Lumpen Struggle, Lumpen Survival

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[Organizing] [ULK Issue 49]
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Lumpen Struggle, Lumpen Survival

There are two important tasks which imprisoned revolutionaries need to carry out. The first is to build public opinion for revolution. The second is to survive their imprisonment long enough so as to ensure a lasting impact on the revolutionary movement long after their release. For those not getting out, it's important not to give up, as your contributions to oppressed peoples' movements are still very meaningful. It is from these concrete classrooms that some of the most dedicated revolutionaries emerge, returning to their communities after years in prison. Therefore the need for political instructors to train these students is dire. As such, survival pending revolution should be an important part of any comrade's focus while imprisoned.

Survival pending revolution can mean figuring out how to navigate everyday prison politics in a manner acceptable to the prison masses. At its most basic this can mean doing no harm in the masses' eyes. Ultimately, the prison movement is a mass movement. How can we lead a mass movement if the prison masses cannot trust us because we are actively working against their own righteous interests? How can we claim to stand for liberation if we are responsible for oppressing others? In our interactions with the prison masses we must be like fish swimming in the sea, not only blending in with our environment, but becoming one with our environment.

The anti-imperialist prison movement is a mass movement, but if we don't have the support of the masses then we don't have anything. This is an important point that real revolutionary organizations have understood from very early on. The Chinese Communist Party understood this and so they created an eight point program which helped to address the needs of both cadre and masses within the wider scope of revolutionary practice. Decades later the Black Panther Party would incorporate this same program into its organization, re-working the points to the BPP's specific conditions:

  1. Speak politely.
  2. Pay fairly for what you buy.
  3. Return everything you borrow.
  4. Pay for anything you damage.
  5. Do not hit or swear at people.
  6. Do not damage property or crops of the poor, oppressed masses.
  7. Do not take liberties with women.
  8. If we ever have to take captives do not ill-treat them.
Because prison can be such a violent place and communists are supposed to stand against oppression, comrades associated with the prison movement should make it a point to be best known as peacemakers rather than agitators, unless of course they are dealing with injustice at the hand of the oppressors. As such, the likelihood of injury is significantly higher amongst prisoners when compared to people on the streets, with one report citing that more than a quarter of state and federal prisoners report being injured since admission to prison.(1) These figures however do not account for prisoners who do not report injuries, so the real number is definitely higher.

Another common cause of injury in prison, which is often overlooked and under-reported, is the violence associated with prison sexual assault. According to Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) reporting, more than 1 million people have been sexually assaulted in prison over the past 20 years.(1) That's an astonishing 50,000 people a year every year for the last 20 years! Again this estimation by PREA is likely under-reported. Prison rape is important to prevent, not only for the obvious reasons but because with sexual assault in prison comes "an increase in other types of violence, including murder, involving inmates and staff, and long lasting trauma which makes it even more difficult for people to succeed in the community after release."(1, 2)

When it comes to substance abuse virtually all prisoners are addicted to something. Statistics show that 80% of prisoners abuse drugs or alcohol and that nearly 50% of jail and prison inmates are clinically addicted.(3) "Four of every five children and teen arrestees in state and juvenile prisons are under the influence of alcohol and drugs while committing their crimes, test positive for drugs, are arrested for committing an alcohol or drug offense, admit having substance abuse and addiction problems or show some combination of these characteristics."(3) This last point is very relevant to the lumpen in prison and lumpen youth because most prisoners started doing drugs and alcohol at very early ages, generally around the same time they start breaking bourgeois laws and getting into trouble. A hundred and fifty years ago social scientists like Marx and Engels started theorizing that breaking bourgeois laws was just another way for oppressed people to rebel against their oppressive conditions. Needless to say that this form of rebellion was not very effective, but it is as Frederick Engels termed "revolution in embryo."

It is interesting that much of adolescence is spent in almost continuous rebellion, as this is generally the stage in humyn development when people begin to become conscious of the world around them in ways not experienced before. The fact that lumpen youth engage in criminal behavior at such an early age says a lot about the ways certain groups in society begin to exhibit early signs of what can only be described as an early group, or class, consciousness. This is important to note because it shows that the lumpen realize where their place in society under capitalist rule is, and they actively begin to figure out how to fit in it.

The real take away here, however, is that many people who currently find themselves in prison first learned to survive and fit into their oppressive social environment by both developing and adapting many negative behaviors as a way of seeking positive reinforcement within negative situations. Unfortunately for the oppressed this positive reinforcement came at the expense of reinforcing negative behaviors which has of course landed them in prison. Learning to combat such negative behaviors means having to unlearn many of the traits that were previously thought socially acceptable and necessary. In essence, this means learning to undo and working against the lumpen lifestyle. A lifestyle that is not only characterized by violence, alcohol and drug abuse, but by anti-people activity in general. As dialectical materialists however we are confident that the oppressed nation lumpen can learn to combat such negative character traits using the methods of unity-struggle-transformation.(4) The hope of the oppressed internal nations depends on it.

Notes:
1. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Ethical Considerations for Revisions to DHHS Regulations for Protection of Prisoners Involved in Research, "Ethical Considerations for Research Involving Prisoners", National Academies Press: 2007.
2. See ULK 29 for PTT of MIM(Prisons)'s article on the group Men Against Sexism (MAS), which did great work to build unity and protect prisoners from physical and sexual assault. MAS was organizing in the 1970s and 80s, and led to an eradication of sexual assault in prisons all across the state of Washington.
3. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., "Alcohol, Drugs and Crime."
4. Allyn and Adele Rickett, Prisoners of Liberation: Four Years in a Chinese Prison, Anchor Press: 1973.
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