In a New Year’s statement for 2020, llco.org stated:
“While we have much to celebrate, we also mourn the loss of a once dear comrade, who passed away earlier this year. Prairie Fire, who was integral to crafting our theory and authored many of our earlier articles, lost his battle with drug addiction this past April. Although he was expelled from our ranks in 2016, we still recognize and honor the important role he played in the formative years of our Organization.”
2019 was certainly a year of loss and transformation for the Maoist movement in the United $tates.(1) While the Leading Light Communist Organization abandoned Maoism as such for its own self-aggrandizing brand shortly after forming, comrade Prairie Fire was someone who we had great unity with over the years. While our knowledge of eir work is somewhat limited, ey was someone who dedicated eir life to building a revolutionary movement.
Prairie Fire spent some time working with the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA) before being won over by the MIM critiques of the RCP=U$A brand of revisionism. Prairie Fire, having been a student of Avakian’s work, wrote some biting critiques of Avakian’s writings for MIM.(2) In its later years, MIM came to promote the It’s Right to Rebel online discussion forum as a place for Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist League comrades to organize. Prairie Fire was a lead figure in the IRTR project ideologically and work-wise. MC5, later revealed as Henry Park, would come to consider the IRTR a failure and proof that you cannot out-number the fascists and cops on a public internet forum.
Not long after the IRTR experiment had begun, the original MIM Comrades cell dissolved and the etext.org MIM website was left in the hands of lead theoretician Henry Park. By this time MIM had dropped most of the infrastructure related to the prison ministry into the hands of comrades who would come to form MIM(Prisons). One of those founding comrades came from IRTR.
Once Henry Park was on eir own, eir writings became more erratic, accusatory and difficult to decipher. It was at this time that Prairie Fire began leading the call to disassociate from MIM. Another key point of struggle was MC5’s continued promotion of Mousnonya as the MIM Art Minister. MC5’s failure to denounce Mousnonya, who participated in IRTR, was very concerning for the core membership of IRTR. Comrades could not understand the free reign of creative license that seemed to be allowed to Mousnonya, whose content was inconsistent in its political message. While IRTR was condemned as a failure, swimming with fascists, MC5 hinted at other reasons for the Mousnonya relationship, but we don’t know what those were. Unfortunately, Mousnonya videos are still prominent on YouTube’s search when looking for MIM content.
Most of IRTR’s core membership followed Prairie Fire in denouncing Henry Park as having lost it and went off to form Monkey Smashes Heaven (MSH) and associated projects. These projects eventually put out the Sunrise Statement declaring “Maoism Third-Worldism” as a new, higher stage of historical materialism, intentionally distancing themselves from MIM Thought. Comrades who formed MIM(Prisons) at that same time stood by the MIM legacy and the writings of Henry Park until eir early death in 2011.(3) We put online and continue to host the latest version of the MIM etext.org site that we had a copy of before it was shut down.
At the same time that IRTR was operating, the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement arose in Denver, organizing in alliance with MIM around support for Ward Churchill in eir fight for academic freedom, and anti-war and anti-militarism. As MSH wanted to to go beyond online media and art projects, it morphed into an aspiring vanguard organization called the Leading Light Communist Organization. This group was active in Denver and included 2 comrades from RAIM-Denver on the central committee, with the intent of using the RAIM name and formation as the LLCO-led mass organization.
While MIM(Prisons) criticized the idea that there was a new stage of revolutionary science beyond Maoism, we saw the MSH alliance (and later LLCO) to generally uphold the MIM cardinal principles, even as they continued to find more aspects of MIM Thought and writings that they disagreed with. As the primary theoretician behind LLCO, we know Prairie Fire was a lead force in this continuous distancing from MIM.
Some time after forming LLCO, Prairie Fire decided that eir ideas had again become so distinct that they constituted a new ideology, called “Leading Light Communism.” Without discussion with other central committee members, LLCO abandoned “Maoism Third-Worldism” for “Leading Light Communism” as it continued to move its rhetoric in a direction that MIM(Prisons) found to be sectarian and dogmatic.(4) RAIM comrades in LLCO made a similar assessment, and soon split with LLCO, which in turn denounced RAIM as wreckers. At this point RAIM became a collective focused on a news blog at anti-imperialism.com without a clearly defined ideology. Over the years RAIM would go back to the “Maoist Third-Worldism” identity. As membership changed, RAIM began to come around to the MIM(Prisons) position on a new stage of revolutionary science. In its last years, RAIM was in regular discussions with MIM(Prisons), regarding plans to launch joint projects under the MIM name. As RAIM has since been dissolved, comrades who have followed the MIM(Prisons) and RAIM legacies continue to work towards a reconsolidation of the MIM.
After a struggle with LLCO over its gender analysis in 2014,(5) MIM(Prisons) paid little attention to LLCO as practical alliance had reached an impasse. While the nature of its activity was unclear to us, it seemed focused on leading struggles in the Third World. Essentially, it had gone full circle due to seeing the center of world revolution in the Third World, and it had taken up a Trotskyist strategy of leading Third World organizing from the First World. Prairie Fire had gone back to the ways of Bob Avakian.
According to the recent statement from LLCO, Prairie Fire was expelled from the organization in 2016 for drug use. It was around this time that Prairie Fire reached out to us to notify us that LLCO had been usurped by enemies, and ey was regrouping around a formation called “the Founders.” That was the last we heard from Prairie Fire.
As our movement is in a period of great transition and transformation, we wanted to take this opportunity to document some of this history now that people have passed and organizations have dissolved.
We also wanted to comment on Prairie Fire’s passing because we saw em as a fellow traveler, despite our differences over the years. While eir practice was not really known to us in much detail, we had respect for eir ideas and eir efforts. Certainly more than most organizations out there. So it is sad that we learn of eir passing.
It is also sad when we hear that a comrade had succumbed to drug addiction. Developing healthy lives in this sick system is a challenge, to say the least. That is why we have comrades currently developing a program for those dealing with addiction and other challenges related to being healthy in an imperialist society that we are struggling against. And we welcome help and input from comrades on this project, as we strive to Serve the People in addressing the effects of this society on the individual. The transformation of the individual is only completed in the individual contributing to the transformation of society.
We post the images of Prairie Fire above to commemorate and remember em. Yet it is not because of eir appearance or life story that we are writing on eir death. We are critical of eir efforts to build a cult of persynality around emself. Promoting eir image and eir persynal history is promoting pre-scientific thinking. We must be real with the people. We must strike a balance between those who see themselves as great, and make great statements, and those who shy from the vanguard role and deny revolutionary truths. We must be clear and honest about what we know, and what we are doing, and what we don’t know, and what we are not accomplishing.
At times it seemed that Prairie Fire was always striving to distinguish emself as having done something new and different, falling into the trap of post-modernism that ey emself condemned. We are not in revolutionary times. We can not have the impact or discover the truths that Mao or Lenin did in our current conditions. We mustn’t strive to be the next Mao or Lenin. We must strive to be humble, dedicated servants of the people; always struggling and striving in the direction of revolutionary transformation of society, as so many millions of people who came before us have done. We are a part of something great. We are doing great things. There is nothing great about us as individuals.
Prairie Fire was a leader. Overall ey led people in the right direction, though at times ey led people away from MIM Thought. We should strive to unite with all who are in agreement with MIM’s three cardinal principles. These are what distinguish us as Maoists, that are moving in the overall direction toward a world without oppression.
As the launch of a new Maoist Internationalist Movement newsletter was scheduled to occur in the next week or so, we are addressing in part the events of the last 6 weeks that have delayed this project indefinitely. There were a series of splits, degenerations and internal struggles within our movement that came to a head last month. We are still assessing where things will fall, as we work to keep the prison ministry projects operating.
On 10 December 2019, remaining members of the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement announced, "After nearly 13 years of existence, the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement (RAIM) is no more. Contradicting lines and practical inadequacies have been allowed to fester to the point of intractability, resulting in several splits and the widespread abandonment of our organization."(1)
RAIM was our primary partner in the planned newsletter. There have been promises of more thorough assessments of RAIM's history and shortcomings, but the most detailed commentary right now is at the link in the notes below. One of the key things it highlights is the challenges of revolutionary organizations to engage in the practice that allows us to learn from and bind ourselves to the masses in real struggle while in a non-revolutionary situation. There is a challenge in distinguishing ourselves in action, not just words, from the countless non-profits, non-governmental organizations, liberal reform groups and other bourgeois institutions misdirecting energy and resources from the struggles of oppressed people in this country.
The announcement from RAIM was followed shortly by the sudden resignation by a cadre member of MIM(Prisons). This loss seems to echo some experiences coming out of the RAIM camp, and this article is an attempt to analyze it in terms of phenomena that stem from our conditions in particular and that we must try to combat.
In contrast to some other struggles that had happened within MIM(Prisons) and within RAIM, this comrade who left MIM(Prisons) said they had no political disagreements and therefore there was nothing to discuss or struggle over. In their resignation they stated, "I've come around to the belief that the humyn race is likely doomed at its own hand." Ey went on to say, "I don’t see a better political line out there, instead I see a problem with me and my First World conditions. I'm no longer able to rally the energy to continue contributing."
For some of us, this is a hard position to understand. For some of us there is no life free of despair outside of a committed struggle for a world without oppression. However, we must understand that we live in a predominately petty bourgeois country, and what the class interests of that class is, and what its political outlook is. Only then can we understand and combat these types of conclusions.
On the one hand, it was mostly true that this comrade did not see a better political line. In fact, until eir last days with us ey was upholding that line in practice, even challenging others who were wavering in their own belief that Maoist organizing, in the form it took within our movement anyway, was the best way to struggle against oppression.
However, it was just a few weeks prior when i was editing an article this comrade had written reviewing the recent Terminator movie. In it they had commented on capitalism marching towards the annihilation of nature and humyn life. I argued we should change the clause to "annihilation of the current balance of life on Earth that humyns depend on." The "annihilation of nature" is such an absolute concept that i'm not sure humyns could be capable of such a thing if they tried. Even the elimination of humyn life is an extreme outcome.
This seemingly subtle change hit at an underlying line struggle that emerged as em leaving the movement completely because ey thought "the humyn race is likely doomed at its own hand." This type of apocalyptic outlook is unfortunately common in our petty bourgeois culture. The petty bourgeoisie is a class whose purpose is based in consumption, leading to a different type of alienation than what Marx talked about; one that leads towards nihilism. And this is a truly First World problem that we should take seriously.
Whether it's lifelong communists retreating to the comforts of a consumer life built on the exploitation of the Third World, or imperialist warhawks attempting to literally initiate a biblical rapture, First World nihilism is a threat to humyn life. Whether it will kill off all of the humyn race aside, we sure know it kills a lot of us, and it is happening every day as long as imperialism stays in place.
There are two main forms of political degeneration that we see. There are those that abandon attempts at change to take up a bourgeois position as this comrade did. Then there are those who sneak bourgeois politics into their practice. The more obvious examples of the latter are comrades leaving to join single-issue reformist groups. The more insidious are those who take up a revisionist, or non-revolutionary line that hides in Maoist clothing. Really there is only one form of political degeneration: it is the abandoning of proletarian politics for bourgeois politics in one form or another.
The fact that this comrade, who had served the people and upheld the proletarian line against attacks for so long, did not see eir decision as a disagreement in political line makes no sense. The MIM line is very clear that our strategic confidence comes from the 80% of the world's people who have a material interest predominately opposed to imperialism. Mao Zedong said that the imperialists were paper tigers, and proved in practice what that meant; that they are dangerous on the surface, but will collapse in the face of organized peoples' power. So clearly the comrade had disagreements with Maoist political line.
Apparently this comrade felt ey had made up eir mind and didn't want to engage in struggle anymore. This reminds me of the many times people have told me they don’t listen to the news anymore because it just makes them depressed. And sure, I can relate to getting upset at times at things that I hear on the news. But most often I listen to the news with an open mind to understanding the world around me, the good and the bad. To stick one’s head in the sand is easier than looking for answers. But if you are just getting depressed every time you listen to the news, it is because you are not engaged in the process transforming our reality and/or you think humynity is doomed and there are no answers to the massive problems we are facing. To believe there are no answers is metaphysical thinking – ideas that things just are the way they are, or maybe even that humyn nature is just bad. This is religious/idealist thinking. And it is strange to come from a comrade who spent many years railing against religious and idealist thinking and advocating Maoism based in a historical materialist analysis of history.
Knowing what this comrade knew, the lie ey told, perhaps to emself, about not disagreeing with us politically can only be explained as an excuse to do what this persyn subjectively wanted to do. If they were being honest with us they might have said something like "i feel that my life will be happier, more fulfilling, more rewarding by abandoning the struggle against oppression and imperialism." And i know what you're thinking, what kind of sick mind could think that? Well, we are surrounded by sick minds, present company included. Here in the belly of the beast, to seek out and uphold a proletarian position takes real effort and fortitude. It is going against all we are taught. And that is why this struggle to transform society is dialectically a struggle to transform ourselves. All the self-help books and therapy sessions cannot transform us in to the new socialist humyns we are striving to be. Only revolution can transform us to the point that we have eliminated this sickness.
Well, you say, aren't we in the First World hopeless then, because revolution is so far off? For one, revolutions happen quickly. It is true that our movement has been saying for decades that we do not live in revolutionary conditions. But that could change in a matter of months. And for the oppressed, crisis is opportunity, not the individualist, nihilist fantasy of the zombie apocalypse or the end of humynity that the petty bourgeois culture prophesizes. Secondly, we do not have to achieve a stateless communist utopia to begin to transform ourselves. In fact, we transform every day. It is up to us whether we are training our brains to become more responsive to capitalist advertising and consumption or training ourselves to better embody the proletarian line and morality that leads us to struggle every day. That struggle defines us. And it impacts those around us. And together we lay the groundwork for a better tomorrow. Tomorrow can be better, a step in the right direction, or not. It is in the act of making revolution that we can cure the disease that has infested all our minds, and the system that requires unnecessary death and suffering to grease its wheels.
The recent events have created a significant shake up in our plans. These were long-term plans that were closely reaching their due date. Needless to say the setbacks have brought temporary disappointment and discouragement. At the same time we have been striving for a new path, and this shake up can help us get there. To date we have had a very small, though dedicated, membership. We have already begun to transform that reality in recent weeks as we develop relationships with a number of new comrades. Even here, in the heart of empire, we know the number of potential comrades out there vastly outnumber what we have managed to unite to date. And we know it is our responsibility to be effective at we do, to inspire the masses to join our movement. It will take us some more months to get back up to speed. And we don't foresee any newsletter coming out before that. But we are rebuilding. And we invite you to join us.
Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy in Maoist Terrain
Abbreviations CPC = Communist Party of China MZT = Mao Zedong Thought MLM = Marxism-Leninism-Maoism ML = Marxism-Leninism MIM = Maoist Internationalist Movement PCP = Communist Party of Peru RCP,USA or RCP=U$A = Revolutionary Communist Party, USA RIM(MIM) = Revolutionary Internationalist Movement that later became the Maoist Internationalist Movement RIM(RCP) or RIM = Revolutionary Internationalist Movement that was a sort of international led in practice by the RCP CoRIM = Committee for RIM, the leadership of the international RIM, primarily run by the RCP AWTW = A World To Win, magazine published by the CoRIM GPCR = Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution PPW = Protracted People's War ICM = International Communist Movement, or the collection of communist organizations across the world
This book purports to be a philosophical exposition into the terrain of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, a science that has been forged in revolutionary practice. And as it's title aptly describes, it focuses on the dialectical relationship between continuity and rupture in the development of humyn knowledge through the scientific method. A method which can be applied to society just as it can to oceans or plants. The author counters those who deny this.
Continuity and Rupture is a useful book for understanding the how and why behind how Maoism came to be. But we recommend reading the book with this review to get an alternate history of Maoism in the First World, as well as some strong caveats on the political line presented as Maoism in this book. The biggest issue we will take up in this review is the uncritical presentation of the RCP=U$A-led Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM). The development of Maoism within occupied turtle island can be seen to have started with the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP), but to really be consolidated as "Maoism-qua-Maoism" by the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) beginning in 1983. MIM's development of Maoism was explicitly a criticism of and rejection of RCP=U$A politics. It is problematic that this book leaves the RCP=U$A in the position of the prominent Maoist organization in this country as Maoism was being consolidated as an ideology, when that organization struggled against Maoism the whole time and only claimed the label for a period when it served to maintain their influence within the RIM.
In addition to providing a counter-narrative, albeit North America-centric, we will address a number of points where JMP emself seems to lean towards positions of the RCP=U$A and away from the Maoist position.
Maoism as Maoism Rupture
Much of this book deals with the distinguishing of Maoism from Mao Zedong Thought. What distinguishes a 'Thought' from an 'ism' is that a 'Thought' is applying revolutionary science to local conditions and drawing specific conclusions. When a 'Thought' develops understanding that is universally applicable to communists everywhere, that is beyond the previous level of scientific understanding of how to build socialism, it becomes an 'ism'.
Applying the concept of 'continuity and rupture' to historical materialism, the author makes the somewhat controversial assertion that the rupture that established Maoism as a new theoretical stage occurred in 1993. This is controversial because the term "Maoism" existed and was used to describe movements long before then. Our own movement took up the name the "Maoist Internationalist Movement" in 1984. Though the author points out that it is quite common for a scientific term to emerge before its concept is developed.(p.18) The author succinctly distinguishes the earlier and later uses of Maoism:
"Maoism, then, is not simply an addition to Marxism-Leninism (as it was generally understood prior to 1988 under the rubric of Mao Zedong Thought), but a theoretical development of the science that sums up its continuity in the formula Marxism-Leninism-Maoism."(p.23)
Before this time, the author argues that "Maoism" was a word to describe those who looked to China for leadership, and recognized the revisionism of the Soviet Union. It was the historical overlap of these two phenomenon that made this such a heady time for communists. They were simultaneously experiencing the fall of the first great socialist experience, while watching a second great revolution critique that downfall and surpass it by learning from it. As JMP argues, it is these great events that allowed the theory of historical materialism to develop and be synthesized by those who lived through and attempted to build on them.
JMP goes on to say that the GPCR itself was not enough to forge Maoism as Maoism, but it was the People's War in Peru that made this a possibility. It is unclear why the Peruvians would be in a unique situation compared to other revolutionary movements of their time. For any of us to move forward, and incorporate the lessons of what China did, we would have to come to some conclusions about what Maoism is. We have no reason to believe that MIM founders relied on the PCP to come to the same major conclusions on what the correct lessons were. We see MIM actively struggling to defend the main points of Maoism in its struggles with the RCP=U$A before and after founding MIM. And many others grasped the significance of both the GPCR and the coup in China in which the capitalist roaders took power, which are central to distinguishing Maoism as a new stage and to distinguishing those who understand it.
"And though, in 1981, these same Peruvian revolutionaries began to think of the possibility of Maoism (in a document entitled Towards Maoism), it was not until they had reached the apex of their revolutionary movement that they declared the 'universal validity' of Maoism as a 'third stage' of revolutionary science. Hence the supposedly controversial claim that Maoism did not exist before 1988: it did not exist as a properly coherent theoretical terrain."(p.xviii)
At times it seems JMP is arguing that a stage can only be summed up after moving on to the next stage. For instance ey argues that Leninism was only summed up by the Chinese Maoists, and now Maoism was only summed up by the Communist Party of Peru (PCP). Or at the very least it can't be summed up without the practical application in a protracted revolutionary struggle that at least approaches taking state power.
"The overall point, here, is that revolutionary theory develops through class revolution, specifically through world-historical revolution, and that there have only been three world-historical communist revolutions."(p16) and "...the Chinese Revolution was the first Marxist-Leninist revolution because the Communist Party of China under Mao was operationalizing (and theorizing) Leninism."(p29) and so "The new theoretical terrain emerges when this struggle passes beyond the limits of the previous terrain and begins to produce a new stage of struggles according to its assessment, synthesis, and decision of universality."(p30)
This gets to shaky ground when JMP argues that the apex of the PCP struggle was achieved prior to establishing socialism in Peru but still asserting that new theoretical terrain can only emerge when the struggle begins to produce a new stage of struggle. The PCP certainly contributed significantly to the ICM in both the practical fight in Peru and the ideological exposition and defense of Maoism in the global movement. But we do not see the PCP as having produced a new stage of struggle, past the limits of the previous terrain. The practice that revealed the validity of Mao's theories was that of the Chinese people, not the Peruvians.
JMP admits, "Obviously there are other interpretations of Maoism that do not declare fidelity to this historical narrative".(p.2) And ey later cites MIM as one example of this. We provide our historical narrative in this review. But one of the reasons given by JMP for choosing the RIM(RCP) story over MIM is that MIM is made up of "organizations based at the centers of capitalism, specifically the U.$."(p.47-48), while going on to say that MIM would not disagree with the PCP conception of Maoism as a new ism. Calling an idea "white" or "First Worldist" can be a shortcut for explaining ideological differences, but JMP is not drawing ideological differences here. This line of thought is a divergence from the scientific method ey prevents throughout this book.
JMP on MIM
JMP's coverage of MIM Thought in this book is limited to one footnote. As mentioned above, it is a footnote where ey seems to acknowledge MIM as one of the exceptions, one of the other examples of Maoism as Maoism and not just Mao Zedong Thought, that was separate from the RIM(RCP). Ey acknowledges MIM's rejection of the RIM "experience," as we explain briefly below. Ey correctly goes on to say that MIM's Maoism would not disagree with the PCP Maoism adopted by the RIM.
What we take issue with in this footnote is JMP's branding of MIM Thought as "Maoism Third-Worldism." This term was coined in the Sunrise Statement published in 2007, after the original MIM had collapsed, 24 years after its founding. For our part, MIM(Prisons) rejected the term Maoism Third-Worldism, while generally allying ideologically with those taking it up. We, agreeing with JMP, said that there could be no higher stage of revolutionary science without a practice that surpasses socialist China during the GPCR. We asserted that the question of exploiter vs. exploited countries was just basic Marxist economics, and not new theory. And we warned our comrades of ceding the terrain of Maoism to the revisionists.
Below we have produced a timeline of events related to both the use of the term "Maoism" and the ideological development of the MIM and the PCP. Later we will go deeper into some of the ways MIM addressed things that JMP leaves as open questions for the movement.
We are not claiming that the below represents all the Maoist forces, rather we are putting MIM history into the context of the history that JMP upholds as defining Maoism for us. We also start with some notes from China on the formulation of Maoism as a higher stage of revolutionary science. In one PCP document online(1) the authors say that they were waiting for the Chinese to declare and define Maoism, but once the coup took place in 1976, then the Peruvians saw it as their task to take on.(2)
The point of all of this is not to say "we were the first," or to fight over what year Maoism was established as we know it today. It is to challenge a narrative that puts the RIM and the RCP=U$A at the center of this development, when both organizations were dripping with revisionism. That's not to imply that all parties in the RIM were revisionists. But it is clear that the PCP put out all the documents listed below and struggled to get the RIM to accept their line on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism over many years. JMP does not state that the RIM improved on the existing definition coming from the PCP, but that RIM forced its meaning by adopting the statement. From here, we don't see the great importance of that adoption. What is clear, is that the development of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism in occupied Turtle Island took the form of a rejection of and struggle against the RCP=U$A, and the RIM that it led.
Another date worth mentioning is 1956, which is when the bourgeoisie within the party took the USSR down the capitalist road to the point of causing a rift in the ICM. This provided the conditions that allowed for the lessons that defined Maoism as a higher level of understanding of how to proceed towards communism. MIM founders said you cannot talk about Maoism prior to this event. And in 1956, the Chinese, led by Mao, began addressing the question of the bourgeoisie within the party that develops under the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is at the core of what Maoism teaches us about pushing socialism to new, higher levels than we've reached so far.
By 1969, the CPC was still using the term Mao Zedong Thought for reasons of internal political struggle, yet they were applying the principles of MZT externally, implying that it had universal application and was really an 'ism.'
A U.$.-centered Timeline of 'Maoism'
1938 - Chen Boda and others began pushing the study of Mao's writings(3)
1945 - VII Congress agreed that the CPC was guided by Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought(3)
1948 - Wu Yuzhang used "Maoism" in a draft speech instead of MZT - Mao said ridiculous(3)
1955 - Mao again opposed "Maoism" adoption among intellectual conference(3)
1956 - Kruschev denounces Stalin, Mao's critique of bourgeoisie in CPSU and theory of productive forces begins, addressing questions that Lenin never faced (MIM said can't talk about Maoism before this)(3)
1966 - Lin Biao says Mao has elevated Marxism-Leninism to a new stage(3)
- launching of Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) in China
- Gonzalo's Red Faction within PCP took up Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought(4)
1969 - 9th Party Congress in China - difference between MZT and Maoism a formality, as Deng and Liu Shaoqi resisted "Maoism" as a new stage, the CPC began applying MZT to global situations/outside China(3)
1969 - PCP took up Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, with reconstitution under leadership of Gonzalo(4)
1976 - PCP denounced coup in China and declared "To be a Marxist is to adhere to Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought.", later indicating that they were waiting for Maoists in China to declare "Maoism" before this(2)
1979 - PCP: "Uphold, defend, and apply Marxism-Leninsm-Mao Zedong Thought!"(4)
1980 - PCP launched People's War with slogan "Uphold, defend, and apply Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, principally Maoism!" - only ones defending Maoism as such(4)
1980 - RCP, USA get 13 communist parties to sign statement upholding Marxism-Leninism
- MIM predecessor RADACADS is working/struggling with RCP,USA over questions of Maoism (dates unknown, pre-1983)
1981 - PCP: "Towards Maoism!"(4)
1982 - PCP "took Maoism as an integral part and superior development of the ideology of the international proletariat"(4)
1983 - RIM(MIM) founded as Maoist group in response to RCP,USA failure to take up or uphold Maoism, founding document "Manifesto on the International Situation and Revolution" discusses Mao, the GPCR and the Third World War(5)
1983 - RCP went to PCP with ML statement from 1980 and PCP rejected it because it failed to uphold Maoism.(2)
- RCP was agnostic over who better Mao or Lenin w/ RIM(MIM), upholding theory of productive forces and did not understand that a new bourgeoisie formed within the Chinese CP(7)
1984 - RIM(RCP) founded among groups RCP brought together in 1980, this time upholding Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought(2)
1984 - RIM(MIM) became MIM, stating "RCP consciously stole the RIM name for its international mutual aid society"
- by this time MIM was distributing pamphlets on the guerilla war in Peru
1986 - PCP responds to RIM founding statement on MLMZT and becomes a participant(6)
- MIM puts out a theory piece on the PCP that addresses Gonzalo's line on the militarization of the party, while it is agnostic on this line it calls out RCP,USA leader Avakian for rejecting it as well as rejecting the lessons of the GPCR as universal (MIM Theory 2 (old school))
1987 - "MIM made the question of the non-revolutionary, bourgeoisified white working class a dividing line question in practice for U.S.-based Maoists." and began distributing J. Sakai and H.W. Edwards books(7)
- MIM releases "Third Draft of Criticism of the RCP" exposing RCP revisionism and stating that "the RCP has yet to concretely show what it is that is concretely happening in China in our own lifetimes."
1988 - JMP claims Maoism begins to exist here, this is the year the PCP released their Fundamental Documents with the most in-depth definition of Maoism in relation to philosophy, political economy and scientific socialism
1990 - "MIM formed a Central Committee with supervisory powers over the various branches and empowered by the membership to run the day-to-day work such as the party's monthly newspaper MIM Notes" and put out What is MIM? and most of the content therein
1990 or 1991 - line on non-revolutionary labor aristocracy majority appears as 3rd Cardinal Principle in MIM Notes
1992 - Gonzalo captured
- MIM concludes that RCP,USA is revisionist party(7)
1993 - RIM releases statement upholding Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (AWTW #20 1995), correcting 1984 statement as being "incomplete", recognizes bourgeoisie within party
1996 - RCP,USA first public response to MIM via CoRIM/AWTW
1997 - MIM response to RCP,USA - continue to condemn their seeing question of ending armed struggle as a "two line struggle", their putting campaign to save Gonzalo over People's War, criticize the international in general, and recognize that CoRIM is RCP,USA(8)
2002 - MIM declared 3rd Cardinal Principle applies to Third World comrades as well
2006 - cell of remaining original MIM Comrades disbands/website & MIM Notes cease
2007 - MIM(Prisons) forms
- sunrise statement released — declaring Maoism Third Worldism a new theoretical development (orgs separate from MIM/MIM(Prisons))
The Revolutionary Internationalist Movement
Stalin and Mao both justified the dissolution of the Third International (Comintern) by stating a Comintern was only appropriate for simpler times. (9) The history of the Chinese revolution and its relationship to the USSR proved the correctness of Stalin's decision to dissolve the Comintern in recognition of the uneven development of nations in their path towards socialism and the need for each nation to forge that path for themselves. Neither of them get into the details of what makes the relationships between countries so much more complicated by the 1940s. However, we can insert the ideas of theorists like Walter Rodney and Samir Amin to explain that most countries are actually underdeveloped to enable the development of the imperialist economies as one good reason.
The question of the role of European countries vs. colonial countries was one of great concern to the Bolsheviks leading up to and throughout their time in power. And while their ideas varied at different times, ultimately the theories of Lenin and Stalin around nation proved correct and important to the colonial countries. Trotsky, meanwhile, continued to look to Europe, and was so stuck on a revolution happening in Europe right away that he gave up on his own revolution in Russia. This idea remains with Trotsky's followers today and meshes well with the national chauvinism of the oppressor nations.
Given the above, we must question whether the idea of a communist international fits into Maoism today. JMP actually states "that it is false internationalism to establish an international communist party."(p.239) Yet ey upholds the RIM experience, that MIM saw as an incorrect practice. The USSR dominated the Third International as a large socialist entity with state power. The RIM was dominated by the RCP=U$A by virtue of its resources from being in an exploiter country. While both power dynamics proved undesirable, the USSR had certainly earned their leadership role. At the same time the influence and power of the Comintern was much greater than the RIM.
As MIM began to reach outside of U.$. borders it came to define itself as
"the collection of existing or emerging Maoist internationalist parties in the English-speaking imperialist countries and their English-speaking internal semi-colonies, as well as the existing or emerging Maoist Internationalist parties in Belgium, France and Quebec and the existing or emerging Spanish-speaking Maoist Internationalist parties of Aztlán, Puerto Rico and other territories of the U.$. Empire."
While we currently have no parties in our movement, we still do not claim to provide organizational leadership outside of imperialist countries. That is not to say MIM does not involve itself in struggles in the Third World, as was clear in its work in combating the Committee of the RIM's (CoRIM) efforts to slander the People's War in Peru.
If the RIM were a group of parties coming together to define Maoism, that might be a fine project. But the truth is that the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) had already defined Maoism and had to push the rest of the RIM to accept it. With the capture of the PCP leadership, the CoRIM went on to promote the idea that there was a two-line struggle over peace negotiations within the PCP, and that Gonzalo had authored a peace letter. Not only is the idea of disarming the communist party the literal definition of revisionism, there is probably no party to date that has made this more clear than the PCP of the 1980s. For years MIM published articles exposing this wrecking work, led by the RCP=U$A, as working right into the hand of the CIA/Fujimori regime.
Putting that atrocious activity aside for a moment, JMP's treatment of the RIM as a monolithic whole acts as a way to sneak in the obviously revisionist RCP=U$A. RCP revisionism is spelled out clearly in the original MIM comrades' writings from its very founding to its very last days. Even many former RIMers have critiqued the RCP's role in hindsight, though this was not until after the RCP had openly rejected Maoism again. JMP alludes to the RCP=U$A and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) as examples of Maoists gone revisionists. Yet both of these organizations were criticized as Trostkyist prior to the RIM statement on Maoism.(10) Certainly revisionism will emerge from the genuinely Maoist movement, but these examples just serve to include revisionists in the genuine ICM.
Just as the RCP=U$A used its resources to have undue influence in the ICM, the PCP's real street cred served to legitimize the RCP=U$A on its home turf once the PCP joined the RIM. While the RCP=U$A long ago removed itself from the milieu of "Maoism" and its influence has waned greatly (the RIM having faded away), this action by the PCP had lasting negative impacts on the development of Maoism and revolution in the United $tates.
To identify Maoism as a new stage, JMP identifies several universally applicable advances on Marxism-Leninism. Ey distinguishes between those elements that primarily define Maoism, and elements of revolutionary theory that, while advances of Maoism, are not universal aspects applicable in every context.
"Maoism is universally applicable because: class struggle continues under the dictatorship of the proletariat (socialism is a class society), the revolutionary party must also become a mass party and renew itself by being held to account by those it claims to represent (the mass-line), the struggle
between the revolutionary and revisionist political lines will happen within the revolutionary party itself, and that the strategy of people's war rather than unqualified insurrection is the strategy for making revolution. To these insights we can add: a further elaboration of the theory of base-superstructure where it is understood that, while the economic base might be determinate in the last instance, it is also true that this last instance might never arrive (a point made by Althusser, following Marx and Engels) and thus we can conceive of instances where the superstructure may determine and/or obstruct the base; the theory of New Democratic Revolution, which applies universally to the particular instances of global peripheries (universal in the sense that it applies to every so-called 'third-world' context) and explains, for the first time in history, how regions that are not capitalist by themselves and yet are still locked within a system of capitalist exploitation (that is, regions that are the victims of imperialism) can make socialism; and a further anti-colonial development of 'the national question'..."(p15)
MIM's founding documents in 1983 contain the first three points, as they voiced support for PPW in Peru. So it seems that MIM had grasped the universal points of Maoism as defined by JMP before 1988.
"Maoism, which has been promoted as a new theoretical stage of revolutionary communism, is not primarily defined by the theory of New Democracy since a new stage of communism should exhibit universal aspects that are applicable in every particular context."(p248)
We agree with many of JMP's universals about Maoism. But we would argue that points like New Democracy do not need to apply universally to all contexts to be universally true. The universality of a political line is found in its correctness for the phenomenon to which it applies. Imperialism is a contradiction of imperialists versus oppressed nations. Just as there is no imperialism without national oppression, there is no imperialism where New Democracy does not apply.
Our difference from JMP on this may also stem from eir different understanding of what New Democracy is. Ey repeatedly stresses that New Democracy is necessary to develop the productive forces within a semi-feudal country as a prerequisite to socialism. On the contrary, New Democracy was an answer to and rejection of the old line that leaned heavily on the Theory of Productive Forces. This line was common among the Bolsheviks, and never really fully grappled with until the Chinese did so.
"Revolutionary movements at the center of global capitalism (that is, movements that manifest within completed capitalist modes of production) will not pursue New Democracy since the problem New Democracy is meant to address has nothing to do with the capitalist mode of production where the economic infrastructure necessary for building socialism already exists." JMP goes so far as to say, "...the fact that there is no significant peasantry or a national bourgeoisie with some sort of "revolutionary quality" at the centers of capitalism means that the entire possibility of New Democracy in these regions is patently absurd."(p.244)
It is certainly true that the French, for example, do not need to wage a New Democratic struggle. Yet, it is a surprising line to see from someone living within occupied Turtle Island, where the national question of the internal semi-colonies is so prominent. The New Democratic revolution in China was all about uniting the nation against foreign occupation to regain the sovereignty of their territory and the self-determination of China. It is the semi-colonial character, rather than the semi-feudal, that is warranting a New Democratic revolution. Mao did not mention the development of the productive forces in eir essay "On New Democracy." Ey does talk about developing capitalism, but not as a prerequisite for socialism. Rather it is speaking to the national ambitions of the bourgeois forces at the time. In that essay ey alludes to the conditions of the development of capitalism in China allowing for the May 4th Movement to develop as it did in 1919. And ey is clear that the era of New Democracy only emerged with the October Revolution that marked the establishment of the first dictatorship of the proletariat. This was because the contradictions within imperialism as well as the subjective development of the first socialist state, meant that bourgeois revolution had become impotent and irrelevant.
JMP's idea that the productive forces are not developed enough today just isn't true. What happened is they were developed off the sweat and blood of the oppressed nations and put in the exploiter countries to benefit others. Certainly the question of economic development after liberation for the under-developed nations is one of importance. But the Chinese proved that this internal economic development does not need to preclude the march towards socialism. Mao butted heads with Stalin on this very question within China, and Mao was proven correct.
In occupied Turtle Island, it is MIM line that plebiscites must be held within the internal semi-colonies to determine the path they take after revolution, and that such plebiscites require full independence to be a true representation of the will of each nation.(11) Such a New Democratic stage would be even more abbreviated here, again because it will be a political question and not an economic one.
Strategy of Protracted People's War
JMP places a lot of emphasis on strategy. A party is not Maoist, ey argues, if that party is not engaged in the strategy of making revolution. This is a fair point when we consider the importance of tying theory with practice. Sitting behind a book or computer or desk and theorizing about revolution does not make for a revolutionary party. But we would replace "strategy" with "practice" in eir argument. We can disagree on the best strategy, which should come from our political line. But whatever line and strategy we adopt must still be put into practice. Results come only from actions, and we can only test our analysis by putting it into practice and witnessing the results.
When JMP argues that the strategy of Protracted People's War (PPW) is universal, we counter that this is only true in the sense that we can describe New Democracy as universal. Elements of PPW are certainly universal, but we have no peasantry nor a proletariat of significant size in imperialist countries in which to base this PPW. "Here also is a theoretical gauge for those organizations who would now name themselves Maoist: if they are not actively attempting to pursue revolution, to strategize a method based on their particular contexts for overcoming capitalism, then it does not appear as if the name, due to its concept, should logically apply."(p180)
Of course we agree with JMPs focus on criticizing reformism and spontaneous insurrection via union organizing. But ey does not address those of us who see socialism most likely being imposed from the outside in this country. If revolution breaks out at the weakest links first, won't it break out in the heart of imperialism last? And at that point, how will revolution occur in a country of former exploiters and oppressors surrounded by a socialist world? There is work to be done in the First World to combat and undermine imperialism, and prepare the people of those countries for socialism the best we can. MIM also said from its very beginning that armed struggle becomes a reality within the United $tates as it becomes militarily over-extended. But the form that such a revolution will take is far less clear than what we can generalize from history for the Third World periphery.
To the extent that there is a two-line struggle within Maoism around the question of the universality of PPW, there is a two-line struggle around revolutionary strategy in the First World. JMP poses the debate as one of insurrection vs. PPW. But in searching out positions in this debate we did not see anyone claiming Maoism and also arguing that insurrection is somehow more appropriate for the First World. Those who have objected to the JMP/PCP line on PPW seem to lack any acknowledgement of the different class structures within the imperialist core countries. They might mention conditions not being ripe, but the implication is that they will ripen and there is a mass base to take up the struggle. For MIM, this is a question of cardinal principles that distinguishes Maoists from others. To try to talk about PPW in the First World while not having a materialist understanding of the class structure is a backwards approach.
We can argue that both New Democracy and Protracted People's War are certainly important parts of Maoism, but are also continuities with Leninism. In other words, the development of these concepts by Mao and the Chinese people would not necessarily warrant the consolidation of a new "ism", a new stage of revolutionary science. It is MIM's first 2 cardinal principles, which defined our movement since 1983, that really distinguish Maoism as a rupture from previous practice in building socialism.
Class and the Party of a New Type
While we disagree with JMP on the class composition of the First World, eir discussions of class in relation to the vanguard party we found quite useful. Working in a very wealthy and privileged country, we often encounter people who are unsure of their role and right to lead. We also encounter many oppressed nationals who don't trust white people, and wimmin who don't trust men. In other words, we encounter identity politics. Chapter 3 was a well-done and sobering response to such takes.
JMP addresses the question of how an outsider could provide the proletariat with the truth,
"How can this party be aware of proletarian politics if it comes from outside? Because this is the politics derived from a scientific assessment of history and society that permits us to understand the meaning of "proletariat" as a social class. It is also a politics that, in its clearest expression, has learned from the history of class struggle, particularly the two great world-historical revolutions in Russia and China, and so can bring the memory of revolution to those who have been taught to forget."(p.122)
Ey addresses the contradiction of the more privileged being the first to make the analysis of one's society that is necessary to build a vanguard party: "If the most oppressed and exploited remained incapable of making the same analyses then counter-revolution would remain a significant danger." (p.119)
"the party of the new type is that party, then, that keeps leadership structures, and thus the unity of theory and practice, but understands such leadership as one that will also be led by the masses, seeks to transform everyone in society into leaders, and thus has its "top-down" aspect balanced by a "bottom-up" conception of organization." (p.202)
Where We Are In the History of Theory
In JMP's timeline and understanding of the relationship between theory and practice, we are currently in a stage of distinguishing Maoism, and elucidating its meaning. The lines have been drawn, but are still poorly understood as Maoism has not risen to prominence since the fall of Chinese socialism. Though it remains one of the most active bases of anti-imperialist practice, and certainly the most active within the broader collection of those identifying as communists. As we have stated before, JMP agrees that to go beyond Maoism theoretically requires a practice that goes beyond China. In our founding documents, MIM(Prisons) applied this criticism to things like "The New Synthesis," "Maoism Third Worldism" and later "Leading Light Communism."
JMP presents our current state in an inspirational way, saying that other radical theories (for example, Foucault's) filled the space as Marxism-Leninism was in retreat, but that those theories have now shown their short-comings, while Maoism is being consolidated and maturing.
On the constructive side of this development, JMP proposes that Maoism, unlike Marxism-Leninism, has the capacity to address the issues that these other theories tried to address, and obviously do it better. This is one place where the lack of discussion around MIM Thought really jumps out. We don't know how much and what MIM writings JMP has read, but ey has read some. MIM Thought provided communists with a new framework around gender that offers explanations to so much of the milieu around that topic that often trips people up.
MIM Thought Ahead of the Curve
While MIM Thought's most important tenant is the raising of the labor aristocracy in the imperialist metropole question to a dividing line question, this line is very much a continuity with Marxism dating back to Marx and Engels themselves. In contrast, MIM's gender line is only present in tiny breadcrumbs in the past. And in reading "Clarity on what gender is" by MC5, you can see it addressing some of the very things Foucault addressed in eir The History of Sexuality. MC5 echoes (or perhaps accepts) Foucault's history that says sex, through sexuality, ceased being about controlling labor power (or biopower as Foucault called it) and became a self-affirming value of the bourgeoisie in the 20th century. This timeline might correspond to when we see the popularization of the gender aristocracy among the general populace of the imperialist metropole — which has today spread even further throughout the world through the U.$.-dominated superstructure (culture). MIM, like Foucault, addressed the lack of revolutionary content of the so-called "sexual revolution." MIM even finds health status to be central to gender today, something Foucault discussed in the modern bourgeois thinking around sex and biology related to the vigor and hegemony of their class.
MIM, however, poses some materialist explanations for the evolution of gender through history, unlike Foucault, who only tells us how the ideas around sex evolved within different institutions of power over time. And unlike most "Marxist" attempts at discussing gender and sex, MIM very intentionally looked for what gender was, independent of class and nation. MIM addresses issues of alimony, high paid prostitution, celebrity rape cases, patriarchy within homosexual relationships and other hot-button issues in the realm of gender in the contemporary imperialist society. In doing so they always clearly distinguished their line from that of the Liberals, post-modernists, and class reductionists.
So when JMP makes a call for Maoism to address oppression related to sex, race, disability, etc, we wonder why ey poses this as if it is a task that is yet to be begun. We believe MIM Thought has provided much insight and guidance in these realms already that should be enough to counter almost any of the talking points from the alt-right to the post-modern radicals.
Applying MLM/MIM Thought
And so we end with some ideas of where our ideological struggle must continue today. We must continue to distinguish ourselves along lines of the fundamentals of Maoism and the application of MIM Thought to our current conditions simultaneously. We must draw hard lines between us and the revisionists, while offering better explanations than the Liberals and post-modernists. In doing so, we will court the scientific thinkers who abstain from bourgeois politics with disgust. And by employing the mass line to continuously improve our understanding and analysis, we can mobilize all who stand against oppression in these imperialist countries.
Under Lock & Key has been the voice of the anti-imperialist movement within U.$. prisons for 11.5 years. This issue is going out one month later than our usual schedule, because it is the last issue of ULK in its current form.
ULK has been an exemplary independent institution of the oppressed in preparation to take state power. It's within these pages that United Struggle from Within — the anti-imperialist mass organization of current and former prisoners — developed and organized dozens of campaigns. Through ULK the United Front for Peace in Prisons was developed to stop violence in prisons that was not only keeping us divided, but also being used as an excuse for lockdowns and other repression. These are all examples of independent institutions of the oppressed, and it's fitting that this, ULK's final issue, is dedicated to this important topic.
An important lesson that comes from Lenin's book What is to be Done? is the importance of a movement's newspaper, to spread ideas and organize with others. Have no fear! Even though ULK is changing form, we're in no way stopping producing a newspaper. U.$. prisoners need a voice, and there's no one else making a newspaper like this, from a proletarian perspective. That will not be lost in this transition.
As we explained in ULK 64 we have a goal of producing a monthly newspaper. In our work towards that goal we are making some big changes to ULK.
We are extremely excited to be joining forces with the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement (RAIM) in a consolidation of the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) into a single newspaper (name TBD). RAIM's portion of the newspaper will cover much more international news and analysis than is typically in the pages of ULK, which our readers have been asking for for years. We'll be decreasing our costs, and greatly increasing our distribution on the streets. This is all in preparation to produce the newsletter on a monthly schedule!
Our movement organ (newspaper) will continue to be fully independent. Meaning it is fully funded by the MIM cells, and costs are partially offset by donations we get from subscribers and people on the streets. There is no grant money or government support for this revolutionary work. We need our readers' continued support to make this possible — every donation you send helps us send more letters, educational material, and resources to our subscribers behind bars. And ultimately we will need your financial support to fund a monthly newsletter.
The beauty in being financially independent is that it gives us the freedom to be ideologically independent. We can say whatever it is that needs to be said. We can speak from a proletarian perspective, even if the vast majority of people in the First World find it upsetting. No one can pull the rug out from under us if we say something they don't like.
In this independence, we (the movement) have full responsibility for our successes and failures. If we can't recruit enough distributors — that's on us. If we can't get enough financial support — that's on us. If people don't want to contribute to the newspaper — again, on us. While taking on this responsibility might seem like a big burden to some, because they think they can sit back and let others make revolution for them, it's actually quite liberating. If we want it, we can make it. It's hard work, and it's possible. Nothing can hold us back. No strings attached.
"We" isn't just MIM(Prisons) and RAIM members; it's all of us in the anti-imperialist movement in the United $tates. This newspaper has been and will continue to be a voice for all our contributors. The artwork, poems, reports, and analysis that come from our subscribers behind bars are what make ULK actually "from under lock & key," and we will continue to rely on these invaluable contributions.
Making the newspaper is one thing, and making it an organ to advance our struggle against oppression is another. We request that each persyn reading this article send (at least) one letter to someone on the outside asking them to donate and/or commit to distributing the new newspaper. Our subscribers know the value of this newspaper even better than MIM(Prisons) does. You writing directly to your contacts will be more effective than anything we could say to ask them to get involved.
Your contacts' participation is a matter of you engaging them in the value of this newspaper and this work. ULK is more than just words on paper; it's more than just an outlet to vent. It's an independent institution for creating a world without oppression, which has a real impact on the lives of its subscribers and readers, and the world. Share with them what you have gotten out of reading ULK and participating in projects with MIM(Prisons) and United Struggle from Within. Share how the United Front for Peace in Prisons has affected your day-to-day life, and how the articles in ULK have helped you in your time behind bars. Be direct and unwavering in your request for their participation. Worst case scenario is they say "no."
For donations, your contacts can send cash, stamps or blank money orders to the address on page 1, and every amount really does make a big difference! Being a distributor doesn't have to be any huge additional commitment, either. If your outside contact(s) can identify one place where they can put the new newspaper, we'll send them a stack to stick there each time a new issue comes out. Many places have free newspaper areas — coffee shops, libraries, laundromats, etc. Ask them to find one and commit. Then either send us their address so we can follow up, or ask them to write to us directly. The ripple effect of your one letter can have a huge impact on the anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist struggle toward communism.
The rest of these pages of ULK talk about other independent institutions of the oppressed, within the MIM and without, current and past. We'll apply lessons we've learned from history to our analysis of these institutions. We are proud that ULK and all our contributors have spent the last 11.5 years being among them. And we are looking forward to expanding in the new newsletter in 2020.
Newly released information about the British GCHQ and Amerikan NSA expose the agencies' work to manipulate and undermine online individuals and organizations. In addition to the monitoring of online activity, email, and phone calls, the government tactics include Denial of Service attacks to shut down websites, releasing viruses to destroy computers, traps to lure people into compromising situations using sex, and release of false information to destroy reputations.
Previous Snowden documents revealed widespread spying by U.$ and British government agencies. These new documents confirm what we've said for years: the government has a long running infiltration and misinformation campaign to disrupt and manipulate individuals and groups they see as dangerous. This is particularly focused on political activists.
The online attacks were detailed in a 2012 presentation from the British Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) presented to the U.$, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand intelligence agencies. The slides describe this "Cyber Offensive" as "Pushing the Boundaries and Action Against Hacktivism." Essentially this is a way to attack people who are not charged with any crimes but are seen as somehow dangerous, generally because of their political protests.
One of the tactics, called false flag operations, involves posting material online that is falsely attributed to someone, and includes "write a blog purporting to be one of their victims", "email/text their colleagues, neighbours, friends etc," and "change their photos on social networking sites." This is a continuation of the COINTELPRO work of the Amerikan spy agencies targeting activist organizations in the 1960s, moved online for faster and more efficient attacks on enemies of the government. Those who have studied the Black Panther Party know about the government-led infiltratration and misleadership, false letters sent to disrupt internal communication and create divisions, and many other tactics used to imprison and destroy the most advanced and effective revolutionary organization of its time. Maoism is just as dangerous to the U.$. government today as it was in the 1960s, and just as our organizing work has advanced, their COINTELPRO work has also advanced.
It is right for our readers to ask, as one reader did in 2012, "I am concerned you have been already infiltrated or you're a CIA front organization claiming revolutionary organizing." We should question all individuals and organizations in this way, and judge them by their actions. You can't just take someone's word that they are a revolutionary; their political line and actions must be correct. And even then, there is no reason to give out more information about yourself than absolutely necessary. As we outlined in our article "Self-Defense and Secure Communications", we can make the government's job much more difficult by taking some basic security precautions in our work.
These latest Snowden revelations remind us of the struggle of the Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika (the vanguard party of the Maoist Internationalist Movement in the United $tates in the 1980s to 2000s) which had its information hosted on the etext.org website. Throughout their decades of work they often encountered forces on the internet that they characterized as cops based on their politics and behavior. This goes much deeper than our warnings against using corporate online social networks for organizing work. It requires a continued study of politics in order to guard against online pigs who will often outnumber the proletariat forces in that forum. Without a continued study and application of politics in such work, people quickly degenerate into nihilism because they are unable to trust anyone they interact with online. An unwillingness to engage in scientific skepticism will often lead to such nihilism and/or a degeneration to doing work that does not threaten imperialism to avoid these struggles.
Before MIP-Amerika ceased to exist one of its underground leaders went public with his name and persynal information in an attempt to fight back against behind-the-scenes government attacks. Many of the attacks he described come right out of this JTRIG playbook. In response to the situation, many of the MIM posts on etext.org were focused on security and confusing to most readers. But that doesn't make the struggle undertaken there incorrect, and these latest revelations lend further credence to the revelations from MIM. We can only assume that as the organization with the most correct revolutionary line within the United $tates, the government spy agencies focused significant attention on disrupting and destroying the MIP-Amerika. While that specific organization no longer exists, there are new Maoist groups like MIM(Prisons) continuing the legacy of MIM, and we have a responsibility to be diligent about security to ensure our continued existence.
Henry Park, a revolutionary leader and member of the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM), died on May 17 2011. His death is a loss to the communist movement. We take this opportunity to remember MIM's important contributions to revolutionary thought.
MIM was an underground party, whose members were careful about anonymity and security and so did not identify themselves publicly by name. Henry Park went public with his identity several years ago in an attempt to defend himself from significant repression by the Amerikan government. He did this after MIM broke into cells and the central organization ceased to exist. The article Maoism Around Us discusses this question of cell structure in more detail and explains that MIM(Prisons) built itself on the legacy of the MIM Prison Ministry.
After the dissolution of the central MIM organization, Park continued to write prolifically and uphold the original MIM at the etext.org hosted website. As efforts to silence him grew, the etext.org domain was shut down without explanation after hosting radical writings for about a decade. This was a serious blow to the spread of Maoist theory and analysis on the internet. In 2007, "Among all self-labeled 'communist' organizations in the world, MIM [was] second, behind only the People's Daily in China [in internet readers]." This remains a lesson for those who are afraid to draw hard political lines in the sand in fear of losing recruits. MIM never claimed to be bigger than other "communist" groups in the United $tates, only to have much more influence than them.
Henry Park, along with the other members of MIM, was in the vanguard starting back in the 1980s in correctly identifying the labor aristocracy in imperialist countries as fundamentally counter revolutionary, and doing the difficult work of spreading this unpopular position which was rejected by so many revisionist parties falsely claiming the mantel of communism. MIM also correctly identified China after Mao's death and the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin as state capitalist countries, no longer on the revolutionary path, while so many other self-proclaimed communists continued to follow these countries down the path of capitalist degeneration. Park published some important research on both countries' regression to capitalism that are available on our resources page. Along with the view that the Chinese Cultural Revolution was the furthest advance towards communism in humyn history, these principles were the foundation of MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal points.
There are some who will falsely claim the legacy of Henry Park or who will attack him with persynal or ad hominem claims, now that he is not alive to defend himself. We encourage all revolutionaries to carefully study tough theoretical questions for themselves rather than just taking the word of an individual or organization. One of the reasons MIM did not use names was to avoid a cult of persynality that so often arises around public figures, leading followers to avoid doing the important work of studying theory, instead just taking the word of the individual on trust. This cult also exists within organizations where members accept the word of their party rather than thinking critically. Even with MIM's semi-underground, anonymous approach, Henry Park was brought into the light by recurring persynal attacks on his character. One of the things MIM taught so many of us so well was how not to think in pre-scientific ways, where rumors, subjective feelings and individuals are more important to people than the concrete outcome of your actions on the group level.
Park's life is notable for his unending commitment to fighting for the rights of the world's people, even at great persynal sacrifice in the face of state repression. Many who take up revolutionary struggle in their youth give it up when they gain some bourgeois comforts, trading revolutionary organizing for a well paying job and a nice house. Park never wavered in his work for the people, and in his vision of a communist world where no group of people would have the power to oppress others. Mao Zedong said "To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai." Park's death is weightier than Mount Tai and his work lives on through the continued application of MIM Thought.
MIM recently sent free issues of our magazine MIM Theory 14: United Front to many of our comrades behind bars. The response by prisoncrats was widespread censorship, that should be of concern to everyone from the National Rifle Assocation (NRA) to New Afrikan Liberationists.
The Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution sent us a stack of violation notices and a comrade in Oregon State Penitentiary forwarded us a copy of a violation notice that they never sent to us themselves, despite regulations requiring them to notify both the sender and the intended recipient. All of these censored MT14 complaining about page 92 and 96 of the Black Panther Party Reprints section of the magazine. On page 92, Field Marshall Don Cox says, "more and more gun control legislation, the guise under which the people are being unarmed, is being passed every day to take away the democratic right to bear arms, which in turn dehumanizes you by preventing you from exercising your human right to self-defense." While most NRA supporters will balk at the Panthers efforts to unite the oppressed for self-determination, if they want to protect the right to express one's opinions on the right to bear arms and self-defense they should support MIM in this case.
The main article on page 96 is "Message to Revolutionary Women" from Candi Robinson, which stresses the inherent unity of Black people in revolutionary struggle, while acknowledging the need for Black wimmin in the movement to educate Black men about gender inequality, among other things. The prisoncrats did not specify which part of either of these articles was deemed "inflammatory material," the reason given for its censorship.
Washington State has simultaneously issued an across the state ban of MT14, as well as MIM Notes 328, 330 and 331. Despite a US District Court ruling in 1999 that disallowed the WA Department of Corrections (DOC) from an across the board ban of MIM publications based on our declared purpose of "struggl[ing to] end oppression by build[ing] public opinion to seize power through armed struggle," they have blocked all four of these publications from entering WA prisons without providing any specific justifications. The only justification given by authorities at Stafford Creek Correctional Facility is WA DOC 450-100, which includes over 30 different reasons for which Incoming Mail can be rejected.
One comrade in Washington did write us to tell us his MIM literature had been censored, with the reason give that it "advocates armed violent struggle against authority." This misrepresents MIM to imply that we advocate that prisoners use violence against Correctional Officers (COs). On the contrary we expressly discourage prisoners from getting into physical confrontations with anyone. We have a long history of comrades behind bars who have stopped getting in trouble for violence after finding more effective means of self-defense through legal battles and public opinion building.
The idea that MIM can be censored because we recognize the need for armed struggle by the oppressed to liberate themselves from imperialism is illegal despite regular attempts by prisoncrats to do so. According to Procunier v. Martinez, the Supreme Court upholds the right of prisoners to receive mail, regardless of the prison official's opinion of the mail content, as long as there are no legitimate restrictions from the prison related to correctional purposes. Our belief in the need to seize power through armed struggle is a belief that we share with Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and the founding fathers of the United States government.
Just prior to going to print, a comrade in Washington State Penitentiary sent us a Mail Restriction Notice for MT14 and the three MIM Notes issues that did state the reason for censorship as being "Advocates armed/violent struggle against authority" and goes on to cite pages 80 and 94. Curiously, neither of these pages contains even a discussion of armed struggle. The first is our statement "MIM on Prisons & Prisoners", which our readers will be familiar with. It merely explains why we oppose the current prison system, how we would change it and the role of prisoners in the larger anti-imperialist struggle. Page 94 is an interview with David Hilliard explaining the ideology of the Black Panther Party. As far as we can tell, these pages were chosen arbitrarily, but we are currently investigating a more thorough explanation in order to combat these instances of censorship.
These instances of censorship are not isolated incidents, but part of a long history of struggle with various departments of the criminal injustice system. Regardless of their reasoning for singling out certain pages to justify censorship, just as u$ court rulings do not allow the censorship of Abraham Lincoln for his statements on the importance of overthrowing the state, they do not allow the censorship of our materials because someone disagrees with our beliefs. We welcome anyone who agrees with us on this point to join us in our struggle against censorship in Oregon and Washington prisons.
From mimnotes.info Adapted from a presentation by the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist League at the Unlock the Box conference on October 8, 2005. —ed.
It is important to recognize that we cannot pick our battles frivolously. There are uncountable horrible injustices in the world that need to be resolved. So figuring out where to start in order to be effective in eliminating all injustice is a crucial step for us. The ‘principal contradiction’ is the term we apply to the struggle of opposing forces that once resolved will do the most to push forward all struggles in our society.
Through practice, and the summing up of that practice into theory, we have come to see that in the United $tates, the lumpen of the oppressed nations are one of the greatest allies of the world proletariat. In particular, the incarcerated lumpen are at the vanguard in dealing with the problem of imperialism due to their facing its repression on a daily basis.
Mao Zedong made great contributions in demonstrating that the principal contradiction was that between the oppressed and oppressor nations during China’s war of liberation from Japan. His old adage that "In wars of national liberation patriotism is applied internationalism" still rings true today. Especially in a world where imperialism is the dominant force in more and more corners of the globe. This has been manifested in the recent internationalization of the U$ injustice system. While the United $tates has ran prisons and systematically tortured people throughout its neo-colonies for decades, this has usually been CIA and other secretive operations. With the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as with the whole so-called War on Terror in general, we have seen Amerikan soldiers of the occupying forces being the jailkeepers and interrogators.
The fact that the torture going on in these prisons is systematic is well- established by the number of reportings from both soldiers and prisoners. Just last week, after being sentenced to 3 years prison for abuse of prisoners herself, Lynddie England stated publicly that the Abu Ghraib pictures she was in were not the worst things going on and that everything they did was a result of orders from higher ups. U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memo describing interrogation methods to be used at Guantanamo Bay that included everything depicted in the aforementioned photos before they happened in Iraq. Although he officially recanted the memo, the spread of these tactics through training of soldiers shows clear links between Rumsfeld’s orders and what is going on in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq. And of course, we also know that the same types of things have been going on in U$ prisons in North America for decades.
This begs the question of why is there so much more outrage surrounding Abu Ghraib than Pelican Bay. The difference is that the Black, Latino and indigenous nations within U$ borders have been colonized for centuries, with the dual effect of being integrated to some degree into the oppressor nation and benefiting from its exploitation of the rest of the world and the development of a colonized consciousness that is the product of dealing with this reality. In contrast, almost every single persyn in Iraq remembers a time before the U$ occupation, and they aren’t going to sit idly by while these Amerikans torture and humiliate, not to mention slaughter, their people.
To be powerful and effective in our struggle to stop torture in U$ prisons we must understand how this applies to our own conditions. This means recognizing the forces involved for what they are. The control units are often deemed ‘gang units’ and one of the primary excuses for their necessity is to deal with the supposedly out of control gangs. But we must see the War on Gangs, the War on Crime and the War on Terror for what they are, its all a part of the War on Oppressed Nations being led by the U$ imperialists and the Amerikan oppressor nation in general.
What is a gang? A gang is an organization, generally made up of lumpen proletariat, oppressed-nation youth. These lumpen organizations did not appear from thin air, nor from some alleged inherent barbarity of oppressed- nation people. These organizations come from the material reality in which whole nations are in subservient positions, and in which whole classes of people are prevented from participating in production and guaranteed consumption of basic needs. A recent program on Fox News, hosted by Newt Gingrich, spends an hour demonizing Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and calling for the imprisonment of lumpen youth, the militarization of the United $tates-Mexico border and the hunting down of al Qaeda. The latter comes from an alleged link that could lead MS-13 to helping al Qaeda bring dirty bombs into the United $tates. This link has been disputed by the FBI and appears to be pure lies and propaganda. However, Gingrich does get something right. He understands that all oppressed nations have the common interest of overthrowing U$ imperialism and so he is rallying Amerikans around this fear in defense of their empire.
If reactionaries like Gingrich were actually interested in eliminating the anti- people activities of many lumpen organizations then they would try to understand where these organizations came from and why they do what they do. Specifically, MS-13 is said to have started with Salvadorian refugees in Los Angeles for the same reason that most such groups start, for self defense and meeting community need. Why were they in Los Angeles? They were there because the United $tates was backing right-wing paramilitary troops to crush the FMLN in El Salvador, as they were doing all over Central America at the time. After the bloody and terroristic 1980s, the region was decimated and many were left with one real option to meet their needs: to become active participants in the trade corridor that the Amerikans use to bring drugs North from Colombia. This effectively replaced the revolutionary organizations in the region with more criminal minded lumpen organizations.
When the refugees arrived in Los Angeles during the war one might ask why they needed to form a gang? Any oppressed nationals in LA will already know the answer to this question. The biggest impetus is the best armed rival gang in town, the LAPD, the infamous gang unit and other associated pigs. To make matters worse, you still have to deal with divisions and fighting between various oppressed-nation gangs as well. This is the legacy of an earlier period when the Black Panthers had unified the Black Nation under a revolutionary vanguard. The response from the FBI was COINTELPRO, which killed, locked up and otherwise neutralized the Panther leadership. In this vacuum arose organizations like the CRIPs (Community Revolution In Progress), that dressed like the Panthers, spoke like the Panthers and hoped to provide a better life for the people. But without a clear political outlook like the Panthers, and with the influx of crack as the fastest solution to their economic problems, these young people embraced a criminal mentality.
Now the government would have you think that this is the last thing that they want, that they are committed to "cleaning up the streets." Wrong. This is exactly what they want. They created it. When oppressed nations organize for positive change the imperialists destroy their organizations (ie. the Black Panthers and the FMLN). Then they bring in the drugs to simultaneously buy off and destroy the minds of the next generation. In California prisons they’ve gone as far as forcing people into gangs. And the reality on the street has always been that groups of oppressed-nation youth are targeted for repression, in effect enforcing the necessity for gangs where they might not have already existed.
In the long run this works in our interests. It is vital to our struggle to organize oppressed-nation groups. If the pigs want to help by repressing people and forcing them into gangs, then they are digging their own graves. The ‘gang problem’ did not always exist. In Attica, in 1971, people from all nations and organizations came together for their common interests against their oppressor, while recognizing the revolutionary leadership of groups like the Panthers, Young Lords and American Indian Movement. This commonality is far stronger than any petty differences that currently exist between lumpen organizations. And this commonality is once again being recognized by leaders of these groups. In Oregon this summer there were hunger strikes and uprisings every month inside the prisons, where groups that at other times might have tried to kill each other stood side by side in the face of the common oppressor.
So, how do we create the outrage in this country that has been created around the Abu Ghraib scandal? The answer is in the consciousness of the oppressed nations. It is in the lumpen organizations coming together inside prisons and on the streets. And it is in the support of the family members and communities of those who are suffering in these torture cells.
When the Abu Ghraib photos came out, MIM Notes ran an article that broke the story on the history of people like Charles Grainer and Ivan Frederick, who had been involved in torture as prison guards in the United $tates before going to Iraq. The comrades who struggled against and wrote articles about this abuse where acting in concrete unity with the prisoners being held in Abu Ghraib today, even though they didn’t even know Abu Ghraib would ever exist. That is oppressed- nation nationalism as internationalism in practice.
Every victory we have in ending torture and reducing oppression in prisons in the United $tates makes it harder for them to do the same things around the world. Similarly, the growing resistance and power of the Third World struggles create more opportunities for us to bring attention to and create opposition to what is going on here. Our struggles continue to reinforce each other. And as more struggles break out on more fronts, imperialism weakens and all of our battles become that much easier.
Activists representing numerous organizations, former prisoners and family members came from across California to attend an organizing conference on control units in U$ prisons hosted by the United Front to Abolish the Security Housing Units (SHU).
Experience with promoting the event only underscored the need to have better access to independent media. We salute Indybay.org and their Enemy Combatant Radio program for promoting Unlock the Box. However, MIM Notes was the only newspaper advertising the conference. The larger alternative papers in the area prioritized their free listing space to things like nudists for peace and the Exotic Erotic Ball blood drive. Although organizers had a hard time getting mainstream or even alternative media to advertise the conference, it was featured on KPFA’s 6 o’clock news that evening in a piece that included interviews with MIM and RAIL activists.
The day long conference opened with an overview of prisons and control units by a MIM activist, some poetry and essays by a prisoner, and a rousing speech from a member of the Barrio Defense Committee who talked about the classification of her son into the SHU for his organizing work.
The MIM activist placed control units in the context of the criminal injustice system as a whole. This country has the highest imprisonment rate in the world with more than 2 million people in prison. As of December 2002 the imprisonment rate was 701 per 100,000 people. The numbers become even more frightening when broken down by race:
Whites: 353 per 100,000
Latinos: 895 per 100,000
Blacks: 2,470 per 100,000
South Africa under Apartheid was internationally condemned as a racist society. But the United $tates makes the Apartheid regime look good when you consider that the imprisonment rate of Black adult men in South Africa in 1993 was 851 per 100,000 while the imprisonment rate of Black adult men in the United $tates under George Bu$h in 2002 was 7,150 per 100,000.
But even with all these people locked up in prison, statistics show clearly that prisons don’t stop crime. As imprisonment has increased since the 1970s, government defined criminal activity has remained relatively stable. So why all the prisoners? The answer is social control. Prisons are a tool of social control.
The problem the imperialists have with using prisons as a tool of social control is that they have also become a breeding ground for resistance of the very system they were meant to enforce. Within prison, people completely uneducated and politically unaware are put in a position that encourages them to think about the system that locked them up. Extreme repression, overt racism, slave labor, mail censorship, and in many cases imprisonment of innocent people are among the realities they face. In general population (where prisoners interact with one another on a daily basis) there is the opportunity to discuss this system with others and to organize resistance.
The uprising in Attica prison in 1971 was a good example of this organized resistance that prisoners were able to pull off because of their interactions with one another. The system fears this kind of organizing and needs a tool within the prisons to stop prisoner activists from educating and organizing others.
Better defined as a prison within a prison, control units are used to defeat prisoners’ revolutionary attitudes, organization, militancy, legal and administrative challenges, and anything else the prison administrators deem objectionable.
A past warden of Marion IL, one of CONFERENCE BUILDS CONTROL UNIT STRUGGLE the first Control Unit prisons, stated: "The purpose of the Marion control unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in society at large." This is exactly what control units are used for.
Control units have serious mental and physical health consequences for prisoners locked in them. Fundamentally they are a form of torture. A prisoner in the Security Housing Units at Pelican Bay prison in California, described his conditions in August of this year: "I am currently housed "indefinitely" in this prisons’ Security Housing Unit (the SHU), which is an old typical isolation unit. It’s a unique and stark environment of physical limits, visual sterileness and sensory deprivation. I live in a 8-by-12 ‘windowless’ cell nearly around the clock. There are no jobs, programs or human contact of any kind. Once a day, my remote controlled cell door slowly grinds open allowing 60 minutes alone in a near-by walled in courtyard which is nothing more that a larger cell than the one I already live in."
A member of the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project spoke at the conference, focusing on prisons as a tool of national oppression. In California, Mexican prisoners make up an overwhelming portion of those locked up in Security Housing Units. This is not an accident; it is a direct result of the criminal injustice system targeting oppressed nations. In 1998 (most recent statistics available) the CDC reported that 34% of the population in all CDC institutions was Latino, and 31% was Black. 82% of those in SHUs were non-white, and 52% of those in SHUs were Latino. This compares to a California population that was 32% Latino, and 7% Black in 1998. Half of all SHU victims are put there via a classification system based on supposed evidence of gang membership. Under this system, signing a "get well" card, talking to another prisoner in the yard, or even just speaking Spanish can get you classified as a gang member. They also use confidential informants who have a strong incentive to make up evidence to get themselves released from the SHU. Prisoners cannot challenge this information.
In a recent issue of MIM Notes one prisoner in California wrote:
My ethnicity is Hispanic. When I arrived in the DOC I was asked by a C.O. if I was ‘a Northern Hispanic or Southern Hispanic.’ I said ‘I don’t know what you mean.’ Then I was asked what city I was from. I stated Salinas, CA. It was then that I was classified as a Northern Hispanic. Now I’m labeled as a Northerner, which is a gang member from the prison/street gang Norteños. At that particular point in time I had no idea what that was or what I was about to experience behind these walls. The Southern Hispanics are classified/labeled Sureños, another prison/ street gang. The DOC [Department of Corrections] currently has the Northern and Southern Hispanics on a 24 hour, 7 day a week lockdown. We are getting no visits from our families, no exercise outside our cells, and no State-issued hygiene.
A speaker from the Revolutionary Anti- Imperialist League made connections between the war on gangs within U$ borders and the so-called war on terrorism the United $tates is waging all over the world. This comrade stressed the connections between comrades struggling against control units in the United $tates and the outrage in the Middle East about prisons like Abu Ghraib. (See Shutting Down Control Units and the World Revolution.)
A member of the African People’s Socialist Party gave an inspirational talk about the importance of fighting to shut down the Security Housing Units as a part of the fight to dismantle the entire oppressive system of imperialism, stressing organization and consistent work. The United Front to Abolish the SHU has been doing monthly protests around California for almost two years now. The effect is that people are getting to know us and know what we are trying to do and we are laying the groundwork for a potentially powerful movement.
The afternoon was spent in break out groups where conference participants worked together on action plans to work with prisoners, work with family members of prisoners, and organize actions to shut down the control units.
The working groups came up with a number of concrete action plans with volunteers to work on each idea. One topic that came up in all of the working groups was the need to help people visit family members, friends and comrades in prisons. This work helps the families while also helping prisoners stay sane and giving us a way to reach out to people on the outside by filling a need in the community. Comrades in California who are interested in such a program for themselves or their family should get in touch. The United Front also hopes to come out with a newsletter for prisoners and their allies on the outside that would provide information about how to fight the injustice system, resources upon release, legal aid and recent changes in the system.
In addition, volunteers made plans for future demonstrations and petition drives using more creative tactics. Finally, we are following up with the conference and building on these plans on November 5th, with a meeting from 11-2pm in San Francisco at 2955 18th Street and a rally to follow.
Prison Madness: the Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About it Terry Kupers, M.D. Jossey-Bass Publishers 1999
Dr. Terry Kupers is an ally in the struggle to abolish Control Units in prisons, and more generally to provide basic humyn needs for those incarcerated. While this book focuses on mental health, Kupers takes a systematic look at the prison system and the criminal injustice system in general, but he does it from a liberal perspective. This book is written for a general audience and provides an introduction to conditions in u$ prisons for those who are unfamiliar. For those who have been there or who read Under Lock & Key on a regular basis, the anecdotes of his clients will be nothing new. Some of the most interesting aspects of the book are the facts explaining the effects of isolation and medication on mental health and Kupers' alternative recommendations for group therapy and normal humyn interactions for rehabilitating people. Prison Madness by Terry Kupers, M.D.
What Kupers does not say is that mental health in a system of oppression requires an adaptation to that oppression that can either be done through acceptance and denial or through struggle. He only goes part way, saying that racism in arrests, imprisonment and treatment in prisons is a major factor in creating mental health problems in the oppressed who feel they have no recourse to defend themselves. He also acknowledges social ills in the general community that are taking a toll. But without pointing his finger at the system behind the symptoms, his book only calls for reforms of that system.
As someone who spends a lot of time in court rooms, arguing against prison officials and repressive district attorneys, you can see how this may have shaped the forms of the arguments made in his book. Kupers stresses the logic of helping prisoners to become better adapted to society so that they can be productive members when they get out; and over 90% will get out some day. (p.87) This is usually a good place to start when discussing Control Units with someone who is skeptical of our campaign to shut them down. But at other times Kupers goes too far in accepting some of the positions of the tough on crime politicians by minimizing them and not flat out rejecting them.
For instance, in taking on the accusation that most of the prisoners are faking mental illness to get attention and the better conditions of the mental health units he says, "some are faking their symptoms- but not as many as the guards and mental health staff accuse." (p.34) This comes after a paragraph of discussing the various reasons that prisoners resort to throwing feces at guards and other inmates. He argues that some do it because they feel no other recourse against guards, and others do it in retaliation to a mentally ill prisoner who had hit them first. So what we see is all of the prisoners (and guards as well) reacting to an oppressive situation. In other words they are acting how they deem to be appropriate in the situation they are given, to say that some actions are 'fake' skirts the real issue. Some will react better than others, and be able to deal better than others. But to say that they are therefore "faking it" when they act in certain ways is contradictory to the position Kupers takes elsewhere on the inhumane conditions of Control Units and their effects on humyn beings. Even if a prisoner is consciously acting that way to get attention, there is nothing fake about it, it is an act of self-preservation in the face of extreme oppression. When the system is the problem it becomes irrelevant to draw a line between the 'fakers' and the truly sick. This is especially true when in the majority of suicide cases Kupers has looked into, the person had a note in their chart saying they were "manipulating," meaning they were faking their mental problems. (p.184)
Similarly, in his chapter on 'Recommendations for Treatment and Rehabilitation,' he writes, "We need to stop sending nonviolent drug offenders and mentally disordered felons onto prison yards with murderers and rapists". Again, we are dealing with degrees of sickness here. The "tough on crime" media and politicians like to talk about "murderers" and "rapists" as if that is what some people are from cradle to grave. But those being labeled "murderers and rapists" are a product of the same social system as all of us. Here we are dealing with a situation where questions of individual mental health are far less important than questions of social sickness. Kupers' point that we need to keep the small time criminals away from the violent criminals is a good argument under the current system because we see the effects of such integration in u$ prisons. It is an environment that forces most people into choosing between joining the ranks of the violent criminals or becoming a victim. But if we broaden our goals to actually overthrowing the current system and instituting a system where healthy behavior was promoted even within prisons, we can move away from the myth that there is a new breed of "super criminals" that can only be killed or put in isolation for the rest of their lives.
Prisoners suffering from mental illness that are lucky enough to get treatment in prison usually just get put on medications. Not only does this not solve the problem, but it can make life more dangerous for the prisoner due to delayed reactions and increased fears of leaving their cell. Kupers describes meds as a band-aid for the symptoms of mental illness; if not accompanied by group treatment and socialization then there will be no meaningful improvements. He even cites cases that demonstrate that the need for meds decrease when prisoners leave the Control Units. This fact alone is a damning one for any who tries to argue for the necessity of Control Units.
'Prison Madness' looks at the various cyclical aspects of the system that help create people that are harder to reform due to worsening mental states. He argues that many prisoners suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) upon arrival in prison from things like sexual abuse and witnessing extreme violence at a young age. Yet, being isolated in a cell, with no humyn contact or activities to occupy the body or mind, is itself a cause of PTSD, which only encourages worse behavior and worsening of the persyn's mental health. Movement to isolation usually means being moved farther from family, which translates into less visits from loved ones and once again, a worsening mental state. Estimated suicide rates in prisons are two times that in general u$ population and rates in jails are nine times more common than on the outside. (p.175)
We must point out however, that Kupers' discussion of PTSD does not serve our struggle very well. He is quick to grant the diagnosis to the majority of oppressed nation youth as well as wimmin who end up in prison. But the symptoms of PTSD can include very understandable actions like throwing things at someone who keeps you locked in a cage all day. With an open-ended diagnosis like PTSD it almost serves to further criminalize those groups, because hey, they've been traumatized and might act crazy as a result. He gives this as a reason for the increased imprisonment of oppressed youth, as well as for why they end up in isolation. Once again, we see the shortcomings of psychology and the need for a class analysis. Instead of using the histories of current inmates as way to argue that the problem is societal, let's just look at the society and recognize how it is set up and in our case which groups have power over other groups and how that is transforming the interactions of those groups. If we really want to tackle systematic problems we have to use a systematic approach, we need to connect the millions of people that know that this is a system of oppression, not keep people stuck on their own individual past and problems.
Kupers' interest in changing the horrifying conditions he describes in 'Prison Madness' is made clear in the third part of his book dedicated to recommendations and courses of action. For the most part we don't disagree with any of it except that it doesn't go far enough. In talking about litigation, where he has spent some time, he includes a healthy dose of skepticism as to how much it can accomplish. He puts forth a nice mental health program for u$ prisons and then criticizes the "tough on crime" culture. While the examples of the Danish prison system he describes are encouraging, that is a small scale system in a wealthy imperialist country. To provide a model for what a prison system would look like in the hands of the oppressed we would point to socialist China as the prime example. Not only was there a focus on study, exercise and participation in the greater society but it also dealt with crime from the perspective of the oppressed. Within the context of a socialist economic system, this provided for the quickest and most widespread eradication of criminal behavior in modern history.
Kupers puts forth concrete examples where litigation has actually improved the conditions in prisons, but goes on to warn that there is a strong tendency for the Department of Corrections (DOC) to retaliate. (p.209-10) A loss in court puts them on the defensive and only emboldens their reactionary side. This is somewhat contradictory to Kupers talk of "bad apples" when discussing racism in prisons. (p.106) To put forth the "bad apples" theory is to deny that the injustice system is inherently oppressive. Just as in most places, we can sometimes find allies within the prison system itself, but we can see from 'Prison Madness' and from decades of our own work that the DOC is one of the most reactionary institutions of the state. More importantly than that, the prison system exists as a form of political repression. The fact that the majority of prisoners in the u$ are Black when only 12% of the population is, is not the product of a few racist "bad apples." It is the product of a tool that systematically serves the interests of the ruling class by repressing those who tend to oppose it. We work with dozens of prison organizations that have faced repression due to their successful organizing, often across lines of nation and affiliation that the CO's use to divide them. Kupers cites a case of this where the Santa Cruz Women's Prison Project was expelled by the California Department of Corrections because guards complained that the empowerment of the wimmin undermined their authority. (p.252)
'Prison Madness' is an accurate and fairly comprehensive look at the u$ prison system, with a focus on the mental health of those being confined in it. That alone makes it worthwhile, as most amerikans remain ignorant of the realities of prison life. The proposed solutions in the book do not address the source of the problem nor does it explain the full nature of oppression in u$ prisons, but there is much to unite with and to build on in those demands.