The Soldiers of Bondage (S.O.B.) is a revolutionary communist organization with its members consisting of political prisoners within the Illinois Department of Corrections. The party was founded on 2 July 2011 in Pontiac Correctional Center Segregation. Current membership is very small, but, with the publishing of this study guide, it is hoped that the party will grow nationally in both numbers and resources. A Manifesto of S.O.B. will be completed soon and it will hopefully be made available to prisoners across Amerika.
The "Communist Manifesto" is the most important piece of political literature to the communist. However, due to the many oppressive conditions that plague the lumpen proletariat within the United $tates, many prisoners have problems with comprehending the "Communist Manifesto." For this reason S.O.B. felt it necessary to create a study guide that would assist prisoners in obtaining as much information as possible from the "Communist Manifesto." This study guide contains 184 questions as well as answers from the text.
After creating the study guide the next question to be answered was how to make the study guide easily available to prisoners. After some debate it was decided that the only real option was to go through MIM(Prisons). We are not sure if MIM(Prisons) will just send this out to prisoners who request it or if they will make it one of their official study group programs. Either way it will assist prisoners in the development of their political consciousness.
Remember that the only way to combat the oppressive conditions we are subjugated to is to become aware of the cause and solution of our oppression. It is the hope of S.O.B. that this study guide will help many become aware of these elements. As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels articulated within the "Communist Manifesto," the proletariat must emancipate itself. Amerika does not have a proletariat. However, Marx and Engels's edict is just as true for the lumpen proletariat: the lumpen proletariat must emancipate itself. You must liberate yourself from the oppression you suffer. Begin your journey to become the New Man by educating yourself. Education is power. Resist! Rebel! Defy!
In strength and solidarity,
Cadre (on behalf of S.O.B.)
MIM(Prisons) responds: First we want to commend this group for their hard work focusing on communist education amongst the lumpen. The extensive study guide they created took a lot of work. And their decision to undertake a project that is focused on bringing up the level of theoretical understanding of the lumpen suggests that we have a lot of unity around our principal tasks at this time. MIM(Prisons) knows little about the S.O.B. organization so we cannot comment on our relative level of theoretical unity, and until they publish a manifesto we can only say that the "Communist Manifesto" questions suggest we agree on the bought-off nature of the vast majority of the imperialist-country workers who now constitute a petty-bourgeoisie. This is particularly important as we read a book like the "Communist Manifesto," which was written so many years ago when the labor aristocracy was just a very small segment of the working class, and the workers in First World countries were still a part of the proletariat.
We look forward to work and political discussion with S.O.B. We hope these comrades in Illinois serve as an example for other USW study groups across the country. If you want this study pack, write in to MIM(Prisons). Tell us if you already have the "Communist Manifesto" or if you need a copy
Knowledge is the higher power. Thru dedication, struggle, sacrifice, knowledge and revolution we will put Aztlán along with the rest of the oppressed back in power. Don't let TV and the bullshit ass propaganda dictate what you can and can't do, much less a bunch of sheep heads with a stitched up patch that suppose to mean "authority say so." Also to my elders out in the so-called free world and the ones coming out them SHU dungeons after years and decades of oppression, my message is this: Avoid calling the youth "little homies" as in diminishing their status comrade!! Instead if you are so "big," I'm assuming in mind, por favor embrace the youth and teach em to teach, teach em to understand, teach em to resist, teach em to organize. Put a mirror in front of em and give em a soul. Cuz 80% of the population are zombied out. We all put in work the same, but you that are looked upon as elder and leader, especially from out the dungeon, have a stage and a mic. Remember a true revolutionary is not categorized by age, looks, material items or what one did a thousand years ago, but by what one is doing now and is willing to do for the causa.
Anyone can sit on a bunk and zombie out at the stupid box (TV) for all your life. That my friend is not a revolutionary individual, an Oh Gee or whatever you want to call it. The youth is our future. Embrace and teach. Oh, one more thing, don't get caught up on the goodies. The pigs love to see that shit. I wonder why?
Also, there's this hardcore book that just came out: [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán. Man, everybody needs to read it. Go on and put that paypal you was gonna spend on hold and order this book. And don't forget to also slide a donation to MIM to help out with the books and material that MIM provides to the less fortunate. Think of it as the prison kitty we have here in the yards and write in!!
Enclosed is a bit of stamps as a donation, and I've been recruiting. I hope they'll pitch in as well.
p.s. For those going to board, know that the swine is conducting a facebook background check, trying to catch mofos on the web. Incognito fellas, it can result in a denial of parole.
MIM(Prisons) adds: A few good tips from our comrade here who is putting eir money where eir mouth is. While we do not promote an idealized revolutionary lifestyle, we do think that people can often underestimate the effect that watching TV has on people and their health. And if that is what you are doing with all your time you really aren't living life.
MIM has long been cutting edge in terms of promoting good security practices and technologies. And a while ago we realized that even prisoners need to be conscious about security in relation to computers and cell phones as we wrote about in Under Lock & Key 31. Finally, if prisoners want to get [email protected] Power, it is available for the discounted rate of $10 from MIM Distributors or for work exchange from our Free Books for Prisoners program.
Within the global imperialist camp, particularly here in the United States, there's a reactionary line being propagated and pursued that the U.S. working class in its entirety is proletarian. Not only is this scientifically incorrect, it's essentially anti-Marxist no matter how well-intentioned its proponents may or may not be.
With an exceptionally small number of predominately oppressed nationalities, U.S. workers are for the most part beneficiaries of imperialism, and as a social class constitute a "labor aristocracy", i.e. a class of privileged workers who receive a portion of the profits that the bourgeoisie extracts from the Third World in the form of high wages, numerous benefits, material goods and services. And this includes the goods, services, and profits, extracted, as well as the billions of dollars that are contributed annually to social security by undocumented proletarians, here in the United States.
Some years ago when monopoly imperialism was still in its infancy, Lenin spoke of this stage of capitalism and correctly observed that imperialism gives the bourgeoisie enough super-profits "to devote a part to bribe their own workers, to create something like an alliance between the workers of a given nation and their capitalists..."
The majority of the working class here in the United States have been bought off and bribed, and are clearly by no means a vehicle for revolution at this time. The labor aristocracy has a concrete material basis, that is, a class interest in the preservation of the existing status quo. This is not a case of having to "wake them up" so to speak. They are very conscious of their privileged position in society and the world as a whole. Their material conditions, i.e. their privileged lifestyle, is translated in their minds through their five senses, giving shape to and molding their reactionary ideas and ways of thinking — all of which is further reinforced and solidified through a corresponding culture and bourgeois-owned media, news, entertainment and advertising industry. And as a class of privileged workers, many are not only willing to join U.S. mercenary forces and die to protect and further their privileges, i.e. their piece of the pie, they also commit mass murder on an unprecedented scale of Third World Latinos, Blacks, and other oppressed peoples, including those oppressed within the U.S. empire itself.
To reach into the ranks of the labor aristocracy and proclaim them proletarian in an attempt to develop revolutionary consciousness, and struggle for their so-called worker rights, is to commit a reactionary and strategic error which in reality only serves to further prop up and legitimize imperialism.
To further grasp the material basis that the labor aristocracy is erected upon and which shapes and molds its corresponding consciousness, a brief glimpse into the capitalist production process is necessary, specifically that aspect pertaining to the creation of surplus value.
It is necessary to understand that, as a species, in order to continue living we must first and foremost engage in production, i.e. through the expenditure of human labor we must transform our environment in order to procreate, feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves before any other aspect of society can be pursued, such as the pursuance of science, education, religion, arts, culture, politics, philosophy, laws, etc. Production is the basis and foundation of all societies, and in fact, all these other aspects of social activities not only grow out of, but are a reflection of, and correspond to a society's particular mode of production. Moreover, it is only through social intercourse and cooperation with one another, in various forms, that these necessities can be realized — hence the source of our social essence.
Today in the current stage of economic development (capitalism-imperialism), the vast majority of the world's people have been separated from their means of production (land, natural resources, intellectual property, technology, factories, communications, etc.) by property rights which the capitalist classes of the world, who predominately reside within First World borders, have laid claim to. And yet this doesn't change the essential needs of the human species. We must still have access to the world's resources and materials so that we may reproduce ourselves in order to survive.
Under these circumstances, the world's masses, who own very little if anything at all, are forced into a situation where they must sell to the capitalist class, i.e. the bourgeoisie, the only thing they do own, so that they may in turn purchase back from the capitalists the necessities of life. And what they are forced to sell to the bourgeoisie is their labor power. In a capitalist economy, production is driven by profits, not the needs of the entire society. Under this mode of production the role of the bourgeoisie is like that of a parasite — an unnecessary appendage that has been allowed to remain inserted within the production process and whose existence relies wholly on the unpaid labor of others.
With the exception of the majority of imperialist country workers, the bourgeoisie purchases the labor power from the majority of the world's masses below its value which is the source of all surplus-value (capital and profit). Capitalist production not only creates racial and social inequalities while perpetuating those inequalities which were already in existence, it is also the source of the same prison system we are now confined to.
To elaborate further, surplus-value is that value which is created through unpaid labor power. For example, if the bourgeois owners of a maquiladora invests $1000 a day for the production of shirts - $200 of which pays for the cost of human labor power (variable capital) and $800 which pays for the cost of electricity, oil, cloth, thread, technology, etc. (constant capital), and if it takes, lets say, 5 hours to produce $1000 worth of shirts — the original amount invested, this 5 hours of expended labor power is the true value of the worker's labor power.
That which is invested in "constant capital" remains constant, that is, it creates no new value but only transfers the value of the electricity, oil, cloth, thread, technology, etc, to the shirts being produced. It is the "variable capital," i.e. the expenditure of human labor power, that transforms these various materials into shirts (or any goods) that augments new value.
Even if the maquiladora workers produce $1000 worth of shirts in 5 hours, being that their labor power has been purchased and therefore is now owned and controlled by the bourgeoisie, the workers are still required to expend their labor power for the remainder of the working day, whether that be 10, 12, 14, or however many hours the capitalists can get away with. And, in fact, it is in search of this cheap source of labor power and natural resources, i.e. profits and cheap goods, that the imperialists and their bribed mercenary armies launch their global crusades, all under the guise of spreading democracy, or combating terrorism. It is where the people are most desperate, that they can be most thoroughly exploited along with their natural resources, that is at the root of capitalism's so-called "economic success."
Lets say 12 hours constitutes a full working day for the maquiladora workers, and if it takes 5 hours to produce $1000 worth of shirts, the workers are still required to expend their labor power for an additional 7 hours, the remainder of the working day. This 7 hours over and beyond the 5 hours is "surplus labor," 7 hours of unpaid labor power that the bourgeoisie is stealing from the workers.
Being that workers are paid in either hourly wages, piecemeal, or by the day, etc., these various forms of payment only serve to camouflage and disguise the unpaid surplus labor, thus creating a false appearance that the workers are being paid for all of their labor power when in essence they are not.
In a nutshell the bourgeoisie pays the workers below the value of their labor power and pockets the difference in the form of profits and capital (surplus value) upon sale of the goods produced or grown by the workers. What does this have to do with us as a prison population? This mode of profit production inevitably creates social inequalities. It also provides a corresponding ideology and culture which not only has a fixation and obsession with the over-consumption of consumer goods, but is a culture where a person's social status is judged and determined according to their material possessions. These two elements, the poverty and social inequalities which create the fertile ground, accompanied with its corresponding culture and individualist ideology, crime flourishes and a vast prison system inevitably takes root as a means of social control.
Prior to the emergence of U.S. imperialism, the ruling classes thoroughly exploited a large section of the population within its own artificial borders. But eventually as a result of capitalism's internal contradictions, i.e., the inherent necessity to expand and the bourgeoisie's greedy frenzy to suck as much profit out of people as it possibly can, the already existing social inequalities and domestic rebellions intensified and began to undergo a qualitative transformation which further threatened the existence of the bourgeoisie and its loyal beneficiaries.
Although through imperialist expansion, the U.S. bourgeoisie has for the time being accomplished two significant goals prolonging its existence. Rather than having to rely on the exploitation of slaves, the indigenous population, and the most newly arrived European immigrants to create its wealth while continuing to run the risk of being overthrown by its own population, the bourgeoisie was able to pacify its own workers by making further concessions beginning on a large scale in the late 19th century with the first of many continuing campaigns of imperialist expansions. And through imperialist expansion it has not only been able to transfer the vast majority of its domestic exploitation abroad, it has been able to extract far more super-profits from Third World exploitation and natural resources than it was ever able to extract from within its own artificial borders. And with these massive amounts of super-profits and cheap goods, it has created a passive and loyal population out of the majority of its own workers, with a privileged material lifestyle, thus transforming them into a flag waving patriotic labor aristocracy, i.e. beneficiaries and accomplices of imperialism.
By way of imperialist expansion and the transferring of exploitation abroad, this has insured the continuation of the bourgeoisie's super profits while simultaneously enabling them to pay the majority of U.S. workers above the value of their labor power. The lifestyle of the majority of U.S. workers is not only sustained by Third World exploitation and natural resources for its privileged existence as a social class, but as a social class of privileged workers, it also creates practically no surplus value. A close examination of the Gross National Product (GNP) and federal labor statistics of any given year will demonstrate that nearly all of the monetary value of goods and services sold in this country is created outside of its borders, and that extremely small amount of surplus value that is created within the U.S. empire itself is created predominately by oppressed nationalities, primarily by undocumented Latinos and a small portion of imprisoned Blacks. It is a fact that never in the history of this country's parasitic existence has it ever fully supported itself from its own labor. Even the very first settlers on these shores used the indigenous peoples as slaves.
Being that the majority of workers in this country form a labor aristocracy, they are therefore by no means proletarian or a material base in which to struggle for in an attempt to develop revolutionary consciousness. To struggle for so-called worker rights of the labor aristocracy amounts to supporting imperialism, i.e. the exploitation and deaths of thousands world wide on a daily basis from preventable diseases, hunger, medical neglect, wars, etc. Struggling for these so-called rights of the labor aristocracy amounts to nothing less than seeking a larger portion of what's already pillaged and plundered from Third World exploitation, and therefore it is anti-Marxist in essence despite the various forms that it comes packaged in.
In reference to the labor aristocracy Lenin said "... no preparation of the proletariat for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie is possible, even in the preliminary sense, unless and immediate, systematic, extensive, and open struggle is waged against this stratum..."
The gist of Lenin's contention is significant here, and that is, the labor aristocracy as a social class is not a vehicle for evolution but a reactionary road block that must be struggled against, not only theoretically but in practice. This does not imply that some portions of the labor aristocracy wouldn't be won over under given objective conditions, but currently in their entirety as a social class, as a result of their concrete material conditions, they are reactionary in consciousness and deed and therefore must be combated — not catered to.
Also of significance, to get to the soul, the motor and driving force of a true people's revolution, i.e. a socialist revolution, we must, to use Lenin's words, "go down lower and deeper, to the real masses ... to the suffering, miseries, and revolutionary sentiments of the ruined and impoverished masses ... particularly those who are least organized and educated, who are most oppressed ..." And these masses that Lenin speaks of reside predominately within the Third World and include those sectors of oppressed nationalities and poor who live at the bottom rungs of imperialist society itself and within the prison systems.
Despite reactionary nationalist and patriotic rhetoric, the concrete material reality is, our struggle is not "us" as a unified country pitted against other countries, as we have been taught and programmed to believe. It is a class struggle that transcends all national borders. Even the existence of this prison system is just one interconnected aspect of this larger class struggle of irreconcilable opposites. We as a prison population must deepen our knowledge and raise our political consciousness. We must transform our incorrect narrow nationalistic views into a scientifically correct internationalist outlook and recognize the concrete material reality that we as a prison population are just one of the numerous side effects of an outdated and insufficient economic system that results in the social inequalities where a prison system becomes necessary to protect the stolen riches and privileges of the bourgeoisie and its bought off supporters — the same imperialist economic system that oppresses and exploits Third World people around the globe. Our interests do not lie in siding with our own domestic ruling classes in the imprisoning of over 2 million of our own people, or in the exploitation of billions of Third World people around the globe. Our interests lie with our own impoverished and Third World people, not only against our own bourgeoisie and its beneficiaries, but against all capitalist ruling classes of the world regardless of national borders.
So long as we live in a society that is divided into social classes, poverty vs. rich and everything in between, the preservation and continued existence of the prison system is guaranteed. And any improvements made, internally or externally, in regards to the prison system, as welcomed as they are, will be purely reformist, i.e. temporary and for show. To be as effective as possible and maintain continuity in struggle, our ultimate goal must be the creation of a classless society.
Last week I received a visit from Deputy Superintendent Ondrejka, who is the head of the security department of this institution. He told me that he received word that I'm having some "undesirable contacts" sent to me in education materials. He stated that the mailroom supervisor is a Christian and that she feels offended when she sees communist materials in the mail when she searches it. Ondrejka said that he is aware that a lot of my communist mail is burned by the mail lady, even though it is illegal to do so.
When I asked Ondrejka if he is going to stop it from happening again, he said "Why should I? Stop getting things like that sent in and you won't have to worry about your mail being burnt." I stated to Ondrejka that I find it funny that the mail lady, who claims to be a Christian, gets offended at political study material, but lets all types of pornography in to inmates via the same channels. Ondrejka said that he could care less about the smut, he is concerned about the communist literature that gets sent into his prison. He told me that the administration is about to start cracking down on anarchist and communist materials, and start labeling those who possess them as Security Threat Group (STG). He said that any further MIM literature will be stopped and deemed contraband.
This being said, I can see for myself just how critical political study really is. If the slavemasters are threatened by it, then it must have incredible worth. I am a firm believer that knowledge is the ultimate power, the greatest weapon there is. The pigs try to stop real education in the gulags, because they know that when we have a true education and know the truth about the way things really are, they are defeated.
I call all my fellow prisoners to arm yourselves: not with knives or guns, but with educational resources - knowledge. With these weapons we can defeat the powers of imperialism and capitalism! I salute all of my fellow comrades who are fighting the pigs on a consistent basis. I am right here on the battlefield with you. The pigs censored my first study assignment from MIM(Prisons), but I will not give up! My motto is and always will be resist, resist, resist! I want to thank MIM(Prisons) for giving me ground to stand on in this political battle we are fighting. I look forward to receiving more from MIM(Prisons).
MIM(Prisons) responds: We agree with this comrade that knowledge is a very powerful weapon in our advance toward communism, and it is essential to a successful movement against all oppression. However knowledge alone is not going to enable us to defeat the powers of imperialism and capitalism. When we are strong enough and the conditions are right, we will be forced to pick up knives and guns in order to assert power over the oppressors — they won't have it any other way.
We distribute a Censorship Pack, which has basic information on how to fight censorship of political materials. The mailroom staff in this anecdote is acting in complete violation of established caselaw on the issue of censorship in prisons. Below is an excerpt from the Censorship Pack, citing relevant caselaw.
"The decision to censor or withhold delivery of a particular letter must be accompanied by minimum procedural safeguards against arbitrariness or error." Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S.396. 94 S.Ct 1800
"Wardens may not reject a publication 'solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social[,] sexual, or . . . unpopular or repugnant,' or establish an excluded list of publications, but must review each issue of a subscription separately." Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401
"When a prison regulation restricts a prisoner’s First Amendment right to free speech, it is valid only if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Lindell v. Frank, 377 F.3d 655, 657 (7th Cir. 2004), citing Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987).
We are looking forward to continuing to study and struggle with this comrade, in whatever way is possible. It might mean fighting off this illegal censorship first, and our Censorship Pack is a good place to start that battle.
by a West Virginia prisoner November 2015 permalink
For my essay I chose Frederick Douglass. I admire his inner strength, free spirit, and intelligence. I believe that he could see opportunity in every situation. For example, when his oppressors became so irate of his learning to read and write, he knew that things that are restricted are usually worthy of pursuit.
He overcame so many obstacles with so few resources, and he gives me motivation and inspiration to overcome and succeed, although my difficulties are minor compared to his. He was a great man and an unsung hero of freedom fighting. He must have thought to himself that it was better to risk death and fight for his freedom, than to conform to the wishes of tyrannical beings.
He fought and won. So much was against him and yet his spirit refused to be broken. He knew how powerful words can be. He learned them and mastered them. And once he'd won, he didn't let the realm of success lull him into complacency — a realm where many men venture and are swallowed, ending their reign of greatness. No, Frederick Douglass was a mossless stone; he never stagnated. Douglass continued pressing forward, not only bettering himself, but also bettering those he came in contact with and helping other oppressed individuals.
His written word will echo through the generations, inspiring thousands and perhaps millions. The American education system gives him only a cursory glance, then moves on to lies about founding fathers. Imagine if they lingered longer or more often on Frederick Douglass, and the valuable influence on those impressionable minds he would render. Frequently, I wonder about a stronger, less passive and more spirited generation. Like Frederick Douglass.
MIM(Prisons) adds: Frederick Douglass was born into slavery around 1818 in Maryland. Ey escaped slavery and went on to become a prolific writer, speaker, and newspaper publisher. Eir primary battles were against slavery and for wimmin's right to vote. Douglass had a similar path to radicalization as many readers of ULK, even though ey lived almost two centuries ago.
Douglass was taught the alphabet at around 12 years old from eir slavemaster's wife. Even though ey was discouraged from reading, sometimes with violence, Douglass continued to study and taught many others how to read as well. With the ability to read, Douglass became politicized through reading newspapers, which helped em develop into an internationally-acclaimed writer and speaker against slavery and oppression.
Even in the face of censorship and lack of programming, many U.$. prisoners build themselves and others up in the same way Douglass did. Present-day prisoners are not allowed to come together in a group to study, for "security threat concerns," which parallels Douglass's experience of having eir weekly literacy classes disbanded by the clubs and stones of slave owners. Nowdays, those who try to teach in spite of restrictions are locked in isolation toture cells.
Without good literacy skills, one can't file a lawsuit, or write grievances, or understand the prison handbook, or read Under Lock & Key; get the picture? Various sources state that 60-70% of U.$. prisoners are functionally illiterate.(1) Illiteracy affects the majority of prisoners, and thus hinders the organization of the majority of our subscribers' peers. Passing on an issue of ULK does little good if the recipient can't understand it.
Statistics from the prisoncrats themselves state that prisoners have a 70% chance of recidivism if they get no help with their literacy, whereas prisoners who do receive literacy help have a 16% chance of recidivism.(2) We wonder, why aren't there more programs for teaching reading comprehension and writing skills in prisons? It's clearly a continuation of the same exact national oppression faced by Frederick Douglass's generation.
That we are still having a conversation about building literacy among New Afrikans should give us a clue of the ineffectiveness of reformism and the necessity of complete communist revolution. After gaining state power, one of the first steps of this revolution will be to establish a joint dictatorship of the proletariat of the oppressed nations (JDPON), so that the most oppressed people in the world can dictate to those who have been oppressing others for centuries how society will be run. As was done in communist China under Mao, one of the primary functions of this dictatorship of the proletariat will be to build literacy at every single level of society, and especially among those who are furthest removed from the benefits of the economic system. One can't fully participate in society's development without literacy, and we need as many people as possible to participate.
We want to do as much as we can now to speed up the transition from capitalism to communism, and reading and writing are essential to this task. Building literacy also fits well into our immature Re-Lease on Life program, so those who are released can have a better chance of success and hopefully also a better chance of staying engaged in political work when on the outside. Even though MIM(Prisons) and United Struggle from Within are on a much smaller scale than a JDPON, or even a single nation-state, we can still contribute to this goal while we build for a society where advanced literacy is taught to everyone systematically.
Douglass is just one individual example of a larger social phenomenon: when higher education meets a lack of opportunity, it produces radicalization and objection to the status quo. We know there is much more we can do to increase the reading and writing skills of oppressed nation lumpen in U.$. prisons, and to foster this politicization. But since MIM(Prisons) can only reach people with written material, we need our comrades behind bars to do the work on the ground. Anyone who is already teaching others basic literacy skills should get in touch with MIM(Prisons) to help us develop this Serve the People program. If you already have a study group, try to think how you can expand it to teach literacy as well. Tell us what materials we can send you to help you teach reading and writing to others. It is one of the ways we can improve the material conditions of our fellow oppressed peoples, and one way we can uphold the legacy of Frederick Douglass.
I have chosen comrade Malcolm X as my freedom fighter, may he rest in peace.
Comrade Malcolm X was a man who grew up troubled by family issues. His father was murdered and his mother was slowly starting to deteriorate mentally. The comrade started to steal, and was running numbers, etc. This landed the comrade in prison where he continued to get into trouble, until he met a brother from the Nation of Islam who helped comrade Malcolm X to get himself together.
In time, comrade Malcolm X educated himself on the inside and eradicated all his bad habits. After his release he continued his work as a revolutionary, helping to build the Nation of Islam and fighting for the people. Later on in his life he was working on his own organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
Comrade Malcolm X had a major impact on my life. When I came to prison in 2005 I was sent to the supermax in Ohio, and I had the wrong understanding of revolutionary change, and I had a 7th grade education. I met a prisoner who let me read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and when I had finished, my whole life was changed. I started working harder to educate myself and to become more politically conscious and vowed to spend the rest of my life fighting against the oppressor.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade's choice of a freedom fighter underscores the critical importance that education and political literature play in raising the consciousness of our comrades behind bars. While people may have an intuitive grasp of the nature of Amerikan imperialism, the lumpen mainly see the option of violence and theft against the people as a way to respond to the conditions of their lives. This is not revolutionary, and in fact sets the struggle back. But even with limited access to educational material we see people like Malcolm X and this comrade taking up the revolutionary struggle.
For this reason we place a big emphasis on getting our newsletter Under Lock & Key and political books in to prisoners. Most of the money we spend is on these tasks. And we rely on our comrades behind bars to share the lit they receive, and turn others on to the revolutionary mindset to help build new freedom fighters amongst the lumpen.
[At our 2012 Congress MIM(Prisons) decided to begin the process of building statewide councils to develop USW and its leadership. That winter the work began to set up the first council in California. This coincided with a renewed round of strikes in the state involving more than 30,000 prisoners. As activism spread, so did invitations to join the council. In short time, lack of participation cut the membership back down. For about a year and a half now, leading USW cells in California have been participating in the council on a regular basis, struggling over theoretical and practical questions of organizing the prison movement. This article is by one participant in the USW California Council discussing some of the issues the council has tackled.]
The United Struggle from Within (USW) political line is anti-imperialist, as those behind the walls recognize the penal system and its institutions as an extension of imperialism. Therefore our struggles include both domestic and international issues. As a generated organism from the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons, or MIM(Prisons), some within USW have taken up MIM line while others have not yet. USW is an eclectic group of anti-imperialist prisoners working in cells, individually or in a coordinated groups through MIM(Prisons) guidance. Our revolutionary activities can vary according to each cell and location. This makes USW a multi-issue mass organization.
It is important to have USW comrades focus on campaigns that are relevant to their conditions. For instance, field reporting is universally applicable. But those doing indeterminate SHU sentences should focus on getting policies changed or bring up campaigns to shut down control units, while other comrades on mainlines could organize a cell of like-minded comrades, set up study groups, and raise other campaigns. We can all contribute to fighting censorship and other legal actions that can benefit all prisoners if won in court.
Each USW cell works in the framework of bringing the humyn rights of prisoners to the forefront. It is no surprise prisons are swamped with internal semi-colonies, with the long sentences, new detrimental laws that disproportionately affect oppressed nations, and other practices of the criminal injustice system that contribute to the mass incarceration of oppressed nations. This injustice must be brought to the public. Comrades from USW use propaganda as a tool to reach the masses who are sympathetic or will become sympathetic. We utilize Lenin's method of having Iskra as his party's way to get the written word out to the masses by making use of Under Lock & Key to advertise our campaigns, our polemics, our developing theories, or just to expose the negative conditions in prisons. ULK is our voice behind the walls.
USW are we the cadre?
Recently there has been an open polemic in regards to USW. Is it just a mass org without a leadership role or does it have leadership influence, and because of this should it no longer be considered a mass org? Well to apply dialectic materialism to this topic I would say USW is a mass organization formed in part by MIM line. "All correct leadership is necessarily 'from the masses, to the masses.' This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas) then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action and test the correctness of these ideas in such action. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge."(1)
USW is guided by MIM(Prisons), leading revolutionary work at their location. Accumulating experience and knowledge while engaged in this work, many USW comrades aren't spontaneous in heading into revolutionary activity, as this would probably prove disastrous if a comrade knows very little of what exactly to do. For this reason MIM(Prisons) has study cells welcoming those ready for revolutionary theory education that is Maoist in content. There are even advanced levels for those who wish to continue into the ULK Writers Group, the most advanced Maoist study cell from which stem numerous USW comrades or cadres.
I use the term "cadre" for reasons of revolutionary language because it permits no dual meaning in our propaganda, and I utilize Che Guevara's definition herein:
"What is a cadre? We should state that a cadre is an individual who has achieved sufficient political development to be able to interpret the larger directives emanating from the central authority, make them his own, and convey them as an orientation to the masses: a person who at the same time also perceives the signs manifested by the masses of their own desires and their innermost motivations."(2)
It can be said that any well politicized USW comrade is a cadre behind the walls as we need not receive directives from MIM(Prisons) to know how to organize and commit ourselves to a campaign. Yet revolutionary learning is limitless and anyone wishing to engage in polemics or just learn from other comrades can do so by either writing in to the MIM(Prisons) USW coordinator, joining a study cell run by MIM(Prisons) or reading up on ULK and writing in.
The Statewide Council
The momentum created by USW cells throughout California prisons has brought us our own revolutionary council where pressing topics are discussed, and polemics, strategizing and other matters will be addressed. Through discussion and the democratic process we have passed resolutions to set the standards for USW cells joining the council. Resolutions passed so far include: time frames for when members must respond to council discussions, requirements that each cell vote on each proposal and provide justification for their votes, minimum study requirements before a representative can join the council, and requirements that each USW cell with representation in the council should put in at least 10 to 40 hours a week of revolutionary work. i.e. study, writing articles, making political art, etc. Cells are required to keep track of their work and report it monthly to build discipline.
The California Council has also built a treasury that we have been using to fund bonus pages in ULK. Our council has brought forth double the amount of donations than all other California comrades during a recent 6-month period. We recently finished a California-specific introductory letter for USW that went out to all existing members in June. We have had a slow start but overall we have established a steady pattern of discussion and work.
Amongst our struggles behind the walls, we will often have obstacles such as comrades abandoning a campaign or legal battle, or who just stop checking in with the council, USW or the ULK Writers group to pursue personal agendas and leave behind their revolutionary work. Our California Council and USW are a product of work and effort by politically conscious prisoners having a strategic goal in mind, be it anti-imperialist, shutting down control units, or prisoner humyn rights reform. The point is that our goals, strategic and tactical, are to struggle through the momentum whether it's low or high! Our focus is to work together for change and we hope our efforts, our resolve, inspires others to join our struggle behind the walls. Our struggle for humyn rights is a pressing issue for the comrades suppressed in solitary confinement, so contributing to litigation campaigns are essential but not our only venue! We need to be organized, we need to agitate and utilize propaganda as a tool in order to apply revolutionary practice!
We seek comrades who have a fair grasp on revolutionary theory. No comrade needs to be an expert, we are all still learning from each other, our USW work, and how to concentrate our USW branches through practice within our revolutionary California Council.
So I can say USW Council representatives are our cadres behind the walls, forging revolutionary discipline, education, legal assistance, study groups, etc. If comrades get transferred to another yard or prison we can expect them to do the same at their new location. And we do our work discreetly to not draw unwanted attention, thus maintaining all within USW cell security.
Folks are dropping dead like flies here in Clements Unit. Due to a faulty grievance system and benign inspector general investigations, the whole entire unit staff are literally getting away with murder. It seems like when one pig gets in trouble he/she gets promoted. Take officer (now Sergeant) Garret E. Rockholt for instance. In 2013 he cold cocked a prisoner in the medium custody unit of this prison. Not only was he caught red-handed, this incident gained him praise and eventually got him promoted to a Sergeant in the Ad-Seg building where he walks around with his chest out boasting about his charades as a former Officer.
Next we have Officer (now Sergeant) Desmond Finney. As an officer he had a reputation for beating and slamming handcuffed prisoners. Notably, one ended up with black eyes and another had a tooth knocked out. Not only was he beating our peers but he also denied several the chance to eat whenever he worked the pod. Now this clown has been promoted to Sergeant and the deck for corruption is constantly getting stacked.
These are just a few examples of the rewards for bad behavior that need to stop. But comrades it's going to take more than just words and hope. Unity is key and unity is mandatory with any effort towards changing prison conditions and prison behavior. We can't afford to let differences between one another dictate how pervasive things get and we need to focus on how to liberate one another. As comrade Mao said, "to gain public opinion and seize power."
Since 2013 we've had one peer murdered, one left to die, one found in his cell where he'd already been dead for several hours, one left with a broken arm and another a broken finger. None of these instances were peer-on-peer attacks; they were all due to the intentions and neglect by the very pigs that are supposed to prevent these things from happening. It's obvious that we can't count on them to protect us, so the only obvious alternative is to protect each other collectively and with honor.
Getting involved in study groups and reading, learning, and teaching the works of Marx, Lenin, and Mao is sure to create an understanding of how to lead. So if you haven't begun to study and don't know where to start, if you've read this you just began.
MIM(Prisons) adds: Study groups are an excellent way to build unity and political leadership. Getting people to agree that unity is good is pretty straightforward, but building a long-lasting movement that's strong enough to stand up against all obstacles put in our way requires deep political study. We run correspondence study groups and also support prisoner-led study groups behind bars. Write in to get materials for either of these methods of study.
For prisoners of the Texas Department of Criminal inJustice (TDCJ) there is also an activist pack which has info on the various campaigns United Struggle from Within has running in TDCJ. This activist pack doesn't just contain information to help fight for your rights; it is a great organizing tool to share with others in your facility to get people working together and building tangible unity.
We hope to develop activist packs for other states where comrades are fighting similar struggles. In Texas the campaigns center around the inability to have grievances properly addressed, a $100 medical copay for healthcare, and a limit on indigent envelopes to 5 per month. If you have an idea for a campaign and resource that can be developed in your state, write in to get involved. If you're in Texas, you need to get this Texas activist pack! It's costly to print and mail so if you are able to send us a donation, that would be greatly appreciated.
MIM(Prisons) disagrees with the organizational model of a single ideological leader (or privileged clique) providing all the instructions and theory for its membership, with the masses submitting to this guidance. This is part of why we are an anonymous organization — to help people overcome the cultural tendency of hero worship. We want everyone to take the ideological development of our movement into their own hands. As we've seen countless times throughout history, raising everyone's political consciousness, as the Chinese Communist Party did under Mao, is essential to ensuring that our revolutionary movement is not usurped by our enemies or our mistakes.
To this end, we run correspondence study courses, and we encourage prisoners to run their own study groups where they're at. Malcolm X, George Jackson, Stanley Tookie Williams, and countless other leaders developed their revolutionary analysis using their time behind bars in U.$. prisons. We follow their example and aim to push forward the political development of all U.$. prisoners; supporting prisoner-led study groups (SGs) is one way we do this.
We help support over 30 SGs in 16 states and the Federal system. Since the SGs are prisoner-run and led, we primarily provide support by sending study materials, including books, magazines, newspapers and study packs. Some of the study packs are collections of essays or source material on a particular topic, and others are questions that go with a magazine or book. With this issue of ULK and our letters to SG leaders, we also aim to provide tactical guidance and suggestions.
In February we sent out a questionnaire to get a better sense of how these SGs are run, their scope, their successes, challenges and needs. About one-third of the SGs we support responded, and here we summarize what we learned.
The number of participants ranges between 1 and 25 people, and most groups have less than 10 regular participants. Some groups are single-nation, but most are mixed-nation, with a mixture of lumpen organization (LO) and ex-LO membership. We see SGs as a good place for building the United Front for Peace in Prisons through practice. One respondent told us:
“The three core members have all had gang affiliations in the past. The two brothers were in the Gangster Disciples or Vice Lords, and the Chicano was in the Latin Kings. But behind bars we have found out who the real enemy is: the U.$. racist imperialist oppressor pigs who run this joint. So we have put our racial differences and gang affiliations aside to fight our common enemy.”
The average time an SG has been together is 2 years, with a range of 2.5 months to 6 years. Most go through study material at similar rates: either one ULK per week, a few chapters of a book every two weeks, or a magazine/book per month. The SGs that have been going the longest reported that individual members teach what they are familiar with, or have assigned areas to become expert. Other groups report that one persyn or a core group will lead the entire study.
SGs have a wide range of structure. The structure of your group should be based on the conditions where you're at, but it should be a universal goal to get a variety of participants engaging in leading the group. Raising the leadership skills of the participants is one way to raise their political level. And since people are moved around all the time, a follower in one SG might need to become the leader in a different facility. If they already have some practice generating study questions, acquiring reading material, and recruiting participants, then the new SG is more likely to be successful. In this way we can use a disruption, such as transfers, to our advantage.
The frequency and reliability of meeting to go over study materials also varies widely. For groups who are in different facilities, or who are in isolation, they “meet” by passing lit and sharing essays they write analyzing the reading material. Most groups reported they meet once a week, some 3 or 5 days a week, and one group said they meet daily. Some reported they meet creatively under the guise of religious services or a tutoring program.
Of course one huge barrier to SGs and revolutionary development generally is literacy — your ability to read and write. We know that a significant portion of prisoners are illiterate. Most of our SGs reported they do not spend much energy teaching literacy, and most participants have GEDs or higher. One group even reported that a GED is a minimum requirement to participate. With the abhorrent lack of programming in U.$. prisons, the responsibility of teaching literacy rests primarily on prisoners themselves — each one teach one.
Challenges reported include:
Imprisonment problems: infiltration, SHU time, validation
“Imprisonment problems” will always affect our SGs just because of the fact that they are running inside prisons. But these issues can be addressed somewhat by having good security practices. At least one SG recruits participants by being blatant and open about its politics, receiving criticism from other prisoners (which they then engage through discussion) but not repression from staff (at least not yet). In our limited experience, this is an uncommon scenario, and definitely varies by facility and state. We are creating a security study pack to add to our list of available study materials, so if you have any recommendations of security practices that have worked for your group, please share them with us.
“Lumpen problems” are those which are prominent among the lumpen class as a whole, which we need to address on a mass scale. We can start working on these problems within our SGs. The institutionalization of the daily routine in prisons leads many to rely on others (their captors) to determine what they do at any given moment. This prevents us from developing the necessary skills of time management and self-discipline. When moved to a less structured environment (e.g, from SHU to general population, or from prison to the outside) it is difficult to stay committed to projects and it can be as if one is just following the wind. Encouraging self-discipline with work reports and planning in advance is one way to tackle this problem.
Study material being censored and confiscated can possibly be dealt with using the appeal and grievance process, but we also need to assume repression will always come from our oppressor whenever we try to educate ourselves. Since you can't rely on having articles or notes to refer back to, try to read the material multiple times before passing it on. Writing a summary or analysis on the material, even if it's just a few sentences reflecting on an article in ULK, will help you remember it better and think about it more critically. And discussing your reflections with another comrade if possible will help you develop your overall political analysis. So even if the material is stomped on and torn up and "lost" forever, you will have done your best to hold on to it and can hopefully teach those principles to others even without the written words to refer to.
If the main problem in your SG is having material to study, you're in luck, because that's probably the easiest problem to solve! Barring complete censorship of our materials, MIM Distributors can send you literature on a wide range of topics. Send us reports on what questions are coming up in your SG, what conclusions you are drawing from the material you are studying, and how those conclusions can be applied to the struggles in your prison, and we'll hook you up. Encourage your SG participants to sign up for ULK and send us work-trades for lit, such as articles, art, or poetry for the newsletter. You can even pool together your financial resources to purchase books outright.
One of our goals coming from our annual congress is to be supporting 50 SGs across the United $nakes by this time next year. Since the initiative of our subscribers (YOU!) is what determines how many SGs we can support, we are trying to up the support on our end by addressing some of the main challenges identified in responses to our questionnaire. Please share experiences with us that others might be able to apply to their own SGs.
We hope with this issue of ULK to spark some inspiration among our readers to take their usual “I read and love this newsletter, and pass it on!” to step up and sit down with their fellow captives to study. It is not only important for our own immediate tasks of building unity and increasing our knowledge, but it is important so that our actions will have the greatest impact on liberating the majority of the world's people.
I first became exposed to revolutionary theory in prison, although I had been a reader my whole life. Prison has become my classroom for revolutionary knowledge, not because the state ensures this, but because I came in contact with politically conscious prisoners who helped instill a consciousness in me. Groups like MIM helped to fuel my early cultivation through liberatory literature and I was able to engage in study groups throughout my prison journey, facility to facility and yard to yard. Study groups were the key to my own development.
It is a fact that U.S. prisons are used for social control of prisoners, who are mostly from the internal semi-colonies. Colonized people have always been subjected to brutal prison conditions but dialectical materialism teaches us that we can transform our environment, including prisons. In order to revolutionize these modern day slave kamps we need to study to revolutionize ourselves.
How Study Groups Help People
People are social beings, and as strong-minded and determined as we think we are, the truth is we learn best through interacting with our environment and especially other people. We learn best by discussion and debate. Asking questions helps us get answers, and when we are having trouble grasping a concept, studying with others allows us to learn. Teaching others also helps the teacher to learn themselves. The study group facilitates all of this.
In my own experience with study groups within U.$. prisons I have found that besides developing one's own political thought, study groups also teach one how to interact with others and what are the best ways to translate or explain our social reality to the people. We should understand that in many ways those of us who study political science and engage in study groups within prisons operate like political organizations out in society that do outreach to the masses, only our fellow prisoners are the masses.
Just as our counterparts outside prison walls constantly attempt to learn from the masses in order to better help the masses, we should do the same with our study groups. As prisoners, those of us who are conscious must revolutionize these dungeons. We have boots on the ground, and study groups within prisons should develop programs which help educate all of the prison masses, not just those involved in a study group. In this sense a study group can serve as the vanguard in their facility.
Study groups have helped me understand my oppression and the oppression of Aztlán, and through them I have become a better persyn. Understanding politics and theory has given me purpose and has helped me to help other prisoners to better their existence. In short I have not just learned about hystory, as when I study alone, but I have learned different methods of using the lessons of hystory to revolutionize the future.
How do study groups operate?
Depending on one's facility, study groups take on various formations. I have experienced many, from formal groups studying political science while on the mainline where one can meet face to face on the yard and discuss different aspects of society, to yelling through an air vent to people I couldn't see.
I was in one spot where every few days someone picked a different country and we discussed all of the uprisings in that country. People would search old magazines, books or newspapers to find anything on that country.
Another study group I participated in was in a facility that was highly restrictive with revolutionary literature. Since none of us was too politically educated we got whatever newspapers or progressive magazines we could, and we would discuss the articles, and attempt to apply them to other aspects of society.
Prison Study Groups in Maoist China
If we look to Mao's China, and specifically to the time of the Cultural Revolution, we will see that every level of society was touched by Maoism, even the prisons. When I read about prisons in Mao's China I learn why it is that Maoism is considered the highest stage that socialism has developed so far.
Though frequently badmouthed in the imperialist media for their re-education practice, these prisons focused on the political education of inmates. Most people behind bars had committed serious crimes against the people (landlords who murdered peasants, people who spied for Amerika, government officials who abused their power), and so this education helped prisoners understand how their actions affected others and why they should want to work towards a society where people do not have the power to oppress and exploit others.(1)
The study groups developed by prisoners during the Cultural Revolution involved thought reform. This means understanding why one has particular thoughts and finding ways of correcting incorrect ideas. This was reforming one's errors on levels that many of us cannot even imagine. It was a process of dialectics where prisoners would study the essence of their actions and behaviors. They would also engage in criticism-self-criticism where they would look into their own errors or the errors of others so that they all learned and evolved as a group.
The prison study groups in Maoist China did not conduct criticism-self-criticisms in order to ridicule or bully people; instead it was done to really point out the error and get the persyn to understand their error. One cannot change a behavior if one does not know or truly believe that they are committing an error in the first place. What we must understand is every prison in Mao's China had these daily study groups, which were fully supported by the people's government. In this way prisoners learned and became better people because of the study groups. They became people who went on to help build the revolution.
In contrast to Mao's China, here in U.$. prisons we are simply warehoused. We are placed in a cell where we are taught nothing, and this is done for years and decades. If we are lucky we are released and come out the same or worse than we went in. We don't learn from the state because under capitalism they don't have any use for us other than filling a cell. And when we try to form study groups we are punished and our studies are falsely labeled as gang activity or security threat activities. This is the difference between a Maoist society and a capitalist society; one heals people, the other destroys people.
All of this was part of the political line of China under Mao which put into practice the theory that people can learn from their mistakes and become productive members of society if they take study and self-criticism seriously. In Amerika's prisons today we find the oppressed rather than the oppressors, but there is still an important role for self-criticism in the anti-people actions of many lumpen. And the study of political theory is especially criticial to the oppressed as we hone our understanding of how to fight back against the oppressors.
When speaking about education Mao stressed: "Our educational policy must enable everyone who receives an education to develop morally, intellectually and physically and become a worker with both socialist consciousness and culture."(2)
Mao reminds us that education is to make us better people. In the above quote he describes education being used to help people become workers. Although we are lumpen, education can help us become lumpen with socialist consciousness and culture.
What are the difficulties?
Forming or participating in study groups is not easy. There are many obstructions we have to deal with. As most know, U.$. prisons unleash political repression in the guise of upholding their laws. They criminalize political organizing and revolutionary activity of the imprisoned captives by labeling it "gang activity" or "security threat group activity."
There were times when I would get a good group of people together and we would have a good study group going and then the prison, out of nowhere, would move people out of the building or section, scrambling the housing population and dismantling the study group. The study group is disrupted, but this only means that we need to start over.
Sometimes I would be somewhere and gather lots of notes on political articles or uprisings and I would use these for groups, only to have my cell searched and all of my notes trashed, with a guard noting "gang notes." Likewise I would acquire a good selection of revolutionary books only to be transferred to another prison and in the process all of my political books would be "lost."
Once I was in a control unit where the prison put me and a New Afrikan next to each other and everyone else in the unit was juiced up on psyche meds kicking their door all day. The prison did this to further isolate us from our nations. So we formed a study group together and discussed ULK and other books. When things get repressive we need to keep studying and educating each other, no matter how hard it is.
Study groups can also be done through the mail. MIM(prisons) facilitates some of the best study groups I have encountered. But this invites censorship and sometimes harassment from the prison staff. We have to understand that learning about our own repression and about communist theory is something the state seeks to prevent. Prisoners learning about revolutionary theory scares the state because it means we will learn and turn theory into practice, against them.
What's it all for?
We should understand that repression will happen regularly. This is why studying is so important, so that when our mail is censored we have books and literature to fuel our study groups. And when our lit and books are "lost" we can remember our lessons and teach others key concepts like dialectical and historical materialism. We can help other prisoners understand why we need a united front or how the oppressed within U.$. borders developed as nations. We will know all of this and what kind of program we will need to liberate the people because of what we learned in our study groups.
What we do today and how we spend our time in these dungeons will determine what the future of these dungeons will look like. At the same time study groups should produce theory and theory should produce practice. We are not studying to be armchair revolutionaries, we are studying in order to ultimately join the oppressed of the world in smashing imperialism.