Thoughts on Constructing Urban Base Areas: Part I
A cursory or passing familiarity with the concrete conditions of the United States leads one to assert with confidence that urban/suburban/semi-suburban/semi-rural base areas will be the “name of the game” so to speak in our revolutionary context. There isn’t going to be any recreation of the Jinggangshan base area founded by Mao Zedong, where we all congregate in a scantily or not at all populated hinterland, at least not at the beginning. The initial base areas will be at least partly in built up, developed areas. Better yet, look to places that were once industrialized but have been gutted by neoliberalism. Or, areas that are in parts of the South and West that never saw massive industrialization in the first place. The first category — places like Gary, Indiana, East Saint Louis, Detroit, Allentown PA. Your Rust Belt cities are where the lowest and deepest masses can be found and, by and large, these cities have been glanced over by the revisionist and reformist left. City services have been gutted, police are hopelessly corrupt, trash stacks up for so long that the only recourse is to burn it. These are areas where there is very little wool over the eyes of the masses, where the contradictions of capitalism are sharpest, and where the masses are not just rapidly lumpenizing workers but are largely of oppressed nationality as well. Furthermore, the youth of these areas by and large do not fear armed struggle and revolutionary violence, considering that they have not had petit bourgeois training in pitiful pacifism and seen their politics degenerate down to soft reformist and revisionist levels. Base areas are secured and developed by armed struggle and armed struggle alone in the final analysis.
Revolutionaries working in these areas should avoid pretensions or coming on too heavy with rhetoric. You will never get a mass base. Standing on a corner chanting about things going on halfway around the world when the masses don’t have clean water to drink and are being murdered by pigs in their communities right now will result in you being laughed at or considered just another band of street preachers and lunatics on the local scene. It is necessary to hang out where the masses hang out. If you’ve just moved to an area get to know your neighbors and establish a reputation for yourself as a helpful and genuine person, free of arrogance and pretension. If you see someone in need of assistance with a task, help them. Mao taught that everything we do is propaganda. Every word from our mouths and every action we take is propaganda and to ensure that our Maoism leaves a good taste in the mouths of the masses we must be useful to them from the very beginning. Make friends in every circle. Talk to people. If you can not make friends with the people and get them to open up to you, they will not trust you wandering around talking about armed struggle.
Engage in social investigation and class analysis. This means find out the basic class character of your apartment complex, your block, your neighborhood, and your city as a whole. Who are friends? Who are enemies? Who can be won over? Who can’t be won over? Who are the main employers? Can you get a job there? Who is advanced politically, who is in the middle, and who is backward? What can you work with people on, tactically? Who should you be building with strategically? These are questions that every organizer should ask themselves. You can only do SICA by going among the people every day. Get a cheap pack of cigarettes if you’re a smoker and have them ready. They’re good icebreakers even if they kill you in the long run. Go to meetings. Hang out at popular spots and soak up and engage in conversation. This is how you really pick up on what problems are in your area and the other questions you should be asking. Learn how to use public transport even if you have a personal vehicle. In urban areas, the lowest and deepest masses ride the bus and train. Make friends with your coworkers. Visit their homes and invite them to yours. All of this is essential to build your personal network and base of organizing contacts. Without this, the question of building a base area is settled against you from the get go. Without people, we are nothing.
We’ve already said that base areas are secured by armed force. It is essential to keep this in the front of your mind. This does not mean go out and try to provoke a fight and bring the police into the community from the very beginning. In many cases, they are already there, killing people, and if people realize that whenever you show up, the cops follow right behind you and start fucking with people, they are going to rightfully avoid you as a shit disturber. Most people are not going to be ready to fight, physically, the police. The masses do not want to go to prison for assaulting a police officer. Unless you have a bond network or are in a really really unique circumstance, cool it on that shit. That day will come, when people don’t give a shit about prison or jail and are hardened proletarian fighters who do not fear death or prison. That day is not right now in many places. It is essential to build steadily and painstakingly to the point where the masses, not just you alone, are ready to confront physically the enemy in the community. A picket of a store that sells garbage products and drugs, a mass demand delivery to a landlord, a militant demo against an eviction. Do these things frequently and get victories from them. Bolster the confidence of the masses in their own power. Recruit them and have things that you can point to that bolster their pride and faith in themselves. Draw ever more people into your network. Demonstrate in practice the power of the people. Develop new mass and intermediate organizations, for example militant women’s groups, militant queer groups, militant tenant unions. These things should be guided by the advanced but shouldn’t be dictatorially ran. They must have lives of their own and should be able to function without the initiator being eternally present. More real mass organizations, less “generated organisms” that are really front groups of people wearing the same hats. As actions become more and more militant, begin to train and arm trusted members. Not just with firearms (please be aware of laws in your area regarding these so that you don’t get people killed), but with all manner of things. Knives, machetes, metal bars, sticks. All of these can be had for cheap. If you are in a state that has permitless carry laws, you should take advantage of it. Remember once again where political power comes from. Furthermore, be aware of basic common sense with weapons. These are things that get people decades in prison. If you are a convicted felon or have convicted felons working with you, you or they should not have a weapon in your possession or reach if there is a chance you will be coming into contact with the police. Do not put a pistol in your pocket and go to a picket where you may be arrested.
Finally, be aware that working with the masses in urban areas, you are going to hear some fucked up and goofy shit. Ideological development is uneven. People can be progressive on the need to wage militant struggle against police but can be homophobes. People embrace all sorts of metaphysical horseshit to address the bullshit they face in life. Haranguing people and calling them college words is not going to transform them. It’s going to make them loath the shit out of you. Patient and careful struggle is what transforms people. Humble yourself and don’t act like you’re in a lecture hall.