New Location, Old Conversations, New Technique
This letter is to inform you that I have been transferred. My transfer was long overdue and now after those long years in Ad-Seg I should be getting released to population soon. I am now housed in a two-man cell after spending the last three years in a one-man cell because that’s the way the other units in Ad-Seg is set up. So that also is an adjustment I’ve had to make to my work-out/sleep schedule.
This is another of the Arkansas units that’s known for rampant drug trade and use, so I’m trying to prepare myself for combating the mindset that comes along with that among my fellow prisoners. I have been here now for two weeks and have not heard any revolutionary conversations, let alone any political discussions that were based on concrete research or facts. No one is talking about unity or anything of that nature.
I started a conversation with another prisoner about the going-on in Iran. I told him that I assume Chump assassinated Iran’s commander to initiate a war because of the upcoming “elections,” and the prisoner I was talking to started taking a defensive stance and the kapitalist mindset came out. You know the justification, “Oh, the economy is better than it has ever been!” When I asked him at what price has the economy got so great he got in his feelings and told me I sound like one of the Trump haters that have been trying to come up with anything to get him out of office! I then just changed the subject to the San Francisco 49ers taking the Super Bowl this year but he didn’t like that any more than the political discussion! Ha.
The point I was trying to make about who actually pays the price for Amerikkkan prosperity was completely missed and I was reminded of something I read in the essay “Intro to Neo-Colonialism” by Kwame Nkrumah, which we are studying in the University of Maoist Thought (UMT). Nkrumah states “In fact neo-colonialism is the victim of its own contradictions. In order to make it attractive to those upon whom it is practised it must be shown as capable of raising their living standards, but the economic object of neo-colonialism is to keep those standards depressed in the interest of the developed countries. It is only when this contradiction is understood that the failure of innumerable ‘aid’ programmes, many of them well intentioned, can be explained.”
The reason I brought the issue of “aid programs” up is because in the course of the conversation my fellow prisoner’s only grievance about Amerikkka was that these other countries (Iran, Russia, etc.) look at Amerikkka as weak, because after we go to war with countries in the Middle East we send them all kinds of “aid.” I started explaining the system of neo-colonialism and how none of these other countries are fooled into believing that the Amerikkkan government provides “aid” to these countries we’ve invaded out of righteous motives, but he couldn’t grasp my point.
It just goes to show how deep kapitalist ideology indoctrinates its multitude of “patriots.” Amerikkka has given you a life sentence in their machination of mass incarceration, but these dudes are still willing to argue for the monster’s “honor.”
It’s hard for me to see any future victories over a kapitalist system that is so inextricably woven into the fabric of our present day society that I can see why it’s so easy to become agreeable to the multitudes and just go along with the way the system is. Not myself personally, but so many others that I think should be on the side of the oppressed. It makes me question my own abilities in comparison to a Mao. Their essays and policies are so far-reaching and deep, and here I fail at getting a point across to a fellow oppressed prisoner, or as they say I can’t even preach to the choir!
Well, as I said I was touching base to let you know about my transfer and my current status on getting ready to get released to population, and I also wanted to give my thanks to my komrades in the study group and the study group facilitators for helping me get through my time in Ad-Seg, and the growth I’ve experienced.
If it wasn’t for this study group, among other things, I don’t think that I would’ve made it through with a sound mind. So thanks again and I look forward to struggling into the future with UMT and MIM(Prisons).
UMT coordinator of MIM(Prisons) responds: Before writing our response, we asked another comrade from UMT to respond to this article. We suggested a potential angle for responding.
“The main thing I was thinking to respond to (which does not need to be the thing you respond to, you can respond however you see appropriate) is that this persyn was not coming from a place of unity in the conversation with the other prisoner [more on the meaning of "total unity" below - Editor]. Ey was trying to make a point, or win a debate. That technique is useful if there’s an audience of people who are coming to their own conclusions about the debate, hearing both sides. But for an individual conversation, I think we have to come from a place of total unity in order to help people see political distinctions. Again, you can respond however you see fit, I just wanted to offer that as an idea.”
In response, our UMT comrade sent some feedback:
"With respect to the article, I’d have to disagree with your statement that the author was not coming from a place of unity. It is very difficult for me to see how ey could’ve found a better way to struggle with that persyn according to what I read.
"The fact that ey even attempted to engage that persyn in a political discussion is proof enough for me that ey was attempting to unite with em. Furthermore, what is political struggle with someone like that if not a debate? While I don’t believe in showing people up who I’m trying to build with, I also don’t believe in being subtle or sugar-coating reality for the sake of sparing someone’s feelings. That would be liberalism, would it not?
“I once read a MIM article in which the author stated that a good teacher doesn’t assert the correct principles, rather they teach the correct principles. This is the model I always try to uphold when it comes to political struggle and I hope MIM(Prisons) still upholds it as well.”
I think there is a very subtle distinction between unity and discussion, versus division and debate, that i am still learning how to bring to fruition in our work. Of course there will still be moments of disagreement with our comrades, which is perfectly healthy to political growth. And there will be moments of frustration and conflict within a revolutionary organization and movement. I believe the goal in these recruiting conversations is in minimizing the conflict, while hashing out the disagreements, and holding the other persyn in high esteem and unity throughout.
With people we’re recruiting, there is some baseline unity that we can build on. Either you’re both prisoners, both have a deep hatred of capitalism or inequality, or you are working on the same campaign or project. Or as our UMT comrade says above, you are in a conversation at all, so there’s unity. That level of unity is a good starting place, for sure.
If we’re talking about helping people shift their deeply-held inaccurate beliefs which are reinforced by bourgeois propaganda daily; and empowering people to make a difference in their locality and the world; and asking people to take on the magnificent and difficult and self-sacrificing task of building revolution over the long-term while not cooperating with the pigs for their persynal benefit in the short-term, etc… then I believe a deeper unity is needed in order to break through all those barriers to catalyze this profound shift.
As advocates for the liberation of the world’s people from the oppression of capitalism and imperialism, i believe we have an obligation to learn how to communicate with people in a way that we can be most effective. And I’m not saying to throw out accuracy and facts for the sake of false unity. It’s about having discussions with (potential) comrades with unity as primary, even in spite of disagreement.
One way to picture this subtle distinction may be to pause at any point in a conversation and honestly ask yourself “is it blatantly obvious we are on the same team right now? or is it more like we are on opposing teams?” And ask yourself these questions from the other persyn’s perspective, and from an observer’s perspective, too. If the answer to this inquiry is that in that moment you are more in opposition than on the same team, then that’s what i’m talking about.
Another barometer to measure whether we’re coming more from unity or division, is to look at how do these conversations resolve? Are they resolved with greater unity and understanding, or, like in this letter we received, is the result that the persyn totally didn’t grasp the message?
One appropriate time for debate is in a conversation where you are distinguishing whether you even want to be on the same team with a persyn or an organization. These private debates can help clarify for ourselves our own view, the views of others, and help decide the best steps forward in terms of working together, or not.
Another time and place for outright debating is in public discussions. When others witness a debate, it helps the viewer clarify their understanding of the people in the debate, and helps clarify what views they are most aligned with. Under Lock & Key is a great public forum for these types of public debates.
And again, I’m not talking about letting things slide, or ignoring disagreements (that would be liberalism).(1) I’m talking about having conversations with people we are trying to unite with, coming from a place of deep listening. We have to, in a way, “allow” others to believe what they believe, in order to help them see something different. Not agreeing with them, but listening to them.
There are many conversational tactics and methods that can be used, and the effectiveness of specific language will vary persyn to persyn, culture to culture, situation to situation. Rather than a formula of things to say, i think cultivating one’s authentic commitment to developing with others is what signifies to them a deep level of unity, no matter the words. Developing this commitment (even in spite of our own persynal frustrations!), as well as the tactics that are effective, is a lifelong practice. You can use this approach with anyone, even people who hold differing views. And i think this approach is a precursor to people even listening to facts or points being made, which is a precursor to deeper unity, growth, and recruiting.
Comrades in Maoist circles have disagreed with this approach, and have said it’s too much focusing on subjective opinions and tone. And to that i would throw MIM’s “where’s the beef?” taunt back in our own face. Where’s our success? Where’s our results? If we’re outright debating people we’re trying to recruit, and simply trying to show them that they’re wrong, is that working?
I fully agree that viewing the world with the most accuracy as possible brings us power, which leads to effectiveness, and liberation. Sharing accuracy with others is extremely important to our work.
And I believe it’s subjective to behave as if we live in a post-subjective society, and that the most efficient way to liberate the world’s people is to go on unnecessarily dividing with people who could otherwise be our comrades. We can’t teach people to think scientifically by pretending they are already fully objective scientific thinkers.
While working toward a cultural shift where people can see and hear facts delivered in any tone and in any manner, i believe we also need to acknowledge that our culture isn’t there yet. It would behoove us to communicate with others with an awareness that this is the culture we’re speaking into. And in my view, there’s no harm to trying on different conversational techniques. Interacting with others from a place of profound unity (rather than just saying words or speaking one’s mind) is one i would recommend trying out.
I would even argue that being an objective scientific thinker isn’t about thinking scientifically 100% of the time – we are humyns after all, and part of being humyn is having subjective thoughts and feelings. Being objective isn’t about squashing those impulses, it’s about training ourselves to notice when we are approaching a question subjectively, and training ourselves to put that aside. Even long-time revolutionaries are subjective about things! We’re just also committed to developing our objective muscles. We can’t expect that quality of listening from people who have a lifetime of practice in all subjectivism all the time.
I don’t claim to be an expert in this technique, and i can definitely see how on the surface it sounds like liberalism or being wishy-washy. I believe it has been validated by all the seminal works i’ve studied on “how to relate to people” from Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed to studying about Mao’s long march. That this view is in a minority in our organization is even further evidence of my lack of expertise in bringing this shift to our work. And, of course, maybe i’m wrong! Maybe head-on debate between individuals, in private, is the way to build unity, our organization, and our revolution.
I could go on even more trying to explain it, probably writing an entire book here. Instead i would love for comrades to try it out and let us know what they discover. If you come from a place of profound unity, deep listening and compassion in a conversation where you disagree with someone else, did anything shift in your relationship or organizing work with this persyn or people?
1. Mao Tse-tung, Combat Liberalism, 1937.