Regarding ULK 57 and "disability". A deaf person is hearing impacted. A paralyzed person is mobility impacted. Together they are physically impacted. Their physical states are influenced by what impacted them — some ailment, incident, or birth condition.
"Disabled" and "challenged" takes something away, some quality or value of the person, as if they are the sum of their physical condition, objectified. "Disabled" in today's reactionary culture and mindset conveys inferior, a tacit separation that, repeated ritually to and by the impacted person, becomes psychologically embedded and the person feels actually inferior — has self-doubts, is self-conscious.
I've been deaf since age 15 and could never say that I was "deaf" even, but said I had a "hearing problem." When referred to as being "deaf," I felt lower than everyone else. I've gotten over it by now, of course, at age 63, but just to say that semantic runs deep with physically and mentally impacted people, and can be a very sensitive thing. Another angle is that transgender people are considered in Western medicine to have a mental "disorder," and so on. Well, that's my 2¢. The article was rather interesting to me.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Language is an important part of culture, and something that revolutionaries have a responsibility to use for political purpose. So we appreciate this comrade raising criticisms of our use of language in ULK 57.
As a launching off point in this discussion, we will bring up our use of the word [email protected]. We use an @ symbol instead of an 'o' or 'a' to convey multiple political points: the @ is not gender-specific; the term is encompassing an oppressed nation and explicitly rejecting Amerikan labels like "Hispanic."
With that in mind we want to look carefully at this term "disability" to consider these criticisms. We do not want to suggest that someone who cannot hear or cannot see is inferior to someone who can. All people have different abilities. Some of these abilities can be trained, but some are things we're born with. Some people, for instance, are stronger than others. The weaker folks aren't inferior, but they might be better suited to tasks that don't require as much physical strength.
This was discussed in the book Philosophy is No Mystery which describes struggles in a village in revolutionary China. One of the challenges they faced was strong young men acting as if their work was more valuable than that of weaker folks (mostly wimmin, but also elderly people and children). However, upon deeper discussion everyone came to agree that the work done by all was critical to their success, and valuing strength over other types of labor was counter-productive.
Let's address the question of whether the term "disability" is similar to saying a transgendered persyn has a "disorder." Transgender folks are often said to have "gender dysphoria" which is the stress a persyn feels as a result of the sex they were assigned at birth. The assigned sex does not match the persyn's internal identity. That's a situation some transgender people seek to address by changing their physical body to match their internal identity. Transgender folks face a difficult situation that needs resolving for them to lead healthy and happy lives.
It's true that when we hear "disability" we generally think of things we would want to fix. But is that a bad thing? When people have vision problems that can be corrected, we want to use medical science to correct them. For instance, removal of cataracts cures blindness in many people. Similarly, if someone is missing a leg, getting fitted with a prosthesis is often a very good thing. In these situations someone lacks the ability to use a part of their body to its full potential. And in some cases this ability can be restored.
So perhaps the analogy we would make is that missing a leg is like someone being assigned a sex that doesn't match their internal identity. The gender dysphoria they experience before transitioning is like lacking a prosthesis for someone without a leg. Making the transition to a sex or gender expression that matches their identity is for any transgender persyn somewhat analogous to people with physical dis-abilities getting them surgically or prosthetically corrected. If we can resolve gender dysphoria, by changing society or improving the persyn's individual situation, we should do that. Just like if we can provide prosthetic limbs and cataract surgery, we should do that.
Where using the term "disability" becomes more complex and muddy is in cases where the persyn impacted doesn't want to make a change. There are some good examples of this, like neuro-atypical folks who have developed highly specialized skills because of their neurology, but struggle to socialize or interact with other people. Some argue this is not something to be fixed but is just a humyn difference. And so we shouldn't call that a disability, but rather just a different ability. However, in the types of cases that were discussed in the issue of ULK in question, the ailments and physical limitations are things we all agree should be fixed if possible. We don't see anyone arguing that keeping cataracts help people in any way.
The question here is whether we can distinguish between conditions that people don't want to change, differences between humyns, and conditions that people can generally agree we should change if possible. If we can, the term "disability" may be appropriate for the category of conditions we would change if possible. And then the final question we must answer is whether the term "disability" in our social context implies that someone is inferior. As we've already said above, we want to use language to empower and build revolutionary culture. This last point is the most difficult one and we'd like to solicit input from other readers, and especially those who contributed to ULK 57. Send us your thoughts on this topic and we will study it further and publish something in an upcoming issue of Under Lock & Key.
I am currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania at the State Correctional Institution: Chester. And every day as I look around this place I'm forced to live in, all I see is a growing number of "synthetic snaps." When I first came to state prison in 2006 drugs were an issue but not like they are today. These new cheaper, and more easily obtainable synthetic drugs such as suboxone or subutex and K-2 synthetic marijuana, are making prison society worse and more depressing than ever. These subs cause withdrawal symptoms like heroin and are causing convicts to throw away their solidarity to scumbag each other in pursuit of their next fix.
Suboxone strips are flat and very easy to smuggle into prisons and all one needs to obtain them on the streets is to test positive for opiates at a clinic to receive up to 90 strips a month for a small co-pay. They then smuggle them into the prisons where they can sell for up to $100 apiece wholesale which is like a 10,000% profit which is irresistible to most "hustlers."
This new opiate replacement has prisons in an uproar. Convicts are stealing from and robbing each other to get just a little "piece" to chase away their withdrawal symptoms. And our RHUs are filled with "protective custody" inmates who ran up drug debts on credit that they couldn't cover.
Then we have the so-called "synthetic marijuana" product K-2. I was an avid marijuana smoker on the streets and this stuff is way different than blowin a sacc of loud. K-2 can cause violent outbursts, passing out, seizures, suicide attempts, and serious mental breakdowns. I have seen people attempt to fly over the fence earning them escape charges. People lose touch with reality and lash out at everyone around them. Guys pass out standing up, cracking their heads open, and to top it off a guy on my block at SCI: Somerset went all zombie on his celly biting him on his face and arms. This stuff is more like bad PCP than marijuana. It just blows my mind that synthetics are causing more problems than their "real" counterparts.
We as a united front against the injustice system need to stop trying to capitalize off the downfall of our comrades, and utilize our efforts to solidify our ranks against our oppressors. The rapper Meek Millz is a prisoner here at Chester with me and has stated that even growing up on the drug-laden streets of Philadelphia he couldn't imagine a cell block in prison so closely resembling a drug block in the badlands of his home city. We can't continue to give the oppressors more ammo to use against us. I understand that boredom, hopelessness, and other forms of incarceration depression tend to drive us to find ways to numb us. But let's try to come together and help our comrades strive to kick habits they have already acquired, and to prevent anyone from picking one up.
This is just another battle we need to unite to win. Whether you're White, Black, or Hispanic, Crip, Blood, Latin, or Aryan, come together for the greater good of convicts everywhere. Pay attention, comrades, because Amerikkka wants to catch us slippin'.
MIM(Prisons) responds: In the November issue of Under Lock & Key we got deep into the issue of drugs in prison. All writers agreed it's a big problem, though what is used and how the problem plays out varies from state to state and even within each prison. And a lot of folks came to the same conclusion as this comrade: we need to stop trying to make money off the suffering of others and instead come together against the injustice system. This letter is a good follow-up to that issue of ULK because we need to keep this topic front and center as we work to find ways to help people kick the habit and join the revolutionary movement.
Are you helping comrades kick their drug habits? What methods and tactics are you using? What have you tried that didn't work, and why? What harm reduction tactics can we try to employ? What about counseling techniques? The State isn't going to fix this problem for us. We need to make our own interventions and support systems.
As we live in a world full of icebergs as well as Trump towers, we as a country overcame cheap labor such as cotton picking, tobacco farming, child bearing, sugar caning, to the industrialized warfare, to white flight/red line federal housing (which was a calamity also labeled as the Jim Crow north) to the penal correctional nightmare we live through today. They call it rehabilitation, which takes millions off the streets to feel the reign. Years of disfranchisement, hatred, street wars that last decades, as well as innocent bystanders gunned down, as tears flow from mothers' eyes.
We are investments as soon as we jump off the porch, moving targets for bounty hunters. But they got us focusing on the gang, when the biggest gang is theirs. It has been seen on TV: dumptrucks of guns being delivered to children high on PCP on the streets of Chicago, or the deliverance of cocaine to Rick Ross/Nicky Barnes. But now we got a problem with Mexicans importing a little weed over the border? Get the F out of here! The government is El Chapo, when that same gov benefits/prospers off every play.
They call this justice. Alright, where is the justice in charging $3 a day for being in your jail? Or charging $1 for a 15-cent soup? Or matter of fact $8-15 for a free long distance call. Do you see the incentives? Also you got private institutions that pay for a full prison population (90+%). So why would I not hire more police to put more minorities in here?
If we truly hate white superiority/supremacy, why do we kill our own at a higher rate than the right-wing klan or policemen? When the government owns the whole monopoly board. Every day is the million man/woman march. All we got to do is follow the examples already solidified. Call out our heads or our officials that hold any position. Mumia Abu Jamal said it best, "The state would rather give me an Uzi than a microphone."
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade is right to expose the private industry benefits of the criminal injustice system. And also the hypocrisy of the government's claims that prisons are being used for justice when it is the government that runs the biggest gang, drug dealer, and criminals. But we can't ignore that prisons are a money-losing operation for the government. Sure the private industries that are profiting do lobby for more prisons, and that's a financial interest for sure. But the government itself is losing money.
Social control must be the driving reason behind the enormous money-sucking prison system in the United $tates. The criminal injustice system serves that same purpose of social control of oppressed nations within U.$. borders.
In recent months, the Countrywide Council of United Struggle from Within, or Double C for short, has been discussing campaigns, tactics and strategies. One question posed by MIM(Prisons) was about the September 9th Day of Solidarity, an annual event to commemorate the Attica Rebellion of 1971 and to promote the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP). So far the consensus in the Double C is that this event is an important one for promoting the UFPP.
One member told of an older comrade who has been in since 1979 who recently told em, "Thank you for waken me up to this Sept 9 day." Others agreed that the people are hungry for this message. Another Double C comrade quickly made copies of the fliers and distributed them at the library and jobsite at eir new facility where ey sees strong prospects for building anti-violence programs among lumpen groups.
In ULK 58, we printed a letter from the Double C to a reformist group called CURE, and laid out our strategy and guidelines for reaching out to other organizations. In recent months, Double C comrades have helped get excellent articles promoting the UFPP in two newsletters read by prisoners: Turning the Tide and Propter Nos. USW comrades should follow these examples of ways to get the line out on the UFPP, a campaign we can unite with all progressive groups on, revolutionary or not.
In writing to other organizations and newsletters, USW has goals of popularizing USW campaigns and increasing ULK subscribership. But we should not let these goals take us toward a strategy of sizeism. Our goal is not to get our address in as many newsletters as possible at any cost, rather we should be focused on unity and struggle. We should be building unity where we see potential for it around practical work, while struggling to push others ideologically.
Building a united front of prisoners, involving various prison-based lumpen organizations, is a long campaign that must be carried out in our daily work. September 9th is just one day when we organize a coordinated action to actualize that unity. September 9th is a time to reflect on the prison movement that came before us and on how to develop the prison movement of today and the future. September 9th will not become big overnight. When it does get big, it will because of years of hard work of USW cadre across the country.
Comrades in the Double C are reviewing the September 9th Organizing Pack and existing fliers promoting the United Front for Peace in Prisons, to come up with tactics, art and slogans for further popularizing the event. This is something that all USW comrades can participate in. Starting with this issue of ULK we plan to print a piece of art on page 3 behind the UFPP statement that can be ripped out and copied as a flier. If you don't have access to make copies write MIM(Prisons) for more copies of these fliers. Send in your art promoting the UFPP and September 9th. Send in your slogans. Report on your organizing successes, strategies and challenges to share in the pages of Under Lock & Key. Build the United Front for Peace in Prisons!
[MIM(Prisons) has received some well-researched information on filing grievances and fighting the grievance system from several readers. Various court cases and rulings can be contradictory. This is in part due to local court differences, but it's also important to know when a particular decision has been overruled by a higher court. This is hard to stay on top of! We rely on our legally savvy readers to let us know when something important has changed because we don't have the money to pay lawyers to do this work for us.
You will see in these two updates some court cases that appear contradictory. We want to put this information in the hands of our jailhouse lawyers, but we caution everyone to do your own research before relying on a citation for your legal work. This information is just a starting point. - Editor]
Caselaw on legal protections
The First Amendment protects the right of the people "to peaceably assemble, or to petition for a governmental redress of grievances." These rights are severely restricted in prison. Prison officials may ban prison organizations that oppose or criticize prison policies, and court decisions have generally upheld restrictions on those prisoner organizations that are permitted. There is no constitutional right to belong to a gang, or "security threat group" as prison officials often call them, and officials may impose restrictions or take disciplinary action based on gang membership.(1) In some instances courts have declared religious organizations to be security threat groups.(2) Courts have disagreed on the Constitutional status of petitions in prison. Some courts have held that they are protected by the First Amendment, while others have approved restrictions or bans on them.(3, 4) Whether prisoners can be punished for circulating or signing petitions will depend on whether prison rules give notice that such activity is forbidden.(5)
Grievances filed through an official grievance procedure are constitutionally protected(6), even though there is NO constitutional requirement that prisons or jails have a grievance system(7), or that they follow its procedures if they do have one (8), or that they issue decisions that fairly resolve prisoners' problems(9).
22 January 2018 - There is a hunger strike going on right now at the Allred Ad-Seg Unit, which is located in Iowa Park, Texas. A lot of prisoners are on hunger strike in protest of the cruel and inhumane conditions which have been allowed to be visited upon the prisoners in the Ad-Seg Unit. The key issues are:
Lack of opportunities to go to outside recreation.
Cold food being served every meal at the Ad-Seg/High Security Unit.
There are a lot of similar problems here at Eastham Ad-Seg and some
of the common denominators which allow these problems to continue are:
Serious Shortages of Staff all over TDCJ
Lack of funds to make repairs on anything
Deliberate Indifference and Abuse by uncaring Staff at Allred!
The 85th Texas Legislature which convened in 2017 approved a massive
multi-million dollar cut to the budget of the Texas Department of
Criminal INJustice. I believe the amount was close to $212 million. There have been numerous unintended consequences as a result of
these cutbacks — staff shortages is just one. We have also seen an
inordinate amount of prisoner deaths as a result of subpar medical care
given by employees of the University of Texas Medical Branch whose
headquarters is in Galveston, Texas.
One issue that I'd like to bring to your attention is that prisoners who
are housed in Ad-Seg (all over Ad-Seg, but especially at the Allred
Unit) are more vulnerable to abuse by TDCJ prison employees because they
are more isolated from the general public, the media and their
FAMILIES!! Hunger Striking is the last ditch effort to have their
grievances heard. This is a cry for HELP! We cannot ignore them.
MIM(Prisons) adds: The Texas grievance
process is abysmal, and in most (if not all) facilities, the
instructions on how to use the grievance process are not even made
available to prisoners. We saw no other choice but to compile this
material and distribute it ourselves. So when this correspondent says
"hunger striking is the last ditch effort," we can attest to the lack of
progress using official channels. Eventually it gets to a point where
humyns can't take the abuse and neglect anymore, and the prison admin is
only frustrating their attempts to go the "proper" route. Hunger
striking is one of the only forms of protest left. We are trying to work
toward a society where people don't need to starve themselves to be
allowed outdoors, and asserting ourselves, such as in this hunger
strike, is one step toward that new society.
I received the book that you sent me and the ULK newsletter. I agree with the line that all sex is rape and that the majority of the white working class in the United States is not a revolutionary force due to the fact that they have a material interest in maintaining imperialism on a global stage.
I been doing organizing and educational work. I been helping showing others how to fill out grievance forms. I end up getting 100% participation from all cadres on lock up down at Jessup Correctional Institution. As you can see my address changed. They moved me to Maximum security prison North Branch, it is the most secure prison at Maryland. Due to my organizing and assault on COs at Jessup they raised my security level.
We had to move the struggle to the physical level because they was not respecting our grievance forms; they was ripping them up. When the grievance process fails the physical level is the next step. I am not a focoist. But when oppressive tactics are used by the imperialist blood suckers of the poor then violence is the next step.
I don't think that the drug problem is getting any better. A lot of brothers are getting high off of the medication these nurses are giving out which is nothing but another form of social control that is used by the imperialist system. Everything under this capitalist system is abnormal. The people will only begin to see the value of people through the transitional stage of socialism. Individualism is what majority of citizens value. We as communists must continue to struggle and fight to win the people over.
I have political debates all the time with capitalists. They don't see how the means of production should be collectively owned by the people. I been raising the class consciousness elucidating to comrades how the Democratic party and the Republican party will not exist without perpetuating social conflict amongst the people and how racism and classism is inextricably built into the capitalist system.
One thing about a lot of women is they don't like the inequality and sexism but when you ask them do they believe we should abolish the current system a lot of them will say no! A lot of women are willing to put up with inequality and sexism because they have a material interest. I agree with this line that sexism will always exist under this capitalist system even during the transitional stage which is socialism. Classism is the worst social ill that we have in our society, to me classism is a disease it takes a long time to cure. I am a blackman from a low income community. A lot of women I talk to are ignorant to communism. They have a bad perception about it due to imperialist propaganda. I would like to learn more about Mao Zedong. Please send some knowledge about Mao Zedong.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We have a lot of unity with this writer about the nature of class, nation and gender oppression in the imperialist world today. But we see national oppression as the main problem today, not class. This is because imperialism is built on a system of nations oppressing other nations. That oppression is economically exploitative, and in many ways parallels class oppression. But recent history has shown revolutionary nationalism to be the form that the most successful anti-imperialist organizing has taken. We will have the best success against imperialism by pushing national liberation struggles. And these in turn will push forward the class struggle.
We also want to comment on the question of organizing strategies becoming physical. Change can't occur without action that has consequences. And ultimately an oppressor that uses force to control must face a response of force before that oppression can be ended. But as Sun Tzu taught in the Art of War, the enemy must be truly helpless to be defeated. Comrades must be careful to plan actions so that they don't just result in greater repression. Leaders getting locked up in isolation doesn't advance the movement. Everyone needs to evaluate their own conditions to determine what's the best organizing approach and what's necessary for self-defense. And self-defense should not be confused with revolution.
This is a response to the recent article on Prop. 57 organizing. While I understand how this could be a tool for comrades to organize with, at the same time there are plenty of programs here at Folsom that are doing the whole time reduction program. For example, there are a few of my homies that have gotten 1/4 of their time knocked off after GED/College degree. And they are not white, rich, or snitches as the headline suggests.
Now one thing that we can definitely push is for youth offenders to be able to fit the criteria of Prop. 57. Because that is definitely something us under SB260-261 do not fit into. Not to say that the carrot of reform is something we bit into with high hopes, but it can most definitely be something to put into motion.
I just feel the headline stating that only snitches and privileged are getting good time in New Folsom EOP/GP could be a turn off. It will move/push people in the wrong direction. We can use this, let's just not label solid comrades snitches on paper when organizing.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We thank this comrade for this criticism and correction. While we did print a couple responses from USW comrades in ULK 60 citing instances of good time used to favor certain prisoners, we should not paint with such a broad brush to imply that anyone getting good time is in that boat.
It does seem that access to info on Prop. 57 is also imbalanced. As we are still getting people asking for information, while others say the state is on top of it. Strategically, we seek to build Serve the People programs where we can provide for the needs of the masses better than the state. Prop. 57 is not a place we can do a better job than what the state is doing. Providing books that serve the interests of oppressed nations, for example, is. We agree with this comrade that we cannot hope for reformism to change things, but we can fight for winnable battles that help us move in the direction of revolutionary change.
Addendum: The politics of Prop. 57 also overlap with the focus of this issue of Under Lock & Key. The CDCR tried to exclude anyone convicted of a crime that required being registered as a sex offender from Prop. 57 benefits. But only certain crimes in the sex offender classification are also classified as violent felonies in the California Penal Code. In February, in a suit brought by the Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws, a judge ruled that the CDCR was overstretching the law, and that limits on Prop. 57 must be applied only to those convictions deemed "violent" in the California Code. (16 February 2018, Seth Augenstein, California's Prop 57 Sex Offender Release Regs Are Void, Court Rules)
This is my end-of-year report on our MIM Grievance Campaign. We did one on the "unlocks" here, and we're currently working on the issue of showers. Due to the California drought they claim that we are still in a drought and therefore can only shower on Tuesday and Thursday. Even then there is no hot water so we are showering in ICE cold water. This is in spite of the fact that we are in a medical facility and most of us are older prisoners.
The temp has dropped to 34 degrees in the morning and we have been in these conditions now for over a month. Enclosed please find the grievances.
MIM(Prisons) adds: Comrades at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility have been pursuing these issue through 602 appeals forms and subsequent appeals. After receiving a response of "partially granted" there was no actual change in conditions and they began utilizing the grievance petition for California. They have done a good job documenting the process, citing case law of Armstrong vs. Brown and the 8th and 14th Amendment.
Comrades in California and other states can write in to get a copy of a grievance petition to use as an organizing tool to bring people together around conditions that are not being addressed at your prison.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation depicts the struggles
(if they can be called that) of Clark Griswold. It is Clark's quest to
have the perfect Christmas for eir family: spouse Ellen and children
Audrey and Rusty. Most of the first act of the film is dedicated to
comedically exaggerated petty-bourgeois scenarios in this vein: getting
the right tree, putting up the Christmas lights, shopping for gifts, and
trying to keep the peace among family members (much extended family
arrives in the form of both sets of grandparents, Ellen's cigar-smoking
uncle Lewis and senile aunt Bethany, and Clark's redneck cousin Eddie,
accompanied by eir spouse, children and dog). Christmas books and movies
have long been vessels for anti-capitalist messages, even if they are
tainted by idealism and economism: from Ebenezer Scrooge being
frightened into giving concessions to the proletariat in A Christmas
Carol(1), to the anti-imperialist solidarity of Whoville in How
the Grinch Stole Christmas(2), to the anti-militarism parable of
A Christmas Story(3). And a superficial "reading" of Christmas
Vacation suggests that it may not only follow the same paradigm but
even exceed these works and act as an inspiration for communist
revolution (spoiler alert: the climax of the movie involves the forceful
kidnapping of a member of the bourgeoisie). However, a deeper analysis
reveals that, despite occasional flashes of progressiveness and a candid depiction of the labor aristocracy, the film
does not provide useful guidance for revolution.
Throughout the movie, some potshots are taken at the bourgeoisie, but
nothing too substantial. Clark's next-door yuppie neighbors are depicted
as pretentious snobs, while eir boss is gruff and impersonal. But these
attacks on the bourgeoisie are based on persynal mannerisms, not
economic grounds. Clark is clearly a privileged member of the labor
aristocracy. Ellen doesn't seem to work, and Clark makes enough to
afford a couple of cars and a nice house, which ey bedecks with an
over-the-top lighting display. Clark does not even seem to work hard to
enjoy these things. In the whole movie, ey is shown at work in only
three brief scenes. And in none of those scenes is ey actually engaged
in labor. In the first, ey is chatting at the watercooler. In the
second, ey drops off a gift and unsuccessfully attempts to ingratiate
emself with eir boss. In the third, ey is sitting in eir office, looking
over some plans for a persynal swimming pool. So Clark does not appear
to work that hard, but ey does mention several innovations ey has made
for eir company, which seems to be a manufacturer of chemical food
additives although no manufacturing is ever shown onscreen.
Could Clark's mental labor as a chemist still be exploited by the
bourgeoisie proper? The answer appears to be no: Clark is planning to
pay for eir swimming pool with eir end-of-year bonus. Said bonus
represents compensation for the value ey has produced in excess of eir
salary and thus precludes em from being truly proletarian. Indeed, eir
entire compensation is likely funded by the manufacture of chemicals ey
has designed, presumably by Third World workers. Thus, Clark occupies
the classic position of a labor aristocrat: someone who may be slightly
exploited by the bourgeoisie, but who ultimately receives compensation
in excess of the value of eir labor, as a beneficiary of imperialist
superexploitation of the Third World proletariat.
As the film progresses, the minor and mainly apolitical subplots fade to
the periphery (after some technical difficulties, Clark's light show
wows the family and is never mentioned again), and a political thread
assumes prominence. As it turns out, Clark is really counting on eir
Christmas bonus. In order to expedite the construction of eir pool,
Clark has put down a deposit and written a check that eir bank account
can't cover. Clark is confident that eir performance will earn em a
sizable bonus, but that confidence begins to wane as the days go by
without word from the company. Finally, a messenger arrives on Christmas
Eve with an envelope. Before opening it, Clark, apparently on the knife
edge between luxury and financial ruin, expresses both eir anxiety
regarding eir solvency and eir hope that the check will be large enough
to not only cover the cost of the pool but also airfare to fly over all
the extended family present (ten people!) to enjoy it when it is built.
To much fanfare, Clark opens the envelope and finds that, to eir dismay,
it only contains a subscription to the Jelly-of-the-Month club, a gift
of nugatory value. Enraged, Clark launches into a tirade denouncing eir
boss's perfidy and angrily expresses eir desire to see eir boss tied up.
Taking Clark's words literally, Eddie slips out, locates Clark's boss
(conveniently, Clark mentioned the neighborhood ey lives in during eir
lengthy monologue), and kidnaps em. Bound, gagged, and festooned with a
large ribbon, ey is Eddie's last-minute Christmas gift to Clark.
There are several issues with this scenario.
First, the stakes are very low. The only thing really at risk is Clark's
bonus. Perhaps ey will have to live without the pool for another year.
Perhaps ey will be charged by the bank for a bounced check. Perhaps ey
will even have to forfeit the deposit ey made. But if Clark is low on
cash, that is a problem of eir own making. We are talking about a persyn
who probably spent over three grand just on the electricity for eir
250,000-bulb Christmas light display.(4) If Clark misses out on eir
bonus, what is the big deal? Ey might have to pawn eir lights and forgo
the spectacular light show next year. Eir family might even have to take
fewer of their legendary vacations. But it seems unlikely that they are
in danger of going hungry or having to sell the house or even the car.
Perhaps the aspect of Clark's misfortune which ey most keenly feels —
and which is most relevant to Amerikan audiences — is what it
represents. Denied an explicit share in eir surplus value (ignoring, of
course, that ey still receives a salary of international superprofits),
Clark is confronted by the prospect of eir potential proletarianization.
Scarier than any Ghost of Christmas, the spectre of economic forces
strikes fear into eir heart. Rather than act constructively, however,
Clark, true to eir petty-bourgeois nature, reacts by pointlessly venting
eir rage at eir family. Ey also attempts to ignore the problem by
frantically following family Christmas rituals (providing time in the
narrative for Eddie to complete eir mission with eir absence unnoticed).
The proletariat of the 19th Century may have had to turn to the hard
drug of religion — "the opiate of the masses" (5) — to cope with its
actual oppression, but in Clark's case, nothing so strong is required,
just what might be called the eggnog of the masses: a reading of "The
Night Before Christmas" and also a Tylenol, washed down by a few cups of
So, the stakes are low, but this movie is a comedy. Perhaps the events
depicted can be seen as a microcosm of the proletarian struggle. Would a
mere amplification of things produce a progressive view of international
economic exploitation? Sadly, no. Clark is a member of the labor
aristocracy, with an imperialist, petty-bourgeois, even bourgeois
mindset. Even eir most innocuous actions are tainted with oppression.
Eir actions throughout the film appear to be a re-enactment of
Amerikkkan history and atrocities, down to a roughly chronological
progression from European colonization to Amerikkkan imperialism in the
Pacific. The movie opens with Clark driving eir family to the woods to
chop down a Christmas tree instead of buying one, a handy metaphor for
Amerikkkan theft of the land from Indigenous peoples and destruction of
the environment, as well as a reminder that it was the timber of North
America that originally drew the English colonizers. Next, Clark moves
on to gender oppression. In "The Communist Manifesto", Marx and Engels
wrote that the "bourgeois, not content with having the wives and
daughters of their proletarians at their disposal... take the greatest
pleasure in seducing each other's wives."(6) In multiple ways, Clark
displays these bourgeois ambitions, although ey may be considered only
petty-bourgeois due to eir lack of success. First, while shopping for
Christmas gifts, ey flirts and leers at the female salesclerk. Later, ey
has a daydream about eir pool in which the the vision of eir family
playing is replaced by a fantasy of seduction by a womyn who the
soundtrack implies to be an Indigenous Hawaii'an, thus tying together
the gender and national strands of oppression.
Finally, there is Eddie. Despite eir simple appearance, Eddie is the
fulcrum of one of the biggest paradoxes in the film: is ey a force for
revolution or reaction? An uninvited guest, ey seems to be nothing but a
source of problems, but ey ultimately saves the day with eir actions
against the bourgeoisie. Is ey proletarian? Hardly. It is revealed that
ey has been out of work for seven years. Aha! Perhaps ey is part of the
lumpenproletariat. Even if that were true, ey would be part of the First World lumpen and receive a significant benefit from eir position as a resident of the imperialist u.$. Regardless, the facts reveal that Eddie is no
lumpenproletariat hero. First, the reason for eir protracted
unemployment is that ey is holding out for a management position — a
classic petty-bourgeois aspiration. Furthermore, ey mentions that,
despite having had to trade the home for an RV, ey still retains
ownership in a plot of land, a farm and some livestock. Ey is still petty boourgeois, then; one who, despite reduced circumstances, holds on
to a vestige of the family estate. In addition, another troubling aspect
of Eddie's past is offhandedly revealed. Ey mentions that ey has a plate
in eir head, provided by the VA. Therefore, ey is not just a passive
recipient but an active participant in imperialism: one who enjoys the
privilege of free healthcare in exchange for eir role in aiding Amerikan
war crimes. Despite this, ey does fleetingly provide the film with its
only sliver of appreciation for the destruction wrought by capitalism
and u.$. imperialism. While shopping, Eddie asks Clark "Your company
kill off all them people in India not long ago?", referring to the
Bhopal chemical disaster that killed an estimated 16,000 people and
injured as many as half a million more (7,8). "No, we missed out on that
one," Clark dryly responds, and the conversation moves on, presumably
because Eddie doesn't care. Meanwhile, Eddie causes a chemical disaster
of eir own; after emptying the septic tank of eir RV into the sewer,
subsequent scenes feature interstitial shots of a menacing green smoke
rising from the storm drain.
But let's get back to the action. When we left the
Griswolds, Eddie had just marched Clark's boss into the living room.
Ungagged, eir first instinct is to fire Clark and call the cops. But
after all of 30 seconds, ey has a change of heart. Apparently, all that
was needed was a brief speech by Clark with an addendum by Rusty that
withholding bonuses "sucks" to convince Clark's boss to drop all
charges, reinstate the bonuses, and add another 20% to Clark's bonus.
Clark is so overwhelmed that ey faints.
OK, seriously? If a 20% raise was all that was needed to address the
iniquities of capitalism, MIM(Prisons) would disband and recommend you
vote for Sanders instead. Actually, even that would be too radical.
Fight for 15? More like fight for $8.70. Also, some aspects of Clark's
boss's repentance ring false: ey calls Clark "Carl" and refers to em as
the "little people". Has Clark received a permanent gain or is eir
victory a tenuous and insecure one? We bring this up not to suggest
that Amerikan labor aristocrats are truly oppressed, just to point out
the vanity and futility of imperialism: despite afflicting so much
suffering across the Third World, it has failed to completely resolve
the contradiction between workers and bourgeoisie in Amerika.
Basking in their newfound affluence, however petty it may be, the
Griswolds are rudely interrupted by the arrival of the pigs. Usually not
motivated to do much work, the kidnapping of a member of the bourgeoisie
has kicked the pig machine into high gear, and SWAT teams storm the
Griswold home from every conceivable entrance, including several pigs
rappelling through the windows. (Some pigs even kick down the door of
the neighboring house; although this scene was probably meant to provide
some comic relief and comeuppance to the yuppies, it also wouldn't be
the first or the last time that property and lives were endangered by
pigs getting the address wrong). The deference of the pigs to the
bourgeoisie is further underscored by the arrival of the wife of Clark's
boss in a car driven by a persyn whose heavily decorated dress uniform
marks em as the chief of police. This persyn would also be identified by
most viewers, on the basis of eir skin color, as "black". In fact, ey is
the only non-white character with a speaking role in the entire movie.
This detail is significant on several levels. First, the fact that the
Griswolds live in Chicago, a city with substantial New Afrikan and
[email protected] populations, but appear to interact exclusively with white
Amerikkkans represents an likely-inadvertent, but nonetheless true-to-life, depiction of
the highly segregated nature of housing and employment in Chicago.
Second, we must wonder: what was the motivation of the moviemakers in
casting a New Afrikan in this role? It could be mere tokenism, giving
the sole New Afrikan actor a role that is effectively a chauffeur. Or
perhaps they were being ironic, casting a New Afrikan as the head of the
pigs, the institution that has perhaps committed the most violence
against New Afrikans in recent decades. One shudders to think that
perhaps they thought they were being progressive by casting a New
Afrikan in a strategically Euro-Amerikan role and creating the illusion
of an egalitarian, racially-integrated police force. The true
contradiction in Amerikkka is that of nation, not race. Hence, a persyn
who might be labeled as non-white can still, in some cases, manage to
join the Amerikkkan nation and rise to the role of head pig (or even, as
in the case of Barack Obama, war-criminal-in-chief); the situation in
this film, then, seems prescient of the modern-day prominence of sheriff
Clarke of Milwaukee, another midwestern town. Perhaps a Christmas comedy
is the wrong place to look for an inspiring depiction of New Afrikan
revolutionaries, but it is still unfortunate that all we have been given
is a bootlicker to the bourgeoisie.
Many people have been killed by trigger-happy pigs, and a kidnapping on
Christmas Eve seems like the kind of high-stakes situation that would
bring in the pigs with guns blazing, but the predicament faced by the
Griswolds is resolved with miraculous ease. After Clark's boss explains
the situation, everybody relaxes, although Clark's boss is still
admonished all-around for his idea of cutting Christmas bonuses (the
head pig even says that ey'd like to beat em with a rubber hose — a
seemingly progressive action that, due to its focus on individual
retribution, is actually little more than adventurism; and even that
idea comes across as an outburst that is never fulfilled). What about
Eddie's toxic waste spill? An errant match tossed by Uncle Lewis ignites
it, but the resulting explosion only serves to launch a plastic Santa
and reindeer into the air, creating the perfect Christmas tableau in the
sky and prompting a confused Aunt Bethany to spontaneously break into a
rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner". As the Griswolds and the pigs
dance to Christmas songs in the house, Clark stands on the lawn and
basks in eir achievement. "I did it," ey says. The perfect family
But for us communists, things are far from perfect. Any
potentially lumpen characters in the movie, who may have been teetering
between revolution and reaction, have, by the film's end, fallen firmly
on the side of reaction. Everyone else — the labor aristocrats, the
bourgeoisie, pigs — was already there. This movie is best enjoyed not as a blueprint for revolution but as a satire of the Amerikan way of life. It offers hints of Amerikan brutality both domestically and abroad, as well as a depiction of the manner by which government institutions become tools of the bourgeoisie. But most of all, it exposes the reactionary nature of the labor aristocracy: the decadence of its "workers", the hypocrisy of its "morals" and the futility of any "revolutionary" action among the beneficiaries of imperialism.
The brief flicker of revolutionary action that does occur is quickly
extinguished due to its limited scope and unsystematic nature. As Lenin
once said, "When the workers of a single factory or of a single branch
of industry engage in struggle against their employer or employers, is
this class struggle? No, this is only a weak embryo of it" (9). How
ironic then, that on the (probably mythical) day of Jesus' birth, the
embryo of revolution was delivered as a stillbirth. Let us look forward,
then, to December 26: the (real) day of Mao's birth. Beyond eir persynal
achievements, ey stands as a symbol of real revolution. A genuine
proletarian revolution, not a phony one led by Amerikkkan "workers",
promises real solutions to the real problems facing the world: an end to
the insatiable exploitation by capitalists, an end to the callous
destruction of the environment, an end to the violence perpetrated every
day by pigs. When that day comes, the workers of the world will unite
and we can sing the "Internationale" together.