In recent months we've seen a huge number of people come forward with accusations of sexual harassment or assault against men in the entertainment industry, in politics, and well-known business leaders. And in many cases the exposures have encouraged more people to come forward, and the ending of careers. This has been followed by a #MeToo movement of wimmin stepping forward to say that these highly publicized cases are not just isolated incidents. The point of #MeToo is to show all wimmin experience unwanted sexual attention at some point in their lives, often repeatedly. This movement has progressive aspects, and here we will try to take readers to the logical conclusion of all this exposure of sexual assault.
The Aziz Ansari sexual assault allegations perhaps most clearly illustrate where the #MeToo movement must go if it is to really address the root of these problems. Ansari is a famous actor, comedian and filmmaker. In January a woman came forward anonymously with a detailed account of her sexual encounter with Ansari. The woman "Grace" described a very awkward and unpleasant evening in which Ansari repeatedly made sexual advances while "Grace" attempted to indicate her discomfort with what she called "clear nonverbal cues." When she finally said "no" to one of his sexual propositions Ansari backed off and suggested they dress and just hang out.
Ansari claims he thought the encounter was entirely consensual. Grace claims Ansari ignored all her attempts to put a stop to the sex. This case has led to a useful debate over where to draw the line in terms of what we call sexual assault. This case has led some (Grace supporters and Grace opponents) to point out that calling her experience sexual assault means we've all been sexually assaulted. Or maybe not everyone, but most wimmin at the very least. Because most wimmin can point to a situation where they were uncomfortable or unhappy but pressured by a man to proceed with sex.
Ansari was oblivious to Grace's lack of enjoyment, and her inability to clearly verbally express this points to a power inequality. In a truly equal relationship between two people, each would feel totally comfortable walking away at any point. And each would be carefully listening to what the other said (verbally and non-verbally). Whatever it is that stopped Grace from walking away, whether it's Ansari's fame or wealth, or just her training as a womyn to do what a man asks, it's undeniable that she was not able to just walk away.
This is the crux of the problem with attempting to reform away sexual assault while we live in a patriarchal society. Rape is non-consensual sex. And, as the Ansari case demonstrates, there are many situations in which wimmin aren't giving consent even though men think the encounter is totally consensual. We call this non-consensual sex what it is: rape.
When there is a power difference in a relationship, the persyn with less power is limited in their ability to consent. You can't freely consent when someone is holding a gun to your head. And similarly you can't freely consent when you fear economic consequences. Those are obvious inequalities. Someone who says "yes, please" in those situations simply can't be freely consenting. The Ansari case gets at more subtle inequalities, but ones that have a very real impact on people's ability to consent. In a society where inequality is inherent in every interaction, we can't expect people to have sexual relationships that are equal and consensual. The problem isn't that Ansari raped Grace. The problem is that all sex under the patriarchy is non-consensual. Grace just wrote about one of the more subtle cases of non-consensual sex.
All this sexual assault in Amerikan society isn't the fault of the men who are being called out. It's the fault of the patriarchal society. Grace proponents point out that it shouldn't be wimmin's responsibility to help men learn how to read their discomfort. Grace opponents complain that wimmin need to empower themselves and speak up and demand that their consent (or lack of consent) be respected. This is a good debate, and we actually agree with both sides. But it's the wrong debate to be having, because neither side can achieve their goal under patriarchy. A lifetime of training to respect power (the power of men, the power of money, the power of fame, the power of a teacher, the power of looks, the power of skill) can't be overcome with an assertiveness training class. And educating people to ask for consent at every step of the way won't help when someone feels they have to say "yes" to their teacher/priest/benefactor/mentor/idol.
Some might hope that other changes in Amerikan society will move us towards abolishing the patriarchy. People working gender oppression argue that having a womyn president who speaks out against sexual harassment, and getting in judges who will persecute people agressively, and the broad education and exposure of the #metoo campaign will eventually break down the gender power differential in this society. But even this level of reform won't change a fundamental system that is based on power differentials. We don't believe the patriarchy can be abolished under a system that is set up to help the rich profit off the exploitation of the Third World peoples.
The #MeToo movement is trying to show people how pervasive sexual assault is in Amerikan society. That's important. We need to take that further and show the link between power differentials in relationships and sexual assault. And we must be clear that these power differences will always exist under a capitalist patriarchy. We can't reform our way to pure and equal sex. Just as many wimmin are now dramatically calling out #MeToo, we dramatically call out #AllSexIsRape. Sexual assault is everywhere; revolutionary change is needed.
The United $tates locks up New Afrikans at a rate more than 5 times Euro-Amerikans. The rate for [email protected] is at least 1.4 times higher than whites, and the way the prisons collect information on "Hispanics" makes this number likely an underestimate.(1) This dramatic over-incarceration of oppressed nations in U.$. prisons isn't new. But the huge numbers of people locked up is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 1960s the disparity between incarceration rates was actually about the same as it is today. But the prison population was much smaller, so it impacted a lot fewer people.
In 1960, the white male incarceration rate was 262 per 100,000 white U.S. residents, and the New Afrikan male rate was 1,313; that's 5x the rate for whites. By 2010 this disparity had risen to 6x. This means New Afrikan men were six times more likely to be locked up than white men. This discrepancy had a much bigger impact in 2010 because incarceration rates skyrocketed starting in the 1970s, so that by 2010 the New Afrikan male incarceration rate was 4,347 per 100,000.(2)
In 2000 the discrepancy in incarceration rates between New Afrikans and whites actually started dropping, and by 2015 it was back down to the 1960 levels. Between 2000 and 2015 the imprisonment rate of New Afrikan men dropped 24%, while at the same time the incarceration rate of white men rose slightly. Among wimmin we see the same trend but with a 50% drop for New Afrikan wimmin and a 50% increase for white wimmin.(3)
We need to put these changes in context. The incarceration rate of New Afrikans is still ridiculously higher than for whites! National oppression in prisons has not been eliminated, not even close. At the current rate of change, it would take until around the year 2100 to hit imprisonment equality by nation.
But we can't ignore changes like these, especially when they are consistent over a 15 year period.
Prisons are used primarily as a tool of social control by the United $tates government. Oppressed nations have always been a threat because of the dialectical relationship between oppressed and oppressor. And so oppressed nations face the highest incarceration rates. And the biggest targets are those who are organizing for revolutionary change, as we saw with the massive COINTELPRO operations against the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Party in the 1970s.
So why would the criminal injustice system shift to lowering the rate of incarceration of New Afrikans but not doing the same for whites? One possible explanation is that changes to the criminal injustice system have been proceeding at different rates in cities and in non-urban areas. The drop in incarcerations rates has been largely driven by lower rates in cities while incarceration in rural areas has remained unchanged.(3) We may see these changes even out over time.
Post-emancipation proclamation, we have seen changes in national oppression in Amerikan society at various times in history. These changes generally happen in response to social movements. Reforms ranged from ending legal segregation to curtailing overt discrimination in arenas like housing, employment, and loans. But these reforms didn't actually put an end to these practices; the reality of segregation and discrimination continued, just shifted to more subtle or hidden forms. Nonetheless, we can say that in some regards conditions for oppressed nations within U.$. borders have improved. This is not surprising as the U.$. government can't really afford to have active unrest within its borders while it's fighting so many overt and proxy wars around the world. Imperialism is more stable when it can keep its home country population pacified.
In a wealthy imperialist country, the capitalists have the money to partly integrate the internal semi-colonies, buying them off with the benefits of imperialist plunder. But the national oppression is so entrenched in modern imperialist society that we don't anticipate full integration of these internal semi-colonies. And so we think it's likely the gap between white and oppressed nation imprisonment rates won't come close to closing. But the current trends in imprisonment rates are something to keep watching.
When it comes to guns and gun violence, Amerikkka truly is #1. According to The Guardian: "No other developed nation comes close to the rate of gun violence in America. Americans own an estimated 265m guns, more than one gun for every adult." Further, there is a mass shooting nine out of every ten days in this country. That's 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days.(1) These statistics define mass shootings as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter. That's a broader definition than is used by the government and many other statisticians. But it's illustrative of the tremendous gun violence happening in the United $tates.
Recent mass shootings, including the Las Vegas country music festival massacre, the shooting in a Southerland, Texas Baptist church, and the Orlando Pulse nightclub killings have led to a lot of discussion about gun violence in the United $tates. While there is a long history of mass shootings in this country, various analyses confirm that incidents are on the rise.(2)
In reality mass shootings are just a small part of gun deaths in the United $tates. Over 400 thousand people died from gun violence between 2001 and 2013, the majority (over 200,000) were suicides. Mass shootings only made up about 3% of the homicides in 2017 so far.(3) But there is little discussion of all the other gun-related deaths.
Gun violence in general doesn't bother most Amerikans. It certainly doesn't make it into everyday conversation. The mass shootings are unique in that they appear random and unpredictable. They introduce an element of fear into everyday life for Amerikans who like to think their lives are charmed and protected by citizenship. Especially white Amerikans. And this is a uniquely white phenomenon. The vast majority of mass shootings in public places (71%) between 1982 and 2012 were perpetuated by white men.(2) That's quite a disproportionate representation as "non-Hispanic" white men make up about 1/3 of the general population.
An epidemic of mental illness?
When perpetrated by white people, politicians bend over backwards to explain that the shooter was mentally ill. Mental illness is a convenient cover story to dismiss all of these incidents as the fault of the individual. Something that couldn't have been prevented. And this mental illness is easy to "prove," since we generally define mental health to include not indiscriminately murdering people.
Rather that attribute all this violence to individual mental illness, communists look at society and social causes. If we believe that all these folks are mentally ill, shouldn't we be concerned that Amerikans are suffering from an epidemic of mental illness unseen in other nations? Even by the capitalists' own psychology argument about fault, there must be something systematically wrong in this country.
An analysis that looks beyond the individual will quickly conclude that there is something wrong with Amerikan society that it's producing all of these mass killers. But it's not that Amerika just has an over-abundance of crazy people who like to go on shooting sprees. These mass killings are a direct result of Amerikan capitalism, its culture, and its gun-mongering. People who are floundering for a purpose in their lives latch on to this culture.
Capitalism lacks the ability to provide most people with a meaningful purpose in life. The individualist focus of capitalism teaches Amerikans that they should make money, and then spend that money to enjoy life. Also maybe throw in some meaningless sex for fun. But this doesn't lead to a strong sense of purpose or self-worth. Especially for those who don't succeed at the money-making, or at the sex. So we end up with lots of people depressed, and without a way to address what is wrong with their lives. This is just one of many contradictions of capitalism. Even those benefiting financially from the system can end up feeling purposeless and depressed.
It should not be lost on readers of ULK that all this talk about mass shootings is explained away by mental illness but any individual of Arab descent who carries out an act of violence is labeled a terrorist. White men are not considered terrorists, they're just ill. Muslims (and non-Muslims who come from a predominantly Muslim region) resisting imperialist domination and violence are "terrorists."
Capitalism = violence
Another contradiction for capitalism is the promotion of violence. The imperialists raise up war and the killing of "enemies" as a heroic act. This is necessary because war for the imperialists is a critical part of conquering the land and people who supply natural resources and labor to create capitalist profits. And war is also important to keeping those people oppressed when they try to rise up and resist.
Capitalist culture glorifies this war and killing. The Vietnam War was the last truly messy war from the perspective of Amerikans. The draft forced men into the army who didn't want to go fight, and most people knew someone who died or was injured. That war was hard to glorify, especially when it involved massacring peasants who just wanted to control their land and their lives. But now, with an all-volunteer army, capitalism has grown more and more cavalier with its glorification of war. The imperialists have also worked hard at marketing these wars, stressing the danger (drugs, terrorism, or whatever is the latest war du jour) that threatens the Amerikan way of life.
With this glorification of war comes a cultural onslaught of violence. We have movies about war, and video games about war, and serialized TV shows about the government engaged in geo-political war games (not to mention cop shows). Violence is as Amerikan as apple pie. And guns are just the current device used in that violence.
All these Amerikan gun-related deaths reveal the moribund nature of capitalism. It can't even keep control of its own privileged citizens. This is not a stable system. There are some strong reasons why even privileged Amerikans should oppose capitalism.
What about gun control?
In the short term, restricting access to guns by Amerikans would probably lead to a reduction in random shooting events. A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that for every 1 percent increase in gun ownership levels in a state, there was a corresponding 0.9 percent increase in the firearm homicide rate.(4)
But stricter laws like this always lead to greater restrictions on oppressed people and political activists first and foremost. So we should never suggest the government should increase its powers at the expense of the freedom of the people. Gun control laws were used against groups like the Black Panther Party, who carried guns in self-defense in response to police indiscriminately harassing and killing Black people. Theirs was a righteous protest against a murderous police force. And they acted within the law, carrying guns for protection. So the government, backed by white organizations like the National Rifle Association, changed the law, specifically so that the BPP could not display their guns in public. This display of guns by New Afrikan revolutionaries was terrifying to white Amerika. It's easy for Amerika to enact more restrictive gun control laws when threatened by oppressed nations.
What will stop the violence?
Until we put an end to the capitalist system that encourages violence we're not going to see an end to random gun violence in the United $tates. This is one example of the benefit people in imperialist countries will get from our revolutionary project. They will no longer be allowed to live high off the exploitation of Third World peoples, but they won't have to exist in a culture that promotes senseless violence.
Unfortunately, there isn't a magic bullet. Even after capitalism is overthrown by a communist party representing the oppressed and exploited, the capitalist culture won't just disappear overnight. Maoists in China determined that a series of cultural revolutions would be necessary as a part of the transition from socialism to communism. Those cultural revolutions will fight against the ills so ingrained in us from capitalist culture. They will mobilize people to create new culture that serves the interests of the people. And over time, possibly over several generations, we will get rid of the rotten old culture of individualism, decadence and violence.
On June 13, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) released an Amerikan student, Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned there for 15 months. The student came home in a coma and died a few days later. According to Korean officials, Warmbier had been in a coma since shortly after his arrest due to complications from botulism, a condition that can be contracted from contaminated food, soil or water. It's likely that the imprisonment of Warmbier was just a political move by the DPRK government. He was convicted of stealing a propaganda poster.
What is unusual about Warmbier is that he was a young, well-off white guy, enjoying the privilege of his Amerikan citizenship and wealth by going on a fun adventure to visit north Korea. Amerika mostly targets lumpen from oppressed nations and non-citizens for imprisonment, as well as people who take up the fight against imperialism. So in this country Warmbier would be very unlikely to end up in prison.
In a parallel to this case in Korea, Amerikan prisons hold many non-citizens(9), especially from Mexico and Central America, locked up for small or bogus charges. If not for conditions caused by imperialism, these people want to go home to their country and families. Some don't speak English and so can't even fight for their rights. Some were railroaded into pleading guilty without really understanding the trial. And some of these prisoners will end up seriously ill or even die due to conditions in Amerikan prisons.(10)
We don't hold out hope that the white nationalists will offer a criticism of the "brutality of the Amerikan regime" for all these crimes against prisoners held behind bars in this country. It should be an embarrassment to Amerikans that the United $tates locks up people at a rate higher than any other country in the world. But this system of social control is swept under the rug, while appologists for imperialism hypocritically criticize the DPRK (and other countries) for their treatment of one Amerikan prisoner.
MIM(Prisons) struggles for an end to a system where prisons are places where people suffer and die premature deaths.
In Mao’s essay "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People," (27 February 1957) ey wrote of melding practice with criticism and discussion in order for our movement and the masses to grow to greater understanding, unity, and strength. The essay explains, when struggling over disagreements amongst political allies (friends), to start from a place of unity, struggle through discussion, and come away with greater unity. For short, we call this unity-criticism-unity. In this issue of Under Lock & Key we explore how this method applies to the prison environment. How can unity-criticism-unity help counter the typically hyper-violent method of handling disagreement in prisons?
"The only way to settle questions of an ideological nature or controversial issues among the people is by the democratic method, the method of discussion, criticism, persuasion and education, and not by the method of coercion or repression." - Mao Tse-Tung, ibid.
There are often situations behind bars that require first identifying who are our friends and then we can apply unity-criticism-unity among those people.
A comrade in California reported in ULK 55 about eir long struggle to build unity across different organizations in the yard at California Correctional Institution (CCI), leading up to a banquet with various lumpen orgs participating.(1) This was done through discussion and peaceful struggle, maintained even through some violent episodes. This is a good example of identifying friends even among those who may initially be unfriendly, and patiently working to build unity.
An organizer in South Carolina reported in ULK 53 on eir work fighting lumpen-on-lumpen violence by holding classes to educate the youth on what it means to have unity.(2) Educational classes are a good form of criticism of political line that doesn't involve attacking individuals' views directly, sometimes making it easier for people to accept the criticism and come to see why they are wrong. This holds true for both leaders and class participants. No one person has all correct knowledge in educational classes. Leaders should also be open to learning new things from participants.
It's not always easy to see someone as a political friend when you've had past beef with them. In "Building Unity Through ULK" (in this issue) there is a report from Arkansas about how two prisoners overcame past differences through political unity. And the article "From Cop to Anti-Imperialist" shows us the sometimes fluid nature of identifying our friends. Someone who was an enemy of the people while working for the police force has been won over to the side of revolution through circumstances in eir life that put them in the camp of the oppressed.
Finally, the public debate we are having with Zero, continued in this issue of ULK, is an example of building unity while engaging in political struggle. One which we hope to build on as we further our alliance with Zero and others.
Contradictions with enemies vs. contradictions among the people
"Since they are different in nature, the contradictions between ourselves and the enemy and the contradictions among the people must be resolved by different methods. To put it briefly, the former entail drawing a clear distinction between ourselves and the enemy, and the latter entail drawing a clear distinction between right and wrong." - Mao Tse-Tung, ibid.
First we must distinguish between contradictions with the enemy and contradictions among the people. In contradictions with the enemy, such as with the prison COs, or with the Amerikan imperialist government, we are not seeking unity and we should be clear and straightforward in our statements about them. Criticism of enemies is important because it keeps the revolutionary movement on point. We do this when we identify all the candidates in the imperialist elections as part of the imperialist system. We also do this when we call out white supremacists behind bars collaborating with the COs to attack New Afrikans.
In contradictions among the people, on the other hand, Mao wrote: "the essential thing is to start from the desire for unity. For without this desire for unity, the struggle, once begun, is certain to throw things into confusion and get out of hand." This is the opposite of how we deal with contradictions with our enemies. When we run into problems with people who should be our allies, we need to start from this desire for unity.
Contradictions with our comrades, including disagreements within our organizations, should be approached from a position of unity-criticism-unity. In practice this means starting from the understanding of where we have unity, and that our criticism of one another's line and practice is always with the goal of building even greater unity.
We should not just throw out criticisms for the sake of making someone look bad or tearing them down. Criticism must always be with the goal of building greater unity. Sometimes we will not come to agreement over the criticism, but we can at least come to better understanding of our disagreements. Perhaps we can agree on a way to test which position is correct, or further research we need to do, or maybe we will agree that the criticism is not significant enough to lead to a split as our areas of agreement are far more significant.
Who are "the people"?
The people are those who we should be approaching as friends, not enemies. Mao wrote: "The concept of 'the people' varies in content in different countries and in different periods of history in a given country." In revolutionary China, Mao was talking about contradictions among those who supported and were served by the revolution in China. The identification of the people in revolutionary China was relatively straightforward as it encompassed the vast majority of the population.
Identifying who are "the people" in imperialist countries, where we're surrounded by enemies of the international proletariat, is a more difficult question. Broadly, the people include those whose class, nation or gender interests are counter to imperialism, as well as all people who take up anti-imperialist organizing. More specifically, within the United $tates, the people whose class, nation and/or gender interests makes them potential allies includes:
1. Oppressed nation lumpen
2. The very small proletarian class (mostly migrant workers)
3. Petty-bourgeoisie from the oppressed nations
4. Youth of all nations, particularly students
5. Others who are marginalized by imperialism and the patriarchy (i.e. queer and trans folk)
Many of these people could be happily integrated into imperialism, but we should still approach them with a goal of building unity and not as enemies. For the most part however, when we talk about contradictions among the people, we're talking about contradictions with those who are already on the side of the oppressed — either due to circumstances or because they have consciously taken up the cause of the oppressed — not those who are actively supporting imperialism.
Distinguishing enemy lines from enemies
When looking at contradictions among the people it is important to distinguish enemy lines from enemies. We're all going to take up incorrect ideas and practices some of the time. That doesn't make us into enemies, even if the line we take up turns out to be pro-imperialist. Learning from our mistakes is part of being a revolutionary. Our job is to help our comrades identify their mistakes, and to be open to hearing from others when they point out our mistakes.
In the essay under discussion, Mao asked "how should our people judge whether a person's words and deeds are right or wrong?" In response ey laid out six criteria that applied to a country that was already socialist. We have modified these slightly below to apply to our current conditions.
1. Words and deeds should help to unite, and not divide, oppressed people of all nationalities
2. They should be beneficial, and not harmful, to anti-imperialist struggle
3. They should help to consolidate, and not undermine or weaken, the people's revolutionary organizations
4. They should help consolidate, and not undermine or weaken, democratic centralism
5. They should help to strengthen, and not shake off or weaken, communist leadership
6. They should be beneficial, and not harmful, to international socialist unity and the unity of the peace-loving people of the world.
The first three points apply to all anti-imperialists, and we would propose them as good criteria to use for all people who are building united fronts. The last three are specific to communists who are actively fighting for socialist revolution. Communists should apply all six points to our practice.
These six points and the strategy of unity-criticism-unity should be at the forefront as we refocus energies on building alliances and a united Maoist movement here on occupied Turtle Island. The USW Council is also in the process of putting unity-criticism-unity into practice to reach out across the prison movement to consolidate forces friendly to anti-imperialism and national liberation. We will continue to report back on these efforts in future issues of Under Lock & Key.
by Soso of MIM(Prisons) May 2017 permalinkMIM(Prisons) recently received notification from the publisher Seven Stories Press that we are in violation of copyright laws by making a PDF of The Huey P. Newton Reader available for free on our website. Copyright laws are a capitalist invention to enable the holders to make more profits. In the case of books, it's publishers (and sometimes the authors) that are making money on these copyrights.
For most of what gets printed these days, trashy novels, bourgeois interpretations of history and the like, we don't care that distribution is limited by copyright. But when it comes to revolutionary literature, especially that which is relevant to the people least able to afford it, we see clearly how copyright laws stifle education. Books about Huey Newton, founder and leader of the Black Panther Party, need to be more widely available.
MIM(Prisons) explicitly publishes everything under a creative commons license which invites everyone to build on, copy and share all that we write. We're not making money on our work, we're putting all of our money into spreading revolutionary education. And we want to encourage others to do the same.
Education should be free for everyone. This includes educational material like books. Intellectual property rights laws stifle creativity and education and also directly harm the welfare of the people. Patents keep drugs restrictively expensive by prohibiting anyone but the inventor from manufacturing the drugs. This system of legal restrictions and secrecy inhibits creativity and the advancement of society by preventing people from building on inventions made by other people. Meanwhile, people suffer.
It's only in a capitalist society, where profit is king, that we need these sorts of intellectual property restrictions. In a socialist society, where the goal is the welfare of the people, we will prioritize the most efficient and effective formula and distribution of life-saving drugs, educational material, and everything else that is good for humynity.
We are sympathetic that small publishers of political books like Seven Stories Press are in a difficult space to earn money. With new book releases it will often take a lot of book sales just to make back the cost of the printing. However, this doesn't make us sympathetic to copyright claims on a book that was first printed in 2002. Perhaps access to an electronic PDF is curtailing some sales of the physical book, but if free access is getting more people to read this important book, we think that's a victory.
We hope that Seven Stories Press will re-evaluate their goals. On their website Seven Stories claims: "Our credo is that publishers have a special responsibility to defend free speech and human rights, and to celebrate the gifts of the human imagination wherever we can." They have published some important and controversial books including the Dark Alliance series about the CIA and crack cocaine, All Things Censored by Mumia Abu Jamal, and the annual Project Censored's Censored report. Yet by shutting down the distribution of an important book about the ideology of the Black Panther Party in order to preserve their profits, Seven Stories is working counter to their credo.
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.