Three weeks into the California Food Strike the CDCR has given it's official response, which can be summed up as "We'll look into it." On July 15, the CDCR made a proposal to the strikers at Pelican Bay to end the strike without promising any changes. The prisoners declined the offer and continued to fast, calling it "smoke and mirrors" and "insulting."(1) These guys are willing to die for basic rights they've been denied for years, decades for many, and CDCR comes to the table with nothing.
Our inquiries received similar canned responses from the Warden about "operating in full accordance to [all] law... while providing for the ethical, humane treatment of all prisoners." Even more outrageously, he claims they provide "the ability to safely program and actively participate in their rehabilitation." The strike is on because there are no programs or rehabilitation!
Those in close contact with the striking prisoners report that some in Pelican Bay who had stopped fasting have returned to the strike in response to the CDCR's negligence.(1) We've also received word from 4 comrades in the California Institution for Men in Chino that they have just begun a hunger strike in solidarity after getting news from MIM(Prisons).
Other recently received reports include that United Struggle from Within organized comrades in Kern Valley State Prison for a 24 hour food strike in solidarity. In High Desert State Prison, where the pigs were serving double the normal amount of food to prevent a hunger strike, a number of comrades didn't eat from July 1 thru 3rd. Whole sections of California State Prison - Corcoran are still on strike and doctors are coming in regularly to weigh the prisoners.
The CDCR is trying to blame the organizing of the statewide food strike in California prisons on gangs. Meanwhile, the liberal line being put forth in the bourgeois media is that activists dismiss such accusations. Somehow prisoners across California, and even those transferred out of state, participated in solidarity with the food strike on July 1. We know that MIM(Prisons) was one of many organizations with newsletters that contributed to spreading the word, but none of us initiated or did the groundwork to ensure the effectiveness of this campaign. CDCR Spokesperson Terry Thorton tried to explain this as an indication of "the reach and the influence that prison gangs have on other inmates." She went on to say, "It's one of the reasons we have a Security Housing Unit, to remove gang members influence on other general population inmates."(1)
The media is juxtaposing the pigs' assertions about gang leadership to the denials of activists to paint strike supporters as idealistic know-nothings. The prison bureaucrats make careers out of being experts on gangs and criminology, and they rely on the public to trust in their expertise to keep them "safe."
In reality, this pseudo-debate being played out in the media is painting an idealistic view of prison society that ignores history. The pigs know that groups allied to the Black Panthers and other national liberation movements used to lead the prison masses. They know because they broke that up, partly by using long-term isolation, and they encouraged oppressed nation groups with more criminal tendencies to develop with bribery and by turning a blind eye. Now they condemn the monsters they created to justify more repression.
The line MIM(Prisons) has been pushing since before the hunger strike began is in defense of the First Amendment right to association. While countless people have been placed into gangs they've never even heard of by state officials in California, there are many in the SHU who are not trying to fool anyone into thinking that they aren't members of a lumpen organization considered an enemy of the CDCR. This is evident in the statements of the strike leaders which talk about uniting all "races," including "northern" and "southern" Mexicans. Aztlán is one oppressed nation that the pigs have helped draw a line through by promoting criminal organizations that must compete. It is only the fascist conditions within California prisons that prevents prisoners from even being able to speak of their organizational ties.
When we say there are comrades in Pelican Bay SHU who are respected leaders of lumpen organizations, there is no criticism implied there. Some of those comrades have worked tirelessly to orchestrate a Peace Accord between the major divisions within the California prison population, among many other positive projects for their people, including the current campaign. The lie that is promoted by the "tough on crime" bourgeois media is that to be a member of a lumpen organization you must be an evil persyn. Just like they did for Tookie, there is no redemption for the lumpen under imperialism, even when they do more than anyone around them to change the world for the better.
Central to the demands of the striking prisoners is that the state cannot claim to abide by its own rules while it punishes people using secret evidence and petty charges like who they talk to or get mail from, what books they read or tattoos they have. The bureaucrats hide behind the presumed neutrality of the bourgeois courts to defend the torture they put these prisoners through.
The striking comrades are some of the individual oppressed nationals that the imperialists find the most threatening within their own borders. That is why they are being tortured in long-term isolation. Yet, by all indications, the state is going to let these brothers die rather than grant them Constitutional rights to association.
The oppressed nations are free to organize in this country, as long as it's on the Amerikans' terms. If not, then even talking about such organizations will get prisoners thrown in long-term isolation and will get supporters on the streets censored.
"Solitary confinement is not something that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations engages in," according to CDCR Spokesperson Terry Thorton.(1) According to our surveys, California has around 14,444 people in Control Units, defined as "permanently designated prisons or cells in prisons that lock prisoners up in solitary or small group confinement for 22 or more hours a day with no congregate dining, exercise or other services, and virtually no programs for prisoners." This is more people than any other state.
Thorton claims that prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison's Security Housing Unit (SHU) have access to cable TV, books, yard time, the law library, weekly visits with family, and correspondence courses.
Yes, it is true that prisoners can occasionally receive books through the mail, as long as they aren't by or about Blacks or Mexicans. If you're not in SHU yet, such books might be used to validate you as a gang member and throw you in SHU on an indeterminate sentence. Otherwise they are often just censored as "gang material."
Correspondence courses are occasionally allowed, too. But we've confirmed 35 incidents of study materials from a MIM(Prisons) correspondence course being censored in California, 15 of which were at Pelican Bay. We've also been told that a radio show that broadcasts to Pelican Bay was shut down there after broadcasting a correspondence course on a show popular among prisoners.
Interaction with family, inmates and staff is greatly exaggerated by Thorton. We've known comrades whose only physical contact with another humyn being for many years has been guards putting cuffs on their wrists. And while Thorton makes family visits out to be a regular thing, the distance to Crescent City, California for most families is the first barrier that makes visits rare at best. One family member who spoke with MIM(Prisons) at a table while we did outreach in support of the strike described how they went to visit their brother at Pelican Bay once and had to talk through a TV screen. They have not gone back since. Others who visit Pelican Bay talk about how their freedom of association is limited just as the prisoners' is. If they are seen speaking to the wrong persyn (another visitor) while going on visit they can be restricted or banned from coming back.
Thorton described "the two ways" one can get into SHU in California, painting prisoners as either violent attackers or mob bosses running organized crime. Yet, as those who were there when Pelican Bay was being conceived can attest, it was built in response to those who dared to organize and stand up for their rights as the thousands of prisoners who went on food strike across California have done. As prisoners continue to organize and move in a positive and united direction, it will become harder and harder for the state to paint the organizations of the oppressed as enemies that deserve any torture or punishment they receive.
The hunger strike is reaching critical stage for those who have pledged to strike indefinitely, especially the elder and ill. The CDCR still refuses to negotiate and the leaders of the oppressed locked in Pelican Bay continue to exert their leadership. Here is the latest report being circulated by a point persyn on the outside:
Tuesday 8:30 AM: According to a SHU nurse, things are bad at Pelican Bay. The prisoners have not been drinking water and there have been rapid and severe consequences. Nurses are crying. All of the medical staff has been ordered to work overtime to follow and treat the hunger strikers. As of Monday, there were about 50 on C-SHU and 150 on D-SHU. They are not drinking water and have decompensated rapidly. Some are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for 3 days. Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated. They have refused concentrated sugar packs and ensure. The staff has taken them to the CTC and given them intravenous glucose when allowed by the prisoners, but some won't accept this medical support. As of Monday, no one has been force fed with a nasogastric tube. A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up. Some of the medical staff is freaked out because clearly some of these guys seem determined to die. Not taking the water is crushing the staff because the prisoners are progressing rapidly to the organ damaging consequences of dehydration.(1)
CDCR is reporting 800 prisoners continue to refuse food at 6 prisons.(2) However there are multiple reports of groups of prisoners joining the strike this week and even planning to join later in the month.
The campaign initiated July 1st by prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) against the torturous conditions of long-term isolation has received broad support going on for weeks now. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [sic] (CDCR) has admitted that 6600 prisoners refused food trays last weekend across 13 of their 33 prisons.(1) Meanwhile, numerous organizations have organized demonstrations and mobilized support across the United $tates and Kanada leading up to and following the start of the hunger strike. Over five thousand people have signed an online petition pledging their support. Volunteers with MIM(Prisons) have interacted with thousands of people on the streets inside and outside of California with info on the hunger strike, gathering dozens of signed letters and a handful of donations.
According to CDCR 1,600 prisoners remain on food strike one week after the start.(2) The media is reporting a sharp drop in the number of prisoners refusing food in a tone that implies the strike is losing steam. But this is hardly the case. Many prisoners we've heard from outside of Pelican Bay only pledged to strike one or two days in solidarity. One reason for this is because it is hard for them to know when the strike ends or what is happening despite the efforts of outside supporters to send updates. Even in Pelican Bay many of those protesting specified the number of days they would fast beforehand. Only a minority of participants have pledged an indefinite strike until the demands are met. The rest of us work in solidarity with them until the end.
Despite all the noise being made, word from those organizing to mediate negotiations is that the CDCR is refusing to negotiate with strikers or mediators.(3) We know the CDCR has been talking to hunger strike organizers, but it seems that no resolution is in the works as of July 8.
We've seen the ripples of this campaign in our own work as we connect with many new people in California and reconnect with people who we have been cut off from by the state. We've also seen record traffic on our website with the hunger strike campaign page and the article featuring the prisoners' demands bringing in a lot of hits. This increase in readership is a direct result of the organizing of prisoners in California. However we must admit that a good chunk of the traffic is coming from state officials trying to gather intelligence from our reporting.
Donations we've collected so far are less than a tenth of the printing and postage expenses for outreach, mailing protest letters and sending communications to prisoners in California. As always, we can use donations of money and labor to keep up with this important work.
The hunger strike comes almost a year and a half after a formal complaint was filed with the governor of California regarding the torture and violation of Constitutional rights that prisoners face in Pelican Bay. After being ignored by official channels, they turned to outside supporters who came together and organized a press campaign and negotiation support. There was enough lead time that MIM(Prisons) was able to send campaign info to all of our California subscribers prior to the strike. We also hit the streets to gather signed letters of support and explain to people the importance of this struggle leading up to the strike.
A rally in San Francisco in June against the drug war featured the Pelican Bay prisoners' demands prominently. A comrade representing MIM(Prisons) spoke on the upcoming hunger strike, stressing that Pelican Bay was developed as a tool to repress political organizing in the California prison system and that those being targeted with indefinite SHU terms are largely leaders and influential people among the imprisoned oppressed nations. A former California prisoner also spoke about the torturous conditions in Pelican Bay, urging people to support the hunger strike.
During the march, supporters of the "Revolutionary Communist Party - USA" (rcp=u$a) were chanting, "Once we have the revolution, there'll be no mass incarceration!" Which revolution are they talking about? Even on a simple issue like opposing torture in prisons, rcp=u$a's idealist/chauvinist colors showed through. As we point out in every issue of Under Lock & Key, all Amerikans should be viewed as criminals who need to reform under the dictatorship of the proletariat. When the revolution finally hits U.$. soil there will likely be an increase in incarceration of U.$. citizens, as the majority of the world experiences freedom they have not seen for centuries. The difference is that proletarian prisons focus on reform and reintegration into society not torture and isolation as the imperialist system does.
The Campaign Continues
Once the strike began, MIM(Prisons) stepped up efforts to reach the public about the sacrifices and struggles of our comrades in prison. While comrades were able to reach visitors coming to CDCR prisons with fliers and letters of support, repression was reported from a few public spaces inside and outside California. In one case police forced comrades to leave for accepting donations without registering with the state, in others merely handing out fliers on public property got shut down. One police officer claimed that activists could not set up a table on a public sidewalk to solicit support for the strike, contradicting California laws and illegally shutting down our free speech. There are contradictions in a country that locks 100,000 of its citizens in isolation cells and prevents people from distributing leaflets in public space to support their struggle against torture. Their repression only strengthens resistance, and this campaign is a prime example of that. It is ludicrous to consider the label "free country" for a country that does not even provide equal access to political dialogue to all people.
In addition to talking to people on the street, comrades made efforts to reach people through independent media and art. MIM(Prisons) hosted a video clip on its website from the documentary Unlock the Box explaining the history of control units and how they were developed to repress those whose politics were in opposition to the state. Comrades also did outreach at hip hop shows and talked to a revolutionary Chicano group called BRWN BFLO who pledged active support to spreading the word about the hunger strike. Allies in the United $tates and Kanada hosted screenings of Unlock the Box as part of the campaign. Other organizations did interviews and programs on various radio shows.
Those doing outreach reported many interactions with people who had been in Pelican Bay State Prison, in some cases multiple people in the span of a couple hours. All strongly agreed with our criticisms of the conditions there. However, some people concluded that there was nothing that could be done, and that oppressed nations will always be treated this way.
There is a common attitude among current prisoners as well that struggling is useless. The SHU was invented to reinforce that idea. The best way to change those people's minds is by showing them the possibilities. We do that by fighting smartly, as these comrades in Pelican Bay have done resulting in people all over the world knowing about their fight. Serious, diligent organizing work is needed in our struggles for liberation, and basic rights such as the right of association, communication with the outside world and access to educational materials and programs. There are no quick fixes.
On this fourth day of July, Amerikans all across the country are celebrating their freedoms with beer and bangs. Yet in the same country there are more people locked in tiny cages for 22 to 24 hours per day, with little or no access to the outside world, than in any other country in the world. In Pelican Bay State Prison in California many are in such "control units" because of who they associate with, and they were put there based on secret evidence. For any student of the U.$. Constitution or the Bill of Rights it is obvious that the promised freedoms of Amerikkka are not granted to its internal semi-colonies.
Today we are sending dozens of signed letters from residents of California who share our concerns for prisoners forced to live in these torturous conditions and who support those in Pelican Bay engaging in a peaceful hunger strike.
Warden Greg Lewis Pelican Bay State Prison P.O. Box 7000 Crescent City, CA 95531-7000
5 July 2011
Dear Warden Lewis,
Included with this letter are dozens of letters from residents of California who are concerned for the welfare of the prisoners in Pelican bay State Prison. We are sending these letters to you in support of the prisoners on hunger strike. The letters are asking you to do all that is within your power to do to change the conditions in PBSP to meet the strikers' demands.
We have also forwarded copies of these letters to CDCR Internal Affairs and CDCR Office of the Ombudsman.
MIM Distributors P.O. Box 40799 San Francisco, CA 94140
To view a copy of the general letter that people signed, click here.
Please stop any abuses that are going on inside the prison complex. - Oakland, CA
Stop locking up prisoners who need other kinds of help (drug, etc.) P.S. Wasting my tax dollars 4 real! - Berkeley, CA
P.S. U.S. signed the Convention Against Torture. It has been ratified. It is the law of the land. Please do not violate our laws! Thanks. - Richmond, CA
Please attend to this!!! NOW! - Oakland, CA
I just don't understand how people in this day & time are still so devilish, when they got power & it's a very fucked up feeling because we are human beings & you all treat us like shit! -Oakland, CA
Dehumanizing prisoners is sickness; you are helping commit crimes against humanity by abuses and deprivation of basic rights and needs of prisoners. -Eureka, CA
In the letters to Warden Lewis, the California cities of Hercules, San Francisco, San Pablo, El Sobrante, Stockton, Napa, Chula Vista and Vacaville were also represented and supporters have forwarded letters they wrote from as far as BC, Canada.
A popular story in the bourgeois press this week gave an interesting side-by-side comparison of the lumpen in the United $tates to the Third World proletariat. The story came on the heels of new repressive practices targeting Latinos in the state of Georgia with immigration laws beginning July 1 of this year. For fear of deportation and imprisonment, both of which restrict their ability to work, migrant labor crews made up of Mexicans and Guatemalans are steering clear of Georgia. As a result fruit is rotting in the fields.(1) The story exposes the extreme parasitism of this country that cannot even harvest its own food. Amerikans are so rich and spoiled that the labor market cannot fill jobs paying above minimum wage if the work is too hard. If the labor market were free and open the jobs would fill up instantly, but Amerikans oppose this vehemently as they cannot maintain exploiter-level incomes without closed borders. In these times of economic crisis many of these parasites would have you believe that they are "struggling to put food on the table." As they let food literally rot in the fields, we see that just is not true.
To solve the relative labor shortage, the governor of Georgia turned to the population that sits somewhere between the foreign-born and the Amerikan in terms of citizenship rights — prisoners and the formerly incarcerated. Generally defined as the permanently unemployed, excluded from what Marxism calls the "relations of production," the lumpen class includes most prisoners by definition. There is a degree of continuity between the lumpen on the street and the imprisoned lumpen, but many get out of prison to join the petty bourgeois class that dominates this country.
One article cites the Georgia Department of Corrections as claiming that unemployment for all probationers in the state is only 15%, but the Governor's office reports that it is 25%.(2) While much higher than the overall rate of 10% in Georgia, this is still lower than most estimates for young Black male unemployment, and therefore suspiciously low considering that most job applications in the United $tates require you to declare whether you have been imprisoned or convicted of a felony, and this information is used against the applicant. Just looking at the 25% number might suggest that 75% of Georgia probationers have a greater continuity with the (employed) petty bourgeoisie than with a lumpen underclass. Yet recidivism rates in this country over 50% indicate that many of the alleged 75% with jobs will not be staying in the workforce for long. The majority of parolees will not remain in the workforce, but will cycle in and out of jail, prison, rehab, hustling and short-term employment.
While many former prisoners of the United $tates will never live the Amerikan dream, their ideology reflects that culture more than that of the working people of the world. One farmer in Georgia did a side-by-side comparison with a crew of probationers and a crew of migrant laborers and the migrants picked almost 6 times as many cucumbers.(1) Apparently the probationers didn't even bring gloves, and we assume most had no experience with this type of work, so there was certainly room for improvement. But the whole crew didn't even last a full day before quitting. The reports are vague about how many probationers actually lasted more than one day of work, but it was evidently a minority in this small sample.
In response to recruitment efforts for these jobs among U.$. citizens, one Black womyn in Georgia was reported to say, “The only people that would even think about doing that are people who have nothing else left... An educated black person does not have time for that. They didn’t go to school to work on a farm, and they’re not going to do it.”(3) We call those "who have nothing else left" the proletariat, and those who "[don't] have time [for hard work]" a parasitic class living off the labor of the proletariat. By virtue of living in the United $tates alone, even the lumpen have access to many resources through the highly developed infrastructure in this country: welfare programs, religious and charity organizations, and just living off of the excess and waste of the general population. Overall they are not driven to take the hardest jobs, and U.$. capitalists must look to the Third World for labor, even for production that is tied to U.$. soil and therefore pays exploiter-level wages. (Legally the jobs start at the minimum wage of $7.25, while piecework incentives allow the fastest pickers to make $20 an hour at one cucumber farm.(1) Of course, when only migrants without papers are working and the press isn't around it is common for agricultural work to pay well below the legal minimum wage.)
During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), in a country where a professor or shop owner was far poorer than the unemployed Amerikan, the Chinese had to actively combat the type of thinking epitomized in the petty-bourgeois womyn quoted above. Millions of petty-bourgeois Chinese went to the countryside to work and be re-educated. Many youth went happily, excited about building a new China, while many cried the whole time and went on to write books about it to explain to Amerikans why the GPCR was so horrible.
There are righteous reasons why a population of unemployed Blacks would be resistant to working at hard, lower-paying jobs while Amerikans around them are making much more for sitting around in air conditioning pushing paper, and we don't expect that to change under capitalism. That is why all U.$ citizens will require re-education to become productive members of society, from the poorest lumpen who despises working for the white man to the richest CEO whose income could support a large village.
Unlike other social services in the United $tates, public education is the only one where the quality of service you receive is directly impacted by the assessed value of property in your locality. Besides limited busing, there isn't a way around the fact that poorer neighborhoods have crappier schools. When attempts are made to resolve disparities between districts, the rich districts do all they can to resist the change. The obvious methods of spreading the existing money evenly to all districts, and dividing kids evenly across all schools, are seen as taking money away from the rich districts. The rich districts don't think the poor kids deserve the same level of education if it comes at their expense. Poor school districts are predominantly Black and Latino. Very few white kids have to try to get an education in a school that lacks books, desks, teachers, and in some cases even basics like toilets and heat. In 1991 statistics showed that some cities have per-pupil funding for the poorest district equal to only one fifth of the funding in the richest.(1)
"[A] circular phenomenon evolves: The richer districts - those in which the property lots and houses are more highly valued - have more revenue, derived from taxing land and homes, to fund their public schools. The reputation of the schools, in turn, adds to the value of their homes, and this, in turn, expands the tax base for their public schools. The fact that they can levy lower taxes than the poorer districts, but exact more money, raises values even more; and this again, means further funds for smaller classes and for higher teacher salaries within their public schools." Kids educated in poor districts can't compete with the education rich kids are getting by the time they are applying for college.(2)
In 1988, Eastside High School, in a poor and mostly Black and Latino district in Paterson, New Jersey gained some publicity and praise by former U.$. Education Secretary William Bennett and former President Ronald Reagan because the principal, Joe Clark, threw out 300 students in one day who he claimed were involved with violence or drugs. Clark often roamed the halls of his school with a bullhorn and a bat, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Two-thirds of those kids ended up in County Jail. Paterson even destroyed a library because it needed space to build a new jail.(3, 4) Joe Clark was an atypical high school principal, but his defense and support by the President and Education Secretary sent a clear invitation to other principals to adopt Clark's methods.
These facts show how public education is not intended to be, and does not function as, a force to uplift the oppressed nations within U.$. borders. Wealthy districts' protection of "their" tax dollars prove that they will not share their wealth without being forced to do so. The only way to equal education and employment opportunities for everyone is through socialist revolution, and eventually communism.
MIM(Prisons) has been steadily expanding our education efforts both in response to the lack of education afforded our readership, and because it is one of the most important forces we can utilize to advance revolution. Our primary task at this historical stage is to increase public opinion in favor of national liberation movements. And as we organize for revolution we must be sure we are following a correct path and not one that will lead to failure and setbacks. We determine this through our study of history and current conditions, and share these ideas with others through education. Much more could be done, and ultimately this effort should be picked up and spread by people on the inside, but we play a valuable supporting role.
One way MIM(Prisons) supports education behind bars is through our Serve the People Free Political Books for Prisoners Program. Prisoners who cannot afford to buy books can instead exchange revolutionary work for revolutionary literature. Our selection includes magazines and old newspapers from the Maoist Internationalist Movement; classic essays by Mao, Lenin, Marx, and others; history books about China under Mao and the socialist Soviet Union; materials by the Black Panthers and the Young Lords; and works by modern Maoist theorists. We encourage participants of the Free Books Program to share the lit with others, study it with them, and write to MIM(Prisons) with their questions or thoughts so we can better help them with their political education.
A more structured way MIM(Prisons) supports education behind bars is through the various study groups that we facilitate. There are two levels of introductory study groups that will help someone who is new to revolutionary thought, or who is already well-versed but wants to know more about MIM(Prisons)'s politics. Comrades who complete these courses, do not have a worked out line against MIM(Prisons), and are actively involved in some kind of writing work will be invited to join the Under Lock & Key Writers group. This group participates in a higher level of study and discussion, and participants use their knowledge to contribute articles to Under Lock & Key and other anti-imperialist projects.
In the past several years we have put together over a dozen study packs for comrades to use on their own, or in correspondence with MIM(Prisons). We especially encourage people to form study groups inside their prison using these study packs as a guide. Some study pack topics include: strategy (focused on MIM Theory 5), organizational structure, culture (focused on MIM Theory 13), False Nationalism, False Internationalism, fascism, and more. We send these study packs to people whose letters seem like they could benefit significantly from the process, and to participants of the Free Books for Prisoners Program.
We have also been in the long process of compiling a Maoist glossary to post online at www.prisoncensorship.info and to send in to our readers. It will be a miniature dictionary of terms for our struggle, defined from a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist perspective. Comrades who want to contribute to this project can write us for a draft version of what we have so far.
Although we have been developing, with much invaluable help from our comrades inside, useful tools to expand and spread revolutionary education, you can teach others without using even one of them. If you can read this article, you can start educating others about Maoism, our need for revolution, and how we can get there. Start by sharing Under Lock & Key with someone and discussing the articles. What did you find interesting? What did you disagree with? Why do you think the author made a particular statement? What was confusing for you? What new information did you learn? What are you going to do with that information? What do you want to learn about more?
Because education and study rely so heavily on the written word, we should be putting some energy into teaching others how to read. One persyn who knows how to read can spread political education to others exponentially. But someone who cannot read on their own is limited in their ability to fully grasp the difficult questions of making revolution. We are building our revolutionary leadership and need to help others lead by helping them to read.
MIM(Prisons) has been trying to develop our support for literacy programs. Comrades behind bars should take up this important task of teaching others to read, and let MIM(Prisons) know what we can do to better support their efforts. We are especially interested in hearing from people who learned how to read while locked up, and what helped them.
This issue of Under Lock & Key is focused on education because it is the basis of our practice at this time. Education and study are the only ways that we are going to be able to develop as leaders of the revolution toward a just society free of starvation, rape, war, and oppression of all kinds. Theoretical education improves our organizing and mass education work, which is the only way we are going to turn people on to the need and possibility of liberation, and in favor of efforts of the oppressed to liberate themselves.
On the flyer there is an example of a support letter to send to administrators about this issue. It is reprinted below for your convenience.
Dear Warden Lewis,
I am writing this letter to you to express my concern for the prisoners held in Pelican Bay State Prison’s short-corridor Group D. It is my understanding that these people have no disciplinary charges, but are being held in extreme isolation, unable to send photographs to their families or speak to them on the phone.
I am concerned that these prisoners, who are under your responsibility, are being denied their Constitutional right to due process. Not only do these prisoners not have any disciplinary charges, but IGI is intimidating and harassing them into fabricating information to avoid false gang validations. This is illegal and upsetting. As a citizen of the state of California, I fund your paycheck, and I expect more from a state employee than to allow these gross violations of the Constitution to happen right under your nose.
Studies prove time and time again that prisoners who have contact with their family are able to rehabilitate much better than those who are isolated. They are better able to adjust to society when they are released, and avoid being sent back to prison. It is completely irresponsible that you would permit IGI to cause this potential damage in a person’s life, when they are supposed to be allowed these privileges.
Since you are the Warden of Pelican Bay State Prison, I am asking that you intervene in these illegal and irresponsible practices going on in short-corridor Group D. Please allow the prisoners held there their full privileges according to CDCR policies, and end the harassment and intimidation of prisoners, especially ones who have no information, and no disciplinary actions.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I also thank you for your future efforts to resolve this problem.
Meditations on Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth: New Afrikan Revolutionary Writings by James Yaki Sayles Kersplebedeb and Spear & Shield Publications 2010
Available for $20 + shipping/handling from: Kersplebedeb CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne Montreal, Quebec Canada H3W 3H8
"THE BOOK IS ABOUT HOW THE "WRETCHED" can transform themselves into the ENLIGHTENED and the SELF-GOVERNING!! If you don't take anything else away with your reading of [The Wretched of the Earth], you must take this."(p.381)
Like many of the books reviewed in Under Lock & Key, Meditations On Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth is written by someone who spent most of his adult life in a U.$. prison. That there are so many such books these days speaks to the growing plague of the mass incarceration experiment that is the U.$. injustice system. The content of many of these books speaks to the development of the consciousness of this growing class of people in the belly of the beast. While of the lumpen class, they differ from the subjects of Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth in both their incarceration and their First World status. And while great thinkers are among them, their ideas are reflected in the general prison population superficially at best. The need for the development of mass consciousness (one based in revolutionary nationalism, and an understanding of how to think, not what to think) and the project of oppressed people taking their destinies in their own hands make up the main theme of this book.
Wretched has greatly influenced many in our circles, and is itself a book highly recommended by MIM(Prisons). It is of particular interest in being perhaps the most complete and accurate discussion of the lumpen-proletariat that we've read to date. While not completely applicable to conditions in the United $tates, it is even more relevant to the growing numbers of displaced Third World people living in slums and refugee camps than when it was first written. For the most part, Yaki discusses Wretched as it applies to the oppressed nations of the United $tates, in particular New Afrika.
The four-part meditations on Wretched make up the bulk of the book. The introduction to this section is an attempt to break down The Wretched of the Earth for a modern young audience. In it the author stresses the importance of rereading theoretical books to fully grasp them. He also stresses that the process of studying and then understanding the original and complex form of such works (as opposed to a summary or cheat sheet) is itself transformative in developing one's confidence and abilities. At no stage of revolutionary transformation are there shortcuts. The only way to defend the struggle from counter-revolutionaries is to thoroughly raise the consciousness of the masses as a whole. "Get away from the idea that only certain people or groups can be 'intellectual,' and think about everyone as 'intellectual.'"(p.192) And as he concludes in part two of the Meditations, We often forget that our whole job here is to transform humyn beings.
The National Question
As part four of the meditations trails off into unfinished notes due to Yaki's untimely death, he is discussing the need for national culture and history. He echoes Fanon's assertion that national culture must be living and evolving, and not what the Panthers criticized as "pork chop nationalism." He discusses the relevance of pre-colonial histories, as well as the struggles of oppressed nations during the early years of colonization, to counter the Euro-Amerikan story that starts with them rescuing the oppressed nation from barbarity. These histories are important, but they are history. Sitting around dressed in Egyptian clothing or speaking Nahuatl aren't helping the nation. It is idealism to skip over more recent history of struggles for self-reliance and self-determination in defiance of imperialism.
We don't even need to go back to ancient times to identify histories that have been lost and hidden; many of us don't even know our recent past. Recording the little-known history of the "wretched" of the richest country in the world is the first step to understanding how we got here and how we can move forward. We are working on this with a number of comrades as an important step to developing national (and class) consciousness.(1)
Yaki agrees with the MIM line that nation is the most important contradiction today, while presenting a good understanding of the class contradictions that underlay and overlap with nation. Recently, debates in another prison-based journal, 4StruggleMag, have questioned the relevance of nationalism as the basis of revolutionary organizing; taking an essentially Trotskyist view, but justifying it via "new" conditions of globalization.(2) Really the theory of globalization is just one aspect of Lenin's theory of imperialism. The author, critiquing nationalism, discusses that nations themselves were a modern concept that united many groups that were once separated by culture and land. This was true for the nation-states of europe that united internally and the nations of the colonial world that were united by their common oppression under european domination. It was in this colonial relationship, and specifically with the demands of imperialism, that nations solidified in dialectical relationship to each other: oppressor vs. oppressed.
Yaki disagrees with the reading of history that sees nations as a modern construct. He stresses the importance of recognizing that oppressed nations existed as people with rich cultures before europeans drew up national boundaries based on colonial land claims (ie. Egypt, China, Maya). While true, talking about "nations" that predate capitalism is similar to talking about the "imperialism" of the Roman empire. For followers of Lenin, empire does not equal imperialism. Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism; an economic system forced by the extreme accumulation of capital that requires its export to other people (nations) to maintain profit rates, without which capitalism will not continue to produce (one of its inherent contradictions and flaws).
When we talk about nations, we are talking about imperialist class relations; the relations of production and distribution under the economic system of imperialism (which is not more than a couple hundred years old). More specifically, we are talking about a system where whole nations oppress and exploit other nations. While different classes exist within each nation, these questions are secondary to the global class analysis in the period of imperialism. To answer the anti-nationalist author in 4StruggleMag who claims nationalism never led to liberation, or to internationalism, we refer to socialist China, the most advanced movement for the liberation of people from capitalism to date in humyn history. Even within the confines of this imperialist country, the most advanced movement took nationalist form in the Black Panther Party.
Any theoretical questioning of the relevance of the nation to revolutionary anti-capitalism must address the nature of imperialism. Within the United $tates the lines between oppressor and oppressed nation have weakened, particularly on the question of exploitation. This provides a material basis for questioning the relevance of nationalism within our movements here. As Yaki wrote, "here, in the seat of empire, even the 'slaves' are 'petty-bourgeois,' and our poverty is not what it would be if We didn't in a thousand ways also benefit from the spoils of the exploitation of peoples throughout the world. Our passivity wouldn't be what it is if not for our thinking that We have something to lose..."(p.188) But globally, the contradictions between nations continue to heighten, and there is no basis for debate over whether nation remains the principal contradiction.
As we said, nations, like all things in the world, are dialectical in nature. That means they constantly change. There is nothing to say that nations will not expand as implied by the globalization argument, but this will not eliminate the distinction between exploiter and exploited nations.
While we won't try to address the relevance of revolutionary nationalism within the United $tates definitively here, Yaki is very adamant about the need for an understanding of the internal class structure of the internal semi-colonies. And as different as conditions were in revolutionary Algeria, many of the concepts from Wretched apply here as Yaki demonstrates. "[D]on't We evidence a positive negation of common sense as We, too, try to persuade ourselves that colonialism and capitalist exploitation and alienation don't exist? Don't We, too, grab hold of a belief in fatality (very common among young people these days)? And, what about OUR myths, spirits and magical/metaphysical superstructure? In our context, We employ conspiracy theories, the zodiac and numerology, Kente cloth and phrases from ancient languages; We invoke the power of a diet and the taboo of certain animals as food products."
Those studying the class structure within the oppressed nations, New Afrikan or not, within the United $tates will find much value in Yaki's writings. Even in the introduction, the editors remind us that, at the very least, revolutionary nationalism was a powerful force in our recent history. For example, in 1969 Newsweek found that 27% of northern Black youth under 30 "would like a separate Black nation."(p.19) And in the 1960s communist teens from the Black Disciples organized comrades from various gangs to defend Black homes in other parts of Illinois from drive-by shootings by the White Citizens Council and their backers in local police departments.(p.16) In the same period, when Malcolm X was alive and pushing a no-compromise revolutionary nationalist line on its behalf, the Nation of Islam had reached over 200,000 members.(p.18) Shortly thereafter, a majority of Blacks in the United $tates felt that the Black Panther Party represented their interests. When we look around today and ask whether New Afrikan nationalism has any revolutionary basis, we cannot ignore these recent memories.
Class, then Back to Nation
In his essay, On Transforming the Colonial and "Criminal" Mentality, Yaki addresses George Jackson's discussion of the potential in the lumpen versus their actual consciousness, which parallel's Marx's point about humyns consciously determining their own conditions and Lenin's definition of the masses as the conscious minority of the larger proletariat, which as a class is a potentially revolutionary force.(3) He quotes a critique of Eldridge Cleaver's line on the lumpen, which glorified organized crime. The critique argues that organized crime has its interests in the current system, and it is a carrot provided to the internal semi-colonies by imperialism. MIM(Prisons) looks to organized crime to find an independent national bourgeoisie (such as Larry Hoover, whose targeting by the state is mentioned in the book's introduction), but many are compradors as well, working with the imperialists to control the oppressed for them. This is even more true where the state has more influence (i.e. prison colonies).
While Yaki's focus on consciousness is consistent with Maoism, we have some differences with his application. Yaki, and his ideological camp, disagree with George Jackson and the MIM line that all prisoners are political. The state is a political organization, serving a certain class interest. We say all prisoners are political to break the common misperception people have that they are in prison because they did something wrong. Yaki's point about the lumpen is that if they don't turn around, understand the conditions that brought them there and then work to transform those conditions, then they are no use to the liberation struggle, and they are therefore not worthy of the term "political prisoner." He argues that to allow those with bourgeois ideas to call themselves a "political prisoner" dilutes the term. His camp uses "captive colonial" to refer to the New Afrikan imprisoned by Amerika regardless of one's ideology. That is a fine term, but by redefining the commonly used "political prisoner" from its narrow petty bourgeois definition, we push the ideological struggle forward by reclaiming popular language. In our view, "political prisoner" does not represent a group with a coherent ideology, just as "proletariat" does not.
Yaki puts a lot of weight on ideology when he defines nation as a "new unity" as well by saying, "[t]o me, being a 'New Afrikan' is not about the color of one's skin, but about one's thought and practice."(p.275) While skin color is an unscientific way to categorize people, we would caution that there are in fact material factors that define a nation; it's not just how we identify as individuals. Saying it is only about thought and practice leaves open the possibility of forming nations along lines of sexual preference, colors, favorite sports teams - lines that divide neighbors in the same community facing the same conditions. On the flip side, it creates space for the white-washing of national liberation movements by denying the group level oppression that the oppressor nation practices against the oppressed. To say that nations are fluid, ever-changing things is not to say that we can define them based purely on ideas in our heads and have them be meaningful.
Yaki Offers Much Knowledge
The use of the term "meditations" in the title is indicative of Yaki's approach, which clearly promotes a deep study of the material as well as making connections that lead to applying concepts to current situations. It is not a study guide in the traditional style of review questions and summaries. It does provide a critical analysis of the race-based interpretations of Fanon, such as that in Fanon for Beginners, which make it a valuable counter-measure to such bourgeois work.
His stress on hard work to build a solid foundation leads him to an agreeable line on armed struggle in contrast to others we have studied from the same ideological camp. On the back of the book, Sanyika Shakur quotes the author as saying, "i'd rather have one cadre free than 100 ak-47's" after Shakur was imprisoned again, related to possession of an assault rifle. Shakur writes, "t took me years to overstand & appreciate that one sentence." Discipline is something the revolutionary lumpen must develop, and taking a serious, meditative approach to study can help do just that.
In his essay, Malcolm X: Model of Personal Transformation, Yaki concludes, "We can go through the motions of changing our lives... but the test of the truth comes when the prison doors are opened, or, when otherwise We're confronted with situations which test our characters." (p.118)
Yaki was a New Afrikan revolutionary and a Prisoner of War. As part of the post-Panther era, Yaki reflects realistically on security questions, pointing out that it's too late to start instituting security measures after Martial Law has been enacted. From reading this book, everything you can gather about Yaki builds an impression of seriousness and commitment to our cause. In this way, this book is more than just a useful study guide for understanding and applying Fanon's ideas; it is an exemplary model for revolutionaries to help develop their own practice.