Follow the Soapbox
PictureChokwe Lumumba
“Free the Land!”
The Life and Legacy of Chokwe Lumumba

The fiftieth anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, based in Jackson, MS, has just passed. In 1964, this Mississippi project, with its influx of hundreds of privileged petty bourgeois northern white liberals, its appeal to the “conscience of White America,” and its orientation around voter registration and the dead-end Democratic Party, dominated the broadcast news of the monopoly capitalist mass media. And it fundamentally altered the tactics and strategy of the civil rights movement in a key arena of struggle at a critical moment. Certainly this significant project contributed to the fact that the very years of the greatest upsurge of the Afro-American liberation movement in the mid 1960’s, with the tremendous advances toward Black political power, were also the years of some of the worst white supremacist land theft of Afro-American farmers.

For the civil rights movement failed to strongly link the fight for political power with the struggle for economic power and the central task to free the land. Tragically, “The Right of Self Determination of the Negroes in the Black Belt,” the key political slogan promoted by the Communist International and its Communist Party USA (CPUSA) affiliate in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, focused on Land and State Power in the Black Belt South, and its extremely successful Alabama Sharecroppers’ Union organization, had long since been abandoned.

Yet, in 2014,“Free the Land!” was the timely and timeless greeting through which the marvelous Afro-American leader, Chokwe Lumumba, intertwined his educational message, his guidance, his untiring community activism and his charismatic personality and generously shared them all with the oppressed and exploited peoples of the world, and especially the oppressed Afro-American people in Mississippi. Last year, in his first interview as Mayor of Jackson, the Mississippi state capitol and its most populous city, Chokwe Lumumba told the Jackson Advocate that he was “excited about the possibility of a great migration to Mississippi.” “We need our people to come back to help build a new society,” he said. Putting forward his vision of “a majority black state,” Mayor Lumumba pointed to the Republic of New Africa (RNA) of which he had been a long time activist, as having “worked since its founding in 1968 to build new communities in five southern states—Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina—centered on cooperative economics.”*

*NOTE: [In an AP interview in 2013, Chokwe stated: “The provisional government of the Republic of New Africa was always a group that believed in human rights for human beings…It was a group that was fighting for human rights for black people in this country and at the same time supporting human rights around the globe.”]

On February 25, 2014, Chokwe Lumumba died unexpectedly at the age of 66. He had been mayor for less than eight months.**

*NOTE: [Given the long history of white supremacist/Klan murders and assassinations of outstanding Afro-American freedom fighters in Mississippi, including, among others, Medgar Evers in Jackson itself, the fact that Chokwe Lumumba had some health issues and died in a hospital is no guarantee that he was not the latest such prominent victim.]

Despite the brevity of his time at the helm of the Jackson city government, the effectiveness of his administration was already unmistakably clear. Just a week before he died, Jackson’s voters overwhelmingly passed a 1% sales tax on themselves to serve as a capital funding project. Such was their trust of the Lumumba Administration. According to the Final Call’s Eric Ture Muhammad, “Officials estimate over the next two years dollars available to the fund will grow to $1.7 billion … the funding, which Mayor Lumumba fought for, allocates money to a true people’s coalition … to improve the city’s infrastructure, support businesses and, in a first, rehab some Black neighborhoods.” (Final Call, 3-13-14)

Clearly, under the outstanding, effective leadership of Mayor Lumumba, the veteran Revolutionary Black Nationalist, the city of Jackson was in the process of becoming a powerful spark for a new upsurge of the Afro-American national liberation movement against U.S. imperialism. And because the Afro-American national question has the potential to be the “Achilles heel” of U.S. imperialism, still today the main bulwark of world capitalist reaction, the exciting progressive transformation of Jackson and its 75% Afro-American population under the Lumumba leadership held serious implications for the main enemy of toiling humanity, imperialism, headed by U.S. imperialism.

Moreover, historically, when the international communist movement has had a generally correct political line on the Afro-American national question (as in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s), it has also been generally correct in its approach to the nature of U.S. imperialism and the revolutionary tasks associated with that understanding.  In this context, as the delegate of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor (USA) to a recent international gathering of communists and revolutionaries in Europe, I asked for a moment of silent tribute to comrade Chokwe Lumumba and this was respectfully carried out by the comrades from around the world.

POSTSCRIPT: One year ago, in the lead-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary March on Washington in commemoration of the 1963 March, I wrote about the “good news and bad news” that was then being experienced by the Afro-American people. The main “good news” was the election of Chokwe Lumumba as Jackson’s mayor. The bad news included the Supreme Court’s decision gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the acquittal of George Zimmerman in his “trial” for the cold-blooded murder of the innocent youth, Trayvon Martin. All three of these events were focused in the Black Belt South homeland of the Afro-American people. I observed then that, “… U.S. imperialism has no intention of allowing the Afro-American people and other anti-imperialist forces to produce more Jackson, MS people’s electoral victories, especially in the Black Belt South. At least not without a bitter struggle. Both the Supreme Court decision to smash the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Florida acquittal of the self-confessed killer of Trayvon Martin are key components in the effort to stem the demographic tide of Afro-American people returning to their Black Belt homeland, replicating ‘two, three many Jackson, Mississippi’s’ and ultimately winning Afro-American national self-determination from the U.S. Empire, up to and including the right to independent existence as a state.” (“Good News and Bad News on the Road to the March on Washington’s Fiftieth Anniversary,” p. 19, Ray O’Light Newsletter #79, July-August 2013)*

In April of this year, Jackson, MS held a special election to replace Mayor Lumumba.  Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the mayor’s son and close co-worker in the struggle, offered himself as a candidate. Sounding like his father, Antar said, “I believe that even though my father was a great man, this journey was never about an individual. It is, was about the people — so the people’s platform and the people’s will still need to be heard.” (quoted in Final Call, op.cit.)  The youthful and serious Antar was defeated in a close race in which, at the last minute, a number of conservative Black ministers, seemingly in concert, swung the election to Antar Lumumba’s opponent. But the young man seems determined to continue in the struggle, which is very encouraging.

Finally, now that most of the fiftieth anniversary marches and celebrations have been completed, it is all the more clear that, “the Afro-American liberation struggle of the 1960’s long ago disappeared in the face of effective psy-war, ‘carrot and stick’ policies utilized by U.S. imperialism in collaboration with modern revisionism in the international communist movement.” (ibid., p.18)

A year ago I warned that, “The powers that be will not sit idly by and allow the Lumumba Administration to be successful without a fight. The struggle in defense of the new progressive, pro-people, anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist Jackson city administration and the struggle to replicate it elsewhere can only be victorious in the process of building a new militant Afro-American national liberation movement, fighting for ‘Land and State Power in the Black Belt South.’” (ibid., p.18) This too is all the more clear now.

[*See the reprint of the entire article cited above below in this issue.]



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    Revolutionary Organization of Labor (ROL), USA is a revolutionary working class organization that fights for working class power and the elimination of all human exploitation. Ray O’ Light Newsletter is the regular publication of ROL, USA. We believe, with comrade Lenin, that the working class “... needs the truth and there is nothing so harmful to its cause as plausible, respectable petty bourgeois lies.” In the spirit of Karl Marx who taught that “our theory is not a dogma but a guide to action,” we welcome your comments.

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