroyed. Even now, the tourist district is redeveloping impoverished parts of the city, destroying homes, kicking out poor and homeless people, and using the police as a weapon to brutalize and arrest them. There is great potential for the masses of people to awaken their revolutionary consciousness and take the city that is rightfully theirs from the clutches of finance monopoly capital.
However, the situation is also increasingly dire, and to many, seems endlessly hopeless. The unique conditions of the city present great opportunities for making revolution, but also present tremendous difficulties.
3. Food Not Bombs and the first distributions.
We knew that Atlantic City was where we should launch our efforts- but we didn’t know how to get the food. Going into April, one of our members decided to launch a chapter of Food Not Bombs, collecting food that would otherwise be thrown away at a supermarket and instead giving it to community-based organizations. However, we immediately recognized the problem- no engagement with the masses. So the decision was made to take that food and go to bus stops around the city in Uptown, to talk to people about the problems of capitalism and give them free produce.
Word spread around rapidly. Soon, we decided to set up in a parking lot of a small market. People eventually started gathering at 9:30 every Saturday morning to receive free groceries. The amount of food we received also increased. These initial distributions were disorganized (and would be for a long time). Boxes of food would be set on the ground and people would take what they wanted. Unfortunately, many times this led to fights over the food, and some people taking way more than was fair for the others. This problem would continue for several months, and we will discuss the ways that we attempted to combat it later in this summation.
We realized that we had to move beyond this parking lot- that we were attracting large numbers of people but had no platform from which to engage with them politically, develop their ideas, and get them organized. For the first month, we acted very similar to a charity. So, it was decided that we needed to hold a big event for nearby communities, where they could eat, stock up on essential items, and talk to us about the problems affecting them.
4. The launch of FTP-AC on May Day.
On May 5th, in commemoration of Karl Marx’s birthday and the Haymarket affair, we decided to launch FTP-AC. The two nights prior to this day, we canvassed in the nearby apartment complex of Stanley Holmes Villages, itself comprised of three different complexes (called villages). This location would eventually develop into our strongest base of support. But at this time, nobody knew who we were, or what we wanted. Nonetheless, they were excited that they would be able to eat hot food, stock up on groceries and clothing, and even receive free bicycle repair.
We created flyers (which are still in use) proclaiming the need for revolution and explaining the long-term strategy of FTP: creating new organs of political power. We made slogans which people could immediately relate to, a symbol which could be easily recognized, and information which could be understood by anyone without political education.
We set up in a park across the street, without permission from the city. The event drew over 200 people from Stanley Holmes. We were unprepared for the large volume of people, and only had one working grill from which we cooked hamburgers. We had additional support from the Central Jersey IWW and the Food Not Bombs in Asbury Park, who provided us with tables and more hot food. It didn’t take too long for community members to demonstrate initiative and assume leadership over the event. Several people brought out more grills for us to use, cooking ingredients, and even helped to cook. Some supervised the distribution of clothing to make sure fair amounts were being given out. Children from the neighborhood learned how to repair their bicycles. Meanwhile, a few organizers went around and talked to the people, handing out flyers and explaining our purpose.
It was poorly organized, and in many ways we failed to conduct the proper social investigation, but we demonstrated to the people our willingness to serve them, and it was because of this that we were able to continue and intensify our efforts at getting them organized and revolutionized.
II. SUSTAINING THE FTP SURVIVAL PROGRAMS
Once a month in May, June, July, and August we held a large cookout event and distributed clothing, hot food, groceries, books, hygiene products, and provided free bicycle repair. Each event drew 100-200 people from Stanley Holmes. Throughout this period, we also continued to hold weekly food distributions at the Sav-a-Lot parking lot. Instead of focusing on each event individually, a brief description of the general triumphs and errors will follow:
1. Weekly food distributions.
From May to January, food distributions were held in the parking lot of the Sav-a-Lot supermarket off Atlantic Avenue, in the Tourist District right on the border of Uptown and within walking distance from Stanley Holmes. These attracted 50-100 people each week. Food was taken from Acme supermarket and given directly to the community. Initially, there was very little organization to it. Event organizers would drive to the distribution area, and immediately begin unloading the unsorted food out of their vehicles and onto the ground in cardboard boxes.
This resulted in people, usually lumpen elements, fighting with each other over food on many occasions. This was a serious error on our part. Our solution, which would continue onward, was to firmly rely on the initiative and leadership of the masses. Several people from among the crowd began volunteering to help maintain order and give out food. Our strongest contacts from the community began here- people simply taking charge and asking for direction. Some of them had intermediate political consciousness, but a few had advanced ideas. We organized these leaders and gave them authority over the running of the events. It is worth noting that during these distributions, our interaction was mostly with lumpen and semi-proletarians. Our political engagement, therefore, revolved mostly around the issues of drug addiction, police brutality, homelessness, sex trafficking, and the corruption of NGOs/ Nonprofits in the city (such as the Salvation Army and the AC Rescue Mission).
To avoid concentrating solely on the homeless and displaced populations of the city (although this number is great), we made sure to build connections with people who lived in nearby apartment complexes.
2. Brown’s Park events.
As noted earlier, from May to August we held large events in Brown’s Park, just northwest of Sav-a-Lot and across the street from Stanley Holmes. Here, we made a significant impact. In particular, our free bike repair service was in high demand and extremely popular. Families would come to these events, bring their children, and socialize for the entire four hours. Many would stay afterwards and help clean, break down equipment, and help distribute leftover food. During the event, several people offered up their grills, would sort clothing and ensure people didn’t take too much, and would help cook and serve food. Throughout these events, cadre would circulate flyers and engage working class people on the concrete struggles affecting them. From these four events, we built a solid and deeply committed base of people who would end up taking leadership over future events and would be brought into Organizing Committees.
We had material support from college students, sympathetic professionals, and a number of left-wing organizations from North Jersey who would drive down to give us valuable resources and volunteer help. The IWW was an instrumental partner during this period. This is a good example of what it means to work with those whom you may not have full ideological unity with.
3. Police and City response.
Police surveillance and monitoring was great. There is some evidence which suggests informants were sent into these events to gather information, discover organizational leadership, and even foment antagonism among the people. A police tower was erected right in the park, and during the weekly events, one or two police vehicles would park a short distance away and watch us. On one occasion, the park was locked up and we were prevented from entering it. When these disruptions did not work, the Police Athletic League, the Fire Department, and other City-sponsored nonprofits would have similar events to ours (without the political content, but with more resources) in the same location- sometimes on the same day.
People would look at the city-organized events, which offered many more services, had many more volunteers, and could give out a greater amount of food- and would choose to attend those events. Our last event in August drew less than 100 people, and there was significantly less enthusiasm. We decided to analyze the problems and rectify our errors. What were these errors?
a. Political underdevelopment of organizers.b. Lack of revolutionary content.c. Organizational efforts went towards sustaining the events rather than politicizing and organizing the masses.d. Revolutionary political power was not being built.e. Organizers were not fully integrated with the masses.f. Our capacities were being stretched thin and it was taking its toll.
To correct these errors, we began to put together a program for building revolutionary power, by developing organs of political power. This program derived from the July essay ‘Developing Organs of Political Power for the People,’ based on the summation and analysis of our incorrect practice, and what needed to be done to correct it.
In November, our weekly food distributions were shut down by the police. We were unable to prevent it because we were so focused on keeping the events going that we did not adequately organize the masses who were being served. Our cadre had managed to finish the distribution the day it was shut down, despite the police attempting to stop it immediately, and was able to talk to several community members about the experience afterwards.
4. Change of strategy.
To implement our new program, we began talking to community members about forming an ‘Organizing Committee.’ See below for an in-depth explanation of what this is.
Therefore, in December, we moved the weekly distributions to the front of the court house in Uptown- public property. We alsodecided to stop hosting large events in Brown’s Park and go into the community more deeply. Starting in October, we decided to focus on more frequent, smaller, and more personal events inside Stanley Holmes. This took a few months to fully kick off regularly. The first few months of 2019 have reaped the benefits of this careful change in strategy. The 2019 first quarter summation will cover that period more thoroughly.
In October we held a school supply distribution in Stanley Holmes, and in December returned to the community to canvass for an Organizing Committee meeting for January.
We also began conducting serious student outreach at nearby Stockton University, for new volunteers. We gave a presentation to a sociology class on our work. We were able to recruit new organizers and volunteers as a result. Two sororities conducted a clothing drive and raised a significant amount of clothing for us, and then sorted those clothes with us. Through a serious, deliberate effort at raising clothing donations, we had to eventually rent a storage unit to hold everything.
We had developed contacts among sympathetic student organizations, professors, and even some faculty. These will continue to benefit our project into 2019 as we combat gentrification near the new Stockton University campus in the city.
III. TOWARDS THE DEVELOPMENT OF ORGANIZING COMMITTEES
What makes our mass organization revolutionary? The fact that we are implementing a program to build revolutionary power for the people! After several arduous months of struggle over exactly how these committees would be formed, who they would be oriented towards, and what role they would fulfill in our conditions, we were finally able to put them into practice in 2019. The forthcoming 2019 first quarter summation will explain the progress of these Organizing Committees.
Our goal is to build revolutionary base areas: pieces of liberated territory where the masses are organized to wield dual, contending power against capitalism-imperialism, guided by a revolutionary Party, and where they can be mobilized to launch protracted struggle against the institutions of their own oppression. Organs of political power will serve as the function by which the people can govern their own communities and become more deeply politicized. Our survival programs are merely a means to developing Organizing Committees, which are the first steps towards developing revolutionary political power.
1. Transform passive leadership into active leadership!
The material basis of our organizing committees is to get those who show initiative, creativity, and leadership organized! Many have relatively advanced ideas and must be brought into an intermediate level of organization to become developed politically and help construct new organs of political power.Only through a material transformation of their own conditions can revolutionary consciousness develop on a mass scale. The organizing committee is the body through which that can begin to happen.
2. The function of the organizing committees.
In the early stages, the organizing committee is simply a way to develop the passive leadership from the masses over events to the active leadership over the mass organization itself, with cadre serving the purpose of developing revolutionary consciousness through struggle, education, and propaganda. The committees have full decision-making power over the organization, with cadre serving an advisory role, and recruiting from among them into the Party.
By teaching active leadership how to organize more resources for their community, how to put together events to serve them, and how to conduct social investigations into the problems the people are facing, new avenues of struggle can open from a material base. They can directly see what it means to follow a revolutionary program, and can more acutely understand the solution to the problems constantly afflicting them and their communities. They can take their new ideas and experiences in transforming their conditions to the broad masses, which they can then recruit and bring into active leadership. Organizing Committee members who display great initiative and advanced ideas, through deliberate efforts of education and implementation of practice, can be recruited into the ranks of Party cadre. New Party cadre from among the masses will exponentially increase revolutionary activity by having a direct link between the Party and the area of mass work.
Maoism as a science can be more applied to concrete conditions as these mass ties are more firmly established. Without the active participation of the people, there will be no revolution. This program ensures the development of new revolutionary cadre, and lays the groundwork for the development of real organs of political power.
3. Building multiple organizing committees.
As of March 2019, there are two Organizing Committees which have moved beyond the formative stage and will soon be actively making decisions for the mass organization, with the guidance of Maoist cadre.
Each area of work must have a separate and distinct Organizing Committee. This is to ensure that the real needs of the people are being adequately represented and that the problems of each community are being accurately understood.
As Organizing Committees begin to handle the raising, organization, and distribution of resources, they can be coordinated on a higher, more advanced level to carry out mass mobilizations in support of demands against institutional powers. They can develop defensive capabilities to carry out their demands and protect their events. The events in question can be expanded and can meet even greater needs, such as education, health, repairs, and childcare. Every day, there can be an event which serves the people. All of this is impossible without the direct participation and active leadership of the advanced sections of the masses.
By creating a direct pipeline from mass organization to revolutionary organization, the project itself can expand greatly throughout the city and even throughout the region, and revolutionary base areas can be created.
The creation of FTP-AC has been a great development in the historic revolutionary struggle in Atlantic City. Nothing has existed like it since the 60s and 70s, despite there being suffocating violence and poverty inflicted on the masses. The potential of this project is boundless. Initially, many mistakes were made. Liberalism and right-opportunism required decisive struggle to stamp out. Incorrect practice had to be corrected. Ultimately, faith in the masses is what brought the organization from near-defeat in 2018 to its soaring triumphs in 2019.
We welcome criticism of our program and our implementation of it. The next summation will demonstrate how we learned from our errors and embraced a revolutionary program with discipline and determination!
“The People, and the People alone, are the motive force in the making of world history!”