Prisons in California have become one of the most active and organized areas of resistance behind bars in the United $tates. With the second largest prison population in the country, and some of the biggest long-term isolation units, this is perhaps not surprising. Out of this repression and resistance has come some strong organizing efforts over the past few years. And this has also raised contradictions that need to be resolved to advance the struggle. We use this issue of ULK to highlight the contradictions and challenge our comrades in California to think broadly about resolutions.
While SHU/Ad-Seg prisoners are about 6% of the California prison population, they were 35% of our readers according to our reader survey conducted a couple years ago. Special Needs Yards (SNY) are reported to be around 30% of the total population, but were about 40% of our reader responders. So while SHU/Ad-Seg are very over-represented, SNY also seems to be slightly over-represented among our readers. There is a big division between SHU/GP and SNY prisoners with distrust and anger on both sides. But comrades from both sides continue to do solid organizing work. One of the significant developments in Cali is the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH), a United Front that has made important strides forward but is also plagued by these divisions.
It is unlikely anything we do or say will worsen the division between SHU/GP and SNY. Rather than fan the flames, we are airing these grievances as a step towards understanding and eventual reconciliation. We also want to challenge both sides. The revolutionary, anti-imperialist, pro-people forces are tiny in all sectors. Some argue that SNY is in a better position to unite, while others say only GP has potential. So we want to encourage a little friendly competition between the two sides to see who can do more. Practice has already demonstrated the leadership from SHU's ability to mobilize the masses for a progressive cause. But progressive forces on that side must continue to move forward in order to consolidate those gains, or risk them being lost. At the same time SNY comrades claim they gained the freedom to unite and organize with whoever they want, and so they need to use that position to unite others who dropped out. To both sides we say: if you're only seeking a comfortable way to do your time you're not helping advance the struggle and the revolution has no place for you.
We received a number of responses to the article in ULK 50, "[email protected] Power Book Tainted by AEH." One comrade in SNY wrote: "In my point of view it [the Agreement to End Hostilities] contradicts every aspect that they preach. Now everybody who died, who caught a life sentence for the struggle they believed in was all for nothing. Take a second and think about that. There are people who are in prison serving a life sentence for killing an individual who opposed his views and beliefs. Now they expect him to be the best of friends with these same people? How does that make sense?
"Now you guys reading this might say 'He is only saying that because he's SNY.' Well, for 4 years I was active and I have seen both sides of the fence. Not everybody over here is a snitch. There is more unity here than there is on the mainline. You see raza from North and South united where it doesn't matter what part of the state you're from."
Saying that the AEH is hypocritical based on the past goes against the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) principle of Growth. We must allow for growth and evolution of individuals and organizations if we want to see unity among the oppressed, because the old way didn't work. There are major contradictions between lumpen organizations (LOs) still, and between different housing units in California. But we see these as contradictions among the people. Which is why we stand behind the AEH, and think those old wounds can heal. It's been four years, and there's still a long way to go. But people are putting in the work, and in some locations we've seen real progress.
We understand the lack of trust that some have for those calling for the AEH in California. But we say to those people, the ones who truly want to end oppression as this comrade does, isn't the AEH a step towards what you want? Even if you don't trust certain individuals, the more we do to promote the spirit of the AEH, as well as the principles of the UFPP, the closer we get to replacing the old order with a new order based on unity of the oppressed.
This response comes from the comrade at Folsom (not SNY) who reported in ULK 50 on the progress of the AEH there, with Raza from north and south playing handball together on the same teams:
"It's a challenge educating people here, attempting to share and explain the current situation and contradiction of ideology, morals, politricks and capital. These factions seem to be following a textbook on capitalism. Yes, we have the AEH, which is a beautiful thing and can be used as a stepping stone for a more productive practice of commune. At the moment people are more concerned on exploiting the twisted habits of others and making their pockets fatter for self-interest. The 'chiefs' preach to confuse, saying that the ideology, morals and capital is framed around serve the people, united we are stronger and all that glitter. But i've not yet seen one cent invested in the people, books, education or basic needs. Too bizzy taxing the fellas for pickles out their store bags.
"Get your back straight my people, the AEH is being tainted by self-interest and is not being maximized to its full potential in a more revolutionary way. Serve the People.
"The great are only great because we are on our knees. If you don't have sycophantic attitudes towards the 'leader' and express your support they don't look great. Put some pressure, maybe then these individuals that abandoned the cause for self-interest can snap out of their pig ideology and step their game up and shape their minds and struggle towards national liberation. Resemble more a revolutionary internationalist and not the imperialist pigs that fucked us all in the first place, Tony Montana wanna-be mofo.
"I will continue to read, educate, practice and liberate regardless of the situation and this September 9 will be no different.”
A comrade in Corcoran (not SNY) is skeptical of the AEH, but echoes the refrain from many in SHU/GP that there can never be unity with SNY:
"The AEH is a godsend to all the souljas who have been held captive in the concrete tombs for 10, 15, 20+ years. The AEH is the tool CDCR is going to try and use to 1) gain more funds to build more prisons, and 2) justify the need for indeterminate SHU sentences. The current shape/mindset of prison and prisoners is not what it was back in the days that the souljas remember it being. This is going to create problems. These newly released souljas are going to be dealing with 18, 19, 20 year olds sentenced to 50, 60, 100 years.
"The AEH is going to create old-school versus new-school. That about sums it up. There's more to it. Like say the both schools are getting along there's also a snake on the police side ready to cause dissension amongst the community. Bottom line, CDCR cannot afford for the AEH to work, so they will see that it doesn't and when it doesn't they'll try to capitalize off its failure.
"They are now selling e-tablets, but only for SNY yards. There's mp3 players only for SNYs. The list goes on. Even with the trades there on SNY yards, the GP level prisoners aren't being afforded an opportunity to utilize programs that would rehabilitate them and better their lives and chances of staying out of prison. The message is clear: if you level four prisoners want to better your life you got to go SNY.
"Oh, there won't ever be a united front between GPs and SNY. You're better off trying to get a united front between convicts and pigz. See how crazy that sounds?! While there are solid souljas on the SNY yard, who became tired of the twisted prison politics. They're far outnumbered by pieces of shit, ie. child molesters, rapists, snitches, cowards, people running from drug debts, etc."
This last point is an important one that requires comment. Yes, prisoners are more likely to unite with pigz than they are with SNY because they are currently led by the criminally-minded. And it's hard to do serious money-making behind bars without working with some criminal pigz. This is a challenge and a contradiction we face trying to organize the First World lumpen. Not only are they criminal-minded, they can often make a fair amount from that crime, even some in prison are happy and prefer that over uniting New Afrika and Aztlán to fight imperialism. This is echoed by the Folsom comrade above.
All of these struggles in the California prisons remind us of how far we have to go, as humynity, to achieve a society where all people can live together in peace, in a society where no group of people has power over any other group. That long-term goal is communism. But to get there we will need to radically change our culture and the education people get from schools and society. Divisions are built into imperialism, people are pitted against each other based on class, nation, and gender generally and more specifically feuds are fostered by the imperialists to pit the oppressed against each other. This culture won't disappear overnight.
We learn from the revolutionary history of China that cultural revolutions will be needed after the oppressed take power, to re-educate everyone and build a truly revolutionary culture and society. It's a long road, and our comrades behind bars in California shouldn't be discouraged by divisions that have been created over many years of capitalist cultural indoctrination. Keep the big picture in mind and build for the revolutionary united front that serves the oppressed of the world.
I would like to address the question that was presented in ULK issue #49: Where are the revolutionary women at? How can we reach and organize with our female comrades?
There are many female soldiers out there who would love to join the revolution. And there are many ways in which we can bring these sisters into the revolution. One way is via the pen pal process. Many male prisoners have prison pen pals who they can write, educate and/or bring into the fight. The same can also be done with female pen pals who are not incarcerated. They can also sign up the sisters they know or write for a subscription of ULK.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade offers a fine suggest that can apply regardless of gender. Any pen pal who might be interested in the struggle against imperialism and oppression should be cultivated on that level. We always need more help from supporters on the outside, so if your pen pals need an org to hook up with they can seek out MIM(Prisons) via our contact info on page 1.
We know many of our subscribers already follow this comrades's suggestion by sharing what they learn from ULK with their people on the streets. If you have reason to believe your pen pal might be interested in anti-imperialist politics, send an article cut out of the newsletter to see how they react. If they are interested you can suggest they check out our website and you can start raising political questions in your letters. This could help build a solid base of political support on the streets for when you're released. But it's important to always be cautious, and not expose your political views and organizing work to folks who might (even if just accidentally) expose you to the cops.
To be clear, we don't have any evidence that overall males are at a higher level of political consciousness than females. At least historical political movements within U.$. borders don't suggest this is the case, but it is possible the dramatic recent imprisonment rate is driving a politicization of males in a way never before seen in this country. Regardless, we need to get the word out to everyone who might be interested in anti-imperialism, and if our political line is correct the oppressed will see this and get involved.
We'd like to hear from others about successes or failures you have had bringing up politics with folks in letters to the streets. Is this a tactic that we can build on in a more intentional way?
On Sept 9th, we open, as usual, upon the United Front for Peace in Prisons Statement of Principles. Our comrade did spoken word: "Frustrated" and "Black Angel" (our comrade is working on a CD of spoken word).
Another comrade spoke on revolutionary consciousness — what it means, how it applies to us and our conditions (open discussion). A third comrade introduced the ten point agenda (we recently sent you a copy of the 10 point agenda). We are ready to accept responsibility/accountability for ourselves and our conditions — we will have our marching orders (the basic point that Marx emphasized is profoundly true: "If the masses don't fight back and resist their oppression, even short of revolution, they will be crushed and reduced to a broken mass and will be incapable of rising up for any higher thing."). Our attendance was 32 people.
On September 15th we spoke on "Building Prison Study Groups" from ULK 45 (July/August 2015). Numerous articles within, and questions/comments were given. The discussion was moderated by two comrades and 41 people attended. We want to assure ourselves, we are working towards effective grouping/organizing, keeping the political line, and keeping the pigz out of our planning. We wish to be peaceful, organized, and most important, as effective as possible.
We are organizing for the Grievance campaign - we've received the sample sheet from MIM(Prisons). This has been an issue, here at Sussex I and throughout Virginia DOC. I recently sent you an article titled "Suppression the Grievance Procedure".
My comrades, we are working. We've got support from Bloods (over 200), GDs (over 25), MS-13 (20) and Muslims, Christians and 5%ers. I can only say we will work and work for results!
Interest of the wealthy always precedes those who aren’t heard.
Power to the people who stand their ground.
No more broken promises and we won’t back down.
The fruits of our labor will be handed around.
What must it mean to be truly free?
Should we settle for something less, fuck it don’t agree.
This war scattered us into refugees, blame those in power
Who claim to represent you and me.
No matter what you say and claim to be, dig your roots
And nourish what you seek.
Be part of the solution, organize and fight together.
We have to devise a plan, a common ground in which
A idea won’t fall into one hand.
No doubt freedom fighters will get gunned down.
The rebel with the knowledge is the child born in the trenches.
Who will carry the torch of resistance for the next seven generation.
Learn from mistakes and apply to the whole.
We can never separate the people from the struggle.
The recent attention to murder and brutality of New Afrikan men by Amerikan police, and the shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas by Micah X, apparently in retaliation for this brutality, inspired a lot of thoughtful letters from across the country. Many commented on the need to take up the gun to fight those with guns.
A contributor in Florida asked:
"So, my question is this: how effective and appropriate was the brother's actions (or sacrifice) at this point in time, or what do we, you and the readers make of all this? Are there any lessons, a message, or information to be learned from all of this? Or, ultimately, is there perhaps any more room, space, or a vacuum for more of this kind of self-defense at this point in time? And if so, how does one go about or start preparing, alleviating, educating, demonstrating or organizing for such right now from this example (or lesson) at this point in time? Like Micah X, are we ready to effectively exercise or address any more of this yet - or continue to keep the conversation going?"
If Micah were trying to spark a revolution, this would be a good example of what we call focoism:
The belief that small cells of armed revolutionaries can create the conditions for revolution through their actions. Demonstrated revolutionary victories, the successes of the foci, are supposed to lead the masses to revolution. Focoism often places great emphasis on armed struggle and the immediacy this brings to class warfare. Focoism is different from people's war in that it doesn't promote the mass line as part of guerrilla operations.
It is difficult for us to know Micah's goals and intents without having been there and spoken with em. Regardless of eir intents, the outcome of the actions ey took serve as ammunition for the oppressors to continue oppressing. For them, it is much easier to gain (even more) public opinion and sympathy when they are able to point at specific incidents of a member of a movement "mercilessly" gunning down pigs. Remember that the majority of people in power are already on their side.
While revolutionaries and many in the oppressed nations know that Micah's actions were an act of self-defense, white politicians and leaders will never see it that way. As a Federal prisoner wrote to us: "President Obama called what happened in Dallas Texas 'A Vicious, Calculated, Despicable ATTACK!'" In their eyes, violent actions taken against a pig (or pigs) can never be considered self-defense, especially when the "offender" in question is non-white.
At this point, standalone violent actions such as this one serve to incite the government to act with more urgency against those who they perceive threaten them, and allow them to place themselves ever more in the role of "victim," and to place the oppressed in the role of "aggressor."
Violence is a very necessary part of effecting any kind of true change that puts an end to imperialism, but there is a time for it, and that time is not now. Our focus now is on educating and organizing ourselves, so that we are better able to organize those who already see things as we do. It is important to consider what someone with a drive like this could achieve over a lifetime of work.
A contributor in Maryland wrote:
"One of the DJs said one of the solutions was for us to just comply with the pigs no matter what when confronted in the streets by them. Basically, don't dare challenge master. But there can be no change without challenge. Why do we continue to lay down?... The white supremacists of this land have taken up refuge behind the badge. They can never be rooted out. Not by Obama, or anyone else. Remember they got a 200 year head start on us."
While it is true that there can be no change without challenge, it is also important to remember that not all challenge enacts change. The pigs in no way deserve respect, compliance or gratitude. And it's true that they won't be rooted out without taking down all of the imperialists first. However, to challenge them now militarily serves to get the wrong people killed and give more instances for the oppressors to point at and say "Look! Look at how irrational and violent they are! We need to give the police more power, for our protection!" The oppressors will always try to paint the oppressed as the villian; we can never avoid this accusation altogether. But we need to look at the balance of forces and ask, in spite of this rhetoric, if we have enough public opinion in our favor that our armed struggle will have enough support to be successful. Suicide missions like Micah's make armed struggle look futile, so we should avoid them until we know we wan win. Even those who have reverence for what Micah did probably wouldn't do it themselves.
Look at the Black Panther Party, and what happened with them. The BPP openly carried guns as a demonstration of potential power, without engaging in focoist actions. But still the Amerikkkan imperialists struck back agressively with guns, drugs and imprisonment, leading to the eventual downfall of the group. We can only expect even more agressive attacks in response to use of the gun. The time for armed struggle is when the fight can be won. Right now, we're not close to that point.
This battle is a good example of why we need a vanguard party to lead the revolutionary struggle, including the armed struggle to take down the imperialists. It also provides some insight into just how hard the bourgeoisie will fight to maintain their position of power. Even after they are defeated militarily by the majority of the world's people we can anticipate that former bourgeois individuals and their lackeys in the police and military, as well as new people who aspire to wealth and power, will not immediately become cooperative and productive members of society serving the people. For this reason we need to think beyond the military battle and into the structure of society after capitalism is overthrown. This is why communists believe we must have a dictatorship of the proletariat under socialism while we undertake the long transition to a society where no groups of people have power over other groups of people. It is tempting to take up the gun now and fight back a death for a death, but we want to build a world where all people contribute productively to the betterment of humynity, and that will take a lot more than the death of a few cops.
This issue of ULK is being mailed to 48 states, yet over one third are going to Texas prisons. This can be attributed in large part to the void we've been filling with our Texas Campaign Pack, which has led to a huge influx of subscribers in that state. TDCJ has hidden its own grievance manual from prisoners since 2014, and more recently has effectively eliminated all access to the law library in many facilities. The MIM(Prisons) TX Pack helps people fight back and provides needed resources and information.
Yet when looking through the incoming mail, we notice some themes:
Most people are focused only on their individual struggles.
The end goal for most writers is prison reform.
There is a huge lack of engagement with politics.
Of course there are a number of exceptions to these themes, but the quantity of letters without political content is overwhelming. The vast majority of writers are only interested in getting the Texas Pack from us. Their engagement with the rest of our projects (even reading ULK, which is sent automatically to everyone who writes us) is a relative rarity. Those who report receiving the TX Pack and thank us for how helpful it is are mostly only using it to work on their own grievances. Some share it with others, but most don't seem to be using it on campaigns together. Of the huge number of people who have been invited to our intro study group across the state, very few actually participated.
If our subscribers in Texas want everything they learned in the Texas Campaign Pack to actually be put to the best possible use, there are a few key points that have to be considered:
Individual actions are small. The impact of a single successful grievance may feel huge to one persyn for at least a small period of time. But we must think bigger than our individual struggles. Especially when most of these struggles are unsuccessful.
Reformism is very limited. Those in power stall at every opportunity. So while we might see a few victories, it'll always be just enough to keep us motivated to bark up the same wrong tree for another several decades. In order to end what makes oppression possible and profitable, we need to put an end to the capitalist economic system. We've tried reforming it for hundreds of years. Is this what you expect it should look like by now?
Apply principles of revolutionary theory for an end to oppression. The only way to achieve an end to this ongoing oppression is to learn some principles about revolutionary science. We need to know what has worked in the past, and what hasn't. We need to learn lessons from history for how we can build our present-day movement to be as successful as possible at putting a quick end to capitalism and all its atrocities the world over. This takes hard work and dedication, and is the only way for future generations to come out from under the boot of the oppressors.
Once we learn some revolutionary theory, the next step is to put it into practice in our organizing work. Tons of people write to us about how difficult it is to find people in Texas who are interested in politics or coming together to protect themselves from abuses by staff. This is because, despite all the atrocities in TDCJ facilities, TDCJ achieved a delicate balance between privileges and punishment, that keeps the population complacent but not so repressed that they are inspired to step up and do something about it. This dynamic has been going on for eons. The perfect example of this is people who have given up filing grievances because the grievances go unanswered, and instead they just watch TV. If not for the TV or other distractions/privileges, unanswered grievances should lead someone to want to take further action to protect their humynity. By restricting indigent mail and eliminating law libraries in many facilities, TDCJ is signing itself up for some contempt amongst its wards, but only if those who are politically conscious take the next steps to educate and organize.
The most basic organizing steps to try:
Share the TX Pack with others, and have them write to MIM(Prisons) to get on our mailing list.
Write grievances together. Even if for individual issues, build your collective knowledge about what makes a grievance successful. Don't let the administration give you the runaround.
Unsuccessful grievances are part of the process. We don't expect to actually have victories with these grievances, but we file them to go through the process of administrative remedies, and build unity through action. When the grievances come back rejected, use them as tools to show how backward the administration is, and how the grievance system is set up to fail.
Meanwhile, build political consciousness: Study articles in ULK, and broaden your perspective of how the prison struggle fits in with the struggle of the internal semi-colonies, and oppressed nations worldwide.
MIM(Prisons) offers a multitude of ways we can support you in your organizing. We can provide lit and study guides if you want to start a study group. We also recently revamped our Prisoners' Legal Clinic, and you can use your legal expertise to help others with their cases and help them learn some revolutionary theory. Our literacy program is coming up too, so maybe tutoring others in how to read and write in a Serve the People Program is a role you can play. Or if you're an artist or writer you can contribute articles for ULK, which then gets mailed to people all across the country. If you have access to funds, send us a donation so we can continue sending the TX Pack and ULK in to the large number of subscribers in Texas.
In sum, Texas prisoners need to step up. We all already know that filing individual grievances is a joke. The Texas Campaign Pack has info for how to make the most of individual grievances, so we can have a few more successes, but the administration can still just toss out or ignore whatever they don't feel like dealing with. TDCJ headquarters in Huntsville is no better. We hope our comrades in Texas who have been so diligently putting the Texas campaign info to good use will make this connection to the bigger picture and adjust accordingly.
Greetings Comrades! We, the study group here at Sussex I State Prison – Virginia, submits our Ten Point Agenda, after organizing around the United Front for Peace in Prisons Statement of Principles.
After weeks of meeting, discussing our needs to organize (orderly and peacefully), agreeing on statement of principles, and the ideas/ideals presented by MIM(Prisons), we've gained verbal organizational agreements, to work to rid ourselves of violence, destructive behaviors, engage in revolutionary ideas/ideals and work for greater good: Peace, Unity, Growth, Internationalism, and Independence.
We've deputized coordinators, in duties not names, of: Finance/Business, Education, Arts & Culture, collecting donations, and using ULK and like materials to be teaching/educational tools (we will need more).
We've identified areas we can work on, and need improvements. Collectively, we will move to address these concerns. Our first step: educate the captives of our disadvantages, empower them with measures we can use to confront these disadvantages (including holding each of us accountable), complete, collect and mail in request forms, complaint forms, if need be file legal litigations. If no resolve, use our greater willpower – fasts, spend no money campaign, etc.
We have an educational coordinator, who will guide the movement as it relates to the Ten Point Agenda – reporting every two weeks of progress, need action, etc. (We will give the oppressor fifteen days to answer our concerns, if no response, we move to Step II.)
This Ten Point Agenda is not an end-all plan, but it does allow us to establish a line of politics, keep and maintain the line, and enables us to confront social controls and oppression.
As we work the plan, we plan to contact outside organizations (including MIM) to aid in our plight to get forms of social and systematic justice. (We have experienced individuals, including myself, willing and ready to teach on filing 42 USC 1983 civil suits.)
You have inspired us to mobilize, organize, mobilize and organize! After 8 weeks and numerous pod meetings we have arrived. We will continue to keep you abreast on our progress, needed materials. We will continue to donate, send artwork, and articles to aid your work.
“The educational and professional training systems are very elaborate filters.”
This statement comes from Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, by Noam Chomsky. In chapter four he discusses safeguards and controls put in place by and to protect the capitalist system. His analysis is apt. In the United States those who control information are those who hold the power. Which is why the government is the largest collector and disseminator of information. More importantly it is the most effective filtration system.
This is accomplished through 1) popular control and 2) the media. Effective popular control isolates citizens and dissidents. When someone is isolated it is easy to control their reality and/or manipulate their actions. On the other hand there's the media. The media does much more than provide an outlet for the dissemination of information. It is the main tool, outside of formal schooling, for indoctrinating non-proletariat citizenry. It also validates petty-bourgeois society by marginalizing dissidents and the proletariat. This particular control (a process of measures and procedures to prevent substantive changes and to preserve a system), I've termed the subjection-manipulation cycle. Information control, isolation, indoctrination and marginalization are continued in perpetuity. The purpose of this control is to create a sheepish or gullible populace.
It is effective because the un-indoctrinated are deprived of a voice, a vote, an opinion. Even maybe shunned completely. They are isolated and made seemingly impotent. The subjection-manipulation cycle has been adapted by the U.$. prison system. At present, it provides a reliable method for repressing "subversive", "disruptive", or "threatening" activities, attitudes, or behaviors. Prison has a wide array of people. Some who become indoctrinated, and others who refuse to relinquish their freedom to determine their actions. The first I've termed subjugated, the second self-determinants. Self-determinants find themselves targets of the subjection-manipulation cycle.
Self-determinants are generally punished and repressed, while the subjugated are rewarded. In public life, dissidents are parallel to self-determinants in prisons. By isolating and repressing self-determinants, prison authorities filter and provide examples of "unacceptable" behavior. Self-determinants are segregated, privileges stripped and their associates harassed. This ends with them being socially stigmatized. The parallel in public life is almost identical. Isolation, repression and harassment in the hopes of inducing impotency. The subjection-manipulation cycle is not only a system of reprisals and rewards. It contains the essential element of information dissemination.
Authorities screen, examine, and filter all information available to captives. This way they can promote desired modes of thought and behavior. Why else have banned/prohibited publication lists? Or overly complicated grievance procedures? Or such general lack of access? A lack of information is equivalent to a lack of education. This stymies only pro-proletarian, revolucionario, anti-capitalist, or anti-imperialist movement. Education leads to organization. As long as prisons can reinforce this control, the results will mirror those found in history. It presents a massive obstacle, but not insurmountable. The solution begins with knowledge, followed by discipline, and unity.
First, to gain knowledge one must become educated. Not through the system, but an actual education. Becoming well versed in the rules that govern prison officials, procedures, operations and policies. Making an intensive research into the history of capitalism, its motives, goals and methods. In short, you must learn the enemy: imperialists and exploitative capitalists. Just as important, you must learn and know yourself: strengths, weaknesses, abilities and potential. This is called "self-knowledge." The enemy has full self-knowledge. To be anything more than a minor annoyance to the authorities you must also attain full self-knowledge. Education is the first step to supplanting capitalism and its controls.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This writer does a good job explaining the importance of education to developing appropriate strategies in our struggle. This education must counter the indoctrination we have all experienced from birth under capitalism. Write to MIM(Prisons) to get involved in our introductory study group, or to get some educational material and tips for your study groups locally.
We're here today in interview with one of the authors of the recently released book [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán. [email protected] Power is primarily authored by [email protected] revolutionaries who are locked up in California's prison system. They wrote this book as part of a study group led by the Maoist revolutionary support organization, MIM(Prisons). The comrade we're interviewing today is one of the imprisoned authors, joining us via telephone straight from the belly of the beast. The book was published in fall 2015 by Kersplebedeb publishers, and is available at leftwingbooks.net or by writing to MIM(Prisons) at PO Box 40799, San Francisco, CA 94140.
We are so glad to have this author with us today to talk about [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, so let's get to the interview.
Comrade, can you start with an overview of the contents of [email protected] Power? Is it appropriate to call it a handbook for making revolution in the United $tates a reality?
I wouldn't say - I don't think it should be used as a handbook for revolution, which might be what some people might look at it as, but more as a educational text with which Raza can begin the struggle toward confirmation from [email protected] gangbangers to [email protected] revolutionaries. And I'm well aware that maybe not everyone will become a revolutionary in the strictest sense, but at least to elevate people's consciousness so that they know that, you know, first of all that there is a [email protected] nation, that it exists, and it needs to be liberated.
[email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán as a educational tool will hopefully help [email protected] to not only understand the correct political lines concerning the liberation of Atzlán but will also help them become more aware of their true national identity, which lies outside of the Amerikkkan nation.
Of course the book [email protected] Power also introduces the [email protected] masses to revolutionary science and the revolutionary traditions that were largely responsible for putting that science to use, most notably the Soviet and Chinese experiments in socialism.
The book also goes into critiquing various forms of [email protected] nationalism, which some [email protected] tend to mistake for liberatory ideologies, of cultural and narrow nationalism, that, when put into practice, actually lend themselves to supporting oppressive structures such as Amerikan imperialism.
It features a brief historical synopsis of the [email protected] nation. It also gets into some more contemporary topics such as [email protected]' participation in the democratic process in the United $tates today, as far as speaking on contemporary presidential candidates. There's also some book reviews in there covering a wide variety of aspects of, critiquing the RCP's line on the [email protected] nation and other oppressed nations. Some cultural nationalist reviews in there. Our position on where the [email protected] nation is right now and where it needs to go in the future. I would say that is the brief synopsis of what's in there.
You mentioned the transition from gangbangers to revolutionaries, that you hope this book will inspire. That's a path that you are persynally familiar with. Could you speak on your development from gangbanger to revolutionary to author?
I really began my little journey like every other [email protected] in here, you know. I was oblivious to the fact that there was even a [email protected] nation to begin with. Like most other [email protected] in here, i started off categorizing myself as a Mexican. I came to prison for anti-people activity, gangbanging. The first few years i was just kinda trying to lay low and just stay out of trouble and just — i mean if something came along on my little journey i would do it, as far as if i would be asked to do any kind of negative actions. But i think after a few years i really just became disillusioned with everything. I realized that everything that i knew or that i thought i knew as a youngster, i mean, for the most part everything was a lie.
I would say that's really where my political development probably started in a sense as far as i knew that i didn't want this no more. I knew that this kind of life wasn't leading anywhere and remembering bringing pain to my family, bringing pain to others, and i just didn't want that anymore. At a certain point i decided that, this is when the SNY yards first came into being, in the early 2000s. Even though they were around much longer than that, this is when they really started being used in the prison system in California. SNY yards stands for Sensitive Needs Yards, the modern day equivalent to California of protective custody yards. So for people that can't walk the mainline, they end up over here. Everyone just does their own thing, you don't gotta follow another man's orders, as far as another inmate. I think that was a big part of motivating me to come to this side.
Once on this side, for the first few years, i was all about just doing me. I wasn't worried about anybody. Just trying to do my time, and kinda just take it slow and easy. And i really wasn't political at all. Until i believe it was around the time of the invasion of Iraq by the Amerikan government. And i think that's around that time that's when i started being politicized. And i really just started seeing everything on TV, seeing the bombing, seeing people dying, seeing the suffering going on over there. It wasn't hard to tell why the U.$. was there. And like i said, i wasn't political, but at that point, i could at least see that.
So simultaneously, around the same time, i just happened to have a cellmate who was real real real anti-Amerikan. I wouldn't say he was a communist, i would label him as a fan of Mao, and he claimed a mantle of Mao, and he claimed to be a communist. Up to that point i had never met anyone like that.
And so through discussions on certain topics, world affairs, politics, just through watching the news, slowly but surely i kinda started opening my eyes a little bit more. At some point, he just so happened to share the Maoist Internationalist Movement ten point program. And when i first read it, i thought it was a pretty egalitarian program. And all the stuff on there looked good, you know. I remember reading it and thinking "man, why can't all governments, or all people, be on that same trip?" It seemed like pretty easy stuff to implement. So, why not? And so then i guess i kinda started asking myself, well, why not?
At that point he introduced me to, i believe he shared with me some old MIM Notes as well, this is back when MIM Notes were still being printed out. I liked everything they had to say, i agreed with everything they had to say and I ended up getting my own subscription. And around then i believe i wrote MIM, i asked em for some beginner materials on Marxism. I remember they sent me a pretty complicated book on Marx, an introduction to his philosophy. Even though i understood some of it, i didn't understand a lot of it. And i really struggled a lot with that text. And i had to read it maybe 3, 4 times over the period of a few months just to really start absorbing the essence of what Marx was speaking to.
I was doing that for a minute, i was starting to collect little so-called revolutionary books here and there. At that time, MIM wrote me and they invited me to a study group — "On Contradiction" by Mao Zedong. I kinda just went from there.
I would say the turning point was when i got hooked up with Cipactli, and i was invited to participate in the Aztlán study group. This was another first for me, as i had never met or heard anyone that called themselves a [email protected] revolutionary nationalist. Nor was i aware that there was such a thing. And basically from working with Cipactli and struggling with him, as well as with MIM(Prisons), i slowly but surely came to realize my own mission, which is that of a [email protected] national liberation struggle for self-determination in alliance with the Third World communist movement.
I wouldn't have worked on this project if i thought i'd be doing it a disservice. In other words i had to first feel comfortable you know from my own level of political development to have worked on it. Secondly, and this perhaps a more correct reason for agreeing to work on it was my realization that i was not a [email protected], but a [email protected] Therefore, i think part of my subjective drive in working on this project came more from a desire of wanting to spread the revolutionary word throughout all Aztlán as well as the fact that only through a completion of national liberation struggles can the socialist project ever succeed. And so i thought i had the tools to contribute to the project, so it's something i really thought i needed to do, in order to just do my part to contribute to the liberation of Aztlán,
The book has been well-received by those who have gotten it, even though it's been censored at various prisons across the United $tates. To prisoners, the book is being sent for free from MIM(Prisons), with study questions, and they're coordinating a study group through the mail, between the readers and the authors. What overall impact do you think [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán and the study group will have on the [email protected] nation?
I think the book and the study group that MIM(Prisons) is doing, I think it will be the jumping off point for [email protected] lumpen in here, in many respects. I know there's probably so many [email protected] masses that subscribe to Under Lock & Key and they're probably not all too politically developed, some are. Some of them are beginning to think about some of the questions and some of the topics that we touch on in [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán. I think that group is gonna help them understand what we're really speaking to in the book, which is [email protected] liberation and self-determination, and the only way to accomplish this is under a Maoist flag. I think from there we can expect to see a lot of those same people hopefully continue to study, either through MIM(Prisons) or through their own organizations, or just on their own. But i think that's really where it's gonna start, as far as the book coming out.
As far as the project goes, it's something that's been a long time coming, and that should have been done a long time ago. Thankfully MIM(Prisons) was there to fill that void, where other people were failing. I mean there's a few [email protected] organizations that claim to be revolutionary, or they're internationalists, or so-called internationalist organizations and they really just pay a lot of lip service. They believe writing an article on a certain topic and just making some kind of statement, you know, that they believe all people should be free or something, thinking that's internationalism. But i think MIM(Prisons) really showed us what internationalism is. Which is comrades reaching out to each other and helping each other and assisting each other and helping us build ourselves up. Realizing that many prisoners, even a lot of revolutionary prisoners, are still i think at something of a low level of political development, you know, just because of our own conditions, and I think MIM(Prisons) has done an excellent job of that.
So as far as the book goes, I think it's really gonna uplift Aztlán, it's gonna help educate people, it's gonna help educate the [email protected] masses behind prison walls. Because people in general, especially in prison, are just consumed with bourgeois ideology, you know? It's just all about me doing me, making money, and that's it and fuck everybody else.
There's a lot of people, at least from my experience, who read any kind of revolutionary literature, i think they read it as they read it, they're kind of studying it, they're soaking up ideas, and stuff like that. But i don't really think they take the time and really go in-depth into the text, as with the MIM(Prisons)-run study programs, where comrades have the opportunity to engage with MIM(Prisons) and with other comrades and with each other on a variety of questions, you know, concerning not only prisoners but the international communist movement as well.
You know, i was completely ignorant to a lot of this stuff until i started working with MIM(Prisons) and Cipactli. So i really just think this book is gonna mark a new level of development in Aztlán for the [email protected] masses. I would hope that in the next coming years we really begin to see a upsurge in the [email protected] masses in prisons and really, you know not just getting conscious, but actually building on that consciousness by organizing.
There's so many things that i think that could be done in here and i think as we all know, at least [email protected] prisoners, you know, the key to peace on the streets is peace in the prisons. And i think for us to have peace on the streets and for the [email protected] liberation movement to really begin organizing out there, it has to start in the prisons.
Could you speak more on that relationship, between peace building behind prison walls and peace on the streets, outside of prison?
Well, i can't speak for other nationalities, but as far as for the [email protected] lumpen, for the gangbangers out there, i think a lot of stuff that goes on the streets is controlled by what goes on in prisons. At the flip of a switch the lumpen chiefs right here, they could organize a peace treaty on the streets. I mean they've done it before. When i was out there, you know, everything stopped virtually overnight. From warring and killing and drive-bys to virtually overnight, hey, that's it, we're done, And that's the kind of power they have, and i don't see no reason why [email protected] revolutionaries can't have that same power. Especially when it's power that's gonna help the whole of Aztlán, it's gonna help all [email protected] out there. First by making peace and unity in here, it'll spill out into the streets.
I think we can expect a lot of [email protected] revolutionaries in here to begin organizing as well, and i think right now there's really just small pockets of comrades here and there. You might bump into one person here, you might bump into another person there, you might go to another yard or another prison and there's no one there, you're the only one there. And i think as time goes on we're gonna start seeing a lot more conscious people stepping up to the plate and deciding that they're done with the old ways and they're gonna begin organizing for [email protected] liberation.
It seems like your move to SNY played a big part in your political development. Could you speak more on SNY yards, their role and history?
Concerning the SNY yards, i would say these are for the most part a creation of CDC [California Department of Corrections], who have utilized certain methods of warfare such as divide and conquer tactics against Aztlán, within the prison setting. Initially i believe by both removing prison leaders from the mainline that knew how to provide stability and order to the lumpen organizations. As well as by purposely integrating certain individuals who act in a opposite manner, creating instability and disorder to a previously quote-unquote "stable" environment.
I think most people coming from a mainline end up on SNY due to prison politics. It could be something minor from maybe hanging out with different nationalities a little too much to something maybe a little bit more major as in stepping into the prison political arena and attempting to exert some kind of influence. But i also think a lot of people, and this is also something i'm starting to see more and more, is a lot of people are just coming over here just cuz they're just getting tired of all the things going on over there. I think a lot of people come over due to those main factors right there.
So i think, connected to the SNY yards i believe is also partly connected to the creation of the SHUs [Security Housing Units], because i mean before the SHUs there were no SNY yards, you know? So i think how they're connected is the fact that when CDC started taking certain leadership off of the yards, it created a power vacuum, where you had certain individuals having power struggles and things of that nature. Which, in turn, opened up the door for the SNY yards to be created, for it to be widened. Because i believe it was maybe only one or two in the past and like within the last 15 or 20 years it's becoming the majority within California prisons.
It's pretty amazing that this book was authored by a group of people together through the mail, some of them locked in isolation cells for years. Could you speak on what that whole experience was like, some challenges and interesting aspects of that process?
Well, firstly i think working on [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán was definitely a learning experience, as far as working on a book through the mail. You know it seemed like a monumental task at the time, when i was first invited to participate, but i was also very excited about it. As far as learning about the various steps it took to actually write and publish the book, it was a learning experience in that respect. But more importantly, i think the lessons i learned about were about my own subjective power and ability to reach out to the [email protected] lumpen behind prison walls.
I think it was the very fact that i'm incarcerated, which allowed me to write from the imprisoned [email protected] perspective, which is, after all, our target audience. Therefore i think the fact that i am incarcerated helps the book carry a certain level of legitimacy amongst the oppressed [email protected] prison masses. Not because of some supposed notoriety as a convict or anything like that, but because the [email protected] masses will see that me and the co-authors are writing both from a perspective very similar to their own.
I think the only real challenge was just a lack of access to a variety of research materials. Although MIM(Prisons) did an excellent job of assisting me, i can't help but think what more could I have contributed to this project if I had more access to information, you know, mainly the internet or at least just more books, just more research material. I always thought i was lacking in that regard, especially because i think i was still pretty new to the whole [email protected] national liberation movement. And so a lot of what i contributed was stuff that I learned with MIM(Prisons) and through my interactions with Cipactli. I think that was the only real challenge was a lack of more information.
Finally, what do you see as some of the main challenges to organizing the prison population?
I don't think there's too many [email protected] out there right now that are really tripping on this whole revolutionary politics or socialism or anything like that. A lot of [email protected] in here are caught up in the whole cultural nationalist thing, and they're more worried about keeping traditions alive and following our own culture and not letting our people be absorbed by new Amerikan culture.
From my experience these types of beliefs are most commonly found in the over-30 crowd in the California prison system. Most of these people have spent a majority of the sentences on mainline yards. Something that i have begun to take more note of is that these younger generations of [email protected] prisoners who have begun to enter the system seem to be more Amerikanized. And what i mean by this is that many younger generations seem to not have either the knowledge or the desire to learn about their culture, which is a oppressed nation's culture. Many [email protected] these days seem to identify first and foremost as Amerikans, who, on occasion, will even spit out certain Amerikan chauvinistic beliefs.
They also don't understand a lick of Spanish. I think this is problematic for the [email protected] nation as far as the Spanish language helps many [email protected] to identify or at least find common ground with other Raza.
Last but not least, i think today's [email protected] also seem to be more consumed by capitalistic society, that is also integral to the white Amerikan nation and culture. And what i mean by this is that younger [email protected] prisoners today seem to be more consumed by money than previous generations.
So the comparison would be that while on the mainline there's a very strong sense of unity and cultural identity amongst [email protected], which functions in a positive way by introducing imprisoned [email protected] to various aspects of a national identity outside of Amerika. Whereas on SNY yard, this function is largely missing. However I think this is where [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán will help to fill some of the voids left by the mainline experience, by introducing or reintroducing for the very first time aspects of [email protected] culture and identity which many [email protected] may have previously been ignorant of. Therefore [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán will I think hopefully help to uplift the [email protected] nation, from a Maoist perspective.
Thank you for speaking with us today. We're so glad to have gotten the chance to do this interview and talk more about this important book. Again, the book is [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, it's written by a MIM(Prisons) study group, and is available at leftwingbooks.net. Prisoners can get the book for free by writing to MIM(Prisons) at PO Box 40799, San Francisco, CA 94140. In Struggle! ¡En Lucha!
Un mes atrás enviamos una tanda de correo a los participantes del grupo de
estudio introductorio en el MIM(Prisiones). Era la primera tanda de correo de la nueva sesión e incluía una tarea de lectura y algunas preguntas.
Recibimos muchos rechazos sobre este correo de las prisiones de Florida, en particular desde el Instituto Correccional Hamilton, en donde a todos los nuevos participantes se les devolvió su correo con un *recibo de retorno por correo no* *autorizado* que cita razones que incluyen: "amenaza a los objetivos de seguridad, orden o rehabilitación, o a la seguridad de las personas. Representa, describe o alienta actividades que pueden llevar al uso de la violencia física o desorganización grupal. Alienta a que se lleven a cabo actos delictivos." De hecho, a una de estas personas también se le envió un *formulario de correo sin confirmar* que enumeraba las cartas que nosotros les habíamos enviado hace poco, y esta carta también fue enviada, ¡citando las mismas razones! Está claro que la sala de correo en el Instituto Correccional Hamilton ni siquiera se preocupa por leer las cartas de MIM(Prisiones) antes de devolvérnoslas.
Como respuesta a esta censura, a estas personas les enviamos una copia de nuestra guía de seis páginas para luchar contra la censura. Este documento contiene consejos legales y administrativos para apelar a la injusta negación de correo. Inmediatamente, se nos devolvió 17 sobres (anticipamos que lo que sobra será devuelto pronto), junto con otro *recibo de retorno por correo no autorizado* por parte del personal de la sala de correo, que indicaba que esta había sido rechazada porque:
"De otro modo representa una amenaza a la seguridad, orden, u objetivos de rehabilitación del sistema de correccional, o a la seguridad de cualquier
"Representa, describe o alienta actividades que pueden llevar al uso de la violencia física o desorganización grupal."
"Alienta o instruye en la comisión de actividades delictivas."
La carta en cuestión contiene citas legales y pautas de políticas de apelación administrativas. Este tema claramente no está relacionado con la violencia o seguridad de una prisión. No hay nada en esta carta que se pueda interpretar como que representa o alienta a la violencia o desorganización grupal. Y definitivamente no tiene nada que aliente o instruya a cometer delitos. Hemos enviado una apelación al alcaide de Hamilton pero no somos optimistas dado que incidentes similares en Florida se han chocado contra paredes de silencio o de negación de nuestras demandas sin razón.
Necesitamos un abogado para que nos ayude con esta pelea en Florida, pero hasta ahora, ninguna firma de abogados ha estado dispuesta a aceptar este importante caso. Tenemos compañeros que conocen muy bien la ley que pelea contra esta censura, pero es muy difícil coordinar nuestro trabajo cuando nada de nuestro correo ni siquiera les llega a estos activistas.
Casos como estos deberían enfurecer, incluso a aquellos que creen en Amérika como una sociedad justa. Es obvio que no hay justicia en la negación de material educativo y recursos legales a los prisioneros. Y este tipo de acción expone claramente la mentira de la rehabilitación que el sistema pretende apoyar. Las personas con acceso a internet pueden buscar en la web estos y otros casos de censura en nuestro sitio www.prisoncensorship.info/data.