The United $tates locks up New Afrikans at a rate more than 5 times Euro-Amerikans. The rate for Chican@s is at least 1.4 times higher than whites, and the way the prisons collect information on "Hispanics" makes this number likely an underestimate.(1) This dramatic over-incarceration of oppressed nations in U.$. prisons isn't new. But the huge numbers of people locked up is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 1960s the disparity between incarceration rates was actually about the same as it is today. But the prison population was much smaller, so it impacted a lot fewer people.
In 1960, the white male incarceration rate was 262 per 100,000 white U.S. residents, and the New Afrikan male rate was 1,313; that's 5x the rate for whites. By 2010 this disparity had risen to 6x. This means New Afrikan men were six times more likely to be locked up than white men. This discrepancy had a much bigger impact in 2010 because incarceration rates skyrocketed starting in the 1970s, so that by 2010 the New Afrikan male incarceration rate was 4,347 per 100,000.(2)
In 2000 the discrepancy in incarceration rates between New Afrikans and whites actually started dropping, and by 2015 it was back down to the 1960 levels. Between 2000 and 2015 the imprisonment rate of New Afrikan men dropped 24%, while at the same time the incarceration rate of white men rose slightly. Among wimmin we see the same trend but with a 50% drop for New Afrikan wimmin and a 50% increase for white wimmin.(3)
We need to put these changes in context. The incarceration rate of New Afrikans is still ridiculously higher than for whites! National oppression in prisons has not been eliminated, not even close. At the current rate of change, it would take until around the year 2100 to hit imprisonment equality by nation.
But we can't ignore changes like these, especially when they are consistent over a 15 year period.
Prisons are used primarily as a tool of social control by the United $tates government. Oppressed nations have always been a threat because of the dialectical relationship between oppressed and oppressor. And so oppressed nations face the highest incarceration rates. And the biggest targets are those who are organizing for revolutionary change, as we saw with the massive COINTELPRO operations against the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Party in the 1970s.
So why would the criminal injustice system shift to lowering the rate of incarceration of New Afrikans but not doing the same for whites? One possible explanation is that changes to the criminal injustice system have been proceeding at different rates in cities and in non-urban areas. The drop in incarcerations rates has been largely driven by lower rates in cities while incarceration in rural areas has remained unchanged.(3) We may see these changes even out over time.
Post-emancipation proclamation, we have seen changes in national oppression in Amerikan society at various times in history. These changes generally happen in response to social movements. Reforms ranged from ending legal segregation to curtailing overt discrimination in arenas like housing, employment, and loans. But these reforms didn't actually put an end to these practices; the reality of segregation and discrimination continued, just shifted to more subtle or hidden forms. Nonetheless, we can say that in some regards conditions for oppressed nations within U.$. borders have improved. This is not surprising as the U.$. government can't really afford to have active unrest within its borders while it's fighting so many overt and proxy wars around the world. Imperialism is more stable when it can keep its home country population pacified.
In a wealthy imperialist country, the capitalists have the money to partly integrate the internal semi-colonies, buying them off with the benefits of imperialist plunder. But the national oppression is so entrenched in modern imperialist society that we don't anticipate full integration of these internal semi-colonies. And so we think it's likely the gap between white and oppressed nation imprisonment rates won't come close to closing. But the current trends in imprisonment rates are something to keep watching.
In Alabama the law offers economic incentives to starve prisoners. Sheriffs get $1.75 per prisoner per day to feed people in jail, and they get to pocket any of that money not spent on food. According to the Southern Center for Human Rights, the sheriff in Etowah County "earned" $250,000 in 2016 by starving prisoners in that county.
At least forty-nine Sheriffs are refusing to report how much food money they are pocketing. Civil rights groups are suing these Sheriffs in an attempt to require them to release this information. But that still leaves the broader problem of the law that many are interpreting to allow Sheriffs to profit by starving prisoners.
As we discussed in the article MIM(Prisons) on U.$. Prison Economy - 2018 Update, criminal injustice system employees in the United $tates are the primary financial beneficiaries of the largest prison system in the world. Good pay and job security are appealing enough to draw many to this profession that exists off the oppression and suffering of others. With a system structured in this way, we shouldn't be surprised that Sheriffs in Alabama feel entitled to pocket money intended to feed people in their jails.
The United $tates government, and society in general, spend an enormous amount of money on the criminal injustice system. The primary reason behind this expenditure, from the perspective of the government, is social control of oppressed nations within the United $tates.(see Politics of Mass Incarceration) But there are other beneficiaries, and losers, in this expensive criminal injustice system. In this article we will look at where the money comes from; who is benefiting and who is paying; and how these economic interests play into our strategy to organize against the criminal injustice system.
This is a follow-up to "MIM(Prisons) on U.S. Prison Economy" written in 2009. By periodically looking at these economic facts and trends we can gain insights into how the imperialist system operates and what strategies and tactics will be most effective in our struggle against imperialism.
Direct costs of prisons
Total spending on prisons and jails more than quadrupled over the thirty years between 1980 and 2010, from approximately $17 billion in 1980 to more than $80 billion in 2010. When including expenditures for police, judicial and legal services, the direct costs reached $261 billion.(1)
For comparison, in 2015 the United $tates "defense" budget was $637 billion, up from $379 billion in 1980, a 68% increase.(2,3) In that same period, total government spending on K-12 education more than doubled, going from $271 billion to over $621 billion.(3) So we can see the growth in criminal injustice system spending was dramatically faster than the growth in other government spending.
Hidden costs of prisons
Direct expenditures on prisons are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the economic impact of prisons. One study, conducted in 2016, estimated the total aggregate burden of imprisonment at $1 trillion, with an additional $10 in social costs for every $1 spent on corrections. This means that most of that $1 trillion is being borne by families, community members, and prisoners themselves.(4)
Being locked up in prison comes with a lot of negative consequences beyond the obvious loss of years of one's life spent behind bars. Economically these costs include lost wages, reduced earnings once on the streets, injuries sustained behind bars (from guards and other prisoners), and for some the ultimate price of death from fatal injuries while in prison, or a shorter life expectancy for prisoners. This totals up to annual costs of just under $400 billion dollars per year.
Estimated Costs borne by prisoners:(4)
Lost wages while imprisoned ($70.5 billion)
Reduced lifetime earnings ($230.0 billion)
Nonfatal injuries sustained in prison ($28.0 billion)
Higher mortality rates of former prisoners ($62.6 billion)
Fatal injuries to prisoners ($1.7 billion)
Beyond the direct costs to prisoners, family members and society in general carry an even larger financial burden. This includes direct costs like traveling for visitation of loved ones and moving costs when families can no longer afford their homes. But also less obvious costs like the impact prison has on family members which has been demonstrated to worsen the health and educational achievement of prisoners' children, leaving some homeless, lead to higher rates of divorce and also reduce the marriage rate in the community. Further there are costs to society from homelessness of released prisoners, and reentry programs and others serving prisoners.
Estimates of Costs Borne by Families, Children, and Communities:(4)
Visitation costs ($0.8 billion)
Adverse health effects ($10.2 billion)
Infant mortality ($1.2 billion)
Children's education level and subsequent wages as an adult ($30.0 billion)
Children rendered homeless by parental imprisonment ($0.9 billion)
Homelessness of former prisoners ($2.2 billion)
Decreased property values ($11.0 billion)
Divorce ($17.7 billion)
Reduced marriage ($9.0 billion)
Child welfare ($5.3 billion)
These expenses disproportionately impact oppressed nation communities as the primary target of the criminal injustice system. A majority of prisoners are New Afrikan and Chican@, and this is a form of economic oppression against those nations. Unlike government expenditures which create jobs and fund industries, most of these expenses do not directly financially benefit anyone. This is just economic punishment piled on top of the punishment. The massive United $tates prison system is not just a tool of repression, it is actively worsening the economic conditions of oppressed nations, keeping significant sectors of these nations trapped in precarious conditions.
Prisons Create Jobs
While prisons have a devastating impact on oppressed nation communities in the United $tates, they play a different role for the disproportionately white employees of the criminal injustice system and the mostly rural communities in which these prisons operate.
Of the direct expenditures on prisons and jails, a lot of money goes to jobs for guards and other correctional employees. In 2016 there were 431,600 guards in prisons and jails, earning on average $46,750 per year or $22.48 per hour.(5)
We can see striking examples in states like New York and California where prisons are clustered in rural white communities (upstate New York and in the central valley of California), but they are imprisoning mostly oppressed nation people from urban communities.
In 2012 (the latest data available from the U.$. Bureau of Justice) the total number of criminal injustice system employees across federal, state and local governments was 2,425,011 of which 749,418 were prison staff.(6) About half of the total corrections budget goes to pay salaries for prison staff, which is two orders of magnitude more than the $400 million in profits of private prison companies.(17)
There are other jobs generated more indirectly by prison spending: construction jobs building and maintaining prisons, and jobs in all of the industries that supply the prisons with food, bedding, clothing, and other basics required to support the prison population. While some of these costs are recovered through prisoner labor (we will address this topic in more detail in ULK 62), the vast majority is still paid for by the government. Vendors also make a lot of money through commissary, phone bills, and other costs to prisoners. There are clearly a lot of individuals and corporations with an economic interest in the criminal injustice system.
Most prisons are in rural areas, often in poorer parts of states. Some prison towns are entirely centered around employment at the prison, or support services like hotels for visiting families. Others may have a more diversified economy but the prisons still provide a significant number of jobs for residents. These jobs give workers, and the community their jobs are supporting, a strong interest in seeing prisons stay full or grow bigger.
In reality, many jobs in newly-built prisons go to people from outside of the community where it was built. People with experience are brought in to fill these jobs. Many of these workers commute to the prison rather than relocate to a rural town. And there is some evidence that in the long run prisons are bad for the economy of rural communities. But this is definitely not a popular opinion as many communities lobby aggressively for prison construction. Once a prison is in place in a community, even if it's not working out so well, it's not easy to reverse course and change the economy. As a result some towns end up lobbying for building more prisons to help bolster their economy once they have one in place.(7)
Given the size of the criminal injustice system, and the many people employed in and around it, this is a big incentive to maintain Amerika's crazy high imprisonment rates. It's like a huge public works program where the government gives money to create jobs and subsidize corporations working in and around prisons.
State vs. Federal Funding
Most prison spending is at the state level. In 2010 state governments paid 57% of the direct cash costs, while 10% came from the federal government and 33% from local governments.(1) It's all government money, but this fact is interesting because it means state economic interest is likely more important than federal economic interest in determining criminal injustice system spending.
Looking closer at state spending on prisons we find that imprisonment rates vary dramatically by state (8). Top states by imprisonment rate per 100,000 adults:
All other states have rates under 1000 with a few states down in the 300s.
Prison populations are still growing in a few states, but in the top imprisonment rate states listed above only Arizona's population grew between 2014 and 2015 (1.6%). Most of the states with an increase in imprisonment rate between 2014 and 2015 were very small states with smaller prison populations overall.(9)
There is a skewing towards high imprisonment rates in southern states. These are typically poorer states with fewer economic resources. It's possible these states feel a stronger drive to build prisons as an economic growth tool, in spite of the evidence mentioned above now suggesting this isn't necessarily the best path for towns to take. It's an interesting "investment" decision by these poorer southern states that suggests there is more than just economics in play since it is a money-losing operation for already financially strapped states.
Just as the decrease in country-wide imprisonment rates coincided with the peak of the recession in 2008, it's inevitable that economic interests by the states, and by the many employees of the criminal injustice system, are also influencing prison growth and prison shrinkage. In some cases it is a battle between the interests of the prison workers, who want prisons to grow, and the states that want to stop bleeding so much money into the prisons. In each state different conditions will determine who wins.
Economic Crisis and State Responses
In 2009, MIM(Prisons) looked at the potential of the economic crisis to motivate a reduction in prison populations to address state budget shortages. We cited a few examples painting that as an unlikely scenario. The statistics do show that the total imprisoned population has dipped since then. Here we revisit some of the big prison states to see how things have shaken out since 2008.
If anything, overcrowding continues to be a bigger issue in many states than funding issues. Though overcrowding may reflect a reluctance to build new facilities, which is related to budgets. Ohio just celebrated a modest decrease in their prison population at the end of 2017.(10) At 49,420, the population was a few thousands smaller than projected four years earlier when things weren't looking so good.(11) But overall the numbers have just hovered around 50,000 since before the 2008 economic crisis.
Ohio was looking to the court-ordered prison population reduction in California as an example of what might happen there if they didn't get their numbers under control. The California reduction (or "realignment") was to address overcrowding in response to a lawsuit about conditions, and not budget problems. It was significant, with a reduction of almost 30,000 prisoners in the year following the "realignment." Numbers are even lower today. However, county populations have increased as a result, with an estimated increase of 1 county prisoner for every 3 reduced in the state system. In other words, the county population was up over 10,000 people following the realignment.(12) Still California accounted for a majority of the decrease in prisoners in the United $tates since 2010.
Former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn canceled plans to close Pontiac Correctional Center back in 2009. But current Governor Bruce Rauner has a plan to reduce the population by 25% over the next decade, already having reduced it by thousands over a couple years.(13) The Illinois state system also remains over capacity at this time. However, Governor Rauner primarily cites fiscal concerns as eir motivation for the reforms.(14) Texas also recently reduced its population by 5,000, closing one prison. Both Texas and Illinois did this by putting more money into treatment programs and release resources.(14)
Pennsylvania has also implemented reforms in sentencing and preventing recidivism.(15) After the passing of the 2012 Justice Reinvestment Act, population numbers began to level off and even decrease by hundreds each year. Like Ohio, Pennsylvania's population has been hovering around 50,000, and like many other states these numbers remain over capacity for the state (which is closer to 43,000).(16)
Overall we're still talking about fairly marginal numbers here, and not a systematic transformation. We peaked at 2.3 million prisoners in the United $tates, and now we're closer to 2.1 million. Still by far the highest imprisonment rate in the world. Ultimately, the economic crisis of 2008 did not have a huge impact on Amerikans because of the ability of imperialism to push crisis off on the periphery. But we can conclude from this experience that a serious economic crises is not enough to significantly change the course of the massive Amerikkkan injustice system.
Prisoners, their family and the community pay a heavy price for imprisonment, and this includes a significant financial cost. The impact on oppressed nation communities plays into the ongoing national oppression that is part of imperialism. So we shouldn't be surprised by an imperialist society tolerating and even perpetuating these costs.
But prisons also cost the government a lot of money. And clearly these costs have not deterred the United $tates government from maintaining the highest imprisonment rate in the world. It's a very expensive public works program, if all this money is being spent just to supply jobs to the many workers in and around the criminal injustice system. Although these jobs do provide significant political incentive to sustain prisons at their current level, Amerikan capitalist history provides us with plenty of examples of cheaper and more socially productive programs that create jobs for groups currently employed by the criminal injustice system. It's clearly a political choice to continue with this expenditure and pour money into a costly system of social control.
Some anti-prison activists try to use the high costs of prison to their advantage, organizing around slogans that emphasize that this money could be better spent elsewhere, like on education. The 10-year aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis demonstrates the weakness of this approach. The social forces of change are not coming from state bureaucracy budget offices. The social force for change are the oppressed nations that are still being targeted by the out-of-control injustice system, and the lumpen organizations that come up as a means of self-defense from this oppression.
U.$. imperialist leaders and their labor aristocracy supporters like to criticize other countries for their tight control of the media and other avenues of speech. For instance, many have heard the myths about communist China forcing everyone to think and speak alike. In reality, these stories are a form of censorship of the truth in the United $tates. In China under Mao the government encouraged people to put up posters debating every aspect of political life, to criticize their leaders, and to engage in debate at work and at home. This was an important part of the Cultural Revolution in China. There are a number of books available that give a truthful account, but far more money is put into anti-communist propaganda. Here, free speech is reserved for those with money and power.
In prisons in particular we see so much censorship, especially targeting those who are politically conscious and fighting for their rights. Fighting for our First Amendment right to free speech is a battle that MIM(Prisons) and many of our subscribers waste a lot of time and money on. For us this is perhaps the most fundamental of requirements for our organizing work. There are prisoners, and some entire facilities (and sometimes entire states) that are denied all mail from MIM(Prisons). This means we can't send in our newsletter, or study materials, or even a guide to fighting censorship. Many prisons regularly censor ULK claiming that the news and information printed within is a "threat to security." For them, printing the truth about what goes on behind bars is dangerous. But if we had the resources to take these cases to court we believe we could win in many cases.
Denying prisoners mail is condemning some people to no contact with the outside world. To highlight this, and the ridiculous and illegal reasons that prisons use to justify this censorship, we will periodically print a summary of some recent censorship incidents in ULK.
We hope that lawyers, paralegals, and those with some legal knowledge will be inspired to get involved and help with these censorship battles, both behind bars and on the streets. For the full list of censorship incidents, along with copies of appeals and letters from the prison, check out our censorship reporting webpage.
Following up on our protest letters over the censorship of ULK 58, Dean Peterson, Library Services Administrator for the Florida DOC responded:
"The issue in question was impounded and the impoundment was subsequently reviewed by the Literature Review Committee on 11/15/2017, at which time the issue was rejected. This means it will not be allowed into any of our institutions. The stated reason was Florida Administrative Code (FAC) Ch. 33-501.401(3)(m), which states: 'It otherwise presents a threat to the security, order or rehabilitative objectives of the correctional system or the safety of any person.'"
Peterson went on to quote the mail rules on how publishers can obtain an independent review. But did not bother to respond to any of our arguments in our previous request for a review of this decision.
Florida - Charlotte Correctional Institution
In response to a grievance filed by a prisoner regarding lack of notification of censorship of eir Under Lock & Key, P. Vartiainen of the mail room wrote:
"If a publication is impounded or rejected, a notice will be given to you. Every issue of Lock & Key has been rejected by the State since January 2014. Notices have been given to all subscribers. There is no record of you subscribing to this publication. Your informal grievance is DENIED."
Washington - Clallam Bay Correctional Facility
CBCC also rejected ULK 59 "pending review" because it
"Contains articles and information on drugs in prisons and the cost comparison of inside and outside of prison as well as movement of drugs."
Not sure how that at all relates to the penological interests of the institution.
Washington - Stafford Creek Correction Center
A subscriber was given an official rejection notice, stating "Incoming newsletter containing indepth information on the drug problems and values of drugs within the correctional setting which is a security issue."(Vol. 59 pg1,4-7, 16 — File No. 18346) What is the security issue...?
Michigan - Marquette Branch Prison
"Under Lock & Key #59 will be rejected because the articles contain information about criminal activity that could promote uprisings, unrest and disruption within this facility. The entire publication has a 'revolutionary, protest, uprising' theme. There is also red ink on the back page that will be rejected because it cannot be searched thoroughly."
ULK readers know we do not print anything in colored ink, so red ink (if it really was there) is either from the post office or the mail room. Additionally, political or revolutionary content is illegal as grounds for censorship going all the way back to Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401.
Mississippi - South Mississippi Correctional Institution
A prisoner reports:
"The South Mississippi Correctional Institution has implemented practices by which ANY book sent to a prisoner for 'free' is censored, rejected, and returned to the sender. The rejection notices say only that 'free books are not allowed' and/or that 'inmates must pay for books.' There are 33 facilities housing MDOC prisoners and SMCI is the only prison doing this! This means that prisoners cannot benefit from any free books to prisoners programs. Some prisoners, including this writer, are challenging this practice via legal venues (i.e. grievances, potential lawsuit). Anyone wishing to protest this practice may do so by writing Superintendent Jacqueline Banks, PO Box 1419, Leakesville, MS 39451 or [email protected]. If possible cc all letters to MDOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall, 633 N. State Street, Jackson, MS 39202 ([email protected])."
U.$. imperialist leaders and their labor aristocracy supporters like to criticize other countries for their tight control of the media and other avenues of speech. For instance, many have heard the myths about communist China forcing everyone to think and speak alike. In reality, these stories are a form of censorship of the truth in the United $tates. In China under Mao the government encouraged people to put up posters debating every aspect of political life, to criticize their leaders, and to engage in debate at work and at home. This was an important part of the Cultural Revolution in China. There are a number of books available in this country that give a truthful account, but far more money is put into anti-communist propaganda books. Here in the United $tates free speech is reserved for those with money and power.
In prisons in particular we see so much censorship, especially targeting those who are politically conscious and fighting for their rights. Fighting for our First Amendment right to free speech is a
battle that MIM(Prisons) and many prisoners waste a lot of time and money on. For us this is perhaps the most fundamental of requirements for our organizing work. There are prisoners, and some entire prisons (and sometimes entire states) that are denied all mail from MIM(Prisons). This means we can't send in educational material, or study courses, or even supply a guide to fighting censorship. Many prisons regularly censor ULK claiming that the news and information printed within is a "threat to security." For them, printing the truth about what goes on behind bars is dangerous. But if we had the resources to take these cases to court we believe we could win in many cases.
Denying prisoners mail is condemning some people to no contact with the outside world. To highlight this, and the ridiculous and illegal reasons that prisons use to justify this censorship, we will periodically print a summary of some recent censorship incidents in ULK.
We hope that lawyers, paralegals, and those with some legal knowledge will be inspired to get involved and help us with these censorship battles, both behind bars and on the streets. For the full list of censorship incidents, along with copies of appeals and letters from the prison, check out our censorship reporting webpage.
The Chair of the publications review committee for the VA DOC, Melissa Welch, sent MIM(Prisons) a letter denying ULK 56, and then the next month the same letter denying ULK 57. Both letters cite the same reasons:
"D. Material, documents, or photographs that emphasize depictions or promotions of violence, disorder, insurrection, terrorist, or criminal activity in violation of state or federal laws or the violation of the Offender Disciplinary Procedure.
"F. Material that depicts, describes, or promotes gang bylaws, initiations, organizational structure, codes, or other gang-related activity or association."
Last issue of ULK we reported on the censorship of ULK57 in Pennsylvania. After sending a protest letter to appeal the decision we had a rare victory! From the Policy Office, PA
Department of Corrections:
"This is to notify you that the publication in issue does not violate Department Policy. As such, the decision of the correctional institution is reversed and the inmates in the PA Department of
Corrections will be permitted to receive the publication. The correctional institutions will be notified by the Policy Office of the decision."
If anyone in PA hasn't received ULK 57 yet, let us know and we will send another copy to you.
Pennsylvania SCI-Camp Hill
From a prisoner we were forwarded a notice of incoming publication denial for ULK 57: "create a danger within the context of the correctional facility" p.21, 24
The description quotes sentences that can't be found within ULK including: "PREA system strip searches for harassment in PA", "Black prisoners deserve to retaliate against predominantly white ran system", and "This is a excellent reminder of PA importance of fighting." They are making up text as reasons for censorship in Pennsylvania.
Texas - Bill Clemens Unit
A prisoner forwarded us a denial for ULK 57 "Page 11 contains information that could cause a prison disruption."
In March 2017, our study pack Defend the Legacy of the Black Panther Party was censored for
"Reason C. Page 9 contains information that could cause a strike or prison disruption."
This adds to the growing list of our most important literature that is banned in the state forever, including Settlers: Mythology of the White Proletariat and Chican@ Power and the Struggle for Aztlan. We need someone with legal expertise to challenge Texas's policies that allow for publications to be banned forever in the state.
Florida - Santa Rosa Correctional Institution
A prisoner forwarded us a notice of impoundment of ULK 57. The reason cited: "Pages 1, 11, 14, 15, & 17 advocates insurgency and disruption of institutional operations."
We appealed this denial and got a response from Dean Peterson, Library Services Administrator for the Florida DOC, reiterating the reasons for impoundment and upholding the denial: "In their regularly scheduled meeting of August 30, 2017 the Literature Review Committee of the Florida Department of Corrections upheld the institution's impoundment and rejected the publication for the grounds stated. This means that issue will not be allowed into our correctional institutions."
Following up on a case printed in ULK 57 regarding Florida's denial of the MIM(Prisons) censorship pack, for no specific reasons. We received a response to our appeal of this case from the same Dean Peterson, Library Services Administrator, named above.
"From the number of the FDC form you reference and your description of what happened it is apparent the institutional mailroom did not handle the Censorship Guide as a publication, but instead handled it in accordance with the Florida Administrative Code rule for routine mail. As such, the item was not impounded, was not posted to the list of impounded publications for any other institution to see, was not referred to the Literature Review Committee for review, and thus does not appear on the list of rejected publications. That means that if the exact same Guide came to any other inmate mailroom staff would look at it afresh. In theory, it could even be allowed into the institution. ...
"The Florida Administrative Code makes no provision for further review."
Florida - Florida State Prison
ULK 58 was rejected for what appears to just be a list of titles of articles, some not even complete:
PGS 6 Liberation schools to organize through the wall (talk about the hunger strikes)
PGS 8 DPRK; White Supremacy's Global Agenda
PGS 11 Case law to help those facing
PGS 19 White and gaining consciousness
Florida - Jefferson Correctional Institution
Meditations on Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth: New Afrikan Revolutionary Writings by James Yaki Sayles was denied to a prisoner at Jefferson Correctional Institution because "inmate has received a second copy of the same edition of this publication violating chapter 33-501.401 (16)(b) and procedure 501.401(7)(d)."
Washington state - Coyote Ridge CC
The invitation to and first assignment for our correspondence introductory study group was rejected by Mailroom Employee April Long for the following reasons:
"Advocates violence against others and/or the overthrow of authority.
Advocates that a protected class or group of individuals is inferior and/or makes such class/group the object of ridicule and/or scorn, and may reasonably be thought to precipitate a violent confrontation between the recipient and a member(s) of the target group. Rejected incoming mailing from MIM. Mailing contains working that appears to be referring to law enforcement as 'pigs' it appears to be ridiculing and scornful. There is also a section in mailing labeled solutions that calls prisoners to take actions against prison industries and gives specific ideas/suggestions. Nothing to forward onto offender."
A recent study assignment for the University of Maoist Thought was also censored at Coyote Ridge. MIM(Prisons) has not yet been informed of this censorship incident by the facility. The study group participant wrote and told us it was censored for being a "copy of copyrighted material."
The material in question was published in 1972 in the People's Republic of China. Not only did that government actively work against capitalist concepts such as copyright, we believe that even by the United $tates' own standards this book should not be subject to censorship.
Clallam Bay CF rejected ULK 58 because: "Newsletter is being rejected as it talks about September 9 events including offenders commencing a hunger strike until equal treatment, retaliation and legal rights issues are resolved."
Coyote Ridge CC rejected ULK 58 for a different set of reasons: "Contains plans for activity that violates state/federal law, the Washington Administrative Code, Department policy and/or local facet/rules. Contains correspondence, information, or other items relating to another offender(s) without prior approval from the Superintendent/designee: or attempts or conveys unauthorized offender to offender correspondence."
We received the following report from a Canadian prisoner who had sent us some stamps to pay for a few issues of ULK to be mailed to Canada.
"A few months ago, on July 18, I received notice from the V&C department informing that five issues of ULK had arrived here for me. The notice also explained that the issues had been seized because of a Commissioner's Directive (764.6) which states that '[t]he institutional head may prohibit entry into the institution of material that portrays excessive violence and aggression, or prison violence; or if he or she believes on reasonable grounds that the material would incite inmates to commit similar acts.' I grieved the seizure, among other things, citing the sections on page 2 of ULK, which 'explicitly discourage[s prisoners] from engaging in any violence or illegal acts,' and citing too the UFPP statement of peace on page 3, which speaks of the organizational aim to end needless conflicts and violence within prisons.
"Well, I can now report that my grievance was upheld and that all copies of ULK were released to me, but not without the censorship of drawings deemed to portray or promote the kind of violence described in the above-cited Commissioner's Directive. It's a decision I can live with for now."
We got reports from two people that the blanket ban on ULK in Missouri was removed and ULK 58 was received. If you're in Missouri and still not getting your ULK, be sure to let us know.
Michigan - Richard A Handlon CF
ULK 58 was rejected because "Articles in Under Lock & Key contains information about criminal activity that might entice criminal activity within the prison facility - threat to security."
Illinois - Stateville CC
ULK 58 was rejected because: "The publication appears to: Advocate or encourage violence, hatred, or group disruption or it poses an intolerable risk of violence or disruption. Be otherwise detrimental to security, good order, rehabilitation, or discipline or it might facilitate criminal activity or be detrimental to mental health. Detrimental to safety and security of the facility. Disrupts order. Promotes organization and leadership."
On 26 October 2017, U.$. President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. The declaration should lead to more federal funding for grants to combat opioid abuse.(1) As we explain below, this epidemic disproportionately affects euro-Amerikans. Trump linked his campaign to build a wall along the current Mexican border to the battle against this epidemic, despite the fact that prescription painkillers are at the root of it. This is consistent with the Amerikan government's solution for drug problems created by imperialism. For the crack epidemic of the 1980s Amerika responded with mass incarceration of New Afrikan men as the solution. As opioid addiction continues a steady rise, Trump offers further militarization of the border.
Opioids have been used by humyns for thousands of years both medicinally and recreationally, with many periods of epidemic addiction. Use began with opium from poppies. Morphine was isolated in 1806. By the early 1900s heroin was promoted as a cure for morphine addiction in the United $tates, before being made illegal in 1924. There was a lull in heroin use during the 1980s, when cocaine and crack overshadowed it. Various prescription pain killers began to come back into vogue in the 1990s
after the "Just Say No!" mentality was wearing off. Since then, use and abuse has been on a steady rise, feeding a new surge in the use of heroin as a cheaper alternative. This rise, in the economic centers of both the United $tates and China, is directly linked to capitalism.
While K2 is one dangerous substance plaguing U.$. prisons these days, partly due to its undetectability, opioids are by far the biggest killer in the United $tates, and we expect that is true in prisons as well. Drug overdoses surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of accidental deaths in the United $tates in 2007 and has continued a steady rise ever since. The majority of these overdoses have been from opioids.(2)
While the increase in deaths from opioids has been strong across the United $tates, rates are significantly higher among whites, and even higher among First Nations. One reason that use rates are lower among New Afrikans and Latin@s is that it has been shown that doctors are more reluctant to prescribe opioids to them because they are viewed as more likely to become addicted, and Amerikan doctors see them as having a greater pain threshold.(3)
We did see some evidence of this trend in the results of our survey on the effects of drugs in U.$. prisons. The most popular answer to our question of whether certain groups did more drugs in prison than others was no, it affects everyone. But many clarified that there was a strong racial divide where New Afrikans preferred weed and K2, while whites and usually Latin@s went for heroin and/or meth. Some of these respondents said that New Afrikans did less drugs.(4) A couple said that New Afrikans used to do less drugs but now that's changing as addiction is spreading. In states where K2 has not hit yet (CA, GA, CO) it was common to hear that whites and "hispanics" (or in California, "southern" Mexicans) did more drugs. The pattern of New Afrikans preferring weed and K2 seemed common across the country, and could have implications for strategies combating drug use among New Afrikans compared to other groups. In particular, stressing that K2 is completely different and more dangerous than weed could be part of a harm reduction strategy focused on New Afrikans.
If prison staff were doing their jobs, then we would expect rates of both overdoses and use in general to be lower in prisons. But we know, and our survey confirmed, that this is not the case (78% of respondents mentioned staff being responsible for bringing in at least some of the drugs in their prison). In hindsight, it may have been useful to ask our readers what percentage of prisoners are users and addicts. Some of the estimates that were offered of the numbers using drugs in general were
20-30%, 90%, 75%, and many saying it had its grips on the whole population.
Deaths from opioids in the general U.$. population in 2015 was 10.5 per 100,000, double the rate in 2005.(5) This is higher than the rates in many state prison systems for overdoses from any drug, including Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania that all reported average rates of 1 per 100,000 from 2001-2012. California was closer at 8 per 100,000 and Maryland exceeded the general population at 17 deaths from overdoses per 100,000 prisoners.(6) At the same time,
prison staff have been known to cover up deaths from overdoses, so those 1 per 100,000 rates may be falsified.
In our survey of ULK readers, we learned that Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction, is quite popular in prisons (particularly in the northeast/midwestern states). Survey respondents mentioned it as often as weed as one of the most popular drugs, and more than heroin. Suboxone is actually used to treat heroin addiction. And while it is not supposed to be active like other opioids, it can lead to a high and be addictive. It is relatively safe, and will not generally lead to overdose until you combine it with other substances, which can lead to death.
Prescription drugs are not as common as other drugs in most prisons, according to our survey. Though in some cases they are available. We received a few responses from prisons where prescription drugs prescribed by the medical staff seemed to be the only thing going on the black market. Clearly there is variability by facility.
Two Paths to Recovery
The increases in opioid abuse in the United $tates has been staggering, and they cause a disproportionate amount of the deaths from drug overdoses. About 10% of opioid addicts worldwide are in the United $tates, despite only being less than 5% of the world's population.(7) At the same time, only about 1% of people in the United $tates are abusing opioids.(8) This is not the worst episode in U.$. history, and certainly not in world history.
Around 1914 there were 200,000 heroin addicts in the United $tates, or 2% of the population. In contrast, some numbers for opium addicts in China prior to liberation put the addiction rate as high as 20% of the population around 1900, and 10% by the 1930s. That's not to dismiss the seriousness of the problem in the United $tates, but to highlight the power of proletarian dictatorship, which eliminated drug addiction about 3 years after liberation.
Richard Fortmann did a direct comparison of the United $tates in 1952 (which had 60,000 opioid addicts) and revolutionary China (which started with millions in 1949).(9) Despite being the richest country in the world, unscathed by the war, with an unparalleled health-care system, addicts in the United $tates increased over the following two decades. Whereas China, a horribly poor country coming out of decades of civil war, with 100s of years of opium abuse plaguing its people, had eliminated the problem by 1953.(9) Fortmann pointed to the politics behind the Chinese success:
"If the average drug addiction expert in the United States were shown a description of the treatment modalities used by the Chinese after 1949 in their anti-opium campaign, his/her probable response would be to say that we are already doing these things in the United States, plus much more. And s/he would be right."(9)
About one third of addicts went cold turkey after the revolution, with the more standard detox treatment taking 12 days to complete. How could they be so successful so fast? What the above comparison is missing is what happened in China in the greater social context. The Chinese were a people in the process of liberating themselves, and becoming a new, socialist people. The struggle to give up opium was just one aspect of a nationwide movement to destroy remnants of the oppressive past. Meanwhile the people were being called on and challenged in all sorts of new ways to engage in building the new society. There was so much that was more stimulating than opium to be doing with their time. Wimmin, who took up opium addiction in large numbers after being forced into prostitution in opium dens, were quickly gaining opportunities to engage at all levels of society. The poor, isolated peasants were now organized in collectives, working together to solve all kinds of problems related to food production, biology and social organization. The successful struggle against drug addiction in China was merely one impressive side effect of the revolutionizing of the whole society.
In contrast, in the capitalist countries, despair lurks behind every corner as someone struggles to stay clean. The approach has ranged from criminalization to medicalization of drug addiction as a disease. "Once an addict, always an addict", as they say. Always an individualist approach, ignoring the most important, social causes of the problem. That drug addiction is primarily a social disease was proven by the practice of the Chinese in the early 1950s, but Western "science" largely does not acknowledge the unquestionable results from that massive experiment.
It is also worth pointing out the correlation between drug abuse and addiction, and capitalist economics specifically. Whether it was colonial powers forcing opium on the Chinese masses who had nothing, in order to enslave them to their economic will, or it is modern Amerikan society indulging its alienation in the over-production of prescription pills from big pharmaceutical companies marketing medicine for a profit.
And now, opioid addiction is on the rise again in capitalist China after decades. A steady rise in drug-related arrests in China since 1990 are one indicator of the growing problem.(10) As more profits flowed into the country, so have more drugs, especially since the 1990s. We recently published a review of Is China an Imperialist Country?, where we lamented the loses suffered by the Chinese people since the counter-revolution in 1976. It goes to show that when you imitate the imperialists, and put advancing the productive forces and profits over serving the people, you invite in
all the social ills of imperialism.
In China drug addiction has now become something that people fear. Like it did with its economy, China has followed in the imperialists' footsteps in how it handles drug addiction. Chinese policy has begun treating addicts as patients that need to be cured to protect society. Rather than seeing those who give up drugs as having defeated the oppressor's ways, they are monitored by the state, lose social credibility, and have a hard time getting a job.(11) Under socialism, everyone had a job and no one needed recreational drugs to maintain themselves mentally. The path to combating drug addiction and abuse is well-established. Attempts under imperialism that don't involve liberatory politics of the oppressed have little to no effect.
For this issue of Under Lock & Key we took on the task of investigating the impacts of drugs and the drug trade on the prison movement. We ran a survey in the Jan/Feb 2017 and March/April 2017 issues of Under Lock & Key. We received 62 completed surveys from our readers in U.$. prisons. We have incorporated the more interesting results in a series of articles in this issue. This article looks at the central question of the role of the drug trade inside and outside prisons and how to effectively organize among the lumpen in that context. In other articles we look more closely at the recent plague of K2 in U.$. prisons, and the latest rise in opioid addiction and what socialism and capitalism have to offer us as solutions.
Bourgeois society blames the individual
Bourgeois society takes an individualistic view of the world. When it comes to drugs, the focus is on the individual: we talk about how they failed and succumbed to drugs because of their weakness or mistakes as an individual. While individuals must ultimately take responsibility for their actions, it is only by understanding society at a group level, using dialectical materialism to study the political economy of our world, that we can address problems on a scale that will make a real impact. Even at the individual level, it’s more effective to help people make connections to the root causes of their problems (not supposed persynality flaws) and empower them to fight those causes if we want lasting change.
Much of our criminal injustice system is built on punishment and shaming of those who have been convicted. A proletarian approach to justice uses self-criticism to take accountability for one’s actions, while studying political economy to understand why that path was even an option in the first place, and an attractive one at that.
In the essay “Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide”, Cetewayo, a Black Panther leader, provides a good example of overcoming the conditions one is born into. Ey was addicted to heroin from age 13 to 18, before joining the Black Panther Party. Eir example stresses the importance of providing alternative outlets for oppressed nation youth. In some cases the mere existence of that alternative can change lives.
Drugs and the Principal Contradiction in Prison
MIM(Prisons) and leaders in the Countrywide Council of United Struggle from Within (Double C) have had many conversations about what the principal contradiction is within the prison population. MIM(Prisons) has put forth that the parasitic/individualistic versus self-sufficient/collective material interests of the lumpen class is the principal contradiction within the prison movement in the United $tates today. The drug problem in prisons relates directly to this contradiction. Those pursuing drugs and/or dealing are focused on their persynal interests, at the expense of others. The drug trade is inherently parasitic as it requires an addicted population to be profitable, and users are escaping the world for an individual high, rather than working to make the world better for themselves and others.
A Double C comrade from Arkansas explains this contradiction:
"Things have been slow motion here due to lockdown. Reason being too much violence across the prison. Some of this violence is due to the underground economy. Being submerged in a culture of consumerism which is not only an obstacle to our emancipation (mentally and physically) this self-destructive method of oppression is a big problem consuming the population. I’ve been in prisons where the market is not packed or heavily packed with drugz. It is in those yards that unity and productive lines are greatly practiced. The minute drugz become the leading item of consumption, shit breaks down, individualism sets in and all of the fucked up tendencies follow suit.
"I say 75% of the population in this yard is a consumer. About 5% have no self control, it’s usually this percentage that ends up a ‘debt’ victim (since you owe $ you owe a clean up). Aggressor or not, consumerism is a plague that victimizes everyone one way or another. This consumerism only aids the pigz, rats, infiltrators, and oppressors in continuing with a banking concept of ‘education/rehabilitation’ and therefore domesticating the population.
“I mean the consequences and outcomes are not hidden, it is a constant display of what it is when you can’t pay the IRS, so it is not as if people don’t know. I’ve seen people slow down or stopped some old habits after experiencing/witnessing these beheadings. Shit, I just hit the yard because pigz were all inside the block searching and homeboy’s puddles of blood were still on the yard.”
Drugs and Violence
It is no secret that drugs and violence often go hand-in-hand. As the above comrade alludes to, this is often related to debts. But one of the things we learned from our recent survey of ULK readers is that in most prisons there is an inherent threat of violence towards people who might take up effective organizing against drugs.
A California comrade wrote,
“No one in prison is going to put their safety and security on the line over drugs. You have to understand that life has little value in prison. If you do anything to jeopardize an individual’s ability to earn a living, it will cost you your life.”
Another California comrade was more explicit,
“If you say anything about the drugs, cell phones, extortions, etc., whether if you’re in the general population, or now, worse yet in 2017, SNY/Level IV, the correctional officers inform the key gang members that you’re running your mouth. You either get hit immediately, or at the next prison. Although my safety is now at stake, by prisoners, it’s being orchestrated by corrections higher-ups concocting the story.”
This was in response to our survey question “Have you seen effective efforts by prisoners to organize against drug use and its effects? If so, please describe them.” Not only were the responses largely adamant “no”s, the vast majority said it would be dangerous to do so. This was despite the fact that we did not ask whether it would be dangerous to do so. Therefore, we assume that more than 73% might say so if asked.
Some readers questioned what to do about staff involvement bringing drugs into the prisons. One writer from Pennsylvania said:
“It’s hardly ever dry in Fayette and this institution is a big problem why. A lot of the staff bring it in. Then when someone goes in debt or does something they wouldn’t normally do, they don’t want to help you, if you ask for help. There’s no unity anymore. Nobody fights or stands up for nothing. Everybody rather fight each other than the pigs. It would take a lot to make a change in the drug situation. Is it wrong to put the pigs out there for what they’re doing? Would I be considered a snitch? I know there would be retaliation on me, maybe even a ass whoopin. I’m curious on your input on this.”
If we look at the involvement of staff in bringing drugs into prisons, and the violence associated with the drug trade, we have to call bullshit when these very same institutions censor Under Lock & Key on the claim that it might incite violence. The system is complicit, and many staff actively participate, in the plague of drugs that is destroying the minds and bodies of the oppressed nation men and wimmin, while promoting individualistic money-seeking behavior that leads to brutal violence between the oppressed themselves.
Organizing in Prisons
While the reports responding to that question were mostly negative, and the situation seems dire, we do want to report on the positive things we heard. We heard about successful efforts by New Afrikans getting out of the SHU in California, some Muslim communities and the Nation of Gods and Earths. Some have been at this for over a decade. All of these programs seemed to be of limited scope, but it is good to know there are organizations providing an alternative.
In Arkansas, a comrade reports,
“For the mass majority of drug users and prisoners I have not seen any positive efforts to stop drug use and its effects. But for my affiliation, the ALKN, we have put the product of K2/deuce in law with heroin and its byproducts where no member should be in use of or make attempts to sell for profit or gain. If you do you will receive the consequences of the body who governs this affiliation and organization for lack of discipline and obedience to pollute your self/body and those around you who are the future and leaders of tomorrow’s nations.”
While practice varies among the many individuals at different stages in the organization, the Latin Kings/ALKQN has historically opposed the use of hard drugs amongst its members. Many in New York in the 1990s attributed their recovery from drug addiction to their participation in the organization.(1)
There are some good examples of lumpen organizations engaging in what we might call policies of harm reduction. One comrade mentioned the 16 Laws and Policies of Chairman Larry Hoover as an example of effective organizing against drugs in eir prison. Lumpen leaders like Jeff Fort and Larry Hoover are where we see a national bourgeoisie with independent power in the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates. The proletarian organizations of the oppressed nations should work to unite with such forces before the imperialists corrupt them or force them into submission. In fact, the Black Panthers did just that, but failed to build long-term unity with the Black P. Stone Rangers largely due to state interference and repression.
On the other hand, in some states comrades reported that lumpen organizations are among the biggest benefactors from the drug trade. Some of the same names that are mentioned doing positive work are mentioned as being the problem elsewhere. This is partly explained by the largely unaffiliated franchise system that some of these names operate under. But it is also a demonstration of the principal contradiction mentioned above, which is present in the First World lumpen outside of prisons, too. There is a strong individualist/parasitic tendency combating with the reality that self-sufficiency and collective action best serve the oppressed nations. Too often these organizations are doing significant harm to individuals and the broader movement against the criminal injustice system, and can not be part of any progressive united front until they pull out of these anti-people activities.
The more economically entrenched an organization is in the drug trade, the more they are siding with the imperialists and against the people. But on the whole, the First World lumpen, particularly oppressed nation youth, have the self-interest and therefore the potential to side with their people and with the proletariat of the world.
As one Texas comrade commented:
"I must say that the survey opened a door on the issue about drugs within prison. After doing the survey I brought this up with a couple of people to see if we could organize a program to help people with a drug habit. I’m an ex-drug dealer with a life sentence. I can admit I was caught up with the corruption of the U.S. chasing the almighty dollar, not caring about anyone not even family. Coming to prison made me open my eyes. With the help of MIM and Under Lock & Key I’ve been learning the principles of the United Front and put them in my everyday speech and walk within this prison. The enemy understands that the pen is a powerful tool. Comrades don’t trip on me like other organizations done when I let them know I’m a black Muslim who studied a lot of Mao Zedong.
Building Independent Institutions of the Oppressed
At least one respondent mentioned “prisoners giving up sources” (to the pigs to shut down people who are dealing) in response to the question about effective anti-drug organizing. From the responses shown below, it is clear that the state is not interested in effective anti-drug programming in prisons. This is an example of why we need independent institutions of the oppressed. We cannot expect the existing power structure to meet the health needs of the oppressed nation people suffering from an epidemic of drug abuse in U.$. prisons.
The Black Panthers faced similar conditions in the 1960s in the Black ghettos of the United $tates. As they wrote in Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide,
“It is also the practice of pig-police, especially narcotics agents, to seize a quantity of drugs from one dealer, arrest him, but only turn in a portion of the confiscated drugs for evidence. The rest is given to another dealer who sells it and gives a percentage of the profits to the narcotics agents. The pig-police also utilize informers who are dealers. In return for information, they receive immunity from arrest. The police cannot solve the problem, for they are a part of the problem.”
Our survey showed significant abuse of Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. In the 1970s Methadone clinics, backed by the Rockefeller Program, became big in New York. The state even linked welfare benefits to these services. Yet, Mutulu Shakur says, “In New York City, 60 percent of the illegal drugs on the street during the early ’70s was methadone. So we could not blame drug addiction at that time on Turkey or Afghanistan or the rest of that triangle.”(2) Revolutionaries began to see this drug that was being used as treatment as breaking up the revolutionary movement and the community. Mutulu Shakur and others in the Lincoln Detox Center used acupuncture as a treatment for drug addiction. Lincoln Detox is an example of an independent institution developed by communists to combat drug addiction in the United $tates.
“[O]n November 10, 1970, a group of the Young Lords, a South Bronx anti-drug coalition, and members of the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement (a mass organization of health workers) with the support of the Lincoln Collective took over the Nurses’ Residence building of Lincoln Hospital and established a drug treatment program called The People’s Drug Program, which became known as Lincoln Detox Center.”(3) Lincoln Detox was a program that was subsequently run by the Young Lords Party, Black Panthers that had survived the Panther 21 raid, the Republic of New Afrika, and White Lightning, a radical organization of white former drug addicts, until 1979 when a police raid forced the communists out of the hospital, removing the political content of the program.(4)
Young Lord Vicente “Panama” Alba was there from day one, and tells eir story of breaking free of addiction cold turkey to take up the call of the revolution. After sitting on the stoop watching NYPD officers selling heroin in eir neighborhood, and a few days after attending a Young Lords demonstration, Panama said, “Because of the way I felt that day, I told myself I couldn’t continue to be a drug user. I couldn’t be a heroin addict and a revolutionary, and I wanted to be a revolutionary. I made a decision to kick a dope habit.”(3) This experience echoes that of millions of addicted Chinese who went cold turkey to take up building socialism in their country after 1949.
Mutulu Shakur describes how the Lincoln Detox Center took a political approach similar to the Chinese in combatting addiction, “This became a center for revolutionary, political change in the methodology and treatment modality of drug addiction because the method was not only medical but it was also political.” Shakur was one of the clinic’s members who visited socialist China in the 1970s to learn acupuncture techniques for treating addiction. He goes on to describe the program:
“So the Lincoln Detox became not only recognized by the community as a political formation but its work in developing and saving men and women of the third world inside of the oppressed communities, resuscitating these brothers and sisters and putting them into some form of healing process within the community we became a threat to the city of New York and consequently with the development of the barefoot doctor acupuncture cadre, we began to move around the country and educate various other communities instead of schools and orientations around acupuncture drug withdrawal and the strategy of methadone and the teaching the brothers and sisters the fundamentals of acupuncture to serious acupuncture, how it was used in the revolutionary context in China and in Vietnam and how we were able to use it in the South Bronx and our success.”(2)
Dealing with the Dealers
Though the Black Panthers had organized the workers at Lincoln Hospital leading up to the takeover, by that time the New York chapter was already in decline due to repression and legal battles. While many BPP branches had to engage with drug cartels, the New York chapter stood out in their launching of heavily-armed raids on local dealers and dumping all of their heroin into the gutters. The New York Panthers faced unique circumstances in a city that contained half of the heroin addicts in the country, which was being supplied by la Cosa Nostra with help from the CIA. While there was mass support for the actions of the Panthers at first, state repression pushed the New York Panthers down an ultra-left path. The Panther 21 trial was a huge setback to their mass organizing, with 21 prominent Panthers being jailed and tried on trumped up terrorism charges. After they were all exonerated, the New York Panthers, siding ideologically with Eldridge Cleaver who was pushing an ultra-left line from exile in Algeria, made the transition to the underground. If they were going to be accused of bombings and shootings anyway, then they might as well actually do some, right?
These were the conditions under which the Black Liberation Army was formed. Though there was overlap between the BLA and those who led community projects like Lincoln Detox, the path of the underground guerrillas generally meant giving up the mass organizing in the community. Instead, raiding local drug dealers became a staple of theirs as a means of obtaining money. Money that essentially belonged to the NYPD, which was enabling those dealers and benefiting them financially. The former-Panthers-turned-BLA continued to destroy the dope they found, and punished the dealers they raided.
Again, we are confronted with this dual nature of the lumpen class. It would certainly be ultra-left to view all drug dealers as enemies to be attacked. It is also certainly clear that the CIA/Mafia/NYPD heroin trade in New York was an enemy that needed to be addressed. But how does the revolutionary movement interact with the criminal-minded LOs today? In its revolutionary transformation, China also had to deal with powerful criminal organizations. The Green Gang, which united the Shanghai Triads, significantly funded the Guomindang’s rise to power, primarily through profits from opium sales. In the late 1940s they opened up negotiations with the Communist Party as the fate of China was becoming obvious. However, no agreement was reached, and the criminal organizations were quickly eliminated in mainland China after 1949. They took refuge in capitalist outposts like Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Chinatowns elsewhere in Asia and Europe. While heroin has returned to China, the gangs have not yet.(5)
While the contradiction between the communists and the drug gangs did come to a head, it was after defeating Japanese imperialism and after defeating the reactionary Guomindang government. And even then, most drug dealers were reformed and joined the building of a socialist society.
In eir article, Pilli clearly explains why slangin’ can’t be revolutionary. And a comrade from West Virginia gives an example where the shot-callers are explicitly working against the interest of the prison movement to further their economic goals. We must address the question of how the prison movement should engage with those who are slangin’. The answer to that is beyond the scope of our drug survey, and needs to be found in practice by the revolutionary cells within prisons taking up this organizing work.
Building Socialism to Serve the People
Many respondents to our survey sounded almost hopeless when it came to imagining a prison system without rampant drug addiction. But this hopelessness is not completely unfounded. As “Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide”, reads:
“The government is totally incapable of addressing itself to the true causes of drug addiction, for to do so would necessitate effecting a radical transformation of this society. The social consciousness of this society, the values, mores and traditions would have to be altered. And this would be impossible without totally changing the way in which the means of producing social wealth is owned and distributed. Only a revolution can eliminate the plague.”
To back up what the Panthers were saying here, we can look at socialist China and how they eliminated opium addiction in a few years, while heroin spread in the capitalist United $tates. The Chinese proved that this is a social issue and not primarily a biological/medical one. The communist approach differed greatly from the Guomindang in that addicts were not blamed or punished for their addiction. They were considered victims of foreign governments and other enemies of the people. Even many former dealers were reformed.(6) Although we don’t have the state power now to implement broad policies like the Chinese Communist Party, we can help drug users focus on understanding the cause and consequences of their use in a social context. We need people to see how dope is harming not only themselves, but more generally their people, both inside and outside of prison. People start doing drugs because of problems in their lives that come from problems in capitalist society. Being in prison sucks, and dope helps people escape, even if it’s fleeting. But this escape is counter productive. As so many writers in this issue of ULK have explained, it just serves the interests of the criminal injustice system. We can help people overcome addictions by giving them something else to focus on: the fight against the system that wants to keep them passive and addicted.
Revolutionary Art from Pelican Bay S.H.U.
PO Box 4186
San Jose, CA 95150
2017, 214 pgs., soft cover, $50
Aztlán Realism is over 200 pages of revolutionary Chican@ artwork, straight from the hole. The pages are in black and white, and select pieces are shown in color in the front and back. It is easy to get lost in the pages of this book, imagining a different world, and clearly envisioning what it will be like to fight to get there.
The line in the artwork is on point. Lumpen (prisoners and gangsters) and peasants are shown working in unity to smash capitalism and national oppression. The Third Worldist line is prominent throughout: Aztlán is depicted in unity with oppressed nations globally, against Amerikkka and imperialism in general.
There is very strong revolutionary feminism in Aztlán Realism. Wimmin are shown on the front lines, and as the backbone, of Chican@ liberation. While the drawings containing wimmin in a revolutionary context far outnumber the scantily-clad and coy-faced Chicanas, we would choose to omit the sexy drawings altogether if we had the option. They're a direct reflection of the gendered culture we currently live in, and glorification of brown rather than white wimmin should not require objectification of bodies.
The only other thing we would change about this book would be to see the whole book printed in color. Villarreal's use of color adds vibrancy to the artwork which is very compelling.
We strongly recommend getting your hands on this book, or just reaching out to Aztlán Press to show some love. Aztlán Press aims to publish the works of imprisoned Chican@ writers, and we look forward to watching them develop over the years to come.
Marx & Engels On Colonies, Industrial Monopoly, & The Working Class Movement
originally compiled by the Communist Working Circle, 1972
with a new introduction by Zak Cope & Torkil Lauesen
Available for $10 + shipping/handling from: kersplebedeb
CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne
This book is a reprint of a 1972 study pack by the Communist Working Circle, which contains quotes from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels on the question of the split between workers in the imperialist countries and the colonized nations. The book opens with a foreword by the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement and an extensive introduction by Zak Cope & Torkil Lauesen explaining transfer of wealth from colonies to Britain.
The introduction is really the heart of the small book. It takes the outline laid out by the Marx and Engels quotes and fills it out with a detailed historical treatment of the subject. The authors focus on the periods contemporary to and discussed by Marx and Engels. And they make some important conclusions, including that England was dominated by the labor aristocracy by the 1850s. This is a key point, when all too often the question of the labor aristocracy is treated as an open debate over
150 years later.
One topic that Marx and Engels touch on in many of the selections is England's relationship to Ireland. This was a factor for Marx in eir understanding of the English workers growing allegiance to capitalism. While we often treat settler nations like Amerika and Australia as distinct phenomenon, what we gather from Marx and Engels's descriptions is that the attitudes of the English were/are not very different. The English built a very similar consciousness in relation to Ireland, India and countless other colonized peoples.
MIM(Prisons) recommends this book as part of the still-growing cannon on this important topic. While we consider Zak Cope's Divided World, Divided Class a must-read, this may be a more digestible piece to start with for those shy about thick economic texts. This book is available to prisoners for $6 or work trade from MIM Distributors, and we plan to conduct a study group on it in the near future.
When it comes to guns and gun violence, Amerikkka truly is #1. According to The Guardian: "No other developed nation comes close to the rate of gun violence in America. Americans own an estimated 265m guns, more than one gun for every adult." Further, there is a mass shooting nine out of every ten days in this country. That's 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days.(1) These statistics define mass shootings as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter. That's a broader definition than is used by the government and many other statisticians. But it's illustrative of the tremendous gun violence happening in the United $tates.
Recent mass shootings, including the Las Vegas country music festival massacre, the shooting in a Southerland, Texas Baptist church, and the Orlando Pulse nightclub killings have led to a lot of discussion about gun violence in the United $tates. While there is a long history of mass shootings in this country, various analyses confirm that incidents are on the rise.(2)
In reality mass shootings are just a small part of gun deaths in the United $tates. Over 400 thousand people died from gun violence between 2001 and 2013, the majority (over 200,000) were suicides. Mass shootings only made up about 3% of the homicides in 2017 so far.(3) But there is little discussion of all the other gun-related deaths.
Gun violence in general doesn't bother most Amerikans. It certainly doesn't make it into everyday conversation. The mass shootings are unique in that they appear random and unpredictable. They introduce an element of fear into everyday life for Amerikans who like to think their lives are charmed and protected by citizenship. Especially white Amerikans. And this is a uniquely white phenomenon. The vast majority of mass shootings in public places (71%) between 1982 and 2012 were perpetuated by white men.(2) That's quite a disproportionate representation as "non-Hispanic" white men make up about 1/3 of the general population.
An epidemic of mental illness?
When perpetrated by white people, politicians bend over backwards to explain that the shooter was mentally ill. Mental illness is a convenient cover story to dismiss all of these incidents as the fault of the individual. Something that couldn't have been prevented. And this mental illness is easy to "prove," since we generally define mental health to include not indiscriminately murdering people.
Rather that attribute all this violence to individual mental illness, communists look at society and social causes. If we believe that all these folks are mentally ill, shouldn't we be concerned that Amerikans are suffering from an epidemic of mental illness unseen in other nations? Even by the capitalists' own psychology argument about fault, there must be something systematically wrong in this country.
An analysis that looks beyond the individual will quickly conclude that there is something wrong with Amerikan society that it's producing all of these mass killers. But it's not that Amerika just has an over-abundance of crazy people who like to go on shooting sprees. These mass killings are a direct result of Amerikan capitalism, its culture, and its gun-mongering. People who are floundering for a purpose in their lives latch on to this culture.
Capitalism lacks the ability to provide most people with a meaningful purpose in life. The individualist focus of capitalism teaches Amerikans that they should make money, and then spend that money to enjoy life. Also maybe throw in some meaningless sex for fun. But this doesn't lead to a strong sense of purpose or self-worth. Especially for those who don't succeed at the money-making, or at the sex. So we end up with lots of people depressed, and without a way to address what is wrong with their lives. This is just one of many contradictions of capitalism. Even those benefiting financially from the system can end up feeling purposeless and depressed.
It should not be lost on readers of ULK that all this talk about mass shootings is explained away by mental illness but any individual of Arab descent who carries out an act of violence is labeled a terrorist. White men are not considered terrorists, they're just ill. Muslims (and non-Muslims who come from a predominantly Muslim region) resisting imperialist domination and violence are "terrorists."
Capitalism = violence
Another contradiction for capitalism is the promotion of violence. The imperialists raise up war and the killing of "enemies" as a heroic act. This is necessary because war for the imperialists is a critical part of conquering the land and people who supply natural resources and labor to create capitalist profits. And war is also important to keeping those people oppressed when they try to rise up and resist.
Capitalist culture glorifies this war and killing. The Vietnam War was the last truly messy war from the perspective of Amerikans. The draft forced men into the army who didn't want to go fight, and most people knew someone who died or was injured. That war was hard to glorify, especially when it involved massacring peasants who just wanted to control their land and their lives. But now, with an all-volunteer army, capitalism has grown more and more cavalier with its glorification of war. The imperialists have also worked hard at marketing these wars, stressing the danger (drugs, terrorism, or whatever is the latest war du jour) that threatens the Amerikan way of life.
With this glorification of war comes a cultural onslaught of violence. We have movies about war, and video games about war, and serialized TV shows about the government engaged in geo-political war games (not to mention cop shows). Violence is as Amerikan as apple pie. And guns are just the current device used in that violence.
All these Amerikan gun-related deaths reveal the moribund nature of capitalism. It can't even keep control of its own privileged citizens. This is not a stable system. There are some strong reasons why even privileged Amerikans should oppose capitalism.
What about gun control?
In the short term, restricting access to guns by Amerikans would probably lead to a reduction in random shooting events. A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that for every 1 percent increase in gun ownership levels in a state, there was a corresponding 0.9 percent increase in the firearm homicide rate.(4)
But stricter laws like this always lead to greater restrictions on oppressed people and political activists first and foremost. So we should never suggest the government should increase its powers at the expense of the freedom of the people. Gun control laws were used against groups like the Black Panther Party, who carried guns in self-defense in response to police indiscriminately harassing and killing Black people. Theirs was a righteous protest against a murderous police force. And they acted within the law, carrying guns for protection. So the government, backed by white organizations like the National Rifle Association, changed the law, specifically so that the BPP could not display their guns in public. This display of guns by New Afrikan revolutionaries was terrifying to white Amerika. It's easy for Amerika to enact more restrictive gun control laws when threatened by oppressed nations.
What will stop the violence?
Until we put an end to the capitalist system that encourages violence we're not going to see an end to random gun violence in the United $tates. This is one example of the benefit people in imperialist countries will get from our revolutionary project. They will no longer be allowed to live high off the exploitation of Third World peoples, but they won't have to exist in a culture that promotes senseless violence.
Unfortunately, there isn't a magic bullet. Even after capitalism is overthrown by a communist party representing the oppressed and exploited, the capitalist culture won't just disappear overnight. Maoists in China determined that a series of cultural revolutions would be necessary as a part of the transition from socialism to communism. Those cultural revolutions will fight against the ills so ingrained in us from capitalist culture. They will mobilize people to create new culture that serves the interests of the people. And over time, possibly over several generations, we will get rid of the rotten old culture of individualism, decadence and violence.