The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
by Stanley Nelson
This film screened in major U.$. cities in the fall of 2015. I was planning to use my notes in an article for our 50th issue on the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party. However, in February 2016 the film was shown on PBS with much publicity. Knowing that our readers have now seen the film we wanted to put some commentary out sooner rather than later. But do make sure to check out Under Lock & Key Issue 50 for a more in-depth counter-narrative to this pop culture film.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is an eclectic collection of video and photography, along with contemporary commentary from some who played important roles in the Party. The producer clearly had no deep ideological understanding of the Black Panther Party, as critics on the left and the right have already noted. What ey was good at was picking out some good sound bites and emotionally moving clips. Yet, even still, as someone with extensive knowledge of Panther history, i often found the film boring. Most of the audience seemed to enjoy it based on the loud cheering at the end.
I have not watched Stanley Nelson's other films, but it seems that a film on the Panthers is within the realm of previous documentaries ey has produced (Jonestown, The Black Press, Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer). It is curious that ey takes on these topics, and then does such a shallow portrayal of the Panthers. Nelson says ey was 15 when the Panthers formed and was always fascinated with them, but was not a participant in the movement emself.(1)
In line with the lack of ideological understanding, the treatment of Panther leaders was dismissive. The most in-depth discussion of Huey P. Newton was related to eir downward spiral into drugs and crime after the Panthers had been well on their way to dissolving. Nelson features sound bites from interviews calling Newton a "maniac" and Eldridge Cleaver "insane." Eldridge Cleaver was cast as a misleader from the beginning in this film. While both story lines are based in reality, the story that is missed is the great leadership role that Huey played, both ideologically and in practice, in building the greatest anti-imperialist organization this country has seen. At that time Eldridge too played an important role ideologically and organizationally, even if he was less consistent than Huey. Fred Hampton was given a more favorable portrayal by the film, but he died a martyr just as he was getting started. (And despite the attention given to Hampton's assassination there is no mention of him being drugged beforehand, presumably by an FBI spy.) There is a pattern of character assassination in the film that does nothing to deepen our understanding of what the Panthers were, why they succeeded, and why they failed. It will turn some people off to the Panthers and push people towards an individualist or anarchist approach to struggle.
To get an accurate portrayal of the Panthers one is better off watching archival footage, as today you can find ex-Panthers of all stripes, and very very few who uphold the Maoist ideology of the Panthers at their height. Former chairman, Bobby Seale, who long ago stopped putting politics in command, was barely mentioned in the film, perhaps because he refused to be interviewed.(1) Elaine Brown, who took over the chairpersyn position after the party had already moved away from a Maoist political line, does appear but has written a scathing denunciation of the film and asked to be removed from it.(2)
As other critics have pointed out there is a lack of mention of national liberation, socialism, communism, and the international situation overall at the time. It is ironic for a film titled "Vanguard of the Revolution" to ignore the key ideological foundations of the vanguard. This reflects a clear effort to build a certain image of what the Panthers were that ignores the basis of their very existence. As such, this film contributes to the long effort to revise the history of the BPP, similar to the efforts to revise the history of other influential revolutionary communist movements in history. This only stresses the importance of building independent institutions of the oppressed to counter the institutions of the bourgeoisie in all aspects of life and culture.
Beyonce is the Queen of pop in the United $tates, so this review isn't meant to uphold em as a revolutionary force. Eir ties to Empire and the lack of internationalism in eir recent series of publicity stunts is a reminder of Beyonce's attachment to U.$. institutions. Instead this article is meant to analyze eir performance at Super Bowl 50, and eir recently released song and music video, "Formation", from a revolutionary Maoist perspective.
The "Formation" video is the most interesting thing in pop culture in a long time, and the Super Bowl performance was likely the most interesting thing in all football history. Beyonce's dancers donned afros and berets (yet, not pants), and performed eir new song "Formation." Like Nina Simone, Beyonce is being compelled by the struggle of eir nation to take an explicit political position. Simone correctly stated that "desegregation is a joke" and Beyonce is suggesting that cultural integration is not worthwhile. After Martin Luther King was assassinated, Simone performed a poem which called for violent uprising against "white things", imploring New Afrikans to "kill if necessary" and to "build black things" and "do what you have to do to create life."(1) Simone was a reflection of eir nation at the time. While Beyonce’s twirling of albino alligators is a weak replacement for Simone’s poetic diatribe, we hope today's New Afrikans will keep pushing cultural icons in more militant and separatist directions.
Let's start with what holds this whole phenomena together. The lyrics for "Formation" are not revolutionary.(2) They promote consumerism, making billions, drinking alcohol, being light-skinned, and fucking. They primarily promote cultural nationalism and economic integration with Empire. What comment the lyrics make on the international relationship between New Afrika and the Third World is more promotion of Black capitalism, on the backs of the most oppressed people in the world – those who are slaving over eir Givenchy dress and dying to mine the diamonds in the Roc necklaces ey is rocking.
Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, correctly calls out Beyonce’s bad economic recommendations in this song, “her celebration of capitalism – an economic system that is largely killing black people, even if some black people, like her, achieve success within it – [has] also been a source of important critique.”(3) Although Garza’s comment is tame, it’s an important generalization to be made. Considering Garza’s following, it’s an important persyn to be making it.
On a positive note, the song celebrates New Afrikan culture that is still under so much attack in the United $tates. While we prefer the revolutionary content and gender relations contained in Dead Prez's "The Beauty Within", "Formation" is still an exercise of Black pride. Whether that pride is then mobilized into a revolutionary internationalist direction is up to the New Afrikan masses, who aren’t getting a whole lot of clarity from Beyonce on that tip.
“Formation” calls for New Afrikan unity of the sexes, and of females as a group (not unusual for Beyonce’s typical pseudo-feminist fare). In the lyrics about going to Red Lobster, or going on a flight on eir chopper, or going to the mall to shop up, Beyonce advocates a reward-based system for harmonious sexual relations. Beyonce also brings in gay and trans New Afrikan culture, from the use of the word “slay” over and over, to the voice samples and New Orleans Bounce style of music used for the song.(4) Resolution of gender antagonisms within New Afrika are a good thing. But if the goal is Black capitalism, that’s bad for the international proletariat and just an extension of the gender aristocracy phenomenon into the relatively privileged New Afrikan internal semi-colony.
MIM(Prisons) upholds the line that all sex under patriarchy has elements of coercion(5), and offering perks for enjoyable sex is still an expression of patriarchal gender relations even if Beyonce is not a typical male father figure. Within the predominantly white Amerikkkan nation, rewards for compliance with patriarchy help to unite Amerika against the oppressed nations.(6) But within the oppressed internal semi-colonies, these lyrics are more interesting, especially considering the long tradition of the Amerikkkan-male-dominated recording industry's use of divide-and-conquer tactics in selecting which music to record and promote. Beyonce isn't promoting sexual entitlement or sexual passivity – patriarchal values that do more to divide New Afrika in practice, and which are heavily promoted in mainstream culture. Assuming whoever is fucking Beyonce could still feed emself without relying on that trade, it's not a matter of life and death, and so these lyrics are less of a threat of starvation than a promotion of national unity. When united against a common oppressor, subsuming the gender struggle to the fight for national liberation, gender harmony in the oppressed nations can be a revolutionary force.
The best part about the song is the separatism and militancy. If the song were to get stuck in your head, it could be a mantra for working hard and uniting. It even gets into who the unity is directed against – Beyonce twirls on them haters, albino alligators. Ey twirls them, as in alligator rolls them, as in kills them. The haters are albino alligators, as in they’re white. Ey calls on others to slay these enemies, or get eliminated. In other words, choose a side.
The "Formation" music video, which was released as a surprise the day before the Super Bowl, is a celebration of New Afrikan national culture and a condemnation of oppression of New Afrikans. It is thick with important and unmistakably New Afrikan cultural references. Beyonce sings, poses, raises a Black fist, and drowns on top of a New Orleans Police car, sinking in floodwaters. A little Black kid hypnotizes a line of cops with eir incredible dancing, and the cops raise their hands in surrender. Beyonce raises two middle fingers on a plantation. There are references to the Moorish Science Temple, gay and trans New Afrikan culture, hand signs, a Black church service, and more, more, more...(7) "Stop Shooting Us" is spraypainted in the background. The subjects of the video look directly into the camera, confidently, and say "take what's mine," including Beyonce's kid Blue Ivy, complete with eir baby hair and afro.
This video doesn't clearly distinguish between integration and secession. Should New Afrikans just keep trying to make peace with Amerikkka, but while asserting a Black cultural identity? Should New Afrika honor its culture, and lives, by separating itself from Amerikkka and forming its own nation-state? Should this nation-state be capitalist or communist? Outside of a revolutionary context, much of the cultural markers that are present in this video could be taken as integrationist. Hopefully the militance and anti-white sentiment of the video will push New Afrika to get in formation to study up and push for actual (not just cultural) liberation from the many forms of oppression highlighted in the video.
The Super Bowl Halftime
That Beyonce was permitted to perform with dancers dressed up like the former Black Panther Party members is somewhat of a mystery. Is it because, ignoring any political content, one would still witness a show of tits and ass, so for the average ignoramus watching the biggest football event of the year, it's no different? Maybe it's because this year is the semi-centennial anniversary of the Black Panther Party, so it's gonna come up in mainstream culture sometime, might as well come up with lots of distraction from the political content. Or maybe the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement has made room for this performance to be possible, and perhaps even necessary to quell uprisings by helping New Afrika feel included in such a paragon cultural event. For whatever reason(s), it's obvious this half-time show would not have happened a few years ago. In fact, Beyonce led the entire halftime show in 2013 and while ey avoided any mention of patriorism, ey didn’t reference police brutality or New Afrikan nationlism either. It's a milestone, and one that shows Black pride is definitely resurfacing country-wide.
Not surprisingly, the Super Bowl has a long history of promoting white nationalism.(8) Some overt examples include in 2002 when U2 helped the country mourn 9/11, with Bono wearing a jean jacket lined with an Amerikkkan flag which ey flashed at the audience, with the names of people who died in the "terrorist" attacks projected in the background. In 2004, Kid Rock wore an Amerikan flag as a poncho, and when ey sang "I'm proud to be living in the U.S.A." over and over, two blondes waved Amerikan flags behind em. When necessary, the Super Bowl even has a tradition of promoting integration and "world peace," some of which we explore below. At this year's performance, Coldplay upheld these decidedly white traditions. Where there was one Amerikan flag, it was during Coldplay's portion of the performance. When there was feel-good bouncing and rainbow-colored multiculturalism, Coldplay was leading it. When the audience was told "wherever you are, we're in this together," the singer of Coldplay was saying it. It's not surprising that the white Coldplay frontman would be the one to promote this misguided statement of unity. As explored in the review of Macklemore's "White Privilege II" project, no, we're not in this together. And we don't need white do-gooders playing leadership roles that distract from national divisions, and thus, the potency for national liberation struggles.
At the end of the Coldplay-led halftime show, the stadium audience made a huge sign that said "Believe in Love." On the other hand, some of Beyonce's dancers were off-stage holding a sign that said "Justice 4 Mario Woods" for cameras. One is a call to just have faith that our problems will go away. Another is a call for a change in material reality: an end to murders by police. (Side note: Someone who was allegedly stabbed by Mario Woods just prior to Woods's 20-bullet execution has come out to tell eir story. Whether ey mean to or not, this "revelation" is being wielded in an attempt to discredit Beyonce as a competent political participant, and to lend more justification to the unnecessary police murder of Woods. Whatever Woods did just prior to eir execution, that ey is dead now is wholly unjustified. The demand for "Justice 4 Mario Woods" is correct, and underlines how New Afrikan people are gunned down in the streets without due process, which is supposedly guaranteed by the U.$. Constitution.)
While Beyonce's performance didn't break new ground by bringing up politics or social problems, it was done in a different way than in the past, that may be a marker for how our society has changed. The costume Beyonce wore, which was adorned with many shotgun shells, was a reference to the costume Michael Jackson wore during eir Super Bowl 1993 performance. Where Michael Jackson had banners of a Black hand shaking a white hand, Beyonce had Black Panther dancers, so touchdown for Beyonce. But where Beyonce sings "you might be a Black Bill Gates in the making", Jackson advocated for the children of the world because "no one should have to suffer." Beyonce's individualist capitalism is devoid of any awareness that today's New Afrikan wealth, especially of Gates proportions, is stolen by the United $tates military from exploited nations across the globe. Yet Jackson's multiculturalism invites unity with oppressor nation chauvinism, which historically usurps oppressed nation struggles and drives them into the ground.
In Janet Jackson's performance in 2004 (you know, the one where Justin Timberlake stalked em around the stage and then exposed Jackson's breast to the world), ey performed the song "Rhythm Nation." The video for "Rhythm Nation" features militant outfits, with pants. In the video, Jackson and eir dancers intrigue a few Black people who are wandering around what appears to be the Rhythm Nation's underground headquarters, another reference to the enchanting powers of dance. "Rhythm Nation" is about unity and brotherhood, "break the color lines", but it's not about Blackness.(9) At the Super Bowl, Jackson called out various injustices faced by oppressed nations (prejudice, bigotry, ignorance, and illiteracy) and called out "No!" to each one, but didn't make it about New Afrikan struggle. That Beyonce clearly delineates eir struggle from the struggle of whites with this performance is an advancement off of Jackson's.
On the topic of organizing females and combating New Afrikan female internalized racism, Beyonce’s performance is a step above other performances. A few examples: Nelly and P. Diddy's dancers in 2004 were dark-skinned but were straight-haired compared with Beyonce's backups. In 2004 they also wore straight hair, as in Madonna's performance in 2012 as well. Even though Madonna called on "ladies" like Beyonce does, Madonna called on them to cure their troubles on the dance floor. Beyonce calls on ladies to get organized (in formation). It should be obvious which message MIM(Prisons) prefers.
During Madonna's performance, MIA gave a middle finger to the camera during the lyric "I'ma say this once, yeah, I don't give a shit." But then MIA and Nikki Minaj joined a tribe of dark-skinned, straight-haired cheerleaders revering Madonna as their blonde, white idol. Beyonce's Panther dance-off with Bruno Mars is a step in a better direction. We also prefer Beyonce's dancers forming a letter "X" on the field (likely another New Afrikan reference), as opposed to Madonna's self-aggrandizing "M".
Whether it's dancing at the Super Bowl or dancing in front of a line of pigs, impressive dancing isn't what's going to get the New Afrikan nation out of the scope of Amerikkkan guns. Beyonce is a culture worker, so that's eir most valuable weapon at this time. As long as she keeps shaking her ass, white Amerikkka might stay hypnotized and let Beyonce continue to promote New Afrikan pride. Hopefully many people in New Afrika who watched the Super Bowl will study up on history, as Beyonce hints at, and revolutionary internationalism of the Black Panther Party can be injected tenfold into the growing Black Lives Matter movement.(10)
In the 20th century New Afrikans reached out to Islam in an attempt to find identity outside of Amerikkkan culture. In Islam they found history, identity, independence, integrity and a connection to the larger world, in particular the Third World. Today, revolutionary Islam is reaching out to New Afrikans and the First World lumpen. Just this month, an Al Shabaab-affiliated video was released featuring the stories of young men recruited from Minnesota who were martyred in Somalia fighting the African Union troops who serve their U.$. imperialist master. The first five minutes of this video is a pointed critique of the history of national oppression in the United $tates and the idea of race. It features footage from Rodney King to Michael Brown and uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri, prisoners from Georgia to California, and sound bites from Malcolm X to Anwar al Awlaki. It is an agitational piece that clearly promotes the national interests of New Afrika.(1)
In the video, Islam is presented as the answer to the racism and social hierarchy based on pseudo-biology that is inherent to Amerika. The conception of Islam as a liberation theology is not difficult to make given the prominence of the concepts of jihad, or Holy Struggle, and shahada, translated as witness or martyrdom. The Holy Struggle is to be one with Allah and to represent righteousness, truth and goodness as determined by Allah's divine wisdom. While jihad and shahada do not require armed struggle, martyrdom in battle for Allah's will is one way that Muslims can reach shahada according to the Qur'an.(2)
Throughout the stories of the Minnesota martyrs there is a theme of not fearing death, but rather running towards it. In regions where revolutionary struggle and political dissent of any form has been brutally crushed, Islam might fulfill a need in providing this basis for courage in the face of imminent death. There are many examples in history of the oppressed finding courage in a belief in their own immortality, but they generally did not end well for the oppressed. Ultimately, the myth of immortality may be good at recruiting cannon fodder, but it leads to recklessness and a lack of a scientific approach that is required for victory. We see the brazen unscientific approach to battle playing out in the Islamic State, which is now losing ground after a couple years of impressing the world with their successes.
"You can kill the revolutionary, but you can't kill the revolution." - Fred Hampton, National Deputy Chairpersyn of the Black Panther Party
Like the Muslim in jihad, the communist struggles to discover truth and goodness. But the communist serves the people, not Allah, so that goodness is relative to the real lives of humyn beings, and truth is that which changes the conditions of that reality. Whether we can serve the people better in life or in giving our lives will depend on the situation. But as most Muslims will agree, serving truth and goodness does not come in seeking death. Rather than finding our strength and resolve in myths, we look to this world to find strategic confidence in our victory. The vast majority of the world's people suffer under the current imperialist system. Yet that system depends on those same people to derive the profits that keep the system moving. So there is an inherent contradiction that will continue to play out in the form of class and national conflict until the exploitative system is destroyed and replaced with one that serves humynkind.
Islam is Growing
If there were to be a religion of the Third World proletariat, it would be Islam, just by the numbers. As of 2010, only 3% of Muslims lived in the imperialist countries, yet Muslims made up 23.4% of the world's population.(3) The Muslim-majority countries are dominated by young people, with over 60% of their citizens being under 30 years old today.(3) Thus the Muslim population is projected to increase, as Muslims will have birth rates twice the rest of the population for the next couple decades. The contradiction between youth and adults has always been an important one, with youthful populations being more open to change.
Of course, Islam has almost no influence in Central and South America and significant chunks of Africa and Asia. So Islam does not represent the Third World as a whole. But First Worldist chauvinism is just as likely to come in anti-Muslim rhetoric as it is to come in the form of racism these days. And it is interesting how its role among the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates has also emerged from the oppressor nation vs. oppressed contradiction, as we will examine in more depth.
It is of note that France, Belgium and Russia are the only imperialist countries that are predicted to have more than 10% of their populations Muslim by 2030.(3) In November 2015, France and Belgium were put under the equivalent of Martial Law in a search for radical Muslims in their countries. Paris remains under this oppressive police state months later. Following the attacks in Paris, there have been attacks in Russia and the downing of a Russian plane. Anti-Muslim nationalism is also rife in Russia, which has recently joined the war against the Islamic State in full force.
In the United $tates, Muslims make up a mere 0.9% of the population.(4) For this reason there is great ignorance of Islam, but Amerikkkans still share the anti-Muslim sentiments of other imperialist countries. 2015 saw the greatest number of attacks on Mosques in the United $tates on record, with a surge following the attacks by Muslims in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California.(5)
The imperialists have succeeded in creating a new race, that is Muslims, for the oppressor nation peoples to focus their hate on. Without this racism, there could be no bombings or occupations in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Yet the white nationalists, in their own twisted logic, can claim Islamophobia is not racism because its based in religion and not "biology." Academia and the media have jumped on this opportunity, presenting Islamophobic papers as legitimate research and reporting, in a form of modern-day phrenology. There have even been discussions online, no doubt dominated by Euro-Amerikans, about how being anti-Jewish is racist but anti-Muslim is not. It is amazing that in 2016, politricks still trumps science, and most people still believe in race. Racist has become such a powerful word due to a combination of the righteous struggles of the oppressed and the promotion of identity politics, that First Worldists are now convinced that Islamophobic chauvinism is not as bad as racist chauvinism.
Islam as Philosophy
When you study philosophy you will inevitably study many religious thinkers. To this day, you will find those who are very deeply involved in religions to be thinkers and philosophers who are trying to understand and use that understanding to interact with the world. As communists, we do the same. So it is no surprise that we often find ourselves in deep dialogue with those of different religious leanings. As we'll get into below, the underlying class makeup of different religions has more to do with how those religions engage with communism than anything else.
So what are we talking about then when we talk about religion? Religion is idealism with organized rituals. The organized rituals part is pretty straight forward. It implies that there is a group of people who adhere to the religion in order to participate in the rituals. And the rituals include all sorts of things from regular meetings, prayer, fasting, philanthropy, dressing up, studying texts, marriage, etc.
Idealism is a broader category of philosophy that includes religions. And there are different versions of idealism, as we might expect. What is common between the different versions is that idealism puts the mind as primary and matter as secondary or non-existent in terms of understanding the "real world." Prior to Hegel, who introduced the radical method of dialectics, idealism was generally metaphysical. Metaphysical idealism is the belief in predefined, static things-in-themselves. For example, for those who believe in one god as the creator, everything that exists is defined by an ideal image from that god. For idealists, there is a barrier between what we perceive through our five senses, and this pre-defined ideal. Philosophers like Kant, who Engels called an agnostic, falling between idealism and materialism, believed that the real ideal was unknowable, or knowable only through faith. For many religions, it is the task of the individual to attempt to know that ideal or absolute truth by following the rituals of their religion. In Islam, this is called jihad. The passing from the material world to the world of ideas is also called transcendence. Transcendence is a major theme of many religions.
For materialists there is no such thing as transcendence. We see that truth is obtained through our five senses in a constant process of gaining knowledge and understanding as a species through practice and the scientific method. There is no ancient scroll or secret key that will open our third eye allowing us to suddenly see and understand all the secrets of the world that are hidden from us by our senses. Or, as Engels puts it in describing why Hegel marked the end of philosophy:
"As soon as we have once realised — and in the long run no one has helped us to realize it more than Hegel himself — that the task of philosophy thus stated means nothing but the task that a single philosopher should accomplish that which can only be accomplished by the entire human race in its progressive development — as soon as we realise that, there is an end to all philosophy in the hitherto accepted sense of the word. One leaves alone 'absolute truth', which is unattainable along this path or by any single individual; instead, one pursues attainable relative truths along the path of the positive sciences, and the summation of their results by means of dialectical thinking."(6)
Why Do We Still Have Religion?
The United $tates is exceptional in the First World in often defining itself through religion (Christianity). One recent book describes this as a fairly recent development, starting from a campaign by industrial capitalists with libertarian interests opposed to the New Deal.(7) The author points out, however, that Franklin D. Roosevelt used a lot of Christian language in his promotion of the New Deal and criticism of the evils of the capitalist class. Roosevelt used that language to capture the populist interests of the majority in the United $tates who were suffering from the Great Depression. The Christian language was an alternative to the communist language in the Soviet Union, which FDR was trying to save the United $tates from. Since the Bolshevik revolution, religious language has been openly used to combat the materialist language of communists.
The capitalist class took up the religious lingo as a marketing scheme after they realized that campaigning honestly for their own interests against the New Deal was not going to get popular support.(7) They backed the election of Dwight Eisenhower in 1954 who brought "In God We Trust" to our currency and put "One Nation Under God" into the pledge of allegience. While Eisenhower did not undo the New Deal as they'd hoped, this trajectory continued with it's pinnacle in 1980 with Ronald Reagon backed by groups like the Moral Majority. It was Reagan who introduced the tradition of U.$. presidents ending speeches with "God Bless America." To this day these evangelical Christian groups have played a strong roll in U.$. politics.
This is just one example of how religion can be used to mobilize people behind a political cause. It also demonstrates how religion can be a very deceptive tool in politics because the politicians avoid talking about the real issues. While in the realm of philosophy we can talk about religion as idealism, in the realm of sociology we see it as culture. And culture is part of the superstructure in that it reflects the economic substructure; in our world that would be (imperialist) capitalism. And within capitalism the fundamental contradiction that defines that system is that between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. So, we will see how as the proletarian forces become stronger religion will reflect the proletarian world view, such as in Central America when socialism/communism had captured the interests of the masses in those Catholic countries. Religion must adopt a proletarian worldview to stay relevant as the scientific method begins to provide the masses with answers that the religions had failed to. In the status quo under capitalism religion most often reflects the interests of the bourgeoisie.
It has been popular in recent decades to talk about the clash of civilizations between the Muslim and Christian worlds. Some even look to history to show a long pattern of these clashes along religious lines. But these lazy historians cherry pick instances in history when religion is used to further the economic interests of different groups, as it often is. Yet a study of the causes of the most brutal wars in in our modern industrial society demonstrate that it was all about trade, markets and national interests. The two world wars were inter-imperialist rivalries over these things.(8) Then as communism threatened to remove vast segments of the world from the capitalist market economy, the imperialists took aim at countries building socialism. The focus on religion in the the last couple decades is a direct result of the victory of the imperialists in crushing socialist aspirations around the world. This repression, combined with some of the negative experiences countries in regions like the Middle East had interacting with revisionists and social-imperialists claiming to be communists, has led to a significant turning away from the socialist path in many parts of the Third World.
Islam and New Afrikans
Just as religion is today an outlet for many radical youth in the Third World, religion has been influenced by revolutionary politics in the context of New Afrika. In the 20th century we see a turn towards Islam by a number of New Afrikans who are searching for identity and liberation from oppression by Amerika. The great migration from the Black Belt to the industrial centers of the north was a time of great change for the nation, that left many searching for identity and culture. In fact, Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammed and Father Allah all came from the south to face unmet promises of freedom and the American Dream.(9)
The appeal of Islam for people like Noble Drew Ali seemed to be in that it was exotic and unknown in North America, yet well-established elsewhere in the world. New Afrikans have spent much time trying to create a new identity by linking their history to lost histories of other peoples, and this was the tradition that Ali worked in. At this time, it seems that many would-be leaders presented themselves as actually being from more exotic places in order to inspire awe and respect from their would-be followers. But it wasn't just novelty that New Afrikans were looking for, it was something that spoke to their national aspirations, and not the same old Christian doctrines that had been used to keep their progenitors down.
There is a direct lineage from Ali's Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) to Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam (NOI) to Father Allah's Five Percenters, later the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE). Even today people move from one organization to the other, building on the common mythologies between them. And all three organizations have had important relationships with various lumpen street organizations.
While loosely based on Islam with their founders basing their studies on religious texts, these groups represent a unique New Afrikan theology and culture. The NGE is the most eclectic of the groups because of its open nature. It had a more direct relationship to street life in New York City, and had influences from practices such as Rastafari, making it again a unique New Afrikan culture.(10)
While the NGE has generally shunned being called a religion, its primary purpose was in the realm of thought and philosophy. Father Allah focused on teaching, not on organizing people for any political goals aside from building opportunity for New Afrikan youth. Elsewhere we discuss the Almighty Latin King Queen Nation and its openness to representing religious ideas, while primarily being a lumpen mass organization. In contrast, the NGE, while rejecting religion ideologically, functioned primarily as a religious or spiritual organization, at least at first. It did evolve to take on more characteristics of a lumpen organization after The Father was killed leaving the youth to organize themselves.
In 1966, a couple years after the Five Percenters began, the New York City Police Department reported that they saw the decline of 200 street gangs, and the rise of one — the Five Percenters.(11) While they often found themselves in violent conflict with the armed wings of other New Afrikan religious sects, in 1971 the NYPD believed the Five Percenters worked with Muslims and Rastafarians in a vigilante killing of ten suspected drug dealers. Around that same time, in the 1970s, the Five Percenters played a leadership role in inspiring gangs to come together to obtain anti-poverty funds, parallel to what groups like the Vice Lords and Black P. Stone Nation were doing in Chicago.(12) In the later 1970s the Five Percenters recruited whole street gangs into their fold whose members accounted for a significant portion of the arrests in Brooklyn during those years.(13)
In another article on the MSTA, a comrade explains the dual roles of the organization, which began as a civic organization and later became a religion. This duality is another thing that MSTA has in common with the NOI, NGE and other New Afrikan organizations that are just as concerned with the nation as with spirituality. This role is also seen in leaders of Christian-based churches, as well as lumpen organizations in the New Afrikan community. While this is a manifestation of the continued national interests of New Afrikans separate from Amerika, it has unfortunately been used against their national interests as well. Some revolutionary theorists have pointed out that it is the most scientific revolutionary leadership that has been targeted for complete annihilation by the state, leaving those with idealist and profit-motivated views to fill the leadership vacuum.
Back in 1996, MIM Notes criticized the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan for stating that an earthquake would strike California in response to federal agents' harassment of NOI officials. MIM wrote, "While Farrakhan's statement appears on the surface to be an extreme example of religious metaphysics, Farrakhan was in fact skillfully using metaphysics as a cover for a crypto-pacifist line directed at his followers."(14) Farrakhan followed in Elijah Muhammad's footsteps, who predicted many major events that never materialized. The mythology of Fard (who is considered a prophet by the NOI) and Elijah Muhammad promoted the idea that the Black man was god and created the white man over 600 years of grafting by the scientist Yacub. Muhammad, and his follower Clarence 13X (later Father Allah), believed that after 6000 years the Black man would return to power, which happened to be in 1966. Muhammad predicted the "Fall of America" to occur that year. The early years of the Five Percenters focused on preparation for this event.
While Father Allah was close to Malcolm X even after both had left/been forced out of the NOI, ey did not join up with Malcolm because Malcolm had rejected the story of Yacub after eir trip to Mecca.(15) Later, Father Allah would take up the line that devilishment was a state of mind and not a genetically distinct white man that was bred by Yacub.(16)
It was Malcolm X who had developed the most scientific theory of liberation coming out of the NOI, which ey seemed to be separating from eir religious beliefs before ey was assassinated, by setting up two separate organizations. Malcolm X inspired many, but it was the Black Panther Party, a Maoist, and therefore atheist, organization that best claims to be the direct descendents of Malcolm's ideas.
The religious side of Malcolm's evolution was carried on by Elijah Muhammad's son, Wallace, who took leadership of the NOI after Elijah's death. Wallace had been shunned for siding with Malcolm in the past, so it was not too surprising when ey took the NOI and transformed it into a group based in traditional Sunni Islam, rejecting the mythology of Yacub and the focus on race. But once again, the appeal of that mythology had not died, and many traditional NOI members left. After originally following (and praising) Wallace's leadership, Louis Farrakhan restarted the Nation of Islam a few years later under the original teachings of Elijah Muhammad. Ey courted the Five Percenters as part of eir efforts to rebuild the NOI.(17)
It is MIM(Prisons)'s line that the principal contradiction within the internal semi-colonies is that between integration with Amerika and independence from Amerika. The continued interest in the mythology of Yacub indicates an unscientific rejection of integration by many New Afrikans. The organizations discussed here all have a significant base in the New Afrikan lumpen, and have ideologies that reflect a kernel of the drive for national independence. While some people from MSTA and NGE have recently distanced themselves from Third World Islam, we shall see whether this becomes the dominant tendency, indicating a further move towards integration with Amerikkka for New Afrikans.
"You know back in the day, some of y'all
Would shout out Allah's name like he was hostin yo' mixtape
Then after 9/11 you got scared and shut the fuck up
Didn't talk about the demonization of a culture, immigrants, nothin
Now you show up, talk about we takin it too far
Die slow! MOTHERFUCKER!"
—Immortal Technique, Watchout (3rd World Remix) from the album The 3rd World (2008)
Addendum: Islam Still Small in the U.$.
After publishing this article, we thought it instructive to add some data we came across on the numbers of people, in particular New Afrikans, who represent some strand of Islam within U.$. borders. That number is quite small, representing less than 1% of the people in the country.(1) Even within the New Afrikan nation the percentage is about the same. Yet, that hides the fact that New Afrikans are disproportionately represented in the U.$. Muslim because virtually all other Muslims are recent immigrants (63%) or descendents of recent immigrants from major Muslim countries.(1) In other words, 0.9% of New Afrikans is much greater than the almost negligible number of Muslim Euro-Amerikans. This leads us to the third pie chart above, showing 59% of Muslims born in the United $tates being New Afrikan. Again, this is why we stress the connection to the national question in the article above.
Finally, it should be noted that even among the small percentage of New Afrikans that do identify as Muslim, most practice a more traditional form of Islam than the groups discussed in the last section above.(2) While we didn't find good numbers on Nation of Islam membership, estimates put it at in the neighborhood of 10% of New Afrikan Muslims. The various sects of the Moorish Science Temple of America represent a much smaller group, though we know that among imprisoned New Afrikans the percentage is higher and we have gotten many letters of interest from prisoners in response to this issue of Under Lock & Key. We do not have numbers on the Five Percenters.
This is a quick response to Rashid's recent response to us titled, "MIM (Prisons) Preaches Logic but Practices Petty Bourgeois Opportunism (2016)." Rashid is the Minister of Defense of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter, which we have a history of both work and struggle with. While we appreciate the time ey has put into responding to us, we continue to find eir responses to be largely unhelpful. Here we give some comments on this document, section-by-section. It won't be too useful until you've at least read Rashid's latest article, but you should probably also read 100 Reasons Why Rashid Needs to STFU About MIM(Prisons), which is a line-by-line response to Rashid's essay "MIM or MLM?". In Rashid's article above ey says ey is only responding to our article Study Logic, Don't End Up Like Rashid. The section headers below all come from Rashid's latest polemic.
We Got MIMP’s Line All Wrong
If you read our full response you'd see examples of this, for example Rashid wrote:
"MIMP maintains the position that there is no First World proletariat as one of their 'cardinal points' and declares anyone who even 'consciously disagrees' with it their enemy.(1)16 Which is problematic and anti-Maoist on several points. First it demonstrates that MIMP determines friends and enemies not by class but rather by one’s willingness to blindly and uncritically accept whatever they say. And not only must one not speak out in disagreement, they must not even disagree in conscious thought. Even the liberal bourgeois doesn’t take thought policing this far! The U.S. constitution is even interpreted by its bourgeois courts to protect one from punishment for their beliefs(2). We need only go as far as the quote at the beginning of this article to see that Maoists don’t repress contrary views, not even those of actual enemies and reactionaries(3). But MIMP opened their polemic contending that they 'cannot forgive'(3) us for daring to disagree with their class analysis of Amerika and VLA line. But let’s look at the PB.
And we responded previously:
MIM(Prisons): 1. No, this is a lie. See the note number 16, and please tell us where is the word “enemy.” Rashid is looking at the criteria to join the United Struggle from Within, and extrapolating that to who we consider enemies. 2. Whoa, MIM(Prisons) is PUNISHING people for their beliefs? That's amazing! Maybe instead of punishing prisoners we should start punishing the mailroom staff who censor our materials for being “gang related.” Or maybe we should start punishing the cops who shoot oppressed nation people dead in the streets. To say we have the power to punish anyone is ridiculous. This is liberal anti-communist propaganda. 3. Did we hurt your feelings? What is the punishment we are exacting on you?
Not mentioning "USW" doesn't mean you didn't confuse aspects of USW with our study courses. And again, you misstated MIM(Prisons)'s line as well. You go on in your latest essay,
"They implicitly admit [that their membership is petty-bourgeois, white, Amerikan settlers], but accuse us of playing identity politics for bringing it up, which is odd and hypocritical; since it is they who charge this group to be enemies..."
That would only be hypocritical if we subscribed to identity politics and didn't understand statistics, neither of which are true. So yeah, you're still playing into identity politics with this very statement, and you don't understand how we look at things differently.
"MIMP then argues that we shouldn’t base the correctness or incorrectness of a position on who stated it. Curiously — and again self-contradictorily — their entire polemic from title to text emphasizes 'Rashid' as who said this and that..."
Uh yeah, you wrote the article we were criticizing. We didn't say it was right or wrong based on who you are or whether you were right or wrong in the past, as you imply that we should do later in your article. Your attempts to prove your grasp of logic here are not panning out too well.
The rest of this section cites old Marxist texts in an attempt to refute our line. We already addressed this as dogmatic and non-dialectical. If you are as familiar with our work as you claim, you'll know that we have plenty of quotes on our side too.
Are We Fishing for Information on MIMP’s Members?
There's some good counter examples to critique our position on security brought up here. But since Rashid approaches this from a completely antithetical class analysis of our conditions, there is no point in having a debate with em on this topic. Of course Rashid would propose an organizing strategy that is the same as those who were successful in revolutionary situations because ey believes we are in a potentially revolutionary situation in the United $tates.
"The masses’ right to know those who presume to lead them and represent their interests, and to supervise them is a 'people’s tactic.' Hiding from the people while claiming to represent their interests without their say so and supervision is an elitist 'pig tactic.' Especially, as MIMP doesn’t dispute that it’s absurd and an insult to the people’s intelligence for them to act as if they believe that the pigs don’t know who they are."
We must ask Rashid, "right to know" what? Most of our work is quite public, and we get so much feedback from the masses on it that we struggle to keep up with it all. But Rashid seems to feel that they need to know what we look like, where we live, what TV shows we watch, in order to fully judge us as leaders. Our position is the complete opposite, that we must train the masses to judge people on political practice and line, and to ignore those other things. Those other things are what lead people to be seduced by misleadership for subjective reasons.
And we've addressed the "pigs already know everything" line as being incorrect elsewhere. In short, they don't know everything, so them knowing something is not a reason to disregard security. Second, if you're good at security, the pigs that know stuff are not the kind of pigs that are going to attack you until you start to wield some real power.
Do We Know MIMP’s Political Line?
Are we still fighting over the "rags" line? All we did is state that we thought "lumpen" usually translated to "rags" and not to "broken" as Rashid claimed. Nowhere do we put that forth as our definition of lumpenproletariat. We stand by the article in question addressing the labor aristocracy as being more correct than Rashid in defining proletariat, when we quoted Marx as calling them those "who have nothing to lose but their chains."
It's funny that Rashid wants to keep claiming that we have not printed eir articles in our newsletter. Yet ey has not shown us any newsletter where ey has printed our articles. And we'd wager that we've distributed more copies of their previous article "MIM or MLM?" (with our comments inserted) than the NABPP-PC has distributed of that same article.
MIMP’s Mass Work... Or Lack Thereof
We could hypothesize that we do more mass work than the NABPP-PC based on our having members in the free world. But we don't really know their practice in all that detail. So we don't talk shit about it. And again, we don't even agree on a definition of the masses, so what's the point of debating who does more "mass work"?
First of all, people change, that's dialectics. Their politics change. You could be a great Maoist theoretician and then start promoting all kinds of revisionism. It happens. It is metaphysics, and promoting a cult of persynality to argue otherwise. Secondly, the study pack on Dialectical Materialism by Rashid that we've distributed in the past was a basic overview of the topic. It does not demonstrate an application of dialectical materialism in analyzing the real world. As far as the praise ey pulls from our review of Defying the Tomb, it should be noted that the following paragraph reads:
"Rashid's book is also worth studying alongside this review to better distinguish the revisionist line of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party - Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC) with the MIM line. While claiming to represent a dialectal materialist assessment of the world we live in, the camp that includes the NABPP-PC, and Tom Big Warrior's (TBW) Red Heart Warrior Society have dogmatically stuck to positions on the oppression and exploitation of Amerikans that have no basis in reality. We will take some space to address this question at the end, as it has not been thoroughly addressed in public to our knowledge."
We wrote that five years ago, and it has been even longer that we have openly considered the NABPP-PC to be revisionist. So our more recent critiques of Rashid's writings are consistent with our long-held position on their work. With this latest essay it seems maybe we were wrong that Rashid wasn't familiar enough with our work to write eir previous critiques, ey just insists on misrepresenting us and then calling us opportunists when we only agree with some of the things ey has said.
We opened this can of worms of critiquing each others' methods with the idea that we'd use it as a teaching moment for our readers. And studying logic is certainly useful. But going back and forth about how the other side is illogical maybe isn't. The main issue here, the dividing line question between MIM(Prisons) and the NABPP-PC is the labor aristocracy question. And we've given up debating that point with them unless they put forth an actual analysis of real world economics, and not dogmatism. So if you want to understand our line there, don't spend your time studying these articles, instead check out our resources on the labor aristocracy. Or, if you're looking for some lighter reading on the topic, MIM's white proletarian myths page is a good place to start.
In 2010 a comrade in California initiated a campaign to demand that grievances be addressed by the California prison system. This comrade created a petition that anyone behind bars could use. The campaign quickly took off in California and spread to other places where customized petitions were created for use in 14 different states.
We have reports from some states that are still actively fighting the corrupt and broken grievance systems using the petitions developed to demand grievances be addressed. But we also have a number of states for which we have petitions, but we haven't gotten an update in a long time. We still get requests for copies of these grievance petitions, but we're not sure if they are being put to use, or if the petition is entirely ineffective.
The goals of the grievance petition campaign are first to build unity amongst prisoners around a common goal, and second to try to resolve grievance problems, in order to help address some brutalities and injustices of the prison environment. An individual sending out one petition won't bring relief, but building with others in your facility around this campaign will help address at least one of these goals.
Here is the list of states for which we need updates on grievance campaign work: Arizona Colorado Kansas Montana North Carolina Nevada Oklahoma Oregon South Carolina
If you are in one of these states, let us know what you did with the grievance petition. Help us update the campaign, even if it's just to say that your work so far hasn't produced success. Tell us what grievances you are trying to fight, how you used the petition, and the participation of your fellow captives.
It is a critical part of the work of any political organization that we learn from our practice, and continue to improve our work. By reporting on your grievance campaign work, you are contributing to the dialectical materialist method of revolutionary struggle. Together we can improve our practice to be even more effective over time.
In 2001, reporters at the Boston Globe newspaper exposed widespread sexual abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church and the long-running coverup of this abuse by Church leadership. Priests who were known to have molested children were moved to new parishes where they repeated the abuse, with full knowledge of Church leadership. The Globe printed a series of stories that led to the resignation of Cardinal Law and great embarrassment for the Church. Spotlight dramatizes the work done by the reporting team at the Globe to uncover the facts in this case, and the resistance they faced in a city dominated by the Catholic Church.
Overall Spotlight does a good job demonstrating the tremendous harm that the institution of the Catholic Church did to thousands (likely tens of thousands) of youth, and the pervasive influence and power of the Church in the city of Boston, Massachusetts. No attempt is made to justify the actions of the Church leadership who covered for the abusive priests, nor does the movie suggest that anything was changed by the newspaper stories, instead concluding with a list of hundreds of cities around the world where similar abuse scandals were uncovered.
It is outrageous and enraging to see the stories of abused children, the lucky ones who made it to adulthood, and hear about Church authorities who, upon learning about these cases, moved to silence the abused, promising it would never happen again, even while they knew the priests had a history of exactly this same abuse against other children. It is an interesting contrast that, while quick to believe that all Muslims are terrorists when a small minority of them fight back against imperialism, Amerikans presented with so much evidence would never consider calling all Catholics child molesters. Even non-Catholics in the United $tates are well indoctrinated to believe that the churches are forces for good and Christianity is a religion of good people.
In the end the movie lets the Catholic Church off the hook. By focusing on just this sex abuse scandal, Spotlight portrays the rest of the Church activities as generally benevolent. Further, it implies that the abusive priests are just psychologically impaired in some way, and so this has allowed the Catholic Church to say they've solved the problem by introducing psychological screening for those wanting to enter priesthood. We believe it is the very institution of the Catholic Church, along with the patriarchy that it so ardently supports, that leads priests to be indoctrinated into eroticizing power over helpless young kids. It's not a flaw in the individual, but rather the system itself that is flawed, and not in a way that can be fixed by psychological screenings. Religion has a long history of supporting the patriarchal dominance of male power and reinforcing gender inequality.
One problem with focusing on the serious harm the Catholic Church does to Amerikkkans is the omission of the even greater harm the Church has done globally. Consistently a force for reaction, the Church at best has pretended neutrality while watching dictators murder, plunder, and oppress entire nations of people. Just as Spotlight shows the power and influence of the Catholic Church in all levels of Boston's city politics, in many cases there is documentation of this Church's support for and work with reactionary governments around the world.
As a strong centralized religious institution with a long history, the Catholic Church is an easy target for people looking to document the reactionary role of religious institutions. But they are just one example of the harm religious institutions have on society. After overthrowing the imperialists and putting a government in power that serves the interests of the oppressed (a dictatorship of the proletariat), the people will have the power to ban reactionary institutions. When we see the tremendous harm that the Catholic Church did to so many children over so many years, it should be obvious that this institution should be outlawed. And those who perpetuated and covered up the molestation should face the people's courts. There is no justification for allowing such dangerous institutions to continue.
Yet, we don't need to outlaw religion as a belief under the dictatorship of the proletariat. As Mao explained about their policy in China under socialism:
"The Communist Party has adopted a policy of protecting religions. Believers and non-believers, believers of one religion or another, are all similarly protected, and their faiths are respected. Today, we have adopted this policy of protecting religions, and in future we will still maintain this policy of protection." (Talk with Tibetan Delegates, October 8, 1952)
It is not that we want to force people to change their beliefs. Rather we think that once we eliminate reactionary culture and institutions and teach all people how to reason with dialectical materialist methodology they will give up old ideas and beliefs that are not based in science. Just as Confucianism was discarded by most Chinese so too will other religions be discarded by humynity as we advance towards a world without the oppression of groups of people.
Mail the petition to your loved ones and comrades inside who are experiencing issues with their grievance procedure. Send them extra copies to share! For more info on this campaign, click here. If there is a state-wide petition developed, that one should be used instead of the country-wide petition, because it is more detailed. For a list of state-wide petitions that have already been developed, click here.
Prisoners should send a copy of the signed petition to each of the addresses listed on the petition, and to the MIM(Prisons) address below. Supporters should send letters on behalf of prisoners.
United States Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Section 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, PHB Washington, D.C. 20530
Office of Inspector General HOTLINE P.O. Box 9778 Arlington, Virginia 22219
And send MIM(Prisons) copies of any responses you receive!
MIM(Prisons), USW PO Box 40799 San Francisco, CA 94140
Resolutions on Gender Pronouns and Secure Communications
A couple resolutions passed at our 2015 Congress in July. One was focused on clarifying our policy on securing our communications outside of prisons. The full policy remains internal, but it reads in part, "Our policy is that we do not have cell relations over the internet if the other cell will not use PGP or equivalent encryption." This clarifies our existing practice.
The second resolution was proposed to change our use of pronouns to reflect the non-binary reality of biological sex categories. This proposal was taken as a task for further research as comrades were not well enough informed on the topic to put it to a vote at that time. Below is our final resolution on this question, as a result of further research and discussion.
Distinguishing Biology from Gender
As revolutionaries committed to fighting gender oppression, we distinguish between the biology/physiology of sex (male/female), and the socially constructed categories of gender (men/wimmin).
Our definition of gender places it firmly within leisure-time:
"Historically reproductive status was very important to gender, but today the dynamics of leisure-time and humyn biological development are the material basis of gender. For example, children are the oppressed gender regardless of genitalia, as they face the bulk of sexual oppression independent of class and national oppression.
"People of biologically superior health-status are better workers, and that's a class thing, but if they have leisure-time, they are also better sexually privileged. We might think of models or prostitutes, but professional athletes of any kind also walk this fine line. Athletes, models and well-paid prostitutes are not oppressed as 'objects,' but in fact they hold sexual privilege. Older and disabled people as well as the very sick are at a disadvantage, not just at work but in leisure-time. For that matter there are some people with health statuses perfectly suited for work but not for leisure-time."(1)
Our definition of gender has not changed. But with our growing understanding of the artificially binary definition of biological sex, MIM(Prisons) is changing our use of language to better reflect the reality of biology.
A Bit of History on Biology
In the past MIM line has treated the biology of sex as basically binary: males and females. But humyn biology has never been entirely binary with relation to sex characteristics. There are a range of interactions between chromosomes, hormone expressions and sexual organ development. The resulting variation in anatomical and reproductive characteristics include a lot of people who do not fit the standard binary expectation. Studies suggest that as many as 1 in 100 births deviate from the standard physical expectations of sex biology.(2) To this day anything deviating from the "normal" binary of distinct male or female is seen by mainstream society as a disorder to be corrected or covered up. Genital surgeries are conducted on newborn babies causing lifelong pain and suffering just to "correct" a body part that is seen as too large or small, or even just because a baby identified by doctors to be a boy might grow up unable to pee standing up.(3)
People who are born with variations in sex and reproductive organs that don't fit the typical binary are termed intersex. This term encompasses a wide range of biological expressions, including people entirely indistinguishable from society's definition of males and females without a chromosomal test or other invasive physical examination. There are even instances where someone would be identified female by a certain set of criteria (such as an external physical examination) but male by another set (such as a chromosome test).
The Value of Removing Biologically-determined Pronouns
From studying the history of humyn biology we learn that it's not possible to easily identify the biological sex of an individual. In fact, there's nothing wrong with having a spectrum of biological characteristics that we don't have to fit into two neat categories. Further, we do not generally see value in identifying biological sex unless it is the specific topic of discussion. We are committed to fighting gender oppression. And part of this fight involves teaching people not to be concerned with the biology of others, and instead to judge them for their work and the correctness of their political ideas.
Many languages are relatively gender neutral compared to english. Chinese is just one example. These languages do not suffer from confusion about the identity of people, and they are arguably much easier to learn and use in this regard. In Spanish, the transition to a gender neutral language has already begun with the use of @ in place of o/a in gendered words. While English does not offer us a similar gender-neutral option, we have a history of modifying the language to suit our revolutionary purposes. We have changed America to Amerikkka to identify the domination of national oppression in this country. And we have changed woman to womyn to remove the implication that a "woman" is just an appendage to a "man."
Building on MIM's Legacy
For most of MIM's history, it used gender-neutral pronouns of "h" instead of his, her, him, hers; and "s/he" instead of she or he. Ten years ago at MIM's 2005 Congress, a resolution was passed on gender-neutral pronouns, which read:
"MIM hereby extends its policy on anti-patriarchal language (including such spellings as 'womyn,' 'wimmin,' 'persyn,' and 'humyn') to cover the use of gender-neutral third-person singular pronouns. Henceforth feminine pronouns will be used for persyns of unknown sex who are friends of the international proletariat and masculine pronouns will be used for enemies of unknown sex.
"Examples: 'From each according to her abilities, to each according to her needs.' 'A true comrade devotes her life to serving the people.' 'The enemy will not perish of himself.' 'A labor aristocrat derives much of his income from superprofits.'
"This rule applies only to the otherwise ambiguous cases when sex is not stated. Accordingly, George Bu$h is still 'he' and Madeleine Albright is 'she,' although both are enemies. All MCs, HCs, and others close to MIM are 'she' at this time, since their real sex cannot be revealed, for security reasons.
"Traditional patriarchal grammar maintains that 'he' is the only correct 'gender-neutral' pronoun in all of the examples above. MIM's realignment of the pronouns along the lines of 'Who are our friends? Who are our enemies?' is more egalitarian and corresponds fairly well to the facts at this point in history."
While we see great value in the above resolution, in applying it to our practical work we ran into many problems. Regular readers of ULK may recognize that MIM(Prisons) has defaulted to the old MIM practice of using "h" and "s/he" pronouns.
The vast majority of MIM(Prisons)'s subscribers are cis-males, meaning they were classified as male at birth and they self-identify as male today. (Note that these criteria are not material tests of one's sex.) Much of our subscribers' reasons for being imprisoned in the first place is related to this male classification. And they are held in facilities that are "male only." Prison is an environment which heightens all of society's contradictions, and this environment tends to be even more violent in reinforcing social codes of conduct (including "male" and "female" social markers) than the outside world.
In our practice of running a prisoner support organization with our organizing resting heavily on the written word, we have seen it as too confusing to use "she" pronouns for our cis-male comrades. Further, the 2005 resolution is not clear on whether prisoners as a whole, who are of the lumpen class, should be referred to as "she" or "he." Historically the lumpen is a vacillating class, which is in a tug-of-war between bourgeois and proletarian influence. Determining if the lumpen are "friends of the international proletariat" is sometimes unclear. Thus the use of "h" and "s/he" was much more useful in our specific work.
We believe this new writing policy will have a positive impact for our transgender, transexual, and genderqueer subscribers and contributors as well. The preferred pronouns of these groups are often individually self-selected, as is how they present their gender identification. (Note that preferred pronouns and gender identification are not material definitions of one's sex or gender.) Defaulting everyone's pronouns to a singular set of gender-neutral pronouns reduces the subjectivism inherent in this type of identity politics. We hope our new writing policy will draw this movement into a more materialist and internationalist direction.
New Writing Policy
When referring to an individual in the third persyn, we will use either their name or the neutral pronouns of ey, em, and eir to replace s/he and h. Ey, em, and eir are singularized versions of they, them, and their and we believe these more accurately reflect the biological sex of humyns, in that they downplay the inaccurate binary which has developed over thousands of years of patriarchal history. We also think ey/em/eir will have the greatest ease of use, from the wide selection of gender neutral pronoun sets which have been proposed in the past.(5)
We define men and wimmin as those who are oppressors in leisure time and those who are oppressed in leisure time, respectively, and regardless of biological genitalia or reproductive capacity.(4) This is the strand of oppression called gender. When referring to people or individuals when gender is relevant, we will refer to them as men or wimmin and use he or she pronouns. (Similarly, we don't always reference other defining characteristics of our correspondents, but we do refer to someone as "New Afrikan" or "clean-shaven" when relevant.)
A USW comrade asks: Recently I was having a conversation here with someone about the "Third World." This person didn't think all of Africa, Asia & Latin America was still the "Third World." I wasn't totally sure. He also asked exactly what qualifies a country for Third World status. I had no answer, he asked someone outside prison who looked online and stated all Latin America is still Third World but China was now considered "Second World," is this true? Can you send me an article on "Third World" - past, present, and future? Thank you.
MIM(Prisons) responds: The use of the terms First, Second and Third World arose during the Cold War, when the Western imperialist-led block was referred to as the First World, the communist block was the Second World, and the Third World were the so-called non-aligned countries who were also the most exploited and underdeveloped countries by design.
Mao Zedong put forth an alternative assessment of the world using these terms. By this time the Soviet Union had clearly gone back on the capitalist road. So while the West saw the Soviet Union as communist, China saw it correctly as imperialist. Mao therefore labeled the two superpowers, U$A and the Soviet Union, as the First World. He grouped other imperialist countries as the Second World, which he saw as potential allies against the First World. Then the exploited countries he saw as the Third World, including socialist countries like China itself.
Today, the general usage of the term Third World is more consistent and it is closer to the way Mao defined it. It might be used interchangeably with terms like "exploited nations," "oppressed nations," "underdeveloped countries," "periphery" or "global south." In 1974 Mao said, "The third world has a huge population. With the exception of Japan, Asia belongs to the third world. The whole of Africa belongs to the third world and Latin America too."(1) To this day, this is probably the most common view of who is the Third World. But of course it is more nuanced than that.
It is worth mentioning the more recent use of the term Fourth World to refer to indigenous populations that are not really integrated into the capitalist world economy. This points to the reality that the vast populations that we might lump into the category of Third World can vary greatly themselves. The distinction is a more useful point when analyzing conditions within a Third World country than when doing a global analysis.
In the earlier years of the Soviet Union, Stalin summed up Lenin's theory of imperialism and split "the population of the globe into two camps: a handful of 'advanced' capitalist countries which exploit and oppress vast colonies and dependencies, and the huge majority consisting of colonial and dependent countries which are compelled to wage a struggle for liberation from the imperialist yoke."(2) This is how we view the world today, when there is no socialist block with state power. But we also know that historically the socialist USSR and socialist China both saw themselves in the camp of the exploited countries, or the Third World.
In our glossary, we define Third World as, "The portion of the geographic-social world subjected to imperialist exploitation by the First World." If this is our working definition, we might choose to use the term "exploited nations" to be more clear. But this comrade brings up a good question asking about China. And it leads us to the question, is China still an exploited nation?
We will only superficially address this question here, but we think the obvious answer is "yes." It was only recently that the peasantry ceased to be the majority in China. And after the destruction of socialist organizing in the mid-1970s, the conditions of the peasantry quickly deteriorated pushing people to leave their homelands for the cities. While urban wages have seen steady growth in recent years, even that masks a vast and diverse population. The average annual income of $9,000 puts an urban Chinese worker in the neighborhood of earning the value of their labor.(3) But the average is greatly skewed by the wealthy, and most workers actually make far less than $9,000 a year. Combine them with the almost 50% of the population in the rural areas and we've got a majority exploited population.
Another way to think about China as a whole is that it accounts for about 25% of global production.(4) Capitalism cannot function and pay over a quarter of the world's productive labor more than the value they produce. Keeping all the value of your own labor (and more) is an elite benefit only granted to a tiny minority found almost wholly in the First World. There is really no feasible path forward that leads to the vast majority of Chinese people benefiting from imperialism when they make up almost 20% of the world's people. This is a contradiction that Chinese finance capitalists must deal with.
While the modern interpretation of the term Third World tends to be a descriptive term for the conditions of that country alone, the definitions from the Cold War era actually defined Third World countries by how they relate in the global balance of power. To define a country as Third World is more meaningful when it is done to define its interests in relation to others. Can we count on the Chinese to take up anti-imperialism or not? Or, as Mao put it, who are our friends and who are our enemies? That is the important question.
While we see the makings of more and more revolutionary nationalist organizing by other nations against China in the future, we cannot put the Chinese nation in the camp of oppressor nations. It is our position that some 80% of the world are of the oppressed nations that oppose imperialism. Including China as an oppressor nation would push that number down near 60%. But the conditions in China just don't support that categorization.
The bourgeois myth is that the world has been in a period of peace since the end of World War II. The MIM line has always been that World War III is under way, it's just taken the form of the First World vs. the Third World, so First Worlders don't worry about it so much. In recent years that has begun to change as witnessed in thinly veiled conflicts in places like Ukraine and Syria. In recent months we've seen U.$. and Russian military on the same battlefield, not on the same side. And both countries are gearing up to increase their militarys' involvements in that war in Syria. This is the first time that the inter-imperialist contradiction has been so acute since Gorbachev took power in the Soviet Union in 1985 and began the dissolution of the union in partnership with the Western imperialists.
Politically speaking, it would be reasonable to consider countries like Russia, as well as China, to be the Second World today, as they provide a counterbalance to the imperialist interests of the dominant imperialist powers of Europe, Japan and, most importantly, the United $tates. As such, Russia and China can play progressive roles as a side-effect of them pursuing their own non-progressive interests, because they challenge the dominant empire. However, we have not seen the term Second World used in this way, and you don't really hear the term these days. Perhaps the growing inter-imperialist conflict will warrant its comeback.