"The Prisoner's Perspective" Cyber-Space Edition
An earlier draft of this critique was published in the Marxism-Leninism-Maoism Online column of MIM Notes 157.
In early February, a prisoner in a Michigan gulag wrote to MIM proposing that we publish his zine "The Prisoner's Perspective" on our World Wide Web site http://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext.
For MIM to publish material is has to reflect MIM line. However, because of "The Prisoner's Perspective's" genuine anti-prison politics, RAIL is happy to publish it on its portion of the site, starting with the March issue.
MIM's main criticism is that the zine approaches prisoner issues from the incorrect perspective of individualism. "The Prisoner's Perspective" correctly lays out a clear organizing principle around which MIM and RAIL also organize -- to oppose further prison construction and to expose the fact that more prisons do not stop crime. In our organizing, we call attention to the profit motive for states to build more prisons -- and we welcome all that can be united into the proletarian-led camp on this issue.
MIM believes, however, that the Prisoners Perspective errs in attempting to persuade people that their "hard-earned" tax money would be better spent elsewhere. Most Amerikans' response to talk of prisons expenditures and rising taxes to pay for prisons is to support more repressive measures that make running prisons less expensive. Eliminating Pell Grants for college education for prisoners was a popular move in 1994 because Amerikans hate the thought of paying for genuine betterment and rehabilitation for prisoners. In many states, prison libraries are under attack, so prisoners will not even be able to educate themselves behind the walls. MIM does not appeal to Amerikans' tax-paying self-interest because we believe that doing so will more likely inspire them to call for greater repression of prisoners than to oppose prisons generally.
Finally, we also criticize "The Prisoner's Perspective" for emphasizing personal self-improvement over organizing broadly for justice. But this question of end goals alone should not divide individuals or organizations from working with RAIL or MIM. In practice, "The Prisoner's Perspective" is already setting an excellent organizing example in putting out a publication and seeking support to reach more people and expand the discussion of prison conditions and injustice.
RAIL seeks to organize people like the PP editor who have a clear practice of anti-imperialism. MIM will continue to have criticisms of the individualist approach, but will happily work with all genuine anti-imperialists while we continue to assert our leadership for a proletarian line.
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