In Serve the People Los Angeles’s (STP-LA) previous summations, we mentioned the People’s Committee on Pleasant Avenue. This committee was one of our main focuses in terms of working class tenant struggles. Our People’s Committee fought against slumlord Roger Lee & the terrible conditions he forced his tenants to live under, all while having the nerve to raise their rents. In our fight against Roger Lee, we did not beg with him to lower the rent hikes or try and compromise with him. Instead, we saw him as one enemy out of many. Our fight with him was one battle in the larger class war against slumlords and all gentrifying forces.
After STP-LA released his personal information online, Roger Lee was quickly targeted by the community of Boyle Heights. Lee alongside his team of lawyers complained of actions taking place at his workplace, of graffiti being sprayed by anonymous militants, and even of being targeted in his own home. For all this, we thank the community of Boyle Heights for standing in solidarity with the tenants on Pleasant Avenue.
It is primarily because of the militancy of the community, because we fought back, because we dared to struggle, that we terrified Roger Lee. It was because of this terror that he began to meet some of our demands. Lee lowered the rent hike from $140 to $70 on all apartments (not just the one’s in the People’s Committee) & began fixing problems throughout the entire building. We understand that this was a double-edged sword. In one sense, it was a victory because we scared the shit out of him, which pressured him to act quickly to quench the fury of the organized tenants. But, in another sense, it was an attack on us because it ultimately undermined our work and the goals of the committee, which were to build working-class tenant power. Roger Lee provided temporary reforms which worked to reward tenants who did not want to participate in our committee. They felt that they could be rewarded without ever struggling the way tenants in the People’s Committee did.
We initially said we would continue this struggle at Pleasant despite these concessions. We said this because we know that Pleasant is not simply an individual tenant struggle but one battle in the larger war against gentrification. Some of the tenants understand this too. They know Roger Lee will continue these rent hikes as soon as he sees fit (i.e. as soon as he knows the tenants will not organize and fight back).
However, despite the support of these tenants and despite our correct analysis of gentrification, the objective conditions on Pleasant Avenue have changed. Because of this, we are no longer prioritizing the fight to build the community at Pleasant. After the contradictions softened with the rent hike lowered and repairs being made to the buildings, some tenants left our committee. Others stopped attending our meetings or attended meetings very inconsistently. We even had to cancel an action because of low attendance. For this reason, we are changing gears to continue building leadership among the committee members while preparing to move them to struggles that establish other People’s Committees.
We do not take the ceasefire at Pleasant as a failure or a loss. This is because we understand that we can only fight when we have people who want to fight with us. The fight will always come secondary to the fighters who develop through the course of struggle. So, in this way, we did not have failures at Pleasant but errors. We know that if we see these errors and analyze them correctly, we will not repeat them but will learn from them. As long as we criticize, self-criticize, and transform ourselves alongside the masses through struggle, we can never fail.
We know we have developed fighters at Pleasant and we will continue to develop them. We have not given up on the People’s Committee at Pleasant but changed our priorities for the time being. Not only have we learned from this struggle, but we have united the most passionate militant tenants and bringing them over to canvass with us. They will be a part of forming People’s Committees throughout Boyle Heights and eventually, throughout all of LA.
REDIRECTING FROM THE PEOPLE’S COMMITTEE AT PLEASANT
The main reason we have shifted away from the People’s Committee at Pleasant is that the objective conditions for fighting were not there. The direct actions we had against Roger Lee, alongside our shame campaign against him, terrified him but also changed the objective conditions of the tenants. Many – but not all – of the tenants found their living conditions were now tolerable enough that they did not need to organize. They figured paying $70 less while having some things fixed around their apartments was enough. This is why some left the People’s Committee while others de-prioritized the meetings. They did not see the point because the contradictions were not sharp enough.
Overall, many tenants only saw the struggle in the short-term and, from their perspective, they had won. We take responsibility for not being able to win tenants over to the larger class struggle or getting them to see the necessity of continuing the ongoing struggle, instead of being satisfied with small reforms.
At the same time, we know that objective conditions are key. The objective conditions for winning over the tenants to the larger struggle had mostly diminished. For most of the tenants, the time as well as energy needed to fight in the larger war could not outweigh the fear of possibly being deported (stemming from the fear of ICE being called on them due to organizing), the fear of being punished for possibly having extra people living in their apartment, or their reality of having to prioritize their families.
It is our duty to win tenants over to the larger class struggle. Accordingly, we must look for the sharpest contradictions. It is in these contradictions that tenants and workers will gain class consciousness therefore understanding their role in the class struggle.
We know that the objective conditions at Pleasant Avenue will worsen again. The apartments at Pleasant Avenue are in close proximity to Mariachi Plaza (a hotspot for gentrification in Boyle Heights), they are not rent-controlled and Roger Lee, the money-hungry slumlord, stated that he is charging the tenants below market value. We wanted to keep struggling because we knew that the victories we had won were not enough and only be temporary. However, most of the tenants do not feel that way. We can not fight a battle that they do not want to fight. It is wrong to mechanically continue a struggle without the support or will of the tenants. After all, as we stated before, the tenant struggle must be transformed into the workers struggle; the tenants must be transformed into soldiers for the people. If we are mechanically struggling for the people instead of with them, we are not transforming them. Instead, we are just continuing the fight against Roger Lee for the sake of continuing it.
We have not given up on the tenants at Pleasant Avenue or abandoned them. When the contradictions sharpen again with more tenants willing to fight, we will be there to fight right besides them. However, until that happens, we are moving on to build more People’s Committees in the areas of Boyle Heights with the sharpest contradictions.
WHAT ARE OUR GOALS? DID WE SUCCEED OR FAIL?
1) Transform the tenants into soldiers!
Our primary goal for the People’s Committees was not to improve the condition of the tenants living there but to transform the tenants into soldiers for their class. Why? Because we know that any improvements in their conditions are only temporary. Slumlords, like all other oppressors, will not give us anything on their own terms – we must take from them what is rightfully ours with blood and sweat. We cannot let our guard down for even a second because the moment we do, they will do everything they can to snatch back whatever scraps they’ve thrown us.
It is for this reason we need to take these fuckers down permanently. Our ultimate goal is revolution. We need to smash the system that allows them to exist in the first place. This will not happen in one instant. This will be a protracted struggle over generations. It will start small, with people’s committees like our own. As long as we continue to serve the people, struggle with the people, and fight side by side with the people, we will leap forward.
We cannot do this without transforming the masses. We cannot fight every single battle for them because then they will continue to depend on us further. They will not be liberated at all. We ourselves would not develop qualitatively – we would just do the same things repeatedly, jumping from one tenant struggle to the next and building nothing.
This is why we want the tenants to transform. In the short-term, we want the tenants to mobilize and learn to fight slumlords themselves. This does not mean we will stop supporting them. It only means the tenants will advance, forging into leaders themselves alongside STP-LA. In this way, as they advance, they will organize other tenants and help these tenants advance, forging into leaders themselves. This will continue on and on.
We have seen this happen with the tenants at Pleasant. The tenants who wanted to continue fighting Roger Lee took on leadership roles as time passed. They reached out other tenants at Pleasant, invited them to our meetings, proposed actions and strategies we could use, and even brought up concerns with security culture. In the fight with Roger Lee, they qualitatively transformed in front of us. The fact that they are continuing to canvass with us, looking for new battles, shows a growing sense of class consciousness. We are sure that as we form new People’s Committees, the tenants from Pleasant will only advance further.
In the long-term, their transformation is a pre-requisite for revolution. We want these members to literally become soldiers in the class struggle. For these tenants – for all workers – the landlord is only one oppressor out of a thousand. The worker is exploited and attacked by capitalists in all directions within every aspect of their lives. Once they are paid a barely living wage by whoever they toil for, they are preyed upon by everyone else in the capitalist class. This is why most workers live month to month, barely making ends meet. They live to work and work to live. Roger Lee is only one parasite. He is not a parasite simply because he is greedy and money hungry (although he is both) but because capitalism allows him to leech off others while not contributing anything to society himself. This is how capitalism functions – through a parasitic class exploiting the working class.
So the real enemy of the tenants as well as of all oppressed people is capitalism itself. The only way to destroy capitalism is though a protracted violent revolution. The only way to wage this revolution is to build power structures that challenge as well as fight against capitalism. The only way to build these dual power structures is to transform the masses into soldiers who will defend themselves and their class against all their oppressors. This is why we aim to transform the tenants, to arm them physically as well as ideologically. They must transform themselves to liberate themselves.
We know that the tenants are advancing in this aspect. When we started, many of them did not want to threaten Roger Lee or pursue militant direction action against him. They still had some sympathy towards him, they did not see the antagonistic contradiction between them and him. In many cases, they were afraid. We do not blame them for this. No one is born a brave militant anti-capitalist. After all, as Chairman Gonzalo from the Communist Party of Peru teaches us, “[No] one is born brave…it is society, the class struggle, that makes people & communists courageous.”
We know that the class struggle has made the tenants courageous. At a previous action in Roger Lee’s office, tenants physically confronted a security guard who shoved one of our members. They showed no fear when the security guard threatened us or when pigs sent out five cop cars to surveil them (these cowardly pigs are so afraid of the people that they needed to call five cop cars for unarmed tenants standing on public space!) At no point, did they ask to leave or say they were worried for their safety. They continued chanting in the face of pigs and pig sympathizers, despite the threats of the security guard.
We know they are becoming increasingly militant because they understand how sharp the contradiction between them and slumlords like Roger Lee to be. We are confident they will continue on to strengthen this militancy in future actions and campaigns.
2) Combat economism!
One of our other goals for the People’s Committees was to move beyond economism. To move beyond economism means to focus on the long-term goal of seizing power over the short-term goal of improving people’s conditions. As we have said, any improvements to people’s conditions are temporary as long as capitalism still exists. This is why we need to focus primarily on transforming people so that they can seize power.
Our previous food distribution program was economist – it was not much more than a survival program. Although we tried our best to teach the people attending about the correct politics and class consciousness, it did not work. We were not successful in combatting bourgeois individualism or fully mobilizing the masses who came out to the food distribution. (Of course, this can be linked with the lack of sharp contradictions, which we will expand on later in this summation).
We had proof of this failure when none of the participants in the distribution showed up to support the struggle at Pleasant. This is not the fault of the masses attending the distribution. All knowledge comes from direct experience. Without fighting in the class struggle, it is impossible to understand it. We did not engage these masses in the class struggle. As much as we criticized charities, we, in essence, were nothing more than a more militant and darker red charity.
We are confident that we are in the process of moving beyond economism right now. This does not mean we do not struggle with it at all. Our People’s Committees have at times been economist too. We are sure that they will be economist in the future too. But now, we have a better understanding of economism and the experience of combatting and moving past it.
Since we started the People’s Committees and stopped our food distributions, we have seen qualitative leaps in core members and new mass members. As a collective we have grown closer, stronger, and begun truly transforming ourselves to better serve the people. This is because we are not simply mechanically distributing food to people every Sunday, but actively becoming soldiers for the people, fighting side by side with them against their oppressors.
Our mass membership has also qualitatively changed. The mere fact that we have retained members after the dissolution of the People’s Committee is proof of this. Again, this is because these tenants have fought side by side with us, seeing the fruits of militancy with their own eyes. The more we struggle, the more they will transform.
3) Find the sharpest contradictions!
The other problems with our food distribution, as well as why we have shifted away from the committee at Pleasant, is the lack of the objective conditions which are necessary to fight. The reality is that most people – and especially tenants – in Boyle Heights live under precarious conditions. They are targeted and terrorized by the LAPD, ICE, gentrifiers, slumlords, and that is only to name a few.
This is why, in our food distributions, we spoke consistently with the tenants about the contradictions between them and these enemies of the people. However, they did not feel the contradictions sharply enough to reach out to us. For the time being, they were willing to tolerate their conditions.
This is why our goal as STP-LA is to find those who cannot and will not tolerate the conditions they live under. We know that we will find these objective conditions primarily where tenants are being displaced and/or received drastic rent increases. We know these objective conditions exist in Boyle Heights because gentrification as an aspect to capitalism exists in Boyle Heights. We are confident that as long as we continue to look, we will find another battle to fight.
Since the redirection of the People’s Committee, we have been canvassing and searching for other sites of struggle. We have brought over tenants from Pleasant to canvass as well as work with us. We have learned from Pleasant that, at this moment, we must focus primarily on the objective conditions. We are looking for places with the sharpest contradictions.
But even after we find a battle to fight, we will continue to canvas. We want these People’s Committees to grow. Our People’s Committees are like seeds – the more we plant, the more will bloom. And the more there are, the more places they take over, the harder they will be to exterminate.
We are also going to continue developing the tenants with us. This will happen mainly through struggle since it is only through the class struggle that we can transform ourselves. This will happen in future campaigns and People’s Committees. We are planning on starting study groups with them. This will forge stronger links with them, arm them ideologically and have them advance even further.
We are focusing on tenants struggles at this point because gentrification is a very sharp antagonistic contradiction in Boyle Heights. Gentrification, of course, is an aspect of capitalism. We know we cannot defeat gentrification without defeating capitalism. But we also know that because of the objective conditions of gentrification, it is a strong site of struggle where tenants can more easily be mobilized as well as organized. Again, this will serve the long-term goal of transformation.
We must transform the masses because without them, we are nothing. We can organize them, work side by side with them, fight with them, but until they become soldiers with us, we will never win. This is because it is not organizers or leftists who make history – it is the masses. As we have said, tenants struggles are only a gateway to class struggle and class struggle is the way forward to revolution, to destroying this filthy, decaying, oppressive world and, in the process, creating a new world, free of oppression, where the masses will decide their own destiny and take back what is rightfully theirs.
This new world will not arise because we compromise or play fair or wait our turn. This new world will arise because we will give our blood, our bodies, and our lives to destroy the old world. We will give everything we have to destroy everything that is.
To all enemies of the people, including gentrifiers, slumlords, all capitalists, we say – watch your fucking backs. Enemies of the people can repress us, push us down, fool themselves into thinking they have defeated us. But every single mistake that we make, every single time we are pushed down, we come back, stronger and smarter than before. The masses have revolutionary vengeance in their blood and nothing that any oppressor does will change that. It does not matter how many times they are pushed down – they will always rise back up, ready to fight back once again. And we will never abandon them.
We are ready to wait as long as we have to. There is nothing anyone can do to quench the flame that runs through our veins. After all, we have nothing to lose and a world to win! Our People’s Committees are simply a starting point; they are seeds that will sprout into a People’s Army which will stop at nothing to take what it deserves.
And when our turn comes, we will make no excuses for the terror.