As to your concern about the info that this comrade had, it is a valid concern, and one we are always thinking about. The persyn who left MIM(Prisons) was a long-time cadre-level member who had access to information on a need-to-know basis, which included subscribers’ names, addresses and communication records. But as discussed in the article, ey left for some kind of nihilism and sense of defeat, and ey still feels like ey agrees with what we are doing. So we are confident in saying there is no ill-will there.
Over the existence of our organization we have constantly improved the security of our organization and specifically the security of our subscribers’ information. There have been at least 4 major technological leaps in our tracking of your info in our over 10 years of existence. We are confident in saying that our information is more secure than any other organization that you may write to, and about as secure as it could possibly be while still using computers connected to the internet.
Other than the technical side of security is the humyn side. We organize our movement in a hierarchical way. People must work their way up the ladder, and information is released on a need-to-know basis. Comrades must put in work to get access to any information. So even if they do do harm, we try to make sure they are doing more good for the movement.
We recently put out documents outlining a new mass organization called Anti-Imperialist Prisoner Support (AIPS). In those documents we outline the hierarchy of supporters, member, leaders and cadre. Cadre is the highest level, and would be full members of MIM(Prisons) or other Maoist cells. We have the same hierarchy within United Struggle from Within for our comrades inside, except that cadre-level prisoners cannot join MIM(Prisons) for security reasons. (Since the state can read our mail or listen to our phone calls, there is no way to have democratic centralism with cadre while they are still in prison.)
Our latest iteration of technological improvements was a major achievement that was just launched over the last couple months. It involved allowing supporters and members, working as AIPS, to help us with work like typing reports we receive from prisoners on conditions and organizing, articles and study group responses. This is done in a way where our subscribers’ identity and persynal information is completely inaccessible to these AIPS comrades. In fact, that persynal info physically cannot be “hacked” into from the information that these comrades have.
Even within the different levels of commitment outlined above, we have instituted different levels of access to information. It is all handled on a need-to-know basis and based on one’s quality of work and proven commitment to the movement. For example, members of AIPS have begun to participate in the introductory study group that you are also doing right now. And from the people that complete it, we will invite AIPS supporters to respond to imprisoned comrades’ answers to help both parties develop their political consciousness. This will be a level of political responsibility and access that must be earned.
Back to the comrade that left MIM(Prisons). As soon as ey left, we cut off eir access to all of our digital information and accounts. Most importantly, we released a new gpg key. We use gpg to encrypt our email and confirm our messages are officially from us. So anyone emailing us should use our new gpg key to ensure that anyone with our old gpg key cannot read our messages. Using the new gpg key provides extra certainty that you are only communicating with current members of MIM(Prisons).
In this era, people are more aware than ever about the susceptibility of their persynal information being sucked up and used by all kinds of powers that be. For revolutionaries this can become a life or death concern, and is certainly a concern of success or failure. Only recently have we seen other organizations and movements begin to talk about the kind of practices that MIM was once mocked for. While most of what we’re saying here you just need to take our word for, we do think our historical practice around security culture speaks to the seriousness with which we take the work that we are doing. And we commend you (the comrade who asked this question) for also taking these things seriously.
Our most recent censorship notice came from GOA T. Bates at Thumb Correctional Facility in Michigan. The reason our mail was censored? “MAIL - WITH LABEL AND POSTAGE STAMP”. So you can send mail to prisoners in Michigan as long as you don’t put a postage stamp on it. Do they understand how the postal service works?
Of course they do. Violations of our First Amendment rights for illogical reasons is common occurrence here in these United $nakes. There are no rights that we don’t stand up for and defend. Right now we are behind on fighting censorship battles, and we could use your help in increasing the pressure on such egregious cases as this.
See our prison censorship database for examples of protest letters, and our legal/caselaw page for existing court precedents. Please email us any letters you send, or let us know about any phone calls you make. We are eager to help people, especially friends and family of our subscribers, join in our anti-censorship efforts!
In a New Year’s statement for 2020, llco.org stated:
“While we have much to celebrate, we also mourn the loss of a once dear comrade, who passed away earlier this year. Prairie Fire, who was integral to crafting our theory and authored many of our earlier articles, lost his battle with drug addiction this past April. Although he was expelled from our ranks in 2016, we still recognize and honor the important role he played in the formative years of our Organization.”
2019 was certainly a year of loss and transformation for the Maoist movement in the United $tates.(1) While the Leading Light Communist Organization abandoned Maoism as such for its own self-aggrandizing brand shortly after forming, comrade Prairie Fire was someone who we had great unity with over the years. While our knowledge of eir work is somewhat limited, ey was someone who dedicated eir life to building a revolutionary movement.
Prairie Fire spent some time working with the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA) before being won over by the MIM critiques of the RCP=U$A brand of revisionism. Prairie Fire, having been a student of Avakian’s work, wrote some biting critiques of Avakian’s writings for MIM.(2) In its later years, MIM came to promote the It’s Right to Rebel (IRTR) online discussion forum as a place for Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist League comrades to organize. Prairie Fire was a lead figure in the IRTR project ideologically and work-wise. MC5, later revealed as Henry Park, would come to consider the IRTR a failure and proof that you cannot out-number the fascists and cops on a public internet forum.
Not long after the IRTR experiment had begun, the original MIM Comrades cell dissolved and the etext.org MIM website was left in the hands of lead theoretician Henry Park. By this time MIM had dropped most of the infrastructure related to the prison ministry into the hands of comrades who would come to form MIM(Prisons). One of those founding comrades came from IRTR.
Once Henry Park was on eir own, eir writings became more erratic, accusatory and difficult to decipher. It was at this time that Prairie Fire began leading the call to disassociate from MIM. Another key point of struggle was MC5’s continued promotion of Mousnonya as the MIM Art Minister. MC5’s failure to denounce Mousnonya, who participated in IRTR, was very concerning for the core membership of IRTR. Comrades could not understand the free reign of creative license that seemed to be allowed to Mousnonya, whose content was inconsistent in its political message. While IRTR was condemned as a failure, swimming with fascists, MC5 hinted at other reasons for the Mousnonya relationship, but we don’t know what those were. Unfortunately, Mousnonya videos are still prominent on YouTube’s search when looking for MIM content.
Most of IRTR’s core membership followed Prairie Fire in denouncing Henry Park as having lost it and went off to form Monkey Smashes Heaven (MSH) and associated projects. These projects eventually put out the Sunrise Statement declaring “Maoism Third-Worldism” as a new, higher stage of historical materialism, intentionally distancing themselves from MIM Thought. Comrades who formed MIM(Prisons) at that same time stood by the MIM legacy and the writings of Henry Park until eir early death in 2011.(3) We put online and continue to host the latest version of the MIM etext.org site that we had a copy of before it was shut down.
At the same time that IRTR was operating, the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement arose in Denver, organizing in alliance with MIM around support for Ward Churchill in eir fight for academic freedom, and anti-war and anti-militarism. As MSH wanted to to go beyond online media and art projects, it morphed into an aspiring vanguard organization called the Leading Light Communist Organization. This group was active in Denver and included 2 comrades from RAIM-Denver on the central committee, with the intent of using the RAIM name and formation as the LLCO-led mass organization.
While MIM(Prisons) criticized the idea that there was a new stage of revolutionary science beyond Maoism, we saw the MSH alliance (and later LLCO) to generally uphold the MIM cardinal principles, even as they continued to find more aspects of MIM Thought and writings that they disagreed with. As the primary theoretician behind LLCO, we know Prairie Fire was a lead force in this continuous distancing from MIM.
Some time after forming LLCO, Prairie Fire decided that eir ideas had again become so distinct that they constituted a new ideology, called “Leading Light Communism.” Without discussion with other central committee members, LLCO abandoned “Maoism Third-Worldism” for “Leading Light Communism” as it continued to move its rhetoric in a direction that MIM(Prisons) found to be sectarian and dogmatic.(4) RAIM comrades in LLCO made a similar assessment, and soon split with LLCO, which in turn denounced RAIM as wreckers. At this point RAIM became a collective focused on a news blog at anti-imperialism.com without a clearly defined ideology. Over the years RAIM would go back to the “Maoist Third-Worldism” identity.
As membership changed, RAIM began to come around to the MIM(Prisons) position on a new stage of revolutionary science. In its last years, RAIM was in regular discussions with MIM(Prisons), regarding plans to launch joint projects under the MIM name. As RAIM has since been dissolved, comrades who have followed the MIM(Prisons) and RAIM legacies continue to work towards a reconsolidation of the MIM.
After a struggle with LLCO over its gender analysis in 2014,(5) MIM(Prisons) paid little attention to LLCO as practical alliance had reached an impasse. While the nature of its activity was unclear to us, it seemed focused on leading struggles in the Third World. Essentially, it had gone full circle due to seeing the center of world revolution in the Third World, and it had taken up a Trotskyist strategy of leading Third World organizing from the First World. Prairie Fire had gone back to the ways of Bob Avakian.
According to the recent statement from LLCO, Prairie Fire was expelled from the organization in 2016 for drug use. It was around this time that Prairie Fire reached out to us to notify us that LLCO had been usurped by enemies, and ey was regrouping around a formation called “the Founders.” That was the last we heard from Prairie Fire.
As our movement is in a period of great transition and transformation, we wanted to take this opportunity to document some of this history now that people have passed and organizations have dissolved.
We also wanted to comment on Prairie Fire’s passing because we saw em as a fellow traveler, despite our differences over the years. While eir practice was not really known to us in much detail, we had respect for eir ideas and eir efforts. Certainly more than most organizations out there. So it is sad that we learn of eir passing.
It is also sad when we hear that a comrade had succumbed to drug addiction. Developing healthy lives in this sick system is a challenge, to say the least. That is why we have comrades currently developing a program for those dealing with addiction and other challenges related to being healthy in an imperialist society that we are struggling against. And we welcome help and input from comrades on this project, as we strive to Serve the People in addressing the effects of this society on the individual. The transformation of the individual is only actualized in the individual contributing to the transformation of society.
We post the images of Prairie Fire above to commemorate and remember em. Yet it is not because of eir appearance or life story that we are writing on eir death. We are critical of eir efforts to build a cult of persynality around emself. Promoting eir image and eir persynal history is promoting pre-scientific thinking. We must be real with the people. We must strike a balance between those who see themselves as great, and make great statements, and those who shy from the vanguard role and deny revolutionary truths. We must be clear and honest about what we know, and what we are doing, and what we don’t know, and what we are not accomplishing.
At times it seemed that Prairie Fire was always striving to distinguish emself as having done something new and different, falling into the trap of post-modernism that ey emself condemned. We are not in revolutionary times. We can not have the impact or discover the truths that Mao or Lenin did in our current conditions. We mustn’t strive to be the next Mao or Lenin. We must strive to be humble, dedicated servants of the people; always struggling and striving in the direction of revolutionary transformation of society, as so many millions of people who came before us have done. We are a part of something great. We are doing great things. There is nothing great about us as individuals.
Prairie Fire was a leader. Overall ey led people in the right direction, though at times ey led people away from MIM Thought. We should strive to unite with all who are in agreement with MIM’s three cardinal principles. These are what distinguish us as Maoists, that are moving in the overall direction toward a world without oppression.
As the launch of a new Maoist Internationalist Movement newsletter was scheduled to occur in the next week or so, we are addressing in part the events of the last 6 weeks that have delayed this project indefinitely. There were a series of splits, degenerations and internal struggles within our movement that came to a head last month. We are still assessing where things will fall, as we work to keep the prison ministry projects operating.
On 10 December 2019, remaining members of the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement announced, “After nearly 13 years of existence, the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement (RAIM) is no more. Contradicting lines and practical inadequacies have been allowed to fester to the point of intractability, resulting in several splits and the widespread abandonment of our organization.”(1)
RAIM was our primary partner in the planned newsletter. There have been promises of more thorough assessments of RAIM’s history and shortcomings, but the most detailed commentary right now is at the link in the notes below. One of the key things it highlights is the challenges of revolutionary organizations to engage in the practice that allows us to learn from and bind ourselves to the masses in real struggle while in a non-revolutionary situation. There is a challenge in distinguishing ourselves in action, not just words, from the countless non-profits, non-governmental organizations, liberal reform groups and other bourgeois institutions misdirecting energy and resources from the struggles of oppressed people in this country.
The announcement from RAIM was followed shortly by the sudden resignation by a cadre member of MIM(Prisons). This loss seems to echo some experiences coming out of the RAIM camp, and this article is an attempt to analyze it in terms of phenomena that stem from our conditions in particular and that we must try to combat.
In contrast to some other struggles that had happened within MIM(Prisons) and within RAIM, this comrade who left MIM(Prisons) said ey had no political disagreements and therefore there was nothing to discuss or struggle over. In eir resignation ey stated, “I’ve come around to the belief that the humyn race is likely doomed at its own hand.” Ey went on to say, “I don’t see a better political line out there, instead I see a problem with me and my First World conditions. I’m no longer able to rally the energy to continue contributing.”
For some of us, this is a hard position to understand. For some of us there is no life free of despair outside of a committed struggle for a world without oppression. However, we must understand that we live in a predominately petty bourgeois country, and what the class interests of that class is, and what its political outlook is. Only then can we understand and combat these types of conclusions.
On the one hand, it was mostly true that this comrade did not see a better political line. In fact, until eir last days with us ey was upholding that line in practice, even challenging others who were wavering in their own belief that Maoist organizing, in the form it took within our movement anyway, was the best way to struggle against oppression.
However, it was just a few weeks prior when i was editing an article this comrade had written reviewing the recent Terminator movie. In it ey had commented on capitalism marching towards the annihilation of nature and humyn life. I argued we should change the clause to “annihilation of the current balance of life on Earth that humyns depend on.” The “annihilation of nature” is such an absolute concept that i’m not sure humyns could be capable of such a thing if they tried. Even the elimination of humyn life is an extreme outcome.
This seemingly subtle change hints at an underlying line struggle that emerged as em leaving the movement completely because ey thought “the humyn race is likely doomed at its own hand.” This type of apocalyptic outlook is unfortunately common in our petty bourgeois culture. The petty bourgeoisie is a class whose purpose is based in consumption, leading to a different type of alienation than what Marx talked about (one that leads towards nihilism). And this is a truly First World problem that we should take seriously.
Whether it’s lifelong communists retreating to the comforts of a consumer life built on the exploitation of the Third World, or imperialist warhawks attempting to literally initiate a biblical rapture, First World nihilism is a threat to humyn life. Whether it will kill off all of the humyn race aside, we sure know it kills a lot of us, and it is happening every day as long as imperialism stays in place.
There are two main forms of political degeneration that we see. There are those that abandon attempts at change to take up a bourgeois position as this comrade did. Then there are those who sneak bourgeois politics into their practice. The more obvious examples of the latter are comrades leaving to join single-issue reformist groups. The more insidious are those who take up a revisionist, or non-revolutionary line that hides in Maoist clothing. Really there is only one form of political degeneration: it is the abandoning of proletarian politics for bourgeois politics in one form or another.
The fact that this comrade, who had served the people and upheld the proletarian line against attacks for so long, did not see eir decision as a disagreement in political line makes no sense. The MIM line is very clear that our strategic confidence comes from the 80% of the world’s people who have a material interest predominately opposed to imperialism. Mao Zedong said that the imperialists were paper tigers, and proved in practice what that meant; that they are dangerous on the surface, but will collapse in the face of organized peoples’ power. So clearly the comrade had disagreements with Maoist political line.
Apparently this comrade felt ey had made up eir mind and didn’t want to engage in struggle anymore. This reminds me of the many times people have told me they don’t listen to the news anymore because it just makes them depressed. And sure, I can relate to getting upset at times at things that I hear on the news. But most often I listen to the news with an open mind to understanding the world around me, the good and the bad. To stick one’s head in the sand is easier than looking for answers. But if you are just getting depressed every time you listen to the news, it is because you are not engaged in the process of transforming our reality and/or you think humynity is doomed and there are no answers to the massive problems we are facing. To believe there are no answers is metaphysical thinking – ideas that things just are the way they are, or maybe even that humyn nature is just bad. This is religious/idealist thinking. And it is strange to come from a comrade who spent many years railing against religious and idealist thinking and advocating Maoism based in a historical materialist analysis of history.
Knowing what this comrade knew, the lie ey told, perhaps to emself, about not disagreeing with us politically, can only be explained as an excuse to do what this persyn subjectively wanted to do. If ey was being honest with us ey might have said something like “i feel that my life will be happier, more fulfilling, more rewarding by abandoning the struggle against oppression and imperialism.” And i know what you’re thinking, what kind of sick mind could think that? Well, we are surrounded by sick minds, present company included. Here in the belly of the beast, to seek out and uphold a proletarian position takes real effort and fortitude. It is going against all we are taught. And that is why this struggle to transform society is dialectically a struggle to transform ourselves. All the self-help books and therapy sessions cannot transform us into the new socialist humyns we are striving to be. Only revolution can transform us to the point that we have eliminated this sickness.
Well, you say, aren’t we in the First World hopeless then, because revolution is so far off? For one, revolutions happen quickly. It is true that our movement has been saying for decades that we do not live in revolutionary conditions. But that could change in a matter of months. And for the oppressed, crisis is opportunity, not the individualist, nihilist fantasy of the zombie apocalypse or the end of humynity that the petty bourgeois culture prophesizes.
Secondly, we do not have to achieve a stateless communist utopia to begin to transform ourselves. In fact, we transform every day. It is up to us whether we are training our brains to become more responsive to capitalist advertising and consumption or training ourselves to better embody the proletarian line and morality that leads us to struggle every day. That struggle defines us. And it impacts those around us. And together we lay the groundwork for a better tomorrow. Tomorrow can be better, a step in the right direction, or not. It is in the act of making revolution that we can cure the disease that has infested all our minds, and the system that requires unnecessary death and suffering to grease its wheels.
The recent events have created a significant shake up in our plans. These were long-term plans that were closely reaching their due date. Needless to say the setbacks have brought temporary disappointment and discouragement. At the same time we have been striving for a new path, and this shake up can help us get there.
We have already begun to transform our reality in recent weeks as we develop relationships with a number of new comrades. Even here, in the heart of empire, we know the number of potential comrades out there vastly outnumber what we have managed to unite to date. And we know it is our responsibility to be effective at what we do, to inspire the masses to join our movement. It will take us some more months to get back up to speed. And we don’t foresee any newsletter coming out before that. But we are rebuilding. And we invite you to join us.
Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy in Maoist Terrain J. Moufawad-Paul Zero Books 2016
Abbreviations JMP = J. Moufawad-Paul CPC = Communist Party of China MZT = Mao Zedong Thought MLM = Marxism-Leninism-Maoism ML = Marxism-Leninism MIM = Maoist Internationalist Movement PCP = Communist Party of Peru RCP,USA or RCP=U$A = Revolutionary Communist Party, USA RIM(MIM) = Revolutionary Internationalist Movement that later became the Maoist Internationalist Movement RIM(RCP) or RIM = Revolutionary Internationalist Movement that was a sort of international led in practice by the RCP CoRIM = Committee for RIM, the leadership of the international RIM, primarily run by the RCP AWTW = A World To Win, magazine published by the CoRIM GPCR = Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution PPW = Protracted People’s War ICM = International Communist Movement, or the collection of communist organizations across the world
This book purports to be a philosophical exposition into the terrain of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, a science that has been forged in revolutionary practice. And as it’s title aptly describes, it focuses on the dialectical relationship between continuity and rupture in the development of humyn knowledge through the scientific method. A method which can be applied to society just as it can to oceans or plants. The author counters those who deny this.
Continuity and Rupture is a useful book for understanding the how and why behind how Maoism came to be. But we recommend reading the book with this review to get an alternate history of Maoism in the First World, as well as some strong caveats on the political line presented as Maoism in this book. The biggest issue we will take up in this review is the uncritical presentation of the RCP=U$A-led Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM). The development of Maoism within occupied turtle island can be seen to have started with the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP), but to really be consolidated as “Maoism-qua-Maoism” by the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) beginning in 1983. MIM’s development of Maoism was explicitly a criticism of and rejection of RCP=U$A politics. It is problematic that this book leaves the RCP=U$A in the position of the prominent Maoist organization in this country as Maoism was being consolidated as an ideology, when that organization struggled against Maoism the whole time and only claimed the label for a period when it served to maintain their influence within the RIM.
In addition to providing a counter-narrative, albeit North America-centric, we will address a number of points where JMP emself seems to lean towards positions of the RCP=U$A and away from the Maoist position.
Maoism as Maoism Rupture
Much of this book deals with the distinguishing of Maoism from Mao Zedong Thought. What distinguishes a ‘Thought’ from an ‘ism’ is that a ‘Thought’ is applying revolutionary science to local conditions and drawing specific conclusions. When a ‘Thought’ develops understanding that is universally applicable to communists everywhere, that is beyond the previous level of scientific understanding of how to build socialism, it becomes an ‘ism’.
Applying the concept of ‘continuity and rupture’ to historical materialism, the author makes the somewhat controversial assertion that the rupture that established Maoism as a new theoretical stage occurred in 1993. This is controversial because the term “Maoism” existed and was used to describe movements long before then. Our own movement took up the name the “Maoist Internationalist Movement” in 1984. Though the author points out that it is quite common for a scientific term to emerge before its concept is developed.(p.18) The author succinctly distinguishes the earlier and later uses of Maoism:
“Maoism, then, is not simply an addition to Marxism-Leninism (as it was generally understood prior to 1988 under the rubric of Mao Zedong Thought), but a theoretical development of the science that sums up its continuity in the formula Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.”(p.23)
Before this time, the author argues that “Maoism” was a word to describe those who looked to China for leadership, and recognized the revisionism of the Soviet Union. It was the historical overlap of these two phenomenon that made this such a heady time for communists. They were simultaneously experiencing the fall of the first great socialist experience, while watching a second great revolution critique that downfall and surpass it by learning from it. As JMP argues, it is these great events that allowed the theory of historical materialism to develop and be synthesized by those who lived through and attempted to build on them.
JMP goes on to say that the GPCR itself was not enough to forge Maoism as Maoism, but it was the People’s War in Peru that made this a possibility. It is unclear why the Peruvians would be in a unique situation compared to other revolutionary movements of their time. For any of us to move forward, and incorporate the lessons of what China did, we would have to come to some conclusions about what Maoism is. We have no reason to believe that MIM founders relied on the PCP to come to the same major conclusions on what the correct lessons were. We see MIM actively struggling to defend the main points of Maoism in its struggles with the RCP=U$A before and after founding MIM. And many others grasped the significance of both the GPCR and the coup in China in which the capitalist roaders took power, which are central to distinguishing Maoism as a new stage and to distinguishing those who understand it.
“And though, in 1981, these same Peruvian revolutionaries began to think of the possibility of Maoism (in a document entitled Towards Maoism), it was not until they had reached the apex of their revolutionary movement that they declared the ‘universal validity’ of Maoism as a ‘third stage’ of revolutionary science. Hence the supposedly controversial claim that Maoism did not exist before 1988: it did not exist as a properly coherent theoretical terrain.”(p.xviii)
At times it seems JMP is arguing that a stage can only be summed up after moving on to the next stage. For instance ey argues that Leninism was only summed up by the Chinese Maoists, and now Maoism was only summed up by the Communist Party of Peru (PCP). Or at the very least it can’t be summed up without the practical application in a protracted revolutionary struggle that at least approaches taking state power.
“The overall point, here, is that revolutionary theory develops through class revolution, specifically through world-historical revolution, and that there have only been three world-historical communist revolutions.”(p16) and “…the Chinese Revolution was the first Marxist-Leninist revolution because the Communist Party of China under Mao was operationalizing (and theorizing) Leninism.”(p29) and so “The new theoretical terrain emerges when this struggle passes beyond the limits of the previous terrain and begins to produce a new stage of struggles according to its assessment, synthesis, and decision of universality.”(p30)
This gets to shaky ground when JMP argues that the apex of the PCP struggle was achieved prior to establishing socialism in Peru but still asserting that new theoretical terrain can only emerge when the struggle begins to produce a new stage of struggle. The PCP certainly contributed significantly to the ICM in both the practical fight in Peru and the ideological exposition and defense of Maoism in the global movement. But we do not see the PCP as having produced a new stage of struggle, past the limits of the previous terrain. The practice that revealed the validity of Mao’s theories was that of the Chinese people, not the Peruvians.
JMP admits, “Obviously there are other interpretations of Maoism that do not declare fidelity to this historical narrative”.(p.2) And ey later cites MIM as one example of this. We provide our historical narrative in this review. But one of the reasons given by JMP for choosing the RIM(RCP) story over MIM is that MIM is made up of “organizations based at the centers of capitalism, specifically the U.$.”(p.47-48), while going on to say that MIM would not disagree with the PCP conception of Maoism as a new ism. Calling an idea “white” or “First Worldist” can be a shortcut for explaining ideological differences, but JMP is not drawing ideological differences here. This line of thought is a divergence from the scientific method ey prevents throughout this book.
JMP on MIM
JMP’s coverage of MIM Thought in this book is limited to one footnote. As mentioned above, it is a footnote where ey seems to acknowledge MIM as one of the exceptions, one of the other examples of Maoism as Maoism and not just Mao Zedong Thought, that was separate from the RIM(RCP). Ey acknowledges MIM’s rejection of the RIM “experience,” as we explain briefly below. Ey correctly goes on to say that MIM’s Maoism would not disagree with the PCP Maoism adopted by the RIM.
What we take issue with in this footnote is JMP’s branding of MIM Thought as “Maoism Third-Worldism.” This term was coined in the Sunrise Statement published in 2007, after the original MIM had collapsed, 24 years after its founding. For our part, MIM(Prisons) rejected the term Maoism Third-Worldism, while generally allying ideologically with those taking it up. We, agreeing with JMP, said that there could be no higher stage of revolutionary science without a practice that surpasses socialist China during the GPCR. We asserted that the question of exploiter vs. exploited countries was just basic Marxist economics, and not new theory. And we warned our comrades of ceding the terrain of Maoism to the revisionists.
Below we have produced a timeline of events related to both the use of the term “Maoism” and the ideological development of the MIM and the PCP. Later we will go deeper into some of the ways MIM addressed things that JMP leaves as open questions for the movement.
We are not claiming that the below represents all the Maoist forces, rather we are putting MIM history into the context of the history that JMP upholds as defining Maoism for us. We also start with some notes from China on the formulation of Maoism as a higher stage of revolutionary science. In one PCP document online(1) the authors say that they were waiting for the Chinese to declare and define Maoism, but once the coup took place in 1976, then the Peruvians saw it as their task to take on.(2)
The point of all of this is not to say “we were the first,” or to fight over what year Maoism was established as we know it today. It is to challenge a narrative that puts the RIM and the RCP=U$A at the center of this development, when both organizations were dripping with revisionism. That’s not to imply that all parties in the RIM were revisionists. But it is clear that the PCP put out all the documents listed below and struggled to get the RIM to accept their line on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism over many years. JMP does not state that the RIM improved on the existing definition coming from the PCP, but that RIM forced its meaning by adopting the statement. From here, we don’t see the great importance of that adoption. What is clear, is that the development of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism in occupied Turtle Island took the form of a rejection of and struggle against the RCP=U$A, and the RIM that it led.
Another date worth mentioning is 1956, which is when the bourgeoisie within the party took the USSR down the capitalist road to the point of causing a rift in the ICM. This provided the conditions that allowed for the lessons that defined Maoism as a higher level of understanding of how to proceed towards communism. MIM founders said you cannot talk about Maoism prior to this event. And in 1956, the Chinese, led by Mao, began addressing the question of the bourgeoisie within the party that develops under the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is at the core of what Maoism teaches us about pushing socialism to new, higher levels than we’ve reached so far.
By 1969, the CPC was still using the term Mao Zedong Thought for reasons of internal political struggle, yet they were applying the principles of MZT externally, implying that it had universal application and was really an ‘ism.’
A U.$.-centered Timeline of ‘Maoism’
1938 - Chen Boda and others began pushing the study of Mao’s writings(3)
1945 - VII Congress agreed that the CPC was guided by Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought(3)
1948 - Wu Yuzhang used “Maoism” in a draft speech instead of MZT - Mao said ridiculous(3)
1955 - Mao again opposed “Maoism” adoption among intellectual conference(3)
1956 - Kruschev denounces Stalin, Mao’s critique of bourgeoisie in CPSU and theory of productive forces begins, addressing questions that Lenin never faced (MIM said can’t talk about Maoism before this)(3)
1966 - Lin Biao says Mao has elevated Marxism-Leninism to a new stage(3)
launching of Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) in China
Gonzalo’s Red Faction within PCP took up Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought(4)
1969 - 9th Party Congress in China - difference between MZT and Maoism a formality, as Deng and Liu Shaoqi resisted “Maoism” as a new stage, the CPC began applying MZT to global situations/outside China(3)
1969 - PCP took up Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, with reconstitution under leadership of Gonzalo(4)
1976 - PCP denounced coup in China and declared “To be a Marxist is to adhere to Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought.”, later indicating that they were waiting for Maoists in China to declare “Maoism” before this(2)
1979 - PCP: “Uphold, defend, and apply Marxism-Leninsm-Mao Zedong Thought!”(4)
1980 - PCP launched People’s War with slogan “Uphold, defend, and apply Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, principally Maoism!” - only ones defending Maoism as such(4)
1980 - RCP, USA get 13 communist parties to sign statement upholding Marxism-Leninism
MIM predecessor RADACADS is working/struggling with RCP,USA over questions of Maoism (dates unknown, pre-1983)
1981 - PCP: “Towards Maoism!”(4)
1982 - PCP “took Maoism as an integral part and superior development of the ideology of the international proletariat”(4)
1983 - RIM(MIM) founded as Maoist group in response to RCP,USA failure to take up or uphold Maoism, founding document “Manifesto on the International Situation and Revolution” discusses Mao, the GPCR and the Third World War(5)
1983 - RCP went to PCP with ML statement from 1980 and PCP rejected it because it failed to uphold Maoism.(2)
RCP was agnostic over who better Mao or Lenin w/ RIM(MIM), upholding theory of productive forces and did not understand that a new bourgeoisie formed within the Chinese CP(7)
1984 - RIM(RCP) founded among groups RCP brought together in 1980, this time upholding Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought(2)
1984 - RIM(MIM) became MIM, stating “RCP consciously stole the RIM name for its international mutual aid society”
by this time MIM was distributing pamphlets on the guerilla war in Peru
1986 - PCP responds to RIM founding statement on MLMZT and becomes a participant(6)
MIM puts out a theory piece on the PCP that addresses Gonzalo’s line on the militarization of the party, while it is agnostic on this line it calls out RCP,USA leader Avakian for rejecting it as well as rejecting the lessons of the GPCR as universal (MIM Theory 2 (old school))
1987 - “MIM made the question of the non-revolutionary, bourgeoisified white working class a dividing line question in practice for U.S.-based Maoists.” and began distributing J. Sakai and H.W. Edwards books(7)
MIM releases “Third Draft of Criticism of the RCP” exposing RCP revisionism and stating that “the RCP has yet to concretely show what it is that is concretely happening in China in our own lifetimes.”
1988 - JMP claims Maoism begins to exist here, this is the year the PCP released their Fundamental Documents with the most in-depth definition of Maoism in relation to philosophy, political economy and scientific socialism
1990 - “MIM formed a Central Committee with supervisory powers over the various branches and empowered by the membership to run the day-to-day work such as the party’s monthly newspaper MIM Notes” and put out What is MIM? and most of the content therein
1990 or 1991 - line on non-revolutionary labor aristocracy majority appears as 3rd Cardinal Principle in MIM Notes
1992 - Gonzalo captured
MIM concludes that RCP,USA is revisionist party(7)
1993 - RIM releases statement upholding Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (AWTW #20 1995), correcting 1984 statement as being “incomplete”, recognizes bourgeoisie within party
1996 - RCP,USA first public response to MIM via CoRIM/AWTW
1997 - MIM response to RCP,USA - continue to condemn their seeing question of ending armed struggle as a “two line struggle”, their putting campaign to save Gonzalo over People’s War, criticize the international in general, and recognize that CoRIM is RCP,USA(8)
2002 - MIM declared 3rd Cardinal Principle applies to Third World comrades as well
2006 - cell of remaining original MIM Comrades disbands/website & MIM Notes cease
2007 - MIM(Prisons) forms
sunrise statement released – declaring Maoism Third Worldism a new theoretical development (orgs separate from MIM/MIM(Prisons))
The Revolutionary Internationalist Movement
Stalin and Mao both justified the dissolution of the Third International (Comintern) by stating a Comintern was only appropriate for simpler times. (9) The history of the Chinese revolution and its relationship to the USSR proved the correctness of Stalin’s decision to dissolve the Comintern in recognition of the uneven development of nations in their path towards socialism and the need for each nation to forge that path for themselves. Neither of them get into the details of what makes the relationships between countries so much more complicated by the 1940s. However, we can insert the ideas of theorists like Walter Rodney and Samir Amin to explain that most countries are actually underdeveloped to enable the development of the imperialist economies as one good reason.
The question of the role of European countries vs. colonial countries was one of great concern to the Bolsheviks leading up to and throughout their time in power. And while their ideas varied at different times, ultimately the theories of Lenin and Stalin around nation proved correct and important to the colonial countries. Trotsky, meanwhile, continued to look to Europe, and was so stuck on a revolution happening in Europe right away that he gave up on his own revolution in Russia. This idea remains with Trotsky’s followers today and meshes well with the national chauvinism of the oppressor nations.
Given the above, we must question whether the idea of a communist international fits into Maoism today. JMP actually states “that it is false internationalism to establish an international communist party.”(p.239) Yet ey upholds the RIM experience, that MIM saw as an incorrect practice. The USSR dominated the Third International as a large socialist entity with state power. The RIM was dominated by the RCP=U$A by virtue of its resources from being in an exploiter country. While both power dynamics proved undesirable, the USSR had certainly earned their leadership role. At the same time the influence and power of the Comintern was much greater than the RIM.
As MIM began to reach outside of U.$. borders it came to define itself as
“the collection of existing or emerging Maoist internationalist parties in the English-speaking imperialist countries and their English-speaking internal semi-colonies, as well as the existing or emerging Maoist Internationalist parties in Belgium, France and Quebec and the existing or emerging Spanish-speaking Maoist Internationalist parties of Aztlán, Puerto Rico and other territories of the U.$. Empire.”
While we currently have no parties in our movement, we still do not claim to provide organizational leadership outside of imperialist countries. That is not to say MIM does not involve itself in struggles in the Third World, as was clear in its work in combating the Committee of the RIM’s (CoRIM) efforts to slander the People’s War in Peru.
If the RIM were a group of parties coming together to define Maoism, that might be a fine project. But the truth is that the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) had already defined Maoism and had to push the rest of the RIM to accept it. With the capture of the PCP leadership, the CoRIM went on to promote the idea that there was a two-line struggle over peace negotiations within the PCP, and that Gonzalo had authored a peace letter. Not only is the idea of disarming the communist party the literal definition of revisionism, there is probably no party to date that has made this more clear than the PCP of the 1980s. For years MIM published articles exposing this wrecking work, led by the RCP=U$A, as working right into the hand of the CIA/Fujimori regime.
Putting that atrocious activity aside for a moment, JMP’s treatment of the RIM as a monolithic whole acts as a way to sneak in the obviously revisionist RCP=U$A. RCP revisionism is spelled out clearly in the original MIM comrades’ writings from its very founding to its very last days. Even many former RIMers have critiqued the RCP’s role in hindsight, though this was not until after the RCP had openly rejected Maoism again. JMP alludes to the RCP=U$A and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) as examples of Maoists gone revisionists. Yet both of these organizations were criticized as Trostkyist prior to the RIM statement on Maoism.(10) Certainly revisionism will emerge from the genuinely Maoist movement, but these examples just serve to include revisionists in the genuine ICM.
Just as the RCP=U$A used its resources to have undue influence in the ICM, the PCP’s real street cred served to legitimize the RCP=U$A on its home turf once the PCP joined the RIM. While the RCP=U$A long ago removed itself from the milieu of “Maoism” and its influence has waned greatly (the RIM having faded away), this action by the PCP had lasting negative impacts on the development of Maoism and revolution in the United $tates.
To identify Maoism as a new stage, JMP identifies several universally applicable advances on Marxism-Leninism. Ey distinguishes between those elements that primarily define Maoism, and elements of revolutionary theory that, while advances of Maoism, are not universal aspects applicable in every context.
“Maoism is universally applicable because: class struggle continues under the dictatorship of the proletariat (socialism is a class society), the revolutionary party must also become a mass party and renew itself by being held to account by those it claims to represent (the mass-line), the struggle between the revolutionary and revisionist political lines will happen within the revolutionary party itself, and that the strategy of people’s war rather than unqualified insurrection is the strategy for making revolution. To these insights we can add: a further elaboration of the theory of base-superstructure where it is understood that, while the economic base might be determinate in the last instance, it is also true that this last instance might never arrive (a point made by Althusser, following Marx and Engels) and thus we can conceive of instances where the superstructure may determine and/or obstruct the base; the theory of New Democratic Revolution, which applies universally to the particular instances of global peripheries (universal in the sense that it applies to every so-called ‘third-world’ context) and explains, for the first time in history, how regions that are not capitalist by themselves and yet are still locked within a system of capitalist exploitation (that is, regions that are the victims of imperialism) can make socialism; and a further anti-colonial development of ‘the national question’…”(p15)
MIM’s founding documents in 1983 contain the first three points, as they voiced support for PPW in Peru. So it seems that MIM had grasped the universal points of Maoism as defined by JMP before 1988.
“Maoism, which has been promoted as a new theoretical stage of revolutionary communism, is not primarily defined by the theory of New Democracy since a new stage of communism should exhibit universal aspects that are applicable in every particular context.”(p248)
We agree with many of JMP’s universals about Maoism. But we would argue that points like New Democracy do not need to apply universally to all contexts to be universally true. The universality of a political line is found in its correctness for the phenomenon to which it applies. Imperialism is a contradiction of imperialists versus oppressed nations. Just as there is no imperialism without national oppression, there is no imperialism where New Democracy does not apply.
Our difference from JMP on this may also stem from eir different understanding of what New Democracy is. Ey repeatedly stresses that New Democracy is necessary to develop the productive forces within a semi-feudal country as a prerequisite to socialism. On the contrary, New Democracy was an answer to and rejection of the old line that leaned heavily on the Theory of Productive Forces. This line was common among the Bolsheviks, and never really fully grappled with until the Chinese did so.
“Revolutionary movements at the center of global capitalism (that is, movements that manifest within completed capitalist modes of production) will not pursue New Democracy since the problem New Democracy is meant to address has nothing to do with the capitalist mode of production where the economic infrastructure necessary for building socialism already exists.” JMP goes so far as to say, “…the fact that there is no significant peasantry or a national bourgeoisie with some sort of”revolutionary quality" at the centers of capitalism means that the entire possibility of New Democracy in these regions is patently absurd."(p.244)
It is certainly true that the French, for example, do not need to wage a New Democratic struggle. Yet, it is a surprising line to see from someone living within occupied Turtle Island, where the national question of the internal semi-colonies is so prominent. The New Democratic revolution in China was all about uniting the nation against foreign occupation to regain the sovereignty of their territory and the self-determination of China. It is the semi-colonial character, rather than the semi-feudal, that is warranting a New Democratic revolution. Mao did not mention the development of the productive forces in eir essay “On New Democracy.” Ey does talk about developing capitalism, but not as a prerequisite for socialism. Rather it is speaking to the national ambitions of the bourgeois forces at the time. In that essay ey alludes to the conditions of the development of capitalism in China allowing for the May 4th Movement to develop as it did in 1919. And ey is clear that the era of New Democracy only emerged with the October Revolution that marked the establishment of the first dictatorship of the proletariat. This was because the contradictions within imperialism as well as the subjective development of the first socialist state, meant that bourgeois revolution had become impotent and irrelevant.
JMP’s idea that the productive forces are not developed enough today just isn’t true. What happened is they were developed off the sweat and blood of the oppressed nations and put in the exploiter countries to benefit others. Certainly the question of economic development after liberation for the under-developed nations is one of importance. But the Chinese proved that this internal economic development does not need to preclude the march towards socialism. Mao butted heads with Stalin on this very question within China, and Mao was proven correct.
In occupied Turtle Island, it is MIM line that plebiscites must be held within the internal semi-colonies to determine the path they take after revolution, and that such plebiscites require full independence to be a true representation of the will of each nation.(11) Such a New Democratic stage would be even more abbreviated here, again because it will be a political question and not an economic one.
Strategy of Protracted People’s War
JMP places a lot of emphasis on strategy. A party is not Maoist, ey argues, if that party is not engaged in the strategy of making revolution. This is a fair point when we consider the importance of tying theory with practice. Sitting behind a book or computer or desk and theorizing about revolution does not make for a revolutionary party. But we would replace “strategy” with “practice” in eir argument. We can disagree on the best strategy, which should come from our political line. But whatever line and strategy we adopt must still be put into practice. Results come only from actions, and we can only test our analysis by putting it into practice and witnessing the results.
When JMP argues that the strategy of Protracted People’s War (PPW) is universal, we counter that this is only true in the sense that we can describe New Democracy as universal. Elements of PPW are certainly universal, but we have no peasantry nor a proletariat of significant size in imperialist countries in which to base this PPW. “Here also is a theoretical gauge for those organizations who would now name themselves Maoist: if they are not actively attempting to pursue revolution, to strategize a method based on their particular contexts for overcoming capitalism, then it does not appear as if the name, due to its concept, should logically apply.”(p180)
Of course we agree with JMPs focus on criticizing reformism and spontaneous insurrection via union organizing. But ey does not address those of us who see socialism most likely being imposed from the outside in this country. If revolution breaks out at the weakest links first, won’t it break out in the heart of imperialism last? And at that point, how will revolution occur in a country of former exploiters and oppressors surrounded by a socialist world? There is work to be done in the First World to combat and undermine imperialism, and prepare the people of those countries for socialism the best we can. MIM also said from its very beginning that armed struggle becomes a reality within the United $tates as it becomes militarily over-extended. But the form that such a revolution will take is far less clear than what we can generalize from history for the Third World periphery.
To the extent that there is a two-line struggle within Maoism around the question of the universality of PPW, there is a two-line struggle around revolutionary strategy in the First World. JMP poses the debate as one of insurrection vs. PPW. But in searching out positions in this debate we did not see anyone claiming Maoism and also arguing that insurrection is somehow more appropriate for the First World. Those who have objected to the JMP/PCP line on PPW seem to lack any acknowledgement of the different class structures within the imperialist core countries. They might mention conditions not being ripe, but the implication is that they will ripen and there is a mass base to take up the struggle. For MIM, this is a question of cardinal principles that distinguishes Maoists from others. To try to talk about PPW in the First World while not having a materialist understanding of the class structure is a backwards approach.
We can argue that both New Democracy and Protracted People’s War are certainly important parts of Maoism, but are also continuities with Leninism. In other words, the development of these concepts by Mao and the Chinese people would not necessarily warrant the consolidation of a new “ism”, a new stage of revolutionary science. It is MIM’s first 2 cardinal principles, which defined our movement since 1983, that really distinguish Maoism as a rupture from previous practice in building socialism.
Class and the Party of a New Type
While we disagree with JMP on the class composition of the First World, eir discussions of class in relation to the vanguard party we found quite useful. Working in a very wealthy and privileged country, we often encounter people who are unsure of their role and right to lead. We also encounter many oppressed nationals who don’t trust white people, and wimmin who don’t trust men. In other words, we encounter identity politics. Chapter 3 was a well-done and sobering response to such takes.
JMP addresses the question of how an outsider could provide the proletariat with the truth,
“How can this party be aware of proletarian politics if it comes from outside? Because this is the politics derived from a scientific assessment of history and society that permits us to understand the meaning of”proletariat" as a social class. It is also a politics that, in its clearest expression, has learned from the history of class struggle, particularly the two great world-historical revolutions in Russia and China, and so can bring the memory of revolution to those who have been taught to forget."(p.122)
Ey addresses the contradiction of the more privileged being the first to make the analysis of one’s society that is necessary to build a vanguard party: “If the most oppressed and exploited remained incapable of making the same analyses then counter-revolution would remain a significant danger.” (p.119)
“the party of the new type is that party, then, that keeps leadership structures, and thus the unity of theory and practice, but understands such leadership as one that will also be led by the masses, seeks to transform everyone in society into leaders, and thus has its”top-down" aspect balanced by a “bottom-up” conception of organization." (p.202)
Where We Are In the History of Theory
In JMP’s timeline and understanding of the relationship between theory and practice, we are currently in a stage of distinguishing Maoism, and elucidating its meaning. The lines have been drawn, but are still poorly understood as Maoism has not risen to prominence since the fall of Chinese socialism. Though it remains one of the most active bases of anti-imperialist practice, and certainly the most active within the broader collection of those identifying as communists. As we have stated before, JMP agrees that to go beyond Maoism theoretically requires a practice that goes beyond China. In our founding documents, MIM(Prisons) applied this criticism to things like “The New Synthesis,” “Maoism Third Worldism” and later “Leading Light Communism.”
JMP presents our current state in an inspirational way, saying that other radical theories (for example, Foucault’s) filled the space as Marxism-Leninism was in retreat, but that those theories have now shown their short-comings, while Maoism is being consolidated and maturing.
On the constructive side of this development, JMP proposes that Maoism, unlike Marxism-Leninism, has the capacity to address the issues that these other theories tried to address, and obviously do it better. This is one place where the lack of discussion around MIM Thought really jumps out. We don’t know how much and what MIM writings JMP has read, but ey has read some. MIM Thought provided communists with a new framework around gender that offers explanations to so much of the milieu around that topic that often trips people up.
MIM Thought Ahead of the Curve
While MIM Thought’s most important tenant is the raising of the labor aristocracy in the imperialist metropole question to a dividing line question, this line is very much a continuity with Marxism dating back to Marx and Engels themselves. In contrast, MIM’s gender line is only present in tiny breadcrumbs in the past. And in reading “Clarity on what gender is” by MC5, you can see it addressing some of the very things Foucault addressed in eir The History of Sexuality. MC5 echoes (or perhaps accepts) Foucault’s history that says sex, through sexuality, ceased being about controlling labor power (or biopower as Foucault called it) and became a self-affirming value of the bourgeoisie in the 20th century. This timeline might correspond to when we see the popularization of the gender aristocracy among the general populace of the imperialist metropole – which has today spread even further throughout the world through the U.$.-dominated superstructure (culture). MIM, like Foucault, addressed the lack of revolutionary content of the so-called “sexual revolution.” MIM even finds health status to be central to gender today, something Foucault discussed in the modern bourgeois thinking around sex and biology related to the vigor and hegemony of their class.
MIM, however, poses some materialist explanations for the evolution of gender through history, unlike Foucault, who only tells us how the ideas around sex evolved within different institutions of power over time. And unlike most “Marxist” attempts at discussing gender and sex, MIM very intentionally looked for what gender was, independent of class and nation. MIM addresses issues of alimony, high paid prostitution, celebrity rape cases, patriarchy within homosexual relationships and other hot-button issues in the realm of gender in the contemporary imperialist society. In doing so they always clearly distinguished their line from that of the Liberals, post-modernists, and class reductionists.
So when JMP makes a call for Maoism to address oppression related to sex, race, disability, etc, we wonder why ey poses this as if it is a task that is yet to be begun. We believe MIM Thought has provided much insight and guidance in these realms already that should be enough to counter almost any of the talking points from the alt-right to the post-modern radicals.
Applying MLM/MIM Thought
And so we end with some ideas of where our ideological struggle must continue today. We must continue to distinguish ourselves along lines of the fundamentals of Maoism and the application of MIM Thought to our current conditions simultaneously. We must draw hard lines between us and the revisionists, while offering better explanations than the Liberals and post-modernists. In doing so, we will court the scientific thinkers who abstain from bourgeois politics with disgust. And by employing the mass line to continuously improve our understanding and analysis, we can mobilize all who stand against oppression in these imperialist countries.
In November 2019, the U.S. District Court ruled that the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) must “establish bright-line rules that narrowly define prohibited content in a manner consistent with the First Amendment.” These rules must be defined by mid-February. This ruling comes after years of censorship of a variety of publications by the ADC, often as a result of arbitrary decisions from mailroom staff.
In this case Prison Legal News (PLN) (a project of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC)) filed a lawsuit in 2015 challenging the censorship of its newsletter for “sexually explicit” content. Ironically, the content that inspired this censorship was describing non-consensual sexual contact between guards and prisoners. And as most readers know, PLN is primarily a legal resource for prisoners fighting injustices like this prison rape.
Arizona bans a variety of publications, including issues of National Geographic, Men’s Health, and GQ.
Issues of Under Lock & Key are also on this banned list, though not for sexually explicit material. In the case of ULK, the most recent ban (that we know about) is ULK 63 from July/August 2018, which was banned for “Incite, Aide, Abet Riots, Work Stoppages, Means of Resistance.” Many other issues of ULK sent to subscribers in Arizona are returned or rejected without reasons given. Our attempt to appeal this ban of ULK 63, requesting the ADC provide more evidence than these vague claims resulted in the following response: “The pages identified containing such content are throughout, including, but not limited to, pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 17.”
In an example of their arbitrary decisions around censorship, a MIM(Prisons) six-page guide to forming a prisoner-led study group was censored in 2016 because it supposedly “Promotes superiority of one group over another/promotes racism/degradation.” This is exactly what MIM(Prisons) fights against: the superiority of one group of people over another. And this is exactly what the criminal injustice system promotes.
This court ruling requires the Arizona Department of Corrections to change the mail policy from allowing DOC staff to use their discretion when determining what’s banned and to establish consistency in excluding sexually explicit material. This won’t help MIM(Prisons) as it is rare that a prison claims ULK should be censored for sexually explicit material. But any progress towards less censorship and more narrowly-defined policies is a good thing.
On 22 October, in a different case, Prison Legal News was awarded $1.2 million in attorney fees by a Federal district court in Florida after a nine-year lawsuit over censorship of PLN publication because of ads for phone services, pen-pals and stamps. This victory came after the Supreme Court refused to take up the final appeal of this PLN ban.(1) This resulted in the case remanding back to the district court for a ruling on the attorneys’ fees. Basically this means PLN won on their Due Process claims but lost on their First Amendment claims. So the censorship is still legal, but the DOC failed to follow proper censorship policy.
“Free speech isn’t free,” said Human Rights Defense Center executive director Paul Wright. “In this case, censorship by the Florida Department of Corrections cost state taxpayers almost $1.2 million – because of the vicious efforts by the prison system to censor HRDC’s publications. The Attorney General’s office spent over 3,000 hours in attorney time fighting this case. The real tragedy is that Florida prisoners remain unable to read PLN and other HRDC publications that will educate and inform them of their rights.”(2)
PLN and the HRDC have done a lot to fight censorship in prisons over the years. And their hard work on this front benefits everyone seeking to help educate and organize prisoners. This censorship, and failures in the courts prove a point we often make: there are no rights, only power struggles.
Censorship is one of the biggest barriers to our work with prisoners. And it’s an area where we always need more help, both from jailhouse lawyers and from lawyers on the streets. If your mail is censored, APPEAL IT, and get in touch with us and let us know. We will send you a guide to fighting censorship and sometimes we can assist on our end with an appeal to the prison. And lawyers on the streets get in touch and help us with these battles!
The latest installment in the Terminator movies takes up where Terminator II left off. In this timeline the A.I. called Legion has achieved consciousness and seeks to wipe humynity from the earth. The plot continues the theme of humyns fighting the machines after a nuclear holocaust, with the future pivoting on the life of one persyn.
This movie features more gender and nation diversity than the previous Terminators. All the humyn heroes are female. And it moves beyond the U.$. borders to Mexico where the new target of the Terminator lives. In Dark Fate the Terminator was sent back in time to kill Dani Ramos. A cybernetically-enhanced soldier, Grace, was also sent back in time, to protect Dani. And Sarah Connor, target from the previous Terminator movies, shows up to help with Dani’s protection.
There are a few interesting themes to the Terminator movies that continue in Dark Fate. First there is the nuclear destruction of humynity. The earth and most of life on it has been wiped out. People need to take seriously the dark possibility that humynity is driving towards this destruction. It may not include a conscious A.I. wiping out the few humyns who survive. But capitalism is on a firm march towards annihilation of the current balance of life on Earth that humyns depend on. It is not sustainable. And so movies that pose this possible future, brought about by the actions of humyns, are good for the ideas they can provoke.
Another general theme of the Terminator movies is that one persyn is pivotal to the entirety of humyn existence. In previous movies that persyn was John Connor, the unborn child of Sarah Connor. And so the Terminators went back in time to try to kill Sarah to prevent the birth of John to stop em from leading the resistance that could defeat the Terminators. In Dark Fate the one persyn is Dani Ramos. In this case it’s not Dani’s womb that needs protection/destruction, it’s Dani eirself, who will lead the resistance.
We might read into Dark Fate that it’s not actually about individuals. After all, John Connor died but now we have Dani. Humynity and its conditions creates these leaders. But for the most part the movie is pushing a message that history is created by one individual who must be protected or destroyed at all cost. Humyns would not have united against the Legion without Dani. So the Legion must send a Terminator back in time to destroy Dani, and the resistance must send a soldier back to protect Dani. That’s a lot of resources and energy spent on one persyn.
Dark Fate is consistent with the bourgeois theory of history, a spin on history that focuses on the accomplishments of individuals, removing them from the political context of their time. Communists, on the other hand, don’t see Dani, or John, or the other humyn resistance leaders as uniquely qualified for their roles. Instead we see them as a product of the political conditions. They did what was necessary to fight for the survival of humynity. And in their absence others would have done the same.
The idea that only certain special individuals are able to take leadership roles fits in with a religious/capitalist way of thinking. Humynity may be moving towards destruction, but there’s nothing average folks can do about it. Only special heroes can make a difference. This way of thinking discourages people from taking up the fight for a better future. And instead suggests it’s best to just believe in a leader without question.
Maoists, on the other hand, see no individuals as infallible. In fact, a fundamental tenant of Maoism is the need for continuous cultural revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, in which the people are actively critical of and struggling with socialist leaders and one another. This includes removing from positions of power those who have strayed off the revolutionary path. The future lies in the hands of the people, and so the people must learn through struggle in order for us to discover the correct way forward.
The earlier Terminator movies had a good slogan from Sarah and John Connor: “No Fate But What We Make.” This was a mantra that John repeated to himself and others to remember that the future can be changed. This is a good counter to the idea that humynity is fated to nuclear destruction and the rise of conscious anti-humyn A.I.s. And that only John, or only Dani, can lead a successful resistance. Perhaps the A.I.s, in their limited world view, believe this to be true. But humyns should be focused on stopping the nuclear destruction and A.I. consciousness event before it happens. It is unfortunate that Dark Fate takes into its title the antithesis of this anti-fate slogan, and perpetuates that message in the plot.
The movie misses a great opportunity to avoid this idea of fate at the end, when discussing the future of one young character. The goal that this character not die in battle later in life is a good one, and a sign that potentially fate can be changed. But the assumption that the way to do this is to start military training for the post-apocalyptic battle now, rather than fight to keep humynity from destroying itself, is an unfortunate ending.
More than 200 detainees began a hunger strike on October 18 at the ICE Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington. The NWDC is a private prison run by the Geo Group. The facility can hold over 1500 people and houses those swept up in immigration raids, transfers from the U.$-Mexico border, and other migrants caught in the Amerikkan system. This is one of the largest immigration prisons in the country.
Since 2014 detainees have launched 19 hunger strikes to protest their detention and conditions behind bars. This latest protest is demanding edible food and humane treatment, with many also demanding a complete shut down of NWDC. Prisoners find maggots, blood, hair and other things in the food. Kitchen workers report rats running around the food prep area. Guards abuse the prisoners. And Geo group ignores these complaints.(1)
U.$. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers mirror conditions in other prisons in the United $tates. In fact, prisoners at Clallam Bay Correctional Facility in Washington also went on food and work strike earlier in October to demand better conditions, focusing on food quality.
ICE officials issued a statement denying the existence of a hunger strike: "Failure to eat the facility provided meal is not a stand-alone factor in the determination of a detainee's suspected or announced hunger strike action. Commissary food items remain available for purchase by detainees." They followed up this statement with a press tour of the NWDC, featuring spotless conditions, a well stocked urgent care room, and nice library. It appears that no prisoners were interviewed or even filmed up close in the tour.(2)
A majority of the 54,000 ICE detainees in the United $tates are held in privately run prisons. And migrant detention makes up the majority of the private prison population in this country. But this isn't about the difference in conditions between private and state or federally run prisons. Conditions across the criminal injustice system are abusive, dangerous, and inhumane. We're not fighting for a different face on the abuse.(3)
While federal arrests overall have gone up over the past 20 years, between 1998 and 2018 federal arrests rose 10% for U.$. citizens and 234% for non-citizens. The most dramatic increase was between 2017 and 2018, a 71% rise in arrests of non-citizens. In 1998 63% of all federal arrests were U.$. citizens while in 2018 that number flipped and 64% of all federal arrests were of non-U.$. citizens. The portion of federal arrests increasingly focused along the U.$-Mexico border increased from 33% in 1998 to 65% in 2018. 95% of this increase was due to immigration detainees.(4)
The ICE detention centers make clear the purpose of prisons in the United $tates. This is national oppression. These non-citizen detainees are mostly being prosecuted for the "crime" of being in the United $tates without permission of the imperialists. This "crime" represents 78% of the cases.(4)
Closed borders are a requirement of imperialism. The wealth is kept within these borders for the lucky few who are born to this privilege. That wealth is stolen from outside the borders; exploitation of labor and theft of natural resources brings great profit to the imperialists. And the imperialists share that profit with the citizens of their countries to keep them passive and supportive. This wealth differential is obvious, even between the poorest within U.$. borders and average people living in the Third World. Those living outside those borders are desperate to get in to access this wealth stolen from their homeland. The role of ICE and the Department of Homeland Security is clear: keep this wealth within u.$. borders exclusively for Amerikan citizens.
We support the just demands of prisoners in NWDC and throughout the criminal injustice system. This system has sunk so low that people are forced to starve themselves to fight the dangerous and inhuman conditions. It will not be fixed by improving the condition in one prison, or even by shutting down one facility. But these demands fit in with the anti-imperialist struggle as we fight for open borders and an end to a system where one nation has the power to lock up others just for the crime of crossing an invisible line.
A modern-day example of New Afrikans building independent institutions and public opinion for socialism is the groups carrying out the Jackson-Kush Plan in Jackson, Mississippi and the surrounding area. There are a number of different organizations involved in, and evolved out of, this Plan, and its roots go back to the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (PGRNA) in the 1960s. It is directly built on the long history of New Afrikan organizing for independence, going on since people were brought to the United $nakes from Africa as slaves. The Plan itself was formulated by the New Afrikan People's Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement between 2004 – 2010. (1, p. 3)
The project has gone through many different phases, all focusing on attaining self-determination for people of African descent in Mississippi and the surrounding region. Sometimes the organizing has been more heavily focused on electoral politics,(2, 3) sometimes more on purchasing land, and currently the Cooperation Jackson project appears to be at the forefront of pushing the Plan forward.
Cooperation Jackson's mission is to develop an intimate network of worker-owned cooperatives, covering all basic humyn needs, and more: food production and distribution, recycling and waste management, energy production, commodity production, housing, etc. The main goals of Cooperation Jackson (C.J.) are to provide sustainable livelihoods for its organizing base, which includes control over land, resources, means of production, and means of distribution. Currently C.J. has a handful of cooperatives in operation, and is building the Community Land Trust to have greater control over its target geography in Jackson. This is just a snapshot of the work of Cooperation Jackson, which is explained in much more detail in the book Jackson Rising.(1)
The Jackson-Kush Plan is being carried out despite big setbacks, repression, harassment, and roadblocks from the government and racist citizens alike, for decades. This is the nature of struggle and the folks working with the Plan are facing it head-on. C.J. and the other organizations involved are doing amazing work to establish what could be dual power in the state of Mississippi.
While the MIM has congruent goals with the Jackson-Kush Plan (at least including the self-determination of New Afrikan people; control over land, economy, and resources; environmental sustainability; an end of capitalism and imperialism), there are some notable differences.(4) We're holding out hope that the Plan is being intentionally discrete in order to build dual power, but the ideological foundations of some of its structure point instead to revisionism of Marxism.
Cooperation Jackson's plan includes working with the government in some capacity. It needs to change laws in order to operate freely and legally. This itself isn't wrong – MIM(Prisons) also works on and supports some reforms that would make our work of building revolution much easier. But because of its relationship to the state, C.J.'s voice is muffled. MIM(Prisons) doesn't have this problem, so we can say what needs to be said and we hope the folks organizing for New Afrikan independence will hear it.
Cooperation Jackson's structural documents paint a picture of a peaceful transition to a socialist society, or a socialist microcosm, built on worker-owned cooperatives and the use of advanced technology. Where it aims to transform the New Afrikan "working class" (more on this below) to become actors in their own lives and struggle for self-determination of their nation, we are for it. So often we hear from ULK readers that people just don't think revolution is possible. Working in a collective and actually having an impact in the world can help people understand their own inherent power as humyn beings. Yet it seems C.J. sees this democratic transformation of the New Afrikan "working class" as an end in itself, which it believes will eventually lead to an end of capitalism.
"In the Jackson context, it is only through the mass self-organization of the working class, the construction of a new democratic culture, and the development of a movement from below to transform the social structures that shape and define our relations, particularly the state (i.e. government), that we can conceive of serving as a counter-hegemonic force with the capacity to democratically transform the economy."(1, p. 7)
This quote also alludes to C.J.'s apparent opposition to the universality of armed struggle in its struggle to transform the economy. In all the attempts that have been made to take power from the bourgeoisie, only people who have acknowledged the need to take that power by force (i.e. armed struggle) have been even remotely successful. We just need to look to the governments in the last century all across the world who have attempted to nationalize resources to see how hard the bourgeois class will fight when it really feels its interests are threatened.
Where C.J. is clearly against Black capitalism and a bourgeois-nationalist revolution that stays in the capitalist economy, we are in agreement. Yet C.J. apparently also rejects the need for a vanguard party, and the need for a party and military to protect the interests and gains of the very people it is organizing.
"As students of history, we have done our best to try and assimilate the hard lessons from the 19th and 20th century national liberation and socialist movements. We are clear that self-determination expressed as national sovereignty is a trap if the nation-state does not dislodge itself from the dictates of the capitalist system. Remaining within the capitalist world-system means that you have to submit to the domination and rule of capital, which will only empower the national bourgeoisie against the rest of the population contained within the nation-state edifice. We are just as clear that trying to impose economic democracy or socialism from above is not only very problematic as an anti-democratic endeavor, but it doesn't dislodge capitalist social relations, it only shifts the issues of labor control and capital accumulation away from the bourgeoisie and places it in the hands of the state or party bureaucrats."(1, p. 8)
As students of history, we assert that C.J. is putting the carriage before the horse here. National liberation struggles have shown the most success toward delinking populations from imperialism and capitalism. Yes, we agree with C.J. that these national liberation struggles also need to contain anti-capitalism, and revolutionary ecology, if they plan to get anywhere close to communism. But C.J. seems to be saying it can dislodge from capitalism before having national independence from imperialism.
The end of this quote also raises valid concerns about who holds the means of production, and the development of a new bourgeoisie among the party bureaucrats. This is one of the huge distinctions between the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, and China under Mao. In China, the masses of the population participated in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which attacked bureaucrats and revisionists in the party and positions of power. These criticisms were led from the bottom up, and the Cultural Revolution was a huge positive lesson on how we can build a society that is continually moving toward communism, and not getting stuck in state-capitalism.
Another significant difference between the line of the MIM and of Cooperation Jackson is our class analysis. Cooperation Jackson is organizing the "working class" in Jackson, Mississippi, which it defines as "unionized and non-unionized workers, cooperators, and the under and unemployed."(1, p. 30) So far in our exposure to C.J., we haven't yet come across an internationalist class analysis. Some pan-Africanism, yes, but nothing that says a living wage of $11 is more than double what the average wage would be if we had an equal global distribution of wealth.(5, 6) And so far nothing that says New Afrika benefits from its relationship to the United $tates over those who Amerikkka oppresses in the Third World.
We can't say what the next steps for the Jackson-Kush Plan should be. There's still opportunity for people within the project to clarify its line on the labor aristocracy/working class, the necessity of armed struggle to take power from the bourgeoisie, and the significance of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. MIM(Prisons)'s Free Books for Prisoners Program distributes many materials on these topics. Some titles we definitely recommend studying are On Trotskyism by Kostas Mavrakis, The Chinese Road to Socialism by E.L. Wheelwright and Bruce McFarlane, and Imperialism and its Class Structure in 1997 by MIM.
Unabashedly, the goal of the Maoist Internationalist Movement is to eliminate capitalism and imperialism. We aim to replace these economic systems with socialism, and then communism, to end all oppression of people by other people. In our study of humyn history we see Maoist China as the most advanced social experience to date toward this goal, and we draw on our study of Maoism (shorthand for Marxism-Leninism-Maoism) to build our strategy. Maoism is a universally-applicable science of social change, which has its effectiveness proven in practice.
Our study of history shows the necessity of armed struggle to take power from the bourgeoisie, to build a world without oppression. Yet we're not presently in a period of social upheaval that we would call a revolutionary scenario, which is why we discourage people from initiating armed struggle at this time. While we prepare for that inevitable reality, the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) works on our dual strategy of 1) building independent institutions of the oppressed to seize state power, and 2) building public opinion against imperialism.
This is all in preparation for when the United $tates's military power becomes sufficiently overextended, and nations oppressed by Amerikkka start striking significant blows against Amerika's domination over their land and livelihoods. When the United $tates enters this period of social upheaval, we will be equipped to draw on the public opinion and independent institutions we're building now. The point is to get started now so we're ready to help a revolution in this country be successful, with results in favor of the most oppressed people in the world. Our institutions in themselves will not cause the transition to socialism, because the bourgeoisie will not allow us to carry out a quiet coup on their power.
Independent institutions of the oppressed are designed to simultaneously meet the peoples' present needs, while organizing against imperialism. When coupled with political education in building public opinion for socialism, these institutions help to advance our movement toward communism. People can see in practice what it would look like (and that it's possible) to meet the social needs that the government is failing on. And people learn how to work collectively.
Maybe this is obvious, but independent institutions don't have ties to the power structure that we are fighting to dismantle. Our goal is the full liberation of ALL people, not just some people, and not just our people. To do that we need to have true independence, so we can say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done, without one arm tied behind our backs.
Defining who are "the oppressed," who our institutions are in service of, is extremely important. While many institutions are happy to just serve any oppressed group, in the MIM we want to make the transition to communism as swift and efficient as possible. We take instruction on this question from our class analysis, and particularly our class analysis on the labor aristocracy and lumpen.
We recognize that the vast majority of so-called "workers" in the First World are actually a bought-off class of net exploiters. They are relatively comfortable with the existence of imperialism, and our independent institutions don't aim to serve that class's interests. Most people don't want to hear that they are net exploiters, and that actually they are in the top 13% globally.(1) It stops them from crying about being in the "bottom 99%" and self-righteously working for a minimum wage that is three times higher than what it would be in an equal global distribution of wealth.(2) Representing the interests of the international proletariat makes MIM(Prisons) an unpopular organization among the vast majority of the population in the United $tates.
In contrast, in our class analysis we see the oppressed-nation lumpen as the most likely group to favor a proletarian internationalist revolution in this country. When the Maoist Internationalist Party – Amerika disbanded into a cell structure in 2005, MIM(Prisons) was established specifically to organize among the lumpen population. There are many, many areas of life that need Maoist leadership and independent institutions – many that can even be built around the coinciding interests of people in the First World and Third World, like revolutionary ecology — and MIM(Prisons) focuses on the needs and education of the imprisoned oppressed-nation lumpen.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) had a prolific set of Serve the People programs and independent institutions. The BPP coincided with the tail-end of the New Afrikan proletariat's existence, and focused its organizing among proletarian and lumpen New Afrikans.
In its independent institutions, the BPP served tens of thousand of kids breakfast across the United $tates, accompanied by political education during the meals. The BPP ran other services such as "clothing distribution, classes on politics and economics, free medical clinics, lessons on self-defense and first aid, transportation for family members to upstate prisons, an emergency-response ambulance program, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and testing for sickle-cell disease."(3)
In addition to providing necessary services for New Afrikans, the BPP's Serve the People programs also built public opinion for socialism by showing what a world could be like with people working together to meet humyn needs. We often hear myths about humyn nature, that people are "too selfish" or "too greedy" or "don't care enough" to ever have a socialist economy, let alone participate in a single campaign. Yet BPP programs showed that selfishness, greed, and apathy are values of the capitalist-imperialist economic system we live under; not inherent to humyn nature. And the education programs built people's consciousness around how the economic structures of imperialism and capitalism are related to the seemingly-insurmountable problems in their lives. Coupling that with Maoist theory and practice, the BPP provided an ideology for how to overcome these economic systems, further building public opinion in favor of a transition to socialism.
The Black Panther Party did all this without government funding. Yet they did accept hefty donations from white leftists, especially during the Free Huey campaign to get Huey Newton released from jail in 1967-70. This lack of self-reliance had a big negative impact on the organization when the white leftists stopped donating.(4) The experience of the BPP shows extensive positive examples of how oppressed-nation organizations can build institutions to contribute to the liberation of one's people. It teaches another lesson on independence, which is to never rely on your oppressor-nation allies to fund your liberation.
Other Outside Orgs
Whenever we connect with an organization that does work that's related to ours, that gets government funding or is linked to a bigger organization like a university, they say the same thing. They are really excited about our work, because they know how important our line is, and they have seen first-hand the limitations in their own work. When we ask why they can't say or do something similar to what we say, it goes back to a funding source or an authority they're operating under.
These institutions of the oppressed aren't wrong for organizing this way. They are doing great work and reaching audiences we can't reach in our current capacity. Yet they aren't reaching them with the stuff that's going to bring an end of oppression in the grand scheme of things.
MIM(Prisons) chooses to do the most effective thing, which in our case requires total independence. If everyone who saw the importance of our line actually worked to promote it, it would inevitably increase our capacity to also reach the people these dependent organizations are currently reaching, and with a program to transform the deep-rooted causes of the problems they're working to change.
An example of limitations imposed by funding sources was explained in a 2012 interview MIM(Prisons) did with a comrade in United Playaz (UP). UP is a "San Francisco-based violence prevention and youth development organization," staffed and run by many former prisoners. It is work that is desperately needed, and UP has a huge positive impact on the lives of the people it works with.
"If it's up to us, we're gonna go hard, and really fight for peace. But because we're fund[ed] by DCYF [San Francisco's Department of Children, Youth, & Their Families], they limit our movement. We can't even participate, or like rally. If there's a Occupy rally right now, we can't go, cuz our organization are prevented from doing things like that. And I think that's important, that we're out there with the rest of the people that are trying to fight for change. Every year we do a Silence the Violence Peace March. That's okay, you know, Martin Luther King, marches like that, we're okay to do that. But when it's like budgets, and crime, and about prison, you know, rally to try to bring those those things down, we can't really participate. ...
"What's going on outside the youth can affect them in the future if things don't change. And why wait til those kids get old and take em to expose them to march and fight for your rights? You know I love to take these young adults to a movement like that, cuz that gives em knowledge of life, that there's more than just hanging out on the street. But unfortunately we're not allowed to participate in that kind of movement."(5)
Under Lock & Key (and the new newsletter that’s coming January 2020)(6) is a media institution of the oppressed, with a mission to serve two classes: 1) the oppressed-nation lumpen in the First World, which our class analysis says is the most likely class in imperialist society to be favorable to the long hard struggle to communism; and 2) the Third World proletariat, which is the revolutionary class with the least to lose in imperialist society. All the articles and line in ULK revolve around this mission.
The pages of ULK, and behind the scenes in MIM(Prisons)'s work, have developed many other institutions of the oppressed. Regular readers of ULK will be familiar with the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) and the accompanying 5 Points of Unity.(7, 8) The UFPP can't in any way be canceled by prison admin or stopped because of budget cuts. In fact, the impetus for the UFPP being formed was because prison staff were actively creating disunity among the prisoner population. We had to create our own independent networks and agreements for creating peace, because peace efforts were being actively thwarted by staff. We have to build "Unity From the Inside Out."
United Struggle from Within (USW) is the MIM(Prisons)-led mass organization for prisoners and former prisoners, and another example of an institution that has developed and organizes within the pages of Under Lock & Key. USW is a way people can plug into anti-imperialist organizing from behind bars, leading campaigns, handing out fliers, putting out art, participating in petitions and struggles. USW cells have independent institutions locally, including study groups, libraries, food and hygiene pools, jailhouse lawyer services, and other forms of support. Through ULK, USW can share experiences and knowledge to further build the anti-imperialist movement behind bars.
USW and UFPP organizing comes with its own set of challenges. Organizers are moved and isolated all the time. Repressive attacks and false disciplinary cases are also carried out by prison staff on our comrades. Censorship of mail impacts our ability to organize, with some states or institutions fully banning ULK or mail from MIM(Prisons). It means we hold no illusions that anyone else can or will do this work for us, and we take that on, with all the sacrifices and challenges that come with it.
Some comrades choose to work within larger organizations, or with prison staff, to get a bigger platform for their organizing. Like any alliance, a big consideration is if one can actually do the work that needs to be done within that alliance, because most likely these alliances will require you to water down your political line. Everyone will assess their own conditions to see what they can do to be most effective in the facility where they're held. The method we use to do this in MIM(Prisons) projects is analyzing the principal contradiction in a situation, and upholding MIM(Prisons)'s 6 main points.(9)
Other Prisoner-led Projects
Within ULK we also regularly report on independent institutions that didn’t originate in our circles, which serve the interests of the oppressed-nation lumpen in the First World. There are many hardships that prisoners can organize around inside, to build independent institutions (communication channels, organizational connections) and public opinion in favor of socialism.
One example is the organization Men Against Sexism (MAS), which existed in the Washington state prison system in the 1970s. Men Against Sexism worked to protect new, and otherwise vulnerable, prisoners from sexual assault and other forms of gender oppression that prisoners were doing to each other. It was a different time back then, and these guys were celling together so they could organize better, and collecting donations from outside to purchase cells from other prisoners to house people who needed protection from the typical prison bullshit. MAS eliminated sexual assault in the Washington state system.(10) Imagine if you came together with other people in your facility to enact your own prisoner rape elimination campaign. What difference would that make for you and the people around you?
"Like prison groups today LADS focused on combating oppression and providing education for the imprisoned [email protected], and LADS also left us with some good examples to learn from. They created several serve the people programs in the pinta, for one they created a committee that worked with new prisoners, what we may call 'first termers' here in pintas in Califas. This was important because a new prisoner or 'fish' may be easy prey for some predator in prison. In this way youngsters were given revolutionary clecha once they entered the pinta by LADS 'O.G.'s.' LADS was comprised of prison vets who were politicized. Within LADS were many sub-committees such as the Committee to Assist Young People (CAYP), as well as a security committee called the Zapatistas. The LADS were anti-dope and combated drug use or sales in the pinta. They were not trying to poison the imprisoned Raza, rather they were trying to build the Raza."(11)
Protecting newcomers, sexual assault, and drugs are only some of the issues that prisoners have to take care of themselves. There are no petitions we can send you, and there's no one to appeal to to resolve these problems. Like our comrade at Telford Unit in Texas reported in ULK 59,
"My brothers in here have fallen victim to K2, which is highly addictive. They don't even care about the struggle. The only thing on their minds is getting high and that sas. I mean this K2 shit is like crack but worse. You have guys selling all their commissary, radios, fans, etc. just to get high. And all these pigs do is sit back and watch; this shit is crazy. But for the few of us who are K2-free I'm trying to get together a group to help me with the struggle."(12)
Nowadays conditions are a lot different in prisons than they were in the 1960s and 70s. Still, it's possible to build independent institutions to meet prisoners' needs. Bigger organizing happens in even worse conditions than the United $tates. There's no perfect set of conditions that need to be present in order to make a difference. It's a matter of choosing to do it ourselves. We want to report on and support these prisoner-led serve the people programs in ULK. So get to work, and send us your updates!
Educational Institutions and Public Opinion
ULK is a big part of how we build public opinion in favor of socialism, and in studying different movements and organizations, we saw that many failures are based in a lack of education and empowerment among the masses in society, or the organization's membership. Depth of political consciousness (and, related, correctness of political line) is arguably the number one reason why movements fail. Depth of analysis isn't about flashcards and pop quizzes. It's about "How to think, not what to think."
We've taken this to heart in our emphasis on educational programs. We run a number of different correspondence study groups, including a University of Maoist Thought for our advanced comrades. We run a Free Political Books for Prisoners Program, which isn't just about books, it's about books in service of our mission of liberating everyone, including the Third World proletariat, from imperialism. We don't do general book distribution because we want to liberate more than just individuals' minds. With our comrades' help, we develop study packs and distribute literature and study packs to prisoner-led study groups on the inside. We are really offering every format of political education we can through the mail, because this is such an important task in our work.
Besides the written word, there are many other channels for building public opinion. POOR Magazine and the Poor News Network (PNN) are independent institutions using events, rallies, and street theater in combination with the internet, radio, and videos to build public opinion in favor of oppressed-nation and lumpen struggles in the United $nakes. POOR Magazine runs a liberation school for children, and many, many other programs. POOR Magazine is funded independently from its own participants, events, and a donation program for individuals via Community Reparations. PNN goes hard on its line against capitalism, imperialism, and settlerism even with some funding from "reparators," which is the real measurement of independence.(13)
One radio program on the Poor News Network that especially builds public opinion for national liberation struggles and socialist revolution is Free Aztlán. Free Aztlán airs weekly and covers current issues concerning Raza and [email protected] communities. It has interviews, poetry, music, and even readings from the book [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán for people who don't or can't have a physical copy to reference. That PNN is willing to air a program like Free Aztlán says a lot about PNN, and we look forward to this program being a staple in our independent education institutions moving forward!(14)
Building public opinion isn't just about sharing information and exposing people to ideas. Applying our study to our conditions, we can help educate others in developing their own desire for socialism. It's an exercise in "Each One, Teach One." This was explained in our book review of Condemned by Bomani Shakur:
"The first theme addressed in 'Condemned' is the author's ideological transformation. MIM(Prisons)'s primary task at this point in the struggle is building public opinion and institutions of the oppressed for socialist revolution, so affecting others' political consciousness is something we work on a lot. On the first day of the [Lucasville] uprising, Bomani was hoping the state would come in to end the chaos. But 'standing there as dead bodies were dumped onto the yard (while those in authority stood back and did nothing), and then experience the shock of witnessing Dennis' death [another prisoner who was murdered in the same cell as the author], awakened something in me.' Bomani's persynal experiences, plus politicization on the pod and thru books, are what led em to pick up the struggle against injustice."(15)
We can't predict exactly what events, what books, or what conversations will spark the revolutionary fire in people. Everyone has their own unique journey into this work. Building independent institutions is one huge way we nourish and support that spark: empowering ourselves and others to do things to change our actual present conditions, while we build toward a socialist future.