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 Chican@, 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 Chican@ communities. It has interviews, poetry, music, and even readings from the book Chican@ 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.
Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising
2011, PM Press
Keith LaMar (Bomani Hondo Shakur)
In April 1993 there was an 11-day occupation of Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, starting on Easter Sunday when the maximum security prisoners overpowered correctional officers (COs) while returning from recreation. During the occupation, eight COs were held as hostages; one was killed and the rest were released. Nine prisoners were also killed through the course of this uprising, all by other prisoners. The 407 prisoners surrendered when the administration committed to a 21-point agreement. After the uprising, five prisoners were sentenced to death for the murders, and they are the only people held on Ohio's death row.
Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising and Condemned are good books to read together, and give two thorough accounts of the events of the SOCF uprising, and even more thorough detail of what happened afterward. Lucasville is written by Staughton Lynd, a lawyer who plays a significant role in Condemned, which was written by Keith LaMar (Bomani), one of the people condemned to death for the events during the uprising. The content in these books overlaps a lot, but not too much as to be redundant. What content is repeated through the two books just underlines lessons learned, and clarifies the authors' political orientations, some of which MIM(Prisons) does not agree with. Rather than write a point-by-point criticism of these books which most of our readers will never have the opportunity to read anyway, below we summarize some of the lessons on prison organizing we gleaned from studying them.
Condemned recounts Bomani's first-hand experience before, during, and after the uprising, especially focusing on the struggle of the five prisoners who were scapegoated for the uprising (known as the Lucasville 5). Condemned is a good case study on many common aspects of prison organizing. Lynd's book describes all the work it took, and all the obstacles the state put in place, to support the Lucasville 5's struggle from the outside.
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 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.
At an event where Bomani was publicizing eir case and experience, a MIM(Prisons) comrade was able to ask em what go-to books ey recommend for new comrades who are just getting turned on to the struggle. Bomani suggested Black Boy by Richard Wright, and also refers to Wright in Condemned. MIM(Prisons) would second this recommendation. Black Boy is an excellent study of New Afrikan life under Jim Crow in the South, with many aspects of that struggle still continuing in this country today.
In eir own book, Bomani also recounts acts of prisoner unity against the administration shortly following the uprising, and how politicization of fellow prisoners played out in real life. The prisoners made a pact to trash the range each day, and not clean it up. The guards cleaned the range themselves for a few days, but then brought in a prisoner to clean it up. Simultaneously, the "old heads" on the pod were leading speeches nightly about the need for unity and the relationship between the prisoners and the administration, politicizing everyone within earshot.
"Every night there was a variation of this same speech, and I listened to it over and over again until something took root in me. I became openly critical of the mistreatment we had all undergone and, for a few months at least, was serious in my determination to persuade others not to join the administration in the efforts to further divide and conquer us."(Condemned, p. 33)
A tactic that was mentioned in passing in Condemned was how the prisoner who was cleaning the range for the pigs was dealt with. Ey was struggled with for a period of time, and asked to not clean the range, but ey came back day after day. Eventually this prisoner was stabbed by the protesters for continuously undermining the action. Bomani doesn't mention how this act impacted the unity demo, whether it helped or not. We aim to minimize physical violence as much as possible, although sometimes it may be necessary. It is up to those who are on the ground to make the call in their particular conditions, and this tactic should not at all be taken lightly. If much physical force is necessary to maintain a peace demo, then we should ask ourselves if the masses we're organizing are ready for that type of demo. Political education is always our focus at this stage in the struggle.
Both books address how a protest with solid participants can fail or succeed depending on the protest's outside support. Several hunger strikes were launched, and ended, without progress made on the demands. It wasn't until connections were made with outside advocates and media that prison officials took any steps toward fixing them. Especially in an instance where a lawyer met with the regional director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation, which led to some property restrictions being lifted.
Recalling a victory from a 12-day hunger strike which had a lot of outside support,
"When the administration refused to follow their own rules, we complained (verbally and informally) and then asked a district judge to intervene on our behalf, all to no avail. It never occurred to us that we were wasting our time by appealing to the very people who had placed us in this predicament we were in.
"Indeed, the whole process of redressing our grievances was nothing more than an exercise in futility designed to drain off our vital energy and make us feel as though we had done all that we could do.
"It was only when we began to write and reach out to 'the people' that things began to change. First, there was Staughton's book and accompanying play; then we began holding 'talks' around the state on various college campuses, as well as writing articles in various periodicals. In this way, we were able to generate some much-needed support."(Condemned, p. 179)
To combat the psychological warfare of the prison staff, Bomani strongly recommends daily meditation and yoga as a method to protect oneself. "By learning how to watch my thoughts [meditate using simple breathing exercises], I was able to rise above the vicious cycle of cause and effect, and thereby avoid the tricks and traps of my environment."(Condemned, p. 133)
MIM(Prisons) receives regular requests for information on sovereign citizenship. While we've written against this tactic at length elsewhere, Lucasville underlines it with an anecdote about three prisoners who cut off their fingers and mailed them to the United Nations to show how serious they were in in their claim of sovereign citizenship. The request was still denied.
A final lesson from these books, especially recounted in Lucasville, is that in any attempt at solidarity and justice for the oppressed, prison officials and other oppressors will do everything they can to undermine it. Everything. We should never expect that our enemies will act in good faith toward respecting us and our needs. We should always expect pushback and always expect that they will attempt to derail us at every step of the way. Studying past struggles for clues on how we can protect our movement will only make our job easier. The state is taking notes on our shortcomings and we need to do the same of both our shortcomings and our strengths.
This week U.$. military officials announced that transgender people are welcome to serve openly as warriors for imperialism and Amerikkkan world domination. They made a plan that will roll out over the next year, including financial support for medical treatment such as surgeries, therapy, and hormones.
Some trans activists, who recognize why this announcement is "problematic" for people in the oppressed nations, will assert that "they'll co-opt anything." Which is true, to an extent. The U.$. government in all its forms will try to control any aspect of our society that can be controlled. Which underlines the point that identity politics is not threatening to U.$. militarism and world domination, because it can be controlled just by mere acceptance. Does the struggle for transgender acceptance (or any gender struggle), distinct from revolutionary organizing, undermine capitalism itself? No. And this announcement proves it.
The U.$. government can't co-opt genuine anti-imperialist organizing, try as it might with front organizations and rewriting of history. It can't actually integrate the self-determination of nations into colonialism, because they are opposite aspects of a worldwide contradiction. They can't resolve the oppression and desperation of people in the Third World, because they depend on that oppression for its base function of exploitation, to keep people in the United $tates wealthy and happy.
If your struggle can be integrated into the U.$. military, then it shows which side your struggle is truly on. Are you a revolutionary internationalist? Or just hoping for a better life here in Amerikkka? Everyone who opposes gender oppression, militarism, and genocide, should do everything in their power to organize against the U.$. military, and against capitalism, as that's the only way we're going to get to a world without gender oppression for everyone.
A criticism often made of the Black Panther Party (BPP) lies in errors it made around addressing the patriarchy. Most of these criticisms are attempts at subreformism, which is the approach of resolving conflict on an individual or interpersynal level in an attempt to resolve social problems. But the patriarchy is a system of oppression. It manifests in interpersynal interactions, but can't be stopped without addressing the system of oppression itself. Just by the very fact that the BPP was organizing for national liberation under a Maoist banner, it was making more advances toward a world without gender oppression than all of their pseudo-feminist critics combined.
George Jackson did have some bad gender line in Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson, which covers the years 1964-1970. To wimmin searching for their place in an anti-imperialist prison struggle, the most alienating examples are where Jackson says wimmin should just "sit, listen to us, and attempt to understand. It is for them to obey and aid us, not to attempt to think."(p. 101) Later in the book after Jackson encounters some revolutionary Black wimmin, ey can't help but to sexualize their politics. Much like in our everyday society, Soledad Brother tells wimmin their role in this struggle is to shut up or be sexualized. These were not consciously worked out analyses of gender but instead Jackson's subjective responses to frustration and excitement.
A challenge to all revolutionaries is to take an objective approach to our scientific analysis. This is very difficult. To wimmin struggling within the national liberation movements, looking at the social and historical context of these remarks is imperative to overcoming this alienation from sexist brothers in struggle. Jackson was reared in the United $tates in the 1940s and 50s, with time spent in youth detention facilities. Ey entered the hyper-masculine prison environment at the age of 20. Jackson's social context was our fucked up patriarchal society, and is similar to many of our contributors whose scope of perspective is limited by the conditions of their confinement. Where our sisters need to not split over subreformism, our brothers also need to work to overcome their empiricism and subjectivism in how they approach uniting with wimmin against imperialism and patriarchy.
It was after the publishing of Soledad Brother that Jackson advanced to be a general and field marshal of the People's Revolutionary Army of the Black Panther Party. While Soledad Brother gives more of a look into the prison experience, in eir later work, Blood In My Eye (which was published by the BPP posthumously), Jackson lays out eir most advanced political analysis shortly before ey was murdered by the state on 21 August 1971. More than an author, Jackson was a great organizer. Panther and life-long revolutionary Kiilu Nyasha is a testimony to Jackson's abilities, indicating that subjectivity around gender did not prevent him from organizing seriously with wimmin.(1) Of course, Jackson’s biggest legacy was organizing men in prison. Eir ability to organize strikes with 100% participation in eir unit serves as an counterexample to those in California today who say we cannot unite across "racial" lines. It's impressive all that Jackson accomplished in developing eir politics and internationalism, and organizing prisoners, considering all the barriers Amerikkka put in the way.
Jackson was a good representative of the BPP's mass base, and the BPP was correct in organizing with Jackson and others with backward gender lines. If the Party hadn't been dissolved by COINTELPRO we can only guess at what advances it could have made toward resolving gender oppression by now. One thing is certain, it would have done a lot more to combat the patriarchy for the majority of the world's inhabitants than First World pseudo-feminism ever has or ever will.
Beyonce is the Queen of pop in the United $tates, so this review isn't meant to uphold em as a revolutionary force. Eir ties to Empire and the lack of internationalism in eir recent series of publicity stunts is a reminder of Beyonce's attachment to U.$. institutions. Instead this article is meant to analyze eir performance at Super Bowl 50, and eir recently released song and music video, "Formation", from a revolutionary Maoist perspective.
The "Formation" video is the most interesting thing in pop culture in a long time, and the Super Bowl performance was likely the most interesting thing in all football history. Beyonce's dancers donned afros and berets (yet, not pants), and performed eir new song "Formation." Like Nina Simone, Beyonce is being compelled by the struggle of eir nation to take an explicit political position. Simone correctly stated that "desegregation is a joke" and Beyonce is suggesting that cultural integration is not worthwhile. After Martin Luther King was assassinated, Simone performed a poem which called for violent uprising against "white things", imploring New Afrikans to "kill if necessary" and to "build black things" and "do what you have to do to create life."(1) Simone was a reflection of eir nation at the time. While Beyonce’s twirling of albino alligators is a weak replacement for Simone’s poetic diatribe, we hope today's New Afrikans will keep pushing cultural icons in more militant and separatist directions.
Let's start with what holds this whole phenomena together. The lyrics for "Formation" are not revolutionary.(2) They promote consumerism, making billions, drinking alcohol, being light-skinned, and fucking. They primarily promote cultural nationalism and economic integration with Empire. What comment the lyrics make on the international relationship between New Afrika and the Third World is more promotion of Black capitalism, on the backs of the most oppressed people in the world – those who are slaving over eir Givenchy dress and dying to mine the diamonds in the Roc necklaces ey is rocking.
Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, correctly calls out Beyonce’s bad economic recommendations in this song, “her celebration of capitalism – an economic system that is largely killing black people, even if some black people, like her, achieve success within it – [has] also been a source of important critique.”(3) Although Garza’s comment is tame, it’s an important generalization to be made. Considering Garza’s following, it’s an important persyn to be making it.
On a positive note, the song celebrates New Afrikan culture that is still under so much attack in the United $tates. While we prefer the revolutionary content and gender relations contained in Dead Prez's "The Beauty Within", "Formation" is still an exercise of Black pride. Whether that pride is then mobilized into a revolutionary internationalist direction is up to the New Afrikan masses, who aren’t getting a whole lot of clarity from Beyonce on that tip.
“Formation” calls for New Afrikan unity of the sexes, and of females as a group (not unusual for Beyonce’s typical pseudo-feminist fare). In the lyrics about going to Red Lobster, or going on a flight on eir chopper, or going to the mall to shop up, Beyonce advocates a reward-based system for harmonious sexual relations. Beyonce also brings in gay and trans New Afrikan culture, from the use of the word “slay” over and over, to the voice samples and New Orleans Bounce style of music used for the song.(4) Resolution of gender antagonisms within New Afrika are a good thing. But if the goal is Black capitalism, that’s bad for the international proletariat and just an extension of the gender aristocracy phenomenon into the relatively privileged New Afrikan internal semi-colony.
MIM(Prisons) upholds the line that all sex under patriarchy has elements of coercion(5), and offering perks for enjoyable sex is still an expression of patriarchal gender relations even if Beyonce is not a typical male father figure. Within the predominantly white Amerikkkan nation, rewards for compliance with patriarchy help to unite Amerika against the oppressed nations.(6) But within the oppressed internal semi-colonies, these lyrics are more interesting, especially considering the long tradition of the Amerikkkan-male-dominated recording industry's use of divide-and-conquer tactics in selecting which music to record and promote. Beyonce isn't promoting sexual entitlement or sexual passivity – patriarchal values that do more to divide New Afrika in practice, and which are heavily promoted in mainstream culture. Assuming whoever is fucking Beyonce could still feed emself without relying on that trade, it's not a matter of life and death, and so these lyrics are less of a threat of starvation than a promotion of national unity. When united against a common oppressor, subsuming the gender struggle to the fight for national liberation, gender harmony in the oppressed nations can be a revolutionary force.
The best part about the song is the separatism and militancy. If the song were to get stuck in your head, it could be a mantra for working hard and uniting. It even gets into who the unity is directed against – Beyonce twirls on them haters, albino alligators. Ey twirls them, as in alligator rolls them, as in kills them. The haters are albino alligators, as in they’re white. Ey calls on others to slay these enemies, or get eliminated. In other words, choose a side.
The "Formation" music video, which was released as a surprise the day before the Super Bowl, is a celebration of New Afrikan national culture and a condemnation of oppression of New Afrikans. It is thick with important and unmistakably New Afrikan cultural references. Beyonce sings, poses, raises a Black fist, and drowns on top of a New Orleans Police car, sinking in floodwaters. A little Black kid hypnotizes a line of cops with eir incredible dancing, and the cops raise their hands in surrender. Beyonce raises two middle fingers on a plantation. There are references to the Moorish Science Temple, gay and trans New Afrikan culture, hand signs, a Black church service, and more, more, more...(7) "Stop Shooting Us" is spraypainted in the background. The subjects of the video look directly into the camera, confidently, and say "take what's mine," including Beyonce's kid Blue Ivy, complete with eir baby hair and afro.
This video doesn't clearly distinguish between integration and secession. Should New Afrikans just keep trying to make peace with Amerikkka, but while asserting a Black cultural identity? Should New Afrika honor its culture, and lives, by separating itself from Amerikkka and forming its own nation-state? Should this nation-state be capitalist or communist? Outside of a revolutionary context, much of the cultural markers that are present in this video could be taken as integrationist. Hopefully the militance and anti-white sentiment of the video will push New Afrika to get in formation to study up and push for actual (not just cultural) liberation from the many forms of oppression highlighted in the video.
The Super Bowl Halftime
That Beyonce was permitted to perform with dancers dressed up like the former Black Panther Party members is somewhat of a mystery. Is it because, ignoring any political content, one would still witness a show of tits and ass, so for the average ignoramus watching the biggest football event of the year, it's no different? Maybe it's because this year is the semi-centennial anniversary of the Black Panther Party, so it's gonna come up in mainstream culture sometime, might as well come up with lots of distraction from the political content. Or maybe the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement has made room for this performance to be possible, and perhaps even necessary to quell uprisings by helping New Afrika feel included in such a paragon cultural event. For whatever reason(s), it's obvious this half-time show would not have happened a few years ago. In fact, Beyonce led the entire halftime show in 2013 and while ey avoided any mention of patriorism, ey didn’t reference police brutality or New Afrikan nationlism either. It's a milestone, and one that shows Black pride is definitely resurfacing country-wide.
Not surprisingly, the Super Bowl has a long history of promoting white nationalism.(8) Some overt examples include in 2002 when U2 helped the country mourn 9/11, with Bono wearing a jean jacket lined with an Amerikkkan flag which ey flashed at the audience, with the names of people who died in the "terrorist" attacks projected in the background. In 2004, Kid Rock wore an Amerikan flag as a poncho, and when ey sang "I'm proud to be living in the U.S.A." over and over, two blondes waved Amerikan flags behind em. When necessary, the Super Bowl even has a tradition of promoting integration and "world peace," some of which we explore below. At this year's performance, Coldplay upheld these decidedly white traditions. Where there was one Amerikan flag, it was during Coldplay's portion of the performance. When there was feel-good bouncing and rainbow-colored multiculturalism, Coldplay was leading it. When the audience was told "wherever you are, we're in this together," the singer of Coldplay was saying it. It's not surprising that the white Coldplay frontman would be the one to promote this misguided statement of unity. As explored in the review of Macklemore's "White Privilege II" project, no, we're not in this together. And we don't need white do-gooders playing leadership roles that distract from national divisions, and thus, the potency for national liberation struggles.
At the end of the Coldplay-led halftime show, the stadium audience made a huge sign that said "Believe in Love." On the other hand, some of Beyonce's dancers were off-stage holding a sign that said "Justice 4 Mario Woods" for cameras. One is a call to just have faith that our problems will go away. Another is a call for a change in material reality: an end to murders by police. (Side note: Someone who was allegedly stabbed by Mario Woods just prior to Woods's 20-bullet execution has come out to tell eir story. Whether ey mean to or not, this "revelation" is being wielded in an attempt to discredit Beyonce as a competent political participant, and to lend more justification to the unnecessary police murder of Woods. Whatever Woods did just prior to eir execution, that ey is dead now is wholly unjustified. The demand for "Justice 4 Mario Woods" is correct, and underlines how New Afrikan people are gunned down in the streets without due process, which is supposedly guaranteed by the U.$. Constitution.)
While Beyonce's performance didn't break new ground by bringing up politics or social problems, it was done in a different way than in the past, that may be a marker for how our society has changed. The costume Beyonce wore, which was adorned with many shotgun shells, was a reference to the costume Michael Jackson wore during eir Super Bowl 1993 performance. Where Michael Jackson had banners of a Black hand shaking a white hand, Beyonce had Black Panther dancers, so touchdown for Beyonce. But where Beyonce sings "you might be a Black Bill Gates in the making", Jackson advocated for the children of the world because "no one should have to suffer." Beyonce's individualist capitalism is devoid of any awareness that today's New Afrikan wealth, especially of Gates proportions, is stolen by the United $tates military from exploited nations across the globe. Yet Jackson's multiculturalism invites unity with oppressor nation chauvinism, which historically usurps oppressed nation struggles and drives them into the ground.
In Janet Jackson's performance in 2004 (you know, the one where Justin Timberlake stalked em around the stage and then exposed Jackson's breast to the world), ey performed the song "Rhythm Nation." The video for "Rhythm Nation" features militant outfits, with pants. In the video, Jackson and eir dancers intrigue a few Black people who are wandering around what appears to be the Rhythm Nation's underground headquarters, another reference to the enchanting powers of dance. "Rhythm Nation" is about unity and brotherhood, "break the color lines", but it's not about Blackness.(9) At the Super Bowl, Jackson called out various injustices faced by oppressed nations (prejudice, bigotry, ignorance, and illiteracy) and called out "No!" to each one, but didn't make it about New Afrikan struggle. That Beyonce clearly delineates eir struggle from the struggle of whites with this performance is an advancement off of Jackson's.
On the topic of organizing females and combating New Afrikan female internalized racism, Beyonce’s performance is a step above other performances. A few examples: Nelly and P. Diddy's dancers in 2004 were dark-skinned but were straight-haired compared with Beyonce's backups. In 2004 they also wore straight hair, as in Madonna's performance in 2012 as well. Even though Madonna called on "ladies" like Beyonce does, Madonna called on them to cure their troubles on the dance floor. Beyonce calls on ladies to get organized (in formation). It should be obvious which message MIM(Prisons) prefers.
During Madonna's performance, MIA gave a middle finger to the camera during the lyric "I'ma say this once, yeah, I don't give a shit." But then MIA and Nikki Minaj joined a tribe of dark-skinned, straight-haired cheerleaders revering Madonna as their blonde, white idol. Beyonce's Panther dance-off with Bruno Mars is a step in a better direction. We also prefer Beyonce's dancers forming a letter "X" on the field (likely another New Afrikan reference), as opposed to Madonna's self-aggrandizing "M".
Whether it's dancing at the Super Bowl or dancing in front of a line of pigs, impressive dancing isn't what's going to get the New Afrikan nation out of the scope of Amerikkkan guns. Beyonce is a culture worker, so that's eir most valuable weapon at this time. As long as she keeps shaking her ass, white Amerikkka might stay hypnotized and let Beyonce continue to promote New Afrikan pride. Hopefully many people in New Afrika who watched the Super Bowl will study up on history, as Beyonce hints at, and revolutionary internationalism of the Black Panther Party can be injected tenfold into the growing Black Lives Matter movement.(10)
The imperialists have created a mess of migration, with hundreds of thousands of people traveling from the Middle East and north Africa to the European Union (EU). Earlier this year there was media attention on the increased migration from Myanmar and Bangladesh to the richer countries of South Asia such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. This is in the context of an unprecedented increase in mass displacement worldwide.
"By end-2014, 59.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. This is 8.3 million persons more than the year before (51.2 million) and the highest annual increase in a single year."(1)
The conditions that led about 7% of the world's entire population to leave their homes vary widely, and similarly the situations they face when they do leave their homes also vary. Some have absolutely nothing to their name but the rags on their body, while others are carrying smart phones, have high formal education, and are being wired money along their journey for train tickets and smugglers' fees. Some just need to leave where they are, others want to meet up with family who have already immigrated to other countries, and many are doing both. This article does not attempt to provide a comprehensive history of the mass migrations, but it does try to outline some basic principles to keep in mind as the news unfolds.
Open All Borders!
The oppressor countries have concentrated wealth due to the oppression and exploitation they inflict on other nations. In these countries, there is a lot of hubub about whether people are "truly" refugees, and thus worthy of help, or "just" migrants looking for better economic opportunity, and thus not worthy of assistance. They say those deemed to be economic migrants should be sent back to their "safe" countries to build their lives there — a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps of international proportions.
No matter why people are leaving their present location, our position is the same: open all borders! The most progressive economic position under capitalism would be to enable free travel and work across all borders. Wealth would be more equalized and the imperialists would have a material interest in ending harmful policies and practices in other countries, for fear that those populations would leave their homes to venture to the countries where the wealth is being concentrated.
We know opening all borders is not a realisitic solution in our present conditions, so at the very minimum we call on the wealthy countries to allow those who have already fled to make new lives wherever they (want to) land. We then call on these wealthy countries to take a stand against the primary cause for why people flee: U.$. militarism and imperialism.
On the surface it appears Germany has been somewhat favorable to this position. They have been the most welcoming country of the EU (although most recently they are trying to curb the migration rather than welcome it with open arms). We support any EU country's openness to migrants. But it's significant that Germany has an aging population and has been trying to figure out how to maintain its economy with a deficit of working-age people. How fortunate then that so many of the refugees come with professional degrees, skills, and even some savings. The economic situation in Germany makes it possible for the country to play hero. The economic substructure defines the ideological superstructure. If not for the economic problems in Germany, humanitarian efforts would be marginalized.
National Chauvinism is Not Internationalism
In spring 2015, media attention was on Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia for refusing to take in Rohingyas and Bangladeshis who were abandoned by their smugglers at sea for weeks and months.(2) The primary position of these countries was "it's not our problem."
In the EU, Hungary has been a main thoroughfare for migrants this summer. In response they are erecting an emergency wall on the borders, and Hungary's government's stance is to discourage migration as much as possible. Denmark, just north of Germany, has been widely advertising that it has greatly reduced assistance for migrants, and that people should not go there. And these are certainly not the only examples of national chauvinism in Europe.
Those who don't grasp the differences between revolutionary nationalism and national chauvinism will use these examples as evidence that all nationalism is bad. One of the more progressive trends that makes this mistake is the anarchists. Nationalism of oppressor nations tends toward fascism, but nationalism of oppressed nations tends towards revolutionary internationalism. Being that the vast majority of anarchist movements are located in the First World, it makes sense that they should oppose the nationalism that they see around them. But a materialist historical analysis shows that nationalism of the oppressed has done the most to advance peoples out of oppression, imperialism's stranglehold, and toward a society where nations and states are no longer necessary. Maoists also want a world without nations and states, but a rejection of the progressive aspects of nationalism won't get us there.
European Union vs. United $tates
Some officials in the EU have criticized United $tates policy and military intervention in the Middle East as the reason for this most recent mass migration. To the EU, most people coming from the Middle East are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Not surprisingly, the United $tates is also presently engaged in military campaigns in and on these countries.
But the EU only cares what the United $tates does to the degree that it affects the EU. It's good when anyone criticizes the United $tates's meddling in the Middle East. But until words turn into actions (and until EU countries stop their own military campaigns in the region), it's just a lot of hot air. We want to see the EU not only open its borders for all the migrants, but also to recognize that it has interests which differ from those of the United $tates. A united EU should stop all material and verbal support for occupation and war in the Middle East, which would do more to help with their present migrant crisis than building walls and placing newspaper ads.
Rise of Fascism
The recent mass migration has been exposing reactionary nationalist sentiments, and in turn adding fuel to the recent rise of fascism in Europe. More far-right parties are being elected at various levels of government, and there are more demonstrations and attacks on migrants — the people, and the infrastructure to support them. Most notably, fascism has been rising in the last few years in Greece, Germany, Hungary and Sweden.(3)
Communism is the natural antithesis to fascism. Those who see more material interests in maintaining their present economic position will tend toward fascism, whereas those who would benefit more from an equalization of wealth internationally will tend more toward communism. It's the job of the communists to help prevent the rise of fascism in Europe.
“The Anti-Exploits of Men Against Sexism” Ed Mead Revolutionary Rumors PRESS [email protected]
This pamphlet is an historical account of the organization Men Against Sexism (MAS). It is written in an informal, story-telling style, from the perspective of Ed Mead, one of MAS’s primary organizers. “Anti-Exploits” spans the development of MAS, from Mead’s first encounter with the near-rape of a fellow prisoner on his tier in the mid-1970s, to the successful height of the organization and the eradication of prisoner rape in Washington State Prison. This success impacted facilities all across the state.
Men Against Sexism was created to bring prisoners together to fight against their common oppression. Mead recognized that homophobia, sexism, rape, and pimping were causing unnecessary divisions within the prisoner population. “Only by rooting out internalized sexism would men treat one another with respect.”(p. 5) He brought together politically-minded prisoners, queers, and even some former sexual predators, to change the culture of what was acceptable and not on the tier.
We should take the example of MAS as inspiration to identify our own collective divisive behaviors on our unit, and attempt to build bridges to overcome these barriers. Mead’s reputation of being a revolutionary, stand-up guy in defense of prisoners’ rights preceded him across the facility, and helped him win allies in unlikely places.
In the mid-1970s, prison conditions were much different than they are today, and organizing MAS seems to have been relatively easy according to the account given. Of course there were challenges amongst the prisoner population itself (for example, MAS defending a convicted pedophile from being gang raped and sold as a sex slave put many people off) but the administration didn’t play a significant role in thwarting the mission of MAS. The primary organizers were allowed to cell together, and several different prisoner organizations were mentioned which had their own meeting spaces.
Today it seems we are lucky if more than two prisoners can get together to do anything besides watch TV. This is a testament to the dialectical relationship between the prisoner movement and the forces of the state. During the time of MAS, the prisoner movement was relatively strong compared to where it’s at today. After the booming prisoner rights movement of the 1970s, the state figured out that to undermine those movements they needed to develop methods to keep prisoners isolated from each other. Not the least significant of which is the proliferation of the control unit, where prisoners are housed for 23 or more hours per day with very little contact with the world outside their cell, let alone their facility.
MAS recognized that there is power in numbers. They collected donations from allies outside prison to purchase access to cells from other prisoners and designated them as “safe cells.” MAS would identify newcomers to the facility who looked vulnerable and offer them protection in these group safe cells. This is in stark contrast to how the state offers so-called protection to victims of prisoner rape, which is generally to isolate them in control units.(1) Bonnie Kerness of the American Friends Service Committee writes of this practice being used with transgender prisoners, and the concept applies to all prisoners who are gender oppressed in prison no matter their gender identity,
"In some cases this can be a safe place to avoid the violence of other prisoners. More often this isolation of transgender prisoners places them at greater risk of violence at the hands of correctional officers…
“Regardless of whether or not it provides some level of protection or safety, isolation is a poor alternative to general population. The physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological impacts of solitary confinement are tantamount to torture for many.”(2)
As late as 2009, data was compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) stating “Approximately 2.1% of prison inmates and 1.5% of jail inmates reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, whereas approximately 2.8% of prison inmates and 2.0% of jail inmates reported staff sexual misconduct.”(3) Certainly much of this staff-on-prisoner sexual assault occurs in general population, but isolating victims makes them that much more accessible.
Isolation as the best option for protection is the most obvious example of individualizing struggles of prisoners. What is more individualized than one persyn in a room alone all day? Individualizing prisoners’ struggles is also carried out by the rejection of group grievances in many states. All across the country our comrades meet difficulty when attempting to file grievances on behalf of a group of prisoners. In California, a comrade attempted to simply cite a Director’s Level Appeal Decision stating MIM is not a banned distributor in the state on h censorship appeal, but it was rejected because that Director’s Level Decision “belongs to another inmate.”(4) We must identify the state’s attempts to divide us from our potential comrades in all forms, and actively work against it.
MAS worked to abolish prisoner-on-prisoner sexual slavery and rape, where the pigs were consenting to this gender oppression by noninterference. But the state paid for this hands-off approach when the autonomy of the movement actually united prisoners against oppression.
What about gender oppression in prisons today?
In 2003, under strong pressure from a broad range of activists and lobbyists, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), and in May 2012 the final rules were completed. With the initiation of the PREA, statistics on prison rape are becoming more available. But comprehensive, sweeping data on the frequency of prison rape does not exist and so we can not detect trends from 1975 to the present, or even from 2003 to present. Despite high hopes for the PREA from anti-rape activists, we can’t yet determine if there has been any benefit, and in some cases the rates of prison rape seem to be increasing.
When MAS was picking out newcomers to recruit into their safe cells, they were identifying people who they saw as obviously queer, or in some way likely to be a target. MAS was using their intuition and persynal experience to identify people who are more likely to be victimized. According to the BJS, in their 2009 study, prisoners who are “white or multi-racial, have a college education, have a sexual orientation other than heterosexual, and experienced sexual victimization prior to coming to the facility” … had “significantly higher” rates of inmate-on-inmate victimization.(1) Human Rights Watch similarly reported in 2001,
“Specifically, prisoners fitting any part of the following description are more likely to be targeted: young, small in size, physically weak, white, gay, first offender, possessing ‘feminine’ characteristics such as long hair or a high voice; being unassertive, unaggressive, shy, intellectual, not street-smart, or ‘passive’; or having been convicted of a sexual offense against a minor. Prisoners with any one of these characteristics typically face an increased risk of sexual abuse, while prisoners with several overlapping characteristics are much more likely than other prisoners to be targeted for abuse.”(5)
The descriptions above of who’s more subject to prison rape are bourgeois definitions of what MIM called gender. Bullying, rape, sexual identity, and sexual orientation are phenomena that exist in the realm of leisure-time activity. Oppression that exists in leisure-time can generally be categorized as gender oppression. Gender oppression also rests clearly on health status and physical ability, which, in work-time also affects class status.(6) Since prisoners on the whole spend very little time engaged in productive labor, their time behind bars can be categorized as a twisted form of leisure-time. Prisons are primarily a form of national oppression, and gender is used as a means to this end.
Consider this statistic from BJS, “Significantly, most perpetrators of staff sexual misconduct were female and most victims were male: among male victims of staff sexual misconduct, 69% of prisoners and 64% of jail inmates reported sexual activity with female staff.”(3) An oversimplified analysis of this one statistic says the biologically-female staff are gendered men, and the prisoners are gendered wimmin, no matter their biology. But in the United $tates, where all citizens enjoy gender privilege over the Third World, this oversimplification ignores the international scope of imperialism and the benefits reaped by Amerikans and the internal semi-colonies alike. While there is an argument to be made that the United $tates tortures more people in its prisons than any other country, this is balanced out with a nice juicy carrot (video games, tv, drugs, porn) for many prisoners. This carrot limits the need to use the more obvious forms of repression that are more widespread in the Third World. Some of our most prominent USW leaders determine that conditions where they’re at are too comfortable and prevent people from devoting their lives to revolution, even though these people are actually on the receiving end of much oppression.
On a similar level, MIM(Prisons) advocates for the end of oppression based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But we are not jumping on the bandwagon to legalize gay marriage.(7) We also don’t campaign for sex reassignment surgery and hormones for prisoners.(8) This is because we see these as examples of gender privilege, and any privileges obtained by people in the United $tates inherently come on the backs of the Third World. Whereas in the time Men Against Sexism was formed the gay rights movement was militant and engaging in street wars against police, they are now overall placated by the class privilege they receive as members of the petty-bourgeoisie.
We encourage everyone facing oppression to recognize its true roots – capitalism and imperialism – and use their privileges to undermine the United $tates’ world domination. Without an internationalist perspective, we will inevitably end up on the wrong side of history.
This summer, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) released the fifth printing of their pamphlet "Survivors Manual: A manual written by and for people living in control units." There were some good additions to the pamphlet, such as an excerpt from Bonnie Kerness's presentation from the STOPMAX Conference, some of which is featured in the documentary "Unlock the Box"; and a summary written by Bonnie of her years of experience working with and witnessing prisoners in isolation.
Because MIM(Prisons) stands for justice and equality for all humyn-kind, in direct opposition to the capitalist-imperialist power structure, many of our comrades are targeted for placement in control units. This greatly minimizes their ability to organize others, communicate with comrades on the outside, and maintain a healthy mind and body. Others are targeted for isolation simply for attempting to learn the history of their people or help others with their legal work. So clearly, much of the information contained in this pamphlet is invaluable to our readership who are constantly threatened with, or are currently facing, time in the hole.
The AFSC is a liberal progressive group, and there is some information in this pamphlet that we think is quite bad advice for our readers. At least one article says to avoid the prisoncrats if at all possible. The authors' purported goal is to get to general population or released, and to maintain some form of happiness. If the goal were to get to general population or released in order to be a more effective revolutionary organizer, of course we would agree.
We don't advocate people go out looking for trouble, and we need to choose our battles wisely. But for prisoner activists, filing grievances on staff misconduct and unhealthy conditions is a primary method we use to defend ourselves and our fellow prisoners. Unfortunately, oftentimes these grievances lead to repression from the pigs. But we would not advocate that people shy away from this important work for the sole individualistic reason of self-preservation and happiness. The individualist approach is the bourgeois approach; in other words it's the approach that allows the bourgeoisie to win. Only by coming together can we protect each other and ourselves with real certainty.
We are going to add this manual to our list of literature we distribute, but will only distribute a portion of it. We chose to not include the individualistic content above, and other content suffering from liberalism in one form or another: defeatist poetry; dating tips; and strategical advice that is in conflict with our lines on security. We left out other pieces due to redundancy. Of the content we did leave in, much of it we think is great advice that we would recommend everyone in isolation pick up for their own self-care. But do not take inclusion in this modified pamphlet as a 100% endorsement of each article; we did leave some content that we hold minor disagreement with.
We greatly appreciate Prison Watch Project of the American Friends Service Committee for compiling and distributing this guide to the wider prisoner audience. But in order to make it relevant to our work as revolutionary activists, we have selected the portions that we find useful. To contact the AFSC or Bonnie Kerness for the full version and other resources, write to:
Bonnie Kerness Coordinator, Prison Watch Project American Friends Service Committee 89 Market Street, 6th Floor Newark, NJ 07102 [email protected]
On August 20, 2012 an article was released alleging that Richard Aoki, a Japanese national and early Black Panther Party (BPP) member, was an FBI informant. This claim was made by journalist and author Seth Rosenfeld, whose book Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power was conveniently released on August 21. On September 7, 2012 Rosenfeld published a follow-up article, with 221 pages of "newly released" FBI documents which he believes further implicate Aoki as an FBI informant.(1)
Let's start with Rosenfeld's political worldview, because we know no journalist is truly unbiased. Rosenfeld's opinion on liberation struggles is revealed in his characterization of the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF), that Aoki organized in, as a violent student movement.(2) He blames the violence of the 1968-69 strikes of the TWLF on Bay Area college campuses on the strikers themselves, not the pigs. Yet the students did not initiate violence, and in fact were sprayed with so much teargas by the pigs that the trees in Sproul Plaza on the University of California at Berkeley campus were still irritating students' eyes even into the following school year. Coming from this perspective we must question Rosenfeld's assessment of the FBI right off the bat.
Influencing the Party greatly from its beginning, Richard Aoki is most famous for supplying the BPP with their first guns. According to his biography, Aoki helped shape the early ideology of the Panthers through his relationship with Bobby Seale and Huey Newton at Merritt College by suggesting reading material and engaging with them in political debate.(3) Besides his work with the BPP, Richard Aoki also did much organizing and protest work with the Third World Liberation Front via the Asian American Political Alliance. Aoki remained politically active and revolutionary-minded even until his death in 2009. Surprisingly, Rosenfeld is from San Francisco and has been doing research for this book since 1982, yet it wasn't until 2002 or 2003 that he learned of Richard Aoki.
Understandably, Rosenfeld's claim has sparked a lot of debate on the internet and radio as to whether it is true or not. While we are open to the possibility of nearly anyone being an agent of the state, MIM(Prisons) agrees with those who have held out for clear proof before we will consider denouncing Aoki's legacy of the state. Objectively, the current evidence supporting this claim is inconclusive at best. The original article was highly sensational, focusing on vague, chopped up, and misquoted sound-bites of a 2007 interview with Aoki that the author interprets as admissions of guilt. Besides these sound-bites, the only other evidence offered are ambiguous FBI documents, citing Aoki as providing "unique" information not available from any other source, and the testimony of former FBI agents, of whom the only one that supposedly knew Aoki is also dead.(4) Yet none of the documents say what information Aoki supposedly gave the FBI; it has all been redacted.
On the radio program APEX Express, Harvey Dong, a close friend of Richard Aoki, offered the listener a thorough reading of the relevant parts of the FBI documents cited by Rosenfeld (as well as excerpts from Aoki's college term papers).(2) The only information which allegedly came from Aoki in the first set of FBI documents is about Aoki himself and could have been obtained using a wiretap (or informant) on Aoki. Assuming the released FBI documents are real, the set released on September 7 does establish that Aoki was giving information to the FBI from 1961 to 1977, but very little about that relationship is revealed.
The fact that the FBI redacts all names of individuals and organizations that Aoki allegedly provided information on makes it impossible to speculate on the nature of his interactions with the Bureau. Rosenfeld's follow-up article pulls many quotes from the 221 pages of documents indicating that Aoki provided valuable information, but any details that might substantiate these statements are redacted or absent. Despite this release of new documents, there is still no information on what intelligence he allegedly gave to the FBI on the BPP or other groups. While we should always be prepared for the possibility that a trusted comrade is an agent, we need to see evidence of harm done to the movement to condemn someone who did so much to advance the cause.
It is very conceivable that the FBI is snitch-jacketing Aoki to discredit his work as a Third Worldist revolutionary activist, discredit the Panthers as pawns of the FBI, and more simply to sell copies of Rosenthal's new book. One of the lessons we learned from the Panthers, and other political movements of the 1960s, is the importance of security. The COINTELPRO attacks on the Panthers led MIM to develop as a semi-underground organization that keeps comrades at arm's length, centering around political, rather than persynal, relationships.
Interestingly, on 20 August the FBI had yet to release about 4,000 pages of documents on Richard Aoki, and was claiming to have no main file on Aoki himself. This cannot be true considering how politically active and outspoken he was. Rosenfeld and others saw the FBI withholding these documents as indicative of Aoki's status as an informant, assuming these were reports given by Aoki.(4) Then supposedly some time between 20 August and 7 September, the FBI released at least 221 pages of documentation just on Richard Aoki. With all the heated debate, we note that the FBI chose a very opportunistic time to release these documents, which causes us to further question their legitimacy. Why would the FBI release documentation that says Aoki didn't provide valuable information? This controversy is feeding right into their agenda to undermine revolutionary activists and movements.
The distrust that has evolved surrounding this claim is classic, and a perfect example of why the BPP often quoted Mao by saying, "No investigation, no right to speak." This Aoki "scandal" should be a reminder of how snitch-jacketing can impact our anti-imperialist movement, and our prison organizing especially. One of the principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons is UNITY,
"WE strive to unite with those facing the same struggles as us for our common interests. To maintain unity we have to keep an open line of networking and communication, and ensure we address any situation with true facts. This is needed because of how the pigs utilize tactics such as rumors, snitches and fake communications to divide and keep division among the oppressed. The pigs see the end of their control within our unity."(5)
This is a lesson we've unfortunately had to learn time and time again. A claim that everyone on SNY or Protective Custody is a snitch, or a rumor on the yard, is not sufficient evidence to call someone out as an agent of the state. Sometimes comrades suggest that we require USW members to submit their files from the Department of Corrections to determine whether they are compromised in any way based on charges, and where they've been housed in the past. They tell us we should ask the state who we should let into USW. Not only is this ridiculous in theory, but we know of at least one case where an informant was given doctored files and released back onto general population to be a Lieutenant in a prominent LO in California. A piece of paper from a government agency should only be considered as one piece of evidence, not the sacrosanct truth.
The state is already putting a lot of energy into making us suspicious of our fellow revolutionaries; we should not make their job any easier. Instead we should be communicating with each other directly if we suspect unprincipled divisions are being fomented. Our struggle is too important to get caught up in rumor mongering and sectarianism.
Even if evidence does eventually come out which proves Aoki was providing the FBI with information that actually helped them attack the liberation struggle, we will still not be devastated. While we don't agree with Fred Ho's subjectivist methodology of defending Aoki overall, we do have unity with his perspective on the consequence of truth in the allegation. "If Aoki was an agent, so what? He surely was a piss-poor one because what he contributed to the movement is enormously greater than anything he could have detracted or derailed."(6) This view is right in line with our view on how to maintain security within the anti-imperialist prison movement; don't give a pig the opportunity to do more damage than good. Distributing information on a need-to-know basis and applying high standards to different levels of membership will help ensure people contribute more to the cause than to the enemy.