www.prisoncensorship.info is a media institution run by the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons. Here we collect and publicize reports of conditions behind the bars in U.$. prisons. Information about these incidents rarely makes it out of the prison, and when it does it is extremely rare that the reports are taken seriously and published. This historical record is important for documenting patterns of abuse, and also for informing people on the streets about what goes on behind the bars.
I believe that having alliances with lines that are military minded is somewhat dangerous to the united front. First and foremost, I do believe in armed struggle, but building public opinion on imperialism and moving toward communism as the ultimate goal to end all oppression is key. Some lumpen orgs or nationalists might criticize MIM(Prisons) on their line. But truth be told we must study the history of the Cultural Revolution in China, which gives us the best way to move toward socialism, ending in communism. It also allows us to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Amerikkka targets lumpen orgs, and nationalist groups. So alliance with a militia group might jeopardize the united front. And once the imperialist policies place everyone in one basket who they feel are a threat, they will place them in prisons or worse eliminate them as what happened to many BPP members in the late 1960s. So, I must say comrades, that MIM(Prisons)'s approach with study groups and challenging all comrades to study history and dialectical materialism prepares us to use public opinion to change the minds of the lumpens and all those who are oppressed.
What good is guns if you don't know who the enemy truly is? By enemy I mean, just going up against amerikkka's army is not enough. The enemy is the system which must be changed. Guns with no vision or discipline is suicide to the united front. The best weapon in the struggle is unity, and armed struggle is also important. But each one teach one is the method to awakening the masses on how capitalism destroys lives.
Once the American people become self-reliant and help their fellow man and stop supporting this economic monster (capitalism-imperialism) then hopefully through public opinion and democratic centralism we can achieve the goal we all want which is communism.
As for snitches, there are different levels of snitching. But I will not allow a person in my circle who I know has the tendencies to crack under pressure. I mean those individuals who work for the prison administration, receiving goods in order to cause chaos. They would go so far as telling prison officials that you are sharing revolutionary material and having your books confiscated.
Even on the outside you have to be careful aligning with rats who will jeopardize the united front in order to demoralize and cause dissociation. But as long as those who represent the militant side of fighting oppression can agree that we must use strategy and wait for the right time to strike the imperialist monsters, I'm all for it. But if militants feel as though focoism is their aim, I'm all out. Educate the poor and oppressed first, to show them the real enemy. And there needs to be a change in habits and consciousness so that we will not allow materialistic ideology to control us.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade raises a good point about the risks of allying with those who are engaging in military actions now. We agree with em that focoism is not the right strategy. But the value of a united front is that we can disagree on this point of strategy in terms of the right time for armed struggle, but still unite in our fight against imperialism. We can work with these organizations while struggling with them over these points if such struggle seems fruitful. We do not need to have complete agreement on points of strategy in order to work together in a united front. We would also want to keep these groups at arms' length for the simple fact that advocating armed struggle now is a known tactic cops use to wreck a movement from within.
But beyond the question of uniting without complete theoretical agreement, this writer is arguing that it is too risky to unite with focoists because their premature military action could bring down the whole united front. This is certainly a risk we need to consider. Groups within the UF have the autonomy to act independently of the group, and so some may engage in actions that others disagree with. While we wouldn't automatically exclude focoists from a UF based on their political line, this comrade is correct to warn that we need to stay vigilant about actions that present a risk to our work and to our organization.
At the same time, resistors of all stripes, even those who aren't focoist, bring down repression from the state. Even anti-imperialist academics and people working in electoral politics are harassed, and murdered, by the state when their words are too effective. One could also argue that the frivolous security practices of other groups will jeopardize the UF. We have to find a balance between putting ourselves out there, and getting the work done.
We can't make up easy rules to answer to this contradiction. Instead everyone has to evaluate alliances based on the circumstances and current situation.
by a California prisoner March 2017 permalinkThere were two recent riots here. One on the 3A yard here at Corcoran, the other at SATF Corcoran, on 3C yard. No one severly hurt, but it's hard to organize with situations like that.
Estelle Unit operates a "cite only" method of providing prisoners access to courts, requiring prisoners to submit "cite specific requests" to Access to Courts (ATC) officials in order to receive legal research materials. Courts have repeatedly ruled cite-only access fails to satisfy constitutional de minimis, explaining it is unreasonable to expect a doctor of jurispridence to request cites by note, let alone a pro se laypersyn prisoner.
Recently I was told by law library staff a case I cite-specifically requested didn't exist. I called bullshit stating the Texas Criminal Practice Guide, John Boston's and Dan Manville's Prisoners' Self-Help Litigation Manual, and Manville's Prisoners' Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual don't lie. I was then threatened with disciplinary action. I invited such, desiring the denial of access to courts be documented. The next day when admitted to the so-called law library I was confronted by the ATC Supervisor in possession of the case at issue, and all kinds of papers for me to sign, validating I had in fact received the cite in question.
The very same day the above phantom caselaw was produced, I requested another case by cite, and again told the case didn't exist. I then set a trap. I have repeatedly trapped and caught ATC pigs claiming specifically-requested case citations did not exist which do indeed exist. Case in point: I requested a denial of access to courts case per the Estelle "cite only" method. I was told the case did not exist. I waited a short period, then requested the supposed nonexistent case be Shephardized, a method of cross-reference. At the next day's so-called law library session the Shephardized lexis.com download was presented to me showing the case in question had been published in 1997. Priceless. Absolutely priceless. Dumb blank faces blinking back at me.
MIM(Prisons) responds: The oppressors will never give the oppressed the tools to overcome their oppression. This anecdote is an example of exactly why we believe we need to build a revolutionary movement to force the state to give up its power, so we can put an end to Amerikkka's prison system!
Issue 55 of Under Lock & Key is taking a deeper look at building the United Front for Peace in Prisons at the margins. We've already spent a lot of space debating the role people on Special Needs Yards (SNY), especially in California. While that is an issue we will need to continue to address, here we focus first on white nationalist lumpen organizations, that are more likely to be on the mainline, and how anti-imperialists might relate to them. We also have a few pieces looking at the question of sex offenders who are generally seen as pariahs. That topic is a subset of the SNY discussion. In this article we will focus on the white nationalist question, and the question of oppressed nations allying with whites in general. In many cases handling this question properly will have a big impact on our success, because there are a lot of white people in prisons and many of them team up with white nationalist orgs.
So there are a few principles of dialectical materialism that we should apply in our analysis of groups which are often considered pariahs of the revolutionary movement: 1) dialectics differs from metaphysics in that metaphysics believes a thing has an essence; 2) dialectics in contrast sees everything as always being in a constant state of change; 3) and we can best understand that change by looking at the contradictions within that thing, while also considering the external contradictions that may influence it (them). To put it another way, no one is born a white supremacist or rapist, and just because someone's actions were that way in the past doesn't mean they have to be in the future.
What is White Nationalism?
Elsewhere in this issue we talk about white nationalism as an ideology that is a product of imperialism. Another point we must stress when talking about white nationalism is it is the majority ideology among the oppressor nation under imperialism. Most of this issue will be dealing with extreme examples found in imprisoned lumpen organizations. But there is a whole range of white nationalist ideologies, and the lumpen organizations are not necessarily the most extreme. Because the imprisoned lumpen are in the trenches, they must be more scientific than the more privileged wings of the white nationalist movement, and their motivations are often quite different.
In our current political climate in the United $tates, "white nationalism" is a hot topic. It is being used to criticize President Trump and those around em. But most of this criticism is coming from the perspective that former President Obama was not a white nationalist. The split between the left wing and right wing of white nationalism is about how to best manage the oppressed, even when that is not how they think about it. If we recognize that the current imperialist order is one that puts whites in a position of supremacy, then we must conclude that any position that works to preserve that system is white nationalist. Or we may say Amerikan nationalist to avoid confusion when its proponents do not appear white. But even though some internal semi-colony people are sitting at the table, globally, white supremacy in the form of Amerikan hegemony is alive and well.
Initially, the question of how and when to strategically ally with white nationalists is a broad one, as it refers to how we might ally with the majority of people in North America. But within that majority there are different classes and political tendencies. And white nationalist prisoners may be at the top of the list of likely allies from that group.
Another argument for the importance of working with the white lumpen is the Marxist analysis of the lumpen as a particularly dangerous, wavering class. If this country is heading in a more fascist direction, white nationalist lumpen youth and former military will be the first bases of recruitment for the fascists. This concern applies to the lumpen in general, but the national split makes it a harder sell for the internal semi-colonies to take up fascism. As always, our strategy is to win over all who can be won over, not to set false limitations based on identity politics or preconceived assumptions.
More so than former military, the white lumpen have connections to the struggles of the oppressed. And it is the massive prison system in this country that we can largely thank for that. The modern prison system is an inherent part of the modern ghetto, which has been lumpenized. While segregation is stronger today in many cases in the ghettos, it is weaker outside of the ghetto. This translates into a stronger class divide within the oppressed nations. The extent of this divide in the white nation is something that requires more research. But from the information we have, white prisoners are much, much more likely to integrate into petty-bourgeois society rather than be caught in a ghetto-like situation upon release. But as long as they remain in prison, whites do experience that ghetto life and the most brutal repression that we have in this country.
Young Patriots, White Lumpen Revolutionaries
One of the best examples we have of white lumpen youth forming an anti-imperialist organization was the Young Patriots Organization, which started in Chicago in the late 1960s. Soon the offshoot Young Patriots Party spread the movement to other parts of the United $tates. Their example demonstrated both the potential and limitations of such an organization. As long as there are pockets of whites that face similar conditions to the oppressed nations, as they do in prison, a revolutionary organization that can speak to and organize white lumpen will strengthen the cause of anti-imperialism. However, the Black Panthers, in particular Bob Lee and the leadership of Fred Hampton, played a very hands-on role in the development of the Young Patriots. In general history does not lead us to expect revolutionary white organizations with correct political lines to take hold in North America without good examples from the internal semi-colonies.
Even after becoming established, the Young Patriots were very limited by the reactionary nature of their own nation. The Patriot base was displaced southern whites who ended up in urban ghettos; a much smaller group, but parallel to the New Afrikans who made the Great Migration. When the Patriots returned to the south they were not received well. Two of the members were killed shortly after returning to the south, because of their organizing.(1) In other words, we are looking at exceptions to the rule where there are pockets of whites who are both separate from the oppressed nations but still living very similar lives and in proximity to them. When Peggy Terry of the Young Patriot-associated organization Jobs or Income Now (JOIN) ran for vice president, with Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver as the presidential candidate in 1968, they received a mere 28,000 votes in California. In contrast, the openly racist George Wallace campaign got 500,000 (almost exclusively white) votes.(2) And finally, for most of their existence the Patriots had more spies watching their organization than they had members.(3) This security issue is something others have pointed out with white nationalist lumpen organizations in prison that can be swimming with federal agents.
Often the Panther rhetoric spoke of the Young Patriots as representing "white power" in a way that was parallel to the Panthers' "Black Power" and Young Lords' "Brown Power". While we generally disagree with that line, the Panthers later called out all other white groups as "fascists" with the exception of the Patriots. The Patriot culture flew in the face of the rest of the white anti-war and student movements, including their confederate flag logo. We might draw a parallel to the Lucasville prison uprising in Ohio in 1993, where it is reported that swastikas, lightning bolts and words like "Supreme White Power" appeared alongside graffiti throughout the prison saying "Black and White Together" and "Convict unity."(4) These white identities, historically associated with power over New Afrikans were transformed in these unique circumstances.
Racism as a Tool of the Oppressor
MIM(Prisons) is cautious about presenting racism as merely a tool of the imperialists to divide "the people" as that is the line of the revisionists who claim that the majority of people in the imperialist countries are proletarians that must be united in their common class interest. As the practice of the Young Patriots demonstrated, this is not the case. However, in prisons is where we see the greatest potential for a class unity with whites that is progressive in the United $tates. And in prison, it is certainly true that racism is a tool that is actively used by the administration, even if often times white nationalists are too willing to play the role of keeping other prisoners in line for the state.
Of course, not all white prisoners are part of overtly racist lumpen organizations. Former-Black-Panther-turned-anarchist Lorenzo Komboa Ervin documented the history of the federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana, which was transformed from a completely Ku Klux Klan-dominated facility to one where New Afrikans built power in alliance with white prisoners. Ey argues that the anti-racist whites, often imprisoned for anti-war activities, were able to re-educate other white prisoners where non-white prisoners would not be able to.(5) This is an example of the importance of white-specific organizing, though not on the basis of an outward white nationalism.
We must reach people where they are at in a segregated society. We saw this with the Panthers in Chicago who were viewed with great skepticism by the white residents of Uptown, but were welcomed by the Young Patriot leadership. We saw this in Lucasville, where the New Afrikan leaders picked Aryan Brotherhood member George Skatze to stand with them as a representative of white prisoners because of eir history of settling disputes between whites and New Afrikans.
"At some point on this first day George saw a black inmate (Cecil Allen) talking through a bull horn to a small crowd of other prisoners. George went up to listen. To his surprise the man on the bull horn pointed to George and said, 'There's nobody going to be talking to you guys but me or this man right here,' meaning George Skatze."
Accepting their request for help, Skatze later "approached the whites, who were sitting in the bleachers. Putting his arm around a black inmate George said, 'If the guards come in here they're going to shoot us all, no matter what color we are.' We asked George who that black man was. He said, I don't know; I had never met him before."(6)
Veteran of the first wave of the California prison movement, Kumasi describes one scene in the late 1960s where hundreds of prisoners circled around the yard chanting, "Power to the people! Death to the pigs!" Approaching the group of white gangsters on the sidelines ey framed the situation as "are you going to be with us or with the pigs?" And since the reality reflected eir statement, they sure didn't want to be seen as siding with the pigs. As the whites started to join the ranks of the protestors, Kumasi grabbed one of their hands and raised it in the air as they faced the warden. In a segregated society this sort of representation of different nationalities can have powerful effects.
Kumasi has a number of stories about organizing across nationality. Similar to today, the California system was very segregated back then. Various white power and nazi gangs existed, as they do today. The united fronts Kumasi forged with these groups were not long-term and could be quite impulsive. It was really the strength of eir own organization that pushed others to come along. A justification of the line that building up one's own national unity helps build up the united front. Because the movement for change had reached such popularity and support among New Afrikans, it was easier to get the [email protected] to join up (who had not yet been divided between north and south).
A USW comrade has this to say about organizing in California today:
"There has been times when we've done alliances with white nationalist groups in prison. Any time we had a common goal, say shutting down SHUs, or removing informants off yard, assistance with legal work and what not.
"The only way for this to function is by creating a different set of politiks/policies than those used amongst the other LOs. As long as it does not interfere with the LOs' goals to end oppression. It is my opinion that even when dealing with oppressor nation LOs we must keep a move ready to be made once achieving certain goals due to the history the oppressor nation LOs have and because of their values as humans. We wouldn't like to see the LOs of the oppressed be set back a step or two after gaining ground. I think that even unity of some form can be achieved with pariahs — taking into account what they've done and what they are willing to do to not only redeem themselves but to benefit the struggle even at the cost of sacrifice. There is a place, space, form and energy for everyone in a struggle. It is our responsibility to organize, learn, and organize again."
What these histories demonstrate is that in cases where the white nationalists aren't completely in bed with the pigs, they tend to see themselves as prisoners and the pigs as their foes, like everyone else. And it is the unity around demands for all prisoners, ones that are nationality-neutral, that we will see opportunities for united front. So while national unity may need to come first, class unity will always be important in the prison movement.
White nationalism in general, whether of the left-wing or right-wing variety, is based in an alliance with imperialism. But there are examples in history of portions of the white population in the United $tates who may have overt racist overtones without the attachment to imperialism. Or at least with a mixed relationship to imperialism. And in many cases this racism is more motivated by fear of the other, or just self-protection than it is any deep investment in racist ideology itself. The AB comrade who wrote "The Enemy of my Enemy" seems to be an example of this white nationalism based in youthful ignorance. And the experience of the prison system has given em the opportunity to learn about the lives of the oppressed, and to live that life emself. George Skatze from Lucasville was also an example of this, someone who stood with New Afrikan prisoners and literally put eir life on the line in the struggle for prisoner rights and then later at the hands of the state when ey was one of the comrades who did not make a deal with the state to avoid death row as some of the charged prisoners did.
While others suggest we fight racism as a way to end oppression, we say to fight oppression to overcome racism. And in some cases oppression itself will overcome racism, by uniting those once divided by ideas of race. Our ideas are a product of our material conditions, and in participating in the transformation of our conditions our ideas change.
This is an open letter to all you advocates and activists who are at war with the prison system. The American Corrections Association (ACA) has done their two-stage, once in a decade, onsite prison review beginning in January 2017 ending in March 2017. They've posted memos to the effect of talking to prisoners and performing audits to better use monies towards treatment and rehabilitational programs. Well at California Correctional Institution (CCI) this is a joke, especially of the level 3 yard where there is no accountability on safety issues.
There are no cameras on yard nor in buildings that would hold Correctional Staff to a higher level of accountability on the lines of brutality waged against prisoners. This brutality is covered up too often by collusion between Correctional Officers in reporting of incidents which comes down to their words against prisoners' with no physical evidence to support because there are no surveillance cameras. This is a black site operation, period. There exists no accountability when it comes to enforcement practices. Correctional employees are given full discretion and are supported fully by a Gestapo Culture with no checks and balances from outside authorities. This is including the ACA, who only talked to 2% of the prison population, and those were selected by this administration, i.e. Correctional Staff.
There is no accountability on the running of programs, which means anything from dayroom, yard, school, vacations, or even jobs. At the same time there is no program and no movement, prisoners walk to medical lines, walk to chow, go to self help groups, etc. No matter what the weather is they are required to walk to and from just to lock themselves back into their living quarters, i.e. cells. The ACA didn't assist prisoners to get assignment cards for going to college classes onsite nor through mail even though they know these participants miss at least 9 hours a week from yard and dayroom, at the same time providing assignment cards to prisoners in GED courses. Though the institution is making money from these new college onsite classes of which I myself am in, earning 6 credits for 2 classes this semester and enrolled in both summer and winter courses. Yet, I am not able to go outside on the weekend to get fresh air so I now get outside rec and fresh air less than my brothers and sisters in the SHU. The American Correctional Association is there for a waste of tax payers' money.
Blame is put on the prisoners for most that continues to occur here to be absolutely honest, because most of them fail to study the rules, are rule breakers and have terrible conduct creating negative attention. Once more I must state in complete truth, that all levels of staff have treated me with respect, I haven't gotten any write up, never assaulted on any level by any level of Correctional Staff. Quite the opposite has happened to me. I've initiated my own services, I've signed up and am currently going to college, I had constructive conversations with all levels of Correctional Staff. At the same time I've read the Title 15 and re-read it several times complying with every law and rule. I've communicated with complete respect at all times with prisoners and prison staff of all levels and walks of life.
This is written for the purpose of exciting advocates to get involved with pro-social programs in person, to let them know that the ACA and many other organizations are rip-offs and monies would effect more positive change if and when it goes directly to the prison and prisoners who are willing to take advantage of all pro-social programming. That those who are doing the work to create better futures by learning in college or vocational skill learning should receive beneficial treatment and be allowed to go to yard on weekends and holidays even days that they are off. We need advocates to sound the bell for us ensuring that we are treated with favorable treatment, so that we are not being punished for attempting to get ahead.
A Socialist and Conscious Comrade
MIM(Prisons) responds: We've been watching the great progress of organizers at CCI with interest and excitement over the last year. But playing by the rules does not generally pan out so well for prisoners across the United $tates engaged in postive organizing along the lines of the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP). In one recent example, the United Kage Brothers have been denied the ability to form an official organization by the CDCR at Pelican Bay State Prison. And this is why the UFPP stresses INDEPENDENCE as one of the 5 principles. If local staff are supportive of your efforts that is great. And there is plenty reason for them to be supportive of a safer work environment. But we also must not build or organizing in a way that is dependent on the whims of the state, which has a general principle of opposing the organizing of the oppressed.
This dungeon that is the Tier II program here at Hayes State Prison is horrible to say the least. I am one of three caucasians in this dorm that i am in and this makes my life doubly miserable. As most of the pigs are white and prejudice which means all of the other inmates take it all out on me though I am not prejudiced in any way. They all want to complain and cuss me out but say nothing to the pigs here who are their oppressors. No because doing so will get their phone privileges, tablets, visitation or store privileges taken. No one here has any back bone. They are complacent and are willing to accept cold trays, being talked to any kind of way, being denied yard cells for weeks at a time and shower cells as well.
It has gotten a little better now that I have shown people what I am about but only a bit. I have been sharing my socialistic political views and my revolutionary views with my fellow inmates here. It's been hard and my copies of ULK have been received. I am working towards tarting a study group currently. This place is ripe for a revolution and I would love to help lead it. Viva Revolution.
There was an entry in ULK 53 I am compelled to address under the heading "Deadly Heat Victory in Louisiana." It was erroneously reported the 5th Circuit ruling in Bell v. LeBlanc, 792 F. 3d 584, mandated the temperature be maintained "at or below 88 degrees in Angola's death row buildings."
Not so. The 5th Circuit held the U.S. District Court Middle District of Louisiana ruling encompassing all of Louisiana's death row overly broad, and therefore an abuse of the District Court's discreation, violation of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The 5th Circuit pared down the District Court's ruling to affect only the three named plaintiffs: Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code, and James Magee. The only reason the 5th Circuit upheld the District Court's ruling as pertaining to these three plaintiffs is because all three are afflicted with pre-existing medical conditions that are susceptible to heat-induced complications.
"Based on its findings of fact, we affirm the district court's conclusion that housing these prisoners in very hot cells without sufficient access to heat-relief measures, while knowing that each suffers from conditions that render him extremely vulnerable to serious heat-related injury, violates the Eighth Amendment. ... The district court also erred because it awarded relief facility-wide, instead of limiting such relief to Ball, Code, and Magee. ... Because the district court's injunction provides an unnecessary type of relief and applies beyond these three Plaintiffs, it violates the PLRA. Accordingly, the district court abused its discretion. ... We emphasize, however, that the finding of substantial risk regarding a heat-related injury is tied to the individual health conditions of these inmates." Ball v. LeBlanc, 792 F.3d 584, 596-600, FNG.
The 5th Circuit opined Ball, Code, and Magee could be housed in cells closer to the death row guards' station, which is air conditioned, thereby cooler than the remainder of death row cells. Or, at most, a single death row tier could be air conditioned as a heat-relief measure for prisoners similarly situated to Ball, Code, and Magee. But as for requiring the Louisiana Department of Corrections to maintain temperatures below 88 degrees at Angola's death row altogether, the 5th Circuit judged that was not necessary to comport with the Federal Constitution.
Moral being, if it sounds too good to be true.. perhaps MIM(Prisons) should submit to me these litigous tidbits for vetting and verification.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Thank you to this comrade for setting the record straight, and helping to keep our subscribers from venturing down a wrong path in seeking their own relief from extreme heat, especially as summer is fast approaching. We rely on our subscribers to share their knowledge with us, whether it be their legal expertise, organizing experience, or theoretical understanding. Everyone should be making an effort to increase our collective abilities, which our oppressors try so hard to eliminate.
There are some good examples of united fronts between oppressed and reactionary groups in the history of the United $tates. Some of which ended up serving the interests of the oppressed and some which ultimately hurt the oppressed. We find a few of these examples described well in the book 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance available from PM Press.(1)
First the case of the fight between the British and the emerging United $tates of Amerika.
"In 1812, using the pretext of Native raids along its northern frontier from British territories, U.S. forces attempted to invade British North America. Here again, Britain's colonial policies proved effective; an alliance of Native nations (who had their own interests in full implementation of the 1763 Proclamation [which prohibited settlement west of the Appalachian mountains following the French and Indian War]) and European settlers succeeded in repulsing the U.S. expansion."(p. 29)
As we have seen since 1812, the victory of the United $tates in the Revolutionary War did not serve the interests of the First Nations. So the First Nations definitely chose the right side in this battle, even though the British surely had no real interest in supporting the rights of the First Nations beyond what was necessary to gain their support. This is an example of identifying the principal enemy and building alliances against that enemy, even if those alliances are with groups that would be enemies in other circumstances. This united front is similar to the alliance between the Kuomindang and the Chinese Communists in the war against Japanese imperialism. Ultimately the Kuomindang betrayed the Communist Party, but at the time Japan was the principal enemy and fighting together in a the united front was the right choice to achieve the ultimate goal of establishing a socialist state.
Another example is found in the U.$. Civil War, which was used by Afrikan slaves to fight for their freedom. It was not a case of whites going to war to help end slavery, but Afrikans were in a position to force this issue to the forefront.
"The beginning of the U.S. Civil War in 1861 posed various problems for the northern Union ruling class. Not only was the war for the preservation of an expanding continental empire, but it also opened up a second front: that of a liberation struggle by enslaved Afrikan peoples. With a population of four million, the rising of these Afrikans in the South proved crucial in the defeat of the Confederacy. By the tens of thousands Afrikan slaves escaped from the slavers and enlisted in the Union forces. This massive withdrawal of slave-labour hit the Southern economy hard, and the Northern forces were bolstered by the thousands."(2)
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Afrikans in the South correctly identified a shift in their principal enemy. It was no longer time to ally with Union forces. With the ending of the war these slaves were about to lose their bargaining position as fighters in the Union army.
"Towards the end of the War in 1865, those Afrikans who did not escape began a large-scale strike following the defeat of the confederacy. They claimed the lands that they had laboured on, and began arming themselves – not only against the Southern planters but also against the Union army. Widespread concerns about this 'dangerous position' of Afrikans in the South led to 'Black Reconstruction'; Afrikans were promised democracy, human rights, self-government and popular ownership of the land. In reality, it was a strategy for returning Euro-American dominance...."(p. 40)
This shift resulted in a better deal for former slaves than they would have got by just passively sticking with their unity with the North. But it shows the need to complete the New Afrikan war for liberation from the United $tates to achieve the basic goals of the Afrikan soliders who freed themselves from slavery. Different conditions will require reevaluation of who is our principal enemy and what are appropriate united front strategies at the time.
Recently we learned that one of our readers and a long-time activist, Zero, had a letter published on the Anarchist Black Cross Portland (ABC PDX) website and in the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) newsletter responding to an article in Under Lock & Key No. 50 (May/June 2016) about the September 9 work stoppage. Zero invited us to respond publicly and so we have done our best here to distill this debate down to what we see as the most important points.
With IWOC, ABC, and Zero, we have a common enemy in the criminal injustice system and imperialism more broadly. We are writing this response with the goal of building unity, not division, between organizations and individuals that are working hard to fight this unjust system.
Anarchism vs. Communism
Fundamentally we have a disagreement over anarchism vs. communism, but we believe that both camps are fighting for the same thing at root: an end to oppression of groups of people by other groups of people. We just think that communists have a more scientific plan for how to get there than anarchists, based on our study of how these same efforts have been attempted, succeeded, and failed in the past. The oppressed people of the world deserve the best and fastest route to liberation. Communists hope to discover what that route is through not only our study but also our practice.
This disagreement over the importance of science to revolutionary struggle is highlighted in a lot of what Zero wrote. Ey accuses MIM(Prisons) of being intellectuals whose "theory is based in theory." Zero also claims to have no interest in political line in the development of the September 9 work stoppage: "I don't care what your line is, nor does anyone else I work closely with on this project. Beyond small friendly jabs at each other, nothing I've seen or read, or heard from anyone in this campaign suggests anyone cares much about line."
Yet it's a discredit to the hunger strike organizers to say that they don't care much about line. It is precisely political line and theoretical analysis that drives the concept that "prisoner labor is slavery and this mass work stoppage is a good plan to shut down prisons." Without unity on this analysis, the organizers might have decided (as an example) the best approach is for everyone to fast because the Amerikkkan farms depend on prisons to buy agricultural goods and so this boycott would shut down the farms and hence force prison reform. IWOC and ABC aren't suggesting this, and that's probably because of their correct theoretical understanding of agriculture in this country. In forming their alliance on this campaign, Zero, IWOC, and ABC at least agree on this political line, even if they don't talk about it. After all, they are all anarchists (or anarchist-led), so they have much unity on line already.
Zero finds "contradictory statements" in our original article that help demonstrate where we depart from the anarchists because our strategy differs from theirs. Zero wrote:
"In paragraph #5 you say: 'we do see power in the ability of prisoners to shut down facilities by not doing the work to keep them running for a potentially longer period'. But then in paragraph #10 you say 'the organizers of the anti-slavery protest are misleading people into believing that shutting down prison work will shut down prisons'.
If masses of prisoners stopped working, forever, some facilities may close. This would likely be because of where they're located geographically, the layout and security level of the facility, and how easy or difficult it is to staff the prisons to accommodate for the loss of labor. But would that close all prisons in the United $tates? We doubt it. Does that mean we think prisoners should all just keep working? No! Short of overthrowing capitalist Amerikkka's power altogether, we will still have prisons in this country based on national oppression. But making that oppression more difficult is always a good thing.
Our point is that Amerikkka is willing to spend a lot of time, money and resources on imprisoning a staggering number of people, all at a financial loss. So we do not see evidence that if prisoners stop working and it suddenly becomes more expensive to imprison people that that will shut down the prison system. It most certainly is a form of resistance that heightens the contradictions between the oppressed and the oppressor, and even within the oppressor camp. Such an act would certainly have great influence on the ever-changing realities within the U.$. criminal injustice system, as would any sustained, mass prisoner mobilization.
Zero criticizes MIM(Prisons), "You spell united front with capital 'U' and 'F' which is what MIM calls one of its programs, short for UFPP, and as [UFPP] makes specific ideological demands for any entity it is willing to work with, I'm led to believe that what you truly mean by 'work with' is to 'co-opt'." We do capitalize the name of the organization United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP), which has a specific program (the 5 Principles of the UFPP: Peace, Unity, Growth, Internationalism, and Independence). Organizations that agree with those principles but disagree with us on many other things have joined this United Front and there is no attempt to co-opt those groups. We do not capitalize "united front" when not talking about this specific organization (if we have in print it was a mistake, not a political point). This is not a problem of elitisim, it is simply grammar. We welcome the development of a united front against prisons, and even better a united front against imperialism, outside of the UFPP and not bound by its 5 principles. But we do believe that united fronts need to have clear points of unity so that there isn't a question of organizations being forced to change their political line or give up their independence to participate. In other words, we are actively trying to organize in a way to prevent the co-opting of organizations that Zero accuses us of attempting.
Zero goes on to say that MIM(Prisons) "... refuse[s] to even mention the names of these other revolutionary organizations so that your readers can reach out and seek information on their own. Another display of elitist hegemonization of line." Yet this comment is in the context of criticizing an article that specifically named the IWOC and included a link directly to its publication, so we're confused about where we failed to mention the other organizers' names. On this point, however, we did fail to convert the web address to a print address in our print version of ULK, which of course makes it harder for subscribers to reach out directly to IWOC, and we are correcting that mistake in our footnote to this article and our general practice. We actually print many articles debating theory and practice, including some that explicitely disagree with us. To be clear though, the purpose of ULK is to educate and inform people on what we see as the most correct political line and practice and so we always offer our response to those points of disagreement and allow our readers (and history) to decide who is correct.
On this same point, we also highlight the correct practice of our predecessors in the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) who distributed a pamphlet "What's Your Line?" with the names, addresses and political positions of a wide spectrum of political organizations. We haven't put the time or money into compiling a similar up-to-date list because our resources are sadly limited, but we still support this practice. Perhaps an innocent oversight, but neither the ABC nor the IWOC bothered to link to our website or print contact information for MIM(Prisons) alongside Zero's long and scathing critique of our organization.
Nihilism or Subjectivism
In eir argument against political theory Zero writes: "I'm an anarchist. More, a nihilist. ... In the words of Bakunin, the true revolutionist is concerned with the science of destruction. Let the other sciences be the work of future generations. ... And as Bakunin said, sometimes we just have to throw theory into the fire, for it only stalls life." It's great to have faith that humynity can work out the problems of the future, but the problems of today also require scientific analysis. The oppressed don't have the luxury of banging their heads against the wall for years failing to make progress. If historical revolutions have failed in the same way repeatedly, we need to learn from those mistakes. And if revolutions have succeeded with certain practices, we should learn from those. This is what theory is all about: learning from history and applying those lessons to our practice today. Then looking at our own practice, drawing conclusions, and adapting our approach.
Citing Webster's dictionary and dictionary.com, without acknowledging the class interests that those resources represent, and saying "that's good enough for me" is simply subjectivism. Denying the importance of theory to our practice is to make us slaves (pun intended) to our emotions and subjectivism, which are very thoroughly conditioned by our residence in an imperialist country. We cannot expect to overcome subjectivism 100%, but through applying dialectical and historical materialsm we hope to make the fewest errors in our revolutionary work as possible.
Zero gives a good example of theoretical analysis in eir criticism:
"In closing, let me clarify that dialectical soundness can often depend on interpretation. You all use orthodox marxist definitions of 'slavery' even though we live in a post-modern, post-fordist time and place. The dynamics of our current reality are different. And so we must also re-assess our definitions. Besides, though personally I use marxist formulas I'm ultimately a nihilist, un-beholden to an particular ideological parameters. In other words. My definition of 'slavery' is reflected by our material conditions, not political agenda."
Zero is correctly stating here that we must adapt our theory to current conditions. What held true in Marx's day may not be true today. We can't just get stuck in what Marx wrote and ignore changes in conditions. We agree with that. But we ask Zero, what is it but theory that allows us to discuss who is or isn't a slave? If this discussion isn't based in theory, then it's just subjectivism.
For example, here is an instance where MIM(Prisons)'s analysis has adapted to changing conditions since Marx's day. We see that while the vast majority of workers of all countries were exploited in the past, and made up the proletariat class that Marx wrote about so thoroughly, today imperialism has advanced to the point where workers in imperialist countries are mostly petty-bourgeois. This is a point where we tend to disagree with groups who organize people in the First World around their economic interests (as opposed to national interests).
Finally, demonstrating the difficulty in remaining anti-theory while discussing political theory, Zero critiqued our point that work strikes will not in-and-of-themselves bring down the Amerikan criminal injustice system: "I’d ask on what dialectical evidence you base your theory that america would 'figure out' how to keep us locked up." This is a good example of the importance of theory. If we're wrong, then we should focus our efforts into organizing work stoppages. And Zero is right, it is dialectical materialist analysis that will help us figure that out here. The article that Zero responded to actually went into a lot of depth on this very point, explaining that prisons are primarily tools to control society, not make profit, which aid in the oppressive force of the bourgeoisie by keeping lumpen and anyone deemed dangerous to their power locked away. We know that prisons are not reliant on the money made from prisoner labor, because there is public information showing that prisons are money-losing operations.
Political debate is not the same as political opposition
To clarify our position, in the original article about the September 9 protests we talked about the similarities and differencess between the five-year history of the United Front for Peace in Prisons September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity, and this newer call for prisoner activism on September 9: "First we want to say that we are always happy to see people taking up organizing and trying to build unity behind bars. There are some very good points taken in this call to action... we would hope to work with these folks to broaden our movement." We followed this up with multiple articles reporting on the work stoppage and praising the widespread protests.
But Zero seems to think that by publically criticizing an incorrect point of political theory from the organizers we are opposing the protests. Ey wrote
"What we have here is a huge social base, across prison walls, that is extremely pissed off. And we have an opportunity to harness that anger and point it at our enemy on September 9th, thats all the analysis I need. and I say that if you oppose this in any way, you’re nothing but a house slave ready to defend your master. your complicit and should be among the first to be taken to task."
If we won't just blindly agree and follow eir leadership, apparently we are written off as complicit with the enemy. Isn't this the squelching of political debate that anarchists so vehemently oppose? To be clear, we support the September 9th protests, both those organized by members of the United Front for Peace in Prisons, and those promoted by the IWOC. Our criticism is directed toward statements that participating in these protests will shut down the prisons because prisons are dependent on prisoner slave labor. If we did not make this clear in our articles about September 9, we will take this criticism to help us approach the struggle with a clearer focus on unity.
Finally, Zero wrote that we should have known about this work strike sooner. It looks like there was some censorship of our mail from em so letters from Zero about this didn't get to us. We did reach out to IWOC and others about working together on September 9 organizing once we learned about the work strike (which we did hear about from a number of ULK subscribers). We never got a response from the organizers. We hope that going forward we can collaborate in the fight against the criminal injustice system to build a stronger movement. This doesn't mean we will give up our communist position, nor does it mean that Zero, ABC, or IWW need to give up their anarchism, and in fact we would argue that continuing this debate publicly is good for everyone. In practice we hope to collaborate on the September 9 protest in 2017.
Every night we go to sleep feeling hungry and wake every morning disappointed because the breakfast is so minute; still feeling hungry after breakfast.
To all concerned, we submit this Human Rights (HR) call of investigation of abuse and possible embezzlement by Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI) and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC). Sometime back in 2010 or 2011 Wisconsin law makers planned, with serious malice, of reducing meals to twice daily or even once a day. These ideas were scrapped, due in significant a way, because even jail and prison officials felt it will cause unrest. So what they have done and are doing is slowly, and not so subtly any more, reducing and cutting the portions down on all three meals to where it has the same or even more quantitative effect as if they took one to two meals depending on the weeks in play.
We are calling upon Human Rights and journalistic investigators to study these allegations. We call upon the collective community of concerned citizens to be alarmed at the allegations and tactics. We believe but cannot prove. But confirmed by DOC line staff who will not go on record that this is true and part of policy now. We know that here at CCI they are doing tactics such as measuring the portions like this: One measurement portion is scooped or ladled out, weighed on a scale or eyeballed, then multiplied times the number of prisoners on the unit. While this seems like ALL business/hotels etc measure and cook food. But the portions are designed to say eight oz., yet the actual amount is four or five oz. Not only is you skimming, but, as shown everyday, food is skimmed down more by the server as they try to extend those four oz. Stuff like juice, soup, oatmeal is watered down or substitute additives incorporated so that the quality of the oatmeal is damaged and it becomes merely fiber powder with hot water with no taste. But they may be writing the expenditure off as real oatmeal.
The sadists among those permitting this, like CCI Warden Michael Dittman, will say, well, this is prison. You get what you get. This is not the Hilton or Marriot etc (not actual quote, but analogizing his and others state of mind). These reductions, additives, and cuts are not only barbarous, but violations of human rights, cruel and inhuman treatment and malicious punishment (CIDTS). It causes daily discomforts, anxiety, frustrations, stress, anger and hatred of those administering it all. And all of these are counterintuitive to what corrections goals and aims claim to be.
Still more, it's being done secretively (well started off that way). Not as a public policy, but skullduggery to embezzle more funds for stuff that benefits Wardens/guards etc. For overtime more "workdays", pensions, sick days, vacation days etc. Hiring family members, etc.
This is not an issue of prisoners whining about mere discomfort. We are losing weight. We are not exercising normally and regularly due to lack of energy and for some, the brain registering hunger creates lethargic states so that very little exercise can be done. You no longer have the drive that one needs to exercise properly and consistently and regularly. And your metabolism go into a stop-loss mode to save fats and energy because the quantity of food is so small.
Add more to this two additional facts that innocuously contribute — the hard mats we are forced to sleep on don't let you sleep at all. Another design to punish and cultivate dependency on sleep/drugs/meds so they can control. A very large percentage of prisoners who have been held in long-term segregation start taking sleep meds for various reasons. The hard mat is one. People like me who have convictions against meds/sleeping drugs must suffer with the lack of energy and sleep until the body gets so tired it shuts down and collects its overdue.