Although the economic exploitation of prisoners may be insignificant on the scale of the greater imperialist economy, it is very real on the scale of the individual prisoners and CO's involved in this abuse.
One prisoner in New York sent us a copy of a claim he made, which read in part:
The complaint/grievance was the result of the claimant's having been enslaved by Mr. Snye, the horticulture instructor of Riverview. The claimant was forced to choose between completing a web-site for one of Mr. Snye's personal business ventures or punitive physical measures (being forced to shift enormous stones and to engage in other extremely demanding physical labor) and, if the claimant continued to refuse, expulsion from the program. Threats of bogus charges and accompanying disciplinary measures were consatntly looming, along with vague, yet clear indications that there would by SHU time, if anyone found out. (1)
Even in California where CO's made an average of $62,230/yr in 2007, with some exceeding $130,000/yr, these amerikans still aren't satisfied. (2) In a couple of recent cases CDCR employees have received additional pay when they were not supposed to. In one case 9 office technicians got raises of $16,530 for 3 years prior to being caught, that they were not entitled to. In another, 2 CDCR doctors scammed an additional $108,000. (3) And as a comrade reported in ULK 6, nurses within CDCR make up to $582 a day for about 2 hours of work. (4) With all that money from the state, you'd think exploitation of prisoners would be the last thing on their mind. Yet, again so-called "vocational" programs are tools of exploitation where prisoners being taught auto body and paint work on the pigs' BMWs, Porsches and Corvettes for free. (5)
Issue 8 of Under Lock and Key takes on the topic of Amerikan prison economics and prisoner labor. Prisons in the United $tates are funded by the states and the federal government, and they are quite expensive. The United $tates spends about $60 billion a year to house over 2.3 million prisoners and yet, as readers of Under Lock and Key well know, these expenditures result in no reduction in crime rates. Instead this is the high price tag for the most elaborate prison system of social control in the world.
Prisoners are useful as workers because they can be paid very low wages or none at all, they are always available and can be employed when needed without the difficulty of having to lay off workers in downturns, and they are literally a captive workforce who can be punished if they refuse to work. In many respects prisoners are similar to migrant workers who take the jobs that Amerikan citizens don't want except that migrant workers are at least free to move on or go home at night or pick between jobs.
There are many aspects to the topic of prison economics and prisoner labor, but they all tie back to the question of who is making money off all the prisoners who work for free or for very little money, and the bigger question of whether there is profit to be made off prisons in general. The main position that we challenged in ULK 2 was that the prison boom is motivated by a system of modern day slavery that is exploiting the masses through forced labor. In this issue we will further demonstrate that exploitation in prisons is not a source of private profit and discuss how profiteering on mass incarceration really evolved.
Profiteering Follows Policy
The importance of our point that prisoners are not generally exploited for economic profit is in understanding the real motive force behind the U.$. prison boom. Fundamentally, prisons are a money losing operation. It costs more money to run prisons than is generated from prisoner labor or any other aspect of the "industry." If prison labor was a gold mine for private profiteers, then we would see corporations of all sorts leading the drive for more prisons. On the contrary, though the fifth largest prison system in the United $tates is the private Corrections Corporation of America (CCA),(1) the government still runs over 95% of the prisons overall.(2) So if Amerikans didn't build the largest prison system in the history of humynkind for slave labor profits, then why did they do it?
As a parallel example, consider the war-profiteering of Halliburton and KBR through the military industrial complex; it was the government who started wars, and then the contractors appeared. In fact, the stories of most of these contractors start with people with political connections, not with any particular interest or knowledge of the product or service in demand.(3) War was created for the overall economic benefit of the imperialist system, but not by the companies that most directly profited. Once the profits start flowing, the intertwining of interests between politicians and their private benefactors creates conflicts between the imperialist interests abroad and those who are just trying to make a quick buck. Hence, we see some backlash against Halliburton and, their former subsidiary, KBR's corruption within the White House and the Senate (including the Senate hearing on May 4, 2009).
Similarly, the prison boom originated in government policy, and then new companies formed to profiteer, or in the case of telephone and commissary, old companies adapted their product to a specific opportunity. Prisons serve U.$. imperialism in controlling the local population, while placating the demands of the oppressor nation as a whole. Only now, with the emergence of mass incarceration, the demands of Amerikans for more prisons are more economically oriented, rather than just social. And most of that economic interest is among state employees and unions, not private corporations.
In Ohio, the Department of Corrections had to go to the state Supreme Court in order to close prisons over the protests of the guard union.(4) The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, notorious for being the strongest in the country, has applied similar pressures preventing the state from cutting anything from the CDCR budget except for education programs in recent years.
Private industries are making lots of money off prisons. From AT&T charging outrageous rates for prisoners to talk to their families, to the food companies that supply cheap (often inedible) food to prisons, to the private prison companies themselves, there is clearly a lot of money to be made. But these companies' profits are coming from the States' tax money, a mere shuffling of funds within the imperialist economy. Some companies like AT&T or some of the prison package services are selling goods or services directly to prisoners at drastically increased prices from what you'd get on the street. But even then, they are not exploiting the prisoners' labor, they are merely extorting their money. The private prisons are the only example where prison labor that is used to run the prisons may come into play in determining corporate profits.
Some activists see opportunity in the current capitalist crisis; perhaps states will be forced to listen to arguments claiming that prisons are a money pit for tax funds. However, Governor Quinn of Illinois responded to the crisis in his state last month by canceling plans of the previous governor to close Pontiac Correctional Center, citing "fiscal responsibility" and the protection of 600 local jobs and $55.4 million in local revenue.(5) Pennsylvania is continuing down its path of prison expansion with plans for 8,000 more beds in the next 4 years for the same reasons.(6)
These governments could generate jobs and revenue in countless ways. The reason that prison guards are generally funded over teachers is initially a question of the government's goals and priorities. While there is much public pressure to fund schools over jails, this battle is one for the labor aristocracy's unions to fight out. Revolutionaries have no significant role to play in such debates. We can combat national oppression with institutions of the oppressed, not by more jobs for Amerikans in one government sector or the other.
Meanwhile, the capitalist will invest in operations based on where the funding goes, so it is not really the evil corporations that are directly to blame for the U.$. prison boom. The government decides whether prisons are built. The U.$. government serves the overall interests of the imperialist class first and then must answer to its Amerikan constituency. It is the combination of these two interests that have led to the largest mass-incarceration in history. Currently, the strategy to dismantle this massive humyn experiment must recognize these two forces as the opposition, and then mobilize forces that have an interest in countering both imperialism and Amerikanism.
After publishing an article entitled Amerikans: Oppressing for a Living, we received some criticisms from comrades of our position that corporations are not profiting from prison labor in a significant way. We then made a call to our correspondents on the ground across the United $tates to research this issue further. Not only did we receive much data to back up our position, but many wrote in to say that our analysis was right on.
In this issue of Under Lock & Key we are printing data on the prison labor going on in New York, Texas, California, Florida, Colorado, Oregon, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington, Utah and the Federal system. These systems represent over half of the U.$. prison population, so we feel confident that our conclusions are fairly accurate for the system as a whole. We still welcome reports from correspondents in other states and prisons for future research.
In summary, all states have industries that produce goods for sale. Most if not all of those products are sold back to other state agencies, mostly within the Department of Corrections itself. Workers in these industries usually make more than those doing maintenance and clerical work, with a max of a little over a dollar an hour. While we don't have solid numbers, these are generally a small minority of the population and not available at most prisons.
Maintenance workers are also universal across all prison systems. Even most supermax prisons have lower security prisons adjacent to them, providing a labor source for running it. In many places such work is not called a job, but "programming." In some states, like New York, your programming can be pseudo-educational or rehabilitative programs instead of labor. Programming is often required. When it is paid it is usually less than fifty cents an hour.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has one of the largest prison industries selling goods outside of the prison system, but it is selling mostly to the Department of Defense — another government agency.(7)
The UNICOR annual report boasts the benefits of prisoner labor: "With an estimated annual incarceration cost of $30,000 per inmate, FPI's programmatic benefits represent significant taxpayer savings, while restoring former inmates to a useful role in society." They claim "a 24% lower recidivism rate among FPI participants."(8) There is no information on how this number is calculated but we suspect that it is flawed because the selection of UNICOR workers from the general prison population is not random. On the other hand, we do know that there are few opportunities for prisoners to acquire any useful skills prior to release. If UNICOR training truly reduces recidivism, this should be an obvious and compelling argument that prisons need more such programming. It does not have to be tied to low pay and forced labor.
Jobs related to running the prisons (cleaning, library, administrative roles, etc.) help reduce the costs of running prisons but clearly don't create any new wealth. UNICOR and its parallel industries in the state systems merely allow the Departments of Corrections to obtain money from other state agencies that they were going to spend anyway, or directly benefit the DOC by providing it with supplies. Even with requirements that state agencies purchase from such programs, they do not come close to covering prison expenses.
It is a dangerous proposition to tie financial benefits to prisons as this gives those who profit an interest in growing the prison population. However, at this point in time only a small minority of prisoners are actually employed, so prisoner labor does not appear to be a major drive behind the ongoing rapid growth of the U.$. prison population.
Modern day slavery or exploitation?
Many prisoners raise the question of whether forcing prisoners to work for no pay violates the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery. The 13th amendment abolished slavery "except as a punishment for crime." The article by some New York prisoners in this issue of Under Lock & Key does a good job of explaining the history behind this exception.
Slavery is a system characterized by the capture or purchase of humyns for the purpose of exploiting their labor. As Marx explained "As a slave, the worker has exchange value, a value; as a free wage-worker he has no value; it is rather his power of disposing of his labour, effected by exchange with him, which has value." Marx is clarifying the distinction that slaves, as objects to be purchased, have exchange value. While capitalist workers are not purchased, they are selling their labour instead.(9) While prison labor is similar to slavery in that it involves workers who are receiving virtually no pay for their labor but are being provided with housing and other basic necessities, there are a few factors in prison labor that distinguish it from slavery as we use that term to define a system of exploitation. First, states have to pay other states to take their prisoners, implying they have no exchange value. Prisons are used as a tool of social control, with the use of prisoners' labor only as an after thought to try to offset some of the operating costs. Which leads to our second point: there is no net profit made off the labor of prisoners - because of the cost of incarceration, the state is only able to offset a portion of the cost of providing for a prisoner by using his/her labor. Because of these features of prisoner labor, we do not call it slavery.
Even if prisoner labor is not slavery in the economic sense of that term, it is still possible that prisoners are exploited. Exploitation means that someone is extracting surplus value from the labor of someone else. The profit or surplus-value arises when workers do more labor than is necessary to pay the cost of hiring their labor-power. This is the way that capitalists make a profit — they pay people less than their labor is worth and then sell products for their full value. The difference is the profit.
In the United $tates, the imperialists are paying workers more than the value of their labor. They can do this because of the tremendous superprofits stolen from exploiting the Third World workers. And they want to do this because it maintains a complicit population at home which has a material interest in imperialism and keeps capital circulating with its excessive consumption. Amerikans support their imperialist government because they benefit from it. They may not all earn the same as the big capitalists, but even in a recession they can look to the Third World and see that they don't want to share the wealth around the world evenly because that would mean a step down for First World workers.
There are some notable exceptions within U.$. borders: non-citizens are often forced into jobs that pay far below minimum wage (or often don't pay them at all) as they are in a shady sector of the economy. Many migrants in the United $tates are exploited, but they make up a very small portion of workers in this country.
Using the term exploitation to describe prisoner labor is complicated. Prisoners certainly earn very little for their labor, but we also have to include the cost of providing prisoners all of their necessities (although with very poor quality that leads to many unnecessary deaths). Of course much of what is being provided "for" prisoners is not part of their cost of living but rather part of the cost of keeping them captive and providing a high standard of living for their captors.
It is fair to say that prisons are stealing the labor power of prisoners. They have made it impossible for prisoners to refuse to work and the actual pay prisoners receive is far less than the value of their labor. By stealing labor power, the U.$. prison system also prevents the self-determination of the Black Nation and First Nations whose people are vastly over-represented in the system.
To the extent that the states can't continue to run prisons on tax money they don't have, prisoner labor is a valued part of the money going to the many labor aristocrats working in the prison system. An offset to the cost of running prisons is useful, even if that offset does not come close to covering even the cost of those prisoners doing the work. But it's important to remember that this labor is only useful because expensive prisons existed first.
A number of articles in this issue include calls from prisoners to take actions against the prison industries that are making money off prisoners, and to boycott jobs to demand higher wages. All of these actions are aimed at hitting the prisons, and private industries profiting off relationships with prisons, in their pocketbook. This is a good way for our comrades behind bars to think about peaceful protests they can take up to make demands for improved conditions while we organize to fundamentally change the criminal injustice system.
Prisoners are employed by the DOC, and most do maintenance and clerical work. No Florida DOC inmates are paid for work, with the exception of inmates assigned to work in the inmate canteens(making $65 a month) or the few locations in the state where they have PRIDE factories, which are manufacturing-type businesses run by DOC to make goods for correctional use (clothing, cleaning supplies, etc). Even these inmates are paid a few cents an hour.
Denver Women’s Correctional Facility has a capacity of 900. Everyone is assigned for work unless they have medical excuses. Those not assigned to a job make 25 cents a day, 7 days a week. Those assigned to standard prison work make 60 cents a day, 5 days a week. Prison Industries jobs are a sewing factory, print shop, and dog training program. These jobs may pay up to $40 per month. All salaries are automatically docked 20% if restitution, court costs, or child support is owed.
SCI Fayette has about 1800 to 2100 prisoners, of those 1200 to 1400 work for the DOC doing various work assignments. Jobs are related to running of the facility, such as maintenance, commissary, grounds crews, schooling, laundry, barber shop, library and janitors. Some also work for "Correctional Industries." The pay scale is as follows in $/hour:
People usually work from 120 to 160 hours per month, so top pay would be $50.40 to $67.20. Correctional Industries (CI) makes 51 cents or about $81.60 a month. Like similar programs that exist in all 50 states, Pennsylvania Correctional Industries produces things such as furniture, clothing and personal care products primarily for purchase by state agencies.
Washington State Penitentiary holds about 2240 people. Of those around 250 work for correctional industries . Most of those sew clothes for inmates, the rest do welding of furniture for cells and make license plates. They pay up to $1.10/hr.
"Inmate duties" pay from $35 to $55 a month, and include cooking, cleaning, serving food and washing clothes.
In MacDougall-Walker CI only about 25% of prisoners have jobs here. Some pay rates here are:
In Texas, every general population prisoner is required to work. They either work in the service of prison upkeep (i.e. maintenance, food service, field labor, support service inmate, etc.) or they work in one of the various factories owned by TCI (Texas Correctional Industries). There is no pay for work.
For wages between 8¢ and 34¢ an hour prisoners do normal maintenance work as well as produce clothing, food, bedding, cleaning products, tables, chairs, modular offices, license plates and the tags that go on them for the state.
Wisconsin pays for programming including educational programs, prison maintenance and Badger State Industry jobs. The pay ranges for non-industry work are: 12 cents ($9.60 every 2 weeks) to 42 cents ($33.60). At Green Bay CI, with about 1050 prisoners, about 300 work maintenance and only 18 prisoners work industry, which makes from 79 cents to a dollar an hour. They make clothing for outside vendors and to sell to prisoners around the state.
Utah pays $7 a month and has thrown out a lot of work positions that use to be available. The prison does manufacture houses in their carpentry program, and UCI commisary has convicts making sweats and shorts down in Gunnison, then selling these products back to the U.$ and community.
In Coleman II, 90% of prisoners work, most of them do facility maintenance for $12 a month to work 8 hour, 5 day workweeks. A minority get to work for UNICOR.
The private industries run by UNICOR employ 21,836 prisoners across the country, with pay ranging from 23 cents to $1.15 per hour. In 2007 UNICOR showed profits of over $45 Million, with most of their products being military supplies for the Department of Defense.
For our Peace Issue, MIM(Prisons) had solicited a number of allies who are doing work for peace among the lumpen on the streets. Though the Peace Issue is done, our pages remain open to those who are doing such work, as we want to build as many connections as we can between what is going on in the streets and behind prison walls. This article will make some of those connections in a mostly historical way. Similar stories can be told about the largest street organizations based in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and beyond. And as we'll see, the use of prisons to isolate the peace makers is having a very real impact on efforts in oppressed communities.
The Chicago story could start in the late 1960's with Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, who was shot in his sleep by the FBI for attempting to unite street and youth organizations under a revolutionary banner of the original "rainbow coalition." While some legacies of that work remain, COINTELPRO was quite effective in preventing thousands of lumpen youth from joining the anti-imperialist United Front. During the same period, other street organizations were joining a coalition with city and business leaders in Chicago. The Conservative Vice Lords (CVL) were one of these groups who became a significant force for building Black businesses and serving the lumpen youth of the community. Despite their turn from petty crime and street fighting to a positive community organization, their attempts to work with the pigs and the business establishment failed again and again. Eventually their leaders were targeted for frame ups and put in prison like the revolutionary Panthers, despite a program that never attempted anything but integration into mainstream capitalist society. Their differences with the Panthers seemed to be based on misunderstandings of the Panther strategy (1), which others have suggested were a result of COINTELPRO misinformation campaigns.
In the end the CVL leadership saw that the next generation was coming up looking to undo everything they had built. And sure enough the streets of Chicago succumbed to more violence and chemical warfare following the destruction of the Panthers and efforts like those of CVL. The next generation produced Larry Hoover who also came around from the criminal mentality to create institutions like "Save the Children," support legal Black business development and register thousands of people to vote. After being imprisoned, Hoover's Gangster Disciples (GDs) hosted perhaps the largest peace summit in u$ lumpen history in Chicago in 1993. After his 13th parole denial Hoover released a statement in which he said things such as:
Drugs are our enemy, destroying many of us with the lure of profit, more of us with addiction, and still more with the crime that results; we must join our voices with those across the land, of whites and blacks, churchgoers and convicts, gays and straights - all who share the purpose of taking the profit out of drugs and ending the slaughter made easy by guns. (2)
And this was not just talk, as the GD's had demonstrated their ability to achieve such goals. The biggest immediate threat to the imperialist establishment that the lumpen can make is to end the meaningless destruction of oppressed youth life while destroying the profits from chemical warfare thru imperialist-run drug cartels. The state responded by sending Hoover to the federal supermax prison ADX in Colorado for conspiracy charges to deal drugs.
In New York City the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation is a well-documented (if not always accurately) example of the modern repression of progressive mass organizations of lumpen youth. With constant targeting by police, most of the local leadership ended up in prison. The main architect behind the Nation's growth in New York, King Blood, has spent 12 years in complete isolation. King Tone, who was the popular spokespersyn for the Nation in NYC during their politicization in the mid-1990's has also been in prison since those tumultuous years. Their pro-Puerto Rican community organizing made them greater targets than they had been as a street gang engaged in criminal activities. Statements like,
"We are not AMERICAN, we are one of 22 million Puerto Ricans who are victims of Americanism... We are Revolutionary Nationalists but we are remembered as proletarian internationalists, heroic fighters in the struggle against oppression and imperialism." (3)
led one pig to state,
There's no way we're gonna let a bunch of gang-bangers think they're the Panthers or the Young Lords.
As more Kings & Queens went to prison, they took their goals with them and began to build educational programs and promote peace within the new gang units that were popping up at the time. MIM's Free Books to Prisoners Program helped comrades in New Jersey build a library of thousands of books where Kings were not just teaching other Kings, but also members of the United Blood Nation and others to read. UBN, like the New York ALKQN, was formed within the New York prison system. And like King Blood, one of UBN's co-founders, is in a control unit for his organizing, just recently getting his sentence there extended to 2021 by the NYSDOCS; greatly limiting his contact with the outside world. He reports that extensive COINTELPRO tactics were used against them in conjunction with the ALKQN.
Today the ALKQN is clear that none of its senior leadership is involved in any illegal activities and the leadership continues to define it as an organization for the betterment of the community and the self-determination of oppressed nations. As with all of the mass organizations discussed here, whose popularity has exploded, often beyond the influence of its founders, there are many who claim the flags that play into government efforts to dirty their names.
Perhaps the most well-known peace effort came in Los Angeles around the time of the Rodney King verdicts and the uprising that followed. The state responded swiftly when Bloods & Crips came together in the streets. Not to mention that the unity in action also included a majority of Mexicans and a significant proportion of white participants.
As discussed in the article We Want Peace! They want Security. the unity of the oppressed is a response to the unity of the oppressor against them. Therefore, when the Panthers were destroyed, the Crips came up from a history of Black street organizations that formed to protect themselves from white violence. Eventually, other Black groups united under the Blood flag to protect themselves from the Crips.
When these groups came together for peace in the early '90's, once again we saw the targeting of leaders of the oppressed by the state. Just to mention some of the most high profile attacks, Crip leader Sanyika Shakur (aka Monster) who had taken up Black Nationalism was sent to a Security Housing Unit (SHU). Imprisoned Black Liberation fighter Mutulu Shakur had worked from a distance to develop the Thug Life code promoted at the peace meetings by his step-son Tupac. Federal Bureau of Prisons papers document that Mutulu Shakur was moved to the original control unit in Marion because he was effectively organizing young Black prisoners. The warden of Lewisburg, in recommending his transfer, wrote the following: "I firmly believe Shakur needs the controls of Marion, as he appears to manipulate the entire system. This shrewd behavior coupled with his outside contacts and influence over the younger Black element will have adverse affects on the mission." (4) Mutulu continues to be isolated in the newer federal supermax prison, ADX, while Tupac was assassinated following his work around the peace treaty.
Over a decade later, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent Tookie Williams to be executed because he had dedicated his books to leaders in the Black Liberation struggle. A Crip co-founder, Tookie spent many years in prison writing children's books to counter the anti-people activities of street organizations, while drafting up peace protocol for those who were involved in the gang wars. He was a shining example of rehabilitation (no thanks to the state), which the CDCR added to its name and allegedly to its mission around the same time.
The state's success led to the bloodiest years the California ghettos, barrios and prisons have seen. Those who could do something to stop all the violence were part of the first large scale experimentation in long-term isolated captivity of humyn beings (or were dead). In this context, the leadership became more concentrated within the prison system, where the state had already begun dividing the system up along the lines of Blacks, whites, northern and southern Mexicans. These became the battle lines for the years of "race wars" that continue to this day.
One of the most violent battles took place in Pelican Bay State Prison in 2001. Prisoners responded by calling on leaders representing each group, who were being held in SHU, to negotiate a truce. (5) This truce seemed to be on the road to success when the CDCR's Institutional Gang Investigation unit intervened, along with others in the department, to carry out a negative propaganda campaign, similar to what has happened every time prisoners have tried to come together in peace. (see We Want Peace! They want Security.)
As one prisoner explained what happened,
I have yet to hear of any of this, however, I did hear about the 2001 attempted peace treaty. Which of course was purposely sabotaged by CDC. The very last thing these bastards (CDC) wants is peace amongst the races here in prison. It is not in the material interest of the white middle class who work for CDC to have this violence come to an end. Any time an institution goes on lock down, prison officials automatically get what's called "Hazard Pay" which doubles their pay. So for every violent incident they (CDC) can provoke, they stand to profit from it.
And it's not only the CDC that stands to profit. Other outside organizations are also profiting from what the CDC has created. Organizations such as the Sheriffs department and other police agencies, which of course are staffed with middle class white amerikans. Every time an incident from in here spills out into our occupied communities, it is these organizations that come in and lock up everyone in sight, not to mention harass, beat and even murder us.
According to those involved in the 2001 peace talks, the failure stemmed from a lack of community support. This allowed the pigs to spread the rumors and squash the organizing efforts. This is why it is crucial to develop links between the peace efforts on the street and behind bars.
Only with growing mass support, inside and outside prisons, will the CDCR agree to allow for a peace process. That is why MIM(Prisons) is promoting the petition initiated in 2006 to restart the process. (6) As one veteran leader of the California prison movement said in an interview regarding the Pelican Bay Peace Summit,
A peace accord, or a peace summit itself. If that's real. Then I wanna bet it's real in a sense that both your politically motivated SHU prisoners and your regular gang member- motivated prisoners have both come to the realization that they are both doomed to hell! No matter how many differences exist between them, that they are united in the fact that they are doomed prisoners. And that's the only way that they're going to get that condemnation off of them, is if they join forces to change the policies that allows them to live in the naked abyss. And that means that they would have to work together. And in order to work together they would first have to arrange a successful peace summit. So that they could combine forces. Now I kinda think that that's a natural course of events. That they would come to that conclusion, whether they wanted to or not, the conditions are gonna force them to come to those conclusions.
...I know that a peace summit has to be a prelude to something more significant. And that something more significant has to be what we always fought for, you know what I'm saying, the humyn rights of all prisoners in general, regardless of what clique or what race they're from.
The story we see over and over again is that state attacks on lumpen organizations are superficial as long as the organization is engaged in activities murdering and poisoning their own people. It is only when these groups begin to help their communities that they are crushed by the state.
COINTELPRO continues its misinformation campaigns against lumpen organizations today and historically through the mainstream media like National Geographic and BET who have jumped on the sensationalized gang life bandwagon. They pretend to investigate both sides of the story while painting all of these organizations as evil. Part of this is a continued campaign against the Black Panthers almost four decades after they were effectively neutralized. Organizers today need to be prepared for the attacks by representatives of the State who claim they want peace, but in reality only want peaceful submission to imperialist profit.
notes: (1) Dawley, David. A Nation of Lords: The Autobiography of the Vice Lords. Waveland Press, 1993. 2nd edition (orig. 1973). On p.112, the Vice Lords claim that the Panthers tried to convince all of the street organizations to go on a rampage burning the city down. This would have been contrary to the consistent line and strategy of Fred Hampton and Huey Newton. The Vice Lords do admit to breaking up underground organizing in response to the assassination of MLK as part of their partnership with Chicago business interests. Yet, still the establishment never came thru with their end of the deal of providing loans and other business development support. (2) Hayden, Tom. Street Wars. The New Press, 2004. p. 284. (3) Brotherton, David C. & Luis Barrios. The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation. Columbia University Press, 2004. p. 298. (4) http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~kastor/walking-steel-95/ws-florence.html (5) Support Pelican Bay Peace Process (6) for more info on this campaign and petition click here
The main purpose of issue 7 of Under Lock & Key is to show who wants peace and who does not. We will also focus on our long-held line that prisoners accomplish nothing by lashing out and fighting each other or prison staff. Every prison that censors this newsletter is acknowledging that peace among prisoners is contrary to their goal of so-called "security," further substantiating our thesis presented below.
Time has proved . . . that blind deference to correctional officials does no real service to them. Judicial concern with procedural regularity has a direct bearing upon the maintenance of institutional order; the orderly care with which decisions are made by the prison authority is intimately related to the level of respect with which prisoners regard that authority.
There is nothing more corrosive to the fabric of a public institution such as a prison than a feeling among those whom it contains that they are being treated unfairly." Palmigiano v. Baxter, 487 F.2d 1280, 1283 (CA1 1973). As THE CHIEF JUSTICE noted in Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. at 408 U. S. 484, "fair treatment . . . will enhance the chance of rehabilitation by avoiding reactions to arbitrariness. -dissenting opinion from Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974)
Our track record speaks for itself. At least dozens of prisoners and former prisoners have given up lives that once included physical attacks on cops, and often fights with other people as well, after taking up the anti-imperialist struggle through MIM. Unfortunately, our data is a little skewed since we can only speak for prisoners who we are in contact with. It is up to an ambitious researcher to demonstrate statistically that those involved in anti-imperialism are less violent than those who aren't (or more so as the prison mail rooms across the country claim is the case).
In the meantime, there are plenty of studies showing how all sorts of educational and family programs help reduce violence and anti-social behavior. (1) Unfortunately, in a system focused on punishment and ostracizing groups of people, these programs are used to manipulate rather than rehabilitate. U$ prisons that do offer these programs do so in an effort to tempt prisoners with a carrot. By taking this individualist approach they are not actually investing in peace or progress. When priorities change and a prisoner loses his job or can no longer see his loved one, then there is no longer the incentive to be peaceful. In contrast, a dedication to the struggle for a world without oppression cannot be taken away by future prison administrators.
In decades of work the Maoist Internationalist Movement has never broken bourgeois laws. In years of work, neither has MIM(Prisons).
Members of MIM and members of MIM(Prisons) have always been forbidden from breaking the law.
MIM literature has never promoted breaking the law or taking up arms against the united states government, or any local government or organization, for that matter.
Every issue of Under Lock & Key, the newsletter of MIM(Prisons), encourages prisoners to obey the laws and to avoid physical conflicts.
Anecdotal experience provides evidence of a pattern of reduced violence among prisoners who become involved in MIM-led educational programs and/or organizational campaigns.
Despite the facts listed above, our programs and materials are routinely denied to prisoners all across the united $tates. In late 2007, we launched our website where we have since recorded 509 incidents of censorship. Most of those are censoring MIM(Prisons). Of them, 11 cite "STG" or "Security Threat Group", 34 cite "security" in general, 14 cite a threat of "violence," and 26 cite our threat to the "law" as the reason they are censored. In addition, 164 took place in California, where all MIM mail was banned because it allegedly "advocates seizing public power through armed struggle and overturning prison administrations 'by stripping them of control.'" (2) While the recent legal struggles of one comrade in California brought to light a document overturning this ban, it continues to be applied in many of the prisons where MIM(Prisons) used to have a large readership. Most of the rest of the incidents of censorship fall into the various categories of "unacceptable", "disallowed", "unauthorized", "refused" or there was just no reason given whatsoever.
Security Threat Group (STG) is the buzz word developed in the 1990's to apply to a range of street and political organizations. Many so-called "correctional professionals" claim MIM(Prisons) is an STG. But exactly what are we a threat to the security of? Copying the language of precedent setting case law, it is often phrased as being "detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or [...] it might facilitate criminal activity.") The problem with the phrasing in this court decision is that many prisons interpret that to mean that if you tell prisoners to file complaints, write the press, join organizations or build lawsuits in response to torture, physical abuse, lack of medical care, censorship, etc. then you are threatening the "good order or discipline of the institution." (THORNBURGH v. ABBOTT, 490 U.S. 401 (1989)
Reviews of this and other case law demonstrate that under capitalism in amerika, prisoners actually do have rights and the above interpretation is a violation of them. The real meaning of this law should be to allow prison administrators to censor materials that promote real and immediate threats to safety and security, such as plans to attack someone else in the prison or to smuggle in weapons. The most recent case condemning prisoncrats for preventing prisoners from receiving materials that promote legal resistance was just last year when a comrade in Wisconsin won his suit in federal court. (3)
In some cases the prison administration has interpreted the law the same way we do, but still claims we violate it by posing an immediate threat to safety and security. The California ban letter cited above is one example of this. In these cases we also disagree to the point of getting the bourgeois courts involved.
The October 2006 memo from CDCR Director Scott Kernan banning MIM publications (supposedly not all our mail) has completely inaccurate statements in it, such as the one quoted above. If it were possible to demonstrate that MIM promoted violence in prisons or breaking the law without lying, one of the state lawyers would have done it by now. Their favorite defense in many states is to hide behind prison walls, rather than lie like Scott Kernan did. That is why state officials need to be publicly accountable in any society claiming democracy in any form.
From the CO's up to the director, they play the text book role of the bureaucrat attempting to defend their corrupt institution, and by proxy their own lucrative jobs. We admit to being a threat to the jobs of corrupt officials and abusive institutions, as any conscious and active citizen should be.
In this issue you'll read stories of foiled peace plans, violent set-ups and hazard pay for CO's. The various unions representing so-called peace officers are some of the strongest in the country and their main leverage tool is persynal safety. They say, "we're putting our lives at stake to protect your shit, you better pay us good." Hence the built in motivation for more violence, more riots, more "validated" gang members and more maximum security and supermax prisons. It all means more money in their pockets.
More generally, amerikans as a whole benefit from their positions of power over the oppressed. Middle class amerikan citizens benefit from being members of the group of people who can be cops or get similar jobs as oppressors in the criminal injustice system, and they benefit from the services the cops provide in maintaining lines between social groups. So it is not just an individualist motivation for higher pay, it is also a national consciousness that is necessary to create the us vs. them mentality necessary to run prisons the way they do in the united $tates. One example of this consciousness came up during the Giuliani reign of terror in New York City in the 1990s, when the New York Times reported that most white residents were comfortable with the police behavior they saw, while nine out of ten Blacks felt that "the police often engaged in brutality against blacks." (4)
These national lines of us vs. them were created by the white settlers and is deep in that history of land grab and slave trading. Over time this forces the oppressed to see the world in a similarly divided way, leaving the oppressors with two choices: they can turn around and use it as a justification for their own brutality, or they can de-escalate the contradiction. Our analysis of imperialism and the principal contradiction predicts that amerikans cannot de-escalate the contradiction, and so far we've been proven right. And that is why u$ prisons have become a perversely violent microcosm of amerikan society.
While we believe that in general cops and CO's have a vested interest in opposing our efforts to promote peace, we are also acting in United Front with those employed by the vast u$ criminal justice system who are more interested in making it home to their family each night than getting hazard pay and new high tech toys to play with. This is unlikely in places like California where history has already demonstrated what happens to prison staff who speak against these interests. On a related note, MIM(Prisons) does not threaten people's lives, berate people into suicide, or carry out assassinations.
Many prison staff claim MIM(Prisons) is a threat because we encourage prisoners to organize. We look to history again, and help quell those fears by taking a look at two of the greatest examples of prisoners organizing themselves. In the Attica rebellion in 1971, no CO's were killed until the National Guard came in and shot 11 employees dead, along with 29 prisoners. Up until that point the prisoners of Attica had organized a democratically run society within the prison walls, including such things as their own food and medical services, while negotiating with the state on behalf of all prisoners. Guards were given superior treatment the whole time.
A couple years later prisoners in Walpole were left to run the prison on their own when the guard union went on strike. They set up similar services as the prisoners in Attica, and actually increased the efficiency of the operating of the prison with the guards and bureaucrats out of the way. This shows that as early as the early 1970's prison guards were paid high wages for doing nothing. Since then the prison population has increased 8-fold, fattening the labor aristocracy with high paying jobs along the way.
The prisoners peacefully functioning without overseers shocked the pigs, who then began to spread rumors about riots in Walpole. The riots never happened, and in fact there was an end to all violence and rape during the weeks while the prison guards were absent, and for some time to follow. This kind of rumor mongering is not unique to a particular group of mean-spirited CO's. Rather, they were representing the inherit self-interest of this class of people. In the last 15 to 20 years in California, they have succeeded in creating a constant atmosphere of disturbance and violence. Only the minority see their self-interest in peace, because it is a threat to their jobs as a class.
Unfortunately, we can expect much violence from the oppressors before we can expect an honest assessment of what is going on in these secretive dungeons. The people want peace now. Communities that are being occupied, imprisoned and bombed want an immediate end to violence.
Huey P. Newton said it is up to the oppressor whether meeting such demands of the oppressed happens in a peaceful way or a violent way. Fanon said violence is part of the development of a humynism and new consciousness among the people. Even if Fanon is right, it takes a lot to push the masses to the point of violence as Huey pointed out. This is obvious by the many more people who have spent many more days in peaceful submission than those who have not. Violent resistance from the people will only arise as it is necessitated by those who monopolize violence through their own power.
MIM(Prisons) only engages in and promotes legal means of combating injustice. When the prison staff represses every educational and legal outlet for prisoners to redress their complaints then it is clear what kind of strategies they are promoting. In those prisons, we predict there will be violence, and they cannot blame it on us because they have kept us out. This is similar to what we say about all struggles for justice around the world. We believe violence is necessary to end injustice because history has demonstrated that the oppressor never stops oppressing any other way. We do not want or promote violence, we are merely stating our conclusion from reading history. In every case of revolutionary war, it was up to the oppressor to decide whether violence was used or not. History shows that the same has been true in the prison rights movement; the struggle for prisoner rights has only become violent when the state initiated such violence.
(1) "Since 1990, the literature has shown that prisoners who attend educational programs while they are incarcerated are less likely to return to prison following their release. Studies in several states have indicated that recidivism rates have declined where inmates have received an appropriate education. Furthermore, the right kind of educational program leads to less violence by inmates involved in the programs and a more positive prison environment." Journal of Correctional Education, v55 n4, p297-305, December 2004.
See also The Nation, March 4, 2005: "Studies have clearly shown that participants in prison education, vocation and work programs have recidivism rates 20-60 percent lower than those of nonparticipants. Another recent major study of prisoners found that participants in education programs were 29 percent less likely to end up back in prison, and that participants earned higher wages upon release."
(2) the full text of this letter is available on our website along with tons of other documents related to the California ban: https://www.prisoncensorship.info/campaigns/ca/ (if you're a California prisoner you've probably already seen it)
(3) Lorenzo Johnson v. Rick Raemisch, Daniel Westfield, and Michael Thurmer, Case No. 07-C-390-C US District Court Western District of Wisconsin available soon on our archive page
(4) Hayden, Tom. Street Wars. The New Press, 2005. p. 108.
At night I see your light through my bedroom window But I ain't got shit but the pad and pencil I can't wait till I hear you say, " I'm going down, mayday, mayday" I'm gonna clown 'cause every time that the pigs have got me —from Ghetto Bird by Ice Cube
Oakland, California is not quite like Los Angeles. Having to fall asleep to the sound of helicopters overhead night after night is not routine. But in the last week that changed with three nights of uprisings and demonstrations in response to the murder of Oscar Grant, a 22 year old Black man who was shot in the back by a cop while face down on the ground.
Chemical warfare, tasers, armored vehicles with mounted guns and numerous helicopters were used by the city of Oakland against its residents the first night of the uprising. Over 100 people were arrested for various trumped up charges. Those who were not bailed out have already been given hearings where 21 of 24 people had their charges dismissed. One of the 3 remaining charges is a felony arson charge against JR, the Minister of Information for the Prisoners of Conscience Committee, indicating clear political motivations behind these arrests. Last night another couple dozen people were arrested. It took 2 weeks to arrest someone who shot a man in the back, but the OPD saw it as appropriate to jail over 130 people, most, if not all, of whom have no substantiated charges.
Just as they tried to do the night of the murder, Oakland pigs confiscated all cameras and cell phones from those arrested. Some who were arrested have not got their cameras back and others have gotten theirs back with the material erased from them. Numerous people videotaped the shooting of Oscar Grant on New Year's Eve, leading pigs to go around seizing peoples' cell phones in an attempt to destroy evidence.
JR is one of many who reported being rushed and tackled by police while merely standing on a downtown street during the demonstrations. In another instance, a group of pigs marched across the street towards a group of protestors when one of the thugs approached a Black youth and shoved him in the chest. The pigs waited for a response and then seized the kid, leading to a scuffle between the two groups followed by the youth running away.
After the roundups the first night, JR reported, "Behind enemy lines, the inmates at Santa Rita put their fists in the air, smiled, cheered and gave us dap when we told them that we were being held captive because we were in the streets during the rebellion. Mexicans were congratulating Blacks, Blacks were congratulating whites, Norteños (a Latino street organization) were congratulating Bloods (a Southern Cali street organization), who are their rivals, for their participation in fighting the police and the city for justice against police terrorism."(1) In our next issue of Under Lock & Key we will focus on the question of peace between lumpen organizations. Practice demonstrates that great injustice is often the only thing that can undo the work the pigs do to keep oppressed youth at each others' throats.
As many have pointed out, this case has gotten so much attention because it was so blatant and it was videotaped by numerous people. The sick part is that many people are still saying things like, "you don't know what you'd do in a high pressure situation like that" and that the cop "has already suffered enough." The guy shot an unarmed persyn in the back while he was on the ground!
The only way to do justice to Oscar Grant is to prevent incidents like this again in the future, which requires eliminating the biggest and deadliest gang plaguing the streets of cities across the united $tates - the pigs. While this was going on in Oakland, comrades in New York were organizing a demonstration for Justice for Imam Morales, who was killed by the NYPD on September 24th, 2008. Two other Black men were killed by the pigs on New Year's Eve, the night Oscar was shot in cold blood. We can keep adding to the list of names, or we can stop the perpetrators.
The movement for justice for Oscar Grant has demonstrated the pitfalls of coalition based organizing and the need for a vanguard organization to provide leadership.(2) There has been a lot of talk about the Panthers in the last couple weeks, and their presence is missed. Without the vanguard party, a coalition of interested parties have decided to work together. To do so requires reducing the coalition to the lowest common denominator, and in this country in this time, that's not very good. One of the leaders of the the coalition linked the recent murder charges brought against the cop who shot Oscar to the new hope that comes with a Black man in the white house. Such hopefulness ignores the real reason why the police exist, and why their presence is so strong in certain communities.
MIM(Prisons) joins in the demand for criminal prosecution of the pig who killed Oscar Grant. But we don't have to sit down with the state to make this demand. The city is clearly responding to the demonstrations in the street, first when it made a statement to quell the first uprising after a week of silence and then when it arrested the shooter the night before the last demonstration. Lesson 1: The people can exert power independent of the state.
Ain't shit changed cuz Obama in the house. O P D had 15 murders, man that's all we know about cuz that's all that we heard of all the peckerwoods better hide tonight, cuz my city frustrated, they 'gon riot tonight. I don't condone the riots cuz we burnin' down our own shit. But I ain't mad at them cop cars that they hit. —from My Life, a tribute to Oscar Grant by Mistah F.A.B.
As all this goes down, there has been much debate in the streets about what is OK to smash and burn, if anything. The smashed windows and burning cars are only the expression of anger towards the pigs. It is out of fear and a sense of powerlessness that people cannot attack the object of their anger and lash out on inanimate objects instead. We don't condone random property destruction as a tactic for change, but if a real solution is to come of all this, it is not going to come from those who are working within the capitalist state. Anarchists want to expand the actions of the more radical sections of the demonstrations, while focusing on more "corporate" targets. But nights of Black youth roving the streets among groups of riot cops, being videotaped and snatched to prison cannot continue much longer. Lesson 2: The spontaneous youth must come together and exert their power in more meaningful ways, within the context of national liberation struggles and anti-imperialism.
They discover that the success of the struggle presupposes clear objectives, a definite methodology and above all the need for the mass of the people to realize that their unorganized efforts can only be a temporary dynamic... you'll never overthrow the terrible enemy machine, and you won't change human beings if you forget to raise the standard of consciousness of the rank-and-file. Neither stubborn courage nor fine slogans are enough. —from Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
This issue of Under Lock and Key focuses on the topic of gender. Usually when people think about gender oppression they think in the black and white terms of wimmin being oppressed and men being in power. But the reality is a lot more complex. For instance, in prisons, which overwhelmingly house men, gender oppression takes on a special form where men experience gender oppression regularly at the hands of male and female guards and at the hands of other prisoners.
Gender oppression is one component of imperialism, and it is a particularly difficult topic for those living in the First World where the majority enjoy gender privilege but also experience gender oppression. Overall MIM(Prisons) sees First World wimmin and men as mainly oppressors, not oppressed, when it comes to gender. Globally we find gender privilege in the Amerikan men who buy wives/prostitutes in other countries. This leisure time privilege is connected to economics, with men’s greater access to jobs and positions of power around the world. With First World wimmin we see gender privilege in the form of contraceptive testing on Third World wimmin and nannies who allow First World wimmin to raise healthy children while experiencing great leisure time. In addition, gender and economics intersect creating the ho relationship where First World wimmin benefit from their access to rich men thanks to closed borders. Pornography that elevates the white womyn also allows, what we call the “gender aristocracy,” to benefit from leisure time financially through the entertainment industry. While it’s clear that First World men have more gender privilege and power than First World wimmin, overall both are oppressors on a global scale relative to Third World men and wimmin. As a group, the First World of all genders are more united than ever in their exploitation of the rest of the world.
Yet, even within the U.$., there are groups that fall closer to the gender oppressed including those without citizenship, children and prisoners. In prisons, guards use their power to gain sexual access to prisoners (both male and female). And among prisoners there are some, generally sanctioned by the guards, who also enjoy sexual access to other prisoners. This sex between prisoners comes with a significant power differential because of the nature of imprisonment. That’s not to say that sex outside of prison is free of power. MIM(Prisons) upholds the MIM position that no sex under the patriarchy can be fully consensual as long as there are power differentials between people. In other words, all sex is rape under patriarchy. There may be different types of coercion - the overt physical overpowering of someone is a very different kind of rape than the couple who both want to have sex. However, we can not downplay the importance of things like money, looks, education, political power, and other things which lead someone to “consent” to sex. Desire is fucked up under capitalism and we can’t pretend things are equal when they are not.
An article in Under Lock and Key #1 took an in depth look at gender and rape in prisons: “To help sort out the gender status of biomale prisoners, a recent Department of Justice report gives us the surprising statistics that, “In State and Federal prisons, 65% of inmate victims of staff sexual misconduct and harassment were male, while 58% of staff perpetrators were female”. (Here we are discussing the 52% of reported sexual violence in prisons where the captor assaulted captive. The rest were inmate-on-inmate assaults, addressed more below.) (1) In the general population 97% of sexual violence reports are wimmin victims and the perpetrator is generally male (around 98%). The instance of female perpetrators is actually a higher rate in instances of assaults on males, estimated at around 14%. (2) Much higher than female assaults on wimmin, but nowhere near the 58% of assaults on prisoners of any biology.
“With 93% of the u.$. prison population being male, we would expect a much higher percentage of assaults to be against males than females, even if rates of assault for wimmin was higher. But assuming 97% of victimization is of bio-wimmin as it is on the street, you’d only get 29% of the absolute number of assaults being against men in prison. So we’re seeing a ratio of male to female victims on the order of 2 times the general population. In other words, if wimmin are five times as likely to be assaulted in prison than they are on the street, then men are 10 times as likely.
“Unfortunately, the study does not breakdown the statistics of female on male vs. female on female assaults. But even if we assume that all of the 35% of staff sexual assaults on wimmin in state and federal prisons are perpetrated by wimmin, that leaves another 23% of the perpetrators who are females attacking males (assuming one-to-one incidents, which was the vast majority). Even if you want to argue that no male guards ever sexually assault female prisoners, you see a significantly greater rate of bio-wimmin engaging in sexual violence against males in prison compared to the general population. Since female assaults on males in the general population are much higher than female assaults on females, we would be better off assuming the opposite. If we assume a proportional breakdown you’d be comparing 58% female perpetrators against bio-men in prison against the 14% on the street. If that weren’t bad enough, we must factor in that females are still only a minority of prison staff, accounting for 22% in the federal system. (3) So that 58% of assailants is coming from maybe a quarter of the staff that happen to be bio-wimmin. These are the statistics that back up our line on Lynndie England that it could have been any amerikkkan womyn sexually assaulting Iraqi bio-men. And if we acknowledge that Iraqis under occupation are much more powerless and oppressed than amerikan citizens, then these statistics speak even louder to say that amerikan bio-wimmin are the enemies of the oppressed.”
Just as the labor aristocracy usually outdoes the imperialists in its racist oppression, here we see an extreme example of the gender aristocracy outdoing men in gender oppression.
While discussing how to define gender that same article went on: “.....Prisoners (of both genders) and youth (of both genders) are reporting more sexual assaults than wimmin over all. If being young or incarcerated is really twice as risky as having female genitalia as the report rates suggest, then not only are there other considerations to determine someone’s gender status, but there are factors that are much more important than what genitalia a persyn is born with. Below we will see how age and incarceration intersect to create one of the most gender oppressed groups in the united $tates.
“MIM has established the basis for gender as purely gender in a persyn’s physical development, age and health status. Therefore, when nation and class are not major complicating factors, such as within the amerikan labor aristocracy, these are the basis for gender differences.
“However, the greatest differences in gender are found between the imperialist nations and the Third World people. Therefore when we talk about the spectrum of gender oppression we place most First Worlders on the male end of the spectrum, regardless of biology. We have demonstrated how First World bio-wimmin benefit by the patriarchy elsewhere. (4) The picture of bio-wimmin as sexual assailants in prisons above only adds to this argument....”
The fight against gender oppression must be waged directly in a battle against sexual assault and psycho-sexual warfare, and also as a part of the larger fight against imperialism because the patriarchy is intimately tied up with the capitalist system. In this issue we have an article about pornography in prison and why we oppose its censorship but at the same time we also oppose pornography in general. We take a global view comparing what some called the “feminism” of Sarah Palin with the real world slaughter of children in Gaza this month. We also have several responses to an article on psycho-sexual warfare in prisons that was printed in ULK4. That article inspired a lot of prisoners to write in about their experiences with the various ways that sex is used as an oppressive tool in the context of the prison system: guards paying for access to prisoners sexuality in various ways, guards manipulating prisoners by offering sex, guards using sex to pit prisoners against each other, and guards just using sex to straight up harass prisoners. Some of those stories appear in this issue.
The lumpen get a bad rap when it comes to gender for not fitting into pc-white cultural norms, which is exacerbated by white-owned entertainment companies that make their money selling images of the oppressed nations that exaggerate the negative to white consumers. The experiences of gender oppression faced by millions of oppressed nation men are an educational opportunity that we see far more potential in than a college course in so-called feminism or a “Take back the Night” rally. We welcome further responses and analysis on this topic and encourage our comrades who want to study this issue in depth to get a copy of the MIM Theory 2/3 on Gender and Revolutionary Feminism.
For communists, the gay marriage issue is a no brainer, but not really useful. Opposing oppression means we oppose restricting marriage and the rights that go along with it to certain groups of people. But it's not an issue communists will focus on to organize around as a reform for the petit-bourgeoisie. However, we do want to talk to people about this struggle because the pro-gay rights movement is not effectively attacking gender oppression, while the most oppressed have largely opposed the movement, often for the wrong reasons. A discussion is useful to win over those radicals who are in the gay-rights movement for the right reasons, while discouraging incorrect reactions by the oppressed.
Proposition 8, the ballot initiative in California that amended the state constitution to ban same sex marriage this year, is a fundamentally reactionary initiative that takes away rights from a group of people based on gender. While we can clearly say that Prop 8 is wrong, we did not spend time campaigning against it because our priorities right now are around fighting for rights for the oppressed, and as a group overall we do not count queer Amerikans as part of the world's oppressed. And the campaign against Prop 8 was so focused on what is necessary to rally a majority of Amerikan citizens against this proposition, they avoided useful education about gender oppression (because that is what was necessary to win over as many Amerikans as possible). We are pleased to see so many people without much previous political experience taking to the streets and the churches to protest passage of Proposition 8, as it is good to have people getting involved in political actions, speaking out against mis-education, and learning from this activism. As an exposure of religious anti-science and religious influence on politics, Prop 8 has been serving a good educational purpose for the public.
MIM has long talked about sexuality as a part of gender, and oppression against people based on sexual orientation as a part of gender oppression. But we are also clear that in imperialist countries, citizens enjoy gender privilege relative to the rest of the world. This is partly because gender is so tied up with class and nation privilege, and partly because of the gender strand of oppression that grants First World men and wimmin things like access to contraceptive devices tested on Third World men and wimmin, among other privileges. Further, marriage is not a matter of life or death for most people. The exception is for immigrants seeking legal residence in the U.$., ironically the one of only two rights associated with marriage that state-sanctioned civil unions can not offer (the other is the ability to file federal taxes jointly). Since marriage is not a question of economics or survival for most people, this is more about shuffling around rights within the labor aristocracy and petit-bourgeoisie.
The attention that Proposition 8 has received across the country relative to other propositions is telling. While marriage rights are not a matter of life and death, or even a significant quality of life question for most people, there were two ballot initiatives in California related to prisons that are far more immediate to the freedom and rights of the oppressed in the state. Proposition 5 would have provided expanded and improved drug treatment for people convicted of drug offenses, reducing the prison population and helping people with drug problems. It failed overwhelmingly. This proposition was demonstrably cheaper and healthier for people than prisons. But there has been no public outcry against its failure. Conversely, Proposition 9 passed, taking away prisoners rights to parole hearings and decreasing opportunities for early release. Again, an expensive proposition for the state, and demonstrably bad for the people as longer prison terms do not result in better citizens on the streets.
The prison initiatives have an impact on national oppression while the marriage ban impacts gender. It is important that we not ignore gender oppression when focusing on national oppression. But we do need to recognize that national oppression is the principal contradiction in the U.$. And the effects of this oppression are much more pressing than marriage. They relate to family livelihood, education, and fundamental freedom as more and more Blacks and Latinos are locked up in prison.
Our criticism of the No-on-8 campaign comes back to their goal. Right now the vast majority of Amerikans oppose gay marriage. So by focusing on this one reform within the imperialist system, the No-on-8 people had to pander to this majority by avoiding discussion of real issues of gender oppression or making any connections to national oppression. A campaign that provided people with more correct and useful educational material might have had an even lesser chance of winning, but at least it would have been a progressive use of the millions of dollars spent on this campaign.
Religion is anti-science
Prop 8 does give us the opportunity to point out clearly why it is not always good to be on the side of the majority. As with the case of the economic interests of Amerikan citizens, currently the gender interests of Amerikan citizens related to gay marriage are reactionary for the majority. In fact, California is unusually progressive on this issue - virtually every other state except Massachusetts would have passed this ballot initiative without a fight. And other states did pass even more restrictive bans on gay people without the public backlash now being seen in California. This means that we don't currently have the majority on the right side of this question. For an issue like this that is about rights within the petit-bourgeoisie we expect that in the long term it will be resolved correctly. But this issue does clearly demonstrate some problems with political education under imperialism, most notably the role played by religion in promoting mysticism and anti-science.
Religion plays a big role in why Amerikans care so much about gay marriage. The Mormon church convinced its members to donate millions of dollars to the campaign for Prop 8. Other churches joined the alliance for Prop 8 and also worked hard to get it passed. It is the irrationality of religion that pushes ridiculous political positions like teaching creationism in schools, condemning gay people to hell and denying them the ability to get married, and continuing assertions about the supremacy of white people, men, and just about any religion but Islam.
No one can really articulate a good reason why marriage should be reserved for only certain people. Some religious people try to tie it to procreation, but if that were really the case then we should have tests for fertility before allowing anyone to get married, and perhaps should require couples to get divorced if they don't produce children. We'd also have to deny adoptive parents access to marriage, even if they are straight. Some religious zealots claim that gay marriage will threaten their marriage, though no one seems to be able to point to any disasters for straight families in Massachusetts where gay couples have been marrying for a few years now. Fundamentally this debate about marriage is about religious people's feelings. They don't feel comfortable with gay marriage and they feel it would denigrate their marriage. Hopefully all those No-on-8 activists are seeing clearly why feelings should not be a part of politics.
It is one's subjective feelings that lead a gay amerikan to see Prop 8 as the most important issue. By putting this as their top priority, they are saying they are willing to do what it takes to win, like even go to war with a Third World country. And unfortunately, what is essentially a fight for equality, easily slides into a fight against the oppressed because of the context in which the battle is going on. While wimmins' rights has been a much more common cry of the anti-Islam movement, there are many examples of rabid pro-gay, pro-imperialist invasion propaganda.
The Mormon church is holding back progress with their mysticism, the Taliban is hacking away at imperialism with theirs and the difference is nationality. Really it is a scientific approach to organizing and military strategy that is behind the Taliban's success, but the mysticism is still there, and the gender aristocracy has been attacking it for a decade. This is why we call on the gay rights movement to take up dialectical materialism, before they do more to mobilize the already rabid anti-Islam movement in this country.
As we stated, the no-on-prop 8 movement not only got the national question wrong, but they messed up on gender too by pandering to gender aristocracy paternalism. The Prop 8 supporters ran a lot of TV ads claiming that kids were going to be taught about gay marriage in elementary school if gay marriage was not banned. This scare tactic apparently worked as polls showed public opinion shifted to support Prop 8 after the TV ads started running. Rather than counter this with ads that deny children will learn about gay marriage as the No-on-8 campaign did, we would say that it would not be a bad thing for kids to learn about gay marriage in school at least to the extent that they learn anything about marriage. Not only will the no-on-prop 8 movement sacrifice the oppressed nations in California or the Middle East, but they bolster the patriarchal systems of oppression against their own children in order to win this privilege for a small elite group.
Demographics of the majority
Another important aspect of Prop 8 and the institution of marriage is the position of President-elect Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. The Palin/Biden Vice Presidential debate saw the two candidates sharing a few moments of unity, the most notable around their shared conviction that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. In reality younger politicians like Barack Obama probably don't care about the definition of marriage, but mainstream political parties have to take positions on issues like this that a majority of Amerikans will support. And a vast majority of Amerikans oppose gay marriage.
This put a lot of Obama supporters in an awkward position when the Prop 8 campaign started robo-calling voters playing a recording of Obama stating that he believes marriage should be only between a man and a woman. Obama did come out against Prop 8 in the end, but for technical reasons, not because he supports gay marriage. All those California democrats who went for Obama clearly did not vote against Prop 8.
In fact exit poll results and studies on who voted for Proposition 8 show that some traditionally "progressive" (read: voting democrat) parts of the city of San Francisco voted for Prop 8 while some areas that are more traditionally "conservative" (read: voting republican) overwhelmingly opposed Prop 8. This should be no surprise when we realize that class and nation are far more important considerations in general in people's political views under imperialism today. Wealthy white people don't mind giving marriage rights to gay Amerikan citizens, but they are not going to let those Black drug users out of prison. The flip side of this is that oppressed nations in Amerika had a hard time seeing the importance of opposing Prop 8 and generally voted in favor of the marriage ban.
Many oppressed people even take a reactionary approach to the issue. "If rich white people are cool with this, it must just be another attempt by them to corrupt our youth." This negates the progressive character of this battle in our given context. So, while we must defend the right to marry for gays to counter this confusion among the oppressed, it is not a campaign that will make any serious blows against oppression at this time.
Gender oppression is part of imperialism
The anti-imperialist struggle involves fighting against class, nation and gender oppression. We have to pick our battles to have the greatest impact on ending oppression and avoid inadvertently promoting white nationalism or supporting causes just because they sound progressive. In the case of Proposition 8, greater gender equality under imperialism is generally a progressive goal. But it is not something that will get us closer to an end to all class, nation and gender oppression at this time.
When we fight for reforms within imperialism, like the battle to end censorship of mail we send to prisoners, we do so for two reasons: 1. Education by exposing the reactionary policies of the imperialists, and 2. gaining some room for the oppressed to survive and/or organize. Only the overthrow of imperialism and establishment of socialism under a dictatorship of the proletariat will move us significantly towards the end of class, nation and gender oppression.
Amerikan financial leaders were taken by surprise with the recent financial meltdown in Amerika and around the world. Even those who predicted the credit crisis did not expect the far reaching consequences. In fact on October 23, former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan told congress he was "shocked" at the situation and admitted that capitalism was not working as well as he thought it would. Greenspan went so far as to say he was "partially wrong" to think the free market could regulate itself. Greenspan was the chair of the Federal Reserve for over 18 years.
In reality the capitalists know perfectly well that the free market does not work. The regulation of financial markets (or any government regulation) contradicts the fundamental principals of free market capitalism, but they are happy to regulate when it works in their financial interests. Some people are complaining that the government is introducing "socialist" practices with this regulation. But the capitalist government of Amerika knows very well what it's doing - it is preserving capitalism, not promoting socialism. The inevitable crises of capitalism expose weaknesses in the system. To preserve that system, the capitalists need to shore up the economy. If that requires regulation, they will have no problem doing it.
Marx taught us a couple musts of a capitalist economy: capital must circulate and capital must accumulate. These two musts conflict with each other. Accumulation led to imperialism and the limits that imperialism put on circulation led to the crises of the 1930s in the capitalist world.
John Keynes represented the path to saving capitalism during the Great Depression. A path that John McCain and Joe the plumber would call socialism today, but a path that was developed by Keynes and implemented by the Roosevelt administration that was explicitly in opposition to socialism, which existed at the time in the Soviet Union.
Marx did predict this crisis - not directly because he could not know our specific conditions today. But to the extent that he correctly predicted that capitalism will always face crises, Marx was once again right about capitalism. In basic terms, Marx said that capitalism is not rational and so the capitalists are going to overproduce as a part of competition because they can not know the exact size of the market, nor can they rationally apportion that market to the producers.
Lenin expanded on Marx's theories explaining that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism. One of the definitive characteristics of imperialism described by Lenin was the rise of finance capital. Like all capital, finance capital could not just sit still. So markets were created that didn't actually sell material goods but sold money itself or promises of money in various forms. Not only was this the haven for the imperialists with ever-concentrating capital, but increasingly, the oppressor nation became involved in these markets as ways of getting their share of global super-profits, while helping the imperialists manage these massive economic games.
In the 1930s, there was anti-capitalist pressure from a socialist Soviet Union that was expanding its economy at record rates while the capitalist world crumbled. Meanwhile fascism exerted its own pressures on the future of capitalism in Europe unleashing unbridled violence to advance their own economic prosperity. In response, the idea that government was responsible for a nation's economic welfare and had the right to interfere in economics became prominent among the bourgeoisie for the first time.
The success of the New Deal was built on shattered post-WWII Europe and Japan, which the united $tates could use as an outlet for its own expanding production. Without these consumer nations, an army of people ready to work at home and new access to labor and resources of dozens of former European colonies, the New Deal policies would not have succeeded as they did in bringing a thriving u$-led capitalism to life.
Compared to the New Deal days, the u$ economy may be too top heavy this time. With most amerikans working in finance, law enforcement, state bureaucracies, advertisement/sales and other service industries, we have a country of parasites. There is no surplus value and little surplus population to fall back on. And we'll probably see a fascist revolution in this country before we see large numbers of amerikans taking up public works jobs that they currently force on Mexicans and other oppressed peoples.
Today the united $tates is no longer a rising economy, it is at the top and it is top heavy. With the former socialist countries having been incorporated back into the capitalist economy in the later decades of the 20th century, there are no new markets to break into. And with a large population that does not produce close to enough to sustain itself, being cut off from Third World labor and resources would be disastrous for the u$ economy.
While Keynes held that government intervention was necessary to keep a capitalist economy expanding, he did not recognize the limits on capitalist expansion recognized by Marx and Lenin. These limits make it harder and harder for capitalism to recover with time as accumulation becomes more extreme. Without imperialist war and massive loss of life, this accumulation remained a barrier to recovering from the Great Depression.
The Keynesians, increasingly the majority of capitalists during this economic crisis, say that the only way to stop the irrational banks is regulation - capitalism can not regulate itself because of the drive for profit, and the lack of information about competitors. We must distinguish this system of capitalism from socialism, which is characterized by nationalization of industry and finance, but more importantly, is controlled by a dictatorship of the proletariat working in the interests of the vast majority of the people. Any nationalization done under capitalism is controlled by a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie working in the interests of the few. In China, after Mao died, the bourgeoisie took power and began running the government for the profit of a few. They left industries nationalized and this fooled some people into thinking China was still socialist. But as the recent actions of the Amerikan government demonstrate, nationalization is not synonymous with socialism.
Although we should not confuse capitalist regulation with socialism, it is interesting to note that there are reports of a big upsurge in sales of Karl Marx's book Capital, as well as visits to his grave as people around the world seek an explanation for the financial crisis. While capitalism is making big profits for the imperialists and their labor aristocrats, those people benefiting have little interest in questioning the system. But in a time of crises some people are apparently inspired to think a little harder about what capitalism means. We don't anticipate this leading to a global upsurge in support for communism. Even with the current economic crisis, the workers in imperialist countries are still benefiting from the exploitation of the Third World. And so their economic interests are still tied up with capitalism.
True to the interests of the Amerikan citizens, what is considered progressive radio in the u$ can't stop crying about mortgages, car payments and kids having to go to community college. They completely ignore that most people in the world have never owned a car, a house or had a chance to get a college education. Joe the plumber, McCain's example of anti-Obama working people in Amerika, did a press event where he announced he was scared of Obama trying to take the country to socialism. Joe the plumber is in the richest 3.89% globally, that's why he's scared of wealth redistribution. When things get really bad, Joe the plumber is going to be fighting for national socialism so that at least he doesn't have to share with other nations.
For those labor aristocrats who want a more rational economic system, we encourage them to study communism. But we won't lie to them and tell them that fighting for communism is fighting for their economic interests. This will just foster reactionary nationalism, or fascism. And it is times of economic crisis when we need to be most wary of fascist upsurges in countries where the workers are benefiting from the exploitation of oppressed nations.
In general, times of capitalist crisis are times of opportunity for the international proletariat. While it is clear that it will take a lot more than the latest crisis to move the imperialist country citizens into the ranks of the proletariat and form a mass base for revolution, the revolutionary movements in Third World countries can take advantage of imperialist weaknesses. The relative strength of imperialism at this point in time may pull it through, but certainly the current crisis may allow our comrades in the Third World to gain some ground in the fight for liberation. The imperialists are doing what they can to shore up smaller countries hit hardest by economic collapse by providing IMF loans (Iceland, Hungary, Ukraine). But these loans are provided strategically and will not prevent the suffering and exploitation of Third World people, which existed before this economic crisis and will continue after it until the people rise up and put an end to this system of imperialism.
Notes: See MIM Theory 1 and 10 for further elaboration on why the Amerikan citizens are part of the labor aristocracy and not the proletariat.
In general pornography is censored in prison as a means of exercising control over prisoners for no purpose other than the exercise of power. Porn certainly doesn’t lead to any security problems in prisons nor does it threaten the power structure in any way. And we know that prison guards of both male and female sex use gender and sexuality to oppress prisoners. In response to our article in ULK 4 on this topic we’ve received overwhelming response from prisoners describing many cases of guards using sexuality to control prisoners. But this doesn’t mean that porn serves any progressive purpose for prisoners.
We oppose pornography because it is all about reinforcing gender oppression. Pornography is part of the capitalist romance culture which conditions people to have sick gender relations. From MIM Theory 2/3 Gender and Revolutionary Feminism, “One of the ways that the sexuality of male supremacy is institutionalized is through pornography. Robin Morgan has said, ‘Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice.’ Pornography is the media of sexual objectification and violence against women. Its message is ‘a lie about women, that we exist to pleasure and service men and that our deepest pleasure lies in enslavement and subordination…’”
Also from MT 2/3, “The supporters of the right to pornography are the advocates of the right to degrade women and sell them as such. In other words, pornography has no value if it shows women doing empowering, important, meaningful things. Its value is tied to portraying a bitch ready to be raped. MC0 suggests that those who uphold this 'right' are the same people that argue prison is humane and rehabilitation works.”
Even if pornography is censored in prison, pornography will still be present outside of prison, perpetuating and reinforcing the gender oppression in our society. MIM(Prisons) opposes porn in society at large, but right now we oppose censorship even more than we oppose porn. Neither pornography nor political literature should be allowed to be censored by the prison staff, who are employed as arms of the state. For this reason we are willing to ally with porn manufacturers against censorship in prison while holding that pornography should not be protected by the First Amendment under a Dictatorship of the Proletariat where speech is protected to serve the interests of the majority of the world’s people. We are fighting against censorship in prison, not in favor of ensuring access to pornography.
Over a decade ago Tupac said we weren't ready to see a Black president. Yesterday, amerikans elected one. As we wrote about previously in an article on Obama's candidacy, neo-colonialism is nothing new. Africa has already had half a century of Black presidents. As a minority diaspora in the belly of the beast it is no surprise that it took much longer to see one in the united $tates. And it should be no surprise that given such a situation he has less independence from the imperialists than a president in a small African nation with little economic development.
The biggest lesson we can take from the Obama election is that we are surrounded by amerikans (surprise). And we say that in the context of amerikans being nationalists and members of an oppressor nation (think nazi Germany or apartheid Azania).
When George W. Bush ran against Kerry we said, "another day, another imperialist candidate for president." But we tended to agree with those saying that a Bush presidency would help to polarize the world and turn people more strongly against u$ imperialism. You might argue that we were right.
But the shortcoming of that history is the significant rise of anti-Bush sentiments among amerikans. This gave them a way out. Islamic groups like al-Qaeda held amerikans responsible for the actions of a president who a large plurality of them voted for, while too many so-called “communists” have played the role of neo-colonial peacemakers between the oppressors and the oppressed.
The anti-Bush united front blurred the lines between radicals in the u.$. and the Democratic Party. This process was helped along by those calling themselves Maoist accepting leadership roles in this movement. (We'll watch as this movement dissolves proving that they do support a different kind of imperialism, in this case one with a black face.)
But yesterday marked the moving of the poles. Suddenly, the millions who mushed themselves into the "radical left" because they disagreed with Bush are back in the white house with amerikan flags waving. It's not that they ever put their amerikan flags down or were ever radical at all. But they allowed and even promoted radical sounding rhetoric to rope some of the more radical and energetic activists into the Democratic Party, including oppressed nation youth.
Now all that has changed. Obama can't pretend he opposes the occupation of Iraq or be wishy washy on the fence anymore. He has to end it or stay the course. In that way the Bush - Obama 1-2 punch might be the perfect lesson in bourgeois politics. For all those years people said Bush was an evil, horrible man. Then dream prez Barack Obama comes in, and nothing changes. Lesson learned?
New Afrikan or Afrikan Amerikan
Comrades have already pointed out that Obama wasn't winning the white vote, putting into question our statement above that amerikans elected a Black president. (1) Not only did the Democratic Party benefit from the armed struggle against u$ imperialism while the Republicans were in the white house, but they also bet correctly on a growing oppressed nation electorate in the u$. In both cases, any progress should be attributed to the oppressed and not white amerika.
With the u$ hot war in Pakistan under way and the new president elect fully in support, we already have concrete evidence that this presidency is gonna be a lot like the last 43. Yet many Black people agree with Tupac that the new president is heaven sent. Blacks overwhelmingly opposed the war on Iraq, when white amerikans supported it. (2) Will they back Obama's war on Pakistan?
Oppressed nations should treat the Obama presidency as an opportunity to make demands from a president who claims to understand where they're from. The most astute New Afrikan leaders are rotting away in isolation cells in the united $tates. Some elders are facing trial for alleged crimes over a quarter century old. If Obama claims to care about people who aren't white he better stop the extreme repression being dealt out to any Black, Brown or Red leader that stands up for their people.
Obama united amerikans, reminding revolutionaries what we're up against in this country. He also united amerikans with oppressed nations within u$ borders (not to mention in Africa and elsewhere). It is yet to be seen whether Blacks and other internal semi-colonies are aligning themselves more completely with the oppressor nation from which they benefit financially or will step up to the opportunity to expand the voice of the oppressed. As the economic crisis advances, the oppressed would be smart to bet on self-reliance and self-determination. When the most oppressed and exploited come to tell amerika that they can't steal their wealth anymore, we'd like to be on the right side of history.
The oppressed youth in the united $tates need vanguards that unflinchingly uphold self-determination and anti-imperialism. White politics and non-profits have done too much to dilute the revolutionary energy of oppressed youth into dead-ends that do not serve oppressed people globally or promote any real change.