For a few years MIM(Prisons) has been participating in the on-line forum Prison Talk (www.prisontalk.com). This website advertises itself as a "prison information and family support community." The forums on Prison Talk are primarily used by family members of prisoners, looking for information and support. From their home page description, Prison Talk (also known as PTO) explains:
"There is no worse feeling than that of being alone and helpless. This applies to the families of those who are incarcerated just as much as it does to those behind the walls. PTO's goal is to bridge the communication barrier that exists in and around the criminal 'justice' system today and bring everyone in the prisoner support community closer together to effect change in policy, prisoner rights, sentencing and so much more."
Occasionally MIM(Prisons) attempts to post information in PTO forums for the benefit of the PTO audience, who may not regularly visit our website for news from Amerikan prisons. For instance, during the statewide hunger strike in California's prisons, we provided several articles and updates on the situation that were appreciated by the California forum users (users can indicate appreciation of a post within the forums by “thanking” the author).
We try to be careful to follow the rules of the forums. For instance, a few years ago Prison Talk staff made some policy changes to bring the forums into compliance with copyright laws. Because the content on our website is not copyrighted, these laws don't apply to posts of content from prisoncensorship.info. But we understand that the Prison Talk staff have decided to apply their policies to all news articles posted on the site rather than research each individual source, and so we modified our participation to include only a small summary of an article and then a link to the full article for those who want to read it, as their policy requires.(1)
In spite of this practice, our posts over the past year were often deleted for "copyright violation" without any indication of how we were violating the policy. Perhaps in recognition that we are not violating the copyright policy, Prison Talk staff recently started making up new reasons to delete our posts. One reason given was "We cannot allow you to link to that site. It asks for donations, and as such is not allowed on PTO." This one is interesting since it took only about 5 minutes of looking through recent posts on PTO to find examples of uncensored posts linking to sites that request donations, such as this one which links to truth-out.org, a site that has a prominently-featured button requesting donations (far more aggressive than prisoncensorship.info). In fact the only sites that are unlikely to request donations are commercial sites, so if this is actually a PTO policy, they are effectively banning links to most non-profit and independent websites.
Another post was deleted with the reason given as "You have been told multiple times you CANNOT post as someone else." This is an odd reason since we have never concealed the identity of the persyn posting on PTO for MIM(Prisons). In fact a few years ago we were asked to take down the link to the MIM(Prisons) website in that persyn's PTO user profile. So on the one hand they want us to disguise who we work with, and on the other hand they accuse us of posting as someone else. And for the record, this was the first time PTO made this accusation, it was not "multiple times."
It seems that the PTO staff want to prevent MIM(Prisons) from participating in the forums, but they don't want to do so openly. They have pursued an ongoing practice of making it as difficult as possible for us to share information about the fight against the criminal injustice system being waged by United Struggle from Within and MIM(Prisons). We have asked the PTO administrators to be honest with us and just tell us to stop participating if they want to kick us off. But they ignore this request and continue to pretend that the problem is our lack of compliance with policies. We do consistently see our posts censored within a few hours of posting, and so given the volume of posts in a day (there were 1885 new posts over one random 12-hour period this month) we assume at least one administrator has set a flag notifying themselves to review every single post we attempt to make.
It is unfortunate that the organizers of this forum serving a population that desperately needs access to information about battles being waged in the prison system are censoring participants in such an underhanded way. This is eerily similar to the games played by prison administrators who throw out prisoners' mail and pretend it just never arrived, or who deny material as "a threat to the security of the institution" when they just don't like the material. Unlike prison staff, PTO is legally allowed to remove material they find politically disagreeable from their website, but they probably know that openly doing so would lose them support from many of their users.
MIM(Prisons) is honest about our selective publication of articles and information in both Under Lock & Key and on our website. We are clear about our political line and the goals of our work. Liberal organizations like PTO, who pretend to be open to all views but in fact secretly promote their own agenda, are harming the fight against injustice.
In this issue of Under Lock & Key we take on the issue of social control in prisons through long-term isolation, commonly known as control units (CUs). CUs are permanently designated prisons or cells in prisons that lock prisoners up in solitary or small group confinement for 22 or more hours a day with no congregate dining, exercise or other services, and virtually no programs. Almost 50% uf ULK subscribers are in CUs, while this is true for less than 5% of the overall prison population in the United $tates.
This topic comes up a lot in ULK because control units are used to punish and isolate prisoners speaking up against the criminal injustice system, those with influence over others, and even those who just won't go along with the programmed repression of everyday prison life. Our prisoner activist comrades, United Struggle from Within members are often found in these long-term isolation cells, still writing for ULK and organizing others in whatever way they can. The real purpose of these control units is exposed in "Control Units: Social Control for Semi-Colonies in the United $tates," and several articles on validation for activism. Control units attack our ability to organize and are yet another way the prisons foment divisions between prisoners.
We know that long-term isolation has serious mental and physical health consequences. The conditions are eloquently exposed in the article on the Delaware Prison System. And the dangerous health effects are discussed in the article "Who's Defining Mental Illness?"
The use of control units is expanding within the Amerikan criminal injustice system and the past and future growth of control units are explored in the review of the book "Out of Control" and our summary of recent results from our own control unit survey.
With all this information on the development and purpose of control units we need to turn to activism and what we should be doing to fight back. Many of the articles listed above offer insights and options. And for the overall development of the movement we call attention to the article on the September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity and the lessons for the United Front from the Bandung Conference. By building a United Front for Peace in Prisons we are laying the groundwork of unity and peace to take on important battles like the one to abolish control units.
The fight against prison control units is important for the anti-imperialist movement, but it can only be waged in the context of the broader struggle. We might win some reforms and gain some freedom for our activist comrades behind bars, and better conditions for the general prison population, but until we dismantle the criminal injustice system we won't be able to effect systematic change. And that will only happen with the overthrow of imperialism because, as is clearly exposed in this issue of Under Lock & Key, prisons are a critical tool of social control for the imperialists. There's no way the imperialists will give up that control, and they always look for new ways to spin national oppression to sound tolerable and even necessary to the Amerikkkan public.
Control Unit Survey Responses
MIM(Prisons) has been soliciting for data on control units for the past several issues of ULK. We're forced to do this because there is no central information source on control units in prisons in the United $tates. Even for states that publish data on their population and report on the existence of control units, the counts of prisoners housed there are not always accurate. and there is a trend to downplay and under report on control units. Whether this is by giving them a different name (administrative segregation, super max security, security risk housing, tiers, etc.) or by refusing to talk about these long-term isolation cells altogether, this subterfuge and denial is evidence that the prisons know control units are cruel and unusual punishment.
In response to the frequently heard question of how would we deal with crime differently, first we point out that we do not agree with a definition of crime that allows the biggest murderers and thieves to run the government and military. Once the people have power to control the definition and enforcement of laws to be in the interests of humynity and not profit, we'll be able to thoroughly deal with the real criminals. We hold up the example of prisons in China during the Cultural Revolution to show how communists handle crime and justice. Prisons in China during that time were places of political education and retraining. Landlords, capitalists, and spies were given an opportunity to understand their crimes against the people, to make self-criticism, and to learn new and useful skills so that they could return as productive members of society. This is in direct contrast to the Amerikan criminal injustice system, which builds recidivism and isolates politically active and influential prisoners in control units without even a pretense of education or rehabilitation.
We received 54 responses to the control unit survey over the past year and this article summarizes some of the new findings.
The respondents broke down by state as follows:
AR, DE, FL, KS, MD, ME, MO, NV, OR, SC, UT
AZ, CT, IL, PA, TN, WI
The high response rate from Georgia, Texas and California is at least in part reflective of the activism going on in those states, as well as the control unit prisons and cell blocks that have proliferated in those states. In many cases we received data on the same prison from multiple sources.
While close to half of the survey respondents did not report on the year the control unit opened (presumably because they didn't know), 12 of the units reported on opened in the past 2 years. That's a lot of new prison control units. This includes prisons in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maine and California.
Some prisons are control units in their entirety. Modeled after the first long-term isolation prisons in Marion and Lexington, these facilities are entirely dedicated to long-term solitary confinement. But most control units these days are separate sections within an existing prison. This might be a whole yard, several units, or just specific cells. This makes it more challenging to count the number of control unit beds/prisoners accurately, and gives the prisons a way to hide their torture programs within regular prisons.
The reasons given for locking prisoners up in long-term isolation vary, but most come back to some sort of justification based on safety and security, citing a history of violence or fighting, or rule violations. In many prisons there is a policy of locking up "Security Threat Group" members, also known as "gang members," for which validation is arbitrary and punitive, as we discussed extensively in Under Lock & Key 41. As one prisoner explained: "If you are politically conscious and write about such they claim 'gang activity'." Several others described the arbitrary nature of control unit assignment, explaining what gets people into these units in their prisons: "COs will falsify the lock up order and sergeant and lieutenant will go along", "Any and everything. Such as litigator-grievance filer", and "No information in inmate handbook. As far as known, administrative discretion."
Most people were unaware of new control unit prisons being opened or planned for in their state, but 13 people reported on known plans for new control units. This underscores the importance of our work to shut down these torture chambers.
Many survey respondants reported on the conditions in these control units. Below are some of the representative descriptions:
"Subpar treatment of prisoners, small food portions, withholding of property, mail, etc."
"They are all sensory deprivation torture at its best"
"We don't get yard correctly or food in proper proportions"
"Barbaric, human degradation less than dogs receive at the pound"
"We are locked in for 24 hours a day. Shower, sometimes every other day for 30 minutes. We get outside recreation for 5 hours once every 7-10 days"
"Each cell here only gets 30 minutes a day of dayroom and 3 hours of yard a week"
"They lie on us, beat us up, starve us, they don't give proper medical attention"
"While in segregation for almost four years, myself and other prisoners were subjected to the most inhumane and barbarous treatment. There were periods in which we went months without getting showers. In my almost 4 years here, I had recreation/exercise maybe 20 times. Prisoners would be stripped out, completely naked in their cells for days. Prisoners would be gassed/maced with multiple cans of this toxic agent – guys were sprayed so regular and with such large quantities of gas, they many of them had built up physical and psychological resistances to the torture – guys would brag about being able to 'eat' the gas, and the officers were so use to using such large quantities of gas, if they gassed someone with only one can and the person coughed and choked, they'd say things like 'you lil' bitch, you can't even take a full can.' Prisoners would be denied food, prisoners were beaten with restraints on, prisoners were shot with the canisters of tear gas guns, while locked inside of their cell, and on May 7th or 8th of 2012, one mentally ill prisoner was allowed to hang himself, while the officers simply slept the night away. There are so many crimes that have been committed behind these walls by animals that have the audacity to call us (the least of these) criminal."
After the recent attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French satiric weekly magazine, there has been a lot of focus on the Muslim population in France. Islam is a religion and not a nationality, but because Muslims in France come predominantly from North Africa and the Middle East, anti-Muslim sentiments feed into xenophobia and attacks on national minorities. There are a lot of parallels between the situation for Muslims in France and the oppressed nations (such as New Afrikan, [email protected] and First Nations) within U.$. borders. And recently these contradictions have been exposed in French prisons as well.
French law prohibits asking people their religion and so no official statistics are collected on the size of the Muslim population. Based on a variety of studies it is estimated that about 10% (5 million) of the the people living in France are Muslim. The 3 million foreign-born Muslims in France mostly come from the former North African French colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.(1) Muslims in France face significant economic hardship and generally do not enjoy the spoils of imperialist plunder and exploitation shared with French citizens. Unemployment among youth (15-29 years old) in France in 2002 was at 15% for French citizens and 46% for migrants from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and Turkey. Even for immigrants with a college degree the rate of unemployment was twice that of natives with a college degree.(2) Similar disparities are seen in educational achievement by Muslims compared with non-Muslims. And a large portion of the recent immigrant population and their descendants are found in housing projects concentrated in and around France's large cities.
As we find in Amerikan prisons, the French imprisoned population is disproportionately from the oppressed nations. Although Muslims make up less than 10% of France's population, they constitute about half of France's 68,000 prisoners. (Overall France has a much smaller prison population than in the United States, with less than 1 per 1,000 residents locked up compared with the Amerikan imprisonment rate of 7 per 1,000.)
One of the Kouachi brothers involved in the Charlie Hebdo attack previously spent 20 months in prison just outside of Paris. Media reports are claiming that he was locked up for petty crimes and turned to radical Islam based on his education and exposure behind bars, and that it was there he met another Muslim convert in prison who helped with the Paris attacks. Detailed background on this man suggests he became involved with Islamic leaders on the streets, but did radicalize in prison. It's hard to say how much of this prison radicalization story is a ruse to justify targeting Muslim leaders behind bars.(3)
The Kouachi brothers, French citizens of Algerian parents, grew up in housing projects in Paris. They were poor and surrounded by others like themselves: national minorities in a country that is moving increasingly towards xenophobia. These national minorities find themselves isolated and disproportionately represented in the First World lumpen class.
A survey conducted in 2014 in France found that 66% of the French believe there are too many foreigners in France. 75% of the factory workers, who are part of that labor aristocracy which enjoys elevated non-exploitation wages and benefits, oppose France embracing globalization. The mass base for fascism is the labor aristocracy in imperialist countries,(4) and these same people are the base for the growth in support for the far-right National Front party which 34% of French people polled see as a credible political alternative.(5)
Kouachi's history in prison is being used to underscore France's concern about the radicalization of prisoners. Prisoners enter the system and learn about Islam from fellow captives. To address this "problem" French authorities are now experimenting with segregating those considered "Muslim radicals" from general population. This sounds a lot like long-term isolation or control units which are used in Amerikan prisons, torturing politically active prisoners. While details are sparse about the experimental units, prisoners subjected to these conditions are protesting the treatment. We can expect that this isolation will be used to target anyone who speaks out against the French government or other imperialist powers.
At the same time France does not appear to be slowing down the imprisonment of Muslims. For instance, in mid-January a 31-year-old Tunisian man was sentenced to 10 months behind bars after a verbal conflict with police in which he said that an officer shot in the recent attacks "deserved it."(6)
The French government is facing the contradictions of a criminal injustice system that we see in all imperialist countries. Using prisons for social control means locking up oppressed groups, those who are most likely to disagree with and disrupt the capitalist system. But targeting oppressed groups for imprisonment creates an opportunity for prisoners to quickly become educated and radicalized against the system that put them behind bars. This is the system itself creating the conditions of its own demise.
While prisoners alone will not bring down imperialism, the lumpen in First World countries are potential allies of the international proletariat. And national polarization and xenophobia will feed the development and political consciousness of this lumpen class.
This issue will be marking four years of organizing under the banner of the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP). It was over the winter of 2010-2011 that we firmed up the documents that defined the UFPP, and the United Front was announced on a mass scale in ULK 19. The discussions involved a number of very active comrades at the time, representing a variety of lumpen organizations across the country. The impetus for the project came from countless calls over the years from behind bars for the need for unity and the many who have dedicated their lives to building unity in prisons and in oppressed communities.
When we first announced the UFPP we got a flurry of responses and statements from other organizations wanting to join, most of which we knew little to nothing about. We pushed further engagement with these groups as we sought to develop outlines and protocols for the peace process that have been tested in practice. And we attempted to pull in those more skilled with the written word to develop a writing project focused on the lumpen class.
In 2012, the UFPP took a big step into the realm of coordinated action when one group initiated the September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity and called on all UFPP signatories to participate. Even with short notice, the response was strong and was promoted via independent media on the outside by activists working with MIM(Prisons). After 2 years of networking, it was a good sign that things were moving forward.
In 2014 we saw another surge in groups signing on to the United Front's 5 principles. We cannot say whether this reflects more peace organizing on the ground, a greater reach of Under Lock & Key, or more active promotion of the UFPP by us. But regardless, we want to tap into these organizations to further consolidate this movement, which must be both particular to the local conditions and generalized to continent-wide efforts to unite the struggles of the oppressed nations, and oppressed people in general.
In the coming months, we will begin to refocus on the ongoing project to develop theoretical material looking at the conditions and history of the lumpen class in this country. Along with that we hope to put out more agitational materials challenging the lumpen ideologies that are counter to the interests of the oppressed. We have discussed putting together a zine containing some United Front documents, but we would like to have more practical examples of comrades' work before we do so. We already have the Attica study pack put together to organize for the September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity and MIM Theory 14 that addresses the Maoist theory of united front. We want to work with UF signatories to utilize these materials to push the third principle of the United Front — Growth.
In early December 2014, we received a letter from a comrade who had recently run into a number of revolutionaries who had been held in Pelican Bay SHU since it opened in 1988. He wrote,
I am writing to say thank you for all of your work and all that you do for us convicts, political activists, freedom fighters and all parties of the struggle. The last hunger strike achieved a lot. Many of the political prisoners housed in Pelican Bay have been released, due to the step down program. Some have been released to step 5 — mainline. Others step 3 and 4 at Corcoran I, or Tehachapi SHUs. But they are close to getting out there. I had the pleasure of talking with [a handful of these comrades] on the bus from Pelican Bay. All of the individuals mentioned had been in Pelican Bay since it opened in 1988, and had arrived from Tehachapi.
We spoke candidly about many things and all parties expressed a deep desire to push and maintain the Agreement to End Hostilities. Even the youngsters smiled and saluted the end to the senseless racial violence of old. For we can overcome obstacles and achieve our definite chief aims by understanding the true cause of our racial divides, which were always perpetuated by the administration to bring about our demise.
Our 20 representatives are doing a great job to maintain order and a common goal. By 2017 or 2018 the entire leadership from all sides should be out. Once that happens I would love to see all political and revolutionary parties establish a round table, power house, to jointly and successfully build the most powerful revolutionary structure the United States have ever known.
We are pleased that some of the leaders in Pelican Bay will be gaining relief from decades of solitary confinement soon. But we need to be clear that the Step Down Program being employed will not have an overall positive effect. In the article "(Un)Due Process of Validation and Step Down Programs" from ULK 41, cipactli explained how the Step Down Program to get out of isolation actually legitimizes the validation process, and why they will not be participating in it. And there is still no plan by the state of California to shut down the torture cells altogether, as new prisoners continue to fill the empty spots. Even this comrade notified us of plans for another strike in Corcoran where the state has not upheld its end to the agreement made after the 2012 strikes. Getting some people out of the torture cells may create opportunities, but alone it doesn't change the conditions overall. We must push a campaign of total abolition of the SHU.
All that said, the Agreement to End Hostilities continues strong, and we were glad to receive word of some of these comrades regaining humane conditions on the mainline where their important work can have more impact. Without the end to hostilities between prisoners, there is little hope of ever ending torture in California prisons. Recently, comrades from the New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism (NARN) Collective Think Tank (NCTT) in Corcoran SHU put out a good article reinforcing the strategic importance of the Agreement to End Hostilities as well.(1) Below are some excerpts.
They intentionally pit the New Afrikan prisoner against the Mexican prisoner, the prisoner from the North against the prisoner from the South, the European prisoner against the New Afrikan prisoner, the young prisoner against the old prisoner, the Kiwe against the Damu, the folks against the people, the European have-nots from one group against the European have-nots from another — and for decades WE ALLOWED them to do this to us.
They used our antagonisms, antagonisms born of this system they created, as a basis to erect torture units — Security Housing Units (SHUs) — and a system of mass incarceration which continues to devastate the working class and the poor. They broadcast our conflicts and contradictions to an uninformed public to secure ever larger portions of the social product (taxes), further enriching themselves, their industry and their labor aristocracy — as we were further dehumanized and despised.
Just like the slaves of the chattel era, many of us helped them out by embracing this fiction, these manufactured categorizations, and fought each other with delusional gusto, as they built a monolith of money and political power in pools of our blood... until the Agreement to End Hostilities was announced; and just like that — hundreds of years of capitalist institutional exploitation was immediately put in jeopardy.
"Only social practice can be the criterion of truth ... Marxist philosophy holds that the most important problem does not lie in understanding laws of the objective world and thus being able to explain it, but in applying the knowledge of these laws actively to change the world." — Mao Zedong
Correct ideas come only from social practice. In two short years since the Agreement to End Hostilities was enacted by a relatively small population of prisoners, it has manifested itself into a social force which has accomplished the liberation from SHU of some of the most severely tortured prisoners in the history of modern imprisonment.
The Agreement to End Hostilities offers our communities the opportunity to confront and overcome our own internal contradictions while forging new areas of social cooperation from which closer and more harmonious relationships may emerge.
"This new humanity cannot do otherwise than define a new humanism both for itself and for others. It is prefigured in the objectives and methods of the conflict. A struggle which mobilizes all classes of the people and which expresses their aims and their impatience, which is not afraid to count almost exclusively on the people's support, will of necessity triumph." — Frantz Fanon
When social cooperation is strengthened, state power and oppression is always weakened. Our capacity to manufacture and mobilize underclass political power — not to validate the bourgeois political process but to expose its contradictions, truly democratize its mechanisms and reclaim our human right to influence society — will determine if we are collectively capable of conquering our rights. Abolition of the slavery provision of the 13th Amendment means the abolition of prisoner disenfranchisement, instantly transforming the prisoner class into a constituency.
The main thesis of this article by the NCTT comrades is that the Agreement to End Hostilities can be a basis for ending the legal enslavement of prisoners. We have some differences in strategic focus, as we see focusing on the enforcement of the First and Eighth Amendments as more important to building a struggle for a just society than repealing portions of the Thirteenth.(2) Speaking to this point, the article even points out that, "it is not the inhumanity of systematic torture in indefinite SHU confinement which is deemed criminal; it is our protesting against the inhumane practice which is criminalized."
We agree with the overall analysis of the NCTT, which addresses the many ways that the lumpen, migrants, and oppressed nations in general do not have full citizenship rights in the United $tates. As a result they do not have full vested interest in the maintenance of this government and economic system. And from there we conclude the importance of the Agreement to End Hostilities in prisons, and extending that to the lumpen on the streets, as building a motive force for social change.
That is what the Agreement to End Hostilities and the United Front for Peace in Prisons are and always have been about: transforming society. Less fighting amongst prisoners is not our end goal; it is a step towards reaching our goals. These goals that have been kept from the oppressed and concealed through manipulations by the oppressor nation in this country. And that is why independence is one of the five principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons. The criminal injustice system exists to prevent us from working together to end the hegemony of the oppressor.
Over four years ago I wrote an article looking at the sudden decline in the U.$. housing market.(1) Many Amerikan nationalists were looking at the household wealth numbers at that time and lamenting the steep drop off from 2008 to 2010. I pointed out that 2007 was an all-time high for wealth owned by Amerikan households, and compared their vast wealth to the poverty of the majority of the world's people from various angles. Well, in late 2014 a new report on global wealth was released by Credit Suisse, and guess what? Overall household wealth in the United $tates is back to an all-time high. In fact, it hit an all-time high in 2012 and has continued to increase. Turns out the financial crisis wasn't a crisis for Amerikans after all.
Despite the rhetoric of the social fascists, conditions in the United $tates have remained quite luxurious following the 2008 economic crisis. How is this possible? For one there is a nice cushion of wealth to fall back on in hard times. According to the report by Credit Suisse, about a third of the world's household wealth belongs to Amerikans.(2) So if everyone's wealth was reduced proportionately during crisis, Amerikans would fair better than almost everyone else in the world. But that's only scratching the surface, as it turns out wealth did not go down proportionately.
In a comparison of wealth growth by regions since 2000, Credit Suisse show the data with current as well as constant exchange rates. This demonstrates the impact that exchange rates have on wealth by region. Exchange rates are connected to mechanisms of unequal exchange, where value is transferred in a hidden way in the process of international trade. Exchange rates are also manipulated intentionally by the finance capitalists and their institutions (such as the IMF). In both cases, this can result in great transfers of wealth to the countries that control the markets, which is most often led by the United $tates. What the two data show is that the depreciation of currency in the Third World against the U.$. dollar accounted for much of the decrease in wealth during 2008. In other words, currency exchange rates provided a cushion to the economic crisis centered in the United $tates by pushing much of that crisis to the Third World. Africa is the only region to have not recovered to its pre-2008 wealth levels, but it would have done so if not for currency depreciation. In other words, as bubbles popped in the U.$. financial markets, wealth was being slowly pumped back in from the Third World via changes in currency exchange rates and unequal exchange of goods.
This is why we call for international exchange rates based on a fixed basket of goods, to put an end to this form of wealth transfer under imperialism. This is also why the U.$. imperialists were worried about Saddam Hussein ceasing to use the U.$. dollar as the standard currency for oil sales in Iraq.
While a much smaller factor in all this, it is also worth noting that the internal semi-colonies took on more of the wealth loss (proportionally) than the white nation in the United $tates. From 2007 to 2013, the median New Afrikan and Raza household wealth both decreased by 42%, compared to white household wealth which was only down 26% over that period.(4)
How did we bounce back?
The Credit Suisse report notes that the strong growth in household wealth in the United $tates following the decline in 2008 did not accompany a similar increase in income rates. If Amerikan household wealth bounced back on its own then we'd expect to see people making more income from their increased work and productivity. But this was not the case. So did this wealth just fall from the sky? No, it turns out this Amerikan prosperity comes from the invisible transfer of wealth from the Third World to the First World that MIM's critics have been denying the existence of for decades.
Before the wealth-transfer-deniers stop reading in disgust, let me acknowledge a couple things. The increase in household wealth from 2013 to 2014 was mostly due to "market capitalization" as opposed to housing prices and exchange rates (three important factors affecting short-term shifts in wealth according to Credit Suisse). While a larger number of the U.$. population is active shareholders than most countries, this would still indicate that the increase largely favored the wealthier within the rich countries. Exchange rates affect everyone in a country, and rising housing prices help the home owners (over 64% of people in the United $tates) accumulate wealth without having to work. (Homeownership has dropped significantly since 2005 when it was almost 70%, disproportionately affecting oppressed nations who on average have much less wealth than white Amerikans.(5)) "Market capitalization" benefits those in finance capital (including most retirement investments that are quite common in the United $tates), and would lead us to infer that while wealth in the United $tates has exceeded pre-2008 levels, it is less equally distributed than it was then.
Another indication of this skew in wealth distribution is that the high ratio of wealth to income in the United $tates in recent years is approaching the level of the Great Depression. This, of course, is one of the inherent contradictions of capitalism that Marx described in great detail: wealth tends to accumulate in the hands of the few, but this creates problems for circulation of capital, which the whole system is dependent on. So Amerikans are not in the clear; rather we would expect actual serious economic hardship in the near future.
Looking internationally, Credit Suisse shows median household wealth to be about the same in 2014 as it was in 2008, with peaks in 2007 and 2010. Meanwhile the top 10% has increased its wealth since 2008 and the top 1% even moreso. So the distribution of wealth is getting more uneven. The only problem for the argument of our Amerikan nationalists is that the majority of Amerikans are in that top 10%.
Amerikans Are Rich
One of the basic rules of captitalism, taught to us by Karl Marx, is that capital tends to accumulate. As I discussed in "Building United Front, Surrounded by Enemies", others have also shown how wealth in general tends to accumulate even for wage earners. In other words, the richer you are the faster your wealth grows. So yes, the 1% in the United $tates is getting richer faster than the other 99%. But those 99% of Amerikans (on average) are still getting richer as the majority of the world does not. The current balance of wealth shows that the difference between nations is more meaningful than the difference within nations.
Let us indulge in some more numbers given to us from the Credit Suisse report, which looks at household wealth across the whole world. The net worth per adult has reached a new high of an average of 56,000 U.$. dollars (USD) worldwide. The median wealth per adult in the United $tates and Germany are just below this level at US 54,000 and USD 53,000. The median is, of course, a much better indicator of the typical than the average (which was USD 348,000 in the United $tates). While your typical Amerikan or German has the amount of wealth one would expect if distribution were equal globally, your typical African or South Asian has wealth that is around 2% of that. (USD 679 in Africa, and USD 1,006 in India)
The number of people in this lower group is highlighted by the estimate that having USD 3,650 of wealth puts one in the top 50% of wealth holders worldwide. Again, if we distributed the wealth equally today, that point would be USD 56,000. But there are so many people with wealth below USD 3,650 that that is the level for the typical persyn (or median) in the entire world.
For Europe and North America combined, the best estimate given for the imperialist countries, 64% of adults are in the top 10% by wealth. It should be noted that the richest 10% of adults own 87% of global wealth. In contrast, 70% of the world's people own less than 3% of the world's wealth, averaging less than USD 10,000 per adult.
In the past we've cited numbers based on income that give similar results, and actually put all employed Amerikans in the top 13% richest by income, with the vast majority being in the top 10%. Wealth will always be more concentrated than income, because people can have incomes without ever accumulating wealth. Incomes are generally necessary in capitalist society, while wealth is not. In contrast to people who have nothing to lose but their chains (because they own no wealth), the majority of white Amerikans have wealth that is much greater than their annual income, which is quite high to begin with.
U.$. Internal Semi-Colonies
Of course, there are a number of nations within the United $tates, and New Afrikan and Raza median wealth is far below their median income, which is already less than white Amerikans. Recent numbers from Pew Research Center give median household wealth of white Amerikans at $141,900 in 2013. New Afrikan households, meanwhile, come in at $11,000, with the gap between Raza househoulds has been more consistent, as Raza median household wealth was $13,700 for 2013. One factor for the widening gaps is that white households are much more likely to own stocks (and remember that market capitalization was high from 2013 to 2014). Another factor is that oppressed nation home ownership decreased 6.5%, compared to white ownership, which only fell 2% between 2010 and 2013.(4) Wealth per adult for New Afrikans and Raza in the United $tates was not readily available for a direct comparison to the international figures in the Credit Suisse report. But it is clear that the median wealth per adult would be well above the global median of USD 3,650. In other words, the typical New Afrikan or Raza in the United $tates has more wealth than over 50% of the world's population. And if you look at income, they're doing even better.
Imperialists Power and Wealth
China's increase in millionaires, massive growth in middle income populations, and resilience against currency depreciation depicted by Credit Suisse all point to its emergence as a center of finance capital. Yet, over 90% of the millionaires in the world today are in the traditional imperialist countries, with the United $tates leading the way with 41%. While Japan used to compete in this category, in 2014 the U$A stands far above the rest with more than 4 times the number of millionaires in Japan. Of those with wealth greater than USD 50 million, 49% are U.$. citizens, with China as the very distant second in this category. Later this report predicts China will overtake Japan as second wealthiest economy by 2019.
On balance, global wealth increases. Wealth is a product of labor, and so as more people are born and work, and a certain portion of the value they create is accumulated (as machines, buildings, infrastructure, etc) rather than consumed (as food, clothes, electronics, etc) the total wealth of the world grows. War and other disasters can destroy accumulated wealth. The Credit Suisse report goes back to 2000, and shows total wealth more than doubling since then. An increasing rate of wealth accumulation would be expected as the forces of production advance with a growing population. Potentially more people working and doing so more efficiently would create greater wealth. However, our analysis predicts that the expansion of production under capitalism has already peaked some time ago. Credit Suisse subtracts out the effect of population growth and still comes up with a 77% increase in wealth over that period. Why so much?
Marx described different economic systems as being defined by a contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production. When a new organization of labor is first introduced it would increase the forces of production (it brings new ways of doing things so that more work can be done with the same number of resources as before). Eventually, under any class system, the relations of production begin to drag down this progress. As class contradictions increase, so does the contradiction between relations of production and forces of production. So, while capitalism brought a great boom in production a hundred years ago, the limits of expansion are being met and contradictions, such as the ones that triggered the crisis of 2008, are limiting its progressive elements. What all the discussion around 2008 brought to light was the elaborate schemes that had evolved within finance capital markets in recent decades to create and circulate wealth. When they "create" wealth it is usually by expanding credit. So this is not real wealth creation, as when people transform their labor into wealth by constructing a building. As wealth in the form of credit expands faster than wealth in the form of real goods, you get problems where the credit can't be paid off. The "bubbles" that are blamed for such crisis are also behind the steep increase in overall wealth since 2000 shown in this report.
In summary, global wealth dropped a lot in 2007 and has bounced back bigger than ever a few years later. Marx predicted higher highs and lower lows in the economy as contradictions heightened. Therefore we expect volatility to increase as finance capital dominates the economy more and more, and for there to be bigger drops in wealth that impact the imperialist countries more because there is not enough cushion next time.
Amerikans get more stuff
In my previous article on U.$. wealth I made sure to discuss the consumption rates of Amerikans as well, to show that this isn't just academic number crunching and to combat those who argue that it's just a higher cost of living here that explains our higher incomes. Actually Amerikans get to consume a lot more stuff than other people, to the detriment of the health of our planet. One more recent example of this was the response to lower gasoline prices for Amerikans thanks to a market working in their favor. In November 2014, four out of the top five selling vehicles were gas guzzling trucks or SUVs. Demand for two of these gas guzzlers was up 9.6% in November, compared to an overall increase of 1.3% in car sales.(6) As the capitalists produce the most inefficient vehicles they can get away with to keep consumption rates up, Amerikans jump right on board as soon as they get a little relief at the gas pump. Who cares about global warming when you can afford to blast your air conditioner all day long anyway? While Amerikans enjoy lifestyles far beyond what most people can dream of, their bourgeois individualism reaks havoc on the balance of ecological systems that all life depends on. This is another major contradiction threatening the stability of the current socio-economic system.
The economic system is tied to social factors like war and the impacts of ecological destruction. All of these factors interact with each other, putting imperialism in an ever more precarious situation. It is the task of the proletariat and their allies to understand these dynamics and harness the social forces at play to address these contradictions by putting an end to the chaotic system of imperialism and building a new socialist world system in the interests of all.
Under Lock & Key 41 is focused on gang validation and step down programs in U.$. prisons. Gang validation is used as a justification for locking people in long-term isolation cells, commonly known as control units. Most civilians would say that controlling gang violence is a good thing, and that perspective is exactly what the criminal injustice system is relying on for its gang validation programs. The assumption is that all groups classified as gangs are engaged in criminal activity, and anyone in contact with the gang must be a member.
Let's put aside for now the reality that the U.$. military and police force is the biggest gang in world history. If anyone is organized in criminal activity and terrorism, it's them. That any U.$. government agency claims to be against gang activity without being critical of itself is just a joke.
Often, validation is based on secret evidence that the prisoner cannot challenge, and can include things like talking to the wrong persyn in the yard, being in possession of books on history and politics, or even sending someone a birthday card. In some cases validation is based on a prisoner receiving an unsolicited letter mentioning the name of another prisoner, or even just participating in MIM(Prisons) correspondence study groups. A Connecticut writer describes the difficulty fighting "evidence" about security risk group activity:
"In August I was taken to segregation because a prisoner got caught with 4 pages of Security Risk Group (SRG) paperwork and the pigz try to say one of the 4 pages was in my handwriting. Due to this assumption I was given a class A SRG ticket for recruiting, even though this prisoner signed a statement explaining the paperwork is his. I never gave it to him, and I never wrote it. The crazier thing is the prisoner who got caught with these papers was released back into Phase 3 (back into the block) and I sat in segregation for over a month till I was transferred back to Phase 1 in Walker Correctional Institution."
Once validated, it's very difficult to get out of isolation without giving the administration information (snitching) on others; information that many prisoners don't even have because they aren't actually members of the groups the prison has "validated." In the article "(Un)Due Process of Validation and Step Down Programs" cipactli gets into the politics behind these programs.
Some people who are validated are members of lumpen organizations (LOs), and the prisons use the "gang" label to make them out as scary and dangerous groups. But lumpen organizations are a natural response to national oppression, and many of these LOs have the potential to lead their members in anti-imperialist organizing. The unity and organization of LOs scares the imperialists and their lackeys. After all, LOs operate outside of the state-approved capitalist economy and serve a lumpen population whose interests are not tied up in that system, unlike the vast majority of U.$. citizens.
Often validation is used to target and isolate politically active prisoners who speak up and fight the criminal injustice system, whether or not they are part of an LO. Fighting against gang validation is an important part of the fight against prison control units and other methods of social control that target politically active prisoners. These comrades are the leaders of the movement against the criminal injustice system behind bars.
The overwhelming response to our call for information on validation for ULK suggests that a disproportionate number of readers of anti-imperialist literature are a target for gang validation (about half of our readers are in some kind of solitary confinement). This issue of ULK includes a variety of articles describing the false justifications used for validation, the targeting of activists, and the consequences of isolation and torture for those who are validated.
In this issue many writers describe their experiences with validation programs, and we also talk about ways to fight the validation system. Building unity among lumpen organizations in the United Front for Peace in Prisons, campaigning to shut down prison control units, and fighting the legitimacy of so-called step down programs are all ways we are attacking this problem from many sides. Prisons serve the imperialists as a tool of social control, and as is explained in the "(Un)Due Process of Validation and Step Down Programs" article, control units are a vitally important element of this system. We can use the contradictions inherent in the system which raises the political consciousness of those targeted for repression, and often throws together leaders who can join forces to build a broader movement. After all, the recent series of California hunger strikes were led by prisoners locked up in Pelican Bay's notorious control unit.
The U.$ government won't give up their tools of social control willingly. And in the end the criminal injustice system needs to be thoroughly dismantled, something we can't do until we overthrow the imperialists and replace them with a government serving the interests of the world's oppressed. But as a part of the work to build towards communist revolution we battle today to shut down prison control units and end the targeting of prison activists and oppressed nations.
Party People Written by Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Steven Sapp, and William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja Directed and Developed by Liesl Tommy Berkeley Repertory Theater 24 October 2014 - 16 November 2014, extended to 30 November 2014
"Party People" is a play about the Black Panther Party and Young Lords Party showing this month in Berkeley, California. The play was extended two weeks and has been a destination for many school field trips. Well-patroned, and intellectually accessible via the entertainment medium, "Party People" might well be the number one cultural piece shaping the understanding of the Black Panther Party (BPP) and Young Lords Party (YLP) in the Bay Area today. This is a major problem.
The premise of the play revolves around two young men planning and then actualizing a gallery event to commemorate the legacy of the Black Panther Party and Young Lords Party. Malik (a Panther cub whose father is locked up) and Jimmy (whose uncle was a Young Lord) invite several former party members to their gallery opening, and thus it doubles as a reunion of the rank and file. The play takes you through the day-of preparations for the event, which the party members help with, and through the event itself, which is attended by party members, an FBI informant, and the wife of a dead cop. Dialogue centers around the inter-persynal conflicts between party members and between generations, with conservatively half of the 2 hours and 35 minutes spent yelling and in-fighting between party members, and with their offspring.
The main downfall of revolutionary struggles of the 1960s was a lack of deep political education. Whether at the level of the masses, rank and file, or party leaders, a lack of political education allows political movements to be co-opted, infiltrated, and run into the ground by enemy line. In its heyday, the BPP grew so rapidly that much of the new membership did not have a deep understanding of why they did what they did. The play itself doesn't say that political consciousness needs to be raised, but it is a strong testament to that need. Unfortunately, neither does it contribute to that political education, which is likely due to the exact thing i am criticizing. "Party People" would have you believe the main legacies of the BPP and YLP were in creating exciting memories, and setting models for government programs. In "explaining" the origin of the BPP, the cast breaks into song: all it took to get it off the ground was shotguns, grits, and gravy.
Omar X is one of the more intriguing characters in the play. He operates more on intellect than emotions, and has an air of self-discipline and militancy. Omar enters the play as a self-appointed protector of the Black Panther legacy. He approaches Malik and Jimmy prior to the gallery opening, very skeptical of what they are going to say and how they might twist the history. Finally giving his approval to the art project, Omar by proxy grants legitimacy to the play itself. In real life, former Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins also both gave their seal of approval.(1) The People's Minister of Information JR Valrey, an outspoken member of today's generation of Black media who promotes the Panthers as an example to be followed, was more critical.(2)
The open brutality of pigs on party members is only given cursory examination, primarily through dialogue. Yet there is a graphic scene where Omar is tortured by several fellow Panthers, led by an FBI infiltrator. Recollecting this event in the gallery, 50 years later, Omar's comrades are still telling him "You were so outspoken and critical! Why didn't you just follow orders! We just did what we were told!" with remorse. It is apalling that in 50 years of reflection, these characters haven't figured out that dissent and criticism should be encouraged in the party, and that the real error here was that they themselves were "just" following orders. Again, the problem goes back to political development, whereas the play would have you believe that this brutality was just an unavoidable outcome of this type of organizing work.
Learning directly from the downfall of the Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO operations, rather than quash dissent, we would encourage political organizations to practice democratic centralism. Resolving contradictions through debate is the only way we can grow as political organizations. But instead of airing our dirty laundry for every infiltrator or wannabe cop to take advantage, as was common in the 60s, we take a democratic vote within the organization and then uphold the party line in public, while continuing to debate behind closed doors as needed.
Democratic centralism is also closely related to the mass line. Developing mass line happens when the party refines and promotes the best ideas from the masses, making the party their voice. The masses would include people who are workers in the party-led programs, but who have not yet reached a level of understanding and participation to join the party. One of the contradictions within the Panthers was that they had new people become party members, but then excluded them from the decision-making process. There was not a transparent decision-making process with a defined group of people. This led the rank and file to believe they should just do what Huey or Eldridge said, as was depicted in the play.
Security practices are again thrown out the window in Omar's criticism of Malik and Jimmy's stage names (MK Ultra and Primo, respectively). Omar says they should put their real names on their project, because aren't they proud of their work? Don't they want to be accountable to what potential lies they are about to disseminate? Is this just a game to them? Are they "really" revolutionaries if they are "hiding" behind their stage names? On the other hand, we strongly encourage revolutionaries inside the belly of the beast to protect their identities from the state. We forgive the BPP for making this error at the time, but Omar should have figured it out by now.
Enthusiasm is given to the question of gender and blaming of wimmin for the downfall of the parties. The dialogue states that all the men were on drugs or locked up or dead, so of course wimmin had to lead. But then when the parties dissintegrated, the wimmin were blamed. "Pussy killed the party!" is a sexually-choreographed song performed by the female cast, criticizing the machisimo and male chauvinism in both the BPP and YLP. But little if any mention is given to the female-focused programs of the Young Lords to curb forced sterilization and provide access to abortion for Boriqua wimmin. Selectively applying hindsight, "Party People" disregards the fact that these revolutionary organizations were the vanguard of proletarian feminist organizing in their day.(3)
At the gallery during the reunion, a white womyn demands attention for an emphatic monologue about her husband, a cop who was killed in a shootout with the Panthers. Subjectively i found this monologue to be too damn long and the response to be too damn weak. For the hundreds of times the word "fuck" is thrown around in this play, i half expected the Panther's response to this accusation that he had killed the cop to be "fuck your pig husband." Instead he calmly explains that he did not kill the cop and that he was imprisoned 25 years for a murder he did not commit, washing his persynal hands of the "crime." He then goes and sits down and everyone takes a pause to feel sad. This was a perfect opportunity to educate the audience on casualties of war and group political action. Instead the playwright chose to build empathy for our oppressors.
One of the most glaringly offensive themes in this play is the integrationist line slipped in subtly throughout, and hammered home thoroughly in the final blast of energy. A source of pride for the former party members is that their programs still live on today. No mention is made of the state co-opting these programs, such as free breakfast at school, in an effort to make the party seem obsolete. Feeding kids before school is of almost no cost to Amerikkka, and it's worth it if it convolutes the need for revolutionary independence. While focusing a lot on the free breakfast program, not once is it mentioned that these kids were also receiving a political education while they ate. Lack of political education is cause and consequence of these errors of the play.
The question comes up of what today's [petty-bourgeois] youth should do to push the struggle forward. What role do they have to play? What direction should they take? If I were a high school student watching this play, asking myself the same questions, i would not have left the theater with any better answers than i came in with, and i don't know that i would have gone forward looking to the Panthers or Young Lords for direction. Sadly, these organizations did give us direction, but in "Party People" it is altogether discarded.
On the topic of youth, there are three characters who are representative of the offspring of the parties: Malik, Jimmy, and Clara. Malik spends a lot of time trying to dress and speak like a Panther, but not a lot of time with his nose in books. Clara's parents are both dead, and although her tia tries to explain the importance of her parents' political devotion, Clara resents the YLP for stealing them from her. Clara wants to go to college and get a good job so she can "join the 1%." This "discussion" of the "1%" is the closest the play gets to an examination of class, unlike the BPP and YLP who had thorough, international class analyses.(4)
With all the examination of the contradictions between the different generations, and the time (yet not necessarily depth) given to Fred Hampton's murder by the pigs, Fred Hampton, Jr. is not mentioned one time in the play. Nowhere do they talk about the revolutionary organizing of Chairman Fred, Jr. in Chicago, Illinois with the Prisoners of Conscience Committee. You might not even leave the play knowing that Fred Hampton had a child. Considering the youth are looking for direction, and have all these feelings about their parents and relatives abandoning them for the revolution, why wasn't Fred, Jr. given a primary role in this play? Upholding his political work as an example might have put a lot of anxieties to rest.
Social-media-as-activism is correctly and thoroughly criticized (one of the few positive elements). Instead, a resolution to the youth's dysphoria and lack of direction is offered in a final rap by Primo, which highlights conditions of the oppressed nations inside United $tates borders. But he ephasizes that "I am Amerikan! We are all Amerikan!" over and over and over again, really sucking the audience in on this one. The closing message of the play was decidedly not, "I am Boriqua! You are New Afrikan! Amerikans, commit nation suicide! And let's destroy Amerikkkan imperialism for the benefit of all the world's oppressed peoples!!"
Modern lumpen organizations are mentioned briefly as part of the fallout of the parties. In its lack of direction, "Party People" does not uphold these organizations as holding potential for revolutionary change. Again another great educational opportunity missed. As a supplement, i would recommend the documentary Bastards of the Party (2005). This film details the development of the Bloods and Crips, from self-defense groups, through the Slausons, into the Panthers, and to today. In this film, the Watts Truce in Los Angeles in 1992 is focused on, and serves as an excellent model of the positive impact lumpen organizations can have on reducing in-fighting in oppressed nation communities and building power independent from the oppressor government.
It is evident from "Party People" that the petty bourgeoisie doesn't have much of a role to play in our current revolutionary organizing. Until they give up their attachments to the material spoils of imperialism, they will keep producing confused representations of proletarian struggle. I would advise today's youth, especially those who feel disheartened by this play, to read up on the real history of BPP and Young Lords,(5) and contact us to get involved in political organizing work to end oppression for all the world's people!