Prisons in California have become one of the most active and organized areas of resistance behind bars in the United $tates. With the second largest prison population in the country, and some of the biggest long-term isolation units, this is perhaps not surprising. Out of this repression and resistance has come some strong organizing efforts over the past few years. And this has also raised contradictions that need to be resolved to advance the struggle. We use this issue of ULK to highlight the contradictions and challenge our comrades in California to think broadly about resolutions.
While SHU/Ad-Seg prisoners are about 6% of the California prison population, they were 35% of our readers according to our reader survey conducted a couple years ago. Special Needs Yards (SNY) are reported to be around 30% of the total population, but were about 40% of our reader responders. So while SHU/Ad-Seg are very over-represented, SNY also seems to be slightly over-represented among our readers. There is a big division between SHU/GP and SNY prisoners with distrust and anger on both sides. But comrades from both sides continue to do solid organizing work. One of the significant developments in Cali is the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH), a United Front that has made important strides forward but is also plagued by these divisions.
It is unlikely anything we do or say will worsen the division between SHU/GP and SNY. Rather than fan the flames, we are airing these grievances as a step towards understanding and eventual reconciliation. We also want to challenge both sides. The revolutionary, anti-imperialist, pro-people forces are tiny in all sectors. Some argue that SNY is in a better position to unite, while others say only GP has potential. So we want to encourage a little friendly competition between the two sides to see who can do more. Practice has already demonstrated the leadership from SHU's ability to mobilize the masses for a progressive cause. But progressive forces on that side must continue to move forward in order to consolidate those gains, or risk them being lost. At the same time SNY comrades claim they gained the freedom to unite and organize with whoever they want, and so they need to use that position to unite others who dropped out. To both sides we say: if you're only seeking a comfortable way to do your time you're not helping advance the struggle and the revolution has no place for you.
We received a number of responses to the article in ULK 50, "[email protected] Power Book Tainted by AEH." One comrade in SNY wrote: "In my point of view it [the Agreement to End Hostilities] contradicts every aspect that they preach. Now everybody who died, who caught a life sentence for the struggle they believed in was all for nothing. Take a second and think about that. There are people who are in prison serving a life sentence for killing an individual who opposed his views and beliefs. Now they expect him to be the best of friends with these same people? How does that make sense?
"Now you guys reading this might say 'He is only saying that because he's SNY.' Well, for 4 years I was active and I have seen both sides of the fence. Not everybody over here is a snitch. There is more unity here than there is on the mainline. You see raza from North and South united where it doesn't matter what part of the state you're from."
Saying that the AEH is hypocritical based on the past goes against the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) principle of Growth. We must allow for growth and evolution of individuals and organizations if we want to see unity among the oppressed, because the old way didn't work. There are major contradictions between lumpen organizations (LOs) still, and between different housing units in California. But we see these as contradictions among the people. Which is why we stand behind the AEH, and think those old wounds can heal. It's been four years, and there's still a long way to go. But people are putting in the work, and in some locations we've seen real progress.
We understand the lack of trust that some have for those calling for the AEH in California. But we say to those people, the ones who truly want to end oppression as this comrade does, isn't the AEH a step towards what you want? Even if you don't trust certain individuals, the more we do to promote the spirit of the AEH, as well as the principles of the UFPP, the closer we get to replacing the old order with a new order based on unity of the oppressed.
This response comes from the comrade at Folsom (not SNY) who reported in ULK 50 on the progress of the AEH there, with Raza from north and south playing handball together on the same teams:
"It's a challenge educating people here, attempting to share and explain the current situation and contradiction of ideology, morals, politricks and capital. These factions seem to be following a textbook on capitalism. Yes, we have the AEH, which is a beautiful thing and can be used as a stepping stone for a more productive practice of commune. At the moment people are more concerned on exploiting the twisted habits of others and making their pockets fatter for self-interest. The 'chiefs' preach to confuse, saying that the ideology, morals and capital is framed around serve the people, united we are stronger and all that glitter. But i've not yet seen one cent invested in the people, books, education or basic needs. Too bizzy taxing the fellas for pickles out their store bags.
"Get your back straight my people, the AEH is being tainted by self-interest and is not being maximized to its full potential in a more revolutionary way. Serve the People.
"The great are only great because we are on our knees. If you don't have sycophantic attitudes towards the 'leader' and express your support they don't look great. Put some pressure, maybe then these individuals that abandoned the cause for self-interest can snap out of their pig ideology and step their game up and shape their minds and struggle towards national liberation. Resemble more a revolutionary internationalist and not the imperialist pigs that fucked us all in the first place, Tony Montana wanna-be mofo.
"I will continue to read, educate, practice and liberate regardless of the situation and this September 9 will be no different.”
A comrade in Corcoran (not SNY) is skeptical of the AEH, but echoes the refrain from many in SHU/GP that there can never be unity with SNY:
"The AEH is a godsend to all the souljas who have been held captive in the concrete tombs for 10, 15, 20+ years. The AEH is the tool CDCR is going to try and use to 1) gain more funds to build more prisons, and 2) justify the need for indeterminate SHU sentences. The current shape/mindset of prison and prisoners is not what it was back in the days that the souljas remember it being. This is going to create problems. These newly released souljas are going to be dealing with 18, 19, 20 year olds sentenced to 50, 60, 100 years.
"The AEH is going to create old-school versus new-school. That about sums it up. There's more to it. Like say the both schools are getting along there's also a snake on the police side ready to cause dissension amongst the community. Bottom line, CDCR cannot afford for the AEH to work, so they will see that it doesn't and when it doesn't they'll try to capitalize off its failure.
"They are now selling e-tablets, but only for SNY yards. There's mp3 players only for SNYs. The list goes on. Even with the trades there on SNY yards, the GP level prisoners aren't being afforded an opportunity to utilize programs that would rehabilitate them and better their lives and chances of staying out of prison. The message is clear: if you level four prisoners want to better your life you got to go SNY.
"Oh, there won't ever be a united front between GPs and SNY. You're better off trying to get a united front between convicts and pigz. See how crazy that sounds?! While there are solid souljas on the SNY yard, who became tired of the twisted prison politics. They're far outnumbered by pieces of shit, ie. child molesters, rapists, snitches, cowards, people running from drug debts, etc."
This last point is an important one that requires comment. Yes, prisoners are more likely to unite with pigz than they are with SNY because they are currently led by the criminally-minded. And it's hard to do serious money-making behind bars without working with some criminal pigz. This is a challenge and a contradiction we face trying to organize the First World lumpen. Not only are they criminal-minded, they can often make a fair amount from that crime, even some in prison are happy and prefer that over uniting New Afrika and Aztlán to fight imperialism. This is echoed by the Folsom comrade above.
All of these struggles in the California prisons remind us of how far we have to go, as humynity, to achieve a society where all people can live together in peace, in a society where no group of people has power over any other group. That long-term goal is communism. But to get there we will need to radically change our culture and the education people get from schools and society. Divisions are built into imperialism, people are pitted against each other based on class, nation, and gender generally and more specifically feuds are fostered by the imperialists to pit the oppressed against each other. This culture won't disappear overnight.
We learn from the revolutionary history of China that cultural revolutions will be needed after the oppressed take power, to re-educate everyone and build a truly revolutionary culture and society. It's a long road, and our comrades behind bars in California shouldn't be discouraged by divisions that have been created over many years of capitalist cultural indoctrination. Keep the big picture in mind and build for the revolutionary united front that serves the oppressed of the world.
This issue of ULK is being mailed to 48 states, yet over one third are going to Texas prisons. This can be attributed in large part to the void we've been filling with our Texas Campaign Pack, which has led to a huge influx of subscribers in that state. TDCJ has hidden its own grievance manual from prisoners since 2014, and more recently has effectively eliminated all access to the law library in many facilities. The MIM(Prisons) TX Pack helps people fight back and provides needed resources and information.
Yet when looking through the incoming mail, we notice some themes:
Most people are focused only on their individual struggles.
The end goal for most writers is prison reform.
There is a huge lack of engagement with politics.
Of course there are a number of exceptions to these themes, but the quantity of letters without political content is overwhelming. The vast majority of writers are only interested in getting the Texas Pack from us. Their engagement with the rest of our projects (even reading ULK, which is sent automatically to everyone who writes us) is a relative rarity. Those who report receiving the TX Pack and thank us for how helpful it is are mostly only using it to work on their own grievances. Some share it with others, but most don't seem to be using it on campaigns together. Of the huge number of people who have been invited to our intro study group across the state, very few actually participated.
If our subscribers in Texas want everything they learned in the Texas Campaign Pack to actually be put to the best possible use, there are a few key points that have to be considered:
Individual actions are small. The impact of a single successful grievance may feel huge to one persyn for at least a small period of time. But we must think bigger than our individual struggles. Especially when most of these struggles are unsuccessful.
Reformism is very limited. Those in power stall at every opportunity. So while we might see a few victories, it'll always be just enough to keep us motivated to bark up the same wrong tree for another several decades. In order to end what makes oppression possible and profitable, we need to put an end to the capitalist economic system. We've tried reforming it for hundreds of years. Is this what you expect it should look like by now?
Apply principles of revolutionary theory for an end to oppression. The only way to achieve an end to this ongoing oppression is to learn some principles about revolutionary science. We need to know what has worked in the past, and what hasn't. We need to learn lessons from history for how we can build our present-day movement to be as successful as possible at putting a quick end to capitalism and all its atrocities the world over. This takes hard work and dedication, and is the only way for future generations to come out from under the boot of the oppressors.
Once we learn some revolutionary theory, the next step is to put it into practice in our organizing work. Tons of people write to us about how difficult it is to find people in Texas who are interested in politics or coming together to protect themselves from abuses by staff. This is because, despite all the atrocities in TDCJ facilities, TDCJ achieved a delicate balance between privileges and punishment, that keeps the population complacent but not so repressed that they are inspired to step up and do something about it. This dynamic has been going on for eons. The perfect example of this is people who have given up filing grievances because the grievances go unanswered, and instead they just watch TV. If not for the TV or other distractions/privileges, unanswered grievances should lead someone to want to take further action to protect their humynity. By restricting indigent mail and eliminating law libraries in many facilities, TDCJ is signing itself up for some contempt amongst its wards, but only if those who are politically conscious take the next steps to educate and organize.
The most basic organizing steps to try:
Share the TX Pack with others, and have them write to MIM(Prisons) to get on our mailing list.
Write grievances together. Even if for individual issues, build your collective knowledge about what makes a grievance successful. Don't let the administration give you the runaround.
Unsuccessful grievances are part of the process. We don't expect to actually have victories with these grievances, but we file them to go through the process of administrative remedies, and build unity through action. When the grievances come back rejected, use them as tools to show how backward the administration is, and how the grievance system is set up to fail.
Meanwhile, build political consciousness: Study articles in ULK, and broaden your perspective of how the prison struggle fits in with the struggle of the internal semi-colonies, and oppressed nations worldwide.
MIM(Prisons) offers a multitude of ways we can support you in your organizing. We can provide lit and study guides if you want to start a study group. We also recently revamped our Prisoners' Legal Clinic, and you can use your legal expertise to help others with their cases and help them learn some revolutionary theory. Our literacy program is coming up too, so maybe tutoring others in how to read and write in a Serve the People Program is a role you can play. Or if you're an artist or writer you can contribute articles for ULK, which then gets mailed to people all across the country. If you have access to funds, send us a donation so we can continue sending the TX Pack and ULK in to the large number of subscribers in Texas.
In sum, Texas prisoners need to step up. We all already know that filing individual grievances is a joke. The Texas Campaign Pack has info for how to make the most of individual grievances, so we can have a few more successes, but the administration can still just toss out or ignore whatever they don't feel like dealing with. TDCJ headquarters in Huntsville is no better. We hope our comrades in Texas who have been so diligently putting the Texas campaign info to good use will make this connection to the bigger picture and adjust accordingly.
We're here today in interview with one of the authors of the recently released book [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán. [email protected] Power is primarily authored by [email protected] revolutionaries who are locked up in California's prison system. They wrote this book as part of a study group led by the Maoist revolutionary support organization, MIM(Prisons). The comrade we're interviewing today is one of the imprisoned authors, joining us via telephone straight from the belly of the beast. The book was published in fall 2015 by Kersplebedeb publishers, and is available at leftwingbooks.net or by writing to MIM(Prisons) at PO Box 40799, San Francisco, CA 94140.
We are so glad to have this author with us today to talk about [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, so let's get to the interview.
Comrade, can you start with an overview of the contents of [email protected] Power? Is it appropriate to call it a handbook for making revolution in the United $tates a reality?
I wouldn't say - I don't think it should be used as a handbook for revolution, which might be what some people might look at it as, but more as a educational text with which Raza can begin the struggle toward confirmation from [email protected] gangbangers to [email protected] revolutionaries. And I'm well aware that maybe not everyone will become a revolutionary in the strictest sense, but at least to elevate people's consciousness so that they know that, you know, first of all that there is a [email protected] nation, that it exists, and it needs to be liberated.
[email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán as a educational tool will hopefully help [email protected] to not only understand the correct political lines concerning the liberation of Atzlán but will also help them become more aware of their true national identity, which lies outside of the Amerikkkan nation.
Of course the book [email protected] Power also introduces the [email protected] masses to revolutionary science and the revolutionary traditions that were largely responsible for putting that science to use, most notably the Soviet and Chinese experiments in socialism.
The book also goes into critiquing various forms of [email protected] nationalism, which some [email protected] tend to mistake for liberatory ideologies, of cultural and narrow nationalism, that, when put into practice, actually lend themselves to supporting oppressive structures such as Amerikan imperialism.
It features a brief historical synopsis of the [email protected] nation. It also gets into some more contemporary topics such as [email protected]' participation in the democratic process in the United $tates today, as far as speaking on contemporary presidential candidates. There's also some book reviews in there covering a wide variety of aspects of, critiquing the RCP's line on the [email protected] nation and other oppressed nations. Some cultural nationalist reviews in there. Our position on where the [email protected] nation is right now and where it needs to go in the future. I would say that is the brief synopsis of what's in there.
You mentioned the transition from gangbangers to revolutionaries, that you hope this book will inspire. That's a path that you are persynally familiar with. Could you speak on your development from gangbanger to revolutionary to author?
I really began my little journey like every other [email protected] in here, you know. I was oblivious to the fact that there was even a [email protected] nation to begin with. Like most other [email protected] in here, i started off categorizing myself as a Mexican. I came to prison for anti-people activity, gangbanging. The first few years i was just kinda trying to lay low and just stay out of trouble and just — i mean if something came along on my little journey i would do it, as far as if i would be asked to do any kind of negative actions. But i think after a few years i really just became disillusioned with everything. I realized that everything that i knew or that i thought i knew as a youngster, i mean, for the most part everything was a lie.
I would say that's really where my political development probably started in a sense as far as i knew that i didn't want this no more. I knew that this kind of life wasn't leading anywhere and remembering bringing pain to my family, bringing pain to others, and i just didn't want that anymore. At a certain point i decided that, this is when the SNY yards first came into being, in the early 2000s. Even though they were around much longer than that, this is when they really started being used in the prison system in California. SNY yards stands for Sensitive Needs Yards, the modern day equivalent to California of protective custody yards. So for people that can't walk the mainline, they end up over here. Everyone just does their own thing, you don't gotta follow another man's orders, as far as another inmate. I think that was a big part of motivating me to come to this side.
Once on this side, for the first few years, i was all about just doing me. I wasn't worried about anybody. Just trying to do my time, and kinda just take it slow and easy. And i really wasn't political at all. Until i believe it was around the time of the invasion of Iraq by the Amerikan government. And i think that's around that time that's when i started being politicized. And i really just started seeing everything on TV, seeing the bombing, seeing people dying, seeing the suffering going on over there. It wasn't hard to tell why the U.$. was there. And like i said, i wasn't political, but at that point, i could at least see that.
So simultaneously, around the same time, i just happened to have a cellmate who was real real real anti-Amerikan. I wouldn't say he was a communist, i would label him as a fan of Mao, and he claimed a mantle of Mao, and he claimed to be a communist. Up to that point i had never met anyone like that.
And so through discussions on certain topics, world affairs, politics, just through watching the news, slowly but surely i kinda started opening my eyes a little bit more. At some point, he just so happened to share the Maoist Internationalist Movement ten point program. And when i first read it, i thought it was a pretty egalitarian program. And all the stuff on there looked good, you know. I remember reading it and thinking "man, why can't all governments, or all people, be on that same trip?" It seemed like pretty easy stuff to implement. So, why not? And so then i guess i kinda started asking myself, well, why not?
At that point he introduced me to, i believe he shared with me some old MIM Notes as well, this is back when MIM Notes were still being printed out. I liked everything they had to say, i agreed with everything they had to say and I ended up getting my own subscription. And around then i believe i wrote MIM, i asked em for some beginner materials on Marxism. I remember they sent me a pretty complicated book on Marx, an introduction to his philosophy. Even though i understood some of it, i didn't understand a lot of it. And i really struggled a lot with that text. And i had to read it maybe 3, 4 times over the period of a few months just to really start absorbing the essence of what Marx was speaking to.
I was doing that for a minute, i was starting to collect little so-called revolutionary books here and there. At that time, MIM wrote me and they invited me to a study group — "On Contradiction" by Mao Zedong. I kinda just went from there.
I would say the turning point was when i got hooked up with Cipactli, and i was invited to participate in the Aztlán study group. This was another first for me, as i had never met or heard anyone that called themselves a [email protected] revolutionary nationalist. Nor was i aware that there was such a thing. And basically from working with Cipactli and struggling with him, as well as with MIM(Prisons), i slowly but surely came to realize my own mission, which is that of a [email protected] national liberation struggle for self-determination in alliance with the Third World communist movement.
I wouldn't have worked on this project if i thought i'd be doing it a disservice. In other words i had to first feel comfortable you know from my own level of political development to have worked on it. Secondly, and this perhaps a more correct reason for agreeing to work on it was my realization that i was not a [email protected], but a [email protected] Therefore, i think part of my subjective drive in working on this project came more from a desire of wanting to spread the revolutionary word throughout all Aztlán as well as the fact that only through a completion of national liberation struggles can the socialist project ever succeed. And so i thought i had the tools to contribute to the project, so it's something i really thought i needed to do, in order to just do my part to contribute to the liberation of Aztlán,
The book has been well-received by those who have gotten it, even though it's been censored at various prisons across the United $tates. To prisoners, the book is being sent for free from MIM(Prisons), with study questions, and they're coordinating a study group through the mail, between the readers and the authors. What overall impact do you think [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán and the study group will have on the [email protected] nation?
I think the book and the study group that MIM(Prisons) is doing, I think it will be the jumping off point for [email protected] lumpen in here, in many respects. I know there's probably so many [email protected] masses that subscribe to Under Lock & Key and they're probably not all too politically developed, some are. Some of them are beginning to think about some of the questions and some of the topics that we touch on in [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán. I think that group is gonna help them understand what we're really speaking to in the book, which is [email protected] liberation and self-determination, and the only way to accomplish this is under a Maoist flag. I think from there we can expect to see a lot of those same people hopefully continue to study, either through MIM(Prisons) or through their own organizations, or just on their own. But i think that's really where it's gonna start, as far as the book coming out.
As far as the project goes, it's something that's been a long time coming, and that should have been done a long time ago. Thankfully MIM(Prisons) was there to fill that void, where other people were failing. I mean there's a few [email protected] organizations that claim to be revolutionary, or they're internationalists, or so-called internationalist organizations and they really just pay a lot of lip service. They believe writing an article on a certain topic and just making some kind of statement, you know, that they believe all people should be free or something, thinking that's internationalism. But i think MIM(Prisons) really showed us what internationalism is. Which is comrades reaching out to each other and helping each other and assisting each other and helping us build ourselves up. Realizing that many prisoners, even a lot of revolutionary prisoners, are still i think at something of a low level of political development, you know, just because of our own conditions, and I think MIM(Prisons) has done an excellent job of that.
So as far as the book goes, I think it's really gonna uplift Aztlán, it's gonna help educate people, it's gonna help educate the [email protected] masses behind prison walls. Because people in general, especially in prison, are just consumed with bourgeois ideology, you know? It's just all about me doing me, making money, and that's it and fuck everybody else.
There's a lot of people, at least from my experience, who read any kind of revolutionary literature, i think they read it as they read it, they're kind of studying it, they're soaking up ideas, and stuff like that. But i don't really think they take the time and really go in-depth into the text, as with the MIM(Prisons)-run study programs, where comrades have the opportunity to engage with MIM(Prisons) and with other comrades and with each other on a variety of questions, you know, concerning not only prisoners but the international communist movement as well.
You know, i was completely ignorant to a lot of this stuff until i started working with MIM(Prisons) and Cipactli. So i really just think this book is gonna mark a new level of development in Aztlán for the [email protected] masses. I would hope that in the next coming years we really begin to see a upsurge in the [email protected] masses in prisons and really, you know not just getting conscious, but actually building on that consciousness by organizing.
There's so many things that i think that could be done in here and i think as we all know, at least [email protected] prisoners, you know, the key to peace on the streets is peace in the prisons. And i think for us to have peace on the streets and for the [email protected] liberation movement to really begin organizing out there, it has to start in the prisons.
Could you speak more on that relationship, between peace building behind prison walls and peace on the streets, outside of prison?
Well, i can't speak for other nationalities, but as far as for the [email protected] lumpen, for the gangbangers out there, i think a lot of stuff that goes on the streets is controlled by what goes on in prisons. At the flip of a switch the lumpen chiefs right here, they could organize a peace treaty on the streets. I mean they've done it before. When i was out there, you know, everything stopped virtually overnight. From warring and killing and drive-bys to virtually overnight, hey, that's it, we're done, And that's the kind of power they have, and i don't see no reason why [email protected] revolutionaries can't have that same power. Especially when it's power that's gonna help the whole of Aztlán, it's gonna help all [email protected] out there. First by making peace and unity in here, it'll spill out into the streets.
I think we can expect a lot of [email protected] revolutionaries in here to begin organizing as well, and i think right now there's really just small pockets of comrades here and there. You might bump into one person here, you might bump into another person there, you might go to another yard or another prison and there's no one there, you're the only one there. And i think as time goes on we're gonna start seeing a lot more conscious people stepping up to the plate and deciding that they're done with the old ways and they're gonna begin organizing for [email protected] liberation.
It seems like your move to SNY played a big part in your political development. Could you speak more on SNY yards, their role and history?
Concerning the SNY yards, i would say these are for the most part a creation of CDC [California Department of Corrections], who have utilized certain methods of warfare such as divide and conquer tactics against Aztlán, within the prison setting. Initially i believe by both removing prison leaders from the mainline that knew how to provide stability and order to the lumpen organizations. As well as by purposely integrating certain individuals who act in a opposite manner, creating instability and disorder to a previously quote-unquote "stable" environment.
I think most people coming from a mainline end up on SNY due to prison politics. It could be something minor from maybe hanging out with different nationalities a little too much to something maybe a little bit more major as in stepping into the prison political arena and attempting to exert some kind of influence. But i also think a lot of people, and this is also something i'm starting to see more and more, is a lot of people are just coming over here just cuz they're just getting tired of all the things going on over there. I think a lot of people come over due to those main factors right there.
So i think, connected to the SNY yards i believe is also partly connected to the creation of the SHUs [Security Housing Units], because i mean before the SHUs there were no SNY yards, you know? So i think how they're connected is the fact that when CDC started taking certain leadership off of the yards, it created a power vacuum, where you had certain individuals having power struggles and things of that nature. Which, in turn, opened up the door for the SNY yards to be created, for it to be widened. Because i believe it was maybe only one or two in the past and like within the last 15 or 20 years it's becoming the majority within California prisons.
It's pretty amazing that this book was authored by a group of people together through the mail, some of them locked in isolation cells for years. Could you speak on what that whole experience was like, some challenges and interesting aspects of that process?
Well, firstly i think working on [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán was definitely a learning experience, as far as working on a book through the mail. You know it seemed like a monumental task at the time, when i was first invited to participate, but i was also very excited about it. As far as learning about the various steps it took to actually write and publish the book, it was a learning experience in that respect. But more importantly, i think the lessons i learned about were about my own subjective power and ability to reach out to the [email protected] lumpen behind prison walls.
I think it was the very fact that i'm incarcerated, which allowed me to write from the imprisoned [email protected] perspective, which is, after all, our target audience. Therefore i think the fact that i am incarcerated helps the book carry a certain level of legitimacy amongst the oppressed [email protected] prison masses. Not because of some supposed notoriety as a convict or anything like that, but because the [email protected] masses will see that me and the co-authors are writing both from a perspective very similar to their own.
I think the only real challenge was just a lack of access to a variety of research materials. Although MIM(Prisons) did an excellent job of assisting me, i can't help but think what more could I have contributed to this project if I had more access to information, you know, mainly the internet or at least just more books, just more research material. I always thought i was lacking in that regard, especially because i think i was still pretty new to the whole [email protected] national liberation movement. And so a lot of what i contributed was stuff that I learned with MIM(Prisons) and through my interactions with Cipactli. I think that was the only real challenge was a lack of more information.
Finally, what do you see as some of the main challenges to organizing the prison population?
I don't think there's too many [email protected] out there right now that are really tripping on this whole revolutionary politics or socialism or anything like that. A lot of [email protected] in here are caught up in the whole cultural nationalist thing, and they're more worried about keeping traditions alive and following our own culture and not letting our people be absorbed by new Amerikan culture.
From my experience these types of beliefs are most commonly found in the over-30 crowd in the California prison system. Most of these people have spent a majority of the sentences on mainline yards. Something that i have begun to take more note of is that these younger generations of [email protected] prisoners who have begun to enter the system seem to be more Amerikanized. And what i mean by this is that many younger generations seem to not have either the knowledge or the desire to learn about their culture, which is a oppressed nation's culture. Many [email protected] these days seem to identify first and foremost as Amerikans, who, on occasion, will even spit out certain Amerikan chauvinistic beliefs.
They also don't understand a lick of Spanish. I think this is problematic for the [email protected] nation as far as the Spanish language helps many [email protected] to identify or at least find common ground with other Raza.
Last but not least, i think today's [email protected] also seem to be more consumed by capitalistic society, that is also integral to the white Amerikan nation and culture. And what i mean by this is that younger [email protected] prisoners today seem to be more consumed by money than previous generations.
So the comparison would be that while on the mainline there's a very strong sense of unity and cultural identity amongst [email protected], which functions in a positive way by introducing imprisoned [email protected] to various aspects of a national identity outside of Amerika. Whereas on SNY yard, this function is largely missing. However I think this is where [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán will help to fill some of the voids left by the mainline experience, by introducing or reintroducing for the very first time aspects of [email protected] culture and identity which many [email protected] may have previously been ignorant of. Therefore [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán will I think hopefully help to uplift the [email protected] nation, from a Maoist perspective.
Thank you for speaking with us today. We're so glad to have gotten the chance to do this interview and talk more about this important book. Again, the book is [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, it's written by a MIM(Prisons) study group, and is available at leftwingbooks.net. Prisoners can get the book for free by writing to MIM(Prisons) at PO Box 40799, San Francisco, CA 94140. In Struggle! ¡En Lucha!
There has been a lot of buzz recently about a report on private prisons released by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.$. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the subsequent memo from the Attorney General announcing they will phase out the use of private prisons for federal detention.(1)
The petty-bourgeois anti-corporate capitalists who have been campaigning against private prisons for a long time are seeing this announcement as a result of their organizing work. And it's possible that on some level the announcements are an effort by the DOJ to quell the slew of recent bad publicity.(2) Yet we disagree with these campaigners' idea that capitalism is okay so long as the petty-bourgeoisie is allowed to compete. We disagree with their stance that prisons under capitalism function for the common good so long as the private corporations get out the way. We see more similarities between state-run and privately-operated facilities than we see differences.
The facilities that the DOJ is talking about closing house mostly non-citizens,(3) which raises questions for us as to what is the real intention or cause of this change, and what's coming down the line for the enforcement of U.$. borders. We have no reason to believe this shift from the BOP has anything to do with more freedom or better treatment for non-citizens.
Capitalists follow money. In the 1980s, there was increased imprisonment rates and a need for more housing for prisoners, which state bureaucracy couldn't build fast enough. So capitalists built prison facilities in order to get money from the state. They kept costs as low as possible and tried to keep capacity as full as possible. The cause and effect is basic math. Obviously when putting profits over people there are many inherent problems that will come up. Eventually, as the capitalists are accustomed to, their venture would need to change shape. It appears the time to change shape is imminent.
We don't know what back-room deals broke down or were made that led to the report and memo. Did the DOJ just strike a better deal with a private busing company, to expedite the deportation of these migrants?(4) Was the pressure to change significantly more influential from the corrections officers unions, who are excluded from employment in private facilities?(5) Is it more closely related to a reduction in the federal prison population overall, and private prisons are just being used as a convenient scapegoat? "Increased prosecution of unlawful entry and re-entry" has been touted as a "hallmark of President Obama's enforcement policies," is the Democratic Party just trying to save face leading up to the next presidential election?(6) Is there something else that has yet to be uncovered, that helped expedite the decision? And as we imply above, maybe the capitalists have simply found a more profitable use for their facilities and are welcoming this change.(7) We seriously doubt the DOJ decided to phase out the use of private prisons on moral grounds.
There is something to be said about the difficulties in operating a prison with extremely bad conditions, whether private or publicly run. Oppression breeds resistance. Where we see riots in private prisons literally burn them to the ground and make them uninhabitable, we haven't seen the same level of resistance in public facilities in a long time.(8) Commentators have cited common nationality as helpful in non-citizen prisoners organizing themselves (in contrast to the divided populations of most multi-national prisons in the United $tates). Also, being a migrant with more to gain than lose in resisting, responding to extreme oppression is natural and necessary.
The state has a long-term interest in balancing their ongoing oppression with some rewards for those who play along. We see this constantly in our organizing work: there are many abuses, and grievances are denied without grounds, but if the prisoners have TVs and nudie mags many are happy to go with the flow and not stir up any trouble. The private prison companies either haven't mastered this delicate balance, or don't care because their interests for profit are so short-term and immediate. When the cost-benefit analysis is no longer in their favor, they'll just move on to a different industry where the profit margin is higher. The state's long-term interest of social control of oppressed internal semi-colonies, however, can't afford the same luxury.
This article is to announce the short-term success of our recent campaign to keep our website alive. After proposing that our limited comrade time might be better spent on pushing forward our prisoner support work, we launched a campaign to engage our online readers. With minimal effort, we have received a substantive response indicating that we were incorrect to hypothesize that we could not mobilize our online readers to contribute to this project as our prison-based readers have from the beginning.
In just five months we've seen our volunteer base and collaborative work grow enough to convince us that web development is a good use of our limited comrade time. But as we pointed out in that article, regular contributions are much more useful than sporadic ones, so we must keep up this trend. We have gained at least one regular financial contributor, which more than covers the cost of keeping our website online. We encourage our other volunteers to stick to it.
A note to potential financial contributors, we had been soliciting postage stamps, however we are approaching our limits on how many we can use, especially since this is the main way that prisoners send donations. So new contributors should consider sending cash, blank money orders or bitcoin.
Those watching our website may have noticed us taking down some requests for help as volunteers have stepped up. While not all have proven themselves yet, we have received responses to diverse needs. By offering up more specific tasks, we've inspired our readers into action, proving they are more than just web traffic statistics. This also proved that lack of focused leadership on our part was part of the problem.
It was not just online readers who responded to our call. One United Struggle from Within leader put forth a proposal to our annual congress to up the enrollment fees for our correspondence study groups and to only provide hard-to-find books to those who pay for them. Another USW comrade proposed that we remove people from the ULK mailing list faster to cut costs. We adopted new policies incorporating both proposals, which should help on the postage side of things. One comrade even spoke of the impact the website had on em from prison, demonstrating that the website directly contributes to our prison-based work.
In addition to the new contributors we've gained in recent months, we've seen an increase in comradely projects putting out good material. This can help us directly by providing material for our newsletter and study groups. But it also helps the movement in general. Supporting MIM(Prisons) is a great way to contribute as we have a proven track record. But we need more projects than the Prison Ministry. So don't let the scope of our work limit you if you can contribute in bigger and better ways.
While things will roll out slowly as usual, we will be continuing to improve and add content to our website in coming months. We also want to put a call out there for supporters who want to contribute as part of a cyber promotion campaign. This is something that you can easily do on your own, and there is no limit to how many can help promote our work and MIM line in whatever forums you are active. Or get in touch for ideas of outlets for promotion.
There is no doubt that setting up secure, reliable institutions on the internet is a needed task. While platforms owned by transnational corporations may have tactical use for promotion, with proper precautions in place, they cannot be our base of operations. Prisoncensorship.info has contributed in this regard and with your support we will continue to work to strengthen it as an independent institution of the oppressed.
A former prisoner of the state of North Carolina has filed suit against the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) for regularly censoring eir subscription to Under Lock & Key (ULK) without due cause. In December 2015, U.S. Marshals were ordered by the U.S. District Court to serve Cynthia Bostic and Fay Lassiter with the complaints. Lassiter was the Chair of the Publication Review Committee, who would send MIM Distributors a "letter to publisher" every two months stating that the latest issue of ULK was disapproved for delivery. Usually the reason given was "D Code" or "encourages insurrection and disorder."
Cynthia Bostic was the Assistant Section Chief of Support Services, who was in charge of reviewing these decisions. Every two months a volunteer legal assistant would write Bostic to appeal the censorship and she would respond upholding the decision. This went on for 3 years straight with every issue being censored, every appeal being denied, and no specific justifications being given for the censorship.
In an attempt to investigate the so-called "review process" our volunteer filed a public information request with the state and began shopping the case to some civil rights lawyers in North Carolina. It was around this time that our appeal was granted for ULK Issue 36. Yet, none of the copies sent to prisoners in North Carolina were subsequently delivered. Presumably the state just threw our mail away. So we went ahead and sent new copies of ULK 36 with copies of the letter from Bostic saying that this issue was approved. These too were censored! As most prisoners know, but some readers on the street may not, it can be a real battle just to get these people to follow their own rules and decisions. Like the comrade filing the suit stated in a recent interview, "there are no rights, only power struggles."
We want to commend this comrade for taking up this battle after eir release from prison. This is a shining example of carrying on the struggle for those ey left behind. And it shows leadership and self-reliance to come out and wage what will likely be an uphill battle against the state for basic rights. At the same time, the battle will be so much easier from the outside where one does not have to worry about constant harassment, mail being thrown out and being denied access to law books (North Carolina does not have law libraries in its prisons). The local report on eir lawsuit states that ey will be doing a fundraising campaign, and we encourage people to support em.
This battle is ongoing, as North Carolina continues to ban almost every issue of ULK statewide, despite the fact that Lassiter and Bostic are no longer involved in these decisions. Perhaps not surprising for a state that was recently told by a Federal court that its voting laws were illegal for disenfranchising New Afrikans. A lawsuit like this is needed to take the censorship struggle in NC to the next level. Bourgeois democracy will never guarantee the rights of the oppressed. But we can use lawsuits tactically to win battles when we are clearly in the right according to their own rules and principles.
MIM(Prisons) began to draft a book on the lumpen class a few years ago. We found a gap in the theoretical material on this subject and realized that our observations about this class are a unique contribution to Marxist theory. A lot of research was done, particularly on defining the lumpen class within U.$. borders, but due to competing projects and limited time, the book was put on hold. We began distributing the chapter with our research in draft form, but are not yet close to completing the book, nor do we currently have the funds or resources to print another book. As a result, we are turning to the pages of Under Lock & Key to sum up some of our key findings and further develop and apply our theory of the First World lumpen. This article is just a summary of the more extensive draft chapter on the lumpen class which is available from MIM(Prisons) upon request for, $5 or equivalent work trade.
U Can't Sell Dope Forever
"Power is the ability to define a phenomenon and make it act in a desired manner." - Huey P. Newton
Marxist socialism is based in the idea that humyns, as a group, can take charge of the natural and economic laws that determine their ability to meet their material needs. Taking charge does not mean that they can decide these laws, but that they can utilize them. In doing so they develop a scientific understanding of the world around them.
Under capitalism, the anarchy of production is the general rule. This is because capitalists only concern themselves with profit, while production and consumption of humyn needs is at the whim of the economic laws of capitalism. As a result people starve, wars are fought and the environment is degraded in ways that make humyn life more difficult or even impossible. Another result is that whole groups of people are excluded from the production system. Whereas in pre-class societies, a group of humyns could produce the basic food and shelter that they needed to survive, capitalism is unique in keeping large groups of people from doing so.
In the industrialized countries like the United $tates, the culture and structure of society has eliminated opportunities and knowledge to be self-sufficient. Production is done socially instead. Simplistically this might look like: one company produces bread, another produces shoes, and everyone working for each company gets paid and uses their pay to buy things from the other companies. Everyone gets what they need by being a productive member of the larger society.
The problem is that there are not enough jobs. At first this might seem like a good thing. We are so advanced that we can get all the work done for the whole group with only a portion of those people having to work. But under capitalism, if you're not in an exploiter class, not working means you do not get a share of the collective product. So when whole groups are not able to get jobs, they must find other ways of getting the goods that they need to survive. And we all know various ways that people do this.
So first capitalism has separated people from their need to provide everything for themselves. In doing so the capitalists alienate the worker from eir product, because it becomes the property of the capitalist. But those without jobs are also alienated from the whole production process. People often turn to the illegal service economy of selling drugs or sexual favors, or robbing and fencing stolen goods. Many also turn to the state for social services to get a distribution of the social product, without participating in production.
All of these solutions are even more alienating than working for the capitalists. Being a shoemaker or a baker are productive tasks that people can find pleasure in, even if they do not have a say in how the product of their labor is then distributed. Given the option, people generally don't want to poison their community, deal with the threat of violence every day, sell their body, steal from people or even take handouts without being able to participate in producing. All of these endeavors require the individual to justify actions that they know are wrong, to dehumanize other people and themselves, and to just live under a lot of stress.
These activities, and the justifications that come with them, contribute to what then becomes the consciousness of this group of people excluded from the economy. Marx wrote about the alienation of the proletariat resulting from them not having a say in how the product of their labor is utilized. But there is a deeper level of alienation among the lumpen in that they must alienate themselves from other humyn beings, even those who are in similar situations to themselves. Capitalism promotes a dog-eat-dog mentality that is alienating for all people because we are encouraged to look out for ourselves and not trust others. But this is most pronounced for the lumpen, who are in turn demonized for their disregard for other people.
The demonization that the lumpen faces by the rest of society is one reason that none of these endeavors have futures. You can't sell dope forever. You certainly can't be a prostitute forever. Robbing and scamming is dangerous to say the least. And there are strong policies today to keep people from being on public assistance for too long. So there is a strong interest among the lumpen class to choose another path, one that addresses the alienation and lack of control they have over their own lives, including a limited ability to meet their own needs.
While we recognize that the leading force for revolution is the proletariat, our analysis clearly shows that the proletariat is virtually non-existent within U.$. borders, limited primarily to the small migrant worker population. The predominance of the labor aristocracy within imperialist countries today makes the lumpen a more important element than in times and places where the proletariat is the overwhelming majority. Just as Mao had to apply Marx's analysis to Chinese conditions and understand the key role the peasantry plays in revolution in countries where that group is large, we must apply dialectical materialist analysis to the world today to understand the role that will be played by each significant class in Amerikan society.
The lumpen are a more important class in imperialist society today than in the past, and as a result we must identify those who fall in this group and analyze whether they are friends or enemies of the revolution. This essay attempts to identify the lumpen in the United $tates by looking at several potential indicators of economic and social position in society.
First World vs. Third World lumpen
The lumpen is defined as being excluded from the capitalist system; excluded from production and consumption. Of course, everyone must consume to survive, and the lumpen lives on as a class. But their consumption is outside the realm of capitalist relations. The lumpen must take from others what it needs to survive. And in an exploited country the lumpen takes from working people, the petty bourgeoisie and other lumpen who surround them. It is much harder and therefore more rare to take from the bourgeoisie, so the bourgeoisie doesn't much care that the lumpen exist. The lumpen in the Third World is a parasite class, but primarily a parasite on the masses of the oppressed nations.
In the United $tates, we have no significant proletariat, so the lumpen class must be a parasite on the petty bourgeoisie. Historically that petty bourgeoisie has been white, while the lumpen have been concentrated in the New Afrikan ghettos, the reservations of First Nations, and the inner city oppressed communities in general. The national contradiction meant that the lumpen posed a threat to the stability of the country.
The history of social services in the United $tates comes from the Great Depression of the 1930s. As socialism and fascism were expanding to address the problems created by the anarchy of production, U.$. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to take drastic measures to preserve bourgeois democracy. The New Deal recovery program was that measure. It brought a system of social safety nets that live on to this day, though they were reformed and reduced starting in the 1980s with the Reagan administration.
This system allowed the emerging lumpen class to participate in the system of distribution and consumption without participating in production. They could do so in a way that was less precarious, less dangerous and better paying than their counterparts in the Third World. In addition to the federal government's services, there is infrastructure in the First World to provide clean water and sanitation to people of all classes. There is rampant overconsumption and waste that makes acquiring basic needs like food and clothing a snap, and there is enough wealth in the country that many non-governmental organizations can fund their own programs to provide food and other materials and services to those in need. For all these reasons, the First World lumpen are a qualitatively different class than the Third World lumpen proletariat in that they do benefit from living in an imperialist country.
Some claiming Marxism tell us that those we call lumpen are really part of the proletariat; they are just part of the reserve army of labor that Marx talked about being necessary to keep wages down among the workers that were employed via competition. But as has been demonstrated, there is no significant proletariat in the United $tates (request our Labor Aristocracy study pack for more on this topic). And while there is a contradiction between employers and employees over wages, this has not been an antagonistic contradiction in post-WWII U.$.A.
To the extent that there is a proletariat in this country, they are migrant workers. And therefore the reserve army of labor is found south of the Rio Grande and elsewhere in the Third World.
The First World lumpen are the remnants of a long history of national oppression. The question that they face is whether the oppressor nation is willing and able to continue to integrate them into the Amerikan petty bourgeoisie, or if racism and economic crisis will lead to an increased lumpenization of the internal semi-colonies as Amerika pushes its problems off on them.
The white nation in North America has always been a predominately petty bourgeois nation. Therefore petty bourgeois class consciousness is overwhelmingly dominant among white people of all classes. Where there is potential for revolutionary white lumpen, it will be more common when in close proximity or integrated with oppressed nation lumpen. And these will be the exception to the rule. It is for this reason that we say the principal contradiction is nation in the United $tates, while spending much time discussing and addressing the lumpen class.
Therefore, in the analysis that follows, we will be defining the First World lumpen as a distinct class that is only evident in the United $tates within the oppressed nations.
Contemporary Class Analysis
In the last few decades we can already point to an expanding prison population, and the cutting of welfare roles, without an increase in employment, as some evidence to support lumpenization at the margins. As expected, this lumpenization has been disproportionately suffered by the oppressed nations. To the extent that whites have lost (or will lose) their class status, this concerns us as a likely trigger for growing fascist currents in Amerikkka, due to their historical consciousness as a settler nation and more recently as the most powerful nation on the planet. As we get into the numbers below, we'll see that the white "lumpen" population could arguably outnumber that in the internal semi-colonies. But percentage-wise they are a smaller minority within their nation, and their national identity pulls them much more strongly towards fascism. For this reason, we will disregard poor whites in most of the analysis below. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. And in particular, among youth and where poor whites are more influenced by oppressed nation culture there could certainly be some splits in the white nation.
While we have not seen a massive de-linking of the exploited populations, the internal contradictions of imperialism have brought significant economic downturns in recent years. In 2009 there was a steep rise in the percent of long-term unemployed (greater than 26 weeks), which has not yet declined significantly. It has hovered around 40 and 45% of all unemployed people; this is about double other high points dating back to 1960. [As of June 2016, over the 3 years since the original writing, this figure has declined to around 25%, which is still higher than the 17-18% rates that were normal before 2008.] While this could be a sign of a growing de-classed population, the U.$. economy is so rich that this unemployment has only resulted in modest increases in poverty rates.
Yet, even in the recent recession, government-defined poverty rates have not yet reached the levels they were at prior to 1965 when they were around 20%, give or take. In 2011 the poverty rate was recorded as 15%. Even this rate is inflated since assistance in the form of tax credits and food stamps is not counted as taxable income. If this income was included in their calculations it would pull 9.6 million people above the poverty line and bring the percent below the poverty rate to less than 12%.(1) So it is only a small group at the margins that may be seeing a shift in their material conditions such that they could arguably be seen as not largely benefiting from imperialism.
In order to paint a clearer picture of who is in the First World lumpen class, the following sections look at the empirical evidence both historically and today to figure out where to draw the line between lumpen and petty bourgeoisie within the United $tates. Above we defined the lumpen class as those who are excluded from the production and distribution of goods under capitalism. If you translate this into U.$. census statistics, this group would fall into those who are not participants in the civilian labor force.
Lumpen Defined by Employment Status
Employment is counted as working at least 1 hour of paid time, 15 hours of unpaid time in a family business, or being off of work (such as vacation or maternity leave) during the week referenced. The civilian labor force includes everyone defined as employed or unemployed (looking for work). Therefore the lumpen would be found in the group that is outside the civilian labor force. In the following graph we can see that this excluded group has grown in size only slightly since 1960, whereas the labor force has grown much more.
Not everyone in the middle group in this figure is part of what we would consider the lumpen. We have subtracted out housewives, students, and the elderly (detailed calculations for this subtraction are included in the full draft lumpen book).
In this graph we see the biggest changes being the increase in the lumpen (from 1.5% in 1960 to 10.6% in 2010) and the decrease in the housewives category. While this is completely feasible, the direct relationship between these two groups in the way we did the calculation leaves us cautious in making any conclusions from this method alone. In order to confirm that our big picture estimate of the lumpen here is in the ball park we will look at this a couple of other ways, including trying to break down the lumpen via its constituent parts to see how they add up.
Also, keep in mind that we are concerned with the oppressed nation lumpen as a progressive force for national liberation struggles. The above method does not differentiate between nations, and we can assume that somewhere around half of that 10.6% is white Amerikans.
Gaps in employment rates between New Afrikan males and white males are quite large, and they have increased over the period of 1970-2010. Further, the unemployment rate does not include those in prison or those on public assistance programs. So when "unemployment" rates are reported as being twice as big as for New Afrikans compared to whites, this is an understatement because those rates are only calculated on the civilian labor force who is looking for work. Austan Goolsbee, former economic advisor to U.$. President Barack Obama has stated that since the mid-1980s "the government has cooked the books" on unemployment rates "because government programs, especially Social Security disability, have effectively been buying people off the unemployment rolls and reclassifying them as not 'in the labor force.'"(3) This is a prime example of what we call the First World lumpen.
From this analysis of employment status we conclude that the 10.6% of the population that is unemployed and not housewives, students or elderly is principally lumpen. Conservatively we can assume that whites as 65% of the population are that same portion of the lumpen. This means that the oppressed nation lumpen defined by employment status constitutes about 10% of the oppressed nation population.
Lumpen Defined by Income
One thing that jumps out when looking at income data is the difference between individual income levels and household incomes. Some 39% of households had two or more income earners in 2010, so that over 20% of households made six figure incomes, while only 6.61% of individuals did.
Because individuals do tend to live in small group households, we will mostly look at that data below. Another thing that such an approach captures is the difficulties faced by many single-parent households. Single-parent households are the exception in that they do not benefit financially from having many members in their house because one earner must provide for many people. While this is very doable on a labor aristocracy wage, the demands of child-care and also keeping a job make it difficult for many single mothers who end up on public assistance. As a result there is a strong gendered component of the poor and lumpen that we will look at more below.
Before jumping into the numbers, let's look at the definition of employed. While some in the unemployed group (defined as those who have been looking for work) may fall into the lumpen class, probably even more in the employed group do, seeing that you only have to get paid for one hour of labor per week to be considered employed. Those who are marginally employed, but are dependent on public assistance or the criminal underground to meet their needs, might reasonably be considered part of the First World lumpen class, especially in the context of the oppressed nation ghettos, barrios and reservations.
Here are some numbers to keep in mind as we look at income levels. A persyn working full-time for minimum wage will make at least $14,000 per year, depending on the state they work in. An estimate of average value produced per hour is between $3 and $5 based on global GDP and global workforce.(4) At that rate, working 40 hours a week year-round, one would produce almost $10,000 per year, which may be a good cut off point for saying whether a full-time worker is making more or less than the value of their labor.
From this we can assume that a person earning $14k or more is participating full time or nearly full time in the labor force. They are, therefore, not a candidate for the lumpen. Since wages for Amerikan citizens are all above the global average wage, any legally employed worker will be making more than the value of their labor. Those making less than $14,000 per year will be in 3 main categories: part-time employed youth, migrants making proletarian or semi-proletarian wages, or marginally employed people who depend on public assistance and other sources of income.
Around 30% of those with an income, and over age 15, were under the $15,000 per year mark in 2010, while 15% were under $10,000 per year.(5) This excludes people with no income, especially youth under working age who are a special case. But it includes people who are part of households with others who also have incomes. For example, a housewife who works one day a week for extra income and has a husband who makes $50,000 a year could be in this group. But this 15% gives us one more reference point to think about when estimating the First World lumpen.
Almost 50% of those earning at or below minimum wage are 16 to 24 years old, and 23% are just 16 to 19 years old.(6) This is a case where we would not necessarily see income defining class status. Most of these youth know that they are likely to make more money when they get older by looking at the adults around them. To eliminate the effect of these temporarily low-paid youth, who are still making more than the value of their labor, we will now look at household income and break it down by nationality.
Quintiles break up a population into five different equal-sized groups defined by a range, such as income level. Looking at the lowest quintiles of the population in terms of income is one way to tease out the size and composition of the lumpen. The average income of the lowest quintile is dramatically different between whites and New Afrikans/[email protected] with the poorest whites earning more than double the poorest New Afrikans/[email protected]
Income for lowest quintile of earners in the U.$, 2011
Upper limit of lowest quintile
Avg income, lowest quintile
The upper limit of income for the lowest quintile shows further these differences by nation, but also suggests that quintiles alone are not sufficient to define the lumpen as the upper limit of the lowest 20% of New Afrikans (the lowest earning of the nations) is still $16k per year, a solid labor aristocracy income at an $8/hr full time job.
One problem with just looking at income in defining lumpen is that it may be a temporary state of someone being in a low income group. Youth definitely fall in this category. Some older folks who are retired, who are clearly not lumpen, also fall in this category. Among the 20-55 age group there are good reasons why some people have temporarily lower income but still are part of the labor aristocracy, such as short-term unemployment.
Family Income by Race
Numbers in 1000s
$2,500 to $4,999
$5,000 to $7,499
$7,500 to $9,999
$10,000 to $12,499
$12,500 to $14,999
This table shows that a relatively small percent of families are earning less than $10k annually: 3.4% of whites, 11.3% of New Afrikans and 8.8% of [email protected] This table includes those not participating in the workforce since it is at the family level and so should be counting non-working spouses and children among others.
Clearly there are significant differences between single individuals earning $10,000 per year and a head of household with 4 children earning that same income. Looking at income by size of household gives us more detail on the total economic situation of a family. And we can use this data to calculate the maximum possible income per persyn for each group. This underscores the dramatic difference in financial situations faced by families based on the number of kids they have. We might use this data to create cut-offs for families whose kids are falling in the lumpen. While parents earning minimum wage and working close to full time are not part of the lumpen by definition, their income puts their kids basically outside of traditional economic financial participation and likely on the streets hustling for extra cash.
Again, the First World lumpen are not dying of starvation or water-born diseases that the Third World masses face. But they do suffer malnutrition, temporary states of lacking housing, water or electrical service, and exposure to environmental pollutants that most Amerikans do not have to deal with. And youth growing up in a family with a total income of less than $20,000 provides a standard of living relatively outside of the economic participation of the majority of Amerikans. An average of $5k per persyn per year in a family of 4 may provide for survival needs but nothing beyond that. In this country, youth who can not find a job to supplement their family's income are likely to end up on the streets working outside of the traditional labor force, as a part of the lumpen. This data suggests that children of the lowest 15-20% of oppressed nation workers are good candidates for lumpen who may work their way out into the labor aristocracy as they get older.
Included in the calculations above are individuals making minimum wage or above at a full-time job, so we discard the two highest income categories for single people and, just to be conservative, the highest income level for 2 people. Using the rest of the categories to define either lumpen or migrant proletarian households, we get the following summary table.
Lumpen or Migrant Proletarian Families Defined by Income Categories
We do an additional calculation for only families making less than $10k per year, since one full-time worker making $10k would be making above our value of labor estimate. While at both levels, there are more white families than other nations, the rates are obviously higher for New Afrikans and [email protected] The migrant proletariat population is of course much larger in the [email protected] category. So we could say that the New Afrikan lumpen defined by income is around 20% of the population, even though the maximum for the lowest quintile was given as $16,000/ year above. One report puts the migrant workers earning less than minimum wage in 2002 at 2 million people.(10) With some 80% of immigrants in the U.$. coming from Latin America and just 2.5 million [email protected] families in these low-wage categories above, it would seem that the [email protected] poor were dominated by working immigrant families and not lumpen. If true, this is one reason nation-specific parties are needed to lead the revolutionary movements in the different oppressed nations. The class content and interests of the lowest quintile of [email protected] and New Afrikans may look similar based on income level, but have very different relations to the means of production and to other nations.
Summing up the income data for defining the lumpen population, we can conservatively use the cut off of $10k/year for family income to say that 16% of New Afrikan families are lumpen and 10% of [email protected] families are lumpen or migrant proletarian. Further, youth in families earning less than $5k per persyn fall in the lumpen even though their parents are still working full time and are not part of the lumpen. That is the children of the lowest 10-15% of oppressed nation workers. So conservatively we can say between 15-20% of New Afrikan families are lumpen and between 10-15% of Raza are lumpen or migrant proletarian.
Lumpen defined by education level
There is a strong connection between educational background and what people end up earning financially later in life. There is a clear linear association between higher degrees attained and higher earnings. We do not care so much about the distinction between college graduates and those with advanced degrees, as this is the difference between levels of labor aristocracy, petty bourgeois and bourgeois income (all enemy classes). What is potentially interesting to a study of the lumpen in the United $tates is the population not even graduating from high school. Those without a high school degree earn significantly less than people who complete high school or college, and this group includes a much higher proportion of people who earn little to no money from legal employment. Therefore we look to educational attainment as a good candidate for a proxy to measure socioeconomic status in the United $tates.
Looking at educational achievement by nationality, we see that youth not getting a high school degree are disproportionately New Afrikan and Raza. Further, looking at unemployment rates for those without a high school diploma by nationality reveals interesting differences. New Afrikans who did not complete high school had a 22.5% unemployment rate compared with whites at 13.9% and Raza at 13.2%. The rate of employment among Raza probably reflects the large migrant population working low paying jobs such as farm workers, who are fully employed but earning very little.
As discussed above, while the unemployed may be part of the lumpen, this population includes some who are temporarily out of work but are actually participating in the workforce overall as part of the petty bourgeoisie. In addition, these statistics are only collected on people who are considered to be part of the labor force.
Combining income with education level reveals significant differences between whites and oppressed nations. However, the mean earnings for those without a high school diploma are not so low that we can lump everyone without a high school degree into the lumpen, even among oppressed nations.
Mean income for people without a High School degree
These numbers reinforce the theory that lack of a high school diploma in and of itself does not define the lumpen. There are plenty of people entering the ranks of the labor aristocracy without much education, pulling the average income for this group up into the labor aristocracy range. It appears that there is a split among high school dropouts where some are able to join the labor aristocracy and others are pulled down into the lumpen.
MIM has argued that youth are the most revolutionary group among the white nation because of their special status outside of the class to which they were born and because of the way that capitalist society puts youth in a position of disempowerment. A key to the labor aristocracy's attitude as a class is the fact that individuals who may not be making much money at the moment can look around at their peers and see that they should anticipate improving their position. This is especially true for whites. Oppressed nation youth without a high school diploma, on the other hand, receive a mixed message. They look at their peers of their age group and see that they truly can not expect to get a job any time soon. On the other hand they can look at older folks around them and see a large percent having joined the labor aristocracy. This may result in a split in the oppressed nations by age where youth are part of the lumpen class for a period of time but eventually are pulled into the labor aristocracy by the wealth and decadence of imperialist society, even if they exist at the low end of the labor aristocracy. [See "Age as Gender: The Third Strand Shaping the Oppressed Nation Lumpen" in the draft lumpen book for more on this.]
The education analysis doesn't give us a definitive calculation of the lumpen but we can conclude that a sizable portion of the group with no GED or high school degree is part of the lumpen, and this group is 15% of New Afrikans and 35.7% of Raza. These numbers will overlap with unemployment and family income numbers as many people will fall into all three groups.
What About First Nations?
The First Nation populations within the United $tates remain decimated from the history of settler genocide and continued oppression. As a result, the native people of this land, not including [email protected], is less than 1% of the total population. An estimated one third of them live on reservations, totaling about 700,000 people.
Despite their decimation, First Nations tend to have a greater consciousness as nations separate from Amerika with rights to their own land, compared to the oppressed nations in the United $tates as a whole. And there remain concentrations of the indigenous population in certain regions that provide a base for significant resistance. On a number of these larger reservations, the percentage of families with incomes less than $3000 per persyn ranges between 15 and 25%. For New Afrikans as a whole that figure was 10%, though in regions such as south central Los Angeles it may be similar to First Nations.
Similarly, labor force participation rates on many of the larger reservations are lower than the average for other nations in the United $tates by as much as 23%. In San Carlos Indian Reservation 31% of people were receiving cash assistance in 2000, about 15 times the average for the country. About 34% received food stamps. Five of the ten largest reservations had almost a third of the population on food stamps and six had at least 15% receiving cash assistance.
One disadvantage that First Nations face on reservations is the lack of infrastructure benefits that virtually everyone else in the United $tates enjoys, which factors into our class position and perspective in this country. On reservations 14% of homes lack electricity, 18% lack adequate sewage, 18% lack complete kitchen facilities, and 20% lack indoor plumbing. These are unique conditions that First Nation vanguards must address that will not be of concern for the general U.$. population.
We present these numbers separately because the First Nation population is so much smaller than the other nations we focus on here, and because data on people living on reservations overall is not very complete.(12)
Groups within the Lumpen
Above we looked at employment status, education level and income to estimate the size of the lumpen class in the United $tates. A third approach is to look at the individual groups that make up the lumpen class as a whole. The main categories of people we will discuss below are the population that is imprisoned and under correctional supervision, the homeless, those dependent on public assistance and those involved in the underground economy.
1) Lumpen in prison and under correctional supervision
The imprisoned population is one segment of the lumpen that is excluded from the methods previously discussed since they are part of the "institutionalized population" in the U.S. Census data. For that reason, we might think that the above calculation underestimates the size, as well as the growth, of the lumpen class in the United $tates.
In 2011, there were 6.98 million adults under the supervision of the state via imprisonment, probation or parole, in the United $tates. This was 2.9% of the overall population, with just those in prison being slightly less than 1%. The overall percentage increased at a decreasing rate between 1980 and 2008.(13).
Focusing on the oppressed nations, over 3% of New Afrikan men are in prison. That number is about 1.3% for [email protected], and less than 0.5% for whites. Rates for First Nations were not given in this report, but tend to be even higher than those for New Afrikans. If we extrapolate imprisonment statistics to all adults under supervision, we get about 8.7% of New Afrikan men and 3.8% of Raza men under some form of state supervision. With recidivism rates as high as they are, we are comfortable saying that those 1 million Raza men and 1.6 million New Afrikan men are part of the lumpen class. The same calculations put around 56,000 Raza wimmin and 73,000 New Afrikan wimmin in this group, plus a significant, but uncertain number of First Nation and Asian lumpen under state supervision. As a result, we suggest that 2.5 million is a safe estimate of those who'd fall in the group of imprisoned/formerly imprisoned lumpen, excluding whites. This would add less than one percentage point of the overall U.$. population to our total, but would include another 4.5% of New Afrikans and another 4% of Raza. Note that these numbers can't be added to the totals from the unemployed or income-based lumpen groups above because those out of prison will overlap greatly with this group.
White men in this group number about 1.3 million, but are much more likely to find employment and join the labor aristocracy after release from prison. While in prison white men do fall into the lumpen class but lack the oppressed nation outlook and so often join white supremacist groups rather than supporting revolutionary organizing. This is just one factor contributing to a national outlook that leads us to exclude whites overall when discussing the revolutionary potential of the First World lumpen.
On any given day, nearly 23 percent of all young New Afrikan men ages 16 to 24 who have dropped out of high school are in jail, prison, or a juvenile justice institution in the United $tates.(14) So there is a significant overlap between those without a high school diploma and the prison population. This reinforces the lack of a high school degree as an indicator of the lumpen, but as we showed above, it's not sufficient alone to identify the lumpen as plenty of labor aristocracy people come from this group as well.
2) Underground Economy
The underground economy parallels the legal economy, and has a parallel class structure. While the economy is capitalist and therefore dominated by bourgeois ideology, the majority of the people in this economy could be considered part of the First World lumpen in that they live at the margins, often with a parasitic relationship to the greater economy. While all communities have people who work "off the books," just as they all have drug dealers, there is a qualitative difference between communities where that is the exception and where that is the rule.
We divide the underground economy into the following categories:
illegal national bourgeoisie in drugs
illegal labor aristocracy
parasitic hustlers (thieves, scammers, pimps)
illegal service workers (prostitutes, corner boys)
small-time service workers (food prep, car repair, reselling)
Mao saw the national bourgeoisie as a class that can be an ally in the anti-imperialist war, but cannot liberate the nation itself. Due to the parasitic class nature of the internal semi-colonies in the United $tates today, we do not see the traditional Black and Brown bourgeoisie playing this role. Instead they are some hybrid of petty bourgeoisie and comprador bourgeoisie economically benefitting from the empire. Where we see a parallel to the national bourgeoisie of the exploited nations is among the marginally employed and illegally employed lumpen who rise within the illegal economy. Just as Mao's national bourgeoisie was disadvantaged by imperialist control of their nation, it is the lumpen alone that is excluded from participating in the spoils of empire as the majority of oppressed nationals within U.$. borders do today. And when they do tap into those spoils through illegal enterprises, they remain in a precarious position.
The underground economy includes many small-time service workers who provide food preparation, car repair, vendor and small maintenance services in oppressed communities. The work performed is no different than any other service worker in the legal economy, but their work is usually irregular in such a way that they are part of an underclass that we consider close to the lumpen as they are excluded from the legal economy.
The illegal economy can be looked at separately from the service workers providing legal services off the books. The illegal economy is where we find those traditionally considered the lumpen. It would include the obviously-parasitic hustlers who rob, scam, fence and pimp. But the biggest sector of the illegal economy, and one of the most important sectors of the global economy, is the drug trade. The drug trade, while largely in the realm of the lumpen class, is successful enough to support a well-defined class structure of its own including a full-on bourgeoisie, a stable group earning what would be the equivalent of labor aristocracy wages, and a workforce that receives a more marginal income. The small-time drug dealers in oppressed communities could be grouped with the, largely female, sex workers as a group of illegal service workers who make incomes that are marginal in terms of global wage distribution.
Much of the illegal drug economy in the oppressed communities is carried out by lumpen organizations (LOs). These organizations historically were more dependent on extortion, and this still plays a large role in the economics of LOs. Extortion would be another example of clear parasitic relations of the lumpen with the rest of the community.
LOs are often formed along national lines, bringing with them a legacy or ideology of nationalism. Where these organizations are successful enough to create a bourgeoisie, or even an aspiring bourgeoisie, we see the basis for a national bourgeoisie in the internal semi-colonies.
3) Public Assistance Dependents
While 8% of the U.$. population receives some form of assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 1.7% of the population receives more than half of their income that way. That translates to about 5.34 million people we could say are dependent on public assistance. Of those, about 3.25 million (61%) are not white and 2.13 million (40%) are New Afrikan.
Approximately 90% of U.$. citizens receiving cash assistance benefits are single mothers.(15) Just as the imprisoned lumpen is mostly men, the population on certain forms of public assistance is largely made up of wimmin with children, most of whom are actually white.(16)
Up to 3.5 million people are homeless in the United $tates, about 1% of the population each year.
First Nations are overrepresented in the homeless population by a factor of 4, while New Afrikans are by a factor of 3.25. Youth under 18 are overrepresented by a factor of 1.65. Whites and Asians are underrepresented in the homeless population.
We would put the homeless squarely into the lumpen category, although some of these people are only homeless temporarily and have a support structure that will enable them to move back into the labor aristocracy relatively quickly. Further, many of the homeless will also be on some form of public assistance and are unemployed, therefore groups can not be summed up without double counting a lot of people.
The table below sums up the conservative estimates we have made with regard to who constitutes the lumpen within U.$. borders. Our best total estimate for New Afrikans and Raza comes from the sum of the people identified based on family income and those actively in prison or jail. First Nations are calculated separately. All other methods of calculation are going to double count people we identified by family income and so can not be added to our totals.
We conclude that conservatively we can count 20-25% of the New Afrikan nation as part of the lumpen. Among Raza we calculate between 15-20% as part of the lumpen or migrant proletarian.
To separate out the lumpen from the migrant proletariat among Raza we need to look at the number of migrant Raza in the United $tates. A Pew Hispanic Center 2005 report estimated 11.5 to 12 million total "illegal immigrants," 56% from Mexico, and 22% from other Latin American countries. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2009 estimated 10.7 million "illegal immigrants," 62% from Mexico, and at least 15% from other Latin American countries. These numbers give us an estimate of between 8 and 9 million Latin American migrants in the United $tates. If the census accurately counts Latin American migrants, 17% of this population (based on 8,500,000 migrants) is not in the U.$. legally and most of that group would be migrant proletariat. That leaves a rather small group of lumpen. We can probably assume, however, that the census undercounts migrant workers because of both the transitory nature of the population and the fear around filling out government paperwork. Based on this reasonable assumption, we can perhaps estimate that the lumpen population among Raza is between 5-10% of the total population.
Given the volatility of the people who are still young and are excluded from the system economically and along national lines, the imperialists have no interest in an expanding lumpen class. And the only internal contradiction that would force an expanding lumpen class in the imperialist countries is extreme economic crisis.
As a baseline we can say conservatively that around 2010 the lumpen class represented about 20% of New Afrika, 5% of Raza and 30% of First Nations. This population represents about 4% of the overall population of the United $tates, and there is no strong evidence of the First World lumpen increasing in a significant way in recent years.
One example MIM had cited in support of the Panther theory of an expanding lumpen due to mechanization was the skyrocketing prison population centered around the 1990s, but spanning the time between the demise of the Panthers and today. While the numbers are staggering, this is still a tiny proportion of the oppressed nations. And rather than being the product of shifting economic conditions, we argue that they are primally a product of the open conflict between the white nation and oppressed nations in the United $tates via the white power structure of the state.
The police and prisons were the white nation's stick and the economic opportunities and integration were the carrot presented to the oppressed immediately following the strong liberation movements of the 1960s/70s. Therefore, if we see oppressed nation prison populations shift into a downward trend, that would support the idea that the carrot is increasing in effectiveness in integrating them into Amerika.
The flip side of that is as long as oppressed nation prisoners keep increasing, we have strong evidence of an antagonistic contradiction along the lines of nation in the United $tates. Of course we have seen the trend level off a bit in recent years, ironically, largely in response to economic crisis. But it is too soon to say what that means.
A month ago we sent out a batch of mail to participants in the MIM(Prisons) introductory study group. It was the first mailing of the new session and included a reading assignment and some study questions. We got a lot of denials of this mail from Florida prisons, in particular at Hamilton Correctional Institution where all new participants had their mail returned with an Unauthorized Mail Return Receipt citing reasons that included: “Threat to security, order or rehab objectives, or to safety of any person. Depicts, describes or encourages activities which may lead to the use of physical violence or group disruption. Encourages commission of criminal acts.” In fact one of these people was also sent an Unconfirmed Mail Form that just listed the letters we had sent em recently, and this letter was also sent back to us, citing these same reasons! Clearly the mail room at Hamilton CI isn't even bothering to read the letters from MIM(Prisons) before returning them to us.
In response to this censorship we sent all these folks a copy of our six page guide to fighting censorship. This document contains legal and administrative tips for appealing unjust denial of mail. Immediately 17 envelopes were returned to us (we anticipate the remainder will be returned soon), with another “Unauthorized Mail Return Receipt” from the mailroom staff indicating this letter was denied because:
"Otherwise presents a threat to the security, order, or rehabilitative objectives of the Correctional system, or to the safety of any person"
"Depicts, describes or encourages activities which may lead to the use of physical violence or group disruption"
"Encourages or instructs in the commission of criminal activity"
The letter in question contains legal citations and administrative policy appeal guidelines. This subject matter is clearly not related to violence, security or safety of a prison. There is nothing in this letter that could remotely be construed to depict or encourage violence or group disruption. And it certainly has nothing encouraging or instructing commission of crimes. We have sent an appeal to the Warden of Hamilton but aren't optimistic as similar incidents in Florida have just run into brick walls of silence or denials of our claims without reason.
We need a lawyer to help take on this fight in Florida, but so far no law firms have been willing to take up this important case. We do have some comrades who are very savvy with the law fighting this censorship, but it's very difficult to coordinate our work when none of our mail can even get in to these activists.
Cases like this should outrage even those who believe in Amerika as a just society. It is obvious that there is no justice in the denial of educational material and legal resources to prisoners. And this sort of action exposes clearly the lie of rehabilitation that the system pretends to support. People with access to the internet can browse these and other censorship cases on our website at www.prisoncensorship.info/data
Lumpen: The Autobiography of Ed Mead
Available for $20 + shipping/handling from: kersplebedeb
CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne
As anti-imperialists and prison activists, we can recommend Ed Mead's recent autobiography as a useful read. There are a couple inconsistencies with the form and the line promoted in the book, however. While Mead critiques anarchism and reformism in the book, at the end is a list of a number of organizations that struggle for prisoners' rights, and they are all reformist/mass organizations with a couple anarchist groups thrown in. Mead stresses that he does not believe communists should hide their beliefs. Yet it is odd that he finds no communist prison support groups to be worthy of mention. Moreso, it seems that for much of Mead's life ey couldn't find a communist organization to be a part of and support.
We also must question the form of an autobiography. Our culture promotes the idea of writing one's own story. While this author has been told to write an autobiography multiple times, having lived much less of my life than Ed Mead, i don't plan to ever do so. I hope that if i do live as long as Mead i'm too busy fulfilling my tasks in a communist cadre org (or hopefully state by then) to spend a bunch of time writing about myself. Certainly there is some value in terms of the building of humyn knowledge of documenting the conditions of the time and places that Mead experienced. But it does not seem a high priority for communists. It was probably for this reason that i found the first chapters of the book tiring to read. I didn't really need to know all about Mead's family growing up to learn some lessons about how to organize with prisoners effectively. But perhaps that was my own problem as that was never a stated purpose of this book.
The foremost stated purpose of the book by Mead is to "extend an invitation to sections of the lumpenproletariat to join the international working class." While not a bad goal, it does hint at differences we have with Mead and other communists within California Prison Focus (CPF) regarding whether nation or class is the principal contradiction. This has led to divisions in our work to shut down Security Housing Units in California. In the 2000s, MIM was part of the United Front to Abolish the SHU, which was dominated by parties and organizations struggling for national liberation. While CPF was nominally a member, their difference on this issue led to a lack of working together. This was despite the fact that the United Front explicitly allowed for organizational independence in terms of political line outside of our agreement on shutting down the SHU. In the 2010s, CPF was part of the leadership that created the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. Mead was perhaps the only one who tried to include MIM(Prisons) in that effort. But the coalition structure forced us to the outside this time as MIM(Prisons) refused to subsume our politics to the coalition.
While recognizing whites as obviously having advantages over others, Mead does believe there is a significant white nation working class in this country. While citing Mao favorably multiple times, Mead points out Mao's failure to put class first as a point of disagreement.(p. 164) Mead's line is also reflected in an off-hand comment saying Stalin was wrong to condemn the German social-democrats as social-fascists. We think Stalin and the Comintern correctly saw the class nature and interest of the social democrats as being labor aristocracy and petty bourgeois, who wavered towards fascism, paving its way to power.(1)
Mead talks about "white skin privilege" and uses it as an agitational point to push people to join the class war while discussing eir participation in the militant George Jackson Brigade. Mead admits that eir decision to use revolutionary violence was a direct result of the lack of mass support for abused prisoners.(p. 181) At the same time ey mentions other groups at the time doing similar things and believing that small bands carrying out armed struggle would spread across the country. Mead does not conclude anywhere in the book that it was a mistake to take up this line even though comrades died, while the rest spent the prime of their lives in prison. As we discussed in a recent article on the Black Panthers, it was both common and understandable to conclude that armed struggle would become a reality in the United $tates at that time.(2) Yet, not only are conditions less advanced today, history also proved that armed struggle in the United $tates was premature in the conditions of 1966-72.
From what we know about Mead in real life and from reading the book, it is clear that ey was good at and focused on uniting all who could be united. And while we say it is better for communists to work within cadre organizations than mass organizations, as Mead did much of eir life, ey certainly did so in a principled way according to the book. And most of those principles are ones that we too support.
As mentioned, i came to this book in search of some lessons on anti-imperialist organizing in prisons. And while some of the stories are very abbreviated, the book is not short on examples of Mead's efforts, pitfalls and successes. Mead talks about the importance of determining the principal contradiction at each prison ey organized in. While in most cases ey sait it was related to nation, ey said it was related to sexism in Walla Walla, which led to the formation of Men Against Sexism.(3) Interestingly, Mead takes the position that while nation is principal inside prisons, it does not make sense to build a Black-only prison movement (at least on a large scale).(p. 280) We are sympathetic to this view and spend a lot of time calling for unity between nationalities in prison, while promoting national liberation as a strategy for the oppressed nations overall. A couple of good lessons are well-put in Mead's own words:
"...if the immediate demands address prisoners' rights and living conditions, then the backwards elements will either be won over or neutralized by the growing consciousness of the rest of the population."(p. 305) This was one of the most inspiring parts of Mead's story. In a situation where the prison system was dominated by one lumpen organization (LO) that was guided by self-interest, Mead had the revolutionary fearlessness to organize those victimized by the LO to build a mass movement that the whole population came to identify with.
"An organization that depends upon one person for direction is doomed to fail; each level of cadre should be able to take the place of a fallen or transferred comrade, even if that person occupies a leadership position."(p. 306) Mead learned this from experience, both in situations where ey was that sole leader and others where ey was surrounded by a dedicated cadre. Inspiring stories include the first strike ever at McNeil Island, which had 100% participation.(p. 139) While many of the challenges of prison organizing are still the same decades later, you'll find many other inspiring stories in this book as well. It demonstrates both the importance of the prison movement as part of the overall movement for liberation and against imperialism, while showing the limitations of a prison movement that is not complemented by strong movements on the outside. As the current struggle focused on police murders continues to ferment, we work to build a prison movement, and they will feed each other as we move towards the next revolutionary period in history.
Recently an exposé of the private prison Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Lousiana, run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), was published in Mother Jones.(1) The article explains conditions which are completely inhumane, and many of the atrocities are linked to the CCA's drive for profit.
In the section about the mailroom, the author Shane Bauer mentions Under Lock & Key:
"Around the mail room, there are bulletins posted of things to look out for: an anti-imperialist newsletter called Under Lock and Key, an issue of Forbes that comes with a miniature wireless internet router, a CD from a Chicano gangster rapper with a track titled 'Death on a CO.'"
Curiously, Winn mailroom staff consider political education just as dangerous to the prison environment as electronics and death threats. This blatant censorship is not unique to this facility, and is not unique to private prisons. There are many state-run facilities all across the country where we know our mail is censored in a similar manner. Unfortunately we don't have an investigative reporter inside, and, only being able to communicate with our comrades through the mail, we are not able to combat this censorship or expose it. We post known censorship incidents on our website, but the reality is that we will never know what happens to approximately two-thirds of the mail we send in.
In reading the exposé, one might start to believe this private prison is different from public prisons. That's one of the major downsides of this piece: it leaves the reader wondering, assuming that state-run facilities are inherently better. Yet we post many articles from our correspondents inside showing that state-run facilities can be just as bad as Winn Correctional Center: lack of appropriate medical care leading to long-term health problems, lack of programming, arbitrary lockdowns, excessive use of force, lack of discretion in hiring personnel, and the list goes on.
To campaign against private prisons is to assert that state-run prisons are acceptable. It legitimizes the United $tates government as an impartial arbiter. It says that it isn't the prison that's bad, but instead just the aspect of private ownership. Yet MIM(Prisons) sees the prison struggle in the United $tates as one against social control generally — whether private or state-run.
We thank Shane Bauer for writing this horrific piece for the benefit of our fight against inhumane prison conditions. And we must look at the bigger picture, how state-run facilities fit in, and how the prison reform movement interacts with the struggle for self-determination of the internal semi-colonies and the liberation of the Third World from imperialism's death grip. Certainly imprisonment for profit must be abolished. But this phenomena could only develop inside a capitalist economy. If not this atrocity of capitalism, then there will be another one, and there certainly are. If our struggle is limited to simply abolishing private ownership of prisons, we will have wasted much time and energy that could have been spent on a broader struggle.(2)