By Adofo Minka

They Are a Myth, They Don’t Exist: Stop Talking About Cooperatives in Jackson, Mississippi

They Are a Myth, They Don’t Exist: Stop Talking About Cooperatives in Jackson, Mississippi

There is a myth that has been spread far and wide, both nationally and internationally, that serious efforts are being made to democratize the economy in Jackson, Mississippi through a solidarity economy that is centered around the building of cooperatives. This is a myth because there could not be anything further from the truth. It has been spread since 2014 when the organization, Cooperation Jackson (CJ) was still in its infancy, following the Jackson Rising Conference hosted in Jackson, Mississippi. Approaching a decade in existence, there are still no functioning cooperatives in Jackson. Visitors have come repeatedly to Jackson to observe the cooperatives, but they either cannot or will not tell the public what they have observed. They rather go along with the myth that a movement is being built for economic democracy in Jackson, an overwhelmingly Black city. There are no cooperatives in Jackson.

The Reality of What Does Exist in Jackson

So, if there are no cooperatives in Jackson, what does exist there? CJ has a community center currently known as the Kuwasi Balagoon Center for Economic Democracy and Development, The Fannie Lou Hamer community land trust, some community gardens, and a fabrication lab. During the time I lived in Jackson (2013–2020) there seemed to be efforts to establish a waste management and recycling cooperative, a security services cooperative, and landscaping cooperative. All of these initiatives are referred to as emerging cooperatives. Emerging meaning that they either don’t exist at all or they marginally exist as non-fully functioning entities. They don’t exist or function because they don’t have a consistent labor force or means of production available. These are rarely more than projections.

On occasion, a handful may have been employed part-time. There are no records or transcripts, or videos available of workers and farmers dialoging or debating who have been toiling together for months or years. There is no record of clashing views or healthy controversy as to what to produce, where to produce, how to produce. Equally important, there is no record of a cooperative laboring force mobilizing against Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s government or placing demands on it.

Is Mayor Lumumba for a solidarity economy? Perhaps. But he is also for Michael Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, the Kellog Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers, Disney… Whoever puts money in his pockets, or that of his supporters, Lumumba is in solidarity. While this has always been a blight on anyone who took seriously that Jackson might be “the most radical city on the planet” — the impending catastrophe is coming near.

Black Capital Accumulation in the Name of Fighting Gentrification

Through foundation funds, CJ has been able to purchase residential and commercial properties in West Jackson. The residential properties are purported to be a part of a Fannie Lou Hamer community land trust, a capital accumulation strategy promoted under the guise of fighting gentrification in overwhelmingly Black West Jackson where many poor Black people reside. The irony in this strategy to accumulate private property is that it mirrors what white developers do but on a smaller scale. Only Cooperation Jackson is doing this in the name of Black empowerment to push back against gentrification in an area marred by blight and crime where property values are low, and property can more readily be purchased by individuals who can weave a story about Black economic self-determination (Black capitalism) and get white foundations to give them money.

What we must understand is that the economic form of cooperatives is no silver bullet solution to address capitalist exploitation. A cooperative is merely a business model and without the proper education about direct democracy and workers self-management, you will still have people who are wage slaves being pushed around.

Yes, worker owners in a cooperative are still wage slaves no matter how much they are inspired by owning, in theory or in part, the workplaces or means of production on which they toil their lives away. From what I have observed in Jackson, the people who work in the “emerging cooperatives” do not have complete control over their own labor and the decisions made in their workplaces. This has been true in many historical moments across the world where there has been a cooperative sector. In theory, those who invest in the land or means of production cannot have more votes than those who work them. In practice, the state and capital or the non-profit bureaucracy, wishes to control and contains labor’s political and organizational initiative besides meeting production goals.

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Weaving Visions for Workers to Produce

Kali Akuno, the main theoretician and peddler of the myth of the existence of cooperatives in Jackson who writes grants outlining certain initiatives that the organization is undertaking, and the workers have to work toward producing something that can at least be remotely related to what Akuno has projected to funders in the cultural apparatus of the state.

Akuno, while well aware and apparently knowledgeable about workers self-management and direct democracy in theory and history, like most Black nationalists and communists he does not wish to see workers govern in Jackson because of a belief that Black people in some ways are damaged as a result of past subordination and degradation under white supremacy. He also believes that capitalism and “scientific socialism” are related, that exploitation of labor is inevitable and neutral in some way. That there can be no “socialism” without capital accumulation. Social change happens by how and for what capital is appropriated. But this is also how land is purchased, buildings are erected, and human necessities are paid for — in a hierarchical capitalist society. This is why there is no worker control of CJ and those who intermittently work in the “emerging cooperatives” are relegated to the role of mere wage earners.

Cooperation Jackson Offers no Real Resistance Locally

Akuno projects ideas like a general strike for empowerment and workers control on a national level, but does not teach and propagate such ideas locally where Black people are to control their workplaces and govern them. One would think CJ, if it believes in workers self-management, would be a tremendous ally to the water and sewage workers in Jackson, Mississippi. Or, if it is against police murder, that the worker cooperatives would mobilize to expose the Black people killed by the Black mayor’s police state.

While offering tepid criticisms of the Lumumba regime intermittently, he has never advocated that workers arrive on their own authority in Jackson. He has periodically hosted popular assemblies where people have not been taught that the assemblies should be developed for ordinary people to govern and control their own lives. This means Akuno follows a model where cooperatives and assemblies should be subordinate to hierarchical government — the mayor’s and his own modest non-profit regime.

Those who are familiar historically and with contemporary efforts to start cooperatives understand that hierarchical government and capitalist schemers have always used certain laws and tax codes to gather capital and subordinate labor with some pretense to a moral philosophy that will transcend alienation. At the same time, there has always been professionals and bureaucrats (and some well-meaning facilitators) who advise toilers what is possible, what they think is not possible. The trouble is when they do something more. The dilemma is when they maintain their authority, legal and economic, over the tools and land gathered. In the name of the public trust, or abroad in the name of nationalized property, workers in cooperatives often are abused and any experiment in self-management must be organized at the expense of bosses who otherwise are seen by society as progressives.

Investigating the Facts and Confronting the Myth Makers

In global history, before the internet age but sadly even now, myths are allowed to persist because across international borders humans really want to believe another world is possible. They wish to feel part of a worldwide movement carrying out experiments in designing a new society. All the more reason we should investigate the facts on the ground of the social experiments we hear about and wish to identify.

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The myth makers surrounding the existence of cooperatives in Jackson, Mississippi must be confronted and the fairytale that people are fighting to democratize the economy in that city must be vanquished. Using non-profit foundations and local laws to gather capital, land and tools, in the name of cooperation and Black self-determination is not a total fraud. It is not any more foolish than those who toil finding workplaces where tools and capital have already been gathered by someone else. However, we must be clear that cooperatives as an experiment in popular self-management begins when workers and farmers toil, gather sweat equity, and try to figure out how not to separate the politics of direct democracy from the need to govern one’s own workplaces cooperatively.

The Value of Workers Speaking for Themselves

It would be an education to the global movement for workers and farmers in these emerging cooperatives, separate from Kali Akuno, to sit down and have a dialogue about the problems of economic production and the challenges to forging independent politics that they have faced. Even four or five people in one cooperative having that discussion would educate us and be of tremendous value. This has not happened because the cooperatives are a myth and do not exist.

The Importance of Clarity in this Historical Moment

Why clarify to the global community of activists that no cooperatives exist in Jackson, Mississippi at this historical moment? First, people abroad whom I respect and take the principles of direct democracy and workers self-management seriously need this account to better understand Black movement politics in the U.S. Second, the recent floods, evacuation, and water crisis in Jackson, and the spread of disinformation and misinformation in corporate media designed to leave Mayor Lumumba’s government blameless, as pressure is put on Governor Tate Reeves and the federal government to provide billions to fix the city-owned water and sewage system, reveals something peculiar. At some point in response to the threat of ecological disaster in the U.S. and the world, those mumbling about a Green New Deal and objecting to neoliberalism, will get their wish on some level, in a compromise with the empire of capital. They never proposed to work to defeat it. Some cities will be designated as post-modern models of urban renewal when financial and industrial capital finally push hierarchical government from behind to fund experiments in building new infrastructure to protect lives and save the planet. CJ is more than a brand that Mayor Lumumba was permitted to ride to power with its vision of a new urban plan for the south that appeared a more democratic and ecological refurbishing of black power. It paved the way for Lumumba to show he could administer a successful police state and contain insurgent rebellion. At some point some Black cities and communities will be “rewarded” with the resources to rebuild their electrical grids, water and sewer systems, etc. This will create jobs and bestow legitimacy on the degenerate Black political class, but certain cities in particular will be designated as showcases. These coming initiatives will make Black capitalists wealthier in the name of diversity in government contracts for businesses that provide services.

Cooperation Jackson and the City’s Water Crisis

It is important not to be led astray by those who may inquire why raise this critique of the total absence of cooperatives in Jackson now? After all isn’t the city rallying to overcome a water crisis at the moment? Look at Cooperation Jackson’s statement on the water crisis; what they call their “demands.” A discerning mind can see clearly the content of this coalition that is gathering.

In response to the 2022 water crisis in Jackson, CJ has made a statement. This is its essence. The federal and state government has plenty of money to rebuild the city water and sewage infrastructure. It should be done using the most contemporary ecologically sound technologies. CJ says the workers of Jackson should be given jobs rebuilding the new infrastructure, and the governments should give at least 50% of the contracts to minority owned firms, so “intergenerational wealth” can be built in Jackson, Mississippi.

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CJ’s idea of “cooperation” is essentially “think and grow rich, a Black choice.” CJ adds the water and sewage infrastructure should remain under the “democratic control of the city of Jackson.” The city is a hierarchy of social classes. Cooperation Jackson offers demands for the Black rich and the Black poor. There will be no business contracts handed out to Black capitalists that are not already wealthy and whom have capacities to mobilize industrial means of production. Does Cooperation Jackson think these Black capitalists, who have been accumulating at the expense of “our people” for years, are an oppressed class in the world?

The city if it will be governed by direct democracy and workers self-management then it will not be governed by the city’s Black capitalists, or Mayor Lumumba’s police state that has killed nine Black people. Nowhere on the CJ website is it acknowledged how many Black people in Jackson have been killed by the city government. CJ apparently thinks the racial disparity in intergenerational wealth is more crucial than how many Black people are killed by the Black led police state.

Imagine if an overwhelmingly majority white cooperative in Vermont or California that claimed to be anarchist, communist, socialist or whatever made demands for both jobs and contracts for capitalists so they could build intergenerational wealth (which is not becoming a mere home owner), they would be laughed out of existence. Openly advocating for Black capitalist development is the common ground of CJ and Mayor Lumumba’s government. They are both hostile to actual direct democratic control. They are building a cooperative vision with the imperial government that they otherwise denounce for show.

Neoliberalism: The Critique of one Form of Capitalism

Cooperation Jackson’s Kali Akuno for some time has been making public criticism of neo-liberalism, one form of capitalism, waiting for a more robust welfare state or public infrastructure sector, many mistakenly or opportunistically call “socialism,” to arise. The Black united front doesn’t control the media in the United States. Still, the defense of Mayor Lumumba’s regime by the imperial press in recent days, through spreading disinformation, and misinformation, means a special relationship is developing with industrial and finance capital, and the federal government that may target Jackson, bloated with an overstated “black power” brand pointing toward cooperation and solidarity, and make it the feature city of a Green New Deal type experiment. Such an experiment will not be distinguished by self-organized and self-emancipating Black labor that will invade, occupy and control the economy and politics in the city unless it rebels against the mystification in the city today. CJ will not be a force of teaching, advocating, or defending such perspectives.

An observant person would have recognized for some time this is not the outlook they maintain. The day that large blocks of capital come to rebuild Jackson’s infrastructure, those who have been gathering land and doing nothing with it, in the name of resisting gentrification, will be able to sell it or rent it, to much higher bidders. Is CJ waiting to teach the people of Jackson about cooperatives and workers control in the future, when influxes of capital create more class formation? Is the epoch where revolution is not possible going to come to an end when finance and industrial capital make their big move in Mayor Lumumba’s Jackson? The future holds many possibilities. But first we have to educate our public that there are no cooperatives in Jackson, Mississippi. The truth crushed to earth may be a good fertilizer for Jackson to learn the difference between dependent participation under Black capitalist schemes and popular self-management.

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