Transforming the gangster mentality into a revolutionary one is possible because they are two sides of a coin. As an intermediary class the lumpen can act out both bourgeois ethics (in the form of gangsterism) or proletarian ethics (as revolutionaries).
The lumpen implementation of bourgeois ethics is the gangster. The gangster in many ways imitates the most ruthless aspects of bourgeois behavior, allowing them to be potential tools of the imperialists. Yet there are aspects of the collective identity, the discipline, and perhaps most importantly the connection to an oppressed nation, that you see in both the gangster and the revolutionary. This is what distinguishes the lumpen organization (L.O.) from the criminal gangs made up of correctional officers and police departments.
The lumpen implementation of proletarian ethics is the revolutionary. The lumpen revolutionary may be more adventurous and tend more towards left errors than the proletariat. Regardless, choosing the proletarian road, means reforming oneself to take on proletarian morality. The collective action and rebelliousness of the lumpen organization must mature into pure dedication to the people and a strategic approach to protracted peoples' war against imperialism.
We discussed these two roads in our review of J. Sakai's "The Dangerous Class and Revolutionary Theory".(1) As we said then, there are two roads today, the communist and the capitalist. The capitalist is the old road, the decaying road.
So when comrades keep bringing up this question of "how do we overcome the gangster mentality," it is essentially a question of how do we move the lumpen off the old capitalist road and into building the new communist one.
Our critics might counter, "wait a minute, plenty of people give up a violent gang life without becoming proletarian revolutionaries." And they are correct. But this also has not put a dent in the presence of the gangster mentality in our society, has it? Individuals aging out of gangs and integrating into bourgeois society does nothing to combat gangsterism because the motivation, the causes are still there. Even those who reach out to dissuade youth from taking the same path only provide a band-aid. A class of people, excluded from the means of production and distribution, living in an economic system driven by profit, will keep reproducing the gangster mentality. Until we can replace capitalism with a system where everyone has a productive role to play and peoples' needs drive our society, instead of profit, only then can we truly overcome the gangster mentality.
A few years back, in ULK 51 a comrade summed up some discussion around this topic among USW comrades:
"Today's youth show the same apathy, indifference and nihilism as the youth of 1955. It was the civil rights movement that awoke the youth of that era. USW comrades struggled over what today can take the place of the civil rights movement. War, environment and imperialist expansion were three good starting points to organize around. We lumpen youth have more stake in the future environment and it is us who fight the wars. It helps to understand that those starving to death and suffering/dying from preventable diseases are our people. We must fulfill our destiny or betray it. All this nitpicking and betrayal between sets/sides contributes to humankind suffering. We must overcome this flaw.
"The principal enemy we must defeat is the glamorization of gangsterism. A revolutionary or a gangster? What are we? Can the two coexist in a persyn and still be progressive? Gangsterism plants fear by oppression, and revolutionaries are in struggle against oppression. This internecine violence we perpetrate between sets is what the pigs want us to do. They sold us this shit in Scarface and we've built on to it and made it our own. Overcoming the glamorization of gangsterism will take proletarian morality, conscious rap, exposing the downsides and ills of gangsterism, the glamorization of revolution, revolutionary culture, and possibly to redefine the word gangsta. Gangsters are parasites and revolutionaries are humankind's hope. It's as simple as that. We need to leave the lumpen mentality for a proletarian one. Many true revolutionaries were once gangsters. Gangsterism is a stage, basically.
"Self-respect, self-defense and self-determination define transitional qualities of a revolutionary. Bunchy Carter, Mutulu Shakur and Tupac all transcended the hood and grew into progressives. What we are seeking as USW is opening up the spaces for gangsters of all walks of life to enter the realm of anti-imperialism and begin a transformation of mind, actions and habits to develop into the model of a revolutionary gangsta with the capability of forwarding the cause of the people. We must understand our potential. It is us, we reading these ULKs, that hold imperialism in our fists. A real gangsta is one who has gone revolutionary and has kicked off all the strings of social control - mental illness, drugs, fantasy, despair, escapism, etc."(2)
A program for overcoming the gangster mentality involves a multi-pronged approach. We must expand and develop the membership of the vanguard cadre organizations. Simultaneously we must organize the lumpen masses around a minimal program of unity. As K.G. Supreme of USW stressed in an article on this topic, it is revolutionary nationalism and anti-imperialism that provides a viable group identity and movement to rival that of the current L.O.s that dominate the terrain.
"Cultural Freedom is the best weapon for defeating the gangster mentality. Cultural freedom that is geared in nationalist liberation of oppressed nations, and exploiter nation suicide for members of the euro-amerikan oppressor nation. As Marcus M. Garvey of the African nationalist organization, UNIAACL said, 'Power is the only argument that satisfies man.'"
And as Pilli discusses in "Love Your Varrio by Liberating Your People," we must embrace the oppressed people, communities and organizations. And we must encourage growth within them. Communists are not here to attack the gangsters or the addicts, that is what the bourgeois state does. We are here to guide others down the same path of education and growth that we have found.
United Struggle from Within has long put forth the slogan, "Unity from the inside out." This embodies the dialectical process of developing unity within one's own thinking so that one can better build unity with others; that an organization must struggle within its membership to build unity before it can unite with others in the nation; and that a nation must build unity before it can properly unite in its own interests with other oppressed nations.
"Unity-struggle-unity" is a related slogan that depicts how we should approach building unity among the people, addressing contradictions amongst the people. We can't be all unity, we must challenge, question and struggle. But we start and end with unity, so that we can grow in that direction.
"Each one, teach one" is a slogan that stresses the role of education, especially in these early stages. It also embodies the truth that we all have things to learn from each other. Education and learning are a central part of our program for building the cadre and the masses.
These slogans, and others, should be actively built around. Comrades should study and popularize the 5 points of the United Front for Peace. We should organize events and study programs around Black August, the Commemoration of the Plan de San Diego and the September 9th Day of Peace and Solidarity. MIM(Prisons)'s Free Books to Prisoners Program offers study materials around all of these topics. We also offer correspondence study courses, which all comrades wishing to work with USW should join. We offer a wide array of revolutionary literature for your own independent study and for prison-based study groups.
While uniting around study groups and education is important for building cadre, most people will only be able to unite with us around concrete battles. It is up to comrades on the ground to determine what winnable battles exist where you are. What are the masses' righteous demands and how can we mobilize them to achieve them? How can we build Serve the People programs locally by pooling resources and helping others out? It is in these concrete battles that we gain mass support, and we learn to organize, lead and challenge injustice.
We believe we have the correct theoretical basis and the framework of a program for this stage of the prison movement. But there is much to be done to experiment and learn from. As K.G. Supreme stresses, the lumpen masses must get deep into the gangster mentality, understand it so as to transform it.
"It is important, in defeating the gangster mentality, that those serious about raising the consciousness of the subjects of gangsterism, first come to terms with the mentality as a lifestyle from the vantage point of inside the mind of a first world gangster. Approaching the subject from any other angle would be an inferior method promised to fail in producing any significant impact in the social behavior of those that are the target. The investigation into this gangster mentality should be led by those who are infected with the mentality. This isn't to say petit bourgeoisie nationalist groups cannot support the leaderships of those struggling against the gangster mentality. It is to say that the petit bourgeoisie nationalist must not seek to dictate the leaderships that struggle to defeat the gangster mentality, as to not contaminate the nationalist liberation objective, spreading culture indifferent to the destructive culture, spread by the bourgeoisie.
"...As more and more ground level leaderships disconnect themselves with the lifestyles that encourages behavior motivated by the gangster mentality, there becomes a need to replace the un-natural behavior with disciplines motivated by reconnection with natural lifestyles that are in harmony with the growth and development of a parasite outkaste of society, matured into a productive component of the internationalist objective to end national oppression by the exploiting nations in independent nations. Only culture that promotes national liberation struggles, applying political methods in interest of the oppressed can be relied on to replace the mentality of gangsterism... Emotions do not dictate the course of action in gradual transformation from unconscious behavior to conscious population. Instead the culture of educating against defeatist mentality, borns the scientific approach of the analytical prisoner, who in turn of reversing the gangsterism pop culture for a popular culture of upliftment in nationalist liberation objectives that free the available remedies of exploited and nationally disadvantaged, free themselves. The key to defeating the gangster mentality is investments in engineering techniques that make anti-imperialist culture popular."