Pennsylvania DOC has a new mail policy requiring all prisoner mail be sent to Florida, care of Smart Communications (SmartCom).(1) This company scans in all mail and forwards it to PADOC to be printed and delivered on site. No original mail will actually reach prisoners. Prisoners receiving greeting cards or photos are being given shrunk, black and white copies.
Some prisoners in Pennsylvania are circulating a request for legal help to fight this new practice. They list multiple concerns. These changes will dramatically impact the mail PA prisoners can receive including almost certainly denying them access to political books and magazines. SmartCom will keep scanned mail in a searchable database. This will likely be used to profile people who send mail to PA prisoners. Under the pretense of security concerns, this new policy is also about political control.
Prisons are allowed to restrict prisoners' First Amendment rights to free speech, but it is "only valid if it is reasonably related to ligitimate penological interests." (Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)) In this situation, PADOC is citing incidents of "multiple staff members being sickened by unknown substances over the past few weeks." In September 2018, it says there were eight staff emergency room trips for drug exposure.(2) It is focusing on mail restrictions because "[i]t's speculated that the majority of contraband enters the facilities through the mail."
PADOC is building a lot of hype on its website about how drugs come in thru the mail and with visitors. Yet in its photographic report, "Examples of Drug Introduction into Facilities," not one example is given of staff bringing drugs in.(3) Anyone familiar with prison culture knows that prison staff are a likely source for smuggling. It's lucrative and relatively easy. PADOC's presentation of the situation is skewed. And according to its FAQ on the new procedures for how it's going to handle this alleged poisoning problem, no additional screening or testing for staff seems to be on the radar.
The new mail procedures imply that subscriptions for magazines and periodicals will continue direct to the prison: "For now, you will continue to receive issues of current subscriptions. If any issue is compromised, it will be confiscated and destroyed. No future subscription orders may be purchased except through the kiosk." The memo given to prisoners made it clear that all future subscriptions must be purchased through PADOC. PADOC will purchase subscriptions in bulk and have magazines shipped in bulk to the facility to deliver to prisoners. The DOC will set the cost and select the vendors.
As a part of this change, PA is banning anyone from sending any books in to prisoners.(4) "Inmates can make a request to purchase any book. The DOC will provide the inmate with the cost of the book. Once the inmate submits a cash slip for the book, the DOC will order the book and have it shipped to the inmate." No independent orders are allowed: "All publications must be purchased through DOC." Books sent any other way will be returned to sender. While outside folks can deposit money in prisoners' accounts so that they can purchase approved books from approved vendors, they will now have to pay 20% more than the cost of the book because that is deducted from incoming money to many prisoners' accounts as costs or restitution.
This is a ridiculous policy change, under the pretense of security. While an argument is being made that preventing all physical mail from entering facilities will cut down contraband, it is an unnecessary obstruction to First Amendment rights of prisoners. The impact on prisoners, whose contact with the outside world is mainly through the mail, will be dramatic. Mail delays will likely increase, but more importantly, many will no longer have access to education. Cutting off books and magazines, limiting people to only content that is pre-approved by the prison, means that organizations like MIM(Prisons) will no longer be able to send literature to prisoners in PA.
This new policy is only serving to impose greater control and isolation on prisoners in PA. The results of cutting prisoners off from outside contact, and denying them educational materials, will just increase the already high recidivism and likely fuel more conflict behind the bars. This is what the prison wants: keeping prisoners fighting one another rather than educating themselves, building ties to the community, and building opposition to the criminal injustice system.
While we frequently discuss gender oppression in the pages of Under Lock & Key, most readers will notice a primary focus on national oppression. This is intentional, as we see the resolution of the national contradiction as the most successful path to ending all oppression at this stage. But for any of our readers who like our focus on nationalism, and have not taken the time to read MIM Theory 2/3: Gender and Revolutionary Feminism, i recommend you take a look. It is in MT2/3 that MIM really dissected the difference between class, nation and gender and justified its focus on nation. Don't just focus on nation because it's more important to you subjectively, understand why it is the top priority by reading MT 2/3.
All USW comrades should be working their way to the level 2 introductory study program offered by MIM(Prisons). We start level 1 studying the basics of scientific thinking. In level 2, we move on to study Fundamental Political Line of the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons, which gives a good overview of the 3 strands of oppression: class, nation and gender, and how they interact. This issue of Under Lock & Key is intended to supplement that theoretical material with some application to prison organizing and contemporary current events. (Let us know if you want to sign up for the study group.)
Academic Individualism vs. Revolutionary Science
Bourgeois individualism looks at race, class and gender as identities, which are seen as natural categories that exist within each individual. While proponents of identity politics generally recognize these concepts have evolved over time, they generally do not explain how or why. Dialectical materialists understand nation, class and gender as dualities that evolved as humyn society developed. Under capitalism, the class structure is defined by bourgeoisie exploiting proletarians. Class looked different under feudalism or primitive communist societies. One of the things Marx spent a lot of time doing is explaining how and why class evolved the way it did. Engels also gave us an analysis of the evolution of gender in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.
One self-described "Marxist-Feminist critique of Intersectionality Theory" points out that "theories of an 'interlocking matrix of oppressions,' simply create a list of naturalized identities, abstracted from their material and historical context."(1) They do not provide a framework for understanding how to overthrow the systems that are imposing oppression on people, because they do not explain their causes. This "Marxist" critic, however, falls into the class reductionist camp that believes all oppression is rooted in class.
The MIM line is not class reductionist, rather we reduce oppression to three main strands: nation, gender and class. This is still too limited for the identity politics crowd. But when we dive into other types of oppression that might be separate from nation, class and gender, we find that they always come back to one of those categories. And this clarity on the main strands of oppression allows us to develop a path to success, by building on the historical experience of others who have paved the way for our model.
While MIM is often associated with the class analysis of the First World labor aristocracy, this was nothing really new. What MIM did that still sets it apart from others, that we know of, is develop the first revolutionary theory on sexual privilege. The class-reductionism of the writer cited above is demonstrated in eir statement, "to be a 'woman' means to produce and reproduce a set of social relations through our labor, or self-activity."(2) MIM said that is class, but there is still something separate called gender. While class is how humyns relate in the production process, gender is how humyns relate in non-productive/leisure time. And while biological reproductive ability has historically shaped the divide between oppressor and oppressed in the realm of gender, we put the material basis today in health status.(3) This understanding is what allows us to see that things like age, disability, sexual preference and trans/cis gender status all fall in the gender strand of oppression.
Using "Feminism" to Bomb Nations
Militarism and imperialist invasion are antithetical to feminism. Yet the imperialists successfully use propaganda that they wrap in pseudo-feminism to promote the invasion of Third World countries again and again. Sorting out the strands of oppression is key to consistent anti-imperialism.
In MT 2/3, MIM condemned the pseudo-feminists by saying that "supporting women who go to the courts with rape charges is white supremacy."(4) A recent Human Rights Watch report discussing alleged widespread rape in the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK) is getting lots of traction in the Amerikkkan/Briti$h press.(5) This campaign to demonize the DPRK is just like the campaign to imprison New Afrikans, with potentially nuclear consequences. We have two leading imperialist nations who committed genocide against an oppressed nation touting information that is effectively pro-war propaganda for another invasion and mass slaughter of that oppressed nation.
If it is true that rape is as widespread in the DPRK as in the United $tates and Great Britain, then we also must ask what the situation of wimmin would have been in the DPRK today if it were not for the imperialist war and blockade on that country. In the 1950s, Korea was on a very similar path as China. Socialism in China did more for wimmin's liberation than bourgeois feminists ever have. They increased wimmin's participation in government, surpassing the United $tates, rapidly improved infant mortality rates, with Shanghai surpassing the rate of New York, and eliminated the use of wimmin's bodies in advertising and pornography.(6)
An activist who is focused solely on ending rape will not see this. Of course, a healthy dose of white nationalism helps one ignore the mass slaughter of men, wimmin and children in the name of wimmin's liberation. So the strands do interact.
Distracted Senate Hearings
Recently, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh went through a hearing before his appointment to assess accusations of sexual assault from his past. This was a spectacle, with the sexual content making it tantalizing to the public, rather than political content. Yes, the debate is about a lifetime appointment to a very high-powered position, that will affect the path of U.$. law. But there was no question of U.$. law favoring an end to war, oppression or the exploitation of the world's majority. Those who rallied against Kavanaugh were mostly caught up in Democratic Party politics, not actual feminism.
A quarter century ago, MIM was also disgusted by the hearings for Clarence Thomas to be appointed a Supreme Court Justice, that were dominated by questions about his sexual harassment of Anita Hill. Yet, this was an event that became quite divisive within MIM and eventually led to a consolidation of our movement's materialist gender line.(7) It was the intersection of nation with this display of gender oppression that made that case different from the Kavanaugh one, because Thomas and Hill are both New Afrikan. The minority line in this struggle was deemed the "pro-paternialism position."
The minority position was that MIM should stand with Anita Hill because she was the victim/oppressed. The line that won out was that Anita Hill was a petty-bourgeois cis-female in the First World, and was not helpless or at risk of starvation if she did not work for Clarence Thomas. While all MIM members would quickly jump on revisionists and pork-chop nationalists, paternalism led those holding the minority position to accept pseudo-feminism as something communists should stand by, because they pitied the female who faced situations like this.
Similarly today, with the Kavanaugh appointment, we should not let our subjective feelings about his treatment of wimmin confuse us into thinking those rallying against him represent feminism overall.
Bourgeois theories and identity politics
The paternalistic line brings us back to identity politics. A politic that says right and wrong can be determined by one's gender, "race" or other identity. The paternalist line will say things like only wimmin can be raped or New Afrikans can't "racially" oppress other people. In its extreme forms it justifies any action of members of the oppressed group.
Another form of identity politics is overdeterminism. The overdeterministic position is defined in our glossary as, "The idea that social processes are all connected and that all of the aspects of society cause each other, with none as the most important."(8) The overdeterminist will say "all oppressions are important so just work on your own. A parallel in anti-racism is that white people should get in touch with themselves first and work on their own racism."(9) Again this is all working from the framework of bourgeois individualism, which disempowers people from transforming the system.
There is a paralyzing effect of the bourgeois theories that try to persynalize struggles, and frame them in the question of "what's in it for me?" Communists have little concern for self when it comes to political questions. To be a communist is to give oneself to the people, and to struggle for that which will bring about a better future for all people the fastest. While humyn knowledge can never be purely objective, it is by applying the scientific method that we can be most objective and reach our goals the quickest.(10)
Everything is political. While originally developed around a subculture with ideas of "free speech", reddit.com is an Amerikkkan corporation controlling major segments of online traffic and information. It's policy of public anonymity made it a platform that MIM(Prisons) had actively participated on for the last 5 years. We say public anonymity, as over time the site has done more and more to track the identities and patterns of its users privately. But it is unlike Facebook where you must publicly identify yourself in order to participate.
MIM(Prisons) official Reddit account, /u/mimprisons, has been suspended by Reddit for "suspicious activity" and is seemingly unrecoverable. [UPDATE: After some more work on this issue Reddit has since recovered the /u/mimprisons account. We still don't know what the cause was of this temporary suspension. But it has been resolved.] This came one month after the account began actively promoting tactics for secure online organizing in the /r/mao_internationalist subreddit. This comrade will now be posting as /u/mimonline. We will see how long that is allowed.
When we originally set up our official Reddit account it was partially an insurance policy in case we became inaccessible via email, as happened when the FBI shut down our email provider, lavabit.com. While Reddit and Facebook are centralized communication platforms controlled by one entity, email is a federated system with many central email servers inter-operating with each other. However, setting up and maintaining an email server is not easy, so the options are still limited and anonymous email has been challenging at times.
Decentralized systems of communication are the only model that is truly censorship resistant. This is why tools like Tox are important and something our movement is beginning to use and promote more. Tox provides censorship resistance, encryption and verifiable identities. It is also available for all major platforms.
Totalitarianism in the United $tates masquerades as freedom by allowing you to pick your toys in the color of your choice, or even by making statements that are nominally outside the mainstream as long as they reinforce systems of oppression (i.e. pornographic denigration of wimmin). Meanwhile it successfully paints the image of socialist countries as grey, drab and unsexy in contrast. The internet embodies this contradiction, by offering an endless stream of content, with almost all of it controlled by the corporate gatekeepers of Google, Facebook, Reddit, Cloudflare and others.
MIM has always promoted a free internet, whether under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. This can only be ensured with the proper technological infrastructure, which is currently being built by volunteers and fringe organizations. Under socialism these technologies will receive state sponsorship to ensure the integrity of mass communication in the digital age. Currently, the vast majority of the Third World are stuck in closed corporate ecosystems like Facebook and QZone. We have strategic confidence that the vast majority of the world has an interest in building communism, and unfettering their communications will contribute to that project.
Reports from the September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity are starting to come in. Comrades in prisons across the country commemorated the anniversary of the Attica uprising, building the movement and taking a stand against the criminal injustice system.
This day of action was initiated in 2012 by a prisoner-led organization working with the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP). The day is focused on building unity and solidarity. The call for peace between all groups, sets, organizations and individuals, even for just one day, frightens the prison administration. We know they don’t want peace. They benefit when the oppressed fight one another. It keeps the attention off the real enemy: the criminal injustice system. We see this in the report about September 9 organizing from Master K.G. Supreme.
This year's action coincides with the end of the three week country-wide prison strike initiated by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak. The demands of this strike focused on improvement in conditions behind bars and changing laws and unwritten policies of national oppression that perpetuate the criminal injustice system. The organizers of the strike recognize that the battle continues: "Incarcerated organizers never believed that their demands would be met a negotiating table during the past three weeks; it has been a huge success of the 2018 prison strike that the 10 points have been pushed into the national and international consciousness."(1)
The UFPP principle of Peace states: "WE organize to end the needless conflicts and violence within the U.$. prison environment. The oppressors use divide and conquer strategies so that we fight each other instead of them. We will stand together and defend ourselves from oppression." This work doesn’t stop with September 9, we need to work for peace among the oppressed year round. Below are a few initial reports from California. We look forward to more reports from the rest of the country.
California Correctional Institution
For this September 9th Day of Peace and Solidarity, I personally will fast, exercise, read and hold a study group, which will consist of 8 committed and conscious-minded individuals, who hold fast to the philosophy of peace and unity amongst prisoners. This day there will be no strife, conflict nor division amongst the prisoners here. It's not conducive to a healthy environment. Nor will it promote growth and development.
So, the study group's theme will be peace and unity and how we can best promote these themes within these prison confines. I will start it off by giving my interpretation on what peace and unity means to me. And then i will ask the eight comrades what does peace and unity mean to them individually.
And this will start the deep discussion about the continued peace and unity amongst the prisoners here. And at that, we can come together in solidarity to rid ourselves of the internal oppression that exists amongst us. And only then can we conquer and vanquish imperialism in all its forms. This is our object. We'll make this a successful effort by all means necessary.
Salinas Valley State Prison
Abolitionists From Within (AFW) is back on the move here at SVSP quad this Bloody September. This September 9, 2018 we remember the anniversary of Attica of Sept 9, 1971 and them faceless freedom revolutionary fighters who fought and died in these prisons uprising throughout history of our struggle as we continue to fight the oppression, exploitation, abuse and inhumane treatment of prisoners. A lot of rights and privileges comrades have today is because of these soldiers at war with this corrupt system.
Throughout this country, we as New Afrikans must reconstruct our thoughts and come up with ways and ideas to get control over our minds behind enemy lines, and work to educate the lumpen. I know our young comrades think they know everything. Being upright, independent and fearless against all odds and not fearing the outcome of whatever is what the young comrades are looking for true leadership.
This Sept 9 day I refrained from all negative conversation. AFW continues to push to end prisoner-on-prisoner hostilities throughout this country. I had the chance to meet and become a student of the main 4 reps to end all hostilities between our racial groups, and also a brother from the representatives body. I spoke with brother X about our beloved brother W.L. Nolen and GJ and our conditions today as "new man," and how GJ struggled to transform the Black criminal mentality into a Black revolutionary mentality. And solidarity with all you comrades around the country this Sept 9 day.
Valley State Prison
Greetings from the A-yard of Valley State Prison. In honor of the anniversary of the Attica uprising, and as an act of solidarity, the members of our study group abstained form eating for 24 hours. For one day we did not eat, starting with the Sunday G-slam, lunches (cold) and the evening meal. Ten copies of the solidarity study pack were passed out to members of our sg and a few other prisoners who were interested. A comrade was kind enough to photocopy my solidarity study pack which MIM(Prisons) provided. Most of the prisoners who attend our group were not even aware of the events at Attica on 9 September 1971, or the calls for prison reform which the Attica uprising prompted. A special emphasis was put on finding ways to promote peace and to educate all prisoners across the country on principles of the UFPP.
In closing, I want you to know that I may be new to this but I am trying hard to learn and organize here at VSP and so are others. We, as always appreciate very much the material support and organizational guidance of MIM(Prisons). Thank you.
California State Prison - Corcoran
This Black August Resistance was a success. The program was designed to educate the minds of our youth who I believe have revolutionary potential. We read and studied Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, and Chancellor William's The Rebirth of Afrikan Civilization, along with the Appeals of David Walker. Exercised, and wrote essays on the days required to do so. Also, in support of September 9, we will continue our fast from 8/21 until 9/9, we will not be ordering any canteen nor packages for the 4th quarter. So far we aren't getting any backlash from the pigs, and other Lumpen Orgs are participating in the program as well.
The Dangerous Class and Revolutionary Theory
Kersplebedeb Publishing, 2017
Available for $24.95 (USD) + shipping/handling from: kersplebedeb
CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne
The bulk of this double book is looking at the limited and contradictory writings of Marx/Engels and Mao on the subject of the lumpen with greater historical context. MIM(Prisons) and others have analyzed their scattered quotes on the subject.(1) But Sakai’s effort here is focused on background research to understand what Marx, Engels and Mao were seeing and why they were saying what they were saying. In doing so, Sakai provides great practical insight into a topic that is central to our work; the full complexities of which have only begun to unfold.
Size and Significance
In the opening of the "Dangerous Class", Sakai states that "lumpen/proletarians are constantly being made in larger and larger numbers".(p.3) This follows a discussion of criminalized zones like the ghetto, rez or favela. This is a curious conclusion, as the ghettos and barrios of the United $tates are largely being dispersed rather than expanding. Certainly the rez is not expanding. Sakai does not provide numbers to substantiate these "larger and larger" lumpen populations today.
In our paper, Who is the Lumpen in the United $tates? we do run some census numbers that indicate an increase in the U.$. lumpen population from 1.5% of the total population in 1960 to over 10% in 2010. However, other methods led us to about 4% of the U.$. population today if you only look at oppressed nation lumpen, and 6 or 7% if you include whites.(1) This latter number is interestingly similar to what Marx estimated for revolutionary France (around 1850)(p.66), what Sakai estimates for Britain around 1800(p.112), and what Mao estimated for pre-revolutionary China.(p.119) Is 6% the magic number that indicates capitalism in crisis? The historical numbers for the United $tates (and elsewhere) are worthy of further investigation.
lumpen + destitute semi-proletariat (Colquhoun)
1850s France (Marx)
lumpen + destitute semi-proletariat
2010 United $tates (MIM(Prisons))
First Nations lumpen
New Afrikan lumpen
Raza lumpen + semi-proletariat
Alliances and Line
Certainly, at 6% or more, the lumpen is a significant force, but a force for what? In asking that question, we must frame the discussion with a Marxist analysis of capitalism as a contradiction between bourgeoisie and proletariat. There’s really just two sides here. So the question is which side do the lumpen fall on. The answer is: It depends.
One inspiring thing we learn in this book is that the lumpen made up the majority of the guerrillas led by Mao’s Chinese Communist Party at various times before liberation.(p.122) This shows us that the lumpen are potentially an important revolutionary force. However, that road was not smooth. On the contrary it was quite bloody, involving temporary alliances, sabotage and purges.(pp.201-210)
Sakai's first book spends more time on the French revolution and the obvious role the lumpen played on the side of repression. Marx's writings on these events at times treated the Bonaparte state as a lumpen state, independent of the capitalist class. This actually echoes some of Sakai’s writing on fascism and the role of the declassed. But as Sakai recognizes in this book, there was nothing about the Bonaparte government that was anti-capitalist, even if it challenged the existing capitalist class. In other words, the mobilized lumpen, have played a deciding role in revolutionary times, but that role is either led by bourgeois or proletarian ideology. And the outcome will be capitalism or socialism.
Defining the Lumpen, Again
Interestingly, Sakai does not address the First World class structure and how that impacts the lumpen in those countries. Our paper, Who is the Lumpen in the United $tates? explicitly addresses this question of the First World lumpen as distinct from the lumpen-proletariat. While MIM changed its line from the 1980s when it talked about significant proletariats within the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates, this author has not seen Sakai change eir line on this, which might explain eir discussion of a lumpen-proletariat here. Sakai's line becomes most problematic in eir grouping of imperialist-country mercenaries in the "lumpen". Ey curiously switches from "lumpen/proletariat" when discussing China, to "lumpen" when discussing imperialist-country mercenaries, but never draws a line saying these are very different things. In discussions with the editor, Sakai says the stick up kid and the cop aren't the same kind of lumpen.(p.132) Sure, we understand the analogy that cops are the biggest gang on the streets. But state employees making 5 or 6-digit incomes with full bennies do not fit our definition of lumpen being excluded from the capitalist economy, forced to find its own ways of skimming resources from that economy. The contradiction the state faces in funding its cops and soldiers to repress growing resistance is different from the contradiction it faces with the lumpen on the street threatening to undermine the state's authority.
Sakai dismisses the idea that the line demarking lumpen is the line of illegal vs. legal. In fact, the more established and lucrative the illegal operation of a lumpen org is, the more likely it is to be a partner with the imperialist state. That just makes sense.
The inclusion of cops and mercenaries in the lumpen fits with Sakai's approach to the lumpen as a catchall non-class. We do agree that the lumpen is a much more diverse class, lacking the common life experience and relationship to the world that the proletariat can unite around. But what's the use of talking about a group of people that includes Amerikan cops and Filipino garbage pickers? Our definitions must guide us towards models that reflect reality close enough that, when we act on the understanding the model gives us, things work out as the model predicts more often than not. Or more often than any other models. This is why, in our work on the First World lumpen in the United $tates, we excluded white people from the model by default. We did this despite knowing many white lumpen individuals who are comrades and don't fit the model.
How about L.O.s in the U.$.?
The analysis of the First World lumpen in this collection is a reprint of Sakai's 1976 essay on the Blackstone Rangers in Chicago. Sakai had referred to L.O.s becoming fascist organizations in New Afrikan communities in a previous work, and this seems to be eir basis for this claim.
While the essay condemns the Blackstone Rangers for being pliant tools of the Amerikan state, Sakai does differentiate the young foot soldiers (the majority of the org) from the Main 21 leadership. In fact, the only difference between the recruiting base for the Rangers and the Black Panthers seems to have been that the Rangers were focused on men. Anyway, what Sakai's case study demonstrates is the ability for the state to use lumpen gangs for its own ends by buying off the leadership. There is no reason to believe that if Jeff Fort had seen eye-to-eye with the Black Panthers politically that the youth who followed him would not have followed him down that road.
Essentially, what we can take from all this is that the lumpen is a wavering class. Meaning that we must understand the conditions of a given time and place to better understand their role. And as Sakai implies, they have the potential to play a much more devastating and reactionary role when conditions really start to deteriorate in the heart of the empire.
Relating this to our practice, Sakai discusses the need for revolutionaries to move in the realm of the illegal underground. This doesn't mean the underground economy is a location for great proletarian struggle. It can contain some of the most egregious dehumanizing aspects of the capitalist system. But it also serves as a crack in that very system.
As comrades pointed out in our survey of drug use and trade in U.$. prisons, the presence of drugs is accompanied by an absence of unity and struggle among the oppressed masses. Meanwhile effective organizing against drug use is greatly hampered by threats of violence from the money interests of lumpen organizations and state employees.(2) The drug trade brings out the individualist/parasitic tendencies of the lumpen. Our aim is to counter that with the collective self-interest of the lumpen. It is that self-interest that pushes oppressed nation youth to "gang up" in the first place, in a system that is stacked against them.
The revolutionary/anti-imperialist movement must be active and aggressive in allying with the First World lumpen today. We must be among the lumpen masses so that as contradictions heighten, oppressed nation youth have already been exposed to the benefits of collective organizing for self-determination. The national contradiction in occupied Turtle Island remains strong, and we are confident that the lumpen masses will choose a developed revolutionary movement over the reactionary state. Some of the bourgeois elements among the lumpen organizations will side with the oppressor, and with their backing can play a dominant role for some times and places. We must be a counter to this.
While Mao faced much different conditions than we face in the United $tates today, the story of alliances and betrayals during the Chinese revolution that Sakai weaves is probably a useful guide to what we might expect. Ey spends one chapter analyzing the Futian Incident, where "over 90 percent of the cadres in the southwestern Jiangxi area were killed, detained, or stopped work."(p.205) The whole 20th Army, which had evolved from the lumpen gang, Three Dots Society, was liquidated in this incident. It marked a turning point and led to a shift in the approach to the lumpen in the guerilla areas. While in earlier years, looting of the wealthy was more accepted within the ranks of guerrilla units, the focus on changing class attitudes became much greater.(p.208) This reflected the shift in the balance of forces; the development of contradictions.
Sakai concludes that the mass inclusion of lumpen forces in the guerrilla wars by the military leaders Mao Zedong and Chu Teh was a strategic success. That the lumpen played a decisive role, not just in battle, but in transforming themselves and society. We might view the Futian Incident, and other lesser internal struggles resulting in death penalties meted out, as inevitable growing pains of this lumpen/peasant guerilla war. Mao liked to quote Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, in saying that war is different from all other humyn activity.
For now we are in a pre-war period in the United $tates, where the contradictions between the oppressed and oppressors are mostly fought out in the legal realms of public opinion battles, mass organizing and building institutions of the oppressed. Through these activities we demonstrate another way; an alternative to trying to get rich, disregarding others' lives, senseless violence, short-term highs and addiction. We demonstrate the power of the collective and the need for self-determination of all oppressed peoples. And we look to the First World lumpen to play a major role in this transformation of ourselves and society.
We received a lot of thoughtful responses to Under Lock & Key 61 debating sex offenders. This is a tough topic. It’s easy to recognize that our culture encourages abuse of wimmin. And there are many problems with how the criminal injustice system defines sex crimes and selectively prosecutes this crime. But people don’t want to condone rape, and many of us have a persynal reaction of horror to sexual predators that makes it hard to think about this objectively.
Regardless of the societal influences, and the unfair definitions and prosecutions, there are a lot of people who have committed sex crimes, and these should not just be ignored or forgiven. This topic got a lot of people thinking about whether or not sex offenders (SOs) can be part of the movement, and if they committed sex crimes, if they can be reformed.
Defining sex crimes
We have all been raised in a culture that promotes sexism and condones gender oppression. We call this system the patriarchy. It’s a system where sexy young teen models sell clothes, and TV and movies glorify powerful men and violence against wimmin. This culture colors every relationship we have. We’re taught that being a good man means acting manly and strong and never letting a womyn tell you what to do. And we’re taught that being a good womyn means submitting to the needs and desires of your man. With this training, we can’t expect equality in relationships. And without equality, we can’t expect free consent. Not everyone has a gun to their heads when they are asked to consent to sex, but there are a lot of different forms of power and persuasion.
So we’re starting out with a messed up system of gender oppression, and then we’re trying to define which acts of sexual violation count as coerced (rape) and which are just “normal.” One California prisoner wrote:
"I want to comment on the sex offender topic. Yeah it’s rough because like the Nevada 17 1/2 yr old dude it’s just that easy to get caught up. As adults we’re able to date 18-19 year olds as a 40-50 year old.
"I mean if people are going to argue 15 year old and an 18 is different, the question is why/how? If their answer isn’t ‘I just want my baby girl to be my baby girl a few more years’ then their answer is B.S., because that’s what it really boils down to.
“Moving on, the sex offender umbrella is too big. Like it was mentioned, a person taking a leak in public is considered a sex offender? We haven’t always had toilets, let’s get real and go after the real sex offenders – fully adult male/female taking advantage of a child. That’s a sex offender! 20, 30, 40 year old trying to sleep with a 13 year old – sex offender! Possession of child pornography – sex offender!”
This writer raises the question of age to define sex crimes. We ask, why is a 20 year old sleeping with a 13 year old rape, but a 20 year old with a 15 year old isn’t? Probably because this writer believes a 15 year old is capable of consent but a 13 year old isn’t. That’s the key question: who has the ability to give consent?
Truly free consent isn’t possible from within a system that promotes gender oppression from birth. But that’s not a useful answer when trying to define crimes from the revolutionary perspective. And if we’re going to attempting to rehab/punish people who have committed sex crimes, we have to decide what is a reasonable level of consent.
For now, we maintain that we should judge people for their actions, not the label they’re given by the criminal injustice system. As this comrade from Maryland explains, society creates sexual predators who act in many different ways, but their actions all show us they are counter-revolutionary.
"I was reading one article on sex offenders in ULK 61, and it was talking about how to determine whether they did the crime or not. The thought came to me of judge of character, their interactions with males & females, whether prisoners or C.O.s, and the traces of conversations when they feel comfortable. Even those who don’t have sexual offense charges sometimes make you wonder by the way they jerk-off to female C.O.s & female nurses or what they say to them that have you think if they are undercover sex offenders.
"One prisoner went as far as getting the female nurse information off the internet and called them on the jail phone and got (admin) (Administration Segregation). This is the same person that comes back and forth for jerking off to multiple disciplinary segregation terms, but is locked up for a totally different charge. He’s a future sex offender, that can’t be trusted for help in the revolution not due to a label, but due to his character and interactions when he sees females.
"Then you have the ones that have been locked-up in their teenage years and they’re currently in their 30s, and like to chase boys who are easy to manipulate or who want sexual activity. One is big on being a victimizer, but knows and talks a lot of Revolutionary preferences. He has a lot of knowledge but can’t be trusted to prevail due to lack of discipline and wanting to continue in his prison rapes & prison sex crimes that he rejoiced in. But he is another one that is not locked up for any sex offenses. Both were juveniles when incarcerated and have been psychologically damaged and lack change & further rehabilitation. Everyone still embraces them in general population and looks past their sexual activities.
“How can people that exploit sexual habits right in clear view of the prisoners be embraced and not looked upon as potential threats to society, families, and fellow prisoners, when you have someone labeled as a sex offender through childhood friendships and has to be sectioned off & outcasted by other prisoners due to the label of sex offender and not background information, the character of the man, their interactions with same sex and opposite sex, and the signs & symbols through their conversation?”
This writer’s view is echoed by a comrade in Texas who has come to realize we need to judge people for their actions:
“UFPP is a must! Regardless of what you did to get in prison (rape, rob, murder), I (also a prisoner) only judge you or anyone on how they go forward from this day in prison. I used to work in food service and I would break a serving into fifths for women in prison for killing or abusing children. Then I grew up and got over myself. How do I know they were rightfully convicted and how do I know how they got in this prison life? I don’t. We’re all in the same spot starting out. What you do from this time forward is your description for me. And people can change. I have.”
When we look objectively at how many people, both in prison and in society in general, commit sex crimes, it’s pretty depressing. The recent #MeToo movement helped expose just how many sexual predators are in the entertainment industry in particular. And writers like the one above expose individual cases of predators behind bars. This is so common because of a culture that promotes gender inequality. As long as we see wimmin/girls as objects for sexual pleasure we will have a problem with sex crimes. Another prisoner described this pervasive problem in California:
“This letter is in regards to the sex offenders articles in ULK 61. We cannot”always" trust a state to tell us what crimes someone has committed - but most of the time we can. It might not always be so clear, but the majority of the time the person convicted of a sex crime did indeed do it.
"Of the thousands of people I’ve come across in the SNY prisons I’ve been in, absolutely nobody has claimed his pc 290 case is for urinating in public. The most common is sex with a minor as there is absolutely no thing in the state of California as consensual sex with anyone under age 18. I know this all too well because sex with a teen put me where I’m at.
"There are probably as many different variables that create sex offenders as there are types of sex offenders themselves. The overwhelming factor with the sex offenders I’ve met in prison (and there’s a lot of sex offenders in prison) is drug abuse, especially methamphetamine. It’s safe to say that most sex offenders (at least 60-70%) were driven by the effects of meth. There are many in prison who will admit to sex with underage females. Growing up in the housing project of San Francisco’s Mission District I knew a lot of adults (mostly men) that had sexual relationships (and even marriages) with teens. It was very common also that the girls my age as a teen carried on with grown men.
"Go to a Latina’s traditional 15th birthday celebration and count the amount of males over 20 yrs old. Yes, that is what many are there for: the girls. Do younger girls’ parents know about this? Yes, most do. Cinco de Mayo has become another reason for America to party. Latin foods, beers, music, piñatas, etc. We’ve welcomed with open arms. Are we going to pretend that these ‘other’ traditions from Latin America don’t exist and just continue to tag and store sex offenders or will something be done to address this issue?
This writer makes a good point: lots of sex crime charges are real. Many men have committed these crimes. But there’s no need to rely on what the state tells us. In fact this writer demonstrates that people are being honest with em about eir past crimes. We don’t gain anything by trusting the criminal injustice system, and we don’t need to.
This comrade helps demonstrate our point that sex with teens is condoned by capitalist culture. These cultural influences encourage men to see their behavior taking advantage of wimmin, and pursuing teens, as normal and acceptable. We won’t stop this completely until we get rid of the patriarchy and have the power to create a proletarian culture.
Can criminals be reformed?
An important organizing question of today regarding sex offenders is whether or not they can be part of the revolutionary movement. This inspires a lot of debate behind bars. A comrade from Maryland provides some good examples of people becoming revolutionaries in spite of history of anti-people crimes. We agree with eir analysis that everyone who has committed crimes against the people (sex offenders, drug dealers, murderers, etc.) has the potential to reform and be a part of the revolutionary movement. Whether or not we have the resources to help make this happen is discussed in “On Punishment vs Rehabilitation.”
"Eldridge Cleaver was incarcerated for rape upon little white girls and was not on Protective Custody, nor was he a victim, but the victimizer. [Cleaver was actually incarcerated for assault, but was open that he had raped wimmin and even attempted to justify it politically. - ULK Editor] Though upon his parole release he worked for a newspaper company until his run-in with Huey Newton at this newspaper company and joined the Black Panther Party to become later down the line a leader within the BPP political organization. James Carr was another that participated in prison rapes even though he grew to become a instrument for the BPP, a body-guard for Huey Newton upon his release, and a prison vanguard alongside George L. Jackson. Basically, saying that in their era they were not faulted by the political group for their past, but were looked upon what they could do in the present and future.
"With what the United States set as standards are only accountable for those who are out of their class and who they don’t care about, while their class gets away with such crimes or slapped on the wrist with the least time as possible. They have messed us up psychologically mass media. So even if the people don’t know if the crime is true, what the state places upon us as fraud charges, our mindset is automatically it’s true cause America says it’s true. Just like when we see people on the news wanted for questioning about a crime, we automatically say he did it without knowing.
“Did the Revolutionaries of the 60s, 70s, and 80s not participate in the Anti-People Crimes as modern day even though they were Vanguards for the people and just as conscious as we are. Did they not sell illegal drugs to raise money for court fees & bail fees? Did they not drink alcohol and smoke weed & cigarettes? Did they not graduate to hard drugs? Did they not shoot or stab people in their lifetime? Did they not commit sexual assaults? That’s why we are able to learn from their mistake, while also cherishing their great stands of Revolution. So within criticism, criticize all through all eras and let those who want to prove their self do it. If sex offenders, whether guilty or not, started their own organization that was aligned with the same goals, principles, and practices as MIM(Prisons), would you support them or acknowledge their efforts? Do you feel that if a sex offender, guilty or not, got conscious and changed for the better is capable of being a positive tribute to a Revolution?”
On this same topic a Wisconsin prisoner disagrees and sees the example of Eldridge Cleaver as a detriment to the movement overall.
"I personally do not believe there is a place in the movement for sex offenders, and when I say sex offenders I’m referring to those who are in prison for committing sex crimes, not statutory rape, where he’s 17 and she’s 16 or even if he’s 20 and she’s 16. I’m, talking about un-consentual, outright rape of women, men and children. I don’t have any affinity for those who rape prisoners or prison female officers and staff.
“A lot of people bring up Eldridge Cleaver to support the argument of reform for rapists, where to me Eldridge was not a true revolutionary, he helped bring down the BPP and his mistreatment of Kathleen Cleaver, Elaine Brown and others was egregious at best and outright barbaric at worst. I don’t knock those who have compassion and believe in reform for sex offenders, I’m just not one of them.”
While we disagree with this writer’s statement that SOs can’t be reformed, we agree that embracing those who promote gender oppression because of their correct line on national oppression can be very dangerous for a revolutionary movement. The Black Panther Party struggled with gender oppression, but in many ways was ahead of other movements and organizations of their day. This doesn’t mean they got it all right, but we have to judge people and movements in the context of their struggle.
Finally, Legion writes compellingly about the potential for rehabilitation of SOs and also offers a framework for undertaking this work.
"So I’m sitting here eating a bowl of cereal and digesting ULK 61 and comrade El Independista made some valid points and MIM(Prisons) dissented. See when we sparked this debate we were struggling with starting a NLO consisting of comrades who have fucked up jackets who are willing to put pride, ego, individualistic patriarchal thoughts and practices to the wayside forming a column of revolutionaries who are given a chance to show and prove that the state was wrong and that U-C-U works for all instead of some. Answering El Independista’s questions of possible solutions isolation, ostracization, extermination may I build?
"First and foremost as a revolutionary raised in the game I’d rather deal with a SO than a snitch or a jailhouse thief. Why? Because in most cases the SO can be re-educated if given the ability to perform. If a potential comrade has been framed by the state who will hear him out. He’s isolated like the sex offender island in Washington State off of puget sound. Ostracization is another word for shun if the SO shuns his/her anti-people conviction and uses unity-criticism-unity to combat the patriarchy and upholds the merits of a drafted constitution along with personal U-C-U known as self-criticism you can begin to mold revolutionaries who ostracize themselves. Then there is extermination, another word for ending re-education self-critique and revolutionary bent will cause an ill (as in sick) blow to the injustice system. It’s all or none. And no, I’m not harboring cho-mos and rapos, just willing to do the work to see us free all of us. For example, if a column of reformed SOs took up a revolutionary mindset and put said mindset into practice one would exterminate a whole under represented class of people.
“In California the Penal Code 226(a) is any sex crime. 266(h-j) have to do with pimping and pandering, 288 is a molester, 290 is the required registration code. Most kidnappers have to register for life. If you’re a John you have to register and if you’re a prostitute you have to register. If you opt into a shoot out and a child was involved you have to register, and child endangerment is a sex crime. As well as rape, peeing on the side walk, flashing. In prison all these cases get ‘P’ coded which prohibits the captive from ever being level 1 where there is minimal politics, and forces one to live in enclosed structures with secure doors AKA cell living. This leaves level”P" coded prisoners in 3 and 4 yards. These yards are political, whether GP or SNY there are politics. And on these yards you have folks with a knack for praying on the weak, creating a pattern of sexual abuse. Just look at any day room wall you’ll see the # for the PREA hot-line and a slogan that says ‘no means no and yes is not allowed.’
“People, we have to prepare for the white wolf invasion. You can’t bully the SO problem away. You have to be a social scientist and commentator and build institutions that collapse the structure. And to answer MIM(prison), most SOs are on SNY yards and you have these snitch gangs who look to isolate, ostracize and eliminate”threats." Most SOs aren’t rats, hell most aren’t even criminals, no rap sheet only accusations. But these “gangsters” need a common enemy, and an easy target is the SO. As a ‘do what’s best-ist’ I would, if given the platform to do so, launch the wolf collective and invite all who read ULK to join, not as a member but as a witness to the scientific display of revolutionary conduct. I do this to sacrifice self for the masses.
"Start with self-critique and a solid understanding of your errors. Make serious revolutionary action your priority Honor and respect all human beings’ dignity Never go backwards in thought walk and push Stand all the way up for what is righteous and do what’s leftover You will be judged by your political work and political line.
“You might think I’m crazy or nuts but I have 36 nuts and bolts that say otherwise. The mathematics makes sense to turn nuts to plugs you plug in nuts meaning you become the change you want to see, and if I have to build the collective brick by brick stone by stone I will. I’m a convict first for all the would-be haters, but I think the time has come to form an infection on the skin of the beast.”
Until, and perhaps after, we achieve a society where the culture of capitalist individualism has been destroyed, revolutionary organizations will have to deal with crimes against the people. We need to protect our movement from harm, and we must balance how to protect it from all sides. In some cases, punishment will be appropriate. But our primary focus will always be rehabilitation. Here we will discuss how we think about punishment and rehabilitation in the different stages of revolutionary struggle.(see definitions in Notes below)
Simply punishing someone for a behavior is a generally accepted, but widely ineffective, method of changing that persyn’s behavior. There is first the consideration of whether the persyn is compelled by the punishment to change their behavior. (What does the punishment mean to the one being punished? Does the punishment match the crime?) Second is the consideration of whether the persyn being punished understands their crime and how the punishment relates to the crime. So simply punishing someone without providing any accompanying rehabilitation may serve the purposes of satisfying the victims, or detering others from doing the same behavior, but it does little to change that persyn’s behavior or change eir mind about eir behavior.
Crimes against the people
Crimes against the people are actions that harm the oppressed, either directly or by harming the revolutionary movement of the oppressed. In our current context, they include things like snitching to pigs, facilitating drug addiction, stealing from the masses, and a long list of other counter-revolutionary actions. The list of crimes that must be dealt with today, directly (versus crimes that can’t be dealt with until during the wartime period, or post-revolution) will change as we move through stages of struggle. Additionally, what is possible for us to deal with will also change over time, as we grow in strength and acquire more resources.
Even though we see many crimes against the people committed around us daily, we only have so much capacity to try to rehabilitate people, and an even more limited ability for punishment. But while lacking the time and resources to rehabilitate everyone, we also must keep in mind the consequences to the movement of punishing counter-revolutionary actors. Doling out punishment can have potentially dangerous consequences, yet it might be the only option available to us in certain circumstances. So whether to punish vs. rehabilitate is not simply a question of what we are able to do, but also what will be best for the revolutionary movement.
Overall, focus on rehabilitation
There are no cut and dry guidelines on this question of relabilitaion vs. punishment. Our actions will depend on many factors, and we can only figure this out in practice. Focusing too much on hypotheticals only clouds our judgement when we are faced with an actual crime that we need to deal with.
Yet on the overall question of whether to focus on rehabilitation or punishment, we look to Mao’s injunction that we focus on rehabilitation of those who make mistakes but are open to correcting their errors and rehabilitating their political line and practice:
“A person with appendicitis is saved when the surgeon removes his appendix. So long as a person who has made mistakes does not hide his sickness for fear of treatment or persist in his mistakes until he is beyond cure, so long as he honestly and sincerely wishes to be cured and to mend his ways, we should welcome him and cure his sickness so that he can become a good comrade. We can never succeed if we just let ourselves go, and lash out at him. In treating an ideological or a political malady, one must never be rough and rash but must adopt the approach of ‘curing the sickness to save the patient’, which is the only correct and effective method.” (Mao Zedong, “Rectify the Party’s Style of Work” (1 February 1942, Selected Works, Vol. III)
Before the proletariat seizes state power
We are in the pre-revolutionary period right now. Pre-revolution includes the current period of “relatively peaceful” organizing, and the period of outright war when the oppressed fight to take control of the state. The oppressed-nation lumpen in the United $tates face life-or-death circumstances every day, including consequences of imprisonment, economic disparity, inter-lumpen violence, police violence, and attacks from various white nationalists at all levels of society. While we face daily violence, our organizing at this time primarily focuses on self-defense and building independent institutions of the oppressed. That’s why we call this a “relatively peaceful” organizing period, where we focus on preparation.(1)
In our day-to-day struggle, many counter-revolutionary actions will not be a question of life and death as they are in wartime. But they are still serious and potentially dangerous to the movement. This is the period when we have the least power to carry out punishment and to rehabilitate effectively. We should strive for rehabilitation when possible, but with limited power and resources we will need to evaluate each case to determine what we can accomplish.
While we don’t have state power, when rehabilitation is not an option, we still have enough power in some situations to punish crimes against the people. This punishment most often involves exclusion from the movement, but can include public criticism and more physical actions. Our actions in this regard will need to be carefully considered in each case.
The case of snitches comes up a lot in prison organizing, where many attempt to curry favor with the guards in this way. Snitches are counter-revolutionary actors who must be cut out from the movement, though we may lack the power to appropriately punish snitches (beyond exclusion) at this time. But we also believe that snitches, and everyone else who commits crimes against the people, have the potential for rehabilitation through education and struggle if we have the opportunity to engage with them deeply. However, that’s not always a good use of our time right now. Those who see the error of their ways and come to us with self-criticism for their past actions are clearly an easier target for rehabilitation and revolutionary education. Each case will require individual consideration. Those involved in the struggle and impacted by the crimes will have to assess the appropriate response and mix of re-education and punishment.
At Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio in 1993, prisoners were throwing their trash on the tier in a protest. In the book Condemned by Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar) we learn the details. This protest was going on for several days and the guards brought in a trustee to clean the tier. The prisoners tried to talk with this trustee over multiple days, to get em to refuse the job, yet the trustee kept cleaning the tier. The protesting prisoners punished the trustee violently. In this case we see the correct method of first attempting to struggle with someone who is acting against the movement, and later taking more direct action to shut em down to protect the movement. We can’t judge this specific incident from afar, and it is something revolutionaries will have to figure out in day-to-day struggle.
Pre-revolution active wartime
Times of war are, of course, characterized by the use of violence and killing of the enemy as the default means of achieving goals. In wartime, the primary focus is on destroying the enemy, and this includes killing counter-revolutionaries. Anyone who acts to support the imperialists is swiftly punished. Some of these crimes merit death, as actions that result in the deaths of many revolutionaries cannot be tolerated.
“Mao Z reminds us in one of his military essays, of the insight from von Clausewitz, that war is different from all other human activity.
”When you check out the record, you can get the feeling that young Mao Z barely bothered to conceal how much he wanted to rip the Li Li-san faction right out of the ‘red’ military and rural party, by any means necessary. No matter how flimsy the excuse or reason, he really didn’t care. To him, the revolution had to disentangele itself, to meet a life-or-death challenge, as quickly as possible.
“…Mao Z and Chu Teh weren’t in suburban California, judging or dismissing cases of individuals in a civilian situation. That would be one set of circumstances. They were in a remote war zone, deep in the countryside, preparing feverishly for the largest and possibly most decisive battle any of them had ever gone through, raw soldiers and officers alike. Any disadvantage could cost them everything, while any advantage might be life-saving. That was a different set of circumstances.”(2)
During the revolutionary wars of the USSR and China, they did not always have the time or resources to attempt to convince traitors to rejoin the revolution, and in many cases they could not even set up prisons to contain these enemies for future rehabilitation. Mao’s guerillas had to turn around and execute lumpen forces that had previously fought side-by-side with them against the Kuomintang. At other times, the People’s Liberation Army was able to successfully recruit whole sections of the Kuomintang army into their ranks. Again, an in-the-moment assessment of our threats and capabilities, with a preference for rehabilitation whenever possible, will be necessary even during wartime.
When we have state power, we will be in a better position to rehabilitate people. But in the short term the masses will demand punishment for those who owe blood debts. In China shortly after the anti-Japanese war was won and the Communist Party took power, Mao addressed this topic:
“The number of counter-revolutionaries to be killed must be kept within certain proportions. The principle to follow here is that those who owe blood debts or are guilty of other extremely serious crimes and have to be executed to assuage the people’s anger and those who have caused extremely serious harm to the national interest must be unhesitatingly sentenced to death and executed without delay. As for those whose crimes deserve capital punishment but who owe no blood debts and are not bitterly hated by the people or who have done serious but not extremely serious harm to the national interest, the policy to follow is to hand down the death sentence, grant a two-year reprieve and subject them to forced labour to see how they behave. In addition, it must be explicitly stipulated that in cases where it is marginal whether to make an arrest, under no circumstances should there be an arrest and that to act otherwise would be a mistake, and that in cases where it is marginal whether to execute, under no circumstances should there be an execution and that to act otherwise would be a mistake.”(3)
In this situation, the Communist Party was acknowledging that it could not get too far ahead of the masses. Punishing those who had committed extremely serious crimes was part of demonstrating to the masses that the Party was acting in their interests. But the goal was not punishment and execution. The goal was to move as many people towards rehabilitation as possible. And we can’t know who has the potential for rehabilitation until we try. Overall, communists should assume that all people can be educated/re-educated because humyns have great capacity to learn and grow, especially when removed from harmful/reactionary circumstances.
Of course forced labor in China was a punishment for these counter-revolutionaries. But it was also an opportunity for reform and rehabilitation. As we learn in the book Prisoners of Liberation by Adele and Allyn Rickett, even people who had served as spies for imperialists during the war were given a chance at rehabilitation. The Ricketts, in China for academic study on a Fullbright Scholarship, were passing information to the Amerikkkan and Briti$h governments. This was while the Chinese were fighting for control of Beijing and then into the imperialist war on Korea, in which the Chinese were fighting against Amerikan troops.
The Ricketts were spies in wartime. Yet the Chinese Communists did not execute them. Instead they were imprisoned in a facility where the emphasis was on re-education and self-criticism. It took both Allyn and Adele years to come to an understanding of why their actions were wrong. But during that time they were never physically abused. Their forced confinement was certainly a punishment, but in the end they came to see this time in a Chinese prison as justified and a valuable educational experience that made them both better people. They were transformed.
Balance of forces for punishment and rehabilitation
In all cases, we must balance several considerations:
The weight of the crimes of a persyn
The sentiment of the masses towards that persyn and their crimes
The power we have to implement rehabilitation programs effectively
The ability to perform punishment if deemed appropriate
Our assessment of the above considerations will change based on our stage of struggle and our ever-evolving strength and abilities. In all cases revolutionaries should strive to reform and rehabilitate as many people as possible. But the limits of our resources pre-revolution, the need for expedience on life-and-death situations in wartime, and the need to fulfill the masses’ demand for justice post-war must also be taken into account.
MIM(Prisons) has set the ambitious goal of making Under Lock & Key a monthly publication by 2022. ULK fills a need in prison, providing revolutionary anti-imperialist reporting on and about the lumpen behind bars. This is a relatively small revolutionary project focused on the criminal injustice system. But prisons are just one part of the larger imperialist machine. And it will take a revolutionary movement much broader than just prisons to bring down capitalism. We are a part of that movement, and it is our job to do what we can to push forward its development.
At this stage in the struggle there are revolutionary cells organizing in various segments within the belly of the beast. We're building a United Front for Peace in Prisons to bring together the movement behind bars. And beyond that we want a united front against imperialism that includes both prison and non-prison organizations. This broader movement needs a unifying publication, a newspaper that can be used to both disseminate information and organize people.
Lenin wrote What is to be Done? about the importance of a regular newspaper publication for organizing the revolution in Russia. And in the early stages of organizing, before the movement gained popularity and broader membership, the Bolshevik leader argued that revolutionaries needed to dream of wide distribution of a regular publication. He wrote that, with enough local groups and study circles taking up active work:
"[W]e could, in the not distant future, establish a weekly newspaper for regular distribution in tens of thousands of copies throughout Russia. This newspaper would become part of an enormous pair of smith's bellows that would fan every spark of the class struggle and of popular indignation into a general conflagration. Around what is in itself still a very innocuous and very small, but regular and common, effort, in the full sense of the word, a regular army of tried fighters would systematically gather and receive their training. On the ladders and scaffolding of this general organisational structure [...] [revolutionaries would] rouse the whole people to settle accounts with the shame and the curse of Russia. That is what we should dream of!"
Why print a newspaper when we have the Internet?
Lenin was writing at a time where there was no other way to communicate between localities. We now have the Internet, and some will argue that online agitation is all we need. We can communicate with people around the globe in a few seconds on the Internet. And this is indeed a powerful organizing tool. So why put out a newspaper beyond prisons, one of the few places in First World countries without access to the Internet? The answer to this question is access and organizing.
Most people don't accidentally come across Maoist websites while browsing online, and with the imminent end of net neutrality this will likely become even more true. We're not going to get publicity in mainstream media. And we don't want to encourage bad security by asking people to post on facebook or twitter and expose themselves to the cops. Newspapers can be left for pickup in coffee shops, libraries, book stores, homeless shelters, community centers, laundromats and other places where folks can happen across a perspective they won't see elsewhere. This expands access to revolutionary news and education.
We can use the Internet to quickly share information about campaigns, and rally people from many locations for quick actions. And we can publish the content of a newspaper online, greatly expanding its reach beyond print media. But while the Internet is a powerful tool, it doesn't get us out on the streets organizing people, talking to them, and building study groups and organizing committees.
With a print publication, organizers can walk up and engage people in a way we can not do online. Newspapers give organizers a tool to use in face-to-face organizing. Talking to people about their conditions, and making the connections to the imperialist system. Asking someone to read an article and talk to them about it. Responding to a speech at a rally with a newspaper article on that topic as a starting point for conversation with folks already sympathetic to the cause.
Political goals of the expanded newspaper
Get organizing updates to comrades in prison with greater frequency
Build unity among the Maoist movement within U.$. borders
Broader distribution of anti-imperialist information
Closer coordination of work between various organizations within the united front against imperialism
Organizing tool for folks on the streets and behind bars
What is needed to expand ULK
Distributors: We can only achieve our goal if we can quickly expand
our network of distributors. This is where you, our readers and supporters come in. We will send you a small stack of ULKs every issue for a year for $50. For our Re-Lease on Life Program comrades we will send them for free until you can afford to pay. Selling them for $1 a piece is one way to get the funds to pay for your subscription. Or if you have the money you can take the easier route of dropping off a few copies at local shops and public spaces that have a spot for people to pick up free publications. For our imprisoned readers, reach out to any individuals or institutions on the outside that you think might be able to take on a regular shipment of ULKs.
Money: It will cost more money to print more newspapers, and also more postage to send it out to distributors. We're asking our distributors to cover the mailing costs of what we send them. We also need people to step up and help fund the printing and the costs of mailing in to prisoners.
Content: Our immediate goal is to increase the frequency of ULK, so that comrades inside are getting more regular organizing updates. As this will also expand the content, we hope to increase the breadth of topics that ULK currently tackles, exposing different sectors of the movement to each others' work. We are working on partnerships with fraternal organizations to help create content for this newsletter. We also call on individuals to increase their efforts to produce quality content that addresses the needs of the oppressed from a proletarian perspective.
Who should be part of this expansion?
Revolutionary anti-imperialist organizations that see Maoism as the furthest advance towards communism to date. This is an explicitly revolutionary project. We will not be toning down the Maoism that is our guiding political line. But we will continue to publish articles from individuals who share our anti-imperialist agenda though perhaps are not Maoists.
We need to expand our outside distributors beyond former prisoners. Expanding the content in our newspaper will help attract more supporters. But we also need more supporters to expand. So our number one challenge to comrades on the streets right now is to step up and become a regular distributor of ULK. Without a broader distribution network, we will not reach our goal of doubling the frequency.
Task list to prepare for January 2022
Start by distributing ULK locally. Sign up with us today by sending $50 to our PO Box with an address to send ULKs to, and begin exploring
ways to distribute the publication regularly. (No checks made out to MIM(Prisons), let us know if you want to send a check)
Commit to a financial contribution for this expansion. Ideally a monthly amount we can count on. You can start donating now to help us build up the cash needed for this project.
Volunteer to start writing articles. Ask for a copy of our recently
updated writing guide.
Revolutionary organizations interested in getting involved in this project, get in touch to start talking about how we can work together.
The September 9th Day of Peace and Solidarity is an opportunity for prisoners to commemorate the anniversary of the Attica uprising and draw attention to abuse of prisoners across the country. This event was initiated in 2012 by a prisoner organization and has been taken up as an annual United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) event, with people participating in prisons across the country.
We can not effectively fight the oppressors if we don't have unity among the oppressed. And that unity behind bars needs to start with peace and solidarity. This is why activists spend the 24 hours on September 9 promoting peace and education. We call for a full halt on all hostilities and engagements, whether between lumpen organizations or individuals. All participants should use the day to educate and build peace. In some places prisoners will observe a 24-hour fast. In others there will be group classes to study and discuss political history and current events. Figure out what you will do and get started organizing people today.
We use September 9 to build on the UFPP principle of Peace: "WE organize to end the needless conflicts and violence within the U.$. prison environment. The oppressors use divide and conquer strategies so that we fight each other instead of them. We will stand together and defend ourselves from oppression." This is a critical step in building a united front among prisoner organizations and individuals committed to the anti-imperialist movement. We do not need to agree on every political question, but we must come together united around core principles to build and succeed together. For those who are engaging others to participate, the unity building starts well before September 9. It is a long process of education and organizing to build the anti-imperialist movement.
This 24 hour action will require a little sacrifice, but should incur no harm, and should lead to a reduction in violence as all prisoner-on-prisoner hostilities cease for the day. We can build greater awareness of the oppression against which we fight, and build the unity that is necessary for that battle, by organizing groups and individuals to participate. Comrades organizing around the solidarity demo are encouraged to send their plans or reports to Under Lock & Key. To be included in ULK 64, your reports must be in our mailbox by Monday September 17.
In this article we print letters from our imprisoned comrades across the country, which explain their recruiting methods. Our comrades do a great job of learning from their mistakes and turning what could be a negative challenge to our struggle (such as splitting up the study group) into something that makes us even stronger (spreading the fire). We have to expect repression from the pigs, and it will only get worse as we get stronger. We need to roll with it and turn it into an advantage for us.
We trust through your reading of the submissions below that you can pull out lessons for your own organizing. We were warned against sharing this info in ULK because our newsletter passes through the hands of the pigs. But most of the lessons below are about mindset and conversational approach, which the pigs can't touch.
Some comrades give examples of things that haven't worked, and we are sharing these as examples because surely other people are trying the same tactics and facing the same challenges. If it's not working, try something else.
We encourage readers to go through this issue of ULK for ideas, switch up what you're doing, and write in to MIM(Prisons) to tell us how it went.
A Nebraska prisoner: It is surely a challenge to get study groups started when they move us around in seg, but we have found it also helps to spread the spark of that fire that is a need for something better.
Over the years it's been easier to open dialogue with new people and show people the benefit and truth of communism/socialism, even anarchism. Different individuals seem to have different feelings about parties from their various background, and knowing the three are closely related helps find a common foothold when bringing individuals into the fold so to speak, and shine the light about the failure of capitalism.
Knowledge is power in any debate when you're trying to convince someone to reconsider the truths of their ideals, especially when they have failed to really dissect their own ideals and just have been going with the flow. It is interesting indeed.
A Michigan prisoner: An important lesson I've learned from politicking with brothers held captive here with me is that if you speak truth to them, you find that they come over to your side. Because, 9 times out of 10, their direct experiences usually match up with what it is that you're saying. So what I'm saying, what I'm speaking here, is the absolute truth. If organizers are looking for explanations for why their organizing techniques aren't working, they should look in the mirror. In our line of work it's what we do, or don't do, that is decisive. This is true for two reasons. First, we can't simply apply organizing techniques dogmatically to any situation without doing an analysis based in dialectical materialism to try and understand the dynamics of the situation and, therefore, try to employ our techniques in a way which is going to have the most likelihood of success. Second, organizers cannot expect lumpen who are not familiar with political work to automatically engage in struggle if we do not put forth the necessary effort to teach them how to struggle. Our job as organizers is to organize and educate the lumpen in the lessons of political struggle, as well as inspire them to take matters in their own hands and become agents of their own liberation.
I come from, or should I say, I am a lumpen organization (LO) leader myself. That said, I have firsthand knowledge of LO politics and history and I use this knowledge to my advantage when politicking with other LO leaders. For example, most LOs are based on certain fundamental principles that are uplifting. Though not revolutionary by a long shot, some LOs began as a righteous cause. However, the leadership of LOs eventually corrupted and completely distorted the fundamental principles and began wielding their power and influence for destructive ends — thereby compounding the oppression that oppressed nations suffer under imperialist domination in the ghettos of Amerikkka. Usually, when I've pointed this out to other LO leaders and explained to them that, as leaders, they have a duty and responsibility to look out for not only the interests of those they command, but the community and "our people" as a whole, they tighten up somewhat.
As a result of politicking like this, they (LO members) can become more receptive to revolutionary teachings. In fact, some of the brothers I've instructed in Maoist principles are actually taking heed and developing a genuine interest in revolutionary theory. I am pushing them very hard, and they have become more radical. And, together, we are pushing hard to (1) organize our struggle, and (2) take the political position of the United Front for Peace in Prisons.
In Conclusion, dialectical materialism, when grasped firmly, is relatively simple. We study situations, set our tasks, aim for success, inevitably fall short, try to learn from our mistakes, and come back better prepared, more organized, and more determined than ever to win the next time around.
In addition, Maoism in particular teaches us that there are two ways of learning — direct knowledge and indirect knowledge. Direct knowledge involves firsthand experiences through the senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, whereas indirect knowledge involves looking at, listening to, or reading about someone else's experiences. In other words, we can learn from the experiences of others just as well as we can from our own experiences. So when we gain experience at a certain thing and develop techniques in the midst of struggle, we should share our experiences and techniques in the hope that they will explain, inform, or aid other comrades in their political work.
Above all, organizers should bear in mind that our main task when organizing is to unite all those that can be united. In all the world, whether inside or outside prison, oppressed people know that unity in action is a necessary precondition for waging successful struggle. If you aren't for the unity of action, you aren't for the struggle. However, for those of us who are really for the struggle, we must prove it in action (practice) — in a concrete way.
An Oregon prisoner: I thought I'd share a few thoughts on my own strategies & tactics. Firstly it must be noted that I was literally raised in the feds, and in that system, violence is a social construct propagated by all. As such, men were much more receptive to community-organizing/unity. I personally went from ignorance and tribal identity to New Afrikan. And what I've used as a tool to build consciousness are "group/tribe - specific" literature & exercise regiments.
The first is taking say, a book by & about "Kiwes and Damus" and using it to spark dialogue. What I've found is "most" tribe-aligned men are more receptive to older men they respect & who take interest in learning about them and their tribe! Forging common ground if you will.
The second is using a physical exercise program as a means to build men! Starting with instilling discipline and accompanying self esteem, that follow one's acquiring a fit body. Now, obviously within a prison environment, the "group exercise(s)" (i.e. machine) can be seen by the AmeriKlan guards as "gang related." So I caution men to do so in a proper & compartmentalized manner to negate the erroneous misconception(s)!
I am a fluent Ki Swahili speaker. I have been for over 20 years. Now! What I've also discovered is that even in this ideologically backwards state, many New Afrikans and Chicanos take to learning the language. Which, for the New Afrikan, opens up a dormant sense of long-lost cultural identity. For the Chicanos, it rebuilds bridge(s) to the past. The days of Caesar Chavez, the Party, Unity in Struggle. A time of Klass unity, and our shared socio-political agenda = Power to the People! Enough said!
Clenched fist salutations to all who stand firm on progressive ideals & work diligently to build amidst the reactionaries whom aid our oppressors!
A Nevada prisoner: Between this issue of ULK 60 and the pamphlet Fundamental Political Line of MIM(Prisons) I came up with what I believe to be the biggest problems we face. Many people shy away from revolutionary struggle like trying to convert a Christian to Islam. It's despised like conspiracy theories. So with that said, Problem #1 is appealing to and reaching those best positioned to make changes.
The situation of what prompted me to say this: I study mostly on the tier. Curious people come over to see the unique Fundamental Political Line pamphlet on the table. First thing they ask me is if I'm doing bible study. I smile, then turn to the first page explaining what it is. I truly believe it scares them off because it is intimidating, it's bold, but it's truth. This happened several times.
Noticing this, I tried to come up with a way to better explain what our struggle is about. I found what I will use in ULK 60 p. 7 by USW23. I will say "This is about how to better understand our situation and how to change our conditions."
A Michigan prisoner: As for organizing different conversations. Yes, they do seem to get nowhere unless we're talking about gangs or some other subject that interests them. Very few people want to hear about doing something productive, as in educating their minds or developing some new skill or improving their community when they are released. A lot of these inmates want to continue selling drugs or becoming a rapper, or "what's the new clothing line or style," new phones, things like that — instead of empowering the youth.
Yes, I do struggle with people telling them or asking to write grievances because they don't want to snitch but when it's against these pigs they don't see that unless more complaints or grievances are seen or written, changes will not be made. They would rather deal with it than change it. I understand that if grievances are written on these pigs then in most cases they will be targeted, but as I mentioned, if nothing is said nothing will change! I am not sure what else I can say or do. You can help those whom do want to be helped. I show people the issues and I mention to them that they can be part of the change and movement to write to MIM and start there.
USW27 writes: As a member of the council of USW, September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity is a blessing to us behind enemy lines who are committed to struggle against injustice. This gives us a chance to reflect and learn from history of our struggle from the lumpen viewpoint. And a chance to connect the dots of imperialism and capitalism and the characteristic of every stage of capitalism.
One of my strategies I've been using is talking to one Askari at a time to revolutionize the mind. Trying to change the reactionary into revolutionary. Reactionaries look at situations as war for influence, an ideological struggle to manipulate the situation for their gang. As we push for peace and solidarity there are some reactionary forces that see you as a threat because those same forces are benefiting just the way it is. They see you as a force of change. The question is, do you see yourself as a force of change? As a member of USW, you are an example on the front line. Your characteristic, the way you talk and the way you handle situations, and your attributes and commitment to the struggle. These young dada are looking for role models.
A Texas prisoner: I place one-page legal decisions on the wall to help anyone that may happen to need this information. Besides this information are two other items: a football schedule and the food menu.
My bunk-living area is in the dorm day-room. So, I look and can see directly these three papers. How prisoners act or react by looking at each, is what I call "falling in love with incarceration," or "falling in love with TDCJ."
Why do I say this? Just as a person knows when a person looks at them, from across a room, it is easy to see a person look at — or read — some item. I see them review breakfast, lunch, and dinner; even the next day's breakfast. They go into a long talk: "I ain't gonna to to breakfas' tomorah - it is jess pancakes." Another looks at the menu, then at the football schedule. "Yep! I know Minnesota will be in their own stadium — they can't lose the Super Bowl!" Others, their eyes glance at "Four Tips on Your Habeas Corpus Application." Their eyes, in a moment, move to the menu. "Hey, they got beek sketty tonite. You gonna go? I is."
Rarely have I witnessed, day or night, anyone taking time to look at and review how to get out of prison. I have several precedental case-laws from 1992 until 2016. Yet, all say, "he doesn't know what he's doin."
MIM(Prisons) adds: Finally, the comrade below shows us what recruiting looks like from the other side. The details are different for everyone, but just in case we forgot the small moments that led us into organizing, we are including it as an example here. Even if our one conversation or posting of a document on the wall falls flat in the moment, we are facilitating the repeated exposure of people to political organizing. These "retriggers" are what lead to eventual independent interest.
A West Virginia prisoner: I always knew I was anti-government because the oppression of the government towards my people was clear. Majority of the time my people committed crimes against willing participants in the streets, so I didn't understand why the government was kidnapping my brothers and abusing my sisters. It shocked me to see the police come in the projects and cold killers take off and run. Something I'm not really into no more.
Once I was in prison I was introduced to the Black Guerilla Family by a dude straight outta the District of Columbia. He told me that I'm a revolutionary. I laughed at the word and told him to say it again because it resonated with me, but I didn't know what it meant, so he told me look it up.
It just so happened he led me astray and the next thing I knew we were in a war with the folks. I was sent to a maximum security facility in West Virginia, quality of life program, better known as administrative segregation, locked down 23 hours a day. I decided to get the book Blood in my Eye by George L. Jackson and learned the history of the movement. It opened my eyes!