Lessons from the Bandung Conference for the United Front for Peace in Prisons
"Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research. And when you see that you've got problems, all you have to do is examine the historic method used all over the world by others who have problems similar to yours. Once you see how they got theirs straight, then you can know how you can get yours straight." - Malcolm X, Message to the Grass Roots
The basis of any social movement is unity. Unification is most often formed around a common oppression and recognition of necessity by a sometimes common, sometimes diverse group of people in order to link up together to fight the oppressive powers that be. On this topic perhaps the best, yet least known example of a common, yet diverse group of people coming together to fight off the most oppressive and far reaching power the world has ever known, was the Asian-African Conference of 1955 held in Bandung, Indonesia. This gathering of Black and Yellow nations was the first time in hystory that representatives from 29 Asian and African countries would meet to discuss strategic methods for combating the effects of imperialism on their people. All of the countries in attendance were not only newly independent following the beginning of the disintegration of the old colonial order, but represented a quarter of Earth's land surface.(1)
The Bandung Conference was sponsored by the Prime Ministries of Indonesia, Burma (now Myanmar), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India and the Philippines. The most notable and prestigious country to attend however was the then-socialist People's Republic of China. The convocation of these newly emerging forces was an important step towards the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement and it is from the legacy of both Bandung and the Non-Aligned Movement that the concept of the Third World would later be developed. Most notably barred and excluded from attending the conference were any and all Western imperialist powers, including the then-social-imperialist Soviet Union, as the newly emerging forces were looking to make a clean break from all variations of imperialism.
The Bandung Conference considered problems of common interest and concern to the countries of Asia and Africa, and discussed ways and means by which their people could attain fuller economic, cultural and political cooperation. And while to many today, particularly in the First World, the idea of the Third World liberating itself from the artificially-produced poverty of capitalism without the benefit of U.$. "aid" may seem like a pipe dream, those of us who know the mechanisms by which imperialism operates know that what is actually ridiculous is the notion that the United $tates and other imperialist powers would ever sit idly by as the oppressed and exploited organized for their own liberation to the point that they are no longer dependent on such First World aid. As a matter of hystorical perspective, Malcolm X would later explain the social context for the exclusion of the white man at Bandung:
"The number one thing that was not allowed to attend the Bandung Conference was the white man. He couldn't come. Once they excluded the white man, they found out that they could get together. Once they kept him out everybody else fell right in and fell in line. This is the thing that you and I have to understand. And these people who came together didn't have nuclear weapons, they didn't have jet planes, they didn't have all the heavy armaments the white man has. But they had unity."(2)
To be clear, it's not that the oppressed Asian and African countries were excluding the white man out of some sense of racism. Rather they were excluding the representatives of various white nations because the issues being discussed at Bandung were in direct contradiction to Western imperialism and the white nations they are in the service of. Never before had such unity between the oppressed nations played out either before or after the 500 years of colonialism which preceded the conference and which the Bandung 29 were trying to depart from. The United $tates responded to this political snub which they perceived as a threat to their political and military hegemony, as well as to their material interests, with various destructive acts. The most serious of these being the attempted assassination of Chinese Premiere Zhou Enlai and the mid-air explosion of the passenger plane "Kashmir Princess."(3)
Even with such acts of barbarity committed on the part of the imperialists against the oppressed for daring to carve out an existence on their own terms, the Bandung Conference was a success as the final communique of the conference can attest to: economic cooperation on the basis of mutual interest and respect for national sovereignty, technical assistance in the form of experts, trainees, pilot projects; the establishment of the Special United Nations Fund for Economic Development; the stabilization of commodity trade in the region and the stabilization of international prices and demands for primary commodities through bilateral and multi-lateral arrangements, just to mention some of the more groundbreaking methods by which the Bandung Conference sought to break the colonialist stranglehold on their nations.
The Bandung Conference was also convinced that
"among the most powerful means of promoting understanding among nations was the development of cultural cooperation. The Asian-African Conference took note of the fact that the existence of colonialism in many parts of Africa and Asia, in whatever form, not only prevented cultural cooperation but also suppressed the national cultures of the people. From the denial of basic rights in the sphere of education to a peoples basic right to study their own language."(4)
Out in the so-called free world we can see modern day examples in the closing of "ethnic studies" departments and the banning of Chican@ and other Latin American history books in racist Arizona; to the denial of prisoners' abilities to learn their people's true hystory for fear of "Security Threat Group" validation. What the imperialists and prison administrators really fear however is the unity of the oppressed based on common national identities and the creation of revolutionary nationalist organizations that would surely bring most prisoners together, as opposed to the divisive gang feuds that currently mark the reality of many prisons.
In the years following the Bandung Conference, the world saw the rise of national liberation movements all over the Third World, from guerrilla armies to People's Wars in the imperialist periphery, to the fledgling national liberation movements and armed struggles that under-lied the Civil Rights movements in the core capitalist countries, principally the United $tates. Political thinkers attributed these movements in part to the "Spirit of Bandung" and the example set there for the rest of the oppressed nations by the Bandung 29, in particular the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC led by example, showing the world what true independence and balanced self-reliant development could look like. For what many oppressed nations could only just begin to aspire to, the PRC was already doing and had to a large degree already accomplished.
"[The Spirit of Bandung] can be summarized in the following five principles: (1) respect for the fundamental rights of people as well as for the goals and principles of the United Nations Charter; (2) respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations; (3) equality of all nations and people both large and small; (4) non-intervention and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries; (5) no recourse to acts or threats of aggression or to the use of force. These five principles were also referred to as the "five points" of peaceful co-existence."(5)
The Bandung Spirit Lives On!
Today prisoners from different nations and many different cliques and sets are taking part in the United Front for Peace in Prisons and are hence putting United Front theory into practice. Peace and unity between prison organizations mark not only the beginning stages of national liberation movements within the oppressed internal nations within the U.$. empire, but the embryonic stages of the peoples struggle in the United $tates for socialist revolution in alliance with Third World communist movements. Just as surely, the Bandung Conference marked the entrance on the hystorical scene of the people's liberation movements in Africa and Asia, and represented the first impetuous rising of countries still oppressed or scarcely liberated from imperialism. Thus, from this we take the Five Fundamental Principles for Peace in Prison also known as the "five points of unity":
- Peace: By organizing to end needless conflict amongst prisoners we not only struggle against the pigs divide and conquer strategies, but we set a positive example for others and likewise help to begin the constructive reconstruction of our prison and lumpen organizations and nations.
- Unity: As against a common oppression we fortify our peace-treaties by using this opportunity to work together in one form or another to both better our conditions and understanding of each other.
- Growth: Without growth on an individual level or a group level our newfound unity will not survive. So comrades should take the time to build themselves up and each other so as to aid and push the movement further, as the movement in return will push us all further.
- Internationalism: Mao Zedong said that in wars of national liberation patriotism is applied internationalism. Within our conditions this essentially means that in struggling for our own nations now we effectively aid the struggles of other oppressed nations by forcing the oppressors to contend with us. Hence on a strategic domestic and international level our tactics are to pit ten against one.
- Independence: Then and now independence has always been the ultimate aim, both at Bandung and in the prison movement. By building our own institutions and programs of the oppressed independent of the U.$. prison administrators and their inmate lackeys we help solidify and consolidate the prison movement. Just as the sponsoring countries at Bandung cut out the white man and found that their unity and movement could only be strengthened as a result, so must we cut out all the prison administrations' officially sanctioned prisoner representatives because they cannot truly serve us, but have only served to better oppress and suppress us.
For all these things to work we need not only unified resistance to oppression, but the one crucial aspect that was missing at Bandung. We need vanguard leadership and mass struggle working together so that the prison movement will truly get somewhere and not merely stagnate and die after a few petty reforms are put in place. Hence we need correct leadership to guide that resistance. Correct leadership and struggle comes from a correct understanding of material reality and of the correct methods for influencing that reality; not sporadic and short-lived rebellions where the masses learn nothing but the taste of defeat with incompetent leadership that has no one's interest at heart except for their own, and who clearly lack the vision of carrying the struggle forward until true change and reform is won. This is the difference between victory and defeat, and it is the kernel of truth which we must all grasp if we want to change our reality.
Connected to this kernel of truth is the fact that the prison movement will be dialectically connected to the streets and to the national liberation movements of the internal semi-colonies. All that is left for us to do is to grasp these truths as part of the objective laws of development for our cause and vigorously build on them. As such there can be no successful prison movement without the help of the rest of the oppressed nation masses and various revolutionary organizations outside of prison walls, just as there cannot be any successful national liberation movements for the oppressed without the help and leadership of the revolutionary lumpen in the semi-colonies and behind prison walls playing a vital and pivotal role.