One aspect of organizing that is paramount for recruitment and retention of revolutionaries is comprehending the psychology of the oppressed. Oppressed psychology is not meant to insinuate some distinct or identifiable character flaw, or what not, inherent in those oppressed; nor something which destines us (oppressed) to be the whipping boy of the oppressor. Oppressed psychology denotes how the system influences oppressed nations into believing, accepting and living in adherence to a mentality and mode of existence calculated to promote the greatest benefits for both the oppressor classes and capitalism overall. Just contemplate: what allows us to lash out at others who are equally oppressed, but by and large do little to resist or confront our oppressors?
In prison, this wall (oppressed psyche) expresses itself in no uncertain terms: "This is what we are." "It's what we do, all we can do."(1) It's an acceptance of the lot foisted upon our shoulders. I have identified this as a type of Stockholm Syndrome, where we, the oppressed, validate and reinforce an ideology and mentality detrimental to self-determination.
An oppressed psyche is a crippling inhibitor. First, it dissuades us from considering any meaningful steps toward resistance. For instance, "This is the way things are, have always been," or "Any resistance can only worsen an already bad situation." Second, because we accept it as part of who we are, its loss equals our loss of identity. This is expressed in comments such as "There's nothing else for me in life," or "If not a criminal, then what am I?" Third, it promotes half-measures and depreciation of our value as revolutionaries. We may very well feel nobody will care one iota about what we have to say or think. These, and more, are the serious impediments to scaling the oppressed psyche wall. Indeed, these are monumental obstacles but not insurmountable.
As stated elsewhere, the surest method of overcoming walls is demonstrative action. It is the duty of revolutionary leaders to disseminate among the masses the consciousness of their destiny and their task. This duty translates to practice in "Build, Break, Build." Once we, as organizers and leaders have forged an iron weapon of proper foundations — correct political line, appropriate application of dialectical materialism, and understanding of the struggle — it must be launched at oppressed-psyche walls like a spiked hammer, in order to chip away and break them down. After breaking down the walls, it remains to build up a new revolutionary structure.
There are too many variations in peoples' characteristics, backgrounds, and such to lay down any definitive, universal rule, or guidelines to be followed in the Build, Break, Build process. The only general rule I can acknowledge is: after an initial engagement in "breakage dialogue," organizers should chart their next steps depending on the amount of (or lack of) receptivity they encounter. Also, it is important to recognize people generally treat new concepts with ambivalence at best. A key aspect of the oppressed psyche is to cling to what is familiar, and be cautious of the new, or unknown. To be certain, the oppressed psyche is a formidable wall. Breaking it down may require several attempts, going back over old sections of the wall previously chipped away.
Focus the breakage dialogue on hard questions like those asked in "If Black Lives Matter, Don't Integrate Into Amerika."(2) Or the issues highlighted by the AV Brown Berets in "Mobilize Raza for Independence."(3) The building of revolutionary consciousness and purpose is a duty which demands thoroughness.(4) Like an aggressive cancer, at times you must operate in an old area anew. Walls, such as oppressed psyche, are a cancer degrading the revolutionary movement, inhibiting the masses' consciousness of their role and task, complicating recruitment, and all but precluding retention. In organizing we must recognize walls and be prepared for Build, Break, Build.
I have learned a lot from ULK 63, particularly from an article from a Michigan prisoner on "Challenges and Growth in Recruiting Skills." I myself have always been a passionate orator since my former days as an official of the Moorish Science Temple of America. But as my political consciousness began to rise and I became more of a revolutionary realist, I find that the hellfire and brimstone approach is not always wise.
I have learned that most reasonable men can be persuaded through intellectual dialing based on facts, statistics and logic. Then there are the masses that really don't know what they want but know something must change. I have some good ideas on how to organize some comrades although I must admit my objective is somewhat obscure. I love how this prisoner from Michigan laid out the format of organizing through dialectical materialism, which he later gave a definition of as I would say "a scientific process of trial and error." I love hearing and reading the understandings of others, it raises my own.
Anti-imperialists got a little taste of good news from Trump last month when ey announced plans to pull troops out of Syria. Ey later backpedaled saying ey did not set a timeline for such a pull out. But Trump has long made comments indicating that the new focus of U.$. strategy will be to combat China and Russia. In other words, the war on oppressed nations, particularly in the middle east and north Africa, and euphemistically dubbed the "War on Terror," will no longer be the primary focus.
It has always been MIM line that we are in a period of World War III, that is a low intensity war by the imperialists against the oppressed nations. The hegemony of the United $tates allowed for this to be the focus in the decades following World War II. That hegemony is fading, and the emergence of a fourth world war, or a third inter-imperialist war is bubbling to the surface.
Of course, inter-imperialist war does not mean the oppressed nations get a reprieve from the needless brutality of capitalism, as inter-imperialist war is always about carving up the oppressed nations for their resources and markets. Enter "Prosper Africa", the plan announced by U.$. National Security Advisor John Bolton in December. Bolton stated, "America's vision for the region is one of independence, self-reliance and growth, not dependency, domination and debt."(1) This is a hypocritical jab at China, from the country who has done more to make Africa dependent and in debt in the last half-century than any other. At the same time the Trump administration is calling for more "honest" dealings with Africa, that recognize U.$. economic and political interests more openly.
The "Prosper Africa" plan coincides with Pentagon plans to reduce U.$. troops in Africa by 10%. Nothing close to our demands to shut down Africom, rather a subtle adjustment of current U.$. strategy. The immediate focus seems to be drawing hard lines in the sand of the African continent between those compliant with U.$. imperialism and those who are not.
In recent years, China has joined forces with other emerging imperialist or sub-imperialist nations with independent banking capital including Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa (BRICS). As a group, the BRICS countries have greatly increased trade with African countries over the last decade. Increases in trade on the whole is a benefit to the well-being of all peoples involved. While this trade provides outlets and opportunities for capital from countries with growing finance capital, the established imperialist powers (the United $tates and France) face a reduction in their access to markets and in their ability to strong arm the oppressed nations of the world into serving their interests. This threatens to contribute to economic crisis in the advanced imperialist economies, and trigger more militaristic and desperate actions politically.
The Trump administration has hinted at pulling support from United Nations (U.N.) "peacekeeping" missions in Africa. While opposing the U.N. garners support from white nationalists subscribing to isolationalism and Amerikkkan exceptionalism, the real motivation here is likely to reduce Chinese influence in the region. More than 2,500 Chinese troops are stationed in war zones created by U.$. and French imperialism in South Sudan, Liberia and Mali. China accounted for 1/5 of the U.N. troops pledged to operations in Africa in 2015.(2)
China established its first military base outside of China in 2017 at the strategic location of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. This is in line with a shift in Chinese foreign policy over the last decade from non-interference to "protecting our country's over-seas interests."(3) The United $tates, France and Japan are among the countries with existing bases in Djibouti, where the government depends on military leases as an important source of income.
The U.$.-backed coup and murder of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 helped break the continent's resistance to Africom. Up until then Africom had to operate out of Europe. With the pan-Africanist government in Libya out of the way, Africom was able to operate from within Africa for the first time. Now the United $tates has at least 46 military bases in Africa and close military relations with 53 out of the 54 African countries. Many countries have agreements to cede operational command of their militaries to Africom.(4)
While the coup in Libya was a victory for U.$. imperialism, it continues to be a disaster for Libyans, with repercussions for the whole region. The United $tates will have a much harder time stemming the still-expanding Chinese pole that challenges U.$. hegemony in Africa. As this contradiction threatens the world with inter-imperialist war, it offers opportunities for the oppressed to move independently as cracks widen in the imperialist system.
Democracy, Hypocrisy, the lies of the ruling class
Savery, bravery, attributes to the oppressed mass
We challenge what we're told
Because going hungry is getting old
They label us terrorists, trying to hold us down
But we communists will continue to gain ground
Every day 'til the trumpets sound
Then the continuous revolution will abound!
This issue of ULK is a follow-up to issue 63 (July/August 2018), which dove into the question of tactics around engaging people in our movement. We often see in these pages why we need to engage in revolutionary politics, who we should be working with, and what campaigns we need to work on. What is often lacking is how to get people on board. In 2018 we dove deep into this question, and this ULK is part of that ongoing conversation.
Some of our learning about effectively teaching and recruiting others can come from historical practice. We can look at what the Black Panther Party did to attract people through their Serve the People breakfast program which included political lectures during the free meal. And we can learn from the Chinese Maoists who helped people in prison learn from their mistakes through the process of group discussion and re-education. We learn from the Chinese peasants who, after the revolution was won, saw that many poor peasants were still afraid to speak out against religious leaders who had brutalized and exploited them. A few individuals led by example, attacking not the religion but the actions of these leaders, and this inspired others. We take lessons from the Communist Party of Peru in the 1990s who mobilized the indigenous countryside into a structured resistance movement that also provided education and health care services to its communities. There are many revolutionary movements that provide great examples and inspiration for our work today. (If you would like to study these revolutionary movements, send us some work to trade, or ask for a price list of books available.)
Studying revolutionary history, and particularly the practices of those communists, can give us some great ideas that we can apply to our own practice. But we also need to evaluate our own work and look for what is relevant in our current conditions. Doing this together, through the pages of ULK, will help everyone learn and improve their organizing, education and recruiting.
We can start by looking at our own persynal histories and how we ourselves were recruited into revolutionary politics. Below, the comrades in Arkansas and Maryland outline their lifetimes of political development, which are common to many letters we receive from our subscribers.
An Arkansas prisoner: I first started learning about the struggles of being a minority from my mother who raised my siblings and I in a strong Black Power presence household. Throughout my childhood we were homeless a number of times, and the system didn't provide any alternatives for us. Instead, all the so-called programs they provided were to keep us dependent on them, and remain in the revolving door of helplessness. So I learned early that we were living in a broken system.
As I got older, I studied books like The Willie Lynch Letters, The Making of the White Man, and studied the Black Panthers. But I was too young to join the NBPP, so I became affiliated with the Crips. The problem was we were screaming "community restoration in progress," but we were destroying more than we were building. After some years I realized that we were on the wrong path. I then became a Muslim.
I was always taught the Muslims were the pillar for the Black community. However what we lacked was political experience, or basic knowledge of politics. As I became incarcerated I was having a conversation with another brother about "Black Beauty over White Beauty." Somebody overheard our conversation, and pulled me to the side asking if I ever studied Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. I hadn't, and that was the starting point of me being laced up with the knowledge of socialism.
That was two years ago, and I'm proud to say I've came far in my journey on self-development so I may be able one day to greatly assist in community development. I've been able to steer a few brothers on the development of self so they one day will be able to aid our people in our struggles.
A Maryland prisoner: Since I can remember I always had a natural rebellious reflex instinct for injustices dealt to people of the struggle. Growing up in the slums of East Baltimore it's virtually impossible to not have a leftist political perspective once you educate yourself. In inner-city life, especially an inner-city that is mostly populated by Negros, the evidence of oppression is clearly overwhelming.
I was fully turned on to revolutionary politics after Freddie Gray was assassinated by the Baltimore city police department. That incident alone sparked strong emotions in me that I've never felt before. I felt as though Freddie Gray could have been me or any other youth from Baltimore, which I think is true. I was incarcerated when the Freddie Gray assassination took place, then I was released probably about a month later.
At the end of 2015 I was back incarcerated again for a physical altercation with two Baltimore city police officers. Since being incarcerated this time I've sharpened up on my political consciousness. Most of my days are spent on studying my religion, politics and the history of the Negro people. I cannot stand to see people being oppressed by the "power-to-be" and I wish I could somehow extend a helping hand to every political injustice forced upon the people in the struggle.
Another Maryland prisoner adds: I became a Revolutionary Conscious Citizen of the Republic of New Afrika about 2 years ago. It made me totally awake! Each day i stride forth in knowledge, understanding and wisdom of my great Ancestors. I was recruited by a dear friend who watched my character and actions and revealed to me another side of life and how to truly make a difference. He showed me how the universe moves and how colonization, capitalism and imperialism destroyed nations and lives and how neo-colonialism is nothing but us uniting with our oppressor! How patriarchy grasped our minds and interacted in our way of lives in our daily actions!
I can honestly say i came a long way, yet i know that the community is more important than the individual. And as a New Afrikan Communist i overstand that everyone has the chance to change through learning and relearning through a revolutionary education. Yet, comrades, the brothas where i'm at — it saddens me! They walk around like walking zombies high off the K.
Yet i know George Jackson said: The ruling clique approaches its task with a "what to think" program; the vanguard elements have the much more difficult job of promoting "how to think." Thus it's our job of building consciousness to our dumb, deaf and blind Brothas and Sistas! Like Johnathan Jackson said, "Some of us are going to have to take our courage in hand and build a hard revolutionary cadre." We can't give up, continue the struggle! Build to win! Can't stop won't stop!
MIM(Prisons) adds: A lifetime of persynal experience being oppressed in the United $tates naturally leads us toward revolutionary politics. Our dedication doesn't appear overnight with our first exposure. Some incidents, like the murder of Freddie Gray, make a stronger impact than others. But repeated exposure to oppression, and resistance, is what leads us to make the struggle our own. A strong parent or a good mentor can make a huge difference. Working as educators, we can still be very effective even if it's just one of us working with one recruit.
Some people assume that since you were recruited, that you somehow now possess an inherent ability to recruit others. Just because you're interested in a topic and want to contribute doesn't in any way imply that now you have the skills to do so. What to us (the recruit) looked and felt like a normal conversation, to the organizer or recruiter is actually a work of art. It takes time and effort to become an effective organizer, not just agreement with a line.
One way we can become better organizers is to reflect on our own practice. Below are letters from a variety of contributors on this topic.
The first Maryland prisoner continues: In this prison I can relate to most dudes because we've had somewhat a similar journey of hardships growing up. At the same time most dudes understand and can comprehend the very conditions of oppression, but show no signs of resistance to the ill forces of the oppressor. It literally will be a handful of brothers who'll stand up for the whole tier if these pigz blatantly disrespect or mistreat another brother(s). It is peculiar to me that most times the brother(s) that is being disrespected or mistreated will not stand up for himself, but will not hesitate to bring harm to the next brother(s) if he even so happens to think about looking at him wrong.
Each time it's time to take a stand I'm usually right on the front lines, me and a few other brothers. We try each and every time to obtain some type of unity amongst ourselves against these pigz. I slowly but surely engage in political conversations with certain brothers to try to analyze their perspective and teach them a few things based on the same struggle we're in. Some brothers gathered a selfish outlook on the struggle because they've felt as though why should they stand up for other brothers who don't want to stand up for themselves or yet anyone else.
Due to the fact that there's constant tensions brewing between brothers of different gangs, the unity level is at an all-time low. Meanwhile, these pigz set up "smoke screens" to delude brothers of what oppressive techniques they're putting into motion. I try to stress that point over and over again to brothers around here but it's to no avail. By me being the person I am, I can't let certain or every failure in progress to justice for the struggle stop me like other submissive brothers. It is my revolutionary duty to stay positive, encouraging, and consistent.
Now, as far as the outside society, I've put together a blueprint to help the community to be self-sufficient. That's why during their time of me being down I'll continue to educate myself and strategize plans for the struggle ahead. In conclusion, this is my brief elaborate story of "how I was recruited." I greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time to read this piece of material. All Power to the People.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade consistently maintains a positive and encouraging outlook. Any insight on how one goes about doing that is always appreciated, as we all get discouraged sometimes and can use a reminder on how to stay up. As for not understanding people's inconsistencies in what they accept vs. fight over, i have some questions for reflection:
Has there ever been a time in your life when you were like one of those brothers who doesn't stand up for emself against the pigs, but will bring harm to another persyn? What was your own thinking behind that behavior? What were you afraid of? Can answering these questions about our own histories help us have a better understanding of (and more effective conversations with) people we're trying to get on board?
I also have some questions about standing up for people who won't stand up for themselves, which is a common complaint. I'm curious if there's a way to find a middle ground on this. In one way, we are doing the whole prisoner population a service by defending people and not letting the pigs get away with anything. But on the other hand, we are enabling people's inaction because we're doing the hard work for them. How can we enforce some, even minor, participation from the people we're helping?
For example, MIM Distributors has a policy about writing letters to administrators when our mail is censored. If we had more resources, we would protest all censorship of our materials. At this time, we only write letters on behalf of people who are also appealing the denials. Part of it is about our limited resources, and part of it is about not going to bat for people who aren't going to stand up for themselves, or us. Same with our Prisoners' Legal Clinic, Free Books for Prisoners Program, etc. We ask for some kind of participation before putting extra resources into people.
A big benefit of this approach is it helps distribute our limited resources so the people who are putting in work are getting some attention from us. It also functions to hold people to a high, yet reasonable, expectation. We aim to be supportive, and demanding, and we believe this approach will do the most to build participation and leadership.
A Missouri prisoner: In this struggle I recruit by being willing to spot for you on yo bench press, even though my thing is the elliptical machine. I am willing to only listen when you need to do all the talking. I am able to be the one whom doesn't have to be "right" when wrong is of no consequence!
I feed off of the energy that is already in existence! I know gangs, religion, drugs, prison politics, music, nationalists, highways, vehicles, food & find our connections. And the best part of it all is I've recruited a comrade and not divulged a single plan yet!
reddragon of USW: Having different convos here and there it dawned on me that I was able to engage others based upon certain interests, and that in the past my attempts were fruitless based upon my inability to understand that approaching political ideology/ theory from one side only was the reason the convos bore no fruit!
Therefore i conducted a simple personal experiment in which I engaged different persons from different angles based upon their interests. For example, one brother is interested in business administration, another in talking about military strategies/tactics, etc., and another in music and the arts. All of these things have a place in the revolution. After the seizure of power we will no doubt need planners, administrators, as well as many other positions once held by the bourgeoisie and the former oppressors. So by interjecting communist thought into convos about a new society we can create certain sparks. There are those who feel inadequate in certain areas that they feel are too complicated so they shy away. So approaching them from angles of particular interest is something to think about.
Comrades, let us prepare with a sense of haste. As the conditions become ripe, as economic crisis and the threats of war with a major power looks imminent, the time may come sooner than we think.Dare to struggle, dare to win, all power to the people! Victory is ours! In solidarity I remain!
MIM(Prisons) adds: What reddragon and the comrade from Missouri have in common is meeting the potential recruits where they're at, and engaging them on what they are already interested in, while relating it to the revolutionary movement. The California comrade's approach, below, is slightly different. Ey gets into a single tactic, rather than an overall approach, that ey uses in conversations with potential recruits.
A California prisoner wrote: When it comes to people and you're trying to impress upon them a particular concept or an idea, sometimes the direct approach isn't the best tactic. So #1, when having a conversation with them, we utilize the ask-and-answer approach to see how much they know, and how receptive they are to the topic at hand.
Because for the most part, uneducated people are negative and close-minded. They become argumentative and want to express their viewpoint in order to appear right and that they know what is correct. But the truth of the matter is they know absolutely nothing.
So, the question and answer approach, in a sense, will expose them. This will put you in a superior position to teach them without any opposition. And now they know that they can learn a great deal.
However, through this Q&A tactic, you've now piqued their interest in a profound way. Hence, becoming receptive and open-minded to knowledge and understanding about revolutionary change. This is the greater reality for us socialists who doesn't fear the movement of teaching what life is, and that a society without imperialism is possible.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This tactic coming out of California is similar to the Socratic method, which has been used for thousands of years to test our implicit beliefs and present analysis. It helps expose the errors in our thinking so that we can work through them and come to a deeper understanding. If we approach the debate head-on, the dialectics inherent in a conversation will have us arguing our side with the other persyn going even harder arguing eir side. It takes a lot of humility to give up one's argument in this type of conversation, and often leads to a dead-end debate or escalation of tension.
While i agree with this comrade's approach in using questions to help the persyn see the errors in eir thinking, one major thing i would adapt about the approach would be to see these recruits more as friends, rather than adversaries. We have no interest in teaching people "without any opposition," and we certainly don't believe that people who are uneducated "know absolutely nothing." They might not be educated by bourgeois institutions, or even in political philosophy or history. But imprisoned masses have a lifetime of experience in living oppressed in bourgeois society. Rather than knocking people down, to be receptive to our "wisdom," we want to help open people up and get us learning together. Certainly there are occasions to just go at someone who's being loud and ignorant, but we don't want to do it as a general rule.
Another part of recruiting tactics is choosing who to focus on, by identifying who we're likely to have the most success with. There are probably lots of different views on this, and below is one comrade's method. The details of who we aim to recruit are likely to vary depending on our own strengths and weaknesses as an organizer, as well as the conditions where we're at. We've received many letters that contradict some of the principles below, so we don't hold them as hard rules for all organizing.
A Texas prisoner: There goes a lot into recruiting people into Maoism. Once I have overcome the social stigma of communism by instead calling it "Maoism," I have overcome one barrier. Like the word "Islam," it is too taboo a subject.
I treat and focus on each individual differently. I look at variables of my peers. Is my cellmate young or old? Is he poor or rich? Is he antisocial or outgoing? Is he educated or uneducated? Many things go into approaching someone and a good place to start is with my cellmates.
A young cellmate is easy to guide. That is why gangs approach the youth. Instead of older individuals, the young person has not been "burnt out," has not had so many bad experiences in politics, as they are inexperienced. The youth naturally enjoy to rebel. Most young prisoners are here because of the capitalist systems' manipulation in laws. So they yearn for a revolution of change. The older are too mundane or too frightened to rebel. Or they do not wish to get off their butts and demonstrate. Rather than participate in capitalism, they should try Maoism, I teach them.
The poor prisoners think of their oppression with disdain. The poor prisoner understands the struggles of poverty. They already know that capitalism has stacked the laws against them. Most prisoners have or own little property. Though most prisoners have labored, there was never any relief from poverty. I explain to them that under a Maoist system of government all property would belong to the workers/laborers. And that most of the elite are rich because others labor for them. Though participating in the status quo, the laborer is exploited. Maoism would abolish this system, I teach them.
An outgoing prisoner is preferable to the cause because they are out and about. The behavior could be cultivated into political work or demonstrations. An anti-social prisoner is often oppressing other prisoners, while hindering his peers. He is not ideal for the movement. They are difficult to work with and not worth the trouble.
I use the educational material provided in ULK to recruit and teach my people. The most uneducated person with a drive to learn is never a waste of my time. I enjoy taking the time to explain the examples of capitalism and Maoism. There are many questions a curious, young person might have and a outgoing individual should be more than happy to explain. Never the less, patience is a virtue.
And finally I believe that I should start with my cellmates first because they are here and available. I can show what I preach.
My ideal recruit would be a young, poor, uneducated but willing to learn cellmate. As of this writing, I am recruiting my current cellmate. I am not perfect but I am hopeful that my quest is the right path.
MIM(Prisons) adds: We encourage all our readers to go to this level of thoughtfulness about their recruiting methods. Complaining to MIM(Prisons) that "nobody is interested" is partly an admission that you have a lot more work to do to develop into an effective organizer. The effects of bourgeois capitalism on our recruiting base give us real, hard challenges to our efforts. And with centuries of practice, the U.$. criminal injustice system is very skilled at frustrating any movement toward justice, progress, or revolution. It's a tough job, but the more we practice at it, the easier it gets.
Here in Colorado there has been a push for solidarity amongst prisoners, particularly in units at Sterling Correctional Facility and Colorado State Penitentiary. I've been in prison for 5 years here in Colorado and have seen very little of this solidarity until now. Unfortunately, we here still have a long way to go.
Staff, who fear the trend of unity, have begun to sow seeds of unrest amongst certain groups. To do this, staff have resorted to spreading false rumors of sexual harassment, coupled with promises of "packs" and sexual favors for assaults on their intended targets. Staff's goal is to start a race war in place of the quelled tribal wars that have plagued this state for years. Unfortunately some prisoners have bought into this line of thinking, hook, line, and sinker.
In ULK 64 an article touched on this type of "damsel in distress" thinking in Colorado prisons. This type of thinking is grounded solidly in our own informal subculture that ultra aggressive, chauvinistic behaviors promote ones own reputation for toughness and overall appearance of being a convict. The reality is that we as convicts are entirely in control of what standards define "toughness" and "convicts."
While I fully agree that some recourse should be taken against those who commit sexual crimes against children, women, and others in general, I'm not sure that violent action is the best solution in most cases. And taking violent action against another prisoner based upon unsubstantiated allegations of a prison guard (who, rather than use prison disciplinary methods, sought retribution by bribing prisoners) seems entirely anti-convict to me.
Maybe it's time for us as prisoners in Colorado to re-evaluate what it is to be a convict in this state. I know in many states, prisoners who do the pigs' bidding, even the violent or illegal acts, would be considered stool pigeons for the man to control them.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We've heard about this awakening within Colorado prisons from a few folks behind bars, and also of the repression that pigs are using to try to quell that unity.(1) This comrade raises the important point that building unity requires a rethinking of how people interact with one another. We have to start by defining who are our enemies and who are our friends. The C.O.s are not our friends. As this comrade points out, their goal ultimately is to sow division. We also can't trust the state to tell us which prisoners are our friends. We need to look at their actions. Even those claiming to be revolutionaries may not be friends of the revolution if they are acting counter to the unity of the oppressed. Re-evaluating what it is to be a convict in Colorado is building on the budding lumpen unity in that state.
The United $tates is attempting a coup in Venezuela, pushing Juan Guaidó, formerly a lawmaker in the Venezuelan government, to declare emself President. This subversion of democracy is par for the course for the imperialist United $tates. The United $tates will do whatever it takes to maintain access to cheap labor and resources in Latin America. In this latest round of intervention, the United $tates has rallied other imperialist powers and U.$. lackey governments to join the charade in recognizing the illegitimate government of Guaidó.
As of this writing, the coup is failing and the national bourgeois government led by Nicolás Maduro remains in power in Venezuela. President Trump has threatened military intervention and we can anticipate further subversion of democracy and covert and overt imperialist attacks on Venezuela in the months to come.
The Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela
Venezuela was colonized by Europeans in 1522. The people won sovereignty in 1821 led by Simón Bolívar. After WWI oil was discovered in Venezuela, prompting an economic boom. But the collapse of oil prices in the 1980s devastated the Venezuelan economy. As the standard of living fell and the government implemented harsh economic reforms at the demand of the imperialist IMF, the people began to protest. In 1989 massive riots were met with violence by the government. This led to several coup attempts. While these coups failed, they indicated the ongoing unrest and instability in the country.
In 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected President with an overwhelming majority of the vote and a mandate for change. Formerly a military leader, Chavez had attempted a coup in the previous years of unrest. While not a communist by any stretch of the imagination, Chavez represented the national bourgeoisie in Venezuela. This class is a progressive ally of the anti-imperialist forces. Chavez launched a "Bolivarian revolution" which began with a 1999 Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution of Venezuela. The people were mobilized to participate in this political process.
At the same time, Chavez implemented programs to help the vast majority of poor people in the country. By 2005 they had eliminated illiteracy. Between 1999 and 2012 infant mortality was cut from 19.1 to 10 per 1000, malnutrition was reduced from 21% to 3%, and poverty rates were more than halved. Venezuela also paid off all of its debts to the World Bank and IMF and then withdrew from these imperialist organizations which promote economic subservience in the Third World.
While implementing internal reforms, Chavez took up the anti-imperialist pole of leadership in Latin America, in alliance with Cuba. In 2011 ey helped launch the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), uniting 33 countries outside of imperialist control. In 2005, Venezuela launched a program to provide subsidized oil to 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Chavez was re-elected to two more terms as President, but died from cancer in 2013 before serving his third term. Nicolás Maduro has been the president of Venezuela since Chavez's death. As Vice President, Maduro was appointed to fill the role, and then won the popular election. Maduro again won a recent presidential election, but under the pretense that this election was not democratic, Juan Guaidó swore himself in as "interim President" in late January at the urging of the United $tates. Not even a participant in the election, Guaidó was previously the head of the national assembly, a body that was declared null and void in 2017.
Why does the U.$. care about Venezuela?
Venezuela is one of the world's leading exporters of oil, and is a founding member of OPEC. When Hugo Chavez took power, Venezuela was the third biggest supplier of oil to the United $tates and the United $tates continues to be the biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil. Chavez's government nationalized hundreds of private businesses and foreign-owned assets, such as oil projects run by ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.(1)
We can look to the recent history of Venezuela to understand just how ridiculous is the U.$. claim to supporting "democracy" in that country. The United $tates backed the viciously repressive dictatorship of Marco Jiménez (1948-1958) because of eir support of transnational corporations. This government imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands of innocent Venezuelans. For this service the United $tates awarded Jiménez the military Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements."(2)
Obviously the United $tates' economic interests in Venezuela are significant. But there is also the geopolitical stability of imperialist control in Latin America more broadly. Cuba, Bolivia, Uruguay and Mexico are all refusing to follow the Amerikan imperialist lead in recognizing this coup. And the Venezuelan government has been a thorn in the side of the imperialists for years. Led by bourgeois nationalists, Venezuela is a solid anti-imperialist holdout in the region. The success of the Chavez government in retaining power and popular support is an embarrassment for the imperialists and an example for the oppressed in the region.
The U.$. government has been plotting coups and working to undermine the government in Venezuela since Chavez took power. Back in April 2002 the Bu$h government backed a short-lived military coup, but Chavez quickly returned to leadership. The United $tates has a long history of CIA-backed coups in Latin America. When direct overthrow of the government doesn't work, the U.$. government resorts to election meddling, murder of political leaders, and other underhanded strategies. All this is done in the name of "democracy."
The road forward for Venezuela
Venezuela is not a socialist country. Hugo Chavez brought to power a government representing the national bourgeoisie, not the proletariat. Progressive reforms were made under Chavez that serve the interests of the Venezuelan people as a whole in opposition to those of the imperialist United $tates. But Venezuela continues to operate within the capitalist model, despite rhetoric about "socialism." Oil accounts for 98% of export earnings and 50% of GDP in Venezuela.(1) As production falls, the economy has nothing to fall back on. This problem is just one example of the failures of social democracy as a solution to the plight of the Third World proletariat.
During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, the masses were mobilized around the question of putting the people's interests first and not profits. This was the battle against the capitalist road. Venezuela has yet to part with this road. But it continues down the road of national sovereignty, refusing to be a neo-colony of the United $tates. As such, the national bourgeois government in Venezuela is on the side of the proletariat, while lacking solutions to all of its problems. We must stand firmly in support of the Bolivarian government in Venezuela as it remains a balwark against imperialist intervention and subversion.
We received some criticism for our response to a discussion of George Jackson printed in ULK 65. In this article we described how some of Jackson's writings are anti-wimmin and anti-gay. While we stand by that line, we take a lesson from our critics. Printing this in isolation, without commenting on all the positive contributions Jackson made to the revolutionary movement, was a mistake. George Jackson overall played an important positive role as a revolutionary. While we need to analyze our historical revolutionary movements and leaders and learn from their mistakes, we should not dismiss great leaders who made mistakes or had some political line wrong. George Jackson's mistakes did not outweigh eir positive contributions.
On 7 January 2019 the Supreme Court refused to take up a First Amendment case challenging the statewide ban of Prison Legal News (PLN) in the Florida Department of Corrections. The ban has been in place since 2009. This appeal was the final attempt to challenge the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which sided with the Florida DOC.(1) Each year thousands of cert petitions are filed with the Supreme Court and most are not heard. As is typical, no reasons were given for the PLN case denial.
The Florida DOC maintains that they are censoring PLN for safety and security reasons. The appellate court found this censorship justified related to certain advertisements in PLN including ads for pen pal services, businesses that purchase postage stamps, and third-party phone services.
We know there is no real safety and security justification for censoring PLN. It's an educational publication that helps many prisoners gain legal knowledge and fight back against injustices. PLN is, however, a threat to the institution of prisons in the United $tates. Prison Legal News fights for prisoners' rights and exposes injustices around the country. This is counter to the interests of a system that is focused on social control.
A number of groups stepped up to file or sign briefs in support of PLN. Of particular interest is one from a group of former Correctional Officers, including some from Florida. They argue, very rationally, that the complete censorship of PLN is an exaggerated response to security concerns and a constitutional violation.(2) Of course these former C.O.s, and many others who support allowing PLN into the Florida DOC, made very narrow arguments that still protected the DOC's "right" to censor anything they deem dangerous. These supporters are just opposing censorship for something so obviously not dangerous as it exposes the falsehood that prisons are censoring mail in the interests of safety and security.
This PLN lawsuit sets a very bad precedent for others fighting censorship as the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision stands. Fortunately it should not directly impact ULK as we don't run these third-party ads. Though Florida did censor ULK 62 for "stamp program advertisement." While we do accept stamps as donations, we run no stamp programs. This goes to show that when there is no justification for censorship, the prisons will just make up things not even in the publication.
Any ruling upholding censorship in prisons is a bad one. This ruling further exposes the reality that there are no rights, only power struggles. The First Amendment only protects speech for those privileged enough to buy that protection.
I am a prisoner at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri. I'm currently being held in solitary confinement for our May 12 uprising against the oppression and abuse inflicted on us by the administration and guards.
For months, the administration had been keeping us locked in our cells for 23 hours a day, in population! Using excuses of "short on staff," we are only allowed to either shower or call our loved ones for one 30-minute session per day. Our one-hour recs are cut to 45 and 30 minutes consistently. The inmate barber shop is closed. Visits are canceled. Guards are verbally and physically abusive.
Until, on May 12th at dinner chow (2 hours late) at 7:30 pm, 288 prisoners participated in a mass sit-in, in peaceful protest to all of the injustices. Instead of answering requests for talks with white-shirts, all officers fled both chow halls and kitchen, leaving us locked in, and grouped outside the windows and taunted us. The sit-in quickly escalated into the largest "riot" in Missouri history, consisting of a reported $4 million in damages, with the complex being taken over and held for over 7 hours. Inside, only 2 people were attacked before leadership and unity were established.
Countless abuses and injustices followed our return to custody, including: remaining zip-tied for 7-9.5 hours, forced to urinate ourselves, beatings, double-celling prisoners in single-man cells for a week with no mattress or bedding, less than 1000-calorie daily diet instituted for the entire camp for over 70 days, etc.
Through all this, the administration kept up its tricks of sowing hate and dissension amongst prisoners in population by blaming the 3-month lockdown on us by actually naming us to other prisoners in hopes of retaliation). Visits were canceled, no canteen, etc.
However, those of us in confinement know the truth: in 2017, we had a mass race-riot of Browns & Whites vs Blacks, and less than 12 months later those same races, true those same prisoners, come together to fight in unity against oppression! Me and about 20 other comrades came together again in September 2018.
It is coming up on 6 months since our placement in seg and we are likely to receive another 90 days just for good measure, but we are still standing. There are 78 of us from the uprising in seg, and many of us belong to one organization or another. When we are released we will continue to spread and build on this unity that was formed under great oppression. We will carry this momentum to bring all prisoners together to face the true enemy!
We have seen and heard praise for our battle and victory in the struggle throughout other max securities in Missouri. There have been other uprisings that have followed ours at a couple mediums, (one was a race-riot, but with guidance and support those aggressions can be properly re-directed), and the administration is taking notice. The five principles of the United Front are taking hold in Missouri. We will do our part to learn, share, teach and uphold them as we struggle together in our war against oppression. I will do my part in not only spreading the message to mi raza, but others as well. Unity is the key! Viva la gente!
MIM(Prisons) responds: We printed some good discussion about these Missouri protests in ULK 65. This writer highlights what is most important about these sorts of actions: the learning by participants and observers about what prisoners can accomplish with unity. By building the United Front for Peace in Prisons, comrades in Missouri are building strength and unity, setting up the conditions for stronger actions in the future.