I was born at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Clayton, Missouri on Bastille Day, 1994. My mother was a 19 year old medical assistant student that worked at McDonalds, born at a de facto class and race segregated hospital (Homer G. Philips) in the winter of 1975. My father was born in the same hospital in the winter of 1971. All 4 of my grandparents and their broader generation within my family were born in Mississippi (3) and Texas (1), and all 4 went from the landless peasant/rural proletarian class to industrial proletarian (several of my great uncles worked in East Saint Louis steel mills or on railroads) or service proletarian positions (restaurant, cleaning and domestic service positions were held by women). So, I’m like most Black people of my generation, the second generation raised entirely in an urban environment, with grandma and grandpa’s memories of rural hardship, knowledge of our rural roots and status as a peasant nation bound to the land (reflected in the Haywood/Comintern Black Belt Thesis developed in the 1920s, when most of us still lived in the South and worked the land as peasant sharecroppers and peons) existing, fundamentally in the back of our minds, still there, still driving us forward in anger, still remembered, but not tangible or concrete enough for us to fight for a nation in the rural South, since we are no longer peasants and are thoroughly urban, to the point where “urban youth” is synonymous with “Black youth”. I’ve never touched raw cotton in my life, and only picked greens once as punishment. This is a social and class investigation and analysis of the city that I’ve called home for my entire 22 years of life from the perspective of the class, race, stratum and generation that brought you the Ferguson and Baltimore rebellions, and from the ideology (Maoism) that will bring you revolution. It will attempt to detail the contradictions of the city that has been under a national and international magnifying glass since August, 2014, and will spend most of its time trying to detail how I think revolutionary organizations can best organize here.
Saint Louis City proper is home to 315,685 people (2015). The Greater Saint Louis MO-IL metropolitan area, which is comprised of Saint Louis City and Saint Louis, Saint Charles, Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington and Warren Counties in Missouri and Saint Clair, Macoupin, Madison, Jersey, Monroe, Clinton, Bond, and Calhoun Counties in Illinois (Metro East) has a population of roughly 2.7 million people. This investigation and analysis will focus mainly on Saint Louis County and City, and the areas in the Metro East closest to the river, particularly East Saint Louis. These areas are where I believe that the greatest revolutionary potential lies and where the greatest and most special attention should be paid by revolutionaries.
Saint Louis City is divided into class and race segregated halves. North of Delmar Boulevard is the mass of the black proletariat and lumpenproletariat (categories that more often than not overlap) while South of Delmar live Mexicans, Bosnians, and native born Euro-Americans of all classes. Of course, there are many poor Black people on the South Side as well, but for the most part they live on the North Side in their masses. This segregation is known to those who live here as the “Delmar Divide”, and the tangible difference in living standards and class composition of people above and below Delmar can’t be understated. You can literally stand on Delmar, throw a rock, and hit a huge, turn of the century mansion on one side (South) and a crumbling, vacant building on the other (North). The bourgeois Black people with degrees have fled, leaving the lowest and deepest masses concentrated on the North Side. Most of my family grew up north of Delmar, particularly in the Mark Twain district. This neighborhood is, like all of the North Side, overwhelmingly black, overwhelmingly populated by the lower stratum of the proletariat that are only a hairbreadth away from full time lumpen/unemployed status at any given time (as opposed to being split between working a main job and selling DVDs, scrapping junk found in the alleys, recycling cans, fixing cars, cutting lawns, etc. as a sideline), many of whom work in minimum wage or slightly above minimum wage service positions obtained through “temp agencies”.
The commercial corridors in North Saint Louis City (Kingshighway, Natural Bridge, Broadway, Union) are full of liquor stores, check cashing places, secondhand stores, used car lots, churches, convenience stores, cheap Chinese food restaurants, and other such places. There are also vacant lots by the hundreds, some sections of street having more vacant lots than buildings. The area is a veritable food desert, with the grocery stores in the area being few and far between and selling inferior products. Schools here are defunded with the tax base having fled West, and many students are bused to schools in the county or sent to charter schools. Deindustrialization stripped the heart and soul out of this area, for the overwhelming majority of the Black people of the North Side, there is no out. They’re basically trapped in crumbling housing, dead end jobs, and an endless cycle of debt and despair. Politically, this area is under the domination of the crooked Democratic Party machine which brings no benefits to the masses of black people that live here, both at the state and local levels. The alderpeople that represent the area get up to shenanigans like being shitty absentee landlords or installing decorative gates on city streets while people are shot to death in the streets. They keep getting reelected because they’re rarely challenged and nobody cares enough about their shitty political spectacle to waste energy struggling against them at the polls. Barely anybody my age votes. Virtually all of these politicians, most famously Alderman Antonio French of Ferguson Twitter fame, endorse the neoliberal war criminal and enemy of black people Hillary Clinton.
When I refer to North Saint Louis City, I’m referring to the neighborhoods of Baden, Penrose, Mark Twain, Fairground, Carr Square, College Hill, the (Greater Ville), Jeff Venderlou, Hamilton Heights, Kingsway East and West, Old North Saint Louis, Hyde Park, Walnut Park, North Pointe, North Riverfront, and O’Fallon. These neighborhoods are united in several aspects, namely, they’re literally contiguous, almost everyone there is black, poor, and dissatisfied in one fashion or another, whether it be over the constant fratricidal murders, police brutality and harassment, bone and soul crushing poverty, exploitation of the community by those who don’t (and do) live there, debt, high rent, difficulty in finding employment, especially if you’re a convicted felon like many people, abuse and killings of women, insufficient transit, and general poor quality of life. In other words, this area is prime for mass organizing, and it is fertile terrain for the growth of Communist cadre to lead that organizing. Tenant organizations, bus/train riders’ unions, unemployed organizations, felons’ rights organizations, self-defense organizations, anti-police brutality organizations, vacant land/building reclamation organizations, community dispute resolution organizations, womens’ organizations, neighborhood organizations, single mothers’ support groups, and youth/student organizations like that which I am a member of, PYO-STL (Progressive Youth Organization – Saint Louis), all have a place and must be set up as soon as possible on the North Side, preferably by those that live or have roots and links there. People embrace and unite with politics and people that relate to and unite with them, listen to them, and meet their needs. Mass organizations don’t just to march, they exist to unite and lead. They also exist to offer material support to the masses in their area and under their purview, hold cultural and educational activities, conduct mass meetings and deep going investigations into the welfare of the masses. This is not just feel good organizing, handing out food and pamphlets, this is the building of people’s power and a step in the direction of building urban base areas and Red political power.
There are very few grocery stores in North City where people can go to get cheap and healthy fruit and vegetables, and the stores that are in that area such as Walgreens or the convenience stores that are on almost every corner keep necessities such as baby formula behind lock and key and keep hawkeyes on black children, because they’re afraid the people will come to steal their overpriced products. I went into a store up the street from my old house once and the owner of the store was cursing at and threatening to call the police on a boy that couldn’t have been any older than 12 years old because he supposedly stole a bag of chips. Mass organizations under the leadership of Maoist cadre developed from among the masses are needed to not only organize punitive and enforced boycotts of such stores that abuse, cheat, exploit and mistreat the masses, but offer material assistance and support to both alleviate the masses’ situations, check up on the lives of and listen to/gather the scattered ideas of/be held responsible to the people, and carry out the mass line leadership and organizing practice well, to ensure the development and heightening of struggle and political development and advancement of the masses in a thorough and all around way. North City is, most likely, where the majority of the yet to be formed Saint Louis cadre organization’s base of membership is going to come from. Oppression, poverty, and depredation breeds Communists, and my city’s contributions to the future CPUSA (Maoist) are going to come mostly off the streets and out of the run down buildings of North County, North City, and East Saint Louis.
These are the lowest and deepest masses, those who, in Marx’s words, have nothing to lose but their chains. South City is going to be a bit of a tougher nut to crack and organize, and the presence and active participation of white comrades will be of utmost importance, namely because of the reactionary and anti-people world outlook of many of the working class whites that live there. When my grandmother first came to Saint Louis, black people simply didn’t go to the South Side out of fear. Yet, there are strata there that can be united with and will respond well to organizing, particularly working class Bosnian immigrants in Bevo Mill, Latinx people in Benton Park West, and pockets of Black and working class white youth that live there as well. The Black and Bosnian communities have on and off contradictions, particularly in the wake of anti-Bosnian attacks by Black youth after the Mike Brown murder in 2014 and riots at Soldan High School in the 1990s, but these are contradictions among the people and should be handled as such. Unity must be developed through struggle, petty divisions and quarrels stirred up by reactionary elements and the bourgeoisie must be struggled against and put to bed, and comradely relations between progressive elements of different ethnicities and races must be built if there is to be Red political power in Saint Louis. In terms of school organizing in the city, special attention must be paid to the community college (Forest Park), technical schools, and high schools on both the North and South Sides, especially in light of the winding down of the court ordered school desegregation program in the coming decade. The local HBU Harris-Stowe, can also be a site of struggle and support, but the heavy influence of petit-bourgeois ideology and cultural nationalism at such schools (buy black campaigns, elect x black leader, etc.) must be accounted for. Saint Louis University and Washington University are heavily petit bourgeois institutions, and Saint Louis University in particular sits on the site of a former Black district, Mill Creek Valley, that was demolished. It also is a Jesuit, Catholic school, but is somewhat malleable when overwhelming popular force is applied, as shown in the OccupySLU situation in 2014. Certain progressive elements at this school can be united with and support can be obtained from certain groups and individuals, the same goes for Washington University, but these schools should not be seen as potential mass bases of support.
The area in and around Downtown is also the site of sharp struggle and contradictions between the masses of the city’s houseless population and gentrifiers and developers, backed up by the city government, particularly the police, with progressive individuals such as Rev. Larry Rice and other individuals and groups who feed and offer clothing and other services to the houseless being oppressed and threatened with fines, arrests, and other punishments. The houseless themselves are constantly subject to such outrages as spikes to prevent them from lying or sitting down in comfortable spots, police harassment, and locks and bars over vents to prevent them from keeping warm at night. Revolutionary and progressive forces should constantly point out the contradiction between money being spent on senseless projects such as fixing up the area around the monument to settler-colonialism and genocide, the Arch, and the fact that thousands of buildings in our area, the property of parasitic developers and criminals like Paul McKee, who owns 1500 acres of property on the North Side, go to rot and waste while people live without a roof over their heads. Everything is a political struggle, and the struggle must be for more than reforms, the struggle must build people’s power, raise awareness in a real way, and make Communists out of and orient towards the expressed needs and desires of the masses in a given area, not what college activists and academics think they need and want. Meeting basic material needs, giving out clothes, food and blankets to the masses of houseless people is only one step of the struggle, and does not build people’s power. If that were the case, the Salvation Army and the Baptist Church would be mass organizations. Uniting revolutionary and progressive forces in solidarity with and support of their struggle in an all around way does.
What of Saint Louis County? As in the City, we must look North. We have Ferguson, the material conditions of which have improved little to none since August, 2014. The police still occupy, the masses of black working class people still live a precarious existence, the city is still controlled and dominated by people who don’t represent their interests. Beyond Ferguson, we have majority black enclaves. Next door is Kinloch, an all black shell of its former self run by criminals where the police do not even have insurance or registration for their vehicles. The communities of Bel-Ridge, Country Club Hills, Black Jack, Cool Valley, Normandy, Pine Lawn, Vinita Park, Jennings, Moline Acres, Pagedale, Flordell Hills, Beverly Hills, Wellston, Velda City, Northwoods, Bellefontaine Neighbors, Velda Village Hills and Berkeley got their start as suburbs built for returning white GIs and their families after World War II, and were once majority white communities. The housing stock in these communities is mostly from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. After the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe and other housing projects, Black people began moving into these communities and whites began fleeing in droves further west. Now, these communities are overwhelmingly black with double digit poverty rates, particularly among the youth. Spanish Lake, Hazelwood, Florissant, and Ferguson are more mixed both in terms of income and in terms of race, but struggle still exists in these communities, particularly centering around schools and police abuses. The police departments and city administrations of this section of the county are funded in major part by multi hundred dollar fines pressed out of working class Black people for such offenses as “manner of walking along roadway”, littering, and motor vehicle offenses. The police, prosecutors, judges and other officials in these communities do not live there, and function as an especially oppressive force. The contradiction between the people and these pigs has become especially sharp after the 2014 uprising, and the organizing in this area will be heavily targeted against police abuses. There is also the West Lake Landfill issue, where a landfill that stores nuclear waste from the 1940s is on fire and is responsible for countless cases of cancer and other diseases in Bridgeton, along with an extremely noxious odor.
The movement that grew up around the police killing of Mike Brown, Jr. has been continuously engaged the in two-line struggle that has been the hallmark of the Black Liberation struggle for decades, with petit-bourgeois neoliberal elements such as DeRay McKesson pushing accommodationist lines, lunching with Hillary Clinton, pushing “buy black”, meaningless “peaceful protests”, holding exclusive events and fundraisers, running for office and seeking to channel the energy of the masses into their own rising political stars. These comprador elements and lines are rejected by the advanced masses, who see this nonsense for what it is, exploitation and abuse of the death of Mike Brown, Jr, Vonderrit Myers, and Kajieme Powell for the compradors’ own nefarious and self-serving ends and goals. This makes revolutionary mass organizing in Ferguson and the surrounding area all the more easier, because the revolutionary does not seek to sell something, get elected, or boost their own fortune at the expense of the masses, and the masses already know how to say “Fuck the Police” and fly the flag upside down. It’s the petit-bourgeois activists who roll off campuses who need to be reminded that it is right to rebel. Several mass leaders of integrity and revolutionary outlook, a sizable chunk of whom are non-men, have come forth from the masses of Saint Louis in the wake of the Ferguson uprising and are seeking to unite revolutionary forces to wage actual mass struggle with teeth, and these forces and contacts are to be linked up with in regards to building strong mass organizations and Maoist cadre to lead them in North County. Schools to be targeted and developed for Progressive Youth Organization branches are the high schools, particularly in the Ferguson-Florissant and Hazelwood School Districts and the Florissant Valley Community College in Ferguson, which has a sizable number if not a majority of black working class youth as students.
South County is the most homogeneous (white) working class area of Saint Louis County. The communities of Affton, Oakville, Mehlville, Lemay, Fenton, and Sunset Hills are going to be tough nuts to crack, they are influenced heavily by reactionary, white/American chauvinist, racist ideology, to the extent that neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan type groups feel comfortable enough to flyer there. Thus, organizing here is probably going to fall heavily on white comrades who are experienced in antifascist/antiracist work, and are also capable of not falling into petit-bourgeois/exasperated “hate the masses, fuck white people” type thinking that serves to alienate themselves and push them further into the enemy camp. Patient explanation and mass work is needed to effectively organize and build something here, and it should start with working class youth who can be won over to anti-capitalist thinking and perspective through education and struggle. This is going to be a source of much valuable experience and practice (which leads to theory) in terms of winning over and struggling with the white working class. Many will remain enemies and stick with enemy thought, but a sizable chunk must and will become friends and comrades through struggle and patient. STLCC Meramac is located here as well.
Finally, Illinois. East Saint Louis is basically the left-behind debris of deindustrialization, with the steelmills that made this area known as the Pittsburgh of the West and that drew people from the South to this area long gone, slammed shut and remaining as polluting husks. Buildings are in such states of disrepair in ESL that people have to often dodge falling bricks. East Saint Louis is a sad shell of itself, with chemical plants spewing poison into the air, possessed of the highest child asthma rate in the United States, and full of decaying lead and asbestos filled buildings. If you want to see the end game of capitalism, book yourself a Greyhound bus and catch the Metrolink over here. The city and its steadily declining population that sits now at 26,000 people is virtually all black and all poor. The struggle here is all around, the masses don’t have trash pickup, Monsanto and other toxic companies pollute their air and soil as they damn well please, the city government basically behaves in a fashion similar to that of Chicago, and violent crimes (murders, rapes, and robberies) from the violent and anti-people segments of the lumpenproletariat, organized into fratricidal gangs (dual powers) run by nascent and vicious lumpenbourgeoisie, are fairly high, as are burglaries and car thefts. Teachers at schools are frequently on strike, and the city is generally begging for organization and prime for struggle. Contacts and mass links in this area should be developed, deeper on the ground investigation should be conducted and cadre developed through struggle in this area will definitely be among the most advanced. If you come from and can develop, organize the masses, and wage vigorous struggle in East Saint Louis, you’re an asset to the revolution, the masses, the Communist movement, and probably should be listened to.
In sum, my city is a complex maze, full of contradictions. We’re home to Boeing, the corporation responsible for the death of countless tens of thousands of people whose names we’ll probably never know. We’re home to Monsanto, whose wicked and nasty deeds can fill a book. We’re home to a smouldering landfill that threatens to set fire to 70 year old nuclear waste. Many people come here just to take pictures of the urban ruins. But, the people that live here, the masses, showed in 2014 and continue to show that they’re willing to make history and wage vigorous and to the bitter end struggle against that which exploits, oppresses, locks up, and even kills them. With the weapon of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist organization, theory, philosophy, and practice, we will storm the gates of heaven.