Respect: Abolish the antagonisms that exist between us. We must develop and possess a willingness 2 respect one another regardless of race, color, creed, nationality, street-level affiliation or sexual-orientation.
Solidarity: The U.$. prison population is held in kaptivity by greedy prisoncrats that subject us 2 systematic abuse and brutalization. Since we are all under the yoke of the same oppressor we should stand in solidarity 2 build a united front 2 end all forms of injustice.
Unity: Discord is counter-revolutionary. 2 build a solid movement for social-revolutionary change all freedom loving individuals must be in a state of accord.
Agitation: Knowledge is power. We should strive to become politically astute so that we can go about the business of raising the political consciousness of the prison population at large.
Autonomy: We acknowledge and exercise our inherent right 2 self-governance. No one is coming 2 our rescue. We must organize the formation of our own independent groups, associations, and fraternities now 2 become saviors of ourselves.
The concept for Operation S.A.F.E. was born out of a desperate need 2:
Raise the political consciousness of the Florida prison population.
Introduce them 2 progressive revolutionary ideals.
Foster unity and respect among all kaptives held within their confines of FL DOC regardless of race, color, creed, nationality, street-level affiliation or sexual orientation.
Educate the prison population on how to peaceably organize against the various forms of physical and psychological injustices that we are subjected 2 on a daily basis.
Wherever oppression exists, there can be no peace and there can be no peace without organized struggle - we invite and encourage all freedom-loving individuals 2 stand in solidarity with us 2 assist in organizing a movement for social-revolutionary change. May the benevolent forces of the universe imbibe us all with a spirit of a love and revolutionary unity!
Educate, Agitate, Unify and Revolutionize
The co-ordinating body of Operation S.A.F.E. does not encourage acts of violence against FL DOC staff. Instead we strongly encourage political education/dialogue and non-violent organizing/struggle. We call on all kaptives held in FL DOC 2 institute a moratorium on all spontaneous acts of violence, unless faced with a do-or-die dilemma.
Knowledge is power - start a study group. Request materials from:
MIM(Prisons), PO Box 40799, San Francisco, CA 94140
Anthony Rayson, C/O So. Chicago ABC Zine Distro, PO Box 721, Homewood, IL 60430
Request materials written by: Sean Swain, El Coyote, Maroon Zolo, Rashid and A. Rayson.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This statement from Operation S.A.F.E. is another good demonstration of local organizations applying the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) organizing principles. Their five progressive precepts line up well with the five UFPP organizing principles: Peace, Unity, Growth, Internationalism and Independence. And their focus on education underscores a critical task for all revolutionaries today. We echo their call for people to write to us to start a study group and request materials from us to support this group. We can provide revolutionary literature to study, study questions, and we will respond to comments or questions you send us about the reading that come up in your study group. In this way we can build together for the day when revolutionary forces can take power from the oppressors and put an end to this capitalist system of oppression.
Where Operation S.A.F.E. is against all discord, we know that all of existence is full of contradictions, even within a United Front for Peace in Prisons. In order to understand how to change any phenomena to our advantage, it is imperative to understand how contradictions work and how history is shaped. We'd recommend a thorough study of dialectical materialism and historical materialism, starting with material by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. We see contradictions between competing theories of how to achieve liberation, and in fact MIM(Prisons) has published some debates with Rashid (a recommended author above by Operation SAFE) over significant disagreements on the question of defining who are our friends and who are our enemies. These debates should not be ignored in an attempt to create a false sense of unity as we have a duty to the oppressed of the world to find the best and fastest path towards liberation and to avoid false promises that only lead to further oppression for the world's majority.
I write this piece as a result of a conversation I had with a brother, who I consider, an intellectual equal and new friend. The conversation was about action, or should I say the lack of action, in a movement to curtail the imperialist society of capitalism, slavery and oppression. Now, just to clarify the brother I'm referring to is not only an active participant in the political revolutionary movement, he also supplied me with priceless literature on the cause. However, he choose to play the role of devils advocate in order to spark my creative mind.
In general, the conversation was based on a full-scale, non-violent movement against the financial interest of the oppressor, and called for all fellow POWs to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with one common goal: Victory! However, throughout our conversation I realized that there are several issues still holding a complete unification for this type of movement, at a stand still. I personally believe it's possible, and honestly I think it's the only way to effect change and bear the fruit of the movement. So I write this piece to bring these issues to the surface, and inject them into like minded conversation in pursuit of overcoming these sub-conscious inhibitors.
The simplest issue to address is the defeatist attitude carried by some, not all, of my fellow brothers behind enemy lines. One must understand that a pessimistic attitude deeper than just thinking negatively. It's allowing that negative thought to impact your ability and actions, in the cause for change. What I mean, and I'm sure some of you have experienced this, is the person who says, "Don't put your name on that petition, you'll only cause problems for yourself" or "I would join the movement but..." or "The officers don't bother me." These are all sorry excuses for tolerating the abuse and oppression from these barbaric animals who claim to uphold the law. Now, I understand that some of my fellow POWs have Stockholm Syndrome and attempt to identify with their captors as a form of survival. However, it is the actions of our captors that isolate us from our families, enslave us and oppress us, until we die or submit to their capitalist ways. If you don't or won't stand up it will never change! Dr. Martin L. King Jr., Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez all initiated a movement with the knowledge and understanding that the road would be tough. However, they all focused on the destination not the trip itself. There's a Buddhist saying that says, "no one drop of water wants to be the cause of the flood," and that's exactly what we're faced with when fellow POWs carry this defeatist attitude.
The next issue that needs to be addressed is our inability to move as one! As I read ULK, the Bayview and all other literature geared towards the movement, I see from the many different groups listed in the literature that sub-consciously we are unable to combine and move under one front or one flag. To divide and conquer has to be one of the oldest military and war tactics known to man, and has a cumulative effect on any movement or political power. Furthermore, it's so effective that it's still being taught at Westpoint military academy as I write this. One must understand what it's doing to the success of the movement. First, strength is in numbers and if you're oblivious to the fact that POWs have the numbers then here's the facts. There's currently 31,000 correctional officers in the state of California (according to MIM(Prisons) December 2007 ULK2) and 110,000 to 120,000 men and women incarcerated in the state of California (per federal population cap issued in 2013). With that being said it is common knowledge that it's easier to control several small groups then a large one. Furthermore, if those smaller groups are fighting amongst themselves for the illusion of ownership of objects that will never truly belong to them (i.e., phones, pull-up bars, tablets, etc.), that only makes it easier to oppress, control and enslave. We as a group must break all seemingly innocuous forms of segregation and unite as one! All racial and ethnic barriers must be broken, followed by all of the small pockets of revolutionary soldiers flying one flag. Symbolizing the unification of one movement, sharing the same political and ideological views. We allow capitalist oppressors to dictate where we draw the lines in the sand and divide us into controllable groups. We have the power, and the time is now. It's time to follow the example of Hugo "Yogi Bear" Pinell and George Jackson.
To the main issue of this piece and the most important. Is the lack of effective action. When I say effective action I mean a non-violent protest not only done by POWs, but also by the family and friends who support us in our cause. As of now all I see is a massive amount of information being passed around with no action. Information is knowledge, knowledge is power, now that we have the power we don't utilize it. Now, I understand that moving prematurely will only work against the desired effect. However, the same is to be said for not moving and allowing the enemy time to prepare a counter. Most importantly our movement lacks a figurehead. For example, without putting any emphasis on what he stood for, yet highlighting his ability to lead, Adolf Hitler is a prime example, or Alexander the Great, or Malcolm X, or Dr. M.L. King Jr., or Cesar Chavez, or Huey P. Newton just to name a few. However, I want ot reiterate it's not what they stood for its their impact and motivation of their particular movement. In my opinion, that's what all the brothers and sisters enslaved behind enemy lines are missing to propel this movement into national spotlight and over the hump. So I, as an enslaved prisoner of war, surface these issues not only to my fellow enslaved brothers and sisters, but to all those who support our cause form the other side of the razor wire. Let's stop being that one drop of water, and become a wave!
MIM(Prisons) responds: It is true that charismatic leaders can inspire people to overcome defeatism. That is why the J. Edgar Hoover gave the FBI the mission of preventing the rise of a "Black Messiah." The problem was, they were successful. While some "messiahs" rose to the occasion they were shot down, imprisoned or otherwise neutralized.
It is a contradiction we face of how to motivate the disempowered to feel empowered. Many peoples' have faced this situation before. And while we all want action sooner, rather than later. It is the careful study and education of the masses that builds a truly powerful movement where we are not dependent on charismatic or well-studied leaders. Especially in the prison environment, where conditions are closer to fascist repression, it is too easy to isolate our leaders. So we must keep up the slow and steady work of building unity through struggle and education. Just as this comrade experienced with eir new friend above.
Waking each day in my cell
is like living in hell
Getting a rude awakening by magic mike
on the mic
As we hit the yard, a group of pigs scan
If we walks in threes, we might get STGed
They say it's greener on the other side but I'll never know
Because they're not going to brainwash
me to say what they want to know
And they gave us a new enemy in our ranks
It's not a risk some of us are willing to take
Because they're threatening to take our dates.
But some can consider this paradise what I go thru
We can never forget our comrades slammed in the SHU
As they hate & taunt
We must keep our United Front
Almost 5% of our comrade time in 2015 was put into maintaining the technical aspects of our online presence, mostly our website www.prisoncensorship.info. While that might seem like a small percentage, an increase in our capacity of 5% would allow us to see some significant improvements in our work.
In the past we had estimated that our online readers were about equal in number, if not quality, to our print readers in prison. In recent years we've seen a doubling of our readership inside prisons. In the past year we've seen a significant drop in our online readership, though this is probably completely due to technical difficulties and not a decrease in interest.
Recently, prisoners have donated about 5% of the cost of distributing ULK (this includes some regular contributions from USW members on the outside). During the same period, comrades in prison have contributed an equal amount of money to pay for books and study materials from the Ministry. The rest of our funding comes from members of MIM(Prisons). While we might make a few bucks here and there at public events, it is irregular. This summer we set the achievable goal of funding 10% of ULK through prisoner donations. None of our funding comes from online readers. In other words, online readers cover 0% of the cost to fund the website, despite the fact that it is much cheaper than the newsletter and our online readers have much greater access to money than our imprisoned readers.
Most of the writing and almost all of the art in ULK is contributed by prisoner subscribers. Almost none of it comes from our online readers. (Just before publishing this article we did get some article submissions via web contribution.)
In recent years we've had a couple of allies who have contributed to our work in a consistent way, and we have some volunteers come and go that help us with typing, editing and other tasks. But when all is said and done, we are losing more comrade time to maintaining the website than we are gaining from it.
Now, we try to keep in mind that our principal task is building public opinion and not building our organization. Yet, we are approaching a crisis where our comrade time on the streets cannot keep up with the interest from prisoners. Really it never could, but even to the standard we are used to we are losing ground. So the question starts to look like: do we spend more resources building public opinion behind bars or on the streets (and by streets, we mean online)?
Alternatively, our online readers could step up to the plate. Five percent of our annual comrade time is no small beans. But it is easily achievable by a few regular contributors. It could be achieved by one dedicated comrade who steps up and starts putting in work. But how do we inspire someone to act over the internet like we do through the mail?
The worldwide web has always been an important tool in the MIM agitational toolbox. Prisoncensorship.info is approaching its 10 year anniversary of going strong and we host the archive of the MIM etext site dating back another 15+ years. We might foresee situations where not having it could really hamper our work in the future. So there are other points to consider here.
But the question remains, is it time to let www.prisoncensorship.info die in order to focus all our efforts on supporting the organizing efforts of the imprisoned masses?
"Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism combined with absorption in the narrowest forms of practical activity." - V. I. Lenin
Often times the first half of this quote is misrepresented by people not really knowing the context. Well-meaning comrades will repeat this political axiom when calling for others to pick up their theoretical game (grasp of revolutionary science), for reasons having to do with the obvious need for revolutionary theory to influence and propagate our revolutionary practice. Yet it was in the process of struggle and heated political debate that Lenin first made this now famous statement. These struggles and other political debates were recalled by Lenin in eir book What is to be Done?; a book about communist organization and discipline. More to my point, in this book, Lenin addressed the importance that revolutionary theory should play in informing the revolutionary movement, in part for the purpose of combating various erroneous tendencies.
The main tendency which Lenin devoted the better part of this book to was the problem of opportunism. Opportunism can be defined as the conscious or unconscious watering down of political line in order to garner more sympathy for your cause or movement. It can also be said that opportunism can be described as the glossing over of contradictions within the revolutionary movement so as to not offend or turn away your social base. A perfect example of opportunism would be to tell Amerikans that they are the revolutionary vehicle which we call the proletariat instead of telling them the truth: that they are by and large the objective enemies of the international proletariat — parasites which we call the labor aristocracy.
One example of how opportunism can work its way into the revolutionary prison movement is thru a philosophical belief called pragmatism. To be a pragmatist means to worship the tactics of whatever works at the present time. While there may be occasions in which we must do what is most effective at that particular instance/moment, we must do so in a way that doesn't have us sacrificing our political principles or political line, all for the sake of practical results. Pragmatism as a strategic orientation is a danger to revolutionary movements because it can cause us to shift focus from our strategic goals in favor of the immediacy of tactical results. While tactical wins are a good thing for the oppressed, we will be in error if we confuse a tactical gain for strategic victory. A real world example of the negative effects of pragmatism is how many prisoners who participated in the California hunger strikes first initiated in 2011 abandoned the struggle for humyn rights in favor of material concessions and a more comfortable oppression.
Other more nuanced examples of how opportunism has come to dominate political organizing behind prison walls come in the form of "friendship groups" and "elites." Both are hazards to the prison movement because of the seemingly casual nature of the two and the Liberalism that underlies them.
Friendship groups are the more obvious of the two. Friendship groups can be defined as: "A group of friends who also happen to participate in the same political activities. Most of these groups' members participate within the group because they like the people in them and not because they have the correct political line."
Elites can be defined as: "A small group of people who have power over a larger group of which they are a part of, usually without a direct responsibility to that larger group and often without their knowledge or consent."
Friendship groups function on an external level and so many prisoners will surely recognize one when they see them, as most LOs have these types of groups functioning in one capacity or another. Elites on the other hand, while being dialectically related to the friendship group are the opposite and function on an internal level. One thing which both these groups share in common is their popularization and use of false logic as a method of accomplishing their objectives. This false logic can be best understood as sophism; a method of argument that fake philosophers use to fool the masses by exploiting to their own advantage any situation they encounter or create. One such method of the professional sophist is the ad hominem attack. Ad hominen attacks are marked by appeals to feelings or prejudices rather than to intellect. For example, if one persyn doesn't like another persyn's politics, but can't correctly argue against eir political line, the aggressor might use an ad hominem attack instead. The ad hominem attack might be accusing the persyn of violating an established taboo, such as stealing from another persyn.
Opportunism will find its way into revolutionary movements and organizations if both the masses and the leadership do not have a strong grasp or even an elementary understanding of revolutionary theory. This can allow for various dishonest and incorrect elements to find their way into our structures, which as a result can cause our movements to falter and perish. This is why as revolutionaries we put such a high premium on the study of revolutionary science not only amongst the prison leadership but the prison masses. Furthermore, in making this point we cannot over-emphasize the dialectical relation between study and practice, as a correct grasp of one will inevitably lead to a correct grasp of the other.
To re-iterate, preventative measures are essential in order to safe-guard our movements from taking up opportunism and watering down their revolutionary agendas. We must strongly advocate and fight for the study and production of both revolutionary theory and practice not only to effectively meet the demands and goals of revolutionary organizing, but to navigate our movements thru the sea and fog of bourgeois Liberalism. Our practice will grope in the dark unless its path is illuminated by the most advanced revolutionary theory.
Last, but certainly not least, i would like to speak to other challenges of revolutionary organizing behind prison walls. When working with the lumpen and attempting to organize for our collective liberation it is only natural that we will run into a variety of problems that may end with us in frustration. However, we should not blithely dismiss the prison masses as incapable of listening to our message because they are supposedly too "ignorant", "backward" or "apolitical" to understand what the so-called "revolutionary" might regard as "complex," as this has more to do with the revolutionary's own ignorance, inability and incapability to either understand the masses or effectively communicate to them the correct political line. More likely than not, when any movement, strike or action fails to materialize or develop it is not due to the low level of consciousness of the masses, but to the revolutionaries' own lack of profundity and insight into the movement of the masses which they often claim some sort of near spiritual connection to.
We must continue to find better ways to correct our approach and understanding of the masses, correct our shortcomings, and stop blaming the masses. Likewise, neither should we fear the masses or their criticism, as the acceptance of criticism and self-criticism is integral to establishing the correct revolutionary line. Do not fear the masses because they are the way forward, and do not fear their criticism because often times they prove to be correct, if even just a bit, for whosoever fears the criticism of the masses only proves that what they really fear is revolution. Above all, always remember that revolutionaries are not above the masses in any way, shape or form. We are but the advanced detachment of the prison movement, nothing more, nothing less. Whoever does not believe this is not a Maoist.
In writing this missive a relevant story comes to mind. When the masses in socialist China were struggling for control of their country against the capitalist roaders during the period of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, many so-called "revolutionaries" felt that the masses were out of control, and that they weren't yet ready to share state power with the communist party. Many of these revolutionaries advocated an end to this "anarchy," accusing the masses of being too backward to run the country. To this Mao Zedong and Lin Biao responded:
"The assumption of power by ideological means is absolutely necessary if consolidation of the working class's power and hegemony is the goal... To accomplish the decisive political leap, the leading role must revert to the masses; this has nothing to do as it is generally believed in the West to do with any form of spontaneity. The role of the party in destroying 'spontaneous' illusions lies in the quality of leadership which consists in transforming dispersed rebel movements into a revolutionary current capable of overcoming contradictions. Lin Biao says that the mass revolutionary movement is naturally correct; for among the masses, right and left-wing deviationist groups may exist, but the main current of the mass movement always corresponds to the development of that society involved and is always correct. Revolution is the resolution of contradictions."(1)
I write in response to the USW campaigns published in ULK 47. Please be advised, the grievance system is nationally governed by the United States Supreme Court Prison Litigation Reform Act. Although each state has its own format, a DOC failure to respond to a grievance at any stage is a failure of them to make the exhaustion remedies available.
Make sure in between stages to submit a simple delinquent notice if your grievances are not responded to. Make sure to do this twice, and retain copies. Then move through the stages and, if necessary, the delinquent notices will suffice if litigation elevates to court level. Also, a grievance rejected cannot be held by the exhaustion requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) because the rejection deemed the filing a non-grievable issue, therefore you have exhausted the grievance procedure and may proceed if necessary. Please see:
438 f.3d 804, 809, 812 (7th GR. 2006)
569 F. Supp 2d 398, 406-07 (D. Del 2008)
287 F. Supp. 2d 210, 212 (WDNY 2003)
231 F. Supp. 2d 341, 350 (D. Me 2002)
54 F. Supp. 2d 199, 206 (S.D. NY 1999)
MIM(Prisons) adds: Many people facing problems with the grievance procedures where they're held also do not have access to a copy machine, or their cells are tossed and all their documentation is sabotaged. This suggestion of notifying staff of delinquency twice, and keeping copies, appears like a good tactic if possible. We would also encourage subscribers to request the Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual chapter on the PLRA that we distribute for $12 or equivalent work-trade. If you can afford to buy the Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual outright (approximately $30), we can send you the publisher's order form.
The mere existence of the PLRA, plus all the little headaches that make it so difficult to exhaust all available remedies, are signs that the criminal injustice system in this country is a total joke. It's not designed for justice at all - it's designed to frustrate and pacify, and provide busy work for, the oppressed people who are subject to its control. In addition to trying to fight winnable battles through the courts when possible, we encourage our subscribers to get deep into political study and organizing, which gets at the core of this unjust capitalist system and all its organs of oppression.
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The Soldiers of Bondage (S.O.B.) is a revolutionary communist organization with its members consisting of political prisoners within the Illinois Department of Corrections. The party was founded on 2 July 2011 in Pontiac Correctional Center Segregation. Current membership is very small, but, with the publishing of this study guide, it is hoped that the party will grow nationally in both numbers and resources. A Manifesto of S.O.B. will be completed soon and it will hopefully be made available to prisoners across Amerika.
The "Communist Manifesto" is the most important piece of political literature to the communist. However, due to the many oppressive conditions that plague the lumpen proletariat within the United $tates, many prisoners have problems with comprehending the "Communist Manifesto." For this reason S.O.B. felt it necessary to create a study guide that would assist prisoners in obtaining as much information as possible from the "Communist Manifesto." This study guide contains 184 questions as well as answers from the text.
After creating the study guide the next question to be answered was how to make the study guide easily available to prisoners. After some debate it was decided that the only real option was to go through MIM(Prisons). We are not sure if MIM(Prisons) will just send this out to prisoners who request it or if they will make it one of their official study group programs. Either way it will assist prisoners in the development of their political consciousness.
Remember that the only way to combat the oppressive conditions we are subjugated to is to become aware of the cause and solution of our oppression. It is the hope of S.O.B. that this study guide will help many become aware of these elements. As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels articulated within the "Communist Manifesto," the proletariat must emancipate itself. Amerika does not have a proletariat. However, Marx and Engels's edict is just as true for the lumpen proletariat: the lumpen proletariat must emancipate itself. You must liberate yourself from the oppression you suffer. Begin your journey to become the New Man by educating yourself. Education is power. Resist! Rebel! Defy!
In strength and solidarity,
Cadre (on behalf of S.O.B.)
MIM(Prisons) responds: First we want to commend this group for their hard work focusing on communist education amongst the lumpen. The extensive study guide they created took a lot of work. And their decision to undertake a project that is focused on bringing up the level of theoretical understanding of the lumpen suggests that we have a lot of unity around our principal tasks at this time. MIM(Prisons) knows little about the S.O.B. organization so we cannot comment on our relative level of theoretical unity, and until they publish a manifesto we can only say that the "Communist Manifesto" questions suggest we agree on the bought-off nature of the vast majority of the imperialist-country workers who now constitute a petty-bourgeoisie. This is particularly important as we read a book like the "Communist Manifesto," which was written so many years ago when the labor aristocracy was just a very small segment of the working class, and the workers in First World countries were still a part of the proletariat.
We look forward to work and political discussion with S.O.B. We hope these comrades in Illinois serve as an example for other USW study groups across the country. If you want this study pack, write in to MIM(Prisons). Tell us if you already have the "Communist Manifesto" or if you need a copy
From this end of the bend the only subject relevant to prisoners in regards to the early Black Panther Party (BPP) is the party as a Maoist organization and how prisoners should apply the teachings of the early Panthers to free themselves - resisting the foolishness of the late personality cliques capitalizing off of the party’s reputation. What is most important is getting to the truth between the legacy of the BPP and what it was that the founders were really getting at. What role, if any, do later groups play in keeping the vision alive? And how is it that prisoners should use these lessons in these later years of anti-imperialist prison organizing efforts?
Many New Afrikan lumpen organizations inside prison take their plays directly from the playbook of early BPP members while never truly crediting the party for its works. This in turn creates further confusions between the Lumpen Organization's (LO's) followers and former members of the authentic movement. Others within U.$. prisons are charismatic individuals working hand over hand with the bourgeois nationalist organizations, spreading misinformation about the BPP.
Recently PBS ran a piece on a program called Independent Lens that documented the history of the Black Panther Party. As expected it was as watered down as the bourgeois press and media felt it could get away with.(1) Several of the prisoners housed on this facility burst at their seems with inspiration of the works of the Black Panther Party. It was information that they felt they should have known, being they are Afrikans.
Other BPP images being portrayed on this 50th anniversary year include one specific article written by a charismatic imprisoned individual that went on and on about Huey P. Newton, a co-founder of the Black Panther Party, and not on how prisoners should learn from the early lessons of Newton, applying their lessons of political education in the struggles of today.(2) And probably the most noticed recent portrayal of the Panthers came in the form of sexual media, with Beyonce and eir Super Bowl 50 performance. Capitalizing off of the history of the Black power era, Beyonce adorned eirself and eir backup dancers with black leathers, black boots and black berets. Prisoners should question the significance of Black Panther costume jewelry and make-up versus scientific relevance inside U.$. prisons.(3)
Very few prisoners appreciate the political significance of the difference between the early BPP and the late BPP. This is the reason so many prisoners crowd towards movements that appear authentic and genuinely interested in liberation struggles. The masses are presented with ideas of Black, Brown, red, yellow and white power by superstar groups like #BlackLivesMatter, but prisoners have very few tools of independence to combat the misinformation spewed by these bourgeois nationalist organizations and their personalities. Movements built on single issue organizing, swabbing the support of the populations using identity politics, do a disservice to the oppressed, depriving them of the truth.
The Black Panther Party held the correct line in its early stages, and because of this it was rewarded with the support of the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates, the majority being lumpen youth. In its early years the BPP was truly independent, concentrating on its services to Blacks, at a time when the term Black was just as independent as the party. So the organization was able to operate in a loose way within the First World. The early party took its science from a variety of teachings, from the Pan-Afrikan movement to the Chinese communist movement, Lenin’s Russia, Stalin’s theory of nation, and Mao’s People’s War. Mao influenced much of the Black Panther Party’s position as a structured organization. The early members had a very real practice of materialist solutions provided to those in the same environment suffering under conditions of class indifferences, national isolation and gender extinction. They did not believe in struggling against a system while at the same time becoming liberated by the very same system they struggled against.
The prison personality contest conflicts become prominent, with prison identity politics valued above the peace that independence-building projects bring to a self-reliant and self-determined people's anti-imperialist prison movement. Too many prisoners and prison LOs see the end of their individual suffering at the expense of exploiting entire prison populations. MIM(Prisons) and United Struggle from Within (USW) see it differently as we define in the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) principle of independence. Independence is building our own institutions and programs independent of the united states government and all its branches, right down to the local police, because this system does not serve us. By developing independent power through these institutions we do not need to compromise our goals.
The Black Panther Party prioritized the momentum of the people in its early years because of the line and position it had on Maoism. The BPP transitioned for some time to a level above many of the revisionist and liberal bourgeois nationalist organizations of the late sixties and was able to attract some of the most progressive members of the lower class, that many now refer to as the First World lumpen. The Panthers at this time studied history from the perspective of dialectical materialism, in contrast to the methods of metaphysics and idealism, and had a clear program that was being adopted by various sectors of the masses across the United $tates. They applied practices that included designing programs that required members to perform services for the community at large, from education to self defense. The services of the Black Panther Party reflected its line in such a way that it was mandatory that members knew the rules of the BPP, the 8 points of attention and the 3 main rules of discipline, off the top of their head. The early Panthers were really on point.
It is in the later stages of the party’s existence that things began to take a turn as a result of the organization shifting from its earlier positions on independence, self-determination and liberation in the interest of the oppressed. This shift occurred in 1970-71, and was marked by the development of the theory of “intercommunalism” by Huey P. Newton. With the added pressures of government-launched campaigns to destroy the Black Panther Party, the party became split on every level one possibly could imagine.
Walking in the Panther Legacy Today
Since the demise of the BPP, though the movement never actually died, a wide gap has grown between the generation of Huey, George, Bunchy, Fred, Kathleen and Geronimo and the generation of Freddie Gray, Mike Brown and Sandra Bland. Since the Panthers, many organizations became infected with a type of Pantherism/inter-communalism fervor. These organizations hold that they themselves keep the work of the Black Panther Party alive, all the while erasing the Maoist politics of the BPP. See our article on the Black Riders Liberation Party for a discussion of another group confusing this legacy today.(4)
United Struggle from Within (USW) is a mass organization led by the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons for prisoners and former prisoners in the United $tates. USW is made up of various political prison activists struggling against their oppressive conditions. We are part of an ongoing struggle against the imperialist state to liberate ALL peoples, not only the select few who have made themselves popular at the expense of the people. While USW seeks immediate goals to improve prison conditions, it does not lose sight of the ultimate goal of national liberation and ending imperialism.
"There are two kinds of nationalism, revolutionary nationalism and reactionary nationalism. Revolutionary nationalism is first dependent upon a peoples revolution with the end goal being the people in power. Therefore to be revolutionary nationalist you would by necessity have to be a socialist. If you are a reactionary nationalist you are not a socialist and your end goal is the oppression of the people."(5)
Like their parent organization, many comrades of USW see the Black Panther Party developed by Huey P. Newton as the Maoist vanguard of the United States in the late 1960s. The Black Panther Party grew so rapidly at that time that many of the new recruits and larger memberships had very little opportunity to establish a deep understanding of the political objectives of the party. A lack of political education allows political movements to be co-opted, infiltrated, and run into the ground by enemy line.(6)
USW learns from the Black Panther Party, its good, bad and ugly. Parallel to the method practiced by our parent organization MIM(Prisons), USW comrades apply righteous actions by righteous studies of logic and these are some lessons we take:
No investigation, no right to speak. USW will not misrepresent or misinform the masses.
Correctness of ideas assessed independent of who says them. USW does not engage in the persynality contest so popular in the United $tates and its prisons.
We do not give out information that the pigs could use to assess or destroy our movement. Fishing is a favored method amongst the agent provocateurs and their drones inside the belly of the beast. USW comrades have a clear definition of what a snitch, a rat and a pig is. We don’t use the terms loosely and never false jacket individuals, as our pledge to the United Front for Peace in Prison principle of unity requires.
Anonymity isn’t just about security, it’s also about teaching prisoners to think scientifically rather than follow the person with specific skin tone or hair style. USW must struggle against identity politics and the way it shall go about confronting it as its membership crosses paths with the prison lumpen organization leaders, with their cult-like followings, is in the most peaceful way possible, Under Lock & Key. This issue of ULK is a further advancement into serious dialogues between politically conscious prisoners and the masses. Prisoners as a whole must take from this history, from a Maoist point of view and decide what side they are on. The side of half truths,or the always evolving side of deep study and materialist dialectics.
As Sukant Chandan of Sons of Malcom put it, identity politics is doing the imperialist divide and rule for the enemy, by "focusing purely on individualistic frameworks and issues of oppression which overshadow or totally obliterate understanding, learning and support for Resistance of peoples against imperialism."(7) So just as the Panthers were not about costume jewelry and black berets, they were not about petty beefing and slights towards small groups of people.
So why are there so many groups inside prisons who claim to identify with the Black Panther Party but do not uphold Maoism? Their class loyalty is to the bourgeoisie and they refuse to accept the most scientifically designed methods of discovering concrete practices that elevate the peoples. Study Maoism, study proletarian internationalism, study the actual words of the Black Panther Party from the late 1960s.
There are two important tasks which imprisoned revolutionaries need to carry out. The first is to build public opinion for revolution. The second is to survive their imprisonment long enough so as to ensure a lasting impact on the revolutionary movement long after their release. For those not getting out, it's important not to give up, as your contributions to oppressed peoples' movements are still very meaningful. It is from these concrete classrooms that some of the most dedicated revolutionaries emerge, returning to their communities after years in prison. Therefore the need for political instructors to train these students is dire. As such, survival pending revolution should be an important part of any comrade's focus while imprisoned.
Survival pending revolution can mean figuring out how to navigate everyday prison politics in a manner acceptable to the prison masses. At its most basic this can mean doing no harm in the masses' eyes. Ultimately, the prison movement is a mass movement. How can we lead a mass movement if the prison masses cannot trust us because we are actively working against their own righteous interests? How can we claim to stand for liberation if we are responsible for oppressing others? In our interactions with the prison masses we must be like fish swimming in the sea, not only blending in with our environment, but becoming one with our environment.
The anti-imperialist prison movement is a mass movement, but if we don't have the support of the masses then we don't have anything. This is an important point that real revolutionary organizations have understood from very early on. The Chinese Communist Party understood this and so they created an eight point program which helped to address the needs of both cadre and masses within the wider scope of revolutionary practice. Decades later the Black Panther Party would incorporate this same program into its organization, re-working the points to the BPP's specific conditions:
Pay fairly for what you buy.
Return everything you borrow.
Pay for anything you damage.
Do not hit or swear at people.
Do not damage property or crops of the poor, oppressed masses.
Do not take liberties with women.
If we ever have to take captives do not ill-treat them.
Because prison can be such a violent place and communists are supposed to stand against oppression, comrades associated with the prison movement should make it a point to be best known as peacemakers rather than agitators, unless of course they are dealing with injustice at the hand of the oppressors. As such, the likelihood of injury is significantly higher amongst prisoners when compared to people on the streets, with one report citing that more than a quarter of state and federal prisoners report being injured since admission to prison.(1) These figures however do not account for prisoners who do not report injuries, so the real number is definitely higher.
Another common cause of injury in prison, which is often overlooked and under-reported, is the violence associated with prison sexual assault. According to Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) reporting, more than 1 million people have been sexually assaulted in prison over the past 20 years.(1) That's an astonishing 50,000 people a year every year for the last 20 years! Again this estimation by PREA is likely under-reported. Prison rape is important to prevent, not only for the obvious reasons but because with sexual assault in prison comes "an increase in other types of violence, including murder, involving inmates and staff, and long lasting trauma which makes it even more difficult for people to succeed in the community after release."(1, 2)
When it comes to substance abuse virtually all prisoners are addicted to something. Statistics show that 80% of prisoners abuse drugs or alcohol and that nearly 50% of jail and prison inmates are clinically addicted.(3) "Four of every five children and teen arrestees in state and juvenile prisons are under the influence of alcohol and drugs while committing their crimes, test positive for drugs, are arrested for committing an alcohol or drug offense, admit having substance abuse and addiction problems or show some combination of these characteristics."(3) This last point is very relevant to the lumpen in prison and lumpen youth because most prisoners started doing drugs and alcohol at very early ages, generally around the same time they start breaking bourgeois laws and getting into trouble. A hundred and fifty years ago social scientists like Marx and Engels started theorizing that breaking bourgeois laws was just another way for oppressed people to rebel against their oppressive conditions. Needless to say that this form of rebellion was not very effective, but it is as Frederick Engels termed "revolution in embryo."
It is interesting that much of adolescence is spent in almost continuous rebellion, as this is generally the stage in humyn development when people begin to become conscious of the world around them in ways not experienced before. The fact that lumpen youth engage in criminal behavior at such an early age says a lot about the ways certain groups in society begin to exhibit early signs of what can only be described as an early group, or class, consciousness. This is important to note because it shows that the lumpen realize where their place in society under capitalist rule is, and they actively begin to figure out how to fit in it.
The real take away here, however, is that many people who currently find themselves in prison first learned to survive and fit into their oppressive social environment by both developing and adapting many negative behaviors as a way of seeking positive reinforcement within negative situations. Unfortunately for the oppressed this positive reinforcement came at the expense of reinforcing negative behaviors which has of course landed them in prison. Learning to combat such negative behaviors means having to unlearn many of the traits that were previously thought socially acceptable and necessary. In essence, this means learning to undo and working against the lumpen lifestyle. A lifestyle that is not only characterized by violence, alcohol and drug abuse, but by anti-people activity in general. As dialectical materialists however we are confident that the oppressed nation lumpen can learn to combat such negative character traits using the methods of unity-struggle-transformation.(4) The hope of the oppressed internal nations depends on it.