Brazil has instituted a program in its federal prisons to allow prisoners to earn an earlier release by reading certain books and writing reports on them. In a country with a maximum prison sentence of 30 years, they recognize the need to reform people who will be released some day. The program is interesting for us because it's hard to imagine Amerikans accepting such a program, in a country where there is no consideration for what people will do with themselves after a long prison term with no access to educational programs, and prisoners who do achieve higher education get no consideration in parole hearings.
This reform in Brazil seems to be quite limited. Only certain prisoners will be approved to participate, there is a limit to 48 days reduction in your sentence each year, and the list of books is to be determined by the state. Meanwhile, the standards applied for judging the book reports will include grammar, hand-writing and correct punctuation. Which begs the question of what are the prisoners supposed to be learning exactly? Writing skills are useful to succeed in the real world, but being able to use commas correctly is hardly a sign of reform.
In socialist China, before Mao Zedong's death, all prisoners participated in study and it was integral to every prisoner's release. Rather than judging peoples' handwriting, prison workers assessed prisoners' ability to understand why what they did was wrong, and to reform their ways. The Chinese prison system was an anomaly in the history of prisons in its approach to actually reforming people to live lives that did not harm other humyn beings through self-reflection and political study. This type of system will be needed to rehabilitate pro-capitalist Amerikans under the joint dictatorship of the proletariat of the oppressed nations. It is very different from the approaches of isolation and brute force that Amerikans currently use on the oppressed nations.
While it would be a miracle to have in the United $tates today, the Brazil program demonstrates the great limitations of bourgeois reforms of the current system. The books are to be literature, philosophy and science that are recognized as valuable to the bourgeois culture. And the standards for judging the prisoners will be mostly about rote learning. The politics that are behind such a program will determine its outcome. Without a truly socialist state as existed in China during Mao's leadership, we can never have a prison system truly focused on reforming people.
The recent strike has unleashed a new round of censorship here in Pelican Bay. It's crazy that the very issue that CDCR claims to be "working on changing," that is 'Group Punishment,' is the very thing they are still doing by punishing everyone for the strike. Administrators from Sacramento came in their suits to beg prisoners they label falsely as 'worst of the worst' to stop striking and told them that if they stop there will be no retaliation, and yet here we are getting our political literature censored because of participation in the strike!
The state is so sick that it is not enough to keep prisoners locked in solitary confinement for years. It shows the cruelty, the depravity of what we are up against, and so when I think of so called 'constitutional rights' I know in my heart that these so called rights don't apply to me or any other prisoner in Amerika. When I'm denied even the ability to think, this is when I know the intention is to destroy me mentally and psychologically.
This is what the Security Housing Units (SHU) is used for - destruction cut and dried, there is no other reason for the modern day control unit, it's used to break you down by all means necessary. Whatever it is you enjoy is taken. If you like the fresh air we will have lock down, loss of yard privileges, etc. If you like to watch TV the power will go out throughout the week or COs can simply take your TV for 90 days. If you like to read, your books and newspapers will be denied and censored. If you like to write certain people they will stop your mail, return to sender and claim this address is a mail drop, etc. The list goes on and on. This is all done to get people to collaborate with the state in order to get out of SHU.
So as people go about living their life, or even for people incarcerated who have no idea of the active repression many face, I say it's real and be ready for the same repression. I have gone years having my literature from MIM and ULK censored and I have learned not to rely solely on ULK or MIM Distributors but to study on my own or with others. And when I do receive some political science literature, some revolutionary history, I read it over and over and discuss it with others so that I remember it and expand my understanding of it.
What we are experiencing now in the SHU with the new censorship will become common as prisoners in Amerika become more progressive and revolutionary. It is for this reason that people should prepare for this repression just as urgently as one would prepare for a hurricane or earthquake or any other disaster. To disregard this will leave one with nothing, no lifeline to truth, no theoretical nourishment, and most of all no guidance.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade raises an important point about the value of political literature and the need to prepare for censorship. We face censorship across the country in so many prisons it is hard to keep track. But it is never sustained forever, sometimes we can get past the censors after a few months of appeals, sometimes it takes years and a court case, sometimes there is nothing obvious that changes but suddenly literature is allowed back into a prison. Regardless of the reasons for the censorship or the victories against it, it's clear that we need to get as many people as possible on the ULK mailing list to maximize the distribution, and those receiving it and other literature need to share it, create study groups, discuss what they are reading, and spread the word.
With the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows indefinite detention without charges or trial, the U.$. population is becoming more aware of the emptiness of "constitutional rights." There are no rights, only power struggles, as this comrade explains.
by a South Carolina prisoner October 2011 permalink
Peace, comrades in the struggle! First and foremost the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) is a modern day slave plantation. Being political is a crime within itself because once I became aware of the truth then the system considered me a threat. I'm a Black man in solitary confinement due to my passion to stay alive and I strive to use this time to analyze my legal problems and how to continue to educate myself.
I write this so-called law library to request certain law books and other legal material but I'm being denied because the law library is not up to date and lacks current books we need. Not only that, the SCDC has designated a ban on all magazines, newspapers, books, photos, etc. that come from outside sources, whether it be from publishing companies or organizations. In Special Management Unit (SMU), where prisoners are housed 23 hours a day behind a locked door, SCDC mandates all above material must come from its institutional library, where no newspapers or magazines are allowed, period. Only the inadequate out-of-date law books and library books. Because of this ban many people suffer from lack of information and educational material and legal material.
So I reached out to receive The Georgetown Law Journal 2010 Edition from Georgetown Law. I was denied permission to purchase that journal out of my own funds. Then I wrote to Prison Legal News, South Chicago ABC Zine Distro, Justice Watch, Turning the Tide, the Maoist Prison Cell, the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights. All these organizations sent me material but I was denied access to have the material and it was sent back because of the so-called policies OP 22.12 and PS 10.08. These policies can be downloaded on the SCDC website.
I have limited information I can use to fight oppression as a whole. I have offered my problems at the hands of my oppressor to hopefully serve as a springboard for further war against oppression. Times do get hectic because recently I was placed in a full restraint chair off the words of another prisoner's statement! I am aware of some cases that deal with censorship, so I'm doing my research the best way possible even though the law books inside the library don't have cases past 2001!! And the thing about it is the mailroom staff have a list of names of publications that aren't allowed to send mail to this institution. She has no education in security besides searching mail for contraband. Of course I'm aware of the Prison Litigation Reform Act; that's why I am going through the grievance procedures now. I will continue to fight this system and hopefully my voice will be heard outside of these walls.
SCDC has no educational programs so it's more about self-education, but as you see I'm limited on that also. They have even started feeding prisoners in here two meals on Saturday and Sunday due to so-called budged cuts, but Monday through Friday we receive three meals per day. This is a very hard battle but my will is to survive physically and mentally until there's no fighting left. I hope you can continue to send me updated info because I can receive up to five pages of material printed out like the Censorship Pack you recently sent. Thanks for your support.
MIM(Prisons) adds: We don't like to echo the common accusation that U.$. prisons are modern day slavery because it is misleading about who is being put in prison and why. Yet, we can't deny that the repression of basic education in South Carolina seems to be very similar to the slave days. This is above and beyond what most U.$. prisoners face in 2011, and is straight up doublespeak for an organization that claims in their mission statement that "we will provide rehabilitation and self-improvement opportunities for inmates."
A friend gave me a little study of yours, Level 1 Study Group in which a participant states that prisoners may be called upon to build bombs and war machines as Amerika's military industry expands. You respond that this is unlikely since "the imperialists will not share their military secrets" and "wouldn't want prisoners building bombs and war machines for security reasons." Well, you are wrong!
Try and take a tour of the Unicor in USP as well as FCI#1 in Victorville, CA by Adelanto. I was there 2007-2009 prior to going to SMU and worked in UNICOR in metal shop. We had a contract on making ammo cans for Humvees and Humvee engines and interiors were also worked on. Also we built little "Iraqi Villages," little pre-engineered huts for the military to put in the High Desert to train troops to raid prior to deployment to the Middle East.
Not just that, but we converted 5 ton and trucks, stripped them down and built them into MRAP prototypes (Mine Resistant Armored Protectant Vehicles), to train troops prior to deployment, with gun turret and everything, since real MRAPs come off the line in some warehouse and are immediately shipped to Afghanistan. We built 15 trainee MRAPs. Also, Humvees came into the shop and if any inmate found a bullet case or shell and turned it over we were rewarded with up to $100 bonus! Go to USP Victorvile and FCI #1 in UNICOR and see for yourself.
MIM(Prisons) responds: First we're happy to hear that prisoners participating in our study groups are sharing the lessons with others. It's a challenge to conduct these classes through the mail as interest grows. In order to expand this educational work more, we rely on our comrades behind bars to share what they are learning through USW-led educational institutions that can be conducted face-to-face.
We're also glad this prisoner took the time to write to us with information about prisoner labor in federal prisons, and to correct our comrade's mistake on the question of letting prisoners work on military construction. The extent of prison labor's involvement in supporting imperialist military repression is something we addressed in the article The Privatization of War: Imperialism Gasps its Last Breaths, printed in ULK 8. Much of our empirical knowledge of the U.$. prison system comes from our many supporters still on the inside, so we always welcome help keeping our facts straight.
Thanks to MIM(Prisons), prisoners from all across Amerika now have the opportunity to discover and learn from various revolutionaries and societies of days gone by.
We can learn of how for the first time in hystory Marx & Engels, thru diligent study of the past and scientific analysis of their hystorical conditions, were able to synthesize socialism into a science, thereby pointing the road forward to emancipation for the proletariat.
We can read of how V.I. Lenin not only defined the decadent and final stage of monopoly capitalism (imperialism), but We can study how he illuminated and laid bare the strategy and tactics of the proletariat, ushering into existence the first socialist state.
We can sort thru all the lies and distortions of the bourgeoisie that have been successfully hurled at the persyn who was the one-time leader of the international communist movement for 30 crucial years; main anti-fascist military strategist of WWII; and leader of that socialist powerhouse, the USSR 1922-53. I am talking about J. Stalin.
We can even learn about the third and final stage of Marxism thus far: Mao Zedong Thought. We can read and draw lessons from how he led one fourth of the world's population to victory over foreign imperialism and domestic feudalism and capitalism by way of national liberation vis-a-vis protracted peoples' war. We can read of the most radical and progressive revolution the world has ever seen, without which socialism will not survive and communism cannot be attained: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Long Live the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons!
MIM(Prisons) adds: With a little more time and money from our supporters, MIM(Prisons) can expand this important work of spreading revolutionary literature to the prisoner movement. We have revolutionary books, magazines and newspapers that will be sent into prisoners' hands much faster if we have more donations to cover the costs of shipping. The easiest way our supporters can contribute time to our educational work right now is to be a volunteer typist. All you need is access to a computer with an internet connection and you can work with the prisoner study groups and research projects that we support.
To update you on the hunger strike issue, the progress of negotiations are not complete as far as what we hope in regards to the prisoncrats demonstrating a sense of humanity. The struggle is never about seeking more than necessary. It's bad enough as it is that, for the most part, prisoners in the short corridor are already doing life sentences handed down by the courts. The opportunity to change this depressive life style will afford us the means and the will to reach out to the prison populace and help channel backwards thinking into more progressive and firm social-consciousness and to establish MIM study groups with the sole intent of elevating the level of consciousness.
The California prison system in many ways is behind the times in relation to other prison systems in this country. Being concerned about the materialistic aspects of life, subordinated to sub-survival rather than political consciousness. The coming together of the most oppressed, repressed and suppressed klass of prisoners has established a progressive precedent in hopes of changing the dynamics of the prison klass and all its ills. This is the real fear of the prisoncrats: social and political conscious! We cannot afford complacency, militants wither away like the wind. The struggle is a long haul and having the equipment is about fortitude.
The SHU is specifically assigned to minimize our effectiveness in reaching the bulk of the prison klass, no one should fear genuine and proper education, like Malcolm said: "it's the passport to the future."
MIM(Prisons) responds: We agree with this comrade that the Pelican Bay Food Strike was a good step forward in establishing unity in struggle for the common goal of raising conditions of prisoners. We need to take advantage of this opening and stand firm in demands for change. The other vital piece to advancing unity among the oppressed imprisoned population is through ongoing education and political struggle. For it is through struggle and study that greater unity is reached. We need to be honest about where we agree and where we disagree, while focusing on how we can work together when we agree on important things. Then future actions will be even stronger and inspire the masses even more through unity in action. These are the two aspects of developing point 2 of the United Front for Peace in Prisons Statement of Principles.
Unlike other social services in the United $tates, public education is the only one where the quality of service you receive is directly impacted by the assessed value of property in your locality. Besides limited busing, there isn't a way around the fact that poorer neighborhoods have crappier schools. When attempts are made to resolve disparities between districts, the rich districts do all they can to resist the change. The obvious methods of spreading the existing money evenly to all districts, and dividing kids evenly across all schools, are seen as taking money away from the rich districts. The rich districts don't think the poor kids deserve the same level of education if it comes at their expense. Poor school districts are predominantly Black and Latino. Very few white kids have to try to get an education in a school that lacks books, desks, teachers, and in some cases even basics like toilets and heat. In 1991 statistics showed that some cities have per-pupil funding for the poorest district equal to only one fifth of the funding in the richest.(1)
"[A] circular phenomenon evolves: The richer districts - those in which the property lots and houses are more highly valued - have more revenue, derived from taxing land and homes, to fund their public schools. The reputation of the schools, in turn, adds to the value of their homes, and this, in turn, expands the tax base for their public schools. The fact that they can levy lower taxes than the poorer districts, but exact more money, raises values even more; and this again, means further funds for smaller classes and for higher teacher salaries within their public schools." Kids educated in poor districts can't compete with the education rich kids are getting by the time they are applying for college.(2)
In 1988, Eastside High School, in a poor and mostly Black and Latino district in Paterson, New Jersey gained some publicity and praise by former U.$. Education Secretary William Bennett and former President Ronald Reagan because the principal, Joe Clark, threw out 300 students in one day who he claimed were involved with violence or drugs. Clark often roamed the halls of his school with a bullhorn and a bat, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Two-thirds of those kids ended up in County Jail. Paterson even destroyed a library because it needed space to build a new jail.(3, 4) Joe Clark was an atypical high school principal, but his defense and support by the President and Education Secretary sent a clear invitation to other principals to adopt Clark's methods.
These facts show how public education is not intended to be, and does not function as, a force to uplift the oppressed nations within U.$. borders. Wealthy districts' protection of "their" tax dollars prove that they will not share their wealth without being forced to do so. The only way to equal education and employment opportunities for everyone is through socialist revolution, and eventually communism.
MIM(Prisons) has been steadily expanding our education efforts both in response to the lack of education afforded our readership, and because it is one of the most important forces we can utilize to advance revolution. Our primary task at this historical stage is to increase public opinion in favor of national liberation movements. And as we organize for revolution we must be sure we are following a correct path and not one that will lead to failure and setbacks. We determine this through our study of history and current conditions, and share these ideas with others through education. Much more could be done, and ultimately this effort should be picked up and spread by people on the inside, but we play a valuable supporting role.
One way MIM(Prisons) supports education behind bars is through our Serve the People Free Political Books for Prisoners Program. Prisoners who cannot afford to buy books can instead exchange revolutionary work for revolutionary literature. Our selection includes magazines and old newspapers from the Maoist Internationalist Movement; classic essays by Mao, Lenin, Marx, and others; history books about China under Mao and the socialist Soviet Union; materials by the Black Panthers and the Young Lords; and works by modern Maoist theorists. We encourage participants of the Free Books Program to share the lit with others, study it with them, and write to MIM(Prisons) with their questions or thoughts so we can better help them with their political education.
A more structured way MIM(Prisons) supports education behind bars is through the various study groups that we facilitate. There are two levels of introductory study groups that will help someone who is new to revolutionary thought, or who is already well-versed but wants to know more about MIM(Prisons)'s politics. Comrades who complete these courses, do not have a worked out line against MIM(Prisons), and are actively involved in some kind of writing work will be invited to join the Under Lock & Key Writers group. This group participates in a higher level of study and discussion, and participants use their knowledge to contribute articles to Under Lock & Key and other anti-imperialist projects.
In the past several years we have put together over a dozen study packs for comrades to use on their own, or in correspondence with MIM(Prisons). We especially encourage people to form study groups inside their prison using these study packs as a guide. Some study pack topics include: strategy (focused on MIM Theory 5), organizational structure, culture (focused on MIM Theory 13), False Nationalism, False Internationalism, fascism, and more. We send these study packs to people whose letters seem like they could benefit significantly from the process, and to participants of the Free Books for Prisoners Program.
We have also been in the long process of compiling a Maoist glossary to post online at www.prisoncensorship.info and to send in to our readers. It will be a miniature dictionary of terms for our struggle, defined from a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist perspective. Comrades who want to contribute to this project can write us for a draft version of what we have so far.
Although we have been developing, with much invaluable help from our comrades inside, useful tools to expand and spread revolutionary education, you can teach others without using even one of them. If you can read this article, you can start educating others about Maoism, our need for revolution, and how we can get there. Start by sharing Under Lock & Key with someone and discussing the articles. What did you find interesting? What did you disagree with? Why do you think the author made a particular statement? What was confusing for you? What new information did you learn? What are you going to do with that information? What do you want to learn about more?
Because education and study rely so heavily on the written word, we should be putting some energy into teaching others how to read. One persyn who knows how to read can spread political education to others exponentially. But someone who cannot read on their own is limited in their ability to fully grasp the difficult questions of making revolution. We are building our revolutionary leadership and need to help others lead by helping them to read.
MIM(Prisons) has been trying to develop our support for literacy programs. Comrades behind bars should take up this important task of teaching others to read, and let MIM(Prisons) know what we can do to better support their efforts. We are especially interested in hearing from people who learned how to read while locked up, and what helped them.
This issue of Under Lock & Key is focused on education because it is the basis of our practice at this time. Education and study are the only ways that we are going to be able to develop as leaders of the revolution toward a just society free of starvation, rape, war, and oppression of all kinds. Theoretical education improves our organizing and mass education work, which is the only way we are going to turn people on to the need and possibility of liberation, and in favor of efforts of the oppressed to liberate themselves.
Meditations on Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth: New Afrikan Revolutionary Writings by James Yaki Sayles Kersplebedeb and Spear & Shield Publications 2010
Available for $20 + shipping/handling from: Kersplebedeb CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne Montreal, Quebec Canada H3W 3H8
"THE BOOK IS ABOUT HOW THE "WRETCHED" can transform themselves into the ENLIGHTENED and the SELF-GOVERNING!! If you don't take anything else away with your reading of [The Wretched of the Earth], you must take this."(p.381)
Like many of the books reviewed in Under Lock & Key, Meditations On Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth is written by someone who spent most of his adult life in a U.$. prison. That there are so many such books these days speaks to the growing plague of the mass incarceration experiment that is the U.$. injustice system. The content of many of these books speaks to the development of the consciousness of this growing class of people in the belly of the beast. While of the lumpen class, they differ from the subjects of Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth in both their incarceration and their First World status. And while great thinkers are among them, their ideas are reflected in the general prison population superficially at best. The need for the development of mass consciousness (one based in revolutionary nationalism, and an understanding of how to think, not what to think) and the project of oppressed people taking their destinies in their own hands make up the main theme of this book.
Wretched has greatly influenced many in our circles, and is itself a book highly recommended by MIM(Prisons). It is of particular interest in being perhaps the most complete and accurate discussion of the lumpen-proletariat that we've read to date. While not completely applicable to conditions in the United $tates, it is even more relevant to the growing numbers of displaced Third World people living in slums and refugee camps than when it was first written. For the most part, Yaki discusses Wretched as it applies to the oppressed nations of the United $tates, in particular New Afrika.
The four-part meditations on Wretched make up the bulk of the book. The introduction to this section is an attempt to break down The Wretched of the Earth for a modern young audience. In it the author stresses the importance of rereading theoretical books to fully grasp them. He also stresses that the process of studying and then understanding the original and complex form of such works (as opposed to a summary or cheat sheet) is itself transformative in developing one's confidence and abilities. At no stage of revolutionary transformation are there shortcuts. The only way to defend the struggle from counter-revolutionaries is to thoroughly raise the consciousness of the masses as a whole. "Get away from the idea that only certain people or groups can be 'intellectual,' and think about everyone as 'intellectual.'"(p.192) And as he concludes in part two of the Meditations, We often forget that our whole job here is to transform humyn beings.
The National Question
As part four of the meditations trails off into unfinished notes due to Yaki's untimely death, he is discussing the need for national culture and history. He echoes Fanon's assertion that national culture must be living and evolving, and not what the Panthers criticized as "pork chop nationalism." He discusses the relevance of pre-colonial histories, as well as the struggles of oppressed nations during the early years of colonization, to counter the Euro-Amerikan story that starts with them rescuing the oppressed nation from barbarity. These histories are important, but they are history. Sitting around dressed in Egyptian clothing or speaking Nahuatl aren't helping the nation. It is idealism to skip over more recent history of struggles for self-reliance and self-determination in defiance of imperialism.
We don't even need to go back to ancient times to identify histories that have been lost and hidden; many of us don't even know our recent past. Recording the little-known history of the "wretched" of the richest country in the world is the first step to understanding how we got here and how we can move forward. We are working on this with a number of comrades as an important step to developing national (and class) consciousness.(1)
Yaki agrees with the MIM line that nation is the most important contradiction today, while presenting a good understanding of the class contradictions that underlay and overlap with nation. Recently, debates in another prison-based journal, 4StruggleMag, have questioned the relevance of nationalism as the basis of revolutionary organizing; taking an essentially Trotskyist view, but justifying it via "new" conditions of globalization.(2) Really the theory of globalization is just one aspect of Lenin's theory of imperialism. The author, critiquing nationalism, discusses that nations themselves were a modern concept that united many groups that were once separated by culture and land. This was true for the nation-states of europe that united internally and the nations of the colonial world that were united by their common oppression under european domination. It was in this colonial relationship, and specifically with the demands of imperialism, that nations solidified in dialectical relationship to each other: oppressor vs. oppressed.
Yaki disagrees with the reading of history that sees nations as a modern construct. He stresses the importance of recognizing that oppressed nations existed as people with rich cultures before europeans drew up national boundaries based on colonial land claims (ie. Egypt, China, Maya). While true, talking about "nations" that predate capitalism is similar to talking about the "imperialism" of the Roman empire. For followers of Lenin, empire does not equal imperialism. Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism; an economic system forced by the extreme accumulation of capital that requires its export to other people (nations) to maintain profit rates, without which capitalism will not continue to produce (one of its inherent contradictions and flaws).
When we talk about nations, we are talking about imperialist class relations; the relations of production and distribution under the economic system of imperialism (which is not more than a couple hundred years old). More specifically, we are talking about a system where whole nations oppress and exploit other nations. While different classes exist within each nation, these questions are secondary to the global class analysis in the period of imperialism. To answer the anti-nationalist author in 4StruggleMag who claims nationalism never led to liberation, or to internationalism, we refer to socialist China, the most advanced movement for the liberation of people from capitalism to date in humyn history. Even within the confines of this imperialist country, the most advanced movement took nationalist form in the Black Panther Party.
Any theoretical questioning of the relevance of the nation to revolutionary anti-capitalism must address the nature of imperialism. Within the United $tates the lines between oppressor and oppressed nation have weakened, particularly on the question of exploitation. This provides a material basis for questioning the relevance of nationalism within our movements here. As Yaki wrote, "here, in the seat of empire, even the 'slaves' are 'petty-bourgeois,' and our poverty is not what it would be if We didn't in a thousand ways also benefit from the spoils of the exploitation of peoples throughout the world. Our passivity wouldn't be what it is if not for our thinking that We have something to lose..."(p.188) But globally, the contradictions between nations continue to heighten, and there is no basis for debate over whether nation remains the principal contradiction.
As we said, nations, like all things in the world, are dialectical in nature. That means they constantly change. There is nothing to say that nations will not expand as implied by the globalization argument, but this will not eliminate the distinction between exploiter and exploited nations.
While we won't try to address the relevance of revolutionary nationalism within the United $tates definitively here, Yaki is very adamant about the need for an understanding of the internal class structure of the internal semi-colonies. And as different as conditions were in revolutionary Algeria, many of the concepts from Wretched apply here as Yaki demonstrates. "[D]on't We evidence a positive negation of common sense as We, too, try to persuade ourselves that colonialism and capitalist exploitation and alienation don't exist? Don't We, too, grab hold of a belief in fatality (very common among young people these days)? And, what about OUR myths, spirits and magical/metaphysical superstructure? In our context, We employ conspiracy theories, the zodiac and numerology, Kente cloth and phrases from ancient languages; We invoke the power of a diet and the taboo of certain animals as food products."
Those studying the class structure within the oppressed nations, New Afrikan or not, within the United $tates will find much value in Yaki's writings. Even in the introduction, the editors remind us that, at the very least, revolutionary nationalism was a powerful force in our recent history. For example, in 1969 Newsweek found that 27% of northern Black youth under 30 "would like a separate Black nation."(p.19) And in the 1960s communist teens from the Black Disciples organized comrades from various gangs to defend Black homes in other parts of Illinois from drive-by shootings by the White Citizens Council and their backers in local police departments.(p.16) In the same period, when Malcolm X was alive and pushing a no-compromise revolutionary nationalist line on its behalf, the Nation of Islam had reached over 200,000 members.(p.18) Shortly thereafter, a majority of Blacks in the United $tates felt that the Black Panther Party represented their interests. When we look around today and ask whether New Afrikan nationalism has any revolutionary basis, we cannot ignore these recent memories.
Class, then Back to Nation
In his essay, On Transforming the Colonial and "Criminal" Mentality, Yaki addresses George Jackson's discussion of the potential in the lumpen versus their actual consciousness, which parallel's Marx's point about humyns consciously determining their own conditions and Lenin's definition of the masses as the conscious minority of the larger proletariat, which as a class is a potentially revolutionary force.(3) He quotes a critique of Eldridge Cleaver's line on the lumpen, which glorified organized crime. The critique argues that organized crime has its interests in the current system, and it is a carrot provided to the internal semi-colonies by imperialism. MIM(Prisons) looks to organized crime to find an independent national bourgeoisie (such as Larry Hoover, whose targeting by the state is mentioned in the book's introduction), but many are compradors as well, working with the imperialists to control the oppressed for them. This is even more true where the state has more influence (i.e. prison colonies).
While Yaki's focus on consciousness is consistent with Maoism, we have some differences with his application. Yaki, and his ideological camp, disagree with George Jackson and the MIM line that all prisoners are political. The state is a political organization, serving a certain class interest. We say all prisoners are political to break the common misperception people have that they are in prison because they did something wrong. Yaki's point about the lumpen is that if they don't turn around, understand the conditions that brought them there and then work to transform those conditions, then they are no use to the liberation struggle, and they are therefore not worthy of the term "political prisoner." He argues that to allow those with bourgeois ideas to call themselves a "political prisoner" dilutes the term. His camp uses "captive colonial" to refer to the New Afrikan imprisoned by Amerika regardless of one's ideology. That is a fine term, but by redefining the commonly used "political prisoner" from its narrow petty bourgeois definition, we push the ideological struggle forward by reclaiming popular language. In our view, "political prisoner" does not represent a group with a coherent ideology, just as "proletariat" does not.
Yaki puts a lot of weight on ideology when he defines nation as a "new unity" as well by saying, "[t]o me, being a 'New Afrikan' is not about the color of one's skin, but about one's thought and practice."(p.275) While skin color is an unscientific way to categorize people, we would caution that there are in fact material factors that define a nation; it's not just how we identify as individuals. Saying it is only about thought and practice leaves open the possibility of forming nations along lines of sexual preference, colors, favorite sports teams - lines that divide neighbors in the same community facing the same conditions. On the flip side, it creates space for the white-washing of national liberation movements by denying the group level oppression that the oppressor nation practices against the oppressed. To say that nations are fluid, ever-changing things is not to say that we can define them based purely on ideas in our heads and have them be meaningful.
Yaki Offers Much Knowledge
The use of the term "meditations" in the title is indicative of Yaki's approach, which clearly promotes a deep study of the material as well as making connections that lead to applying concepts to current situations. It is not a study guide in the traditional style of review questions and summaries. It does provide a critical analysis of the race-based interpretations of Fanon, such as that in Fanon for Beginners, which make it a valuable counter-measure to such bourgeois work.
His stress on hard work to build a solid foundation leads him to an agreeable line on armed struggle in contrast to others we have studied from the same ideological camp. On the back of the book, Sanyika Shakur quotes the author as saying, "i'd rather have one cadre free than 100 ak-47's" after Shakur was imprisoned again, related to possession of an assault rifle. Shakur writes, "t took me years to overstand & appreciate that one sentence." Discipline is something the revolutionary lumpen must develop, and taking a serious, meditative approach to study can help do just that.
In his essay, Malcolm X: Model of Personal Transformation, Yaki concludes, "We can go through the motions of changing our lives... but the test of the truth comes when the prison doors are opened, or, when otherwise We're confronted with situations which test our characters." (p.118)
Yaki was a New Afrikan revolutionary and a Prisoner of War. As part of the post-Panther era, Yaki reflects realistically on security questions, pointing out that it's too late to start instituting security measures after Martial Law has been enacted. From reading this book, everything you can gather about Yaki builds an impression of seriousness and commitment to our cause. In this way, this book is more than just a useful study guide for understanding and applying Fanon's ideas; it is an exemplary model for revolutionaries to help develop their own practice.
"It is up to us to organize the people. As for the reactionaries in China, it is up to us to organize the people to overthrow them. Everything reactionary is the same; if you don't hit it, it won't fall. It is like sweeping the floor; where the broom does not reach, the dust will not vanish of itself."(1)
In taking on the charge of fighting a national revolutionary struggle and building an anti-imperialist movement, those leading that movement - a vanguard party made up of internationalist proletarian leadership - have the principal task of educating the backwards masses so that they may come to understand the nature of their suffering and oppression.
The Black Order Revolutionary Organization (BORO) has taken responsibility of being part and parcel of the education and organization of the lumpen and prisoners in the United $nakes, alongside and in fraternity with MIM(Prisons) and the United Struggle from Within (USW), and those lumpen and organizations that work with them.
In our brief history of revolutionary organiz- ing, BORO’s tactical experiences have taught us is that we must struggle vigorously to teach prisoners in a practical way, understanding that a great percentage of U.$. prisoners are victims of mis-education by the colonial school system and practically none have any history of political struggle/activism.
In fact, because of their ignorance of the true laws of hystorical and social development, most prisoners disdain politics and political struggle, and instead have been heavily influenced by idealism, namely religion and metaphysics. There could also be a myriad of other reasons to explain this particular phenomenon, but that is not the purpose of this essay.
The purpose of this essay is to discuss how do we transform the lumpen colonial-criminal mentality into a revolutionary proletarian consciousness. As revolutionaries and aspiring Maoists, we do this by employing the science of revolution — Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, a dialectical and hystorical materialist education.
The first thing we try to teach prisoners is that even though we are in prisyn, we are still defined by our relationship to the means of production, not by our religion or what state or neighborhood we come from. As a comrade demonstrated in ULK 17, "in Marx's theory of 'social relations of production' lies the question of ownership, that is what 'class' owns the tools and what 'class' uses the tools. In this imperialist society the lumpen neither own nor use the tools. We are excluded from production and live under the heel of capitalist relations of production."(2)
The above point is critical to transforming the colonial-criminal mentality into a revolutionary proletarian mentality and is a part of the critical examination of our lives in relation to society in general, and the revolutionary transformation of it, in particular. It's also one of the most difficult steps to take for many prisoners, because it requires that one be critically honest and unreserved in the examination of their lives and critique of one's philosophical understanding of the real world and how it really works. Many of us are afraid to admit our parasitic roles in society. But even these should be critically examined within the context of the society that helped produce us as a class, and not as individuals.
It is idealists who "focus exclusively on conflicts within the individual, which are held to be constant across time and space. However, by not even noticing the presence of class struggle, which is the principal driving force in human action, they are unsuccessful in even explaining, much less changing, human behavior. Contradictions within the individual are reflections of contradictions in society, not autonomous from those contradictions. We define a person's character not in terms of the aspects of the individual as related to each other, but rather in terms of the individual as related to society through the individual's participation in it. An individual's struggle to resolve internal contradictions is dialectically related to other individuals and the struggle of human society as a whole to resolve conflicts in society."(3)
We must continue to provide prisoners with revolutionary educational materials that challenge them to critically study and understand their position in society and how to change it. No effective revolutionary organization can be built in the United $nakes without a powerful base inside of the penal colonies, undocumented workers and ex-prisyners. No effective revolutionary movement in the prisyns can be built without strong ties to a revolutionary movement on the streets. This is the dialectical relationship that exists between those on the inside and those on the outside of U.$. prisons.
If we want to brush away the dust that is capitalist-imperialism, then we must continue to push forward the development of a united front against imperialism. He who does not fear the death of a thousand cuts will dare unseat the emperor!
Every time we wake up and open our eyes to a new day, that's an act of resistance, because they don't care if we wake up or not, and some don't want us to! Every time we take in or exhale a precious breath of life we are engaging in a real act of resistance, because they don't want us to breath, they want us to live in misery and nothing more. Every time we write things like this and contribute our writings to newsletters, zines, pamphlets or to the internet, we are engaging in an act of resistance, because these are messages they don't want us to convey!
Resistance isn't always about violent bouts with our captors, even though we've been through that, or will probably go through it one of these days (on one level or another), but sometimes it's about striving to overcome these everyday struggles in these death camps, while keeping your mind in one piece, your body strong and your spirit unbreakable. So in that sense we are engaging in acts of resistance every day! Me, writing this, is an act of resistance.
So, my dear comrades, please allow me to extend my most sincere greetings of love, solidarity and respect to all who read this and to all who feel it. As a revolutionary freedom fighter, it is my duty to strive every day to raise consciousness and engage and organize others, conducting study sessions and having political, philosophical and intellectual stimulating convos with those who are confined in the cells around me, writing essays and zines and trying to connect with people on the outs in a real and meaningful way. Even though I'm constantly retaliated on by my captors, it doesn't matter. I resist the attempts to mentally suffocate me and others through sensory deprivation tactics. They try to break our spirits but we keep resistance in our hearts, and that's what carries us through.
And I want to dedicate this act of resistance to all of the prisoners who read this, from state to state, all those who are resisting their "intellectual death sentences," tearing it up! Staying hard and staying true through it all. I salute you and I write these words to encourage you to start getting things going where you're at, start studying the law, raise consciousness (your own and in the minds of others too), start up study groups, get a book drive going for your prison. Start up your own prison chapter, build bridges with comrades on the outs. Each one teach one, engage others, sharpen your swords, listen as much as you talk, learn as much as you teach, be real with people, and try to bring a level of solidarity amongst the prisoners on your tier, unit, wing, etc. These are some of the things that I'm doing out here in Pennsylvania and it's what I encourage everyone everywhere to do also!
I dedicate this act of resistance to all of you who read this. My heart goes out to all of you, my love, my appraisal, my solidarity, and my deepest respect goes out!