The decentralization of the prison population in California has helped make the voices of the oppressed harder to get out, as county jails step up repression in face of growing prisoner populations. At the Martinez Detention Facility in the Bay Area gang enhancements are being trumped up as a form of national oppression against Latin@s:
"We here, at MDF, Contra Costa County Jail, that are of Latin descent and not southsiders, are being held in Ad-Seg status now since 2010. And now even more unjust treatment is being added to us, gang enhancements just for being housed on this module, even if we don't ask to be housed on this module at time of arrest/booking. Classification, Administration and the District Attorney's office is using this module as an apparatus to get harsher sentences from the courts." - April 2017
Meanwhile, resistance has grown down south at Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside. A hunger strike began on 13 April 2017. As we go to press updates are a couple weeks old, but we know that about 30 people participated in the strike and that some passed out and were sent to outside medical facilities. The prisoners list 13 demands, including the end of long-term solitary confinement, restrictions on phones/visits and dayroom access.
Within the CDCR we're still seeing the unfolding of contradictions being created by the release of many from the SHU, who were once influential but are now older and less known, into a population that is younger and often in disarray. The Agreement to End Hostilities came out of the SHU almost five years ago, and it remains in a state of uncertainty. Many are still working hard on it, but it has not been universally upheld in these last five years. As a comrade reported in March:
"There were two recent riots here. One on the 3A yard here at Corcoran, the other at SATF Corcoran, on 3C yard. No one severely hurt, but it's hard to organize with situations like that."
There were contradictions between many of the forces behind the original agreement and sectors of the prison population that still need to be addressed. USW comrades in California are still working on these contradictions to push for a more united peace. This should be a theme as we prepare educational campaigns for Black August and the Commemoration of the Plan de San Diego, which should both feed into this September 9th Day of Peace and Solidarity. Send in your reports on these campaigns and the conditions for peace where you are.
Finally, we're getting a lot of requests for info about Prop 57 from readers in California. One comrade recommends contacting:
PO Box 4962
Oakland, CA 94605
The latest from CDCR is that if you are eligible you will be hearing from your counselor this summer.
In Mao’s essay "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People," (27 February 1957) ey wrote of melding practice with criticism and discussion in order for our movement and the masses to grow to greater understanding, unity, and strength. The essay explains, when struggling over disagreements amongst political allies (friends), to start from a place of unity, struggle through discussion, and come away with greater unity. For short, we call this unity-criticism-unity. In this issue of Under Lock & Key we explore how this method applies to the prison environment. How can unity-criticism-unity help counter the typically hyper-violent method of handling disagreement in prisons?
"The only way to settle questions of an ideological nature or controversial issues among the people is by the democratic method, the method of discussion, criticism, persuasion and education, and not by the method of coercion or repression." - Mao Tse-Tung, ibid.
There are often situations behind bars that require first identifying who are our friends and then we can apply unity-criticism-unity among those people.
A comrade in California reported in ULK 55 about eir long struggle to build unity across different organizations in the yard at California Correctional Institution (CCI), leading up to a banquet with various lumpen orgs participating.(1) This was done through discussion and peaceful struggle, maintained even through some violent episodes. This is a good example of identifying friends even among those who may initially be unfriendly, and patiently working to build unity.
An organizer in South Carolina reported in ULK 53 on eir work fighting lumpen-on-lumpen violence by holding classes to educate the youth on what it means to have unity.(2) Educational classes are a good form of criticism of political line that doesn't involve attacking individuals' views directly, sometimes making it easier for people to accept the criticism and come to see why they are wrong. This holds true for both leaders and class participants. No one person has all correct knowledge in educational classes. Leaders should also be open to learning new things from participants.
It's not always easy to see someone as a political friend when you've had past beef with them. In "Building Unity Through ULK" (in this issue) there is a report from Arkansas about how two prisoners overcame past differences through political unity. And the article "From Cop to Anti-Imperialist" shows us the sometimes fluid nature of identifying our friends. Someone who was an enemy of the people while working for the police force has been won over to the side of revolution through circumstances in eir life that put them in the camp of the oppressed.
Finally, the public debate we are having with Zero, continued in this issue of ULK, is an example of building unity while engaging in political struggle. One which we hope to build on as we further our alliance with Zero and others.
Contradictions with enemies vs. contradictions among the people
"Since they are different in nature, the contradictions between ourselves and the enemy and the contradictions among the people must be resolved by different methods. To put it briefly, the former entail drawing a clear distinction between ourselves and the enemy, and the latter entail drawing a clear distinction between right and wrong." - Mao Tse-Tung, ibid.
First we must distinguish between contradictions with the enemy and contradictions among the people. In contradictions with the enemy, such as with the prison COs, or with the Amerikan imperialist government, we are not seeking unity and we should be clear and straightforward in our statements about them. Criticism of enemies is important because it keeps the revolutionary movement on point. We do this when we identify all the candidates in the imperialist elections as part of the imperialist system. We also do this when we call out white supremacists behind bars collaborating with the COs to attack New Afrikans.
In contradictions among the people, on the other hand, Mao wrote: "the essential thing is to start from the desire for unity. For without this desire for unity, the struggle, once begun, is certain to throw things into confusion and get out of hand." This is the opposite of how we deal with contradictions with our enemies. When we run into problems with people who should be our allies, we need to start from this desire for unity.
Contradictions with our comrades, including disagreements within our organizations, should be approached from a position of unity-criticism-unity. In practice this means starting from the understanding of where we have unity, and that our criticism of one another's line and practice is always with the goal of building even greater unity.
We should not just throw out criticisms for the sake of making someone look bad or tearing them down. Criticism must always be with the goal of building greater unity. Sometimes we will not come to agreement over the criticism, but we can at least come to better understanding of our disagreements. Perhaps we can agree on a way to test which position is correct, or further research we need to do, or maybe we will agree that the criticism is not significant enough to lead to a split as our areas of agreement are far more significant.
Who are "the people"?
The people are those who we should be approaching as friends, not enemies. Mao wrote: "The concept of 'the people' varies in content in different countries and in different periods of history in a given country." In revolutionary China, Mao was talking about contradictions among those who supported and were served by the revolution in China. The identification of the people in revolutionary China was relatively straightforward as it encompassed the vast majority of the population.
Identifying who are "the people" in imperialist countries, where we're surrounded by enemies of the international proletariat, is a more difficult question. Broadly, the people include those whose class, nation or gender interests are counter to imperialism, as well as all people who take up anti-imperialist organizing. More specifically, within the United $tates, the people whose class, nation and/or gender interests makes them potential allies includes:
1. Oppressed nation lumpen
2. The very small proletarian class (mostly migrant workers)
3. Petty-bourgeoisie from the oppressed nations
4. Youth of all nations, particularly students
5. Others who are marginalized by imperialism and the patriarchy (i.e. queer and trans folk)
Many of these people could be happily integrated into imperialism, but we should still approach them with a goal of building unity and not as enemies. For the most part however, when we talk about contradictions among the people, we're talking about contradictions with those who are already on the side of the oppressed — either due to circumstances or because they have consciously taken up the cause of the oppressed — not those who are actively supporting imperialism.
Distinguishing enemy lines from enemies
When looking at contradictions among the people it is important to distinguish enemy lines from enemies. We're all going to take up incorrect ideas and practices some of the time. That doesn't make us into enemies, even if the line we take up turns out to be pro-imperialist. Learning from our mistakes is part of being a revolutionary. Our job is to help our comrades identify their mistakes, and to be open to hearing from others when they point out our mistakes.
In the essay under discussion, Mao asked "how should our people judge whether a person's words and deeds are right or wrong?" In response ey laid out six criteria that applied to a country that was already socialist. We have modified these slightly below to apply to our current conditions.
1. Words and deeds should help to unite, and not divide, oppressed people of all nationalities
2. They should be beneficial, and not harmful, to anti-imperialist struggle
3. They should help to consolidate, and not undermine or weaken, the people's revolutionary organizations
4. They should help consolidate, and not undermine or weaken, democratic centralism
5. They should help to strengthen, and not shake off or weaken, communist leadership
6. They should be beneficial, and not harmful, to international socialist unity and the unity of the peace-loving people of the world.
The first three points apply to all anti-imperialists, and we would propose them as good criteria to use for all people who are building united fronts. The last three are specific to communists who are actively fighting for socialist revolution. Communists should apply all six points to our practice.
These six points and the strategy of unity-criticism-unity should be at the forefront as we refocus energies on building alliances and a united Maoist movement here on occupied Turtle Island. The USW Council is also in the process of putting unity-criticism-unity into practice to reach out across the prison movement to consolidate forces friendly to anti-imperialism and national liberation. We will continue to report back on these efforts in future issues of Under Lock & Key.
by Soso of MIM(Prisons) May 2017 permalinkMIM(Prisons) recently received notification from the publisher Seven Stories Press that we are in violation of copyright laws by making a PDF of The Huey P. Newton Reader available for free on our website. Copyright laws are a capitalist invention to enable the holders to make more profits. In the case of books, it's publishers (and sometimes the authors) that are making money on these copyrights.
For most of what gets printed these days, trashy novels, bourgeois interpretations of history and the like, we don't care that distribution is limited by copyright. But when it comes to revolutionary literature, especially that which is relevant to the people least able to afford it, we see clearly how copyright laws stifle education. Books about Huey Newton, founder and leader of the Black Panther Party, need to be more widely available.
MIM(Prisons) explicitly publishes everything under a creative commons license which invites everyone to build on, copy and share all that we write. We're not making money on our work, we're putting all of our money into spreading revolutionary education. And we want to encourage others to do the same.
Education should be free for everyone. This includes educational material like books. Intellectual property rights laws stifle creativity and education and also directly harm the welfare of the people. Patents keep drugs restrictively expensive by prohibiting anyone but the inventor from manufacturing the drugs. This system of legal restrictions and secrecy inhibits creativity and the advancement of society by preventing people from building on inventions made by other people. Meanwhile, people suffer.
It's only in a capitalist society, where profit is king, that we need these sorts of intellectual property restrictions. In a socialist society, where the goal is the welfare of the people, we will prioritize the most efficient and effective formula and distribution of life-saving drugs, educational material, and everything else that is good for humynity.
We are sympathetic that small publishers of political books like Seven Stories Press are in a difficult space to earn money. With new book releases it will often take a lot of book sales just to make back the cost of the printing. However, this doesn't make us sympathetic to copyright claims on a book that was first printed in 2002. Perhaps access to an electronic PDF is curtailing some sales of the physical book, but if free access is getting more people to read this important book, we think that's a victory.
We hope that Seven Stories Press will re-evaluate their goals. On their website Seven Stories claims: "Our credo is that publishers have a special responsibility to defend free speech and human rights, and to celebrate the gifts of the human imagination wherever we can." They have published some important and controversial books including the Dark Alliance series about the CIA and crack cocaine, All Things Censored by Mumia Abu Jamal, and the annual Project Censored's Censored report. Yet by shutting down the distribution of an important book about the ideology of the Black Panther Party in order to preserve their profits, Seven Stories is working counter to their credo.
Most Amerikan self-described "communists" will not even listen to this album as soon as they see the title. Those same white nationalist socialists refuse to read MIM's writings because of all the KKKs and dollar $igns. They claim it's too distracting. We say transforming the oppressors language is a necessary part of building a revolutionary culture to replace the old one.
A week ago, the top results brought by a search for "Amerikkka" on youtube.com(1) brought up songs from Ice Cube's Amerikkka's Most Wanted album, some other hip hop singles, and videos from a former associate of MIM with explicit anti-Amerikkkan messages. This week, Joey Bada$$'s new album is rising to the top for that query. All Amerikkkan Bada$$ isn't as edgy as Ice Cube (it does lack Cube's misogyny) and certainly not as edgy as Shubel Morgan (who did music videos for MIM and LLCO), but it's got a pretty strong message of New Afrikan unity and struggle.
In one interview Joey Bada$$ said:
"It’s like hella vegetables. It’s hella good for you, and it’s almost my hesitance with it: the fact that it’s so good for you, because these kids these days want candy."(2)
It's an interesting quote, because Shubel Morgan often talked about the need for "sugar-coated bullets" in their artwork to help the message go down.
The album title, All Amerikkkan Bada$$ is no doubt a reference to Badass's late partner in rhymes, Capital STEEZ's mixtape Amerikkkan Korruption. Lyrics on this new album hit references to that mixtape as well, such as the track "Dead Prez" that was produced by Joey Bada$$. Both Capital STEEZ and Joey Bada$$ are respected as lyricists, with fast New York styles of rapping.
The album cover (and associated art) features an Amerikkkan flag made out of red, white and blue bandannas. The song "Legendary" makes a reference to Crip culture with the line "the legends they never die, the niggers they only multiply." More explicit are the lines in "Rockabye Baby":
"Peace to my Slimes, and peace to my Crips
Neighborhood police and they always on the shift
Protect my Bloods, look out for my cuz
When it's all said and done, we be the realest there was
Who else if just not us?
If you 'bout this revolution, please stand up"
ScHoolboy Q of the Hoover Crips in Los Angeles comes into eir verse with, "I'm part of the reason they still Crippin' out in Brooklyn" and goes on to echo the struggles of New Afrikans against police brutality and unemployment.
While the first single, "Devastated" has been out for months, the second, "Land of the Free", came out just before the album dropped this week. The first song is about success, and the video has a party vibe to it. "Land of the Free" is about the struggle, and the video features some strong imagery, including all-white pigs executing Black and Brown people in all black. Joey Bada$$ intervenes to free some of them, but is later shot and hung by cops in Ku Klux Klan robes. And while the video shows Joey Bada$$'s U.$. flag made of bandanas throughout, what is not so prominent is the upside down U.$. flag on the back of eir jacket. "Land of the Free" features lyrics like, "sorry Amerikkka, but i will not be your soldier, Obama just was not enough, i want more closure." The apt-titled opening track, "Good Morning Amerikkka" references Black Panther Geronimo Pratt's framing for murder by the state.
While the album features the usual "fuck the police" and "fuck the government" refrains, the last track, "Amerikkkan idol", also says, "Fuck white supremacy," a slogan that seems to be coming into vogue following the election of Donald Trump.(3) This track closes with some pretty sober and explicit lyrics:
"What the government is doing amongst our people is downright evil, disturbing. But not surprising, that's for certain... I believe they are simply trying to slander, start a civil war within the U$A amongst Black and white. They want us to rebel so that it makes it easy for them to kill us and put us in jails... Alton Sterlings are happening every day in this country, around the world...And it's time for us to rebel, better yet raise hell. I just want everyone to be cautious about how they go about it... not only battling them on a physical plain, but to outsmart them... As Black men, i think our gangs need to do a better job at protecting us, the people, our communities and not assisting in destroying them brutally. It's time they even the score... We need solutions. You better start plotting now."
Issue 55 of Under Lock & Key is taking a deeper look at building the United Front for Peace in Prisons at the margins. We've already spent a lot of space debating the role people on Special Needs Yards (SNY), especially in California. While that is an issue we will need to continue to address, here we focus first on white nationalist lumpen organizations, that are more likely to be on the mainline, and how anti-imperialists might relate to them. We also have a few pieces looking at the question of sex offenders who are generally seen as pariahs. That topic is a subset of the SNY discussion. In this article we will focus on the white nationalist question, and the question of oppressed nations allying with whites in general. In many cases handling this question properly will have a big impact on our success, because there are a lot of white people in prisons and many of them team up with white nationalist orgs.
So there are a few principles of dialectical materialism that we should apply in our analysis of groups which are often considered pariahs of the revolutionary movement: 1) dialectics differs from metaphysics in that metaphysics believes a thing has an essence; 2) dialectics in contrast sees everything as always being in a constant state of change; 3) and we can best understand that change by looking at the contradictions within that thing, while also considering the external contradictions that may influence it (them). To put it another way, no one is born a white supremacist or rapist, and just because someone's actions were that way in the past doesn't mean they have to be in the future.
What is White Nationalism?
Elsewhere in this issue we talk about white nationalism as an ideology that is a product of imperialism. Another point we must stress when talking about white nationalism is it is the majority ideology among the oppressor nation under imperialism. Most of this issue will be dealing with extreme examples found in imprisoned lumpen organizations. But there is a whole range of white nationalist ideologies, and the lumpen organizations are not necessarily the most extreme. Because the imprisoned lumpen are in the trenches, they must be more scientific than the more privileged wings of the white nationalist movement, and their motivations are often quite different.
In our current political climate in the United $tates, "white nationalism" is a hot topic. It is being used to criticize President Trump and those around em. But most of this criticism is coming from the perspective that former President Obama was not a white nationalist. The split between the left wing and right wing of white nationalism is about how to best manage the oppressed, even when that is not how they think about it. If we recognize that the current imperialist order is one that puts whites in a position of supremacy, then we must conclude that any position that works to preserve that system is white nationalist. Or we may say Amerikan nationalist to avoid confusion when its proponents do not appear white. But even though some internal semi-colony people are sitting at the table, globally, white supremacy in the form of Amerikan hegemony is alive and well.
Initially, the question of how and when to strategically ally with white nationalists is a broad one, as it refers to how we might ally with the majority of people in North America. But within that majority there are different classes and political tendencies. And white nationalist prisoners may be at the top of the list of likely allies from that group.
Another argument for the importance of working with the white lumpen is the Marxist analysis of the lumpen as a particularly dangerous, wavering class. If this country is heading in a more fascist direction, white nationalist lumpen youth and former military will be the first bases of recruitment for the fascists. This concern applies to the lumpen in general, but the national split makes it a harder sell for the internal semi-colonies to take up fascism. As always, our strategy is to win over all who can be won over, not to set false limitations based on identity politics or preconceived assumptions.
More so than former military, the white lumpen have connections to the struggles of the oppressed. And it is the massive prison system in this country that we can largely thank for that. The modern prison system is an inherent part of the modern ghetto, which has been lumpenized. While segregation is stronger today in many cases in the ghettos, it is weaker outside of the ghetto. This translates into a stronger class divide within the oppressed nations. The extent of this divide in the white nation is something that requires more research. But from the information we have, white prisoners are much, much more likely to integrate into petty-bourgeois society rather than be caught in a ghetto-like situation upon release. But as long as they remain in prison, whites do experience that ghetto life and the most brutal repression that we have in this country.
Young Patriots, White Lumpen Revolutionaries
One of the best examples we have of white lumpen youth forming an anti-imperialist organization was the Young Patriots Organization, which started in Chicago in the late 1960s. Soon the offshoot Young Patriots Party spread the movement to other parts of the United $tates. Their example demonstrated both the potential and limitations of such an organization. As long as there are pockets of whites that face similar conditions to the oppressed nations, as they do in prison, a revolutionary organization that can speak to and organize white lumpen will strengthen the cause of anti-imperialism. However, the Black Panthers, in particular Bob Lee and the leadership of Fred Hampton, played a very hands-on role in the development of the Young Patriots. In general history does not lead us to expect revolutionary white organizations with correct political lines to take hold in North America without good examples from the internal semi-colonies.
Even after becoming established, the Young Patriots were very limited by the reactionary nature of their own nation. The Patriot base was displaced southern whites who ended up in urban ghettos; a much smaller group, but parallel to the New Afrikans who made the Great Migration. When the Patriots returned to the south they were not received well. Two of the members were killed shortly after returning to the south, because of their organizing.(1) In other words, we are looking at exceptions to the rule where there are pockets of whites who are both separate from the oppressed nations but still living very similar lives and in proximity to them. When Peggy Terry of the Young Patriot-associated organization Jobs or Income Now (JOIN) ran for vice president, with Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver as the presidential candidate in 1968, they received a mere 28,000 votes in California. In contrast, the openly racist George Wallace campaign got 500,000 (almost exclusively white) votes.(2) And finally, for most of their existence the Patriots had more spies watching their organization than they had members.(3) This security issue is something others have pointed out with white nationalist lumpen organizations in prison that can be swimming with federal agents.
Often the Panther rhetoric spoke of the Young Patriots as representing "white power" in a way that was parallel to the Panthers' "Black Power" and Young Lords' "Brown Power". While we generally disagree with that line, the Panthers later called out all other white groups as "fascists" with the exception of the Patriots. The Patriot culture flew in the face of the rest of the white anti-war and student movements, including their confederate flag logo. We might draw a parallel to the Lucasville prison uprising in Ohio in 1993, where it is reported that swastikas, lightning bolts and words like "Supreme White Power" appeared alongside graffiti throughout the prison saying "Black and White Together" and "Convict unity."(4) These white identities, historically associated with power over New Afrikans were transformed in these unique circumstances.
Racism as a Tool of the Oppressor
MIM(Prisons) is cautious about presenting racism as merely a tool of the imperialists to divide "the people" as that is the line of the revisionists who claim that the majority of people in the imperialist countries are proletarians that must be united in their common class interest. As the practice of the Young Patriots demonstrated, this is not the case. However, in prisons is where we see the greatest potential for a class unity with whites that is progressive in the United $tates. And in prison, it is certainly true that racism is a tool that is actively used by the administration, even if often times white nationalists are too willing to play the role of keeping other prisoners in line for the state.
Of course, not all white prisoners are part of overtly racist lumpen organizations. Former-Black-Panther-turned-anarchist Lorenzo Komboa Ervin documented the history of the federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana, which was transformed from a completely Ku Klux Klan-dominated facility to one where New Afrikans built power in alliance with white prisoners. Ey argues that the anti-racist whites, often imprisoned for anti-war activities, were able to re-educate other white prisoners where non-white prisoners would not be able to.(5) This is an example of the importance of white-specific organizing, though not on the basis of an outward white nationalism.
We must reach people where they are at in a segregated society. We saw this with the Panthers in Chicago who were viewed with great skepticism by the white residents of Uptown, but were welcomed by the Young Patriot leadership. We saw this in Lucasville, where the New Afrikan leaders picked Aryan Brotherhood member George Skatze to stand with them as a representative of white prisoners because of eir history of settling disputes between whites and New Afrikans.
"At some point on this first day George saw a black inmate (Cecil Allen) talking through a bull horn to a small crowd of other prisoners. George went up to listen. To his surprise the man on the bull horn pointed to George and said, 'There's nobody going to be talking to you guys but me or this man right here,' meaning George Skatze."
Accepting their request for help, Skatze later "approached the whites, who were sitting in the bleachers. Putting his arm around a black inmate George said, 'If the guards come in here they're going to shoot us all, no matter what color we are.' We asked George who that black man was. He said, I don't know; I had never met him before."(6)
Veteran of the first wave of the California prison movement, Kumasi describes one scene in the late 1960s where hundreds of prisoners circled around the yard chanting, "Power to the people! Death to the pigs!" Approaching the group of white gangsters on the sidelines ey framed the situation as "are you going to be with us or with the pigs?" And since the reality reflected eir statement, they sure didn't want to be seen as siding with the pigs. As the whites started to join the ranks of the protestors, Kumasi grabbed one of their hands and raised it in the air as they faced the warden. In a segregated society this sort of representation of different nationalities can have powerful effects.
Kumasi has a number of stories about organizing across nationality. Similar to today, the California system was very segregated back then. Various white power and nazi gangs existed, as they do today. The united fronts Kumasi forged with these groups were not long-term and could be quite impulsive. It was really the strength of eir own organization that pushed others to come along. A justification of the line that building up one's own national unity helps build up the united front. Because the movement for change had reached such popularity and support among New Afrikans, it was easier to get the Chican@s to join up (who had not yet been divided between north and south).
A USW comrade has this to say about organizing in California today:
"There has been times when we've done alliances with white nationalist groups in prison. Any time we had a common goal, say shutting down SHUs, or removing informants off yard, assistance with legal work and what not.
"The only way for this to function is by creating a different set of politiks/policies than those used amongst the other LOs. As long as it does not interfere with the LOs' goals to end oppression. It is my opinion that even when dealing with oppressor nation LOs we must keep a move ready to be made once achieving certain goals due to the history the oppressor nation LOs have and because of their values as humans. We wouldn't like to see the LOs of the oppressed be set back a step or two after gaining ground. I think that even unity of some form can be achieved with pariahs — taking into account what they've done and what they are willing to do to not only redeem themselves but to benefit the struggle even at the cost of sacrifice. There is a place, space, form and energy for everyone in a struggle. It is our responsibility to organize, learn, and organize again."
What these histories demonstrate is that in cases where the white nationalists aren't completely in bed with the pigs, they tend to see themselves as prisoners and the pigs as their foes, like everyone else. And it is the unity around demands for all prisoners, ones that are nationality-neutral, that we will see opportunities for united front. So while national unity may need to come first, class unity will always be important in the prison movement.
White nationalism in general, whether of the left-wing or right-wing variety, is based in an alliance with imperialism. But there are examples in history of portions of the white population in the United $tates who may have overt racist overtones without the attachment to imperialism. Or at least with a mixed relationship to imperialism. And in many cases this racism is more motivated by fear of the other, or just self-protection than it is any deep investment in racist ideology itself. The AB comrade who wrote "The Enemy of my Enemy" seems to be an example of this white nationalism based in youthful ignorance. And the experience of the prison system has given em the opportunity to learn about the lives of the oppressed, and to live that life emself. George Skatze from Lucasville was also an example of this, someone who stood with New Afrikan prisoners and literally put eir life on the line in the struggle for prisoner rights and then later at the hands of the state when ey was one of the comrades who did not make a deal with the state to avoid death row as some of the charged prisoners did.
While others suggest we fight racism as a way to end oppression, we say to fight oppression to overcome racism. And in some cases oppression itself will overcome racism, by uniting those once divided by ideas of race. Our ideas are a product of our material conditions, and in participating in the transformation of our conditions our ideas change.
There are some good examples of united fronts between oppressed and reactionary groups in the history of the United $tates. Some of which ended up serving the interests of the oppressed and some which ultimately hurt the oppressed. We find a few of these examples described well in the book 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance available from PM Press.(1)
First the case of the fight between the British and the emerging United $tates of Amerika.
"In 1812, using the pretext of Native raids along its northern frontier from British territories, U.S. forces attempted to invade British North America. Here again, Britain's colonial policies proved effective; an alliance of Native nations (who had their own interests in full implementation of the 1763 Proclamation [which prohibited settlement west of the Appalachian mountains following the French and Indian War]) and European settlers succeeded in repulsing the U.S. expansion."(p. 29)
As we have seen since 1812, the victory of the United $tates in the Revolutionary War did not serve the interests of the First Nations. So the First Nations definitely chose the right side in this battle, even though the British surely had no real interest in supporting the rights of the First Nations beyond what was necessary to gain their support. This is an example of identifying the principal enemy and building alliances against that enemy, even if those alliances are with groups that would be enemies in other circumstances. This united front is similar to the alliance between the Kuomindang and the Chinese Communists in the war against Japanese imperialism. Ultimately the Kuomindang betrayed the Communist Party, but at the time Japan was the principal enemy and fighting together in a the united front was the right choice to achieve the ultimate goal of establishing a socialist state.
Another example is found in the U.$. Civil War, which was used by Afrikan slaves to fight for their freedom. It was not a case of whites going to war to help end slavery, but Afrikans were in a position to force this issue to the forefront.
"The beginning of the U.S. Civil War in 1861 posed various problems for the northern Union ruling class. Not only was the war for the preservation of an expanding continental empire, but it also opened up a second front: that of a liberation struggle by enslaved Afrikan peoples. With a population of four million, the rising of these Afrikans in the South proved crucial in the defeat of the Confederacy. By the tens of thousands Afrikan slaves escaped from the slavers and enlisted in the Union forces. This massive withdrawal of slave-labour hit the Southern economy hard, and the Northern forces were bolstered by the thousands."(2)
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Afrikans in the South correctly identified a shift in their principal enemy. It was no longer time to ally with Union forces. With the ending of the war these slaves were about to lose their bargaining position as fighters in the Union army.
"Towards the end of the War in 1865, those Afrikans who did not escape began a large-scale strike following the defeat of the confederacy. They claimed the lands that they had laboured on, and began arming themselves – not only against the Southern planters but also against the Union army. Widespread concerns about this 'dangerous position' of Afrikans in the South led to 'Black Reconstruction'; Afrikans were promised democracy, human rights, self-government and popular ownership of the land. In reality, it was a strategy for returning Euro-American dominance...."(p. 40)
This shift resulted in a better deal for former slaves than they would have got by just passively sticking with their unity with the North. But it shows the need to complete the New Afrikan war for liberation from the United $tates to achieve the basic goals of the Afrikan soliders who freed themselves from slavery. Different conditions will require reevaluation of who is our principal enemy and what are appropriate united front strategies at the time.
Recently we learned that one of our readers and a long-time activist, Zero, had a letter published on the Anarchist Black Cross Portland (ABC PDX) website and in the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) newsletter responding to an article in Under Lock & Key No. 50 (May/June 2016) about the September 9 work stoppage. Zero invited us to respond publicly and so we have done our best here to distill this debate down to what we see as the most important points.
With IWOC, ABC, and Zero, we have a common enemy in the criminal injustice system and imperialism more broadly. We are writing this response with the goal of building unity, not division, between organizations and individuals that are working hard to fight this unjust system.
Anarchism vs. Communism
Fundamentally we have a disagreement over anarchism vs. communism, but we believe that both camps are fighting for the same thing at root: an end to oppression of groups of people by other groups of people. We just think that communists have a more scientific plan for how to get there than anarchists, based on our study of how these same efforts have been attempted, succeeded, and failed in the past. The oppressed people of the world deserve the best and fastest route to liberation. Communists hope to discover what that route is through not only our study but also our practice.
This disagreement over the importance of science to revolutionary struggle is highlighted in a lot of what Zero wrote. Ey accuses MIM(Prisons) of being intellectuals whose "theory is based in theory." Zero also claims to have no interest in political line in the development of the September 9 work stoppage: "I don't care what your line is, nor does anyone else I work closely with on this project. Beyond small friendly jabs at each other, nothing I've seen or read, or heard from anyone in this campaign suggests anyone cares much about line."
Yet it's a discredit to the hunger strike organizers to say that they don't care much about line. It is precisely political line and theoretical analysis that drives the concept that "prisoner labor is slavery and this mass work stoppage is a good plan to shut down prisons." Without unity on this analysis, the organizers might have decided (as an example) the best approach is for everyone to fast because the Amerikkkan farms depend on prisons to buy agricultural goods and so this boycott would shut down the farms and hence force prison reform. IWOC and ABC aren't suggesting this, and that's probably because of their correct theoretical understanding of agriculture in this country. In forming their alliance on this campaign, Zero, IWOC, and ABC at least agree on this political line, even if they don't talk about it. After all, they are all anarchists (or anarchist-led), so they have much unity on line already.
Zero finds "contradictory statements" in our original article that help demonstrate where we depart from the anarchists because our strategy differs from theirs. Zero wrote:
"In paragraph #5 you say: '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'. But then in paragraph #10 you say 'the organizers of the anti-slavery protest are misleading people into believing that shutting down prison work will shut down prisons'.
If masses of prisoners stopped working, forever, some facilities may close. This would likely be because of where they're located geographically, the layout and security level of the facility, and how easy or difficult it is to staff the prisons to accommodate for the loss of labor. But would that close all prisons in the United $tates? We doubt it. Does that mean we think prisoners should all just keep working? No! Short of overthrowing capitalist Amerikkka's power altogether, we will still have prisons in this country based on national oppression. But making that oppression more difficult is always a good thing.
Our point is that Amerikkka is willing to spend a lot of time, money and resources on imprisoning a staggering number of people, all at a financial loss. So we do not see evidence that if prisoners stop working and it suddenly becomes more expensive to imprison people that that will shut down the prison system. It most certainly is a form of resistance that heightens the contradictions between the oppressed and the oppressor, and even within the oppressor camp. Such an act would certainly have great influence on the ever-changing realities within the U.$. criminal injustice system, as would any sustained, mass prisoner mobilization.
Zero criticizes MIM(Prisons), "You spell united front with capital 'U' and 'F' which is what MIM calls one of its programs, short for UFPP, and as [UFPP] makes specific ideological demands for any entity it is willing to work with, I'm led to believe that what you truly mean by 'work with' is to 'co-opt'." We do capitalize the name of the organization United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP), which has a specific program (the 5 Principles of the UFPP: Peace, Unity, Growth, Internationalism, and Independence). Organizations that agree with those principles but disagree with us on many other things have joined this United Front and there is no attempt to co-opt those groups. We do not capitalize "united front" when not talking about this specific organization (if we have in print it was a mistake, not a political point). This is not a problem of elitisim, it is simply grammar. We welcome the development of a united front against prisons, and even better a united front against imperialism, outside of the UFPP and not bound by its 5 principles. But we do believe that united fronts need to have clear points of unity so that there isn't a question of organizations being forced to change their political line or give up their independence to participate. In other words, we are actively trying to organize in a way to prevent the co-opting of organizations that Zero accuses us of attempting.
Zero goes on to say that MIM(Prisons) "... refuse[s] to even mention the names of these other revolutionary organizations so that your readers can reach out and seek information on their own. Another display of elitist hegemonization of line." Yet this comment is in the context of criticizing an article that specifically named the IWOC and included a link directly to its publication, so we're confused about where we failed to mention the other organizers' names. On this point, however, we did fail to convert the web address to a print address in our print version of ULK, which of course makes it harder for subscribers to reach out directly to IWOC, and we are correcting that mistake in our footnote to this article and our general practice. We actually print many articles debating theory and practice, including some that explicitely disagree with us. To be clear though, the purpose of ULK is to educate and inform people on what we see as the most correct political line and practice and so we always offer our response to those points of disagreement and allow our readers (and history) to decide who is correct.
On this same point, we also highlight the correct practice of our predecessors in the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) who distributed a pamphlet "What's Your Line?" with the names, addresses and political positions of a wide spectrum of political organizations. We haven't put the time or money into compiling a similar up-to-date list because our resources are sadly limited, but we still support this practice. Perhaps an innocent oversight, but neither the ABC nor the IWOC bothered to link to our website or print contact information for MIM(Prisons) alongside Zero's long and scathing critique of our organization.
Nihilism or Subjectivism
In eir argument against political theory Zero writes: "I'm an anarchist. More, a nihilist. ... In the words of Bakunin, the true revolutionist is concerned with the science of destruction. Let the other sciences be the work of future generations. ... And as Bakunin said, sometimes we just have to throw theory into the fire, for it only stalls life." It's great to have faith that humynity can work out the problems of the future, but the problems of today also require scientific analysis. The oppressed don't have the luxury of banging their heads against the wall for years failing to make progress. If historical revolutions have failed in the same way repeatedly, we need to learn from those mistakes. And if revolutions have succeeded with certain practices, we should learn from those. This is what theory is all about: learning from history and applying those lessons to our practice today. Then looking at our own practice, drawing conclusions, and adapting our approach.
Citing Webster's dictionary and dictionary.com, without acknowledging the class interests that those resources represent, and saying "that's good enough for me" is simply subjectivism. Denying the importance of theory to our practice is to make us slaves (pun intended) to our emotions and subjectivism, which are very thoroughly conditioned by our residence in an imperialist country. We cannot expect to overcome subjectivism 100%, but through applying dialectical and historical materialsm we hope to make the fewest errors in our revolutionary work as possible.
Zero gives a good example of theoretical analysis in eir criticism:
"In closing, let me clarify that dialectical soundness can often depend on interpretation. You all use orthodox marxist definitions of 'slavery' even though we live in a post-modern, post-fordist time and place. The dynamics of our current reality are different. And so we must also re-assess our definitions. Besides, though personally I use marxist formulas I'm ultimately a nihilist, un-beholden to an particular ideological parameters. In other words. My definition of 'slavery' is reflected by our material conditions, not political agenda."
Zero is correctly stating here that we must adapt our theory to current conditions. What held true in Marx's day may not be true today. We can't just get stuck in what Marx wrote and ignore changes in conditions. We agree with that. But we ask Zero, what is it but theory that allows us to discuss who is or isn't a slave? If this discussion isn't based in theory, then it's just subjectivism.
For example, here is an instance where MIM(Prisons)'s analysis has adapted to changing conditions since Marx's day. We see that while the vast majority of workers of all countries were exploited in the past, and made up the proletariat class that Marx wrote about so thoroughly, today imperialism has advanced to the point where workers in imperialist countries are mostly petty-bourgeois. This is a point where we tend to disagree with groups who organize people in the First World around their economic interests (as opposed to national interests).
Finally, demonstrating the difficulty in remaining anti-theory while discussing political theory, Zero critiqued our point that work strikes will not in-and-of-themselves bring down the Amerikan criminal injustice system: "I’d ask on what dialectical evidence you base your theory that america would 'figure out' how to keep us locked up." This is a good example of the importance of theory. If we're wrong, then we should focus our efforts into organizing work stoppages. And Zero is right, it is dialectical materialist analysis that will help us figure that out here. The article that Zero responded to actually went into a lot of depth on this very point, explaining that prisons are primarily tools to control society, not make profit, which aid in the oppressive force of the bourgeoisie by keeping lumpen and anyone deemed dangerous to their power locked away. We know that prisons are not reliant on the money made from prisoner labor, because there is public information showing that prisons are money-losing operations.
Political debate is not the same as political opposition
To clarify our position, in the original article about the September 9 protests we talked about the similarities and differencess between the five-year history of the United Front for Peace in Prisons September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity, and this newer call for prisoner activism on September 9: "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... we would hope to work with these folks to broaden our movement." We followed this up with multiple articles reporting on the work stoppage and praising the widespread protests.
But Zero seems to think that by publically criticizing an incorrect point of political theory from the organizers we are opposing the protests. Ey wrote
"What we have here is a huge social base, across prison walls, that is extremely pissed off. And we have an opportunity to harness that anger and point it at our enemy on September 9th, thats all the analysis I need. and I say that if you oppose this in any way, you’re nothing but a house slave ready to defend your master. your complicit and should be among the first to be taken to task."
If we won't just blindly agree and follow eir leadership, apparently we are written off as complicit with the enemy. Isn't this the squelching of political debate that anarchists so vehemently oppose? To be clear, we support the September 9th protests, both those organized by members of the United Front for Peace in Prisons, and those promoted by the IWOC. Our criticism is directed toward statements that participating in these protests will shut down the prisons because prisons are dependent on prisoner slave labor. If we did not make this clear in our articles about September 9, we will take this criticism to help us approach the struggle with a clearer focus on unity.
Finally, Zero wrote that we should have known about this work strike sooner. It looks like there was some censorship of our mail from em so letters from Zero about this didn't get to us. We did reach out to IWOC and others about working together on September 9 organizing once we learned about the work strike (which we did hear about from a number of ULK subscribers). We never got a response from the organizers. We hope that going forward we can collaborate in the fight against the criminal injustice system to build a stronger movement. This doesn't mean we will give up our communist position, nor does it mean that Zero, ABC, or IWW need to give up their anarchism, and in fact we would argue that continuing this debate publicly is good for everyone. In practice we hope to collaborate on the September 9 protest in 2017.
We have received many letters lately exploring the future of our struggle under a Trump administration. Below we print excerpts from two of those letters and our response on the topic.
From a comrade in Colorado:
"The presidential election has been most interesting. The election of King Trump may be the last chance for the folks that brought us the Cold War, Vietnam, and much of the current world instability, to try to hold on to power (or make a show of power). The racial minorities and poor people in the United $tates are actually in the majority, but they apparently did not get out and vote, so now we get Trump.
"On the possible good side, perhaps the explosion of right wing, world domination capitalism that Trump will be pushing will finally provoke the masses (the proletariat) once they really get screwed by Trump policies, to look for a real solution to improving their status. (I do not mean the U.$. labor aristocracy who are doing very well — lots of toys to keep them occupied. They will get even more under Trump's policies.) By that I mean looking to the philosophy, the understanding of socialism, as the the only viable means to their liberation from the shackles of capitalism."
From a comrade in a Federal facility:
"The election of Donald Trump is a cause to celebrate for revolutionaries. These are revolutionary times. The times where movements are built. Communists are in a position over the next 4 years to put in place a revolutionary front that can be sustained beyond the next election if it should be lost to a so-called democratic contender. No time will be lost to make revolution with these revolutionary times at hand.
"The fact that a so-called 'social democrat' - read 'socialist' - like Bernie Sanders had a chance in an Amerikan election to become president is a sign of the times that 'socialization' of European Amerikans is at a point of maturity in its epoch of imperialism. It is ready for socialism but lacks the world-historical material condition to make it possible. Thus this contradiction (condition) manifests as a 'national socialism' that is the opposite of international socialism and is nationalist or 'nationality exclusive.' That is why white Amerika elected Trump, to make Amerika white ('great') again."
MIM(Prisons) responds: The writers here make interesting points about the election of Trump as an opportunity for revolutionaries. Certainly there are some good reasons to agree with this. Trump's extremely reactionary cabinet appointments seem to be inspiring many Amerikkkans to political activism who previously were content to sit and watch the politics of this country from the sidelines, perhaps going to the polls once every 2 or 4 years. Revolutionaries should seize their initiative and make sure that people have access to information about why electoral politics aren't the answer, if they really are seeking change for the better of the majority of the world's people.
Of the large portion of people who are eligible to vote but don't vote in presidential elections we see a few major groups:
People who don't care who wins because they know the government is serving their interests generally by continuing on with imperialist plunder to keep people in the United $tates rich. For the most part this is the labor aristocracy and is the vast majority of U.$. citizens. Where our comrade in Colorado says poor people are a majority in the United $tates, instead our class analysis says the labor aristocracy is the majority, and if they didn't vote it's because they knew either Clinton, Sanders, or Trump would all be fine to serve their interests.
People who don't care who wins because they know that both candidates support national oppression and will work counter to their interests. This is the oppressed nation lumpen and oppressed nations generally; the "racial minorities" referred to by our Colorado comrade.
People who genuinely oppose imperialism and so can't in good conscience vote for a candidate who will run the imperialist state. This is a small number of revolutionary activists within U.$. borders.
As our comrade in Colorado points out, the U.$. labor aristocracy is comfortable and may even get more comfortable under a Trump administration. As much as the bourgeois liberals are crying about Trump's election, the potential for socialist revolution to be initiated within the United $tates is slim to none. They are upset about LGBTQ rights and Trump's overt racism and sexism and anti-environmentalism, but on the whole don't mind extracting wealth from Third World peoples for their own benefit. The best we can expect from the Amerikan masses' own volition is a push toward social imperialism, which still leaves the Third World out.
Even supporters of Bernie Sanders are not socialist, as much as Sanders tries to claim that's what eir politics are about. Sanders was a candidate with a clear imperialist line on international issues. While ey might have planned to spread around the wealth a bit more to U.$. citizens, ey still falls firmly in the imperialist camp, supporting wars of aggression, and financing terrorist governments like I$rael. In this regard, Trump, Obama and Sanders are more similar than they are different. Our Colorado comrade says Trump will push world domination capitalism, but we've been seeing this for decades and it didn't slow down for a second under Obama. There is no way to reconcile Amerikan imperialism with socialism. No elected candidate will make this change. Only by forcibly overthrowing the government will we be able to implement socialism.
Our comrade in a Federal prison brings up the question of the need for world-historical material conditions to be in place to bring the Euro-Amerikan nation toward socialism. This comrade's claim that Euro-Amerikans are well on their way to supporting a socialist shift is likely overstated. But if the oppressed internal semi-colonies and oppressed Third World nations are enraged by Trump's rhetoric and policies, then we can expect revolutionaries in Amerikkka to grow in strength and number as well. The oppressed nations' response, internally and abroad, to a Trump's presidency is where we see real revolutionary potential.
This writer is correct that socialism (in the short term, and communism in the long term) is the only way to liberate the oppressed from capitalism. But when we recognize that the majority of people in the United $tates are benefiting from capitalism, we can see that most people in this country, voters and non-voters alike, aren't being fooled by mis-information. Rather they correctly understand that if we were to give back all the wealth stolen from Third World countries and stop the plunder of imperialism tomorrow, standards of living in this country would go down dramatically.
Still, there are very good reasons why Amerikans should oppose capitalism, including the destruction of the environment, the deadly culture of patriarchy and violence, and basic humynity towards other human beings around the world. And so we conclude that if Trump's presidency leads some Amerikans to greater global awareness and inspires them to oppose capitalism, it is our job to provide a correct analysis of the system and opportunities for action against the system.
Calculating the transfer of wealth from exploited nations to imperialist countries is a difficult task. Even those with the knowledge and time to do the research find that bourgeois economics does not look at things in terms that Marxists do. There are a number of excellent books by Marxists on this topic on our literature list.(1) Adding to this research is a recent report from Global Financial Integrity (GFI), which they call "the most comprehensive analysis of global financial flows impacting developing countries compiled to date."(2)
The main conclusions of this report are:
"since 1980 developing countries lost US$16.3 trillion dollars through broad leakages in the balance of payments, trade misinvoicing, and recorded financial transfers... the report demonstrates that developing countries have effectively served as net-creditors to the rest of the world with tax havens playing a major role in the flight of unrecorded capital. For example, in 2011 tax haven holdings of total developing country wealth were valued at US$4.4 trillion, which exacerbated inequality and undermined good governance and economic growth."(2)
According to the report, China is responsible for about a quarter of the Third World's net resource transfers to the First World. Despite a growing finance capitalist class, China is still the largest proletarian nation providing wealth for Amerikans and other First World nations. A long fall from grace from when it was the most advanced socialist economy in history, reinvesting all of its wealth into building its own self-sufficiency and serving the needs of its own people.
Last year, the so-called "Panama Papers" brought more light to the issue of tax havens, and the role they play in allowing finance capitalists to move money in ways that avoid having to pay taxes to the states they operate in and often avoiding other legal restraints on how they do business. GFI points to tax havens, as well as illegal movement of capital goods, as playing large roles in facilitating this transfer of wealth from the exploited countries to the imperialist core countries.
Possible solutions to this problem provided in the cited articles are debt forgiveness, shutting down tax havens, and enforcement of fines by agencies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).(3) Having powerful people monitor and fine other powerful people is like the fox guarding the hen house, and will never make fundamental changes in a system whose whole purpose is the drive for profit.
MIM(Prisons) supports the call for debt forgiveness for poor countries. As the report states, "for every $1 of aid that developing countries receive, they lose $24 in net outflows."(2) A campaign to resist these predatory aid programs combined with forgiveness of existing loans would loosen the current death grip of imperialism on the exploited nations of the world. And if we consider the numbers below, 1:24 is a gross underestimation of the scale of exploitation going on.
Another powerful move to provide some relief to the poor under capitalism would be to enforce a global minimum wage through a body such as the WTO. Economist Arghiri Emmanuel showed the relationship between wage levels and the transfer of wealth between nations in the form of unequal exchange. While this recent work by GFI is more in-depth than most by looking at illegal practices such as reporting false prices to avoid taxes and restrictions, it ignores the hidden transfer of wealth that is enabled by the low wages that are violently enforced on the proletariat of the exploited nations. This transfer of wealth is not included in the $16.3 trillion transfer of wealth calculated by GFI. MC5 of MIM estimated wealth transfer to the imperialist countries at $6.8 trillion in just one year (1993), as did Zak Cope, who looked at 2009 with a similar lens but different approach to MC5.(4)
While GFI states that, "Every year, roughly $1 trillion flows illegally out of developing and emerging economies due to crime, corruption, and tax evasion", their vision of a capitalism with more integrity would only eliminate an estimated 15% of the value exploited from the majority of the world for the benefit of the imperialist nations. We ally with such bourgeois internationalists on some of the demands mentioned above, but also take it further than they will to eliminate imperialism in all its forms and create a world without any form of exploitation or oppression, whether illegal or not.
Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising
2011, PM Press
Keith LaMar (Bomani Hondo Shakur)
In April 1993 there was an 11-day occupation of Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, starting on Easter Sunday when the maximum security prisoners overpowered correctional officers (COs) while returning from recreation. During the occupation, eight COs were held as hostages; one was killed and the rest were released. Nine prisoners were also killed through the course of this uprising, all by other prisoners. The 407 prisoners surrendered when the administration committed to a 21-point agreement. After the uprising, five prisoners were sentenced to death for the murders, and they are the only people held on Ohio's death row.
Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising and Condemned are good books to read together, and give two thorough accounts of the events of the SOCF uprising, and even more thorough detail of what happened afterward. Lucasville is written by Staughton Lynd, a lawyer who plays a significant role in Condemned, which was written by Keith LaMar (Bomani), one of the people condemned to death for the events during the uprising. The content in these books overlaps a lot, but not too much as to be redundant. What content is repeated through the two books just underlines lessons learned, and clarifies the authors' political orientations, some of which MIM(Prisons) does not agree with. Rather than write a point-by-point criticism of these books which most of our readers will never have the opportunity to read anyway, below we summarize some of the lessons on prison organizing we gleaned from studying them.
Condemned recounts Bomani's first-hand experience before, during, and after the uprising, especially focusing on the struggle of the five prisoners who were scapegoated for the uprising (known as the Lucasville 5). Condemned is a good case study on many common aspects of prison organizing. Lynd's book describes all the work it took, and all the obstacles the state put in place, to support the Lucasville 5's struggle from the outside.
The first theme addressed in Condemned is the author's ideological transformation. MIM(Prisons)'s primary task at this point in the struggle is building public opinion and institutions of the oppressed for socialist revolution, so affecting others' political consciousness is something we work on a lot. On the first day of the uprising, Bomani was hoping the state would come in to end the chaos. But "standing there as dead bodies were dumped onto the yard (while those in authority stood back and did nothing), and then experience the shock of witnessing Dennis' death [another prisoner who was murdered in the same cell as the author], awakened something in me." Bomani's persynal experiences, plus politicization on the pod and thru books, are what led em to pick up the struggle against injustice.
At an event where Bomani was publicizing eir case and experience, a MIM(Prisons) comrade was able to ask em what go-to books ey recommend for new comrades who are just getting turned on to the struggle. Bomani suggested Black Boy by Richard Wright, and also refers to Wright in Condemned. MIM(Prisons) would second this recommendation. Black Boy is an excellent study of New Afrikan life under Jim Crow in the South, with many aspects of that struggle still continuing in this country today.
In eir own book, Bomani also recounts acts of prisoner unity against the administration shortly following the uprising, and how politicization of fellow prisoners played out in real life. The prisoners made a pact to trash the range each day, and not clean it up. The guards cleaned the range themselves for a few days, but then brought in a prisoner to clean it up. Simultaneously, the "old heads" on the pod were leading speeches nightly about the need for unity and the relationship between the prisoners and the administration, politicizing everyone within earshot.
"Every night there was a variation of this same speech, and I listened to it over and over again until something took root in me. I became openly critical of the mistreatment we had all undergone and, for a few months at least, was serious in my determination to persuade others not to join the administration in the efforts to further divide and conquer us."(Condemned, p. 33)
A tactic that was mentioned in passing in Condemned was how the prisoner who was cleaning the range for the pigs was dealt with. Ey was struggled with for a period of time, and asked to not clean the range, but ey came back day after day. Eventually this prisoner was stabbed by the protesters for continuously undermining the action. Bomani doesn't mention how this act impacted the unity demo, whether it helped or not. We aim to minimize physical violence as much as possible, although sometimes it may be necessary. It is up to those who are on the ground to make the call in their particular conditions, and this tactic should not at all be taken lightly. If much physical force is necessary to maintain a peace demo, then we should ask ourselves if the masses we're organizing are ready for that type of demo. Political education is always our focus at this stage in the struggle.
Both books address how a protest with solid participants can fail or succeed depending on the protest's outside support. Several hunger strikes were launched, and ended, without progress made on the demands. It wasn't until connections were made with outside advocates and media that prison officials took any steps toward fixing them. Especially in an instance where a lawyer met with the regional director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation, which led to some property restrictions being lifted.
Recalling a victory from a 12-day hunger strike which had a lot of outside support,
"When the administration refused to follow their own rules, we complained (verbally and informally) and then asked a district judge to intervene on our behalf, all to no avail. It never occurred to us that we were wasting our time by appealing to the very people who had placed us in this predicament we were in.
"Indeed, the whole process of redressing our grievances was nothing more than an exercise in futility designed to drain off our vital energy and make us feel as though we had done all that we could do.
"It was only when we began to write and reach out to 'the people' that things began to change. First, there was Staughton's book and accompanying play; then we began holding 'talks' around the state on various college campuses, as well as writing articles in various periodicals. In this way, we were able to generate some much-needed support."(Condemned, p. 179)
To combat the psychological warfare of the prison staff, Bomani strongly recommends daily meditation and yoga as a method to protect oneself. "By learning how to watch my thoughts [meditate using simple breathing exercises], I was able to rise above the vicious cycle of cause and effect, and thereby avoid the tricks and traps of my environment."(Condemned, p. 133)
MIM(Prisons) receives regular requests for information on sovereign citizenship. While we've written against this tactic at length elsewhere, Lucasville underlines it with an anecdote about three prisoners who cut off their fingers and mailed them to the United Nations to show how serious they were in in their claim of sovereign citizenship. The request was still denied.
A final lesson from these books, especially recounted in Lucasville, is that in any attempt at solidarity and justice for the oppressed, prison officials and other oppressors will do everything they can to undermine it. Everything. We should never expect that our enemies will act in good faith toward respecting us and our needs. We should always expect pushback and always expect that they will attempt to derail us at every step of the way. Studying past struggles for clues on how we can protect our movement will only make our job easier. The state is taking notes on our shortcomings and we need to do the same of both our shortcomings and our strengths.