I was impressed with the research behind the articles about Suboxone in ULK 75 and 76. I first heard of this substance four years ago when individuals showed up on the yard (at Richard J. Donovan) that were using it. Someone I associated with informed me that it was like methadone and that it was highly addictive. I know that guys here at California Medical Facility are using Suboxone whether it’s prescribed to them or not. In fact, illicit drugs of all types are available here, even during the quarantine lockdown when there were no contact visits allowed!
Also, this facility is holding a food sale to “raise money for the Special Olympics.” The offering of a chicken sandwich, potato chips and a cookie for $22.00 doesn’t seem like a good deal to me. Especially considering that only a small percentage would go to the Special Olympics and that 10% goes to the “Inmate Welfare Fund”. Is this a scam or what!?
An article in San Quentin News on a similar fund raiser reads:
“Prisoners spent $63,000 with 10% of the profits going to a charity.”
I see these sales as another scheme to extract money from prisoners and their families and friends and that the real benefactors for these “charities” are the CDCR.
There is another article in the same newspaper on the GTL tablets that are being pushed on us. I’ve read some of the specifications for these tablets and they are of course cheap pieces of crap. They are entirely dedicated to make GTL money pure and simple. How do companies like GTL get away with it? Here is some key points from the article:
"GTL is the phone service provider for all CDCR prisons…. According to Prison Legal News (PLN), GTL has had to pay out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits over the years for alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA).
"In October 2020 a New Jersey judge approved a $25 million settlement agreement between GTL and New Jersey prisoners who paid up to 100 times the actual phone rate between 2006 and 2016, according to PLN.
“The company has also been sued for charging unlawfully inflated prices for collect calls made by incarcerated people throughout the U.S.”
MIM(Prisons) adds: We whole-heartedly agree with this comrade’s assessment of these money-making schemes. We call this extortion, prisoners are forced to pay higher prices for things because there is no other option for them.
The Chik-Fil-A sandwich with waffle chips and a cookie that CDCR was charging $22 for is about $8 on the street. They’re charging prisoners almost 3 times the normal price! If $2.20 is going to charity, where’s the other $12 going?
For more on the topic of tablets, see “A Strategic Objective to Disrupt and Surveil the Communication Between Prisoners and Our Loved Ones” in ULK 76. The article on GTL tablets claims they offer “secure email”, which is a joke because we know GTL and CDCR staff can read anything you send on those things. In other cases, companies have charged prisoners for things like ebooks that are free in the public domain. GTL loves it because they charge prisoners extortion-level subscription fees for very restricted content, and CDCR loves it because it increases the ease of surveillance. The article also promotes the tablets as pacifiers, like suboxone, to keep the prison population docile.
When I first came to prison in 1995, there were hardly any for-profit corporations doing business inside Virginia prisons. Almost all services including medical care, dental care and the commissary were provided by the state. This began to change in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with the introduction of corporations like Prison Health Services to provide substandard prison health care and keep the commissary filled with high priced commissary items. Prisoners’ communication would also be outsourced to JPay, another for-profit company.
The Virginia Department of Corrections administration implemented a series of policies to manipulate us and our loved ones into accepting JPay as our only method of communication. On 6 August 2013, A. David Robertson, the Chief of Corrections and Operations, issued memorandum #073-2013, advising the prisoner class that effective 1 October 2013, our loved ones can no longer send us money orders through the postal mail and that they can only send us money through JPay, which requires our family to pay exorbitant transaction fees. If money orders were received in the mail after that day they were returned to sender.
On 7 May 2014, Robertson issued another memorandum, #033-214, advising the prisoner class that effective 1 July 2014, we can no longer receive more than 5 photographs through the mail. If a letter arrived at the prison containing more than 5 photographs, the entire letter including the 5 photos were returned to sender. This may seem small, but again this was subtle manipulation for acceptance of what was to come.
Perhaps the Virginia Department of Corrections most draconian policy implementation was detailed in a 13 March 2017 memorandum issued by the then warden of Sussex State Prison. In this memo we were advised that effective 17 April 2017,
“all incoming general correspondence, that is U.S. postal mail, will be photocopied at a maximum of three black and white photocopied pages front and back will be provided to the offender. The original envelope, letter and all enclosed documents will be shredded in the institutional mailroom. The entire correspondence and all enclosed items, including photographs, greeting cards, newspaper articles, etc. that exceed the established photocopy or size limit will be returned to sender.”
What this memo did not mention is that during the process of copying and scanning incoming postal letters from our loved ones, a digital copy of the letter along with the name and address of the person who sent it is uploaded and cataloged in a massive database. This policy was implemented under the guise of preventing the flow of drugs into these prisons, however the real motivation for this policy is reflected in the following one-sentence reminder listed in this memo:
“Individuals will still be permitted to send an offender secure messages, photographs and other attachments through the JPay system as it is currently authorized.”
Many prisoners and our loved ones view the amenity of exchanging emails with our loved ones as incredibly convenient. As a conscious prisoner I recognize that it also makes it easier for prison officials to censor and disrupt our communications and conduct surveillance and intelligence gathering on prisoners and those we communicate with. According to the Virginia Department of Corrections operating procedures 803.1, which governs offender correspondence and JPay emails inside all Virginia prisons, our incoming and outgoing correspondence is not supposed to be withheld for longer than 48 hours. However, our incoming and outgoing JPay emails are routinely withheld for several days or weeks at a time. Sometimes they are held for months at a time.
Operating procedure 803.1 prohibits prison officials from opening and reading our outgoing correspondence absent an approved mail cover from the warden, and reasonable suspicion that the correspondence violates state or federal law, or threatens the safety of the facility. However all incoming and outgoing JPay emails pass through a screening mechanism, whereby the prison’s mailroom staff and intelligence officers sit behind a computer monitor and read the personal and intimate words of prisoners and our loved ones, which, like our photocopied letters, are then cataloged and stored in a massive database.
Operating procedure 803.1 also prohibits the censorship of offender correspondence unless the censorship is based on legitimate facility interests of safety and security. However, JPay makes it easier for mailroom staff and intelligence officers to sit behind a computer monitor and with the click of a mouse block or censor the outgoing emails of prisoners complaining of prison conditions as well as incoming emails of loved ones containing information about the Black Panther Party and other progressive and revolutionary movements from the 1960s and 1970s.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Procunier v. Martinez (1974) ruled that:
“Communications by letter is not accomplished by the act of writing words on paper. Rather it is effected only when the letter is read by the addressee. Both parties to the correspondence have an interest in securing that result. As such, censorship of the communication between them necessarily impinges on the interests of each.”
This U.S. Supreme Court ruling and prison policies of surveillance and censorship listed above reveals that the fascist and repressive nature of prisons extend beyond these prison walls and adversely impacts those of you in the community. This should give human and civil rights activists, including our loved ones, additional motivation to work in solidarity with incarcerated freedom fighters to challenge these Constitutional violations via civil litigation.
Ultimately, what we need to do is develop a collective inside/outside analysis and strategy to dismantle the U.S. imperialist prison system.
From Victory to Defeat: China’s Socialist Road and Capitalist Reversal by Pao-Yu Ching Foreign Languages Press 2019
In a recent online debate between two random “Marxist-Leninists” and two fascists, one of the self-described “Marxist-Leninists” stated that every country in the last 100 years has been socialist. The fascists are happy to parade such meaningless dribble as “Marxism” so that they can make Marxism look bad. With Obama’s election, white nationalist fear became expressed in many deragatory words, including “communism” and “Marxism,” with no sense of irony that they were accusing the number one enemy of the world’s people of being a communist.
What is common among “Marxists” in the First World is saying every country is socialist that says it is and has some form of state intervention in the economy. This superficial analysis has also helped muddy the water of what socialism is. And it allows the fascists to say that they share many of the goals and ideals of the self-described Marxists. In particular they both look to China as a positive model of how to run a country and they both think Amerikans and various First World European nations are being victimized by the current world system. The fact that many of these fascists have chauvinist anti-Chinese views and wish war against the social-imperialist CPC is of no matter. For MIM, the question of wether today’s China is socialist or social-imperialist is a dividing line question.
To understand what socialism is, MIM has long recommended The Chinese Road to Socialism by Wheelright and MacFarlane. For the history of the coup that overthrew socialism in China MIM distributed The Capitalist Roaders Are Still on The Capitalist Road. In 1986, MIM cadre Henry Park published “Postrevolutionary China and the Soviet NEP” comparing state capitalism in the early days of the Russian revolution to state capitalism after the coup in China. In 1988, Park published “The Political Economy of Counterrevolution in China: 1976-88”, which tied all of these subjects together through a Maoist framework and analyzes the failures of state capitalism in post-Maoist China.
Pao-Yu Ching’s From Victory to Defeat serves as a more up-to-date introduction to the topic of the differences between socialism and capitalism in the last 100 years of Chinese history. It is written as a sort of FAQ and provides a broad overview, while explaining the key concepts that allow us to differentiate between the two economic systems. As such, MIM(Prisons) recommends Pao-Yu Ching’s work as a solid starting place when exploring this topic. The topic of “What is socialism?” must be fully grasped by all communists.
It seems that Pao-Yu may disagree with the Maoist class analysis. In eir introduction ey states, “Today the living conditions of the working masses in imperialist countries have grown increasingly difficult.”(p.9) Ey then alludes to rising prices, rising debt and precarious work, none of which necessarily reflect worsening objective conditions. Without a recognition that these populations are parasitic on the working classes, this line leads to the politics of the fascists and social-fascist “Marxist-Leninists” mentioned above. It is also relevant to the question of revisionism in the formerly socialist countries who looked to emulate the lifestyles of Amerikans. Since this point is not taken up in the rest of the book we will not dwell on it here, but it remains the biggest problem with this work.
What is Socialism?
Many of our readers and those who are interested in what we have to say in general are still confused as to what socialism is for the reasons mentioned above. Ultimately it is defined differently by different people, and it is used politically rather than scientifically. Pao-Yu outlines what the most advanced example of socialism looked like quite nicely in eir short book, so we will just mention some key points here to help clarify things.
Socializing industry first required that the state took control of the means of production in the form of factories, supply lines, raw materials, etc. This is where many stop with their definition of socialism. Some other key things that Pao-Yu points out is that success was no longer measured in the surplus produced but rather on improvements in the production and overall running of the enterprise.(p.20) This recognizes that some will be more profitable in a capitalist sense, but that the nation benefits more when all enterprises are improving, not just the profitable ones. Another key point is that laborers were guaranteed a job that was paid by the state and a standard rate.(p.28) This eliminated labor as a commodity that you must sell on the open market. Commodities are at the heart of capitalism. Socialism is the the transition away from commodities, starting with the most important commodity of humyn labor.
The above only applied to a minority of the country, as the vast majority of China was a peasant population. It is only in recent years that the peasantry is now less than half the population. It is in the countryside where the capitalist roaders and the Maoists disagreed the most. Pao-Yu walks us through the different phases of the transition to socialism and how the principal contradiction shifted in each phase. Ey explains the contradiction amongst the countryside, where production was not owned collectively by the whole population, and the cities where it was. The disagreement with the capitalist roaders was a disagreement over the principal contradiction at the time, which they thought was the advanced social system (of socialism) with the backward productive forces (of small scale farming by peasants). To resolve this contradiction the capitalist roaders thought they must accelerate production, industrialize agriculture, and feed the industrialized cities with the surplus of that agricultural production. This focus on production is one of the key defining lines of revisionism.
While Marx taught us that the productive forces are the economic base that define humyn history and the superstructure, he also said the contradiction with the relations of production is what leads to revolutionary transformations of society. As Pao-Yu points out, learning from Mao Zedong, during these revolutionary periods is when the relations of production become primary, in order to unleash the productive forces that have become stagnant under the previous mode of production.(p.30) In other words peasants living under semi-feudalism in China pre-liberation were not improving their conditions. They needed to revolutionize how they related to each other, how they were organized, specifically the class relations, in order to move towards a new mode of production (socialism) that could meet their needs much better. Therefore Mao focused on education, theory, class struggle, culture, the people, instead of focusing on production, profitability, surplus, and wage incentives, as the capitalist roaders did. The Maoist path took the Chinese peasants through a gradual process of increasing collectivization through communes, which was quickly dismantled after the coup in 1976.
What is Democracy?
Another question those living in bourgeois democracies often ask is how you can have democracy with only one party, where people are purged for having the wrong political line? Pao-Yu makes the point well by explaining that in established bourgeois democracies you can have many parties and many candidates, because they all represent the same class.(p.48) This is the case because these countries are stable in their mode of production (capitalism). In the transition to a new economic system the political struggle is between two classes. In the case of capitalism thransitioning to socialism, it is between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat (and their class allies on each side).
The bourgeoisie by definition is always competing amongst itself, so it cannot have one party represent all of their interests, except in extreme crises when fascism becomes viable. In the United $tates today, the left-wing of the bourgeoisie are represented by the democrats while the right-wing flock to the republicans. Even amongst these parties are different bourgeois factions fighting amongst each other. The proletariat however is united in it’s class interest, so there will be no need for multiple proletarian parties. There are many books that outline the components of socialist democracy where people select their representatives at each level of administration, where free speech and criticism are encouraged, where education is universal and free and where everyone is involved in studying theory and practice to shape the decisions that affect their day-to-day lives. It does not require having multiple political parties to choose from as bourgeois democracies do in their electoral farce.
What is China?
Pao-Yu covered China before, during, and after socialism so that the reader can better understand the differences. As such the book is a good introduction to the explanation of why China has not been on the socialist road since 1976. Ey touches on the loss of the guaranteed job, with the introduction of temporary workers, the ending of the right to strike and free expression among the workers, the ability of managers to start keeping the profits from the enterprises they oversee, the loss of universal medical care, and the focus on production for other nations, while importing the pollution of those consumer nations. Ey briefly documents the struggles of the workers to maintain control of the enterprises they once owned collectively. China is now a capitalist hell hole for the majority objectively and it does not matter wether the CPC has millions of cadre who believe the opposite subjectively.
The Global Economy
One point Pao-Yu makes that we have also stressed as being important, is the role of the proletarianization of the Chinese masses in saving global imperialism from crisis. When the imperialist economies were facing economic crisis in the 1970s, one third of the world’s population was not available to be exploited by the imperialist system. One of the laws of capitalism is its need to always expand. When China went capitalist, it opened up a vast population to exploitation and super-exploitation for the imperialists. This labor was the source of value that the imperialist system thrived off of by the mid 1980s until just recently.
Interestingly, Pao-Yu says that almost 30% of the Chinese population is petty bourgeoisie, owning (often multiple) investment properties and travelling around the world.(p.111) In a previous article we explained that we saw China as a proletarian country still despite its imperialist activities. We referred to Bromma’s research that stated China’s “middle class” was 12-15% of the population some years prior. It is interesting to hear that the Chinese petty bourgeoisie has reached the same size in absolute numbers as the Amerikan one. It would be interesting to compare the wealth of these two groups, we presume the Amerikans remain wealthier. Of course, China is still majority proletariat, while Amerika is almost completely bourgeoisified, so the class interests of these nations overall remain opposed to one another. But we will rarely hear the proletarian voices from China until a new proletarian party rises there.
The housing market is one example of how China has emulated the United $tates. Investing in properties has become an important way for the new petty bourgeoisie in China to accumulate wealth without working. Just last week, the Chinese investment firm Evergrande made headlines when it became public knowledge that they would not be able to pay the billions of dollars they owe. Evergrande has significant backing from Amerikan finance capital, as is true for the Chinese economy in general. Therefore the collapse of the Chinese housing market could have real ripple effects in the global economy.
The fact that real estate investment firms exist in China, and that they are defaulting on hundreds of billions of dollars owed, is really all you need to know to see that the economy is oriented towards profit and not people. Things like inflation and bubbles and stock markets and speculation just didn’t exist during the Maoist era. The reintroduction of these things for the last four decades destroyed the progress in class struggle in China long ago.
A few weeks ago lots of Black folks were celebrating Juneteenth, which they claimed was about the banning of slavery in the U.$. Say what? Apparently none of these folks have read the actual 13th Amendment, which only banned plantation slavery, while opening up far more slavery with its Exclusion Section, which basically said “slavery as punishment for a crime is just peachy.”
…how about you get the May 2021 issue of Prison Legal News and read the main article, “The Punishment Economy: Winners and Losers in the Business of Mass Incarceration.”
A fact not mentioned in the article was that businesses (owners) in many foreign countries are making money “servicing” U.$. prisoner needs.
Until just a couple of weeks ago, me at 75 years old, with various health problems, was forced under threat of write-up to work as a kitchen slave. So I get to read the labels on the products used there.
Oranges and mixed vegetables from Mexico. Cut carrots from Spain. Franks (weenies) from Canada. Cucumbers from Mexico. Broccoli from Mexico. Pineapple from Indonesia. Heat sealed plastic gloves from China. White plastic “sporks” from Vietnam.
Do you think the owners of these businesses make donations to U.$. politicians that always vote for more laws, more prisons, and more money to cops?
Wiawimawo of MIM(Prisons) responds: We share this writer’s concerns about prisoners being used as a source of exploited value by capitalists. When Third World countries begin to delink from the united $tates economically, Amerikans will face serious crisis and imposing fascism on segments of the u.$. population in the form of slavery is a likely outcome as we saw fascist Germany do.
However, we think the concern about foreign companies selling cheap produce to u.$. prisons is misled. In fact, most of the value created in producing that food in the Third World is stolen from those who make the food and realized in the First World (see our recent review of John Smith’s Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century). Even those Amerikans reaping the profits on these food sales to Amerikan prisons are not likely backing prison construction. Food is about $2.1 billion of the $182 billion spent on mass incarceration each year in this country.(1)
But what about this question of prison labor? The persyn above has written us numerous times to challenge our line on prison labor. In 2018 we did a survey of ULK readers to further research this subject. And we have extensive articles on the economics of the U.$. prison system available to those interested. But we are always keeping an eye out for new info, so let’s look at this Prison Legal News article.
As it turns out, this article does not offer much information on prison labor at all, far less than our research does. The article is a thorough documentation of many ways that companies are making money by offering services to the government related to prisons and to families of prisoners; what we might call profiteering or even extortion in the case of fees charged to families.
1 in 8 U.$. jobs rely on prisons - Big if True
Daniel Rosen doesn’t cite the source of this one in eight jobs estimate towards the beginning of eir article. Regular writers for ULK have long called Amerika a pig nation. Then why does Rosen turn around and ask, “are we just producing greater corporate profits at American families’ expense?” It is Amerikan families who are getting payed labor aristocracy wages to work these 1 in 8 jobs that relies on this system of punishment. Meanwhile, the majority of people suffering from the injustice system are members of internal semi-colonies, not Amerikans. And this is the exact contradiction we try to bring to light every time we get into this debate.
After citing the exorbitant amount spent on staffing prisons, Rosen offers a section on how employees are underpaid. In states like California, prison guards start at salaries that most reading this newsletter will never see in their lives. To make eir point sound reasonable, Rosen claims “pay for starting prison guards is usually in the range of $25,000-$35,000.” This range actually represents the lowest 10% of prison guards in the country, with the median actually being at $45,000 per year starting salary.(2) Is this underpaid? As regular readers of our work will already know, employed Amerikans are generally in the top 10% income earners globally, including those that make $25,000 per year. An individual living on $45,000 per year is in the top 2%.(3) And as many of our readers know, overtime and hazard pay are a regular occurrence in that line of work, easily putting annual prison guard salaries into six figures.
Our writer contacted us about prisoner labor, not prison guard labor. The reason this is relevant though is that it represents the economics of those who see prisons as a product of corporate interests. It often comes hand-in-hand with those who see $50k/year pigs as the oppressed and exploited opposed to the corporate interests. Even if they’re in the top 2%, they are still in the bottom 99% that the left wing of white nationalism sees as allies. This idealism wants to see all people come together for a common cause, ignoring the different material interests of different groups in the world today. We focus on prison organizing because there is a greater consciousness in prisons that these pigs are part of the imperialist system and that they serve the enemy because they benefit from that system.
I Pay Your Salary, Buddy
Rosen starts off his article with the message that U.$. taxpayers are paying $80 billion per year to lock people up. While there has been an upsurge of concern about spending on incarceration in the halls of Congress, why is it that the same “fiscal conservative” voters who don’t want social services are quick to yell “lock them up” when it comes to so-called “criminals”? Our explanation is that the system that is trying to control the rebellious oppressed serves them. It serves them with some of the highest incomes in the world, from which they pay taxes. These incomes, and taxes, are superprofits stolen from the international proletariat.
We know many in the prison movement are not Marxists, and therefore may not accept the labor theory of value. With such people we are working from different theoretical models and different terminology. It is not a coincidence that such people are predominately reformists. We need to be debating Marx vs. bourgeois economics. Even many self-described “Marxists” in the imperialist countries think there is an infinite amount of wealth to go around.
Rosen writes, “Recidivists are the primary ‘product’ of the punishment economy and the real source of its profits.” It’s true, unlike the military-industrial complex, there is no real product being made here, just ancillary services like phone calls and food delivery. But are recidivists the source of these companies profits? No, the only source of profits is surplus value from surplus labor time. And as we’ll reiterate here, that is coming from the Third World proletariat.
The Endless Road to Reformism
Of course, most of the concerns about mass incarceration that Rosen mentions in this article are ones we share. One that we’ve been discussing lately is how for-profit communication services are replacing in-persyn visits and mail under the guise of reducing drugs. Yet the drugs magically keep getting into prisons, and now prisoners communications are being digitized for easier monitoring and censorship, while valuable resources and family connections are being cut off. We’ve also helped expose the issue of a second-class system for migrants, the vast majority who haven’t even committed any anti-people crimes, being stuck in poorly run, privately-owned prisons on behalf of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).
We just don’t agree with Rosen’s economics and where it leads us strategically.
We agree with Rosen that there is a whole slush economy around incarceration, that’s the nature of the United $tates mall economy in general. And in the case of imprisonment, the result is buying people off to support it. There’s too much money, corruption and greed in this system. But this is nothing particular to incarceration, and incarceration is just a tiny drop in the bucket that is this problem. Do we want to make this tiny corner of the imperialist economy a little less gross? Or do we want to end mass incarceration? liberate oppressed nations from imperialism? end exploitation of the proletariat? We are aware that a majority of our incarcerated readers might lean more towards the first option. And while we appreciate our prison reform allies who stand with us in many campaigns, this newsletter is not a forum to promote reformism.
Rosen writes “[t]he most important way that mass incarceration fails prisoners is by all but guaranteeing that they’ll come back.” This is one of the true crimes of the system. Socialist countries like China showed the world how prisons could be used to integrate former oppressors into a new people-focused society. Yet, “corrections” in the u.$. has always taken a much different form, one of punishment. And this is why we prioritize our Re-Lease on Life Program for those released from prison to help comrades continue to reform themselves and integrate back into society as servants of the people, and avoid getting locked back up. Our humble program is a precursor to a system that will serve to rehabilitate the real criminals on this continent in a socialist future.
This country not only institutionalizes disparities between the oppressed nations and Amerikans in the united $tates, it is a tool of genocide in how it affects the productive and reproductive years of a vast segment of oppressed nation men. These problems beg the solution of liberation and independence.
Rosen closes eir article with a number of examples of progress in reforming the ills ey discusses. We agree these are progressive things, and yet they do not address the problem. Which is why you won’t see these campaigns in the pages of ULK. See recent discussions between USW comrades on how to organize prisoners in a way that keeps our eyes on the prize. Sometimes our campaigns will overlap with the reformers. Even then, we must promote the proletarian line and not succumb to coalition politics.
Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis by John Smith Monthly Review Press 2016
[Editor: The author of this review uses “southern countries” to refer to what we would call the Third World, exploited or neo-colonial countries, and “northern countries” to refer to the imperialist, First World, exploiter countries.]
The dominant trend in capitalism for the last forty or so years has been the relocation of production from northern to southern countries, where the vast majority of the global industrial workforce lives. It’s impossible to ignore the offshore origin of most of the commodities we interact with in the U.S. every day, and equally impossible to ignore the wretched conditions and dramatically lower wages that most of these southern workers deal with. What this means for the present structure and future of the global economy is less clear, and that’s where this book comes in.
There’s a lot in this book I won’t talk about that was nonetheless very interesting – Smith’s discussion of GDP and productivity measurements, his history of Marxist thinking on imperialism, and his in-depth discussion of the production of a wide range of specific commodities.(1) I’ll just focus on his main contribution, the value theory of imperialism, in which he incorporates and expands on Marx’s discussion of surplus value and Lenin’s century-old understanding of imperialism.
Surplus in Marx’s Capital
Smith’s value theory of imperialism begins with value, which is the amount of labor required to produce a given commodity. A capitalist producing t-shirts wants to churn out the largest amount of them in a working day, at the highest possible intensity of work, and with the latest technology. Out of the sale of the t-shirts he buys equipment, raw materials, and pays wages. These wages are the monetary expression of labor power, or what a worker is paid to show up at a specific time and place and put their energies and abilities at the disposal of the capitalist. In return, the worker can use the wage they get to buy a basket of goods to keep themselves alive til the next day. The amount of labor that goes into the production of this basket the worker needs can be called the value of labor-power itself, which under capitalism is a commodity just like clothing, pickups or rifles. The pile of shirts the capitalist gets to sell at the end of the day can be sold for more money than the wages he pays for the labor that produced it. To cut a long story short, Marx investigates this anomaly and discovers that there is a part of the day where workers produce enough commodities to pay for their wages, and a part of the day where the labor they expend creates commodities that just make the capitalist money. The labor that happens in this second part of the day is surplus labor, and the value of the commodities produced at this time is surplus value. This magically free labor is the beating heart of capitalism, and its pursuit and distribution are the core of all capitalist economic phenomena.
Marx discussed two main ways that capitalists in the 19th century would attempt to grab more surplus value.(2) The first he called ‘absolute surplus value,’ and it consists of extending the working day by either making workers work harder for the time they’re at work, or making them work for longer at the same or similar wages. The second path to more surplus is making the value of labor power (or the amount of labor it takes to create enough goods for a worker to survive) less. Marx called this second form ‘relative surplus value’.
Smith takes this basic account and expands it to an era Marx didn’t live to see and couldn’t have predicted – the transformation of the labor-capital relationship into a relationship mostly between northern capital and southern labor.(3)
North-South relations in Lenin’s Imperialism
Lenin’s book Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism describes a world divided into oppressor and oppressed nations, the competition of monopolies, and the trends inherent in capitalist development of this era that lead to ever more destructive bouts of violence. The need for more surplus and more profits drives capitalist firms beyond the confines of their home market, to seize and exploit foreign ones. Competition gives way to centralization and large monopolies, and the increasing integration of these monopolistic interests into the state makes war over colonies and their resources more and more likely. At home, the super-profits obtained in the colonies create a labor aristocracy, the size and influence of which has been debated basically for the entire hundred years since Lenin’s book first appeared.
Smith identifies a weakness in Lenin’s work, mainly that he doesn’t discuss or use value as a concept to explain imperialism.(4) The thing Smith attempts, after several chapters of setting up the data on the existence and persistence of wage differentials and trade relationships between northern firms and southern labor, is a synthesis and update of Marx and Lenin’s contributions.
Smith’s point is that the outsourcing of production has allowed capitalist firms to conduct what he calls ‘labor arbitrage,’ or buying labor power where it is cheap and selling the commodities produced where they can be sold dear. Thanks to innovations in shipping and communications technology, firms can seek out the cheapest labor and the most favorable environmental and labor laws (ideally, they want no environmental or labor laws) to churn out the most surplus value possible. This has driven the wage down below the value of labor power – workers in many countries are not paid enough to survive and have to make a living through wage-labor in capitalist factories plus something else, like subsistence farming or stealing. This is an extreme form of the relative surplus value extraction method that Marx discussed, or what has also been called superexploitation.
Additionally, the relationship between companies like Foxconn (which actually makes the iPhone) and companies like Apple (who first create a design that breaks in three years, then contract the production out and stamp a logo on it for 300% markup), or ‘arms-length outsourcing’(5), hides the exploitation and transfer of value from one country to another behind an apparently innocent market transaction. The vast majority of the profits, taxes and tariffs from offshored production end up not in the country where the commodity was produced, but in the country where the final seller of the commodity is headquartered. This is how Germany, a country that cannot produce coffee, makes dramatically more from its re-export than any country where it is actually grown.(6) Marx hints that this phenomenon, called ‘value capture,’ could exist theoretically, but Smith demonstrates that it is at the core of relationships between countries in today’s economy. There is also a lengthy discussion of ‘value chains’ or sequential input-output relationships conducted between firms that leads to the final commodity. A Zambian copper mine sells to a wire factory, which sells to a company that makes circuit boards, which sells to a car company who uses the circuit board to run an automatic transmission in a hundred thousand dollar pickup. The conditions of work and the selling price dramatically swell along the chain, to the point where the worker watching a robot bolt the circuit board into place makes more in an hour than the copper miner made in a month. But all labor really is equal. It’s not like swinging a pickaxe is an entirely different movement in Zambia or America. And it’s not like the people doing the swinging are any different either.
The Political Economy of Coffee
Smith provides a lot of concrete examples of how these exploitative relations between nations lead to permanent conditions of underdevelopment in southern countries, and vast profits in northern ones. Maybe the most stark of these examples is his discussion of coffee from the early part of the book. Coffee is only grown in southern countries, and it is almost exclusively processed in northern countries, where the markups can exceed four hundred percent. Wages paid in the coffee-processing sector, taxes from this business and tariffs on imports, all contribute to the northern economy in question (Germany, perversely for a country that can never grow coffee except in a greenhouse, is the biggest exporter of processed coffee) and rely on southern countries furnishing the raw material at a reliably low price, a price that ends up being a tiny fraction of the cost of the final product. In this case it’s clear not only how unequal the exchange is, but also how the entire chain of production in the northern country relies on the exploitation of other workers. Another writer on this subject, Zak Cope, estimates that the total transfer owing to this process of hyper-exploitation, markup and re-export, across all commodities, amounts to sixteen percent of GDP in northern countries every year.
What makes these conditions permanent is the persistently low price of the export for the country where the coffee is grown, which will not allow it to develop or move up the ladder to more capital-intensive forms of production that might be safer on the global market. An additional factor is politics, and the careful policing of the ability of southern countries to raise wages, enforce their own labor laws, hold northern firms to account when they commit crimes(7), and raise the price of their exports. In the case of Rwanda (a major coffee producer) in the early 90s, the political destabilization and genocide that occurred in the country was partially the result of the collapse of an international coffee-exporting agreement that attempted to set a (low) floor on the price of the commodity and provide some stability and guaranteed income for countries who rely on its export. Northern countries oppose any agreement that would make their inputs cost more, or make their value-chains dependent on cheap labor any more expensive. They can be more or less effective at ensuring this, in cooperation with the comprador bourgeoisie. A particularly galling example of this, from the textile sector, unfolded in Haiti in 2009 over the raising of the minimum wage of 31 cents an hour, which president Rene Preval eventually backed away from, after opposition from the U.S. Embassy and local factory owners.(8)
Whose fight, and who’s fighting?
What Smith doesn’t do is discuss the immediate political consequences of all this for us. On the last page of the book he says “together with their sisters and brothers in the imperialist countries, [southern] workers have the capacity, the mission and the destiny to dig a grave in which to bury capitalism.”(9) It’s a little too convenient, and maybe in the future he can discuss the history of this elusive internationalism. Whether workers in northern countries fight actively or consciously for this super-exploitation to continue, whether and to what exact extent different groups of workers in northern countries benefit from this arrangement of production, whether workers of the world can unite and what they could accomplish if they could, are all questions Smith doesn’t answer. MIM would argue that workers in northern countries clearly benefit from imperialism, and seek those benefits in an alliance (an alliance that might have some rough spots now and then) with the bourgeoisie of their own countries, and are thus not a mass base for a revolutionary movement but instead a labor aristocracy. Changes to all of these relationships – between northern and southern countries, and between workers and their bosses, north and south – will drive changes in the political economy John Smith’s book goes a long way towards helping us understand.
Notes: 1. pp. 13-34 2. p. 237 3. p. 12 4. pp. 225-230 5. p. 68 6. p. 31 7. It always helps when the law in northern countries maintains a fictitious barrier between a northern firm relying on exploitation and those they exploit. A recent extreme example is the Supreme Court’s ruling that the slave labor of children used in harvesting product for Nestle under conditions the company controlled wasn’t technically the company’s fault. See: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/17/supreme-court-rules-in-favor-of-nestle-in-child-slavery-case.html 8. Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives, 1 June 2011, WikiLeaks Haiti: Let Them Live on $3 a Day, The Nation. 9. p. 315
At this moment Cuba is entering into a new phase in their struggle which unveils a reality unfavorable to socialist construction. Yet we should keep in mind that Cuba’s fate remains unsealed. History shows that the Cuban people are up to the task of fighting for socialism as they continue to inspire others around the world. They have enormous amounts of creative and practical experience. Here we examine some of the positions in the popular debate around Cuba, as well as the true source of its successes and failures.
Privatization and Pandemic
The current protests in Cuba are the result of growing privatization of sectors in multiple industries. This has been a gradual trend, but in February of 2021 it took on new heights. Tourism in particular, as a private industry, is Cuba’s largest revenue generator making over $3.3 billion for its people in 2018. With the ease of relations under President Obama there was unfortunately even more of a rise in privatization and large growth in tourism. Labour Minister Marta Elena Feito said the list of authorized activities in the private sector had most recently expanded from 127 to more than 2,000. Some of these include barbershops, restaurants, taxi services, domicile and hotel rentals, small shops and cafes. Most of these private sector jobs, which are primarily in major cities such as Havana, are oriented towards the tourist industry.
The last report showed that 600,000 people, around 13% of the workforce, joined the private sector when the opportunity arose. COVID-19 brought problems as the borders were closed to non-residents in order to prevent the pandemic’s spread. About 16,000 private workers asked for their licenses to be suspended, according to the Labor Ministry, which temporarily exempted them from taxes. Shortly after, the amount increased to 119,000, which was roughly 19 percent of the private workforce. This measure allowed for a small section of the private work force to be protected during the pandemic, however other sections, mostly in tourism, were catastrophically hit.
U.S. Economic Warfare
The labor ministry stated that the decline began before COVID-19 as a result of Trump’s new additions to the embargo on Cuba. In December of 2020, Cuban tourism had fallen by 16.5% due to U.S. sanctions that imposed restrictions on travel to Cuba, money transfers, and trade between Cuba and other nations. The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control in 2020 stated the following in regards to the more recent additions, “OFAC is removing the authorization for banking institutions subject to U.S. jurisdiction to process certain funds transfers originating and terminating outside the United States, commonly known as”U-turn" transactions. Banking institutions subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be authorized to reject such transactions, but may no longer process them." The rules also block money sent to Cuban government affiliates, and decreased the limit but still allow for remittances to most families in Cuba.
On 19 October 1960, the U.S. embargo was implemented as policy to undermine the revolutionary government as a response to its nationalization of industries and dealings with countries led by communist parties. Over the coming years tension only increased and the embargo would continually be adjusted to prevent growth of the Cuban economy. As of now the sanctions vary with over 231 entities and subentities like ministries, holding companies, hotels, etc.; meaning the U.S. is trying to control Cuba’s economy. These provisions also extend to international companies like the various shipping companies in 2019 which were sanctioned by the U.S. government for participating in oil trade between Venezuela and Cuba. This was during the same period that the U.S. was accusing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of falsifying the election results that left Juan Guaido to bite the dust. Allegations which later were proven to be false yet nevertheless caused dire consequences for millions.
Economic terrorism continues to be perpetrated by the U.S. against Cuba to prohibit other nations and companies from participating in trade deals. Some ways the U.S. does this is by denying licenses or deals with U.S.-based companies or other nations that have the audacity to ignore the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Year after year the U.N. votes in favor of an end to the embargo with only two nations (the U.S. and Israel) voting in favor of continuing the embargo.
In 2021 former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Cuba once again as a state sponsor of international terrorism in another futile attempt to further isolate Cuba from potential trading partners. This designation carries with it the implication that any business or state which does business with Cuba participates in sponsoring terrorism. As a result the U.S. will then implement sanctions on those businesses or states or at the very least deny them vital business opportunities that they need to sustain a functional economy in a U.S.-dominated global market. It follows from this that the private sectors in Cuba who were not prepared for the pandemic, were already affected by the ongoing trade embargo for about 60 years, with Trump’s administration amping up attempts to suffocate Cuba’s resilient economy.
Cuban Protests Dwarfed by Uprisings in U.S.
When the protests erupted in Cuba this month, the U.S. wasted no time in opportunistically pushing their agenda. Meanwhile, expatriated Cuban terrorists living in the U.S. sent videos over social media promoting the destruction of public property owned by the Cuban people, looting, assault on peoples security forces etc. These videos, not surprisingly, never found their way into mainstream reports but were exposed by Cuban media. Díaz-Canel even made a point to say that there are revolutionaries who have been misguided by false reports forged by subversive reactionaries, and people with legitimate demands for an end to the embargo and reform of failed policies. This made clear that these demonstrators were not the target of criticism but genuinely concerned, although in some cases misguided, citizens.
In reality only a small capitalist minority from certain private sectors affected by the embargo and COVID-19 have taken to the streets to promote their interests; interests that are antagonistic to that of the Cuban people. President Díaz-Canel proceeded to visit the demonstrations himself and speak with people. On live TV Díaz-Canel called revolutionaries to take to the street and oppose the reactionaries and to stay in the streets as long as necessary in order to defend the revolution. It was correctly stated by Díaz-Canel that the reactionaries with violent intent are of a specific small group who align with U.S. interests. More specifically from his mouth he stated that, “They want to change a system, or a regime they call it, to impose what type of government and what type of regime in Cuba? The privatization of public services. The kind that gives more possibility to the rich minority and not the majority.”
Counter protests proceeded to take place where a greater part of Cuba’s 11 million people came out to demonstrate their support for the revolution and continuance of socialist construction. With such a small minority of protestors being for regime change and only a few dozen arrests we have to ask ourselves why there is such a controversy? It is only explainable by the private interests and imperialist U.S. who wishes to finally deal a deadly blow to Cuba. After decades of failed CIA assassinations, a failed U.S. invasion, and a failed Embargo, the U.S. government is reiterating its fledgling commitment to undermine the people of Cuba.
All the while the Amerikans fail to see the irony that in 2020 the protests in the U.S. were estimated to have between 15 and 26 million participants with over 14,000 arrests documented as related to the protests and a number of deaths associated. These numbers are not even all encompassing in the true magnitude of arrest and torture by the U.S. government on its own citizens. These protests put forward demands guaranteed by the Cuban constitution. Article’s 16, 18, 19, 41, 42, 43, 44 of the Cuban constitution reveal rights and guarantees afforded to Cubans that in the U.S. don’t even exist or are up for debate. A civil war was needed to end slavery only to have it replaced by Jim Crow segregation in this country. Without a doubt a quick look at the Cuban constitution in comparison with the U.S. constitution, one would begin to question the true ethics of the U.S. and why Cuba is portrayed the way it is.
Cuba has made greater advancements than the U.S. in many fields. It achieved a higher literacy rate, lower infant mortality rate, a lung cancer vaccine as well as a COVID-19 vaccine independently developed with a 92% success rate. All this despite the embargo and war crimes of the U.S. The U.S. in their sad attempt to condemn Cuba’s Communist Party declares the people of Cuba to be subjugated, unable to protest, or have free speech. As can clearly be seen, the president of Cuba not only respects the constitutional right to protest and have free speech, but invited millions to take to the streets to do so.
The Will of the People in Cuba
In 2018 a new draft of the Cuban constitution removed reference to communism. This first draft was met with wide-scale protests and a popular demand that reinstated communism as the goal. In 2019 the new Cuban constitution reaffirmed the popular will. Time after time the U.S. is embarrassed by Cuba’s revolutionary people. Which is presumably why the U.S., who routinely overthrows democracies, assassinates world leaders, or suffocates nations with sanctions, takes special interest in torturing Cuba. It is not without effect either, as many Cubans feel this pressure and suffer untold losses in this cruel escapade waged by the United States.
Mind you, Cuba is not without mistake. The continued privatization of industries and reliance on tourism is a massive failure on the part of the Cuban government. Failures to foster the full creative potential of the Cuban masses by putting politics in command has led the Cuban government to become a bureaucratic mess. With a large population of revolutionary masses eager to promote the ideals of socialism and forge ahead on their path of self-determination, it is sad to see the Cuban state fail to remove the fetters on the Cuban people that restrict their ability to take control of power for themselves. This is a result of internal contradictions within the Cuban state.
Over the past few decades the gradual decline of peoples’ power has been witnessed. Today’s events are a result of the pandemic and U.S. embargo. However, the principal issue is not from without Cuba and it certainly is not from the Cuban people. It is in the Cuban state and their failure to remain vigilant against growing opposition forces within the state itself. Forces that undermine the peoples’ will. Forces that cause unnecessary retreats and failures in planning. With all due respect, these are serious errors that must be rectified by campaigns led by the revolutionary Cuban people. Only the Cuban people can determine their destiny.
So our appeal to Cuba should be directed towards the revolutionary masses who represent the socialist majority. We are in solidarity with you and support you. We will continue to fight to bring to an end the U.S. embargo and all interventions. The revolutionaries in Cuba who emulate the ideals as well as principles of socialism with the aim of building communism are a continued inspiration to the freedom fighters all around the world.
Díaz-Canel welcomed revolutionaries to the street to participate in open debate and oppose the reactionaries. This is a step in the correct direction. So long as those revolutionaries are allowed to progress down whatever path they find suitable for themselves to sustain their revolution. So long as they combat the reactionaries as well as the revisionists. All of this on the terms set forth by the revolutionary Cuban masses themselves who are truly world renowned heroes of revolution.
MIM(Prisons) adds:It is not MIM line that Cuba was ever really on the socialist road. The Cuban revolution was very clearly one of national liberation from imperialism. However, Cuba paralleled the Derg in Ethiopia in taking on “Marxism-Leninism” for geo-political reasons related to using the Soviet Union as a counter-balance to other imperialist interests. That’s not to say there weren’t Marxists in their ranks, most popular movements in the Third World are going to have Marxist influences. But the Marxists had not consolidated a party around the proletarian line before seizing power. They did not follow Mao’s example of building United Fronts with other classes by maintaining proletarian leadership and independence. In a capitalist-imperialist world, coalition governments invariably lead to capitalism.
Cuba stood out for many decades as a symbol of resistance to U.$. imperialism, even after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is also well-known for directing resources in the interests of the Cuban people and the people of the world. In our article on Ethiopia we mention that the Cubans had their differences with the imperialist Soviet Union, and that speaks to the path Cuba took independent of the USSR during and after its existence.
We agree with current President Díaz-Canel that privatization is only bad for the people. However, nationalization only threatens imperialist meddling, it does not address the internal class contradictions of a country. And in the case of Cuba, with the dependence on tourist money and remittances, the Amerikans have significant and increasing control over their economy despite nationalization.
In the United $tates state-run firms (like the post office) are often defined as “socialism.” But Maoists define socialism differently, as an economy that is guided by the proletarian line, always engaging in class struggle, pitting the interests of collectivism, humyn needs and humyn relations above production, efficiency and profit.
As Mowgli writes, the internal contradictions of a capitalist economy in Cuba cannot ultimately be resolved without a popular movement to rectify the current leadership and shift to the socialist road. We would go further in stressing that socialism is class struggle. There is no policy shift that can bring a country to the socialist road, only the militant mobilization of the masses concentrated in a communist party that puts the class struggle at the forefront. Our opposition from within the empire to the embargo serves to help the Cuban people see their dreams come true via continued class struggle.
A Texas Prisoner wrote: “Recently on sum conservative radio show there was a persyn who asserted that amerikkka is a”socialist country and has been for a long time." A pupil and i argued about this because i’m like, amerikkka is the antithesis of socialism, but as i read your reply this debate re-entered my mind along with the conservative ploy to confuse the masses with “red baiting,” equating everything “left” of center as die hard communist/socialist but in essence what the persyn on the radio program was really saying was that amerikkka is a social democratic country and has been for a long time. i still disagree, wat about u? And wat is the difference, if any, between social democracy and democratic socialism?"
Plastick of MIM(Prisons) responds: For us Maoists, social-democracy is the tendency where as opposed to Marxism or communism, they seek to apply a welfare state such as the likes of Sweden while capitalism is the main basis. Democratic socialism is a revisionist Marxist trend where they claim that socialism is the goal where the workers run the world, we must do it through non-violent and reformist means. The confusion could go deeper for some newer comrades as the Bolsheviks of the Russian revolution called themselves as upholders of Social-Democracy. To Lenin and Stalin, social-democracy meant socialism and modern democracy in a backward semi-feudal imperialist Russia, not sharing a section of the imperialist pie to the Russian masses. But the International Communist Movement later abandoned “social-democracy” to those who thought capitalism could be reformed to serve humyn need.
Social-Democracy’s core characteristic is appeasing the masses through reforms and better short-term conditions while preserving bourgeois dictatorship. In an imperialist country, social-democracy can mean better wages and living standards for the labor aristocracy who might be growing tired of inflation. In the Third World there are just as much social-democratic movements as the comprador-bourgeoisie seeks to quell the majority proletarian populations of their respective countries. Ironically, despite its efforts to preserve Liberal bourgeois democracy, social-democracy oftentimes paves the way for fascism, particularly in the exploiter countries. In Germany, social-democracy crushed the revolutionary movement both by appeasing to the workers through oppressor nation chauvinism and militaristically ridding the revolutionary leadership. When economic crisis in Germany deepened to where social-democracy couldn’t govern its masses the way it did before, fascism arose to put forth law and order.
People often talk about social-democratic countries being the middle ground combination between capitalism and socialism: Amerika is a capitalist country, China is a communist country, and Sweden is a social-democratic country. This is a metaphysical view of what a country’s political economic system is – qualitatively all of these countries are run by a bourgeois dictatorship. Out of these countries, Sweden is the most famous for its social-democratic way of governing. There is a similar social-democratic movement in the U.$. that wishes to follow those countries lead, but to say a country is social-democratic is misunderstanding what social-democracy is: it is a trend that arises out of the labor aristocracy/petty-bourgeoisie during times of hardship. If social-democracy fails, the coin will flip to reveal the other side of fascism.
The last two presidential elections demonstrated an increase in pressure from the labor aristocracy for social democratic policies. All advanced imperialist countries have social services paid for off the backs of the Third World proletariat. If we want to split hairs and say some of these countries are social democracies, we’d say the U.$. is not currently one because it has extreme privatization, going so far as to privatize some prisons.
There is zero question that Kansas is using prisoners for cheap labor and profiting tremendously from multi-year sentencing of first-time drug offenders like myself.
I “earn” sixty cents per day to perform a skilled labor sewing position full time. If I refuse to work I will receive a disciplinary work report resulting in my custody security level to rise.
There is a 30-person crew that works at the Kansas State Fairgrounds year round. These prisoners also receive 60 cents per day. The fairground complex could not operate without prison labor.
These jobs are not maintaining KDOC prisons. They are part of the state prison economy, for the profit of the state.
Also, this prison takes 50% of the earnings of all private industry job income prisoners earn. At the private industry jobs, prisoners make minimum wage ($7.25/hour). Incarcerating probation-eligible offenders to minimum-custody facilities to work is proof that in Kansas, exploiting prison labor is a motivating force for mass incarceration.
In almost every other state I would not have been sentenced to prison for possession of medical cannabis.
I understand the point of the article was to look at medium and long-term goals. As a non-violent, non-victim, first time drug offender I believe cannabis decriminalization is a goal worth pursuing. Thousands of people in Kansas have been incarcerated by a corrupt, prison labor motivated criminal justice system.
Is the author agreeing that non-violent, non-victim, first-time cannabis offenders should be working for 60 cents a day to assist the state economy and provide cheap labor for giant factory farms in Kansas? When I see corrupt judges play in to this state economy, there are no myths in my first-hand facts. If I am misinterpreting Wiawimawo’s writing, please clarify what the author intended.
Wiawimawo of MIM(Prisons) responds: First, thanks for the details on how prison labor works where you are in Kansas. We regularly publish such reports on our website and use them to keep tabs on the realities of prison labor over time. You are our on the ground reporters for everything going on in U.$. koncentration kamps.
One thing you don’t specify is who you are making clothing for at your job. That is an important factor. Usually people are working on clothing and sheets and now face masks for other prisoners to use. That would be work for the prison system, not for profit. Similarly, running the fairgrounds is for the state. These are parallel to the examples of fire fighters given in my original article.
None of these jobs are making profits for anyone, which you seem to have confused. Multiple times you refer to Kansas as profiting from prisoners. States do not make profits. They have revenue and expenses, and they can run over budget if they want with expenses being greater than revenue by issuing bonds. Now the bourgeois definition of profit is netting more money coming in then you put out in expenditures. But even bourgeois economists do not use this terminology in regards to states. As Marxists, we define exploitation as paying workers less than the value that they produce and then selling the product (or service) to realize the full value. This is the source of wealth accumulation in capitalism.
Now to the prisoner sewing clothes for 60 cents a day, it matters little whether those clothes are to be used for state-issued use or sold in a store. So i can understand where you’re coming from. But if we want to explain how the prison system works in this country this becomes an important distinction. It is not profits for big businesses to accumulate capital that drives the system. It is a combination of financial self-interest of the people who work in these institutions, people who some would have us see as the oppressed proletariat themselves, and the broader interests of the oppressor nation to control the oppressed nations in this country. Through this control of the oppressed nations by Amerikans through criminalization and imprisonment, they can further gentrify the places oppressed nations reside and create further economic control for themselves. This is the heart of our analysis. And it is why we have a very different orientation than the petty bourgeoisie who is opposed to private prisons for profit and favor drug decriminalization as discussed in my original article.
“Is the author agreeing that non-violent, non-victim, first-time cannabis offenders should be working for 60 cents a day to assist the state economy and provide cheap labor for giant factory farms in Kansas?”
No, i do not argue that. We argue for more change, not less. We are not reformists, and we don’t think drug decriminalization in the United $tates will eliminate national oppression nor drug addiction. If done well, it could reduce these problems, and the specific expression of drug problems such as marijuana consumption. Therefore the reform is progressive, but it does not solve the problem of national oppression and the criminal drug economy. We have much better solutions for national oppression and drug addiction, and they certainly don’t include imprisoning people for victimless behavior. They do include eliminating profit motives in all aspects of our lives. In the meantime, we support an international minimum wage that would apply to prisoners.
A California Prisoner: The Covid and imperialism article in ULK 72 sparked my interest because I am already vaccinated and I had to ask myself why I, a prisoner, was vaccinated before tax payers? The answer was pretty simple logic. Prison is huge profit for California and the cash cow has been closed for Covid crisis, the sooner California can reopen the prisons, they can continue to rake in the profits they make from our suffering.
Wiawimawo responds: There was a significant effort in California by lawyers and activists to get prisoners to the top of the vaccination list. And this is at least part of the explanation as to why you got vaccinated early. It made sense from a public health standpoint, but this did not happen across the country because many Amerikans don’t care about prisoners’ lives.
It is not clear why you argue that profits dried up in prisons during the shelter-in-place, so i would need more information on that to respond. But as i explain above, states don’t profit from prisons. Prisons are a huge financial expense and do not create any economic value. Prison labor is one way to slightly reduce some of the expenses in running these prisons.(1)
All that said, i want to address this comrade’s talk about the “tax payers.” The vaccination campaign across the United $tates is being paid by the Federal government. The government has now passed a series of bills in the trillions of dollars to address the fallout from the pandemic. This is not “tax payer money.” They are just printing money, or creating money out of thin air to fund these programs. Since the dollar is the global currency, they can do this with some confidence that other countries and investors will buy up the bonds to cover the expense. It’s all funny money that we benefit from here in the United $tates, even those in prison benefit at times, thanks to our position as the premier imperialist power.
This is in stark contrast to countries like India and Brazil that are now being hit hard by the pandemic and the people are being offered little relief. One reason is that these countries can’t just print $1 trillion worth of their currency without causing massive inflation and damaging the conditions of the people more.
To the extent that it is “tax payers” who are helping to balance the budget deficit in the United $tates, we must also be clear where that money is coming from – the Third World proletariat. The above is just one demonstration of how value can flow from the periphery to the imperialist countries. This is reflected in the incomes of all U.$. citizens, who must give some of those super-profits to the state to keep the imperialist system running.
So let us not shed a tear for the poor “tax payer” in this country because California actually made some efforts to vaccinate people in a way that made sense in terms of promoting public health. There is no shortage of vaccines in the United $tates. In fact, we have far more than we need, while other countries have not even begun vaccinating their populations yet. If we were really working in the interests of public health, we would have a more equitable distribution of vaccines across the globe. We’d be prioritizing hotspots, which the United $tates is. And we’d be sharing the technology needed to make vaccines freely, releasing the intellectual property that is holding back progress in the fight against COVID-19. Failure to do so means that the virus will continue to evolve and likely continue to be a problem.
A New York prisoner: In response to ULK 72 (2021) article “Help Fund MIM(Prisons), Donate Now!”, I would like to offer a suggestion outside of charity from donations which seems to be a necessary form of income for the production, maintenance & shipment of ULK’s. What if MIM took some of its donations and invested them in the stock market? I know that seems pro-capitalist, but as the old adage goes you gotta fight “fire with fire.” Making a few short-term trades could possibly boost revenue for expenses (solely), and make donations a welcomed part of production but not so necessary. This would keep MIM’s line of no foreseeable future in capitalism by not becoming long-term investors in the stock market, but instead looking for quick returns in order to fund revolutionary work (i.e. short selling, which is basically betting against the U.S. market, which is still in some ways inherently communist behavior). I am enclosing an articled dated 11 January 2021, “Jay-Z Fund to Help Minority-owned Cannabis Businesses.” What do you think about this venture? I don’t really believe lumpen have the luxury of investing in non-essential production/consumption as cannabis right now, when they don’t even have land to cultivate on. But financial freedom is nonetheless a form of independence… so keep on keeping on Jay-Z!
Wiawimawo responds: First, we agree with using the oppressors’ tools against them, and have no moral qualms about the stock market. Proletarian morality means we do what will most benefit the liberation of the exploited and oppressed. Whether it is a wise investment is another question. Conventional wisdom is that it is a good long-term bet, but unpredictable in the short-term. As for shorting, well hedge fund Melvin Capital Management lost 53% in January in its infamous shorting of Gamestop.(2) They lost about $6 billion on that bet. That’s what the stock market is, gambling.
Now cannabis businesses, that might be a more sound investment. As the article points out, and as i discussed in my article on Tulsi Gabbard mentioned above, the legalization of weed has been a bonanza for white petty bourgeois interests trying to get small businesses up and running before the large corporations dominate the market. New Afrikans are under-represented in business ownership overall at just 10%, but in the states listed that number was 3-6% for cannabis businesses.(3) Jay-Z, and New York State are correctly recognizing this gap and trying to do something to not let it happen in New York.
What do we think about this? More equal opportunity for the petty bourgeoisie just reinforces imperialism. When it was illegal, oppressed people selling weed were targeted by the state and potential allies to the anti-imperialist movement. People running successful weed businesses aren’t likely to be our allies, regardless of their skin color.
The weed game is in a major transition. It is still in a semi-legal state, where the Feds could crack down on you (and they have). Getting access to loans and bank accounts can be difficult as a result. One group that is proving successful as early pioneers in the trade are former law enforcement. They are less likely to be targeted by the state than a former felon, and they have clout to deal with the pressures from extortion rackets and the lumpen organizations they are competing with. Therefore as revolutionaries, the weed business might be risky.
You suggest that we need to invest in stocks to free us from our reliance on donations. On the contrary, we are trying to become more reliant on donations so that our cadre don’t have to worry so much about funding everything ourselves, which we do by working or investing or whatever. Maybe some of us are investing in the stock market to fund this work, but that is not a reliable source of income. We want to be going strong when the market collapses again. And that is why we want to be reliant on the financial support of the masses. Only by relying on the people is our future secure.
As i said above, legalization of weed will not eliminate national oppression in the forms of cop killings and disproportionate imprisonment rates. It will make pacifying substances more readily available to the masses. And for better or for worse it will undercut the underground economy in favor of public tax revenue. And that is what this is about of course, it is providing tax revenue to maintain government funding at the local and state levels.
Until the import of weed is legalized by the feds, this shift of production to the United $tates will be undercutting a source of profits in the drug trade – the Third World farmer. Historically the farmers who grow and process weed are the ones being exploited in Third World countries. As production shifts to the First World, wages will have to increase to exploiter-level wages, with the possible exception of using migrant labor from the Third World. This means the profits must come from other sectors in the Third World instead, to pay the farmers, marketers, sales people and accountants in the First World running the new weed economy, as well as the state taxes. If the exploited weed farmers are eliminated, then the profits must now be squeezed from the banana farmers or copper miners, and all the other exploited workers of the Third World. This puts more pressure on the already dangerously low international rate of profit.
Finally, we agree with your point about land. Without land there is no power. National liberation means liberating the territory of the oppressed. Owning land as individuals is not it. Oppressed nations must control land as independent nations, and be able to defend that land. This is a central task of the New Democratic movement.
[MIM(Prisons) are not lawyers. The legal information provided by jailhouse lawyers in ULK is verified to the best of our ability. This particular issue seems like a winnable battle based on the information provided, but winning will take more effort by comrades in Texas.]
Prisoners in Texas are having the money from their stimulus checks taken by the state to pay fees and restitutions. Section 272(d)(2) of the Consolidated Appropriations Act provides that the second round of stimulus checks ‘shall not be transferable or assignable, at law or in equity, and no applicable payment shall be subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process, or the operation of any bankruptcy or insolvency law.’ This means that this round of stimulus checks may not be garnished to cover overdue debts by federal or state prisons.(1)
The stimulus checks have the same protections as the United States Veteran Affairs Administration whom sends millions of checks across the country to incarcerated former military service men and women whom only get 10% of such checks.
People held by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correction Institutions Division(TDCJ-CID) are having their stimulus checks stolen from their inmate trust funds accounts due to debts owed in the following categories, with the percent of each deposit they will deduct for each category:
current/prior TDCJ sentences (old or new, no amount specified)
I have written a complaint – a TDCJ Step One Offender Grievance Form No. 2021020837 that said the direction would come form the IRS as to whether those stimulus checks would be exempt from collection. The response was that this “action was out of the control of the unit, no action warranted.”
Thereafter, I appealed that response in another complaint Step Two Offender Grievance Form. I wrote the agents in charge at the IRS Department of the Treasury in Austin, TX but never received any response.
Scholl v. Mnuchin, et al. No.4:20-cv-05309-PJH ND Cal.; Appeal Docket No. 20-16915 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of prisoners getting stimulus checks while incarcerated. The checks in question should not be confused with the most recent $1400 checks under current Presdient Joseph Biden. It was the $1200 and $600 checks under President Donald Trump that were ruled on. These checks should be issued whether one is incarcerated or not because everybody is affected by this global crisis.
According to The Intercept the TDCJ was ironically the only state they spoke to that claimed it was not garnishing stimulus checks to its prisoners. Many, if not all, states have seemingly been breaking the law in doing so.(2)
There is a solution to safe-guard some form of protection to those stimulus checks or other funds.
MIM(Prisons) adds: The author provided names of some companies that used to provide banking services for prisoners. These companies all seem to have closed down. We leave this note here as a suggestion for possible solutions to storing your stimulus money if you can find a similar service that is trusted.
Also note, that according to caresactprisoncase.org, if you have not filed the tax forms for the stimulus checks by 15 April 2021 you may not be able to receive them. At the same time, the official word has gone back and forth on how all this works.
Some comrades have written in to say they are boycotting the stimulus checks. While we agree that these stimulus checks are a means of buying off the population in U.$. borders with wealth stolen from the Third World, as individuals we can still do good things with this money. Like how we view investing in the stock market, we do not take a moralistic view of this money and encourage comrades to get the funds they are legally due and put them to good use in projects serving the people and building independent institutions of the oppressed.
The following is a response to some topics of debate within the article “Maoist Third Worldism: Responding to Criticism from a Reader” by Mazur of the blog Struggle Sessions. “Maoist” projects in the United States have put forth a number of lines in recent years as worthy of dividing over. In our mind, there is none more important than the class structure of this country. And if anyone wants to attempt a follow up to Mazur’s effort, we request they respond to Imperialism and its Class Structure in 1997 by MC5, rather than some ideas in your head about what MIM Thought is.
Value and Price
Struggle Sessions asserts that the proponents of unequal exchange between imperialism and the oppressed nations (i.e.: finished goods and export commodities are unbalanced in such a way that the countries whose wealth is being extracted are given a raw deal) couch their views in part on a belief that the price of a given commodity is set as equal across different countries. To that allegation we reply: in what ‘Third Worldist’ publication has this been written? To my knowledge MIM has not claimed this, nor was this asserted by the earlier contributor. Cite your sources. Do not attempt to employ a selective choice of academics as a stand-in with an eye towards deceiving your online readership by purposefully distorting matters to the benefit of your dogmatic conception of economic affairs and reality. That is why it is easy for you to tear down your chosen academic-as-foil such as in your statement that:
Amin would later adopt this to equalize price levels so that a given use value costs the same in U.S. as it does in Guatemala. Before getting into this this is just not true anyways…
You perceive yourself as rather clever, don’t you. We wonder into what other topics of discussion you have inserted such imperious analysis and judgments which have also resorted to similar rhetorical deceptions and sleights-of-hand. Also, if our stance on unequal exchange was really a “less sophisticated version” as you claim, wouldn’t you just stick to picking apart that easier prey instead? So we see again that you, Mazur, have run into problems, problems concerning deceit and faulty logic in equal measure.
You are at least correct on one thing, and that is your statement that your academic could not stand the test of Marxism. So let’s drop any other “version that is worth using” and stick with Marxian economics. And by Marxian economics, we do not refer merely to its classical conception (it is worth noting that Marx claimed even he was not a Marxist, alluding to the fact that Marxism is a living science, ever changing and developing new insights, not static and impervious to advances in economic complexity over time); we also refer to its continuity within a Leninist framework in the era of imperialism, super-exploitation and the labor aristocracy, which Lenin gave clarity to and which MIM Thought has further expanded upon through materialist analysis.
You allege that in our analysis we deliberately ignore the labor theory of value. So, we will begin with Marx:
What, then, is the value of laboring power? Like that of every other commodity, its value is determined by the quantity of labor necessary to produce it. (1)
‘Value’ in its final form must correspond to the labor power embodied in a given commodity. Yet properly gauging this has become more complex under imperialism. The main way we have typically measured it is through its price, its exchange value. This follows what is termed the law of value, but, when commodities and the labor embodied in them (what is termed ‘dead labor’) are transferred from the developing peripheries to an imperialist nation via multinational corporations, the connection of value to its price is distorted to the point where the product (your banana) is finally placed in the produce section at an American supermarket, so much super-profits have accrued from not paying the Guatemalan workers the value of their labor that upon its sale there is enough excess profit for the United Fruit Co. to in turn bless its American management and warehouse employees with more than the value of their labor, in effect purchasing their allegiance to where they no longer have just their ‘chains’ to lose. They have become invested in the continuation of super-exploitation of the Guatemalan proletariat as have many additional Americans in their role as consumers, fresh off the job in your glorified manufacturing sector, who purchase the produce (yes, despite paying over its market value in Guatemala “and regular distribution and retail costs, the speculative costs of the money market, etc.”) and, being entitled to similar wage privileges, can also afford to have their money manager include shares of United Fruit in their investment portfolio, if they so choose. As for our plantation worker: “In Guatemala, where the minimum wage is roughly $11 a day” and workers “struggle to bring home even $220 a month” (2), they may not have the luxury of being able to afford the very product of their own toil without first considering whether it will cut into other essential purchases or payments owed, despite it selling for close to its actual value. The logic behind these processes are so elementary that all but those who are ‘so intelligent, they are stupid’ cannot fail to comprehend it. This is on display when you surprisingly acknowledge that this wealth transfer happens to the extent we describe, yet simultaneously are unable to understand or remain willfully ignorant of its far-reaching implications. You state:
“Because of capital export it does indeed follow that the U.S. is a net importer of commodities and that there is a stratum of monopoly capitalists who derive their profits solely from interest from their direct foreign investment that melts down to this strata …”
But, not to be deterred, you say that exploitation happens at the point of production and the lazy dogmatist in you resurfaces as you go on to state further:
“… but the U.S. is still the second largest manufacturer in the world, behind only China. This is something the ‘TWist’ does not want to recognize, that the class which has nothing to lose but its chains is concentrated in large numbers in the USA.”
Who is proletarian? Are they a revolutionary vehicle?
We are glad that we can agree that the proletariat is the class that has nothing to lose but its chains. But the relevance of manufacturing statistics we find confusing. Once again, you do not want to recognize the full extent of this wealth transfer, but this time as it plays out in the domestic manufacturing sector:
“They can’t compete with China in terms of labor. An American manufacturing employee makes an average of $26 an hour, while his or her Chinese counterpart makes only $5 an hour, according to the Reshoring Institute.”(3)
American manufacturing operations are still dependent on raw materials and parts with unpaid-for embodied labor within them that is obtained under a system of super-exploitation and shipped across borders for Amerikan workers to tinker with. This results in wages that are at least five times higher and above the value of their labor because there is enough money being made for the capitalists to both turn a profit and purchase their allegiance. When you deny the hidden transfer of value between national economies, perhaps it makes sense to estimate the size of the proletariat based on GDP numbers as Mazur does above. The United States being “the second largest manufacturer” only proves that a lot of value is being realized here, not where that value is coming from.
While, we do not recall anyone ever not recognizing that some Amerikan workers are employed in the manufacturing sector, the one thing we do not equate them with is being a part of the proletariat. Lenin reexamined the meaning of ‘proletarian’ in a more nuanced manner when he said:
“The Roman proletarian lived at the expense of society. Modern society lives at the expense of the modern proletarian. Marx specifically stressed this profound observation of Sismondi. Imperialism somewhat changes the situation.”(4)
The proletariat can most accurately be described as the social group that is the revolutionary vehicle. This does not mean that it is synonymous with the industrial working class for all times and contexts. Mao understood this when he harnessed the immense latent power of the Chinese peasantry, who at the time made up around 95% of the population. They became the revolutionary vehicle while the industrial workers, due in part to their marginal proportions, assumed more of an auxiliary role. Would you also embrace the lazy dogmatism of the Trotskyists who cling to their orthodoxy with a religious fervor and state that, because the peasantry is not the industrial working class, it cannot be capable of being the backbone of a revolution? History showed us otherwise, while you would have been as insistent as Chen Duxiu and got nothing accomplished. No, Mazur, in this matter you are much like the ‘Marxists’ who see Cuba or China as socialist. How so? Because you identify things based on their form rather than their substance. You have lost the ability (if you were ever able) of discerning who is revolutionary and who is not, who are our friends and who are likely to betray us to protect their stake in the system. You see occupations instead of workers economic co-optation within that occupation by way of a reactionary vested interest in their allegiance to empire and its spoils. This makes you no different than the ‘Communists’ of yesteryear who saw workers in hardhats attacking demonstrators protesting U.S. involvement in Vietnam as objectively revolutionary, or the socialist parties who supported their nations’ entrance into imperialist world wars as to the workers’ benefit at the munitions plants:
“Thus, on the outbreak of the imperialist war in 1914 the parties of the social-traitors in all countries, when they supported the bourgeoisie of their ‘own’ countries, always and consistently explained that they were acting in accordance with the will of the working class. But they forgot that, even if that were true, it must be the task of the proletarian party in such a state of affairs to come out against the sentiments of the majority of the workers and, in defiance of them, to represent the historical interests of the proletariat.”(5)
This is why when you say that our line leads one to the inevitable conclusion that the working class in the U.S. and other imperialist countries are the main exploiting class of the people of the world and that “this would make the task of Communists to divide and discourage the just rebellion of the masses,” we would concur, save for the whole bit of rhetorical flourish about it being a ‘just rebellion.’
But you continue harping on that the imperialist working class faces, in your words:
“… exploitation in many forms, with work speed-ups, greater temporary contracts, de-skilling, through greater constant capital being introduced and wage depression.”
Clearly such things applied to even an exploiter working class would still benefit the capitalists. We do not claim that these workers are insulated from unfair working conditions despite benefiting from their relationship with imperialism, as they remain the subordinate partner in this role. But we do not go so far as to label it ‘exploitation,’ because being ‘exploited’ is a very precise Marxist term. We would like to make clear that this does not mean that by extension we believe that no one faces conditions of exploitation within the imperialist centers, nor do we “contend that there is no proletariat to organize in the imperialist countries.” The previous ‘TWist’ contributor also did not claim this. They criticized you for arguing “that the labor aristocracy is not the majority class in the first world” (emphasis ours). MIM(Prisons) has this to say:
“Our claims, however, are far from this. Our claim is that the masses here are a minority force: they are oppressed nation, they are migrants, they are prisoners, etc. We have been saying this for many years, yet [our critics] ignore this line and claim that we do not believe that anyone is oppressed in the First World. We don’t claim that there are no masses here, we claim that the constantly dying imperialist system needs to fall in order for proletarianization of the labor aristocracy to happen.”(6)
We can look to segments of the internal semi-colonies including the over 500 Indigenous nations on the continent, sectors of the Third World diaspora including the so-called ‘illegal’ migrant workers residing within imperialist borders, the revolutionary youth and intellectuals, and the revolutionized lumpen and prison populations as wellsprings for our revolutionary mass base in this country. But you would, again, looking at form rather than substance, likely scoff at this and act like we are just going to accept and network with these groups uncritically as we encounter them and not pursue their further proletarianization. This is not the case. We also express with a higher degree of actual confidence and certainty that the above-mentioned groups have a greater interest in seeing the tables turned in this country, and turned violently, than your bourgeoisified working classes you seek to lose yourselves in.
And note: it is at this point that, having just detailed our position clearly and corrected the record, we will formally ask you to cease claiming that we believe that there are no proletarians or masses within the imperialist centers to practice the mass line with. Quote us correctly. Honesty may not come naturally to you, but those who stumble across this blog page deserve a truthful and accurate representation of views other than your own. You can only deceive the masses for so long before they find out and call you on your bullshit. On a related note, it is amusing (while incorrect) that you paint proponents of the labor aristocracy-maturation line as “largely abstentionists from revolutionary practice” when we can observe the prison ministry of the MIM testing its ideas, struggling with the imprisoned masses and developing theory through practice. Providing this leadership and developing new cadre in the prisons while retaining fidelity to anti-imperialism and the international proletariat is a verifiable practice of theirs. On the other hand, it remains to be seen how you and your lazy dogmatist cohorts will translate such fine rhetoric as “recogniz[ing] the importance of organizing the proletariat [in the manufacturing sectors] as a vital trench, to defeat imperialism’s political influence through the labor aristocracy among the proletariat” into concrete policies and actions.
Role of Consumption in Determining Our Friends
You are quick to dismiss arguments about Amerikan access to wealth by saying that as real Marxists we know that exploitation happens at the point of production,
“We see then that exploitation does not happen at the level of circulation. It happens at production as will be explained further below.”
Yet we do not argue that the proletariat is being exploited at the supermarket. Rather we are saying that surplus value is calculated by the simple arithmetic of subtracting value received by the worker from the value added by the worker. Therefore, increasing value received has the potential of creating a negative value on the right-hand side of that equation; surplus value can be negative. Of course this can only be true for a subset of so-called workers or capital would cease to circulate.
You take another grain of truth from Marx and extrapolate it inappropriately in your sentence:
“For TWists who distort Marxism, the greater amount of use values a wage can command=the lesser degree of exploitation of a waged worker.”
Marx’s model predicts an increase in use values becoming available to the proletariat, and even becoming part of the value of labor (the basic cost of survival). An example of this would be that by 2018, 83% of adults in Third World countries had a cell phone.(7) Banking and other services are often only available in remote regions via cell phone. Therefore, having a cell phone in general would not be a good indicator of the degree of exploitation someone faced in 2018. Whereas in 1990, it was a good indicator that you were not exploited.
“Pure and simple, a temp worker at a plastic shop earning 25,000 in the USA doesn’t exploit anyone, while a food production small business owner in Managua who earns less than 25,000 who has employees who earn less than what he does exploits – exploitation requires a position of ownership and control over the means of production.”
While 86% of adults in Kenya have a cell phone (less than half of those have smart phones), the average consumption of the poorest 20% of Amerikans is about 10 times that of the average Kenyan.(8) What economic logic would Struggle Sessions use to justify enjoying use values an order of magnitude greater than those in the Third World, while maintaining that both groups are exploited proletarians with nothing to lose but their chains? Here you argue that an Amerikan making more money than a Nicaraguan has more revolutionary potential. What happened to “nothing to lose but their chains”?
Another metric provided at the website above is the number of Big Mac’s a McDonald’s worker can buy with one hour of wages in 2007. An Amerikan working at McDonald’s at that time could buy 6 times as many Big Macs as an Indian working the same job.(8) Will Struggle Sessions argue that the Amerikan is more productive flipping burgers? Not to mention the fact that most Amerikans are now engaged in service work like this where the possibility for great increases in productivity don’t even exist as they do in manufacturing.
From there we must ask, what systems of militarism, war, borders and financial manipulations must be maintained to keep that differential between the Amerikan McDonald’s worker and the Indian one? And how does Struggle Sessions propose we can organize these Amerikan McDonald’s workers to oppose militarism, war, borders and international finance manipulating the economies of the Third World?
Pray tell, comrade, how are you going to combat the siren song of the labor aristocracy in their workplaces, especially when you fail to even properly recognize who is and isn’t a part of the labor aristocracy? And we ask, are you going to offer less opportunities to fight for ill-gotten spoils of imperialism? No, that won’t do it, no. So not only are you going to 1) hop into the ‘trench’ of worker privilege, valiantly protecting and further fattening the bloated hourly earnings of production workers, their pension plans and paid-vacation leave; but 2) you are going to attempt to convince them that they should want to overthrow the government and corporations which supply their cushy material existence; following that up by 3) asking them to be on board with a future reduction in pay and standard of living to pursue the objective of an equal global distribution of wealth and reparations to the Global South; and 4) all the while being supportive of a proposal for a demilitarized, open border with Mexico so that the working classes of all nations can pursue better employment opportunities?
Mazur, we can’t even say that we wish you luck (and certainly not on the first point); just that it’ll be the workers themselves, not their employers or security, picking you up and throwing you out of the factory floor and onto your ass. But go ahead and falsify our thesis and you will effectively accomplish what no amount of keyboard clattering on your part can do at present. That is essentially what it comes down to. Show us. Moreover, do so without inadvertently activating social-fascism.
Applying Marxism to Our Conditions
In the 100-odd years since the first successful revolution leading to a dictatorship of the proletariat, none have occurred in an imperialist country with the industrial working classes as the revolutionary vehicle. You acknowledge we are right in pointing this out. Yet you still cannot comprehend the full gravity of the labor aristocracy maturation-line to know that the reasons that you cite for this failure (fascism, revisionism) are intrinsically tied up with a failure on the part of Communist organizations to determine the true extent of the rot and subsequently to cease catering to the labor aristocracy’s demands altogether. The problem lies in part with the fact that you believe (as if it were still the second decade of the last century, not the current one) that:
“The reality is such a condition for labor aristocracy is rooted fundamentally in the opportunist political leadership of sections of organized labor, courting favor with U.S. imperialism in competition on a world scale. It was never defined, by Lenin, Mao or any other past revolutionary movement from among the oppressed nations and proletariat, as a strata that encapsulated the entirety of the working class (white or otherwise) of the ‘First World.’”
Lazy dogmatism rears its head once more when you go referencing the classics without taking into account the particular dynamics of our ever deeper progression into the imperialist era and our unique geographic location within it. Chairman Gonzalo had something to say about people doing just that while expounding on the need to better understand Maoism and struggle for its supremacy. In our quest to promote a better understanding of the full implications of the labor aristocracy maturation-line and the necessity to struggle for that line over the ossified views of our erring Maoist fellow travelers, we will quote him at length (we feel that, if nothing else gets their attention perhaps quoting him will be the spark necessary to get the ‘Principally Maoists’ to correct their thinking on the matter):
“In order to better understand Maoism and the necessity to struggle for it, let us remember Lenin. He taught us that as the revolution advanced in the East it expressed specific conditions that, while they did not negate principles or laws, were new situations that Marxism could not ignore, upon the risk of putting the revolution in danger of defeat. Notwithstanding the uproar against what is new by pedantic and bookish intellectuals, who are stuffed with liberalism and false Marxism, the only just and correct thing to do is to apply Marxism to the concrete conditions and to solve the new situations and problems that every revolution necessarily faces. In the face of the horrified and pharisaic ‘defenses of the ideology, the class, and of the people’ that revisionists, opportunists, and renegades proclaim, or the furious attacks against Marxism by brutalized academicians and hacks of the old order who are debased by the rotten bourgeois ideology and blindly defend the old society on which they are parasites. Lenin also said clearly that the revolution in the East would present new and great surprises to the greater amazement of the worshipers of following only the well-trodden paths who are incapable of seeing the new; and, as we all know, he trusted the Eastern comrades to resolve the problems that Marxism had not yet resolved.”(9) (emphasis ours)
We would add to Gonzalo’s statement that Lenin would have also trusted the imperialist nation comrades to resolve the problems that Marxism-Leninism had only begun to address and solve, and to not mechanically parrot their words on the scope and potential solutions to problems which in their time were but saplings compared to the broader trunks and deeper roots which we must now contend with, axe in hand. The labor aristocracy maturation-line, flowing from Lenin’s analysis of the split in the working class movement in the early 20th century with its antecedents in Marx and Engels’ analysis of the English working class in the 19th century, contends that this split has only continued and with minimal interruption for the past 100 years in the imperialist centers, absorbing whole sectors of the working classes, bribed now in a thousand more ways than before. It was impossible for Marx, Engels and Lenin to examine and address these issues as well as we can today, because they were a relatively new development at the time. We, however, now have the extensive benefit of hindsight, history and statistics not available then. Yet Lenin did direct our attention to its creeping progression:
“The longer bourgeois democracy has prevailed in a country, the more complete and well established it is, the more successful have the bourgeoisie of that country been in getting into those leading positions people who are reared in bourgeois democracy, saturated in its attitudes and prejudice, and very frequently bribed by it, whether directly or indirectly.”(10)
Mao also spoke on this subject:
“In the various nations of the West there is a great obstacle to carrying through any revolution and construction movement, i.e., the poisons of the bourgeoisie are so powerful that they have penetrated each and every corner. While our bourgeoisie has had, after all, only three generations, those of England and France have had a 250-300 year history of development, and their ideology and modus operandi have influenced all aspects and strata of their societies. Thus the English working class follows the Labour Party, not the Communist Party.”(11)
Because of this, Mao went on to disagree with Lenin:
“Lenin says, ‘the transition from capitalist to socialism will be more difficult for a country the more backward it is.’ This would seem incorrect today.”(12)
We can no longer point to just ‘the opportunist political leadership of sections of organized labor’ and call them the whole of the labor aristocracy. They now represent a class of workers who have become bourgeois in outlook and have only grown exponentially over time. At what point do you realize and accept that the imperialist nation industrial working classes and service sectors are no longer a viable revolutionary vehicle for Maoism, and that we must focus our organizing in areas separate from these? At what point do things finally begin to click into place for you, or are you allowing your pride and dogmatic rote-learning to blind you to the reality which screams for recognition? If for whatever reason hearing this message from us in particular is just too much to stomach, then we recommend the book Labor Aristocracy: Mass Base of Social Democracy by H.W. Edwards for more detailed analysis. We encourage everyone with an inquiring mind to not just take our word for it – examine our references and arrive at the necessary conclusions on this important subject matter. Do not allow idealism or lazy dogmatism to cloud your judgment any longer to the futility of throwing yourself against the wall of the labor aristocracy in your organizing efforts.
There are two final matters we would like to address. The first is that it is said we have come by our views through and subsequent traffic in “petty-bourgeois empiricism-posing-as-analysis,” to which we reply:
“The lazy dogmatists actually see no real role for science in agitations. In response to Mao’s proof that line is decisive, they accept at face value the revisionist slander that calls Mao idealist. By downplaying science, they pave the way for fascism, which consciously relies on mysticism for victory in people’s hearts. They imagine that being good Maoists means being idealist, not practitioners of the science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.”(13)
By criticizing our use of statistics, percentages and numbers, you are by extension leveling your criticism at Lenin:
“Lenin used many more such statistics, including Tsarist statistics and criticized those who would not make much use of them.”(14)
Our critics don’t like it when we use basic addition and subtraction to show that their math doesn’t add up.(15) We must remind our readers of this line:
“For TWists who distort Marxism, the greater amount of use values a wage can command=the lesser degree of exploitation of a waged worker.”
Does that mean you believe the inverse? As First Worldists you believe that material wealth can increase infinitely without disqualifying one from being exploited? Must we bring up the old NFL player example and ask if they have nothing to lose but their chains? And to pivot to our final topic, Colin Kaepernick was protesting the murder of young Black men in the streets by the state, not wages or working conditions. Same reason cities burned across the country last year, and the same reason they’ve burned almost every other time in the last 60 years.
We find your agnosticism on the national question problematic, “In regards to the white nation, we [Struggle Sessions] have not taken a formal position on this.” First we are in the era of imperialism, which is defined by the contradiction between nations. To not be able to address the national question in one’s own country is to fail to address the whole of modern political economy. Second, the question of first importance is who are our friends, and who are our enemies. To not have a line on the nature of the euro-Amerikan nation, while having a very well worked out line on military strategy in the United $tates (a line we know is dear to the hearts of Struggle Sessions authors), is a dangerous example of putting the cart before the horse.
To address the question as you raise it, we will begin by saying that U.S. imperialism is a multinational project in two respects. The first pertains specifically to the makeup of the Euro-Amerikan oppressor nation, and the second in the national-patriotic sense with the inclusion of token elements of the New Afrikan and [email protected] bourgeoisie in leadership positions both in business and government and the participation of their respective labor aristocracies in the plunder of the Global South. But our focus is in addressing the seeming paradox of the Euro-Amerikan Nation, and whether it is myth or fact. You state that:
“In this case they are lumping a bunch of languages, cultures, regions and psychologies into one nation. For instance the psychological makeup of Jews, Slavs, Irish and Anglo Americans are not the same, and their languages are often different, too.”
The Euro-Amerikan Nation (or ‘white’ nation in more simplified terms) has historically assumed the role of dominant oppressing force since the founding of the United States. Being ‘white’ in America is not only so much a matter of genealogy and physiognomy as it is one of hierarchy, both in terms of class and nation. We agree that these people were something else before they were ‘white’ or Euro-Amerikan – Corsican, Welsh, Jewish, German etc. Yet through a common historical bond rooted in violence, rape and looting of labor and land, began a process of washing the disparate tribes white, a belief in being ‘white,’ becoming a unified, melded nation in the patriotic and national sense. In the United States, the separate Irish, Anglo, Polish, etc. immigrant nationalities of old are now mostly forgotten ‘dead nations,’ with forgotten mother tongues, blended beyond recall save in surname or remnant cultural practice seldom exercised in day-to-day existence. They have transformed themselves over the generations into a single unit sharing a common culture, language (English), economy (within the borders of the U.S. excluding most other nations) and territorial cohesion (again, much of North America). Your denial of this could only be justified by some racial theory of bloodline.
For you to say that ‘there is no common economy, there is no common language, there is no geographic territory, and so on’ is an ahistorical delusion that serves no purpose whatsoever. By denying this, it would seem that by extension you would also deny the same ‘nation’ status for the ‘Black’ or New Afrikan Nation, and furthermore any right to their own self-determination because ‘at best’ you see several nations that, through participation in the brutal receiving end of the settler project in the past, were able to achieve uneven status and integration into ‘blackness.’ (Mazur links to a now official paper by Struggle Sessions that addresses the intersection of so-called “race” and class in relation to New Afrika. For now, we will present MIM Theory 7 as a counter to that piece.)
The Great Migration of Black sharecroppers to the industrial north and west in the early to mid 20th century dispersed the population of the Black Belt south throughout the modern colonial borders of the United States. Nonetheless, New Afrikans constitute a nation as a result of the historical (forced) melding of different cultures, languages and psychologies into a new and unique shared culture, language and segments of territory. It is our hope to one day see the will of the New Afrikan Nation expressed in a plebiscite on self-determination. Perhaps Mazur & Co. will be on the right side of history when this occurs.
One final note, we are in agreement with the statement that:
“‘Privilege’ itself, as well as the absence of national oppression, does not in any way actually prevent those with a relative ‘privilege’ from facing oppression and exploitation as well.”
The white youth, intellectuals and revolutionized white lumpen and prisoners have an interest in revolution as traitors to their class and nation. We do not overextend our analysis to exclude these potential allies in our struggle.
Notes: 1. Karl Marx, “Labouring Power,” Value, Price and Profit, Martino Fine Books, 2017 p. 39. 2. Lauren Villagran, “A Desperate Quest for American Dream Denied,” USA Today, December 23, 2020. 3. Michael Braga, “Manufacturers Facing Hurdles in Return to US,” USA Today, December 22, 2020. It should be noted that back in 2018, hourly earnings for production workers were pegged at $22.71 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Thus a steady increase has occurred in 2 years’ time rather than a trend towards wage suppression as our labor-aristocratic Maoists allege. 4. V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism,” Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International: Documents 1907-1916, John Riddell, ed. New York: Monad Press, 1984 p. 497. 5. Jane Degras, ed. The Communist International: 1919-1943 Documents, London: Frank Cass & Co., 1971 Vol. 1, p. 129 (hereafter Degras) 6. MIM (Prisons), “A Falsifiable Thesis,” Who’s Got Something to Prove, JMP?, August 2020. www.prisoncensorship.info 7. Laura Silver, 5 February 2019, Smartphone Ownership Is Growing Rapidly Around the World, but Not Always Equally, Pew Research Center. 8. https://www.justfacts.com/income_wealth_poverty#international 9. Communist Party of Peru, “Introduction”, Fundamental Documents. 10. Degras, Vol. 1, p. 119. 11. Mao Tsetung, A Critique of Soviet Economics New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977 p. 50. 12. Ibid. 13. MIM Theory Number 10, “Lessons From the Comintern: Continuities in Method and Theory, Changes in Theory and Conditions”, Coming to Grips with the Labor Aristocracy, 1996. p. 22. View PDF at www.prisoncensorship.info 14. Ibid., p. 42. See Lenin’s “Statistics and Sociology,” Collected Works, Vol. 23. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964. p. 271. For Mao talking about dogmatist lazybones, see Mao Tse-Tung, “On Contradiction,” Four Essays on Philosophy. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1968 p. 37. 15. MC5, 1997, Imperialism and its Class Structure in 1997, part C.5..
MIM(Prisons) submitted this response to Struggle Sessions. While no response has been received yet, we cannot expect from them in days, what took us many months. However, we have already received some astute responses from others that we are including here.
ADDENDUM 1: A comment on ‘Mazur’s’ understanding of unequal exchange
The theory of unequal exchange of Samir Amin is one thing, the theory of Arghiri Emmanuel is another. I do not know if MIM ever commented on the distinction between the two theories (perhaps for political purposes given the overwhelming First Worldist hysteria surrounding it), but the theory of unequal exchange ‘in the strict sense’ as based on global wage differentials is what MIM (and also Cope’s 2012 book) have always made reference to; ‘Imperialism and its Class Structure in 1997’ makes explicit reference to wage differentials in Section A Chapter 5-6 and Section C Chapter 5. This theory does not depend upon either differing organic compositions or differing productivities within the same branch of trade. And Emmanuel’s criticism of the doctrine of comparative advantage does not depend upon a criticism of the quantity theory of money, as he implies in quite literally one of the first paragraphs of the Introduction. The reference to declining terms of trade in Emmanuel has absolutely nothing to do with the distinction between primary and non-primary commodities (explicitly contrary to the Prebisch–Singer hypothesis), but rather with the wages in the two sectors. Let us note one more error on the part of Mazur before we get around to explaining where the error arises.
“If there are the same prices and the wages in the U.S. are higher, and capital goods costs the same, then the cost price of any given commodity would be higher in the U.S. This means (since the price of the finished commodity is the same) that the rate of profit would be lower in the U.S., so no transfer would even take place.”
Let’s start from the basics. Ricardo’s theory of comparative costs represents a “special” case where the labor theory of value is invalidated. The labor theory does not govern prices at an international level, Ricardo states, because profits cannot equalize. Profits may equalize within nations because capital is mobile, but it cannot equalize between nations where capital is immobile as such immobility results in specialization and therewith the governing of comparative as opposed to absolute cost. Wages do not enter into Ricardo’s equation because he operated under the assumption that wages tended towards the subsistence level because of the Malthusian law of population. (In other words, Ricardo takes equal wages as a given.)
Marx overthrew the Malthusian “iron law of wages” and this fact is the starting point for Emmanuel. What Emmanuel emphasizes is a world where capital is mobile, and therefore profits do indeed tend towards an equality, but where the Marxian law of exogenous wages rules. Why does this matter? Because labor is not mobile, and because wages in the First World are in fact higher without being subject to the discipline of equalization, wages are the only ‘independent variable’ governing global prices of production. It is no argument against Emmanuel to claim that he abandons the labor theory of value, because in the real world market prices fluctuate around not values but rather prices of production. Perhaps Mazur missed the publication of Volume Three of Capital, but Emmanuel had not. Hence “factor rewards” (namely wages) are not given by prices, but rather prices are given by “factor rewards” (in neoclassical parlance). Emmanuel therefore inverts the logic of Hecksher-Ohlin-Samuelson: prices do not determine wages, but rather wages prices. This is Emmanuel avec Marx.
The products of industries employing workers at low wages, therefore, have relatively low prices, and those which employ workers at high wages have relatively high prices. This is precisely the point of Emmanuel’s argument — because we are dealing with different commodities being exchanged. Critics of Emmanuel imagine that they are intelligent in coming to the profound conclusion that high wages translate into a lower rate of surplus-value and therefore profit. Emmanuel does not deny this; he instead shows that with an equalizing profit rate the surplus-value of the Third World is transferred to the First World because products of low prices are exchanged for products of high prices. It’s really quite that simple. And to repeat ourselves for the tenth time, the prices are high and low because of differing wages. To believe otherwise is nothing more than marginalism. Emmanuel’s argument is not, in fact, that unequal exchange is preferable to lower wages in the First World from the viewpoint of the capitalist; it is only that the lack of wage equalization partially compensates the drop in the rate of profit.
No child, us Third Worldists do not argue that super-profits originate in circulation (a libel of Bettelheim), but rather in the super-exploitation of the Third World proletariat. If they were not super-exploited, if the rate of surplus-value was not in fact higher, there would not have been enough surplus-value to transfer and either First World wages or capitalism itself would have had to collapse.
Mazur writes that:
“Because the organic composition of capital has allowed much more surplus value to actually be generated, we see then that the rate of exploitation is often higher in spite of wage increases.”
Imagine such crass physicalism coming from an avowed defender of the labor theory. Capital with a higher organic composition does not allow “more surplus-value to actually be generated”. It quite literally implies less variable capital (relative to its size) and therefore less surplus-value because constant capital does not contribute an iota of surplus-value. Mazur wants us to believe that because capital-intensity is usually higher in the First World, this axiomatically makes First World workers more “productive” of surplus-value. First Worldists have never proven labor intensity is higher in the First World, which is what this claim necessitates demonstrating. We have already seen that this does not put a dent into Emmanuel’s theory, and Emmanuel explicitly (and consequently) asserts that, e.g., First World primary producers (Australian coal, Canadian timber, etc.) still benefit from unequal exchange. But this is of course a mirage, and as soon as the parasitism of the labor aristocracy confronts the “Marxist” defender of the labor theory of value, they turn into John Bates Clark and want us to believe that wages are governed by labor’s marginal productivity.
I could continue, and I would like to defend Sakai from the virulence he has been subjected to, but I will leave that to someone perhaps more competent than myself.
ADDENDUM 2: On Appalachia
loop-3: Given that MIM(Prisons) has no materialist analysis of the region, and certainly no experience organizing within it, it is unclear why you now incorrectly say that
“Poor whites in Appalachia… have an interest in revolution as traitors to their class and nation. We do not overextend our analysis to exclude these potential allies in our struggle.”
This is a striking political regression. The actual Maoist Internationalist Movement had a far more correct position on this. According to MC5,
"Often times we Marxists are told that we should go organize the Appalachian poor for their economic demands. Duncan gives us some up-to-date evidence on why that is a silly idea. Between 1980 and 1990, Blackwell county shrunk in population by 12%. That is the real social movement of Appalachia. Yes, there is a shortage of jobs, so people move. That is why there is no class solidarity or class consciousness that arises in Appalachia, no matter how many Marxists bang their heads on the wall there. To the extent that Marxists do influence or awaken anyone, they simply move or succeed in their middle-class ambitions. We do not need Marxism for that and hence we find the subject matter of Duncan’s book boring. It is about how to integrate people into middle-class life. There is no other possibility when poverty is only in isolated pockets and not a generalized economic condition within a country’s borders…
"Even if Appalachia had closed borders, it would only then be equivalent to some of the poorer European countries. At $15,321, central Appalachia’s median income would still be more than 10 times higher than that of the median for the international proletariat. Between 1980 and 1990 meanwhile, Gray Mountain’s income literally doubled.
"Both the Mississippi Delta and central Appalachia are shrinking in population. Already in 1980, the two infamously poor regions combined had only a population of 1.8 million in a country of 226.5 million with open borders internally. In other words, they are less than one percent of the population and it was ridiculous to expect any class formation there. By 1990, the two regions combined shrunk to less than 1.7 million, or less than the number of people in prison today.
“The trillions in super-profits sucked out of the Third World make it possible for whole countries to be rich like the United $tates. Although inequalities continue to exist within the United $tates, they are not nearly as central or as important to Marxists as those on a global scale.”
In addition, MIM Theory 1, in the article “Pittston Strike Shows Depth of White Working Class Alliance,” favorably quotes from this section of J. Sakai’s Settlers on this issue:
"Despite the 60 years of repeated radical organizing drives [in Appalachia] there has been, in fact, zero revolutionary progress among the mining communities. Despite the history of bloody union battles, class consciousness has never moved beyond an embryonic form, at best. There is no indigenous [here, Sakai is referring to regional whites] revolutionary activity - none - or traditions. Loyalty to U.S. imperialism and hatred of the colonial peoples is very intense. We can see a derailment of the connection between simple exploitation and class consciousness…
"This points out the fact that what is poverty-stricken about settlers is their culture.
“The Euro-Amerikan coal miners are just concentrating on ‘getting theirs’ while it lasts. In the settler tradition it’s ‘every man for himself’. They have no class goals or even community goals, just private goals involving private income and private consumerism. Meanwhile, the local N&W land manager says that they do have future plans for Appalachia: ‘We don’t intend to walk off and leave this land to the Indians’. Of that we can be certain.”
MIM(Prisons) respond: We thank loop-3 for pointing this out and include eir well-cited argument here. And we have removed the clause “poor whites in Appalachia” from that sentence as it was misleading as if the class interests of that population somehow make them more likely allies than anyone else in the white nation. We must be cautious and clear when trying to organize Amerikans around their own interests. While virtually everyone has some interests opposed to imperialism, and anyone can end up a victim of the system, white Amerikans must go against their class and nation (and gender) interests to ally with the international proletariat and the communist project, as S. Xanastas correctly pointed out in that paragraph.
White youth have more gender interest in revolution and are less bought into their class and nation. White lumpen arguably have some class interest different than other Amerikans. What is more clear is that white lumpen will more often take an interest in revolutionary politics when they are surrounded by oppressed nations in prison or part of multi-national lumpen organizations. As for the intellectuals mentioned, they do not have different interests so much as a different view of the world. So it is in these groups that we see the greatest percentage of exceptions to the rule – those who are willing to go against their own class and nation interests and side against U.$. imperialism.