The Voice of the Anti-Imperialist Movement from

Under Lock & Key

Postage is one of our biggest expenses. Why not send a book of stamps or two to POB 40799 SF, CA 94140 next time you're at the post office? help out
[MIM(Prisons)] [Congress Resolutions] [Theory] [ULK Issue 54]
expand

On Cardinal Principles

In the last year there's been some struggle over MIM(Prisons)'s six main points. This is a good thing, as it indicates emerging Maoist cells trying to reconcile what does and should unite us. The focus of issue 54 of Under Lock & Key is tactics. Tactics are not what unite us. Tactics is the realm where we need many cells trying many different things. Tactics are guided by line and strategy, but are much more flexible over shorter time periods and therefore require creativity that is in touch with the masses.

Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, or Maoism for short, is MIM(Prisons)'s political line. Maoism does not tell us whether putting money into one big advertisement or thousands of little fliers will have the greater effect. Maoism also doesn't tell us whether a hunger strike will be more effective than a legal battle. These are tactical questions.

Dividing Lines or Dividing Over Tactics

In the last year, a cell that we considered part of the broader Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) split with MIM(Prisons) over what we saw as a tactical question. Maoists should never split over tactical questions; this is the theoretical importance of distinguishing between line, strategy and tactics.

We pushed this cell to present their split in terms of ideological line in relation to our six main points. The response was that they uphold the six main points but believe there are other issues to split over, such as promoting white supremacy, which they accused MIM(Prisons) of doing. They came to this conclusion after MIM(Prisons) did not print a statement criticizing the actions of prison activists that we have no affiliation with. This cell had a history of working closely with MIM(Prisons) over many years. And despite all the work we have done in that time (work that they admit challenged white supremacy) they were willing to split with us over this one action (or lack of action).

We see this as an error in how one should assess other cells. A cell, just as an individual, should be assessed on the whole. If a cell has acted according to one line for years, but did one thing that you see as violating that line, you probably should not split with that cell. That would be an ultra-left error, because you are expecting others to be perfect. Once it has been established by a pattern of actions that a cell has shifted its line and violated cardinal principles, then it would be correct to stop working with and possibly publicly criticize that cell.

In this particular case, MIM(Prisons) was condemned, not for participating in an event perceived to be white supremacist in nature, but for not condemning it. In contrast, MIM(Prisons) would argue that in most cases even if we had participated in this one event, that would still not be sufficient reason to split. You might publicly condemn the event yourself, but this should not rise to the level of creating splits in the Maoist Internationalist Movement. Willingness to split over non-cardinal issues is a threat to our ability to consolidate our forces in this country where individualism and splitism prevail. (To clarify, division of labor into collaborating cells is not the same as a split.)

If a cell does promote a campaign that caters to white nationalism, then one should criticize that based on our 4th point on the First World labor aristocracy being a force for imperialism, and as a violation of the Maoist line that oppressed nations have a right to self-determination. As anti-imperialists, supporting the labor aristocracy and undermining oppressed-nation self-determination is a no no. And a consistent practice of doing this indicates an underlying incorrect line that is a cause for splitting.

Principles of Line or Strategy?

Another MIM cell recently questioned why MIM(Prisons) put forth 6 points, adding on to the 3 cardinal principles that have historically defined the MIM.(see p. 2 of ULK) While we do present our 6 points in place of the 3 cardinals, it was not necessarily to say that the 3 cardinals were insufficient to define who is a communist. However, we must admit that we created confusion there.

The origin of our 6 main points is twofold. Our first goal with the six main points was to distinguish ourselves in the eyes of our readers. We were frustrated with the countless letters from people telling us to work with other groups, stop criticizing other groups and just unite around our common fight for justice. We wanted to succinctly differentiate ourselves from the countless organizations out there. Point 1 separates us from the Liberals, and in point 2 we split from the anarchists. Neither of those points were necessary in MIM's 3 cardinals, because all those claiming to be communists already agree on those two points. Point 3 separated us from the Trotskyists and neo-Trostkyists whose idealism leads them to unite with the petty-bourgeoisie in the First World while criticizing the bourgeois forces in the Third World even when they are fighting against imperialism. Points 4-6 are essentially the MIM cardinals.

While the 3 cardinals, as MIM came to refer to them, are nice and succinct dividing line points, they originally appeared in a greater context of a piece entitled "Who is a communist?" in the second edition of What is MIM?, which discusses concepts like "the abolition of power of people over people," "a communist party... is necessary," "democratic centralism," and "general unity with all other groups and outbreaks against imperialism."

The second contextual thing to understand about our 6 points is that they were developed in the early years of our organization, when those in the MIM camp were figuring out how to relate to each other as separate cells/organizations. It was also a period of fierce struggle against those promoting a third way in the post-9/11 Middle East, while framing the struggles there as "McWorld vs. Jihad." Therefore, our point 3 became, in the eyes of many organizations at that time, a dividing line question. The original MIM comrades, in fact, pushed this line hard to expose revisionists allying with the U.$. state department. While it is often tied up with the labor aristocracy question, it stands alone as its own point.

Mao's practice on building the united front of classes in oppressed countries, and eir theoretical writings on this topic contributed to our line on the subject and the development of point 3. We can also take lessons from the rectification movement of the Communist Party of the Philippines to find universal line lessons on united front building. However, in practice, who to form united fronts with is really a strategic question, as the answer may change as the strategic stage of struggle changes.

Mao's contribution on united front work was based on the assessment of the principal contradiction being between the oppressed nations and imperialism. Some seventy years later, we can say this is still the situation. But someday it will change. That is what makes our point 3 a strategic question and not a universal line question. From the early days of MIM, differences on the assessment of the principal contradiction have been a primary point of criticism MIM made of revisionist parties. That said, MIM never said the principal contradiction or united front was a cardinal principle.

In our point 2, we point out the need for a Joint Dictatorship of the Proletariat of the Oppressed Nations (JDPON) in order to implement socialism in the imperialist countries. This is MIM Thought, a logical application of MIM's line on the labor aristocracy to the universal communist principle of the need for a dictatorship of the proletariat. It is also a strategy question, that does not necessarily have universal application.

Who Defines the Cardinals?

"The materialist approach to cardinal principles stresses an examination of actual history, not just our own vivid imaginations of how the world SHOULD BE. We materialists do not take splitting the proletariat and its vanguard party lightly. We form only as many cardinal principles as are necessary to unmask the enemy's attempts to infiltrate us or divert us to a less efficient road to communism." - MC5(1)

The cell structure complicates things further. For with a centralized organization MIM could say that if you agree on these three points and the need for a party then you should join ours. Then you are obligated to accept our other lines until you convince the party to change them. With many small cells there is not democratic centralism on line in this way, and we could see many disagreements on many non-cardinal issues. This could lead to confusion and division in the movement. Therefore we caution all MIM cells to carefully think out their positions before disagreeing with historical MIM line and the lines of other contemporary cells.

At the same time, we must not hold dogmatically to MIM Thought frozen in time of 2006 or earlier. The three cardinals themselves evolved over the years of the original MIM. While MIM formed in 1983, they did not get serious about the third cardinal until 1987.(2) In the MIM Notes archive, which is incomplete for these early years, it is issue 42 from June 1990 when we first see the 3 cardinals presented as such. However, the paper version of issue 42 does not feature the 3 cardinals, so this seems to have been added to the web version after the fact. MIM Notes Issue 50 (March 1991) does have the 3 cardinals listed in the paper version. In 1999, MIM expanded the 3rd cardinal to include reference to Marx, Engels and Lenin, describe the oppressor nation labor aristocracy as a petty bourgeois class and specifically list which countries this line applies to.(3)

In practice, MIM used the 3 cardinal principles to determine fraternal status.(4) This came up most strongly when it decided that the third cardinal applied internationally and not just to First World parties, thus cutting its direct promotion of some who were practicing People's War in the Third World. This began with the "Resolution on defending cardinal principles in international context," 2002, but it was sometime after 2002 when MIM actually stopped any promotion of those parties.

Building MIM Today

MIM(Prisons) was announced as a MIM cell on 8 October 2007. To this day we often refer to "Maoism Around Us," published in May 2009, when discussing these issues. This was one of what could be considered the founding documents of MIM(Prisons). While our ideology was already represented in the expansive work of MIM, in that article we addressed the situation we found ourselves in as the original centralized organization of MIM had ceased to exist. In it we pointed out that the MIM lives on, by the same definition as it always has. We continued to print MIM's 3 cardinal principles in most issues of Under Lock & Key.

It was after our first official congress in July of 2010 that MIM(Prisons) put out our six main points. Since then we have referred to them as our "cardinal points" once or twice, and printed them in every issue of ULK with a similar tagline as we once printed MIM's three cardinals: "MIM(Prisons) distinguishes ourselves from other groups on the six points below."

As we've said before, we need more Maoist Internationalist cells. Topical cells that focus on gender, ecology and the environment, and anti-militarism are all good candidates. And there is an endless need for locality-based cells that focus on local recruitment and building around popular movements in the region that align with the interests of the Third World proletariat. But us saying this does not make them appear out of thin air. As we gain small victories in recruiting comrades outside prisons, we wonder if the MIM needs institutions that can allow those who agree on the 3 cardinals to join up in a meaningful way. A way that provides coordination without sacrificing security, independent initiative and other benefits of the cell structure. Six months ago we set up the subreddit /r/mao_internationalist "to help individuals and groups allied with the Maoist Internationalist Movement support each others' work." Maybe it is time to refocus on the 3 cardinals and push for a regroupment of MIM.

There are United Struggle from Within (USW) cells that might as well be considered MIM cells due to their advanced political practice. And there are prison-based cells that are in the MIM camp that are not USW, which are usually nation-based. We support the nation-based organizing strategy as a reason to form a new organization separate from USW. There is probably no tactical advantage to identifying prison-based cells as MIM cells, because of the repression in the prison environment, although there is obvious theoretical advantage in summarizing a group's line and practice.

Being in prison limits one's ability to coordinate with other cells without relying on MIM(Prison). For our own organization, MIM(Prisons) does not accept prisoners as members because it is not possible to have democratic centralism when all our mail is read by state employees. When coordinating between cells, we need to make similar considerations.

In most contexts that we are aware of, MIM(Prisons) is seen as the foremost cell representing the MIM today. While we are honored by that recognition, it is also a sign of how far we have to go. Discussion of party formation is no more relevant today than it was ten years ago when our organization just formed. If we cannot get more than a handful of cells putting in work at the level that MIM(Prisons) does, how can we build a Maoist Party? And what good would such a party do? There is no question of seizing power in the United $tates today, where MIM(Prisons) is based. But there is much work to do to prepare for that inevitability as the imperialists overextend themselves militarily and the Third World continues to strike blows against them.

chain
[Organizing] [Congress Resolutions] [ULK Issue 52]
expand

Our Readers Have Spoken: Prisoncensorship.info Must Live

TogetherBreakChains

This article is to announce the short-term success of our recent campaign to keep our website alive. After proposing that our limited comrade time might be better spent on pushing forward our prisoner support work, we launched a campaign to engage our online readers. With minimal effort, we have received a substantive response indicating that we were incorrect to hypothesize that we could not mobilize our online readers to contribute to this project as our prison-based readers have from the beginning.

In just five months we've seen our volunteer base and collaborative work grow enough to convince us that web development is a good use of our limited comrade time. But as we pointed out in that article, regular contributions are much more useful than sporadic ones, so we must keep up this trend. We have gained at least one regular financial contributor, which more than covers the cost of keeping our website online. We encourage our other volunteers to stick to it.

A note to potential financial contributors, we had been soliciting postage stamps, however we are approaching our limits on how many we can use, especially since this is the main way that prisoners send donations. So new contributors should consider sending cash, blank money orders or bitcoin.

Those watching our website may have noticed us taking down some requests for help as volunteers have stepped up. While not all have proven themselves yet, we have received responses to diverse needs. By offering up more specific tasks, we've inspired our readers into action, proving they are more than just web traffic statistics. This also proved that lack of focused leadership on our part was part of the problem.

It was not just online readers who responded to our call. One United Struggle from Within leader put forth a proposal to our annual congress to up the enrollment fees for our correspondence study groups and to only provide hard-to-find books to those who pay for them. Another USW comrade proposed that we remove people from the ULK mailing list faster to cut costs. We adopted new policies incorporating both proposals, which should help on the postage side of things. One comrade even spoke of the impact the website had on em from prison, demonstrating that the website directly contributes to our prison-based work.

In addition to the new contributors we've gained in recent months, we've seen an increase in comradely projects putting out good material. This can help us directly by providing material for our newsletter and study groups. But it also helps the movement in general. Supporting MIM(Prisons) is a great way to contribute as we have a proven track record. But we need more projects than the Prison Ministry. So don't let the scope of our work limit you if you can contribute in bigger and better ways.

While things will roll out slowly as usual, we will be continuing to improve and add content to our website in coming months. We also want to put a call out there for supporters who want to contribute as part of a cyber promotion campaign. This is something that you can easily do on your own, and there is no limit to how many can help promote our work and MIM line in whatever forums you are active. Or get in touch for ideas of outlets for promotion.

There is no doubt that setting up secure, reliable institutions on the internet is a needed task. While platforms owned by transnational corporations may have tactical use for promotion, with proper precautions in place, they cannot be our base of operations. Prisoncensorship.info has contributed in this regard and with your support we will continue to work to strengthen it as an independent institution of the oppressed.

chain
[Gender] [Congress Resolutions] [ULK Issue 47]
expand

Attacking the Myth of Binary Biology: MIM(Prisons) Eliminates Gendered Language

Can't Hold Us Down

Resolutions on Gender Pronouns and Secure Communications

A couple resolutions passed at our 2015 Congress in July. One was focused on clarifying our policy on securing our communications outside of prisons. The full policy remains internal, but it reads in part, "Our policy is that we do not have cell relations over the internet if the other cell will not use PGP or equivalent encryption." This clarifies our existing practice.

The second resolution was proposed to change our use of pronouns to reflect the non-binary reality of biological sex categories. This proposal was taken as a task for further research as comrades were not well enough informed on the topic to put it to a vote at that time. Below is our final resolution on this question, as a result of further research and discussion.

Distinguishing Biology from Gender

As revolutionaries committed to fighting gender oppression, we distinguish between the biology/physiology of sex (male/female), and the socially constructed categories of gender (men/wimmin).

Our definition of gender places it firmly within leisure-time:

"Historically reproductive status was very important to gender, but today the dynamics of leisure-time and humyn biological development are the material basis of gender. For example, children are the oppressed gender regardless of genitalia, as they face the bulk of sexual oppression independent of class and national oppression.

"People of biologically superior health-status are better workers, and that's a class thing, but if they have leisure-time, they are also better sexually privileged. We might think of models or prostitutes, but professional athletes of any kind also walk this fine line. Athletes, models and well-paid prostitutes are not oppressed as 'objects,' but in fact they hold sexual privilege. Older and disabled people as well as the very sick are at a disadvantage, not just at work but in leisure-time. For that matter there are some people with health statuses perfectly suited for work but not for leisure-time."(1)

Our definition of gender has not changed. But with our growing understanding of the artificially binary definition of biological sex, MIM(Prisons) is changing our use of language to better reflect the reality of biology.

A Bit of History on Biology

In the past MIM line has treated the biology of sex as basically binary: males and females. But humyn biology has never been entirely binary with relation to sex characteristics. There are a range of interactions between chromosomes, hormone expressions and sexual organ development. The resulting variation in anatomical and reproductive characteristics include a lot of people who do not fit the standard binary expectation. Studies suggest that as many as 1 in 100 births deviate from the standard physical expectations of sex biology.(2) To this day anything deviating from the "normal" binary of distinct male or female is seen by mainstream society as a disorder to be corrected or covered up. Genital surgeries are conducted on newborn babies causing lifelong pain and suffering just to "correct" a body part that is seen as too large or small, or even just because a baby identified by doctors to be a boy might grow up unable to pee standing up.(3)

People who are born with variations in sex and reproductive organs that don't fit the typical binary are termed intersex. This term encompasses a wide range of biological expressions, including people entirely indistinguishable from society's definition of males and females without a chromosomal test or other invasive physical examination. There are even instances where someone would be identified female by a certain set of criteria (such as an external physical examination) but male by another set (such as a chromosome test).

The Value of Removing Biologically-determined Pronouns

From studying the history of humyn biology we learn that it's not possible to easily identify the biological sex of an individual. In fact, there's nothing wrong with having a spectrum of biological characteristics that we don't have to fit into two neat categories. Further, we do not generally see value in identifying biological sex unless it is the specific topic of discussion. We are committed to fighting gender oppression. And part of this fight involves teaching people not to be concerned with the biology of others, and instead to judge them for their work and the correctness of their political ideas.

Many languages are relatively gender neutral compared to english. Chinese is just one example. These languages do not suffer from confusion about the identity of people, and they are arguably much easier to learn and use in this regard. In Spanish, the transition to a gender neutral language has already begun with the use of @ in place of o/a in gendered words. While English does not offer us a similar gender-neutral option, we have a history of modifying the language to suit our revolutionary purposes. We have changed America to Amerikkka to identify the domination of national oppression in this country. And we have changed woman to womyn to remove the implication that a "woman" is just an appendage to a "man."

Building on MIM's Legacy

For most of MIM's history, it used gender-neutral pronouns of "h" instead of his, her, him, hers; and "s/he" instead of she or he. Ten years ago at MIM's 2005 Congress, a resolution was passed on gender-neutral pronouns, which read:

"MIM hereby extends its policy on anti-patriarchal language (including such spellings as 'womyn,' 'wimmin,' 'persyn,' and 'humyn') to cover the use of gender-neutral third-person singular pronouns. Henceforth feminine pronouns will be used for persyns of unknown sex who are friends of the international proletariat and masculine pronouns will be used for enemies of unknown sex.

"Examples:
'From each according to her abilities, to each according to her needs.'
'A true comrade devotes her life to serving the people.'
'The enemy will not perish of himself.'
'A labor aristocrat derives much of his income from superprofits.'

"This rule applies only to the otherwise ambiguous cases when sex is not stated. Accordingly, George Bu$h is still 'he' and Madeleine Albright is 'she,' although both are enemies. All MCs, HCs, and others close to MIM are 'she' at this time, since their real sex cannot be revealed, for security reasons.

"Traditional patriarchal grammar maintains that 'he' is the only correct 'gender-neutral' pronoun in all of the examples above. MIM's realignment of the pronouns along the lines of 'Who are our friends? Who are our enemies?' is more egalitarian and corresponds fairly well to the facts at this point in history."

While we see great value in the above resolution, in applying it to our practical work we ran into many problems. Regular readers of ULK may recognize that MIM(Prisons) has defaulted to the old MIM practice of using "h" and "s/he" pronouns.

The vast majority of MIM(Prisons)'s subscribers are cis-males, meaning they were classified as male at birth and they self-identify as male today. (Note that these criteria are not material tests of one's sex.) Much of our subscribers' reasons for being imprisoned in the first place is related to this male classification. And they are held in facilities that are "male only." Prison is an environment which heightens all of society's contradictions, and this environment tends to be even more violent in reinforcing social codes of conduct (including "male" and "female" social markers) than the outside world.

In our practice of running a prisoner support organization with our organizing resting heavily on the written word, we have seen it as too confusing to use "she" pronouns for our cis-male comrades. Further, the 2005 resolution is not clear on whether prisoners as a whole, who are of the lumpen class, should be referred to as "she" or "he." Historically the lumpen is a vacillating class, which is in a tug-of-war between bourgeois and proletarian influence. Determining if the lumpen are "friends of the international proletariat" is sometimes unclear. Thus the use of "h" and "s/he" was much more useful in our specific work.

We believe this new writing policy will have a positive impact for our transgender, transexual, and genderqueer subscribers and contributors as well. The preferred pronouns of these groups are often individually self-selected, as is how they present their gender identification. (Note that preferred pronouns and gender identification are not material definitions of one's sex or gender.) Defaulting everyone's pronouns to a singular set of gender-neutral pronouns reduces the subjectivism inherent in this type of identity politics. We hope our new writing policy will draw this movement into a more materialist and internationalist direction.

New Writing Policy

When referring to an individual in the third persyn, we will use either their name or the neutral pronouns of ey, em, and eir to replace s/he and h. Ey, em, and eir are singularized versions of they, them, and their and we believe these more accurately reflect the biological sex of humyns, in that they downplay the inaccurate binary which has developed over thousands of years of patriarchal history. We also think ey/em/eir will have the greatest ease of use, from the wide selection of gender neutral pronoun sets which have been proposed in the past.(5)

We define men and wimmin as those who are oppressors in leisure time and those who are oppressed in leisure time, respectively, and regardless of biological genitalia or reproductive capacity.(4) This is the strand of oppression called gender. When referring to people or individuals when gender is relevant, we will refer to them as men or wimmin and use he or she pronouns. (Similarly, we don't always reference other defining characteristics of our correspondents, but we do refer to someone as "New Afrikan" or "clean-shaven" when relevant.)

chain
[Theory] [Organizing] [United Struggle from Within] [Congress Resolutions] [ULK Issue 27]
expand

Improving USW to Accommodate Emerging Prison Movement

United Struggle from Within
As we convene our third congress, we approach our five year anniversary as an organization. While members of MIM(Prisons) — and even more so USW — have been in the prison movement for longer, we find this an opportune milestone to reflect back on where the prison movement is at and how it has developed.

In 2011 a series of hunger strikes in California made a great impact countrywide. Many activists, from crypto-trots to anarchists to reformists, rallied around this movement and continue to focus on prison work as a result. While our predecessors in MIM saw the importance of the prison movement decades ago, their foresight is proving more true today as we begin to reach a critical mass of activity. It is now a hot issue within the left wing of white nationalism, which is significant because whites are not affected by the system extensively enough to call it a true material interest.

This gradual development has been the result of two things: agitation around the facts of the U.$. injustice system on the outside, and prisoner organizing on the inside, both of which MIM and USW have been diligently working on for decades. In the last year and a half, prisoner organizing came to a head with the Georgia strike and the California hunger strikes, which were both coordinated on a statewide level. While getting some mainstream and international attention, these events rang particularly loud among the imprisoned, with a series of similar actions still developing across the country (recently in Virginia, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, the federal supermax ADX, Limon in Colorado and a follow-up hunger strike in Georgia).

Meanwhile, the agitational side of things came to a bit of a head with the release of the book The New Jim Crow last year. This book has continued to get lots of play from many different sectors of the political spectrum. And while in most cases those promoting the book are amenable to the lackluster conclusions, the organization of these facts into a book stand for themselves. It requires a very biased viewpoint to read this book and then turn around and deny the national oppression faced by the internal semi-colonies through the U.$. injustice system. Therefore we think the overall effect of this book will be both progressive and significant, despite its limitations.

It is for these reasons that we see this as a moment to seize. When we started five years ago we had the great fortune of building on the legacy and existing prisoner support programs of MIM. The ideological foundation that MIM gave us allowed us to focus our energies on more practical questions of launching a new prison publication, building support programs for comrades that are released, developing correspondence political study programs, and launching a new website that features the most comprehensive information on censorship, mail rules, and abuses in prisons across this country.

With our infrastructure built and steadily running, we need to look at ways to take advantage of the relative consciousness of prisoners right now and the relative attention the U.$. population has on the prison system. We have always said that without prisoners organized there is no prison movement, so we see that as the principal prong of attack. Thus, we are taking steps to improve the structure of United Struggle from Within (USW), the mass organization for prisoners that was founded by MIM and is now led by MIM(Prisons). Building on suggestions from some leaders in USW, we have enacted a plan to form councils in states where there are multiple active USW cells. Below we further explain an organizational structure for our movement, so comrades know where they fit in and how they should be relating to others.

As we saw during the California strikes, censorship increases, as do other repressive measures, when organization expands. So as we step up our efforts, we can expect the state to step up theirs. We will need more support than ever from volunteers on the outside to do legal and agitational work to keep the state faithful to their own laws and regulations.

As big as those challenges are, the internal challenges will be even greater hurdles for us to jump in the coming years. The recent large mobilizations have begun to reveal what these challenges will be. And there is much work to be done to identify, analyze and work to resolve the contradictions within the prisoner population that allows for the current conditions where the state dictates how these vast populations of oppressed people interact with each other and live out their lives.

The prison movement that arose before the great prison boom that began in the 1980s was a product of the national liberation struggles occurring at the time. Today, the prison population is ten times as big, while the political leadership on the outside is scarce. The prison masses must guard against the great number of misleaders out there opportunistically grabbing on to the issue of the day to promote political goals that do not serve the oppressed people of the world. Prisoners may need to step up to play the leading role this time around, which will require looking inward. We must not only learn from the past, but also build independent education programs to develop the skills of comrades today to conduct their own analysis of the conditions that they face. On top of that we must promote and develop an internationalist worldview, to find answers and alliances in the oppressed nations around the world, and remove the blinders that keep us only focused on Amerika. There is no liberation to be found in Amerikanism. That Amerikans have created a prison system that dwarfs all others in humyn history is just one example of why.

So it is with cautious optimism that we approved the resolution below at our recent congress. We think this plan addresses proposals submitted by some USW leaders, and hope you all will work with us to make this an effective structure.

Congress Resolution on USW Structure

MIM(Prisons) is initiating the creation of statewide councils within United Struggle from Within (USW), the anti-imperialist mass organization for prisoners. A council will be sanctioned when two or more cells exist within a state that are recognized as active and abiding by the standards of USW. MIM(Prisons) will facilitate these councils, where the focus is on practical organizing around the needs of the imprisoned lumpen in that state. As the U.$. prison system is primarily organized by state, the councils will serve to develop and address the specific needs and conditions within each state.

In the case where cells have identities other than "USW" we do not require them to use that name. For example, the Black Order Revolutionary Organization, which self-identifies as a "New Afrikan revolutionary movement," may be invited to participate in a USW statewide council. While USW itself does not favor the struggles of any oppressed nation over another, as a movement we recognize the usefulness and importance of nation-specific organizing. In the prison environment there may be lines that cannot be crossed in current conditions which limit the membership of a group. As long as these cells exhibit true internationalism and anti-imperialism they may possess dual membership in USW by joining a statewide council.

united struggle from within structure

With this proposal we are expanding the structure of our movement. We recognize two main pillars to the ideological leadership of our movement at this time. One being the MIM(Prisons) cell, and the other being the Under Lock & Key writers group, which is made up of USW members and led by and facilitated by MIM(Prisons). The statewide councils should look to these two groups for ideological guidance in their organizing work, mainly through the pages of Under Lock & Key. In contrast, the councils' main function will be in practical work directly serving the interests of the imprisoned lumpen. They will serve to coordinate the organizing work of scattered USW cells in a more unified way across the state.

MIM(Prisons) will be initiating the California Council immediately, with others to follow as conditions allow.

chain
[Theory] [Economics] [Prison Labor] [Congress Resolutions] [ULK Issue 27]
expand

The Myth of the "Prison Industrial Complex"

myth of prison industrial complex

Many people are caught up in the line that millions are enslaved in this country, and that the main motivating factor behind the prison boom of recent decades is to put prisoners to work to make money for corporations or the government. MIM(Prisons) has clearly shown that U.S. prisons are not primarily (or even significantly) used to exploit labor, and that they are a great cost financially to the imperialists, not a source of profit.(1)

"Indeed, at peak use around 2002, fewer than 5,000 inmates were employed by private firms, amounting to one-quarter of one per cent of the carceral population. As for the roughly 8% of convicts who toil for state and federal industries under lock, they are 'employed' at a loss to correctional authorities in spite of massive subsidies, guaranteed sales to a captive market of public administrations, and exceedingly low wages (averaging well under a dollar an hour)."(2)

Instead, we argue that there is a system of population control (including all the elements of the international definition of genocide) that utilizes methods of torture on mostly New Afrikan and Latino men, with a hugely disproportionate representation of First Nation men as well, across this country on a daily basis. As the new prison movement grows and gains attention in the mainstream, it is of utmost importance that we maintain the focus on this truth and not let the white nationalists define what is ultimately a struggle of the oppressed nations.

To analyze why the term "prison industrial complex" ("PIC") is inaccurate and misleading, let's look at some common slogans of the social democrats, who dominate the white nationalist left. First let's address the slogan "Welfare not Warfare." This slogan is a false dichotomy, where the sloganeer lacks an understanding of imperialism and militarism. It is no coincidence that the biggest "welfare states" in the world today are imperialist countries. Imperialism brings home more profits by going to war to steal resources, discipline labor, and force economic policies and business contracts on other nations. And militarism is the cultural and political product of that fact. The "military industrial complex" was created when private industry teamed up with the U.$. government to meet their mutual interests as imperialists. Industry got the contracts from the government, with guaranteed profits built in, and the government got the weapons they needed to keep money flowing into the United $tates by oppressing other nations. This concentration of wealth produces the high wages and advanced infrastructure that the Amerikan people benefit from, not to mention the tax money that is made available for welfare programs. So it is ignorant for activists to claim that they are being impoverished by the imperialists' wars as is implied by the false dichotomy of welfare vs. warfare.

Another slogan of the social democrats which speaks to why they are so eager to condemn the "PIC" is "Schools not Jails." This slogan highlights that there is only so much tax money in a state available to fund either schools, jails, or something else. There is a limited amount of money because extracting more taxes would increase class conflict between the state and the labor aristocracy. This battle is real, and it is a battle between different public service unions of the labor aristocracy. The "Schools not Jails" slogan is the rallying cry of one side of that battle among the labor aristocrats.

Unlike militarism, there is not an imperialist profit interest behind favoring jails over schools. This is precisely why the concept of a "PIC" is a fantasy. While the U.$. economy would likely collapse without the spending that goes into weapons-related industries, Loïc Wacquant points out that the soft drink industry in the United $tates is almost twice as big as prison industries, and prison industries are a mere 0.5% of the gross domestic product.(2) Compared to the military industrial complex, which is 10% of U.$. GDP, the prison system is obviously not a "complex" combining state and private interests that cannot be dismantled without dire consequences to imperialism.(3) And of course, even those pushing the "PIC" line must admit that over 95% of prisons in this country are publicly owned and run.(4)

Federal agencies using the prison system to control social elements that they see as a threat to imperialism is the motivating factor for the injustice system, not an imperialist drive for profits. Yet the system is largely decentralized and built on the interests of the majority of Amerikans at the local level, and not just the labor unions and small businesses that benefit directly from spending on prisons. We would likely not have the imprisonment rates that we have today without pressure from the so-called "middle class."

Some in the white nationalist left at times appears to dissent from other Amerikans on the need for more prisons and more cops. At the root of both sides' line is the belief that the majority of Amerikans are exploited by the system, while the greedy corporations benefit. With this line, it is easy to accept that prisons are about profit, just like everything else, and the prison boom can be blamed on the corporations' greed.

tough on crime white vote

In reality the prison boom is directly related to the demands of the Amerikan people for "tough on crime" politicians. Amerikans have forced the criminal injustice system to become the tool of white hysteria. The imperialists have made great strides in integrating the internal semi-colonies financially, yet the white nation demands that these populations be controlled and excluded from their national heritage. There are many examples of the government trying to shut down prisons and other cost-saving measures that would have shrunk the prison system, where labor unions fought them tooth and nail.(1) It is this continued legacy of national oppression, exposed in great detail in the book The New Jim Crow, that is covered up by the term "Prison Industrial Complex." The cover-up continues no matter how much these pseudo-Marxists lament the great injustices suffered by Black and Brown people at the hands of the "PIC."

This unfortunate term has been popularized in the Amerikan left by a number of pseudo-Marxist theorists who are behind some of the popular prison activist groups on the outside. By explicitly rejecting this term, we are drawing a clear line between us and the organizations these activists are behind, many of whom we've worked with in one way or another. For the most part, the organizations themselves do not claim any Marxist influence or even a particular class analysis, but the leaders of these groups are very aware of where they disagree with MIM Thought. It is important that the masses are aware of this disagreement as well.

It is for these reasons that MIM(Prisons) passed the following policy at our 2012 congress:

The term "Prison Industrial Complex (PIC)" will not generally be used in Under Lock & Key because the term conflicts with MIM(Prisons)'s line on the economic and national make up of the U.$. prison system. It will only be printed in a context where the meaning of the term is stated by the author, and either criticized by them or by us.

chain
[Organizing] [Congress Resolutions] [ULK Issue 21]
expand

MIM(Prisons) 2011 Congress Summary and Resolutions

Young Lords Party Central Committee Meeting
MIM(Prisons) held a congress in June where we addressed some important theoretical and practical questions for our organizing. We began congress with some study and discussion on the principal contradiction as applied to our work fighting the criminal injustice system. This discussion led to some clarifications and unity as well as an agreement to do more study to develop a position paper on this subject. The congress itself was left with the unifying understanding that the principal task overall is to create public opinion and independent institutions of the oppressed to seize power. All congress discussion strove to apply this principal task.

A discussion of finances and goals led to a re-affirmation that Under Lock & Key is our most important organizing tool. That thought informed discussions about potentially expanding the size and frequency of ULK and tradeoffs with producing and/or mailing other revolutionary literature in to prisoners. With limited time and money, it's important that we make the best use of our resources by carefully considering these decisions.

We changed the distribution policy for ULK this year, sending new people only one sample issue before removing them from the mailing list if we do not hear back from them saying that they want to stay on. This led to an artificial drop in people on our mailing list, and our theory at the time of developing this new policy was that these people were mostly not receiving ULK and/or not interested in it. However, we've had a decline in the rate of new subscribers in the past year that we think might be associated with this changed policy. To test out this theory, we will be re-instating the policy of allowing all people to stay on our mailing list for 6 months before they get cut off if we have not heard from them.

On the positive side, we have had a big increase in regular writers, and the folks contributing solid, high quality articles and art to Under Lock & Key has gone up. We have also become more selective about which articles/letters get typed for posting on the website and consideration for inclusion in ULK. With an excess of good potential articles, we are focusing on the best submissions and trying to work with writers to improve their articles and writing skills when we don't accept something for publication. We are not as strong in this second area as we would like; more should be done to send comrades responses to their article submissions when they are not making the cut for print. We also need to give people more guidance about what we are and are not looking for to print.

Although MIM(Prisons) focuses on work with prisoners, we know that in order to build public opinion we must also reach people on the outside. Our main tool for this work is our website www.prisoncensorship.info, which was relaunched in January 2011 with a new look and added features to bring in more readers. Our web traffic doubled in the past year and we are seeing a very strong growth in interest in our online work. To this end we are going to do some web-based outreach to continue to expand the voices of our comrades behind bars. This will include putting the many art submissions we receive but can't fit into ULK online for people to see.

Anti-Censorship and PLC

Since our winter congress, we have been focusing our anti-censorship efforts on trying to recruit lawyers on the outside to help us take some select prison administrations to court. This is a slow-going process, and we recently decided to refocus back on writing directly to administrators on behalf of prisoners who can't receive mail from us. This has proven to be a fruitful investment in the past, leading to both victories over censorship, and recruiting new comrades to work with MIM(Prisons) and the United Struggle from Within. For MIM(Prisons)'s 2011 annual censorship report, click here.

In other legal work, many of you know that MIM(Prisons) facilitates a Prisoners' Legal Clinic (PLC), picking up a project that MIM used to run. This incarnation has been going since November 2009 and has strayed from its original path of working on issues that are intimately related to our anti-imperialist struggle, and had degraded into a more broad legal strategy discussion group with contributors showing limited initiative to pick up tasks outlined by MIM(Prisons). In upcoming PLC mailings we will be refocusing on our goals and tasks, and referring comrades out for general legal discussion. A PLC mailing went out in June 2011, so PLC contributors should let us know if they haven't gotten theirs yet.

MIM(Prisons)-led Study Groups

Last year we separated our introductory study course into two different levels. The first level is short (only two assignments) and studies two articles written by MIM(Prisons). The second level studies more advanced material and lasts much longer (about one year). We have recently recruited advanced USW members as study group responders, which helps relieve MIM(Prisons) to do other work that can only be done by someone on the outside, and is a great task for someone to do who can't run a study group where they're at due to isolation restrictions. We encourage all prisoners, advanced or beginner, to get together and study revolutionary material. You will get so much more out of it than if you just read something once by yourself!

More advanced study group participants have created a number of study guides over the last year, and comrades are actively working to build the MIM(Prisons) glossary, which should be available for distribution in the next year. Study group coordinators have worked to improve structure and set clear schedules and expectations at all levels over the last year.

United Struggle from Within

Of the hundreds of new people we've had requesting to be put on our mailing list in the last year, 50% of them were recruited by people with various levels of activity within United Struggle from Within (USW); 32% wrote in because they had seen some MIM or MIM(Prisons) literature, and 17% were referred by resource guides or non-prisoners, such as lawyers or family members on the outside. This shows that the USW is successfully completing the task of multiplying subscribers to Under Lock & Key as outlined in the USW Intro Letter and the Second Introductory Letter About MIM(Prisons).

Another USW task is to expand the grievance petition campaign that was initiated in California and spread to Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma. MIM(Prisons) was able to post these petitions online in February 2011 so family members and activists on the outside can print them and mail them to their people experiencing grievance issues. In California the campaign came to a head in February 2011, and the CDCR granted the prisoners a partial victory by slightly reforming their grievance process. Comrades in Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri are still requesting the grievance campaign from us and are submitting them to administrators. For more information on active USW campaigns, click here.

New Policies

Several new policies were passed related to working with prison-based organizations and facilitating correspondence between imprisoned groups/individuals.


Policy on Prisoner-to-Prisoner Correspondence

MIM(Prisons) provides Under Lock & Key as a general forum for public discussion of developments within the prison movement.

MIM(Prisons) provides small group forums for specific projects, involving those prisoners who have done work on, or have a special interest in said project. The principle example of this is the ULK Writers group. But our ability to run such groups is limited.

We do not want to hold the key to all work being done in the anti-imperialist prison movement, because this is not good leadership. Good comrades are rare, so it is in our interest that prisoners develop independent networks of communication with those they want to build with. This is also a positive thing in the case that MIM(Prisons) may be repressed or somehow put to an end.

With this in mind, the following is our policy for facilitating such developments without violating the role and purpose of MIM(Prisons) or jeopardizing the greater movement:

  1. If comrades have outside addresses or are allowed to correspond with other prisoners we will forward their info to another prisoner per request of the persyn whose info is being sent ON A CASE BY CASE BASIS. We will make the determination to do this based on the political value of aiding this connection, with careful consideration to the time and money this costs our very resource-limited program. Every piece of mail we send is less stamps and time we have available to send something else.

  2. Comrades who have demonstrated a certain level of ideological unity with MIM(Prisons) may be assigned as theoretical corresponders. They will be sent correspondence from other comrades through us for response. The response will either be printed in ULK or sent privately to the original writer. In either case, neither persyn's identity is revealed to the other.

    These assignments are to expand the work of MIM(Prisons), and primarily to improve the depth and breadth of our correspondence. Secondarily, this is an important way for our comrades in prison to develop their political line and debate skills, especially those who are in isolation.

  3. We will not serve as a dropbox for third party correspondence. Not only does this set us up for censorship, it takes up limited resources. Theoretical struggle between those not upholding MIM line should be able to be conducted through ULK or within MIM(Prisons)-led study groups. When necessary, one-on-one correspondence with recruits will be assigned to a comrade in MIM(Prisons) or a theoretically advanced USW leader.


Building New Groups Vs. Working with USW and MIM(Prisons)

We only work to build two organizations at this time: MIM(Prisons) and USW. The only organizing group we run for prisoners is the USW leaders group, and even that is mostly done through Under Lock & Key for efficiency and to reach the masses with info on USW work.

We do not think that we, or any other group, serves as the end-all-be-all vanguard organization for North America at this time. There are many roles to be played and more groups to be built. But for security reasons, and this is doubly true in prisons, organizational cells should be primarily location-based. Mass organizations like USW are countrywide because of coordination work through the vanguard organization MIM(Prisons).

Because of security concerns in prisons, and the very stringent restrictions on contact between prisoners, even within the same cell block, MIM(Prisons) encourages those who have unity with our cardinal principles to become USW leaders. We do not recruit prisoners directly into MIM(Prisons) because of the restrictions of the prison system, but we afford these comrades the opportunity to contribute and participate at the level of full comrade in every aspect of organizing work feasible, including encouraging them to help us develop new political line and move forward our organizing strategies.

There are only a few conditions that would merit launching a new prison-based organization:

  1. Comrades launching the organization disagree with MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal principles. If you agree with our cardinal principles, why not work with the established group led by MIM(Prisons): USW? If you think you disagree, it is important to clearly articulate the cardinal principles of your new organization if you hope to organize people around common goals.

  2. A disagreement with MIM(Prisons)'s policy of not recruiting prisoners into MIM(Prisons) while they are behind bars. These comrades may wish to establish a vanguard organization in their location, whose members are subject to democratic centralism and can focus on cell-based organizing.

  3. The case of an LO or other existing mass organization that develops into a revolutionary party and adopts cardinal principles affirming their communist ideology. While we would consider this a very positive development, we caution comrades that this has been tried more than once by the most advanced comrades in an LO, and the limitations of communication with a countrywide group from within prison have always led to insurmountable obstacles in attempts to bring the whole organization together behind communist principles. Further, we maintain that if the members of such a group are not overwhelmingly supporting a move to communist organizing, the advanced elements would be better to leave the group and join or form another, rather than wrecking the existing group from within. The reason we talk about vanguards versus mass organizations is that there are too many contradictions among the masses for everyone to take the leap of forming a scientific communist organization all at once. Existing groups that take up anti-imperialism play a very valuable role in the United Front without becoming communist organizations, often accomplishing things the communists could not.

  4. Comrades who wish to build a new nation-based vanguard. MIM(Prisons) is not a single-nation organization, but we affirm the value of such groups to the revolutionary movement within U.$. borders. However, we caution prisoners looking to form these organizations from scratch that the difficulties in organizing outside of your own prison (or even within your prison when your group is targeted for lock-up in control units, or transfers, and other repression) are significant.

Revolutionary organizations representing different nations, lumpen groups, or regions require self-sufficiency. If comrades trying to launch such organizations continue to fail for lack of resources and support they should be working within USW and MIM(Prisons) on other projects until their conditions change.

USW is a mass organization, and therefore comrades can join USW while maintaining membership in another organization if that organization allows dual membership and that organization does not openly disagree with MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal principles.


On Relations with Prison-Based Organizations

MIM(Prisons) frequently receives statements of support and principles, as well as other contributions of work, from representatives of LOs and other groups that span states. Many of these individuals want their organization name printed with their article. We will always do our best to confirm that those submitting statements can speak for their organizations before we print them in Under Lock & Key or on the web. Part of this process involves observing good consistent work from that organization over a period of time. But we know that there are often organizations that span multiple locations where different political lines arise in different sections of that group. MIM(Prisons) cannot pick representatives for an organization or help with correspondence to get these groups better aligned (beyond what we already do via ULK). Due to the limitations of organizing from behind-bars, we encourage political LOs to consider dividing into location-based cells to ensure each group correctly represents the political line of its members.

For those groups whose material we do print or review, contact info will be printed in ULK when available. The only organizations you can contact via our address are MIM(Prisons) and USW. You may also send United Front for Peace related correspondence to MIM(Prisons). Mail addressed to other organizations but sent to MIM(Prisons) will not be forwarded or returned.

chain
[Organizing] [Theory] [Security] [Congress Resolutions]
expand

Reassessing Cell Structure 5 years out

[This is a belated resolution from the MIM(Prisons) 2010 Congress.]

Overall, MIM(Prisons) stands by the Resolutions on Cell Structure passed at the last MIM congress in 2005. After 5 years of putting that resolution into practice there is experience to sum up and questions that still need to be answered.

The theoretical basis for the cell structure is that the strength of a centralized party comes into play when vying for state power, whether by elections or otherwise. That is not in the cards for Maoists in the imperialist countries at this time. Maoism is a minority movement in the First World and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. This makes it even more important that we utilize our strengths and shore up our weaknesses.

One of the main lessons to take from the cell structure resolutions is that "[w]e oppose having geographic cells come into contact with each other face-to-face. Infiltration and spying are rampant when it comes to MIM. The whole strength of having a locality-based cell is that it is possible to do all the things traditional to a movement. The security advantages of culling people we know into a cell are lost the moment we slack off on security and start accepting strangers or meeting with strangers face-to-face." We find it frustrating that critics of what happened at etext.org as MIM faced repression are willing to ignore the lessons of those setbacks.

At the last MIM congress in 2005, they spoke of a "MIM Center" that put out the newspaper, among other tasks. Soon after, there was no MIM Notes newspaper, followed by the degeneration of the original MC cell and finally the shutting down of their last institution, the website at etext.org.

One of the challenges of small cells is developing and maintaining line. Much work has been done, and if every new group or every revolutionary had to start from scratch, we would never advance. That is why when etext.org was repressed, MIM(Prisons) posted an archive of the MIM site on our website. While we still do not have a regular newspaper for the movement as a whole, the website is a crucial reference for us all.

Fraternal organizations do not agree on everything; they agree on cardinal principles that are determined by the conditions of the time. The etext.org site is not something Maoists must agree with 100%, but there is no doubt that it is still the most comprehensive starting point for any Maoist organization in the First World.

Democratic centralism is important for security and for political line development. Yet until we are organizing on a countrywide basis, there is no need for democratic centralism at that level, not to mention internationally.

In guerilla warfare, the cell structure has been applied in a way that was hierarchical so that action cells were separate from each other, but each cell could be traced to the top of the organization. This relies on a centralized organization or center. While MIM mentions such a center being based around MIM Notes and etext.org in their 2005 resolutions, we do not see the need for this center given the current circumstances. As we have recognized before, certain ideological centers are bound to exist based on the law of uneven development. Yet such centers are not structural, but fluid, based on the type and amount of work done.

All that said, there is an inherent contradiction in the cell strategy. Since organizing strategy and security tactics are not dividing line questions, once the cell strategy is adopted and full decentralization has occurred, it is possible for cells to change their line on this question. Even the majority could do so and a new centralized party could push remaining cells to the periphery. Since we work to build a movement and not our individual organizations, and our work is already on the periphery, we should not be concerned about the impacts of such a move on our organization. It is, however, worrisome to the extent that we see our comrades opened up to attacks through faulty security.

Part of accepting cell strategy is distinguishing between cadre work and mass work. The self-described anarchist movement is able to mobilize large numbers in mass work while abhorring centralized organization. We should learn from their example, while not succumbing to liberalism in our security practices or abandoning scientific leadership.

Getting the correct balance of cadre work and mass work will be more challenging with a cell structure. There is no way to impose a balance on the movement as a whole without a center, but we can pay attention to what is going on around us and get in where we fit in. Leading cells should not be shy to point out where the movement needs more investment of resources.

One amendment we would make to the "Resolutions on Cell Structure" is to cut the suggestion that a one-persyn cell "in many ways... has the least worries security-wise!" Certainly, one-persyn cells should maintain high standards for admitting others. However, the value of criticism/self-criticism on the level of day-to-day work is something that is stressed within Maoism, and we've benefited from in our own practice in MIM(Prisons). We still need democratic centralism with the cell structure to provide crucial discipline and accountability. The criticisms we can give and get from other cells will be limited in nature if our security is correct. And we have seen how one-persyn cells can degrade or disappear quickly.

chain
Go to Page 1
Index of Articles