On October 10 a peace accord went into place across the California prison system to end hostilities between different racial groups. The Pelican Bay State Prison - Security Housing Unit (PBSP-SHU) Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives issued a statement in August, and hundreds responded on October 10 with hunger strikes to continue the struggle against so-called gang validation and the SHU. The original statement calls on lumpen organizations to turn to “causes beneficial to all” instead of infighting among the oppressed. Recently leaders in Pelican Bay State Prison reasserted that this applies to all lumpen organizations in CDCR, down to the youth authority.
We share the PBSP-SHU Collective’s view that peace is key to building unity against the criminal injustice system. Prison organizations and individual prisoners across the country have pledged themselves to the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) principles and are building this United Front in their prisons, communities and organizations.
We know this won’t be easy, but there is a basis for this unity and peace. As was written in the original announcement of the UFPP:
“We fully recognize that whether we are conscious of it or not, we are already ‘united’ – in our suffering and our daily repression. We face the same common enemy. We are trapped in the same oppressive conditions. We wear the same prison clothes, we go to the same hellhole box (isolation), we get brutalized by the same racist pigs. We are one people, no matter your hood, set or nationality. We know ‘we need unity’ – but unity of a different type from the unity we have at present. We want to move from a unity in oppression to unity in serving the people and striving toward national independence.”
The ending of hostilities between large lumpen organizations has sweeping implications for the possibilities for prisoner organizing. USW comrades in California should work to seize this opportunity however possible, to translate the peace agreement into meaningful organizing in the interests of all prisoners.
It is with great pleasure that we announce a new release that MIM(Prisons) is adding to the labor aristocracy section of our must-read list. Divided World Divided Class by Zak Cope contributes up-to-date economic analysis and new historical analysis to the MIM line on the labor aristocracy. I actually flipped through the bibliography before reading the book and was instantly intrigued at the works cited, which included all of the classic sources that MIM has discussed in the past as well as newer material MIM(Prisons) has been reviewing for our own work.
The Labor Aristocracy Canon
Before addressing this new book, let me first put it in the context of our existing must-read materials on the labor aristocracy, which has long been the issue that the Maoist Internationalist Movement differentiated itself on. MIM(Prisons) recently assembled an introductory study pack on this topic, featuring material from MIM Theory 1: A White Proletariat? (1992) and Monkey Smashes Heaven #1 (2011). We still recommend this pack as the starting point for most prisoners, as it is both cheaper to acquire and easier to understand than Cope's book and other material on the list.
Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat by J. Sakai is a classic book documenting the history of Amerika as an oppressor nation whose class nature has always been bourgeois. It is for those interested in Amerikan history in more detail, and particularly the history of the national contradiction in the United $tates. While acknowledging Sakai's thesis, Cope actually expands the analysis to a global scale, which leads to a greater focus on Britain in much of the book as the leading imperialist power, later surpassed by Amerika. This complete picture is developed by Cope in a theory-rich analysis, weaving many sources together to present his thesis. HW Edwards's Labor Aristocracy: Mass Base of Social Democracy is a less cohesive attempt at a similar approach that is almost half a century old. Edwards is wishy-washy on the role of First World "workers," where Cope is not. Edwards provides a number of good statistics and examples of his thesis, but it is presented in a more haphazard way. That said, Labor Aristocracy is still on our must-read list and we distribute it with a study guide.
MIM went back to the labor aristocracy question in MIM Theory 10: The Labor Aristocracy. This issue built on MT 1 some, but primarily focuses on an in-depth look at the global class analysis under imperialism by the COMINTERN. The importance of this issue during WWII is often overlooked, and this essay gets deep into the two-line struggle within the communist movement at the time. We have a study pack on this piece as well.
The last work that we include in the canon is Imperialism and its Class Structure in 1997(ICS) by MC5 of the Maoist Internationalist Movement. This book is most similar to Cope's work, with Cope seeming to borrow specific ideas and sources without ever acknowledging MC5's work. Since Cope is very generous in acknowledging ideas he got from others, one suspects that there is a political motivation behind ignoring the number one proponent of the position he is trying to defend in his book. We think MC5 would see Cope's work as a compliment and a step forward for the scientific analysis, particularly since Cope does not bring in anything to oppose the MIM line or to confuse the issue. Cope's book is very well researched and put together as an original work, and we have no interest in defending intellectual property.
The major new contribution in Cope's book is the historical analysis of the labor aristocracy in the context of the global system of imperialism. He also does some original calculations to measure superexploitation. His analysis of class, nation and modern events is all found in contemporary Maoism. Cope seems to be walking a line of upholding MIM Thought, while not dirtying his reputation with the MIM name. This is seen in his discussion of nationalism, which is often a dividing line between MIM Thought and the social democrats of academia. Cope gives a very agreeable definition of nation, and even more importantly, an analysis of its role and importance in the imperialist system related to class divisions. Yet, he fails to cite Stalin in doing so, while Maoists are honest about Stalin's contributions on the national question. So what we have is an excellent book on the labor aristocracy that avoids other issues that are difficult for the left-wing white nationalists to handle. In a way, this sanitized version of what is already a very bitter pill for readers in the First World may be useful to make this theory more available in an academic context. But no serious communist can just ignore important questions around Stalin and even the smaller, yet groundbreaking work of MIM itself.
MC5 or Cope?
For the rest of this review I will discuss Divided World in relation to Imperialism and its Class Structure (ICS) as they are parallel works. The above-mentioned sanitizing is evident in the two books' different approaches and definitions. Both attempt to present the basics, before getting into some intense analysis later on. Yet Cope sticks to discussing mostly Marx, with a healthy dose of Lenin's theory of imperialism without too much mention of the Soviet Union, while MC5 cites the practice of Stalin and Mao as leaders of socialist countries, as well as the contemporary pseudo-Maoists. It is a connection to communist practice that makes ICS the better book politically.
Cope's work, by default, has the benefit of having more recent statistics to use in part II for his economic analysis, though his approach is very different from MC5's anyway. Part III, which focuses on debunking the myths promoted by the pseudo-Marxist apologists for high wages in the First World, also has fresh statistics to use. MC5 addresses many ideological opponents throughout h book, but Cope's approach leaves us with a more concise reference in the way it lists the main myths promoted by our opponents and then knocks them down with basic facts.
MC5 spends more time addressing the ideas of specific authors who oppose the MIM thesis, while Cope tends to stick to the general arguments except when addressing authors such as Emmanuel who is an early trail-blazer of MIM Thought, but said some things that Cope correctly criticizes. Overall this provides for a more readable book, as the reader can get lost trying to figure out what position MC5 is arguing against when s/he refers to authors the reader has not read.
The model of imperialism that you get from each book is basically the same. Both address unequal exchange and capital export as mechanisms for transferring wealth to the First World. Both stress the structural basis of these mechanisms in militarized borders, death squads, monopoly and much higher concentrations of capital in the First World due to primitive accumulation and reinforced by the mechanisms of continued superexploitation.
While both authors take us through a series of numbers and calculations to estimate the transfer of value in imperialism, MC5 does so in a way that makes the class structure arguments more clearly. By focusing on the proportions, MC5 leaves the revisionists looking silly trying to explain how greater production per wage dollar in the Third World coexists with supposedly lower rates of exploitation in the Third World. Or how the larger unproductive sector in the First World can make similar wages to the productive sector, while the productive sector in the First World allegedly produces all the value to pay both sectors, and profit rates and capital concentration between sectors remain equal. Or if they acknowledge a great transfer of wealth from the Third World to the First World, and it is not going to 99% of the population as they claim, why is it not showing up in capital accumulation in those countries? As MC5 points out, remembering these structural questions is more important than the numbers.
Cope takes a numbers approach that ends with a transfer of $6.5 trillion from the non-OECD countries to the OECD in 2009 when OECD profits were $6.8 trillion. This leaves a small margin of theoretical exploitation of the First World. He points out that using these numbers gives $500 of profits per year per OECD worker compared to $18,571 per non-OECD worker. So even that is pretty damning. But he goes on to explain why the idea that OECD workers are exploited at all is pretty ridiculous by talking about the percentage of unproductive labor in the First World, an idea that MC5 stresses. Both authors make assumptions in their calculations that are very generous to the First Worldist line, yet come up with numbers showing huge transfers of wealth from the Third World to the First World "workers." Cope even uses OECD membership as the dividing line, leading him to include countries like Mexico on the exploiter side of the calculation. MC5, while a little less orthodox in h calculations, came up with $6.8 trillion in superprofits going to the non-capitalist class in the First World in 1993 (compared to Cope's $0.3 trillion in surplus being exploited from them in 2009). As both authors point out, they make the best of data that is not designed to answer these kinds of questions as they try to tease out hidden transfers of value.
Implications to our Practice
If Cope's book helps bring acceptance to the reality of the labor aristocracy in economic terms, there is still a major battle over what it all means for revolutionaries. In MIM's decades of struggle with the revisionists on this question we have already seen parties move away from a flat out rejection of the labor aristocracy thesis. Cope's conclusions on the labor aristocracy and fascism are well within the lines of MIM Thought. But already Cope's conclusions have been criticized:
As mentioned in an earlier post, this kind of "third worldism" represents the very chauvinism it claims to reject. To accept that there is no point in making revolution at the centres of capitalism, and thus to wait for the peripheries to make revolution for all of us, is to abdicate revolutionary responsibility—it is to demand that people living in the most exploited social contexts (as Cope's theory proves) should do the revolutionary work for the rest of us. (2)
Some see MIM Thought as ultra-leftist, and just plain old depressing for its lack of populism. Practitioners of revolutionary science do not get depressed when reality does not correspond to their wishes, but are inspired by the power of the scientific method to understand and shape phenomenon. But there is truth in this critique of Cope's book due to its disconnection from practice. A seemingly intentional approach to appeal to academia has the result of tending towards defeatism.
When it comes to practice in the United $tates, the question of the internal semi-colonies has always been primary for the revolutionary struggle. Yet today, there is a much greater level of integration. Cope's conclusions have some interesting implications for this question. On the one hand there is no anti-imperialist class struggle here "since economic betterment for people in the rich countries is today intrinsically dependent on imperialism". (Cope, p. 304) Yet assimilation is still prevented by the need for white supremacism to rally Amerikans around defending imperialist oppression of other peoples. Since national oppression will always translate into some relative economic disadvantage, we may be witnessing the closest real world example of national oppression that is independent of class. And Cope argues that this will continue within U.$. borders because you can't educate racism away, you must destroy the social relations that create it. (Cope, p. 6)
While Cope is explicitly non-partisan, MC5 provides a bit more guidance in terms of what this all means for imposing a dictatorship of the proletariat in a majority exploiter country, and how class struggle will be affected after that dictatorship is imposed. MIM also gives the explicit instruction that we do not support inter-imperialist rivalry or protectionism. This becomes a bigger challenge to promote and enforce among our allies in the united front against imperialism. Certainly, promoting these books and other literature on the topic is one part of that battle, but we will need other approaches to reach the masses who are taken in by the social democrats who dominate our political arena as well as their own potential material interests.
As long as would-be anti-imperialists in the First World ignore the labor aristocracy question, they will keep banging their heads against brick walls. It is only by accepting and studying it that we can begin to make breakthroughs, and this is even true, though less immediately so, in the Third World as Cope acknowledges (Cope, p. 214). Despite works dating back over a hundred years discussing this theory of class under imperialism, we are in the early stages of applying it to the polarized conditions of advanced imperialism with the environmental crisis and other contradictions that it brings with it.
“The Anti-Exploits of Men Against Sexism” Ed Mead Revolutionary Rumors PRESS [email protected]
This pamphlet is an historical account of the organization Men Against Sexism (MAS). It is written in an informal, story-telling style, from the perspective of Ed Mead, one of MAS’s primary organizers. “Anti-Exploits” spans the development of MAS, from Mead’s first encounter with the near-rape of a fellow prisoner on his tier in the mid-1970s, to the successful height of the organization and the eradication of prisoner rape in Washington State Prison. This success impacted facilities all across the state.
Men Against Sexism was created to bring prisoners together to fight against their common oppression. Mead recognized that homophobia, sexism, rape, and pimping were causing unnecessary divisions within the prisoner population. “Only by rooting out internalized sexism would men treat one another with respect.”(p. 5) He brought together politically-minded prisoners, queers, and even some former sexual predators, to change the culture of what was acceptable and not on the tier.
We should take the example of MAS as inspiration to identify our own collective divisive behaviors on our unit, and attempt to build bridges to overcome these barriers. Mead’s reputation of being a revolutionary, stand-up guy in defense of prisoners’ rights preceded him across the facility, and helped him win allies in unlikely places.
In the mid-1970s, prison conditions were much different than they are today, and organizing MAS seems to have been relatively easy according to the account given. Of course there were challenges amongst the prisoner population itself (for example, MAS defending a convicted pedophile from being gang raped and sold as a sex slave put many people off) but the administration didn’t play a significant role in thwarting the mission of MAS. The primary organizers were allowed to cell together, and several different prisoner organizations were mentioned which had their own meeting spaces.
Today it seems we are lucky if more than two prisoners can get together to do anything besides watch TV. This is a testament to the dialectical relationship between the prisoner movement and the forces of the state. During the time of MAS, the prisoner movement was relatively strong compared to where it’s at today. After the booming prisoner rights movement of the 1970s, the state figured out that to undermine those movements they needed to develop methods to keep prisoners isolated from each other. Not the least significant of which is the proliferation of the control unit, where prisoners are housed for 23 or more hours per day with very little contact with the world outside their cell, let alone their facility.
MAS recognized that there is power in numbers. They collected donations from allies outside prison to purchase access to cells from other prisoners and designated them as “safe cells.” MAS would identify newcomers to the facility who looked vulnerable and offer them protection in these group safe cells. This is in stark contrast to how the state offers so-called protection to victims of prisoner rape, which is generally to isolate them in control units.(1) Bonnie Kerness of the American Friends Service Committee writes of this practice being used with transgender prisoners, and the concept applies to all prisoners who are gender oppressed in prison no matter their gender identity,
"In some cases this can be a safe place to avoid the violence of other prisoners. More often this isolation of transgender prisoners places them at greater risk of violence at the hands of correctional officers…
“Regardless of whether or not it provides some level of protection or safety, isolation is a poor alternative to general population. The physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological impacts of solitary confinement are tantamount to torture for many.”(2)
As late as 2009, data was compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) stating “Approximately 2.1% of prison inmates and 1.5% of jail inmates reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, whereas approximately 2.8% of prison inmates and 2.0% of jail inmates reported staff sexual misconduct.”(3) Certainly much of this staff-on-prisoner sexual assault occurs in general population, but isolating victims makes them that much more accessible.
Isolation as the best option for protection is the most obvious example of individualizing struggles of prisoners. What is more individualized than one persyn in a room alone all day? Individualizing prisoners’ struggles is also carried out by the rejection of group grievances in many states. All across the country our comrades meet difficulty when attempting to file grievances on behalf of a group of prisoners. In California, a comrade attempted to simply cite a Director’s Level Appeal Decision stating MIM is not a banned distributor in the state on h censorship appeal, but it was rejected because that Director’s Level Decision “belongs to another inmate.”(4) We must identify the state’s attempts to divide us from our potential comrades in all forms, and actively work against it.
MAS worked to abolish prisoner-on-prisoner sexual slavery and rape, where the pigs were consenting to this gender oppression by noninterference. But the state paid for this hands-off approach when the autonomy of the movement actually united prisoners against oppression.
What about gender oppression in prisons today?
In 2003, under strong pressure from a broad range of activists and lobbyists, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), and in May 2012 the final rules were completed. With the initiation of the PREA, statistics on prison rape are becoming more available. But comprehensive, sweeping data on the frequency of prison rape does not exist and so we can not detect trends from 1975 to the present, or even from 2003 to present. Despite high hopes for the PREA from anti-rape activists, we can’t yet determine if there has been any benefit, and in some cases the rates of prison rape seem to be increasing.
When MAS was picking out newcomers to recruit into their safe cells, they were identifying people who they saw as obviously queer, or in some way likely to be a target. MAS was using their intuition and persynal experience to identify people who are more likely to be victimized. According to the BJS, in their 2009 study, prisoners who are “white or multi-racial, have a college education, have a sexual orientation other than heterosexual, and experienced sexual victimization prior to coming to the facility” … had “significantly higher” rates of inmate-on-inmate victimization.(1) Human Rights Watch similarly reported in 2001,
“Specifically, prisoners fitting any part of the following description are more likely to be targeted: young, small in size, physically weak, white, gay, first offender, possessing ‘feminine’ characteristics such as long hair or a high voice; being unassertive, unaggressive, shy, intellectual, not street-smart, or ‘passive’; or having been convicted of a sexual offense against a minor. Prisoners with any one of these characteristics typically face an increased risk of sexual abuse, while prisoners with several overlapping characteristics are much more likely than other prisoners to be targeted for abuse.”(5)
The descriptions above of who’s more subject to prison rape are bourgeois definitions of what MIM called gender. Bullying, rape, sexual identity, and sexual orientation are phenomena that exist in the realm of leisure-time activity. Oppression that exists in leisure-time can generally be categorized as gender oppression. Gender oppression also rests clearly on health status and physical ability, which, in work-time also affects class status.(6) Since prisoners on the whole spend very little time engaged in productive labor, their time behind bars can be categorized as a twisted form of leisure-time. Prisons are primarily a form of national oppression, and gender is used as a means to this end.
Consider this statistic from BJS, “Significantly, most perpetrators of staff sexual misconduct were female and most victims were male: among male victims of staff sexual misconduct, 69% of prisoners and 64% of jail inmates reported sexual activity with female staff.”(3) An oversimplified analysis of this one statistic says the biologically-female staff are gendered men, and the prisoners are gendered wimmin, no matter their biology. But in the United $tates, where all citizens enjoy gender privilege over the Third World, this oversimplification ignores the international scope of imperialism and the benefits reaped by Amerikans and the internal semi-colonies alike. While there is an argument to be made that the United $tates tortures more people in its prisons than any other country, this is balanced out with a nice juicy carrot (video games, tv, drugs, porn) for many prisoners. This carrot limits the need to use the more obvious forms of repression that are more widespread in the Third World. Some of our most prominent USW leaders determine that conditions where they’re at are too comfortable and prevent people from devoting their lives to revolution, even though these people are actually on the receiving end of much oppression.
On a similar level, MIM(Prisons) advocates for the end of oppression based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But we are not jumping on the bandwagon to legalize gay marriage.(7) We also don’t campaign for sex reassignment surgery and hormones for prisoners.(8) This is because we see these as examples of gender privilege, and any privileges obtained by people in the United $tates inherently come on the backs of the Third World. Whereas in the time Men Against Sexism was formed the gay rights movement was militant and engaging in street wars against police, they are now overall placated by the class privilege they receive as members of the petty-bourgeoisie.
We encourage everyone facing oppression to recognize its true roots – capitalism and imperialism – and use their privileges to undermine the United $tates’ world domination. Without an internationalist perspective, we will inevitably end up on the wrong side of history.
In the shadow of the recent presidential election, MIM(Prisons) takes this opportunity to explain some of the many reasons we don't participate in elections under capitalism. We reiterate the MIM slogan: Don't Vote, Organize!
Granted, communists might participate in local elections when they find an opportunity to make change that will better facilitate their organizing work and goals, but these instances are few and far between. Consider someone running for City Council proposing to facilitate the distribution of free literature and posters in a city, while their opponent wants to outlaw the distribution of communist literature. We might join this battle on the side of the free speech advocate because it is very important that we have the opportunity to organize and educate people. Because the legal power of a City Council is pretty limited, these battles tend to be clear cut and we can support one candidate without jumping on the imperialist bandwagon.
In contrast, Congress and the President are fundamentally reactionary just by nature of their role in the capitalist system. It is their job to support and promote imperialist policies of global aggression.
Sure, there may be surface differences between imperialist candidates. One might deny the existence of global warming while the other offers platitudes about how we need to help the environment, but neither can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions because doing so threatens the profit system. Or one might advocate shipping all migrants back home, while the other wants to grant green cards to people already in the United $tates. That's something with a real immediate impact on the lives of the oppressed. But the U.$. has a long history of bringing in migrant labor and the kicking them out, particularly from Mexico. And ultimately, both of these candidates will have to support enforcing the imperialist borders, and exploiting cheap Mexican labor.
Even if we try to explain that we are only picking a candidate based on their position on one question, how do we justify giving support to someone who backs the existence of the prison system that locks up the most people per capita in the world? Or someone who supports invading Third World countries to ensure their puppet regimes are friendly to Amerikan capitalist interests?
There is no real choice under imperialism. The majority of the world's people suffer under the rule of Amerikan imperialism, but they don't get a vote in the elections. Amerika has streamlined the elections to just two parties, with very minimal differences between them. And the majority of the Amerikan people, bought off with imperialist superprofits given to them as a birthright, are perfectly fine with these "choices." Both candidates represent the material interests of Amerikan citizens. It is the imperialist system that ensures sufficient superprofits from exploitation of Third World people to keep the First World citizens so well off.
The election of President Obama four years ago should have been the best possible lesson for "anti-war" Amerikans. Many so-called progressives got behind the Obama campaign, excited to finally have a Black man in power, and believing the minimally progressive rhetoric they heard from Obama. But putting a Black face on imperialism didn't change imperialism. Before Obama was elected we wrote about his campaign as a good representative of imperialism in ULK 3. Under Obama, Amerika has continued its role as global oppressor, invading Third World countries to install or support U.$.-friendly governments, enforcing strict imperialist borders at home to keep out the oppressed, and maintaining the largest per capita prison population in the world.
The State of Puerto Rico
While we didn't campaign around any electoral politics this year, nor vote, the results can be interesting to us as the largest scale polling of the Amerikan population and its internal semi-colonies. While the exploited people of the world did not get to vote for the President of the Empire, historically oppressed nations with U.$. citizenship did. As we work to expand our analysis of the internal semi-colonies' relationships to imperialism, we can look at elections as a relative, if not absolute, measure of assimilation. The most explicit example of this came in the 2012 plebiscite on the status of Puerto Rico among Boricua voters.
While inconsistencies in the format of previous plebiscites make it hard to decipher trends with a cursory assessment, it does appear that a majority rejected the current commonwealth status of Puerto Rico for the first time. The government is counting the statehood option as the victor with a 61% majority of those choosing an alternative to the commonwealth status. But really, only 48% of those who voted chose statehood, with 26% of voters choosing sovereign free association and 4% choosing independence.(1) About 22% didn't select a new status. Since 46% voted to remain a commonwealth, it seems that many of them chose a new status as their second choice. Originally the two votes were to occur separately, which would make interpretation of the results easier.
The option of "sovereign free association" was new in this plebiscite, and seems to reflect the more bourgeois nationalist among the neo-colonialists. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want more freedom to act independent of the U.$. while keeping the financial benefits of U.$. social services that they receive today as a commonwealth.
The 2012 plebiscite did have the largest turnout yet, with 79% participation.(2) This adds a little more weight to the small shift from a plurality favoring commonwealth to a plurality (at least) favoring statehood. At the time of the last plebiscite, in 1998, MIM reported strong assimilationism among the Boricua population due to economic interests tied to accessing the superprofits obtained by the U.$. from the Third World.(3) While MIM never believed that the meager 2-5% vote for independence was genuinely representative of the Boricua people, neither is true self-determination on the immediate horizon despite nationalist rhetoric from many political parties. A survey of the desires of Boricuas for self-determination is not valid until real self-determination is actually an option on the table. Unfortunately real self-determination won't be possible until Boricuas are organized against Amerika and its lackey leadership in their homeland.
Some have hypothesized that the economic downturn helped increase the statehood vote as Boricuas felt the crunch and wanted closer economic integration into the United $tates. This makes economic sense. So it'll take much more extreme crisis before economic demands become revolutionary for the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates.
Chicanos and New Afrikans Vote
Trends in Black voter participation in the last two presidential elections indicate that the neo-colonial effect is real as Blacks have come out at higher rates, with Black youth being the most active voter participants. While Latinos were also brought out by Obama in the last two elections, Latino youth voting and "civic engagement" has lagged behind Black and white youth, yet they were twice as likely to participate in a protest than their counterparts of other nations according to a 2008 report.(4) In 2008, Black voters closed the gap with white voter participation, which averaged around 10% in the previous five presidential elections. This year, Obama brought similar rates of Blacks to the polls. In the same period, Latinos and Asians have diverged from Blacks in their voter participation, who they have historically lagged behind already.(5) For Latinos this divergence corresponds to an increase in the percentage of people who are not citizens, and therefore can't vote. We do not have data showing whether the same is true for Asians. While the non-participation may be enforced, rather than by choice, the Pew Hispanic Center also found in a recent survey that most Latinos identify with their family's country of origin and not as Amerikans.(6) There is little doubt that the vast majority of Blacks identify as Amerikan. The connections that Latinos and Asians have to the Third World are a significant factor in their political consciousness and how they perceive the United $tates, their relationship to it, and their participation in it.
Similar to supporting someone for City Council, discussed above, propositions are another relatively clear-cut realm of elections where we may organize around a particular issue. To look at more concrete examples of how this usually plays out, we turn to two propositions this year that addressed California's prison population: Propositions 34 and 36. Proposition 34 was presented to abolish the death penalty, which sounds great at first. But in this case, death row prisoners actually recognized that the law was opposed to their interests in that it would prevent them from proving their innocence in court. They launched an active campaign to oppose Prop. 34 and it did fail. The weakness of the proposition was inherent to the limitations in the system to address justice in a real way.
Proposition 36 is a reform to the Three Strikes law, and it passed. MIM(Prisons) welcomes the prospect of less people going to prison in California, and supposedly even current prisoners being released earlier. Yet, Three Strikes itself still exists. The reform will right a few egregious wrongs, but leaves Three Strikes, not to mention the whole criminal injustice system, in place. Even abolishing Three Strikes altogether would be merely a quantitative change in the oppression meted out by the injustice system, without changing the substance of it at all. Prop. 36 was promoted by those who want to reduce state spending on prisons, and clearly promoted the use of Three Strikes for the majority of prisoners it has been applied to. To campaign for Prop. 36 was to promote this position or to say that this is the best we can hope for. It did not serve the interests of the prisoner class as a whole, but threw some carrots to a few.
Since there are only so many hours in the day, to spend them on organizing around these small changes means slightly less suffering in the short term, and much more suffering in the long term as imperialism marches on unchallenged. Reforms do play an important role while organizing in our current conditions, but we choose which reforms to support very carefully, weighing how they impact our organizing efforts against imperialism, what class interests they serve, and how they relate to real conditions on the ground.
Electoral Politics and Strategy
Our line is that imperialism cannot be reformed. Our strategy is to build institutions of the oppressed which are separate from imperialism in order to build up our own power, while agitating around issues that highlight the horrors of the imperialist system that exists. At times campaigning around an electoral campaign could be a useful tactic in that strategy. But strategically we are not trying to get elected in a popularity contest, or be on the winning team. We are struggling for liberation and an end to all oppression!
As M-1 of dead prez put it on Block Report Radio the morning after the recent "presidential selection": "I'm not thinking about today. And I'm not thinking about four years from now. And I'm not thinking about smoking marijuana. I'm thinking about 50 years from now being able to be the self-determining people who are raising a nation that's based in stability." Spoken like a true revolutionary, this is the type of thinking that we promote to develop an anti-imperialist political pole within the belly of the beast.
Telling people to vote for one imperialist candidate over another is suggesting that we can make significant change by working within the system. As we already explained, the scale of the election and the scale of the change is key: for a local city election the impact is much lower and our opportunity to actually explain to people why a particular local law is important to communist goals is much greater. But in a national election, telling people to support a candidate who is fundamentally pro-imperialist, both in words and deeds, is misleading.
This summer, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) released the fifth printing of their pamphlet "Survivors Manual: A manual written by and for people living in control units." There were some good additions to the pamphlet, such as an excerpt from Bonnie Kerness's presentation from the STOPMAX Conference, some of which is featured in the documentary "Unlock the Box"; and a summary written by Bonnie of her years of experience working with and witnessing prisoners in isolation.
Because MIM(Prisons) stands for justice and equality for all humyn-kind, in direct opposition to the capitalist-imperialist power structure, many of our comrades are targeted for placement in control units. This greatly minimizes their ability to organize others, communicate with comrades on the outside, and maintain a healthy mind and body. Others are targeted for isolation simply for attempting to learn the history of their people or help others with their legal work. So clearly, much of the information contained in this pamphlet is invaluable to our readership who are constantly threatened with, or are currently facing, time in the hole.
The AFSC is a liberal progressive group, and there is some information in this pamphlet that we think is quite bad advice for our readers. At least one article says to avoid the prisoncrats if at all possible. The authors' purported goal is to get to general population or released, and to maintain some form of happiness. If the goal were to get to general population or released in order to be a more effective revolutionary organizer, of course we would agree.
We don't advocate people go out looking for trouble, and we need to choose our battles wisely. But for prisoner activists, filing grievances on staff misconduct and unhealthy conditions is a primary method we use to defend ourselves and our fellow prisoners. Unfortunately, oftentimes these grievances lead to repression from the pigs. But we would not advocate that people shy away from this important work for the sole individualistic reason of self-preservation and happiness. The individualist approach is the bourgeois approach; in other words it's the approach that allows the bourgeoisie to win. Only by coming together can we protect each other and ourselves with real certainty.
We are going to add this manual to our list of literature we distribute, but will only distribute a portion of it. We chose to not include the individualistic content above, and other content suffering from liberalism in one form or another: defeatist poetry; dating tips; and strategical advice that is in conflict with our lines on security. We left out other pieces due to redundancy. Of the content we did leave in, much of it we think is great advice that we would recommend everyone in isolation pick up for their own self-care. But do not take inclusion in this modified pamphlet as a 100% endorsement of each article; we did leave some content that we hold minor disagreement with.
We greatly appreciate Prison Watch Project of the American Friends Service Committee for compiling and distributing this guide to the wider prisoner audience. But in order to make it relevant to our work as revolutionary activists, we have selected the portions that we find useful. To contact the AFSC or Bonnie Kerness for the full version and other resources, write to:
Bonnie Kerness Coordinator, Prison Watch Project American Friends Service Committee 89 Market Street, 6th Floor Newark, NJ 07102 [email protected]
Recently comrades at Anti-Imperialism.com have brought up the question of how First Worldism sets back the revolutionary movement within the oppressor nation itself.(1) When anti-imperialists begin banging their heads against walls of cops, it seems a good time to consider this question.
Over the Amerikan KKKolumbus Day weekend, a series of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist demonstrations were organized on the west coast. Judging by the turnout and support, there is not a big anti-colonial movement in the United $tates. This is no surprise, for it is the most powerful imperialist country in the world.
One anti-colonial march in San Francisco was dwarfed by the crowds of consumers, shopping on a Sunday afternoon. The organizers showed little interest in reaching out to the shoppers, and more in smashing symbols of wealth and exploitation. An hour pre-march rally seemed hardly noticed by the shopping masses. And the march itself lasted only a few blocks before violent clashes with police left 22 people arrested. A significant loss from a crowd of maybe 150 who had just begun to unveil its message.
The lack of interest in reaching out to the shoppers may reflect a correct analysis among the protestors that those people had no interest in or alliance with the message of their march. But if so this line was not put out publicly in literature or banners. We will argue here that doing so would have done more to promote divisions among the pro-imperialist camp, whereas the tactics of the day instead have helped consolidate those forces in recent years.
Last fall, thousands and thousands of Amerikans, primarily youth, rallied to the call to Occupy Wall Street, which evolved into Occupy Everywhere — a rather frightening slogan for the youth of the number one imperial power to take up. More progressive, and often more experienced, poles in the movement steered things in an anti-occupation/anti-colonial direction. But somehow this wasn't as appealing to the Amerikan youth as rallying for more jobs, free schooling and better interest rates on loans. If we eliminate the flow of wealth from the neo-colonies, the people in this country will lose their high paying jobs and easy lines of credit.
Despite this self-evident truth, there is still not a strong voice drawing a clear line between those who benefit from imperialism and those who suffer from it.
In practice we see lines being drawn, as the more radical messages seem to accompany some tactics that trigger anger from the Amerikan "middle class." There continues to be backlash in some instances of calling those who vandalize property "terrorists" while telling them to target bank windows rather than their nice neighborhood. We have little interest in the petty bourgeois debate over what is okay to smash, but this whole debate serves as a convenient excuse for the Amerikan left to ally with the imperialist state. What needs to be challenged is the idea that the Amerikan "middle class" somehow deserves more than everyone else in the world and therefore is not the enemy like those evil bankers.
Interestingly, the bourgeoisie gets away with attacking those who act against the interests of the "middle class" as "outside agitators" and "spoiled white kids." This name calling serves as a distraction from the issues being demonstrated around. Of course there will be anti-colonial struggle in white faces in a white country. To argue otherwise is to breed confusion.
While we believe there is more anti-imperialist potential here in the United $tates than those who showed up this weekend, particularly among the internal semi-colonies who were sparsely represented at these events, the dominant ideology of this country is pro-middle class, which is pro-imperialism. Even the most radical Black organizations out here will say that "white people are exploited too." Yet the truth is the complete opposite: Black people aren't exploited either in this country. The sooner we all start being accountable for what we have, the sooner we can take a realistic approach to what we can do about it.
We need a strong line that says, yes, the petty bourgeoisie and the labor aristocracy in this country are the enemy of the world's people. Just as MIM has always attacked identity politics, this does not mean that petty bourgeois people cannot be anti-imperialists. We welcome and honor those Amerikans who choose to stand with the exploited peoples of the Third World. But let's make it clear that doing so requires opposing your own class interests.
After we draw that line, maybe we can think of ways to actually attack the interests of the exploiter classes, rather than just attack their symbols. Boots Riley, Oakland rapper and activist, has criticized the tactics of vandalism for alienating the majority in the city.(2) There is some truth in what he wrote in that we should not be helping the petty bourgeoisie unite with the imperialist state in opposition to anti-colonial voices, at least not without making significant gains somewhere else. Instead, we should be driving wedges between the various class alliances of our enemies, creating cracks in the system that make a little more room for the oppressed to move and organize. And perhaps ironically, pointing out the unity of the material interests of almost everyone in this country with imperialism can contribute to creating these cracks among those who have subjective moral objections to living off the suffering of others.
We do not believe that moralizing will "wake up" the Amerikan people and end this system of exploitation. We recognize there is no winning the majority in this country. So it is a question of recruiting the minority that care or suffer greatly under this system and promoting disunity among the rest. Finding effective tactics for either is our challenge.
Before we split the anti-imperialist camp over what we should do after the revolution (where we differ with the anarchist majority at this weekend's events), let's split with those who will organize and fight for the deepening exploitation of the Third World to feed the over-consumptive, privileged lifestyles in the imperialist countries. And let us be honest with our fellow exploiters, breaking the illusions of an alliance between First World social democracy and the interests of the exploited and oppressed. The one cannot exist without the other. The clearer we are about that, the more Amerikans are forced to make the choice between committing daily violence through their privilege and becoming a virus within the matrix.
Both fliers are double sided featuring the 5 principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons. The first one is two fliers per 8.5"x11" piece of paper and is recruiting students to volunteer with us. The other is just the 5 pts and is four fliers per 8.5"x11" paper as quarter sheets.
This issue is going to production on the heels of the first countrywide action engaged in by a yet-unknown number of members of the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP), representing many political, religious and lumpen organizations and hailing from the prison systems of Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, New York, California, Texas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and the Federal system. Initially called for by UFPP signatory SAMAEL, MIM(Prisons) promoted the call for the Day of Solidarity on September 9 in our last issue of Under Lock & Key as something we felt embodied what the united front is about. In this issue we summarize what we know so far, but we expect to learn more in the coming weeks and will continue to report on this important action.
For our part, MIM(Prisons) made a strong effort back in July to directly contact all other prison rights organizations and activists on the outside to let them know about the Day of Solidarity. We also promoted it generally online and handed out fliers with the five principles of the UFPP on them at many events related to prisons and peace on the streets. Other media outlets that promoted the call included the San Francisco BayView Newspaper, anti-imperialism.com and NorthBay Uprising Radio (89.5 KZCT in Vallejo, CA), which did an extensive interview with a comrade about the day of solidarity, the united front and the prison struggle in general. Other articles in this issue discuss some of the repression faced by prisoners and MIM(Prisons) leading up to the action.
All that said, the primary focus of the day was the organizing of prisoners. To facilitate this we distributed updates to everyone involved about the plans of other groups participating, similar to what we did during the California strikes. One story we distributed from New York was from a handwritten kite a comrade passed to another brother at his facility: "Bro. - Please pay close attention to the article 'Call for Solidarity Demonstration September 9' on page 3. Let me know what you think. I've decided to fast on Sept 9th." The response was written on the same paper: "Yes I will fast on that day, it looks better when we all go to chow but we just don't eat. Thanks for that information." (This was what the 800 Attica comrades did on that day in 1971 in honor of George Jackson's murder.) The original organizers got this report and adjusted their own plans to go to chow and dispose of meals as outlined in their cheat sheet (see "Solidarity and Peace Demonstration Builds, Guards Retaliate"). This cheat sheet was passed on to the comrades in Florida whose report appears below, who also adopted the tactic:
On 9 September 2012, at Everglades Correctional Institution in Florida, individual members of The Blood Nation honored the soldiers of Attica by doing one or more of the following: fasting, boycotting the canteen/commissary, accepting chow hall trays and dumping them, and explaining why. Also participating individually were one or more members of the following groups (in alphabetical order): Black Gangsta Disciples, Crip Nation, Insane Gangsta Disciples, Almighty Latin King Queen Nation, Nation of Islam, Spanish Cobras, Shi'a Muslim Community, and Sufi Community. My apologies to anyone I missed. It was a small step at a spot with no history of unity, but even a single drop of water in a dry glass makes it wet. Respect to those who made the sacrifice, those who joined us midday, and those who expressed interest the day after. I'm as human as anyone, but let's TRY to remember who the enemy is!
Good work comrades! Seems like organizations in Florida are open to solidarity as another comrade from that state reports: "Being that today is September 9 and a day of solidarity and peace, all sorts of nations (organizations) got together here in the rec yard and had a jailhouse BBQ and lived in peace just for the day here at Cross City, Florida."
Many of our supporters are suffering in long-term isolation, so the opportunity for mass organizing is greatly limited. A report from Missouri read:
Today is September 9, 2012. My comrade (my celly) and I are participating in the mass stoppage of work and fast for our comrades who fell in Attica. Although we are in Ad-Seg we have chosen to sacrifice: no food, no [petty stuff], no arguing out the door, only working out four times for one hour each time, reading, studying and talking politics. For me fasting is something I do once a month, but today is the first time I've worked out during my fast. My comrade is pushing me and I'm not stopping. From midnight to midnight is how we're moving.
This white comrade also reported that he received ULK 27 announcing the Day of Solidarity, while his Black comrade's was censored. They report this is a common form of discrimination in Missouri.
Another great success occurred in Nevada where SAMAEL led the organizing of a good cross-section of prisoners representing about 30% of the population. Even if we get no other reports on the September 9 action, we'd say it was a success just from these examples. But we know from the list of states above that the day had much broader participation.
The progress represented by prisoners across the country acting in solidarity as a class took place in the context of the many other strikes and mass actions prisoners have led in the past year or more that have built off of each other as cipactli writes about in "Prisoner Uprisings Foretell Growing Movement". This progress is exciting on the subjective level. And we can look at periods of mass uprising to see what happens when times are "exciting." They tend to be crazy as well. People are confused, trying to figure things out and the enemy is working hard to confuse them more and divide them. So it is of the utmost importance that as the new prison movement emerges that we take time to study questions of security and correct leadership.
There is the question of security at the individual level, and how we judge someone by putting politics in command, as discussed by PTT in relation to Richard Aoki. In the belly of the beast, where there is so much wealth and privilege, security at the group level is very tied up with our class analysis. As our Nevada comrade points out in "Fighting Enemies in the Prison Movement", most people in this country will actively support imperialism without directly getting a paycheck for it, and this is true for a portion of the prison population as well.
One thing that sets communists apart from other revolutionary trends is our stress on the importance of correct ideological leadership. Putting politics in command can guide us in dealing with all challenges we face, not just security. We recognize that the truth will come from mass struggle, but that it will not always be recognized by the masses when they see it because everyone needs to learn to think in a scientific way first. In order to pick the best leadership, we must all be well-studied to think scientifically about both history and our current conditions. As we point out to the comrade who suspects we might be CIA, you should be able to judge the correctness of ULK and to struggle with us where you think we are wrong to decide whether the risk of subscribing is worth it.
Our comrade in BORO puts the September 9 Day of Solidarity in this context well when s/he writes: "Through the lens of a dialectical-materialist, we must see history as a never-ending stream of past events that gave and constantly give birth to present realities. This chain of historical events is constantly moving us forward into the ocean of endless possibilities. We must use this view of a 'living history' as a source of defining who we are and the direction we're heading as a people." (See "Black August and Bloody September: Stand Up and Remember on September 9.")
This September protest wasn't just to spend a day sitting quietly honoring the past; it was a time to learn from the past and apply lessons to address our current conditions. The day was a success, but it was only one step in developing a class-conscious prison movement that can change conditions. In the coming weeks, we look forward to hearing of more successes and accomplishments that organizers achieved on September 9.
15 September 2012 — Tens of thousands of people in dozens of cities and slums across Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe and Australia have demonstrated in recent days in response to a film made in the United $tates attacking the Prophet Muhammad. Protests primarily targeted U.$. embassies and other symbols of imperialism including an Amerikan school, a KFC restaurant, and a UN camp.(1) The latter was one of many locations where authorities shot at protestors with live ammunition. Many have died so far. Some common unifying symbolism of these actions has been burning of Amerikan flags and chants of "Death to Amerika!"
The first protest that got the world's attention was in Libya, where U.$.-backed forces recently overthrew the decades-old government there. Timed to occur on the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United $tates by Al Qaeda, rebels grabbed headlines by laying siege to the embassy, killing as many as a dozen people, including the new U.$. ambassador. Since then protestors have attacked imperialist embassies in Tunisia, Yemen and Sudan without firearms.
While incumbent U.$. President Barack Obama has been making plenty of mention of his role in the assassination of Al-Qaeda's former leader Osama bin Laden in campaign speeches, hundreds of protestors in Kuwait chanted outside the U.$. embassy, "Obama, we are all Osama." Osama's vision of a Pan-Islamic resistance to U.$. occupations and economic interference in the Muslim world has reached new heights this week.
The Amerikan media has tried to play it off as a small group of trouble makers protesting, while Amerikans are shocked that they can be blamed for a fringe movie they have never seen and think is a piece of crap. At the same time, Amerikans seem very willing to condemn the protestors as ignorant, violent, low-lifes — just as the movie in question portrayed Muslims. But the trigger of these protests is far less important than the history of U.$. relations to the people involved. The most violent reactions occurred in countries that have all been under recent bombing attacks by the U.$. military, two of them for many years now, and the other had their whole government overthrown. Cocky Amerikans won't recognize that the ambassador was targeted as the highest level representative of the U.$. puppet master in Libya.
MIM has held for some time that Muslim organizations have done more to fight imperialism in recent years in most of the world than communists have.(2) And while there are plenty of ways communists could theoretically be doing a better job, they are not. As materialists we must accept and work with the people and conditions we are given. And we do not hesitate to recognize that Islam has brought us the biggest internationalist demonstration of anti-imperialism we've seen in some time.