Importance of Independent Institutions
Unabashedly, the goal of the Maoist Internationalist Movement is to eliminate capitalism and imperialism. We aim to replace these economic systems with socialism, and then communism, to end all oppression of people by other people. In our study of humyn history we see Maoist China as the most advanced social experience to date toward this goal, and we draw on our study of Maoism (shorthand for Marxism-Leninism-Maoism) to build our strategy. Maoism is a universally-applicable science of social change, which has its effectiveness proven in practice.
Our study of history shows the necessity of armed struggle to take power from the bourgeoisie, to build a world without oppression. Yet we're not presently in a period of social upheaval that we would call a revolutionary scenario, which is why we discourage people from initiating armed struggle at this time. While we prepare for that inevitable reality, the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) works on our dual strategy of 1) building independent institutions of the oppressed to seize state power, and 2) building public opinion against imperialism.
This is all in preparation for when the United $tates's military power becomes sufficiently overextended, and nations oppressed by Amerikkka start striking significant blows against Amerika's domination over their land and livelihoods. When the United $tates enters this period of social upheaval, we will be equipped to draw on the public opinion and independent institutions we're building now. The point is to get started now so we're ready to help a revolution in this country be successful, with results in favor of the most oppressed people in the world. Our institutions in themselves will not cause the transition to socialism, because the bourgeoisie will not allow us to carry out a quiet coup on their power.
Independent institutions of the oppressed are designed to simultaneously meet the peoples' present needs, while organizing against imperialism. When coupled with political education in building public opinion for socialism, these institutions help to advance our movement toward communism. People can see in practice what it would look like (and that it's possible) to meet the social needs that the government is failing on. And people learn how to work collectively.
Maybe this is obvious, but independent institutions don't have ties to the power structure that we are fighting to dismantle. Our goal is the full liberation of ALL people, not just some people, and not just our people. To do that we need to have true independence, so we can say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done, without one arm tied behind our backs.
Defining who are "the oppressed," who our institutions are in service of, is extremely important. While many institutions are happy to just serve any oppressed group, in the MIM we want to make the transition to communism as swift and efficient as possible. We take instruction on this question from our class analysis, and particularly our class analysis on the labor aristocracy and lumpen.
We recognize that the vast majority of so-called "workers" in the First World are actually a bought-off class of net exploiters. They are relatively comfortable with the existence of imperialism, and our independent institutions don't aim to serve that class's interests. Most people don't want to hear that they are net exploiters, and that actually they are in the top 13% globally.(1) It stops them from crying about being in the "bottom 99%" and self-righteously working for a minimum wage that is three times higher than what it would be in an equal global distribution of wealth.(2) Representing the interests of the international proletariat makes MIM(Prisons) an unpopular organization among the vast majority of the population in the United $tates.
In contrast, in our class analysis we see the oppressed-nation lumpen as the most likely group to favor a proletarian internationalist revolution in this country. When the Maoist Internationalist Party – Amerika disbanded into a cell structure in 2005, MIM(Prisons) was established specifically to organize among the lumpen population. There are many, many areas of life that need Maoist leadership and independent institutions – many that can even be built around the coinciding interests of people in the First World and Third World, like revolutionary ecology — and MIM(Prisons) focuses on the needs and education of the imprisoned oppressed-nation lumpen.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) had a prolific set of Serve the People programs and independent institutions. The BPP coincided with the tail-end of the New Afrikan proletariat's existence, and focused its organizing among proletarian and lumpen New Afrikans.
In its independent institutions, the BPP served tens of thousand of kids breakfast across the United $tates, accompanied by political education during the meals. The BPP ran other services such as "clothing distribution, classes on politics and economics, free medical clinics, lessons on self-defense and first aid, transportation for family members to upstate prisons, an emergency-response ambulance program, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and testing for sickle-cell disease."(3)
In addition to providing necessary services for New Afrikans, the BPP's Serve the People programs also built public opinion for socialism by showing what a world could be like with people working together to meet humyn needs. We often hear myths about humyn nature, that people are "too selfish" or "too greedy" or "don't care enough" to ever have a socialist economy, let alone participate in a single campaign. Yet BPP programs showed that selfishness, greed, and apathy are values of the capitalist-imperialist economic system we live under; not inherent to humyn nature. And the education programs built people's consciousness around how the economic structures of imperialism and capitalism are related to the seemingly-insurmountable problems in their lives. Coupling that with Maoist theory and practice, the BPP provided an ideology for how to overcome these economic systems, further building public opinion in favor of a transition to socialism.
The Black Panther Party did all this without government funding. Yet they did accept hefty donations from white leftists, especially during the Free Huey campaign to get Huey Newton released from jail in 1967-70. This lack of self-reliance had a big negative impact on the organization when the white leftists stopped donating.(4) The experience of the BPP shows extensive positive examples of how oppressed-nation organizations can build institutions to contribute to the liberation of one's people. It teaches another lesson on independence, which is to never rely on your oppressor-nation allies to fund your liberation.
Other Outside Orgs
Whenever we connect with an organization that does work that's related to ours, that gets government funding or is linked to a bigger organization like a university, they say the same thing. They are really excited about our work, because they know how important our line is, and they have seen first-hand the limitations in their own work. When we ask why they can't say or do something similar to what we say, it goes back to a funding source or an authority they're operating under.
These institutions of the oppressed aren't wrong for organizing this way. They are doing great work and reaching audiences we can't reach in our current capacity. Yet they aren't reaching them with the stuff that's going to bring an end of oppression in the grand scheme of things.
MIM(Prisons) chooses to do the most effective thing, which in our case requires total independence. If everyone who saw the importance of our line actually worked to promote it, it would inevitably increase our capacity to also reach the people these dependent organizations are currently reaching, and with a program to transform the deep-rooted causes of the problems they're working to change.
An example of limitations imposed by funding sources was explained in a 2012 interview MIM(Prisons) did with a comrade in United Playaz (UP). UP is a "San Francisco-based violence prevention and youth development organization," staffed and run by many former prisoners. It is work that is desperately needed, and UP has a huge positive impact on the lives of the people it works with.
"If it's up to us, we're gonna go hard, and really fight for peace. But because we're fund[ed] by DCYF [San Francisco's Department of Children, Youth, & Their Families], they limit our movement. We can't even participate, or like rally. If there's a Occupy rally right now, we can't go, cuz our organization are prevented from doing things like that. And I think that's important, that we're out there with the rest of the people that are trying to fight for change. Every year we do a Silence the Violence Peace March. That's okay, you know, Martin Luther King, marches like that, we're okay to do that. But when it's like budgets, and crime, and about prison, you know, rally to try to bring those those things down, we can't really participate. ...
"What's going on outside the youth can affect them in the future if things don't change. And why wait til those kids get old and take em to expose them to march and fight for your rights? You know I love to take these young adults to a movement like that, cuz that gives em knowledge of life, that there's more than just hanging out on the street. But unfortunately we're not allowed to participate in that kind of movement."(5)
Under Lock & Key (and the new newsletter that’s coming January 2020)(6) is a media institution of the oppressed, with a mission to serve two classes: 1) the oppressed-nation lumpen in the First World, which our class analysis says is the most likely class in imperialist society to be favorable to the long hard struggle to communism; and 2) the Third World proletariat, which is the revolutionary class with the least to lose in imperialist society. All the articles and line in ULK revolve around this mission.
The pages of ULK, and behind the scenes in MIM(Prisons)'s work, have developed many other institutions of the oppressed. Regular readers of ULK will be familiar with the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) and the accompanying 5 Points of Unity.(7, 8) The UFPP can't in any way be canceled by prison admin or stopped because of budget cuts. In fact, the impetus for the UFPP being formed was because prison staff were actively creating disunity among the prisoner population. We had to create our own independent networks and agreements for creating peace, because peace efforts were being actively thwarted by staff. We have to build "Unity From the Inside Out."
United Struggle from Within (USW) is the MIM(Prisons)-led mass organization for prisoners and former prisoners, and another example of an institution that has developed and organizes within the pages of Under Lock & Key. USW is a way people can plug into anti-imperialist organizing from behind bars, leading campaigns, handing out fliers, putting out art, participating in petitions and struggles. USW cells have independent institutions locally, including study groups, libraries, food and hygiene pools, jailhouse lawyer services, and other forms of support. Through ULK, USW can share experiences and knowledge to further build the anti-imperialist movement behind bars.
USW and UFPP organizing comes with its own set of challenges. Organizers are moved and isolated all the time. Repressive attacks and false disciplinary cases are also carried out by prison staff on our comrades. Censorship of mail impacts our ability to organize, with some states or institutions fully banning ULK or mail from MIM(Prisons). It means we hold no illusions that anyone else can or will do this work for us, and we take that on, with all the sacrifices and challenges that come with it.
Some comrades choose to work within larger organizations, or with prison staff, to get a bigger platform for their organizing. Like any alliance, a big consideration is if one can actually do the work that needs to be done within that alliance, because most likely these alliances will require you to water down your political line. Everyone will assess their own conditions to see what they can do to be most effective in the facility where they're held. The method we use to do this in MIM(Prisons) projects is analyzing the principal contradiction in a situation, and upholding MIM(Prisons)'s 6 main points.(9)
Other Prisoner-led Projects
Within ULK we also regularly report on independent institutions that didn’t originate in our circles, which serve the interests of the oppressed-nation lumpen in the First World. There are many hardships that prisoners can organize around inside, to build independent institutions (communication channels, organizational connections) and public opinion in favor of socialism.
One example is the organization Men Against Sexism (MAS), which existed in the Washington state prison system in the 1970s. Men Against Sexism worked to protect new, and otherwise vulnerable, prisoners from sexual assault and other forms of gender oppression that prisoners were doing to each other. It was a different time back then, and these guys were celling together so they could organize better, and collecting donations from outside to purchase cells from other prisoners to house people who needed protection from the typical prison bullshit. MAS eliminated sexual assault in the Washington state system.(10) Imagine if you came together with other people in your facility to enact your own prisoner rape elimination campaign. What difference would that make for you and the people around you?
Somewhat similar to MAS, in 1969 the Colorado State Penitentiary housed an organization called the Latin American Development Society (LADS).
"Like prison groups today LADS focused on combating oppression and providing education for the imprisoned Chican@, and LADS also left us with some good examples to learn from. They created several serve the people programs in the pinta, for one they created a committee that worked with new prisoners, what we may call 'first termers' here in pintas in Califas. This was important because a new prisoner or 'fish' may be easy prey for some predator in prison. In this way youngsters were given revolutionary clecha once they entered the pinta by LADS 'O.G.'s.' LADS was comprised of prison vets who were politicized. Within LADS were many sub-committees such as the Committee to Assist Young People (CAYP), as well as a security committee called the Zapatistas. The LADS were anti-dope and combated drug use or sales in the pinta. They were not trying to poison the imprisoned Raza, rather they were trying to build the Raza."(11)
Protecting newcomers, sexual assault, and drugs are only some of the issues that prisoners have to take care of themselves. There are no petitions we can send you, and there's no one to appeal to to resolve these problems. Like our comrade at Telford Unit in Texas reported in ULK 59,
"My brothers in here have fallen victim to K2, which is highly addictive. They don't even care about the struggle. The only thing on their minds is getting high and that sas. I mean this K2 shit is like crack but worse. You have guys selling all their commissary, radios, fans, etc. just to get high. And all these pigs do is sit back and watch; this shit is crazy. But for the few of us who are K2-free I'm trying to get together a group to help me with the struggle."(12)
Nowadays conditions are a lot different in prisons than they were in the 1960s and 70s. Still, it's possible to build independent institutions to meet prisoners' needs. Bigger organizing happens in even worse conditions than the United $tates. There's no perfect set of conditions that need to be present in order to make a difference. It's a matter of choosing to do it ourselves. We want to report on and support these prisoner-led serve the people programs in ULK. So get to work, and send us your updates!
Educational Institutions and Public Opinion
ULK is a big part of how we build public opinion in favor of socialism, and in studying different movements and organizations, we saw that many failures are based in a lack of education and empowerment among the masses in society, or the organization's membership. Depth of political consciousness (and, related, correctness of political line) is arguably the number one reason why movements fail. Depth of analysis isn't about flashcards and pop quizzes. It's about "How to think, not what to think."
We've taken this to heart in our emphasis on educational programs. We run a number of different correspondence study groups, including a University of Maoist Thought for our advanced comrades. We run a Free Political Books for Prisoners Program, which isn't just about books, it's about books in service of our mission of liberating everyone, including the Third World proletariat, from imperialism. We don't do general book distribution because we want to liberate more than just individuals' minds. With our comrades' help, we develop study packs and distribute literature and study packs to prisoner-led study groups on the inside. We are really offering every format of political education we can through the mail, because this is such an important task in our work.
Besides the written word, there are many other channels for building public opinion. POOR Magazine and the Poor News Network (PNN) are independent institutions using events, rallies, and street theater in combination with the internet, radio, and videos to build public opinion in favor of oppressed-nation and lumpen struggles in the United $nakes. POOR Magazine runs a liberation school for children, and many, many other programs. POOR Magazine is funded independently from its own participants, events, and a donation program for individuals via Community Reparations. PNN goes hard on its line against capitalism, imperialism, and settlerism even with some funding from "reparators," which is the real measurement of independence.(13)
One radio program on the Poor News Network that especially builds public opinion for national liberation struggles and socialist revolution is Free Aztlán. Free Aztlán airs weekly and covers current issues concerning Raza and Chican@ communities. It has interviews, poetry, music, and even readings from the book Chican@ Power and the Struggle for Aztlán for people who don't or can't have a physical copy to reference. That PNN is willing to air a program like Free Aztlán says a lot about PNN, and we look forward to this program being a staple in our independent education institutions moving forward!(14)
Building public opinion isn't just about sharing information and exposing people to ideas. Applying our study to our conditions, we can help educate others in developing their own desire for socialism. It's an exercise in "Each One, Teach One." This was explained in our book review of Condemned by Bomani Shakur:
"The first theme addressed in 'Condemned' is the author's ideological transformation. MIM(Prisons)'s primary task at this point in the struggle is building public opinion and institutions of the oppressed for socialist revolution, so affecting others' political consciousness is something we work on a lot. On the first day of the [Lucasville] uprising, Bomani was hoping the state would come in to end the chaos. But 'standing there as dead bodies were dumped onto the yard (while those in authority stood back and did nothing), and then experience the shock of witnessing Dennis' death [another prisoner who was murdered in the same cell as the author], awakened something in me.' Bomani's persynal experiences, plus politicization on the pod and thru books, are what led em to pick up the struggle against injustice."(15)
We can't predict exactly what events, what books, or what conversations will spark the revolutionary fire in people. Everyone has their own unique journey into this work. Building independent institutions is one huge way we nourish and support that spark: empowering ourselves and others to do things to change our actual present conditions, while we build toward a socialist future.
- Book Review: The Crusade for Justice
- Raise the Minimum Wage to $2.50
- Review: The Anti-Exploits of Men Against Sexism
- United Playaz Building Peace on the Streets
- Newsflash: Amerikans are the Top 13 Percent
- United Front for Peace in Prisons - Statement of Principles
- Announcing the United Front for Peace in Prisons