Expanding the Debate over the Political Prisoner Label

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[Theory] [Organizing] [ULK Issue 31]

Expanding the Debate over the Political Prisoner Label

I'm responding to ULK 29, "Less Complaints, More Agitation and Perspective." While most of the position is on point, I believe that important considerations were left out by both this comrade and MIM(Prisons)'s response.

I agree with the broad definition of political prisoners as announced in MIM Theory 11: Amerikan Prisons on Trial (article "Political Prisoners Revisited") precisely because courts are maintained as a tool of political oppression and inseparable from political oppression. Thus the political component is inseparable from those who become further oppressed by imprisonment. The hierarchy of society, cops, courts and state is one of a functioning cadre in this country.

I also understand the distinctions this comrade makes between inmates, convicts and the rest — an inmate is the prison version of the "sleeping masses," but whether or not these people recognize their oppression does not determine whether they are oppressed. And we can't forget that distinctions such as inmate, convict, POW, PPOW, PP, PS, GP are meaningless outside of the prison context, rendering these issues inapplicable to society.

In terms of the bigger fight for prison revolutionaries, these labels are also somewhat moot outside of a strategic context as well; everyone will get the benefits brought about by revolutionary action or they will simply be "washed away when the dam breaks."

What was missed is part of a larger problem (largely analytical). Whether one is or is not a political prisoner speaks directly to the conditions which led to one becoming a member of their class (under the broad definition), but not the class perception and what it means, nor what to do as a member of that class. The political conditions of our confinement being a given, our focus, especially insofar as making revolution is concerned, should not be on whether or not one is a political prisoner, but rather if one, as a prisoner, is political (i.e. moved to political action). If we must distinguish between members of the same class (i.e. prisoners), and to a certain extent we must in order to accurately assess conditions on the ground, then let it be a functional distinction which advances the revolution as a whole.

Subcategories of class must be used in such a way that it produces knowledge, not conjecture. Even an "inmate" can be turned to use. Further, people change and there's no way to know the moment of awakening of political consciousness in others without objective observation. By assigning static labels and categories, we limit our objectivity.

I wholeheartedly agree with this comrade: there are many tactics which can be tailored to circumstance but the labor of these tactics is necessarily dispersed to many people of differing skill sets and levels of political awareness; some are dupes, others are not, some are soldiers, others are tacticians and printers.

Finally, I believe a common mistake we all make as revolutionaries is to become solipsistic. We forget that not everyone wants change or revolution; some are satisfied with their condition. In prison or out, this distinguishes one as counter-revolutionary. This distinction is functional and applies to society without getting bogged down in specific labels. It is part of the equation we must, as revolutionaries, deal with, but in the end, revolution depends on maximizing our resources, exploiting the weaknesses of our enemy and most important, unification of the people.