By Kevin Rashid Johnson
In several past articles we have expressed the need to resolve various questions of Party organization and cadre development and training. We want to begin now working on resolutions, starting with ensuring that comrades understand and adhere to the organizational aims and structure of our Party.
Presently we are a Prison Chapter (PC), which means the New Afrikan Black Panther Party’s (NABPP) membership is based primarily within the Empire’s prisons. So long as we remain a Prison Chapter there are obvious limits on what we can achieve, and on our ability to collectively decide a lot of matters. So, in this respect, we are not able to fully integrate with, and exercise Democratic Centralism within our mass base. Our mass base consists principally of the oppressed urban New Afrikan peoples and those confined within the prisons.
We aspire to advance from a mere PC, to an outside party structure based in the oppressed communities, and ultimately into an international vanguard party of all oppressed and urbanized Afrikan peoples the world over.
To make the transition to the outside requires that cadre trained in our political and ideological lines and committed to our 10 Point Program and Platform, hold a founding Party Congress, elect a free world Central Committee, organize a Politburo and draft a Party program. Developing these cadres is part of our aim in educating and politicizing prisoners, so they can, upon their release, form the nucleus of that outside Party. We are also educating comrades on the outside. Towards developing the International BPP, we look to develop cadre in other countries and all areas where Afrikan people are concentrated to found chapters of the party, and consolidate them into the IBPP.
The White Panther Organization (WPO) and Brown Panther Organization (BPO) are arms of the NABPP (which are also primarily prison-based at present), who carry the line and work of the Panthers into the poor and working-class white, Red, Brown and Yellow communities, to serve these oppressed sectors, and to unite all oppressed peoples into an United Front Against Imperialism. We aim to see these organizations also transition into outside structures based in the oppressed communities of their respective national and “racial” groups, and ultimately into international structures operating under the leadership of the IBPP as a United Panther Movement.
This explains the basic organizational aims of the Party. We now will elaborate the structural outline of the Party.
Structurally, the NABPP-PC breaks down at three levels: National (Chapter), State (Branch), and Local (Unit). The outside NABPP once constituted will also be structured much the same. The IBPP once developed will simply add a fourth level: the International.
At the National level is the Chapter. The Chapter is presided over by the Party’s highest decision-making body, the Central Committee (CC). The CC oversees, and its decisions are to be obeyed by, the entire Party. The Chairperson is the spokesperson of the CC and the Party, and its highest-ranking member. The Politburo (political bureau) of the CC is composed of the heads of the Party’s various ministries. The present ministries within the NABPP – PC consist of the Ministries of:
5. Health and Welfare
6. Human Rights
The CC will also have a General Secretary. Each arm of the Party (viz., WPO and BPO) will have a national spokesperson, each of whom will also have a seat on the CC. The CC thus consists of the Chairperson, the heads of the Party’s Ministries, the General Secretary and the National spokespeople.
CC decisions are reached by means of Democratic Centralism (DC), which we will explain more fully below. But as said, we are not able to fully implement DC due to communication barriers created by our being confined in various prisons across the Empire. CC members are to be elected to their positions by peer vote with input from Party members and the masses at all levels, and may be removed from these positions in the same manner. Election to these positions shall be based upon qualifications, integrity, commitment and work in the struggle proven in practice.
At the State levels are the Branches. The Branches are the intermediary Party structures beneath the Chapter. Each state will have its own Branch, and each Branch is presided over by a Branch Committee (BC) composed of Party members who reside in the state in which that particular Branch presides. For example, the BC of Connecticut will preside over the entire Connecticut Branch of the NABPP-PC, etc.
The BC operates beneath the CC and works to implement and coordinate CC decisions and goals at the statewide level, and also to implement and coordinate other work at this level consistent with the Party’s work, programs and goals.
Each Ministry within the Party will have a Branch level delegate or “deputy,” for example: Deputy Minister of Culture, Deputy Minister of Defense, and so on, who together compose the Branch level Politburo. There will also be a Deputy Chairperson, who is the highest ranking member at the Branch level, and a Branch Secretary. Together these Deputies, along with Deputy Spokespersons of the WPO and BPO form the BC.
BC decisions will also be reached by means of DC at the Branch level, and will govern activities of the entire Party Branch in the state in which it presides.
BC members are also appointed or withdrawn by election of members at the Branch level and with input of the masses. Until the Party is fully operational, individual CC members may appoint provisional deputies (for example the Minister of Culture may appoint a provisional deputy to his/her ministry in Branches where there is no functional Party leadership), who may be later confirmed or withdrawn and replaced by vote of Branch members upon that membership’s being enlarged and organized.
Deputies answer and report on developments in their area to the Chapter head of the Ministry, Chair, etc. which they belong to. For example the Deputy Ministers of Culture report and answer to the National Minister of Culture, etc.
At the Local levels are the units. The units are the basic Party structures beneath the branches. Each prison or jail will have its own unit, (as will each city, county or town upon the development of the outside Party). Each unit is presided over by a Unit Committee (UC) composed of Party members who are confined in the prison or jail in which that particular unit presides. For example, the UC of Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) will preside over the entire Party within PBSP.
The UC operates beneath the BC of the state in which it exists, (for example, the UC of PBSP operates under the California BC), and works to implement and coordinate BC decisions and goals (and those of the CC directly, in absence of a BC or when otherwise appropriate), and also to carry out other work consistent with the Party’s work, programs and goals at the unit level.
Each Ministry within the Party will have a unit level delegate or “Captain,” for example: Cultural Captain, Defense Captain, and so on, who together compose the Unit Politburo. There will also be a Chairperson Captain, who is the highest-ranking member at the unit level, also a Secretary Captain. Together these Captains, along with Captains of the WPO and BPO form the UC.
UC decisions will also be reached by means of DC at the unit level, and will govern activities of the entire Party unit within the prison or jail in which it operates.
UC members are also appointed or withdrawn by election of members at the unit level and with input of the masses.
The most basic groups within the Party are collectives or local cells consisting of comrades living or working together within a prison or jail. The unit will be composed of various collectives in the prison headed by a Captain or elected Lieutenant.
At the unit level it will be much easier for comrades to interact regularly and often without intense enemy scrutiny, therefore DC can be most effectively exercised at this level, especially for comrades in the general population settings. We therefore encourage comrades to exercise and become experienced in the practice and application of DC.
Unit Captains answer and report on developments in their prison or jail to the Deputy of the Ministry, Chair, etc. to which they belong and in the state in which they operate. For example, the Cultural Captain for PBSP reports and answers to the Deputy Minister of Culture for the California Branch.
The object is to achieve an organizational system of accountability and transmitting ideas and information from the lowest to the highest levels of the Party and vice versa, while allowing comrades flexibility and creativity in applying our line and directives to the particular conditions in their area (state, prison and/or jail).
To this end Party cadre should hold regular meetings when and where they can, to sum up work in their area, and prepare and submit reports up to the next highest body or up to the CC. For example, those presiding over unit groups should prepare and submit reports to their Branch Chairperson. And the Branch should do the same and sum up unit reports to the National Chairperson. In the absence of Branch membership or leaders, unit groups should submit reports directly to the National Chairperson.
The fundamental organizational principle of the party is DC.
At all levels leading bodies within the Party are elected and subject to recall by democratic decision.
Leading bodies within the Party shall regularly report on their work at general membership meetings or to the chairperson, listen and pay heed to the opinions of the masses in and outside the Party and submit to their supervision. All Party members have the right to criticize Party organizations and leading members at all levels and make recommendations to them. If a Party member disagrees concerning decisions or directions of a Party organization, although s/he must abide by those decisions/directions, s/he may reserve her/his views and has the right to bypass the immediate leadership and report directly to higher bodies, up to and including the CC and the CC Chairperson. We must maintain a political environment with both centralism and democracy, both unity and struggle, both discipline and freedom, and both collective unity of purpose and individual mental ease, and which is energetic and active. This political climate should exist both within and without of the Party, because without it we will be unable to motivate and inspire cadre to work vigorously and effectively or the masses to take up the struggle.
Democratic Centralism: The Purpose, The Method
As our central organizational principle it is imperative that all Party members and the people clearly understand what DC is, its purpose and how it works.
DC applies the principles and processes of collective decision-making and conflict resolution practiced by communal societies, and proves to be the most effective and correct method, because it corresponds to the basic needs and principles of social or group psychology. DC understands that within any society or group there will exist different ideas and disagreements amongst its members about important issues and how to address and resolve them. And unless the most correct ideas are brought forward and the group is able to unite in implementing them, then the group will be unable to solve its problems and there will be disharmony. So it is in the interest of the group that its members cooperate towards common goals.
But how does a group resolve incompatible ideas and bring forward the best most correct ones, and unite its members in applying them? This can only be done through methods that promote compromise and mutual concession. DC is the only method that allows this and in a way that enables all members to participate in reaching decisions. For people most willingly embrace decisions that they participate in that gave ear and consideration to their views and concerns, and where all members are invited to contribute and are willing to make concessions and compromises toward reaching and implementing the most correct decisions. People able to contribute to decisions are empowered and are able to feel greater responsibility for and satisfaction with the terms of the decision. This is what DC applies.
DC as its name implies combines both democracy and centralism. The object of genuine democracy is to bring out all ideas. To give everyone, not merely small groups or “special” individuals, the right and opportunity to speak up and express their views, to openly and honestly criticize people and practices high and low that are believed to be in error and harming the interests of the whole. This so that problems may be identified and solved.
In this process various different ideas are allowed to struggle with each other through reasoned debate and discussion, not coercion or violence. And people are allowed to vent anger and frustration but not to spite others. The object is to encourage open speech not to attack people’s minor flaws or ridicule them.
DC draws on the collective wisdom of the group and its experiences at all levels. The emphasis of DC is on mass participation and learning their interests, views, needs, and concerns, whether of social conditions or related to the Party and its members. The Party must give the masses our hearts, encouraging them to freely voice their grievances and opinions and speak out. For this is the only way to bring them forward and eagerly into the struggle. When they see we are concerned with, empowered by, and committed to their interests and voice, they will enthusiastically support the Party, join the mass organizations, and take up the struggle alongside us.
But if we attempt to silence them, to make them feel their ideas are of no value, or that we are scorned and offended by their criticisms and refuse to examine and correct our errors and ourselves before them, if we seek to dominate and coerce them, the oppressed masses will not embrace us as their Party. They will not feel responsibility for or satisfaction with decisions made or advice given by the Party, and they will not support us. Therefore, we will not be their vanguard.
Without democracy, without allowing Party members and people to express themselves, how can we learn the actual conditions under which we and the masses are struggling? How will we know what works and what doesn’t? How will we determine when resources or work needs to be diverted into certain areas or when there is a surplus or extra manpower in another place that can be sent to needy areas? How will we know when the masses are not content with our work or the performance of particular comrades?
We are not talking about that form of so-called democracy that the bourgeoisie uses against not for the people, where the masses have no say so in decisions that affect them but can only rush to the polls every few years to choose between Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum, both of whom serve the same corporate masters, and bleed the people to serve their benefit. We’re talking about functional participatory mass democracy where the people have a say in every important decision that affects them; and this Party is their party not the tool of the capitalist class.
Our inner-Party democracy serves to ensure that upper levels of the Party know, understand and are responsive to what is happening down below. So comrades are able to evaluate things from all sides, and not make evaluations based on one-sided accounts or bits and pieces of information. This way we draw on the collective wisdom of the entire Party and the people in reaching decisions. Only thus can we discuss and unite together to reach correct ideas.
So there must first be open struggle (democratic discussion) of ideas before there can be unity (centralism) of ideas – of all ideas – within the group or society. These principles – democracy and centralism – go hand-in-hand.
Centralism is what we arrive at when, after broad discussion (the process of democratic struggle), our understanding of things reaches unity. It is the centralization of correct ideas; upon which we can then have unity in understanding policies, plans, organization, command, action, etc. This is called “centralized unification,” which cannot be reached if the people and Party are not able to openly express their ideas and concerns, have them seriously considered, and allow them to contribute and participate in developing all-sided views of problems. So the foundation of our centralism is democracy.
Once we reach unity on ideas and there is agreement by majority vote, we all unite to apply the agreed upon policies, plans, etc. Applying the agreed upon ideas then proves or disproves the correctness of our decisions in practice. If proven incorrect, we then return to democratic discussion to reach a new level of unity and revise our plans, then return to practice again.
Essentially centralism means once a decision or course of action has been agreed upon through democratic discussion, debate, and vote, all members must whole-heartedly unite in applying that decision or course of action. Those who disagree with the majority decision must still abide by and apply it, but may reserve their disagreements and appeal them up to higher Party levels or bring them up for discussion and debate again at the next committee session.
Mao-Tse-tung gave an important explanation of inner-Party DC:
“The Party Committee at various levels is the organ which implements centralized leadership. But the leadership of the Party committees is a collective leadership: matters cannot be decided by the first secretary alone. Within Party committees democratic centralism should be the sole mode of operation. The relationship between the first secretary and the other secretaries and committee members is one of the minority obeying the majority. For example, in the Standing Committee and the Political Bureau situations like this often arise: when I say something, no matter whether it is correct or incorrect, provided that everyone disagrees with me, I will accede to their point of view because they are the majority. I am told that the situation exists within some provincial Party committees, whereby in all matters whatever the first secretary says goes. This is quite wrong. It is nonsense if whatever one person says goes. I am referring to important matters, not to the routine work which comes in wake of decisions. All important matters must be discussed collectively, different opinions must be listened to seriously, and the complexities of the situation and partial opinions must be analyzed. Account must be taken of various possibilities and estimates made of various aspects of a situation: which are good, which bad, which easy, which difficult, which possible and which impossible. Every effort must be made to be both cautious and thorough. Otherwise you have one-man tyranny. Such first secretaries should be called tyrants and not ‘squad leaders’ of democratic centralism.”
By living among the people, even in times of intense enemy repression and surveillance when open meetings are not feasible we can still exercise DC, by investigating problems through observation and inquiry of the masses, drawing out informal discussions, and keeping our ears close to the ground. What we learn and experience at lower levels should be conveyed to higher levels to inform decisions made there.
Also comrades should not fear, avoid or seek to repress the masses’ criticisms of them or their conduct. But they should be humble and willing to examine themselves. The people should be encouraged to speak out as we are committed to truth. Those unable to accept the truth of their own actions and errors being exposed and criticized, are not suited to serve as the people’s vanguard leadership, because our commitment is to serve the masses first and foremost. The same holds true for those who cannot stand to hear their ideas contradicted or challenged.
No one is always right or above criticism, even if sometimes we are wrongly criticized. To deal with truth we must be able and willing to be contradicted and disputed. If our views or actions are wrong we must honestly examine and correct them. This is the only way forward. Those unwilling to accept supervision and criticism of the people are not their genuine leaders, but are capable only of oppressing them, of placing individual pride before collective principle. Attitudes of this sort act as a corrosive and undermine unity.
At bottom, inner-Party DC enables the CC to make strategic decisions upon the broadest consideration of all available information. The entire Party is bound by these decisions. At the intermediate and lower levels the Branch and Unit committees are allowed great flexibility and initiative in determining how best to implement those decisions at their levels. In the process of doing so they collectively analyze and sum up their experiences, achievements and failures and report on them to other Party levels, and also share them with comrades in other areas to inform, test and refine theory and practice all round in carrying out the Party’s goals. This is how DC works. A process many organizations have claimed to apply but which few even grasped. Indeed most lacked the humility and commitment to the mass line and revolutionary proletarian ideology – and no other – necessary to genuinely implement it.
At times of enemy repression of political activity, greater centralism and restricted democracy applies to protect cadre and our work, however, when conditions are permissive, we should apply democracy arousing and engaging the masses as broadly and openly as possible. Our Party must be adaptable to changing conditions and flexible. Only in this way can we stay ahead of enemy subversion and remain true to the cause of leading the oppressed working people and marginalized poor in struggle to defeat this imperialist system and its puppets.
The Role of the Party
Our role is not to exercise political or state power over the people, (which is their prerogative), but to influence them, to set positive examples. When our outside structure unfolds and we are able to lead the masses to form their own popular governing bodies such as Community Councils, our cadre will be free to accept election as delegates of these popular political structures: but only as delegates with no greater power than any other delegate. Our leadership role is one voluntarily embraced by the people, based upon our unity and demonstrated ability to lead them in solving difficult problems and winning majority support. This sort of leadership is based on education, reasoned persuasion, and active involvement in the daily lives and struggles of the oppressed peoples.
This will lead to the Party’s winning a certain level of prestige among the people we serve, based upon our commitment to them and proving to put forward correct policies that serve their interests. This involves our leading by example, actively participating in all mass organizations, systematically educating the people, and proving our devotion to the people by being the most principled, committed and self-sacrificing.
There will always be those who will find their way into our ranks whose personal qualities and ambitions run counter to the Party’s principles. This is another reason DC is important and valuable. It will allow such elements to be examined and exposed by and before the masses. This is why comrades should be upright and sincere, and willing and able to accept the supervision and criticism of the people: because like it or not, the people will expose them. And it explains why organizations that are not genuinely committed to the interests of the oppressed masses cannot and do not integrate with them, and while many have professed to, very, very few have really practiced DC.
Dare to struggle! Dare to win! All Power to the People!