In August 2014, in response to I$rael's renewed attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, United Struggle from Within (USW) drafted and began circulating a petition denouncing the imperialist genocide of the people of Palestine. The petition draws connections to the oppressed nations suffering in the United $tates, and in particular recognized the support Palestinian prisoners gave to the California hunger strikers. While this round of bombing by I$rael was over before most could even return their signed petitions, the damage is still being felt and the imperialist occupation of Palestine continues.
"According to the United Nations, 100,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged, leaving 600,000 Palestinians — nearly one in three of Gaza's population — homeless or in urgent need of humanitarian help. Roads, schools and the electricity plant to power water and sewerage systems are in ruins."(1)
In addition, the Cairo agreement to "rebuild" Gaza after I$rael bombed it to pieces, will be managed by none other than I$rael, who will ensure that all the money goes into the pockets of I$raeli construction companies.(1) The democratically elected government of Palestine, led by Hamas, will be deprived of any oversight of this process, as they are further isolated with Egypt closing off the border with Gaza to the south.
It is not too late to rally in support of the Palestinian struggle! As of the beginning of November, USW comrades have gathered over 60 signatures to this petition in at least seven different prisons. Signatures are still coming in and a number of comrades have reported to still be working on collecting signatures in their latest communications.
While the numbers may not be overly impressive, to date only 17 of those comrades originally sent the petition have even reported receiving it. One Texas comrade who gathered 9 signatures reported doing so despite the prison being on lockdown (no one being able to leave their cells) and the recent cut off of fishing (sending notes between cells by string). At least one comrade could not get any other signatures due to the risk of political repression as a validated "gang member" in the control unit where he is held. It is no coincidence that many of our most active and politically conscious comrades find themselves in such conditions.(2)
This campaign to support the people of Palestine is significant in that it is the first USW-initiated campaign around an issue not related to the immediate conditions of prisoners themselves since MIM(Prisons) has been around. The campaign was launched without a lot of preparation, and despite the inherent limitations imposed on those in prison, we got good participation. As one California comrade recently reported, the petition was a tool for outreach that led to many political dialogues and lessons learned that will contribute to the building of the anti-imperialist movement in U.$. prisons. Their efforts to collect signatures reached beyond just those who signed the petition.
The need for these types of agitational campaigns is one of the lessons that we can take away from this experience. The barriers among much of the prison population to supporting the Palestinians' right to survival are built on a combination of Amerikan patriotism, misinformation and apathy. However, to sum up the reports we have received, we'd say that fear of repression is the number one barrier being faced, which is a problem USW faces with all its campaigns. One comrade reported setbacks due to fears around hysteria surrounding the Islamic State.
A number of comrades reported not being able to get any signatures yet, and one wrote from California:
"My focus thus far has been on the socially conscious Muslim prisoners, whom I guessed would be the most willing out of everyone to sign the petition. But I'm starting to see more and more that the overwhelming majority in Amerikkka just ain't willing to take a stand against these racist imperialist idiots in no way shape or form. Not one of the Muslims, out of the around 25 prisoners I approached, would sign the thing. The excuses ranged from, 'We need to worry about fixing 'home' first...' to just flat out 'The Jews have too much control in this country for me to sign some paper and get on their shit list.' ... so far everybody but me has been too scared to sign it."
A few weeks later this comrade submitted h petition with 25 signatures. This fear of signing is a common problem in prisons where all mail is read and punishment for activism can be severe. A comrade in Colorado wrote:
"I read the last issue of ULK and I want to say that the U.S. policy against Palestine has long been underrepresented and ignored. Amerikkka is telling the people of Gaza and Lebanon that it will allow Israel to murder and justify it in the name of 'peace.' I feel that the greatest threat to world peace is the U.S. foreign policy. As prisoners we all should stand with the people of Gaza and their right to self-defense and self-determination. Progress is being made here as far as the petition goes. Many are in solidarity against amerikkkan imperialism as it stands with Israel yet many are afraid to sign."
One letter from Virginia described the difficulty promoting internationalism:
"I have been having trouble convincing prisoners here to sign the Palestine USW petition. The fear of institutional retaliation keeps a majority of them from involving themselves in any type of radical struggles or demonstrations. Compounding the problem is the fact they cannot grasp the concept of 'internationalism.' The dominant question was, 'what do the Palestinians have to do with me?' I tried as hard as I could to convince them that all struggles against imperialism abroad are a reflection of the non-ruling class struggles here in the Empire. So please do not construe the lack of signatures as an indicator of my lack of organizing skills."
This question of "what the Palestinian struggle has to do with me" is a manifestation of the relative wealth and privilege of Amerikans as a whole. In reality the Palestinian struggle is counter to the material interests of the petty bourgeois majority in the United $tates which enjoys a supply of cheap gas ensured by Amerikan military presence in the Middle East. Like the struggle of oppressed people around the world, the Palestinian people's fight for national liberation threatens Amerikan imperialism and its ability to control and exploit the labor of Third World peoples. Any successful revolt against Amerikan imperialism and its allies/puppets (such as I$rael) will destabilize that power and may inspire others.
But when building public opinion with the lumpen in prison we can at least draw some connections to national oppression within U.$. borders and the national oppression of Palestinians. One researcher has claimed that Palestinians are the most imprisoned people in the world, based on the percentage who have been in prison (the United $tates is still #1 in the number of prisoners it holds at one time). New Afrikans and the original inhabitants on North America are potential rivals for this title. In both places, the dominant nation, with the weapons and wealth, is denying the oppressed nations independence and self-determination. And the cause of the Palestinian people is allied with the cause of oppressed nations everywhere in the world; the common enemy is imperialism.
Another persyn wrote about some more reactionary responses to h attempts to collect signatures.
"I attempt to discuss issues raised by MIM, but I'm completely lacking in knowledge. For example, prisoners here state that the Palestinians deserve the bombing because Hamas fired rockets into Israel. They say the land of Israel is not occupied by foreigners — that it belongs to Jews. They (prisoners here — a large number) say that there has never been a nation called 'Palestine' and that the people who today label themselves 'Palestinians' are simply Arabs mostly from the Trans Jordan area. So what is the correct response?"
These positions raise the important question of how we define a nation. Stalin gave us guidance on this point, describing a nation as a group of people with a common language, culture, territory and economy (which is different than a nation-state). The Palestinian people certainly meet these requirements. Nations can arise and fall over time, as humynity evolves and conditions change. While I$rael has evolved into a nation today, Stalin was correct to argue that there was no Jewish nation in his day. It was only after WWII and a mass migration of Europeans to Palestine, and the genocide that cleared the previous inhabitants of that land, that I$rael began its formation.
As for the question of Hamas firing rockets into I$rael, this certainly has happened. And we uphold the right of people to defend themselves. This is simply a question of incorrect facts. The Palestinian people are righteously defending themselves against a much more powerful oppressor who is constantly threatening their lives and taking over more of their land. A cursory study of history shows who is the agressor in this conflict. Even numbers from the end of July on this recent battle demonstrate this: while I$rael reported 56 deaths (53 soldiers), in the Gaza Strip 1,170 had been killed, many of them civilians in their homes.(3) For those who are serious about studying the history of Palestine and I$rael we can offer reading material, but for those who just want to support the imperialists and accept their lies and propaganda, it's probably best to just move on and look elsewhere for supporters. Let them eat their Thanksgiving turkeys and celebrate the superiority of Europeans over the indigenous people of the lands they occupy and destroy.
The Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) needs more activists focused on gender. MIM had a rich history in work around gender. Today a gender-focused MIM cell could do a lot to advance the struggle in the First World. For the majority of people in the richest countries, class is not an issue that will gain us much traction. But these leisure societies, dominated by gender oppressors, are concerned with the realm of leisure time where there are battles to be fought. Yet almost no one is drawing hard lines in the gender struggle today. Even some who give lip service to the need to divide the oppressor nations maintain a class reductionist line that prevents them from taking up revolutionary positions on gender.
Importance of the Gender Aristocracy
MIM sketched out the gender hierarchy as shown in the diagram below, with biological males above biological females, but with the whole First World far above the whole Third World. The line between men (gender oppressors) and wimmin (gender oppressed) is between Third World biological males (bio-males) and Third World bio-females. In this simplified model, the Third World is majority wimmin and the whole world is majority men.(1)
Near the top we see a small portion of the bio-females in the world are men of relatively high gender privilege. The term gender aristocracy was coined to account for this group of people who are often viewed as part of the gender oppressed, but are actually allied with the patriarchy.
MIM line distinguishes class and gender as class being defined by the relations of production and distribution, and gender defined as relations during leisure time. Largely due to their class position, the petty bourgeoisie, which makes up the vast majority in the First World, have a lot of leisure time and our culture in the United $tates is therefore very leisure oriented. Many of the things that are prominent and important in the lives of the gender aristocracy are not so for the majority of the world.
While MIM got a lot of push back on the labor aristocracy line, this came mostly from the dogmatic white nationalist left. The average Amerikan didn't get upset until MIM criticized their video games and explained how all sex is rape. These are things that are very important to the lives and pleasure of the imperialist country petty bourgeoisie. Knowing this is helpful in our agitational work. Our principal task overall is to create public opinion and independent institutions of the oppressed to seize power. In the First World, dominated by the oppressor nations and oppressor gender, this requires dividing the oppressor in an effort to break off allies. Even if we can't recruit whole segments of the oppressor groups, dividing them over issues of importance to the proletariat is a useful strategy.
While we say First World people are men in the gender hierarchy, unlike economic exploitation, anyone can be the target of gender oppression. Even First World bio-males are raped or killed for reasons related to gender and leisure time. This does not make them of the oppressed gender, but it does make such extreme forms of gender oppression a reality in the lives of the First World. In addition, the exploiter classes can benefit from the labor of others without ever having to use force themselves to extract that value, yet gender relations are something we all experience. As a result, even in the First World some people come to see the negative aspects of the patriarchy, with or without first-hand experience of extreme gender oppression, because of the very persynal and alienating emotional experiences they have.
A small minority in the First World will join the proletarian forces due to their own experiences with gender oppression. So it is important for there to be an alternative to the pro-patriarchy Liberalism of the gender aristocracy as a way to split off sections of the gender-obsessed leisure class. Below we take on one example of the gender aristocracy line in an effort to reassert an alternative.
Comments on the LLCO
We are using an article posted by the Leading Light Communist Organization (LLCO) as an example below. But before getting into the theoretical debate, we feel compelled to address the unprincipled approach of this organization. The article in question demonstrates a pattern of nihilism and bad-mouthing by LLCO that is akin to wrecking work.
LLCO was born in a struggle to separate itself from MIM, which had recently dissolved. Two of the main ways they did this was by bad-mouthing MIM and dividing on gender. The gender divide amounts to nihilism because they tear down the advances MIM made in building a materialist line on gender, but put nothing in its place but the Liberal pseudo-feminism of the past. Humyn knowledge and theory is always advancing; to tear down advanced ideas without replacing them with better ones is reactionary.
In the piece in question one of the logical fallacies they use is ad hominem attacks on people who acknowledge that all sex is rape by using meaningless buzzwords. Even worse, they go on to claim that those that take this position might be crazy and out of touch. This is a common attack used by the imperialists to ostracize radical thinkers. It is not a productive way to engage a developed political line that has been clearly spelled out for over two decades.
"All Sex is Rape" Needs a Comeback
Where LLCO actually engages the theory of whether all sex is rape under the patriarchy, we get a typical critique:
"Setting the bar for what counts as consent impossibly high obliterates the distinction between, for example, a wife initiating sex on her husband's birthday and the case of a masked man with a knife at a girl's throat forcing sex. To set the bar so high is completely at odds with what most people think, including rape victims themselves. Most victims themselves intuitively recognize the difference between consensual sex and rape."(2)
This is completely backwards. We do not have a problem of the masses confusing a womyn being compelled to have sex with a man because the patriarchal society tells her that is her duty on his birthday, and a womyn being compelled to have sex with a man because he is holding a knife to her throat and threatening to kill her. Rather, we have a problem of people not understanding that we need a revolutionary overthrow of patriarchy and a subsequent upheaval and reeducation of current humyn relations in order to end rape in both cases.
Furthermore, it is Liberalism to rely on the subjective "i'll know it when i see it" argument to define rape. This is exactly what MIM argued against when developing their line on gender. When an Amerikan judge hears a case of rape charged against a New Afrikan male by a white female, we can accurately predict the outcome of the judge's "intuition." When the roles are reversed, so is the verdict. And we only pick that as an easy example; we don't have to involve nation at all. It is quite common for Amerikan females to admit to themselves that they had been raped, months or years after the incident. What it takes is a social process, where rape is defined in a way that matches her experience. This social definition changes through time and space. And those who recognize this tend to gravitate towards the MIM line on rape.
The gender aristocracy is very concerned with distinguishing between rape and good sex, because good sex is the premise of their very existence as gender oppressors. For the gender aristocracy the bio-male provides safe/respectful good sex and the bio-female provides good sex in the form of a respectable/chaste partner. "Good sex" helps to distinguish and justify the existence of the gender aristocracy. Good sex is also a central source of pleasure for the gender aristocracy, to which they have very strong emotional attachments.
But the opponents to the MIM line on rape cannot explain away power differentials that are inherent in the patriarchy. They have no appropriate label for the sex that a womyn has with a man because she feels trapped in her marriage and unable to leave because of financial dependence. Or for the sex a womyn has with her girlfriend who is also her professor and in control of her grade at University. Or for the sex that a prisoner has with another prisoner because he needs the protection he knows he will get from someone who is physically stronger and respected. There are clear elements of power in all of these relationships. These are pretty obvious examples, but it's impossible to have a sexual relationship in capitalism under the patriarchy that does not have power differences, whether they be economic, physical, social, work, academic or some other aspect of power. This is not something we can just work around to create perfectly equal relationships, because our relationships don't exist outside of a social context.
One assumption of our critics is that rape cannot be pleasurable to both parties. We disagree with this definition of rape, and believe that power play is very tied up with pleasure in leisure time, to the point that a coercive sex act can be pleasurable to all involved. We expect this is more common among the gender privileged.
Another theme throughout the LLCO piece is the question of how we are going to determine who the "rapists" are that need to be punished if we are all rapists? This is combined with taking offense at being implicitly called a rapist.
The gender aristocracy cares about labeling and punishing rapists, again, because it distinguishes their good sex from others' bad sex. It is an exertion of their gender privilege. That is why most people in prison for rape in the United $tates are bio-males from the oppressed nations, and the dominant discussions about rape in the imperialist media are about places like India, Iraq, Mali or Nigeria.
LLCO accuses our line of discrediting anti-rape activists. MIM has been discrediting pseudo-feminism in the form of rape crisis centers for decades. Amerikan anti-rape activists take up the very line that we are critiquing, so this is almost a tautological critique by LLCO. Even in regards to struggles initiated by Third World wimmin, they are often corralled into a Liberal approach to gender oppression when not in the context of a strong proletarian movement. The imperialist media and those pseudo-feminists pushing an agenda of "international sisterhood" help make sure of this. This is an example of gender oppression and enforcing the patriarchy across borders using the gender aristocracy to sell it to the oppressed.
In general, we are not interested in finding the "real rapists" as we don't believe there is such a thing. Rape is a product of patriarchy — that is the essence of our line that all sex is rape. Imprisoning, beating or killing rapists will not reduce gender oppression in the context of a patriarchal society. Yet this is the only solution that is even vaguely implied in LLCO's critique.
Of course there are those who take the logic of the patriarchy to the extreme, just as there are those who take the logic of capitalism to the extreme. And we agree that under the dictatorship of the proletariat the masses will pick out these unreformable enemies for serious punishment. Yet, the majority of people who took up practices of capitalism or of the patriarchy will be reformed. This does not mean these people never exploited, stole from or sexually coerced another persyn before.
Today is another story. We adamantly oppose the criminal injustice system as a tool for policing sexual practices, just as we oppose it in general as a tool of social control to protect imperialism and the patriarchy. Therefore we find this desire to identify rapists to be a reactionary one.
Pushing for Gender Suicide
The problem with the ideology of the gender aristocracy is that their attachment to "happy sex" and the importance that most of them put on it will put them at odds with revolutionary attacks on the patriarchy. This is the practical side of "all sex is rape" as a tool to defang the gender aristocracy who will side with the imperialists on gender alone. If our critics get sad when we question the consensualness of their sex that is a good thing, because it challenges their attachments to the status quo. Truly radical changes must take place in our sex lives, our gender relations and our leisure time in general. The less resistance there is to this the better.
The Liberal argument is that by policing individual behaviors you can avoid being raped or raping someone else. This is just factually untrue. Yes, we need to transform the way people interact as part of the overthrow of patriarchy, but because gender relations operate at a group level, policing individual behaviors alone is just another form of lifestyle politics.
Just as all Amerikans must come to terms with their status as exploiters, and must view themselves as reforming criminals, gender oppressors must come to terms with the ever-presence of rape in the behaviors that they get much subjective pleasure from. Until they do, they will not be able to take on or genuinely interact with a proletarian line on gender.
The Communist Necessity by J. Moufawad-Paul Kersplebedeb 2014 Available for $10 from AK Press, 674-A 23rd St, Oakland CA 94612
This new book from J. Moufawad-Paul provides a good argument against reactionary trends in the First World activist movement over the past few decades, specifically tearing down the misleading ideologies that have moved away from communism and promote instead a mishmash of liberal theories claiming to offer new improved solutions to oppression. It comes mainly from an academic perspective, and as such takes on many minor trends in political theory that are likely unknown to many activist readers. But the main thrust, against what Moufawad-Paul calls movementism, is correct and a valuable addition to the summary of the recent past of political organizing and discussion of the way forward. Unfortunately, in illuminating the need for communist theory and scientific analysis Moufawad-Paul misses a crucial theoretical point on the petty bourgeois status of the First World. As such, his conclusions about the correct tasks for communists to take up are misleading.
Incorrect Line on the Labor Aristocracy
Moufawad-Paul does point out errors of those who have tried to take up communist organizing within unions: "Instead, those of us who have attempted to find our communist way within union spaces.... Bogged down by collective agreements so that our activism becomes the management of union survival; fighting for a union leadership that is only marginally left in essence..."(p136) But then he goes on to uphold the demands of unions without distinguishing between those representing the proletarian workers and those representing the petty bourgeoisie: "Immediate economic demands, of course, are not insignificant. We have to put food on the table and pay the bills,; we want job security and benefits. Solidarity amongst workers is laudable, and it would be a mistake to oppose unions and union drives because they are not as revolutionary as a communist party."(p137) Readers of MIM(Prisons) literature know that we have many books and articles detailing the calculations demonstrating First World workers income putting them squarely in the group of non-exploited owners of wealth who we call the petty bourgeoisie.
Moufawad-Paul concludes: "To reject economism, to recognize that trade-unions, particularly at the centres of capitalism, may not be our primary spaces of organization should not produce a knee-jerk anti-unionism, no different in practice than the conservative hatred of unions; rather, it should cause us to recognize the necessity of focusing our organizational energies elsewhere."(p137) This is a rather unscientific and wishy washy conclusion from an author who otherwise upholds revolutionary science to tear down many other incorrect theories. In fact it is only in the last pages of the book, in the "Coda" that Moufawad-Paul even attempts to take on this question of a "working class" in the First World and distinguish it from workers in the Third World:
"From its very emergence, capitalism has waged war upon humanity and the earth. The communist necessity radiates from this eternal war: capitalism's intrinsic brutality produces an understanding that its limits must be transgressed, just as it produces its own grave-diggers. How can we be its grave-diggers, though, when we refuse to recognize the necessity of making communism concretely, deferring its arrival to the distant future? One answer to this problem is that those of us at the centres of capitalism are no longer the primary grave-diggers.
"The permanent war capitalism wages upon entire populations is a war that is viscerally experienced by those who live at the global peripheries. Lenin once argued that revolutions tend to erupt at the 'weakest links,' those over-exploited regions where the contradictions of capitalism are clear. Thus, it should be no surprise that communism remains a necessity in these spaces — it is at the peripheries we discover people's wars. Conversely, opportunism festers at the global centres, these imperialist metropoles where large sections of the working-class have been pacified, muting contradictions and preventing entire populations from understanding the necessity of communism. Capitalism is not as much of a nightmare, here; it is a delirium, a fever dream."(p158)
But even while recognizing the pacification of "large sections of the working-class" in imperialist countries, Moufawad-Paul fails to undertake any scientific analysis of how large these sections are, or what exactly it means to be pacified. It sounds as though they still need to be woken from their "fever dream" to fight for communism. But these workers will be ardent anti-communists if we appeal to their economic interests. They have not just been pacified, they have been bought off with wealth stolen from the Third World, and as with the fascist workers in Germany under Hitler, they will fight to the death to defend their wealth and power over oppressed nations.
It is trade unions of these people benefiting from exploitation who Moufawad-Paul extols the readers not to reject with "a knee-jerk anti-unionism, no different in practice than the conservative hatred of unions." But in fact if he studied the economics of wealth with the same scientific passion he brings to the topic of communist theory overall, Moufawad-Paul would see that workers in imperialist countries have been bought over to the petty bourgeois class, and opposing their unionism is not knee-jerk at all.
Movementism and Fear of Communism
The bulk of this book is devoted to a critique of movementism: "the assumption that specific social movements, sometimes divided along lines of identity or interest, could reach a critical mass and together, without any of that Leninist nonsense, end capitalism."(p9)
This movementism is seen in protests that have been held up throughout the First World activist circles as the way to defeat capitalism: "Before this farce, the coordinating committee of the 2010 demonstrations would absurdly maintain, on multiple email list-serves, that we were winning, and yet it could never explain what it meant by 'we' nor did its claim about 'winning' make very much sense when it was patently clear that a victory against the G20 would have to be more than a weekend of protests. Had we truly reached a point where victory was nothing more than a successful demonstration, where we simply succeeded in defending the liberal right to assembly?"(p9-10)
Further, the movementists, and other similar self-proclaimed leftists of the recent past demonstrate an aversion to communism, though sometimes shrouding themselves in communist rhetoric: "All of this new talk about communism that avoids the necessity of actually bringing communism into being demonstrates a fear of the very name communism."(p29) He points out that this is manifested in practice: "The Arab Spring, Occupy, the next uprising: why do we look to these examples as expressions of communism instead of looking to those movements organized militantly under a communist ideology, that are making more coherent and revolutionary demands?"(p30)
Moufawad-Paul correctly analyzes the roots of the support for "insurrections" in the Third World rather than the actual communist revolutions. Real revolutions can have setbacks and fail to seize state power: "The lingering fascination with the EZLN, for example, is telling: There is a reason that the Zapatistas have received sainthood while the Sendero Luminoso has not. The latter's aborted people's war placed it firmly in the realm of failure; the former, in refusing to attempt a seizure of state power."(p46)
In another correct critique of these activists that MIM has made for years, Moufawad-Paul points out the problem with communists joining non-communist organizations and attempting to take over leadership: "...Occupied Wallstreet Journal refuses to communicate anything openly communist and yet is being edited by known communists..."(p50) Essentially these communists have to water down their own politics for the sake of the group, and they are doing nothing to promote the correct line more broadly.
Ultimately Moufawad-Paul sums up the anti-commnunism: "Even before this collapse it was often the hallmark of supposedly 'critical' marxism in the first world, perhaps due to the influence of trotskyism, to denounce every real world socialism as stalinist, authoritarian, totalitarian. Since the reification of anti-communist triumphalism this denunciation has achieved hegemony; it is the position to which would-be marxist academics gravitate and accept as common sense, an unquestioned dogma. Hence, we are presented with a constellation of attempts to reboot communism by calling it something different, by making its past either taboo or meaningless..."(p69)
And he cautions us that while some are now returning to communism in name, they are still lacking a materialist analysis of communist practice that is needed to bring about revolution: "Despite the return to the name of communism, this new utopianism, due to its emergence in the heart of left-wing academia and petty-bourgeois student movements, has absorbed the post-modern fear of those who speak of a communist necessity — the fear of that which is totalizing and thus totalitarian. The failure to develop any concrete strategy of overthrowing capitalism, instead of being treated as a serious deficiency, is apprehended as a strength: the movement can be all things for all people, everything for everyone, everywhere and nowhere..."(p151)
Moufawad-Paul correctly notes that for many academics and other petty bourgeois advocates of these new theories, the fear of communism is actually based in a fear of their own material position being challenged: "Here is a terrible notion, one that we avoid whenever we embrace those theories that justify our class privilege: we will more than likely be sent down to the countryside, whatever this figurative 'countryside' happens to be; we too will have to be reeducated. Most of us are terrified by this possibility, disgusted by the necessity of rectification, of being dragged down."(p96)
Sectarianism vs. Principled Differences
Moufawad-Paul includes some good discussion of the failure of movementist doctrine around so-called anti-sectarianism: "But the charge of sectarianism is leveled at every and any organization that dares to question the fundamental movementist doctrine."(p53) As he explains, "But principled political difference by itself does not amount to sectarianism, though it is often treated as such by those who would judge any moment of principled difference as sectarian heresy....Maintaining a principled political difference is itself a necessity, part of developing a movement capable of drawing demarcating lines, and even those who would endorse movementism have to do so if they are to also maintain their anti-capitalism."(p55)
The failure of coalition politics is summed up well: "When a variety of organizations with competing ideologies and strategies are gathered together under one banner, the only theoretical unity that can be achieved is the most vague anti-capitalism. Since revolutionary strategy is derived from revolutionary unity, the vagueness of theory produces a vagueness in practice: tailism, neo-reformism, nebulous movementism."(p129) This underscores why MIM(Prisons) promotes the United Front over coalition politics. In the United Front we have clear proletarian leadership but we do not ask organizations to compromise their own political line for that of the UF. A principled UF comes together around clear and concise points of unity while maintaining their independence in other areas. A good example of this is the United Front for Peace in Prisons.
The Need for Communism
Moufawad-Paul includes a good discussion of the need for real communist ideology, rooted in historical materialism and focused on what we need to do today rather than just building academic careers by talking about theories. "If anything, these movements, whatever their short-comings, should remind us of the importance of communism and its necessity; we should not hide from these failures, attempt to side-step them by a vague rearticulation of the terminology, or refuse to grasp that they were also successes. If we are to learn from the past through the lens of the necessity of making revolution, then we need to do so with an honesty that treats the practice of making communism as an historical argument."(p29)
He encourages the readers: "To speak of communism as a necessity, then, is to focus on the concrete world and ask what steps are necessary to make it a reality."(p31) And the way to figure out what steps are necessary is revolutionary science:
"Why then is historical materialism a revolutionary science? Because the historical/social explanation of historical/social phenomena is the very mechanism of class struggle, of revolution. And this scientific hypothesis is that which is capable of demystifying the whole of history and myriad societies, a way in which to gauge any and every social struggle capable of producing historical change.
"Hence, without a scientific understanding of social struggle we are incapable of recognizing when and where failed theories manifest. The physicist has no problem banning Newtonian speculation to the past where it belongs; s/he possesses a method of assessment based on the development of a specific scientific terrain. If we resist a similar scientific engagement with social struggle we have no method of making sense of the ways in which revolutionary hypotheses have been dis-proven in the historical crucible due to historical 'experiments' of class struggle."(p43)
Overall The Communist Necessity adds some much needed revolutionary scientific analysis to "leftist" activism and theories of the recent past. It is unfortunate that Moufawad-Paul did not apply this same scientific rigor to his analysis of classes. Only with both elements firmly understood will we be prepared to do our part to support the communist struggles of the oppressed world wide.
Captive Genders Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex Eric A. Stanley & Nat Smith, Editors 2011, AK Press Available for $21.95 from AK Press: 674-A 23rd St, Oakland, CA 94612
This book is a compilation of essays from various transgender individuals, activists, prisoners and researchers. The unifying theme is progressive in that the book is not only devoted to exposing gender oppression faced by transgender people, specifically the criminalization of gender variance in the United $tates, but also to the abolishment of the current United $tates prison system itself. It tackles the often incorrect focus of queer activists who call for expanded laws and punishment, correctly exposing this strategy as reactionary and counterproductive. Unfortunately, although this is a pretty long book, it includes only vague anarchist solutions to the problem, with no coherent strategy to abolish the criminal injustice system.
Before going into detail I will briefly mention that MIM(Prisons) disagrees with the use of the term "prison industrial complex" (PIC) which is found throughout this book. This phrase implies that prisons in the United $tates (and other First World countries when applied there) are part of a money-making industry. In reality prisons are a money-losing enterprise, built and sustained by the state as a means of social control. Anyone making money off of prison contracts are just participating in the shuffling of imperialist wealth stolen from the Third World, not making profits off of prisoner labor. The use of this term in this book is perhaps not a surprise as a failure to grasp the underlying purpose of a system is going to lead to mistaken analysis of how we can fight that system.
We Can't Work Within the Criminal Injustice System
In the introduction, the editors wrote: "Mainstream LGBT organizations, in collaboration with the state, have been working hard to make us believe that hate crimes enhancements are a necessary and useful way to make trans and queer people safer. Hate crimes enhancements are used to add time to a person's sentence if the offense is deemed to target a group of people. However, hate crimes enhancements ignore the roots of harm, do not act as deterrents, and reproduce the farce of the PIC, which produces more, not less harm."(p3) This is an important point for activists of all stripes who fight for expanded laws to protect whichever oppressed group they are working to defend. We cannot look to the state to defend us against the state. And the prison system in particular is a repressive arm of the state; anything we do to expand that arm is inherently reactionary.
In "Transforming Carceral Logics: 101 Reasons to Dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex Through Queer/Trans Analysis and Action," S. Lamble writes:
"Although some people believe that we can train transphobia out of law enforcement agents or eliminate homophobic discrimination by hiring more LGBT prison guards, police, and immigration officials, such perspectives wrongly assume that discrimination is a 'flaw' in the system, rather than intrinsic to the system itself. Efforts to make prison and the police institutions more 'gay-friendly' perpetuate the myth that such systems are in place to protect us."(p. 239)
This author goes on to write: "The pervasiveness of state violence against queer and transgender people is reason enough to fight the prison industrial complex. But it is important to include anti-prison work as part of antiviolence struggles more broadly. Too often mainstream antiviolence work around hate crimes, sexual violence, child, and partner abuse excludes or remains disconnected from struggles against state violence."(p245) We agree with the connections made by Lamble here. It is important that people recognize that state-perpetrated violence is far broader and more deadly than any individual violence. It is laughable that some turn to our violent state to protect them. The state will only protect those whose interest it serves. In the case of the Amerikan government, that includes the vast majority of the white oppressor nation, but often excludes oppressed groups of like trans people.
"Unfortunately, many LGBT organizations in Canada, Britain, and the United States — particularly white-dominated and class-privileged ones — are increasingly complicit in the forces of prison expansion: calling for increased penalties under hate crimes laws; participating in police, military, and prison officer recruitment campaigns....LGBT groups nonetheless helped to legitimize imprisonment and channel further resources into locking people up — despite a lack of evidence that such measures reduce hate-motivated violence."(p. 249-250)
In "Identities Under Siege: Violence Against Transpersons of Color[", Lori A. Saffin bolsters this point: "Arguing for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in state hate crimes laws will ultimately end in limited social reform because 'equality' within the existing social system only accounts for and remedies the most blatant forms of injustice."(p155) And she concludes:
"By not taking into consideration the ways in which the criminal justice system regulates, pursues, controls, and punishes the poor and communities of color, LGBT hate crimes initiatives reproduce harm and do not end it. Calling for an increased role of the criminal justice system in enforcing hate crimes legislation is insular in that it assumes a white, gay, wealthy subject while also soliciting victims of hate-motivated violence to report into a penal system without regard for the fact that people of color and the poor are disproportionately punished. By ignoring racism and economic inequality in their arguments for hate crimes statutes, national gay rights organizations assume an assimilationist stance that reinforces the status quo at the expense of communities of color and the poor."(p156)
Queer and Trans People in the Criminal Injustice System
Captive Genders has some good data on the incarceration of queer and trans people in Amerika who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal injustice system and face additional dangers and abuse within prison. In "Rounding Up the Homosexuals: The Impact of Juvenile Court on Queer and Trans/Gender-Non-Conforming Youth" Wesley Ware writes:
"Further, the data tell us that queer and trans youth in detention are equally distributed across race and ethnicity, and comprise 15 percent of youth in detention centers.... Since queer and trans youth are overrepresented in nearly all popular feeders into the juvenile justice system — homelessness, difficulty in school, substance abuse, and difficulty with mental health — the same societal ills, which disproportionately affect youth of color — it should not be surprising that they may be overrepresented in youth prisons and jails as well."
In "Maroon Abolitionists: Black Gender-Oppressed Activists in the Anti-Prison Movement in the US and Canada," Julia Sudbury writes about the gender binary in the prison system and the risks for transsexual prisoners who have not had gender reassignment surgery. They are assigned to a prison based on one part of their body, denied medical care, and put in extreme physical danger.
Many trans wimmin are forced to take a prison "husband" by the guards who think this will diffuse tension and make the prisons calmer. In "No One Enters Like Them: Health, Gender Variance, and the PIC," blake nemec interviews Kim Love about her experience in the men's prisons in California. Kim describes entering the prison, when the Correctional Officer (CO) assigned her to a cell and she objected to the placement, and "They told me that's gonna be your husband, and that's where you're going to be and you're going to love him."(p. 222) She goes on to explain why no one tries to take the COs to court: "We've had so many transgenders that have been raped in CDC [California Department of Corrections] and had proof. One of them even had the towel the CO wiped his semen on. Today I haven't heard of one case that a transgender won against a law officer, against CDC."(p. 222)
In "Out of Compliance: Masculine-Identified People in Women's Prisons" Lori Girshick writes about women "aggressives" in prison. These people, most of whom identify as lesbians or trans men, are often treated more harshly than feminine prisoners because they are breaking the social and cultural norms the prisons seek to enforce. "Legislation is being considered in California to segregate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) prisoners who self-identify at receiving."(p. 203) The author explains that this gives staff even greater access to harass and abuse them.
How to Organize for Change
In the essay "Building an Abolitionist Trans and Queer Movement with Everything We've Got", the authors, Morgan Bassichis, Alexander Lee and Dean Spade, tackle the critical question of how to organize. But they completely miss several important points. First, they consider the Amerikan workers to be on the side of the oppressed: "The US government and its ally nations and institutions in the Global North helped pass laws and policies that made it harder for workers to organize into unions..."(p20)
Second, they push reformist organizing without a clear goal of eliminating imperialism, as if we could abolish the criminal injustice system within imperialism. They do however, correctly identify that violence and discrimination aren't just individual bad behaviors:
"Discrimination laws and hate crimes laws encourage us to understand oppression as something that happens when individuals use bias to deny someone a job because of race or sex or some other characteristic, or beat up or kill someone because of such a characteristic. This way of thinking, sometimes called the 'perpetrator perspective,' makes people thing about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism in terms of individual behaviors and bad intentions rather than wide-scale structural oppression that often operates without some obvious individual actor aimed at denying an individual person an opportunity. The violence of imprisoning millions of poor people and people of color, for example, can't be adequately explained by finding one nasty racist individual, but instead requires looking at a whole web of institutions, policies, and practices that make it 'normal' and 'necessary' to warehouse, displace, discard, and annihilate poor people and people of color. Thinking about violence and oppression as the work of 'a few bad apples' undermines our ability to analyze our conditions systematically and intergenerationally, and to therefore organize for systemic change."(p. 23)
We have a correct analysis here of the need for systemic change. But their ultimate goal is summed up:
"Abolition is not just about closing the doors to violent institutions, but also about building up and recovering institutions and practices and relationships that nurture wholeness, self-determination, and transformation. Abolition is not some distant future but something we create in every moment when we say no to the traps of empire and yes to the nourishing possibilities dreamed of and practiced by our ancestors and friends."(p. 36)
This is an unfortunate dive into individualism and the persynal-is-political anarchist practice. We cannot create a culture that enables better relationships between people and allows the oppressed to have their own institutions until we eliminate the system of imperialism that necessitates the exact opposite. Pretending that our individual practice can get us there is the same mistake these and other authors in Captive Genders correctly criticize when they talk about the fact that one racist individual isn't the problem but rather it's the whole system. We must dismantle that system first, then we can build a just and equal society.
The essay "Maroon Abolitionists: Black Gender-Oppressed Activists in the Anti-Prison Movement in the US and Canada" also gets the solution wrong:
"Movement-building that creates innovative models of justice that do not pimp prisoners for the success of capitalism are possible. It is time to view the current US economic hardships as an exit opportunity away from dependency on conservative foundations and government funding vehicles that bar groups from work that threatens pharmaceutical industries or gender/sexuality norms. Transformative justice models that empower lovers, friends, and groups of people to be accountable to one another rather than rely on unjust and unsustainable US systems, can work to abolish the prison industrial complex. We can, and are, creating these in forms that facilitate a domino effect of cultural and economic churnings."(p. 230)
Again here we have this idea of "transformative justice" that is anarchist individualism with people just holding each other accountable outside of the United $tates's criminal injustive system. Yet no matter how hard we try, we do not have the liberty to exist outside of the imperialist system. Take a look at the revolutionaries in the Philippines or India who liberated base areas and set up their own independent institutions only to have them attacked by the brutal military (funded and armed by the United $tates). Or look at an example closer to home: the MOVE organization, which attempted to set up its own peaceful self-policing community only to be violently destroyed by the Amerikan injustice system. There is a reason why the Black Panther Party trained its members in self-defense. We are misleading people by pretending that this transformation of the criminal injustice system is possible by just creating some independent structures. The Amerikan government will not just fade away without a fight.
Warmongering propaganda is at high levels in the United $tates, as it seems no positive lessons were taken from September 11, 2001. It took about a decade for Amerikans to lose interest in the U.$. occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq. This contributed to almost two-thirds of Amerikans opposing Obama's push to invade Syria less than a year ago. Yet already, about two-thirds of the population now agrees with Obama that they would rather control the government in Syria than keep Amerikan journalists' heads attached to their bodies.
Militarism is driven by an economic system that is built around arms production and requires war to keep up demand. Arms shipments have increased recently to I$rael, Ukraine, Syria and Iraq where the U.$. has resumed bombing campaigns that are destroying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of American military equipment now in the hands of the Islamic State. Every strike made by either side in that war is a boon to Amerikan business.
Meanwhile, Russia has been clear that they will not let Ukraine join NATO. The United $tates and Russia are the two biggest nuclear powers in the world. Yet Obama is pushing to have Ukraine join NATO, and Amerikan anti-Russian sentiment is on the rise in support of him. Open conflict with Russia would greatly increase the already unacceptable risk of nuclear catostrophe due to militarism.
The last 15 years have proven that U.$. militarism cannot be stopped by the Amerikan anti-war movement. Rather, revolutionaries in the United $tates must focus on pushing the national liberation struggles of the internal semi-colonies in solidarity with the Third World. Campaigns like the one in support of Palestine by California prisoners are good for building anti-militarism in the United $tates.
Currently the media and Western politicians are promoting the line that the Islamic State is the biggest threat to peace globally. They are way off the mark. That role has long remained in the hands of the United $tates and its military industrial complex.
MIM(Prisons) gets a number of requests from male prisoners to hook them up with female comrades. They are looking for romance or just "female companionship." Sometimes this request comes from an activist behind bars, looking to build a romantic relationship with someone who is also an activist.
MIM(Prisons) focuses all of our energy and funds on revolutionary education and organizing, but we understand that people have social needs and desires. Here we will address why we don't offer dating or pen pal services and why activists should think carefully about what they are really looking for.
We believe that humyns are social beings who need interactions with other humyns in order to be mentally healthy. That is why we say control units are torture. And in our culture, gendered relations can make it difficult for men to provide emotional support to each other, especially in the hyper-masculine prison environment. So seeking out female companionship is one way to deal with alienation of imprisonment and especially isolation.
Many people find their motivation in such relationships. All you have to do is turn on the radio to know that, even if today's culture has essentialized it to down to body parts and sex acts. But it may be helpful to separate those two things out. There is the patriarchal culture that has trained us to desire certain things, and to be validated by certain things. Then there is some genuine aspect of the humyn brain that craves social interaction.
There is a contradiction with being both distracted and inspired when you are in a relationship. Often when they are in it people can justify it in all sorts of ways, because it becomes the most important thing. Yet, we've also seen people who experience some difficulty that turns them off to romance and as a result they put their nose to the grindstone and pick up their work load. In fact, there are studies in the pop science news claiming that being in a depressed state is better for creativity and concentration. So consider how you can turn your state of loneliness to your advantage and not end up wallowing in it.
We don't hook up our subscribers with conscious sisters for political and security reasons. But even if we wanted to, how would we? Dating is hard. Finding people to date is hard. Doing so from prison has to be a hundred times harder. As cadre, when we look at our political lives and our bourgeois lives, we take a budgeting approach. Everything that isn't political is taking time away from the political. And so you need to parse out what it is you NEED to do to sustain yourself so that you can continue to do political work. Anything else is taking time away from the struggle, away from the people. And that's on you.
When people get into relationships they often disappear. Not just from politics, but from life in general, friends, etc. For the petty bourgeoisie it's probably the top thing to take people away from politics. For the lumpen it's big as well. If we tell people to just give it up and get over it, they'll say we're crazy and don't understand humyns. But for cadre level people this should be something we can evaluate. We should be able to look at our own lives, look at the society that shapes our lives, see what we've been taught and what we know we need, and work towards a lifestyle that best supports our work.
In prisons, men are housed separately from wimmin, but gender oppression is still a very big issue behind bars. From sexual assaults on prisoners by guards and other prisoners, to the abuse of gay and trans people, gender oppression perpetuates disunity and furthers the social control of the criminal injustice system. In this issue of Under Lock & Key we have articles about rape and sexual assault in prison, the use of sexual orientation to divide prisoners, denial of health care, and several attempts to challenge and fight gender oppression behind bars.
Our readers should be familiar with the concepts of class and national oppression. Class is clearly related to work and ownership of the means of production. Those who are owners have the power to exploit those who are not. National oppression is also clearly visible with nations which have resources and militaries using those to steal from and control nations which don't.
We distinguish gender from class and nation because it is defined by leisure-time activity. Men (the group with power in the gender oppression dynamic) oppress wimmin through rape, sexual harassment, and a social structure that portrays wimmin as valued for their looks, not for their skills or knowledge. Gender is not so clear cut as "men against wimmin" though. We have an Amerikan history of lynching Black men accused of raping white wimmin, giving white wimmin significant gender power over Black men. The use of humyn bodies in the Third World for drug testing by pharmaceutical companies gives First World men and wimmin benefits from gender oppression. And overall health status and physical ability is tied up with gender privilege; professional athletes and models are both enjoying gender privilege while those with physical and mental disabilities are often times forced into homelessness or imprisonment.
Gender in Prison
In prison we see clearly that gender privilege is not just about biological definitions of male and female. Prisoners face rape and sexual harassment by both prison staff and other prisoners. According to the Department of Justice itself, 50% of sexual assault against prisoners is by staff (See the article "PREA National Standards: Symbol or Sword?"). Prisoners are vulnerable because of their powerlessness against abuse from employees, their lack of recourse to stop abuse from other prisoners, and also because of their lack of access to adequate health care. These vulnerabilities have an even bigger impact on prisoners who are gay or trans, those with physical disabilities or health problems, youth (especially those in adult facilities), and any prisoners who are perceived as weak.
Trans Oppression in Prison
A New York prisoner wrote to MIM(Prisons) recently:
"I'm a transgender woman. I'm writing this because I'm different from the regular male prisoners. I am 200% aware of the oppression that's being done to the heterosexual prisoner population. I've been raped, beaten, and starved. The main reason I've been oppressed is due to my sexual orientation. An LGBTQ individual has it bad [in prison]."
Trans people face gender oppression for their perceived sex role non-conformity, based on physical health status and needs, and for trans wimmin there is the added oppression for being female. As with other gender oppression, this interacts with class and nation, leaving Third World trans people to face the most severe oppression, while some First World trans people end up integrating well with their imperialist culture and enjoying its benefits. Trans prisoners are unique in the First World because the condition of imprisonment puts them in a situation that denies them class or nation privilege, resulting in increased danger specific to their gender oppression.
The root of violence against trans people lies in the strict enforcement of the gender system. People who are visibly trans, especially trans wimmin, are often singled out for social or physical violence. Trans people are automatically regarded as non-heterosexual, and violence against them often includes elements of homophobia. These factors can conspire with national oppression and class to produce disastrous and murderous results.
Trans people have a number of specific health needs, primarily hormones and surgery, but are commonly denied access to even routine healthcare.(1) An unemployment rate double the average(2) often leaves trans people without insurance; but for those who do have it, trans-specific coverage is often categorically denied, and aging medical standards allow doctors to restrict treatment to only those who conform to rigid standards of masculinity or femininity. The result of all this can be lethal. Approximately 41% of trans people have attempted suicide,(3) and trans wimmin are 49 times more likely to be HIV positive than the general population.(4)
Lack of healthcare is even more acute within prison, with hormones normally denied even to those receiving them before incarceration, and surgery completely out of the question. 21% of trans wimmin have been imprisoned (rising to over 50% for New Afrikan trans wimmin)(5) and for them, correct identity documents can mean life or death. Trans wimmin who are regarded as "legally male" by the state get sent to men's prisons. This leaves them much more likely than other prisoners to be victims of sexual assault, rape, and murder,(6) and has a number of other consequences like the assignment of cross-gender guards for strip searches, and incorrect clothing provisions.(7)
Unity is Key to Fighting Gender Oppression
Gender oppression is an integral part of imperialism, and we can't expect to eliminate it without overthrowing imperialism. Ultimately we fight for communism, a system where no group of people oppresses any other group of people (classes, nations or genders). But we can have an impact on some forms of this oppression now, including sexual violence and harassment, through a united struggle behind bars. We call on all prisoners to put an end to gender oppression between prisoners. We need to stand together and say no to prisoner-on-prisoner sexual assault, and no to harassment. Unite and stand up to defend those who can not defend themselves. If you do not face this oppression, it is your job to stand with your comrades who do, and ensure your fellow prisoners do not turn around and act as gender oppressors. Straight prisoners need to understand that gay and trans prisoners are comrades, not enemies. Don't let the prison divide us along gender lines.
Recientemente me encontré con algo que puede ser de interés para usted. Estaba yo hiciendo algo de investigación dentro de esta organización propagandista reaccionaria pro-prisión conocida como Centro de Investigación Nacional de Bandas Criminales (National Gang Crime Research Center NGCRC). Este es dirigido por un inflexible defensor para este sistema, nombrado Dr. George W. Knox. El Dr. Knox y el canalla que trabaja para NGCRC habitualmente conducen encuestas para el sistema gulag para ayudarlos a identificar y neutralizar alguna potencial "amenaza." Yo fui hábil de meter mis manos en uno de estos informes y reportes de resultados preliminares que fueron conducidos dentro de 148 gulags en U$A representando 48 estados y aproximadamente 150,000 prisioneros. Ahora, la parte del informe que yo pensé puede ser de algún interés para MIM(Prisiones)es lo siguiente:
Bajo nivel de contaminación de MIM.
Algunos tipos de grupos políticos extremistas tratan de reclutar internos y prisioneros en America, ellos pueden hacer esto a través del Servicio Postal del EEUU. Estos grupos frecuentemente tienen sofisticados sitios en la web también. El Movimiento Internationalista Maoista (MIM) subsiste para difundir ideología comunista entre internos encarcelados en prisiones y cárceles Americanas. Esto busca radicalizar internos de la prisión y darles un programa para organizar resistencia contra el gobierno Americano. Si tus internos están mantiendo correspondencia con MIM, podrías tener un problema cociendose.
La encuesta incluía la pregunta "¿Tiene alguno de los internos en sus instalaciones correspondencia con el Maoist International Movement (MIM)?" Únicamente 4.6 por ciento de los encuestados indicaron que sus internos han estado en contacto con MIM. Así, esto parecería que MIM no esta efectivamente alcanzando la inmensa mayoría de prisioneros Americanos. Al menos no todavía. Alternativamente, quizá tal contacto con MIM esta yendo bajo el radar de oficiales de la cárcel y de las prisiones.
MIM(Prisiones) responde: Este reporte en "Grupos y Bandas de Amenaza a la Seguridad (Gangs and Security Threat Groups)" no incluye mención de algunos otros grupos comunistas, asi que veríamos nuestra inclusión como una indicación del éxito de MIM(Prisiones) en alcanzando activistas de la nación oprimida y la exactitud de nuestra linea política en amenazando al imperialismo y dominio Americano. En realidad, como la encuesta admite, ellos no pueden realmente juzgar este numero basado en encuestas solo de administradores de prisiones. Nos gustaría alcanzar la inmensa mayoría de prisioneros, pero en la practica estamos enfocados en estos quienes están interesados en políticas anti-imperialistas o de mente abierta buscando aprender. Sin embargo, tomamos esto como una llamada de acción para los lectores de Under Lock & Key; Necesitamos incrementar el porcentaje de personas en contacto con MIM(Prisiones)!