"White Privilege II"
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, feat. Jamila Woods
Released January 2016
This song calls people out about attending protests and tweeting, or being silent, instead of "actually getting involved" in fighting racism. The song is very introspective and what might sound like Macklemore (Ben Haggerty) dissing other artists is actually about Macklemore and Ryan Lewis themselves. Macklemore criticizes emself along with others for making money off a style that came from Black nation culture and acknowledges that "I've been passive." "It seems like we're more concerned with being called racist than we actually are with racism."(1) Ironically, the free song will make money for someone even if it's just through bringing more traffic to iTunes or YouTube, but that doesn't mean Macklemore isn't saying something correct.
On the plus side, Macklemore doesn't say anything supporting mass surveillance or the expansion or legitimization of the federal government's power ostensibly to protect Blacks. Macklemore doesn't explicitly oppose Black nationalism. Notably, Macklemore says that "white supremacy isn't just a white dude in Idaho" and that it "protects the privilege I hold" — taking issue with the idea that Euro-Amerikan domination and oppression are just about something inside somebody's brain among the white trash, rural people, or Republicans. Macklemore also raises that people's actions — or their inaction — taken so they won't be called "racist" are compatible with doing nothing that contributes to ending racism. As Macklemore might or might not know, in 2016 there is still a huge problem involving post-modernism-influenced efforts that emphasize changes in speech and thought, and perfecting those in increasing detail, over taking concrete action to end repression. Simply participating in a protest or saying some approving words about a well-known movement could become part of maintaining a non-racist or anti-racist identity with which one can be satisfied — a step toward contentment. Without development of knowledge and of the motivation to apply it scientifically, it could also be premature catharsis and a substitute for revolutionary work.
Also on the plus side is Macklemore's passing critique of petty-bourgeois "DIY" (do-it-yourself) culture that sometimes purports to be isolated from exploitation, corporations, finance capital, and imperialist oppression. "The DIY underdog, so independent. But the one thing the American dream fails to mention is I was many steps ahead to begin with."
Macklemore also mentions those who would praise eir song "Same Love" ("If I was gay, I would think hip hop hates me") because of its support for gay people, but disdain Black hip hop and claim "it's your fault if you run" in the context of police shootings. Macklemore implicates emself in the treatment of Blacks as inferior. "If I'm the hero, you know who gets cast as the villain." It is true that many in the United $tates and the West have rejected anti-imperialist ways of advancing gay people's rights, consider Muslim and oppressed nations to be incapable or less capable of change on gender questions without Western intervention, and cannot imagine how Black nationalism, [email protected] nationalism, First Nation nationalism and other oppressed nation nationalism would help with gay and lesbian liberation.
A voice that's not Macklemore's toward the end of the song mentions "a very age-old fight for black liberation." Unfortunately, there is no mention of Black nationalism specifically. There is no mention of the Black Panther Party, which at one time was Maoist.(2) The name "Black Lives Matter" shares an acronym with "Black liberation movement," and there are many around or associated with #BlackLivesMatter who claim to be for Black liberation. There are many, though, who are against even using the term, and there are others who explicitly reject Black nationalism, Black nation self-determination, Black nation independent institutions, and Black nation-building. If Macklemore wanted to be controversial, ey could have at least mentioned Black power, Black nationalism, the BPP, Huey Newton, or Malcolm X, but Macklemore doesn't manage to leave the realm of a kind of political correctness despite asking "Then I'm trying to be politically correct?" if ey stays silent. (Maybe eir verbal support for Black nationalism will come with "White Privilege III." Probably only if Blacks themselves start popularizing present-day nationalist struggles, for white rappers to tag on to.)
This reviewer would suggest to Macklemore that, from the point of the view of the oppressed, sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something when it comes to non-lumpen white Amerikans such as emself who usually would do nothing to upset business as usual, including Democratic Party business. Contentment and apathy are bad things when there is really a potential to help the oppressed, but it is clear that when Amerikans become militant or excited it is normally for the worse. Militant integrationism and militant labor aristocracy politics are not better than nothing from the viewpoint of the international proletariat.
For example, vigorously upholding certain aspects of Martin Luther King while pooping on Huey Newton and even Malcolm X is not better than nothing. Joining the outrageously chauvinistic and labor aristocracy-influenced Progressive Labor Party — which opposed Black nationalism when the BPP was around and still being ferociously repressed — and continuing in 2016 the PLP tradition of criticizing Black and other internal semi-colony nationalism isn't better than nothing. Talking about the Black nation occasionally, but all but rejecting Black nationalism (and supporting it only nominally), and making mealy-mouthed innuendo against Black nationalists as a group, isn't better than nothing. Insinuating that all oppressed-nation nationalism is narrow nationalism, while advocating for U.$. exploiter class/individual unity and economic and political interests, isn't better than nothing. Rejecting Black nationalism in the name of "multiracial" unity for more super-profits in the parasitic United $nakes isn't better than nothing. Talking about white supremacy and then actively denying the existence of Euro-Amerikan national oppression of Black people isn't better than nothing. Talking about oppression of Black people only to hitch people to U.$.-centric social-democracy or a fascist party isn't better than nothing (in other words, voting for Bernie Sanders isn't better than doing nothing). Trying to rile up the labor aristocracy and the U.$. middle class as if they were revolutionary, instead of petty-bourgeois exploiters prone to supporting fascism, isn't better than nothing. Stirring up exploiters to march in the streets to jail some bankers, without giving up their aspirations to control and obtain more benefit from finance capital and imperialist state power, isn't better than nothing. Attacking Third World peoples in various chauvinistic ways while flattering and pandering to the already-chauvinistic and racist labor aristocracy and gender aristocracy, of highly privileged U.$. so-called "workers" and globally privileged Euro-Amerikan females, is not better than nothing.
Amerikkkans who are already going around the United $tates and the world disrupting movements against U.$. imperialism certainly should recognize the privilege they exercise in doing so, instead of, for example, denying that viable alternatives to what they are doing exist. Both white people and non-white people should understand how Euro-Amerikans, including Euro-Amerikan settler nation workers, are privileged as settlers, oppressors, and exploiters.
There is less utility, though, in whites dwelling on their particular privilege as individuals with skin privilege, certain family history, etc., rather than the privilege of their group in very broad social relationships of global national oppression and exploitation. Suggesting listeners also "look at" themselves, Macklemore talks more about emself as an individual, than about Euro-Amerikan labor aristocrats as a group. Focusing on race and variation in individual privilege could draw attention away from national oppression by whites and the labor aristocracy privilege that U.$. citizen workers have in common. Ideas about inequality within U.$. borders have long been used to make the political and strategic consequences of global international inequality seem less important. Ideas about white privilege and individual self-reflection often don't address how the vast majority of U.$. citizens are exploiters of Third World workers. Often these calls to anti-racist activism end up as an exercise in that white privilege on a global scale.
Euro-Amerikan acknowledgment of privilege could be a welcome step toward ideological reform and taking responsibility for police and criminal injustice system violence and other wrongdoing, how whites have benefited economically, nationally and socially from imprisonment and control of non-whites, war, national oppression, exploitation, and their consequences. But this recognition would have to be more than halfway, not partial, or it may end up obscuring and legitimizing the majority of a typical Euro-Amerikan's privilege under the guise of moving toward helping non-whites.
At this point in history, the oppressed generally don't need unscientific leadership or militant do-something impulsive actions. That may not leave Euro-Amerikans much to do if they decline to study their position, and the position of the U.$. population, in an actually comprehensive way. They can be cautious about accepting any prevailing narrative. They can be wary of potentially following any Amerikan leader into fascism and destruction. Labor aristocrats will do what they need to do in anti-war or anti-single-war movements, and other movements, to remind politicians to act in their interests and spend more super-profit tax money on them as allegedly anti-Iraq-War Obama did. We don't want a broad anti-racist call to action to end up inspiring more Amerikkkans to fight for their own global interests.
Macklemore raps about whites protesting and "seeming like you're down" as having an "incentive" to do so, in order to be liked and accepted. Oppressors do have an incentive to co-opt movements or use them for career reasons, but the oppressed have an incentive to fight. There's nothing wrong with incentive itself, contrary to mistaken notions that all activism should be altruistic. The notion that whites should have selfless pure motives in participating in or supporting a movement around killings of Black people could actually be an admission that whites don't have an interest in the movement contrary to ideas about Black people's struggles positively intersecting with white worker, and white petty-bourgeois individual so-called liberation. Either whites have an interest in opposing police and vigilante brutality or they don't, and most don't.
More important than whether somebody has "incentive" or not is whether ey is standing in the way of Black nationalism or not. Macklemore's lyrics suggest a tension between "do something" and "don't do it for you." Labor aristocracy and petty-bourgeois types would add, "Do it, because it's in your own interest." There is an alternative to more-involved labor aristocracy activism or more-energetic integrationist activism, and that is to support anti-Amerikan Black nationalism and movements and institutions that are independent of Democratic Party and white exploiter interests and politics. Short of that, Macklemore's expression of "we are not we" (as opposed to "we are not free") is to be preferred to whites' falsely identifying with Blacks, claiming to be one with them, and derailing their movement via "All Lives Matter" sentiments.
I am currently writing to you from inside the walls of Georgia's Hancock State Prison where I am housed in its Tier II program. I am writing in hopes that I can be one of those who receives Under Lock & Key issues because I have a supreme respect for its message. I really value its information and am in hopes that I can help in spreading its message to the unconscious minds that fill these prison cells to its fullest capacity.
Also I would like to study and learn as much about Maoism, as I have taken his views as mine thus far. Me and three of my comrades have been rotating the few issues available among one another, and have taken to your 6 points and 5 principles as the foundation of our Guerrilla Union. We all come from different sides, but through awareness of the truth taught by you comrades of MIM we've put these titles aside and are now striving to build a strong unity under Maoist teachings and play our part in the struggle towards a socialist/communist society. Whatever must be done will be done on our end. This paper would do a lot for us.
Keep spreading the word cause with us it starts inside but continues when we return to the streets. Please keep me in mind, for I am a sincere comrade, and once again your paper would mean a lot to my strive. Your brother in the struggle, UHURU. Let's get free!!
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade is on the same track as thousands of other prisoners across the United $tates who have discovered that Maoism isn't just words written by some long-dead persyn from China, but a living philosophy that can be applied to current conditions of oppression around the world. This should be no surprise, even to the imperialists if they are paying attention. Maoism is merely the practice and application of scientific thought, or as communists call it, dialectical materialism. We learn from history and apply those lessons to advance our theoretical understanding.
Prisoners, who are among the most oppressed people within U.$. borders, can see from their everyday experiences that the oppressors aren't giving up their power without a fight. This is just one example of why Maoists understand the need for a dictatorship of the proletariat after the people overthrow the imperialist governments. We need a system that can enforce the power of the people, even when the oppressors try to claw their way back into power.
And once we have established a system of government that is serving the interests of the majority of the world's people rather than the minority, history teaches us that we still can't rest easy. It's not just the old bourgeoisie of capitalism who will present a threat, but the new bourgeoisie that will arise and hope to seize power from within the party and government. This drive for persynal power and wealth is a remnant of capitalist culture that won't disappear overnight after a socialist revolution.
It is these lessons, among others, that prisoners must study to help build an organization that can eventually join the oppressed nations of the world in successfully ending the reign of terror of the imperialists. Thankfully MIM(Prisons) distributes many of these materials and helps run study courses on vital topics. Write to us at the address on p. 1 to get involved!
I am not a murderer
yet i am not free
I am not alone in this struggle
I'm not ever going to putt or give up
Like my blood kin have done
on themselves and me
I'm not racist, but I'm white
but I find no pride in the latter
or excuses in the former
I am not religious
Science has proven evolution
Therefore I'm atheist
What's your excuse?
I am not some scholar or martyr
Just a man skating on the edges of insanity
Because of my country
And its 'cruel world' hypocrisy
I'm the person lifting and dropping this pen
but these words aren't just mine
I am not alone in this emotion
going to accept this system
I'll fight it to my death (I swear!)
I am not you
I am not an Amerikkkan
And I will never ever be
To fight oppression
We advocate secession
Lest we fall, we unite
And stand tall
We heed the call
To revolt, in mass
All or one, one for all
To fight oppressor class
Procrastination long past
Now their reign
It won't last
Oppression we slew
Liberation, in full view
We're made strong
Brings vast improvement
We study in group
We unite in troup
We are cadre
Benevolent, your padre
Heed to call
Together let's stand
Alone, we stumble, then fall
Heed the Call
"We seldom, if ever, think of ourselves as among those petty-bourgeois forces in need of committing 'class suicide' - but We must remember where We are. Here in the seat of empire, even the 'slaves' are 'petty-bourgeois,' and our poverty is not what it would be if We didn't in a thousand ways also benefit from the spoils of the exploitation of peoples throughout the world. Our passivity wouldn't be what it is if not for our thinking that We have something to lose." - James Yaki Sayles, Meditations on Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth, p. 188
I believe this quote may be of some interest to you in your development of the First World Lumpen (FWL). I believe this applies more to the Euro-Amerikkan than to the nationless New Afrikan who falls into the class lumpenproletariat (LP) by default of lacking a class society of its own.
I am aware that the New Afrikan lumpenproletariat (NAL) is more privileged than the Third World lumpenproletariat (TWL). But not privileged enough to make it reactionary. The LP of Amerikkka is majority New Afrikan - or an oppressed nation, which changes the quality of the question. So it is not just a LP, but LP of an oppressed nation. This qualitative leap in the discussion pushes us to do a through theoretical analysis on the LP from all sides of the question.
The contradiction may look like this: First World lumpen and New Afrikan lumpen.
Then it can be stated as this: Euro Amerikan FWL and New Afrikan FWL
Then Euro-Amerikan FWL must be understood to be reactionary as it is majority white nationalist (racist). They consist of oppressor nation background.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We have a lot of unity with this comrade on assessing the national contradiction between oppressed and oppressor nation lumpen. As we get into in the Lumpen Class Analysis article in ULK 51, we make a distinction between the lumpenproletariat and the First World lumpen that gets at this comparison between the NAL and TWL the writer points out. We find the lumpenproletariat in countries where there is a sizable proletariat, while the First World lumpen exists in First World countries where there is almost no proletariat to speak of, and this later group benefits from living in an imperialist country.
Further, we agree that there is an important overlap between class and nation when it comes to the lumpen. The national privilege of the oppressor nation makes it unlikely that the lumpen from that nation will be revolutionary, while national oppression puts the lumpen from oppressed nations more likely to be on the side of the world's oppressed. In fact, we believe that the class privilege enjoyed by the oppressor nations extends to encompass any potential white nation lumpen to the extent that they can effectively be considered part of the petty bourgeois class from the perspective of class consciousness. And so when we talk about First World lumpen, we are usually looking at oppressed nation lumpen only.
Knowledge is the higher power. Thru dedication, struggle, sacrifice, knowledge and revolution we will put Aztlán along with the rest of the oppressed back in power. Don't let TV and the bullshit ass propaganda dictate what you can and can't do, much less a bunch of sheep heads with a stitched up patch that suppose to mean "authority say so." Also to my elders out in the so-called free world and the ones coming out them SHU dungeons after years and decades of oppression, my message is this: Avoid calling the youth "little homies" as in diminishing their status comrade!! Instead if you are so "big," I'm assuming in mind, por favor embrace the youth and teach em to teach, teach em to understand, teach em to resist, teach em to organize. Put a mirror in front of em and give em a soul. Cuz 80% of the population are zombied out. We all put in work the same, but you that are looked upon as elder and leader, especially from out the dungeon, have a stage and a mic. Remember a true revolutionary is not categorized by age, looks, material items or what one did a thousand years ago, but by what one is doing now and is willing to do for the causa.
Anyone can sit on a bunk and zombie out at the stupid box (TV) for all your life. That my friend is not a revolutionary individual, an Oh Gee or whatever you want to call it. The youth is our future. Embrace and teach. Oh, one more thing, don't get caught up on the goodies. The pigs love to see that shit. I wonder why?
Also, there's this hardcore book that just came out: [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán. Man, everybody needs to read it. Go on and put that paypal you was gonna spend on hold and order this book. And don't forget to also slide a donation to MIM to help out with the books and material that MIM provides to the less fortunate. Think of it as the prison kitty we have here in the yards and write in!!
Enclosed is a bit of stamps as a donation, and I've been recruiting. I hope they'll pitch in as well.
p.s. For those going to board, know that the swine is conducting a facebook background check, trying to catch mofos on the web. Incognito fellas, it can result in a denial of parole.
MIM(Prisons) adds: A few good tips from our comrade here who is putting eir money where eir mouth is. While we do not promote an idealized revolutionary lifestyle, we do think that people can often underestimate the effect that watching TV has on people and their health. And if that is what you are doing with all your time you really aren't living life.
MIM has long been cutting edge in terms of promoting good security practices and technologies. And a while ago we realized that even prisoners need to be conscious about security in relation to computers and cell phones as we wrote about in Under Lock & Key 31. Finally, if prisoners want to get [email protected] Power, it is available for the discounted rate of $10 from MIM Distributors or for work exchange from our Free Books for Prisoners program.
I am a true soldier for the cause of change and the fight it takes to accomplish it. I have been housed at Pelican Bay State Prison since 2013, after being released for a sticking. My prior dealings with this place dates back to 1996 when I did my first bid. Currently I have chosen to embrace change and growth as well as a United Front for Peace at Pelican Bay State Prison.
I am currently involved in "P.E.A.C.E.", Prisoners Embracing Anti-hostilities and Cultural Evolution. We have been going strong for over 8 months. Our cause is based on embracing anti-hostilities and cultural evolution amongst Africans, Hispanics, Whites, Asians, Islanders, and Native Americans by way of partaking in tournaments of basketball, handball, volleyball and having made a conscious choice for change.
These efforts are not being taken lightly by this prison, and every effort is being made to stomp our push for change. The oppressor has refused to follow any of their own set rules and regulations as far as Inmate Leisure Time Activity Groups (ILTAGs) are concerned and assisting our approved ILTAG from running said tournaments without any hassle or fear of our sponsor being prevented from performing his duties without constant nickel and dime harassment tactics.
Pelican Bay State Prison is not open for change. I have been placed in Ad-Seg due to what staff here refer to as "causing ripples." I did 9 months with no charges or a finding of guilt as to that 115 [Disciplinary Report]. A comrade took on the Men's Advisory Council chairman job and raised many concerns of the general population, only to find their house searched by squad numerous times, and constantly given urine tests, though none of these tactics ended with any findings of guilt.
I have so much to share with you all including the atmosphere on these main lines and the new tactics being used to incite violence, chaos and riots. I am on the front line as are so many other brethren here, but we need that voice and the way shared with us on how to proceed in the correct way.
I wish to further educate the masses here at Pelican Bay State Prison as do others, but we seriously need a support system from the outside. Just like the distance of this place from civilization, this is what it feels like to seek rehabilitation, peace, and change at a place that specializes in oppressing. Prisoners' mail is not going out or coming in, and there is no way to prove either way, the 602 [prisoner grievance] process is in shambles; even when you win in this prison you still lose. Every action causes a reaction and Pelican Bay is notorious for their continued nit picking until they get the reaction they are seeking: chaos, violence, riots and disunity amongst prisoners.
We humbly ask for your assistance in bringing change to Pelican Bay State Prison, and the followers you possess in how to proceed. Please include all information and knowledge needed to proceed. Contact myself, and all will be shared with the men concerned. P.E.A.C.E.
In the 20th century New Afrikans reached out to Islam in an attempt to find identity outside of Amerikkkan culture. In Islam they found history, identity, independence, integrity and a connection to the larger world, in particular the Third World. Today, revolutionary Islam is reaching out to New Afrikans and the First World lumpen. Just this month, an Al Shabaab-affiliated video was released featuring the stories of young men recruited from Minnesota who were martyred in Somalia fighting the African Union troops who serve their U.$. imperialist master. The first five minutes of this video is a pointed critique of the history of national oppression in the United $tates and the idea of race. It features footage from Rodney King to Michael Brown and uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri, prisoners from Georgia to California, and sound bites from Malcolm X to Anwar al Awlaki. It is an agitational piece that clearly promotes the national interests of New Afrika.(1)
In the video, Islam is presented as the answer to the racism and social hierarchy based on pseudo-biology that is inherent to Amerika. The conception of Islam as a liberation theology is not difficult to make given the prominence of the concepts of jihad, or Holy Struggle, and shahada, translated as witness or martyrdom. The Holy Struggle is to be one with Allah and to represent righteousness, truth and goodness as determined by Allah's divine wisdom. While jihad and shahada do not require armed struggle, martyrdom in battle for Allah's will is one way that Muslims can reach shahada according to the Qur'an.(2)
Throughout the stories of the Minnesota martyrs there is a theme of not fearing death, but rather running towards it. In regions where revolutionary struggle and political dissent of any form has been brutally crushed, Islam might fulfill a need in providing this basis for courage in the face of imminent death. There are many examples in history of the oppressed finding courage in a belief in their own immortality, but they generally did not end well for the oppressed. Ultimately, the myth of immortality may be good at recruiting cannon fodder, but it leads to recklessness and a lack of a scientific approach that is required for victory. We see the brazen unscientific approach to battle playing out in the Islamic State, which is now losing ground after a couple years of impressing the world with their successes.
"You can kill the revolutionary, but you can't kill the revolution." - Fred Hampton, National Deputy Chairpersyn of the Black Panther Party
Like the Muslim in jihad, the communist struggles to discover truth and goodness. But the communist serves the people, not Allah, so that goodness is relative to the real lives of humyn beings, and truth is that which changes the conditions of that reality. Whether we can serve the people better in life or in giving our lives will depend on the situation. But as most Muslims will agree, serving truth and goodness does not come in seeking death. Rather than finding our strength and resolve in myths, we look to this world to find strategic confidence in our victory. The vast majority of the world's people suffer under the current imperialist system. Yet that system depends on those same people to derive the profits that keep the system moving. So there is an inherent contradiction that will continue to play out in the form of class and national conflict until the exploitative system is destroyed and replaced with one that serves humynkind.
Islam is Growing
If there were to be a religion of the Third World proletariat, it would be Islam, just by the numbers. As of 2010, only 3% of Muslims lived in the imperialist countries, yet Muslims made up 23.4% of the world's population.(3) The Muslim-majority countries are dominated by young people, with over 60% of their citizens being under 30 years old today.(3) Thus the Muslim population is projected to increase, as Muslims will have birth rates twice the rest of the population for the next couple decades. The contradiction between youth and adults has always been an important one, with youthful populations being more open to change.
Of course, Islam has almost no influence in Central and South America and significant chunks of Africa and Asia. So Islam does not represent the Third World as a whole. But First Worldist chauvinism is just as likely to come in anti-Muslim rhetoric as it is to come in the form of racism these days. And it is interesting how its role among the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates has also emerged from the oppressor nation vs. oppressed contradiction, as we will examine in more depth.
It is of note that France, Belgium and Russia are the only imperialist countries that are predicted to have more than 10% of their populations Muslim by 2030.(3) In November 2015, France and Belgium were put under the equivalent of Martial Law in a search for radical Muslims in their countries. Paris remains under this oppressive police state months later. Following the attacks in Paris, there have been attacks in Russia and the downing of a Russian plane. Anti-Muslim nationalism is also rife in Russia, which has recently joined the war against the Islamic State in full force.
In the United $tates, Muslims make up a mere 0.9% of the population.(4) For this reason there is great ignorance of Islam, but Amerikkkans still share the anti-Muslim sentiments of other imperialist countries. 2015 saw the greatest number of attacks on Mosques in the United $tates on record, with a surge following the attacks by Muslims in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California.(5)
The imperialists have succeeded in creating a new race, that is Muslims, for the oppressor nation peoples to focus their hate on. Without this racism, there could be no bombings or occupations in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Yet the white nationalists, in their own twisted logic, can claim Islamophobia is not racism because its based in religion and not "biology." Academia and the media have jumped on this opportunity, presenting Islamophobic papers as legitimate research and reporting, in a form of modern-day phrenology. There have even been discussions online, no doubt dominated by Euro-Amerikans, about how being anti-Jewish is racist but anti-Muslim is not. It is amazing that in 2016, politricks still trumps science, and most people still believe in race. Racist has become such a powerful word due to a combination of the righteous struggles of the oppressed and the promotion of identity politics, that First Worldists are now convinced that Islamophobic chauvinism is not as bad as racist chauvinism.
Islam as Philosophy
When you study philosophy you will inevitably study many religious thinkers. To this day, you will find those who are very deeply involved in religions to be thinkers and philosophers who are trying to understand and use that understanding to interact with the world. As communists, we do the same. So it is no surprise that we often find ourselves in deep dialogue with those of different religious leanings. As we'll get into below, the underlying class makeup of different religions has more to do with how those religions engage with communism than anything else.
So what are we talking about then when we talk about religion? Religion is idealism with organized rituals. The organized rituals part is pretty straight forward. It implies that there is a group of people who adhere to the religion in order to participate in the rituals. And the rituals include all sorts of things from regular meetings, prayer, fasting, philanthropy, dressing up, studying texts, marriage, etc.
Idealism is a broader category of philosophy that includes religions. And there are different versions of idealism, as we might expect. What is common between the different versions is that idealism puts the mind as primary and matter as secondary or non-existent in terms of understanding the "real world." Prior to Hegel, who introduced the radical method of dialectics, idealism was generally metaphysical. Metaphysical idealism is the belief in predefined, static things-in-themselves. For example, for those who believe in one god as the creator, everything that exists is defined by an ideal image from that god. For idealists, there is a barrier between what we perceive through our five senses, and this pre-defined ideal. Philosophers like Kant, who Engels called an agnostic, falling between idealism and materialism, believed that the real ideal was unknowable, or knowable only through faith. For many religions, it is the task of the individual to attempt to know that ideal or absolute truth by following the rituals of their religion. In Islam, this is called jihad. The passing from the material world to the world of ideas is also called transcendence. Transcendence is a major theme of many religions.
For materialists there is no such thing as transcendence. We see that truth is obtained through our five senses in a constant process of gaining knowledge and understanding as a species through practice and the scientific method. There is no ancient scroll or secret key that will open our third eye allowing us to suddenly see and understand all the secrets of the world that are hidden from us by our senses. Or, as Engels puts it in describing why Hegel marked the end of philosophy:
"As soon as we have once realised — and in the long run no one has helped us to realize it more than Hegel himself — that the task of philosophy thus stated means nothing but the task that a single philosopher should accomplish that which can only be accomplished by the entire human race in its progressive development — as soon as we realise that, there is an end to all philosophy in the hitherto accepted sense of the word. One leaves alone 'absolute truth', which is unattainable along this path or by any single individual; instead, one pursues attainable relative truths along the path of the positive sciences, and the summation of their results by means of dialectical thinking."(6)
Why Do We Still Have Religion?
The United $tates is exceptional in the First World in often defining itself through religion (Christianity). One recent book describes this as a fairly recent development, starting from a campaign by industrial capitalists with libertarian interests opposed to the New Deal.(7) The author points out, however, that Franklin D. Roosevelt used a lot of Christian language in his promotion of the New Deal and criticism of the evils of the capitalist class. Roosevelt used that language to capture the populist interests of the majority in the United $tates who were suffering from the Great Depression. The Christian language was an alternative to the communist language in the Soviet Union, which FDR was trying to save the United $tates from. Since the Bolshevik revolution, religious language has been openly used to combat the materialist language of communists.
The capitalist class took up the religious lingo as a marketing scheme after they realized that campaigning honestly for their own interests against the New Deal was not going to get popular support.(7) They backed the election of Dwight Eisenhower in 1954 who brought "In God We Trust" to our currency and put "One Nation Under God" into the pledge of allegience. While Eisenhower did not undo the New Deal as they'd hoped, this trajectory continued with it's pinnacle in 1980 with Ronald Reagon backed by groups like the Moral Majority. It was Reagan who introduced the tradition of U.$. presidents ending speeches with "God Bless America." To this day these evangelical Christian groups have played a strong roll in U.$. politics.
This is just one example of how religion can be used to mobilize people behind a political cause. It also demonstrates how religion can be a very deceptive tool in politics because the politicians avoid talking about the real issues. While in the realm of philosophy we can talk about religion as idealism, in the realm of sociology we see it as culture. And culture is part of the superstructure in that it reflects the economic substructure; in our world that would be (imperialist) capitalism. And within capitalism the fundamental contradiction that defines that system is that between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. So, we will see how as the proletarian forces become stronger religion will reflect the proletarian world view, such as in Central America when socialism/communism had captured the interests of the masses in those Catholic countries. Religion must adopt a proletarian worldview to stay relevant as the scientific method begins to provide the masses with answers that the religions had failed to. In the status quo under capitalism religion most often reflects the interests of the bourgeoisie.
It has been popular in recent decades to talk about the clash of civilizations between the Muslim and Christian worlds. Some even look to history to show a long pattern of these clashes along religious lines. But these lazy historians cherry pick instances in history when religion is used to further the economic interests of different groups, as it often is. Yet a study of the causes of the most brutal wars in in our modern industrial society demonstrate that it was all about trade, markets and national interests. The two world wars were inter-imperialist rivalries over these things.(8) Then as communism threatened to remove vast segments of the world from the capitalist market economy, the imperialists took aim at countries building socialism. The focus on religion in the the last couple decades is a direct result of the victory of the imperialists in crushing socialist aspirations around the world. This repression, combined with some of the negative experiences countries in regions like the Middle East had interacting with revisionists and social-imperialists claiming to be communists, has led to a significant turning away from the socialist path in many parts of the Third World.
Islam and New Afrikans
Just as religion is today an outlet for many radical youth in the Third World, religion has been influenced by revolutionary politics in the context of New Afrika. In the 20th century we see a turn towards Islam by a number of New Afrikans who are searching for identity and liberation from oppression by Amerika. The great migration from the Black Belt to the industrial centers of the north was a time of great change for the nation, that left many searching for identity and culture. In fact, Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammed and Father Allah all came from the south to face unmet promises of freedom and the American Dream.(9)
The appeal of Islam for people like Noble Drew Ali seemed to be in that it was exotic and unknown in North America, yet well-established elsewhere in the world. New Afrikans have spent much time trying to create a new identity by linking their history to lost histories of other peoples, and this was the tradition that Ali worked in. At this time, it seems that many would-be leaders presented themselves as actually being from more exotic places in order to inspire awe and respect from their would-be followers. But it wasn't just novelty that New Afrikans were looking for, it was something that spoke to their national aspirations, and not the same old Christian doctrines that had been used to keep their progenitors down.
There is a direct lineage from Ali's Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) to Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam (NOI) to Father Allah's Five Percenters, later the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE). Even today people move from one organization to the other, building on the common mythologies between them. And all three organizations have had important relationships with various lumpen street organizations.
While loosely based on Islam with their founders basing their studies on religious texts, these groups represent a unique New Afrikan theology and culture. The NGE is the most eclectic of the groups because of its open nature. It had a more direct relationship to street life in New York City, and had influences from practices such as Rastafari, making it again a unique New Afrikan culture.(10)
While the NGE has generally shunned being called a religion, its primary purpose was in the realm of thought and philosophy. Father Allah focused on teaching, not on organizing people for any political goals aside from building opportunity for New Afrikan youth. Elsewhere we discuss the Almighty Latin King Queen Nation and its openness to representing religious ideas, while primarily being a lumpen mass organization. In contrast, the NGE, while rejecting religion ideologically, functioned primarily as a religious or spiritual organization, at least at first. It did evolve to take on more characteristics of a lumpen organization after The Father was killed leaving the youth to organize themselves.
In 1966, a couple years after the Five Percenters began, the New York City Police Department reported that they saw the decline of 200 street gangs, and the rise of one — the Five Percenters.(11) While they often found themselves in violent conflict with the armed wings of other New Afrikan religious sects, in 1971 the NYPD believed the Five Percenters worked with Muslims and Rastafarians in a vigilante killing of ten suspected drug dealers. Around that same time, in the 1970s, the Five Percenters played a leadership role in inspiring gangs to come together to obtain anti-poverty funds, parallel to what groups like the Vice Lords and Black P. Stone Nation were doing in Chicago.(12) In the later 1970s the Five Percenters recruited whole street gangs into their fold whose members accounted for a significant portion of the arrests in Brooklyn during those years.(13)
In another article on the MSTA, a comrade explains the dual roles of the organization, which began as a civic organization and later became a religion. This duality is another thing that MSTA has in common with the NOI, NGE and other New Afrikan organizations that are just as concerned with the nation as with spirituality. This role is also seen in leaders of Christian-based churches, as well as lumpen organizations in the New Afrikan community. While this is a manifestation of the continued national interests of New Afrikans separate from Amerika, it has unfortunately been used against their national interests as well. Some revolutionary theorists have pointed out that it is the most scientific revolutionary leadership that has been targeted for complete annihilation by the state, leaving those with idealist and profit-motivated views to fill the leadership vacuum.
Back in 1996, MIM Notes criticized the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan for stating that an earthquake would strike California in response to federal agents' harassment of NOI officials. MIM wrote, "While Farrakhan's statement appears on the surface to be an extreme example of religious metaphysics, Farrakhan was in fact skillfully using metaphysics as a cover for a crypto-pacifist line directed at his followers."(14) Farrakhan followed in Elijah Muhammad's footsteps, who predicted many major events that never materialized. The mythology of Fard (who is considered a prophet by the NOI) and Elijah Muhammad promoted the idea that the Black man was god and created the white man over 600 years of grafting by the scientist Yacub. Muhammad, and his follower Clarence 13X (later Father Allah), believed that after 6000 years the Black man would return to power, which happened to be in 1966. Muhammad predicted the "Fall of America" to occur that year. The early years of the Five Percenters focused on preparation for this event.
While Father Allah was close to Malcolm X even after both had left/been forced out of the NOI, ey did not join up with Malcolm because Malcolm had rejected the story of Yacub after eir trip to Mecca.(15) Later, Father Allah would take up the line that devilishment was a state of mind and not a genetically distinct white man that was bred by Yacub.(16)
It was Malcolm X who had developed the most scientific theory of liberation coming out of the NOI, which ey seemed to be separating from eir religious beliefs before ey was assassinated, by setting up two separate organizations. Malcolm X inspired many, but it was the Black Panther Party, a Maoist, and therefore atheist, organization that best claims to be the direct descendents of Malcolm's ideas.
The religious side of Malcolm's evolution was carried on by Elijah Muhammad's son, Wallace, who took leadership of the NOI after Elijah's death. Wallace had been shunned for siding with Malcolm in the past, so it was not too surprising when ey took the NOI and transformed it into a group based in traditional Sunni Islam, rejecting the mythology of Yacub and the focus on race. But once again, the appeal of that mythology had not died, and many traditional NOI members left. After originally following (and praising) Wallace's leadership, Louis Farrakhan restarted the Nation of Islam a few years later under the original teachings of Elijah Muhammad. Ey courted the Five Percenters as part of eir efforts to rebuild the NOI.(17)
It is MIM(Prisons)'s line that the principal contradiction within the internal semi-colonies is that between integration with Amerika and independence from Amerika. The continued interest in the mythology of Yacub indicates an unscientific rejection of integration by many New Afrikans. The organizations discussed here all have a significant base in the New Afrikan lumpen, and have ideologies that reflect a kernel of the drive for national independence. While some people from MSTA and NGE have recently distanced themselves from Third World Islam, we shall see whether this becomes the dominant tendency, indicating a further move towards integration with Amerikkka for New Afrikans.
"You know back in the day, some of y'all
Would shout out Allah's name like he was hostin yo' mixtape
Then after 9/11 you got scared and shut the fuck up
Didn't talk about the demonization of a culture, immigrants, nothin
Now you show up, talk about we takin it too far
Die slow! MOTHERFUCKER!"
—Immortal Technique, Watchout (3rd World Remix) from the album The 3rd World (2008)
Addendum: Islam Still Small in the U.$.
After publishing this article, we thought it instructive to add some data we came across on the numbers of people, in particular New Afrikans, who represent some strand of Islam within U.$. borders. That number is quite small, representing less than 1% of the people in the country.(1) Even within the New Afrikan nation the percentage is about the same. Yet, that hides the fact that New Afrikans are disproportionately represented in the U.$. Muslim because virtually all other Muslims are recent immigrants (63%) or descendents of recent immigrants from major Muslim countries.(1) In other words, 0.9% of New Afrikans is much greater than the almost negligible number of Muslim Euro-Amerikans. This leads us to the third pie chart above, showing 59% of Muslims born in the United $tates being New Afrikan. Again, this is why we stress the connection to the national question in the article above.
Finally, it should be noted that even among the small percentage of New Afrikans that do identify as Muslim, most practice a more traditional form of Islam than the groups discussed in the last section above.(2) While we didn't find good numbers on Nation of Islam membership, estimates put it at in the neighborhood of 10% of New Afrikan Muslims. The various sects of the Moorish Science Temple of America represent a much smaller group, though we know that among imprisoned New Afrikans the percentage is higher and we have gotten many letters of interest from prisoners in response to this issue of Under Lock & Key. We do not have numbers on the Five Percenters.
As I contemplate my situation, I tend to be blinded by the darkness at the end of the tunnel No light, no hope, no future. The only future I can see is the life behind bars; under the thumb of corrupt administrators. One man against injustices that I see, fit for no man.
Everyone sees it, but doesn't respond. Just giving into their own destruction. Not a fight in them. No struggle, no sacrifices. Content in their situation. Do me how you want to do me attitudes. No progress, no future. Free education. They don't get it. Power in numbers, they don't use it. Unity, its non-existent.
We can't let this discourage us. There is light, there is hope. All it takes is a little struggle, sacrifice, and unity. Never underestimate your power.
Survival in this imperial dungeon is a must. Survival is more than looking over ya shoulder wondering when a shank will be placed in your back. Survival in these walls has a broad base.
First, we must be vigilant in what we eat, the reason why is food nourishes the body, mind and soul. There are so many chemicals added to our diet that it kills or destroys us over a period of time. We must change our diet or balance it with more fruits and veggies. What I have done was get on a kosher diet rich in fresh produce, and cut back on a lot of mystery meat. How can we fight with all our strength if what we eat is making us weak?
Another survival method I use is peers. I connect to those held captive in the system of snakes, and politic with them so we can all be on point. Staying away from negative energy which brings chaos. I try to apply "each one teach one" as my everyday survival method, cause once you help your brother-comrade in need it brings a feeling of joy.
But the enemy can come with all kinds of tricks, and once they see you are a fighter for justice, then you're hauled off to a solitary confinement unit. Now that's when you must use all the tools to survive. One method that I currently use now while housed here is reading a lot of material and applying the principles to my everyday life. And spreading literature helps so us comrades can chop it up (conversate) amongst each other and figure out ways to find solutions rather than being a problem. But I keep a simple program so I can survive in this imperial prison. Stocks of peanut butter in case food supply doesn't come. Batteries for fuel, radio to keep up with current events. And learning more about self, so I can be prepared mentally to overcome this injustice.
MIM(Prisons) responds: On the topic of survival in solitary confinement, we distribute excerpts from the "Survivors Guide for Solitary Confinement" pamphlet that was released by the American Friends Service Committee. It is primarily authored by prisoners and gets into many mental health tactics, including meditation, setting a schedule, and regular exercise. These tactics are useful for any comrade who's serious about political organizing, whether locked up or not.
Sometimes our oppressors will put us in a strip cell with no bedding, no warmth, no food, no water, no medical attention. In those moments, there's little we can do as far as relying on peanut butter reserves. But maintaining everyday practices that keep us healthy and strong, and with a strong ideological understanding of the reasons we're facing these horrible conditions, will help us remain strong and make it through this torture. Our survival tactics may be individual at times, but our struggle is vast.