For nearly one week in July, Africans from throughout the U.S. will convene in Washington, DC to participate in the much-awaited Fifth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP). Joined by Party members and guests from Africa and other continents, Party members will come to carry out their responsibility to elect national leaders, participate in developing policy and establish the direction of the Party in the Congress, which is the Party’s highest body.
The month and location of the Fifth Party Congress was decided during a meeting of the Party’s Central Committee. The African People’s Socialist Party Central Committee is the organization’s highest body between congresses. APSP Chairman Omali Yeshitela laid out the need for the Congress, declaring:
“There are a number of reasons I think the Congress is necessary now, but topping the list is our need to bring our whole Party, all its membership and constituent organizations, into a collective, recognized and understood trajectory, organizationally, politically, ideologically and strategically.
“We must all gain clarity of direction, and also, we must have an opportunity to legitimize our leadership through elections. Up to now we have attempted to use conferences, conventions and assorted events to provide summations and direction to our movement and Party. This is insufficient. We must have a Congress and all the work we would do in the interim would be geared to win new members to our Party and constituent organizations through building for the Congress.”
The Party’s Congress is the most democratic expression of the Party. It is here that the rank and file Party members, either directly or through their delegated representatives, have the opportunity to come together and put their imprint on the Party’s policies, elect its national leadership and debate and determine the Party’s understanding of the period and the tasks ahead.
Democracy in the Party is one of its defining characteristics. The main or primary organizational principle of the Party is democratic centralism, a principle that allows the membership to elect its leaders and decide critical policy issues. Democratic centralism also holds the leadership accountable to the membership. The Party Congress is the most significant democratic institution. It is here that the leadership reports to the entire membership on its work, giving the membership an opportunity to express approval or disapproval through debate and vote.
One reason the Congress is so important as an instrument of democracy in the hands of the entire membership is because after voting on the programs and polices and electing the leadership of the Party, the membership of the Party extends to the leadership extraordinary power to carry out its will, holding the entire organization to the decisions of the majority. This is the centralist component of democratic centralism.
Other aspects of democratic centralism include the subordination of lower Party organizations to higher organizations and the subordination of the entire Party membership to the Central Committee, responsible for leading the Party between congresses.
These principles are critical for a revolutionary organization that must march in disciplined lock step if genuine liberation is to be won and the defeat of our national oppressors and class opponents is to be guaranteed. Obviously, a revolutionary Party — the general staff and advanced detachment of the African working class — must have discipline and a leadership that is capable of carrying out its will without fear of different individual members or lower organizations deciding to go in a different direction whenever they would have the whim to do so. In fact, the opponents of the revolution and the Party hate democratic centralism precisely because it provides the Party with a steel wall of unity of will and action that the enemy cannot penetrate.
In the recent period, the Party has not held its Congress as mandated by our Constitution. While the Party’s current Constitution allows the Congress to be postponed under certain circumstances, it is nevertheless true that such delays cannot occur without sacrifice of democracy. This is especially true when a Party is as active as the African People’s Socialist Party, nearly always on the field of battle with our national oppressor and class enemies. Such an active party must work especially hard to hold our Congress as a means of allowing the full membership to discuss the work and participate in determining its legitimacy.
The First Congress of our Party was held in Oakland, California in 1981, nine years after the founding of the Party. When the Party was founded in 1972, the U.S. government was in the process of successfully crushing the Black Revolution of the Sixties through assassination, jailings and a general terror that did not allow an open call to build a revolutionary congress. This, along with the fact that there was not at the time a tradition of congresses within the U.S. front of the African liberation movement, contributed to the delay in holding our first Congress.
One of the resolutions that came from the Party’s First Congress recognized that the liberation of African people within current U.S. borders had to be a part of the struggle for the total liberation of African people worldwide. This resolution called for the creation of the African Socialist International (ASI) as the necessary organizational response to the conditions of existence of African people everywhere. It was a resolution that recognized that the oppression of African people within current U.S. borders owed its existence to the oppression of Africa as a whole; that it was this attack on and continued domination of Africa that had spread African subjugation worldwide. Therefore, our response had to be a worldwide, or global response.
The perfect example for our response was to be seen in the example of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA), founded by Marcus Garvey in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Under Garvey’s leadership the UNIA grew to include millions of African people on nearly every continent into a single organization. The African Socialist International is the resurrection of the Garvey movement in the 21st century. It is Garveyism in the era of imperialism in serious, critical decline, imperialism in the era of neocolonialism.
Unlike the Pan-Africanist movement that does not have a single center and that has as many different definitions of what it is as there are organizations that claim adherence to the concept, African Internationalism, the theory of the African People’s Socialist Party, regards the Garvey example of a single organization with a single center and ideology as the correct model. Therefore, the ASI was conceived as a worldwide organization of Africans committed to the liberation and unification of Africa and African people under the leadership of the African working class, the social force of producers around which the new society of free African people would be organized.
Since the early ‘90s the work to build the ASI has been the centerpiece of APSP work. Conferences to build the ASI brought Africans from throughout the African world to London almost annually. This work contributed to the delay in holding the Party’s Fifth Congress since the Party would have to use the Congress to amend or change the Party’s current Constitution to make it consistent with the then yet-to-be-developed constitution of the leading ASI.
However, the growing work of the ASI that has led to the creation of a draft constitution being currently used as a working document by ASI participants in various regions of Africa, Europe and North America and the growth of the Party on the ground in the U.S. have added an urgency and new possibilities to the political equation. In addition, the growing crisis of imperialism that is currently threatening the continuing hegemony of U.S. imperialism and Euro-American domination of the world economy contribute to the imperialist fissures that promise great contradictions and equally great possibilities that the Party must be united to face.
Not the least of these contradictions and possibilities are to be found in the imperialist selection of Barack Obama to become its standard bearer in the U.S. presidential elections and, subsequent to his election, its dark-skinned representative.
All the constituent organizations of the African People’s Socialist Party are being mobilized to win maximum participation in the Congress from within the Party as well as from the general African community, especially the African working class.
These constituent organizations include well-established organizations like the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM), custodian of the Party’s mass work through which the working class will lead the revolutionary national democratic stage of our revolution and the African People’s Solidarity Committee (APSC), the organization of primarily whites or North Americans through which the Party extends the African revolution into the work places, communities and living rooms of the North American population at large.
Newer constituent organizations of the APSP include the African Internationalist Student Organization (AISO), the recently organized student wing of the Party. AISO’s existence will help to give the Party and the revolution greater continuity and raise the level of ideological development within the Party and the revolution in general.
The All African People’s Development and Empowerment Project (AAPDEP), a development program that revolutionizes development projects by tying them to the struggle against imperialism and putting them in the hands of the workers and poor peasants throughout the African world will play a fundamental role in building for and participating in the Congress.
These are just some of the Party’s constituent organizations, all of which are currently engaged in serious and intense work throughout the U.S. and, in some cases, in Africa, that will achieve their final marching orders from the upcoming Fifth Congress. In addition, the Party’s information arm that includes various mediums of communication will struggle to build and better define itself through participation in the Congress.
The Fifth Congress will have to address the Party’s current Constitution. Changing conditions in the world, the growth of the Party and the development of the African Socialist International will require major changes in the Party’s Constitution.
Chairman Omali Yeshitela summed up the conditions within which the Party is building for its Fifth Congress:
“The most important thing for us to understand is that we are witnessing the greatest crisis of the capitalist system and imperial order in our lifetimes. If we can successfully build the capacity of our Party and the various programs and understanding… we can turn this crisis of imperialism into a victory party for the oppressed and exploited masses of Africa and the world.”