Discussion questions: Malcolm X Didn’t Dish Out Free Bean Pies

What follows are discussion questions for Malcolm X Didn’t Dish Out Free Bean Pies

What are the differences between the food distribution programs of 1990s anarchists and today’s “Maoist” inflected charity programs?

Does the quotation in the first full paragraph of p. 41 accurately describe the views of those who carry out these “mutual aid” programs? Quote reproduced here:

The thinking goes something like this: we will meet people’s needs by giving them food, clothing, etc., they will embrace us because we met their needs, and then gradually over time or when a crisis hits, they will flock to us and become revolutionaries.

Why is the short agitation from Felipe Luciano at the top of p. 44 so dope? Does it take more courage to call the masses into action than give them free food? Quote reproduced here:

My name is Felipe Luciano, how are you doing. We’re the Young Lords. You should worry about Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico is in bad shape. The barrio is in bad shape. You know why the Barrio is in bad shape.

Why does a social work approach to the masses of people always involve pitching to the intermediate?

Do you agree that “The advanced masses are those who recognize the need for collective struggle and sacrifice against the system that is oppressing them and depriving them of their needs”?

How was it that the administration of Richard Fucking Nixon was able to expand the reach of federally funded social programs? Why was that in the interest of the whole bourgeoisie at that time? Why should that history give pause to those who believe in the goal of meeting the needs of the masses short of proletarian revolution?

What did Marx mean when he wrote, in Critique of the Gotha Programme, that “Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves”?

What are the conditions under which food is produced under capitalism-imperialism? And how do the politics of free food distribution obscure that reality (see appendix)?

What is the nonprofit activist view of knowing social change and viewing the masses? How does that infect those carrying out the charity and social work as politics approach?

What are the differences in political content, character, and overall seriousness in the service programs of the Black Panthers and Young Lords from today’s “mutual aid” programs?

Why was the principal political activity of the Black Panther Party producing and distributing a newspaper? What forms currently exist, or could be created, for the agitation about and exposure of the system’s crimes to to call people to political action?

In light of the overall summation of the survival programs of the Black Panthers and Young Lords, how did these programs succeed in drawing masses of people into political life, and where did they fall short? Does a focus on survival programs—even the best of survival programs—lead towards the militant voluntarism (what we might call charity Focoism) that Johanna Fernández describes?

Why did Lenin repeatedly emphasize exposing the crimes of the system and leading the masses in political struggle while preparing for revolution? Why didn’t the Bolsheviks dish out free Borscht?

What are the ways in which the masses can be mobilized in collective struggle for their immediate survival needs within your region and social formation? Struggles against deportation or eviction? Mass campaigns against opioids that include finding forms of treatment? How could that be tied to exposure of the system and preparing the masses to make revolution?

What does it mean to set standards for revolutionary culture and social relations? How does that relate to bringing forward a revolutionary people? How can revolutionaries start this process today?

What does it mean to you to serve the people?


In the discussion that generated these questions, we reflected on the comrades in Winnipeg who exchanged a free cup of coffee for conversation (See “Chronicles of the Struggling and Dispossessed” in kites #5-6). We suggest repeating this practice in some places, but pairing it with an short essay or a graphic explaining the misery and exploitation that goes into making each and every cup of coffee (and each and every other commodity in the world today).