While news of online spying by the U.$. government is growing, a court case may provide even broader access for government agencies. This case involves Lavabit, the former email provider for MIM(Prisons). On January 28, the owner of Lavabit went to court to appeal the contempt of court ruling against the company for failing to hand over encryption keys to his email service. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet rendered a verdict, but it will have significant implications on what the government can demand of email providers in the future. This case revolves around the Lavabit SSL keys. These keys were used to decrypt incoming traffic from Lavabit users accessing via an encrypted connection. If Lavabit had given up the keys before shutting down their operation, the government could capture every users password next time they logged in and have full access to their email.
Last June Lavabit was ordered to give the government a live feed of email activity for a specific account. People generally assume this was Edward Snowden's account based on court filing information that refers to his violations of the Espionage Act and theft of government property. Lavabit founder Lader Levison offered to transmit the information requested after 60 days, claiming he needed time to reprogram his system to collect the information. We can't be sure what Levison would have ultimately handed over, but this is further evidence that users can not rely on their email providers for security. In fact, in court Lavabit's attorney claims that Levison had complied with at least one similar court order in the past.(1)
In July, after Levison's delay, the FBI served Levison with a search warrant demanding the private SSL keys that would enable them to decrypt all traffic to and from the site. The government promised to only use the keys for the individual targeted and said they would not spy on the other 410,000 Lavabit users.(2)
The FBI had already begun collecting encrypted data from Lavabit's upstream provider in anticipation of getting the key to decrypt it, and they still have this data.(2) If the government has the SSL keys, all emails for an unknown period of time for all users on the Lavabit email system are in the hands of the government.
After an August 1 court order upholding the government's demand for the Lavabit SSL keys, Levison did turn them over, but as an 11 page printout in 4-point type.(1) This was clearly an attempt to comply in form without making the key usable, or at least delaying its usability. But in spite of the paper form, the government now has the Lavabit SSL keys, all they need to do is manually enter the 2,560 characters. While tedious, this is certainly doable and we think it likely that they quickly completed this work.
The government responded to the printout by demanding an electronic format and on August 6 began fining Levison $5,000 per day until he complied with the FBI's order. Levison shut down Lavabit altogether on August 8.(2)
Although the government and the appellate court Judge hearing the case both claim the SSL keys could not be used for anything other than the individual target in question, the search warrant and sanctions order both place no restrictions on what can be done with the key.(2) Not that we think the government complies with these sorts of formalities anyway.
In November 2013, the elected government of Ukraine caused a stir for rejecting a deal with the European Union citing the overly burdensome terms of the aid package offered by the U.$.-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF). Since we last reported on Ukraine (see ULK 36), opposition forces with Western support have implemented a regime change, ousting president Viktor Yanukovich from the country. This put a deal with the IMF back on the table. Ukrainians once again face the prospect of more wealth being sucked from their country via imperialist loans and imposed economic policies.
While opposition to the oligarchy that has ruled Ukraine has united the Western imperialists with Ukrainian fascist parties, austerity measures imposed by the IMF will threaten this alliance shortly. The new offer from the IMF will require hiking energy prices that have been subsidized by the state, one of the deal breakers cited by Yanukovich in November.
The regime change was a loss for Russian economic interests. In response, on 27 February 2014, Russian forces seized control of the Crimean peninsula, a majority Russian region of the current Ukraine state. On 6 March 2014 Crimea's regional assembly voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The next day leaders of the Russian Parliament said they would support this move. The decision calls for a referendum for the people of Crimea to vote on this, scheduled for 16 March.(1)
The New York Times has made much of the battle over the right to self-determination in recent strife between the United $tates and the Russian Federation. Struggles in the Black Sea region in recent decades have been primarily inter-imperialist battles, and there is no principle behind the imperialists' actions except for their economic interests to have access to more markets, natural resources and people to exploit. Meanwhile, the proletariat's interest is defined by putting an end to this exploitation. Therefore we support the side that most threatens the control and penetration of the imperialists over the oppressed nations.
The Amerikans are saying the Russian invasion of Crimea is totally different from their meddling in Libya, Venezuela, Syria, Iran... just to name a few. But this is all posturing and a question of tactics, and the United $tates often is able to use more subtle tactics because of its greater power. In all cases it is the continuation of imperialist war to maintain profits.
While the situation in Crimea is still unresolved and potentially volatile as we write this, Russian officials have been quoted recognizing Kiev has gone pro-West. At the same time, Russia is talking with the IMF to get in on the Ukraine bail out.(2)
The IMF was part of the Bretton Woods project, which was organized by the imperialist countries after World War II in an attempt to prevent the protectionism and trade barriers that led to the economic crisis in the capitalist core, and drove them to war in both WWI and WWII. Many sanctions and trade barriers are being threatened in the current conflict. But, if Russia is allowed to export some finance capital to Ukraine as part of the imperialist plan for the country, and Russia gets to keep Crimea under its sphere of influence, then a hot war between Russia and the West will likely be averted.
The IMF is basically run by the United $tates, which has 16.75% of the votes. Meanwhile the U.$.-led imperialist camp (U.$., Japan, Germany, France, U.K., Italy and Canada) has 43.74% of votes. Russia has only 2.39%.(3) In addition to the IMF loans, the United $tates has talked of unilateral aid, as long as Ukraine "takes the reforms it needs."(4) So Russia will see a significant loss in its economic interests in the Ukraine overall, but will likely see a small piece of the pie as serving its interests better than an all out war with the United $tates.
The framework developed at Bretton Woods has been a relatively effective solution to one of the inherent contradictions of the imperialist economic system. However, it does not eliminate inter-imperialist rivalry, it just manages it. While a war on North Amerikan or Western European soils is being avoided at all costs, it is not out of the question. It will certainly come before socialism can reach those lands. War is inherent to imperialism. And it is our position that World War III has been an ongoing low-intensity war against the Third World by the imperialists since the end of WWII.(5) In recent decades this war has been primarily waged by the United $tates. While inter-imperialist war has been secondary in this period, the struggle between different imperialist interests is an antagonistic contradiction that cannot be resolved without ending imperialism. As such conflicts heat up, those in the imperialist countries will be reminded that imperialism does not serve their interests when it comes to the threat of annhilation in war. These conflicts also create breathing room for the oppressed nations to develop their own political interests independent of imperialism. The key to the survival of the humyn species is to develop such movements before the imperialists kill us all.
8 March 2014, Jackson, MS — Today hundreds attended the funeral service for Mayor Chokwe Lumumba who died after just eight months in office. His son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, eulogized his father. He has also announced his plans to run in an April 8 election to replace his father as Mayor of Jackson.
Days before his death Chokwe was sick with a cold. On 25 February, he was pronounced dead of "natural causes," with local officials claiming it was heart failure. But family requests for an autopsy were denied. His family is working with the National Caucus of Black Lawyers to fund an independent autopsy. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam has offered to put up the money for the autopsy.(1)
Chokwe Lumumba was a leading figure in the struggle for the liberation of New Afrika since the founding of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika in 1968. He went on to launch and work with organizations such as the New Afrikan Peoples' Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. As a lawyer he fought many historic cases for New Afrikan humyn rights in the United $tates. He represented Assata Shakur, Tupac Shakur and the Scott sisters, to name a few.
Many close to Lumumba are questioning his sudden death, following his election in a state with a long history of murdering New Afrikans. In our report on his election, we questioned his ability to build dual power in Mississippi in line with the New Afrikan Liberation Movement from within the city government. We pointed out that true dual power must have an independent base of force from which to defend itself. Only an independent autopsy can tell whether this was a case of political assassination, brutally proving that very point. Whatever the cause of death, it was quite untimely for such a leading national liberation figure who just won a major election. We will continue to watch the developments in Jackson where young New Afrikans must prove themselves as determined as Lumumba and so many others of his generation who fought for socialism and national independence for New Afrika.
Newly released information about the British GCHQ and Amerikan NSA expose the agencies' work to manipulate and undermine online individuals and organizations. In addition to the monitoring of online activity, email, and phone calls, the government tactics include Denial of Service attacks to shut down websites, releasing viruses to destroy computers, traps to lure people into compromising situations using sex, and release of false information to destroy reputations.
Previous Snowden documents revealed widespread spying by U.$ and British government agencies. These new documents confirm what we've said for years: the government has a long running infiltration and misinformation campaign to disrupt and manipulate individuals and groups they see as dangerous. This is particularly focused on political activists.
The online attacks were detailed in a 2012 presentation from the British Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) presented to the U.$, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand intelligence agencies. The slides describe this "Cyber Offensive" as "Pushing the Boundaries and Action Against Hacktivism." Essentially this is a way to attack people who are not charged with any crimes but are seen as somehow dangerous, generally because of their political protests.
One of the tactics, called false flag operations, involves posting material online that is falsely attributed to someone, and includes "write a blog purporting to be one of their victims", "email/text their colleagues, neighbours, friends etc," and "change their photos on social networking sites." This is a continuation of the COINTELPRO work of the Amerikan spy agencies targeting activist organizations in the 1960s, moved online for faster and more efficient attacks on enemies of the government. Those who have studied the Black Panther Party know about the government-led infiltratration and misleadership, false letters sent to disrupt internal communication and create divisions, and many other tactics used to imprison and destroy the most advanced and effective revolutionary organization of its time. Maoism is just as dangerous to the U.$. government today as it was in the 1960s, and just as our organizing work has advanced, their COINTELPRO work has also advanced.
It is right for our readers to ask, as one reader did in 2012, "I am concerned you have been already infiltrated or you're a CIA front organization claiming revolutionary organizing." We should question all individuals and organizations in this way, and judge them by their actions. You can't just take someone's word that they are a revolutionary; their political line and actions must be correct. And even then, there is no reason to give out more information about yourself than absolutely necessary. As we outlined in our article "Self-Defense and Secure Communications", we can make the government's job much more difficult by taking some basic security precautions in our work.
These latest Snowden revelations remind us of the struggle of the Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika (the vanguard party of the Maoist Internationalist Movement in the United $tates in the 1980s to 2000s) which had its information hosted on the etext.org website. Throughout their decades of work they often encountered forces on the internet that they characterized as cops based on their politics and behavior. This goes much deeper than our warnings against using corporate online social networks for organizing work. It requires a continued study of politics in order to guard against online pigs who will often outnumber the proletariat forces in that forum. Without a continued study and application of politics in such work, people quickly degenerate into nihilism because they are unable to trust anyone they interact with online. An unwillingness to engage in scientific skepticism will often lead to such nihilism and/or a degeneration to doing work that does not threaten imperialism to avoid these struggles.
Before MIP-Amerika ceased to exist one of its underground leaders went public with his name and persynal information in an attempt to fight back against behind-the-scenes government attacks. Many of the attacks he described come right out of this JTRIG playbook. In response to the situation, many of the MIM posts on etext.org were focused on security and confusing to most readers. But that doesn't make the struggle undertaken there incorrect, and these latest revelations lend further credence to the revelations from MIM. We can only assume that as the organization with the most correct revolutionary line within the United $tates, the government spy agencies focused significant attention on disrupting and destroying the MIP-Amerika. While that specific organization no longer exists, there are new Maoist groups like MIM(Prisons) continuing the legacy of MIM, and we have a responsibility to be diligent about security to ensure our continued existence.
Prisoners in Texas have been fighting the recently enacted restrictions on indigent correspondence which restricts indigent prisoners to 5 one-ounce domestic letters per month. As we've explained in other articles, this is an attack on the growing number of revolutionary voices in Texas speaking out to expose the barbaric treatment and inhumane conditions. One comrade created a grievance that prisoners can file and a list of people to contact to demand this policy be changed. We are now getting reports of responses to these grievances. And as usual, the prisons are just giving us the run-around.
One prisoner got a response to his grievance stating: "TDCJ as an Agency revised Board Policy 03.91 in August of 2013 affecting indigent mail. Those decisions are not made at the Unit level, merely enforced. No further action warrented."(sic)
Further, several prisoners have received form letters from the TDCJ Ombudsman's Office telling them that they Ombudsman will not be responding and they should contact the "appropriate unit staff" instead. "Issues regarding unit operations, disciplinary disputes, property issues, mail or any other matter relating to conditions of care or supervision may be formally addressed through the Offender Grievance Procedure..."
So basically the Ombudsman's Office says prisoner's must take up this issue via a grievance. And the unit staff respond to prisoner's grievances saying they can not address this issue because it is a state-wide policy. The original campaign urged people to contact a variety of TDCJ leaders and Texas politicians. To date we have no reports of any response from them.
This campaign is an important battle to ensure the voices of Texas prisoners can be heard. Limits on correspondance mean we will be unable to get regular reports of abuses behind bars, and unable to maintain study and communication with politically active comrades. We must continue the pressure and demand more than just form letters and dismissals to our protests.
Stand Up, Struggle Forward: New Afrikan Revolutionary Writings On Nation, Class and Patriarchy by Sanyika Shakur Kersplebedeb, 2013
Available for $13.95 + shipping/handling from: kersplebedeb CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne Montreal, Quebec Canada H3W 3H8
While we recommended his fictional T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E., and his autobiographical Monster is a good read on the reality of life in a Los Angeles lumpen organization, Shakur's third book is most interesting to us as it provides an outline of his political line as a New Afrikan communist.(1) Stand Up, Struggle Forward! is a collection of his recent essays on class, nation and gender. As such, this book gives us good insight into where MIM(Prisons) agrees and disagrees with those affiliated with the politics Shakur represents here.
At first glance we have strong unity with this camp of the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM). Our views on nation within the United $tates seem almost identical. One point Shakur focuses on is the importance of the term New Afrikan instead of Black today, a position we recently put a paper out on as well.(2) Agreeing on nation tends to lead to agreeing on class in this country. We both favorably promote the history of Amerika laid out by J. Sakai in his classic book Settlers: the Mythology of a White Proletariat. However, in the details we see some differences around class. We've already noted that we do not agree with Shakur's line that New Afrikans are a "permanent proletariat"(p.65), an odd term for any dialectician to use. But even within the New Afrikan nation, it seems our class analyses agree more than they disagree, which should translate to general agreement on practice.
Writings that were new to us in this book dealt with gender and patriarchy in a generally progressive and insightful way. Gender is one realm where the conservativeness of the lumpen really shows through, and as Shakur points out, the oppressors are often able to outdo the oppressed in combating homophobia, and to a lesser extent transphobia, these days. A sad state of affairs that must be addressed to improve our effectiveness.
Attacking Stalin and Mao has long been an important task for the intelligentsia of the West, and the United $tates in particular. This has filtered down through to the left wing of white nationalism in the various anarchist and Trotskyist sects in this country, who are some of the most virulent anti-Stalin and anti-Mao activists. It is a roadblock we don't face among the oppressed nations and the less institutionally educated in general. From the sparse clues provided in this text we can speculate that this line is coming from an anarchist tendency, a tendency that can be seen in the New Afrikan revolutionary nationalist formations that survived and arose from the demise of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Yet, Shakur takes up the Trotskyist line that the USSR was socialist up until Lenin's death, while accepting the Maoist position that China was socialist up until 1976.(p.162) He says all this while implying that Cuba might still be socialist today. A unique combination of assessments that we would be curious to know more about.
There is a difference between saying Mao had some good ideas and saying that socialist China was the furthest advancement of socialism in humyn history, as we do. Narrow nationalism uses identity politics to decide who is most correct rather than science. While we have no problem with Shakur quoting extensively from New Afrikan ideological leaders, a failure to study and learn from what the Chinese did is failing to incorporate all of the knowledge of humyn history, and 99% of our knowledge is based in history not our own experiences. The Chinese had the opportunity, due to their conditions, to do things that have never been seen in North America. Ignoring the lessons from that experience means we are more likely to repeat their mistakes (or make worse ones). This is where (narrow) nationalism can shoot you in the foot. Maoism promoted self-reliance and both ideological and operational independence for oppressed nations. To think that accepting Maoism means accepting that your conditions are the same as the Chinese in the 1950s is a dogmatic misunderstanding of what Maoism is all about.
For those who are influenced by Mao, rather than adherents of Maoism, Stalin often serves as a clearer figure to demarcate our differences. This proves true with Shakur who does not criticize Mao, but criticizes other New Afrikans for quoting him. For Stalin there is less ambiguity. To let Shakur speak for himself, he addresses both in this brief passage:
"While We do in fact revere Chairman Mao and have always studied the works of the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Revolution, We feel it best to use our own ideologues to make our own points. And We most certainly will not be using anything from old imperialist Stalin. He may be looked upon as a 'comrade' by the NABPP, but not by us."(p.54)
For MIM(Prisons), imperialist is probably the worst epithet we could use for someone. But this isn't about name-calling or individuals, this is about finding and upholding the ideas that are going to get us free the fastest. In response to a question about how to bring lumpen organizations in prison and the street together, Shakur states, "The most fundamental things are ideology, theory and philosophy. These are weaknesses that allowed for our enemies to get in on us last time."(p.17) So what are Shakur's ideological differences with Stalin?
Shakur's definition of nation differs little from Stalin's, though it does omit a reference to a common economy: "A nation is a cultural/custom/linguistic social development that is consolidated and evolves on a particular land mass and shares a definite collective awareness of itself."(p.21) In his response to Rashid, Shakur attempts to strip Stalin of any credit for supporting the Black Belt Thesis, while sharing Stalin's line on the importance of the national territory for New Afrika. Shakur opens his piece against Rashid, Get Up for the Down Stroke, with a quote from Atiba Shanna that concludes "the phrase 'national question' was coined by people trying to determine what position they would take regarding the struggle of colonized peoples — there was never a 'national question' for the colonized themselves." While this assessment may be accurate for contemporary organizations in imperialist countries, these organizations did not coin the term. This assessment is ahistorical in that the "national question" was posed by Lenin and Stalin in much different conditions than we are in today or when Shanna wrote this. In fact, reading the collection of Stalin's writings, Marxism and the National-Colonial Question, will give you an outline of how those conditions changed in just a couple decades in the early 1900s. It might be inferred from the context that Shakur would use the quote from Shanna to condemn "imperialist Stalin" for being so insensitive to the oppressed to use a term such as "the national question." Yet, if we read Stalin himself, before 1925 he had explicitly agreed with Shanna's point about the relevance of nationalism in the colonies:
"It would be ridiculous not to see that since then the international situation has radically changed, that the war, on the one hand, and the October Revolution in Russia, on the other, transformed the national question from a part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into a part of the proletarian-socialist revolution."(4)
This point is also central to his essay, The Foundations of Leninism, where he stated, "The national question is part of the general question of the proletarian revolution, a part of the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat."(5) So Shakur should not be offended by the word "question," which Stalin also used in reference to proletarian revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat. Clearly, "question" here should not be interpreted as questioning whether it exists, but rather how to handle it. So, in relation to Stalin at least, this whole point is a straw person argument.
On page 86, also in the response to Rashid, Shakur poses another straw person attack on Stalin in criticizing Rashid's promotion of "a multi-ethnic multi-racial socialist amerika." Shakur counter-poses that the internal semi-colonies struggle to free their land and break up the U.$. empire, and implies that Stalin would oppose such a strategy. Now this point is a little more involved, but again exposes Shakur's shallow reading of Stalin and the history of the Soviet Union. Promoting unity at the highest level possible is a principle that all communists should uphold, and this was a challenge that Stalin put much energy and attention into in the Soviet Union. He was dealing with a situation where great Russian chauvinism was a barrier to the union of the many nationalities, and that chauvinism was founded in the (weak) imperialist position of Russia before the revolution. Russia was still a predominantly peasant country in a time when people had much less material wealth and comforts. While one could argue in hindsight that it would have been better for the Russian-speaking territories to organize socialism separately from the rest of the USSR, all nationalities involved were mostly peasant, and secondarily proletarian in their class status.(6) The path that Lenin and Stalin took was reasonable, and possibly preferable in terms of promoting class unity. Thanks to the Soviet experiment we can look at that approach and see the advantages and disadvantages of it. We can also see that the national contradiction has sharply increased since the October Revolution, as Stalin himself stressed repeatedly. And finally, to compare a settler state like the United $tates that committed genocide, land grab, and slavery to the predominately peasant nation of Russia in 1917... well, perhaps Shakur should remember his own advice that we must not impose interpretations from our own conditions onto the conditions of others. Similarly, just because Stalin clearly called for a multinational party in 1917, does not mean we should do so in the United $tates in 2014.(7)
While Stalin generally promoted class unity over national independence, he measured the national question on what it's impact would be on imperialism.
"...side by side with the tendency towards union, there arose a tendency to destroy the forcible forms of such union, a struggle for the liberation of the oppressed colonies and dependent nationalities from the imperialist yoke. Since the latter tendency signified a revolt of the oppressed masses against imperialist forms of union, since it demanded the union of nations on the basis of co-operation and voluntary union, it was and is a progressive tendency, for it is creating the spiritual prerequisites for the future world socialist economy."(8)
In conclusion, it is hard to see where Shakur and Stalin disagree on the national question. While upholding very similar lines, Shakur denies that New Afrika's ideology has been influenced by Stalin. While we agree that New Afrika does not need a Georgian from the 1920s to tell them that they are an oppressed nation, Stalin played an important role in history because of the struggles of the Soviet people. He got to see and understand things in his conditions, and he was a leader in the early development of a scientific analysis of nation in the era of imperialism. His role allowed him to have great influence on the settler Communist Party - USA when he backed Harry Haywood's Blackbelt Thesis. And while we won't attempt to lay out the history of the land question in New Afrikan thought, certainly that thesis had an influence. We suspect that Shakur's reading of Stalin is strongly influenced by the lines of the NABB-PC and Communist Party - USA that he critiques. But to throw out the baby with the bath water is an idealist approach. The Soviet Union and China both made unprecedented improvements in the conditions of vast populations of formerly oppressed and exploited peoples, without imposing the burden to do so on other peoples as the imperialist nations have. This is a model that we uphold, and hope to emulate and build upon in the future.
Having spent the majority of his adult life in a Security Housing Unit, much of this book discusses the prison movement and the recent struggle for humyn rights in California prisons. His discussion of the lumpen class in the United $tates parallels ours, though he explicitly states they are "a non-revolutionary class."(p.139) His belief in a revolutionary class within New Afrika presumably is based in his assessment of a large New Afrikan proletariat, a point where he seems to agree with the NABPP-PC. In contrast, we see New Afrika dominated by a privileged labor aristocracy whose economic interests ally more with imperialism than against it. For us, to declare the First World lumpen a non-revolutionary class is to declare the New Afrikan revolution impotent. Ironically, Shakur himself embodies the transformation of lumpen criminal into revolutionary communist. While he is certainly the exception to the rule at this time, his biography serves as a powerful tool to reach those we think can be reached, both on a subjective level and due to the objective insights he has to offer.
One of the points Shakur tries to hit home with this book is that the oppressors have more faith in the oppressed nations ability to pose a threat to imperialism than the oppressed have in themselves. And we agree. We see it everyday, the very conscious political repression that is enacted on those in the U.$. koncentration kamps for fear that they might start to think they deserve basic humyn rights, dignity, or even worse, liberation. We think this book can be a useful educational tool, thereby building the confidence in the oppressed to be self-reliant, keeping in mind the critiques we pose above.
As of 27 December 2013 we have received reader surveys back from 7.6% of our subscribers over the last 11 months. We began running the survey in Under Lock & Key requesting some basic persynal information and feedback on the content of ULK. Our goal was to assess who is reading ULK and what we can do to improve the content. The survey respondents overall represent a distribution of prisoners in line with the general prison population, with a few exceptions consistent with the focus of our work. In particular, we have significant over-representation from Texas, California and Pennsylvania among our readers. This means prisoners in those states are getting more input into the content of ULK. While we are no longer collecting survey responses, we welcome readers to send us your feedback on what you like and what you think could be improved as we are constantly looking to improve ULK.
Assuming that respondants to our reader survey represent the general readership of ULK, we evaluated the information on their demographics to see how this compares to the prison population overall in the United $tates. Below we discuss some differences between ULK readers and the general prison population.
Our average surveyed age is 40, but in 2011 only 40% of the prison population was over 40. This is not a surprising fact: people who are older and more educated behind the bars are turning to revolutionary politics. We could conclude that a longer time in prison leads people to become more politically advanced.
Relative to the U.$. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) on "race" of prisoners, our survey respondents include a slight over-representation of New Afrikans and a significant underrepresentation of Latinos (16% compared to a 23% "Hispanic" population in 2011 overall). We are not surprised to have an undercount of Spanish-speaking folks responding to an english language survey, especially as Spanish-only migrants have been the fastest growing segment of the U.$. prison population in recent years. In addition, there was a significant percentage (8.3%) of people who identify as indigenous in our survey (including those who identified as half indigenous and half white). The BJS does not collect statistics on First Nations, so we must assume they are included in the remaining 5% that they do not class as Black, white or Hispanic. This indicates 8.3% is a relatively high percentage compared to the general prison population. As an organization fighting for the national liberation of oppressed nations, both internationally and within U.$. borders, we are not surprised that our readership in prison is even more skewed away from whites than the general prison population which is already only 34% white.
The latest study we found (2006) reports that 52% of prisoners are re-incarcerated. 61% of our respondents were incarcerated at least once before. This may be because those with a prison record get longer sentences and so are more likely to come into contact with ULK. They are also more likely to be older and active in prison, if our theory about age of prisoners is correct.
A very high percent (48%) of survey respondents are locked up in some form of solitary confinement (RHU, SHU, Control Units, Administrative Segregation, etc.). This is consistent with our experience that politically aware and active prisoners are targeted for isolation as punishment for their activism, and to try to isolate them from other prisoners to reduce their influence. Our research on control units indicates that less than 5% of prisoners are in long-term isolation in the United $tates.
In response to our question about what people like best about ULK, the most popular response (22%) was "all of it!" We appreciate the enthusiasm of our readers. More specific responses that were popular included a lot of support for the unity demonstrated by ULK articles (11%) and the stories about other prisoner's work and organizing (20%). There was also a lot of appreciation for state-specific and legal reporting (6%). Five percent of survey respondents liked best the core mission of ULK (which people described as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, internationalism, reporting the truth, or just "the mission"). In addition, we saw responses in support of book reviews, culture, Spanish, country-wide and world news reporting, and general education.
In response to the question about what our readers would like to see more of in ULK, aside from the third of the respondents who thought it was just perfect as is or just requested more of ULK, one of the popular responses (9.5%) was a request for more theory, including information on the history of revolutionary movements and revolutionary heroes, quotes from communists, Maoist theory in general, and more in depth analysis from MIM(Prisons). Related to the request for theory, because strategy is developed from theory, and tactics come from strategic direction, we also had a lot of people asking for strategic direction in general (5.5%), and many asking for more campaigns and tactical campaign work they can do in their prisons (5%). This is a good reminder for our USW leaders as well as our ULK writers and editors that we should tie general prison news to campaign work when possible, and we should be looking for opportunities to initiate new campaigns that will be both educational and lead to potential tactical victories for the revolutionary movement.
A lot of people (9%) want to see more state-specific information (every prisoner wants more information on their own state). We can only increase the content about your state if you take action and write about what's going on there. We rely on our readers for all of the state-specific reporting in ULK. And to really make good news, people need to be organizing so that we have campaigns, successes and failures to report on. So this is a response we hope comes from comrades who are sitting down now to write about their organizing efforts for the next issue.
There were also a lot of requests for resource lists (14.5%) or connections to other resources, and requests for legal information (12%). This is not part of our core mission for Under Lock & Key. We do run the Prisoners' Legal Clinic to help fight key legal battles, such as the censorship of political material. But MIM(Prisons)'s core mission is to build the anti-imperialist prison movement, and so we prioritize communist political organizing. We do not have the labor or funding to provide general resource lists and legal assistance in addition to our core work. We know there are not many groups out there doing this, but resource lists and legal assistance will ultimately only provide band-aids to a fundamentally broken system of imperialism. And anti-imperialist organizing is even more scarce in prisons than legal and resource work.
Additional suggestions from readers for specific areas of expansion included: art, control units, current events, international news, poetry, security, Spanish, U.$. government reporting, and issues faced by the elderly, wimmin and LGBTQ prisoners. There were a wide range of topics suggested and the ULK staff will be discussing all of them as we strive to improve Under Lock & Key.
A few prisoners responded to some of the survey questions requesting that ULK be "less racial", and "stop generalizing whites as oppressors" while one respondent liked "your hate against white people." These responses represent a fundamental misunderstanding of the MIM(Prisons) political line around nation. We do not hate white people; we hate the imperialist system which kills, tortures and oppresses the majority of the world's people for the wealth and enjoyment of the minority. We are scientists and we see clearly that in the United $tates the white nation is part of the minority of imperialist allies leading global oppression. But we also can see that the majority of the people in Russia before the revolution in 1917 who were oppressed were "white." It is not skin color that determines people's status as oppressor or oppressed. However, because of national oppression in the world today, we do see whole nations of people oppressed as a group by other nations. The white nation in the United $tates is an oppressor group, and there are many oppressed nations in the Third World. From an economic perspective, the other nations within U.$. borders are also part of the oppressors (New Afrikans, Chican@s, etc.), but these groups also face national oppression and so have some interest in anti-imperialism. It's a complex system, that requires careful analysis and cannot be boiled down to race or hate against white people. We hope these readers will engage with us further for study to understand our position.
In this issue of Under Lock & Key we are featuring an extra four pages of content, which we hope our readers find to be educational and helpful in their organizing work. These four pages were funded by donators and the ULK Sustainers group, a group of United Struggle from Within members and supporters in prison who send in donations to expand ULK. To help fulfill the requests for more that was loud and clear in the survey results, join the ULK Sustainers group today.
Recently the small town of SeaTac, Washington passed a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Across the United $tates the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) labor union has led an effort to demand $15 per hour for all fast food workers. For a 28 November 2013 strike, organizers said that there were demonstrations in over 100 cities.(1)
In 2014 the minimum wage will be going up in many states. Leading the way are Washington($9.32) and Oregon($9.10), with New York making the biggest jump to $8.00 per hour. New York City was center to the recent fast food strikes. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress have plans for a bill this year that would raise the federal minimum from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.(2)
Another place that minimum wage struggles made a lot of noise in 2013 was the garment industry in Bangladesh. As we mentioned in the last issue of Under Lock & Key, those workers had a recent victory in the minimum wage being raised from $38 to $68 per month. In Cambodia, garment workers have been promised a raise in the minimum wage from $80 to $95 per month. Unsatisfied, the workers have joined recent protests against the current regime to demand $160 per month.(3)
With 48-hour work weeks, garment workers are making around $0.35 per hour in Bangladesh, and $0.42 in Cambodia. Believe it or not, these are the privileged workers who have special protections because they are in important export industries. The common Bangladeshi has a minimum wage of $19 per month, which is less than 10 cents an hour.
Now, the first cry of our chauvinist critics will be "cost of living, you forgot about cost of living." Our proposal for a global minimum wage would tie this wage to a basket of goods. That means the worker in the United $tates and the worker in Bangladesh can afford comparable lifestyles with their pay. Maybe the Amerikan gets wheat where the Bangladeshi gets rice, for example. But the Amerikan does not get a persynal SUV with unlimited gasoline, while the Bangladeshi gets bus fare to and from work. To maintain such inequality the Bangladeshi is subsidizing a higher standard of living for the Amerikan.
It happens that the World Bank has taken a stab at this calculation with their Purchasing Power Parity. Using this calculation, the minimum wage in Bangladesh, which appears to be $0.09 per hour, is really a whopping $0.19 per hour.(4) So, we must apologize to our critics. The proposed minimum wage of $10 per hour would only put the lowest paid Amerikans at 50 times the pay of the lowest paid Bangladeshi if we account for cost of living.
Recently the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) accused our movement of dismissing the possibility of revolutionary organzing in the United $tates because we acknowledge the facts above. Just because struggles for higher wages, and other economic demands, are generally pro-imperialist in this country does not mean that we cannot organize here. But revolutionary organizing must not rally the petty bourgeoisie for more money at the expense of the global proletariat. Besides, even in the earliest days of the Russian proletariat Lenin had criticisms of struggles for higher wages.
While we expressed doubts about Chokwe Lumumba's electoral strategy in Jackson, Mississippi, we remain optimistic about the New Afrikan Liberation Movement's efforts to mobilize the masses there. Organizing for cooperative economics and self-sufficiency is a more neutral approach to mobilizing the lower segments of New Afrika than the SEIU clamoring for more wages for unproductive service work. While our concerns rested in their ability to organize in a way that was really independent of the existing system, creating dual power, the SEIU's begging for more spoils from the imperialists does not even offer such a possibility. To really address the inequalities in the world though, we must ultimately come into conflict with the capitalist system that creates and requires those inequalities.
One agitational point of the fast food protests has been that 52 percent of the families of front-line fast food workers need to rely on public assistance programs.(1) One reason this is true is that most fast food workers do not get to work 48 or even 40 hours a week. Throw children and other dependents in the mix and you have a small, but significant, underclass in the United $tates that struggles with things like food, rent and utility bills. Most are single parents, mostly single mothers. Collective living and economic structures could (and do) serve this class and can offer a means of political mobilization. The Black Panthers' Serve the People programs and Black houses (collective living) are one model for such organizing. But state-sponsored programs and the general increase in wealth since the 1960s makes distinguishing such work from working with imperialism a more daunting task.
The campaign for a global minimum wage has little traction among the lower paid workers in the United $tates, because they do not stand to benefit from this. This is a campaign to be led by the Third World and pushed through international bodies such as the World Trade Organization. We support it for agitational reasons, but don't expect mass support in this country. It allows us to draw a line between those who are true internationalists and those who are not.(5)
Any campaign working for economic interests of people in the imperialist countries is going to be problematic because the best economic deal for them will require teaming up with the imperialists, at least for the forseeable future.
Images of a statue of communist leader V.I. Lenin being torn down in Kiev have been celebrated in the Western press, as hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest the current regime headed by president Viktor Yanukovych.
Much of the coverage of the recent protests in Ukraine condemn government corruption as the common complaint of the protestors, linking it to Ukraine's Soviet past. The association is that this is the legacy of communist rule. In contrast, we would argue that this corruption was the result of economic Liberalism taking hold in the former Soviet Union where bourgeois democracy was lacking. Today's protests are largely inspired by a desire for bourgeois democracy, and the perceived economic benefits it would provide over the current rule by a parasitic bourgeoisie with little interest in the national economy.
The rise of Kruschev to lead the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) after Stalin's death marked the victory of the capitalist roaders within the Communist Party, and the beginning of the era of social-imperialism for the Soviet Union. This lasted from 1956 until the dissolution of the Union in 1991, when Ukraine became an independent republic. The period was marked by moving away from a socialist economy structured around humyn need and towards a market economy guided by profit. This transformation was reflected in the ideology of the people who more and more looked towards the imperialist countries and their crass consumerism as something to aspire to. It also led those in power to have more interest in their local regions than in the prosperity of the Union as a whole.
Even under capitalism, the Soviet Union was more prosperous and more stable than after its dissolution. In 1991, an estimated three quarters of the Soviet people supported maintaining the Union, but the leadership had no motivation to do so.(1) A move towards strengthening the Union would awaken the proletarian interests, which were opposed to the interests of the leadership that was now a new bourgeoisie. Ukraine played a key role in initiating the dissolution of the USSR. And it was no coincidence that in Ukraine, in particular, the dissolution was an economic disaster as the former Soviet nations were tossed to the wolves of economic Liberalism. A small emerging capitalist class took advantage of fixed prices that were a legacy of the Soviet economy and sold cheaply obtained raw materials at market rates to other countries. They turned around and invested that capital outside in international markets while tightening monopolies on trade at home. This was one of the most drastic transfers of wealth from the hands of the producers to the hands of capitalists in recent decades.(2)
Ten years after the October Revolution of 1917, Stalin wrote, "the resultant dropping out of a vast country from the world system of capitalism could not but accelerate [the process of the decay and the dying of capitalism]".(3) The inverse of this is also true, to a degree: the reentry of many countries into the world system breathed life back into it. While this brought great change at the hands of the newly empowered national bourgeoisie in those countries, it did not change the fact that imperialism had already made capitalism an economically regressive system. Hence they did not develop the wealth of their nations as the rising bourgeoisie of centuries past had done by improving production and developing trade. Today's rising bourgeoisie restricts markets via monopolies, and heads straight for high-margin business like drugs, weapons and financial markets. What happened in the ex-Soviet countries is a good demonstration of why Libertarian ideals are not relevant in today's economy.
The underground economy had been growing for decades before 1991, and this new freedom to compete was a boon to the criminal organizations that existed. These mafias were on the ground with direct access to the resources of the people before the imperialists had time to fight over these newly opened economies. With rising nationalism in the republics, Russian imperialism had to keep its distance, while other imperialist countries had no base in the region to get established. The inter-imperialist rivalry over the region is playing out today.
In the early years of independence, the Ukrainian state merged with that criminal class that was taking advantage of the political and economic turmoil in the country.(4) As a result the GDP dropped to a mere third of what it was just before the Union dissolved.(5) This came after decades of declining economic growth after the initial shift away from socialist economics. The mafias in the former Soviet countries saw an opportunity to seize local power and wealth in their respective republics as the super power crumbled. Some were further enticed by Amerikan bribes, such as Russian President Boris Yeltsin's family who received billions of dollars.(6) For a time there was hope that these changes would improve economic conditions as the bourgeois Liberal mythology led the former Soviet peoples to believe that they could follow the advice (and political donations) of the United $tates.
This mess, which the region is still struggling with, was the ultimate result of what Mao Zedong said about the rise of a new bourgeoisie within the communist party after the seizure of state power due to their inherent privilege as directors of the state. A successful socialist project must combat these bourgeois tendencies at every turn in order to prevent the proletariat from suffering at the hands of a new bourgeois exploiting class. At the core of the Cultural Revolution was combating the theory of productive forces, which Mao had previously criticized the Soviet Union for implementing. The turn to the western imperialist countries as economic models was the logical conclusion of the theory of productive forces in the Soviet Union.
One of the messages underpinning today's protests in Ukraine is the desire to move closer to the European Union (EU), as opposed to the Russian sphere of influence. It seems that looking to the west for hope has only increased in Ukraine over the last couple decades. But there is no obvious advantage to becoming a client of imperialist Western Europe over imperialist Russia except for the higher concentration of super-profits in the EU. And as other newcomers to the EU can attest, the imperialist nations in Europe will oppose any perceived distribution of their super-profits to the east. Similar nationalism is fueling the Ukrainian protestors who oppose the perceived transfer of wealth from their country to Russia. In general, increased trade will help a country economically. But in this battle Russia and the EU are fighting to cut each other off from trading with Ukraine. As always, capitalism tends towards monopolies and imperialism depends on monopsonies.
It is little wonder that the masses would be unsatisfied living under the rule of corrupt autocrats. Yet, it was just 2004 when the U.$.-funded so-called "Orange Revolution" threw out a previous mafia boss named Leonid Kuchma.(7) This regime change gained support from those making similar demands to today's protestors, but it did not change the nature of the system as these protests demonstrate. And that orchestrated movement was no revolution. It was a mass protest, followed by a coup d'etat; something that the imperialists have been funding quite regularly in central Eurasia these days. A revolution involves the overthrow of a system and transformation to a new system, specifically a change in the economic system or what Marxists call the mode of production. We don't see any movement in this direction in Ukraine from where we are, as nationalism is being used as a carrier for bourgeois ideologies among the exploited people of Ukraine, just as Stalin warned against.
Rather than a revolutionary anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist movement, the criminal corruption in Ukraine has led to right-wing populism in recent years. This was marked by the surge of the Svoboda party into the parliament. The men who toppled the statue of Lenin and smashed it with sledge hammers waved Svodoba flags as they did so, indicating that they represented not just a vague anti-Russia sentiment, but a clear anti-socialist one.
Svodoba's populism challenges the current ruling bourgeois mafia, while their nationalism serves to divide the proletariat by inflaming various grudges in the region. This is in strong contrast to the revolutionary nationalism supported by Lenin and Stalin and by Maoists today. In a criticism of the provisional government prior to the October Revolution in 1917, Lenin wrote on Ukraine:
"We do not favour the existence of small states. We stand for the closest union of the workers of the world against 'their own' capitalists and those of all other countries. But for this union to be voluntary, the Russian worker, who does not for a moment trust the Russian or the Ukrainian bourgeoisie in anything, now stands for the right of the Ukrainians to secede, without imposing his friendship upon them, but striving to win their friendship by treating them as an equal, as an ally and brother in the struggle for socialism."(8)
This is a concise summary of the Bolshevik line on nationalism.
A Note on Class and Criminality
Without doing an in-depth class analysis of Ukraine, we can still generalize that it is a proletarian nation. Only 5.1% of households had incomes of more than US$15,000 in the year 2011.(9) That mark is close to the dividing line we'd use for exploiters vs. exploited internationally. Therefore we'd say that 95% of people in Ukraine have objective interests in ending imperialism. This serves as a reminder to our readers that we say the white nation in North Amerika is an oppressor nation, not the white race, which does not exist.
While official unemployment rates in Ukraine have been a modest 7 to 8% in recent years, the CIA Factbook reports that there are a large number of unregistered and underemployed workers not included in that calculation. That unquantified group is likely some combination of underground economy workers and lumpen proletariat. In 2011, the Ukrainian Prime Minister said that 40% of the domestic market was illegal,(10) that's about double the rate for the world overall.(11) On top of that, another 31% of the Ukrainian market was operating under limited taxes and regulations implemented in March 2005, which were put in place to reduce the massive black market. In other words, the underground economy was probably much bigger than 40% before these tax exemptions were put in place.
One way we have distinguished the lumpen is as a class that would benefit, whether they think so or not, from regular employment. This is true both for the lumpen-proletariat typical of today's Third World mega-slums, and the First World lumpen, even though "regular employment" means very different things in different countries. While there is a portion of the lumpen that could accurately be called the "criminal" lumpen because they make their living taking from others, we do not define the lumpen as those who engage in crime. Of course not, as the biggest criminals in the world are the imperialists, robbing and murdering millions globally.
For the lumpen, the path of crime is only one option; for the imperialists it defines their relationship to the rest of humynity. Crime happens to be the option most promoted for the lumpen by the corporate culture in the United $tates through music and television. And in chaotic situations like the former Soviet republics faced it may be the most immediately appealing option for many. But it is not the option that solves the problems faced by the lumpen as a class. Ukraine is a stark example of where that model might take us. As the lumpen proletariat grows in the Third World, and the First World lumpen threatens to follow suit in conditions of imperialist crisis, we push to unite the interests of those classes with the national liberation struggles of the oppressed nations that they come from. Only by liberating themselves from imperialism can those nations build economies that do not exclude people.
Among the bourgeoisie, there are few who are innocent of breaking the laws of their own class. But there are those who operate legitimate businesses and there are those who operate in the underground market. This legality has little bearing on their class interests. All national bourgeoisies support the capitalist system that they benefit from, though they will fight against the imperialist if their interests collide.
So there is no such thing as "the criminal class" because we define class by the group's relationship to production and distribution, and not to the legality of their livelihoods. And we should combat the influence of the bourgeois criminals on the lumpen who, on the whole, would be better served by an end to imperialism than by trying to follow in their footsteps.
While the Ukrainian people push for something more stable and beneficial to them, the Russian imperialists face off with the EU. The EU is backed by the United $tates who has publicly discussed sanctions against Ukraine justified by hypocritical condemnation of the Ukrainian government using police to attack peaceful protests. Hey John Kerry, the world still remembers the images of police brutality on Occupy Wall Street encampments.
The real story here may be in the inter-imperialist rivalry being fought out in the Ukrainian streets and parliament. While the Ukraine nation has an interest in ending imperialism, the dominant politics in that country do not reflect that interest. And one reason for that is the lasting effects of mistakes from the past, which still lead to subjective rejection of communism for many Ukrainians in the 21st century. This only further reiterates the importance of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the need to always put politics in command in building a socialist economy to prevent the future exploitation and suffering of the peoples of the world. This is likely a precursor to much more violent conflict over the rights to markets in the former Soviet republics. Violence can be prevented in the future by keeping the exploited masses organized on the road to socialism.
The Butler portrays the life of Cecil Gaines, a butler in the White House for 34 years, starting in 1957. The movie is a fictionalized version of the story of Gene Allen's life. MIM(Prisons) sums up this movie as propaganda to quell the just anger of the oppressed nation masses, encouraging them to work within the system for small changes.
The focus of the movie is on the oppression of New Afrikans from the 1950s to the year 2008, dividing its focus between the White House and the successive Presidents, and the activists in the streets. In the streets the movie gives special focus to the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King Jr. The movie derides the most important political leaders of the time, barely mentioning Malcolm X, and attempting to portray the Black Panther Party (BPP) as a brutally violent movement out to kill whites, just using the community service programs like free breakfast for school children as a cover.
The heroes of the movie include Gaines's son, Louis, who participates in the civil rights and activist movements over the years and eventually "learns" that the best way forward is to push for change from within, and runs for Congress. We see his dedication as a Freedom Rider, and fierce commitment to freedom and justice, as Louis literally puts his life on the line, enduring brutal beatings, repeated imprisonments, and constant threat of death. Louis moves on to work with Martin Luther King Jr. in a highly praised non-violent movement, and then joins the BPP after King is killed. Louis turns from an articulate and brave youth into a kid spouting revolutionary platitudes that he doesn't seem to understand, making the BPP into a mockery of what it really represented.
The other heroes of the movie are the U.$. Presidents. With the exception of Nixon, who is portrayed as a drunk, all the other Presidents are humanized and made to appear appropriately sympathetic with the civil rights movement. While they all are shown saying things clearly offensive, racist, and in favor of national oppression, each President has a moment of redemption. John F. Kennedy tells Gaines that it is Gaines's persynal history and the story of his son's activism that changed his mind on the need for the civil rights movement. Even Ronald Reagan is shown secretly sending cash to people who write to him about their financial problems, and telling Gaines that he's sometimes worried that he's on the wrong side of the civil rights movement. On a positive note, all of the Presidents were shown as reticent to take any positive action towards change until the popular movement forced them to act. This is the reality of any oppressor class.
Gaines does, in the end, come to the realization that real change was not going to come from the White House, and quits his job to join his son in activism in the streets. But this action is played up to be as much an attempt to reconcile his relationship with his son, as a dedication to activism itself. And the activism seems to end with just one protest. In the end, both Cecil and Louis celebrate the "victory" of Obama in the 2008 election as a sign that their battle is finally over.
The Butler does a good job of portraying the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, but only as a minor part of the plot. And it ultimately suggests that New Afrikans should be satisfied with an imperialist lackey in the White House as a representation of their success and equality with whites. It fits into a group of recent movies that Hollywood has produced, such as Lincoln and 12 Years a Slave, to rewrite Amerikan history to quell the contradiction between the oppressor nation and the New Afrikan internal semi-colony.