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.
Our struggle against imperialism and toward communism is a long, protracted struggle. It is carried out over decades and even centuries, with long-term (strategic) planning and lifetime commitment. Many who fight for communism give up their lives, not just through martyrdom but also through a lifetime of dedication. In such a long-term project, it is dangerous to lose sight of the larger context of our struggle.
Our enemies, the imperialists and anyone who's with them, will do everything they can to wear us down. They will drag us through the mud as much as possible, in the hopes that we'll get frustrated and give up, or frustrated and sacrifice ourselves on the focoist cross.
A typical reader of Under Lock & Key has committed some "crime" (as defined by the imperialists), and is imprisoned. The social conditions that lead to imprisonment are an essential part of the imperialists' protracted struggle to maintain power. As a means of keeping the internal semi-colonies under their boot, our enemies set up any number of false pretenses for putting as many of our potential comrades behind bars as possible.
Once turned on to ULK, a subscriber might start participating in United Struggle from Within campaigns. Or ey might start learning more about Maoism: the most effective threat to imperialism shown in humyn history to date.
While participating in the anti-imperialist struggle definitely makes one's efforts at social change worthwhile, it does nothing to help a comrade make parole. It doesn't help you fly under the pigs' radar. It doesn't keep you out of the hole. Naturally, identifying with the struggle against the United $nakes government makes one a target for that government's boldest repression. Our comrades are constantly denied parole, are constantly having their cells tossed, and are targeted for forced psychotropic druggings and other methods of mental deterioration. Their food is tampered with, they are beaten, and any tactic that may wear down and frustrate our comrades is employed.
In these social circumstances, we need to consider how are we going sustain our movement. How are we to make the most of the repressed and limited time and energy we do have? How can we protect ourselves from attacks on our physical and mental health, while locked in a tiny room with complete sensory control? How can we build ourselves up, not just for the day-to-day struggle, but for the long haul?
This issue of Under Lock & Key is on the topic of survival and stamina, focusing on some things subscribers can do to better their chances of survival, both mentally and physically, and make it possible to do their most for the anti-imperialist struggle. There is much important political work to be done, and a healthy body and mind is important for long-term sustainability of our contributions to the revolutionary struggle.
On survival, there are fights we must engage in for basic rights behind bars: the fight for medical care and other needs often denied through a corrupt grievance system, the struggle for access to education, and the battle against classification in mentally and physically dangerous long-term control units. Many campaign updates in this issue provide practical tactics for these battles as a part of our overall strategy.
Survival behind bars also requires the struggles for peace and unity among prisoners to build a situation of mutual respect, aid and cooperation. Several articles remind readers that this fight against repression requires united action. Building unity will help us win victories to improve our organizing conditions while we build the longer-term struggle. California prisoners write about the struggle to maintain the Agreement to End Hostilities, while the essay on lumpen class consciousness points to broader strategies we need to employ to unite lumpen organizations (LOs) for both survival and advancement.
There is also work that individuals can do to improve their outlook, education and use of time while behind bars. This is addressed in articles on how to be disciplined in your day-to-day life, focusing on study and organizing rather than watching TV, educating yourself, and fighting alienation and individualism. Education in particular is critical to survival in prison as it opens eyes and minds to the reality of prison conditions and the broader struggle that can unite and give purpose and direction to prisoners' lives. As a Pennsylvania comrade wrote: "The pigs try to stop real education in the gulags, because they know that when we have a true education and know the truth about the way things really are, they are defeated."
A life of survival without political struggle is just survival of the status quo. The most basic survival and stamina tactic is always understanding the connection between our lives, as anti-imperialists, with the lives of oppressed people all over the world. Our struggle is made of many actions over a long period of time, and every contribution has value. If we can maximize these contributions by taking care of ourselves and each other as best we can, our internationalist struggle will be all the better for it.
Almost 5% of our comrade time in 2015 was put into maintaining the technical aspects of our online presence, mostly our website www.prisoncensorship.info. While that might seem like a small percentage, an increase in our capacity of 5% would allow us to see some significant improvements in our work.
In the past we had estimated that our online readers were about equal in number, if not quality, to our print readers in prison. In recent years we've seen a doubling of our readership inside prisons. In the past year we've seen a significant drop in our online readership, though this is probably completely due to technical difficulties and not a decrease in interest.
Recently, prisoners have donated about 5% of the cost of distributing ULK (this includes some regular contributions from USW members on the outside). During the same period, comrades in prison have contributed an equal amount of money to pay for books and study materials from the Ministry. The rest of our funding comes from members of MIM(Prisons). While we might make a few bucks here and there at public events, it is irregular. This summer we set the achievable goal of funding 10% of ULK through prisoner donations. None of our funding comes from online readers. In other words, online readers cover 0% of the cost to fund the website, despite the fact that it is much cheaper than the newsletter and our online readers have much greater access to money than our imprisoned readers.
Most of the writing and almost all of the art in ULK is contributed by prisoner subscribers. Almost none of it comes from our online readers. (Just before publishing this article we did get some article submissions via web contribution.)
In recent years we've had a couple of allies who have contributed to our work in a consistent way, and we have some volunteers come and go that help us with typing, editing and other tasks. But when all is said and done, we are losing more comrade time to maintaining the website than we are gaining from it.
Now, we try to keep in mind that our principal task is building public opinion and not building our organization. Yet, we are approaching a crisis where our comrade time on the streets cannot keep up with the interest from prisoners. Really it never could, but even to the standard we are used to we are losing ground. So the question starts to look like: do we spend more resources building public opinion behind bars or on the streets (and by streets, we mean online)?
Alternatively, our online readers could step up to the plate. Five percent of our annual comrade time is no small beans. But it is easily achievable by a few regular contributors. It could be achieved by one dedicated comrade who steps up and starts putting in work. But how do we inspire someone to act over the internet like we do through the mail?
The worldwide web has always been an important tool in the MIM agitational toolbox. Prisoncensorship.info is approaching its 10 year anniversary of going strong and we host the archive of the MIM etext site dating back another 15+ years. We might foresee situations where not having it could really hamper our work in the future. So there are other points to consider here.
But the question remains, is it time to let www.prisoncensorship.info die in order to focus all our efforts on supporting the organizing efforts of the imprisoned masses?
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
by Stanley Nelson
This film screened in major U.$. cities in the fall of 2015. I was planning to use my notes in an article for our 50th issue on the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party. However, in February 2016 the film was shown on PBS with much publicity. Knowing that our readers have now seen the film we wanted to put some commentary out sooner rather than later. But do make sure to check out Under Lock & Key Issue 50 for a more in-depth counter-narrative to this pop culture film.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is an eclectic collection of video and photography, along with contemporary commentary from some who played important roles in the Party. The producer clearly had no deep ideological understanding of the Black Panther Party, as critics on the left and the right have already noted. What ey was good at was picking out some good sound bites and emotionally moving clips. Yet, even still, as someone with extensive knowledge of Panther history, i often found the film boring. Most of the audience seemed to enjoy it based on the loud cheering at the end.
I have not watched Stanley Nelson's other films, but it seems that a film on the Panthers is within the realm of previous documentaries ey has produced (Jonestown, The Black Press, Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer). It is curious that ey takes on these topics, and then does such a shallow portrayal of the Panthers. Nelson says ey was 15 when the Panthers formed and was always fascinated with them, but was not a participant in the movement emself.(1)
In line with the lack of ideological understanding, the treatment of Panther leaders was dismissive. The most in-depth discussion of Huey P. Newton was related to eir downward spiral into drugs and crime after the Panthers had been well on their way to dissolving. Nelson features sound bites from interviews calling Newton a "maniac" and Eldridge Cleaver "insane." Eldridge Cleaver was cast as a misleader from the beginning in this film. While both story lines are based in reality, the story that is missed is the great leadership role that Huey played, both ideologically and in practice, in building the greatest anti-imperialist organization this country has seen. At that time Eldridge too played an important role ideologically and organizationally, even if he was less consistent than Huey. Fred Hampton was given a more favorable portrayal by the film, but he died a martyr just as he was getting started. (And despite the attention given to Hampton's assassination there is no mention of him being drugged beforehand, presumably by an FBI spy.) There is a pattern of character assassination in the film that does nothing to deepen our understanding of what the Panthers were, why they succeeded, and why they failed. It will turn some people off to the Panthers and push people towards an individualist or anarchist approach to struggle.
To get an accurate portrayal of the Panthers one is better off watching archival footage, as today you can find ex-Panthers of all stripes, and very very few who uphold the Maoist ideology of the Panthers at their height. Former chairman, Bobby Seale, who long ago stopped putting politics in command, was barely mentioned in the film, perhaps because he refused to be interviewed.(1) Elaine Brown, who took over the chairpersyn position after the party had already moved away from a Maoist political line, does appear but has written a scathing denunciation of the film and asked to be removed from it.(2)
As other critics have pointed out there is a lack of mention of national liberation, socialism, communism, and the international situation overall at the time. It is ironic for a film titled "Vanguard of the Revolution" to ignore the key ideological foundations of the vanguard. This reflects a clear effort to build a certain image of what the Panthers were that ignores the basis of their very existence. As such, this film contributes to the long effort to revise the history of the BPP, similar to the efforts to revise the history of other influential revolutionary communist movements in history. This only stresses the importance of building independent institutions of the oppressed to counter the institutions of the bourgeoisie in all aspects of life and culture.
Beyonce is the Queen of pop in the United $tates, so this review isn't meant to uphold em as a revolutionary force. Eir ties to Empire and the lack of internationalism in eir recent series of publicity stunts is a reminder of Beyonce's attachment to U.$. institutions. Instead this article is meant to analyze eir performance at Super Bowl 50, and eir recently released song and music video, "Formation", from a revolutionary Maoist perspective.
The "Formation" video is the most interesting thing in pop culture in a long time, and the Super Bowl performance was likely the most interesting thing in all football history. Beyonce's dancers donned afros and berets (yet, not pants), and performed eir new song "Formation." Like Nina Simone, Beyonce is being compelled by the struggle of eir nation to take an explicit political position. Simone correctly stated that "desegregation is a joke" and Beyonce is suggesting that cultural integration is not worthwhile. After Martin Luther King was assassinated, Simone performed a poem which called for violent uprising against "white things", imploring New Afrikans to "kill if necessary" and to "build black things" and "do what you have to do to create life."(1) Simone was a reflection of eir nation at the time. While Beyonce’s twirling of albino alligators is a weak replacement for Simone’s poetic diatribe, we hope today's New Afrikans will keep pushing cultural icons in more militant and separatist directions.
Let's start with what holds this whole phenomena together. The lyrics for "Formation" are not revolutionary.(2) They promote consumerism, making billions, drinking alcohol, being light-skinned, and fucking. They primarily promote cultural nationalism and economic integration with Empire. What comment the lyrics make on the international relationship between New Afrika and the Third World is more promotion of Black capitalism, on the backs of the most oppressed people in the world – those who are slaving over eir Givenchy dress and dying to mine the diamonds in the Roc necklaces ey is rocking.
Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, correctly calls out Beyonce’s bad economic recommendations in this song, “her celebration of capitalism – an economic system that is largely killing black people, even if some black people, like her, achieve success within it – [has] also been a source of important critique.”(3) Although Garza’s comment is tame, it’s an important generalization to be made. Considering Garza’s following, it’s an important persyn to be making it.
On a positive note, the song celebrates New Afrikan culture that is still under so much attack in the United $tates. While we prefer the revolutionary content and gender relations contained in Dead Prez's "The Beauty Within", "Formation" is still an exercise of Black pride. Whether that pride is then mobilized into a revolutionary internationalist direction is up to the New Afrikan masses, who aren’t getting a whole lot of clarity from Beyonce on that tip.
“Formation” calls for New Afrikan unity of the sexes, and of females as a group (not unusual for Beyonce’s typical pseudo-feminist fare). In the lyrics about going to Red Lobster, or going on a flight on eir chopper, or going to the mall to shop up, Beyonce advocates a reward-based system for harmonious sexual relations. Beyonce also brings in gay and trans New Afrikan culture, from the use of the word “slay” over and over, to the voice samples and New Orleans Bounce style of music used for the song.(4) Resolution of gender antagonisms within New Afrika are a good thing. But if the goal is Black capitalism, that’s bad for the international proletariat and just an extension of the gender aristocracy phenomenon into the relatively privileged New Afrikan internal semi-colony.
MIM(Prisons) upholds the line that all sex under patriarchy has elements of coercion(5), and offering perks for enjoyable sex is still an expression of patriarchal gender relations even if Beyonce is not a typical male father figure. Within the predominantly white Amerikkkan nation, rewards for compliance with patriarchy help to unite Amerika against the oppressed nations.(6) But within the oppressed internal semi-colonies, these lyrics are more interesting, especially considering the long tradition of the Amerikkkan-male-dominated recording industry's use of divide-and-conquer tactics in selecting which music to record and promote. Beyonce isn't promoting sexual entitlement or sexual passivity – patriarchal values that do more to divide New Afrika in practice, and which are heavily promoted in mainstream culture. Assuming whoever is fucking Beyonce could still feed emself without relying on that trade, it's not a matter of life and death, and so these lyrics are less of a threat of starvation than a promotion of national unity. When united against a common oppressor, subsuming the gender struggle to the fight for national liberation, gender harmony in the oppressed nations can be a revolutionary force.
The best part about the song is the separatism and militancy. If the song were to get stuck in your head, it could be a mantra for working hard and uniting. It even gets into who the unity is directed against – Beyonce twirls on them haters, albino alligators. Ey twirls them, as in alligator rolls them, as in kills them. The haters are albino alligators, as in they’re white. Ey calls on others to slay these enemies, or get eliminated. In other words, choose a side.
The "Formation" music video, which was released as a surprise the day before the Super Bowl, is a celebration of New Afrikan national culture and a condemnation of oppression of New Afrikans. It is thick with important and unmistakably New Afrikan cultural references. Beyonce sings, poses, raises a Black fist, and drowns on top of a New Orleans Police car, sinking in floodwaters. A little Black kid hypnotizes a line of cops with eir incredible dancing, and the cops raise their hands in surrender. Beyonce raises two middle fingers on a plantation. There are references to the Moorish Science Temple, gay and trans New Afrikan culture, hand signs, a Black church service, and more, more, more...(7) "Stop Shooting Us" is spraypainted in the background. The subjects of the video look directly into the camera, confidently, and say "take what's mine," including Beyonce's kid Blue Ivy, complete with eir baby hair and afro.
This video doesn't clearly distinguish between integration and secession. Should New Afrikans just keep trying to make peace with Amerikkka, but while asserting a Black cultural identity? Should New Afrika honor its culture, and lives, by separating itself from Amerikkka and forming its own nation-state? Should this nation-state be capitalist or communist? Outside of a revolutionary context, much of the cultural markers that are present in this video could be taken as integrationist. Hopefully the militance and anti-white sentiment of the video will push New Afrika to get in formation to study up and push for actual (not just cultural) liberation from the many forms of oppression highlighted in the video.
The Super Bowl Halftime
That Beyonce was permitted to perform with dancers dressed up like the former Black Panther Party members is somewhat of a mystery. Is it because, ignoring any political content, one would still witness a show of tits and ass, so for the average ignoramus watching the biggest football event of the year, it's no different? Maybe it's because this year is the semi-centennial anniversary of the Black Panther Party, so it's gonna come up in mainstream culture sometime, might as well come up with lots of distraction from the political content. Or maybe the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement has made room for this performance to be possible, and perhaps even necessary to quell uprisings by helping New Afrika feel included in such a paragon cultural event. For whatever reason(s), it's obvious this half-time show would not have happened a few years ago. In fact, Beyonce led the entire halftime show in 2013 and while ey avoided any mention of patriorism, ey didn’t reference police brutality or New Afrikan nationlism either. It's a milestone, and one that shows Black pride is definitely resurfacing country-wide.
Not surprisingly, the Super Bowl has a long history of promoting white nationalism.(8) Some overt examples include in 2002 when U2 helped the country mourn 9/11, with Bono wearing a jean jacket lined with an Amerikkkan flag which ey flashed at the audience, with the names of people who died in the "terrorist" attacks projected in the background. In 2004, Kid Rock wore an Amerikan flag as a poncho, and when ey sang "I'm proud to be living in the U.S.A." over and over, two blondes waved Amerikan flags behind em. When necessary, the Super Bowl even has a tradition of promoting integration and "world peace," some of which we explore below. At this year's performance, Coldplay upheld these decidedly white traditions. Where there was one Amerikan flag, it was during Coldplay's portion of the performance. When there was feel-good bouncing and rainbow-colored multiculturalism, Coldplay was leading it. When the audience was told "wherever you are, we're in this together," the singer of Coldplay was saying it. It's not surprising that the white Coldplay frontman would be the one to promote this misguided statement of unity. As explored in the review of Macklemore's "White Privilege II" project, no, we're not in this together. And we don't need white do-gooders playing leadership roles that distract from national divisions, and thus, the potency for national liberation struggles.
At the end of the Coldplay-led halftime show, the stadium audience made a huge sign that said "Believe in Love." On the other hand, some of Beyonce's dancers were off-stage holding a sign that said "Justice 4 Mario Woods" for cameras. One is a call to just have faith that our problems will go away. Another is a call for a change in material reality: an end to murders by police. (Side note: Someone who was allegedly stabbed by Mario Woods just prior to Woods's 20-bullet execution has come out to tell eir story. Whether ey mean to or not, this "revelation" is being wielded in an attempt to discredit Beyonce as a competent political participant, and to lend more justification to the unnecessary police murder of Woods. Whatever Woods did just prior to eir execution, that ey is dead now is wholly unjustified. The demand for "Justice 4 Mario Woods" is correct, and underlines how New Afrikan people are gunned down in the streets without due process, which is supposedly guaranteed by the U.$. Constitution.)
While Beyonce's performance didn't break new ground by bringing up politics or social problems, it was done in a different way than in the past, that may be a marker for how our society has changed. The costume Beyonce wore, which was adorned with many shotgun shells, was a reference to the costume Michael Jackson wore during eir Super Bowl 1993 performance. Where Michael Jackson had banners of a Black hand shaking a white hand, Beyonce had Black Panther dancers, so touchdown for Beyonce. But where Beyonce sings "you might be a Black Bill Gates in the making", Jackson advocated for the children of the world because "no one should have to suffer." Beyonce's individualist capitalism is devoid of any awareness that today's New Afrikan wealth, especially of Gates proportions, is stolen by the United $tates military from exploited nations across the globe. Yet Jackson's multiculturalism invites unity with oppressor nation chauvinism, which historically usurps oppressed nation struggles and drives them into the ground.
In Janet Jackson's performance in 2004 (you know, the one where Justin Timberlake stalked em around the stage and then exposed Jackson's breast to the world), ey performed the song "Rhythm Nation." The video for "Rhythm Nation" features militant outfits, with pants. In the video, Jackson and eir dancers intrigue a few Black people who are wandering around what appears to be the Rhythm Nation's underground headquarters, another reference to the enchanting powers of dance. "Rhythm Nation" is about unity and brotherhood, "break the color lines", but it's not about Blackness.(9) At the Super Bowl, Jackson called out various injustices faced by oppressed nations (prejudice, bigotry, ignorance, and illiteracy) and called out "No!" to each one, but didn't make it about New Afrikan struggle. That Beyonce clearly delineates eir struggle from the struggle of whites with this performance is an advancement off of Jackson's.
On the topic of organizing females and combating New Afrikan female internalized racism, Beyonce’s performance is a step above other performances. A few examples: Nelly and P. Diddy's dancers in 2004 were dark-skinned but were straight-haired compared with Beyonce's backups. In 2004 they also wore straight hair, as in Madonna's performance in 2012 as well. Even though Madonna called on "ladies" like Beyonce does, Madonna called on them to cure their troubles on the dance floor. Beyonce calls on ladies to get organized (in formation). It should be obvious which message MIM(Prisons) prefers.
During Madonna's performance, MIA gave a middle finger to the camera during the lyric "I'ma say this once, yeah, I don't give a shit." But then MIA and Nikki Minaj joined a tribe of dark-skinned, straight-haired cheerleaders revering Madonna as their blonde, white idol. Beyonce's Panther dance-off with Bruno Mars is a step in a better direction. We also prefer Beyonce's dancers forming a letter "X" on the field (likely another New Afrikan reference), as opposed to Madonna's self-aggrandizing "M".
Whether it's dancing at the Super Bowl or dancing in front of a line of pigs, impressive dancing isn't what's going to get the New Afrikan nation out of the scope of Amerikkkan guns. Beyonce is a culture worker, so that's eir most valuable weapon at this time. As long as she keeps shaking her ass, white Amerikkka might stay hypnotized and let Beyonce continue to promote New Afrikan pride. Hopefully many people in New Afrika who watched the Super Bowl will study up on history, as Beyonce hints at, and revolutionary internationalism of the Black Panther Party can be injected tenfold into the growing Black Lives Matter movement.(10)
In the 20th century New Afrikans reached out to Islam in an attempt to find identity outside of Amerikkkan culture. In Islam they found history, identity, independence, integrity and a connection to the larger world, in particular the Third World. Today, revolutionary Islam is reaching out to New Afrikans and the First World lumpen. Just this month, an Al Shabaab-affiliated video was released featuring the stories of young men recruited from Minnesota who were martyred in Somalia fighting the African Union troops who serve their U.$. imperialist master. The first five minutes of this video is a pointed critique of the history of national oppression in the United $tates and the idea of race. It features footage from Rodney King to Michael Brown and uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri, prisoners from Georgia to California, and sound bites from Malcolm X to Anwar al Awlaki. It is an agitational piece that clearly promotes the national interests of New Afrika.(1)
In the video, Islam is presented as the answer to the racism and social hierarchy based on pseudo-biology that is inherent to Amerika. The conception of Islam as a liberation theology is not difficult to make given the prominence of the concepts of jihad, or Holy Struggle, and shahada, translated as witness or martyrdom. The Holy Struggle is to be one with Allah and to represent righteousness, truth and goodness as determined by Allah's divine wisdom. While jihad and shahada do not require armed struggle, martyrdom in battle for Allah's will is one way that Muslims can reach shahada according to the Qur'an.(2)
Throughout the stories of the Minnesota martyrs there is a theme of not fearing death, but rather running towards it. In regions where revolutionary struggle and political dissent of any form has been brutally crushed, Islam might fulfill a need in providing this basis for courage in the face of imminent death. There are many examples in history of the oppressed finding courage in a belief in their own immortality, but they generally did not end well for the oppressed. Ultimately, the myth of immortality may be good at recruiting cannon fodder, but it leads to recklessness and a lack of a scientific approach that is required for victory. We see the brazen unscientific approach to battle playing out in the Islamic State, which is now losing ground after a couple years of impressing the world with their successes.
"You can kill the revolutionary, but you can't kill the revolution." - Fred Hampton, National Deputy Chairpersyn of the Black Panther Party
Like the Muslim in jihad, the communist struggles to discover truth and goodness. But the communist serves the people, not Allah, so that goodness is relative to the real lives of humyn beings, and truth is that which changes the conditions of that reality. Whether we can serve the people better in life or in giving our lives will depend on the situation. But as most Muslims will agree, serving truth and goodness does not come in seeking death. Rather than finding our strength and resolve in myths, we look to this world to find strategic confidence in our victory. The vast majority of the world's people suffer under the current imperialist system. Yet that system depends on those same people to derive the profits that keep the system moving. So there is an inherent contradiction that will continue to play out in the form of class and national conflict until the exploitative system is destroyed and replaced with one that serves humynkind.
Islam is Growing
If there were to be a religion of the Third World proletariat, it would be Islam, just by the numbers. As of 2010, only 3% of Muslims lived in the imperialist countries, yet Muslims made up 23.4% of the world's population.(3) The Muslim-majority countries are dominated by young people, with over 60% of their citizens being under 30 years old today.(3) Thus the Muslim population is projected to increase, as Muslims will have birth rates twice the rest of the population for the next couple decades. The contradiction between youth and adults has always been an important one, with youthful populations being more open to change.
Of course, Islam has almost no influence in Central and South America and significant chunks of Africa and Asia. So Islam does not represent the Third World as a whole. But First Worldist chauvinism is just as likely to come in anti-Muslim rhetoric as it is to come in the form of racism these days. And it is interesting how its role among the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates has also emerged from the oppressor nation vs. oppressed contradiction, as we will examine in more depth.
It is of note that France, Belgium and Russia are the only imperialist countries that are predicted to have more than 10% of their populations Muslim by 2030.(3) In November 2015, France and Belgium were put under the equivalent of Martial Law in a search for radical Muslims in their countries. Paris remains under this oppressive police state months later. Following the attacks in Paris, there have been attacks in Russia and the downing of a Russian plane. Anti-Muslim nationalism is also rife in Russia, which has recently joined the war against the Islamic State in full force.
In the United $tates, Muslims make up a mere 0.9% of the population.(4) For this reason there is great ignorance of Islam, but Amerikkkans still share the anti-Muslim sentiments of other imperialist countries. 2015 saw the greatest number of attacks on Mosques in the United $tates on record, with a surge following the attacks by Muslims in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California.(5)
The imperialists have succeeded in creating a new race, that is Muslims, for the oppressor nation peoples to focus their hate on. Without this racism, there could be no bombings or occupations in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Yet the white nationalists, in their own twisted logic, can claim Islamophobia is not racism because its based in religion and not "biology." Academia and the media have jumped on this opportunity, presenting Islamophobic papers as legitimate research and reporting, in a form of modern-day phrenology. There have even been discussions online, no doubt dominated by Euro-Amerikans, about how being anti-Jewish is racist but anti-Muslim is not. It is amazing that in 2016, politricks still trumps science, and most people still believe in race. Racist has become such a powerful word due to a combination of the righteous struggles of the oppressed and the promotion of identity politics, that First Worldists are now convinced that Islamophobic chauvinism is not as bad as racist chauvinism.
Islam as Philosophy
When you study philosophy you will inevitably study many religious thinkers. To this day, you will find those who are very deeply involved in religions to be thinkers and philosophers who are trying to understand and use that understanding to interact with the world. As communists, we do the same. So it is no surprise that we often find ourselves in deep dialogue with those of different religious leanings. As we'll get into below, the underlying class makeup of different religions has more to do with how those religions engage with communism than anything else.
So what are we talking about then when we talk about religion? Religion is idealism with organized rituals. The organized rituals part is pretty straight forward. It implies that there is a group of people who adhere to the religion in order to participate in the rituals. And the rituals include all sorts of things from regular meetings, prayer, fasting, philanthropy, dressing up, studying texts, marriage, etc.
Idealism is a broader category of philosophy that includes religions. And there are different versions of idealism, as we might expect. What is common between the different versions is that idealism puts the mind as primary and matter as secondary or non-existent in terms of understanding the "real world." Prior to Hegel, who introduced the radical method of dialectics, idealism was generally metaphysical. Metaphysical idealism is the belief in predefined, static things-in-themselves. For example, for those who believe in one god as the creator, everything that exists is defined by an ideal image from that god. For idealists, there is a barrier between what we perceive through our five senses, and this pre-defined ideal. Philosophers like Kant, who Engels called an agnostic, falling between idealism and materialism, believed that the real ideal was unknowable, or knowable only through faith. For many religions, it is the task of the individual to attempt to know that ideal or absolute truth by following the rituals of their religion. In Islam, this is called jihad. The passing from the material world to the world of ideas is also called transcendence. Transcendence is a major theme of many religions.
For materialists there is no such thing as transcendence. We see that truth is obtained through our five senses in a constant process of gaining knowledge and understanding as a species through practice and the scientific method. There is no ancient scroll or secret key that will open our third eye allowing us to suddenly see and understand all the secrets of the world that are hidden from us by our senses. Or, as Engels puts it in describing why Hegel marked the end of philosophy:
"As soon as we have once realised — and in the long run no one has helped us to realize it more than Hegel himself — that the task of philosophy thus stated means nothing but the task that a single philosopher should accomplish that which can only be accomplished by the entire human race in its progressive development — as soon as we realise that, there is an end to all philosophy in the hitherto accepted sense of the word. One leaves alone 'absolute truth', which is unattainable along this path or by any single individual; instead, one pursues attainable relative truths along the path of the positive sciences, and the summation of their results by means of dialectical thinking."(6)
Why Do We Still Have Religion?
The United $tates is exceptional in the First World in often defining itself through religion (Christianity). One recent book describes this as a fairly recent development, starting from a campaign by industrial capitalists with libertarian interests opposed to the New Deal.(7) The author points out, however, that Franklin D. Roosevelt used a lot of Christian language in his promotion of the New Deal and criticism of the evils of the capitalist class. Roosevelt used that language to capture the populist interests of the majority in the United $tates who were suffering from the Great Depression. The Christian language was an alternative to the communist language in the Soviet Union, which FDR was trying to save the United $tates from. Since the Bolshevik revolution, religious language has been openly used to combat the materialist language of communists.
The capitalist class took up the religious lingo as a marketing scheme after they realized that campaigning honestly for their own interests against the New Deal was not going to get popular support.(7) They backed the election of Dwight Eisenhower in 1954 who brought "In God We Trust" to our currency and put "One Nation Under God" into the pledge of allegience. While Eisenhower did not undo the New Deal as they'd hoped, this trajectory continued with it's pinnacle in 1980 with Ronald Reagon backed by groups like the Moral Majority. It was Reagan who introduced the tradition of U.$. presidents ending speeches with "God Bless America." To this day these evangelical Christian groups have played a strong roll in U.$. politics.
This is just one example of how religion can be used to mobilize people behind a political cause. It also demonstrates how religion can be a very deceptive tool in politics because the politicians avoid talking about the real issues. While in the realm of philosophy we can talk about religion as idealism, in the realm of sociology we see it as culture. And culture is part of the superstructure in that it reflects the economic substructure; in our world that would be (imperialist) capitalism. And within capitalism the fundamental contradiction that defines that system is that between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. So, we will see how as the proletarian forces become stronger religion will reflect the proletarian world view, such as in Central America when socialism/communism had captured the interests of the masses in those Catholic countries. Religion must adopt a proletarian worldview to stay relevant as the scientific method begins to provide the masses with answers that the religions had failed to. In the status quo under capitalism religion most often reflects the interests of the bourgeoisie.
It has been popular in recent decades to talk about the clash of civilizations between the Muslim and Christian worlds. Some even look to history to show a long pattern of these clashes along religious lines. But these lazy historians cherry pick instances in history when religion is used to further the economic interests of different groups, as it often is. Yet a study of the causes of the most brutal wars in in our modern industrial society demonstrate that it was all about trade, markets and national interests. The two world wars were inter-imperialist rivalries over these things.(8) Then as communism threatened to remove vast segments of the world from the capitalist market economy, the imperialists took aim at countries building socialism. The focus on religion in the the last couple decades is a direct result of the victory of the imperialists in crushing socialist aspirations around the world. This repression, combined with some of the negative experiences countries in regions like the Middle East had interacting with revisionists and social-imperialists claiming to be communists, has led to a significant turning away from the socialist path in many parts of the Third World.
Islam and New Afrikans
Just as religion is today an outlet for many radical youth in the Third World, religion has been influenced by revolutionary politics in the context of New Afrika. In the 20th century we see a turn towards Islam by a number of New Afrikans who are searching for identity and liberation from oppression by Amerika. The great migration from the Black Belt to the industrial centers of the north was a time of great change for the nation, that left many searching for identity and culture. In fact, Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammed and Father Allah all came from the south to face unmet promises of freedom and the American Dream.(9)
The appeal of Islam for people like Noble Drew Ali seemed to be in that it was exotic and unknown in North America, yet well-established elsewhere in the world. New Afrikans have spent much time trying to create a new identity by linking their history to lost histories of other peoples, and this was the tradition that Ali worked in. At this time, it seems that many would-be leaders presented themselves as actually being from more exotic places in order to inspire awe and respect from their would-be followers. But it wasn't just novelty that New Afrikans were looking for, it was something that spoke to their national aspirations, and not the same old Christian doctrines that had been used to keep their progenitors down.
There is a direct lineage from Ali's Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) to Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam (NOI) to Father Allah's Five Percenters, later the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE). Even today people move from one organization to the other, building on the common mythologies between them. And all three organizations have had important relationships with various lumpen street organizations.
While loosely based on Islam with their founders basing their studies on religious texts, these groups represent a unique New Afrikan theology and culture. The NGE is the most eclectic of the groups because of its open nature. It had a more direct relationship to street life in New York City, and had influences from practices such as Rastafari, making it again a unique New Afrikan culture.(10)
While the NGE has generally shunned being called a religion, its primary purpose was in the realm of thought and philosophy. Father Allah focused on teaching, not on organizing people for any political goals aside from building opportunity for New Afrikan youth. Elsewhere we discuss the Almighty Latin King Queen Nation and its openness to representing religious ideas, while primarily being a lumpen mass organization. In contrast, the NGE, while rejecting religion ideologically, functioned primarily as a religious or spiritual organization, at least at first. It did evolve to take on more characteristics of a lumpen organization after The Father was killed leaving the youth to organize themselves.
In 1966, a couple years after the Five Percenters began, the New York City Police Department reported that they saw the decline of 200 street gangs, and the rise of one — the Five Percenters.(11) While they often found themselves in violent conflict with the armed wings of other New Afrikan religious sects, in 1971 the NYPD believed the Five Percenters worked with Muslims and Rastafarians in a vigilante killing of ten suspected drug dealers. Around that same time, in the 1970s, the Five Percenters played a leadership role in inspiring gangs to come together to obtain anti-poverty funds, parallel to what groups like the Vice Lords and Black P. Stone Nation were doing in Chicago.(12) In the later 1970s the Five Percenters recruited whole street gangs into their fold whose members accounted for a significant portion of the arrests in Brooklyn during those years.(13)
In another article on the MSTA, a comrade explains the dual roles of the organization, which began as a civic organization and later became a religion. This duality is another thing that MSTA has in common with the NOI, NGE and other New Afrikan organizations that are just as concerned with the nation as with spirituality. This role is also seen in leaders of Christian-based churches, as well as lumpen organizations in the New Afrikan community. While this is a manifestation of the continued national interests of New Afrikans separate from Amerika, it has unfortunately been used against their national interests as well. Some revolutionary theorists have pointed out that it is the most scientific revolutionary leadership that has been targeted for complete annihilation by the state, leaving those with idealist and profit-motivated views to fill the leadership vacuum.
Back in 1996, MIM Notes criticized the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan for stating that an earthquake would strike California in response to federal agents' harassment of NOI officials. MIM wrote, "While Farrakhan's statement appears on the surface to be an extreme example of religious metaphysics, Farrakhan was in fact skillfully using metaphysics as a cover for a crypto-pacifist line directed at his followers."(14) Farrakhan followed in Elijah Muhammad's footsteps, who predicted many major events that never materialized. The mythology of Fard (who is considered a prophet by the NOI) and Elijah Muhammad promoted the idea that the Black man was god and created the white man over 600 years of grafting by the scientist Yacub. Muhammad, and his follower Clarence 13X (later Father Allah), believed that after 6000 years the Black man would return to power, which happened to be in 1966. Muhammad predicted the "Fall of America" to occur that year. The early years of the Five Percenters focused on preparation for this event.
While Father Allah was close to Malcolm X even after both had left/been forced out of the NOI, ey did not join up with Malcolm because Malcolm had rejected the story of Yacub after eir trip to Mecca.(15) Later, Father Allah would take up the line that devilishment was a state of mind and not a genetically distinct white man that was bred by Yacub.(16)
It was Malcolm X who had developed the most scientific theory of liberation coming out of the NOI, which ey seemed to be separating from eir religious beliefs before ey was assassinated, by setting up two separate organizations. Malcolm X inspired many, but it was the Black Panther Party, a Maoist, and therefore atheist, organization that best claims to be the direct descendents of Malcolm's ideas.
The religious side of Malcolm's evolution was carried on by Elijah Muhammad's son, Wallace, who took leadership of the NOI after Elijah's death. Wallace had been shunned for siding with Malcolm in the past, so it was not too surprising when ey took the NOI and transformed it into a group based in traditional Sunni Islam, rejecting the mythology of Yacub and the focus on race. But once again, the appeal of that mythology had not died, and many traditional NOI members left. After originally following (and praising) Wallace's leadership, Louis Farrakhan restarted the Nation of Islam a few years later under the original teachings of Elijah Muhammad. Ey courted the Five Percenters as part of eir efforts to rebuild the NOI.(17)
It is MIM(Prisons)'s line that the principal contradiction within the internal semi-colonies is that between integration with Amerika and independence from Amerika. The continued interest in the mythology of Yacub indicates an unscientific rejection of integration by many New Afrikans. The organizations discussed here all have a significant base in the New Afrikan lumpen, and have ideologies that reflect a kernel of the drive for national independence. While some people from MSTA and NGE have recently distanced themselves from Third World Islam, we shall see whether this becomes the dominant tendency, indicating a further move towards integration with Amerikkka for New Afrikans.
"You know back in the day, some of y'all
Would shout out Allah's name like he was hostin yo' mixtape
Then after 9/11 you got scared and shut the fuck up
Didn't talk about the demonization of a culture, immigrants, nothin
Now you show up, talk about we takin it too far
Die slow! MOTHERFUCKER!"
—Immortal Technique, Watchout (3rd World Remix) from the album The 3rd World (2008)
Addendum: Islam Still Small in the U.$.
After publishing this article, we thought it instructive to add some data we came across on the numbers of people, in particular New Afrikans, who represent some strand of Islam within U.$. borders. That number is quite small, representing less than 1% of the people in the country.(1) Even within the New Afrikan nation the percentage is about the same. Yet, that hides the fact that New Afrikans are disproportionately represented in the U.$. Muslim because virtually all other Muslims are recent immigrants (63%) or descendents of recent immigrants from major Muslim countries.(1) In other words, 0.9% of New Afrikans is much greater than the almost negligible number of Muslim Euro-Amerikans. This leads us to the third pie chart above, showing 59% of Muslims born in the United $tates being New Afrikan. Again, this is why we stress the connection to the national question in the article above.
Finally, it should be noted that even among the small percentage of New Afrikans that do identify as Muslim, most practice a more traditional form of Islam than the groups discussed in the last section above.(2) While we didn't find good numbers on Nation of Islam membership, estimates put it at in the neighborhood of 10% of New Afrikan Muslims. The various sects of the Moorish Science Temple of America represent a much smaller group, though we know that among imprisoned New Afrikans the percentage is higher and we have gotten many letters of interest from prisoners in response to this issue of Under Lock & Key. We do not have numbers on the Five Percenters.