Lumpen: The Autobiography of Ed Mead
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CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne
As anti-imperialists and prison activists, we can recommend Ed Mead's recent autobiography as a useful read. There are a couple inconsistencies with the form and the line promoted in the book, however. While Mead critiques anarchism and reformism in the book, at the end is a list of a number of organizations that struggle for prisoners' rights, and they are all reformist/mass organizations with a couple anarchist groups thrown in. Mead stresses that he does not believe communists should hide their beliefs. Yet it is odd that he finds no communist prison support groups to be worthy of mention. Moreso, it seems that for much of Mead's life ey couldn't find a communist organization to be a part of and support.
We also must question the form of an autobiography. Our culture promotes the idea of writing one's own story. While this author has been told to write an autobiography multiple times, having lived much less of my life than Ed Mead, i don't plan to ever do so. I hope that if i do live as long as Mead i'm too busy fulfilling my tasks in a communist cadre org (or hopefully state by then) to spend a bunch of time writing about myself. Certainly there is some value in terms of the building of humyn knowledge of documenting the conditions of the time and places that Mead experienced. But it does not seem a high priority for communists. It was probably for this reason that i found the first chapters of the book tiring to read. I didn't really need to know all about Mead's family growing up to learn some lessons about how to organize with prisoners effectively. But perhaps that was my own problem as that was never a stated purpose of this book.
The foremost stated purpose of the book by Mead is to "extend an invitation to sections of the lumpenproletariat to join the international working class." While not a bad goal, it does hint at differences we have with Mead and other communists within California Prison Focus (CPF) regarding whether nation or class is the principal contradiction. This has led to divisions in our work to shut down Security Housing Units in California. In the 2000s, MIM was part of the United Front to Abolish the SHU, which was dominated by parties and organizations struggling for national liberation. While CPF was nominally a member, their difference on this issue led to a lack of working together. This was despite the fact that the United Front explicitly allowed for organizational independence in terms of political line outside of our agreement on shutting down the SHU. In the 2010s, CPF was part of the leadership that created the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. Mead was perhaps the only one who tried to include MIM(Prisons) in that effort. But the coalition structure forced us to the outside this time as MIM(Prisons) refused to subsume our politics to the coalition.
While recognizing whites as obviously having advantages over others, Mead does believe there is a significant white nation working class in this country. While citing Mao favorably multiple times, Mead points out Mao's failure to put class first as a point of disagreement.(p. 164) Mead's line is also reflected in an off-hand comment saying Stalin was wrong to condemn the German social-democrats as social-fascists. We think Stalin and the Comintern correctly saw the class nature and interest of the social democrats as being labor aristocracy and petty bourgeois, who wavered towards fascism, paving its way to power.(1)
Mead talks about "white skin privilege" and uses it as an agitational point to push people to join the class war while discussing eir participation in the militant George Jackson Brigade. Mead admits that eir decision to use revolutionary violence was a direct result of the lack of mass support for abused prisoners.(p. 181) At the same time ey mentions other groups at the time doing similar things and believing that small bands carrying out armed struggle would spread across the country. Mead does not conclude anywhere in the book that it was a mistake to take up this line even though comrades died, while the rest spent the prime of their lives in prison. As we discussed in a recent article on the Black Panthers, it was both common and understandable to conclude that armed struggle would become a reality in the United $tates at that time.(2) Yet, not only are conditions less advanced today, history also proved that armed struggle in the United $tates was premature in the conditions of 1966-72.
From what we know about Mead in real life and from reading the book, it is clear that ey was good at and focused on uniting all who could be united. And while we say it is better for communists to work within cadre organizations than mass organizations, as Mead did much of eir life, ey certainly did so in a principled way according to the book. And most of those principles are ones that we too support.
As mentioned, i came to this book in search of some lessons on anti-imperialist organizing in prisons. And while some of the stories are very abbreviated, the book is not short on examples of Mead's efforts, pitfalls and successes. Mead talks about the importance of determining the principal contradiction at each prison ey organized in. While in most cases ey sait it was related to nation, ey said it was related to sexism in Walla Walla, which led to the formation of Men Against Sexism.(3) Interestingly, Mead takes the position that while nation is principal inside prisons, it does not make sense to build a Black-only prison movement (at least on a large scale).(p. 280) We are sympathetic to this view and spend a lot of time calling for unity between nationalities in prison, while promoting national liberation as a strategy for the oppressed nations overall. A couple of good lessons are well-put in Mead's own words:
"...if the immediate demands address prisoners' rights and living conditions, then the backwards elements will either be won over or neutralized by the growing consciousness of the rest of the population."(p. 305) This was one of the most inspiring parts of Mead's story. In a situation where the prison system was dominated by one lumpen organization (LO) that was guided by self-interest, Mead had the revolutionary fearlessness to organize those victimized by the LO to build a mass movement that the whole population came to identify with.
"An organization that depends upon one person for direction is doomed to fail; each level of cadre should be able to take the place of a fallen or transferred comrade, even if that person occupies a leadership position."(p. 306) Mead learned this from experience, both in situations where ey was that sole leader and others where ey was surrounded by a dedicated cadre. Inspiring stories include the first strike ever at McNeil Island, which had 100% participation.(p. 139) While many of the challenges of prison organizing are still the same decades later, you'll find many other inspiring stories in this book as well. It demonstrates both the importance of the prison movement as part of the overall movement for liberation and against imperialism, while showing the limitations of a prison movement that is not complemented by strong movements on the outside. As the current struggle focused on police murders continues to ferment, we work to build a prison movement, and they will feed each other as we move towards the next revolutionary period in history.
Uhuru of the Black Riders Liberation Party - Prison Chapter: 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) by Dr. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Black Riders Liberation Party, the New Generation Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, under the leadership of General T.A.C.O. (Taking All Capitalists Out).
The original BPP arose out of an immediate need to organize and defend the New Afrikan (Black) nation against vicious pig brutality that was taking place during the 1960s and 70s; while at the same time teaching and showing us through practice how to liberate ourselves from the death grip of Amerikkkan-style oppression, colonialism and genocide through its various Serve the People programs.
The Black Riders Liberation Party (BRLP) came about in 1996 when former Bloods and Crips came together in peace and unity while at the Youth Training School (a youth gang prison) in Los Angeles. The BRLP, which follows the historic example set by the original BPP, is a true United Lumpen Front against pig brutality, capitalism, and all its systems of oppression.
The political line of the BRLP, as taught by our General, is Revolutionary Afrikan Inter-communalism, which is an upgraded version of Huey's Revolutionary Intercommunalism developed later in the party. Revolutionary Afrikan Intercommunalism is a form of Pan-Afrikanism and socialism. This line allows us to link the struggles of New Afrikans here in the Empire with Afrikans on the continent and in the diaspora. Thus Revolutionary Afrikan Intercommunalism is, in essence, revolutionary internationalism as it guides us towards building a United Front with Afrikan people abroad to overthrow capitalist oppression here in the United $tates and imperialism around the globe.
Our Black Commune Program is an upgraded version of the original BPP's Ten-Point Platform and Program, which includes the demand for treatment for AIDS victims and an end to white capitalists smuggling drugs into our communities. [The Black Commune Program also adds a point on ecological destruction as it relates to the oppressed. -MIM(Prisons)]
Mao recognized, as did Che, that every revolutionary organization should have its own political organ — a newspaper — to counter the psychological warfare campaign waged by the enemy through corporate media, and to inform, educate and organize the people. Like the original BPP newspaper, The Black Panther, the BRLP established its own political organ, The Afrikan Intercommunal News Service, and took it a step further by creating the "Panther Power Radio" station to "discuss topics relative to armed self-defense against pig police terrorism and the corrupt prison-industrial complex," among other topics.
Like the original BPP, the BRLP have actual Serve the People programs. When Huey would come across other Black radical (mostly cultural nationalist) organizations, he would often ask them what kind of programs they had to serve the needs of the people because he understood that revolution is not an act, but a process, and that most oppressed people learn from seeing and doing (actual experience). The BRLP's programs consist of our Watch-A-Pig Program, Kourt Watch Program, George Jackson Freedom After-school Program, Squeeze the Slumlord project, BOSS Black-on-Black violence prevention and intervention program, gang truce football games, and Health Organizing Project, to name just a few. These lumpen tribal elements consciously eschew lumpen-on-lumpen reactionary violence and become revolutionaries and true servants of the people!
Finally, the BRLP continues the example set by the original BPP by actively building alliances and coalitions with other radical/revolutionary organizations. George Jackson stated that "unitary conduct implies a ‘search' for those elements in our present situation which can become the basis for joint action." (1) In keeping with this view and the BPP vision of a United Front Against Fascism, in 2012 the BRLP launched the Intercommunal Solidarity Committee as a mechanism for building a United Front across ideological, religious, national and ethnic/racial lines.
While I recognize that the white/euro-Amerikkkan nation in the United $tates is not an oppressed nation, but in fact represents a "privileged" class that benefits from the oppression and exploitation of the urban lumpen class here in the United $tates and Third World people, there exist a "dynamic sector" of radical, anti-racist, anti-imperialist white allies willing to commit "class suicide" and aid oppressed and exploited people in our national liberation struggles. And on that note I say "Black Power" and "All Power to the People."
Wiawimawo of MIM(Prisons) responds: For this issue of Under Lock & Key we received letters attempting to feature the BRLP (like this one) as well as to critique them. For years, MIM(Prisons) and the readers of ULK have been watching this group with interest. We made a few attempts to dialogue directly with them, but the most concerted effort happened to coincide with the release of an attack on us by Turning the Tide, a newsletter that has done a lot to popularize the work of the BRLP. No direct dialogue occurred. We thank this BRLP comrade for the article above. The following is a response not directly to the above, but to the many statements that we have come across by the BRLP and what we've seen of their work on the streets.
On the surface the BRLP does have a lot similarities to the original BPP. It models its platform after the BPPs 10 point platform, which was modeled after Malcolm X's. The BRLP members don all black as they confront the police and other state actors and racist forces. They speak to the poor inner-city youth and came out of lumpen street organizations. They have worked to build a number of Serve the People programs. And they have inspired a cadre of young New Afrikans across the gender line. In order to see the differences between MIM, the BRLP, and other organizations claiming the Panther legacy today, we need to look more deeply at the different phases of the Black Panther Party and how their political line changed.
APSP, AAPRP, NBPP
The BRLP regularly presents itself with the tagline, "the New Generation Black Panther Party for Self-Defense." And it is not the first, or the only organization, to claim this mantel. The African Peoples' Socialist Party (APSP) was perhaps the first, having worked with Huey P. Newton himself at the end of his life. That is why in discussing the Panther legacy, we need to specify exactly what legacy that is. For MIM, the period of 1966 to 1969 represented the Maoist phase of the BPP, and therefore the period we hold up as an example to follow and build on. Since the time that Huey was alive, the APSP has shifted focus into building an African Socialist International in the Third World. We see this as paralleling some of the incipient errors in the BRLP and the NABPP that we discuss below.
While the APSP goes back to the 1980s, we can trace another contemporary organization, the All-African People's Revolutionary Party, to the 1960s.(1) The brain-child of Ghanan President Kwame Nkrumah, the AAPRP in the United $tates was led by Kwame Toure, formerly Stokely Carmichael. The AAPRP came to embody much of the cultural and spiritual tendencies that the Panthers rejected. The BPP built on the Black Power and draft resistance movements that Carmichael was key in developing while leading the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).(2) Carmichael left SNCC, joining the BPP for a time, and tried to unite the two groups. But the Panthers later split with SNCC because of SNCC's rejection of alliances with white revolutionaries, their promotion of pan-Afrikanism and Black capitalism. Carmichael's allies were purged from the BPP for being a "bunch of cultural nationalist fools" trying "to undermine the people's revolution..." "talking about some madness he called Pan-Africanism."(3)
In the 1990s, we saw a surge in Black Panther revivalism. MIM played a role in this, being the first to digitize many articles from The Black Panther newspaper for the internet and promoting their legacy in fliers and public events. MIM did not seem to have any awareness of the Black Riders Liberation Party at this time. There was a short-lived Ghetto Liberation Party within MIM that attempted to follow in Panther footsteps. Then the New Black Panther Party began to display Panther regalia at public rallies in different cities. While initially optimistic, MIM later printed a critique of the NBPP for its promotion of Black capitalism and mysticism, via its close connection to the Nation of Islam.(4) Later the NBPP became a darling of Fox News, helping them to distort the true legacy of the BPP. Last year the NBPP further alienated themselves by brutalizing former Black Panther Dhoruba bin Wahad and others from the Nation of Gods and Earths and the Free the People Movement. While there is little doubt that the NBPP continues to recruit well-intentioned New Afrikans who want to build a vanguard for the nation, it is evident that the leadership was encapsulated by the state long ago.
Readers of Under Lock & Key will certainly be familiar with the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, which was originally an independent prison chapter of the NBPP. Their promotion of Maoism and New Afrikan nationalism was refreshing, but they quickly sided with Mao and the Progressive Labor Party against the BPP and more extreme SNCC lines on the white oppressor nation of Amerikkka. They went on to reject the nationalist goals of the BPP, embracing Huey's theory of intercommunalism. The NABPP and the BRLP both embrace forms of "intercommunalism" as leading concepts in their ideological foundations. And while we disagree with both of them, there are many differences between them as well. This is not too surprising as the theory was never very coherent and really marked Newton's departure from the original Maoist line of the Party. As a student of David Hilliard, former BPP Chief of Staff, pointed out around 2005, Hilliard used intercommunalism as a way to avoid ever mentioning communism in a semester-long class on the BPP.(5) In the early 1970s, Huey seemed to be using "intercommunalism" in an attempt to address changing conditions in the United $tates and confusion caused by the failure of international forces to combat revisionism in many cases.(6)
Probably the most important implication of Huey's new line was that he rejected the idea that nations could liberate themselves under imperialism. In other words he said Stalin's promotion of building socialism in one country was no longer valid, and Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution was now true. This was in 1970, when China had just developed socialism to the highest form we've seen to date through the struggles of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which also began 50 years ago this year. Huey P. Newton's visit to China in 1971 was sandwiched by visits from war criminal Henry Kissinger and U.$. President Richard Nixon. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, who would go on to foster normalized relations with the U.$. imperialists, stated that China was ready to negotiate or fight the United $tates in 1971.(7) The Panther visit was a signal of their development of the second option. But after 1971, Chinese support for the Panthers dissipated as negotiations with the imperialists developed.
A bigger problem with Huey's intercommunalism was how do we address the Amerikkkan oppressor nation when ey claims there are no more states, there are no more nations? In eir "speech at Boston College" in 1970 ey specifically refers to Eldridge Cleaver's "On the Ideology of the Black Panther Party" in order to depart from it. Newton rejects the analysis of the Black nation as a colony of Amerikkka that must be liberated. That Cleaver essay from 1969 has great unity with MIM line and is where we depart with the NABPP and BRLP who uphold the 1970-1 intercommunalism line of Huey's.(8)
Black Riders and NABPP Interpret Intercommunalism
To take a closer look at the BRLP itself, let us start with General T.A.C.O.'s essay "African Intercommunalism I." Tom Big Warrior of the NABPP camp has already written a review of it, which makes a number of critiques that we agree with. He calls out the BRLP for accepting "race" as a real framework to analyze society, yet the NABPP line also rejects nation based on Huey's intercommunalism. At times, the NABPP and BRLP still use the term nation and colony to refer to New Afrika. This seems contradictory in both cases. Tom Big Warrior is also very critical of the BRLP's claim to update Huey's theory by adding African cultural and spiritual elements to it. This is something the Panthers very adamantly fought against, learning from Fanon who wrote in Wretched of the Earth, one of the Panthers' favorite books: "The desire to attach oneself to tradition or bring abandoned traditions to life again does not only mean going against the current of history but also opposing one's own people".(9) This revision of intercommunalism is one sign of the BRLPs conservatism relative to the original BPP who worked to create the new man/womyn, new revolutionary culture and ultimately a new society in the spirit of Mao and Che.
The NABPP is really the more consistent proponent of "revolutionary intercommunalism." In their analysis a worldwide revolution must occur to overthrow U.$. imperialism. This differs from the MIM view in that we see the periphery peeling off from imperialism little-by-little, weakening the imperialist countries, until the oppressed are strong enough to impose some kind of international dictatorship of the proletariat of the oppressed nations over the oppressor nations. The NABPP says we "must cast off nationalism and embrace a globalized revolutionary proletarian world view."(10) They propose "building a global United Panther Movement." These are not really new ideas, reflecting a new reality as they present it. These are the ideas of Trotsky, and at times of most of the Bolsheviks leading up to the Russian revolution.
Even stranger is the BRLP suggestion that, "once we overthrow the Amerikkkan ruling class, there will be a critical need to still liberate Africa."(11) The idea that the imperialists would somehow be overthrown before the neo-colonial puppets of the Third World is completely backwards. Like the APSP, the NABPP and the BRLP seem to echo this idea of a New Afrikan vanguard of the African or World revolution. MIM(Prisons) disagrees with all these parties in that we see New Afrika as being closer to Amerika in its relation to the Third World, despite its position as a semi-colony within the United $tates.(12)
The NABPP claims that "Huey was right! Not a single national liberation struggle produced a free and independent state."(13) And they use this "fact" to justify support for "Revolutionary Intercommunalism." Yet this new theory has not proven effective in any real world revolutions, whereas the national liberation struggle in China succeeded in building the most advanced socialist system known to history. Even the Panthers saw steep declines in their own success after the shift towards intercommunalism. So where is the practice to back up this theory?
We also warn our readers that both the NABPP and BRLP make some outlandishly false statistical claims in order to back up their positions. For example, the NABPP tries to validate Huey's predictions by stating, "rapid advances in technology and automation over the past several decades have caused the ranks of the unemployed to grow exponentially."(13) It is not clear if they are speaking globally or within the United $tates. But neither have consistent upward trends in unemployment, and certainly not exponential trends! Meanwhile, in an essay on the crisis of generational divides and tribal warfare in New Afrika the BRLP claims that the latter "has caused more deaths in just Los Angeles than all the casualties in the Yankee imperialist Vietnam war combined!!!"(14) There were somewhere between 1 million and 3 million deaths in the U.$. war against Vietnamese self-determination. [EDIT: Nick Turse cites Vietnam official statistics closer to 4 million] Los Angeles sees hundreds of deaths from gang shootings in a year. We must see things as they are, and not distort facts to fit our propaganda purposes if we hope to be effective in changing the world.
We will conclude with our assessment of the BRLP based on what we have read and seen from them. While we dissect our disagreements with some of their higher level analysis above, many of their articles and statements are quite agreeable, echoing our own analysis. And we are inspired by their activity focusing on serving and organizing the New Afrikan lumpen on the streets. In a time when New Afrikan youth are mobilizing against police brutality in large numbers again, the BRLP is a more radical force at the forefront of that struggle. Again, much of this work echoes that of the original BPP, but some of the bigger picture analysis is missing.
In our interactions with BRLP members we've seen them promote anarchism and the 99% line, saying that most white Amerikkkans are exploited by capitalism. BRLP, in line with cultural nationalism, stresses the importance of "race," disagreeing with Newton who, even in 1972, was correctly criticizing in the face of rampant neo-colonialism: "If we define the prime character of the oppression of blacks as racial, then the situation of economic exploitation of human beings by human being can be continued if performed by blacks against blacks or blacks against whites."(15) Newton says we must unite the oppressed "in eliminating exploitation and oppression" not fight "racism" as the BRLP and their comrades in People Against Racist Terror focus on.
This leads us to a difference with the BRLP in the realm of strategy. It is true that the original BPP got into the limelight with armed confrontations with the pigs. More importantly, it was serving the people in doing so. So it is hard to say that the BPP was wrong to do this. While Huey concluded that it got ahead of the people and alienated itself from the people, the BRLP seems to disagree by taking on an even more aggressive front. This has seemingly succeeded in attracting the ultra-left, some of whom are dedicated warriors, but has already alienated potential allies. While BRLP's analysis of the BPPs failure to separate the underground from the aboveground is valuable, it seems to imply a need for an underground insurgency at this time. In contrast, MIM line agrees with Mao that the stage of struggle in the imperialist countries is one of long legal battles until the imperialists become so overextended by armed struggles in the periphery that the state begins to weaken. It is harder to condemn Huey Newton for seeing that as the situation in the early years of the Panthers, but it is clearly not the situation today. In that context, engaging in street confrontations with racists seems to offer more risk than reward in terms of changing the system.
While the BRLP doesn't really tackle how these strategic issues may have affected the success and/or demise of the BPP, it also does not make any case for how a lack of cultural and spiritual nationalism were a shortcoming that set back the Panthers. BRLP also spends an inordinate amount of their limited number of articles building a cult of persynality around General T.A.C.O. So despite its claims of learning from the past, we see its analysis of the BPP legacy lacking in both its critiques and emulations of BPP practices.
While physical training is good, and hand-to-hand combat is a potentially useful skill for anyone who might get in difficult situations, there should be no illusions about such things being strategic questions for the success of revolutionary organizations in the United $tates today. When your people can all clean their rifle blind-folded but they don't even know how to encrypt their email, you've already lost the battle before it's started.
Finally, the BRLP has tackled the youth vs. adult contradiction head on. Its analysis of how that plays out in oppressed nations today parallels our own. And among the O.G. Panthers themselves they have been very critical as well, and with good cause. It is clear that we will need a new generation Black Panthers that is formed of and led by the New Afrikan youth of today. But Huey was known to quote Mao that with the correct political line will come support and weapons, and as conditions remain much less revolutionary than the late 1960s, consolidation of cadre around correct and clear political lines is important preparatory work for building a new vanguard party in the future.
A California prisoner wrote: In the article entitled "The Myth of the 'Prison Industrial Complex'", MIM(Prisons) quotes Loic Wacquant, reasoning that "fewer than 5,000 inmates were employed by private firms." MIM(Prisons) reasons that since "there is not an imperialist profit interest behind favoring jails ... the concept of 'PIC' is a fantasy."(2) This reasoning is fundamentally flawed. The definition, relied upon here, is not one used by the crusaders of that movement, but rather, is one attributed to the term by MIM(Prisons). In other words, I've yet to see an advocate who claimed that the entire premise of the prison industrial complex is based on direct prison labor for the "imperialist." The truth is, since there's nothing "complex" about direct prison labor, the MIM(Prisons)-attributed definition severely trivializes the true meaning of the PIC. The term has to mean more.
To avoid further distortions — and unreasonable deduction — let's look at the plain meaning of the term (see Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). (a) Prison, I believe, is self-explanatory. (b) Industry: a distinct group of productive enterprises; esp: one that employs a large personnel and capital. (c) Complex: a whole made up of, or involving, intricately interrelated elements.
In light of this definition, the question becomes does the apparatus referred to as the PIC represent a "distinct group of productive enterprises" that "employs a large personnel and capital," "made up of, or involving intricate interrelated elements"? Answer: Yes, of course. The conglomerate, that is the PIC, consists of hundreds of corporations and unions, including phone companies that literally engage in bidding wars to contract with the prison; the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, their labor union, is one of the biggest in the state, which isn't to discount the plumbers and electricians unions, big food and cosmetic companies, like Doritos, Colgate and many more, all garner impressive profits off of the prison population. Additionally, many small impoverished towns have routinely used prisons to stimulate their economies. And so, per definition, this intricate network of parasitic companies siphoning millions of dollars from both the government and our families does meet the definition of the term prison industrial complex. In a nutshell, while not disputing the facts relied upon by MIM(Prisons) in its article, I believe those facts are being misapplied in this situation. To keep using PIC is not inaccurate or "a fantasy."
Wiawimawo of MIM(Prisons) responds: The definition derived above from the dictionary is a literal interpretation of the words piecemeal and does not reflect how proponents of the term define it. If you look at definitions by those who use the term they usually allude to a collaboration between government and private industry. As we point out in the article being responded to, the term prison industrial complex is appropriated from the term military industrial complex, which we will take some time to explain in more depth to further demonstrate why prisons do not play a similar role under imperialism. We argue that to use the term PIC is to imply that prisons do play this role that is crucial to imperialism's economic success. Further, despite this critic's claim to the contrary, the line that prisons are profiting off of prison labor is quite commonly presented by those who use the PIC term. (See recent call by September 9th strike organizers for the most recent example)
War and prisons serve a similar role in oppressing other nations to enforce the will of imperialist interests on them. As we all know these days, prisons and torture are an integral part of U.$. imperialist excursions throughout the world.
What is militarism? MIM answered, "Militarism is war-mongering or the advocacy of war or actual carrying out of war or its preparations."(1) But what causes militarism under imperialism and what purposes does it serve? We already mentioned the important purpose of controlling other peoples. But there are other economic benefits to militarism under imperialism that are strong enough to lead humynity to war, to the slaughter of thousands of people. Namely, militarism can artificially increase demand enough to buoy a struggling economy, and war can solve problems of over-production under capitalism through its great destructiveness. It can do this because it is both productive in the Marxist sense, and destructive. In fact, one of our critiques of the PIC line is that the injustice system is not productive at all as the definition proposed by the reader above suggests. This makes it qualitatively different from the weapons industry.
The injustice system is not a productive system. Despite some small productive enterprises within it, U.$. prisons are designed to pay a bunch of people to do nothing while preventing a bunch of other people from doing anything. A large portion of working-age oppressed nation people are prevented from contributing to their nations economically or otherwise. Meanwhile prison guard unions are one of the most obvious examples of non-productive "labor" under imperialism.
As we've mentioned before, the military industrial complex represents a whopping 10% of U.$. GDP.(2) And as most of us know, under capitalism there is a problem when demand is not high enough. It is a problem of circulation. When capital circulation slows, profits decrease, so finance capital stops investing, and without intervention this leads to a self-feeding cycle of decreased production, decreased profits and decreased investment. Not only is production of war machines big, but it is mostly determined by the state. Therefore it becomes a useful tool for the state to interfere and save capitalism from crisis. It just needs to order some more fighter jets and things get better (maybe).
Now, the astute reader might ask, doesn't this create another downward cycle where the state has to tax the people, thereby decreasing their consumption rates, in order to buy all those fighter jets? Well, finance capital has developed much more complicated solutions to this problem than just taxing the people. It so happens that the state also controls money supplies, which of course is a primary tool for such Keynesian strategies for preventing crisis. But in addition to creating money out of nowhere, the imperialists are able to squeeze money out of their partners. In fact, the U.$. domination of military production is one way that it maintains its dominance in the world, controlling 31% of global arms exports.(3)
The Islamic State has been a great benefactor of U.$. militarism, snatching up advanced U.$. weaponry from local puppet forces. They are also the most popular of many strong movements influenced by Wahhabism, an ideology that evolved from Sunni Islam and is promoted by the House of Saud, the ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia. It just so happens that Saudi Arabia is the number one importer of U.$. war production, accounting for 11.8% of exports in that industry, followed closely by India, Turkey and then Taiwan.(4) These are countries that are largely able to fund their own military purchases, thus providing a great influx of money to the U.$. without having to tax Amerikans to increase production. So when people ask why the U.$. works so closely with Saudi Arabia while claiming to be fighting radical Islam, this is the answer, along with the fact that Saudi Arabia does its oil sales in dollars, which also props up the U.$. economy. In recent presidential campaigns we've seen Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigning for Saudi Arabia (and other countries) to do more to carry out war efforts against the oppressed to take some of the burden off of the United $tates.
Of course, much of the arms market is controlled not just by U.$. financial interests, but political interests as well. It is not a free market. In 2014, the Amerikans gave out $5.9 billion in foreign military aid, with Israel getting more than half of that ($3.1B), followed by Egypt ($1.3B), Iraq ($300M), Jordan ($300M), and Pakistan ($280M).(5) This accounts for around half of U.$. military exports. So these countries are big consumers of U.$. arms, with the help of subsidies from the United $tates itself. But that money is not just given away, much of it is in loans that must be paid back by those countries with interest and always with other obligations that benefit the imperialist countries.
All that said, the United $tates still spends far more on war than any other country. Amerikkka's own spending is an order of magnitude greater than what is exported to other countries. So our continued invasion of the Third World will be playing a bigger role in propping up the U.$. economy via the military industrial complex than all of its exports ($610B vs. something like $10B in exports).(3) But as long as those invasions enable imperialist profits, incomes in the First World can stay high, and the tax money to pay for war can continue.
Another reader recently wrote in response to another article on the same topic, "MIM(Prisons) on U.S. Prison Economy"(6):
"If it is MIM(Prisons)'s position that the prison industrial complex doesn't generate private profit for some, I would regard that line as practically irresponsible.
"I'm beginning to exit my comfort zone here. I don't have the vast field of data I have examined previously to my avail, but it is my determination that as capitalism advanced to imperialism, market capitalism evolved, or is evolving, toward the monopoly of all aspects of society."
One should not come away from our article thinking that our position is that no one profiteers off of prisons. We agree that there is a great trend towards privatization of state services in advanced capitalism. The first subheading in our article is "Profiteering Follows Policy," where we state,
"Private industries are making lots of money off prisons. From AT&T charging outrageous rates for prisoners to talk to their families, to the food companies that supply cheap (often inedible) food to prisons, to the private prison companies themselves, there is clearly a lot of money to be made. But these companies profits are coming from the States' tax money, a mere shuffling of funds within the imperialist economy."
And we also recognize that many individuals are benefiting from prison jobs. Yet when we call these people parasites, we are told that they are the exploited proletariat. But when we say that prisons are about national oppression, we are told that it is about profits because look at all the money the prison guards are making. The reality is, Amerikkkans support more prisons because they support national oppression. And some of them get paid to participate directly.
Our specific critique of the use of "prison industrial complex" is explained in more depth in the article "The Myth of the 'Prison Industrial Complex'", so we won't repeat that here. But in essence, the PIC thesis is deflecting the critique of the white oppressor nation's willing and active participation in the oppression of the internal semi-colonies for over 500 years on this continent, in favor of aiming attacks at the likes of Doritos and Colgate. Our critic above doesn't address those points, and therefore does not make a strong case for why it is a correct term. We think they are correct in their letter to us when they write, "Believe me, we — the actual 'oppressed nations' — don't care what you call it, just change it!" This reflects the reason why we do focus on prisons: it is a frontline issue for the oppressed nations in the United $tates, who are the principal mode for change in this country. So the prison movement is important in the anti-imperialist struggle in the United $tates, but not because prisons are economically important. The national question does make the current mass incarceration craze unlikely to go away under imperialism, but increased imprisonment is not vital to imperialism's continued success in the way that militarism is. And by having a correct understanding of the role that these things play in the current system we can better change the system.
In eir letter, the California prisoner also suggests that we should use PIC due to its popularity and maintaining the United Front. Well, "injustice system" was popular before PIC was, but some made a conscious decision to replace it with PIC. Those folks are coming from an academic background with a particular political line, and they are no strangers to Marxism. It is our job to put forth the political line of the proletariat in everything we do, which means a scientific and accurate assessment of all things. We do not think that using different terms will deter those interested in combating injustice in U.$. prisons. In contrast, we do believe that by failing to distinguish the revolutionary anti-imperialist position from that of the Liberal reformers, we will hinder real change from ever happening.
Should we only oppose the criminal injustice system when companies are making money off of it? No, we should oppose it all the time as a tool of national oppression and social control.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
by Stanley Nelson
This film screened in major U.$. cities in the fall of 2015. I was planning to use my notes in an article for our 50th issue on the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party. However, in February 2016 the film was shown on PBS with much publicity. Knowing that our readers have now seen the film we wanted to put some commentary out sooner rather than later. But do make sure to check out Under Lock & Key Issue 50 for a more in-depth counter-narrative to this pop culture film.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is an eclectic collection of video and photography, along with contemporary commentary from some who played important roles in the Party. The producer clearly had no deep ideological understanding of the Black Panther Party, as critics on the left and the right have already noted. What ey was good at was picking out some good sound bites and emotionally moving clips. Yet, even still, as someone with extensive knowledge of Panther history, i often found the film boring. Most of the audience seemed to enjoy it based on the loud cheering at the end.
I have not watched Stanley Nelson's other films, but it seems that a film on the Panthers is within the realm of previous documentaries ey has produced (Jonestown, The Black Press, Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer). It is curious that ey takes on these topics, and then does such a shallow portrayal of the Panthers. Nelson says ey was 15 when the Panthers formed and was always fascinated with them, but was not a participant in the movement emself.(1)
In line with the lack of ideological understanding, the treatment of Panther leaders was dismissive. The most in-depth discussion of Huey P. Newton was related to eir downward spiral into drugs and crime after the Panthers had been well on their way to dissolving. Nelson features sound bites from interviews calling Newton a "maniac" and Eldridge Cleaver "insane." Eldridge Cleaver was cast as a misleader from the beginning in this film. While both story lines are based in reality, the story that is missed is the great leadership role that Huey played, both ideologically and in practice, in building the greatest anti-imperialist organization this country has seen. At that time Eldridge too played an important role ideologically and organizationally, even if he was less consistent than Huey. Fred Hampton was given a more favorable portrayal by the film, but he died a martyr just as he was getting started. (And despite the attention given to Hampton's assassination there is no mention of him being drugged beforehand, presumably by an FBI spy.) There is a pattern of character assassination in the film that does nothing to deepen our understanding of what the Panthers were, why they succeeded, and why they failed. It will turn some people off to the Panthers and push people towards an individualist or anarchist approach to struggle.
To get an accurate portrayal of the Panthers one is better off watching archival footage, as today you can find ex-Panthers of all stripes, and very very few who uphold the Maoist ideology of the Panthers at their height. Former chairman, Bobby Seale, who long ago stopped putting politics in command, was barely mentioned in the film, perhaps because he refused to be interviewed.(1) Elaine Brown, who took over the chairpersyn position after the party had already moved away from a Maoist political line, does appear but has written a scathing denunciation of the film and asked to be removed from it.(2)
As other critics have pointed out there is a lack of mention of national liberation, socialism, communism, and the international situation overall at the time. It is ironic for a film titled "Vanguard of the Revolution" to ignore the key ideological foundations of the vanguard. This reflects a clear effort to build a certain image of what the Panthers were that ignores the basis of their very existence. As such, this film contributes to the long effort to revise the history of the BPP, similar to the efforts to revise the history of other influential revolutionary communist movements in history. This only stresses the importance of building independent institutions of the oppressed to counter the institutions of the bourgeoisie in all aspects of life and culture.
In the 20th century New Afrikans reached out to Islam in an attempt to find identity outside of Amerikkkan culture. In Islam they found history, identity, independence, integrity and a connection to the larger world, in particular the Third World. Today, revolutionary Islam is reaching out to New Afrikans and the First World lumpen. Just this month, an Al Shabaab-affiliated video was released featuring the stories of young men recruited from Minnesota who were martyred in Somalia fighting the African Union troops who serve their U.$. imperialist master. The first five minutes of this video is a pointed critique of the history of national oppression in the United $tates and the idea of race. It features footage from Rodney King to Michael Brown and uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri, prisoners from Georgia to California, and sound bites from Malcolm X to Anwar al Awlaki. It is an agitational piece that clearly promotes the national interests of New Afrika.(1)
In the video, Islam is presented as the answer to the racism and social hierarchy based on pseudo-biology that is inherent to Amerika. The conception of Islam as a liberation theology is not difficult to make given the prominence of the concepts of jihad, or Holy Struggle, and shahada, translated as witness or martyrdom. The Holy Struggle is to be one with Allah and to represent righteousness, truth and goodness as determined by Allah's divine wisdom. While jihad and shahada do not require armed struggle, martyrdom in battle for Allah's will is one way that Muslims can reach shahada according to the Qur'an.(2)
Throughout the stories of the Minnesota martyrs there is a theme of not fearing death, but rather running towards it. In regions where revolutionary struggle and political dissent of any form has been brutally crushed, Islam might fulfill a need in providing this basis for courage in the face of imminent death. There are many examples in history of the oppressed finding courage in a belief in their own immortality, but they generally did not end well for the oppressed. Ultimately, the myth of immortality may be good at recruiting cannon fodder, but it leads to recklessness and a lack of a scientific approach that is required for victory. We see the brazen unscientific approach to battle playing out in the Islamic State, which is now losing ground after a couple years of impressing the world with their successes.
"You can kill the revolutionary, but you can't kill the revolution." - Fred Hampton, National Deputy Chairpersyn of the Black Panther Party
Like the Muslim in jihad, the communist struggles to discover truth and goodness. But the communist serves the people, not Allah, so that goodness is relative to the real lives of humyn beings, and truth is that which changes the conditions of that reality. Whether we can serve the people better in life or in giving our lives will depend on the situation. But as most Muslims will agree, serving truth and goodness does not come in seeking death. Rather than finding our strength and resolve in myths, we look to this world to find strategic confidence in our victory. The vast majority of the world's people suffer under the current imperialist system. Yet that system depends on those same people to derive the profits that keep the system moving. So there is an inherent contradiction that will continue to play out in the form of class and national conflict until the exploitative system is destroyed and replaced with one that serves humynkind.
Islam is Growing
If there were to be a religion of the Third World proletariat, it would be Islam, just by the numbers. As of 2010, only 3% of Muslims lived in the imperialist countries, yet Muslims made up 23.4% of the world's population.(3) The Muslim-majority countries are dominated by young people, with over 60% of their citizens being under 30 years old today.(3) Thus the Muslim population is projected to increase, as Muslims will have birth rates twice the rest of the population for the next couple decades. The contradiction between youth and adults has always been an important one, with youthful populations being more open to change.
Of course, Islam has almost no influence in Central and South America and significant chunks of Africa and Asia. So Islam does not represent the Third World as a whole. But First Worldist chauvinism is just as likely to come in anti-Muslim rhetoric as it is to come in the form of racism these days. And it is interesting how its role among the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates has also emerged from the oppressor nation vs. oppressed contradiction, as we will examine in more depth.
It is of note that France, Belgium and Russia are the only imperialist countries that are predicted to have more than 10% of their populations Muslim by 2030.(3) In November 2015, France and Belgium were put under the equivalent of Martial Law in a search for radical Muslims in their countries. Paris remains under this oppressive police state months later. Following the attacks in Paris, there have been attacks in Russia and the downing of a Russian plane. Anti-Muslim nationalism is also rife in Russia, which has recently joined the war against the Islamic State in full force.
In the United $tates, Muslims make up a mere 0.9% of the population.(4) For this reason there is great ignorance of Islam, but Amerikkkans still share the anti-Muslim sentiments of other imperialist countries. 2015 saw the greatest number of attacks on Mosques in the United $tates on record, with a surge following the attacks by Muslims in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California.(5)
The imperialists have succeeded in creating a new race, that is Muslims, for the oppressor nation peoples to focus their hate on. Without this racism, there could be no bombings or occupations in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Yet the white nationalists, in their own twisted logic, can claim Islamophobia is not racism because its based in religion and not "biology." Academia and the media have jumped on this opportunity, presenting Islamophobic papers as legitimate research and reporting, in a form of modern-day phrenology. There have even been discussions online, no doubt dominated by Euro-Amerikans, about how being anti-Jewish is racist but anti-Muslim is not. It is amazing that in 2016, politricks still trumps science, and most people still believe in race. Racist has become such a powerful word due to a combination of the righteous struggles of the oppressed and the promotion of identity politics, that First Worldists are now convinced that Islamophobic chauvinism is not as bad as racist chauvinism.
Islam as Philosophy
When you study philosophy you will inevitably study many religious thinkers. To this day, you will find those who are very deeply involved in religions to be thinkers and philosophers who are trying to understand and use that understanding to interact with the world. As communists, we do the same. So it is no surprise that we often find ourselves in deep dialogue with those of different religious leanings. As we'll get into below, the underlying class makeup of different religions has more to do with how those religions engage with communism than anything else.
So what are we talking about then when we talk about religion? Religion is idealism with organized rituals. The organized rituals part is pretty straight forward. It implies that there is a group of people who adhere to the religion in order to participate in the rituals. And the rituals include all sorts of things from regular meetings, prayer, fasting, philanthropy, dressing up, studying texts, marriage, etc.
Idealism is a broader category of philosophy that includes religions. And there are different versions of idealism, as we might expect. What is common between the different versions is that idealism puts the mind as primary and matter as secondary or non-existent in terms of understanding the "real world." Prior to Hegel, who introduced the radical method of dialectics, idealism was generally metaphysical. Metaphysical idealism is the belief in predefined, static things-in-themselves. For example, for those who believe in one god as the creator, everything that exists is defined by an ideal image from that god. For idealists, there is a barrier between what we perceive through our five senses, and this pre-defined ideal. Philosophers like Kant, who Engels called an agnostic, falling between idealism and materialism, believed that the real ideal was unknowable, or knowable only through faith. For many religions, it is the task of the individual to attempt to know that ideal or absolute truth by following the rituals of their religion. In Islam, this is called jihad. The passing from the material world to the world of ideas is also called transcendence. Transcendence is a major theme of many religions.
For materialists there is no such thing as transcendence. We see that truth is obtained through our five senses in a constant process of gaining knowledge and understanding as a species through practice and the scientific method. There is no ancient scroll or secret key that will open our third eye allowing us to suddenly see and understand all the secrets of the world that are hidden from us by our senses. Or, as Engels puts it in describing why Hegel marked the end of philosophy:
"As soon as we have once realised — and in the long run no one has helped us to realize it more than Hegel himself — that the task of philosophy thus stated means nothing but the task that a single philosopher should accomplish that which can only be accomplished by the entire human race in its progressive development — as soon as we realise that, there is an end to all philosophy in the hitherto accepted sense of the word. One leaves alone 'absolute truth', which is unattainable along this path or by any single individual; instead, one pursues attainable relative truths along the path of the positive sciences, and the summation of their results by means of dialectical thinking."(6)
Why Do We Still Have Religion?
The United $tates is exceptional in the First World in often defining itself through religion (Christianity). One recent book describes this as a fairly recent development, starting from a campaign by industrial capitalists with libertarian interests opposed to the New Deal.(7) The author points out, however, that Franklin D. Roosevelt used a lot of Christian language in his promotion of the New Deal and criticism of the evils of the capitalist class. Roosevelt used that language to capture the populist interests of the majority in the United $tates who were suffering from the Great Depression. The Christian language was an alternative to the communist language in the Soviet Union, which FDR was trying to save the United $tates from. Since the Bolshevik revolution, religious language has been openly used to combat the materialist language of communists.
The capitalist class took up the religious lingo as a marketing scheme after they realized that campaigning honestly for their own interests against the New Deal was not going to get popular support.(7) They backed the election of Dwight Eisenhower in 1954 who brought "In God We Trust" to our currency and put "One Nation Under God" into the pledge of allegience. While Eisenhower did not undo the New Deal as they'd hoped, this trajectory continued with it's pinnacle in 1980 with Ronald Reagon backed by groups like the Moral Majority. It was Reagan who introduced the tradition of U.$. presidents ending speeches with "God Bless America." To this day these evangelical Christian groups have played a strong roll in U.$. politics.
This is just one example of how religion can be used to mobilize people behind a political cause. It also demonstrates how religion can be a very deceptive tool in politics because the politicians avoid talking about the real issues. While in the realm of philosophy we can talk about religion as idealism, in the realm of sociology we see it as culture. And culture is part of the superstructure in that it reflects the economic substructure; in our world that would be (imperialist) capitalism. And within capitalism the fundamental contradiction that defines that system is that between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. So, we will see how as the proletarian forces become stronger religion will reflect the proletarian world view, such as in Central America when socialism/communism had captured the interests of the masses in those Catholic countries. Religion must adopt a proletarian worldview to stay relevant as the scientific method begins to provide the masses with answers that the religions had failed to. In the status quo under capitalism religion most often reflects the interests of the bourgeoisie.
It has been popular in recent decades to talk about the clash of civilizations between the Muslim and Christian worlds. Some even look to history to show a long pattern of these clashes along religious lines. But these lazy historians cherry pick instances in history when religion is used to further the economic interests of different groups, as it often is. Yet a study of the causes of the most brutal wars in in our modern industrial society demonstrate that it was all about trade, markets and national interests. The two world wars were inter-imperialist rivalries over these things.(8) Then as communism threatened to remove vast segments of the world from the capitalist market economy, the imperialists took aim at countries building socialism. The focus on religion in the the last couple decades is a direct result of the victory of the imperialists in crushing socialist aspirations around the world. This repression, combined with some of the negative experiences countries in regions like the Middle East had interacting with revisionists and social-imperialists claiming to be communists, has led to a significant turning away from the socialist path in many parts of the Third World.
Islam and New Afrikans
Just as religion is today an outlet for many radical youth in the Third World, religion has been influenced by revolutionary politics in the context of New Afrika. In the 20th century we see a turn towards Islam by a number of New Afrikans who are searching for identity and liberation from oppression by Amerika. The great migration from the Black Belt to the industrial centers of the north was a time of great change for the nation, that left many searching for identity and culture. In fact, Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammed and Father Allah all came from the south to face unmet promises of freedom and the American Dream.(9)
The appeal of Islam for people like Noble Drew Ali seemed to be in that it was exotic and unknown in North America, yet well-established elsewhere in the world. New Afrikans have spent much time trying to create a new identity by linking their history to lost histories of other peoples, and this was the tradition that Ali worked in. At this time, it seems that many would-be leaders presented themselves as actually being from more exotic places in order to inspire awe and respect from their would-be followers. But it wasn't just novelty that New Afrikans were looking for, it was something that spoke to their national aspirations, and not the same old Christian doctrines that had been used to keep their progenitors down.
There is a direct lineage from Ali's Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) to Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam (NOI) to Father Allah's Five Percenters, later the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE). Even today people move from one organization to the other, building on the common mythologies between them. And all three organizations have had important relationships with various lumpen street organizations.
While loosely based on Islam with their founders basing their studies on religious texts, these groups represent a unique New Afrikan theology and culture. The NGE is the most eclectic of the groups because of its open nature. It had a more direct relationship to street life in New York City, and had influences from practices such as Rastafari, making it again a unique New Afrikan culture.(10)
While the NGE has generally shunned being called a religion, its primary purpose was in the realm of thought and philosophy. Father Allah focused on teaching, not on organizing people for any political goals aside from building opportunity for New Afrikan youth. Elsewhere we discuss the Almighty Latin King Queen Nation and its openness to representing religious ideas, while primarily being a lumpen mass organization. In contrast, the NGE, while rejecting religion ideologically, functioned primarily as a religious or spiritual organization, at least at first. It did evolve to take on more characteristics of a lumpen organization after The Father was killed leaving the youth to organize themselves.
In 1966, a couple years after the Five Percenters began, the New York City Police Department reported that they saw the decline of 200 street gangs, and the rise of one — the Five Percenters.(11) While they often found themselves in violent conflict with the armed wings of other New Afrikan religious sects, in 1971 the NYPD believed the Five Percenters worked with Muslims and Rastafarians in a vigilante killing of ten suspected drug dealers. Around that same time, in the 1970s, the Five Percenters played a leadership role in inspiring gangs to come together to obtain anti-poverty funds, parallel to what groups like the Vice Lords and Black P. Stone Nation were doing in Chicago.(12) In the later 1970s the Five Percenters recruited whole street gangs into their fold whose members accounted for a significant portion of the arrests in Brooklyn during those years.(13)
In another article on the MSTA, a comrade explains the dual roles of the organization, which began as a civic organization and later became a religion. This duality is another thing that MSTA has in common with the NOI, NGE and other New Afrikan organizations that are just as concerned with the nation as with spirituality. This role is also seen in leaders of Christian-based churches, as well as lumpen organizations in the New Afrikan community. While this is a manifestation of the continued national interests of New Afrikans separate from Amerika, it has unfortunately been used against their national interests as well. Some revolutionary theorists have pointed out that it is the most scientific revolutionary leadership that has been targeted for complete annihilation by the state, leaving those with idealist and profit-motivated views to fill the leadership vacuum.
Back in 1996, MIM Notes criticized the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan for stating that an earthquake would strike California in response to federal agents' harassment of NOI officials. MIM wrote, "While Farrakhan's statement appears on the surface to be an extreme example of religious metaphysics, Farrakhan was in fact skillfully using metaphysics as a cover for a crypto-pacifist line directed at his followers."(14) Farrakhan followed in Elijah Muhammad's footsteps, who predicted many major events that never materialized. The mythology of Fard (who is considered a prophet by the NOI) and Elijah Muhammad promoted the idea that the Black man was god and created the white man over 600 years of grafting by the scientist Yacub. Muhammad, and his follower Clarence 13X (later Father Allah), believed that after 6000 years the Black man would return to power, which happened to be in 1966. Muhammad predicted the "Fall of America" to occur that year. The early years of the Five Percenters focused on preparation for this event.
While Father Allah was close to Malcolm X even after both had left/been forced out of the NOI, ey did not join up with Malcolm because Malcolm had rejected the story of Yacub after eir trip to Mecca.(15) Later, Father Allah would take up the line that devilishment was a state of mind and not a genetically distinct white man that was bred by Yacub.(16)
It was Malcolm X who had developed the most scientific theory of liberation coming out of the NOI, which ey seemed to be separating from eir religious beliefs before ey was assassinated, by setting up two separate organizations. Malcolm X inspired many, but it was the Black Panther Party, a Maoist, and therefore atheist, organization that best claims to be the direct descendents of Malcolm's ideas.
The religious side of Malcolm's evolution was carried on by Elijah Muhammad's son, Wallace, who took leadership of the NOI after Elijah's death. Wallace had been shunned for siding with Malcolm in the past, so it was not too surprising when ey took the NOI and transformed it into a group based in traditional Sunni Islam, rejecting the mythology of Yacub and the focus on race. But once again, the appeal of that mythology had not died, and many traditional NOI members left. After originally following (and praising) Wallace's leadership, Louis Farrakhan restarted the Nation of Islam a few years later under the original teachings of Elijah Muhammad. Ey courted the Five Percenters as part of eir efforts to rebuild the NOI.(17)
It is MIM(Prisons)'s line that the principal contradiction within the internal semi-colonies is that between integration with Amerika and independence from Amerika. The continued interest in the mythology of Yacub indicates an unscientific rejection of integration by many New Afrikans. The organizations discussed here all have a significant base in the New Afrikan lumpen, and have ideologies that reflect a kernel of the drive for national independence. While some people from MSTA and NGE have recently distanced themselves from Third World Islam, we shall see whether this becomes the dominant tendency, indicating a further move towards integration with Amerikkka for New Afrikans.
"You know back in the day, some of y'all
Would shout out Allah's name like he was hostin yo' mixtape
Then after 9/11 you got scared and shut the fuck up
Didn't talk about the demonization of a culture, immigrants, nothin
Now you show up, talk about we takin it too far
Die slow! MOTHERFUCKER!"
—Immortal Technique, Watchout (3rd World Remix) from the album The 3rd World (2008)
Addendum: Islam Still Small in the U.$.
After publishing this article, we thought it instructive to add some data we came across on the numbers of people, in particular New Afrikans, who represent some strand of Islam within U.$. borders. That number is quite small, representing less than 1% of the people in the country.(1) Even within the New Afrikan nation the percentage is about the same. Yet, that hides the fact that New Afrikans are disproportionately represented in the U.$. Muslim because virtually all other Muslims are recent immigrants (63%) or descendents of recent immigrants from major Muslim countries.(1) In other words, 0.9% of New Afrikans is much greater than the almost negligible number of Muslim Euro-Amerikans. This leads us to the third pie chart above, showing 59% of Muslims born in the United $tates being New Afrikan. Again, this is why we stress the connection to the national question in the article above.
Finally, it should be noted that even among the small percentage of New Afrikans that do identify as Muslim, most practice a more traditional form of Islam than the groups discussed in the last section above.(2) While we didn't find good numbers on Nation of Islam membership, estimates put it at in the neighborhood of 10% of New Afrikan Muslims. The various sects of the Moorish Science Temple of America represent a much smaller group, though we know that among imprisoned New Afrikans the percentage is higher and we have gotten many letters of interest from prisoners in response to this issue of Under Lock & Key. We do not have numbers on the Five Percenters.
It's been over a week since we got the news on the settlement of Ashker v. Brown.(1) For a case that is so central to what we do as an organization we've taken our time to respond. We've read and re-read the legal documents and listened to the celebratory news coverage of the settlement. Yet our reaction remains the same, deep disappointment.
The settlement is a victory for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and it knocks out one of the three main legs of the campaign to shut down the SHU — the courts (the other two being public opinion and prisoners organized around their own interests). This case had a lot of the known anti-isolation lawyers and some influential long-time SHU prisoners behind it. It was an alliance that will be tough to beat any time soon.
The Maoist Internationalist Movement, along with many other organizations, has spent decades campaigning for the end to long-term isolation in U.$. prisons. We have long countered the public who question us with, "what is your proposed alternative?" with the simple answer, "not torturing people." Ending long-term isolation in U.$. prisons would be a simple reform that unites the lowest common denominator of prison reformers. Almost everyone agrees we should end torture, and that is reflected in the ongoing movement to do so. It is only the fascist-leaning cop-lovers and state bureaucrats that oppose the call. Actually, in many states the state bureaucrats support ending long-term isolation.
Yet through all the years of struggle here in California, somehow the CDCR has succeeded in painting the ending of torture as the extreme option, with the recent settlement as the sensible compromise. But they are wrong: the extreme option is overthrowing the state and replacing it with one run by the oppressed, where the real killers and exploiters are imprisoned and taught how to live collectively with other humyn beings, not thrown in isolation. Ending torture in prisons is the most basic, sweeping reform that would actually improve the conditions in U.$. prisons.
According to the New York Times, prison directors have become more supportive of reducing the use of solitary confinement after a man who spent 8 years in isolation was released in 2013 and went to the house of Colorado's prison chief, Tom Clements, and shot him dead.(2) Yet reducing the number of people in long-term isolation only serves to extend the life of its practice as it affects less people and there is less outrage. This reduction also suggests that some people still deserve to be tortured. That is why MIM(Prisons) has never supported measures to get only certain groups out of long-term isolation.
The Ashker settlement has been heralded as "effectively ending indefinite long-term solitary confinement" and "setting strict limits on the prolonged isolation of inmates." Yet in the actual settlement we read,
"CDCR shall not house any inmate within the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison for more than 5 continuous years. Inmates housed in the Pelican Bay SHU requiring continued SHU placement beyond this limitation will be transferred from the Pelican Bay SHU to another SHU facility within CDCR, or to a 180-design facility at Pelican Bay. Inmates who have previously been housed in the Pelican Bay SHU for 5 continuous years can only be returned to the Pelican Bay SHU if that return has been specifically approved by the Departmental Review Board and at least 5 years have passed since the inmate was last transferred out of the Pelican Bay SHU."
That's it! That's the extent of the "strict" limitations on long-term isolation in California. So if you're in another SHU, or Ad-Seg or some other unnamed long-term isolation situation, which about 14,000 of the over 15,000 in isolation in California are, there are no limits.(3) If you're in Pelican Bay you must move to another SHU after 5 years. Five years later you can come back. Alternatively, you could spend 4.5 years in Pelican Bay, 2 months out, then go in for another 4.8 years, and on like that for the rest of your life. Does this really address the Eighth Amendment claim by the plaintiffs of cruel and unusual punishment? The length often cited for having serious mental affects on humyns is in the range of 15 to 30 days!
Now with the new Step Down Program prisoners are supposed to have a way to return to "a general population setting within three or four years." So the class of prisoners being represented in this case, those who have been in the SHU for ten or more continuous years, are being addressed adequately according to those who agreed to this settlement. But even moving forward there are exceptions for Administrative SHU Status, allowing people to be held as long as CDCR deems necessary.
There is one progressive concession given in the settlement: "CDCR shall not place inmates into a SHU, Administrative Segregation, or Step Down Program solely on the basis of their validation status." Additionally, "CDCR shall modify its Step Down Program so that it is based on the individual accountability of each inmate for proven STG [security threat group] behavior, and not solely on the inmate's validation status or level of STG affiliation." Finally, as a result of an ending to the indeterminate SHU sentences for prisoners "validated" as members of prison gangs, in the next year "CDCR shall review the cases of all validated inmates who are currently in the SHU as a result of... an indeterminate term that was previously assessed under prior regulations..."
This addresses the Fourteenth Amendment claim that the CDCR was violating due process with the validation system and the use of group punishment, at least somewhat. As we saw a couple years ago, the new STG policy actually opened up STG charges to a wider range of organizations than was covered by the previous validation system. The supposed upside is that the rules require actual STG behavior by the individual to justify placing someone in SHU, not just association. Yet, in the new SHU Term Assessment Chart we see that "Recruiting inmates to become an STG affiliate" is a SHU punishable offense.
As mentioned above, this settlement seems to eliminate the judicial strategy of ending solitary confinement in California for the near future. But it also strikes a huge blow against the strongest leg we have to stand on, the collective organizing of prisoners. Turns out, under the settlement you can expect to spend 12 months in SHU for "Leading a disturbance, riot or strike", and 6 months for "participation in a disturbance, riot or strike" or "Inciting conditions likely to threaten institution security" (for those not aware, the latter was a common charge made against those who peacefully refused food in recent years to protest long-term isolation in California prisons).
They are outlawing peaceful protest, and non-violent, passive resistance for the prison movement. Amerikans criticize other countries that torture people for peacefully protesting the government that is abusing and, well, torturing them. How is it that leaders in the prison movement have signed on to this?
As we have previously reported, the new STG policies still give prisoners points for things like tattoos, greeting cards and talking to certain individuals. So it is not really true that you can no longer be punished for affiliation. Abolishing this practice was part of the 2nd demand of the hunger strikes.
As a result of reviews (which were mostly underway before this settlement anyway) we have a number of comrades who are getting out of the SHU right now, without having to debrief (snitch). This will no doubt be a positive thing, as we expect many of them will stay politically active in their new locations where they will have more opportunities to reach out to others. Yet at the same time we've already seen the next generation of prison leaders going to the SHU. It seems that the youngsters are getting thrown under the bus here.
So this is a wake up call to those not yet in the SHU. In July 2013, 30,000 prisoners stood up against long-term isolation, recognizing their common interests in this demand, even though most of them were not housed in isolation themselves. This was an amazing demonstration that epitomizes the progress made over the last 5 years or so to consolidate the prison movement in California. This continues to be celebrated in the form of the Agreement to End Hostilities and the countless commemorations taking place today, September 9th, in the spirit of peace and solidarity in commemoration of the Attica uprising.
As this settlement was released, public statements from CDCR celebrated it as a continuation of their plan to reform the system after the SHU successfully broke the prison gangs that had taken over. Yeah right. These prison gangs were encouraged by the state who teamed up with white nationalist prisoners to oppress New Afrikans, and later enforced the north/south divide on the Chican@ nation. The continuation of and expansion of united action around the Agreement to End Hostilities is crucial to preventing the CDCR from returning to that status quo.
Leading up to the recent settlement we had one comrade building for a new wave of hunger strikes. As this settlement does not address the most important of the 5 Core Demands, ending conditions of isolation for all prisoners, this call remains valid. And while we've always warned comrades to build outside support for such actions, one lesson we can take from California is that such actions must be organized on the inside. Even California Prison Focus, who has been visiting prisoners in the SHU for decades, and who has lawyers with privileged access to their clients, was in the dark during the hunger strikes until the CDCR decided to pull in outside mediators. As always, MIM(Prisons) is committed to supporting the organization of prisoners and fighting to defend the First Amendment rights of prisoners (and ourselves) of speech and association. The ending of a policy that allows the state to torture people for belonging to certain organizations was a blow against the excessively repressive policies of the CDCR in relation to the First Amendment. With this settlement we find California in a similar situation to most of the rest of the country, where torture continues to be the method of choice for population control of the oppressed who do not walk in step with the oppressor.
And so, the struggle continues. Until solitary confinement is abolished, shutting down control units will be a central campaign for MIM(Prisons) and United Struggle from Within.
14 August 2015 — The long-awaited autobiographical story of NWA, Straight Outta Compton (2015), hit theaters tonight. The action-packed movie glorifies the evolution, and quick dispersal of what they billed as "the world's most dangerous group." While this was part of their hype, there was certainly some truth to the image NWA portrayed and the long-term impact that they had on music and culture in the United $tates. Produced by Ice Cube, with help from Dr. Dre and Tomica Woods-Wright (widow of Eazy-E), the film portrays the history of NWA through their eyes. While generally an accurate history, there are artistic liberties taken in the portrayal of certain events and what is left out.
A key theme of the film is the role of police brutality in shaping the experience of New Afrikans in Compton, particularly young males. There are multiple run-ins with police brutality depicted, and attention is given to the infamous beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and the subsequent riots in Los Angeles that deeply affected all members of NWA. The strong anti-cop message of the movie will resonate with audiences who have been unable to avoid discussion of police murders of New Afrikans over the last year or so. As such, the movie will have a positive impact of pushing forward the contradiction between oppressed nations and the armed forces that occupy their neighborhoods.
Every New Afrikan rebellion in the past year has been triggered by police murders. Murders and attacks on New Afrikans by whites and their police have always been the most common trigger of rebellions since Black ghettos have existed.(1) This was true in the 1960s when the Black Panthers rose to prominence, it was true in the early 1990s after NWA rose to fame, and it's true today when "Black Lives Matter" is a daily topic on corporate and other media. This national contradiction, and how it is experienced in the ghetto, is portrayed in the film by the fact that there are no positive roles played by white characters.
A secondary theme, that surrounded a number of high-profile groups/rappers of the time, was the question of freedom of speech. NWA was part of a musical trend that brought condemnation from the White House and the birth of the "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" warning sticker. Ice Cube does a good job of portraying his character as righteous and politically astute, though he self-admittedly embellished from how events truly occurred.(2) We see the strong political stances Ice Cube took in his music after he left NWA, yet, only a glimpse. They do a montage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, but don't touch on Cube's extensive commentary before and after the riots through his music.
They also curiously leave out any mention of Dre's public feud with Eazy-E after Dre left Ruthless Records, though they do spend time on Ice Cube's feuds with Ruthless.
The movie concludes by glamorizing Dre's rise to fame and independence, after being screwed by Jerry Heller (and Eazy-E) while with NWA, and then by Suge Knight for The Chronic album. They portray his success in guiding new artists like Eminem and 50 Cent to successful careers and his marketing of Beats headphones, which were purchased by Apple, Inc. Ice Cube's great success as an actor and producer are also featured, as are a memorializing of Eazy-E and updates on DJ Yella and MC Ren.
While this ending is a logical wrap up of the story of these five artists and where they are today, the focus on the individuals leaves out much of their real legacy. NWA was part of a cultural shift. Like all historical events, what they did represented much bigger forces in society. The character of Ice Cube recognizes this in a press interview in the film when he says they didn't start a riot at a Detroit show, they were just representing the feelings of the youth of the day. As was stressed in that interview, and throughout their careers, NWA members were just reporters speaking on what they were experiencing. And it was an experience that until then was unknown to a majority of Amerikans. Today that experience has become popularized. It is both glamorized and feared, but it has become a prominent part of the Amerikan consciousness thanks to voices like NWA.
While reality rap has been used (and misconstrued) to reinforce racism by many, the real transformatative impact it has had is in bringing this reality to the forefront so that it could no longer be ignored by Amerikans. Again, this pushed the national contradiction in the United $tates, by making all people face reality and take positions on it.
One problem with the movie is the way it leaves the rebelliousness of NWA as something from the past, that has evolved into successful business sense. NWA was one of a number of greatly influential artists at the time that shaped the future of hip hop. When gangsta rap was breaking out, you had real voices leading the charge. Since then it has been reeled in, and there is generally a dichotomy between the studio garbage that gets corporate play and the countless popular artists who have taken rap to higher levels both artistically and ideologically. Today there is a greater breadth of politically astute artists who are quite influential, despite lacking access to the corporate outlets. A montage of the countless "fuck da police"-inspired songs that have been produced since NWA would be a better recognition of their legacy today, than the focus on mainstream success and lives of some of the individual members.
While being a longer movie, Straight Outta Compton seemed to end quickly. There are plenty of exciting musical moments to make NWA fans nod their heads, plenty of fight scenes, if you're into that, and many rebellious statements made by members of NWA that should make you smile. We look forward to the even longer director's cut, which promises to get deeper into some points that are only hinted at in the theatrical release.(3)
The vast majority of the governments in the world lack popular support because they serve the oppressive interests of U.$./European/Japanese imperialism. Popular elections in Palestine (for Hamas) and Honduras (for Zelaya) have been rejected by the United $tates, who put their chosen leaders in power. Meanwhile, Afghanistan and Iraq are the most hypocritical examples of U.$. "democracy building." A decade of military occupation, with all the murders, secret prisons and torture that entails, and even the imperialists can't claim any victory. Iraq has split into multiple states, all of which are engaged in an ongoing hot war. And a recent U.$. government audit of the $1 billion dollars spent in Afghanistan over 10 years concludes that they have been largely unsuccessful in establishing "the rule of law," not to mention "democracy."(1)
Of course, that's not to say that certain imperialist interests have not been served in these projects. A destabilized Third World nation is certainly better than a unified one, because the inherent interests of the Third World are opposed to those of the imperialist nations. Any successful organization of Third World nations to serve their own interests is a blow against imperialism. And the ongoing wars grease the gears of the military industrial complex.
Looking at the Middle East, West Africa or Central America, we cannot say that the oppressed nations are winning. But the objective conditions for successful resistance are certainly there and developing. Our strategic confidence in the victory of the proletarian nations over the imperialist nations comes from these objective conditions, principally that the proletariat nations far outnumber the imperialist ones.
Honduras: Mass Protests and Collective Farming
10 July 2015 — tens of thousands of Hondurans marched in the capital of Tegucigalpa with torches held high to call for the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.(2) These protests have been going strong for seven weeks, and they are the continuation of a six-year struggle against the forces behind a coup d'etat backed by the United $tates in 2009.
In this same period a movement to seize land by collectives of campesinos has been ongoing. These collectives are highly organized and participate politically in the national assemblies behind the mass protests. In the countryside, these collectives have provided improved housing, education and pay for their members. They are class conscious, and addressing gender contradictions as well. The documentary Resistencia (2015) shows the regular harassment and assassinations these collectives face.(3) One community had all their houses bulldozed while attending a rally in Tegucigalpa, yet they pull together and rebuild, as one campesino says, because they have nowhere else to go. While some collectives seem to have armed guards, generally they depend on non-violent resistence at this time.
The United $tates recently deployed 280 Marines to Central America, with most going to Honduras as part of their ongoing militarization of the country in face of this continued mass resistance.(2) Meanwhile, many of the top military personnel who are allied with the large landowners in Honduras have been trained in the terrorist training camp known as the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.(3) For decades, graduates of this school have carried out the most atrocious and brutal military campaigns in Central America on behalf of U.$. interests. Today, Honduras is considered the murder capital of the world.
Imperialists Slaughter Yemenis in Desperation
The United $tates has been waging low-intensity warfare in Yemen since shortly after 11 September 2001. In that time they have carried out over 100 drone strikes in the country.(4) In mid-May of 2015, U.$. troops and ambassadors were pulled out of the country following a popular insurgency that threw out the U.$. puppet regime of Abdedrabbo Mansour Hadi in late March. Hadi has since remained outside of Yemen with no sign that he will be able to return.
Since the removal of Hadi, an intensified bombing campaign in Yemen has been described as a "Saudi-led" effort, yet U.$. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken is behind the coordination center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and the United $tates expedited weapons deliveries to their ally who they've already provided with a strong, modernized military.
On 6 July 2015 over 30 civilians were killed when invaders shot a missile into a small market in the village of Al Joob. Other recent strikes in the region killed 30 in Hajjah, and 45 just north of Aden.(5) "In addition to some 3,000 Yemenis killed since March, the war has also left 14,000 wounded and displaced more than a million people, according to the [United Nations]."(6) Close to 13 million are lacking food due to the war and the blocking of shipments into Yemen by the imperialist-led coalition. Meanwhile preventable diseases like dengue, malaria and typhoid are spreading.(6)
Like the people of Honduras, these horrific conditions leave the people of Yemen with no choice but to keep fighting. In April, "19 Yemeni political parties and associations rejected the UN Resolution 2216 [an attempt to appease the resistance], stating that it encourages terrorist expansion, intervenes in Yemen's sovereign affairs, violates the right of self-defense by the Yemeni people and emphasized the associations' support of the Yemeni Army."(7) In June, Najran tribes, in a Saudi border region, declared war against the Saudi regime because of the Saudis killing innocent people. This occurred after the House of Saud attempted to bribe tribal leaders to support their war efforts in Yemen.(8)
Yemen's relationship to Saudi Arabia is similar to those of Mexico and Central America to the United $tates. Yemen was once a nominally socialist state after a Marxist-inspired national liberation army took control after British colonialism ended in the region. So like Central America, Yemen is no stranger to socialism and Marxism. Yet, while militarily conditions are more advanced throughout the Middle East, we do not see the class-conscious subjective political forces that exist in places like Honduras.
Yemen risks falling into inter-proletarian conflict as has been ongoing in Syria and Iraq. Yet, reports from the ground indicate a strong recognition that the ultimate blame for their plight falls on the United $tates (this is true in Honduras as well). Chaos does bring opportunity for the objective forces of proletarian class interest to rise to prominence. While conditions are dire in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, they lend themselves to building dual power and ultimately delinking from imperialism, which is what the oppressed nations must do to improve their conditions. While there are multiple competing powers in Syria and Iraq right now, no sustainable dual power can develop that is not built on the class unity of the exploited classes as exists in Honduras. At the same time, dual power must be defended, and the imperialists will always respond to efforts at delinking with military intervention. It is this military power that is lacking in Honduras to make their collectivization efforts sustainable.
These are just some of the hotly contested areas of the world today. The battle is between the imperialists and the exploited majority. While the imperialists are the dominant force today, the exploited majority are the rising aspect of this contradiction. As they rise in more regions of the world, they undercut capitalist profits and imperialist militaries become overextended. That is how the exploited majority will become victors and gain control over their own destiny.
Over four years ago I wrote an article looking at the sudden decline in the U.$. housing market.(1) Many Amerikan nationalists were looking at the household wealth numbers at that time and lamenting the steep drop off from 2008 to 2010. I pointed out that 2007 was an all-time high for wealth owned by Amerikan households, and compared their vast wealth to the poverty of the majority of the world's people from various angles. Well, in late 2014 a new report on global wealth was released by Credit Suisse, and guess what? Overall household wealth in the United $tates is back to an all-time high. In fact, it hit an all-time high in 2012 and has continued to increase. Turns out the financial crisis wasn't a crisis for Amerikans after all.
Despite the rhetoric of the social fascists, conditions in the United $tates have remained quite luxurious following the 2008 economic crisis. How is this possible? For one there is a nice cushion of wealth to fall back on in hard times. According to the report by Credit Suisse, about a third of the world's household wealth belongs to Amerikans.(2) So if everyone's wealth was reduced proportionately during crisis, Amerikans would fair better than almost everyone else in the world. But that's only scratching the surface, as it turns out wealth did not go down proportionately.
In a comparison of wealth growth by regions since 2000, Credit Suisse show the data with current as well as constant exchange rates. This demonstrates the impact that exchange rates have on wealth by region. Exchange rates are connected to mechanisms of unequal exchange, where value is transferred in a hidden way in the process of international trade. Exchange rates are also manipulated intentionally by the finance capitalists and their institutions (such as the IMF). In both cases, this can result in great transfers of wealth to the countries that control the markets, which is most often led by the United $tates. What the two data show is that the depreciation of currency in the Third World against the U.$. dollar accounted for much of the decrease in wealth during 2008. In other words, currency exchange rates provided a cushion to the economic crisis centered in the United $tates by pushing much of that crisis to the Third World. Africa is the only region to have not recovered to its pre-2008 wealth levels, but it would have done so if not for currency depreciation. In other words, as bubbles popped in the U.$. financial markets, wealth was being slowly pumped back in from the Third World via changes in currency exchange rates and unequal exchange of goods.
This is why we call for international exchange rates based on a fixed basket of goods, to put an end to this form of wealth transfer under imperialism. This is also why the U.$. imperialists were worried about Saddam Hussein ceasing to use the U.$. dollar as the standard currency for oil sales in Iraq.
While a much smaller factor in all this, it is also worth noting that the internal semi-colonies took on more of the wealth loss (proportionally) than the white nation in the United $tates. From 2007 to 2013, the median New Afrikan and Raza household wealth both decreased by 42%, compared to white household wealth which was only down 26% over that period.(4)
How did we bounce back?
The Credit Suisse report notes that the strong growth in household wealth in the United $tates following the decline in 2008 did not accompany a similar increase in income rates. If Amerikan household wealth bounced back on its own then we'd expect to see people making more income from their increased work and productivity. But this was not the case. So did this wealth just fall from the sky? No, it turns out this Amerikan prosperity comes from the invisible transfer of wealth from the Third World to the First World that MIM's critics have been denying the existence of for decades.
Before the wealth-transfer-deniers stop reading in disgust, let me acknowledge a couple things. The increase in household wealth from 2013 to 2014 was mostly due to "market capitalization" as opposed to housing prices and exchange rates (three important factors affecting short-term shifts in wealth according to Credit Suisse). While a larger number of the U.$. population is active shareholders than most countries, this would still indicate that the increase largely favored the wealthier within the rich countries. Exchange rates affect everyone in a country, and rising housing prices help the home owners (over 64% of people in the United $tates) accumulate wealth without having to work. (Homeownership has dropped significantly since 2005 when it was almost 70%, disproportionately affecting oppressed nations who on average have much less wealth than white Amerikans.(5)) "Market capitalization" benefits those in finance capital (including most retirement investments that are quite common in the United $tates), and would lead us to infer that while wealth in the United $tates has exceeded pre-2008 levels, it is less equally distributed than it was then.
Another indication of this skew in wealth distribution is that the high ratio of wealth to income in the United $tates in recent years is approaching the level of the Great Depression. This, of course, is one of the inherent contradictions of capitalism that Marx described in great detail: wealth tends to accumulate in the hands of the few, but this creates problems for circulation of capital, which the whole system is dependent on. So Amerikans are not in the clear; rather we would expect actual serious economic hardship in the near future.
Looking internationally, Credit Suisse shows median household wealth to be about the same in 2014 as it was in 2008, with peaks in 2007 and 2010. Meanwhile the top 10% has increased its wealth since 2008 and the top 1% even moreso. So the distribution of wealth is getting more uneven. The only problem for the argument of our Amerikan nationalists is that the majority of Amerikans are in that top 10%.
Amerikans Are Rich
One of the basic rules of captitalism, taught to us by Karl Marx, is that capital tends to accumulate. As I discussed in "Building United Front, Surrounded by Enemies", others have also shown how wealth in general tends to accumulate even for wage earners. In other words, the richer you are the faster your wealth grows. So yes, the 1% in the United $tates is getting richer faster than the other 99%. But those 99% of Amerikans (on average) are still getting richer as the majority of the world does not. The current balance of wealth shows that the difference between nations is more meaningful than the difference within nations.
Let us indulge in some more numbers given to us from the Credit Suisse report, which looks at household wealth across the whole world. The net worth per adult has reached a new high of an average of 56,000 U.$. dollars (USD) worldwide. The median wealth per adult in the United $tates and Germany are just below this level at US 54,000 and USD 53,000. The median is, of course, a much better indicator of the typical than the average (which was USD 348,000 in the United $tates). While your typical Amerikan or German has the amount of wealth one would expect if distribution were equal globally, your typical African or South Asian has wealth that is around 2% of that. (USD 679 in Africa, and USD 1,006 in India)
The number of people in this lower group is highlighted by the estimate that having USD 3,650 of wealth puts one in the top 50% of wealth holders worldwide. Again, if we distributed the wealth equally today, that point would be USD 56,000. But there are so many people with wealth below USD 3,650 that that is the level for the typical persyn (or median) in the entire world.
For Europe and North America combined, the best estimate given for the imperialist countries, 64% of adults are in the top 10% by wealth. It should be noted that the richest 10% of adults own 87% of global wealth. In contrast, 70% of the world's people own less than 3% of the world's wealth, averaging less than USD 10,000 per adult.
In the past we've cited numbers based on income that give similar results, and actually put all employed Amerikans in the top 13% richest by income, with the vast majority being in the top 10%. Wealth will always be more concentrated than income, because people can have incomes without ever accumulating wealth. Incomes are generally necessary in capitalist society, while wealth is not. In contrast to people who have nothing to lose but their chains (because they own no wealth), the majority of white Amerikans have wealth that is much greater than their annual income, which is quite high to begin with.
U.$. Internal Semi-Colonies
Of course, there are a number of nations within the United $tates, and New Afrikan and Raza median wealth is far below their median income, which is already less than white Amerikans. Recent numbers from Pew Research Center give median household wealth of white Amerikans at $141,900 in 2013. New Afrikan households, meanwhile, come in at $11,000, with the gap between Raza househoulds has been more consistent, as Raza median household wealth was $13,700 for 2013. One factor for the widening gaps is that white households are much more likely to own stocks (and remember that market capitalization was high from 2013 to 2014). Another factor is that oppressed nation home ownership decreased 6.5%, compared to white ownership, which only fell 2% between 2010 and 2013.(4) Wealth per adult for New Afrikans and Raza in the United $tates was not readily available for a direct comparison to the international figures in the Credit Suisse report. But it is clear that the median wealth per adult would be well above the global median of USD 3,650. In other words, the typical New Afrikan or Raza in the United $tates has more wealth than over 50% of the world's population. And if you look at income, they're doing even better.
Imperialists Power and Wealth
China's increase in millionaires, massive growth in middle income populations, and resilience against currency depreciation depicted by Credit Suisse all point to its emergence as a center of finance capital. Yet, over 90% of the millionaires in the world today are in the traditional imperialist countries, with the United $tates leading the way with 41%. While Japan used to compete in this category, in 2014 the U$A stands far above the rest with more than 4 times the number of millionaires in Japan. Of those with wealth greater than USD 50 million, 49% are U.$. citizens, with China as the very distant second in this category. Later this report predicts China will overtake Japan as second wealthiest economy by 2019.
On balance, global wealth increases. Wealth is a product of labor, and so as more people are born and work, and a certain portion of the value they create is accumulated (as machines, buildings, infrastructure, etc) rather than consumed (as food, clothes, electronics, etc) the total wealth of the world grows. War and other disasters can destroy accumulated wealth. The Credit Suisse report goes back to 2000, and shows total wealth more than doubling since then. An increasing rate of wealth accumulation would be expected as the forces of production advance with a growing population. Potentially more people working and doing so more efficiently would create greater wealth. However, our analysis predicts that the expansion of production under capitalism has already peaked some time ago. Credit Suisse subtracts out the effect of population growth and still comes up with a 77% increase in wealth over that period. Why so much?
Marx described different economic systems as being defined by a contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production. When a new organization of labor is first introduced it would increase the forces of production (it brings new ways of doing things so that more work can be done with the same number of resources as before). Eventually, under any class system, the relations of production begin to drag down this progress. As class contradictions increase, so does the contradiction between relations of production and forces of production. So, while capitalism brought a great boom in production a hundred years ago, the limits of expansion are being met and contradictions, such as the ones that triggered the crisis of 2008, are limiting its progressive elements. What all the discussion around 2008 brought to light was the elaborate schemes that had evolved within finance capital markets in recent decades to create and circulate wealth. When they "create" wealth it is usually by expanding credit. So this is not real wealth creation, as when people transform their labor into wealth by constructing a building. As wealth in the form of credit expands faster than wealth in the form of real goods, you get problems where the credit can't be paid off. The "bubbles" that are blamed for such crisis are also behind the steep increase in overall wealth since 2000 shown in this report.
In summary, global wealth dropped a lot in 2007 and has bounced back bigger than ever a few years later. Marx predicted higher highs and lower lows in the economy as contradictions heightened. Therefore we expect volatility to increase as finance capital dominates the economy more and more, and for there to be bigger drops in wealth that impact the imperialist countries more because there is not enough cushion next time.
Amerikans get more stuff
In my previous article on U.$. wealth I made sure to discuss the consumption rates of Amerikans as well, to show that this isn't just academic number crunching and to combat those who argue that it's just a higher cost of living here that explains our higher incomes. Actually Amerikans get to consume a lot more stuff than other people, to the detriment of the health of our planet. One more recent example of this was the response to lower gasoline prices for Amerikans thanks to a market working in their favor. In November 2014, four out of the top five selling vehicles were gas guzzling trucks or SUVs. Demand for two of these gas guzzlers was up 9.6% in November, compared to an overall increase of 1.3% in car sales.(6) As the capitalists produce the most inefficient vehicles they can get away with to keep consumption rates up, Amerikans jump right on board as soon as they get a little relief at the gas pump. Who cares about global warming when you can afford to blast your air conditioner all day long anyway? While Amerikans enjoy lifestyles far beyond what most people can dream of, their bourgeois individualism reaks havoc on the balance of ecological systems that all life depends on. This is another major contradiction threatening the stability of the current socio-economic system.
The economic system is tied to social factors like war and the impacts of ecological destruction. All of these factors interact with each other, putting imperialism in an ever more precarious situation. It is the task of the proletariat and their allies to understand these dynamics and harness the social forces at play to address these contradictions by putting an end to the chaotic system of imperialism and building a new socialist world system in the interests of all.
In their response to us, (see "Who has happy sex?"), the Leading Light Communist Organization (LLCO) questioned some accusations we made about their organization contributing to wrecking work aimed at the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM).(1) The author is either unaware of, or being dishonest about, the history of their organization. Prairie Fire was highlighted in a recent interview at llco.org retelling h young adulthood, so certainly s/he can recall what h comrades were printing about MIM a handful of years ago. They participated in a long-standing campaign to paint MIM as crazy wackos as the original MIM comrades suffered the crushing defeat of every aspect of their work. We condemned the Monkey Smashes Heaven (MSH) website for this at the time, but did not call it wrecking work.(2) To accuse us of escaping "the crazy town hotel" because of our critique of the gender aristocracy is not just unprincipled, but once again echoing the imperialists who try to paint radical critiques of the status quo as the work of wackos.(4) And we don't see a reason to give them a pass this time. We're concluding here that this is an ongoing problem within their organization. This should have been obvious from our previous article(3), but we felt we should clarify our point here if LLCO is going to accuse us of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt in what they refer to as a "phony setup," while their comrade accuses us of trying to deflect criticism. If we were afraid of criticism why did we publish an article linking to LLCO's criticism of our line?
Liberalism is Liberalism
Liberalism puts individual liberty and choice at the forefront. It is not concerned with groups and systems.
Liberalism equates happy sex with consensual sex. MIM Thought does not.
We never said happy sex doesn't exist. Rather, the main point of our article was that the gender aristocracy is very happy with its sex. We go on to argue that the happy sex of the gender aristocracy presents a challenge to our efforts to organize them against imperialism.
We also say that the struggle to have "good sex" is lifestyle politics and that it supports the pseudo-feminists' (read pro-patriarchy) agenda. Rather than "good" or "happy," a more precise criteria to debate would be "consensual sex." And we say there is no such thing under patriarchy. LLCO broadens this assertion to accuse us of saying consensual sex has never existed for all of humyn history. But patriarchy has not existed forever, so we do not agree that our line implies that "consensual, happy sex has never existed." More importantly, the theoretical existence of happy sex is not important to us in the struggle to end oppression.
LLCO doesn't like the examples we listed in our last article, condemning them with their own hypothetical example that is essentially the same, proving our point that power and sex are intimately tied up (pun intended). Rather than measuring individuals' power differentials to determine which one of them is the rapist (and implicitly then which persyn should be ostracized, imprisoned, or we don't now what because LLCO hasn't told us), maybe LLCO can speak to the problem that patriarchal society has conditioned females for centuries to enjoy sex as an oppressed gender as part of the process of producing male pleasure. Such systematic problems of power are not considered by the Liberal who is assured by the individuals involved explicitly saying the word "yes" and having fuzzy feelings inside while doing it.
Since their last post, LLCO stepped up their artwork from "Make Love Not War" to "Keep Calm and Have Good Sex." It's hard to believe they still don't get it when they caricature their own line with such blatant sexual Liberalism. Rather, it seems quite clear that they do intend to promote sexual Liberalism and call it proletarian feminism.
Biological Determinism and the Self
Liberalism, as an ideology, was a progressive force in a certain period of humyn history. Around the turn of the twentieth century theorists discussing sex used animal behavior to argue against the Christian ideas of the "natural order" ordained by God. But today people read too much into Darwin's Theory of Evolution, using it to validate their own experiences of pleasure. The biological imperative to reproduce and feelings of pleasure are not one in the same. So it has little meaning in this debate to say, "Sexuality is normal behavior for any complex species." We would like to see some evidence that, "Most people desire a sexual life even in the context of oppression." For the gender aristocracy, this is apparent, but the gender aristocracy is not most people. More clearly, we'd like to see evidence that most people experience the kind of pleasure from sex that the gender aristocracy does. As an aside, the assertion that "[m]ost people do not desire to be raped" is a tautology when you define rape as something that the average persyn does not desire.(4)
With the advance of the productive forces, widespread leisure societies developed for the first time in history. Members of those societies are much more gender privileged than the rest of the world, and the evolution of pleasure around sex is very tied up with the development of that power differential and an obsession with pornography that came with it. There are many nations that remain resistant to the pornography of the leisure societies, yet the imperialists use it as a tool to divide those nations. MIM saw pornography as any cultural propaganda that props up the leisure lifestyles of the bourgeois classes. LLCO's recent articles on rape and gender oppression can easily be categorized as part of the patriarchal pornography machine.
While our critic refers to biological determinism rather than sociology to explain sexual pleasure, both explanations imply greater forces are at play than the choices of two individuals. Yet, LLCO thinks our line denies humyn agency. Against this, we already said that we cannot go around telling people how to have sex in a way that they can avoid rape. Anyone who does this is being dishonest. That does not mean that proletarian morality has ceased to exist. It just means there is no magic combination of individual actions that can get you out of the patriarchy. While we must operate within the limits of the material reality we find ourselves in, we still get to make a choice of what to do at every moment of our lives. Pretending happy fucking is the same thing as sex without patriarchal influence is ridiculous.
In their discussion of Descartes, LLCO argues that we are idealists for daring to envision a world without oppression, where there would be no coercion in sexual relations. We call that being communists.
Answering some more questions from LLCO
LLCO claims there is another hole in our logic by asking, "How are all these systems of oppression reduced to a single measure whereby we can determined[sic] rapist and victim?" We already stated in our article, we don't care. We are not trying to answer the pornographic questions that they pose in their response, we are trying to convince people that patriarchy needs to be overthrown!
LLCO tells you to "[t]hink about how silly this is for a moment. MIM implies that you cannot both have a plan to eliminate individual cases of rape as part of a broader, revolutionary plan change society fundamentally."(1)
No, we said you should act scientifically. In other words be aware of the outcome of your actions. The LLCO/Liberal line means more Black males in prison and more Amerikans happy with the status quo. Maybe this is their strategy to strengthen the national contradiction in the United $tates. But no, there is no mention of principal contradiction, or overthrowing imperialism or patriarchy in their response. The whole content of the article could have been written by the Democratic Party if one just cut out the words "Leading Light Communism."
We also addressed this in the article they are critiquing when we wrote: "And we agree that under the dictatorship of the proletariat the masses will pick out these unreformable enemies for serious punishment. Yet, the majority of people who took up practices of capitalism or of the patriarchy will be reformed."
"Thus, for MIM, everyone who has ever had sex has been involved, one way or another, in rape. Every great communist leader has been a rapist or a victim of rape, or both. MIM even named their movement after someone who they see as a rapist. Mao was reported to be sexually vigorous. According to MIM, all sexually-active people of Third World and First World are rapists or victims, or both. All children from happy homes, from loving couples, are really products of rape."
Hey, we'll one up you there. Being asexual doesn't eliminate gender power either. The gender power that you hold is inherent in a patriarchal society regardless of who you fuck and how.
Perhaps LLCO should disavow Lin Biao because he did not come from a proletarian or peasant background. Lin was not from the oppressed classes. Neither were plenty of other great communist leaders, and we would assume the same for plenty of LLCO folks who are First World residents. People are a product of their birth circumstances and the society into which they are born. We don't judge individuals for this, we judge them for their political line and practice. Apparently LLCO can stomach this when it comes to class but not when it comes to gender.
Pushing the debate forward
LLCO correctly argued that the slogan "all property is theft" ... "can undermine the people's struggle under certain conditions." They then imply that the same is true for "all sex is rape." Okay, but what are those situations? Because we're saying "all sex is rape" is a powerful anti-Liberal slogan right now in the First World and we don't see it undermining the struggle to liberate the majority of the world's people.
Since we both seem to think the other is talking past us, here are our suggestions for points we'd like to see LLCO address to make this debate worthwhile going forward:
In what actual conditions do you see "all sex is rape" sloganeering as reinforcing bourgeois or patriarchal interests? and how?
Or the other side of that question, where do you see "you can have good, consensual sex" being used to effectively challenge the patriarchy or imperialism or working in the interests of the oppressed masses in general?
Until they can do this, we don't see how their arguments are based in any attempts to overthrow patriarchy (which would be implied by their claim to uphold proletarian feminism). It all comes across as a defense of sex because they know sex makes people happy. While clarity may be lacking on both sides, it is at least clear that we hold opposite views on this issue.