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[National Oppression] [Economics] [ULK Issue 62]

Book Review: Locked In

Locked In: the true causes of mass incarceration - and how to achieve real reform
by John F. Pfaff
2017 Basic Books

With over 2 million people behind bars, Amerikkka locks up more people per capita than any other nation in the world. But within this system of mass imprisonment there is an even more striking story of national oppression: New Afrikans locked up at 5 times the rate of whites, and [email protected] and First Nations also locked up at disproportionately high rates. We might hope that a book about the true causes of mass incarceration (and how to achieve real reform!) would address this discrepancy. But Pfaff, like all good bourgeois scholars, is focused on how to make capitalism work better. And so ey sweeps this whole issue under the rug in a book that offers some really good science and statistics on imprisonment. Here we will pull out the useful facts and frame them in a revolutionary context.

Overall Locked In does a good job of exposing some important facts and statistics often ignored by prison researchers. Pfaff attacks what ey calls the "Standard Story." This is the name ey gives to the common arguments anti-prison activists make, which ey believes are counter-productive to their (and eir own) goals of prison reform. Ey claims these arguments either over simplify, or are straight up wrong, about why we have so many prisoners in the United $tates, and as a result target the wrong solutions.

The big picture

Pfaff sometimes gets lost in the details and fails to look at the big picture. For instance, ey argues that "we are a nation of either 50 or 3,144 distinct criminal justice systems" talking about the big differences in how each state and even each county deals with prosecution, sentencing and prisons.(p. 16) While it is true there are significant differences, this thinking evades the importance of looking at the big picture that it's no coincidence that so many distinct counties/states have such high rates of imprisonment in this country. It's a good idea to examine state and county level differences, and learn lessons from this. But using this information in the interests of the oppressed requires an understanding of the underlying role of the Amerikkkan criminal injustice system in social control and national oppression, the topic Pfaff studiously avoids.

In one of eir rare references to the role that nation plays in the criminal injustice system in the United $tates, Pfaff bemoans that "Obviously, effecting 'cultural change' is a very difficult task."(p. 228) Ey entirely misses the fundamental national oppression going on in this country. To him it's just about attitudes and cultural change.

Pfaff does raise some good big picture questions that scientific capitalists and communists alike need to consider. Discussing the importance of balancing the cost of crime against the costs of enforcement Pfaff asks "what the optimal level of crime should be." "Why is crime control inherently more important than education or medical research or public health?" "What if a reduction in prison populations would allow 100,000 children with at least one parent in prison to now have both parents at home, but at a cost of a 5 percent rise in aggravated assaults (or even some number of additional murders) – is this a fair tradeoff, even assuming no other criminal justice benefits (like lower future offending rates among these children)?" But Pfaff notes that politicians in the United $tates are not able to talk about these things. Even Bernie Sanders's discussion of investing more in schools and less in prisons was in the context of reducing crime more efficiently. It's just not okay to say education should be prioritized over crime control.(p. 119) And so Pfaff concludes that we must work on reforms that can be implemented within this severely restricted political system. We see this as evidence that the system will never allow significant change.

Another place where Pfaff frames the larger context in useful and scientific ways is around the question of why people commit crimes. While ey dances around the social causes of crime, Pfaff offers some good analysis about how people age out of crime. And this analysis leads to eir position that we shouldn't be calling people "violent offenders" but instead just saying they have committed violent crimes. Data shows that most people commit crimes when young, and as they age they are far less likely to do so again.

Crime rates and imprisonment rates

Pfaff is a professor of law at Fordham University, and like people working within the capitalist system ey accepts the capitalist definitions of crime. This means ey ignores the biggest criminals: those conducting wars of aggression and plunder against other nations in the interests of profit. For the purposes of this review we will use the term crime as Pfaff does in eir book, to refer to bourgeois-defined crime.

Crime rates in the U.$. grew in the 1970s and early 1980s. Pfaff believes that "rising incarceration helped stem the rise in crime."(p. 10) Disappointingly ey doesn't put much work in to proving this thesis. But at least ey concedes that locking up more people may not have been the best response to rising crime.(p. 10) And ey goes on to note that crime rates continued to fall while prison populations also fell in later years: "Between 2010 and 2014, state prison populations dropped by 4 percent while crime rates declined by 10 percent – with crime falling in almost every state that scaled back incarceration."(p. 12) So even if locking up people in the 70s and 80s did curtail some crime, clearly there isn't a direct correlation between imprisonment rates and crime rates.

There was a drop in the number of prisoners in the United $tates between 2010 and 2014 (4%), but this was driven by California which made up 62% of the national decline. Outside of California, total prison populations fell by 1.9% during this same period. But at the same time total admissions rose by 1.1%. Pfaff cites this statistic in particular to point out a failure of prison reform efforts using the metric of total prison population. If the goal is to reduce the prison population overall, looking at the drop in people locked up will miss the fact that the total number of prisoners is actually rising!(p. 69) This is an important point as we know that prison has lasting effects on all who are locked up, as well as on their community, even if they are only serving short sentences.

War on Drugs is not driving prison growth

Disagreeing with the common argument that locking up low-level drug offenders is driving up the prison population, Pfaff points out that "only about 16 percent of state prisoners are serving time on drug charges — and very few of them, perhaps only around 5 or 6 percent of that group, are both low level and nonviolent. At the same time, more than half of all people in state prisons have been convicted of a violent crime."(p. 5) So ey argues that targeting non-violent drug offenders is focusing on too small a population to make a significant impact.

Pfaff offers extensive data analysis to demonstrate that the number of people serving time for drug convictions just aren't enough to be a major driver of state prison growth. Ey does concede that "the single biggest driver of the decline in prison populations since 2010 has been the decrease in the number of people in prison for drug crimes. But focusing on drugs will only work in the short run. That it is working now is certainly something to celebrate. But even setting every drug offender free would cut our prison population by only 16 percent."(p. 35)

From this analysis Pfaff concludes that it is essential that prison reformers not avoid talking about violent crime. "From 1990 to 2009... about 60 percent of all additional inmates had been convicted of a violent offense."(p. 187) "[T]here are almost as many people in prison today just for murder and manslaughter as the total state prison population in 1974: about 188,000 for murder or manslaughter today, versus a total of 196,000 prisoners overall in 1974."(p. 185) And due to length of sentence, "Violent offenders take up a majority of all prison beds, even if they do not represent a majority of all admissions."(p. 188) So those serious about cutting back prisons will need to cut back on locking people up for violent crimes.

Length of sentence

Pfaff concludes that longer sentences are not the cause of rising imprisonment rates. This is the opposite of the common anti-prison activist position: "despite the nearly automatic assumption by so many that prison growth is due to ever-longer sentences, the main driver of growth, at least recently, has been steadily rising admissions for fairly short terms."(p. 74) "[M]ost people serve short stints in prison, on the order of one to three years, and there's not a lot of evidence that the amount of time spent in prison has changed that much — not just over the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, but quite possibly over almost the entire prison boom."(p. 6)

Pfaff does concede that official sentences, per statutes, have gotten longer, but ey claims time served has changed much less. At most average time served in state prisons increased by 36% between 1990 and 2009, which ey calls a small increase that can’t explain most of the prison growth over that time. (p. 58) Ey argues that tough sentencing laws are all about politics and legislator image, trying to look tough on crime. But they count on prosecutors not actually imposing the maximum punishments.

Private prisons vs public employees

We agree with Pfaff that private prisons don't play a very large role in the current Amerikan criminal injustice system. "Private spending and private lobbying ... are not the real financial and political engines behind prison growth. Public revenue and public-sector union lobbying are far more important."(p. 7) And ey correctly identifies "the real political powers behind prison growth are the public officials who benefit from large prisons: the politicians in districts with prisons, along with the prison guards who staff them and the public-sector unions who represent the guards."(p. 7)

Pfaff makes a compelling point: public prisons will act the same way private prisons act when facing the same contractual incentives. Ey goes on to argue that it might actually be better to expand private prisons but give them incentives for better performance, such as rewarding lack of recidivism.

It is public prison employees who are the strongest opponents of private prisons. This was seen in Florida where an attempt to privatize 27 prisons was killed after the public employees' union got a bunch of congresspeople to vote against the bill.(p. 87)

This strength of public prisons lobbying is also behind the fact that closing public prisons doesn't necessarily result in much savings because the unions will aggressively oppose any lost jobs. In Pennsylvania, the state closed two prisons in 2013 and laid off only three guards. In New York the prison population dropped by 25% since 1999 but they have not closed any prisons.(p. 88)

Pfaff concludes: "In other words, reformers should not really be concerned with the privateness of the PIC. They should worry that as prisons grow, the supporting bureaucracies — private and public alike — will grow as well, and they will fight against anything that jeopardizes their power and pay."(p. 91)

Pfaff is correct that private prisons are not driving incarceration rates. Actually, public employee wages are playing a much larger role. However, there are valid reasons to oppose privatization for reformers, or anyone who subscribes to a sense of humynism. In our bourgeois democracy, the law does provide for greater accountability of public institutions. Therefore, public prisons will generally allow less unnecessary suffering than private ones. Of course, neither privatization, nor the public sector can eliminate the oppression of the capitalist state that is meted out by the police and prisons. Yet, privatization of the state-sanctioned use of force only creates more problems for those working for progressive change.


Pfaff disagrees with the argument that a big driver behind the prison population is recidivism, specifically that lots of people are being sent back to prison for technical violations or small issues. Ey does find that in most states the number of parole conditions has gone up, from an average of 11 in 1982 to an average of 18 in 2008.(p. 62) But digging into recidivism more deeply, Pfaff cites a study that found that only about a third of people admitted to prison end up returning. And ey correctly notes that if the commonly cited Bureau of Justice Statistics claim of a 50% recidivism rate is wrong, this just means that even more people are ending up in prisons at some time in their lives. This is perhaps an even scarier story than the high recidivism rate because it means that even more lives are being ruined by prison.

States vs counties

Pfaff points out that the $50 billion that states spend on prisons is only about 3% of state spending. And as has been seen in examples above, the savings from decarceration are not that great if states can't actually close prisons or lay off guards. Also, releasing individual prisoners doesn't result in much savings because prisons work on an economy of scale. While we can calculate the average cost of incarceration per persyn, we can't translate that directly into savings when one persyn is released, because the entire infrastructure is still in place.(p. 99)

New York City actually did cut its prison population recently, along with a few other urban counties in New York. However, rural counties sent more people to prison so the overall impact was growth, not decreasing numbers of prisoners in New York.(p. 76) Similarly, higher crime rate areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco in California send relatively fewer people to prison compared to more rural counties which tend to be more conservative.(p. 77)

We touched on this urban vs. rural discrepancy in imprisonment rates in a recent article on national oppression in prison, suggesting that this could be the primary driver behind the (temporary?) drop in the discrepancy between incarceration rates of oppressed nations and whites. Since more whites are in the rural counties, statistically that's who is getting locked up if those counties are locking people up at a higher rate. Pfaff's data backs up our theory.

Prosecutors driving imprisonment

Pfaff argues compellingly that the primary driver behind the boom in prisoners in the past few decades is prosecutorial toughness: prosecutors are charging more people with more serious crimes. Prosecutors have a tremendous amount of latitude. They can determine the charges brought against people, which in turn drives the level of seriousness of the crime and potential sentences. They can also decide when to take a plea and what to offer in the plea.

To prove the impact of prosecutors, Pfaff cites data between 1991 and 2014 when crime rates were falling. During this period the arrest rates by police matched crime rates, which means that as violent and property crimes fell so did arrests for those offenses. In states Pfaff examined, arrests fell 10% between 1994 and 2008. But at the same time the number of felony cases rose steeply. Fewer people were entering the criminal injustice system but more were facing felony charges. Pfaff calculated a 40% increase in felony cases. Ey found this was the only thing that changed; felony charges resulted in imprisonment at the same rate as before. So Pfaff concludes: "In short, between 1994 and 2008, the number of people admitted to prison rose by about 40 percent, from 360,000 to 505,000, and almost all of that increase was due to prosecutors bringing more and more felony cases against a diminishing pool of arrestees."(p. 72) The probability that a prosecutor would file felony charges against an arrestee basically doubled during this time period.

Pfaff attributes this prosecutorial aggression to a few things. First, the number of prosecutors trying cases has increased significantly over the past forty years, unrelated to crime rates. Prosecutor discretion is not new, but they seem to be using it more and more aggressively in recent years. And it is the prosecutors who have complete control over which cases get filed and which get dismissed. Prosecutors also have a huge advantage over public defenders, whose budget is significantly less than prosecutors and who don't benefit from free investigative services from law enforcement.(p. 137)

Overall Pfaff finds very little data available on prosecutors and so finds it impossible to come to firm conclusions about why they are so aggressively increasing prosecution rates. Ey spends a lot of the book talking about potential prosecutoral reforms but also concludes that mandatory data collection around prosecution is essential to get a better handle on what's going on.

While this data on the role of prosecutors in driving imprisonment rates in recent years is interesting, revolutionaries have to ask how important this is to our understanding of the system. Whether it's more cops on the streets driving more arrests, or more aggressive prosecutors driving more sentences, the net result is the same. If we're looking to reform the system, Pfaff's data is critical to effectively targeting the most important part of the system. But for revolutionaries this information is most useful in exposing the injustice behind the curtain of the system. We want to know how it works but ultimately we know we need to dismantle the whole system to effect real and lasting change.


Even within eir general belief that prisons are necessary to stop crime, Pfaff makes some good points: "To argue that prison growth contributed to 25 percent of the drop in crime does not mean that it was an efficient use of resources: perhaps we could have achieved an equally large decline in a way that was less fiscally and socially costly."(p. 116) And ey goes on to note that studies suggest rehabilitation programs outside of prison do a much better job reducing crime.

Some of Pfaff's solutions are things we can get behind, like adequately funding public defenders. And most of them, if effective, would result in fewer prisoners and better programs to help prisoners both while locked up and once on the streets. But still these solutions are about relatively small reforms: giving prosecutors more guidance, expanding political oversight, expanding parole and providing more scientific structure to parole decisions, appointing prosecutors rather than electing them, setting up better contracts with private prisons paying based on how prisoners performed upon release.

All of these reforms make sense if you believe the Amerikan prison system has a primary goal of keeping society safe and reforming criminals. This is where we deviate from Pfaff because we can see that prisons are just a tool of a fundamentally corrupt system. And so reforms will only be implemented with sufficient belief from those in charge that the fundamental system won't be threatened. And certainly the Amerikan imperialists aren't looking to "improve" or reform the system; they will only react to significant social pressure, and only as much as they need to to take pressure off.

[National Oppression] [Culture] [ULK Issue 61]

Balance of Forces in Black Panther Movie

Black Panther characters
Black Panther
Marvel Studios

As a Hollywood movie based on a Marvel comic book, Black Panther stands out for overtly political themes and some honest discussion of national oppression. It features a Wakandan society of supremely advanced and peaceful Africans. A society that includes strong, empowered wimmin in roles of defense, science and serving the oppressed.

The Wakandan society is completely hidden from the world and led by a king, T'Challa, the movie's hero. Its isolation is based in a legit fear of the imperialist world which has a long history of oppression and exploitation in Africa. The Wakandan solution was to hide, and focus on building a strong and peaceful society internally. It was wildly successful, surpassing the rest of the world in all realms of science. And what's more, the movie suggests that Wakanda built, on the wealth of its natural resources, a society with no apparent exploitation or oppression. But this isolationism does have a growing opposition from within, from some who want to help the oppressed in the world.

We can compare Wakanda's isolationism to revolutionary movements that have taken power in one country, only to find themselves surrounded by enemies. In places like north Korea, Cuba, and Albania, isolation was a strategic move against outside interference, but ultimately was also a great difficulty for these nations. Wakanda does not face similar challenges due to its tremendous wealth of resources, but also because no one knows about its advanced society, so there's no severe drain of resources being spent on national self-defense. The world thinks Wakanda is just a Third World country full of farmers.

What we found most interesting about the movie was not the protagonists, but the antagonist, Eric Killmonger, who came up in Oakland in the 1990s. Killmonger's father (T'Challa's uncle) was serving as a Wakandan spy in Oakland when ey fell in love with the oppressed New Afrikan people ey was living among, and decided ey needed to take Wakandan resources to help liberate these people. For betraying Wakanda, Killmonger's father was killed by the king (eir own brother), which left Killmonger abandoned in Oakland. The king kept this betrayal, death, and Eric a secret all the way to the grave, so Killmonger's appearance came as a sudden surprise to those living an idyllic life in the capitol.

Eric Killmonger is a product of eir abandonment by Wakanda and eir upbringing on the streets of Oakland. Killmonger saw the desperate struggles of the New Afrikan nation in the United $tates and could not forgive Wakanda for not helping these people. Killmonger wasn't only seeking persynal revenge for eir father's death, ey was fighting to continue eir father's dream of helping the oppressed liberate themselves. Killmonger's education (at MIT) and training (in the U.$. military) was purposeful, focused on getting em into a position to control the Wakandan resources so that ey could use them to help the oppressed. Killmonger cultivated the passion and perseverance to bring em all the way to the hidden society of Wakanda and into a duel for the throne.

Killmonger doesn't hesitate to kill, even those ey seems to care about, to achieve eir goal. But this is war, and the lives of millions around the world are at stake. We respect Killmonger's drive and focus. Nicely asking the Wakandan king to hand over some weapons and technology to help the oppressed wasn't going to work. Even similar requests from influential people within Wakandan society were denied. So Killmonger reasonably believed that eir only option was to take what ey wanted by force.

There were many different reactions to this contradiction between peaceful isolationism vs. violent uprising, playing out in the battle for the throne. A faction of Wakandans (the civil defense force) enthusiastically joined Killmonger once ey explained eir plan to arm New Afrikans in the United $tates and Wakandan spies all over the world. Killmonger's proposal also included ensuring the sun never set on the Wakandan empire. Whether the civil defense force joined for altruistic or power-hungry reasons is up to the viewer to decide.

The royal defense force begrudgingly remained loyal to the throne when Killmonger took power, from an adherence to conservative traditionalism more than anything else. The royal defense quickly switched sides when a technical justification arose — the duel for the throne was not complete, because T'Challa was still alive. This faction of the military is made out to be heroes, but they were defending a king who upheld isolationism against a king who wanted to help free the world's oppressed.

Yet another angle is represented by T'Challa's love interest, Nakia, a spy who worked among refugees and victims of humyn trafficking. Ey stubbornly refused a chance to become queen, so ey could continue eir important work helping people outside of Wakanda. While ideologically Nakia had much in common with Killmonger, at least in opposing Wakanda's isolationism and wanting to liberate oppressed people globally, ey remained loyal to T'Challa. Nakia, like many other Wakandans, was primarily against Killmonger's strategy of sending weapons and firepower out all over the world, and persynal feelings for T'Challa were an influencing factor.

There were many strategic problems with Killmonger's solution to imperialist oppression, including the lack of leadership or liberation movements to take advantage of the military and technology resources ey was offering. It's hard to see how just delivering weapons to the oppressed would lead to liberation. In fact those weapons could easily have ended up in the hands of the imperialists, which — besides tradition and "it's not our way" — was a primary justification given by T'Challa and others for keeping Wakanda hidden from the world.

In the end, the conservative king wins, but ey learns that ey does have a duty to the world's people. A big part of T'Challa's change in perspective comes when the pedestal ey has built for tradition and blindly following eir father's path is torn down by the discovery of the family secret. The appearance of Killmonger is a huge turning point for T'Challa. T'Challa comes to see Killmonger as a monster who was created by eir own father's hands. T'Challa sees how an adherence to tradition and isolation actually alienates people, such as young Eric, who T'Challa feels should otherwise be included in the Wakandan umbrella of aid and help.

So T'Challa comes to finally agree with Nakia and Killmonger that Wakanda has a moral obligation to share its expertise. Unfortunately, in spite of all Wakanda's international spies, King T'Challa still fails to correctly assess the balance of forces, and the friends and enemies of the oppressed. The last scene of the movie shows T'Challa making a speech at the United Nations, announcing that Wakanda will begin sharing its technology and knowledge with the world. Ey also buys a few buildings in Oakland, California to open Wakanda's first youth outreach and education center.

If T'Challa really wanted to help the world's oppressed, ey could use Wakanda's technology of being able to stay hidden in plain sight, and its reputation as a nonthreatening farming nation, to build the strength of an underground army, to soon fight the oppressors for dual power, and then freedom, including an end of capitalism. Rather than going to the UN and announcing "Hey! We're organizing and doing cool shit that will threaten your power! Watch us closely!" ey could do this discretely and very successfully. It seems T'Challa moved from conservative to liberal, and didn't quite make the step to true revolutionary.

[Rhymes/Poetry] [Michael Unit] [Texas] [ULK Issue 62]


Yesterday, I was a sleeping victim
victimized by class segregation
Yesterday, I was comatose, to
those who inflicted economic degradation
These Imperialist weapon of mass Destruction
is capitalism smoked screened by spiritual materialism
The irony is that of a materialist in prison
Yesterday, I was unconscious, to the drugs
and guns that they sponsored
Yesterday, I was out cold, to the bold
manipulation, out-of-control of my own
Yesterday, I dreamed the Amerikkkan dream
thinking living free, was greed
Today I have awoken, Eyes wide open
Betita, Corky, Che, Zapata, and Poncho have spoken
The spell is broken
[Rhymes/Poetry] [Michael Unit] [Texas]

For That Matter

The free, I see, living and existing, without me
They lock man away in a cage, while the birds fly free & away
In this kennel for days, awaiting my day to escape the chains
a long time coming, awaiting for change
deserted in a dry desert, awaiting the rain
to wash me away, back on my way, where the road is paved
This system can't feel my pain
This system can't understand my brain
My soul, my heart, nor my spirit, or mind for that matter
[Gender] [ULK Issue 61]

#MeToo Movement Shows Sexual Assault is Pervasive Under Patriarchy

In recent months we've seen a huge number of people come forward with accusations of sexual harassment or assault against men in the entertainment industry, in politics, and well-known business leaders. And in many cases the exposures have encouraged more people to come forward, and the ending of careers. This has been integrated with a #MeToo movement of wimmin stepping forward to say that these highly publicized cases are not just isolated incidents. The point of #MeToo is to show all wimmin experience unwanted sexual attention at some point in their lives, often repeatedly. This movement has progressive aspects, and here we will try to take readers to the logical conclusion of all this exposure of sexual assault.

The Aziz Ansari sexual assault allegations perhaps most clearly illustrate where the #MeToo movement must go if it is to really address the root of these problems. Ansari is a famous actor, comedian and filmmaker. In January, a womyn came forward anonymously with a detailed account of her sexual encounter with Ansari. The womyn "Grace" described a very awkward and unpleasant evening in which Ansari repeatedly made sexual advances while "Grace" attempted to indicate her discomfort with what she called "clear nonverbal cues." When she finally said "no" to one of his sexual propositions, Ansari backed off and suggested they dress and just hang out.

Ansari claims he thought the encounter was entirely consensual. Grace claims Ansari ignored all her attempts to put a stop to the sex. This case has led to a useful debate over where to draw the line in terms of what we call sexual assault. This case has led some (Grace supporters and Grace opponents) to point out that calling her experience sexual assault means we've all been sexually assaulted. Or maybe not everyone, but most wimmin at the very least. Because most wimmin can point to a situation where they were uncomfortable or unhappy but pressured by a man to proceed with sex.

Ansari was oblivious to Grace's lack of enjoyment, and her inability to clearly verbally express this points to a power inequality. In a truly equal relationship between two people, each would feel totally comfortable walking away at any point. And each would be carefully listening to what the other said (verbally and non-verbally). Whatever it is that stopped Grace from walking away, whether it's Ansari's fame or wealth, or just her training as a womyn to do what a man asks, it's undeniable that she was not able to just walk away.

This is the crux of the problem with attempting to reform away sexual assault while we live in a patriarchal society. Rape is non-consensual sex. And, as the Ansari case demonstrates, there are many situations in which wimmin aren't giving consent even though men think the encounter is totally consensual. We call this non-consensual sex what it is: rape.

When there is a power difference in a relationship, the persyn with less power is limited in their ability to consent. You can't freely consent when someone is holding a gun to your head. And similarly you can't freely consent when you fear economic consequences. Those are obvious inequalities. Someone who says "yes, please" in those situations simply can't be freely consenting. The Ansari case gets at more subtle inequalities, but ones that have a very real impact on people's ability to consent. In a society where inequality is inherent in every interaction, we can't expect people to have sexual relationships that are equal and consensual. The problem isn't that Ansari raped Grace. The problem is that all sex under the patriarchy is non-consensual. Grace just wrote about one of the more subtle cases of non-consensual sex.

All this sexual assault in Amerikan society isn't the fault of the men who are being called out. It's the fault of the patriarchal society. Grace proponents point out that it shouldn't be wimmin's responsibility to help men learn how to read their discomfort. Grace opponents complain that wimmin need to empower themselves and speak up and demand that their consent (or lack of consent) be respected. This is a good debate, and we actually agree with both sides. But it's the wrong debate to be having, because neither side can achieve their goal under patriarchy. A lifetime of training to respect power (the power of men, the power of money, the power of fame, the power of a teacher, the power of looks, the power of skill) can't be overcome with an assertiveness training class. And educating people to ask for consent at every step of the way won't help when someone feels they have to say "yes" to their teacher/priest/benefactor/mentor/idol.

Some might hope that other changes in Amerikan society will move us towards abolishing the patriarchy. People fighting gender oppression argue that having a womyn president who speaks out against sexual harassment, and getting in judges who will prosecute people aggressively, and the broad education and exposure of the #MeToo campaign will eventually break down the gender power differential in this society. But even this level of reform won't change a fundamental system that is based on power differentials. We don't believe the patriarchy can be abolished under a system that is set up to help the rich profit off the exploitation of the Third World peoples. The #MeToo movement is trying to show people how pervasive sexual assault is. That's important. We need to take that further and show the link between power differentials in relationships and sexual assault. And we must be clear that these power differences will always exist under a capitalist patriarchy. We can't reform our way to pure and equal sex. Just as many wimmin are now dramatically calling out #MeToo, we dramatically call out #AllSexIsRape. Sexual assault is everywhere; revolutionary change is needed.

[Spanish] [National Oppression] [ULK Issue 62]

Opresión Nacional en las Prisiones: Todavía se siente fuerte

Artículo en ingles

Los E$tados Unidos encierra a los Nuevos Afrikanos a una velocidad de 5 veces más rápido que a los Euro-Amerikanos. La tasa para los [email protected] es de por lo menos 1.4 veces más alta que la de los blancos, y la forma en que las prisiones recogen información sobre los “Hispanos” hace que probablemente este número sea muy bajo.(1) Este exceso dramático de encarcelación de las naciones oprimidas en las prisiones de U.$. no es nuevo. Pero el alto número de gente encerrada es un fenómeno relativamente reciente. En la década de los 60, la disparidad entre las tasas de encarcelación era prácticamente la misma de la de hoy. Pero la población en prisión era mucho menor, de forma que impactaba a mucho menos gente.

En 1960, la tasa de encarcelación de los hombres blancos fue de 262 cada 100,000 residentes blancos de los U.$, y la tasa de hombres Nuevo Afrikanos fue de 1,313; lo cual son 5 veces más que la tasa de los blancos. Para 2010 la disparidad se había elevado hasta 6 veces. Esto significa que los hombres Nuevos Afrikanos eran seis veces más susceptibles a ser encerrados que los hombres blancos. Esta discrepancia tuvo un impacto mucho mayor en 2010 porque las tasas de encarcelación se dispararon hasta el cielo, empezando en la década de los 70, de modo que para el 2010 la tasa de encarcelación de hombre Nuevos Afrikanos era de 4,347 cada 100,000.(2)

En 2000 la discrepancia en las tasas de encarcelación entre los Nuevos Afrikanos y los blancos empezaron en realidad a bajar, y para el 2015 ya estaba hasta en los niveles de los 60. Entre el 2000 y el 2015 la tasa de encarcelamiento para hombres Nuevos Afrikanos cayó 24%, mientras que al mismo tiempo, la tasa de encarcelamiento para hombres blancos se elevó ligeramente. Entre mujeres vemos la misma tendencia pero con una caída del 50% para las mujeres Nuevas Afrikanas y un 50% de aumento para las mujeres blancas.(3)

Tasas de hombres Negros y Blancos en prisión

Tenemos que poner estos cambios en contexto. La tasa de encarcelación de Nuevos Afrikanos es todavía increíblemente alta en comparación con la tasa para blancos. La opresión nacional en las prisiones no se ha eliminado, ni de cerca. A la velocidad actual de cambio, tomaría hasta aproximadamente el año 2100 para que haya igualdad de encarcelamiento en la nación.

Pero no podemos ignorar cambios como estos, especialmente cuando son consistentes a lo largo de un período de 15 años.

Las prisiones se usan principalmente como una herramienta de control social por el gobierno de los E$tados Unidos. Las naciones oprimidas siempre han sido una amenaza debido a la relación dialéctica entre los oprimidos y los opresores. Y por eso, las naciones oprimidas enfrentan las tasas de encarcelación mayores. Y los objetivos más grandes son aquellos que organizan el cambio revolucionario, como vimos con las operaciones masivas del COINTELPRO contra el Partido de la Pantera Negra (Black Panther Party) y el Partido de los Señores Jóvenes (Young Lords Party) en la década de los 70.

Así que, ¿por qué el sistema de injusticia criminal cambiaría para disminuir la tasa de encarcelación de Nuevos Afrikanos pero no haría lo mismo para los blancos? Una explicación posible es que los cambios en el sistema de injusticia criminal se han realizado a velocidades diferentes en las ciudades y en áreas no urbanas. La caída en las tasas de encarcelación se debe principalmente a las tasas menores en las ciudades, porque en las zonas rurales no han cambiado.(3) Tal vez veamos que estos cambios se nivelen con el tiempo.

Luego de la proclamación de la emancipación, hemos visto cambios en la opresión nacional en la sociedad Amerikana en varios momentos de la historia. Estos cambios generalmente suceden como respuesta a los movimientos sociales. Las reformas se dieron desde la segregación legal hasta la restricción de la discriminación abierta en ámbitos como el hogar, empleo, y préstamos. Pero estas reformas en realidad no pusieron un fin a estas prácticas; la realidad de la segregación y discriminación continuaron, simplemente cambiaron a formas más sutiles o escondidas. No obstante, podemos decir que en algunos aspectos, las condiciones para las naciones oprimidas dentro de las fronteras de los E$tados Unido$, han mejorado. Esto no sorprende porque el gobierno de los EE. UU. no puede realmente tener disturbios activos dentro de sus fronteras mientras pelea tantas guerras abiertas e indirectas alrededor del mundo. El imperialismo es más estable cuando puede mantener tranquila a la población de su país natal.

En un país imperialista rico, los capitalistas tienen el dinero para integrar parcialmente las semi-colonias, comprándolas con los beneficios del saqueo imperialista. Sin embargo, la opresión nacional está tan arraigada en la sociedad imperialista moderna que no anticipamos la integración total de estas semi-colonias internas. Y por eso, creemos que la distancia entre las tasas de encarcelación de la nación oprimida y la blanca no estará cerca de cerrarse. Pero las corrientes actuales en las tasas de encarcelación se prestan para seguirles la pista.

Notas: 1. El Color de la Justicia: Disparidad Racial y Étnica en las Prisiones Estatales, el Proyecto de Sentencia, 14 de junio 2016. 2. La distancia de la encarcelación se amplía entre los blancos y negros, Pew Research Center, 6 de setiembre 2013. 3. Un Misterio de Encarcelación Masiva, El Proyecto Marshall, 15 de diciembre 2017.
[Gender] [ULK Issue 62]

Hypocrisy Must Stop

I have noticed that the New Afrikan people (NAP) have been crying out for justice for their people against oppression for ages. As an advocate and activist to end all oppression I stand beside them 100%. Oppression is an ugly thing and needs to be totally eradicated. However, I have also noticed that large numbers of NAPs and [email protected] oppress another "minority" group, namely the LGBTQIA community on a continuous basis. The same reasoning and ideology used by white supremacists to oppress others, especially NAP and [email protected], is being used by NAP and [email protected] to oppress the LGBTQIA community. I feel that if people want to be free from oppression, they should in turn refrain from willingly and consciously oppressing other humyns and humyn groups. Justice and equality should be collective, not subjective and for certain people only. Does anyone else see this hypocrisy? I'm open to critique and feedback.

MIM(Prisons) responds: As communists, we struggle for an end to all forms of oppression. It's a constant struggle to educate ourselves and others, and consciously struggle against biases that have been ingrained over years of living in this corrupt system. But while we live in a society built on class, nation and gender oppression we can expect to see forms of all of these within progressive movements.

There are a few principles we apply here. One is recognizing the principal contradiction and focusing on pushing that forward. Another is unity-struggle-unity. So as we unite with all anti-imperialist forces to resolve the principal contradiction (the oppression of Third World nations by the U.$.-led imperialist block) we will struggle over questions such as these in an attempt to build greater unity with revolutionary nationalists who may retain reactionary ideas around gender.

[Organizing] [National Oppression] [Black Panther Party] [ULK Issue 62]

A Tribute to James "Doc" Holiday

I recall entering United States Penitentiary (USP) Leavenworth in 1993 as a very ignorant, reactionary member of a street tribe in need of guidance. I was approached by an individual seen by others in many lights; original gangsta! Comrade George's comrade! Revolutionary! Major underworld figure! All of the above and some. All I know is, the brotha James "Doc" Holiday freely gave of himself to educate all of us tribal adherents.

Making it mandatory that we both exercise daily (machine) and read progressive literature, because consciousness grows in stages. As such, he brought many a tribal cat towards a more revolutionary-oriented ideal. Some accepted New Afrikan revolutionary nationalism. Others gained structure, within their respective tribes (Kiwe/Damu national identities). Whichever choices we made, the overall revolutionary objectives were being met, in that the seeds of liberating consciousness had been sown. We learned of: Che, Fidel, W.L. Nolen, Marx, Lenin, Mao, Huey P., Bobby, Fred, Bunchy, Comrade George, Assata, etc. So many more unnamed heroes/sheroes of the movement for change and liberation.

Was "Daktari" perfect? No! He had flaws and vices like most hue-mans raised in capitalist United $tates — this putrid system which conditions us to value money over character. However, it is my contention that, to overlook the strengths and contributions this elder made to both Cali state and Federal systems' revolutionary cultures is to aid our common oppressors in suppressing the memories of all whose stories could serve as inspirational tools.

Utilizing materialist dialectics to analyze our forerunners' strengths and weaknesses as they relate to contributions to struggle is a positive. Constructively critiquing their actions and/or strategem which negatively impacted our progression towards building revolutionary culture is also a positive. Personally, I do not view giving honors to our fallen as "cult of personality." As a New Afrikan by DNA, I know firsthand how important it is for "us" to have concrete examples to emulate. Sad reality is, U.$.-born New Afrikans have been conditioned via historical miscarriages to see themselves as inferior to others. As such, before giving them/us Marx and the like, they should be taught examples of U.$. folk of color. Identification with/to New Afrikan cultural identity is key to building viable revolutionary culture, prior to more global revolutionary cadre education.

With that, I recently embraced Islam. The need of a morality code was imperative for me (individually) in order for me to continue to be an asset to the overall struggle. Regardless of my personal religious belief, I shall remain committed to giving of myself — blood, sweat, tears, my life if need be — to advance the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. This loyalty and devotion to the cause, come hell, or forever in isolation, is a direct result of the seeds planted in USP Leavenworth all those years ago by James "Doc" Holiday. I honor him accordingly as an educator, elder, father figure, and comrade.

Recently my family attempted to locate Doc via FBOP locator and as his name was not found, thus I assume he has passed on. I shall miss his wit and grit. Revolutionary in peace!

MIM(Prisons) responds: The greatest tribute we can pay to Doc, and all of the people who helped raise us to a higher level, is to carry on eir legacy through our actions. We don't mean to just "be about" the struggle, or to shout them out in remembrance. "Each one teach one" is a good place to start, and we can even look more deeply at what it was about our comrades' actions that made them such great organizers. In analyzing their actions, we can build on that in our own organizing.

We encourage our readers to take a closer look at what it was that turned you on to revolutionary organizing and politics. It surely wasn't just one action from one persyn, and it surely wasn't just an internal realization. Who was it that helped develop you, and how did they do it?

Especially for ULK 63, we want to look deeper at organizing tactics and approaches within the pages of this newsletter. One thing we can look at is our memories of what other people did to organize us. Think about the people who helped develop your revolutionary consciousness, and write in to ULK your observations.

What was their attitude? What methods did they use? How did they react when someone was half-in the game? How did they behave toward people who were totally in denial? Where did they draw the line between friends and enemies? What are some memories you have of when the spark was lit for you, that told you you needed to struggle to end oppression, rather than just get what you could for yourself? Send your stories in to the address on page 1 so ULK readers can incorporate your experiences into their own organizing tactics.

[China] [U.S. Imperialism] [Principal Contradiction] [United Front] [ULK Issue 60]

China's Role in Increasing Inter-Imperialist Rivalries

the china pivot
U.$. military encirclement of rivals China and Russia

In my last article on China I rehashed the 40-year old argument that China abandoned the socialist road, with some updated facts and figures.(1) The article started as a review of the book Is China an Imperialist Country? by N.B. Turner, but left most of that question to be answered by Turner's book.

We did not publish that article to push some kind of struggle against Chinese imperialism. Rather, as we explained, it was an attack on the promotion of revisionism within the forum, and beyond. The forum's most-enforced rule is that only Marxists are allowed to post and participate in discussion there. Yet almost daily, posts building a persynality cult around Chinese President Xi Jinping, or promoting some supposed achievement of the Chinese government, are allowed and generally receive quick upvotes.

The title of our previous article asking is China in 2017 Socialist or Imperialist may be misunderstood to mean that China must be one or the other. This is not the case. Many countries are not socialist but are also not imperialist. In the case of China, however, it is still important (so many years after it abandoned socialism) to clarify that it is a capitalist country. And so our positive review of a book discussing Chinese imperialism, became a polemic against those arguing it is socialist.

One of the major contradictions in the imperialist era is the inter-imperialist contradiction. The United $tates is the dominant aspect of this contradiction as the main imperialist power in the world today. And currently Russia and China are growing imperialist powers on the other side of this inter-imperialist contradiction. Reading this contradiction as somehow representative of the class contradiction between bourgeoisie and proletariat or of the principal contradiction between oppressed nations and oppressor nations would be an error.

We have continued to uphold that China is a majority exploited country, and an oppressed nation.(2) But China is a big place. Its size is very much related to its position today as a rising imperialist power. And its size is what allows it to have this dual character of both a rising imperialist class and a majority proletariat and peasantry. Finally, its size is part of what has allowed an imperialist class to rise over a period of decades while insulating itself from conflict with the outside world — both with exploiter and exploited nations.

A major sign that a country is an exploiting country is the rise and subsequent dominance of a non-productive consumer class. At first, the Chinese capitalists depended on Western consumers to grease the wheels of their circulation of capital. While far from the majority, as in the United $tates and Europe, China has more recently begun intentionally developing a domestic consumer class.(3) This not only helps secure the circulation of capital, but begins to lay the groundwork for unequal exchange that would further favor China in its trade with other countries. Unequal exchange is a mechanism that benefits the rich First World nations, and marks a more advanced stage of imperialism than the initial stages of exporting capital to relieve the limitations of the nation-state on monopoly capitalism. As we stated in the article cited above, China's size here becomes a hindrance in that it cannot become a majority exploiter country, having 20% of the world's population, without first displacing the existing exploiter countries from that role. Of course, this will not stop them from trying and this will be a contradiction that plays out in China's interactions with the rest of the world and internally. At the same time with an existing "middle class" that is 12-15% of China's population, they are well on their way to building a consumer class that is equal in size to that of Amerika's.(3)

In our last article, we hint at emerging conflicts between China and some African nations. But the conflict that is more pressing is the fight for markets and trade dominance that it faces with the United $tates in the Pacific region and beyond. China remains, by far, the underdog in this contradiction, or the rising aspect. But again, its size is part of what gives it the ability to take positions independent of U.$. imperialism.

As we stated in our most recent article, this contradiction offers both danger and opportunity. We expect it to lead to more support for anti-imperialist forces as the imperialists try to undercut each other by backing their enemies. Then, as anti-imperialism strengthens, the imperialists will face more global public opinion problems in pursuing their goals of exploitation and domination. In other words, a rising imperialist China bodes well for the international proletariat. Not because China is a proletarian state, but because the era of U.$. hegemony must end for a new era of socialism to rise. We should be clear with people about the definitions of imperialism and socialism to make this point.

Whether N.B. Turner agrees with us on these points is unclear. It is possible eir line is closer to Bromma's, who we critiqued because ey "claims a trend towards equalization of classes internationally, reducing the national contradictions that defined the 20th century."(3) As mentioned above it seems highly unlikely for China to be able to replicate the class structure of the United $tates. And it is absolutely impossible to recreate it globally.

China's potential to play a progressive role in the world in coming years does not change the fact that the counter-revolution led by Deng Xiaoping dismantled the greatest achievement towards reaching communism so far in history. If we do not learn from that very painful setback, then we are not applying the scientific method and we will not even know what it is that we are fighting for. How and when socialism ended in China is a question that is fundamental to Maoism.

[National Oppression] [ULK Issue 60]

National Oppression in Prisons: Still Going Strong

The United $tates locks up New Afrikans at a rate more than 5 times Euro-Amerikans. The rate for [email protected] is at least 1.4 times higher than whites, and the way the prisons collect information on "Hispanics" makes this number likely an underestimate.(1) This dramatic over-incarceration of oppressed nations in U.$. prisons isn't new. But the huge numbers of people locked up is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 1960s the disparity between incarceration rates was actually about the same as it is today. But the prison population was much smaller, so it impacted a lot fewer people.

Pew Research Incarceration Rates
1960-2010 incarceration rates by "race"

In 1960, the white male incarceration rate was 262 per 100,000 white U.S. residents, and the New Afrikan male rate was 1,313; that's 5x the rate for whites. By 2010 this disparity had risen to 6x. This means New Afrikan men were six times more likely to be locked up than white men. This discrepancy had a much bigger impact in 2010 because incarceration rates skyrocketed starting in the 1970s, so that by 2010 the New Afrikan male incarceration rate was 4,347 per 100,000.(2)

In 2000 the discrepancy in incarceration rates between New Afrikans and whites actually started dropping, and by 2015 it was back down to the 1960 levels. Between 2000 and 2015 the imprisonment rate of New Afrikan men dropped 24%, while at the same time the incarceration rate of white men rose slightly. Among wimmin we see the same trend but with a 50% drop for New Afrikan wimmin and a 50% increase for white wimmin.(3)

Rates of Black and White men in prison

We need to put these changes in context. The incarceration rate of New Afrikans is still ridiculously higher than for whites! National oppression in prisons has not been eliminated, not even close. At the current rate of change, it would take until around the year 2100 to hit imprisonment equality by nation.

But we can't ignore changes like these, especially when they are consistent over a 15 year period.

Prisons are used primarily as a tool of social control by the United $tates government. Oppressed nations have always been a threat because of the dialectical relationship between oppressed and oppressor. And so oppressed nations face the highest incarceration rates. And the biggest targets are those who are organizing for revolutionary change, as we saw with the massive COINTELPRO operations against the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Party in the 1970s.

So why would the criminal injustice system shift to lowering the rate of incarceration of New Afrikans but not doing the same for whites? One possible explanation is that changes to the criminal injustice system have been proceeding at different rates in cities and in non-urban areas. The drop in incarcerations rates has been largely driven by lower rates in cities while incarceration in rural areas has remained unchanged.(3) We may see these changes even out over time.

Post-emancipation proclamation, we have seen changes in national oppression in Amerikan society at various times in history. These changes generally happen in response to social movements. Reforms ranged from ending legal segregation to curtailing overt discrimination in arenas like housing, employment, and loans. But these reforms didn't actually put an end to these practices; the reality of segregation and discrimination continued, just shifted to more subtle or hidden forms. Nonetheless, we can say that in some regards conditions for oppressed nations within U.$. borders have improved. This is not surprising as the U.$. government can't really afford to have active unrest within its borders while it's fighting so many overt and proxy wars around the world. Imperialism is more stable when it can keep its home country population pacified.

In a wealthy imperialist country, the capitalists have the money to partly integrate the internal semi-colonies, buying them off with the benefits of imperialist plunder. But the national oppression is so entrenched in modern imperialist society that we don't anticipate full integration of these internal semi-colonies. And so we think it's likely the gap between white and oppressed nation imprisonment rates won't come close to closing. But the current trends in imprisonment rates are something to keep watching.