Uhuru of the Black Riders Liberation Party - Prison Chapter: 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) by Dr. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Black Riders Liberation Party, the New Generation Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, under the leadership of General T.A.C.O. (Taking All Capitalists Out).
The original BPP arose out of an immediate need to organize and defend the New Afrikan (Black) nation against vicious pig brutality that was taking place during the 1960s and 70s; while at the same time teaching and showing us through practice how to liberate ourselves from the death grip of Amerikkkan-style oppression, colonialism and genocide through its various Serve the People programs.
The Black Riders Liberation Party (BRLP) came about in 1996 when former Bloods and Crips came together in peace and unity while at the Youth Training School (a youth gang prison) in Los Angeles. The BRLP, which follows the historic example set by the original BPP, is a true United Lumpen Front against pig brutality, capitalism, and all its systems of oppression.
The political line of the BRLP, as taught by our General, is Revolutionary Afrikan Inter-communalism, which is an upgraded version of Huey's Revolutionary Intercommunalism developed later in the party. Revolutionary Afrikan Intercommunalism is a form of Pan-Afrikanism and socialism. This line allows us to link the struggles of New Afrikans here in the Empire with Afrikans on the continent and in the diaspora. Thus Revolutionary Afrikan Intercommunalism is, in essence, revolutionary internationalism as it guides us towards building a United Front with Afrikan people abroad to overthrow capitalist oppression here in the United $tates and imperialism around the globe.
Our Black Commune Program is an upgraded version of the original BPP's Ten-Point Platform and Program, which includes the demand for treatment for AIDS victims and an end to white capitalists smuggling drugs into our communities. [The Black Commune Program also adds a point on ecological destruction as it relates to the oppressed. -MIM(Prisons)]
Mao recognized, as did Che, that every revolutionary organization should have its own political organ — a newspaper — to counter the psychological warfare campaign waged by the enemy through corporate media, and to inform, educate and organize the people. Like the original BPP newspaper, The Black Panther, the BRLP established its own political organ, The Afrikan Intercommunal News Service, and took it a step further by creating the "Panther Power Radio" station to "discuss topics relative to armed self-defense against pig police terrorism and the corrupt prison-industrial complex," among other topics.
Like the original BPP, the BRLP have actual Serve the People programs. When Huey would come across other Black radical (mostly cultural nationalist) organizations, he would often ask them what kind of programs they had to serve the needs of the people because he understood that revolution is not an act, but a process, and that most oppressed people learn from seeing and doing (actual experience). The BRLP's programs consist of our Watch-A-Pig Program, Kourt Watch Program, George Jackson Freedom After-school Program, Squeeze the Slumlord project, BOSS Black-on-Black violence prevention and intervention program, gang truce football games, and Health Organizing Project, to name just a few. These lumpen tribal elements consciously eschew lumpen-on-lumpen reactionary violence and become revolutionaries and true servants of the people!
Finally, the BRLP continues the example set by the original BPP by actively building alliances and coalitions with other radical/revolutionary organizations. George Jackson stated that "unitary conduct implies a ‘search' for those elements in our present situation which can become the basis for joint action." (1) In keeping with this view and the BPP vision of a United Front Against Fascism, in 2012 the BRLP launched the Intercommunal Solidarity Committee as a mechanism for building a United Front across ideological, religious, national and ethnic/racial lines.
While I recognize that the white/euro-Amerikkkan nation in the United $tates is not an oppressed nation, but in fact represents a "privileged" class that benefits from the oppression and exploitation of the urban lumpen class here in the United $tates and Third World people, there exist a "dynamic sector" of radical, anti-racist, anti-imperialist white allies willing to commit "class suicide" and aid oppressed and exploited people in our national liberation struggles. And on that note I say "Black Power" and "All Power to the People."
Wiawimawo of MIM(Prisons) responds: For this issue of Under Lock & Key we received letters attempting to feature the BRLP (like this one) as well as to critique them. For years, MIM(Prisons) and the readers of ULK have been watching this group with interest. We made a few attempts to dialogue directly with them, but the most concerted effort happened to coincide with the release of an attack on us by Turning the Tide, a newsletter that has done a lot to popularize the work of the BRLP. No direct dialogue occurred. We thank this BRLP comrade for the article above. The following is a response not directly to the above, but to the many statements that we have come across by the BRLP and what we've seen of their work on the streets.
On the surface the BRLP does have a lot similarities to the original BPP. It models its platform after the BPPs 10 point platform, which was modeled after Malcolm X's. The BRLP members don all black as they confront the police and other state actors and racist forces. They speak to the poor inner-city youth and came out of lumpen street organizations. They have worked to build a number of Serve the People programs. And they have inspired a cadre of young New Afrikans across the gender line. In order to see the differences between MIM, the BRLP, and other organizations claiming the Panther legacy today, we need to look more deeply at the different phases of the Black Panther Party and how their political line changed.
APSP, AAPRP, NBPP
The BRLP regularly presents itself with the tagline, "the New Generation Black Panther Party for Self-Defense." And it is not the first, or the only organization, to claim this mantel. The African Peoples' Socialist Party (APSP) was perhaps the first, having worked with Huey P. Newton himself at the end of his life. That is why in discussing the Panther legacy, we need to specify exactly what legacy that is. For MIM, the period of 1966 to 1969 represented the Maoist phase of the BPP, and therefore the period we hold up as an example to follow and build on. Since the time that Huey was alive, the APSP has shifted focus into building an African Socialist International in the Third World. We see this as paralleling some of the incipient errors in the BRLP and the NABPP that we discuss below.
While the APSP goes back to the 1980s, we can trace another contemporary organization, the All-African People's Revolutionary Party, to the 1960s.(1) The brain-child of Ghanan President Kwame Nkrumah, the AAPRP in the United $tates was led by Kwame Toure, formerly Stokely Carmichael. The AAPRP came to embody much of the cultural and spiritual tendencies that the Panthers rejected. The BPP built on the Black Power and draft resistance movements that Carmichael was key in developing while leading the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).(2) Carmichael left SNCC, joining the BPP for a time, and tried to unite the two groups. But the Panthers later split with SNCC because of SNCC's rejection of alliances with white revolutionaries, their promotion of pan-Afrikanism and Black capitalism. Carmichael's allies were purged from the BPP for being a "bunch of cultural nationalist fools" trying "to undermine the people's revolution..." "talking about some madness he called Pan-Africanism."(3)
In the 1990s, we saw a surge in Black Panther revivalism. MIM played a role in this, being the first to digitize many articles from The Black Panther newspaper for the internet and promoting their legacy in fliers and public events. MIM did not seem to have any awareness of the Black Riders Liberation Party at this time. There was a short-lived Ghetto Liberation Party within MIM that attempted to follow in Panther footsteps. Then the New Black Panther Party began to display Panther regalia at public rallies in different cities. While initially optimistic, MIM later printed a critique of the NBPP for its promotion of Black capitalism and mysticism, via its close connection to the Nation of Islam.(4) Later the NBPP became a darling of Fox News, helping them to distort the true legacy of the BPP. Last year the NBPP further alienated themselves by brutalizing former Black Panther Dhoruba bin Wahad and others from the Nation of Gods and Earths and the Free the People Movement. While there is little doubt that the NBPP continues to recruit well-intentioned New Afrikans who want to build a vanguard for the nation, it is evident that the leadership was encapsulated by the state long ago.
Readers of Under Lock & Key will certainly be familiar with the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, which was originally an independent prison chapter of the NBPP. Their promotion of Maoism and New Afrikan nationalism was refreshing, but they quickly sided with Mao and the Progressive Labor Party against the BPP and more extreme SNCC lines on the white oppressor nation of Amerikkka. They went on to reject the nationalist goals of the BPP, embracing Huey's theory of intercommunalism. The NABPP and the BRLP both embrace forms of "intercommunalism" as leading concepts in their ideological foundations. And while we disagree with both of them, there are many differences between them as well. This is not too surprising as the theory was never very coherent and really marked Newton's departure from the original Maoist line of the Party. As a student of David Hilliard, former BPP Chief of Staff, pointed out around 2005, Hilliard used intercommunalism as a way to avoid ever mentioning communism in a semester-long class on the BPP.(5) In the early 1970s, Huey seemed to be using "intercommunalism" in an attempt to address changing conditions in the United $tates and confusion caused by the failure of international forces to combat revisionism in many cases.(6)
Probably the most important implication of Huey's new line was that he rejected the idea that nations could liberate themselves under imperialism. In other words he said Stalin's promotion of building socialism in one country was no longer valid, and Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution was now true. This was in 1970, when China had just developed socialism to the highest form we've seen to date through the struggles of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which also began 50 years ago this year. Huey P. Newton's visit to China in 1971 was sandwiched by visits from war criminal Henry Kissinger and U.$. President Richard Nixon. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, who would go on to foster normalized relations with the U.$. imperialists, stated that China was ready to negotiate or fight the United $tates in 1971.(7) The Panther visit was a signal of their development of the second option. But after 1971, Chinese support for the Panthers dissipated as negotiations with the imperialists developed.
A bigger problem with Huey's intercommunalism was how do we address the Amerikkkan oppressor nation when ey claims there are no more states, there are no more nations? In eir "speech at Boston College" in 1970 ey specifically refers to Eldridge Cleaver's "On the Ideology of the Black Panther Party" in order to depart from it. Newton rejects the analysis of the Black nation as a colony of Amerikkka that must be liberated. That Cleaver essay from 1969 has great unity with MIM line and is where we depart with the NABPP and BRLP who uphold the 1970-1 intercommunalism line of Huey's.(8)
Black Riders and NABPP Interpret Intercommunalism
To take a closer look at the BRLP itself, let us start with General T.A.C.O.'s essay "African Intercommunalism I." Tom Big Warrior of the NABPP camp has already written a review of it, which makes a number of critiques that we agree with. He calls out the BRLP for accepting "race" as a real framework to analyze society, yet the NABPP line also rejects nation based on Huey's intercommunalism. At times, the NABPP and BRLP still use the term nation and colony to refer to New Afrika. This seems contradictory in both cases. Tom Big Warrior is also very critical of the BRLP's claim to update Huey's theory by adding African cultural and spiritual elements to it. This is something the Panthers very adamantly fought against, learning from Fanon who wrote in Wretched of the Earth, one of the Panthers' favorite books: "The desire to attach oneself to tradition or bring abandoned traditions to life again does not only mean going against the current of history but also opposing one's own people".(9) This revision of intercommunalism is one sign of the BRLPs conservatism relative to the original BPP who worked to create the new man/womyn, new revolutionary culture and ultimately a new society in the spirit of Mao and Che.
The NABPP is really the more consistent proponent of "revolutionary intercommunalism." In their analysis a worldwide revolution must occur to overthrow U.$. imperialism. This differs from the MIM view in that we see the periphery peeling off from imperialism little-by-little, weakening the imperialist countries, until the oppressed are strong enough to impose some kind of international dictatorship of the proletariat of the oppressed nations over the oppressor nations. The NABPP says we "must cast off nationalism and embrace a globalized revolutionary proletarian world view."(10) They propose "building a global United Panther Movement." These are not really new ideas, reflecting a new reality as they present it. These are the ideas of Trotsky, and at times of most of the Bolsheviks leading up to the Russian revolution.
Even stranger is the BRLP suggestion that, "once we overthrow the Amerikkkan ruling class, there will be a critical need to still liberate Africa."(11) The idea that the imperialists would somehow be overthrown before the neo-colonial puppets of the Third World is completely backwards. Like the APSP, the NABPP and the BRLP seem to echo this idea of a New Afrikan vanguard of the African or World revolution. MIM(Prisons) disagrees with all these parties in that we see New Afrika as being closer to Amerika in its relation to the Third World, despite its position as a semi-colony within the United $tates.(12)
The NABPP claims that "Huey was right! Not a single national liberation struggle produced a free and independent state."(13) And they use this "fact" to justify support for "Revolutionary Intercommunalism." Yet this new theory has not proven effective in any real world revolutions, whereas the national liberation struggle in China succeeded in building the most advanced socialist system known to history. Even the Panthers saw steep declines in their own success after the shift towards intercommunalism. So where is the practice to back up this theory?
We also warn our readers that both the NABPP and BRLP make some outlandishly false statistical claims in order to back up their positions. For example, the NABPP tries to validate Huey's predictions by stating, "rapid advances in technology and automation over the past several decades have caused the ranks of the unemployed to grow exponentially."(13) It is not clear if they are speaking globally or within the United $tates. But neither have consistent upward trends in unemployment, and certainly not exponential trends! Meanwhile, in an essay on the crisis of generational divides and tribal warfare in New Afrika the BRLP claims that the latter "has caused more deaths in just Los Angeles than all the casualties in the Yankee imperialist Vietnam war combined!!!"(14) There were somewhere between 1 million and 3 million deaths in the U.$. war against Vietnamese self-determination. [EDIT: Nick Turse cites Vietnam official statistics closer to 4 million] Los Angeles sees hundreds of deaths from gang shootings in a year. We must see things as they are, and not distort facts to fit our propaganda purposes if we hope to be effective in changing the world.
We will conclude with our assessment of the BRLP based on what we have read and seen from them. While we dissect our disagreements with some of their higher level analysis above, many of their articles and statements are quite agreeable, echoing our own analysis. And we are inspired by their activity focusing on serving and organizing the New Afrikan lumpen on the streets. In a time when New Afrikan youth are mobilizing against police brutality in large numbers again, the BRLP is a more radical force at the forefront of that struggle. Again, much of this work echoes that of the original BPP, but some of the bigger picture analysis is missing.
In our interactions with BRLP members we've seen them promote anarchism and the 99% line, saying that most white Amerikkkans are exploited by capitalism. BRLP, in line with cultural nationalism, stresses the importance of "race," disagreeing with Newton who, even in 1972, was correctly criticizing in the face of rampant neo-colonialism: "If we define the prime character of the oppression of blacks as racial, then the situation of economic exploitation of human beings by human being can be continued if performed by blacks against blacks or blacks against whites."(15) Newton says we must unite the oppressed "in eliminating exploitation and oppression" not fight "racism" as the BRLP and their comrades in People Against Racist Terror focus on.
This leads us to a difference with the BRLP in the realm of strategy. It is true that the original BPP got into the limelight with armed confrontations with the pigs. More importantly, it was serving the people in doing so. So it is hard to say that the BPP was wrong to do this. While Huey concluded that it got ahead of the people and alienated itself from the people, the BRLP seems to disagree by taking on an even more aggressive front. This has seemingly succeeded in attracting the ultra-left, some of whom are dedicated warriors, but has already alienated potential allies. While BRLP's analysis of the BPPs failure to separate the underground from the aboveground is valuable, it seems to imply a need for an underground insurgency at this time. In contrast, MIM line agrees with Mao that the stage of struggle in the imperialist countries is one of long legal battles until the imperialists become so overextended by armed struggles in the periphery that the state begins to weaken. It is harder to condemn Huey Newton for seeing that as the situation in the early years of the Panthers, but it is clearly not the situation today. In that context, engaging in street confrontations with racists seems to offer more risk than reward in terms of changing the system.
While the BRLP doesn't really tackle how these strategic issues may have affected the success and/or demise of the BPP, it also does not make any case for how a lack of cultural and spiritual nationalism were a shortcoming that set back the Panthers. BRLP also spends an inordinate amount of their limited number of articles building a cult of persynality around General T.A.C.O. So despite its claims of learning from the past, we see its analysis of the BPP legacy lacking in both its critiques and emulations of BPP practices.
While physical training is good, and hand-to-hand combat is a potentially useful skill for anyone who might get in difficult situations, there should be no illusions about such things being strategic questions for the success of revolutionary organizations in the United $tates today. When your people can all clean their rifle blind-folded but they don't even know how to encrypt their email, you've already lost the battle before it's started.
Finally, the BRLP has tackled the youth vs. adult contradiction head on. Its analysis of how that plays out in oppressed nations today parallels our own. And among the O.G. Panthers themselves they have been very critical as well, and with good cause. It is clear that we will need a new generation Black Panthers that is formed of and led by the New Afrikan youth of today. But Huey was known to quote Mao that with the correct political line will come support and weapons, and as conditions remain much less revolutionary than the late 1960s, consolidation of cadre around correct and clear political lines is important preparatory work for building a new vanguard party in the future.
This is a belated final report on the United Struggle from Within(USW) campaign to "Reject the I$raeli Settler State, Support the People of Palestine." The initial push was only among a small group of USW leaders, but as word spread others requested the petition and used it to build public opinion in their prisons in support of national liberation for Palestine. While our initial summary had only tallied 60 signatures, this was based on the specificity of the petition to current events at that time. Of course, the broader campaign is one that has been carried out for decades. One year after the initialization of this USW petition, comrades in 16 prisons had gathered at least 189 signatures.
On the 50th anniversary of the launching of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) by Mao Zedong, a commemorative concert was held in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. It featured music, art and slogans from the GPCR. A propaganda poster with the slogan, "People of the world unite to defeat American invaders and their running dogs!" was displayed on a giant screen. A large choir sang the Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman as a poster of Mao as the sun was projected on the screen. Thousands clapped. The lyrics are:
"Sailing seas depends on the helmsman,
Life and growth depends on the sun.
Rain and dew nourish the crops,
Making revolution depends on Mao Zedong Thought.
Fish can’t leave the water,
Nor melons leave the vines.
The revolutionary masses can’t do without the Communist party.
Mao Zedong Thought is the sun that forever shines."
We are under no illusions about the current state capitalist government in China: they will only hold up Maoism when it serves their political purposes, which are definitely not serving the people. But this celebration serves to remind us that the GPCR plays a much more complex and subtle role in modern Chinese society, compared to the West where it is merely a symbol of communist extremism that is almost universally condemned. In China there are also those who condemn "extreme leftist ideology making waves again," but there are many who still recognize the rise of Deng Xiaoping as the end of a great time in China when the interests of the people guided the government of the largest country on Earth.
In the United $tates, reverence for the GPCR and support for the battle against the revisionism that had taken over the Soviet Union after Stalin's death was not relegated to a tiny minority of people in the late 1960s, as it is today. In January 1969, The Black Panther newspaper reprinted an article from India condemning the revisionism of the Soviet Union, and it's invasion of Czechoslovakia. In March 1969, The Black Panther featured a longer article on the collaboration between "U.S. imperialism and Soviet revisionism, the two most ferocious enemies of the revolutionary people of the world..." In April 1969 the newspaper said, "China stands as a beacon to all revolutionaries around the world: the guiding light showing the path to freedom to all of our brothers in Africa and Asia." Fifty years later, the GPCR still serves as that beacon of what is possible when the masses of an oppressed country are unleashed to guide their destiny and self-determination.
It is no coincidence that the Black Panther Party emerged the same year as the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. 1966-1969 was a high tide of revolutionary fervor across the globe. It may take that kind of tide to raise the revolutionary spirit in the United $tates again. MIM(Prisons) believes that New Afrikans will once again play an important role the next time it does, and that it is the duty of communists today to prepare for that time by continuing the fight against revisionism, and developming the most correct line among communist cadre in the internal semi-colonies.
A criticism often made of the Black Panther Party (BPP) lies in errors it made around addressing the patriarchy. Most of these criticisms are attempts at subreformism, which is the approach of resolving conflict on an individual or interpersynal level in an attempt to resolve social problems. But the patriarchy is a system of oppression. It manifests in interpersynal interactions, but can't be stopped without addressing the system of oppression itself. Just by the very fact that the BPP was organizing for national liberation under a Maoist banner, it was making more advances toward a world without gender oppression than all of their pseudo-feminist critics combined.
George Jackson did have some bad gender line in Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson, which covers the years 1964-1970. To wimmin searching for their place in an anti-imperialist prison struggle, the most alienating examples are where Jackson says wimmin should just "sit, listen to us, and attempt to understand. It is for them to obey and aid us, not to attempt to think."(p. 101) Later in the book after Jackson encounters some revolutionary Black wimmin, ey can't help but to sexualize their politics. Much like in our everyday society, Soledad Brother tells wimmin their role in this struggle is to shut up or be sexualized. These were not consciously worked out analyses of gender but instead Jackson's subjective responses to frustration and excitement.
A challenge to all revolutionaries is to take an objective approach to our scientific analysis. This is very difficult. To wimmin struggling within the national liberation movements, looking at the social and historical context of these remarks is imperative to overcoming this alienation from sexist brothers in struggle. Jackson was reared in the United $tates in the 1940s and 50s, with time spent in youth detention facilities. Ey entered the hyper-masculine prison environment at the age of 20. Jackson's social context was our fucked up patriarchal society, and is similar to many of our contributors whose scope of perspective is limited by the conditions of their confinement. Where our sisters need to not split over subreformism, our brothers also need to work to overcome their empiricism and subjectivism in how they approach uniting with wimmin against imperialism and patriarchy.
It was after the publishing of Soledad Brother that Jackson advanced to be a general and field marshal of the People's Revolutionary Army of the Black Panther Party. While Soledad Brother gives more of a look into the prison experience, in eir later work, Blood In My Eye (which was published by the BPP posthumously), Jackson lays out eir most advanced political analysis shortly before ey was murdered by the state on 21 August 1971. More than an author, Jackson was a great organizer. Panther and life-long revolutionary Kiilu Nyasha is a testimony to Jackson's abilities, indicating that subjectivity around gender did not prevent him from organizing seriously with wimmin.(1) Of course, Jackson’s biggest legacy was organizing men in prison. Eir ability to organize strikes with 100% participation in eir unit serves as an counterexample to those in California today who say we cannot unite across "racial" lines. It's impressive all that Jackson accomplished in developing eir politics and internationalism, and organizing prisoners, considering all the barriers Amerikkka put in the way.
Jackson was a good representative of the BPP's mass base, and the BPP was correct in organizing with Jackson and others with backward gender lines. If the Party hadn't been dissolved by COINTELPRO we can only guess at what advances it could have made toward resolving gender oppression by now. One thing is certain, it would have done a lot more to combat the patriarchy for the majority of the world's inhabitants than First World pseudo-feminism ever has or ever will.
While we are organizing for revolutionary change under imperialism it is important that we build independent institutions of the oppressed. These are institutions that do not have ties to the power structure that we are fighting to dismantle. For instance, Under Lock & Key is an independent institution serving prisoners. It gives us the freedom to write the truth about the criminal injustice system and imperialism more broadly without worrying about the interests of our owners and advertisers, which is a problem for those writing for mainstream newspapers. Another good example was the Black Panther Party's free breakfast programs for schoolchildren program, which provided much needed food and political education, nourishing both body and mind. These independent programs often fall in the category of what we call Serve the People programs. The breakfast for schoolchildren is a good example of providing something that the people need, thus serving the people.
A group called Better Angels is working on an independent project that uniquely serves the peoples' need for security and safety from the police. This project, Buoy, is a tool to help people "call a friend, not the cops," when in need of help. This free software, which Better Angels is calling a "community-driven emergency dispatch system" will allow people to connect a network of people, within a smartphone app, who will be alerted when anyone in the network is in danger. The app includes a map so that the person in danger can be quickly located.
We see some very good applications for this tool: activists who are engaging in protest and who are threatened by the police may want to quickly locate all of their comrades and ensure no one is arrested or hurt. This tool includes the ability to set a timed alert, which will only notify a persyn's network if they do not cancel the alert. For instance, if you are entering a dangerous situation in the next 10 minutes you could set this alert and then if nothing bad happens and you cancel it within 10 minutes there is no notification sent out. But if you can not access your phone before the ten minutes are up the alert will be sent to your network.
This sort of network alert system gives people a good alternative to calling the cops, who are often a source of danger themselves. But we do have some security concerns about the project. Better Angels is encouraging organizations to set up Buoy networks and this means providing intelligence agents with easy access to information about these networks. This is not a concern for those groups that are using Buoy for persynal safety such as domestic violence organizations, campus safety groups, etc. But for activists, migrants, former prisoners and others, networking with larger organizations through Buoy could significantly increase the risk to the entire group as police catch on and monitor the whereabouts of everyone in a network, using alerts to notify themselves of potential situations of interest.
We'd recommend Buoy for people to use instead of the cops within their persynal networks. For instance, Buoy is a good tool if you are regularly harassed by the cops and want to set up an alert for support and witnesses when this happens. Or if you are crossing a border and risk being targeted by agents. Or if you are in a situation of persynal danger unrelated to the cops or government. But in all of these cases we think people will need to set up networks that are not directly linked to a political organization that is the target of government interest. And everyone should keep in mind that if they are doing political work against the government, their smart phones are likely monitored. And so any alerts sent to friends are also going to the cops.
It is difficult to set up independent institutions serving the oppressed and we commend Better Angels for its work. The Buoy project raises the very real need for an alternative to police intervention when people are in danger. Unfortunately the security problems with announcing this risk to the government via smartphone technology will limit the usefulness of this tool for activists.
We hope this project inspires others to think creatively about how revolutionaries can set up independent institutions of the oppressed, serving needs and also providing political education about these needs. Building these institutions is a key part of building the revolutionary movement.
A California prisoner wrote: In the article entitled "The Myth of the 'Prison Industrial Complex'", MIM(Prisons) quotes Loic Wacquant, reasoning that "fewer than 5,000 inmates were employed by private firms." MIM(Prisons) reasons that since "there is not an imperialist profit interest behind favoring jails ... the concept of 'PIC' is a fantasy."(2) This reasoning is fundamentally flawed. The definition, relied upon here, is not one used by the crusaders of that movement, but rather, is one attributed to the term by MIM(Prisons). In other words, I've yet to see an advocate who claimed that the entire premise of the prison industrial complex is based on direct prison labor for the "imperialist." The truth is, since there's nothing "complex" about direct prison labor, the MIM(Prisons)-attributed definition severely trivializes the true meaning of the PIC. The term has to mean more.
To avoid further distortions — and unreasonable deduction — let's look at the plain meaning of the term (see Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). (a) Prison, I believe, is self-explanatory. (b) Industry: a distinct group of productive enterprises; esp: one that employs a large personnel and capital. (c) Complex: a whole made up of, or involving, intricately interrelated elements.
In light of this definition, the question becomes does the apparatus referred to as the PIC represent a "distinct group of productive enterprises" that "employs a large personnel and capital," "made up of, or involving intricate interrelated elements"? Answer: Yes, of course. The conglomerate, that is the PIC, consists of hundreds of corporations and unions, including phone companies that literally engage in bidding wars to contract with the prison; the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, their labor union, is one of the biggest in the state, which isn't to discount the plumbers and electricians unions, big food and cosmetic companies, like Doritos, Colgate and many more, all garner impressive profits off of the prison population. Additionally, many small impoverished towns have routinely used prisons to stimulate their economies. And so, per definition, this intricate network of parasitic companies siphoning millions of dollars from both the government and our families does meet the definition of the term prison industrial complex. In a nutshell, while not disputing the facts relied upon by MIM(Prisons) in its article, I believe those facts are being misapplied in this situation. To keep using PIC is not inaccurate or "a fantasy."
Wiawimawo of MIM(Prisons) responds: The definition derived above from the dictionary is a literal interpretation of the words piecemeal and does not reflect how proponents of the term define it. If you look at definitions by those who use the term they usually allude to a collaboration between government and private industry. As we point out in the article being responded to, the term prison industrial complex is appropriated from the term military industrial complex, which we will take some time to explain in more depth to further demonstrate why prisons do not play a similar role under imperialism. We argue that to use the term PIC is to imply that prisons do play this role that is crucial to imperialism's economic success. Further, despite this critic's claim to the contrary, the line that prisons are profiting off of prison labor is quite commonly presented by those who use the PIC term. (See recent call by September 9th strike organizers for the most recent example)
War and prisons serve a similar role in oppressing other nations to enforce the will of imperialist interests on them. As we all know these days, prisons and torture are an integral part of U.$. imperialist excursions throughout the world.
What is militarism? MIM answered, "Militarism is war-mongering or the advocacy of war or actual carrying out of war or its preparations."(1) But what causes militarism under imperialism and what purposes does it serve? We already mentioned the important purpose of controlling other peoples. But there are other economic benefits to militarism under imperialism that are strong enough to lead humynity to war, to the slaughter of thousands of people. Namely, militarism can artificially increase demand enough to buoy a struggling economy, and war can solve problems of over-production under capitalism through its great destructiveness. It can do this because it is both productive in the Marxist sense, and destructive. In fact, one of our critiques of the PIC line is that the injustice system is not productive at all as the definition proposed by the reader above suggests. This makes it qualitatively different from the weapons industry.
The injustice system is not a productive system. Despite some small productive enterprises within it, U.$. prisons are designed to pay a bunch of people to do nothing while preventing a bunch of other people from doing anything. A large portion of working-age oppressed nation people are prevented from contributing to their nations economically or otherwise. Meanwhile prison guard unions are one of the most obvious examples of non-productive "labor" under imperialism.
As we've mentioned before, the military industrial complex represents a whopping 10% of U.$. GDP.(2) And as most of us know, under capitalism there is a problem when demand is not high enough. It is a problem of circulation. When capital circulation slows, profits decrease, so finance capital stops investing, and without intervention this leads to a self-feeding cycle of decreased production, decreased profits and decreased investment. Not only is production of war machines big, but it is mostly determined by the state. Therefore it becomes a useful tool for the state to interfere and save capitalism from crisis. It just needs to order some more fighter jets and things get better (maybe).
Now, the astute reader might ask, doesn't this create another downward cycle where the state has to tax the people, thereby decreasing their consumption rates, in order to buy all those fighter jets? Well, finance capital has developed much more complicated solutions to this problem than just taxing the people. It so happens that the state also controls money supplies, which of course is a primary tool for such Keynesian strategies for preventing crisis. But in addition to creating money out of nowhere, the imperialists are able to squeeze money out of their partners. In fact, the U.$. domination of military production is one way that it maintains its dominance in the world, controlling 31% of global arms exports.(3)
The Islamic State has been a great benefactor of U.$. militarism, snatching up advanced U.$. weaponry from local puppet forces. They are also the most popular of many strong movements influenced by Wahhabism, an ideology that evolved from Sunni Islam and is promoted by the House of Saud, the ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia. It just so happens that Saudi Arabia is the number one importer of U.$. war production, accounting for 11.8% of exports in that industry, followed closely by India, Turkey and then Taiwan.(4) These are countries that are largely able to fund their own military purchases, thus providing a great influx of money to the U.$. without having to tax Amerikans to increase production. So when people ask why the U.$. works so closely with Saudi Arabia while claiming to be fighting radical Islam, this is the answer, along with the fact that Saudi Arabia does its oil sales in dollars, which also props up the U.$. economy. In recent presidential campaigns we've seen Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigning for Saudi Arabia (and other countries) to do more to carry out war efforts against the oppressed to take some of the burden off of the United $tates.
Of course, much of the arms market is controlled not just by U.$. financial interests, but political interests as well. It is not a free market. In 2014, the Amerikans gave out $5.9 billion in foreign military aid, with Israel getting more than half of that ($3.1B), followed by Egypt ($1.3B), Iraq ($300M), Jordan ($300M), and Pakistan ($280M).(5) This accounts for around half of U.$. military exports. So these countries are big consumers of U.$. arms, with the help of subsidies from the United $tates itself. But that money is not just given away, much of it is in loans that must be paid back by those countries with interest and always with other obligations that benefit the imperialist countries.
All that said, the United $tates still spends far more on war than any other country. Amerikkka's own spending is an order of magnitude greater than what is exported to other countries. So our continued invasion of the Third World will be playing a bigger role in propping up the U.$. economy via the military industrial complex than all of its exports ($610B vs. something like $10B in exports).(3) But as long as those invasions enable imperialist profits, incomes in the First World can stay high, and the tax money to pay for war can continue.
Another reader recently wrote in response to another article on the same topic, "MIM(Prisons) on U.S. Prison Economy"(6):
"If it is MIM(Prisons)'s position that the prison industrial complex doesn't generate private profit for some, I would regard that line as practically irresponsible.
"I'm beginning to exit my comfort zone here. I don't have the vast field of data I have examined previously to my avail, but it is my determination that as capitalism advanced to imperialism, market capitalism evolved, or is evolving, toward the monopoly of all aspects of society."
One should not come away from our article thinking that our position is that no one profiteers off of prisons. We agree that there is a great trend towards privatization of state services in advanced capitalism. The first subheading in our article is "Profiteering Follows Policy," where we state,
"Private industries are making lots of money off prisons. From AT&T charging outrageous rates for prisoners to talk to their families, to the food companies that supply cheap (often inedible) food to prisons, to the private prison companies themselves, there is clearly a lot of money to be made. But these companies profits are coming from the States' tax money, a mere shuffling of funds within the imperialist economy."
And we also recognize that many individuals are benefiting from prison jobs. Yet when we call these people parasites, we are told that they are the exploited proletariat. But when we say that prisons are about national oppression, we are told that it is about profits because look at all the money the prison guards are making. The reality is, Amerikkkans support more prisons because they support national oppression. And some of them get paid to participate directly.
Our specific critique of the use of "prison industrial complex" is explained in more depth in the article "The Myth of the 'Prison Industrial Complex'", so we won't repeat that here. But in essence, the PIC thesis is deflecting the critique of the white oppressor nation's willing and active participation in the oppression of the internal semi-colonies for over 500 years on this continent, in favor of aiming attacks at the likes of Doritos and Colgate. Our critic above doesn't address those points, and therefore does not make a strong case for why it is a correct term. We think they are correct in their letter to us when they write, "Believe me, we — the actual 'oppressed nations' — don't care what you call it, just change it!" This reflects the reason why we do focus on prisons: it is a frontline issue for the oppressed nations in the United $tates, who are the principal mode for change in this country. So the prison movement is important in the anti-imperialist struggle in the United $tates, but not because prisons are economically important. The national question does make the current mass incarceration craze unlikely to go away under imperialism, but increased imprisonment is not vital to imperialism's continued success in the way that militarism is. And by having a correct understanding of the role that these things play in the current system we can better change the system.
In eir letter, the California prisoner also suggests that we should use PIC due to its popularity and maintaining the United Front. Well, "injustice system" was popular before PIC was, but some made a conscious decision to replace it with PIC. Those folks are coming from an academic background with a particular political line, and they are no strangers to Marxism. It is our job to put forth the political line of the proletariat in everything we do, which means a scientific and accurate assessment of all things. We do not think that using different terms will deter those interested in combating injustice in U.$. prisons. In contrast, we do believe that by failing to distinguish the revolutionary anti-imperialist position from that of the Liberal reformers, we will hinder real change from ever happening.
Should we only oppose the criminal injustice system when companies are making money off of it? No, we should oppose it all the time as a tool of national oppression and social control.
Wisconsin prisoners at Waupun Correctional Institution are planning a hunger strike to begin on 10 June 2016 to demand an end to the torture of long-term confinement in control units in Wisconsin.
In 2015, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WI DOC) made some policy changes to their use of long-term solitary confinement. According to the DOC, the number of prisoners in "restrictive status housing" was reduced by about 200 by reducing the maximum time prisoners can be put in control units (which varies depending on the justification given for this isolation). The WI DOC refused to release any information about these changes until compelled by records requests, and the total number of prisoners in control units reported by the DOC is highly suspicious as it is far lower than information gathered from surveys.(1) In addition, Waupun prisoners were not notified of the change to this policy, and months later were still being held for longer than the new regulations allowed.(2) It's unclear if the new policy is being applied uniformly across Wisconsin prisons at this point, but small reductions in the length of solitary confinement sentences will not solve the fundamental problem of this system of torture.
The actual policies are available on the Wisconsin DOC website and include a table listing maximum time in "disciplinary separation" for various offenses. This includes 180 days for "lying" and 360 days for "lying about an employee," 180 days for "disrespect" and 180 days for "misuse of state or federal property." These are all easily abused accusations that prisoners are powerless to dispute. Furthermore, a Wisconsin prisoner can be put in a control unit for up to 180 days for "punctuality and attendance" issues and "loitering," and up to 90 days for "poor personal hygiene," "dirty assigned living area," and "improper storage."(3) The policy also states "More than one minor or major disposition may be imposed for a single offense and both a major and minor disposition may be imposed for a major offense" which sounds like they can just pile on lots of offenses and sum up the total max days in isolation so that prisoners are held there for years.
The demands of this protest include the release of prisoners who have been in solitary confinement for over a year, a length of isolation far exceeding what is commonly considered torture by international human rights organizations.
As one prisoner reported to Under Lock & Key a few years ago:
"I have reasons to believe that these people have no plans of removing me off A.C. ... They have me in the worst conditions in the Wisconsin DOC. ... It is fly infested. I have black worms coming out of the sink. We can't have publications.
"I have been in seg for over 13 years. and I haven't given these people any trouble in a long time, and what I'm in seg for is solely political. I am being punished for organizing for Black Unity and against institutional racism. I simply created organizations that advocated the advancement of Black people and that fought against Black on Black crime, poverty, ignorance, etc. It wasn't created to terrorize white people, as the totalitarian state would have you believe.
"As a result of being in seg I have developed a long range of psychological issues, issues that have left me scarred permanently. These issues have caused some professionals to label me psychotic and delusional among other things. I was diagnosed with Delusional Disorder and am being treated for it."(4)
It is well documented that long-term isolation causes mental health problems including hallucinations and delusions. This technique is used in prisons like Guantanamo Bay to torture military prisoners into making confessions (or making up confessions for the many innocents who suffer this torture). But in the Amerikan prison system this torture primarily serves to slowly erode the health of prisoners who are either confined to waste away for the rest of their life, or released back to the streets unable to care for themselves.
The petition put together by prisoners at Waupun is printed in full below:
Dying to Live
Human rights fight at Waupun Correctional Institution starting June 10, 2016. Prisoners in Waupun's solitary confinement will start No Food & Water humanitarian demand from Wisconsin Department of Corrections officials.
The why: In the state of Wisconsin hundreds of prisoners are in the long term solitary confinement units a.k.a. Administrative Confinement (AC). Some been in this status from 18 to 20 years.
The Problem: The United Nations, several states, and even President Obama have come out against this kind of confinement citing the torturous effect it has on prisoners.
The Objective: Stop the torturous use long-term solitary confinement (AC) by:
Placing a legislative cap on the use of long term solitary confinement (AC)
DOC and Wisconsin legislators adoption/compliance of the UN Mandela rules on the use of solitary confinement(5)
Oversight board/committee independent of DOC to stop abuse and overclassification of prisoners to "short" and "long" term solitary confinement.
Immediate transition and release to a less restrictive housing of prisoners who been on the long term solitary confinement units for more than a year in the Wisconsin DOC
Proper mental health facilities and treatment of "short" and "long" term solitary confinement prisoners
An immediate FBI investigation to the secret Asklepieion* program the DOC is currently operating at Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI) to break any prisoner who the DOC considers a threat to their regimen
How you can help
Call Governor Scott Walker's office and tell him to reform the long-term solitary confinement units in the Wisconsin DOC and to stop the secret Asklepieion program at once. The number to call is 608-266-1212.
Call the DOC central office and demand that all 6 humanitarian demands for this hunger strike be met and demand an explanation as to why they are operating a torture program. The number to call is 608-240-5000.
Call the media and demand that they do an independent investigation on the secret Asklepieion program operating at Columbia Correctional Institution, and cover this hunger strike.
Call the FBI building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and demand that they investigate the secret Asklepieion torture program being run at CCI. The phone number to call is 414-276-4684.
Call Columbia Correctional Institution and tell them you are aware of their secret torture program. Harass them! 608-742-9100.
Join in on the hunger strike and post it on the net. Convince others to join as well.
* Asklepieion is a secret DOC torture program based upon Dr. Edgar H. Schein's brainwashing methodology that in the 1960s was disguised and turned into a Behavior Therapy Treatment program that deals with the literal brainwashing and enslavement of an individual's mind. It retrogresses the individual to the character role of a child and reinforces the need for paternal authority. To achieve such effect the prison authorities, with the help of collaborating inmates, must first break the individual's mind through sleep deprivation and character invalidation techniques, and then, recondition it with Stockholm Syndrom. To see more go to https://iwoc.noblogs.org/post/2016/02/16/personal-experience-with-behavior-control-in-a-wisconsin-prison/
Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been held in secret detention centers by order of the Amerikan government since 2001, first in Mauritania (the country where ey was born), then in Jordan, and finally in 2002 in Guantánamo Bay where ey is still imprisoned. Slahi voluntarily turned emself in to the Mauritanian police on 29 September 2001; sure that ey would quickly be cleared since ey was innocent of any crimes. Instead ey faced years of torture, through which ey initially maintained eir innocence, until it became clear that ey would never be released and ey could no longer stand the suffering. After that point Slahi began to confess to anything eir captors wanted em to say. Slahi still occasionally told them the truth when they asked directly, but for the most part their stories were not possibly consistent or confirmable since the "confessions" were entirely fabricated. But after ey began to make false confessions and falsely implicate others Slahi was allowed to sleep and eat, and the extreme physical abuse stopped. The details of eir torture will make readers wonder how Slahi held out for so long.
Slahi started writing down eir experiences in 2005 (after ey was finally given paper and pen) and after many years of legal battles eir heavily censored manuscript was finally released by the Amerikan government. This book is an edited version of Slahi's story, complete with the original redactions. The editor, Larry Seims, includes some speculation about what is behind the redactions and documents other declassified information that corroborates what Slahi wrote. In spite of heavy censorship, the released manuscript includes surprising detail about Slahi's experience including years of torture, the clear evidence that ey is innocent, and the Amerikan government's desire for a false confession.
The book is written in English, Slahi's fourth language, one that ey learned in prison in order to better communicate with eir captors and understand what was going on around em. For six and a half years Slahi's was allowed no contact with the outside world and was even hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which has a mandate under the Geneva Convention to visit prisoners of war and others detained in situations like Slahi's to ensure humane treatment. For the first year of incarceration Slahi's family didn't even know where ey was, they found out when one of eir brothers saw an article in a German newspaper. In 2008 Slahi was finally granted the "privilege" of twice-yearly calls with family. In 2010 Slahi's petition of habeas corpus was granted by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, ordering eir release. But the Obama administration filed an appeal and Slahi remains in custody.
Amerikan Imperialist Global Domination
The many people who were arrested and kidnapped from their home countries to be sent to Guantánamo Bay underscore the neo-colonial status of those countries. As Slahi explains "November 28th is Mauritanian Independence Day; it marks the event when the Islamic Republic of Mauritania supposedly received its independence from the French colonists in 1960. The irony is that on this very same day in 2001, the independent and sovereign Republic of Mauritania turned over one of its own citizens on a premise. To its everlasting shame, the Mauritanian government not only broke the constitution, which forbids the extradition of Mauritanian criminals to other countries, but also extradited an innocent citizen and exposed him to the random American Justice."(p. 132)
When the ICRC finally got in to see Slahi, the last detainee they were allowed to visit, they tried to get em to talk about abuse ey experienced. "But I always hid the ill-treatment when the ICRC asked me about it because I was afraid of retaliation. That and the fact that the ICRC has no real pressure on the U.S. government: the ICRC tried, but the U.S. government didn't change its path, even an inch. If they let the Red Cross see a detainee, it meant that the operation against that detainee was over."(p. 348)
This book underscores the power of Amerikan imperialism to do whatever it likes in the world. There is no government or organization able to stand up to this power. This is something that many Amerikans take pride in, but this is the power of a people who seek to dominate the world for economic gain. When the oppressed fight back, that power is deployed to squash the resistance by any means necessary. Of course there is a contradiction inherent in this power: Amerikan imperialist domination breeds resistance from the oppressed around the world. So-called terrorist attacks on Amerikan targets are responses to Amerikan terrorism across the globe.
As Slahi noted when ey was watching the movie Black Hawk Down with a few of eir guards: "The guards went crazy emotionally because they saw many Americans getting shot to death. But they missed that the number of U.S. casualties is negligible compared to the Somalis who were attacked in their own homes. I was just wondering at how narrow-minded human beings can be. When people look at one thing from one perspective, they certainly fail to get the whole picture, and that is the main reason for the majority of misunderstandings that sometimes lead to bloody confrontations."(p. 320)
We would not agree that it is just misunderstandings that lead to these bloody confrontations. Rather it is the blood thirst of imperialist aggression constantly seeking new sources of exploited and stolen wealth that inevitably leads to bloody confrontations.
While Slahi is far from politically radical, eir experience educated em in the reality of injustice and the definition of crime by those in power. Writing about eir arrest and initial imprisonment in Mauritania: "So why was I so scared? Because crime is something relative; it's something the government defines and re-defines whenever it pleases."(p. 92)
War on Islam
The target of Amerikan aggression changes depending on where there is the most resistance to imperialism. Back in the mid 1900s it was focused on the communist countries, this shifted to the "War on Drugs" and attacks on Latin America in the late 1900s, and then to the Arab world in the early 2000s. Slahi is acutely aware of this latest wave of aggression by the Amerikan imperialists targeting Islam and the hypocrisy of this attack:
"...Americans tend to widen the circle of involvement to catch the largest possible number of Muslims. They always speak about the Big Conspiracy against the U.S. I personally had been interrogated about people who just practiced the basics of the religion and sympathized with Islamic movements; I was asked to provide every detail about Islamic movements, no matter how moderate. That's amazing in a country like the U.S., where Christian terrorist organizations such as Nazis and White Supremacists have the freedom to express themselves and recruit people openly and nobody can bother them. But as a Muslim, if you sympathize with the political views of an Islamic organization you're in big trouble. Even attending the same mosque as a suspect is big trouble. I mean this fact is clear for everybody who understands the ABCs of American policy toward so-called Islamic Terrorism."(p. 260-61)
Slahi also documents the denial of religious practice in detention camps:
"But in the secret camps, the war against the Islamic religion was more than obvious. Not only was there no sign to Mecca, but the ritual prayers were also forbidden. Reciting the Koran was forbidden. Possessing the Koran was forbidden. Fasting was forbidden. Practically any Islamic-related ritual was strictly forbidden. I am not talking here about hearsay; I am talking about something I experienced myself. I don't believe that the average American is paying taxes to wage war against Islam, but I do believe that there are people in government who have a big problem with the Islamic religion."(p. 265)
Slahi misses that this chauvinism is not at root a problem Amerikans have with the Islamic religion. Rather it is a problem they have with oppressed people who rise up to oppose Amerikan imperialism. Islam is just one of many targets because it is a religion of the oppressed. The Amerikan government (and its people) had no problem with Islam when al-Qaeda was an ally in the fight against communism. In fact Slahi himself trained with al-Qaeda for six months in Afghanistan, but this was during the time when that group was supported by the Amerikan government and fighting against the Soviet-backed government in that country. This action was legal for Mauritanian citizens, and in fact encouraged by the Amerikan government. Nonetheless this fact became one of the cornerstones of the Amerikan insistence that Slahi was behind the World Trade Center attacks, among other things.
Will Amerikans Oppose Torture?
After years of torture and unjust imprisonment at the hands of the Amerikan government Slahi remains relatively moderate in eir views about the country and its people. Ey sees fundamental good in all people, a view that communists share, but one that has blinded Slahi to the economic interests of the vast majority of Amerikans which leads them to support the torture in Guantanamo even after reports like this one are released.
"What would the dead average American think if he or she could see what his or her government is doing to someone who has done no crimes against anybody? As much as I was ashamed for the Arabic fellows, I knew they definitely didn't represent the average Arab. Arabic people are among the greatest on the planet, sensitive, emotional, loving, generous, sacrificial, religious, charitable, and light-hearted.... If people in the Arab world knew what was happening in this place, the hatred against the U.S. would be heavily watered, and the accusation that the U.S. is helping and working together with dictators in our countries would be cemented."(p. 257)
The reality is that most people in the Arab world do know about Amerikan injustice. In fact, in Mauritania the police told Slahi "America is a country that is based on and living with injustice"(p. 134) when Slahi asked why they were extraditing em when they believed ey had already proven eir innocence. And it is this knowledge that leads to many taking up the fight against Amerikan imperialism. At the same time most Amerikans now know about the torture of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and still public sentiment is far from outraged at these actions. Large portions of the population rally around political figures like Donald Trump when ey calls for more torture.
From all of this we see further evidence for the potential of Islam as a liberation theology for those fighting against Amerikan imperialism. Just as the masses in Latin America were drawn to Catholic liberation theology as a reaction to oppression and injustice in that region, segments of any religion are likely to adapt to popular sentiments. Liberation theology was a valuable ally for the revolutionaries in Latin America.
Regardless of the format this liberation struggle takes, we know that the oppressed people of the world can not wait around for Amerikans to wake up and stop the torture themselves. Now more than a year after Slahi's book was released (which even spent some time on the best seller's list), still nothing has been done about eir situation. The masses must liberate themselves; their captors will never willingly give up power. And the Amerikan people are enjoying the spoils of the captors, so most Amerikans are happily going along with imperialist torture worldwide.
September 9, 2016 will be the fifth annual Day of Peace and Solidarity demonstration in prisons across the United $tates. This is an opportunity for prisoners to commemorate the anniversary of the Attica uprising and draw attention to abuse of prisoners across the country through a 24-hour day of education and building peace, where some units will exercise a work stoppage and fast. The annual demonstration was initiated in 2012 by an organization in the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP), and has been taken up as an annual UFPP event, with people participating all across the country.
This demonstration aligns with the UFPP principle to build unity among prisoners who have a common interest in fighting the oppression of the criminal injustice system. Prisoners are taking the 24 hours to engage in solidarity building and education, ceasing all prisoner-on-prisoner hostilities. This is a small, but meaningful step in building a United Front among prisoner organizations and individuals committed to the anti-imperialist movement. It is an opportunity to come together, publicize the UFPP and assess our progress. To stand in a united front, we do not need to agree on every political issue, but we must come together united around core principles to build and stand as one. The unity building starts well before September 9 for those who are engaging others to participate in the action. It is a long slow process of education and organizing to build the anti-imperialist movement.
We recently learned about another call to action for 9 September 2016, a "Call to Action Against Slavery in America".(1) The people who issued this call wrote: "On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves." This call for a country-wide work stoppage in prisons coincides with the UFPP solidarity demonstration and so we take this opportunity to comment on the similarities and differences.
First we want to say that we are always happy to see people taking up organizing and trying to build unity behind bars. There are some very good points taken in this call to action, particularly in the recognition of the growing protests in prisons across the country and the importance of this resistance. With our focus on building a United Front among prisoners we would hope to work with these folks to broaden our movement. We are not sure if the organizers were unaware of the work the UFPP has been doing on a September 9 protest for five years, or if they purposely decided to initiate a separate action due to disagreements with the UFPP. Our attempts to reach out to organizers have so far been unanswered.
Tactically, we are both promoting a commemoration of the Attica uprising, and a work strike might be included in some prisoners' plans for the Day of Peace and Solidarity. While a one-day strike is more symbolic than anything, we do see power in the ability of prisoners to "shut down" facilities by not doing the work to keep them running for a potentially longer period. However, the organizers behind this more recent call are taking the work strike to the level of a line question, which we have strong disagreements with. They focus on a work strike because they are focused on abolishing what they see as "slavery" in U.$. prisons. However, for Marxists, slavery is a specific economic system that involves the ownership of people in order to exploit their labor. Slaves have exchange value, just like other objects that are bought and sold. This exchange value for people is the basis of a horrible system that involves the capture and purchase of humyns. People confuse prison labor with slavery because there are some significant similarities: prison labor does involve workers receiving very little or no pay, and like slaves prisoners are given housing, food and other basic necessities while held in captivity. But we can see clearly that there is no exchange value to prisoners because states must pay other states to take their prisoners. This is the opposite of slavery where people pay to buy slaves.
Further, in order to call prisoner labor slavery there must be exploitation. We can see that this exploitation (prisons actually profiting from prisoner labor) only exists for a tiny portion of U.$. prisoners.(2)
States like Texas and Louisiana do have significant productive industries reminiscent of the slave days. But for most, this is not the reality. Prisons require huge infusions of federal and state funds in order to operate. If they were making a profit off of prisoners' labor this drain on public funds would not be required. Instead prisoner labor is only offsetting a small portion of the operating cost.
Some people tell us this is just semantics, arguing about the definition of a term rather than talking about the very real problem of prisons torturing humyn beings while allowing the real criminals to run the government and capitalist corporations. But this recent call for protest against prison slavery underscores why these definitions are so important. The organizers of the September 9 protest against slavery wrote: "When we abolish slavery, they'll lose much of their incentive to lock up our children, they’ll stop building traps to pull back those who they’ve released. When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the US prison system, the entire structure of courts and police, of control and slave-catching must shift to accommodate us as humans, rather than slaves." This statement is not true, and it ignores the economic reality of prisons which receive over $60 billion a year in state and federal funds to cover operating costs. Why would the government run a money losing business? Certainly not for economic gain!
The economic motive of slavery is not the driving force behind prisons. And even if we don't call it slavery, economics are not the reason we have prisons. While it is true that lots of people get very high salaries, and many companies make buckets of money by serving the prison system, this is just a redistribution of profits taken from exploitation of Third World workers. That's why it has to come from the government allocated to the prisons. And that $60 billion could be funneled into any other project that provides jobs for the Amerikan labor aristocracy just as easily and all those guards and other prison workers would be just as happy. Prisons are a convenient way to redistribute imperialist superprofits to the labor aristocracy within U.$. borders, but they are definitely not the best option if economics were the sole consideration.
It is critical that activists and revolutionaries understand that Amerika has built an enormous criminal injustice system as a tool of social control. Prisons are used to lock up oppressed nations and activists. The history of prisons in this country clearly demonstrates this. We saw a huge rise in incarceration starting in 1974 after the revolutionary movements of that time were targeted by the government. Until that time there was a relatively low and stable rate of imprisonment in this country. Then the lockup rate of First Nations, New Afrikans and [email protected] rose to vastly disproportionate numbers relative to whites starting in the 1970s. These historical events and economic facts make it clear that Amerikkkan prisons are used for social control, not for profits.
The organizers of the anti-slavery protest are misleading people into believing that shutting down prison work will shut down prisons. It will cause difficulties, and is a very valid tactic for exerting power as a group. But prisoner labor itself is not the principal contradiction in prison. We guarantee that if we were to reach the unity to wage an extended work strike across U.$. prisons, that Amerika would figure out how to keep the oppressed locked up.
We call this a failure to recognize the principal contradiction. In this case we are talking about the thing that will best push forward the prisoners' fight against oppression. Fighting against something that doesn't exist (slavery) is certainly not the best way forward. But even if we don't call it slavery, fighting against prisoner labor as if the end to prisoner work will put an end to prisons is also incorrect, and will lead to a dead end. We see the need for unity among prisoner groups and individuals as critical to building a solid anti-imperialist prison movement. We think this addresses the real principal contradiction that the prison movement faces between the collective interests of the imprisoned lumpen and the individualist tendencies currently dominant among that class. This is why we organize on September 9 to build a Day of Peace and Solidarity. Get involved! Write to us for the September 9 Organizing Pack and get started building in your prison.