Rogue One is the backstory behind the very first episode of Star Wars ever produced (which is now chronologically number 4 in the unendingly profitable Star Wars series of movies). In this movie we learn how the rebel alliance managed to get a copy of the blueprints for the Death Star, a critical piece of information used to destroy that weapon. This movie is an impressive example of how well-funded elements of capitalist culture can spend millions of dollars in order to make a profit off of entertainment: the estimated budget was $200,000,000. Imagine what could have been done with those resources in a system guided by peoples' need instead of profit.
For this money we get a story that has some progressive elements but also many questionable and reactionary messages. Rogue One is about the rebel alliance's fight against the Empire. This could be a great anti-imperialist analogy. And there are some solid themes of revolutionary sacrifice and the oppressed coming together to fight a common enemy in a united front. But in the end it is individualism that wins, as of course that makes for a more exciting story in our culture.
This episode is a fairly satisfactory effort to stitch together episode 3 and episode 4, and provides us with a better explanation for why the Death Star could be completely destroyed with one good shot. The saboteur behind this weakness gives us one of the many examples of revolutionary sacrifice in this movie. It also offers an example of how resistance is possible from someone who is forced into a situation where there seems to be no resistance. While this character is depicted as having unique skills, eir course of action serves as a good example of the existentialist axiom that we always have a choice. This may serve as inspiration for those in the imperialist countries surrounded by class enemies, or those in isolation cells with no contact with the outside world but occasional letters.
While revolutionary sacrifice is a strong theme with many characters in the Rebellion, this message is not inherently anti-imperialist as it will likely reinforce those fighting for U.$. empire who believe what they are doing is good. The Empire in the movie, rather than being an example of the evils of imperialism, continues to come across as a caricature of what Amerika thinks of communism. Everyone wears the same uniform and is forced to work for the military dominance of the world under the leadership of one egotistical leader. But for those with a revolutionary mindset, we can pretend this was meant to represent the imperialist empire, and root for the Rebellion and honor their sacrifices.
There is a group that resembles Arab militants who have taken up focoism against the Empire, and who the Rebel Alliance grudgingly wants to work with. In some ways this is better than the average portrayal of Arab peoples in Hollywood movies, where they are often just the terrorists. But in this case they come across as not smart enough to participate in a united battle, just doing what their leader directs, in random focoist attacks. Still a rather stereotypical picture.
The Alliance itself appears to be a united front of various species from around the universe who are working together to defeat the Empire. This could be seen to parallel the united front of oppressed nations that will be necessary to take down U.$. imperialism. In humyn history we have strong examples of united fronts within nations, such as China. But the multinational united front and the joint dictatorship of the proletariat that will likely be necessary after defeating U.$. imperialism are things that we have little experience with. Fred Hampton's Rainbow Coalition in Chicago was an early form of such a united front, but it was repressed before an anti-imperialist war could emerge.
The movie uses this united front to promote ultra-leftism and individualist acts of desperation. When they get bogged down in fighting over whether or not they should take military action or run and hide, a small group of fighters take independent action because they don't know anything but war. These are the brave heroes of the movie. The main disagreement within the united front was over whether or not it was possible to win in a fight against the Death Star. This debate over tactics could have been a good lesson in struggle and unity, perhaps greater gathering of information and a testing of various tactics to learn from practice. Instead there was a short verbal fight and then a decision that no action could be taken because of all the disagreement, portraying the united front as futile.
Rogue One did feature more female characters than the average Hollywood movie, but the main characters were born into their roles, rather than rising up to take positions out of conviction and hard work. While the lead male characters overcame great hardship, or fought against persynal circumstances, to take up the rebel struggle. And still the vast majority of the characters seen in the movie are male, an odd feature for a society so far in the future. Clearly the patriarchy still dominates in Star Wars.
Star Wars movies all feature reference to "The Force" to greater or lesser degrees. In this storyline The Force is basically turned into a religion, practiced only by one Asian man who blindly guards the temple (literally, he is blind). This man's blind faith (it's not very subtle) becomes an important part of the rebel fight. And at one point this faith saves the day, again promoting a sort of ultra-leftism.
With all of these failings, MIM(Prisons) can't recommend Rogue One for anything more than critical analysis.
In this issue of Under Lock & Key MIM(Prisons) set out to report on revolutionary organizing in wimmin's prisons in the United $tates.(1) Self-determination for the internal semi-colonies won't be won by males alone, and yet our subscriber list is overwhelmingly male. As a prison organizing group, we wanted to look at what is our role in resolving contradictions along gender lines, in our struggle toward national liberation and an end to Amerikkkan imperialism. The lumpen class has a strong training in male chauvinism, and prisons are an even more extremely masculine environment. If we are going to contribute to the resolution of gender contradictions, we need to consciously put effort into it.
We solicited articles from many current and former prisoners on this topic, but in the end we received very little response. This coincides with our overall reach into wimmin's prisons: while about 7% of the population in prison is locked up in wimmin's prisons, we do not have close to 7% of our subscribers located in these institutions. In this article we will explore the current state of imprisonment of females and some potential reasons for our limited reach and lower political involvement in institutions for wimmin.
MIM(Prisons) has long talked about gender oppression faced by prisoners in the United $tates. Gender is distinct from class and nation, and located within leisure time activities. Usually gender oppression is something suffered by biological females. But in prison, where the vast majority of the population is male, we still see significant gender oppression. When male prisoners are sexually assaulted by guards this is obviously gender oppression because it's based in "leisure" time. But there are other aspects of this gender oppression, including the Amerikan legacy of lynching New Afrikan men for supposedly raping white wimmin, which is an example of white females having gender power over New Afrikan males. So it's not so straightforward as just looking at biology to determine who is gender oppressed. And as on the streets, gender interacts with nation to complicate the situation in prisons.
Females make up 18.4% of all people under supervision of the adult correctional system (prison, jail and probation).(2) They are 6.7% of federal prisoners(3) and 7.2% of state prisoners.(2) The higher percentage of females in jails and on probation reflects the lesser severity and shorter sentences compared to males. Because our reach is mainly in prisons, that is what we will focus on here.
Many have commented on the dramatically increasing female prison population in the United $tates, especially as the recent growth rate was so much higher than the rate for males. Between 1995 and 2005 the number of male prisoners grew 34% while the number of female prisoners grew 57%.(4) Overall, females went from 11% of all arrests in 1970 to 26% in 2014.(5) However, the U.$. prison population peaked in 2009 and has been dropping slowly since then. The total change between 2004 and 2014 was a 1% drop in prison population. Over that same period the male prison population dropped 1.2% while the female prison population increased 1.4%. Since 2004 the number of females in prison has bounced up and down every few years with a peak in 2008, a drop from 2008-2012 and then an increase in 2013 and 2014. The dramatic increases in incarcerated females prior to 2004 seem to have leveled off, and there are no clear trends since 2004.(2)
What we can conclude from the numbers above is that the imprisonment rate for females is growing faster than the rate for males, but the growth is relatively slow in recent years and the overall number of females in prison is so much smaller than the number of males that it would take many many years of significant growth to get close to equal incarceration rates between males and females. It is still true that when we talk about prisons in the United $tates we are overwhelmingly talking about prisons for men.
New Afrikans and Chicanas are disproportionately locked up compared to white females (twice the rate for New Afrikans and 1.2 times for Chicanas). But these statistics mean that a much larger proportion of people in female prisons are white than in the male prisons which locks up New Afrikans at almost 6 times the rate of white males and Chicanos at more than twice the rate of whites.(6) And in female prisons the disparity has been decreasing in recent years with incarceration of white females increasing at a faster pace than other nationalities.
Below we examine two possible explanations for MIM(Prisons)'s limited reach into facilities for wimmin. 1. We are not doing a good job addressing issues that are important to this population and so they're just not interested in working with us. 2. Females in prison are less political than males in prison. If the former is true, we hope that this ULK will inspire readers to write to us and tell us what we're missing. We do, however, see some solid evidence that the explanation is the lack of political interest among female prisoners.
We need to consider what might cause female prisoners to be less interested in our work than their male counterparts. Those who do write to us often comment on the complete lack of interest among their fellow prisoners. And while we hear this plenty from men's institutions, we also hear many more stories from the men's prisons about activism and interest. In addition, some of the wimmin who write to us are transgender and held in male institutions, with this experience contributing greatly to their political awareness.
Based on our experience and what evidence we can find from studies of prisoners, we believe that wimmin are less likely to be locked up long term, less likely to be put in solitary confinement, more likely to have family waiting for them on the outside, and less likely to have been active members of a lumpen organization prior to or during their term. These are mostly conditions of wimmin in general in the United $tates, and so reasonable assumptions to make. We are by no means suggesting that imprisonment of females in this country is free of abuse or anything other than a product of a system built for social control. But females who are swept up in the net of widespread incarceration are often not the primary targets of the system. The stats on nationality make this clear.
One might argue that gender oppression in wimmin's facilities is scaring people locked up there into unwillingness to reach out to MIM(Prisons). However, we see that increased repression in men's prisons generally results in increased political interest. We get many letters describing threats resulting from political activism or even just education leading people to greater interest in men's facilities. And historically, on a global scale, greater oppression has led to greater resistance, by nation, class and gender.
Overall we think the lower percentage of people in wimmin's facilities reaching out and getting involved with MIM(Prisons) validates our theory about what leads prisoners to becoming politicized. Significant factors include: solitary confinement, lumpen organization involvement, significant repression, censorship and conditions of abuse. Essentially, repression breeds resistance (as long as the repression isn't so extreme that prisoners face total censorship, or health conditions so bad that they are unable to function). We regularly hear that widespread access to TV and other privileges really does buy prisoners out of political interest and activism. This is not a surprise in a country of wealth and privilege where the vast majority of the population enjoys petty bourgeois lifestyles.
Further supporting this theory is our anecdotal experience that trans wimmin are interested and active behind bars. We know they face significant repression distinct from the general prison population. So it is not surprising that trans prisoners are driven to political awareness and activism.
Unique Challenges in Wimmin's Prisons
While material conditions, as analyzed above, play a role in the appeal of proletarian-led communist revolution to any population, we also need to look at our own attempts, or lack of, to organize with this population. MIM(Prisons) has not made a concerted effort to connect the struggle for national self-determination with struggles in wimmin's prisons. With this ULK we hope to spark that conversation.
With that said, we need to look at what unique challenges are faced by people locked up in facilities for wimmin. This will help determine if we are not addressing the issues that are important to these prisoners.
The battle to maintain or regain custody of children is one issue more prevalent in facilities for female prisoners. In 2006 (and other studies suggest this number is pretty constant in recent years), more than 65% of females in state prisons and 55% of males in state prisons had children under 18 years of age. 64% of these mothers lived with their children before prison, compared to 44% of fathers.(7) While this is a pretty big difference, the overall magnitude of the impact of imprisonment isn't close: there are so many more fathers in prison than mothers in prison. One possibility is that mothers who fear losing custody will do anything they can to keep clean and get out quickly, and this focuses them more on doing their time quietly than fighting abuse.
Sexual assault is another potential issue that may affect female prisoners more than males. In a PREA survey of former prisoners from 2008, 10.5% of females reported prisoner-on-prisoner sexual assaults compared to 2.7% of males. Staff-on-prisoner sexual assault was also more commonly reported by females (2.5%) compared to males (1.1%).(8) We are skeptical of these numbers, especially since the taboo against reporting sexual assault is even greater for males and so it's hard to say if these statistics represent a meaningful difference between the experiences in wimmin's and men's prisons. Even if it does, we wouldn't expect this abuse to lead females away from political activism. But it is perhaps an issue we need to expose more often to address the large portion of wimmin who are facing this abuse.
The Path Forward
It is important to connect our political line with our strategy and tactics, and engage in the scientific process of developing that line as we learn from our practice. While in this article we have focused on facilities for wimmin and organizing of females behind bars, this is a bigger question of how we mobilize females on the streets to join our revolutionary struggle. We are fighting against class, nation and gender oppression on a global scale, and this battle requires uniting all who can be united. Around the world we have examples of wimmin joining struggles for national liberation, taking up leadership in communist organizations, and historically in leadership positions in Communist China. While we see the national liberation struggle as principal at this point in history, we can not neglect the gender contradiction, both in the general fight against imperialism and in our own political practice.
While we are organizing for revolutionary change under imperialism it is important that we build independent institutions of the oppressed. These are institutions that do not have ties to the power structure that we are fighting to dismantle. For instance, Under Lock & Key is an independent institution serving prisoners. It gives us the freedom to write the truth about the criminal injustice system and imperialism more broadly without worrying about the interests of our owners and advertisers, which is a problem for those writing for mainstream newspapers. Another good example was the Black Panther Party's free breakfast programs for schoolchildren program, which provided much needed food and political education, nourishing both body and mind. These independent programs often fall in the category of what we call Serve the People programs. The breakfast for schoolchildren is a good example of providing something that the people need, thus serving the people.
A group called Better Angels is working on an independent project that uniquely serves the peoples' need for security and safety from the police. This project, Buoy, is a tool to help people "call a friend, not the cops," when in need of help. This free software, which Better Angels is calling a "community-driven emergency dispatch system" will allow people to connect a network of people, within a smartphone app, who will be alerted when anyone in the network is in danger. The app includes a map so that the person in danger can be quickly located.
We see some very good applications for this tool: activists who are engaging in protest and who are threatened by the police may want to quickly locate all of their comrades and ensure no one is arrested or hurt. This tool includes the ability to set a timed alert, which will only notify a persyn's network if they do not cancel the alert. For instance, if you are entering a dangerous situation in the next 10 minutes you could set this alert and then if nothing bad happens and you cancel it within 10 minutes there is no notification sent out. But if you can not access your phone before the ten minutes are up the alert will be sent to your network.
This sort of network alert system gives people a good alternative to calling the cops, who are often a source of danger themselves. But we do have some security concerns about the project. Better Angels is encouraging organizations to set up Buoy networks and this means providing intelligence agents with easy access to information about these networks. This is not a concern for those groups that are using Buoy for persynal safety such as domestic violence organizations, campus safety groups, etc. But for activists, migrants, former prisoners and others, networking with larger organizations through Buoy could significantly increase the risk to the entire group as police catch on and monitor the whereabouts of everyone in a network, using alerts to notify themselves of potential situations of interest.
We'd recommend Buoy for people to use instead of the cops within their persynal networks. For instance, Buoy is a good tool if you are regularly harassed by the cops and want to set up an alert for support and witnesses when this happens. Or if you are crossing a border and risk being targeted by agents. Or if you are in a situation of persynal danger unrelated to the cops or government. But in all of these cases we think people will need to set up networks that are not directly linked to a political organization that is the target of government interest. And everyone should keep in mind that if they are doing political work against the government, their smart phones are likely monitored. And so any alerts sent to friends are also going to the cops.
It is difficult to set up independent institutions serving the oppressed and we commend Better Angels for its work. The Buoy project raises the very real need for an alternative to police intervention when people are in danger. Unfortunately the security problems with announcing this risk to the government via smartphone technology will limit the usefulness of this tool for activists.
We hope this project inspires others to think creatively about how revolutionaries can set up independent institutions of the oppressed, serving needs and also providing political education about these needs. Building these institutions is a key part of building the revolutionary movement.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been held in secret detention centers by order of the Amerikan government since 2001, first in Mauritania (the country where ey was born), then in Jordan, and finally in 2002 in Guantánamo Bay where ey is still imprisoned. Slahi voluntarily turned emself in to the Mauritanian police on 29 September 2001; sure that ey would quickly be cleared since ey was innocent of any crimes. Instead ey faced years of torture, through which ey initially maintained eir innocence, until it became clear that ey would never be released and ey could no longer stand the suffering. After that point Slahi began to confess to anything eir captors wanted em to say. Slahi still occasionally told them the truth when they asked directly, but for the most part their stories were not possibly consistent or confirmable since the "confessions" were entirely fabricated. But after ey began to make false confessions and falsely implicate others Slahi was allowed to sleep and eat, and the extreme physical abuse stopped. The details of eir torture will make readers wonder how Slahi held out for so long.
Slahi started writing down eir experiences in 2005 (after ey was finally given paper and pen) and after many years of legal battles eir heavily censored manuscript was finally released by the Amerikan government. This book is an edited version of Slahi's story, complete with the original redactions. The editor, Larry Seims, includes some speculation about what is behind the redactions and documents other declassified information that corroborates what Slahi wrote. In spite of heavy censorship, the released manuscript includes surprising detail about Slahi's experience including years of torture, the clear evidence that ey is innocent, and the Amerikan government's desire for a false confession.
The book is written in English, Slahi's fourth language, one that ey learned in prison in order to better communicate with eir captors and understand what was going on around em. For six and a half years Slahi's was allowed no contact with the outside world and was even hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which has a mandate under the Geneva Convention to visit prisoners of war and others detained in situations like Slahi's to ensure humane treatment. For the first year of incarceration Slahi's family didn't even know where ey was, they found out when one of eir brothers saw an article in a German newspaper. In 2008 Slahi was finally granted the "privilege" of twice-yearly calls with family. In 2010 Slahi's petition of habeas corpus was granted by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, ordering eir release. But the Obama administration filed an appeal and Slahi remains in custody.
Amerikan Imperialist Global Domination
The many people who were arrested and kidnapped from their home countries to be sent to Guantánamo Bay underscore the neo-colonial status of those countries. As Slahi explains "November 28th is Mauritanian Independence Day; it marks the event when the Islamic Republic of Mauritania supposedly received its independence from the French colonists in 1960. The irony is that on this very same day in 2001, the independent and sovereign Republic of Mauritania turned over one of its own citizens on a premise. To its everlasting shame, the Mauritanian government not only broke the constitution, which forbids the extradition of Mauritanian criminals to other countries, but also extradited an innocent citizen and exposed him to the random American Justice."(p. 132)
When the ICRC finally got in to see Slahi, the last detainee they were allowed to visit, they tried to get em to talk about abuse ey experienced. "But I always hid the ill-treatment when the ICRC asked me about it because I was afraid of retaliation. That and the fact that the ICRC has no real pressure on the U.S. government: the ICRC tried, but the U.S. government didn't change its path, even an inch. If they let the Red Cross see a detainee, it meant that the operation against that detainee was over."(p. 348)
This book underscores the power of Amerikan imperialism to do whatever it likes in the world. There is no government or organization able to stand up to this power. This is something that many Amerikans take pride in, but this is the power of a people who seek to dominate the world for economic gain. When the oppressed fight back, that power is deployed to squash the resistance by any means necessary. Of course there is a contradiction inherent in this power: Amerikan imperialist domination breeds resistance from the oppressed around the world. So-called terrorist attacks on Amerikan targets are responses to Amerikan terrorism across the globe.
As Slahi noted when ey was watching the movie Black Hawk Down with a few of eir guards: "The guards went crazy emotionally because they saw many Americans getting shot to death. But they missed that the number of U.S. casualties is negligible compared to the Somalis who were attacked in their own homes. I was just wondering at how narrow-minded human beings can be. When people look at one thing from one perspective, they certainly fail to get the whole picture, and that is the main reason for the majority of misunderstandings that sometimes lead to bloody confrontations."(p. 320)
We would not agree that it is just misunderstandings that lead to these bloody confrontations. Rather it is the blood thirst of imperialist aggression constantly seeking new sources of exploited and stolen wealth that inevitably leads to bloody confrontations.
While Slahi is far from politically radical, eir experience educated em in the reality of injustice and the definition of crime by those in power. Writing about eir arrest and initial imprisonment in Mauritania: "So why was I so scared? Because crime is something relative; it's something the government defines and re-defines whenever it pleases."(p. 92)
War on Islam
The target of Amerikan aggression changes depending on where there is the most resistance to imperialism. Back in the mid 1900s it was focused on the communist countries, this shifted to the "War on Drugs" and attacks on Latin America in the late 1900s, and then to the Arab world in the early 2000s. Slahi is acutely aware of this latest wave of aggression by the Amerikan imperialists targeting Islam and the hypocrisy of this attack:
"...Americans tend to widen the circle of involvement to catch the largest possible number of Muslims. They always speak about the Big Conspiracy against the U.S. I personally had been interrogated about people who just practiced the basics of the religion and sympathized with Islamic movements; I was asked to provide every detail about Islamic movements, no matter how moderate. That's amazing in a country like the U.S., where Christian terrorist organizations such as Nazis and White Supremacists have the freedom to express themselves and recruit people openly and nobody can bother them. But as a Muslim, if you sympathize with the political views of an Islamic organization you're in big trouble. Even attending the same mosque as a suspect is big trouble. I mean this fact is clear for everybody who understands the ABCs of American policy toward so-called Islamic Terrorism."(p. 260-61)
Slahi also documents the denial of religious practice in detention camps:
"But in the secret camps, the war against the Islamic religion was more than obvious. Not only was there no sign to Mecca, but the ritual prayers were also forbidden. Reciting the Koran was forbidden. Possessing the Koran was forbidden. Fasting was forbidden. Practically any Islamic-related ritual was strictly forbidden. I am not talking here about hearsay; I am talking about something I experienced myself. I don't believe that the average American is paying taxes to wage war against Islam, but I do believe that there are people in government who have a big problem with the Islamic religion."(p. 265)
Slahi misses that this chauvinism is not at root a problem Amerikans have with the Islamic religion. Rather it is a problem they have with oppressed people who rise up to oppose Amerikan imperialism. Islam is just one of many targets because it is a religion of the oppressed. The Amerikan government (and its people) had no problem with Islam when al-Qaeda was an ally in the fight against communism. In fact Slahi himself trained with al-Qaeda for six months in Afghanistan, but this was during the time when that group was supported by the Amerikan government and fighting against the Soviet-backed government in that country. This action was legal for Mauritanian citizens, and in fact encouraged by the Amerikan government. Nonetheless this fact became one of the cornerstones of the Amerikan insistence that Slahi was behind the World Trade Center attacks, among other things.
Will Amerikans Oppose Torture?
After years of torture and unjust imprisonment at the hands of the Amerikan government Slahi remains relatively moderate in eir views about the country and its people. Ey sees fundamental good in all people, a view that communists share, but one that has blinded Slahi to the economic interests of the vast majority of Amerikans which leads them to support the torture in Guantanamo even after reports like this one are released.
"What would the dead average American think if he or she could see what his or her government is doing to someone who has done no crimes against anybody? As much as I was ashamed for the Arabic fellows, I knew they definitely didn't represent the average Arab. Arabic people are among the greatest on the planet, sensitive, emotional, loving, generous, sacrificial, religious, charitable, and light-hearted.... If people in the Arab world knew what was happening in this place, the hatred against the U.S. would be heavily watered, and the accusation that the U.S. is helping and working together with dictators in our countries would be cemented."(p. 257)
The reality is that most people in the Arab world do know about Amerikan injustice. In fact, in Mauritania the police told Slahi "America is a country that is based on and living with injustice"(p. 134) when Slahi asked why they were extraditing em when they believed ey had already proven eir innocence. And it is this knowledge that leads to many taking up the fight against Amerikan imperialism. At the same time most Amerikans now know about the torture of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and still public sentiment is far from outraged at these actions. Large portions of the population rally around political figures like Donald Trump when ey calls for more torture.
From all of this we see further evidence for the potential of Islam as a liberation theology for those fighting against Amerikan imperialism. Just as the masses in Latin America were drawn to Catholic liberation theology as a reaction to oppression and injustice in that region, segments of any religion are likely to adapt to popular sentiments. Liberation theology was a valuable ally for the revolutionaries in Latin America.
Regardless of the format this liberation struggle takes, we know that the oppressed people of the world can not wait around for Amerikans to wake up and stop the torture themselves. Now more than a year after Slahi's book was released (which even spent some time on the best seller's list), still nothing has been done about eir situation. The masses must liberate themselves; their captors will never willingly give up power. And the Amerikan people are enjoying the spoils of the captors, so most Amerikans are happily going along with imperialist torture worldwide.
September 9, 2016 will be the fifth annual Day of Peace and Solidarity demonstration in prisons across the United $tates. This is an opportunity for prisoners to commemorate the anniversary of the Attica uprising and draw attention to abuse of prisoners across the country through a 24-hour day of education and building peace, where some units will exercise a work stoppage and fast. The annual demonstration was initiated in 2012 by an organization in the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP), and has been taken up as an annual UFPP event, with people participating all across the country.
This demonstration aligns with the UFPP principle to build unity among prisoners who have a common interest in fighting the oppression of the criminal injustice system. Prisoners are taking the 24 hours to engage in solidarity building and education, ceasing all prisoner-on-prisoner hostilities. This is a small, but meaningful step in building a United Front among prisoner organizations and individuals committed to the anti-imperialist movement. It is an opportunity to come together, publicize the UFPP and assess our progress. To stand in a united front, we do not need to agree on every political issue, but we must come together united around core principles to build and stand as one. The unity building starts well before September 9 for those who are engaging others to participate in the action. It is a long slow process of education and organizing to build the anti-imperialist movement.
We recently learned about another call to action for 9 September 2016, a "Call to Action Against Slavery in America".(1) The people who issued this call wrote: "On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves." This call for a country-wide work stoppage in prisons coincides with the UFPP solidarity demonstration and so we take this opportunity to comment on the similarities and differences.
First we want to say that we are always happy to see people taking up organizing and trying to build unity behind bars. There are some very good points taken in this call to action, particularly in the recognition of the growing protests in prisons across the country and the importance of this resistance. With our focus on building a United Front among prisoners we would hope to work with these folks to broaden our movement. We are not sure if the organizers were unaware of the work the UFPP has been doing on a September 9 protest for five years, or if they purposely decided to initiate a separate action due to disagreements with the UFPP. Our attempts to reach out to organizers have so far been unanswered.
Tactically, we are both promoting a commemoration of the Attica uprising, and a work strike might be included in some prisoners' plans for the Day of Peace and Solidarity. While a one-day strike is more symbolic than anything, we do see power in the ability of prisoners to "shut down" facilities by not doing the work to keep them running for a potentially longer period. However, the organizers behind this more recent call are taking the work strike to the level of a line question, which we have strong disagreements with. They focus on a work strike because they are focused on abolishing what they see as "slavery" in U.$. prisons. However, for Marxists, slavery is a specific economic system that involves the ownership of people in order to exploit their labor. Slaves have exchange value, just like other objects that are bought and sold. This exchange value for people is the basis of a horrible system that involves the capture and purchase of humyns. People confuse prison labor with slavery because there are some significant similarities: prison labor does involve workers receiving very little or no pay, and like slaves prisoners are given housing, food and other basic necessities while held in captivity. But we can see clearly that there is no exchange value to prisoners because states must pay other states to take their prisoners. This is the opposite of slavery where people pay to buy slaves.
Further, in order to call prisoner labor slavery there must be exploitation. We can see that this exploitation (prisons actually profiting from prisoner labor) only exists for a tiny portion of U.$. prisoners.(2)
States like Texas and Louisiana do have significant productive industries reminiscent of the slave days. But for most, this is not the reality. Prisons require huge infusions of federal and state funds in order to operate. If they were making a profit off of prisoners' labor this drain on public funds would not be required. Instead prisoner labor is only offsetting a small portion of the operating cost.
Some people tell us this is just semantics, arguing about the definition of a term rather than talking about the very real problem of prisons torturing humyn beings while allowing the real criminals to run the government and capitalist corporations. But this recent call for protest against prison slavery underscores why these definitions are so important. The organizers of the September 9 protest against slavery wrote: "When we abolish slavery, they'll lose much of their incentive to lock up our children, they’ll stop building traps to pull back those who they’ve released. When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the US prison system, the entire structure of courts and police, of control and slave-catching must shift to accommodate us as humans, rather than slaves." This statement is not true, and it ignores the economic reality of prisons which receive over $60 billion a year in state and federal funds to cover operating costs. Why would the government run a money losing business? Certainly not for economic gain!
The economic motive of slavery is not the driving force behind prisons. And even if we don't call it slavery, economics are not the reason we have prisons. While it is true that lots of people get very high salaries, and many companies make buckets of money by serving the prison system, this is just a redistribution of profits taken from exploitation of Third World workers. That's why it has to come from the government allocated to the prisons. And that $60 billion could be funneled into any other project that provides jobs for the Amerikan labor aristocracy just as easily and all those guards and other prison workers would be just as happy. Prisons are a convenient way to redistribute imperialist superprofits to the labor aristocracy within U.$. borders, but they are definitely not the best option if economics were the sole consideration.
It is critical that activists and revolutionaries understand that Amerika has built an enormous criminal injustice system as a tool of social control. Prisons are used to lock up oppressed nations and activists. The history of prisons in this country clearly demonstrates this. We saw a huge rise in incarceration starting in 1974 after the revolutionary movements of that time were targeted by the government. Until that time there was a relatively low and stable rate of imprisonment in this country. Then the lockup rate of First Nations, New Afrikans and Chican@s rose to vastly disproportionate numbers relative to whites starting in the 1970s. These historical events and economic facts make it clear that Amerikkkan prisons are used for social control, not for profits.
The organizers of the anti-slavery protest are misleading people into believing that shutting down prison work will shut down prisons. It will cause difficulties, and is a very valid tactic for exerting power as a group. But prisoner labor itself is not the principal contradiction in prison. We guarantee that if we were to reach the unity to wage an extended work strike across U.$. prisons, that Amerika would figure out how to keep the oppressed locked up.
We call this a failure to recognize the principal contradiction. In this case we are talking about the thing that will best push forward the prisoners' fight against oppression. Fighting against something that doesn't exist (slavery) is certainly not the best way forward. But even if we don't call it slavery, fighting against prisoner labor as if the end to prisoner work will put an end to prisons is also incorrect, and will lead to a dead end. We see the need for unity among prisoner groups and individuals as critical to building a solid anti-imperialist prison movement. We think this addresses the real principal contradiction that the prison movement faces between the collective interests of the imprisoned lumpen and the individualist tendencies currently dominant among that class. This is why we organize on September 9 to build a Day of Peace and Solidarity. Get involved! Write to us for the September 9 Organizing Pack and get started building in your prison.
In 2001, reporters at the Boston Globe newspaper exposed widespread sexual abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church and the long-running coverup of this abuse by Church leadership. Priests who were known to have molested children were moved to new parishes where they repeated the abuse, with full knowledge of Church leadership. The Globe printed a series of stories that led to the resignation of Cardinal Law and great embarrassment for the Church. Spotlight dramatizes the work done by the reporting team at the Globe to uncover the facts in this case, and the resistance they faced in a city dominated by the Catholic Church.
Overall Spotlight does a good job demonstrating the tremendous harm that the institution of the Catholic Church did to thousands (likely tens of thousands) of youth, and the pervasive influence and power of the Church in the city of Boston, Massachusetts. No attempt is made to justify the actions of the Church leadership who covered for the abusive priests, nor does the movie suggest that anything was changed by the newspaper stories, instead concluding with a list of hundreds of cities around the world where similar abuse scandals were uncovered.
It is outrageous and enraging to see the stories of abused children, the lucky ones who made it to adulthood, and hear about Church authorities who, upon learning about these cases, moved to silence the abused, promising it would never happen again, even while they knew the priests had a history of exactly this same abuse against other children. It is an interesting contrast that, while quick to believe that all Muslims are terrorists when a small minority of them fight back against imperialism, Amerikans presented with so much evidence would never consider calling all Catholics child molesters. Even non-Catholics in the United $tates are well indoctrinated to believe that the churches are forces for good and Christianity is a religion of good people.
In the end the movie lets the Catholic Church off the hook. By focusing on just this sex abuse scandal, Spotlight portrays the rest of the Church activities as generally benevolent. Further, it implies that the abusive priests are just psychologically impaired in some way, and so this has allowed the Catholic Church to say they've solved the problem by introducing psychological screening for those wanting to enter priesthood. We believe it is the very institution of the Catholic Church, along with the patriarchy that it so ardently supports, that leads priests to be indoctrinated into eroticizing power over helpless young kids. It's not a flaw in the individual, but rather the system itself that is flawed, and not in a way that can be fixed by psychological screenings. Religion has a long history of supporting the patriarchal dominance of male power and reinforcing gender inequality.
One problem with focusing on the serious harm the Catholic Church does to Amerikkkans is the omission of the even greater harm the Church has done globally. Consistently a force for reaction, the Church at best has pretended neutrality while watching dictators murder, plunder, and oppress entire nations of people. Just as Spotlight shows the power and influence of the Catholic Church in all levels of Boston's city politics, in many cases there is documentation of this Church's support for and work with reactionary governments around the world.
As a strong centralized religious institution with a long history, the Catholic Church is an easy target for people looking to document the reactionary role of religious institutions. But they are just one example of the harm religious institutions have on society. After overthrowing the imperialists and putting a government in power that serves the interests of the oppressed (a dictatorship of the proletariat), the people will have the power to ban reactionary institutions. When we see the tremendous harm that the Catholic Church did to so many children over so many years, it should be obvious that this institution should be outlawed. And those who perpetuated and covered up the molestation should face the people's courts. There is no justification for allowing such dangerous institutions to continue.
Yet, we don't need to outlaw religion as a belief under the dictatorship of the proletariat. As Mao explained about their policy in China under socialism:
"The Communist Party has adopted a policy of protecting religions. Believers and non-believers, believers of one religion or another, are all similarly protected, and their faiths are respected. Today, we have adopted this policy of protecting religions, and in future we will still maintain this policy of protection." (Talk with Tibetan Delegates, October 8, 1952)
It is not that we want to force people to change their beliefs. Rather we think that once we eliminate reactionary culture and institutions and teach all people how to reason with dialectical materialist methodology they will give up old ideas and beliefs that are not based in science. Just as Confucianism was discarded by most Chinese so too will other religions be discarded by humynity as we advance towards a world without the oppression of groups of people.
In this issue of Under Lock & Key we take on the issue of social control in prisons through long-term isolation, commonly known as control units (CUs). CUs are permanently designated prisons or cells in prisons that lock prisoners up in solitary or small group confinement for 22 or more hours a day with no congregate dining, exercise or other services, and virtually no programs. Almost 50% uf ULK subscribers are in CUs, while this is true for less than 5% of the overall prison population in the United $tates.
This topic comes up a lot in ULK because control units are used to punish and isolate prisoners speaking up against the criminal injustice system, those with influence over others, and even those who just won't go along with the programmed repression of everyday prison life. Our prisoner activist comrades, United Struggle from Within members are often found in these long-term isolation cells, still writing for ULK and organizing others in whatever way they can. The real purpose of these control units is exposed in "Control Units: Social Control for Semi-Colonies in the United $tates," and several articles on validation for activism. Control units attack our ability to organize and are yet another way the prisons foment divisions between prisoners.
We know that long-term isolation has serious mental and physical health consequences. The conditions are eloquently exposed in the article on the Delaware Prison System. And the dangerous health effects are discussed in the article "Who's Defining Mental Illness?"
The use of control units is expanding within the Amerikan criminal injustice system and the past and future growth of control units are explored in the review of the book "Out of Control" and our summary of recent results from our own control unit survey.
With all this information on the development and purpose of control units we need to turn to activism and what we should be doing to fight back. Many of the articles listed above offer insights and options. And for the overall development of the movement we call attention to the article on the September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity and the lessons for the United Front from the Bandung Conference. By building a United Front for Peace in Prisons we are laying the groundwork of unity and peace to take on important battles like the one to abolish control units.
The fight against prison control units is important for the anti-imperialist movement, but it can only be waged in the context of the broader struggle. We might win some reforms and gain some freedom for our activist comrades behind bars, and better conditions for the general prison population, but until we dismantle the criminal injustice system we won't be able to effect systematic change. And that will only happen with the overthrow of imperialism because, as is clearly exposed in this issue of Under Lock & Key, prisons are a critical tool of social control for the imperialists. There's no way the imperialists will give up that control, and they always look for new ways to spin national oppression to sound tolerable and even necessary to the Amerikkkan public.
Control Unit Survey Responses
MIM(Prisons) has been soliciting for data on control units for the past several issues of ULK. We're forced to do this because there is no central information source on control units in prisons in the United $tates. Even for states that publish data on their population and report on the existence of control units, the counts of prisoners housed there are not always accurate. and there is a trend to downplay and under report on control units. Whether this is by giving them a different name (administrative segregation, super max security, security risk housing, tiers, etc.) or by refusing to talk about these long-term isolation cells altogether, this subterfuge and denial is evidence that the prisons know control units are cruel and unusual punishment.
In response to the frequently heard question of how would we deal with crime differently, first we point out that we do not agree with a definition of crime that allows the biggest murderers and thieves to run the government and military. Once the people have power to control the definition and enforcement of laws to be in the interests of humynity and not profit, we'll be able to thoroughly deal with the real criminals. We hold up the example of prisons in China during the Cultural Revolution to show how communists handle crime and justice. Prisons in China during that time were places of political education and retraining. Landlords, capitalists, and spies were given an opportunity to understand their crimes against the people, to make self-criticism, and to learn new and useful skills so that they could return as productive members of society. This is in direct contrast to the Amerikan criminal injustice system, which builds recidivism and isolates politically active and influential prisoners in control units without even a pretense of education or rehabilitation.
We received 54 responses to the control unit survey over the past year and this article summarizes some of the new findings.
The respondents broke down by state as follows:
AR, DE, FL, KS, MD, ME, MO, NV, OR, SC, UT
AZ, CT, IL, PA, TN, WI
The high response rate from Georgia, Texas and California is at least in part reflective of the activism going on in those states, as well as the control unit prisons and cell blocks that have proliferated in those states. In many cases we received data on the same prison from multiple sources.
While close to half of the survey respondents did not report on the year the control unit opened (presumably because they didn't know), 12 of the units reported on opened in the past 2 years. That's a lot of new prison control units. This includes prisons in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maine and California.
Some prisons are control units in their entirety. Modeled after the first long-term isolation prisons in Marion and Lexington, these facilities are entirely dedicated to long-term solitary confinement. But most control units these days are separate sections within an existing prison. This might be a whole yard, several units, or just specific cells. This makes it more challenging to count the number of control unit beds/prisoners accurately, and gives the prisons a way to hide their torture programs within regular prisons.
The reasons given for locking prisoners up in long-term isolation vary, but most come back to some sort of justification based on safety and security, citing a history of violence or fighting, or rule violations. In many prisons there is a policy of locking up "Security Threat Group" members, also known as "gang members," for which validation is arbitrary and punitive, as we discussed extensively in Under Lock & Key 41. As one prisoner explained: "If you are politically conscious and write about such they claim 'gang activity'." Several others described the arbitrary nature of control unit assignment, explaining what gets people into these units in their prisons: "COs will falsify the lock up order and sergeant and lieutenant will go along", "Any and everything. Such as litigator-grievance filer", and "No information in inmate handbook. As far as known, administrative discretion."
Most people were unaware of new control unit prisons being opened or planned for in their state, but 13 people reported on known plans for new control units. This underscores the importance of our work to shut down these torture chambers.
Many survey respondants reported on the conditions in these control units. Below are some of the representative descriptions:
"Subpar treatment of prisoners, small food portions, withholding of property, mail, etc."
"They are all sensory deprivation torture at its best"
"We don't get yard correctly or food in proper proportions"
"Barbaric, human degradation less than dogs receive at the pound"
"We are locked in for 24 hours a day. Shower, sometimes every other day for 30 minutes. We get outside recreation for 5 hours once every 7-10 days"
"Each cell here only gets 30 minutes a day of dayroom and 3 hours of yard a week"
"They lie on us, beat us up, starve us, they don't give proper medical attention"
"While in segregation for almost four years, myself and other prisoners were subjected to the most inhumane and barbarous treatment. There were periods in which we went months without getting showers. In my almost 4 years here, I had recreation/exercise maybe 20 times. Prisoners would be stripped out, completely naked in their cells for days. Prisoners would be gassed/maced with multiple cans of this toxic agent – guys were sprayed so regular and with such large quantities of gas, they many of them had built up physical and psychological resistances to the torture – guys would brag about being able to 'eat' the gas, and the officers were so use to using such large quantities of gas, if they gassed someone with only one can and the person coughed and choked, they'd say things like 'you lil' bitch, you can't even take a full can.' Prisoners would be denied food, prisoners were beaten with restraints on, prisoners were shot with the canisters of tear gas guns, while locked inside of their cell, and on May 7th or 8th of 2012, one mentally ill prisoner was allowed to hang himself, while the officers simply slept the night away. There are so many crimes that have been committed behind these walls by animals that have the audacity to call us (the least of these) criminal."
After the recent attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French satiric weekly magazine, there has been a lot of focus on the Muslim population in France. Islam is a religion and not a nationality, but because Muslims in France come predominantly from North Africa and the Middle East, anti-Muslim sentiments feed into xenophobia and attacks on national minorities. There are a lot of parallels between the situation for Muslims in France and the oppressed nations (such as New Afrikan, Chican@ and First Nations) within U.$. borders. And recently these contradictions have been exposed in French prisons as well.
French law prohibits asking people their religion and so no official statistics are collected on the size of the Muslim population. Based on a variety of studies it is estimated that about 10% (5 million) of the the people living in France are Muslim. The 3 million foreign-born Muslims in France mostly come from the former North African French colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.(1) Muslims in France face significant economic hardship and generally do not enjoy the spoils of imperialist plunder and exploitation shared with French citizens. Unemployment among youth (15-29 years old) in France in 2002 was at 15% for French citizens and 46% for migrants from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and Turkey. Even for immigrants with a college degree the rate of unemployment was twice that of natives with a college degree.(2) Similar disparities are seen in educational achievement by Muslims compared with non-Muslims. And a large portion of the recent immigrant population and their descendants are found in housing projects concentrated in and around France's large cities.
As we find in Amerikan prisons, the French imprisoned population is disproportionately from the oppressed nations. Although Muslims make up less than 10% of France's population, they constitute about half of France's 68,000 prisoners. (Overall France has a much smaller prison population than in the United States, with less than 1 per 1,000 residents locked up compared with the Amerikan imprisonment rate of 7 per 1,000.)
One of the Kouachi brothers involved in the Charlie Hebdo attack previously spent 20 months in prison just outside of Paris. Media reports are claiming that he was locked up for petty crimes and turned to radical Islam based on his education and exposure behind bars, and that it was there he met another Muslim convert in prison who helped with the Paris attacks. Detailed background on this man suggests he became involved with Islamic leaders on the streets, but did radicalize in prison. It's hard to say how much of this prison radicalization story is a ruse to justify targeting Muslim leaders behind bars.(3)
The Kouachi brothers, French citizens of Algerian parents, grew up in housing projects in Paris. They were poor and surrounded by others like themselves: national minorities in a country that is moving increasingly towards xenophobia. These national minorities find themselves isolated and disproportionately represented in the First World lumpen class.
A survey conducted in 2014 in France found that 66% of the French believe there are too many foreigners in France. 75% of the factory workers, who are part of that labor aristocracy which enjoys elevated non-exploitation wages and benefits, oppose France embracing globalization. The mass base for fascism is the labor aristocracy in imperialist countries,(4) and these same people are the base for the growth in support for the far-right National Front party which 34% of French people polled see as a credible political alternative.(5)
Kouachi's history in prison is being used to underscore France's concern about the radicalization of prisoners. Prisoners enter the system and learn about Islam from fellow captives. To address this "problem" French authorities are now experimenting with segregating those considered "Muslim radicals" from general population. This sounds a lot like long-term isolation or control units which are used in Amerikan prisons, torturing politically active prisoners. While details are sparse about the experimental units, prisoners subjected to these conditions are protesting the treatment. We can expect that this isolation will be used to target anyone who speaks out against the French government or other imperialist powers.
At the same time France does not appear to be slowing down the imprisonment of Muslims. For instance, in mid-January a 31-year-old Tunisian man was sentenced to 10 months behind bars after a verbal conflict with police in which he said that an officer shot in the recent attacks "deserved it."(6)
The French government is facing the contradictions of a criminal injustice system that we see in all imperialist countries. Using prisons for social control means locking up oppressed groups, those who are most likely to disagree with and disrupt the capitalist system. But targeting oppressed groups for imprisonment creates an opportunity for prisoners to quickly become educated and radicalized against the system that put them behind bars. This is the system itself creating the conditions of its own demise.
While prisoners alone will not bring down imperialism, the lumpen in First World countries are potential allies of the international proletariat. And national polarization and xenophobia will feed the development and political consciousness of this lumpen class.
Under Lock & Key 41 is focused on gang validation and step down programs in U.$. prisons. Gang validation is used as a justification for locking people in long-term isolation cells, commonly known as control units. Most civilians would say that controlling gang violence is a good thing, and that perspective is exactly what the criminal injustice system is relying on for its gang validation programs. The assumption is that all groups classified as gangs are engaged in criminal activity, and anyone in contact with the gang must be a member.
Let's put aside for now the reality that the U.$. military and police force is the biggest gang in world history. If anyone is organized in criminal activity and terrorism, it's them. That any U.$. government agency claims to be against gang activity without being critical of itself is just a joke.
Often, validation is based on secret evidence that the prisoner cannot challenge, and can include things like talking to the wrong persyn in the yard, being in possession of books on history and politics, or even sending someone a birthday card. In some cases validation is based on a prisoner receiving an unsolicited letter mentioning the name of another prisoner, or even just participating in MIM(Prisons) correspondence study groups. A Connecticut writer describes the difficulty fighting "evidence" about security risk group activity:
"In August I was taken to segregation because a prisoner got caught with 4 pages of Security Risk Group (SRG) paperwork and the pigz try to say one of the 4 pages was in my handwriting. Due to this assumption I was given a class A SRG ticket for recruiting, even though this prisoner signed a statement explaining the paperwork is his. I never gave it to him, and I never wrote it. The crazier thing is the prisoner who got caught with these papers was released back into Phase 3 (back into the block) and I sat in segregation for over a month till I was transferred back to Phase 1 in Walker Correctional Institution."
Once validated, it's very difficult to get out of isolation without giving the administration information (snitching) on others; information that many prisoners don't even have because they aren't actually members of the groups the prison has "validated." In the article "(Un)Due Process of Validation and Step Down Programs" cipactli gets into the politics behind these programs.
Some people who are validated are members of lumpen organizations (LOs), and the prisons use the "gang" label to make them out as scary and dangerous groups. But lumpen organizations are a natural response to national oppression, and many of these LOs have the potential to lead their members in anti-imperialist organizing. The unity and organization of LOs scares the imperialists and their lackeys. After all, LOs operate outside of the state-approved capitalist economy and serve a lumpen population whose interests are not tied up in that system, unlike the vast majority of U.$. citizens.
Often validation is used to target and isolate politically active prisoners who speak up and fight the criminal injustice system, whether or not they are part of an LO. Fighting against gang validation is an important part of the fight against prison control units and other methods of social control that target politically active prisoners. These comrades are the leaders of the movement against the criminal injustice system behind bars.
The overwhelming response to our call for information on validation for ULK suggests that a disproportionate number of readers of anti-imperialist literature are a target for gang validation (about half of our readers are in some kind of solitary confinement). This issue of ULK includes a variety of articles describing the false justifications used for validation, the targeting of activists, and the consequences of isolation and torture for those who are validated.
In this issue many writers describe their experiences with validation programs, and we also talk about ways to fight the validation system. Building unity among lumpen organizations in the United Front for Peace in Prisons, campaigning to shut down prison control units, and fighting the legitimacy of so-called step down programs are all ways we are attacking this problem from many sides. Prisons serve the imperialists as a tool of social control, and as is explained in the "(Un)Due Process of Validation and Step Down Programs" article, control units are a vitally important element of this system. We can use the contradictions inherent in the system which raises the political consciousness of those targeted for repression, and often throws together leaders who can join forces to build a broader movement. After all, the recent series of California hunger strikes were led by prisoners locked up in Pelican Bay's notorious control unit.
The U.$ government won't give up their tools of social control willingly. And in the end the criminal injustice system needs to be thoroughly dismantled, something we can't do until we overthrow the imperialists and replace them with a government serving the interests of the world's oppressed. But as a part of the work to build towards communist revolution we battle today to shut down prison control units and end the targeting of prison activists and oppressed nations.
The Communist Necessity by J. Moufawad-Paul Kersplebedeb 2014 Available for $10 from AK Press, 674-A 23rd St, Oakland CA 94612
This new book from J. Moufawad-Paul provides a good argument against reactionary trends in the First World activist movement over the past few decades, specifically tearing down the misleading ideologies that have moved away from communism and promote instead a mishmash of liberal theories claiming to offer new improved solutions to oppression. It comes mainly from an academic perspective, and as such takes on many minor trends in political theory that are likely unknown to many activist readers. But the main thrust, against what Moufawad-Paul calls movementism, is correct and a valuable addition to the summary of the recent past of political organizing and discussion of the way forward. Unfortunately, in illuminating the need for communist theory and scientific analysis Moufawad-Paul misses a crucial theoretical point on the petty bourgeois status of the First World. As such, his conclusions about the correct tasks for communists to take up are misleading.
Incorrect Line on the Labor Aristocracy
Moufawad-Paul does point out errors of those who have tried to take up communist organizing within unions: "Instead, those of us who have attempted to find our communist way within union spaces.... Bogged down by collective agreements so that our activism becomes the management of union survival; fighting for a union leadership that is only marginally left in essence..."(p136) But then he goes on to uphold the demands of unions without distinguishing between those representing the proletarian workers and those representing the petty bourgeoisie: "Immediate economic demands, of course, are not insignificant. We have to put food on the table and pay the bills,; we want job security and benefits. Solidarity amongst workers is laudable, and it would be a mistake to oppose unions and union drives because they are not as revolutionary as a communist party."(p137) Readers of MIM(Prisons) literature know that we have many books and articles detailing the calculations demonstrating First World workers income putting them squarely in the group of non-exploited owners of wealth who we call the petty bourgeoisie.
Moufawad-Paul concludes: "To reject economism, to recognize that trade-unions, particularly at the centres of capitalism, may not be our primary spaces of organization should not produce a knee-jerk anti-unionism, no different in practice than the conservative hatred of unions; rather, it should cause us to recognize the necessity of focusing our organizational energies elsewhere."(p137) This is a rather unscientific and wishy washy conclusion from an author who otherwise upholds revolutionary science to tear down many other incorrect theories. In fact it is only in the last pages of the book, in the "Coda" that Moufawad-Paul even attempts to take on this question of a "working class" in the First World and distinguish it from workers in the Third World:
"From its very emergence, capitalism has waged war upon humanity and the earth. The communist necessity radiates from this eternal war: capitalism's intrinsic brutality produces an understanding that its limits must be transgressed, just as it produces its own grave-diggers. How can we be its grave-diggers, though, when we refuse to recognize the necessity of making communism concretely, deferring its arrival to the distant future? One answer to this problem is that those of us at the centres of capitalism are no longer the primary grave-diggers.
"The permanent war capitalism wages upon entire populations is a war that is viscerally experienced by those who live at the global peripheries. Lenin once argued that revolutions tend to erupt at the 'weakest links,' those over-exploited regions where the contradictions of capitalism are clear. Thus, it should be no surprise that communism remains a necessity in these spaces — it is at the peripheries we discover people's wars. Conversely, opportunism festers at the global centres, these imperialist metropoles where large sections of the working-class have been pacified, muting contradictions and preventing entire populations from understanding the necessity of communism. Capitalism is not as much of a nightmare, here; it is a delirium, a fever dream."(p158)
But even while recognizing the pacification of "large sections of the working-class" in imperialist countries, Moufawad-Paul fails to undertake any scientific analysis of how large these sections are, or what exactly it means to be pacified. It sounds as though they still need to be woken from their "fever dream" to fight for communism. But these workers will be ardent anti-communists if we appeal to their economic interests. They have not just been pacified, they have been bought off with wealth stolen from the Third World, and as with the fascist workers in Germany under Hitler, they will fight to the death to defend their wealth and power over oppressed nations.
It is trade unions of these people benefiting from exploitation who Moufawad-Paul extols the readers not to reject with "a knee-jerk anti-unionism, no different in practice than the conservative hatred of unions." But in fact if he studied the economics of wealth with the same scientific passion he brings to the topic of communist theory overall, Moufawad-Paul would see that workers in imperialist countries have been bought over to the petty bourgeois class, and opposing their unionism is not knee-jerk at all.
Movementism and Fear of Communism
The bulk of this book is devoted to a critique of movementism: "the assumption that specific social movements, sometimes divided along lines of identity or interest, could reach a critical mass and together, without any of that Leninist nonsense, end capitalism."(p9)
This movementism is seen in protests that have been held up throughout the First World activist circles as the way to defeat capitalism: "Before this farce, the coordinating committee of the 2010 demonstrations would absurdly maintain, on multiple email list-serves, that we were winning, and yet it could never explain what it meant by 'we' nor did its claim about 'winning' make very much sense when it was patently clear that a victory against the G20 would have to be more than a weekend of protests. Had we truly reached a point where victory was nothing more than a successful demonstration, where we simply succeeded in defending the liberal right to assembly?"(p9-10)
Further, the movementists, and other similar self-proclaimed leftists of the recent past demonstrate an aversion to communism, though sometimes shrouding themselves in communist rhetoric: "All of this new talk about communism that avoids the necessity of actually bringing communism into being demonstrates a fear of the very name communism."(p29) He points out that this is manifested in practice: "The Arab Spring, Occupy, the next uprising: why do we look to these examples as expressions of communism instead of looking to those movements organized militantly under a communist ideology, that are making more coherent and revolutionary demands?"(p30)
Moufawad-Paul correctly analyzes the roots of the support for "insurrections" in the Third World rather than the actual communist revolutions. Real revolutions can have setbacks and fail to seize state power: "The lingering fascination with the EZLN, for example, is telling: There is a reason that the Zapatistas have received sainthood while the Sendero Luminoso has not. The latter's aborted people's war placed it firmly in the realm of failure; the former, in refusing to attempt a seizure of state power."(p46)
In another correct critique of these activists that MIM has made for years, Moufawad-Paul points out the problem with communists joining non-communist organizations and attempting to take over leadership: "...Occupied Wallstreet Journal refuses to communicate anything openly communist and yet is being edited by known communists..."(p50) Essentially these communists have to water down their own politics for the sake of the group, and they are doing nothing to promote the correct line more broadly.
Ultimately Moufawad-Paul sums up the anti-commnunism: "Even before this collapse it was often the hallmark of supposedly 'critical' marxism in the first world, perhaps due to the influence of trotskyism, to denounce every real world socialism as stalinist, authoritarian, totalitarian. Since the reification of anti-communist triumphalism this denunciation has achieved hegemony; it is the position to which would-be marxist academics gravitate and accept as common sense, an unquestioned dogma. Hence, we are presented with a constellation of attempts to reboot communism by calling it something different, by making its past either taboo or meaningless..."(p69)
And he cautions us that while some are now returning to communism in name, they are still lacking a materialist analysis of communist practice that is needed to bring about revolution: "Despite the return to the name of communism, this new utopianism, due to its emergence in the heart of left-wing academia and petty-bourgeois student movements, has absorbed the post-modern fear of those who speak of a communist necessity — the fear of that which is totalizing and thus totalitarian. The failure to develop any concrete strategy of overthrowing capitalism, instead of being treated as a serious deficiency, is apprehended as a strength: the movement can be all things for all people, everything for everyone, everywhere and nowhere..."(p151)
Moufawad-Paul correctly notes that for many academics and other petty bourgeois advocates of these new theories, the fear of communism is actually based in a fear of their own material position being challenged: "Here is a terrible notion, one that we avoid whenever we embrace those theories that justify our class privilege: we will more than likely be sent down to the countryside, whatever this figurative 'countryside' happens to be; we too will have to be reeducated. Most of us are terrified by this possibility, disgusted by the necessity of rectification, of being dragged down."(p96)
Sectarianism vs. Principled Differences
Moufawad-Paul includes some good discussion of the failure of movementist doctrine around so-called anti-sectarianism: "But the charge of sectarianism is leveled at every and any organization that dares to question the fundamental movementist doctrine."(p53) As he explains, "But principled political difference by itself does not amount to sectarianism, though it is often treated as such by those who would judge any moment of principled difference as sectarian heresy....Maintaining a principled political difference is itself a necessity, part of developing a movement capable of drawing demarcating lines, and even those who would endorse movementism have to do so if they are to also maintain their anti-capitalism."(p55)
The failure of coalition politics is summed up well: "When a variety of organizations with competing ideologies and strategies are gathered together under one banner, the only theoretical unity that can be achieved is the most vague anti-capitalism. Since revolutionary strategy is derived from revolutionary unity, the vagueness of theory produces a vagueness in practice: tailism, neo-reformism, nebulous movementism."(p129) This underscores why MIM(Prisons) promotes the United Front over coalition politics. In the United Front we have clear proletarian leadership but we do not ask organizations to compromise their own political line for that of the UF. A principled UF comes together around clear and concise points of unity while maintaining their independence in other areas. A good example of this is the United Front for Peace in Prisons.
The Need for Communism
Moufawad-Paul includes a good discussion of the need for real communist ideology, rooted in historical materialism and focused on what we need to do today rather than just building academic careers by talking about theories. "If anything, these movements, whatever their short-comings, should remind us of the importance of communism and its necessity; we should not hide from these failures, attempt to side-step them by a vague rearticulation of the terminology, or refuse to grasp that they were also successes. If we are to learn from the past through the lens of the necessity of making revolution, then we need to do so with an honesty that treats the practice of making communism as an historical argument."(p29)
He encourages the readers: "To speak of communism as a necessity, then, is to focus on the concrete world and ask what steps are necessary to make it a reality."(p31) And the way to figure out what steps are necessary is revolutionary science:
"Why then is historical materialism a revolutionary science? Because the historical/social explanation of historical/social phenomena is the very mechanism of class struggle, of revolution. And this scientific hypothesis is that which is capable of demystifying the whole of history and myriad societies, a way in which to gauge any and every social struggle capable of producing historical change.
"Hence, without a scientific understanding of social struggle we are incapable of recognizing when and where failed theories manifest. The physicist has no problem banning Newtonian speculation to the past where it belongs; s/he possesses a method of assessment based on the development of a specific scientific terrain. If we resist a similar scientific engagement with social struggle we have no method of making sense of the ways in which revolutionary hypotheses have been dis-proven in the historical crucible due to historical 'experiments' of class struggle."(p43)
Overall The Communist Necessity adds some much needed revolutionary scientific analysis to "leftist" activism and theories of the recent past. It is unfortunate that Moufawad-Paul did not apply this same scientific rigor to his analysis of classes. Only with both elements firmly understood will we be prepared to do our part to support the communist struggles of the oppressed world wide.