On 9 February 2014, prisoners at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison Special Management Unit (SMU) lockdown began another hunger strike to protest conditions. The hunger strike is to address abusive conditions, bugs being served in food repeatedly, sexual harassment, sexual assaults, beatings by officers while in handcuffs, being thrown on strip cells without food, feeding prisoners only 1500 calories daily when we are supposed to be given 2800 daily, refusing E-Wing yard call, refusing access to law library, and staff trying to poison prisoners. We are facing threats by staff that if prisoners remain on hunger strike they will die under their watch and it will be covered up.
Prisoners in the Georgia State Prison SMU have had enough of the oppression and decided to take a true stand to fight for our rights. Prisoners in the strike include many of the same prisoners from the 9 December 2010 and 11 June 2012 hunger strikes, and these prisoners are refusing to eat until conditions change.
On 25 January 2014, prisoners received trays at the SMU lockdown with bugs in the food. And after the bugs were pointed out by the prisoners to staff, they were told that either they eat the food or don't eat at all. Then when the prisoners tried to keep the trays to show the proof to the warden they were threatened by the daytime Officer in Charge, that if they didn't give up the trays he was going to suit up with his Correctional Officers and gang rape the prisoners. The prisoners still refused to give up their trays and were threatened again the next day: if they didn't give up the trays they were going to be refused their tray meals for that day. The prisoners had to go two days without eating just to show the warden the bugs in their food. And when the prisoners finally got a chance to show the bugs in the food, the warden only replied that it's nothing but a little bit more meat to add in their chili. This is not the first time that bugs had been served in food, but nothing has been done about this issue. Even though we file grievances, nothing but denials.
These prisoners have even been beaten by staff while in handcuffs. Nothing has been done about these employees' abusive actions. There is a coverup by Warden Bruce Chatman, Deputy Warden June Bishop, Warden of care and treatment William Poinel, Cpt. Micheal Nopen, Lt. Michael J. Kyles, aand even down to medical staff Mary Tsore and mental health staff Mr. Whitmoore.
Georgia prisoners are being denied access to the law library as guaranteed by the Georgia and U.S. law. Prisoners are only allowed two court cases per week to be delivered at their door on a piece of paper, and no books.
Medical staff are refusing to take notice of the hunger strike even though SOP VH47-0002 guarantees strikers health service.
The legal system refuses to respond, grievances are ignored or destroyed, and there is very little that Georgia prisoners can do to fight for their rights. Our only choice is to put our lives in danger by refusing to eat, and plead for some outside support.
MIM(Prisons) adds: The past few years have seen a sharp increase in prisoners using food refusal as a tactic to demand some improvements in conditions. Considering the powerlessness of prisoners, and the complete failure that is the grievance system in many states, it is not a surprise that people feel their only option to demand basic rights is to starve themselves.
We print many reports on these strikes in the pages of Under Lock & Key, and we know this inspires others to learn of similar struggles across the country. But we also encourage everyone to study these actions and learn from their mistakes. In Illinois, prisoners were manipulated by the pigs to end their strike prematurely. In South Carolina lockdown coordination problems ended their strike. In Nebraska prisoners failed to make clear demands and gained nothing after a two day protest. Even in California where prisoner unity is remarkably high, the response to the massive hunger strikes has been little more than lip service and program name changes. We must be prepared for such lack of response from the state with a long view of how to make change.
The underlying lesson in all of these struggles is the need for stronger education and organization before taking action. Greater unity will be achieved through education, and organization will build a solid system of communication and a strong and winnable list of demands. One quick lesson for all: when sending information to the media about your strike include something clear that people on the outside can do to support you. It can be a number to call or place to write to register their support.
I have been to three prison camps this year alone. This month makes it 18 months that I've been incarcerated. Riverbend was the first prison I went to. After an incident happened between and officer and I, I wrote a grievance on him and there was an ongoing investigation. But before it could get anywhere they transferred me to Jenkins. I was at Jenkins for three weeks before I got transferred. While I was there I had a verbal altercation with an officer and he wrote me up but he exaggerated the incident, so to defend my character I asked his supervisors to review the cameras, but they refused. Then while I was on administrative separation I kept getting written up (about three times) for things that they didn't know who did them. I had a roommate with me at the time and when something went down they wrote us both up instead of finding out who did what.
Now my issue is that all those disciplinary reports (DR) that I got were not investigated, furthermore I didn't get a chance to go to DR court to defend myself. I don't know if you're familiar with the DR process but when you get one, a DR investigator is supposed to meet with you and discuss the incident. Afterwards you can take a plea or go to DR court where you're either found guilty or innocent, and that's the official DR process. These steps were not taken on any of the DRs I got.
After I was transferred from Jenkins I was sent to Jackson State Prison, to a program called Special Management Unit (SMU). When I got here they told me it was a program for prisoners who have a record of assaulting officers and behavior problems. I only have two DRs on my record that were concluded. The disposition for the first was dismissed and I was found not guilty on the second. So with that being said, I feel it was injustice to place me in this program.
Anyways, the most current issue is that I have been here since 23 January 2014 and I have not received any of my property. Recently I've been asking for my mail and writing materials, (i.e. paper, pen, etc) so I can contact my family and my attorney. I've spoke to the unit manager, the Lieutenant, the counselor, and the property manager about this at least twice and not one of them will tell me where my property is or why I haven't gotten them yet. There are several others with the same problem. If anything can be done to get this problem resolved please help.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This trick with the false disciplinary reports, especially on prisoners who write grievances for guard abuses, is common across the criminal injustice system. The campaign demanding that our grievances be addressed needs to be expanded into Georgia so that prisoner's there can take up this organized struggle. We are looking for a prisoner in Georgia who can modify a general grievance petition to the state-specific rules and situation in Georgia. Let us know if you can volunteer and we will send the information.
This is just one example of the system of oppression in this country that puts bad marks on the permanent records of oppressed nation youth starting in grade school. From there they are put into gang databases, given sentences, parole, plea bargains and in prison they receive disciplinary reports, STG status, etc. This is the state-sponsored burueacracy that keep the First World lumpen in its place. They are excluded from the economic system and many other benefits of imperialist society, and these discriminatory and often baseless labels help make it acceptable to the Amerikan public.
Prisoners here in Georgia are being harassed by the wardens and their administration. Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) has a new program it calls the Tier Program, and many prisoners are being thrown into the Tier 2 program for 9 months for petty disciplinary, reports, which is against the U.S. Constitution's 8th Amendment banning cruel and unusual punishment.
Prison officials are also using food as a tool of cruel and unusual punishment towards prisoners. Only half of the population here in prison can afford to go to the store commissary. The prisoners who can't afford store goods are robbing those who go to the store. This creates violent conditions because 90% of the prisoners here are gang-related. And when the gangs go to war it goes down at every prison in Georgia. And some prisoners die in the gang wars. GDC created this problem so they can have a reason to lock all the prisoners down.
I put a 1983 civil suit on Valdosta State Prison here in GA and as a result Deputy Warden Orr tried to have me killed numerous times. On 7 December 2013 I was beaten badly with weapons by 15 prisoners, and I was sent to the free world hospital for 2 days. When I returned to the prison I was placed in lockup where all my property was stolen and the prison officials refused to replace my property. The Warden place me on Tier 2 program with 9 months in lockup as punishment for being attacked and seriously injured while my attackers went unpunished.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We are seeing a lot of reports of repression and resistance coming from Georgia recently. This comrade underscores the need for unity among both individuals and lumpen organizations. It is easy for the prison administration to pit prisoners against each other when they are focused on the fights between their organizations. But the real enemy, the one that is keeping everyone in prisons, denying adequate food, and throwing people in lockup, is the criminal injustice system. This is why we urge prisoners in Georgia to focus on building the United Front for Peace in Prisons. The UFPP's first principle is Peace: "We organize to end the needless conflicts and violence within the U.$. prison environment. The oppressors use divide and conquer strategies so that we fight each other instead of them. We will stand together and defend ourselves from oppression." This is critical to every prison, but in Georgia the recent reports suggest even more urgency to this point.
Chicano youth Andy Lopez, whose 13-year-old life was cut short by a Santa Rosa pig, has yet to obtain justice. This was a concrete example of what it means when people say that Aztlán is occupied under a settler state. Our colonization is expressed in many ways and our youth being shot dead in the street is one of the in-your-face OVERT examples, which even the bourgeois Chicanos cannot pretend not to notice.
When the white Deputy Sheriff Erick Gelhaus executed Andy on 22 October 2013, comrades here discussed what should be done in response to these attacks on the Chican@ Nation. Our conversation on the subject was pretty heated. One topic that kept coming up was the example that the Black Liberation Army provided back in the day when the Black Nation was under heightened attack from the lethal COINTELPRO. Everywhere in the world where a people are under attack and being murdered by the occupying state, at some point the people will fight fire with fire.
It's been four months and still there has been no indictment of the pig in question. But then when do we ever see the state prosecute its own when the oppressed are murdered in our occupied streets? We cannot allow Andy's death to be swept under the rug. So many within the Chican@ nation have begun a perverted romance with imperialism. The super profits that are extracted from the Third World seem to have intoxicated many in our nation to the point where when our youth are turned to swiss cheese by a pig, it's conveniently ignored. Revolutionary Chican@s need to work to detoxify the people and put Aztlán back on a revolutionary path. Our work should start with mobilizing Aztlán around acquiring justice for Andy Lopez.
There are plans for a march on 2 June 2014 in Santa Rosa to build awareness of this tragedy and to commemorate what would have been Andy's 14th birthday. Let us spread the word and gain momentum on the justice that we need to obtain. We support this march and will continue to develop ways to properly respond to the occupation of Aztlán. Andy's death should be seen as not only a rallying point but a juncture where we usher in a new wave in the Chicano movement. Aztlán libre!
On 4 February 2014, a five page Notice of Proposed Regulations disseminated among prisoners warehoused in the death row Security Housing Unit (SHU) known by it politically corrupt misnomer "Adjustment Center" (AC). The notice states in part that any person may submit public comments regarding proposed changes. That's an open invitation to everyone reading this (including all prisoners disenfranchised by the state) giving us an opportunity to advance the struggle. Lately it's been like talking to the walls.
I'm a "person" on Calincarceration's death row who is currently warehoused on the first tier of this secret torture unit at San Quentin (SQ) State Prison called the AC. Per order of the oligarchy overlords who comprise the "Institutional Classification Committee" (ICC) my appeal submitted 2 December 2013, which provides documented evidence that their decision to continue to warehouse me here is based on false disciplinary history and a capricious misapplication of local operational procedures, is being ignored. Even the CDCR 22 requests making status inquiries to Appeals Coordinators M.L. Davis and R. Baxter, and the former LIEutenant S. Fowler, now a counselor and ICC lackey (full member), return nothing except their deliberate indifference.
That excerpt of my individual situation is only one example of how California's most dangerous Security Threat Group (STG) gets down and dirty. Mine is not an isolated incident either. It's only one of many weapons of mass corruption the CDCR Pilot Program has utilized to minimize, obscure, and censor the fact that they really are torturing prisoners in a way that's no different than what Phillip Garrido did to Jaycee Dugard — minus the sex crime factor. CDCR's goal is to take more hostages, build more torture units in back yards across the state, and their hideous Pilot Program is a bait and switch attempt. CDCR's main STG Pilot Program objective continues to be to crush, kill and destroy their hostages' ability to organize in a peaceful protest against no touch torture and other inhumane conditions of confinement.
Expanding the definition of "disruptive groups" by adopting several new terms is really the bastard children produced by CDCR unions. It's the sick minded schemes of bourgeois pigs behind the scenes of the Calincarceration Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the Amerikkkan Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCRME) and others affiliated with the CDCR who would in fact reap a profit as the additional lackeys get hired to guard the torture units popping up like 7-Elevens everywhere! Yes, that's right. All in the name of PEACE officers AND job SECURITY (which is paid for by your taxed income).
What makes the CDCR STG "the most dangerous" is the fact that they all know what's really going on, and know that they're torturing prisoners. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has clarified that only 15 days in solitary confinement constitutes torture. I'm going on two years and some here have more than 10 times that. Here, in the secret torture unit at SQ, the STG Pilot Program is still being cooked up — and with "specialized" ingredients for an even fouler taste. The AC is a sort of ground zero for testing policies, a variety of no touch torture methods, and a twist on the death penalty experiment only depraved criminal minds could have concocted. SQ death row SHU prisoners shouldn't have to be the disposable human guinea pigs getting tortured to death in the CDCR STG Pilot Program. If the state is allowed to continue its medieval oligarchical practices resulting in another word game amounting to "de mock racy" then the public must not have realized California's most dangerous STG is the CDCR!
send your comments to: CDCR Regulation and Policy Management Branch PO Box 942883 Sacramento, CA 94283
Make use of the grievance campaign by attaching your comments to copies of the petitions (see page 12 in ULK).
Comrades, there has been a collusive and concerted effort by the Texas Department of Criminal Injustice (TDCJ) to silence and censor the voices of politically active prisoners housed in many of their III units. United Strugle from Within (USW) has initiated a campaign to combat the oppressive indigent mail policy enacted October 1, 2013 which decreased the allotted amount of personal letters indigent Texas prisoners are able to mail out. Prisoners went from 5 per week to 5 per month! The prisoners who are effected the most by this new TDCJ policy are held captive in Texas' many control and isolation units. Just the very nature of their confinement makes these prisoners more vulnerable to abuse and attacks by sadistic correctional officers.
TDCJ has institutionalized a policy and practice of downplaying, minimizing, and covering up incidents and reports of serious abuse and violence aimed at prisoners. Their motive has always been to misinform the public as to the true nature of the largest state prison system in Amerika. However, limiting prisoners access to the media, clergy, and loved ones wasn't enough. Recently, on the Wynne Unit located in in Huntsville, Texas, prison administrators decided to discontinue the contract with the satellite radio company that was providing Wynne's 2,200 prisoners access to KPFT Radio 90.1 FM Houston. KPFT is a member of the Pacifica Network and on top of providing a diverse and well rounded schedule of politically conscious and highly educational programming, KPFT broadcasts The Prison Show! - every Friday between the hours of 9pm and 11pm. Huntsville, Texas is the home of Amerika's largest prison population and it fit well with TDCJ's strategy to cut prisoners completely off from one of the most prisoner friendly radio stations in the country!
As a result of deteriorating prison conditions, retaliation, and abuse, many Ad-Seg prisoners on Wynne Unit and surrounding units in Huntsville, including the infamous Estelle High Security Unit, reached out to Mr. Ray Hill the founder of KPFT's Prison Show. Mr. Hill has a reputation of being an outspoken critic of Texas' draconian prison system. In response to their peaceful and legal activism, the Assistant Warden in charge of Wynne's Ad-Seg unit forced his officers to write over 70 bogus and fabricated disciplinary cases against Ad-Seg prisoners housed on Wynne Unit. Assistant Warden Kevin F. Mayfield has established a pattern of this type of unethical behavior.
Prisoners responded by contacting Carole Seligman who is one of the editors of Socialist Viewpoint Magazine, Noelle Hanrahan the director of PrisonRadio.org, and Michael Novick of Turning The Tide newspaper. Weeks passed by and many of us were discouraged; being isolated and cut off from the public has a debilitating effect on a humyn being, and TDCJ exploits this dynamic to the fullest in order to break the revolutionary spirit of the most advanced and active comrades. In an unforeseen turn of events, we received word that comrades who are members of the Roots Action website, which has over 400,000 members, sent out 20,000 emails to Texas State authorities in order to spotlight abuses and mistreatment of prisoners on Wynne Unit and beyond!!!
A managing editor for a very reputable socialist journal contacted us and stated, "There can be follow-ups to this (email direct action) at various stages. Beyond a certain point, the atrocities may begin to trigger an unwanted level of public attention, which should begin to curb the worst of them, if we can keep the pressure on."
Comrades, we may have not yet reached the level of solidarity and commitment as our California counterparts (I am still highly impressed with 33,000 prisoners from all oppressed nation groups and lumpen organizations sending an emphatic message to the prisoncrats and oppressors of CDCR). Never the less, USW is slowly making proactive and positive strides in order to organize, educate, and motivate the lumpen trapped inside Texas' gulags. Once again, I exhort you to join USW, contact MIM(Prisons), and involve yourself with the most dynamic Maoist organization in the United $tates. I also encourage comrades to expand their horizons and attempt to correspond with free world comrades who support and add strength to our voice. We must continue to battle censorship in Texas. Our revolutionary thoughts and voices are dangerous to the oppressors.
I wanted to write a few words concerning the new step down program that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has begun to implement. There is nothing new about this brainwash program because brainwash kamps are tools learned in the "School of the Americas" (aka Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), which was founded in 1946. Brainwash kamps were unleashed on the Vietnamese by the French, on Jews and communists by the German Nazis before the gas, and the Koreans tasted these kamps by their Japanese colonizers. In fact, all colonized people experience some form of brainwashing by the oppressor. Security Housing Unit (SHU) prisons are examples of U.$. imperialism following this tradition.
First we should keep in mind that many folks captured in these SHUs are not guilty of what they are accused of. So long as information is extracted via torture, i.e. years of solitary confinement, then false information will be provided to the torturers. It is a fact that some humyn beings will say or do anything to stop the torture, and as a result many prisoners will be subjected to torture for false accusations.
We happened to get our hands on one of the journals that are used in the step down program. A guard slid one of them into our pod by "accident" and as you could imagine it was heavily scrutinized.
This brainwash manual has quotes of nameless supposed prisoners sprinkled throughout saying things to the effect that the supposed prisoner once blamed the system or other elements but has now realized it was her/his own fault. Each page has the following words on the bottom, "It is illegal to duplicate this page in any manner."
The supposed purpose of this program is for prisoners to work their way out of the SHU. This will supposedly be done to allow prisoners a way, outside of informing on people, to get back to the general population. What they don't tell you is that you will have to now go through their brainwash course. Even then they can deny you if they feel you are not sincere. But my question is, why do I have to undergo a deprogramming when I am the torture survivor? Why shouldn't my torturer have to take classes on why it's wrong to torture?
In the "journal," each page asks questions, such as for the reader to list wrongdoings you have done and then asks what caused you to make these choices. Examples are given of different crimes the supposed prisoner committed. They then ask for pros and cons of crimes one committed and one is even asked if you feel sly or manipulative when you deceive people.
All these questions are asked in a way that implicates you and attempts to blame you for not just being in prison but in SHU as well. At no time is the possibilty even hinted of someone being in SHU for false allegations. There are lists of good habits and "criminal" behavior. But good habits like "caring" or "responsibility" are what we already showed in the strikes, and "criminal" behavior listed like "dishonesty" or "irresponsibility" is exactly what the state has done. Yet this brainwash journal wants us to say we are criminal if we want to advance in this de-programming or de-revolutionizing program. There is no way I will even act or role play with my torturers just to go to general population. What they are doing is wrong and rather than take them off the hook by falsely admitting to criminal behavior I will refuse their brainwash program and continue to publicize this torture and agitate for resistance in these death kamps!
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade asks a good question as to why it is not the torturer who has to take classes to help them understand that what they did was wrong. Of course there is a class character to every justice system, and in the United $tates we have a bourgeois state. When there was a proletarian-led state in China it was the torturers, landlords and spies for the imperialists that underwent re-education in what might be called a brainwashing program by the imperialists. The difference in the class character of the Chinese prison system and the Amerikan one is that those deemed criminals were put in communal living situations, where they had to learn to live and work together with others, where they were given reading materials, and required to study. So while the ultimate goal of getting the criminals to recognize that what they did was wrong was similar, this was done through group study and struggle, rather than long-term isolation and torture as is common for the oppressed languishing in U.$. prisons.
We do not oppose re-education as we are all products of our environment. Even in U.$. prisons, many of the oppressed locked up have committed (relatively minor) crimes as they emulate the values of the bourgeoisie. What we do oppose is torture, wasting of humyn lives, and a justice system that prioritizes profits over humyn life.
I just read this article from a Nebraska 'rad about a failed protest (in Under Lock & Key). It seems I'm not the only one dealing with embarrassments in resistance.
I'm at the largest joint in Oregon and have been in isolation for about 14 months. I've been a very reluctant participant in mess after mess of similar - if much weaker - attempts at goal driven resistance. I say "goal-driven", not "goal oriented" lest it give someone the impression that the kids here have some semblance of organization or some understanding of strategy and method. They don't. Further, I say "reluctant participant" because even though I realize the unquestionable futility of the motions carried out around here, I'll never be "that dude" who stood idle during any attempt at resistance to the swine.
The Nebraskan bloke mentioned the complaints the prisoners have against the swine, but didn't get much into the root of the disfunction of the prisoners during their upheaval. I'll assume that the problems in Nebraska are at least somewhat similar to Oregon's. Whether I'm right or not, I'll still say what I have to say for others looking at the same problems.
The fact of the matter is that we all face the same situation. We're oppressed on some level and want to relieve ourselves of that weight. Our ultimate goal and desire is to destroy our adversaries completely. This is all obvious. Each person's - or group's - particular complaints and level of victimization is largely irrelevant except for how it may affect the functionality of the revolt. In other words, the food quality and such, really shouldn't be occupying much space in one's mind or discussions when it comes to applying ourselves to revolt. It's universally understood that we're fed garbage and people seem to get hung up on these benign little details.
The goal is successful revolt. The problem is lack of proper organization. Here in Oregon we have too many gangs, none of which have been developed along a framework of functional organization. Not only does each gang act autonomously from the whole, but each individual acts autonomously from his own gang.
On the sporadic occasions that they all do decide on some undertaking together, there is never any defined, agreed-upon leadership. The usual formula is, 3 or 4 of the loudest gang members on a unit cook up some scheme to rail against the swine, then talk everyone else into jumping on board. The scheme is always something like "we're gonna refuse to do this or that until they give us this or that." And that's about as much planning and thought that goes into it. It may last a few days till people start dropping off, and a few more until it's abandoned completely.
Aside form lack of education in strategy and tactics, and aside from lack of education in proper modes of organization and the egotism that keeps us from filling certain necessary roles within the structure of organization, the big problem here is expecting some simple "cause and effect" in these fiascos. The idea that the swine will react how we wish or expect is absurd. The fact is, they have loads and loads of training, protocol and on-call specialists to deal with any situation we might launch against them.
Here we're never going in with anything close to a realistic understanding of the situation. We wage half-baked, disorganized, small-scope battles against an enemy that we're not taking fully into account. What we need to be doing is organizing a large-scale protracted war with the realization that we are facing a ridiculously superior adversary.
If we're still griping about food, TVs, phones and other luxuries, I dare say we have a very long way to go before we'll be of the right mentality to launch any kind of successful campaign. In fact, I'd say that if you're a revolutionary existing in the eye of the imperialist storm you really have no business looking at the fucking TV anyways.
In my situation, I've been struggling to come up with an organizational model that can transcend the divisiveness created by all the gangs to create one functional body of resistance. Once I've got everything put together, from the structure of board and body of the groups, down to individual roles and a clear and educated model of functionality complete with protocol for deciding direction and strategy, then I, along with a few of my cohorts here, will set out to put it into place. Once our machine is fully functional and each gear is spinning in unison with the others, only then will I be willing to make any sudden movements against my adversary.
As I said, if your mind is still on things like food, phones, programs, yard and so on, then I would suspect you haven't given yourself up to revolution as much as is necessary to achieve it. Maybe a lot of us don't have the fortitude of mind to reach the level of dedication that some of us have, but if you call yourself a revolutionary, it's not optional - you must sacrifice any desire for luxury for the sake of progress. Food only matters in so far as whether or not it keeps you alive and functional. Programs only matter in as much as the opportunities it affords you to communicate with each other to familiarize yourself with your environment.
I would strongly suggest that anyone who's interested in truly shedding the weight of these forces that are crushing you to stop focusing on those lame inconveniences and start studying more practical concepts. And until you have a full grasp of what your looking at, and until you have a full grasp of what needs to be done to destroy it, and until you have what you need in place, keep your head low, keep your mouth shut, keep your face in the books, and good luck!
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade is relatively new to working with MIM(Prisons), a fact that we mention because we have a lot of unity and we hope that s/he, like many others behind bars, will come to look on United Struggle from Within as the structure that fits with what's needed to elevate our strategy and tactics in the prisons. The organizational model that this prisoner discusses, to elevate above divisiveness, is exactly what we too are striving to build, and is one of the main goals of the USW-initiated United Front for Peace in Prisons. We look forward to building with this comrade, through the pages of Under Lock & Key and other independent institutions. Our Free Books to Prisoners Program offers study packs on strategy, as well as organizational structures, and many other important topics. Comrades who are interested in this type of study should join a MIM(Prisons)-led study group today.
Stand Up, Struggle Forward: New Afrikan Revolutionary Writings On Nation, Class and Patriarchy by Sanyika Shakur Kersplebedeb, 2013
Available for $13.95 + shipping/handling from: kersplebedeb CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne Montreal, Quebec Canada H3W 3H8
While we recommended his fictional T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E., and his autobiographical Monster is a good read on the reality of life in a Los Angeles lumpen organization, Shakur's third book is most interesting to us as it provides an outline of his political line as a New Afrikan communist.(1) Stand Up, Struggle Forward! is a collection of his recent essays on class, nation and gender. As such, this book gives us good insight into where MIM(Prisons) agrees and disagrees with those affiliated with the politics Shakur represents here.
At first glance we have strong unity with this camp of the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM). Our views on nation within the United $tates seem almost identical. One point Shakur focuses on is the importance of the term New Afrikan instead of Black today, a position we recently put a paper out on as well.(2) Agreeing on nation tends to lead to agreeing on class in this country. We both favorably promote the history of Amerika laid out by J. Sakai in his classic book Settlers: the Mythology of a White Proletariat. However, in the details we see some differences around class. We've already noted that we do not agree with Shakur's line that New Afrikans are a "permanent proletariat"(p.65), an odd term for any dialectician to use. But even within the New Afrikan nation, it seems our class analyses agree more than they disagree, which should translate to general agreement on practice.
Writings that were new to us in this book dealt with gender and patriarchy in a generally progressive and insightful way. Gender is one realm where the conservativeness of the lumpen really shows through, and as Shakur points out, the oppressors are often able to outdo the oppressed in combating homophobia, and to a lesser extent transphobia, these days. A sad state of affairs that must be addressed to improve our effectiveness.
Attacking Stalin and Mao has long been an important task for the intelligentsia of the West, and the United $tates in particular. This has filtered down through to the left wing of white nationalism in the various anarchist and Trotskyist sects in this country, who are some of the most virulent anti-Stalin and anti-Mao activists. It is a roadblock we don't face among the oppressed nations and the less institutionally educated in general. From the sparse clues provided in this text we can speculate that this line is coming from an anarchist tendency, a tendency that can be seen in the New Afrikan revolutionary nationalist formations that survived and arose from the demise of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Yet, Shakur takes up the Trotskyist line that the USSR was socialist up until Lenin's death, while accepting the Maoist position that China was socialist up until 1976.(p.162) He says all this while implying that Cuba might still be socialist today. A unique combination of assessments that we would be curious to know more about.
There is a difference between saying Mao had some good ideas and saying that socialist China was the furthest advancement of socialism in humyn history, as we do. Narrow nationalism uses identity politics to decide who is most correct rather than science. While we have no problem with Shakur quoting extensively from New Afrikan ideological leaders, a failure to study and learn from what the Chinese did is failing to incorporate all of the knowledge of humyn history, and 99% of our knowledge is based in history not our own experiences. The Chinese had the opportunity, due to their conditions, to do things that have never been seen in North America. Ignoring the lessons from that experience means we are more likely to repeat their mistakes (or make worse ones). This is where (narrow) nationalism can shoot you in the foot. Maoism promoted self-reliance and both ideological and operational independence for oppressed nations. To think that accepting Maoism means accepting that your conditions are the same as the Chinese in the 1950s is a dogmatic misunderstanding of what Maoism is all about.
For those who are influenced by Mao, rather than adherents of Maoism, Stalin often serves as a clearer figure to demarcate our differences. This proves true with Shakur who does not criticize Mao, but criticizes other New Afrikans for quoting him. For Stalin there is less ambiguity. To let Shakur speak for himself, he addresses both in this brief passage:
"While We do in fact revere Chairman Mao and have always studied the works of the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Revolution, We feel it best to use our own ideologues to make our own points. And We most certainly will not be using anything from old imperialist Stalin. He may be looked upon as a 'comrade' by the NABPP, but not by us."(p.54)
For MIM(Prisons), imperialist is probably the worst epithet we could use for someone. But this isn't about name-calling or individuals, this is about finding and upholding the ideas that are going to get us free the fastest. In response to a question about how to bring lumpen organizations in prison and the street together, Shakur states, "The most fundamental things are ideology, theory and philosophy. These are weaknesses that allowed for our enemies to get in on us last time."(p.17) So what are Shakur's ideological differences with Stalin?
Shakur's definition of nation differs little from Stalin's, though it does omit a reference to a common economy: "A nation is a cultural/custom/linguistic social development that is consolidated and evolves on a particular land mass and shares a definite collective awareness of itself."(p.21) In his response to Rashid, Shakur attempts to strip Stalin of any credit for supporting the Black Belt Thesis, while sharing Stalin's line on the importance of the national territory for New Afrika. Shakur opens his piece against Rashid, Get Up for the Down Stroke, with a quote from Atiba Shanna that concludes "the phrase 'national question' was coined by people trying to determine what position they would take regarding the struggle of colonized peoples — there was never a 'national question' for the colonized themselves." While this assessment may be accurate for contemporary organizations in imperialist countries, these organizations did not coin the term. This assessment is ahistorical in that the "national question" was posed by Lenin and Stalin in much different conditions than we are in today or when Shanna wrote this. In fact, reading the collection of Stalin's writings, Marxism and the National-Colonial Question, will give you an outline of how those conditions changed in just a couple decades in the early 1900s. It might be inferred from the context that Shakur would use the quote from Shanna to condemn "imperialist Stalin" for being so insensitive to the oppressed to use a term such as "the national question." Yet, if we read Stalin himself, before 1925 he had explicitly agreed with Shanna's point about the relevance of nationalism in the colonies:
"It would be ridiculous not to see that since then the international situation has radically changed, that the war, on the one hand, and the October Revolution in Russia, on the other, transformed the national question from a part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into a part of the proletarian-socialist revolution."(4)
This point is also central to his essay, The Foundations of Leninism, where he stated, "The national question is part of the general question of the proletarian revolution, a part of the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat."(5) So Shakur should not be offended by the word "question," which Stalin also used in reference to proletarian revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat. Clearly, "question" here should not be interpreted as questioning whether it exists, but rather how to handle it. So, in relation to Stalin at least, this whole point is a straw person argument.
On page 86, also in the response to Rashid, Shakur poses another straw person attack on Stalin in criticizing Rashid's promotion of "a multi-ethnic multi-racial socialist amerika." Shakur counter-poses that the internal semi-colonies struggle to free their land and break up the U.$. empire, and implies that Stalin would oppose such a strategy. Now this point is a little more involved, but again exposes Shakur's shallow reading of Stalin and the history of the Soviet Union. Promoting unity at the highest level possible is a principle that all communists should uphold, and this was a challenge that Stalin put much energy and attention into in the Soviet Union. He was dealing with a situation where great Russian chauvinism was a barrier to the union of the many nationalities, and that chauvinism was founded in the (weak) imperialist position of Russia before the revolution. Russia was still a predominantly peasant country in a time when people had much less material wealth and comforts. While one could argue in hindsight that it would have been better for the Russian-speaking territories to organize socialism separately from the rest of the USSR, all nationalities involved were mostly peasant, and secondarily proletarian in their class status.(6) The path that Lenin and Stalin took was reasonable, and possibly preferable in terms of promoting class unity. Thanks to the Soviet experiment we can look at that approach and see the advantages and disadvantages of it. We can also see that the national contradiction has sharply increased since the October Revolution, as Stalin himself stressed repeatedly. And finally, to compare a settler state like the United $tates that committed genocide, land grab, and slavery to the predominately peasant nation of Russia in 1917... well, perhaps Shakur should remember his own advice that we must not impose interpretations from our own conditions onto the conditions of others. Similarly, just because Stalin clearly called for a multinational party in 1917, does not mean we should do so in the United $tates in 2014.(7)
While Stalin generally promoted class unity over national independence, he measured the national question on what it's impact would be on imperialism.
"...side by side with the tendency towards union, there arose a tendency to destroy the forcible forms of such union, a struggle for the liberation of the oppressed colonies and dependent nationalities from the imperialist yoke. Since the latter tendency signified a revolt of the oppressed masses against imperialist forms of union, since it demanded the union of nations on the basis of co-operation and voluntary union, it was and is a progressive tendency, for it is creating the spiritual prerequisites for the future world socialist economy."(8)
In conclusion, it is hard to see where Shakur and Stalin disagree on the national question. While upholding very similar lines, Shakur denies that New Afrika's ideology has been influenced by Stalin. While we agree that New Afrika does not need a Georgian from the 1920s to tell them that they are an oppressed nation, Stalin played an important role in history because of the struggles of the Soviet people. He got to see and understand things in his conditions, and he was a leader in the early development of a scientific analysis of nation in the era of imperialism. His role allowed him to have great influence on the settler Communist Party - USA when he backed Harry Haywood's Blackbelt Thesis. And while we won't attempt to lay out the history of the land question in New Afrikan thought, certainly that thesis had an influence. We suspect that Shakur's reading of Stalin is strongly influenced by the lines of the NABB-PC and Communist Party - USA that he critiques. But to throw out the baby with the bath water is an idealist approach. The Soviet Union and China both made unprecedented improvements in the conditions of vast populations of formerly oppressed and exploited peoples, without imposing the burden to do so on other peoples as the imperialist nations have. This is a model that we uphold, and hope to emulate and build upon in the future.
Having spent the majority of his adult life in a Security Housing Unit, much of this book discusses the prison movement and the recent struggle for humyn rights in California prisons. His discussion of the lumpen class in the United $tates parallels ours, though he explicitly states they are "a non-revolutionary class."(p.139) His belief in a revolutionary class within New Afrika presumably is based in his assessment of a large New Afrikan proletariat, a point where he seems to agree with the NABPP-PC. In contrast, we see New Afrika dominated by a privileged labor aristocracy whose economic interests ally more with imperialism than against it. For us, to declare the First World lumpen a non-revolutionary class is to declare the New Afrikan revolution impotent. Ironically, Shakur himself embodies the transformation of lumpen criminal into revolutionary communist. While he is certainly the exception to the rule at this time, his biography serves as a powerful tool to reach those we think can be reached, both on a subjective level and due to the objective insights he has to offer.
One of the points Shakur tries to hit home with this book is that the oppressors have more faith in the oppressed nations ability to pose a threat to imperialism than the oppressed have in themselves. And we agree. We see it everyday, the very conscious political repression that is enacted on those in the U.$. koncentration kamps for fear that they might start to think they deserve basic humyn rights, dignity, or even worse, liberation. We think this book can be a useful educational tool, thereby building the confidence in the oppressed to be self-reliant, keeping in mind the critiques we pose above.
In Jacksboro, Texas, Correctional Corporation of America unit offenders with disabilities are discriminated against per 42 U.S.C. § 12132. The use of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illnesses at this jail does not meet state legal standards. Offenders rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the Eighth Amendment are in dire straits. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) fails to follow policy and laws. Offenders are in their cells 24 hours a day. I was placed in a psychiatric unit in Lubbock, Texas (Montford Unit) from February to September 2013, locked in a cell all the time. Then I moved to state jail and all my medications that I was given by TDCJ doctors were taken away and they told TDCJ they don't allow that medication on this unit.
I am being given the run around fighting this because courts have ruled that private prison corporations are not a public entity merely because they have entered into a contract with a public entity to provide services. An instrument of the state is only a government unit or unit created by a government unit; as such, no title II ADA claims are applicable. The ADA does not apply to private prisons.
MIM(Prisons) adds: We have written extensively about the health effects of solitary confinement which is cruel and unusual punishment even for healthy prisoners. Those with mental health problems are even more dramatically harmed by this long-term isolation. Texas has a history of "treating" prisoners with mental illness with torture. We know that this isolation is a tool of social control in a criminal injustice system that does not care about the health of prisoners. Further, prisons use mental illness and labels, treatment and the withholding of treatment, as another tool of social control. We must fight this with our own institutions of mental health: education, persynal healthy practices, mental engagement and social interaction where possible. In addition to our educational programs and work connecting prisoners with the struggle on the streets, we distribute portions of the American Friends Service Committee's Survivors Manual for people in control units. Write to us for a copy and for more information on how you can plug in to the anti-imperialist prison movement.