There are some good examples of united fronts between oppressed and reactionary groups in the history of the United $tates. Some of which ended up serving the interests of the oppressed and some which ultimately hurt the oppressed. We find a few of these examples described well in the book 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance available from PM Press.(1)
First the case of the fight between the British and the emerging United $tates of Amerika.
"In 1812, using the pretext of Native raids along its norther frontier from British territories, U.S. forces attempted to invade British North America. Here again, Britain's colonial policies proved effective; an alliance of Native nations (who had their own interests in full implementation of the 1763 Proclamation [which prohibited settlement west of the Appalachian mountains following the French and Indian War]) and European settlers succeeded in repulsing the U.S. expansion."(p. 29)
As we have seen since 1812, the victory of the United $tates in the Revolutionary War did not serve the interests of the First Nations. So the First Nations definitely chose the right side in this battle, even though the British surely had no real interest in supporting the rights of the First Nations beyond what was necessary to gain their support. This is an example of identifying the principal enemy and building alliances against that enemy, even if those alliances are with groups that would be enemies in other circumstances. This united front is similar to the alliance between the Kuomindang and the Chinese Communists in the war against Japanese imperialism. Ultimately the Kuomindang betrayed the Communist Party, but at the time Japan was the principal enemy and fighting together in a the united front was the right choice to achieve the ultimate goal of establishing a socialist state.
Another example is found in the U.$. Civil War, which was used by Afrikan slaves to fight for their freedom. It was not a case of whites going to war to help end slavery, but Afrikans were in a position to force this issue to the forefront.
"The beginning of the U.S. Civil War in 1861 posed various problems for the northern Union ruling class. Not only was the war for the preservation of an expanding continental empire, but it also opened up a second front: that of a liberation struggle by enslaved Afrikan peoples. With a population of four million, the rising of these Afrikans in the South proved crucial in the defeat of the Confederacy. By the tens of thousands Afrikan slaves escaped from the slavers and enlisted in the Union forces. This massive withdrawal of slave-labour hit the Southern economy hard, and the Northern forces were bolstered by the thousands."(2)
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Afrikans in the South correctly identified a shift in their principal enemy. It was no longer time to ally with Union forces. With the ending of the war these slaves were about to lose their bargaining position as fighters in the Union army.
"Towards the end of the War in 1865, those Afrikans who did not escape began a large-scale strike following the defeat of the confederacy. They claimed the lands that they had laboured on, and began arming themselves – not only against the Southern planters but also against the Union army. Widespread concerns about this 'dangerous position' of Afrikans in the South led to 'Black Reconstruction'; Afrikans were promised democracy, human rights, self-government and popular ownership of the land. In reality, it was a strategy for returning Euro-American dominance...."(p. 40)
This shift resulted in a better deal for former slaves than they would have got by just passively sticking with their unity with the North. Different conditions will require reevaluation of who is our principal enemy and what are appropriate united front strategies at the time.
Recently we learned that one of our readers and a long-time activist, Zero, had a letter published on the Anarchist Black Cross Portland (ABC PDX) website and in the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) newsletter responding to an article in Under Lock & Key No. 50 (May/June 2016) about the September 9 work stoppage. Zero invited us to respond publicly and so we have done our best here to distill this debate down to what we see as the most important points.
With IWOC, ABC, and Zero, we have a common enemy in the criminal injustice system and imperialism more broadly. We are writing this response with the goal of building unity, not division, between organizations and individuals that are working hard to fight this unjust system.
Anarchism vs. Communism
Fundamentally we have a disagreement over anarchism vs. communism, but we believe that both camps are fighting for the same thing at root: an end to oppression of groups of people by other groups of people. We just think that communists have a more scientific plan for how to get there than anarchists, based on our study of how these same efforts have been attempted, succeeded, and failed in the past. The oppressed people of the world deserve the best and fastest route to liberation. Communists hope to discover what that route is through not only our study but also our practice.
This disagreement over the importance of science to revolutionary struggle is highlighted in a lot of what Zero wrote. Ey accuses MIM(Prisons) of being intellectuals whose "theory is based in theory." Zero also claims to have no interest in political line in the development of the September 9 work stoppage: "I don't care what your line is, nor does anyone else I work closely with on this project. Beyond small friendly jabs at each other, nothing I've seen or read, or heard from anyone in this campaign suggests anyone cares much about line."
Yet it's a discredit to the hunger strike organizers to say that they don't care much about line. It is precisely political line and theoretical analysis that drives the concept that "prisoner labor is slavery and this mass work stoppage is a good plan to shut down prisons." Without unity on this analysis, the organizers might have decided (as an example) the best approach is for everyone to fast because the Amerikkkan farms depend on prisons to buy agricultural goods and so this boycott would shut down the farms and hence force prison reform. IWOC and ABC aren't suggesting this, and that's probably because of their correct theoretical understanding of agriculture in this country. In forming their alliance on this campaign, Zero, IWOC, and ABC at least agree on this political line, even if they don't talk about it. After all, they are all anarchists (or anarchist-led), so they have much unity on line already.
Zero finds "contradictory statements" in our original article that help demonstrate where we depart from the anarchists because our strategy differs from theirs. Zero wrote:
"In paragraph #5 you say: 'we do see power in the ability of prisoners to shut down facilities by not doing the work to keep them running for a potentially longer period'. But then in paragraph #10 you say 'the organizers of the anti-slavery protest are misleading people into believing that shutting down prison work will shut down prisons'.
If masses of prisoners stopped working, forever, some facilities may close. This would likely be because of where they're located geographically, the layout and security level of the facility, and how easy or difficult it is to staff the prisons to accommodate for the loss of labor. But would that close all prisons in the United $tates? We doubt it. Does that mean we think prisoners should all just keep working? No! Short of overthrowing capitlist Amerikkka's power altogether, we will still have prisons in this country based on national oppression. But making that oppression more difficult is always a good thing.
Our point is that Amerikkka is willing to spend a lot of time, money and resources on imprisoning a staggering number of people, all at a financial loss. So we do not see evidence that if prisoners stop working and it suddenly becomes more expensive to imprison people that that will shut down the prison system. It most certainly is a form of resistance that heightens the contradictions between the oppressed and the oppressor, and even within the oppressor camp. Such an act would have certainly have great influence on the ever-changing realities within the U.$. criminal injustice system, as would any sustained, mass prisoner mobilization.
Zero criticizes MIM(Prisons), "You spell united front with capital 'U' and 'F' which is what MIM calls one of its programs, short for UFPP, and as [UFPP] makes specific ideological demands for any entity it is willing to work with, I'm led to believe that what you truly mean by 'work with' is to 'co-opt'." We do capitalize the name of the organization United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP), which has a specific program (the 5 Principles of the UFPP: Peace, Unity, Growth, Internationalism, and Independence). Organizations that agree with those principles but disagree on many other things have joined this United Front and there is no attempt to co-opt those groups. We do not capitalize "united front" when not talking about this specific organization (if we have in print it was a mistake, not a political point). This is not a problem of elitisim, it is simply grammar. We welcome the development of a united front against prisons, and even better a united front against imperialism, outside of the UFPP and not bound by its 5 principles. But we do believe that united fronts need to have clear points of unity so that there isn't a question of organizations being forced to change their political line or give up their independence to participate. In other words, we are actively trying to organize in a way to prevent the co-opting of organizations that Zero accuses us of attempting.
Zero goes on to say that MIM(Prisons) "... refuse[s] to even mention the names of these other revolutionary organizations so that your readers can reach out and seek information on their own. Another display of elitist hegemonization of line." Yet this comment is in the context of criticizing an article that specifically named the IWOC and included a link directly to their publication, so we're confused about where we failed to mention the other organizers' names. On this point, however, we did fail to convert the web address to a print address in our print version of ULK, which of course makes it harder for prisoners to reach out directly to IWOC, and we are correcting that mistake in our footnote to this article. We actually print many articles debating theory and practice, including some that explicitely disagree with us. To be clear though, the purpose of ULK is to educate and inform people on what we see as the most correct political line and practice and so we always offer our response to those points of disagreement and allow our readers (and history) to decide who is correct.
On this same point, we also highlight the correct practice of our predecessors in the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) who distributed a pamphlet "What's Your Line?" with the names, addresses and political positions of a wide spectrum of political organizations. We haven't put the time or money into compiling a similar up-to-date list because our resources are sadly limited, but we still support this practice. Perhaps an innocent oversight, but neither the ABC nor the IWOC bothered to link to our website or print contact information for MIM(Prisons) alongside Zero's long and scathing critique of our organization.
Nihilism or Subjectivism
In eir argument against political theory Zero writes: "I'm an anarchist. More, a nihilist. ... In the words of Bakunin, the true revolutionist is concerned with the science of destruction. Let the other sciences be the work of future generations. ... And as Bakunin said, sometimes we just have to throw theory into the fire, for it only stalls life." It's great to have faith that humynity can work out the problems of the future, but the problems of today also require scientific analysis. The oppressed don't have the luxury of banging their heads against the wall for years failing to make progress. If historical revolutions have failed in the same way repeatedly, we need to learn from those mistakes. And if revolutions have succeeded with certain practices, we should learn from those. This is what theory is all about: learning from history and applying those lessons to our practice today. Then looking at our own practice, drawing conclusions, and adapting our approach.
Citing Webster's dictionary and dictionary.com, without acknowledging the class interests that those resources represent, and saying "that's good enough for me" is simply subjectivism. Denying the importance of theory to our practice is to make us slaves (pun intended) to our emotions and subjectivism, which are very thoroughly conditioned by our residence in an imperialist country. We cannot expect to overcome subjectivism 100%, but through applying dialectical and historical materialsm we hope to make the fewest errors in our revolutionary work as possible.
Zero gives a good example of theoretical analysis in eir criticism: "In closing, let me clarify that dialectical soundness can often depend on interpretation. You all use orthodox marxist definitions of 'slavery' even though we live in a post-modern, post-fordist time and place. The dynamics of our current reality are different. And so we must also re-assess our definitions. Besides, though personally I use marxist formulas I'm ultimately a nihilist, un-beholden to an particular ideological parameters. In other words. My definition of 'slavery' is reflected by our material conditions, not political agenda."
Zero is correctly stating here that we must adapt our theory to current conditions. What held true in Marx's day may not be true today. We can't just get stuck in what Marx wrote and ignore changes in conditions. We agree with that. But we ask Zero, what is it but theory that allows us to discuss who is or isn't a slave? If this discussion isn't based in theory, then it's just subjectivism.
For instance, here is an example where MIM(Prisons)'s analysis has adapted to changing conditions since Marx's day. We see that while the vast majority of workers of all countries were exploited in the past, and made up the proletariat class that Marx wrote about so thoroughly, today imperialism has advanced to the point where workers in imperialist countries are mostly petty-bourgeois. This is a point where we tend to disagree with groups who organize people in the First World around their economic interests (as opposed to national interests).
Finally, demonstrating the difficulty in remaining anti-theory while discussing political theory, Zero critiqued our point that work strikes will not in-and-of-themselves bring down the Amerikan criminal injustice system: "I’d ask on what dialectical evidence you base your theory that america would 'figure out' how to keep us locked up." This is a good example of the importance of theory. If we're wrong, then we should focus our efforts into organizing work stoppages. And Zero is right, it is dialectical materialist analysis that will help us figure that out here. The article that Zero responded to actually went into a lot of depth on this very point, explaining that prisons are primarily tools to control society, not make profit, which aid in the oppressive force of the bourgeoisie by keeping lumpen and anyone deemed dangerous to their power locked away. We know that prisons are not reliant on the money made from prisoner labor, because there is public information showing that prisons are money-losing operations.
Political debate is not the same as political opposition
To clarify our position, in the original article about the September 9 protests we talked about the similarities and differencess between the five-year history of the United Front for Peace in Prisons September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity, and this newer call for prisoner activism on September 9: "First we want to say that we are always happy to see people taking up organizing and trying to build unity behind bars. There are some very good points taken in this call to action... we would hope to work with these folks to broaden our movement." We followed this up with multiple articles reporting on the work stoppage and praising the widespread protests.
But Zero seems to think that by publically criticizing an incorrect point of political theory from the organizers we are opposing the protests. Ey wrote
"What we have here is a huge social base, across prison walls, that is extremely pissed off. And we have an opportunity to harness that anger and point it at our enemy on September 9th, thats all the analysis I need. and I say that if you oppose this in any way, you’re nothing but a house slave ready to defend your master. your complicit and should be among the first to be taken to task."
If we won't just blindly agree and follow eir leadership, apparently we are written off as complicit with the enemy. Isn't this the squelching of political debate that anarchists so vehemently oppose? To be clear, we support the September 9th protests, both those organized by members of the United Front for Peace in Prisons, and those promoted by the IWOC. Our criticism is directed toward statements that participating in these protests will shut down the prisons because prisons are dependent on prison slave labor. If we did not make this clear in our articles about September 9, we will take this criticism to help us approach the struggle with a clearer focus on unity.
Finally, Zero wrote that we should have known about this work strike sooner. It looks like there was some censorship of our mail from em so letters from Zero about this didn't get to us. We did reach out to IWOC and others about working together on September 9 organizing once we learned about the work strike (which we did hear about from a number of ULK subscribers). We never got a response from the organizers. We hope that going forward we can collaborate in the fight against the criminal injustice system to build a stronger movement. This doesn't mean we will give up our communist position, nor does it mean that Zero, ABC, or IWW need to give up their anarchism, and in fact we would argue that continuing this debate publicly is good for everyone. In practice we hope to collaborate on the September 9 protest in 2017.
We have received many letters lately exploring the future of our struggle under a Trump administration. Below we print excerpts from two of those letters and our response on the topic.
From a comrade in Colorado:
"The presidential election has been most interesting. The election of King Trump may be the last chance for the folks that brought us the Cold War, Vietnam, and much of the current world instability, to try to hold on to power (or make a show of power). The racial minorities and poor people in the United $tates are actually in the majority, but they apparently did not get out and vote, so now we get Trump.
"On the possible good side, perhaps the explosion of right wing, world domination capitalism that Trump will be pushing will finally provoke the masses (the proletariat) once they really get screwed by Trump policies, to look for a real solution to improving their status. (I do not mean the U.$. labor aristocracy who are doing very well — lots of toys to keep them occupied. They will get even more under Trump's policies.) By that I mean looking to the philosophy, the understanding of socialism, as the the only viable means to their liberation from the shackles of capitalism."
From a comrade in a Federal facility:
"The election of Donald Trump is a cause to celebrate for revolutionaries. These are revolutionary times. The times where movements are built. Communists are in a position over the next 4 years to put in place a revolutionary front that can be sustained beyond the next election if it should be lost to a so-called democratic contender. No time will be lost to make revolution with these revolutionary times at hand.
"The fact that a so-called 'social democrat' - read 'socialist' - like Bernie Sanders had a chance in an Amerikan election to become president is a sign of the times that 'socialization' of European Amerikans is at a point of maturity in its epoch of imperialism. It is ready for socialism but lacks the world-historical material condition to make it possible. Thus this contradiction (condition) manifests as a 'national socialism' that is the opposite of international socialism and is nationalist or 'nationality exclusive.' That is why white Amerika elected Trump, to make Amerika white ('great') again."
MIM(Prisons) responds: The writers here make interesting points about the election of Trump as an opportunity for revolutionaries. Certainly there are some good reasons to agree with this. Trump's extremely reactionary cabinet appointments seem to be inspiring many Amerikkkans to political activism who previously were content to sit and watch the politics of this country from the sidelines, perhaps going to the polls once every 2 or 4 years. Revolutionaries should seize their initiative and make sure that people have access to information about why electoral politics aren't the answer, if they really are seeking change for the better of the majority of the world's people.
Of the large portion of people who are eligible to vote but don't vote in presidential elections we see a few major groups:
People who don't care who wins because they know the government is serving their interests generally by continuing on with imperialist plunder to keep people in the United $tates rich. For the most part this is the labor aristocracy and is the vast majority of U.$. citizens. Where our comrade in Colorado says poor people are a majority in the United $tates, instead our class analysis says the labor aristocracy is the majority, and if they didn't vote it's because they knew either Clinton, Sanders, or Trump would all be fine to serve their interests.
People who don't care who wins because they know that both candidates support national oppression and will work counter to their interests. This is the oppressed nation lumpen and oppressed nations generally; the "racial minorities" referred to by our Colorado comrade.
People who genuinely oppose imperialism and so can't in good conscience vote for a candidate who will run the imperialist state. This is a small number of revolutionary activists within U.$. borders.
As our comrade in Colorado points out, the U.$. labor aristocracy is comfortable and may even get more comfortable under a Trump administration. As much as the bourgeois liberals are crying about Trump's election, the potential for socialist revolution to be initiated within the United $tates is slim to none. They are upset about LGBTQ rights and Trump's overt racism and sexism and anti-environmentalism, but on the whole don't mind extracting wealth from Third World peoples for their own benefit. The best we can expect from the Amerikan masses' own volition is a push toward social imperialism, which still leaves the Third World out.
Even supporters of Bernie Sanders are not socialist, as much as Sanders tries to claim that's what eir politics are about. Sanders was a candidate with a clear imperialist line on international issues. While ey might have planned to spread around the wealth a bit more to U.$. citizens, ey still falls firmly in the imperialist camp, supporting wars of aggression, and financing terrorist governments like I$rael. In this regard, Trump, Obama and Sanders are more similar than they are different. Our Colorado comrade says Trump will push world domination capitalism, but we've been seeing this for decades and it didn't slow down for a second under Obama. There is no way to reconcile Amerikan imperialism with socialism. No elected candidate will make this change. Only by forcibly overthrowing the government will we be able to implement socialism.
Our comrade in a Federal prison brings up the question of the need for world-historical material conditions to be in place to bring the Euro-Amerikan nation toward socialism. This comrade's claim that Euro-Amerikans are well on their way to supporting a socialist shift is likely overstated. But if the oppressed internal semi-colonies and oppressed Third World nations are enraged by Trump's rhetoric and policies, then we can expect revolutionaries in Amerikkka to grow in strength and number as well. The oppressed nations' response, internally and abroad, to a Trump's presidency is where we see real revolutionary potential.
This writer is correct that socialism (in the short term, and communism in the long term) is the only way to liberate the oppressed from capitalism. But when we recognize that the majority of people in the United $tates are benefiting from capitalism, we can see that most people in this country, voters and non-voters alike, aren't being fooled by mis-information. Rather they correctly understand that if we were to give back all the wealth stolen from Third World countries and stop the plunder of imperialism tomorrow, standards of living in this country would go down dramatically.
Still, there are very good reasons why Amerikans should oppose capitalism, including the destruction of the environment, the deadly culture of patriarchy and violence, and basic humynity towards other human beings around the world. And so we conclude that if Trump's presidency leads some Amerikans to greater global awareness and inspires them to oppose capitalism, it is our job to provide a correct analysis of the system and opportunities for action against the system.
Calculating the transfer of wealth from exploited nations to imperialist countries is a difficult task. Even those with the knowledge and time to do the research find that bourgeois economics does not look at things in terms that Marxists do. There are a number of excellent books by Marxists on this topic on our literature list.(1) Adding to this research is a recent report from Global Financial Integrity(GFI), which they call "the most comprehensive analysis of global financial flows impacting developing countries compiled to date."(2)
The main conclusions of this report are:
"since 1980 developing countries lost US$16.3 trillion dollars through broad leakages in the balance of payments, trade misinvoicing, and recorded financial transfers... the report demonstrates that developing countries have effectively served as net-creditors to the rest of the world with tax havens playing a major role in the flight of unrecorded capital. For example, in 2011 tax haven holdings of total developing country wealth were valued at US$4.4 trillion, which exacerbated inequality and undermined good governance and economic growth."(2)
According to the report, China is responsible for about a quarter of the Third World's net resource transfers to the First World. Despite a growing finance capitalist class, China is still the largest proletarian nation providing wealth for Amerikans and other First World nations. A long fall from grace from when it was the most advanced socialist economy in history, reinvesting all of its wealth into building its own self-sufficiency and serving the needs of its own people.
Last year, the so-called "Panama Papers" brought to light the issue of tax havens, and the role they play in allowing finance capitalists to move money in ways that avoid having to pay taxes to the states they operate in and often avoiding other legal restraints on how they do business. GFI points to tax havens, as well as illegal movement of capital goods, as playing large roles in facilitating this transfer of wealth from the exploited countries to the imperialist core countries.
Possible solutions to this problem provided in the cited articles are debt forgiveness, shutting down tax havens and enforcement of fines by agencies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).(3) Having powerful people monitor and fine other powerful people is like the fox guarding the hen house, and will never make fundamental changes in a system whose whole purpose is the drive for profit.
MIM(Prisons) supports the call for debt forgiveness for poor countries. As the report states, "for every $1 of aid that developing countries receive, they lose $24 in net outflows."(2) A campaign to resist these predatory aid programs combined with forgiveness of existing loans would loosen the current death grip of imperialism on the exploited nations of the world. And if we consider the numbers below 1:24 is a gross underestimation of the scale of exploitation going on.
Another powerful move to provide some relief to the poor under capitalism would be to enforce a global minimum wage through a body such as the WTO. Economist Arghiri Emmanuel showed the relationship between wage levels and the transfer of wealth between nations in the form of unequal exchange. While this recent work by GFI is more in depth than most by looking at illegal practices such as reporting false prices to avoid taxes and restrictions, it ignores the hidden transfer of wealth that is enabled by the low wages that are violently enforced on the proletariat of the exploited nations. This transfer of wealth is not included in the $16.3 trillion transfer of wealth. MC5 of MIM estimated wealth transfer to the imperialist countries at $6.8 trillion in just one year (1993), as did Zak Cope, who looked at 2009 with a similar lens but different approach to MC5.(4)
While GFI states that, "Every year, roughly $1 trillion flows illegally out of developing and emerging economies due to crime, corruption, and tax evasion", their vision of a capitalism with more integrity would only eliminate an estimated 15% of the value exploited from the majority of the world for the benefit of the imperialist nations. We ally with such bourgeois internationalists on some of the demands mentioned above, but also take it further than they will to eliminate imperialism in all its forms and create a world without exploitation or oppression.
Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising
2011, PM Press
Keith LaMar (Bomani Hondo Shakur)
In April 1993 there was an 11-day occupation of Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, starting on Easter Sunday when the maximum security prisoners overpowered correctional officers (COs) while returning from recreation. During the occupation, eight COs were held as hostages; one was killed and the rest were released. Nine prisoners were also killed through the course of this uprising, all by other prisoners. The 407 prisoners surrendered when the administration committed to a 21-point agreement. After the uprising, five prisoners were sentenced to death for the murders, and they are the only people held on Ohio's death row.
Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising and Condemned are good books to read together, and give two thorough accounts of the events of the SOCF uprising, and even more thorough detail of what happened afterward. Lucasville is written by Staughton Lynd, a lawyer who plays a significant role in Condemned, which was written by Keith LaMar (Bomani), one of the people condemned to death for the events during the uprising. The content in these books overlaps a lot, but not too much as to be redundant. What content is repeated through the two books just underlines lessons learned, and clarifies the authors' political orientations, some of which MIM(Prisons) does not agree with. Rather than write a point-by-point criticism of these books which most of our readers will never have the opportunity to read anyway, below we summarize some of the lessons on prison organizing we gleaned from studying them.
Condemned recounts Bomani's first-hand experience before, during, and after the uprising, especially focusing on the struggle of the five prisoners who were scapegoated for the uprising (known as the Lucasville 5). Condemned is a good case study on many common aspects of prison organizing. Lynd's book describes all the work it took, and all the obstacles the state put in place, to support the Lucasville 5's struggle from the outside.
The first theme addressed in Condemned is the author's ideological transformation. MIM(Prisons)'s primary task at this point in the struggle is building public opinion and institutions of the oppressed for socialist revolution, so affecting others' political consciousness is something we work on a lot. On the first day of the uprising, Bomani was hoping the state would come in to end the chaos. But "standing there as dead bodies were dumped onto the yard (while those in authority stood back and did nothing), and then experience the shock of witnessing Dennis' death [another prisoner who was murdered in the same cell as the author], awakened something in me." Bomani's persynal experiences, plus politicization on the pod and thru books, are what led em to pick up the struggle against injustice.
At an event where Bomani was publicizing eir case and experience, a MIM(Prisons) comrade was able to ask em what go-to books ey recommend for new comrades who are just getting turned on to the struggle. Bomani suggested Black Boy by Richard Wright, and also refers to Wright in Condemned. MIM(Prisons) would second this recommendation. Black Boy is an excellent study of New Afrikan life under Jim Crow in the South, with many aspects of that struggle still continuing in this country today.
In eir own book, Bomani also recounts acts of prisoner unity against the administration shortly following the uprising, and how politicization of fellow prisoners played out in real life. The prisoners made a pact to trash the range each day, and not clean it up. The guards cleaned the range themselves for a few days, but then brought in a prisoner to clean it up. Simultaneously, the "old heads" on the pod were leading speeches nightly about the need for unity and the relationship between the prisoners and the administration, politicizing everyone within earshot.
"Every night there was a variation of this same speech, and I listened to it over and over again until something took root in me. I became openly critical of the mistreatment we had all undergone and, for a few months at least, was serious in my determination to persuade others not to join the administration in the efforts to further divide and conquer us."(Condemned, p. 33)
A tactic that was mentioned in passing in Condemned was how the prisoner who was cleaning the range for the pigs was dealt with. Ey was struggled with for a period of time, and asked to not clean the range, but ey came back day after day. Eventually this prisoner was stabbed by the protesters for continuously undermining the action. Bomani doesn't mention how this act impacted the unity demo, whether it helped or not. We aim to minimize physical violence as much as possible, although sometimes it may be necessary. It is up to those who are on the ground to make the call in their particular conditions, and this tactic should not at all be taken lightly. If much physical force is necessary to maintain a peace demo, then we should ask ourselves if the masses we're organizing are ready for that type of demo. Political education is always our focus at this stage in the struggle.
Both books address how a protest with solid participants can fail or succeed depending on the protest's outside support. Several hunger strikes were launched, and ended, without progress made on the demands. It wasn't until connections were made with outside advocates and media that prison officials took any steps toward fixing them. Especially in an instance where a lawyer met with the regional director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation, which led to some property restrictions being lifted.
Recalling a victory from a 12-day hunger strike which had a lot of outside support,
"When the administration refused to follow their own rules, we complained (verbally and informally) and then asked a district judge to intervene on our behalf, all to no avail. It never occurred to us that we were wasting our time by appealing to the very people who had placed us in this predicament we were in.
"Indeed, the whole process of redressing our grievances was nothing more than an exercise in futility designed to drain off our vital energy and make us feel as though we had done all that we could do.
"It was only when we began to write and reach out to 'the people' that things began to change. First, there was Staughton's book and accompanying play; then we began holding 'talks' around the state on various college campuses, as well as writing articles in various periodicals. In this way, we were able to generate some much-needed support."(Condemned, p. 179)
To combat the psychological warfare of the prison staff, Bomani strongly recommends daily meditation and yoga as a method to protect oneself. "By learning how to watch my thoughts [meditate using simple breathing exercises], I was able to rise above the vicious cycle of cause and effect, and thereby avoid the tricks and traps of my environment."(Condemned, p. 133)
MIM(Prisons) receives regular requests for information on sovereign citizenship. While we've written against this tactic at length elsewhere, Lucasville underlines it with an anecdote about three prisoners who cut off their fingers and mailed them to the United Nations to show how serious they were in in their claim of sovereign citizenship. The request was still denied.
A final lesson from these books, especially recounted in Lucasville, is that in any attempt at solidarity and justice for the oppressed, prison officials and other oppressors will do everything they can to undermine it. Everything. We should never expect that our enemies will act in good faith toward respecting us and our needs. We should always expect pushback and always expect that they will attempt to derail us at every step of the way. Studying past struggles for clues on how we can protect our movement will only make our job easier. The state is taking notes on our shortcomings and we need to do the same of both our shortcomings and our strengths.
Rogue One is the backstory behind the very first episode of Star Wars ever produced (which is now chronologically number 4 in the unendingly profitable Star Wars series of movies). In this movie we learn how the rebel alliance managed to get a copy of the blueprints for the Death Star, a critical piece of information used to destroy that weapon. This movie is an impressive example of how well-funded elements of capitalist culture can spend millions of dollars in order to make a profit off of entertainment: the estimated budget was $200,000,000. Imagine what could have been done with those resources in a system guided by peoples' need instead of profit.
For this money we get a story that has some progressive elements but also many questionable and reactionary messages. Rogue One is about the rebel alliance's fight against the Empire. This could be a great anti-imperialist analogy. And there are some solid themes of revolutionary sacrifice and the oppressed coming together to fight a common enemy in a united front. But in the end it is individualism that wins, as of course that makes for a more exciting story in our culture.
This episode is a fairly satisfactory effort to stitch together episode 3 and episode 4, and provides us with a better explanation for why the Death Star could be completely destroyed with one good shot. The saboteur behind this weakness gives us one of the many examples of revolutionary sacrifice in this movie. It also offers an example of how resistance is possible from someone who is forced into a situation where there seems to be no resistance. While this character is depicted as having unique skills, eir course of action serves as a good example of the existentialist axiom that we always have a choice. This may serve as inspiration for those in the imperialist countries surrounded by class enemies, or those in isolation cells with no contact with the outside world but occasional letters.
While revolutionary sacrifice is a strong theme with many characters in the Rebellion, this message is not inherently anti-imperialist as it will likely reinforce those fighting for U.$. empire who believe what they are doing is good. The Empire in the movie, rather than being an example of the evils of imperialism, continues to come across as a caricature of what Amerika thinks of communism. Everyone wears the same uniform and is forced to work for the military dominance of the world under the leadership of one egotistical leader. But for those with a revolutionary mindset, we can pretend this was meant to represent the imperialist empire, and root for the Rebellion and honor their sacrifices.
There is a group that resembles Arab militants who have taken up focoism against the Empire, and who the Rebel Alliance grudgingly wants to work with. In some ways this is better than the average portrayal of Arab peoples in Hollywood movies, where they are often just the terrorists. But in this case they come across as not smart enough to participate in a united battle, just doing what their leader directs, in random focoist attacks. Still a rather stereotypical picture.
The Alliance itself appears to be a united front of various species from around the universe who are working together to defeat the Empire. This could be seen to parallel the united front of oppressed nations that will be necessary to take down U.$. imperialism. In humyn history we have strong examples of united fronts within nations, such as China. But the multinational united front and the joint dictatorship of the proletariat that will likely be necessary after defeating U.$. imperialism are things that we have little experience with. Fred Hampton's Rainbow Coalition in Chicago was an early form of such a united front, but it was repressed before an anti-imperialist war could emerge.
The movie uses this united front to promote ultra-leftism and individualist acts of desperation. When they get bogged down in fighting over whether or not they should take military action or run and hide, a small group of fighters take independent action because they don't know anything but war. These are the brave heroes of the movie. The main disagreement within the united front was over whether or not it was possible to win in a fight against the Death Star. This debate over tactics could have been a good lesson in struggle and unity, perhaps greater gathering of information and a testing of various tactics to learn from practice. Instead there was a short verbal fight and then a decision that no action could be taken because of all the disagreement, portraying the united front as futile.
Rogue One did feature more female characters than the average Hollywood movie, but the main characters were born into their roles, rather than rising up to take positions out of conviction and hard work. While the lead male characters overcame great hardship, or fought against persynal circumstances, to take up the rebel struggle. And still the vast majority of the characters seen in the movie are male, an odd feature for a society so far in the future. Clearly the patriarchy still dominates in Star Wars.
Star Wars movies all feature reference to "The Force" to greater or lesser degrees. In this storyline The Force is basically turned into a religion, practiced only by one Asian man who blindly guards the temple (literally, he is blind). This man's blind faith (it's not very subtle) becomes an important part of the rebel fight. And at one point this faith saves the day, again promoting a sort of ultra-leftism.
With all of these failings, MIM(Prisons) can't recommend Rogue One for anything more than critical analysis.
...I plan to reach out to this girl I'm dating here in re politics. I will start to feel her out on that topic tomorrow for the first time. She is 24 years old. I'm 31 years old, so I believe I can mold her. She is naive and trusting. I will attempt to teach her once I feel her out. Please write back and let me know what you think about this particular matter.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Generally, we discourage recruiting someone you're dating. Particularly when this persyn has exhibited no independent interest in anti-imperialism. We do agree with your seemingly cautious approach of "feeling her out" first. It is a prudent security tactic to not put all your cards on the table as far as your political work with someone who you are not sure where they stand.
Next you say she is younger, naive and trusting, and you imply that you will take advantage of that. That is how you create resentment. And when people resent people associated with the movement, the movement is put at risk. This is most likely when romance is involved. That is the number one reason not to mix dating with recruiting. People get confused about motivations. Recruiting friends is a little less risky, but also has this problem. It is true that the young are more open to revolutionary politics, which might lead us to take up tactics like leafleting at schools. Our approach should not be to take advantage of the young, or wimmin in general, by using characteristics caused by the gender oppression that they face. It should rather be to tap into the righteous resentment they might have of that gender oppression so that they throw off the negative characteristics that it has encouraged in them and become revolutionaries.
In more advanced situations it can go another way where comrades start to question whether someone is hanging around because they're dating a comrade or because they're down for the struggle themselves. So for the individual and the collective it is better to be clear and scientific about what one's position is.
Recruiting should always be done based on a scientific explanation of political line. Of course, subjectivity comes into play, and there’s nothing wrong with packaging things so they will be more attractive to the masses (i.e. form/language). However, there is something wrong with manipulating people based on their subjectivity to take up politics for reasons other than their supporting of those politics. This leads to confusion, both politically and interpersynally. This is really a strategic question when we say don't use sex, flirtation or friendship to recruit people. Our goal is to teach people to think scientifically and create strong, scientific organizations.
This is not to say that most people in the mass movements will be scientific thinkers won over by purely objective motivations. So there are tactical questions of what language and images we use in order to present our message to the masses in ways that they can relate to. Wearing uniforms, having good music associated with our movement, or having famous people recommend our work are all tactics that appeal to peoples' subjectivism in a way that is not manipulative of the individual and therefore threatening the movement.
At least half of our readers are in prison. And even in university or any smaller community, you will often find people you are already friends with becoming interested in politics. Then it becomes a skill of separating business from pleasure. Political disagreements should not decide friendships and vice versa. A useful tactic to use in this situation, if you feel there might be a conflict of interest or confusion, is to pass a friend off to another comrade to be their primary contact and recruiter. This gives the friend more independence to explore politics on their own terms with less pressure from implications that political agreement with you is a requirement for that friendship.
One new comrade who was won over to our cause reported how another prisoner dropped a ULK in his lap on his way to a hearing and said, "here, you'll like this." Many of our subscribers report finding ULK in the dayroom. Both of these are examples of "free dropping", a technique to spread our ideas as far as possible to ensure that all who are interested have the opportunity to be exposed to them.
Finding the right balance between casting a wide net, like free dropping, and developing new cadre one-on-one is a tough tactical question. MIM has always erred on the side of casting a wide net. This is based in a strategic decision that building public opinion against imperialism is more important in our conditions than building cadre organizations. But we need people to do more than read ULK and our website. Whether it's supporting MIM(Prisons) projects or not, we need people to step up for anti-imperialism to amplify that anti-imperialist voice and to build independent institutions of the oppressed. The oppressed are reaching out to us every day for help. We need more comrades to step up and build the power necessary to provide real solutions to their problems.