Can the Democratic Method be Applied in U.$. Prisons?

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[Organizing] [ULK Issue 56]

Can the Democratic Method be Applied in U.$. Prisons?

"Our task now is to continue to extend and make still better use of this method throughout the ranks of the people..." - Mao Tse-Tung, "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People"

What was comrade Mao speaking about when he made these comments? His topic was the democratic method. In 1942, it was explained this way: 1) beginning from a desire for/to achieve unity, 2) resolving contradictions (real differences in opinions, perspectives, positions on questions or issues) through criticism/struggle (not necessarily physical); 3) arriving at a new unity on new basis. In simpler terms: unity, criticism, unity! This was the philosophy and practice which led China to overthrow the exploitative forces draining their entire country. Before this method, the imperialists, capitalists and their allies exploited contradictions between and among the masses and political cadres; in order to maintain their strangle hold on controlling not only the means of production and the productive forces, but also the very existence of the people in all aspects of their lives. This was the oppressive reality in China and is currently the reality (although in varying degrees) in Amerikkka's prisons.

In U.$. prisons, habitually, the method of solving problems is through hyper-masculinity, or hyper-violence. In a prison, the smallest trifle, disagreement, or unintentional act is met in overly-aggressive manners. Soon a test of wills develops, "my way or no way." But this hyper-violence does nothing to encourage unity, class awareness, or political consciousness, and it cripples the movement. Here is the true reason why prison officials or those connected to prisons and the injustice system do nothing to avoid it, and in many cases, they actually promote hyper-violent methods. This method is detrimental to you but beneficial for accomplishing penological interests. To break this oppression, the democratic method must be foremost in our minds and practice.

Gangs, "clikas," alliances and groups are analogous with political parties, factions and groups of like-minded individuals, in prison and society. In prison there are numerous racial tensions. There are contradictions and various other factors, not least among them, the constant oppressive atmosphere. The only ingredient not present: political consciousness. Here, Mao's lessons can be put to good use.

The procedures of yesterday may not be the exact remedy needed for today's problems. In prison, as in capitalist society, contradictions are normally expressed in acute antagonisms and conflicts. Many times this equates to prisoner against prisoner (rival gang members or conflicting races), or to a lesser extent, prisoner against guards. What do such conflicts achieve? Only further detriment for us. "Failure to understand..." in prison as in society, perpetuates the very causes of hyper-violence, which that same violence seeks to eliminate. Should we search for a different method, other than what the capitalist system has provided us for contradiction resolution? Can contradictions be resolved at all? Comrade Mao, in speaking of progress and difficulties says, "... not only should contradictions be resolved, but definitely can be."

"The only method to be used in this struggle is that of painstaking reasoning and not crude coercion..." Crude coercion being the hyper-violence/violent methodology. By opening dialogue for mutual education of every class of people, with a focus on promoting a united front. By critically analyzing, debating and correcting mistaken or inappropriate political views, as well as sowing the seeds that will produce political consciousness. After a time, this process yields fruits and progress. Two prisoners from rival gangs may begin to discuss their mutually oppressive predicament. This leads to criticism, fueled by a desire to struggle against their oppression, a criticism of the available options, submission or hyper-violence, and a rejection of both. Soon these rivals (actually allies against the oppressors) come to realize the only true way: the democratic method. Following such an epiphany, they form an alliance based on refusing to continue being pawns in the game and find a new unity. Unity, criticism, unity!

While the method is practicable in U.$. prisons, Amerikkka's prisoners, on a large scale, lack political consciousness and that is a problem. Here we must focus on educating, which goes back to our "task," as outlined above "...we should work painstakingly and not be impetuous." Creating more "self-determinants" as I've termed it in, "The Adaption of Capitalistic Controls," (see ULK 54). For the future health of the movement, the correct political points of view must be nourished, because not to have a correct political point of view is like having no soul. A movement without a soul is dead.