We mourn the hundreds of thousands of people who have died due to the incompentancy of the U.$. government from the federal to the local levels during this pandemic. Deaths in prisons from COVID-19 are at 2,173 as of 19 January 2021.(1) We know of one comrade in California who died who was working with a local USW cell.
In California, Governor Newsom put prisoners at the forefront of their vaccination roll out plan. However, things have not gone so smooth. All over the state vaccines are sitting unused, while they have opened up access to more than 10 times the number of people than they have vaccines for. According to the COVID Prison Project, which is tracking the vaccination of prisoners across the country, almost all of the 19,000 vaccinations administered through the California Department of Corrections and “rehabilitation” so far have gone to prison staff. Though California is one of a handful of states that have confirmed data of vaccinations having begun (currently at 65 prisoners).(1)
As infections and deaths reach record-breaking numbers every day, prisoners continue to be much more likely to be infected with SARS-COV-2 virus and they are more likely to die from COVID-19, despite the fact that the population in prisons is younger than those outside prisons. Old age is a very strong risk factor with COVID-19. This demonstrates that being in prison in the U.$. has a significant negative effect on your health status and the health care that you receive. It is very ironic. One would think that prisons are the most effective way to “stay inside” and get a population safe from a viral plague. The fact that prisons are rampant with this disease shows that “natural” disasters such as plagues, earthquakes, and floods are in fact bound with social relations just like all other things.
On top of that, prisoners are suffering disproportionately from the conditions of shelter-in-place, nominally to stop the spread of the virus. The rest of the country gets to decide for themselves whether they want to follow best practices and stay at home and where a mask. As one might have predicted, this model failed horribly and is leading to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. But for prison staff, lockdowns are a routine affair. In many rural, white communities, sheriffs have refused to enforce state ordinances to promote public safety by sheltering in place. In prisons, correctional officers are happy to lock oppressed people in their cells for months with little access to the outside. This hypocrisy exposes the pigs true intentions.
Being in prison is about controlling all your time; the labor time you could have spent building up wealth and the leisure time you could have spent building your relationships and community. As mentioned above, being locked in a prison in the United $tates has a strong negative affect on your health status. It seems that many who don’t die from COVID-19, will have long-term effects. This will affect people’s ability to be productive and enjoy leisure time after being released from prison. U.$. prisons have long-term affects on peoples’ class and gender outcomes throughout their lives, especially for the oppressed nations which have less resources and support to overcome these setbacks.
Meanwhile, there is some pleasure involved on behalf of staff instituting lockdowns to make their jobs easier and refusing to wear masks because they “don’t feel like it.” Pleasure that would not exist for people who actually cared about others.
While there are economic reasons at the heart of why the oppressed always bear the brunt of “natural” disasters, there are cultural reasons as well. So much death and suffering could have been prevented in U.$. prisons without any affect on capitalist profits. And arguably, the U.$. economy would be doing better right now if the government had implemented better, clearer practices in society in general.
The struggle for basic health, including mental health and social connection, are struggles for basic humynity. Struggles we see falling more in the realm of gender than class, because it is not about economics and production. It is about transforming the relationships between people in a cultural way. A way that works to eliminate the possibility of one group finding pleasure in the oppression and suffering of another. We see the examples of the oppressed coming together in these conditions to struggle for basic humynity, and to build it between each other, as the early steps of a revolutionary transformation of national and gender relations in our society.
The year 2020 was hectic and alarming to say the least. From Pre$ident Donald Chump’s outrageous attempts to wrestle power away from the traditional bourgeoisie, to COVID-19, which threw the entire world for a loop and tragically ended the lives of over a million people, mostly in the Third World. The year 2020 has been one in which the already ugly face of imperialism has been peeled back far enough to where even first worlders could catch a glimpse of what’s hidden underneath.
The depravity of Amerikkkans’ twisted desires for a return to a social order in which Amerikkka is clearly and definitively on top has been on full display for the world to see. From the extra-judicial killing of New Afrikans and other oppressed nation people by law enforcement, to the lynching of New Afrikans in liberal Los Angeles County, Califaztlán; the principal contradiction of Amerikkka vs the oppressed nations remains the existential threat to the people of the internal semi-colonies. As such, what has been made clear to revolutionaries from the oppressed nations is the urgent need to organize the [email protected], New Afrikan, and First Nations along communist lines. One of the few organizations in the United $tates attempting to do this is the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons (MIM Prisons).
As is already widely known by U.$. prisoners, a U.$. federal court has ruled that prisoners cannot be excluded from applying for and receiving economic relief under the CARES Act. This decision allowed for thousands of captives to receive $1,200 stimulus checks with more already on the way.
As an anti-imperialist who’s worked with MIM(Prisons) for almost two decades I have requested and received a plethora of study materials from them, most free of charge. In 2015, MIM(Prisons) released [email protected] Power and the Struggle For Aztlán, which focuses on the hystory, present, and future struggles of the [email protected] nation from a Maoist perspective. This project was very expensive and pushed back the release of MIM(Prisons) own contemporary text, The Lumpen Handbook.
MIM(Prisons) is not a huge organization, nor do they have the big name recognition which other more amorphous groups with opportunist politics do. What they do have, however, is a correct political line for the liberation of the internal semi-colonies and a communist cadre committed to serving the imprisoned masses. So if you believe in struggling for an Aztlán libre then one thing you can do at this time is send a donation to MIM(Prisons). Sending money to them will help fund not only the next issue of Under Lock and Key, but the free Books to Prisoners program. If you believe that Black Lives Matter, then donate to MIM(Prisons) and continue funding the education of revolutionaries behind prison walls.
Let us then take this opportunity to contribute to the anti-imperialist movement to end the oppression and exploitation of the oppressed nations by U.$. imperialism by giving something back to MIM(Prisons) after they’ve spent years giving us so much.
[NOTE: For ways to donate, please see our get involved page. We are working on a second printing of [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, if you want to pre-order a copy just let us know when you send your donation of $20 or more.]
The seizure of the Capitol on 6 January 2021 was the culmination of oppressor nation organizing over years that has proven the continued need for New Democratic revolution here in North America, what many First Nations people today call occupied Turtle Island. Participants in the siege donned racist Odinist tattoos, pro-holocaust slogans, anti-China signs, and waved pro-slavery and nazi flags. Most had Amerikan flags or pro-Trump flags, hats and shirts. They included QAnon followers, Tea Party members, elected officials, Proud Boys, and leaders of a number of fascist organizations and groupings.
Media reported five deaths, including one U.S. Capitol Police officer and four pro-Trump rioters. Those killed during the siege included a womyn shot by security for trying to crawl through a smashed window to get to the Senators, a man who reportedly tasered himself to death while trying to steal a painting off the wall and a cop who was beaten to death with sticks, including one carrying an Amerikan flag, while the audience sang The Star-Spangled Banner. The latter, Brian Sicknick, served the imperialist army in Afghanistan and was an outspoken supporter of President Trump.(1)
The group who laid siege to the Capitol did so in response to calls from President Trump to oppose the election results that has Joe Biden scheduled to replace him on 20 January. As the mob took swings at police and smashed through barricades, they chanted, “USA, USA!”, “Stop the Steal” and called out the Democrats and CNN as primary targets of their anger. By denying the outcome of the election, this organized force is allied with efforts to deny New Afrikans, and other oppressed groups, the vote. These front-line Trump supporters militantly deny the right of [email protected] to even exist on their own land, not to mention control it. And they generally support the incursion of multinational corporations into the small fragments of territory left to the other indigenous peoples of this continent. They want to keep Muslims and Asians out of the United $tates, whether its because of terrorism, a virus, or some other semi-factual excuse for xenophobia. They fear the browning of the U.$. population.
Regarding the vote, the shift of Georgia from Republican to Democrat marked for these settlers another step towards the end of white domination on occupied Turtle Island. Newly-elected Senator Raphael Warnock is the first Black senator in the state of Georgia, which was 31.94% New Afrikan and 51.82% white (“non-hispanic”) in 2019 (in a country that is about 12% New Afrikan overall). In recent years, “non-hispanic” whites have only accounted for about 44% of births in the state.(2). Warnock comes from the same church as Martin Luther King Jr., where Warnock was Pastor for former representative John Lewis. MLK of course was a symbol of multicultural integration that brought much ire and hatred during eir short life, leading to eir assassination. The current period is the culmination of the reaction to the attempts by the bourgeois state to incorporate those ideas of King’s into the empire. After the abolition of slavery, the Federal government made the first attempt at granting New Afrika democratic rights and full citizenship by imposing Reconstruction policies on the southern states. These were mostly undone by white settlers by the by the 1876 presidential election, which led to the Jim Crow policies(3) (maintained by violent voter suppression of New Afrikans) until the time of MLK and the Black Panther Party. The movement today is to undo the progress of integration that followed the civil rights and national liberation movements of the 1960s. Rioters literally marched confederate flags through the Capitol, after fighting their way in, in 2021.
In 2020, Georgia also saw shows of force from New Afrikan militia, and lumpen organizations coming together to seize the site of a police murder, and defend from threats by groups like the 3 Percenters and Ku Klux Klan from coming into Atlanta.(4) While New Afrikans band together in self-defense, the oppressor nation has made it clear they are now on the offense with their seizure of the U.$. Capitol. They brought firearms, pipe bombs and nooses as they called for the blood of Vice President Mike Pence and others. Men who entered the Capitol carried fire arms and one had seized zip tie handcuffs, ready to take hostages and possibly assassinate Federal representatives, including the Vice President. When officials escaped, the intruders settled for posing for photos in their office chairs and taking memorabilia off the Senators’ desks and walls.
Economics of the Crisis
Social media posts by leaders promoting the action on 6 January are also calling for the assassination of Mitch McConnell and Republicans in general for blocking the $2000 stimulus check currently backed by Trump and the Democratic Congressional leadership. The battle over stimulus funding (to respond to COVID-19 restrictions) in recent weeks has been a great demonstration of the relationship between classes under imperialism. The wealth flowing into this country is split between the imperialists and the rest of the population. The stimulus bills were a clear demonstration of this, with big corporations getting 100s of millions to billions in benefits, while the rest of the country averaged thousands of dollars per persyn. Most people in the world received little to no money.
The printing of money by the U.$. central bank since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in history. With so many more dollars in circulation, economists wonder whether this money can be exchanged for goods at the value one would expect. Many Third World countries have seen depreciation of their currencies compared to the U.$. dollar as finance capital left those countries in response to the pandemic. For the dollar to maintain its value, the empire must stay strong. We’ve already seen a decrease in Japanese and Chinese finance capital from U.$. treasuries in the last year.(5) Japan and China are the two largest foreign holders of U.$. treasuries.
The people of Weimar Germany (prior to the popular Nazi takeover) faced conditions where what they were paid one day could not buy a loaf of bread the next. This was due to having lost WWI and facing sanctions from other imperialist countries. The U.$. has not yet faced this problem, but they are having to do more to stabilize their own currency and economy. If the white nationalists had their way, and productive labor from Latin America and Asia was forced out of U.$. borders, we would see the dollar decrease in value very quickly. While dollar values have not declined yet, the situation is quite precarious, especially as productive output of the economy remains slow.
What Will Happen Next?
Senators who were calling the election a fraud backed off immediately following the siege, proving it was just a popularity game to them. Yet some who forced their way into the Capitol, came ready to die that day. This is curious, as economic conditions in this country do not yet warrant such extremism, especially for the demographic showing up at these demonstrations. Many on the front lines of the siege are steeped in conspiracy theories. These theories tap into a deep existential fear they have of the ending of their white country. Something many of them feel has already happened.
While the attacks of 9/11 were a blow to the sense that Amerikans could have their fingers in every other part of the world, while staying safe at home, the response was a show of strength through Amerikan nationalism. Since then, the U.$. image continued to decline with more lost wars and humyn rights abuses abroad and at home. This week’s attack on the Capitol marks an internal weakening from within.
There is no god coming down to purify the crackers’ souls in the rapture. Nor can Turner Diary-style fantasies resolve the contradictions that define this imperialist country. A re-civilization of the oppressor nations must come from the hands of the oppressed. Having one side of the oppressor nation try to cajole the other into giving the oppressed what they think they need, or rather what they think will appease, has proven ineffective over the last 150 years. The oppressed nations occupied on this land must seize their own destinies. They must rise up for a New Democracy, where they as sovereign peoples can decide how to solve their own problems without the constant oversight and interference of the euro-Amerikan.
We support the continued development of New Afrikan defense organizing in places like Atlanta, that is based in real revolutionary nationalism – which as Mao said is applied internationalism. We re-iterate the call for Barrio Committees in Aztlan, as outlined in the book [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán. We all need to connect with those in our communities that are ready to respond.
With regards to those that are already familiar and well versed with Marixt-Leninist-Maoist political philosophy, we must call for discipline and centralized organization. Most major cities’ “radical scenes” are dominated by anarcho-liberals who preach on voting for the Democratic party one day and preach for militant direct action the next day. Even amongst the more militant and anti-reformist anarchists, there are a lot of poorly organized forms of violence that fleets in energy. Us communists should work towards building independent institutions that the people can go to to solve their daily material problems – not have loosely affiliated cliques that serve themselves more than the masses.
Another test of principled actions that many communists failed was the reliance and aid to the existing bourgeois institutions such as the FBI and the police. Many radical liberals online have resorted to identifying the Capitol Hill fascists for the police agencies while also hoping these police institutions can repress the fascist movement. The Communist Party of India (Maoist) have had the correct response to this regarding the issue of rape in the country of India. Whereas petty-bourgeois movements call for the death penalty and stronger punishments for rapists in the semi-feudal country, the Maoists recognize that rape is not alien to the system and stronger state forces against these anti-people crimes will result in stronger state repression against the masses.(6) And just like how relying on the bourgeois state to give justice in India will result in the repression against the masses, these acts by radical liberals of relying on the FBI and the police departments will only result in more surveillance and crackdowns on the oppressed people.
In Under Lock & Key No. 71 we printed an ad for a free copy of the book Punching the Air. We did so based on an agreement we had with a Director at Harper Collins that we would provide access to our readership to recruit readers for the book, and they would cover the costs for them to receive the book while promoting our Free Political Books to Prisoners Program on their Instagram.
Ebony LaDelle, Director of Teen Marketing for Harper Collins Children’s Books originally reached out to us about the promotion to get free copies of the book to people in prison, especially youth. We agreed to the arrangement above, and went ahead and created and printed an ad in ULK to find out who would want the book. We sent the final version of ULK with the ad we printed at our cost, and asked Ms. LaDelle about the ad they were going to post for us on Instagram. It was at this point that she informed us that there was no ad because we had missed a deadline a month ago. This was despite the fact that we had sent her the art and url for the ad almost 2 months prior. And this was the first time we had heard of a deadline or that we had missed it.
One reason we were open to this project is that the book was authored by Yusef Salaam, who was part of the Central Park 5 as a youth, and who had a story we thought would be relevant to our audience. So when Ms. LaDelle made it clear they would not be promoting our Serve the People program we reached out to Mr. Salaam, but received no response. At this point we cut off relations with Harper Collins and this project.
We say this was an opportunist error, because we accepted the arrangement with Harper Collins hoping it would benefit us without being vigilant about our politics being represented. We can also say that our state of feeling a bit desperate for support played a role in our willingness to jump on the promotion. Ultimately our politics were completely left out of the promotion, and we stopped working with Harper Collins in response. But we had already run the ad.
We are self-critical for this because we ended up using our comrades’ time and our money to print an ad, for free, for a large corporation, while getting nothing in return to benefit the independent institutions of the oppressed.
Certainly this is a small aberration on our history of managing 6-digits worth of funds over the years, which has gone directly to serving the people through independent institutions of the oppressed. Nonetheless, we should draw lessons from this error to maintain our track record.
While donations of stamps from behind bars, and the occasional donation from the outside is not nearly enough to keep our projects running, this is where we should be looking to develop more support.
And it is not just financial support that we need. More than that, we need people to do the work. We also depend on the masses and comrades out there for ideological support. It is your ideological questions and feedback that allow us to keep applying the democratic development of theory and practice as we go through this precarious time. Certainly there will be many more learning experiences like this to come as we go, and we can’t do it without all of you providing criticism, support and feedback.
Harper Collins did publish a small post listing some of the other groups that they worked with on this promotion. What we do differently is build independent institutions of the oppressed to serve the people. We do not run charities. We are trying to change the world. And our programs serve to help others join us in that project. That is why we are explicit that it is a Free Political Books to Prisoners Program. And we wonder if that is why Harper Collins was not willing to promote it.
It is our grounding in the masses that led Harper Collins to reach out to us in the first place. And to make up for our mistake in trusting that they would promote mass work, we will be sending everyone who requested the book an introductory book on the philosophy of dialectical materialism. And like everything else we do, this will be done mostly with money out of our own pockets. If you are reading this and want to see more revolutionary literature making it into the hands of prisoners of the United $tates, please do get in touch, or just send us a donation (see our Get Involved page for how).
I want to give our readers a brief status update. This is the first issue in 5 months, and the one before that was about 7 months prior. Unfortunately, we will be sticking to what we called “plan C” in the last issue, which was relaunching Under Lock & Key(ULK) on an irregular basis.
We have went ahead with the new newsprint format, which has reduced our costs. With this new format, we launched the new logo that was to go on the new newsletter. Thanks to the USW comrade who drafted, and redrew the artwork for that. Otherwise, the contents of ULK should remain about what you are used to.
Before I go on, I want to include one of the appreciative letters we received from a newer subscriber:
"I want to sincerely thank you all for altering my outlook on the world and on life in general. Not to mention politics. I don’t know how to explain it, but just in the relatively short few months that I’ve been seriously studying the various ULKs and related materials, I can see and feel so many positive changes in myself, my outlook, attitude, mindframe, actions, words, thoughts, etc.
"… For example, just navigating the daily struggle in here has become much easier for me as far as interactions with the guards, etc. I just feel like I have been equipped with a much more stable mindframe and a more mature attitude. As I’m writing this I’m actually realizing that this is probably my reactionary mentality being steadily stripped away and replaced with knowledge and wisdom of what’s really going on.
“This has even had positive effects on my personal/family life as well and my ability to express myself and communicate with individuals I had a difficult time with before. I’m able to control my emotions more and deal with sense and reason which has produced better results.”
It is letters like this that reinforce the importance of Under Lock & Key and our determination to keep it going. But we can’t do so without rallying more support.
Some of the things that go into this one project include: processing incoming letters to update our mailing list, typing articles, scanning and editing art, responding to articles, editing, formatting and proofreading, layout of the newsletter, compiling and processing our latest mailing list for the USPS, proof reading the laid out newsletter, folding and packaging the newsletters, bringing them to the post office for delivery to you, and paying for all that printing and postage. We know our readers in prison can’t do most of these things. But by promoting ULK and recruiting others around our work, you can build the network of support we need.
And many of you can send donations. Thank you to all of you who have sent in stamps in recent months despite the lack of ULKs. We are still sending out lots of letters and literature and making good use of your donations!
In addition to ULK, we are prioritizing responding to letters, providing resource guides and political literature. We remain focused on our serve the people Re-Lease on Life program, which has gained some good experience and seen some setbacks in the last year. And we are working to develop Anti-Imperialist Prisoner Support, so that we can expand our work to what it used to be and beyond. Finally, we continue to put time into engaging with the development of the Maoist movement here in occupied Turtle Island so that all these programs can feed into real revolutionary change in the future.
Our readership has always talked about fascism more than the mainstream because they face some of the most fascistic aspects of imperialism within U.$. borders. As the dialogue around fascism in relation to the White House enterslj6 the mainstream, it becomes more important for us to distinguish our line, and the potential strategies that follow from that line.(1)
The first draft of an article on the self-determination of the Lakota people referred repeatedly to the fascism that they faced. The parallel is certainly justified. As we know Hitler was very inspired by the Amerikan genocide and colonization of First Nations. Yet, fascism arose hundreds of years after settlers first came to Turtle Island. There are many similarities, but also differences, between Nazi Germany and the early United $tates, and the United $tates today.(2) Understanding what fascism is is important for fighting it.
Fascism as Inter-Imperialist Conflict
“Marxist-Leninists eventually argued that fascism is qualitatively more evil than ordinary imperialism. First, fascism occupied imperialist countries and exterminated national self-determination in direct ways that the other imperialists did not. Second, and less important, fascism is the open dictatorship of the bourgeoisie instead of just the more masked dictatorship of bourgeois democracy.” MC5, May 1993, “Historical applications of Line, Strategy and Tactics: The United Front”, MIM Theory 6: The Stalin Issue, p.76. ($5)
MC5 goes on to say that the principal contradiction during the period of the rise of fascism was actually that between the socialist and the imperialist camps. That the Nazis focused so much on the destruction of the Soviet Union, undermining their own success, demonstrates the role of fascism as a response to socialism.
Stalin’s strategy in this period was to divide the imperialist camp. It’s hard to see how the socialist camp today could employ such a strategy since we are not operating from the base of power that Stalin was (the USSR actually had the military might to stop the Nazis). But in his time, Stalin’s strategy proved correct.
A Global Threat or Bourgeois Politics
Antifa and the unorganized rebellions against the police in cities across the country have forced anti-fascism into the mainstream. Yet the mainstream rhetoric has quickly transformed the “battle against fascism” in the United $tates into a thinly veiled campaign for the Democratic Party presidential election in November. The likes of Bob Avakian, Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky have all called on people to vote for Joe Biden, citing this battle.
Stopping fascism is a lower level goal than ending imperialism or building socialism. There are times, like World War II, when stopping fascism is the appropriate focus for communists. At that time fascism was waging a military assault across Europe and threatening the first dictatorship of the proletariat.
Presidential candidate Biden has already promised a significant increase in military spending, and President Trump has increased military spending during his term, despite his criticisms of the self-interest of the military industrial complex. Both candidates are clearly behind continued U.$. militarism to wage war against the oppressed peoples of the world. Neither candidate has indicated a rapacious military campaign to conquer and occupy other nations. Between the two options offered by the U.$. imperialists, we do not yet see the principal characteristic that led the communists of the COMINTERN to see fascism as a greater evil than imperialism.
Those who are crying “fascism” in the U.$. today are arguing that state repression internal to the United $tates is ramping up. So let’s look at what MC5 called the “less important” distinguishing characteristic of fascism.
The Democratic Struggle Against Fascism in the Third World
“The imperialists export fascism to many Third World countries via puppet governments. And imperialist countries can turn to fascism themselves. But it is important to note that there is no third choice for independent fascism in the world: they are either imperialist or imperialist-puppets. Germany, Spain, Italy and Japan had all reached the banking stage of capitalism and had a real basis for thinking they could take over colonies from the British and French. … The vast majority of the world’s fascist-ruled countries have been U.$. puppets.” – MIM Congress, “Osama Bin Laden and the Concept of ‘Theocratic Fascism’”, 2004
Strategy varies from place to place. An example of this from the past is when the Filipinos waged a campaign against the GATT trade agreement. In the Philippines this was a righteous campaign against imperialist control over their economy. However, in the United $tates the campaign against GATT was one focused on protecting Amerikan jobs, which implies fortifying imperialist borders against labor from other countries. So you can see how the same campaign can have very different impacts in different contexts. It is our responsibility to understand our own context and organize accordingly.
In a previous article on this same topic, we mentioned the anti-imperialist rhetoric of the newly elected President Duterte in the Philippines. After Duterte’s anti-United $tates rhetoric fizzled, the National Democratic Front in the Philippines have begun campaigning against the “fascist US-Duterte regime.” This framing is important. The fascism is coming from the United $tates and being implemented by the puppet Duterte. This allows for their propaganda to be consumed within the United $tates without fueling U.$. militarism for an invasion of the Philippines to rescue them from fascism.
This is in sharp contrast to the rhetoric around “islamo-fascism” in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This framing was of course propagated by the Pentagon, but also by many calling themselves “communists.” It fueled anti-Muslim sentiments in support of U.$. militarism in Central Asia.
The framing of fascism in the form of puppet regimes is useful for the national democratic movements in the Third World to unite all who can be united. But these puppet regimes do not signify a shift in the global balance of power that warrant a strategic re-orientation like the rise of fascism within an imperialist country would.
Don’t Vote, Build Bases of Power
Another important point to note is that there is an active People’s War in the Philippines. The National Democratic Front is led by the communist party. The united front to get Trump out of office is led by the Democratic Party, in other words, the imperialists. The imperialists are not facing the threat of a communist revolution in the United $tates like they are in the Philippines that would warrant a shift to outright bourgeois dictatorship.
The imperialists responded to the 9/11 attacks with a series of changes in law, such as the Patriot Act, which legalized some of the things Trump has been doing domestically. Initially, MIM was part of the movement to oppose the Patriot Act. However, they decided to leave that movement when it was clear it was dominated by libertarians. Other “communists” tailed this movement with calls to “Drive out the Bush regime” often referring to Bush as a fascist. These same “communists” who were effectively campaigning for Obama’s election by offering no other alternative to Bush, because they have no power, are now openly endorsing Biden.
When the Soviet Union allied with the United $tates, and the Filipino communists ally with the bourgeois forces, they do not put down their guns, or give up their goals of building socialism. To be real players in the anti-fascist struggle, we must first build power like the Soviet Union did and the Filipinos are doing. Stalin did bite his tongue about U.$. imperialism to defeat German fascism. To bite our tongue today about Joe Biden’s militarism and targeting of oppressed nations with mass incarceration is to abandon the oppressed nations of the world.
It is good to see those in the imperialist state defending bourgeois democracy. That is their role. Our role is to build public opinion against imperialism and build independent institutions of the oppressed. As Trump attempts to frame Biden/Harris as the radical left, it is important to demonstrate real revolutionary politics in this country. And the target of the revolution is imperialism. Imperialism must be overthrown before we can really begin the task of building a society without oppression. To put this goal to the side to focus on getting Trump out of office, especially at a time when more and more people are looking for systemic change, is to stop representing the international proletariat. In this era in the United $tates, anti-imperialism is the radical position, while anti-fascism and anti-racism are the reformist positions.
Notes: 1. order MIM Theory 5: Diet for a Small Red Planet ($5) for an in-depth look at the relationship between line, strategy and tactics 2. order our Fascism and Contemporary Economics ($3) for a deeper look at the history and economic of fascism
by MIM(Prisons) August 2020 permalink A Critique of Maoist Reason J. Moufawad-Paul Foreign Languages Press 2020
A Critique of Maoist Reason serves as a follow up to Continuity and Rupture, as a way to both sum up the different trends in Maoist thought within occupied Turtle Island and to respond to the critiques of the earlier book. As the latest book gives a more proper address to MIM Thought, we thought it important to read and respond.
Again on Maoism-Third Worldism
In a recent interview, JMP flippantly rejects our complaint that MIM Thought was referred to as “Maoist Third Worldism” in Continuity and Rupture. To reiterate from our last review, this is an ahistoric application of the term. As we said in one of our founding documents, Maoism Around Us, we opposed the term for two reasons. The first is fundamental to the arguments made in Continuity and Rupture as to the path of development of revolutionary science. We argued that there could be no new stage without new practice that supersedes the past. MIM has never suggested such a thing, and the term was coined after the original MIM dissolved.
The second reason, that recent works by JMP and the online journal Struggle Sessions seem to take advantage of, is that by calling our line something other than Marxism-Leninism-Maoism you can otherize it and make it seem more fringe. This new book from JMP serves to place the RIM strain of “Maoism” as the most legit one, and paints MIM as a “shadow Maoism.”
A Falsifiable Thesis
Other than making some of the common arguments made against MIM’s thesis on the labor aristocracy, JMP’s philosophical argument against our line is that it is not falsifiable. This appears to be a tautological argument based in some of the lines shared by JMP and Struggle Sessions. Yet, it would be easy to falsify our thesis by organizing petty bourgeois First Worlders (who they call proletariat) to overthrow imperialism; the very thing such projects claim to be working towards. We’ll gladly follow the leadership of anyone who does this.
“What ultimately disqualifies MTW [Maoism-Third Worldism] from correctly representing Maoist reason is that it has no logical basis upon which to develop its theoretical insights. If there is no proletariat in the imperialist metropoles, and thus no proletarian movement, the first world third worldist cannot make a correct assessment of anything since it cannot practice the mass line. With no revolutionary masses in which to embed a revolutionary movement (because these revolutionary masses are elsewhere) how can it test its ideas, struggle with the masses, and thus develop theory through practice? Considering that MTW disagrees with the assessments of the most significant third world Maoist movements regarding the first world proletariat, it is not as if it is learning from the revolutionary masses it claims to valorize, either. Thus, even if MTW is correct it has no way of knowing it is correct, or developing a theory regarding its correctness, since it has no means of testing these ideas in practice. That is, MTW is not falsifiable and thus not scientific. And if it is not scientific then it is disqualified from Maoist reason.”(p.91)
JMP is saying that since MIM(Prisons) asserts that the First World has no masses to do mass line with, we cannot come to the correct position to guide communist practice.
Our claims however, are far from this. Our claim is that the masses here are a minority force: they are oppressed nation, they are migrants, they are prisoners, etc. We have been saying this for many years, yet JMP ignores this line and claims that we do not believe that anyone is oppressed in the First World. We don’t claim that there is no masses here, we claim that the constantly dying imperialist system needs to fall in order for proletarianization of the labor aristocracy to happen.
To support our claims we look at history, not just abstract economic models as JMP implies. It’s been over a hundred years since the first successful revolution leading to a dictatorship of the proletariat. Of all the efforts since then, that reached different levels of success, how many occurred in an imperialist country where most people own homes that value 6 digits in U.$. dollars, automobiles, have access to any food from around the world, not to mention unlimited clean water and practically uninterrupted electricity? Zero. So let’s flip the challenge on our comrades who believe that there is a majority proletariat in the First World and ask them to falsify our thesis by waging a revolution from within these countries. Because from where we’re standing, the historical evidence seems to be on our side so far.
Second, as the prison ministry (the most public cell representing MIM line at this time), we can say that developing mass line is central to what we do. A typical MIM(Prisons) cadre will interact with 100s of imprisoned lumpen a month. And we synthesize the best ideas through our newsletter and other work, providing ideological leadership for a prison movement that is true to anti-imperialism and the international proletariat. Our practice quickly dispenses with the premise that we cannot develop mass line in the United $tates.
Assuming that our critics cannot achieve a successful First World proletarian revolution, the question then becomes how will socialism come to countries like the United $tates? How will proletarianization of the labor aristocracy happen? Our movement has offered some theories on how that might transpire. And the future will either validate or falsify those theories. If there is a significant delinking of the exploited countries from the imperialist system before any revolutions happen in the core countries, then we must conclude that their thesis has been falsified. If revolutions in the core countries requires military support from the existing socialist countries to install a dictatorship of the proletariat in those core countries, then certainly we will have falsified their thesis.
These are some examples of how our line will either be validated or falsified in the future. It is a dogmatic position to put some universal model for how revolution must occur onto all countries.
It is circular logic to say that there must be a majority proletariat for revolutionary science to be applied, and revolutionary science is universal, therefore there must be a majority proletariat everywhere. It’s hard to see how JMP’s point can stand without this circular logic.
Drawing Class Lines
Unlike the other strands of “Maoism” criticized in the book, JMP is careful to recognize that MIM made real theoretical contributions and goes so far to say that it would be revisionism to deny that imperialism transfers wealth from some nations to others.
The question here is how do we draw lines between friends and enemies? Relatedly, we might ask when does quantitative change in the distribution of surplus value result in a qualitative change in class?
Mathematically, the switch from an exploited group to a net exploiter group is a qualitative change. However, the labor aristocracy is not generally defined as being net exploiters per se. And the workers are not conscious of when this theoretical point has been reached (as evidenced by JMP’s statement that workers in the United $tates are conscious of the belief that they are exploited, when in reality they are not). As we have argued elsewhere, while there are workers who are paid more than the value of their labor power in any country, it is a very different phenomenon in the Third World than in the First. And this is because class is colored by nation under imperialism. We see nation as the principal contradiction, representing the identity that is imperialism. So we find arguments against our global class analysis that do not address the national question to be lacking.
Let’s be clear, MIM’s third cardinal principle (MIM has long used 3 cardinal principles to distinguish its line from others calling themselves “communists”) is that “imperialism extracts super-profits from the Third World and in part uses this wealth to buy off whole populations of oppressor nation so-called workers. These so-called workers bought off by imperialism form a new petty-bourgeoisie called the labor aristocracy. These classes are not the principal vehicles to advance Maoism within those countries because their standard of living depend on imperialism.”
It is within imperialism that we find the qualitative difference that this labor aristocracy has with workers outside the imperialist core countries. It is not because First World people fought harder for higher wages, or First World companies are more democratic and offer higher wages, it’s not because white people are evil; it is the system of imperialism that puts some nations in a position of receiving surplus value and others of losing. Those who gain tend to support the system and those who lose tend to oppose it.
As an aside, settler-colonialism is one form of this, which defines occupied Turtle Island. While we welcome the surge in interest in dismantling settler-colonialism, we must recognize it as one form of imperialism. We find many who want to “de-colonize” without recognizing the global class structure for what it is. We also have those like JMP who acknowledge the economic structure of imperialism, but for some reason don’t think it changes who are our friends and who are our enemies.
While the academic economic models of Marxism may not inform the class consciousness of the labor aristocracy, relative deprivation does. And there is nothing that symbolizes that divide in relative wealth more than the imperialist country borders. Closing core country borders happens to be an issue that has garnered much support from the labor aristocracies of the United $tates and United Kingdom, as well as in France and Germany in recent years. Do Brexit and “Build the Wall” not symbolize enemy ideologies? Are the labor aristocracies of these countries wrong that open borders would prevent them from hoarding wealth in those countries? How does JMP reconcile this political reality with his dogmatic thesis of a revolutionary proletariat in the First World?
JMP asks, “is it implicitly”first worldist" to argue that there is a proletariat at the centres of capitalism and go out to organize, for example, miners around a communist ideology that is also anti-imperialist?"
Organizing miners in the First World against imperialism sounds great. But if you are arguing that they are the exploited proletariat who deserve more money, when they are actually benefiting from imperialist exploitation of the Third World, then you are not organizing against imperialism, are you? It just doesn’t follow that JMP sees the transfer of value in favor of a group from a system and then argues that that group is going to be opposed to that system. The question here isn’t primarily about who to organize, though certainly focusing on the right groups will get us further faster, but rather what to organize around that will push anti-imperialism forward. Perhaps the miners are allied with anti-imperialism for reasons external to income and raw value transfer, such as carbon emissions. To organize them around a radical transformation of our energy system being led by the international proletariat could be a form united front work, but not organizing the proletariat itself.
A Global Anti-Imperialist United Front
One thing we learn from this book is some of the differences between JMP and those who use the term “principally Maoism,” specifically the blog Struggle Sessions. Obviously one should read the latter’s writings to get their real views. However, one difference addressed is that the former sees the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) as the historical event that solidified Maoism, while the latter sees the Peruvian Communist Party as having done so alone and the RIM as a rightest deviation.
Our counter-history of Maoism was presented in our last response to JMP, where we get into the RIM in more depth and our arguments against the practice of forming a Communist International. While Struggle Sessions has some significant agreement with our critiques of the RIM and its role, they actively promote the formation of a new International, as does JMP. In this latest book, JMP concedes that the RCP=U$A sought to and to an extent did control the RIM. To be clear, we did not argue that other parties in the RIM did not have any independence or basis outside of the RIM, we specifically said not all members were revisionists. But those calling for U.$. intervention in Iran certainly were, and such a position should not be up for debate or tolerated among communists.
On page 86, JMP implies that MIM blames the RIM for the failure of the People’s War in Peru. That is not a position that we recall from MIM’s work at the time. Certainly they harshly criticized the RIM for its role in endangering the People’s War after the capture of Gonzalo. This was perhaps one of the most horrific actions in the RCP’s long history of anti-proletarian work, but JMP has nothing to say about it.
Our general complaint with the International model is that it tends to subsume one party under another. Mao fleshed out the theory and practice around the united front within China and learned through hard experience in relating to the Soviet Union, principles that we take to be universal, including the need for the leaders of each liberation movement to interpret their own conditions. To the extent that RIM was a think tank that allowed communists from around the world to come together and agree to the basic principles that defined the latest stage of revolutionary science, we would support such a project. MIM participated in such forums in its original form.
It was in the work of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that we saw the theory of the united front from Mao summed up and reproven in practice in their rectification campaign. This struggle waged in 1992 stressed the importance of the independence and leadership role of the proletarian party in the national liberation struggle. The decision of the CPP to not join the RIM reflects the recognition of the need for independence of each national struggle. This is a line point where we agree with the CPP against others in the international communist movement (ICM) who did join.
At the same time, MIM harshly criticized CPP complacency in pushing a revisionist class analysis within the United $tates. JMP argues that the global class analysis of MIM is rejected by all Third World communists of significance and this is evidence against our position. Yet, we have yet to see any analysis from any of these parties substantiating claims against MIM line; amounting to an argument from authority.
Because the Third World communist parties rightfully have more cred, many will presume they are right about this and follow their lead when they call for uniting the “working class” in North America and denying the national liberation struggles of the internal semi-colonies. The open and conscious rejection of MIP-Amerika’s analysis of its own country by certain Third World leaders, followed by their promotion of the integrationist line, was behind MIM’s decision to say that the global class analysis must be a dividing line question within the Maoist movement globally.
Without a communist international, comrades in the United $tates are free to combat incorrect lines being promoted from other countries and prove our line in practice. Despite whatever great accomplishments certain members of the RIM may have had, we think joining an international was a mistake, proven in practice once again, with the RCP=U$A-run CoRIM promoting revisionism at a crucial point in the history of People’s War in Peru.
MIM Thought also provides insights here beyond the general point of the need for independent development on the national level. An application of MIM Thought to parties in the Third World is that there’s more enemies than friends in the imperialist countries, and people from those countries should be treated as potential spies. PCP practice in expelling Non-Governmental Organizations from territories they controlled was in line with this.
Going back to the theoretical miner example above, we apply the theory of united front to unite all who can be united. And we can frame the global anti-imperialist united front within our global class analysis. We can look to the internal semi-colonies and the Third World diaspora as the most likely allies in the First World, without calling them proletariat. And we can win over sectors of the oppressor nation as well, just as in everything, 1 divides into 2. So we disagree with the implied criticism of our line that there is no real proletariat in the First World to mean there is no organizing against imperialism that can be done here. Certainly staying on the correct path will require an active eye on the Third World proletariat, which our movement has always stressed.
MIM(Prisons) continues to develop the mass line here in the belly of the beast. We continue to promote organizing against imperialism in a principled way that puts the interests of the exploited and oppressed at the forefront. And we challenge JMP, the supporters of eir line, Struggle Sessions or anyone else who thinks they can apply Maoism to occupied Turtle Island while ignoring that the vast majority of people here have a material interest in imperialism, to prove us wrong. Please, just don’t awaken the fascists in your attempt to do so, with your cries about the exploited Amerikan.
A California prisoner asks: “What are MIM’s thoughts on”Antifa" and what and who are Antifa? Any information you can provide will be helpful, thank you."
MIM(Prisons) responds: Antifa stands for anti-fascist, and it derives from movements in Europe that have a deeper history that we won’t attempt to address here. It’s primary symbol is a black flag and a red flag, symbolizing the unity of anarchists and communists of all stripes in unity against the fascists. “Antifa” is a generic term in the United $tates. There is no central organization, only local collectives. Anti-Racist Action is probably the most active formal group that is akin to Antifa in the United $tates.
The Antifa strategy is one of confronting various stripes of racists, white supremacists, fascists, etc. in the streets and in their communities. When such organizations make a public stand, especially when they organize marches, Antifa will try to make sure there are more counter-demonstrators and will attempt to shut down their actions. The long-time Antifa activists often focus on researching these groups, tracking down their members, doxing them and exposing them.
MIM has never been involved in this type of organizing. Strategically we think it focuses on a fringe element rather than the real enemy – imperialism. Imperialism is murdering people in the streets, locking them away and torturing them, bombing countries, starving whole populations and polluting the world. Fighting nazis in the street does not contribute to ending imperialism at this time. Nor does campaigning against Trump.
That said, if fascism gains traction in this country, then we need to assess when to shift our strategy away from imperialism as the primary enemy and towards the fascists. At that time we will certainly be allying with and relying on some of the knowledge of those that have been following these groups closely for years.
Why is Antifa in the News?
So why is this comrade asking us about Antifa now? Probably because President Trump threatened to declare it a terrorist organization, among other rants against them over the years. So why is Trump talking about Antifa? As the self-proclaimed enemies of all things racist and fascist, the various elements of the alt-right/dissident right/third positionists and racists in online forums have accepted Antifa as their enemy (more on these groups below). Donald Trump rose to popularity in part by following the media outlets associated with these movements and echoing their talking points, one of which is the danger and threat that Antifa poses. Many of these groups use videos of street fights and confrontations between their members and Antifa as recruitment material. (Antifa as such has little to do with the recent uprisings in the United $tates against police murders, though certainly many who work in Antifa groups participated in the protests as well. Trump’s statement falsely implied that Antifa was behind these uprisings.)
The President of the United $tates stated that Antifa is terrorism. In other words, he said opposing fascism should be illegal in the United $tates. Quite a bold statement. One that thankfully received strong rebuke from the majority of the state apparatus at the time. In response to that statement by Trump, MIM(Prisons) joined the calls in the streets that “we are all Antifa.”
Is Fascism on the Rise Due to Crisis?
Since the 2016 presidential campaign we have published a series of articles addressing the question of whether fascism is here, or on its way. An article we published in November 2016, arguing that the crisis that would trigger fascism just wasn’t there yet, ended with, “That being said, based on Trump’s statements and actions, if Amerikan capitalism was truly threatened by the oppressed internal nations, Trump’s open chauvinism would easily transition to far heavier fascist tendencies.”(1) Now in 2020 we had the broadest display of street actions, largely by oppressed nations, seen in most of our lifetimes, if ever in this country. And we have a downward trend in the economy due to declining rates of profit and exacerbated by a global pandemic. So we are in a crisis, and as the threat to Amerikan capitalism becomes more and more real, so does the threat of fascism.
Theoretically, fascism is always on its way in the advanced stages of imperialism. This is because of the inherent contradictions within capitalism that make it harder and harder to extract a profit from the circulation of capital. Without profit, the economy stops under capitalism. That is why the COVID-19 shut downs have been so disastrous. Under socialism, we could cut back production and shelter in place without threatening the future of the economy.
Denying this reality, one of the ideological leaders of the alt-right called on the Trump administration to just shut down the economy for a period and restart again like a long weekend. But capital must circulate, when it does not things begin to collapse like a house of cards. The amount of value being circulated in the realm of finance capital just got a shot of another few trillion dollars by the COVID-19 stimulus bills. This money was created by the Fed from thin air. Most countries would face a decrease in currency value and increase in consumer prices if they did this. The U.$. is depending more and more on international finance capital to come into the country to prop up the dollar and Amerikan consumerism. But if there is no profit to be had, that finance capital stops coming. The reason this hasn’t happened already is that the bourgeoisie is aware that a slowdown in finance capital circulation will lead to a collapse of the system like a house of cards. This is when the all out war option of the fascists becomes the only option.
Parasitism Begets Fascism
Another alt-right ideologue, has recently put out a video denying that fascism is capitalism in decay. Eir thesis is that if there was a crisis in profitability of capital that the system would have to go back to some kind of feudal system and greatly reduce production to restore profits. Since fascism in Germany increased worker incomes and overall production, ey argues this proves fascism was not a response to crisis. This logic sort of makes sense from the revisionist “Marxist” perspective that anyone employed is exploited and that profits don’t cross borders.
The MIM answer to why the capitalism in decay thesis is correct is in parasitism theory. Really, few would deny that Germany’s economic flourishing came from the literal and brutal robbery of land, resources and labor (through enslavement) of other peoples. But similar things occur in all imperialist countries, even if just a bit more “civilized.” We point this out to show how revisionism calling itself Marxism plays itself nicely into the ideas of fascism. And it is through the appeals to a populist class interest of the labor aristocracy that the fascists, social democrats and revisionist “Marxists” all bolster support for imperialism, despite their rhetoric against war or whatever.
Another thing all of these forces have in common is labeling things based on their form rather than their substance. Whether it’s the “Marxists” who see Xi Jinping as leading a socialist country or the fascists saying that Mussolini was opposed to the bourgeoisie, they are putting ideas, words and symbols above substance. They say, “see the leader said this, therefore ey couldn’t support that.” The capitalists, as a class, do not care about the words as long as the economic substructure is still functioning to produce profits. Mussolini (and the King) ensured that it did as does Xi Jinping today. This is the same reason why today every multi-national corporation is tripping over each other to put out statements on and make donations to Black Lives Matter. Yes, there are ideologues within the bourgeoisie, but the class as a whole, in order to continue on as a bourgeoisie, must ensure that profits keep flowing. And if stamping Black Lives Matter all over their website and social media feeds can assist with that, then call Jeff Bezos anti-racist.
Oppose Left and Right White Nationalism
The alt-right is actively extending olive branches to the left wing of white nationalism, specifically those they refer to as “Bernie Bros.” Some in the alt-right claim to have 90% agreement with such social democratic types, specifically in their critiques of capitalism and calls for populist economic reforms and a state that can deal with a global pandemic. Our saving grace right now in the United $tates is in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, as well as the struggles against ICE detention which has also rallied significant support in recent years. The outpouring of support for BLM has been surprisingly strong. Even if the multinationals are just motivated by profits, this is like nothing we’ve seen in our lifetime. Clearly they have recognized where the winds are blowing, and it is not towards the racism of the alt-right.
The fascists argue that they are an alternative to the neoliberal bourgeois order and the Marxist communist order – hence “third positionists.” But Dimitrov critiqued this misconception for the COMINTERN during World War II, stating that “Fascism is the power of finance capital itself.” The fascists argue that finance capital did not and does not support fascism in its rise to power. MIM added to Dimitrov’s thesis in 2005: “It is only the finance-capital dominated petri dish where fascism grows. Today, the labor aristocracy of ONLY the imperialist countries is the”main force" of fascism…“(2) So again, all the groups we mention above, whether”left" or “right” are organizing this class and activating them towards fascism by telling them they are the oppressed and they deserve more.
More on Class and Economic Systems
MIM and the COMINTERN agree on the dialectical nature of class struggle under capitalism as it relates to the phenomenon of fascism – that is that capitalism is identified in the contradiction and interdependence of two economic classes: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. In this view, there are two paths, or two economic systems: capitalism (of the bourgeoisie) or socialism (of the proletariat). Other classes exist and have their own interests. But they will not shape history in their image. Our world today is shaped in the image of the bourgeoisie, and Marx explained why the future lies in the hands of the proletariat, those who have nothing to lose but their chains.
The petty bourgeoisie (including the First World labor aristocracy) doesn’t have an image for the world. Their ideology is that of the bourgeoisie, steeped in individualism. And because of their varying lots in life, their interests are varied, made up of little groups just trying to make capitalism work for them. They can be united in the nation-building project that involves their nation being on top. But even this will not elicit much sacrifice from this class as a whole unless conditions are quite dire.
When we talk about the labor aristocracy of the imperialist countries being the “main force” of fascism, we still agree with Dimitrov that fascism is the power of finance capital. It is finance capital that gives these tendencies real power. This truth can be seen when you investigate the organizations in the fascist realm. The most successful efforts to unite these petty bourgeois forces and use them towards real political goals are led and funded by millionaires, with access to advanced military weaponry and international connections to intelligence agencies. While there are many small, organic groups that are in this realm, the ones that pose a real threat really aren’t so organic.
Our comrades in prison can understand this dynamic, where it is quite common for white nationalist organizations to have “special” relationships with the pigs, to the point of helping to enforce for the state. Some of our comrades who have served in the military have also seen direct coordination between the military and local white nationalist organizations around perceived threats of oppressed nation rebellions. It’s the same in prison.
From the proletariat comes the true guerilla, who starts from nothing, and gains their tools and supplies by taking from the enemy oppressor. The guerilla does not start out with high-end military equipment, the guerilla earns it. And even before we get to the military phase, the true mass character of the communist camp is evident. Even in the bought off imperialist core, you can see genuine organizers popping up in all areas, fighting for similar goals, from a real organic desire for change and humyn progress. In the United $tates this is fed by the oppressed nations and by the youth and by all justice-seeking people.
The proletariat of the world must distinguish itself from the parasitic populism of the First World labor aristocracy. Antifa has not done this. Antifa is open to militant Liberals because they tend to see this as a battle over ideas in peoples’ heads and don’t have an honest class analysis of what is going on.
The alternative that MIM offers is that those of us in the imperialist countries are criminals that must reform our ways. That the rest of the world wants us to reform our ways and welcomes us in joining in building a new world based on internationalism, humynism and solidarity. The oppressed people of the world must guide us towards true internationalism and not make excuses for the backwardness of the bought-off populations. Amerikans still haven’t made right the crimes they committed against the internal semi-colonies of this land. That is being discussed in the mainstream today. But we still aren’t discussing making things right with the majority of the world that we have exploited, polluted and murdered for the comfortable lives we live here. This is what we see as pro-active anti-fascism. And it’s not about taking on some guilty complex for your ancestors, it’s about saying that you will not pass the exploitation on to your descendants. And this must be part of the current struggles of the oppressed nations here today, or else we will just end up with more exploiters with more diverse skin tones.
The film 13th was released on Netflix in October 2016, just prior to the U.S. presidential election. It is clearly an anti-Trump film, although it is not clearly pro-anyone else. In April 2020, Netflix released the film for free on YouTube. It has been abuzz lately as a “must watch” film in the wake of the George Floyd uprisings.
The title 13th gives the impression that the film will focus on the 13th Amendment, and we assumed it would push the narrative that modern-day prison expansion is motivated by profiting from prisoner labor. We also thought it would be a film pushing people to focus on reforming the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Longtime readers of Under Lock & Key have likely already seen pieces debunking the line that the prison boom was motivated by exploiting prisoner labor. With our expectations from the title, we were pleasantly surprised by the film.
The film first focuses on the 13th Amendment, and explains the South needed labor after slavery was abolished. Where once there were slaves, there were then prisoner laborers. The exception in the 13th Amendment which allowed slavery for people convicted of a crime was primarily economically-motivated. From there, the film tracks prison expansion, which really took off after the exploitation of former slaves had ended, in response to social movements.
How the title relates to the theme of the film may be in that the 13th Amendment satisfied a dominant need of the time – white Amerika’s economic need for Black labor – and white Amerika has been adapting to meet its needs at the expense of New Afrikans ever since. 13th spans almost two centuries of U.$. history, and draws attention to many ways Amerika has adapted to meet its needs, whether they were economic needs or social needs.
13th does touch on the topic of prisoner labor for profit for private corporations, but doesn’t overly focus on it. Is prisoner labor for private profit a bad thing? Yes. Being that fewer than one percent of prisoners are engaged in productive labor for private profit, should we focus on it with all our energy, as if it is the main push for prison expansion?(1) MIM(Prisons) would answer this in the negative.
There are some economic motivations for prison expansion in recent-decades, but not for exploiting prisoner labor. 13th spends quite some time exposing the lobbying group American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) role in prison expansion, as well as its present role in pushing for “community supervision” (read: ankle and wrist bracelet GPS trackers, and privatized probation and parole).(2) The economic interest in prison expansion is in job security for Amerikans, and state funding funneling into private corporations for services. There is a socio-economic benefit to Amerika in draining the oppressed internal semi-colonies of time and resources through expensive phone calls, long drives to visit families, and other exorbitant and arbitrary fees and expenses.
In the end, the audience is left with a call to remain vigilant to what’s coming next. It leaves the focus on ALEC and corporate influence in legislation. A take-away of 13th is that nothing has worked to get the white oppressors’ boot (or knee) off of New Afrika’s neck. Amerikkka just changes tactics, but the effect is the same.
That’s what we’re seeing today with the recent Black Lives Matter movement upsurge. We don’t need a less-funded Amerikan police force. We need New Afrikans to have their own police, and military, AND state to do as they please without having to cooperate with this clearly sociopathic Amerikan nation. On the whole, 13th affirms our view that prisons are primarily a tool of social control, and we will answer the film’s call to remain vigilant so Amerika can’t continue oppressing New Afrika any longer.
I am enclosing a memo distributed to the captive population in response to the uprisings by the Americans’ oppressed New Afrikan population. It is claimed that their actions are not punitive, but of course that is clearly not the case. There is evident fear of the latent power of their oppressed nationalities confined within their prisons, as can be noted at the end of the first paragraph.
“As you are aware our Nation is facing difficult times as emotions run high and peaceful protests have turned into violently charged demonstrations. In an effort to maintain the safety and security of the institution, a lock down has been initiated. This lock down is not punitive. … However, we are committed to preventing any type of disruption from occurring, and I strongly emphasize any type of violent behavior will never be accepted or tolerated at this facility.”
MIM(Prisons) adds: This action by the federal government reveals the level of fear that they have right now of the oppressed nations and the youth in general in this country. Prison officials display the same hypocrisy as the police on the streets who have responded to peaceful demonstrations again and again with violence against people for exhibiting their First Amendment rights. Young people are coming home from protests permanently disabled. While thousands are being locked up.
As statistics on police murders and violence are gaining interest, we must ask what about the “peace officers” behind bars? How many have they killed? How many Black men are dying at the hands of the state where cell phone cameras are illegal? Where peaceful protests always face repression and there’s no videos to post online?