A Socialist Southern Strategy in Jackson

The Mal­colm X Cen­ter for Self Deter­mi­na­tion, Opened in Jack­son, MS in the 1980s by The New Afrikan People’s Orga­ni­za­tion

We know that the lit­er­al mean­ing of the word Utopia is no-place. It dou­bles as a word mean­ing a per­fect world. Appro­pri­ate­ly, the Latin Amer­i­can lit­er­ary giant, Eduar­do Galeano, who came from the con­ti­nent which has gift­ed the world so many of this and last century’s attempts to reach the unreach­able, gave us the very best spin on the word. Utopia lay always “at the hori­zon.” “What then, is the pur­pose of utopia?” Galeano asked. “It is to cause us to walk.”1

Utopia, Galeano knew, was nowhere, except in our dreams. It was a rever­ie. In con­trast to the no-place of Utopia, strug­gle is ter­res­tri­al. It starts some­where, and advances else­where, but is always ground­ed in place, even if with eyes fixed on the far hori­zon. This root­ed­ness has often been a line of divi­sion between left­ists in the Glob­al North and South – whether the place in ques­tion is that of nation, land, or ecol­o­gy. The agrar­i­an ques­tion, the envi­ron­men­tal ques­tion, and the nation­al ques­tion are only dis­en­tan­gled with dif­fi­cul­ty, and often only in thought. In the Glob­al South, strug­gle often inter­weaves them into one piece of his­tor­i­cal cloth. Where does a nation­al ques­tion of lib­er­at­ing the land end and the agrar­i­an ques­tion of land redis­tri­b­u­tion begin? Where does equi­table land dis­tri­b­u­tion end and sus­tain­able farm­ing begin? And where does the fight for sus­tain­able farm­ing end and the fight for nation­al con­trol over farm­ing tech­nolo­gies, macro-eco­nom­ic archi­tec­ture, and, increas­ing­ly, farm­land itself begin?

The dif­fer­ent but mutu­al­ly con­sti­tu­tive his­tor­i­cal tra­jec­to­ries of the North and the South have pro­duced a num­ber of the­o­ret­i­cal ten­sions, which I here present as a series of hypo­sta­tized oppo­si­tions. Nation ver­sus class as the sub­ject of his­to­ry. Land ver­sus labor as the tar­get of lib­er­a­tion. Pro­duc­tivist indus­tri­al­iza­tion ver­sus sus­tain­able tech­nics as the means for cre­at­ing a free soci­ety.2

When debates touch­ing on these ten­sions occur – Prometheanism ver­sus peas­ant agro-ecol­o­gy, indus­tri­al agri­cul­ture ver­sus a peas­ant project,3 anti-envi­ron­men­tal­ism ver­sus polit­i­cal ecol­o­gy4, growth ver­sus degrowth – they remain at log­ger­heads.5 More often, they sim­ply do not occur. Their scarci­ty, and the inabil­i­ty to arrive at uni­ty-in-dif­fer­ence, are, I think, most­ly due to attempts to uni­ver­sal­ize from the Glob­al North. A cen­tu­ry and a half of fos­sil-cap­i­tal­ist impe­ri­al­ism has set the stage for what Zak Cope calls a “divid­ed world, divid­ed class.”6 The social topog­ra­phy of the world-sys­tem is so uneven, its heights so high and depths so low, that there is a great dif­fi­cul­ty for many in the North even to hear the voic­es, say, of the small Cos­ta Rican cof­fee-farm­ers strug­gling to sow and har­vest a sus­tain­able poly­cul­ture, demand­ing states which sup­port them, agrar­i­an reforms to give them more land, juridi­cal pro­tec­tion from transna­tion­al seed and chem­i­cal com­pa­nies foist­ing unwant­ed inputs upon them, and the cat­e­gor­i­cal end to the anthro­pogenic cli­mate change which may make their world unliv­able.7 And of course, in the back­ground of such dis­tance is the petro­le­um-fueled attempt to dis­solve the US agrar­i­an ques­tion.8 But nev­er­the­less, and against the urbanophiles who con­sid­er the peas­antry a dying class in the Glob­al South, the agrar­i­an ques­tion remains cen­tral.9 Of course, the indige­nous-colo­nial ques­tion, the US’s orig­i­nary sin, is in its way an agrar­i­an ques­tion, as well as the nation­al ques­tion. But pre­cise­ly because the set­tling of the US was the great prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion which sought to clear the ground for US cap­i­tal­ism, the ongo­ing strug­gle for decol­o­niza­tion has always been an uneasy vis­i­tor to North­ern anti-sys­temic thought.

It is of no sur­prise that in the lands occu­pied by the Unit­ed States, Black rad­i­cals have been the ones to intro­duce or push major ele­ments of Glob­al South strug­gles, in terms of the­o­ry and prac­tice – espe­cial­ly around the tri­ad of land, nation, and the spe­cif­ic eco­log­i­cal ques­tion of sus­tain­able farm­ing. In their posi­tions on both inter­nal Black self-deter­mi­na­tion and self-deter­mi­na­tion for oth­er peo­ples, they have raised the nation­al ques­tion and its rela­tion­ship with a ter­ri­to­r­i­al land base. This has been vis­i­ble in sup­port for anti-impe­ri­al­ism – espe­cial­ly anti-Zion­ism as artic­u­lat­ed through Mal­colm X and the Black Pan­ther Par­ty – and nation­al­ism as an expres­sion of and con­tri­bu­tion to anti-impe­ri­al­ist strug­gle. Black rad­i­cals have cease­less­ly orga­nized and the­o­rized in sol­i­dar­i­ty with and draw­ing inspi­ra­tion from the Glob­al South. Such inter­change has also been vis­i­ble in the fusion of the land ques­tion and the eco­log­i­cal ques­tion as it emerges through farm­ing, made con­crete in the exper­i­ments with land acqui­si­tion of the Black nation­alisms of the 1970s and 1980s and bloom­ing strug­gles for food jus­tice and food sov­er­eign­ty from Oak­land to Detroit. These have all been exam­ples of how spa­tial­ly Glob­al North strug­gles have raised log­ics of strug­gle much more preva­lent in the Glob­al South. This is so because his­tor­i­cal­ly exclud­ed and sub­ju­gat­ed African-descend­ed peo­ples have so often con­cep­tu­al­ized them­selves as an exten­sion of the Glob­al South, forcibly uproot­ed and placed in the set­tler-lands of the Glob­al North.

In our moment, ques­tions and quan­daries of land, rev­o­lu­tion­ary nation­al­ism, the fric­tions and con­ver­gences of strug­gle in the core and the periph­ery, and final­ly what forms of strug­gle – in the most lit­er­al sense – can make a world big enough for every­one, find one of their most vivid and inspir­ing con­tem­po­rary exper­i­ments in Jack­son, Mis­sis­sip­pi. There, the orga­niz­ing of Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son, which has sought to build polit­i­cal pow­er, eco­nom­ic auton­o­my, and eco-social­ism, invites us to con­sid­er sim­mer­ing ques­tions of tran­si­tion, orga­ni­za­tion, and strat­e­gy as they exist today. The pub­li­ca­tion of Jack­son Ris­ing, a book on their ongo­ing strug­gles, allows us to do so in the spir­it of polit­i­cal exper­i­men­ta­tion and the utopi­an vision nec­es­sary for this task.

Jackson Rising and Models

Much of the book – a hybrid strat­e­gy guide, man­i­festo, and move­ment his­to­ry in real-time – is flush with descrip­tions of what Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son is doing in their bid to change the world. It is rich with ref­er­ences to the Mon­drag­on Exper­i­ment in the Basque Coun­try, Ker­ala, and the Latin Amer­i­can exper­i­ments. It is a blue­print, based par­tial­ly on oth­er build­ings.

Marx and Engels did noto­ri­ous­ly cau­tion against such sketch­es, a warn­ing engraved in much left­ist thought. But those two were of their time. They wrote against a Utopi­an Social­ism which sought to side­step the strug­gle for utopia. Our moment is long on strug­gles, short on utopias, and short­er still on plans to depart as opposed to just resist cur­rent dystopias. If any­thing, dis­dain and dis­en­chant­ment for exist­ing paths to utopia suf­fus­es major sec­tors of the Marx­ist tra­di­tion, gummed up in men­tal con­structs of bureau­crat­ic ren­tier pet­rostates, state-cap­i­talisms, or econ­o­mistic, polit­i­cal­ly-blind coop­er­a­tives. One cost of this turn away from the strug­gle for utopia is that we have few­er tools which would help us con­crete­ly pose ques­tions of just social and eco­log­i­cal tran­si­tions in the US con­text.

Indeed, such exper­i­ments, from the Ker­alan social-wel­fare sys­tem to the Mon­drag­on co-ops, some­times seem real but pet­ri­fied – secur­ing some dig­ni­ty for their ben­e­fi­cia­ries, but no longer capa­ble of giv­ing his­to­ry a push. But there is some­thing lack­ing in such a view­point. Such insti­tu­tions are what have come of peo­ple try­ing to change the world, the insti­tu­tion­al crys­tal­liza­tion of strug­gle. If they have only put the brake on his­to­ry hard enough to par­tial­ly slow the train of destruc­tion, they have not done dif­fer­ent­ly than any of the great twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry rev­o­lu­tions, or most of those which are ongo­ing in Latin Amer­i­ca in the twen­ty-first. So maybe they should again be placed on the palette we use to paint our own men­tal pic­tures of medi­um-scale rev­o­lu­tion.

Exper­i­ments with mutu­al aid or self-man­aged pro­duc­tion bloom on small scales in places like Philadel­phia where the Philly Social­ists’ blend of ESL class­es and com­mu­ni­ty gar­den­ing. Or the brake-lights pro­grams of some chap­ters of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca – amidst con­sid­er­able con­tempt and fric­tion from the ossi­fied social-demo­c­ra­t­ic old guard. But a just tran­si­tion to a sus­tain­able and egal­i­tar­i­an soci­ety, start­ing from the iron­bound struc­tures of an advanced indus­tri­al econ­o­my, rais­es tremen­dous, very close to unthink­able obsta­cles vis-à-vis vision, strat­e­gy, and social base. How much indus­try can we have, and how can we reduce its car­bon foot­print? Can or should peo­ple in the US return to farm­ing? Can the elec­tric­i­ty infra­struc­ture be de-car­boni­fied and de-com­mod­i­fied? What is the appro­pri­ate scale – Kirk­patrick Sale’s biore­gions, in which bio­ta, land­scapes, and water­shed struc­ture polit­i­cal scale?10 Or John Friedmann’s agropoli­tan dis­tricts – the small­est units capa­ble of pro­vid­ing for the basic needs of their inhab­i­tants?11 How to weigh and bal­ance city and coun­try­side, indus­try and agri­cul­ture? How even to begin to form just answers to such ques­tions in a world malde­vel­oped by eco­log­i­cal impe­ri­al­ism, the costs of “devel­op­ment” dumped so freely on the poor?12 How to pose ques­tions of tran­si­tion amidst and against the strate­gic choic­es of con­quest of state pow­er ver­sus dual-pow­er ver­sus autonomous build­ing-from-below?

Answers to these ques­tions exist in the mod­els of the Glob­al South – they are real­ly exper­i­ments, because there are no mod­els – but less so in the Glob­al North. And it will take end­less tin­ker­ing, exper­i­ment­ing, flour­ish­ing, and fail­ure just to get start­ed on the path to an equi­table tran­si­tion in the North. And the day is get­ting late! So, maybe we need to wor­ry less now about the risks of pen­ning blue­prints, and not wor­ry at all about fresh attempts to draw upon, slice up, mix and match the expe­ri­ences of the past and present alike.

Enter this book, the sto­ry of Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son, a strug­gle on the US left that draws freely on past and present lessons and loss­es. It has no par­al­lel of which I know. On that basis alone, it is not so much that this is an odd doc­u­ment – there is noth­ing odd about the book. It is more that it is so very dif­fer­ent than the dole­ful pes­simism tint­ing far too dark­ly dom­i­nant lens­es used to view past and present attempts to change the world that it sur­pris­es slight­ly the read­er.

Jack­son Ris­ing: The Strug­gle for Eco­nom­ic Democ­ra­cy and Black Self-Deter­mi­na­tion in Jack­son, Mis­sis­sip­pi

For who else dreams so big, with such seri­ous, com­mit­ted, grass­roots urgency? Who else tries to weave togeth­er coop­er­a­tive eco­nom­ics with eco-social­ism, to draw togeth­er Zap­atista-style, Boli­var­i­an, and Mon­drag­on-inspired self-man­age­ment, co-ops, and con­stituent assem­blies, with food sov­er­eign­ty, and calls for nation­al and inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty? Who else has mapped out the social land­scape on which to wage such a strug­gle? Who else has laid out a strat­e­gy to get from here to there? Such rhetor­i­cal ques­tions are not accu­sa­tions. They are only meant to high­light how much work there is to do, and what this book offers for any­one think­ing about what kind of work needs to be done and how to do it. We must start some­where. Start­ing some­where means start­ing with an idea of our des­ti­na­tion, draft­ing the engi­neer­ing dia­grams, and then build­ing the polit­i­cal-eco­nom­ic vehi­cle to get from here to there.

History

The plan did not come from nowhere. Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son, the experiment’s pro­duc­tive core, emerged from a long his­to­ry of rad­i­cal Black nation­al­ism. At least one lin­eage of this way of think­ing was Har­ry Haywood’s Black Belt the­sis.13 This idea emerged organ­i­cal­ly as part-and-par­cel of the broad­er nation­al-colo­nial ques­tion, in which nations – in this case, the Black peo­ples of the south­east­ern states of the US – had the right to self-deter­mi­na­tion. Self-deter­mi­na­tion was premised on a line of dif­fer­ence between peo­ples, rais­ing the ques­tion of auton­o­my and who con­sti­tutes the polit­i­cal sub­ject demand­ing auton­o­my. Self-deter­mi­na­tion is ter­ri­to­ri­al­ly bound – it occurs on a land-mass. The nation­al-colo­nial question’s rad­i­cal edge was formed by its capac­i­ty to shat­ter the polit­i­cal chains bind­ing colony to metro­pole. It was an anti-impe­r­i­al strug­gle, and rad­i­cal for that rea­son.

But impe­ri­al­ism, and cap­i­tal­ism, have also, or per­haps always, con­cerned them­selves with zero-sum strug­gles over land. Land was the basis of a flur­ry of social and anti-colo­nial rev­o­lu­tions: from France to Rus­sia, from Chi­na to Alge­ria. In the words of Mal­colm X, “Rev­o­lu­tion is based on land. Land is the basis of all inde­pen­dence. Land is the basis of free­dom, jus­tice, and equal­i­ty.”14 Land dur­ing the hey­day of anti-colo­nial nation­al lib­er­a­tion was the ter­ri­to­r­i­al basis for auton­o­my and free­dom from the empires’ expan­sion­ary threat. The New Afrikan Inde­pen­dence Move­ment (NAIM), found­ed in 1968, car­ried that insight for­ward and brought it to the impe­r­i­al heart­lands. Explic­it­ly draw­ing on Mal­colm X, it endorsed land as the basis for peo­ple to be “mas­ters of our own des­tiny” as well as the Black Belt The­sis, in which a swathe of south­ern states from South Car­oli­na to Louisiana would be the land-base for a New Afri­ka.15

In the 1970s in Detroit, the Pro­vi­sion­al Gov­ern­ment of the Repub­lic of New Afri­ka, which emerged from NAIM, looked for a place where they could pur­chase land. They did so in Mis­sis­sip­pi, break­ing through a phys­i­cal bar­ri­cade to arrive at their plot. There the cry, “Free the Land” emerged. Chok­we Lumum­ba, Jackson’s for­mer may­or, was one of that movement’s lead­ers. As his daugh­ter, Rakia Lumum­ba, relates, the say­ing “embod­ies the under­stand­ing that crit­i­cal to people’s abil­i­ty to exer­cise human rights, is their abil­i­ty to exer­cise self-deter­mi­na­tion and gov­er­nance of ter­ri­to­ry.”16 That slo­gan and the idea of self-deter­mi­na­tion con­verge into the agrar­i­an ques­tion as Fanon and Cabral framed it – land as the irre­ducible basis for a peo­ple to con­trol their lives and take hold of society’s pro­duc­tive forces, along­side the need not mere­ly for juridi­cal own­er­ship but polit­i­cal con­trol over that land.17

In 1984, Lumum­ba broke with the NAIM to found the New Afrikan People’s Orga­ni­za­tion, which argued land “con­sti­tutes the mate­r­i­al basis upon which we can exer­cise our col­lec­tive will.”18 It went on to estab­lish the Mal­colm X Grass­roots Move­ment (MXGM) as its wing for polit­i­cal action and mass work.19 Mul­ti­ple streams then came togeth­er into Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son. First was the Jack­son branch of the MXGM. It did base work in the area. It built up youth pro­grams and helped hun­dreds of young peo­ple to make it to col­lege. After­wards, orga­niz­ers in Jack­son helped thou­sands of sur­vivors of Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na. As Chok­we Lumum­ba notes, “We lit­er­al­ly sent tons of mate­r­i­al aid to Gulf Coast sur­vivors of Kat­ri­na, and we cre­at­ed polit­i­cal pro­grams, polit­i­cal projects, and polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions in order to fight the abus­es that the Kat­ri­na res­i­dents were suf­fer­ing.”20 MXGM also facil­i­tat­ed a survivor’s assem­bly to aid New Orleans res­i­dents.

New Orleans and Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na were cru­cial in mul­ti­ple ways. The dis­as­ter led both to height­ened abus­es of New Orleans’ Black com­mu­ni­ties as well as brief nation­al atten­tion towards them. After this apoc­a­lypse, there was talk about it being a “wake-up call” that would put envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice on the agen­da. That’s exact­ly what hap­pened among those whom Kat­ri­na hit hard­est. As Lumum­ba not­ed, “we lat­er decid­ed that we would cre­ate an assem­bly for our­selves in order to advance our polit­i­cal objec­tives, so we wouldn’t wind up in a sit­u­a­tion like the folks did down in New Orleans and oth­er parts of the Gulf Coast.”21 Enter the Jack­son People’s Assem­bly and the Jack­son-Kush Plan.

Here Jack­son Ris­ing skates a bit quick­ly over a cru­cial moment where analy­sis of the ter­rain of strug­gle and threat, strat­e­gy, and vision come togeth­er. Huge por­tions of the Black pop­u­la­tion live in the South, with many pop­u­la­tion cen­ters below sea-lev­el. Anthro­pogenic cli­mate change, the mak­er of ris­ing seas and cat­a­stroph­ic storm surges, makes floods more like­ly. This is not sim­ply sta­tis­ti­cal prob­a­bil­i­ty but the near-past and present which unfolds in front of our eyes. Some now pre­dict that the poor­er coun­ties of the US, dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly in the Black Belt, will expe­ri­ence cli­mat­i­cal­ly-induced aus­ter­i­ty by century’s end.22 They are already expe­ri­enc­ing it, too. Unplanned munic­i­pal sprawl and the Promethean delu­sion of destroy­ing wet­lands and fan­ta­siz­ing – hal­lu­ci­nat­ing – to dom­i­nate nature with end­less and end­less­ly expen­sive con­crete lev­ee sys­tems led to the destruc­tion of New Orleans and more recent­ly, parts of Hous­ton. These south­ern states’ acute vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to anthro­pogenic glob­al warm­ing also speaks to how Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son pos­es prob­lems in the US set­tler-state which are typ­i­cal­ly and sooth­ing­ly, if not numb­ing­ly, imag­ined as those of the Glob­al South. Cli­mate refugees, islands threat­ened with del­uges and sub­mer­sion in the Pacif­ic, and soon-to-be under­wa­ter deltas in South Asia are what the envi­ron­men­tal­ism of the poor in the Glob­al South con­fronts as ques­tions of sur­vival or anni­hi­la­tion.23 Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son rais­es them in a part of the North tied by his­to­ry, ances­try, racism, and pover­ty to the Glob­al South. Ecoso­cial­ism as the response to those threats is an ide­ol­o­gy, which, when fleshed out in a pro­gram, is a frame­work for com­mu­ni­ty, work­ing-class, and per­haps glob­al sur­vival.

Tak­ing account of this fact after Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na was an explic­it part of Coop­er­a­tion Jackson’s strat­e­gy. But it is a lit­tle more mut­ed in the book than it is in the strug­gle and its ped­a­gogy as it unfolds in Mis­sis­sip­pi. This is a bit of a missed oppor­tu­ni­ty. For Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son may be doing some­thing unique – at least in the US. The storms slic­ing across the South are not only of our grand­chil­dren, in cli­matog­ra­ph­er James Hansen’s phrase.24 They are our storms. And not just of the South but also the US’s North, as Hur­ri­cane Sandy proved. If we do not want more or we wish to ride them out, we had bet­ter do some­thing. So, what do we do? In the slo­gan of Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son, we build and fight, fight and build.

The Jackson-Kush Plan

Based on their assess­ment that a coher­ent devel­op­men­tal alter­na­tive and a path to reach it was need­ed, MXGM draft­ed the Jack­son-Kush Plan, which ought to be required read­ing for any­one con­cerned with US-based orga­niz­ing. This remark­able blue­print, includ­ed in Jack­son Ris­ing, offers some­thing uncom­mon in our move­ments and our moment: long-run strate­gic think­ing, link­ing base-build­ing to a project for per­ma­nent social change.

Why Jack­son, and why the South­east? They argue that the region has nev­er been heav­i­ly indus­tri­al­ized. Instead of a labor force with a past or present rela­tion­ship with indus­tri­al union­ism, this area has been pri­mar­i­ly a site of resource extrac­tion along­side the super-exploita­tion of labor. In their analy­sis, cap­i­tal has shift­ed from a peri­od of need­ing Black work­ers as work­ers – as it did dur­ing the slave trade, in the post-bel­lum peri­od of share­crop­ping or oth­er­wise cheap­ened agri­cul­tur­al labor. The geo­graph­i­cal map­ping of pow­er rela­tions and Mis­sis­sip­pi as a weak link in US cap­i­tal­ism dove­tails with a need for the Black pop­u­la­tion to set up a strat­e­gy to break with the log­ic of cap­i­tal and its deval­u­a­tion of Black lives.25

Jack­son was where MXGM, the ini­tia­tor of Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son, thought that “a project like ours can maneu­ver and exper­i­ment with­in in the quest to build a viable anti-cap­i­tal­ist alter­na­tive.”26 They aim to set in motion eco­log­i­cal­ly sound indus­tri­al­iza­tion, first in Jack­son, then “the Kush dis­trict, and even­tu­al­ly the whole of Mis­sis­sip­pi,” and all along not build­ing any­thing for the work­ing class but work­ing with, with­in, and among the work­ing class “through the agency of its own autonomous orga­ni­za­tions.”27 Here it is worth high­light­ing that Coop­er­a­tion Jackson’s Black autonomous orga­niz­ing is that not mere­ly of nation but also of class.

We can under­stand the first of Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son’ four goals in these terms: “to place the own­er­ship and con­trol over the pri­ma­ry means of pro­duc­tion direct­ly in the hands of the Black work­ing class of Jack­son.” Means of pro­duc­tion start with the land and nature’s gifts, con­trol over the trans­for­ma­tion of pri­ma­ry prod­ucts into goods and ser­vice, and ener­gy pro­duc­tion. Here it seems to me that Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son goes beyond a ques­tion of nation­al lib­er­a­tion under­stood as erect­ing a polit­i­cal-ter­ri­to­r­i­al state as a con­tain­er and basis for self-deter­mi­na­tion. The lessons of the anti-colo­nial rev­o­lu­tions meld with notions of self-man­age­ment as the core of social­ism and a just tran­si­tion: “A pop­u­la­tion or peo­ple that does not have access to and con­trol over these means and process­es can­not be said to pos­sess or exer­cise self-deter­mi­na­tion.”28 Self-deter­mi­na­tion is not just a claim to ter­ri­to­r­i­al sov­er­eign­ty, but also about pop­u­lar con­trol over the pro­duc­tion which unfurls with­in any set of lands.

Ecoso­cial­ism emerges through rework­ing “process­es of mate­r­i­al exchange and ener­gy trans­fer,” and more specif­i­cal­ly, “dis­tri­b­u­tion, con­sump­tion, and recy­cling and/or refuse.”29 Means of pro­duc­tion are not just things, but also process­es in dynam­ic inter­ac­tion with the non-human world. Thus, the sec­ond plank is to “to build and advance the devel­op­ment of the eco­log­i­cal­ly regen­er­a­tive forces of pro­duc­tion in Jack­son, Mis­sis­sip­pi.” They speak of an autonomous and mobi­lized work­ing class as the agent of devel­op­ment and chart­ing a devel­op­men­tal strat­e­gy that regen­er­ates and restores rather than razes and ruins the ecol­o­gy and the envi­ron­ment. This, in turn, is part of a demo­c­ra­t­ic trans­for­ma­tion of “the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of the city of Jack­son, the state of Mis­sis­sip­pi, and the south­east­ern region.”30

These prin­ci­ples take on pro­gram­mat­ic form in the dense net­work which Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son is try­ing to build. First, the local coop­er­a­tives. Sec­ond, a coop­er­a­tive incu­ba­tor. Third, a coop­er­a­tive school and train­ing cen­ter. And fourth, a coop­er­a­tive union and bank. This last com­po­nent is cru­cial, because cap­i­tal is nec­es­sary for sys­tem­at­ic and har­mo­nized devel­op­ment. We are accus­tomed to think­ing of cap­i­tal as the monop­oly of the wealthy. This has truth. But cap­i­tal also exists in banks, and banks have cap­i­tal in part because they have depos­i­tors. Cred­it unions need not use their cap­i­tal for stock-mar­ket spec­u­la­tion or bond pur­chas­es. They could equal­ly use it to sup­port com­mu­ni­ties and munic­i­pal­i­ties like Jack­son try­ing to take con­trol of their pro­duc­tive future. Although, it must be not­ed that that such a stage can only be inter­me­di­ary, giv­en that cur­ren­cy itself is a tool of cap­i­tal­ist dom­i­na­tion. Hence part of Coop­er­a­tion Jackson’s ped­a­gogy involves dis­cus­sion and inter­est in alter­na­tive- or cryp­to-cur­ren­cies, as tech­nolo­gies use­ful for break­ing with that tool of con­trol.31

Food sov­er­eign­ty is anoth­er cen­tral thread. Pop­u­lar and work­ing-class con­trol over the food sys­tem has long been an ambi­tion across the Glob­al South, and in areas in the Glob­al North which have faced the harsh­est attacks of US cap­i­tal­ism. Amidst aggres­sive alien­ation of labor, and pop­u­la­tions increas­ing­ly periph­er­al­ized to the reserve army of labor, urban gar­dens are pop­u­lar. Amidst suburbanization’s after­math and the gut­ting of met­ro­pol­i­tan tax bases, brown­fields and under­used space pock poor­er US cities. Putting them to use to grow healthy food makes good sense. It makes bet­ter sense amidst endem­ic unem­ploy­ment. This might annoy Uni­ver­sal Basic Income advo­cates who think we should pass life in sun-dap­pled mead­ows dis­cussing Aris­to­tle and aes­thet­ics while machines do every­thing. In the real world machines cost mon­ey and gob­ble up mate­r­i­al. And some­thing must be done in the here-and-now about insuf­fi­cient access to good food and struc­tur­al unem­ploy­ment, to say noth­ing of peo­ples’ desire for unalien­at­ed, social­ly pro­duc­tive work in which we can take pride.

Fur­ther­more, access to food for the hun­gry has also been a sta­ple of Black inde­pen­dent orga­niz­ing at least since the Black Pan­thers’ free break­fast pro­gram in Oak­land close to 50 years ago. Lack of access to good, healthy food in poor Black neigh­bor­hoods has been struc­tur­al. This has giv­en rise to the diag­no­sis of food deserts – the book uses the much more polit­i­cal­ly charged and exact indict­ment of food apartheid – where fresh food is either scarce­ly avail­able or tremen­dous­ly expen­sive due to retail-lev­el markups. Nutri­tion-relat­ed dis­eases are high­er in these com­mu­ni­ties than else­where. Against this back­ground, Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son includes a farm-to-gro­cer inte­grat­ed sys­tem. In addi­tion to urban farms, they are cre­at­ing a People’s Gro­cery, and build­ing links with Black farm­ers across Mis­sis­sip­pi. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the pro­gram recalls Brazil’s Fome Cero (Zero Hunger) pro­gram, which links the Land­less Work­ers’ Move­ments pro­duc­tion coop­er­a­tives in the Brazil­ian coun­try­side to state-sup­port­ed pur­chas­ing in urban fave­las.32 Food sov­er­eign­ty is anoth­er way Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son has artic­u­lat­ed – has been forced to artic­u­late – its pro­gram using a lan­guage which is much more the lin­gua fran­ca of peas­ant and urban move­ments in the Glob­al South than in the north­ern metro­pole.

A final aspect of eco-social­ism is remak­ing Jack­son as a zero-emis­sions and zero-waste city by 2025. They aim to do so by chang­ing the city’s tran­sit fleets, expand­ing pub­lic trans­porta­tion, and retro­fitting homes. Munic­i­pal-scale action is cru­cial, as is keep­ing in mind, as the Indi­an econ­o­mist Prab­hat Pat­naik notes, that “the con­cept of infra­struc­ture has a class dimen­sion,” and an eco­log­i­cal dimen­sion.33 Eco-social­ism is the choice to replace car­bon-emit­ting vehi­cles and pri­va­tized taxi fleets with car­bon-neu­tral fleets, pub­lic trans­porta­tion, and zero-car­bon fuel sources. That is a mat­ter of infra­struc­ture. Infra­struc­ture is mat­ter of devel­op­men­tal choice. And devel­op­ment is a site of class strug­gle.

Notes on Industrialization

One aspect of this breath­tak­ing­ly ambi­tious exper­i­ment that mer­its a cer­tain crit­i­cal notice is their engage­ment with indus­tri­al­iza­tion. Before delv­ing into Coop­er­a­tion Jackson’s plans, it’s worth con­sid­er­ing or recon­sid­er­ing the left debate about indus­tri­al­iza­tion. Thir­ty-five-odd years ago, a dia­logue about appro­pri­ate and inap­pro­pri­ate tech­nolo­gies and scale occurred among and out­side those iden­ti­fy­ing as Marx­ists. E.F. Schu­mach­er, Arghiri Emmanuel, Ivan Illich, and Cel­so Fur­ta­do were among the par­tic­i­pants.34 The debate was not so much resolved as it evap­o­rat­ed. This occurred, at least in part, because debates about development’s char­ac­ter col­lapsed with the col­lapse of the USSR. It turned, first, on the costs and ben­e­fits of the rel­a­tive cap­i­tal-inten­si­ty of dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies. Sec­ond, it turned on whether dif­fer­ent tech­nics bet­ter-suit­ed dif­fer­ent social for­ma­tions with dif­fer­ent lev­els of devel­op­ment of their pro­duc­tive forces. The debate devel­oped in a con­text where­in coun­tries large and small, but all far big­ger than Jack­son, encoun­tered mas­sive dif­fi­cul­ties as they attempt­ed to erect indus­tri­al plants. They fur­ther faced ques­tions of the degree to which indus­tri­al­iza­tion was a path to devel­op­ment or sim­ply a mech­a­nism for accu­mu­la­tion. Even many regions which had par­tial­ly suc­cess­ful inter­ludes of indus­tri­al­iza­tion, like Latin America’s South­ern Cone, have faced dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, in part because of exces­sive­ly open economies as rul­ing class­es helm­ing nation­al projects shift­ed ever-more into alliance with inter­na­tion­al cap­i­tal.

Nev­er­the­less, the indus­tri­al ques­tion still lingers in devel­op­men­tal thought and prac­tice. Coop­er­a­tion Jackson’s indus­tri­al ques­tion is not the fools’ cru­sade of indus­tri­al­iza­tion on any terms, as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. Rather, the ques­tion is how much indus­tri­al­iza­tion, on what terms, and how soon – and what indus­tri­al­iza­tion can add to work­ing-class pow­er and auton­o­my, sev­er­ing it from exter­nal depen­dence. For exam­ple, one aspect of indus­tri­al­iza­tion is ener­gy pro­duc­tion. The tran­si­tion to renew­able ener­gy – a pil­lar of their pro­gram – is part of how peo­ple can set to work. Oth­ers fac­ing such ques­tions, such as NUMSA, the South African mine work­ers’ union, have come to sim­i­lar con­clu­sions.35 They have tak­en own­er­ship of the tran­si­tion as part-and-par­cel of the nation­al indus­tri­al strat­e­gy – anoth­er way in which Glob­al North and South con­verge in the think­ing and pro­gram of the Jack­son exper­i­ment and its Black autonomous orga­niz­ing.

Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son, because of Mississippi’s periph­er­al incor­po­ra­tion into the US pro­duc­tive sys­tem, does not face the ques­tion of what to do with an indus­tri­al work­force in the same way oth­er regions of the coun­try might. Its sit­u­a­tion is per­haps like that pre­vail­ing in the swathes of Latin Amer­i­ca and Africa which dein­dus­tri­al­ized, or nev­er indus­tri­al­ized to begin with. In such regions, as in Jack­son, there are huge urban pop­u­la­tions entire­ly out­side pro­duc­tive cir­cuits. Thus, Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son empha­sizes orga­niz­ing the exist­ing ser­vice-based work­force into coop­er­a­tives. Their indus­tri­al pro­gram focus­es on 3-D print­ers and pro­duc­tion for use-val­ue rather than exchange val­ue, seek­ing both to side­step, and in a way tran­scend, ques­tions of light ver­sus heavy indus­tri­al­iza­tion. I am not sure, in fact, if tran­scen­dence is the right word. Brack­et might be more appro­pri­ate, since car­bon-neu­tral cars and the heavy machin­ery for a clean tran­si­tion must come from plants. In any case, I can­not real­ly say if the com­plex tech­nic of print­ers is fea­si­ble. What I find most valu­able, if not invalu­able, about this attempt is that Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son is the only force I know in the US begin­ning to pose the indus­tri­al ques­tion in an ecoso­cial­ist frame­work both pro­gram­mat­i­cal­ly and prac­ti­cal­ly. The bid must be under­stood, placed, and eval­u­at­ed accord­ing­ly. We need many more such exper­i­ments before we can arrive at answers, or even a method of pos­ing ques­tions and eval­u­at­ing the plans which are their answers. Even if Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son suc­ceeds only in seed­ing the idea of eco-social­ist indus­tri­al­iza­tion in a thou­sand fields in the US, that will have been a suc­cess.

Of course, the ques­tion of plan­ning car­ries with it the ques­tion of pow­er – since plans march in par­al­lel with pol­i­cy and pol­i­tics. Indeed, is an indus­tri­al strat­e­gy pos­si­ble with­out the scaf­fold­ing of a sup­port­ing macro-eco­nom­ic frame­work? This ques­tion is par­tial­ly addressed in the Jack­son-Kush Plan itself. So, a sec­ond strik­ing ele­ment of Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son is its explic­it­ly polit­i­cal dimen­sion. If pol­i­tics with­out eco­nom­ic self-deter­mi­na­tion is hol­low, eco­nom­ic coop­er­a­tives with­out a polit­i­cal strat­e­gy and a polit­i­cal shell to orga­nize such coop­er­a­tives can become, in Peter Marcuse’s phrase, “small defen­sive tow­ers in a land­scape not changed by their pres­ence.”36 Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son is attempt­ing both at the same time, under­pinned by a sys­tem of com­mu­nal assem­blies which aim to serve as vehi­cles for pop­u­lar pow­er and pop­u­lar con­trol over deci­sion-mak­ing.

But those assem­blies exist in a fac­tious ten­sion with the ear­li­er deci­sion to take munic­i­pal pow­er. Was it a mis­take to seize pow­er before build­ing up the germs of eco­nom­ic insti­tu­tions that could, by them­selves, change people’s lives and ensure their social pro­duc­tion out­side the state’s ambit? The forces which ini­ti­at­ed Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son elect­ed Chok­we Lumum­ba, and then his son, Antar. The lat­ter is now poised to gov­ern amidst a rip­tide of aus­ter­i­ty from which it may be dif­fi­cult to escape. Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son has a polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion. But their polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion rais­es in turn anoth­er ques­tion: do they have a gov­ern­ing strat­e­gy to endure tak­ing polit­i­cal cred­it, or blame, for hav­ing to over­see, with sharply lim­it­ed maneu­ver­ing room, the Jackson’s worst aus­ter­i­ty? Is one nec­es­sary? The record of left gov­ern­ments under impe­ri­al­ist eco­nom­ic attack is under­stand­ably not pret­ty, because it is not easy to gov­ern aus­ter­i­ty.

In a recent inter­view, Akuno stat­ed that Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son could become the US’s Mon­drag­on. The book frames the strug­gle to reach such a goal as a ques­tion, or an exper­i­ment. That is anoth­er way of say­ing that it frames this effort to change the world as an invi­ta­tion – to crit­i­cal­ly watch but also to direct­ly engage with the issues with which they are engag­ing, and to cre­ate polit­i­cal net­works which can help them resist the attack which will sure­ly come at even the faintest and barest whis­per of suc­cess. In some ways, per­haps it has already come. Will the coop­er­a­tive exper­i­ment weath­er it and beat it back? I would say let us see, but that would miss the point. The answer depends, also, not on what we see, but what we do, and whether we have the col­lec­tive capac­i­ty to muster the resources to defend one of the US’s few exper­i­ments in real utopias. I hope the answer is yes.

Thanks to Lin­da Tigani for dis­cus­sion and cor­rect­ing mis­takes on an ear­li­er draft.


  1. Eduar­do Galeano, Las pal­abras andantes (Buenos Aires, Rep. Argenti­na: Catál­o­gos Edi­to­ra, 1993) Most trans­la­tions of this pas­sage ren­der “cam­i­nar” as “advance”; more poet­ic but also pro­gres­sivist. 

  2. Lewis Mum­ford, “Author­i­tar­i­an and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Tech­nics,” Tech­nol­o­gy and Cul­ture 5, no. 1 (1964): 1–8. 

  3. Philip McMichael, “A Com­ment on Hen­ry Bernstein’s Way with Peas­ants, and Food Sov­er­eign­ty,” Jour­nal of Peas­ant Stud­ies 42, no. 1 (2015): 193–204; Philip McMichael, “Com­men­tary: Food Regime for Thought,” The Jour­nal of Peas­ant Stud­ies 43, no. 3 (2016): 648–670; Har­ri­et Fried­mann, “Com­men­tary: Food Regime Analy­sis and Agrar­i­an Ques­tions: Widen­ing the Con­ver­sa­tion,” The Jour­nal of Peas­ant Stud­ies 43, no. 3 (2016): 671–692; Hen­ry Bern­stein, “Agrar­i­an Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my and Mod­ern World Cap­i­tal­ism: The Con­tri­bu­tions of Food Regime Analy­sis,” The Jour­nal of Peas­ant Stud­ies 43, no. 3 (2016): 611–647. 

  4. Antho­ny Gal­luz­zo, “On The Lat­est Recipes For The Cook­shops of the Future,” accessed May 25, 2018, http://www.academia.edu/17282611/On_The_Latest_Recipes_For_The_Cookshops_of_the_Future. 

  5. Although it did not speak with one voice, with dis­sents from Alyssa Bat­tis­toni and Thea Riofran­cos the main thrust of the Jacobin Sum­mer 2017 spe­cial issue on the envi­ron­ment was basi­cal­ly Promethean; see the many respons­es on the Enti­tle blog, and John Bel­lamy Fos­ter, “The Long Eco­log­i­cal Rev­o­lu­tion,” Month­ly Review 69, no. 6 (2017): 1–16. 

  6. Zak Cope, Divid­ed World, Divid­ed Class: Glob­al Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my and the Strat­i­fi­ca­tion of Labour Under Cap­i­tal­ism (Ker­splebe­deb, 2015). 

  7. Ivette Per­fec­to and John H. Van­der­meer, Cof­fee Agroe­col­o­gy: A New Approach to Under­stand­ing Agri­cul­tur­al Bio­di­ver­si­ty, Ecosys­tem Ser­vices, and Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment (Lon­don ; New York: Rout­ledge, 2015). 

  8. Wen­dell Berry, The Unset­tling of Amer­i­ca: Cul­ture and Agri­cul­ture (San Val, Incor­po­rat­ed, 1996). 

  9. Mike Davis, Plan­et of Slums (Ver­so, 2007) basi­cal­ly paints the slums as where the action is for future glob­al revolt. David Har­vey, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Rev­o­lu­tion (Ver­so Books, 2012), xv notes, for exam­ple, “that the tra­di­tion­al peas­antry was dis­ap­pear­ing and that the rur­al was being urban­ized,” with the result that “the mass of human­i­ty is thus increas­ing­ly being absorbed with­in the fer­ments and cross-cur­rents of urban­ized life.”; cf. my response to these argu­ments Max Ajl, “The Hyper­trophic City ver­sus the Plan­et of Fields,” in Implosions/Explosions. Berlin: Jovis, ed. Neil Bren­ner (Berlin: Jovis, 2014), 533–550. 

  10. Kirk­patrick Sale, Dwellers in the Land: The Biore­gion­al Vision (Uni­ver­si­ty of Geor­gia Press, 2000). 

  11. John Fried­mann, “Basic Needs, Agropoli­tan Devel­op­ment, and Plan­ning from Below,” World Devel­op­ment 7, no. 6 (1979): 607–613. 

  12. John Bel­lamy Fos­ter and Han­nah Holle­man, “The The­o­ry of Unequal Eco­log­i­cal Exchange: A Marx-Odum Dialec­tic,” Jour­nal of Peas­ant Stud­ies 41, no. 2 (2014): 199–233. 

  13. Har­ry Hay­wood, Negro Lib­er­a­tion (Lib­er­a­tor Press, 1976). 

  14. Mal­colm X, Mal­colm X Speaks: Select­ed Speech­es and State­ments (Grove Press, 1965), 9. 

  15. New African Inde­pen­dence Move­ment, “Why We Say Free the Land!,” accessed May 19, 2018, http://www.freedomarchives.org/Documents/Finder/DOC513_scans/NAPO/513.NAPO.NewAfrikanDec.pdf Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son with its empha­sis on the claims of indige­nous peo­ple to the land car­ries out the NAIM prin­ci­ple, “We rec­og­nize the claims of Native Amer­i­cans to this land and will strug­gle side-by-side to help them regain their land. 

  16. Rakia Lumum­ba, “Fore­word: All Roads Lead to Jack­son,” in Jack­son Ris­ing: The Strug­gle for Eco­nom­ic Democ­ra­cy and Black Self-Deter­mi­na­tion in Jack­son, Mis­sis­sip­pi, ed. Kali Akuno and Aja­mu Nang­waya (Dara­ja Press, 2017), xiii. 

  17. Sam Moyo, Praveen Jha, and Paris Yeros, “The Clas­si­cal Agrar­i­an Ques­tion: Myth, Real­i­ty and Rel­e­vance Today,” Agrar­i­an South: Jour­nal of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my 2, no. 1 (2013): 93–119. 

  18. “Found­ing State­ment of the New Afrikan People’s Orga­ni­za­tion,” accessed May 19, 2018, http://www.freedomarchives.org/Documents/Finder/DOC513_scans/NAPO/513.NAPO.NewAfrikanDec.pdf. 

  19. Akinyele Umo­ja, “The Peo­ple Must Decide: Chok­we Lumum­ba, New Black Pow­er, and the Poten­tial for Par­tic­i­pa­to­ry Democ­ra­cy in Mis­sis­sip­pi,” The Black Schol­ar 48, no. 2 (April 3, 2018): 7–19. 

  20. Chok­we Lumum­ba, “Free the Land: An Inter­view with Chok­we Lumum­ba,” in Jack­son Ris­ing: The Strug­gle for Eco­nom­ic Democ­ra­cy and Black Self-Deter­mi­na­tion in Jack­son, Mis­sis­sip­pi, ed. Kali Akuno and Aja­mu Nang­waya (Dara­ja Press, 2017), 131. 

  21. Lumum­ba, 132. 

  22. Solomon Hsiang et al., “Esti­mat­ing Eco­nom­ic Dam­age from Cli­mate Change in the Unit­ed States,” Sci­ence 356, no. 6345 (June 30, 2017): 1362–69, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aal4369. 

  23. Joan Martínez-Alier, The Envi­ron­men­tal­ism of the Poor: A Study of Eco­log­i­cal Con­flicts and Val­u­a­tion (Edward Elgar Pub­lish­ing, 2003). 

  24. James Hansen, Storms of My Grand­chil­dren: The Truth about the Com­ing Cli­mate Cat­a­stro­phe and Our Last Chance to Save Human­i­ty (A&C Black, 2011). 

  25. Kali Akuno, “Until We Win: Black Labor and Lib­er­a­tion in the Dis­pos­able Era,” Sep­tem­ber 4, 2015. 

  26. Kali Akuno, “Build and Fight: The Pro­gram and Strat­e­gy of Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son,” in Jack­son Ris­ing: The Strug­gle for Eco­nom­ic Democ­ra­cy and Black Self-Deter­mi­na­tion in Jack­son, Mis­sis­sip­pi, ed. Kali Akuno and Aja­mu Nang­waya (Dara­ja Press, 2017), 10. 

  27. Akuno, 5. 

  28. Akuno, 3-4. 

  29. Akuno, “Build and Fight: The Pro­gram and Strat­e­gy of Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son,” 4. 

  30. Akuno, 3-4. 

  31. For reflec­tions on alter­na­tive cur­ren­cy sys­tems in the tran­si­tion to eco-social­ism, see Col­in Adrien MacKin­ley Dun­can, The Cen­tral­i­ty of Agri­cul­ture: Between Humankind and the Rest of Nature (McGill-Queen’s Press - MQUP, 1996), 164–77. 

  32. Han­nah Wittman and Jen­nifer Blesh, “Food Sov­er­eign­ty and Fome Zero: Con­nect­ing Pub­lic Food Pro­cure­ment Pro­grammes to Sus­tain­able Rur­al Devel­op­ment in Brazil,” Jour­nal of Agrar­i­an Change 17, no. 1 (Jan­u­ary 1, 2017): 81–105; M. Jahi Chap­pell, Begin­ning to End Hunger: Food and the Envi­ron­ment in Belo Hor­i­zonte, Brazil, and Beyond (Univ of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 2018). 

  33. Prab­hat Pat­naik, “Devel­op­ing ‘Infra­struc­ture,’” Pat­naik, MR Online (blog), Decem­ber 8, 2016, https://mronline.org/2016/12/08/patnaik081216-html/. 

  34. Arghiri Emmanuel, Appro­pri­ate Or Under­de­vel­oped Tech­nol­o­gy? (Wiley, 1982); Ivan Illich, Tools for Con­vivi­al­i­ty (Boyars, 1990); E. F. Schu­mach­er, Small Is Beau­ti­ful: A Study of Eco­nom­ics as If Peo­ple Mat­tered (Ran­dom House, 2011). 

  35. Vish­was Sat­gar, “A Trade Union Approach to Cli­mate Jus­tice: The Cam­paign Strat­e­gy of the Nation­al Union of Met­al­work­ers of South Africa,” Glob­al Labour Jour­nal 6, no. 3 (2015). 

  36. Peter Mar­cuse, “Coop­er­a­tives on the Path to Social­ism?,” Month­ly Review 66, no. 9 (2015): 31. 

Author of the article

is an editor at Jadaliyya and Viewpoint and a member of the International Jewish anti-Zionist Network.