In November 2013, the elected government of Ukraine caused a stir for rejecting a deal with the European Union citing the overly burdensome terms of the aid package offered by the U.$.-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF). Since we last reported on Ukraine (see ULK 36), opposition forces with Western support have implemented a regime change, ousting president Viktor Yanukovich from the country. This put a deal with the IMF back on the table. Ukrainians once again face the prospect of more wealth being sucked from their country via imperialist loans and imposed economic policies.
While opposition to the oligarchy that has ruled Ukraine has united the Western imperialists with Ukrainian fascist parties, austerity measures imposed by the IMF will threaten this alliance shortly. The new offer from the IMF will require hiking energy prices that have been subsidized by the state, one of the deal breakers cited by Yanukovich in November.
The regime change was a loss for Russian economic interests. In response, on 27 February 2014, Russian forces seized control of the Crimean peninsula, a majority Russian region of the current Ukraine state. On 6 March 2014 Crimea's regional assembly voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The next day leaders of the Russian Parliament said they would support this move. The decision calls for a referendum for the people of Crimea to vote on this, scheduled for 16 March.(1)
The New York Times has made much of the battle over the right to self-determination in recent strife between the United $tates and the Russian Federation. Struggles in the Black Sea region in recent decades have been primarily inter-imperialist battles, and there is no principle behind the imperialists' actions except for their economic interests to have access to more markets, natural resources and people to exploit. Meanwhile, the proletariat's interest is defined by putting an end to this exploitation. Therefore we support the side that most threatens the control and penetration of the imperialists over the oppressed nations.
The Amerikans are saying the Russian invasion of Crimea is totally different from their meddling in Libya, Venezuela, Syria, Iran... just to name a few. But this is all posturing and a question of tactics, and the United $tates often is able to use more subtle tactics because of its greater power. In all cases it is the continuation of imperialist war to maintain profits.
While the situation in Crimea is still unresolved and potentially volatile as we write this, Russian officials have been quoted recognizing Kiev has gone pro-West. At the same time, Russia is talking with the IMF to get in on the Ukraine bail out.(2)
The IMF was part of the Bretton Woods project, which was organized by the imperialist countries after World War II in an attempt to prevent the protectionism and trade barriers that led to the economic crisis in the capitalist core, and drove them to war in both WWI and WWII. Many sanctions and trade barriers are being threatened in the current conflict. But, if Russia is allowed to export some finance capital to Ukraine as part of the imperialist plan for the country, and Russia gets to keep Crimea under its sphere of influence, then a hot war between Russia and the West will likely be averted.
The IMF is basically run by the United $tates, which has 16.75% of the votes. Meanwhile the U.$.-led imperialist camp (U.$., Japan, Germany, France, U.K., Italy and Canada) has 43.74% of votes. Russia has only 2.39%.(3) In addition to the IMF loans, the United $tates has talked of unilateral aid, as long as Ukraine "takes the reforms it needs."(4) So Russia will see a significant loss in its economic interests in the Ukraine overall, but will likely see a small piece of the pie as serving its interests better than an all out war with the United $tates.
The framework developed at Bretton Woods has been a relatively effective solution to one of the inherent contradictions of the imperialist economic system. However, it does not eliminate inter-imperialist rivalry, it just manages it. While a war on North Amerikan or Western European soils is being avoided at all costs, it is not out of the question. It will certainly come before socialism can reach those lands. War is inherent to imperialism. And it is our position that World War III has been an ongoing low-intensity war against the Third World by the imperialists since the end of WWII.(5) In recent decades this war has been primarily waged by the United $tates. While inter-imperialist war has been secondary in this period, the struggle between different imperialist interests is an antagonistic contradiction that cannot be resolved without ending imperialism. As such conflicts heat up, those in the imperialist countries will be reminded that imperialism does not serve their interests when it comes to the threat of annhilation in war. These conflicts also create breathing room for the oppressed nations to develop their own political interests independent of imperialism. The key to the survival of the humyn species is to develop such movements before the imperialists kill us all.
Stand Up, Struggle Forward: New Afrikan Revolutionary Writings On Nation, Class and Patriarchy by Sanyika Shakur Kersplebedeb, 2013
Available for $13.95 + shipping/handling from: kersplebedeb CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne Montreal, Quebec Canada H3W 3H8
While we recommended his fictional T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E., and his autobiographical Monster is a good read on the reality of life in a Los Angeles lumpen organization, Shakur's third book is most interesting to us as it provides an outline of his political line as a New Afrikan communist.(1) Stand Up, Struggle Forward! is a collection of his recent essays on class, nation and gender. As such, this book gives us good insight into where MIM(Prisons) agrees and disagrees with those affiliated with the politics Shakur represents here.
At first glance we have strong unity with this camp of the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM). Our views on nation within the United $tates seem almost identical. One point Shakur focuses on is the importance of the term New Afrikan instead of Black today, a position we recently put a paper out on as well.(2) Agreeing on nation tends to lead to agreeing on class in this country. We both favorably promote the history of Amerika laid out by J. Sakai in his classic book Settlers: the Mythology of a White Proletariat. However, in the details we see some differences around class. We've already noted that we do not agree with Shakur's line that New Afrikans are a "permanent proletariat"(p.65), an odd term for any dialectician to use. But even within the New Afrikan nation, it seems our class analyses agree more than they disagree, which should translate to general agreement on practice.
Writings that were new to us in this book dealt with gender and patriarchy in a generally progressive and insightful way. Gender is one realm where the conservativeness of the lumpen really shows through, and as Shakur points out, the oppressors are often able to outdo the oppressed in combating homophobia, and to a lesser extent transphobia, these days. A sad state of affairs that must be addressed to improve our effectiveness.
Attacking Stalin and Mao has long been an important task for the intelligentsia of the West, and the United $tates in particular. This has filtered down through to the left wing of white nationalism in the various anarchist and Trotskyist sects in this country, who are some of the most virulent anti-Stalin and anti-Mao activists. It is a roadblock we don't face among the oppressed nations and the less institutionally educated in general. From the sparse clues provided in this text we can speculate that this line is coming from an anarchist tendency, a tendency that can be seen in the New Afrikan revolutionary nationalist formations that survived and arose from the demise of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Yet, Shakur takes up the Trotskyist line that the USSR was socialist up until Lenin's death, while accepting the Maoist position that China was socialist up until 1976.(p.162) He says all this while implying that Cuba might still be socialist today. A unique combination of assessments that we would be curious to know more about.
There is a difference between saying Mao had some good ideas and saying that socialist China was the furthest advancement of socialism in humyn history, as we do. Narrow nationalism uses identity politics to decide who is most correct rather than science. While we have no problem with Shakur quoting extensively from New Afrikan ideological leaders, a failure to study and learn from what the Chinese did is failing to incorporate all of the knowledge of humyn history, and 99% of our knowledge is based in history not our own experiences. The Chinese had the opportunity, due to their conditions, to do things that have never been seen in North America. Ignoring the lessons from that experience means we are more likely to repeat their mistakes (or make worse ones). This is where (narrow) nationalism can shoot you in the foot. Maoism promoted self-reliance and both ideological and operational independence for oppressed nations. To think that accepting Maoism means accepting that your conditions are the same as the Chinese in the 1950s is a dogmatic misunderstanding of what Maoism is all about.
For those who are influenced by Mao, rather than adherents of Maoism, Stalin often serves as a clearer figure to demarcate our differences. This proves true with Shakur who does not criticize Mao, but criticizes other New Afrikans for quoting him. For Stalin there is less ambiguity. To let Shakur speak for himself, he addresses both in this brief passage:
"While We do in fact revere Chairman Mao and have always studied the works of the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Revolution, We feel it best to use our own ideologues to make our own points. And We most certainly will not be using anything from old imperialist Stalin. He may be looked upon as a 'comrade' by the NABPP, but not by us."(p.54)
For MIM(Prisons), imperialist is probably the worst epithet we could use for someone. But this isn't about name-calling or individuals, this is about finding and upholding the ideas that are going to get us free the fastest. In response to a question about how to bring lumpen organizations in prison and the street together, Shakur states, "The most fundamental things are ideology, theory and philosophy. These are weaknesses that allowed for our enemies to get in on us last time."(p.17) So what are Shakur's ideological differences with Stalin?
Shakur's definition of nation differs little from Stalin's, though it does omit a reference to a common economy: "A nation is a cultural/custom/linguistic social development that is consolidated and evolves on a particular land mass and shares a definite collective awareness of itself."(p.21) In his response to Rashid, Shakur attempts to strip Stalin of any credit for supporting the Black Belt Thesis, while sharing Stalin's line on the importance of the national territory for New Afrika. Shakur opens his piece against Rashid, Get Up for the Down Stroke, with a quote from Atiba Shanna that concludes "the phrase 'national question' was coined by people trying to determine what position they would take regarding the struggle of colonized peoples — there was never a 'national question' for the colonized themselves." While this assessment may be accurate for contemporary organizations in imperialist countries, these organizations did not coin the term. This assessment is ahistorical in that the "national question" was posed by Lenin and Stalin in much different conditions than we are in today or when Shanna wrote this. In fact, reading the collection of Stalin's writings, Marxism and the National-Colonial Question, will give you an outline of how those conditions changed in just a couple decades in the early 1900s. It might be inferred from the context that Shakur would use the quote from Shanna to condemn "imperialist Stalin" for being so insensitive to the oppressed to use a term such as "the national question." Yet, if we read Stalin himself, before 1925 he had explicitly agreed with Shanna's point about the relevance of nationalism in the colonies:
"It would be ridiculous not to see that since then the international situation has radically changed, that the war, on the one hand, and the October Revolution in Russia, on the other, transformed the national question from a part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into a part of the proletarian-socialist revolution."(4)
This point is also central to his essay, The Foundations of Leninism, where he stated, "The national question is part of the general question of the proletarian revolution, a part of the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat."(5) So Shakur should not be offended by the word "question," which Stalin also used in reference to proletarian revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat. Clearly, "question" here should not be interpreted as questioning whether it exists, but rather how to handle it. So, in relation to Stalin at least, this whole point is a straw person argument.
On page 86, also in the response to Rashid, Shakur poses another straw person attack on Stalin in criticizing Rashid's promotion of "a multi-ethnic multi-racial socialist amerika." Shakur counter-poses that the internal semi-colonies struggle to free their land and break up the U.$. empire, and implies that Stalin would oppose such a strategy. Now this point is a little more involved, but again exposes Shakur's shallow reading of Stalin and the history of the Soviet Union. Promoting unity at the highest level possible is a principle that all communists should uphold, and this was a challenge that Stalin put much energy and attention into in the Soviet Union. He was dealing with a situation where great Russian chauvinism was a barrier to the union of the many nationalities, and that chauvinism was founded in the (weak) imperialist position of Russia before the revolution. Russia was still a predominantly peasant country in a time when people had much less material wealth and comforts. While one could argue in hindsight that it would have been better for the Russian-speaking territories to organize socialism separately from the rest of the USSR, all nationalities involved were mostly peasant, and secondarily proletarian in their class status.(6) The path that Lenin and Stalin took was reasonable, and possibly preferable in terms of promoting class unity. Thanks to the Soviet experiment we can look at that approach and see the advantages and disadvantages of it. We can also see that the national contradiction has sharply increased since the October Revolution, as Stalin himself stressed repeatedly. And finally, to compare a settler state like the United $tates that committed genocide, land grab, and slavery to the predominately peasant nation of Russia in 1917... well, perhaps Shakur should remember his own advice that we must not impose interpretations from our own conditions onto the conditions of others. Similarly, just because Stalin clearly called for a multinational party in 1917, does not mean we should do so in the United $tates in 2014.(7)
While Stalin generally promoted class unity over national independence, he measured the national question on what it's impact would be on imperialism.
"...side by side with the tendency towards union, there arose a tendency to destroy the forcible forms of such union, a struggle for the liberation of the oppressed colonies and dependent nationalities from the imperialist yoke. Since the latter tendency signified a revolt of the oppressed masses against imperialist forms of union, since it demanded the union of nations on the basis of co-operation and voluntary union, it was and is a progressive tendency, for it is creating the spiritual prerequisites for the future world socialist economy."(8)
In conclusion, it is hard to see where Shakur and Stalin disagree on the national question. While upholding very similar lines, Shakur denies that New Afrika's ideology has been influenced by Stalin. While we agree that New Afrika does not need a Georgian from the 1920s to tell them that they are an oppressed nation, Stalin played an important role in history because of the struggles of the Soviet people. He got to see and understand things in his conditions, and he was a leader in the early development of a scientific analysis of nation in the era of imperialism. His role allowed him to have great influence on the settler Communist Party - USA when he backed Harry Haywood's Blackbelt Thesis. And while we won't attempt to lay out the history of the land question in New Afrikan thought, certainly that thesis had an influence. We suspect that Shakur's reading of Stalin is strongly influenced by the lines of the NABB-PC and Communist Party - USA that he critiques. But to throw out the baby with the bath water is an idealist approach. The Soviet Union and China both made unprecedented improvements in the conditions of vast populations of formerly oppressed and exploited peoples, without imposing the burden to do so on other peoples as the imperialist nations have. This is a model that we uphold, and hope to emulate and build upon in the future.
Having spent the majority of his adult life in a Security Housing Unit, much of this book discusses the prison movement and the recent struggle for humyn rights in California prisons. His discussion of the lumpen class in the United $tates parallels ours, though he explicitly states they are "a non-revolutionary class."(p.139) His belief in a revolutionary class within New Afrika presumably is based in his assessment of a large New Afrikan proletariat, a point where he seems to agree with the NABPP-PC. In contrast, we see New Afrika dominated by a privileged labor aristocracy whose economic interests ally more with imperialism than against it. For us, to declare the First World lumpen a non-revolutionary class is to declare the New Afrikan revolution impotent. Ironically, Shakur himself embodies the transformation of lumpen criminal into revolutionary communist. While he is certainly the exception to the rule at this time, his biography serves as a powerful tool to reach those we think can be reached, both on a subjective level and due to the objective insights he has to offer.
One of the points Shakur tries to hit home with this book is that the oppressors have more faith in the oppressed nations ability to pose a threat to imperialism than the oppressed have in themselves. And we agree. We see it everyday, the very conscious political repression that is enacted on those in the U.$. koncentration kamps for fear that they might start to think they deserve basic humyn rights, dignity, or even worse, liberation. We think this book can be a useful educational tool, thereby building the confidence in the oppressed to be self-reliant, keeping in mind the critiques we pose above.
Recently the small town of SeaTac, Washington passed a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Across the United $tates the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) labor union has led an effort to demand $15 per hour for all fast food workers. For a 28 November 2013 strike, organizers said that there were demonstrations in over 100 cities.(1)
In 2014 the minimum wage will be going up in many states. Leading the way are Washington($9.32) and Oregon($9.10), with New York making the biggest jump to $8.00 per hour. New York City was center to the recent fast food strikes. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress have plans for a bill this year that would raise the federal minimum from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.(2)
Another place that minimum wage struggles made a lot of noise in 2013 was the garment industry in Bangladesh. As we mentioned in the last issue of Under Lock & Key, those workers had a recent victory in the minimum wage being raised from $38 to $68 per month. In Cambodia, garment workers have been promised a raise in the minimum wage from $80 to $95 per month. Unsatisfied, the workers have joined recent protests against the current regime to demand $160 per month.(3)
With 48-hour work weeks, garment workers are making around $0.35 per hour in Bangladesh, and $0.42 in Cambodia. Believe it or not, these are the privileged workers who have special protections because they are in important export industries. The common Bangladeshi has a minimum wage of $19 per month, which is less than 10 cents an hour.
Now, the first cry of our chauvinist critics will be "cost of living, you forgot about cost of living." Our proposal for a global minimum wage would tie this wage to a basket of goods. That means the worker in the United $tates and the worker in Bangladesh can afford comparable lifestyles with their pay. Maybe the Amerikan gets wheat where the Bangladeshi gets rice, for example. But the Amerikan does not get a persynal SUV with unlimited gasoline, while the Bangladeshi gets bus fare to and from work. To maintain such inequality the Bangladeshi is subsidizing a higher standard of living for the Amerikan.
It happens that the World Bank has taken a stab at this calculation with their Purchasing Power Parity. Using this calculation, the minimum wage in Bangladesh, which appears to be $0.09 per hour, is really a whopping $0.19 per hour.(4) So, we must apologize to our critics. The proposed minimum wage of $10 per hour would only put the lowest paid Amerikans at 50 times the pay of the lowest paid Bangladeshi if we account for cost of living.
Recently the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) accused our movement of dismissing the possibility of revolutionary organzing in the United $tates because we acknowledge the facts above. Just because struggles for higher wages, and other economic demands, are generally pro-imperialist in this country does not mean that we cannot organize here. But revolutionary organizing must not rally the petty bourgeoisie for more money at the expense of the global proletariat. Besides, even in the earliest days of the Russian proletariat Lenin had criticisms of struggles for higher wages.
While we expressed doubts about Chokwe Lumumba's electoral strategy in Jackson, Mississippi, we remain optimistic about the New Afrikan Liberation Movement's efforts to mobilize the masses there. Organizing for cooperative economics and self-sufficiency is a more neutral approach to mobilizing the lower segments of New Afrika than the SEIU clamoring for more wages for unproductive service work. While our concerns rested in their ability to organize in a way that was really independent of the existing system, creating dual power, the SEIU's begging for more spoils from the imperialists does not even offer such a possibility. To really address the inequalities in the world though, we must ultimately come into conflict with the capitalist system that creates and requires those inequalities.
One agitational point of the fast food protests has been that 52 percent of the families of front-line fast food workers need to rely on public assistance programs.(1) One reason this is true is that most fast food workers do not get to work 48 or even 40 hours a week. Throw children and other dependents in the mix and you have a small, but significant, underclass in the United $tates that struggles with things like food, rent and utility bills. Most are single parents, mostly single mothers. Collective living and economic structures could (and do) serve this class and can offer a means of political mobilization. The Black Panthers' Serve the People programs and Black houses (collective living) are one model for such organizing. But state-sponsored programs and the general increase in wealth since the 1960s makes distinguishing such work from working with imperialism a more daunting task.
The campaign for a global minimum wage has little traction among the lower paid workers in the United $tates, because they do not stand to benefit from this. This is a campaign to be led by the Third World and pushed through international bodies such as the World Trade Organization. We support it for agitational reasons, but don't expect mass support in this country. It allows us to draw a line between those who are true internationalists and those who are not.(5)
Any campaign working for economic interests of people in the imperialist countries is going to be problematic because the best economic deal for them will require teaming up with the imperialists, at least for the forseeable future.
Images of a statue of communist leader V.I. Lenin being torn down in Kiev have been celebrated in the Western press, as hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest the current regime headed by president Viktor Yanukovych.
Much of the coverage of the recent protests in Ukraine condemn government corruption as the common complaint of the protestors, linking it to Ukraine's Soviet past. The association is that this is the legacy of communist rule. In contrast, we would argue that this corruption was the result of economic Liberalism taking hold in the former Soviet Union where bourgeois democracy was lacking. Today's protests are largely inspired by a desire for bourgeois democracy, and the perceived economic benefits it would provide over the current rule by a parasitic bourgeoisie with little interest in the national economy.
The rise of Kruschev to lead the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) after Stalin's death marked the victory of the capitalist roaders within the Communist Party, and the beginning of the era of social-imperialism for the Soviet Union. This lasted from 1956 until the dissolution of the Union in 1991, when Ukraine became an independent republic. The period was marked by moving away from a socialist economy structured around humyn need and towards a market economy guided by profit. This transformation was reflected in the ideology of the people who more and more looked towards the imperialist countries and their crass consumerism as something to aspire to. It also led those in power to have more interest in their local regions than in the prosperity of the Union as a whole.
Even under capitalism, the Soviet Union was more prosperous and more stable than after its dissolution. In 1991, an estimated three quarters of the Soviet people supported maintaining the Union, but the leadership had no motivation to do so.(1) A move towards strengthening the Union would awaken the proletarian interests, which were opposed to the interests of the leadership that was now a new bourgeoisie. Ukraine played a key role in initiating the dissolution of the USSR. And it was no coincidence that in Ukraine, in particular, the dissolution was an economic disaster as the former Soviet nations were tossed to the wolves of economic Liberalism. A small emerging capitalist class took advantage of fixed prices that were a legacy of the Soviet economy and sold cheaply obtained raw materials at market rates to other countries. They turned around and invested that capital outside in international markets while tightening monopolies on trade at home. This was one of the most drastic transfers of wealth from the hands of the producers to the hands of capitalists in recent decades.(2)
Ten years after the October Revolution of 1917, Stalin wrote, "the resultant dropping out of a vast country from the world system of capitalism could not but accelerate [the process of the decay and the dying of capitalism]".(3) The inverse of this is also true, to a degree: the reentry of many countries into the world system breathed life back into it. While this brought great change at the hands of the newly empowered national bourgeoisie in those countries, it did not change the fact that imperialism had already made capitalism an economically regressive system. Hence they did not develop the wealth of their nations as the rising bourgeoisie of centuries past had done by improving production and developing trade. Today's rising bourgeoisie restricts markets via monopolies, and heads straight for high-margin business like drugs, weapons and financial markets. What happened in the ex-Soviet countries is a good demonstration of why Libertarian ideals are not relevant in today's economy.
The underground economy had been growing for decades before 1991, and this new freedom to compete was a boon to the criminal organizations that existed. These mafias were on the ground with direct access to the resources of the people before the imperialists had time to fight over these newly opened economies. With rising nationalism in the republics, Russian imperialism had to keep its distance, while other imperialist countries had no base in the region to get established. The inter-imperialist rivalry over the region is playing out today.
In the early years of independence, the Ukrainian state merged with that criminal class that was taking advantage of the political and economic turmoil in the country.(4) As a result the GDP dropped to a mere third of what it was just before the Union dissolved.(5) This came after decades of declining economic growth after the initial shift away from socialist economics. The mafias in the former Soviet countries saw an opportunity to seize local power and wealth in their respective republics as the super power crumbled. Some were further enticed by Amerikan bribes, such as Russian President Boris Yeltsin's family who received billions of dollars.(6) For a time there was hope that these changes would improve economic conditions as the bourgeois Liberal mythology led the former Soviet peoples to believe that they could follow the advice (and political donations) of the United $tates.
This mess, which the region is still struggling with, was the ultimate result of what Mao Zedong said about the rise of a new bourgeoisie within the communist party after the seizure of state power due to their inherent privilege as directors of the state. A successful socialist project must combat these bourgeois tendencies at every turn in order to prevent the proletariat from suffering at the hands of a new bourgeois exploiting class. At the core of the Cultural Revolution was combating the theory of productive forces, which Mao had previously criticized the Soviet Union for implementing. The turn to the western imperialist countries as economic models was the logical conclusion of the theory of productive forces in the Soviet Union.
One of the messages underpinning today's protests in Ukraine is the desire to move closer to the European Union (EU), as opposed to the Russian sphere of influence. It seems that looking to the west for hope has only increased in Ukraine over the last couple decades. But there is no obvious advantage to becoming a client of imperialist Western Europe over imperialist Russia except for the higher concentration of super-profits in the EU. And as other newcomers to the EU can attest, the imperialist nations in Europe will oppose any perceived distribution of their super-profits to the east. Similar nationalism is fueling the Ukrainian protestors who oppose the perceived transfer of wealth from their country to Russia. In general, increased trade will help a country economically. But in this battle Russia and the EU are fighting to cut each other off from trading with Ukraine. As always, capitalism tends towards monopolies and imperialism depends on monopsonies.
It is little wonder that the masses would be unsatisfied living under the rule of corrupt autocrats. Yet, it was just 2004 when the U.$.-funded so-called "Orange Revolution" threw out a previous mafia boss named Leonid Kuchma.(7) This regime change gained support from those making similar demands to today's protestors, but it did not change the nature of the system as these protests demonstrate. And that orchestrated movement was no revolution. It was a mass protest, followed by a coup d'etat; something that the imperialists have been funding quite regularly in central Eurasia these days. A revolution involves the overthrow of a system and transformation to a new system, specifically a change in the economic system or what Marxists call the mode of production. We don't see any movement in this direction in Ukraine from where we are, as nationalism is being used as a carrier for bourgeois ideologies among the exploited people of Ukraine, just as Stalin warned against.
Rather than a revolutionary anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist movement, the criminal corruption in Ukraine has led to right-wing populism in recent years. This was marked by the surge of the Svoboda party into the parliament. The men who toppled the statue of Lenin and smashed it with sledge hammers waved Svodoba flags as they did so, indicating that they represented not just a vague anti-Russia sentiment, but a clear anti-socialist one.
Svodoba's populism challenges the current ruling bourgeois mafia, while their nationalism serves to divide the proletariat by inflaming various grudges in the region. This is in strong contrast to the revolutionary nationalism supported by Lenin and Stalin and by Maoists today. In a criticism of the provisional government prior to the October Revolution in 1917, Lenin wrote on Ukraine:
"We do not favour the existence of small states. We stand for the closest union of the workers of the world against 'their own' capitalists and those of all other countries. But for this union to be voluntary, the Russian worker, who does not for a moment trust the Russian or the Ukrainian bourgeoisie in anything, now stands for the right of the Ukrainians to secede, without imposing his friendship upon them, but striving to win their friendship by treating them as an equal, as an ally and brother in the struggle for socialism."(8)
This is a concise summary of the Bolshevik line on nationalism.
A Note on Class and Criminality
Without doing an in-depth class analysis of Ukraine, we can still generalize that it is a proletarian nation. Only 5.1% of households had incomes of more than US$15,000 in the year 2011.(9) That mark is close to the dividing line we'd use for exploiters vs. exploited internationally. Therefore we'd say that 95% of people in Ukraine have objective interests in ending imperialism. This serves as a reminder to our readers that we say the white nation in North Amerika is an oppressor nation, not the white race, which does not exist.
While official unemployment rates in Ukraine have been a modest 7 to 8% in recent years, the CIA Factbook reports that there are a large number of unregistered and underemployed workers not included in that calculation. That unquantified group is likely some combination of underground economy workers and lumpen proletariat. In 2011, the Ukrainian Prime Minister said that 40% of the domestic market was illegal,(10) that's about double the rate for the world overall.(11) On top of that, another 31% of the Ukrainian market was operating under limited taxes and regulations implemented in March 2005, which were put in place to reduce the massive black market. In other words, the underground economy was probably much bigger than 40% before these tax exemptions were put in place.
One way we have distinguished the lumpen is as a class that would benefit, whether they think so or not, from regular employment. This is true both for the lumpen-proletariat typical of today's Third World mega-slums, and the First World lumpen, even though "regular employment" means very different things in different countries. While there is a portion of the lumpen that could accurately be called the "criminal" lumpen because they make their living taking from others, we do not define the lumpen as those who engage in crime. Of course not, as the biggest criminals in the world are the imperialists, robbing and murdering millions globally.
For the lumpen, the path of crime is only one option; for the imperialists it defines their relationship to the rest of humynity. Crime happens to be the option most promoted for the lumpen by the corporate culture in the United $tates through music and television. And in chaotic situations like the former Soviet republics faced it may be the most immediately appealing option for many. But it is not the option that solves the problems faced by the lumpen as a class. Ukraine is a stark example of where that model might take us. As the lumpen proletariat grows in the Third World, and the First World lumpen threatens to follow suit in conditions of imperialist crisis, we push to unite the interests of those classes with the national liberation struggles of the oppressed nations that they come from. Only by liberating themselves from imperialism can those nations build economies that do not exclude people.
Among the bourgeoisie, there are few who are innocent of breaking the laws of their own class. But there are those who operate legitimate businesses and there are those who operate in the underground market. This legality has little bearing on their class interests. All national bourgeoisies support the capitalist system that they benefit from, though they will fight against the imperialist if their interests collide.
So there is no such thing as "the criminal class" because we define class by the group's relationship to production and distribution, and not to the legality of their livelihoods. And we should combat the influence of the bourgeois criminals on the lumpen who, on the whole, would be better served by an end to imperialism than by trying to follow in their footsteps.
While the Ukrainian people push for something more stable and beneficial to them, the Russian imperialists face off with the EU. The EU is backed by the United $tates who has publicly discussed sanctions against Ukraine justified by hypocritical condemnation of the Ukrainian government using police to attack peaceful protests. Hey John Kerry, the world still remembers the images of police brutality on Occupy Wall Street encampments.
The real story here may be in the inter-imperialist rivalry being fought out in the Ukrainian streets and parliament. While the Ukraine nation has an interest in ending imperialism, the dominant politics in that country do not reflect that interest. And one reason for that is the lasting effects of mistakes from the past, which still lead to subjective rejection of communism for many Ukrainians in the 21st century. This only further reiterates the importance of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the need to always put politics in command in building a socialist economy to prevent the future exploitation and suffering of the peoples of the world. This is likely a precursor to much more violent conflict over the rights to markets in the former Soviet republics. Violence can be prevented in the future by keeping the exploited masses organized on the road to socialism.
The battle against torture in California prisons is heading for a breaking point with unity running high among prisoners and resistance to change stiffening within the state. Since the third round of strikes ended in early September the promised state legislature hearing around the Security Housing Units (SHU) occurred and Pelican Bay SHU representatives met with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officials. Yet the actions taken by the state in response to the protests have been the same old political repression that the SHU was created to enforce, not ending conditions of torture. One comrade from Corcoran reports:
I read in your latest publication that you guys hadn't had any news of the concessions Corcoran SHU made in order to bring our hunger strike to an end. For the most part, the demands made here are not even worth articulating, as they don't incorporate, in any way, the push towards shutting these human warehouses down completely.
The demands put forth here are simple creature comforts, which have not even been met by the administration, to pacify those who seem to have accepted these conditions of confinement.
Worse than the petty reforms, is the blatant political repression of strikers just as the world's attention is on them. The state knows that if it can get away with that now, then it has nothing to worry about. As another comrade from Corcoran SHU reports:
I stopped eating state food on 8 July 2013 and as a retaliatory measure I and a bunch of other prisoners were transferred from the Corcoran SHU to the Pelican Bay SHU. Only the thing is, when we got to Pelican Bay on 17 July 2013 we were placed in the ASU instead of the SHU, which made it so that we would have a lot less privileges and we couldn't even get a book to read. So we were just staring at the wall. On 5 August 2013 others and myself were moved to the SHU where we were again just staring at the wall. On 7 September 2013 we were again moved back to the ASU to sit there with nothing. On 24 September 2013 I was moved back to the SHU and I just received all my property last week.
So we were moved around and denied our property for 3 months or more. But that seems to be it right now and I can finally settle in. But I'm telling you that was a long 3 months. Other than that no new changes or anything else has happened around here. I did, however, receive a 115 rules violation report for the hunger strike, along with everyone else who participated, and in it it charges that I hunger striked as part of some gang stuff so it was gang activity. This is ironic since the hunger strike was about the CDCR misusing the validation process and what is considered gang activity. So now that 115 can and will be used as a source item of gang activity to keep me in the SHU longer.
While that comrade was sent to Pelican Bay, our comrade below is being "lost" in Enhanced Outpatient Program (EOP). Organizing in California has gotten so advanced that the CDCR is moving people out of Administrative Segregation to isolate them. But with a third of the people actively participating in protests, there is no way for them to brush this movement under the rug.
I am writing to say that it's been over 5 weeks since our peaceful protest was suspended. I am a petitioner in the Corcoran Administrative Segregation Unit 2011 strike and am a participant and a petitioner in this 8 July 2013 one. I have been moved around and retaliated against. I went from ASU-1 to Cor 3B02 on 24 July 2013. I was moved back to ASU-1 on 16 August 2013 and then on 19 August 2013 I was moved to where I am currently housed in isolation with no access to anything although I am not "EOP." I am being housed against my will and the correctional officers here tell me I don't belong here but that they can't do anything because it's above their pay level. No one seems to know anything about why I am being housed here but all come to the same conclusion: that someone above them has me housed here. I'd like to know if there is anyone out there that you may have heard of that find themselves in similar situations or am I the only one?
We haven't heard anything yet. But don't let their games get to you comrade.
Another indication of the strength of change in California comes from a story being circulated by representatives of the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective. Multiple versions have been circulating about a historic bus ride where these "worst of the worst" from "rival gangs" were left unshackled for an overnight bus ride. It was reported that not one of the O.G.'s slept a wink that night, but neither did any conflicts occur. At least some of these men self-admittedly would have killed each other on sight in years past.(1) This amazing event symbolizes the extent to which this has become about the imprisoned lumpen as a whole, and not about criminal interests.
The CDCR keeps telling the public that they are instituting reforms, while in reality they are torturing people for being "gang members" for reasons such as protesting torture. Outside supporters can up the pressure to end this system of repression by letting them know that we know what they're doing, that their words mean nothing, and that going on hunger strike is not a crime. There is a campaign to call the CDCR out on their hypocrisy by contacting:
M.D. Stainer, Director Division of Adult Institutions Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation P.O. Box 942883 Sacramento CA. 94283 (916) 445-7688 [email protected]
As we reiterated last issue, it is prisoners who determine the fate of the prison movement. And the only way prisoners can actually win is by building independent power. As long as this is a campaign for certain reforms, the state will go back to business as usual as soon as the outside attention fades. Torture cannot be reformed, and neither can an exploitative economic system that demands it. Of course prisoners can't end imperialism alone, but wherever we are we must focus on building cadre level organizations that can support independent institutions of the oppressed.
The Minister of Defense of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) recently stepped in(1) to defend Turning the Tide against our USW comrade's critiques.(2) We can appreciate the greater clarity and honesty in Rashid's piece compared to Michael Novick's, but still cannot forgive him for getting the first question of importance to communists wrong: who are our friends and who are our enemies? Like Jose Maria Sison and Bob Avakian, Rashid has long been exposed to MIM line and writing, and many attempts to struggle with him have been made. It does great damage to the International Communist Movement when these people become icons of "Maoism" in many peoples' eyes, while promoting chauvinistic lines on the role of the oppressor nations under imperialism.
Rashid opens his piece with the most common strawpersyn argument of the revisionists, that the MIM line is wrong because Marx and Lenin never abandoned organizing among Europeans and Amerikans. Rashid needs to be more specific if he's claiming there are groups that are refusing to work with white people or moving to the Third World to organize. While our work mostly targets prisoners, we target prisoners of all nationalities, and similarly our street work is not very nation-specific. The question we would ask instead of "should we organize Amerikans?", is, "what is going to achieve communism faster, organizing rich people around demands for more money, or organizing them around ideas of collective responsibility for equal distribution of humyn needs and ecological sustainability?"
Rashid's third paragraph includes some numbers and math and at first glance i thought it might have some concrete analysis. But alas, the numbers appear just for show as they are a) made up numbers, and b) reflecting the most simple calculation that Marx teaches us to define surplus value. To counter Rashid's empty numbers, let us repeat our most basic math example here. If Amerikans are exploited, then to end exploitation would mean they need to get paid more money. Dividing the global GDP by the number of full-time laborers gives an equitable distribution of income of around $10,000 per persyn per year.(3) To be fair, in Rashid's article he addresses this and quotes Marx to say that we cannot have an equitable distribution of income. In that quote from Wages, Price and Profit Marx was writing about capitalism, which is inherently exploitative. Our goal is communism, or "from each according to her ability, to each according to her need." But we're not there yet, Rashid might argue. OK fine, let's take Rashid's hypothetical McDonald's worker making $58 per 8 hour workday. If we assume 5 days a week and 50 weeks a year we get $14,500 per year. According to the World Bank, half of the world's people make less than $1,225 per year.(4) That report also showed that about 10% of Amerikans are in the world's richest 1% and that almost half of the richest 1% are Amerikans. So Rashid wants to argue that under capitalism it is just that the lowest paid Amerikans earn over 10 times more than half of the world's population because their labor is worth that much more? How is that? What Marx was talking about in Wages, Price and Profit was scientific: a strong persyn might be twice as productive as a weak one, or a specially trained persyn might add more value than an unskilled persyn. So Rashid wants to use this to justify paying anyone who was birthed as a U.$. citizen 10 to 25 times, or more, the average global rate of pay? We have no idea how Rashid justifies this disparity except through crass Amerikan chauvinism.
This empty rhetoric is not Marxism. It is ironic how today people will use this basic formulation for surplus value from Marx to claim people of such vastly different living conditions are in the same class. No one else in the world looks at the conditions in the United $tates and Haiti and thinks, "these countries should really unite to address their common plight." It is only pseudo-Marxists and anarchists who read a little Marx who can come up with such crap.
Rashid later establishes commonality across nations with the definition, "The proletariat simply is one who must sell her labor power to survive, which is as true for the Amerikan worker as it is for one in Haiti." We prefer Marx's definition that the proletariat are those who have nothing to lose but their chains. According to Rashid, we should determine whether someone is exploited based on different measuring sticks depending on what country they live in. Apparently, in the United $tates you must have a $20,000 car, a $200,000 home and hand-held computers for every family member over 5 in order "to survive." Whereas in other countries electricity and clean water are optional. More chauvinism.
Rashid continues discussing class definitions,
"For instance, if there's no [Euro-Amerikan] ('white') proletariat in the US, then there's also no New Afrikan/Black one. If a EA working in McDonalds isn't a proletarian, then neither is one of color. If there's no New Afrikan proletariat, then there's no New Afrikan lumpen proletariat either ("lumpen" literally means "broken"—if they were never of the proletariat, they could not become a 'broken' proletariat)."
Lumpen is usually translated as "rag." Even in the United $tates we have a population of people who live in rags, who have very little to lose. However, we completely agree with Rashid's logic here. And that is why MIM(Prisons) started using the term "First World lumpen" to distinguish from "lumpenproletariat." There is little connection between the lumpen in this country and a real proletariat, with the exceptions being within migrant populations and some second generation youth who form a bridge between Third World proletariat, First World semi-proletariat and First World lumpen classes. Rashid continues,
"Yet the VLA [vulgar labor aristocracy] proponents recognize New Afrikan prisoners as 'lumpen' who are potentially revolutionary. Which begs the question, why aren't they doing work within the oppressed New Afrikan communities where they're less apt to be censored, if indeed they compose a lumpen sector?"
This is directed at us, so we will answer: historical experience and limited resources. As our readers should know, we struggle to do the things we do to support prisoner education programs and organizing work. We do not have the resources right now to do any serious organizing outside of prisons. And we made the conscious decision of how we can best use our resources in no small part due to historical experience of our movement. In other words we go where there is interest in revolutionary politics. The margins, the weakest links in the system, that is where you focus your energy. Within the lumpen class, the imprisoned lumpen have a unique relationship to the system that results in a strong contradiction with that system. The imprisoned population could also be considered 100% lumpen, whereas less than 20% of the New Afrikan nation is lumpen, the rest being among various bourgeois classes, including the labor aristocracy.
"And if the lumpen can be redeemed, why not EA [Euro-Amerikan] workers?"
Again, look at history. Read J. Sakai's Settlers and read about the Black Panther Party. Today, look at the growing prison system and the regular murder of New Afrikan and other oppressed nation youth by the pigs. Look at where the contradictions and oppression are.
The only really interesting thing about this piece is that Rashid has further drawn a line between the MIM camp and the slew of anarchist and crypto-Trotskyist organizations who are still confused about where wealth comes from. They think people sitting at computers typing keys are exploited, and Rashid accuses our line of requiring "surplus value falling from the sky!" We already told you where the high wages in the imperialist countries came from, Rashid, the Third World proletariat! That is why the average Amerikan makes 25 times the average humyn, and why all Amerikans are in the top 13% in income globally. As the revisionists like to remind us, wealth disparity just keeps getting greater and greater under capitalism. The labor aristocracy today is like nothing that V.I. Lenin ever could have witnessed. We must learn from the methods of Marx and Lenin, not dogmatically repeat their analysis from previous eras to appease Amerikans.
Chokwe Lumumba — lawyer, activist, Vice President of the Republic of New Afrika, and cofounder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) — was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi on 4 June 2013 with 87% of the votes. Accounting for 80% of the population, Jackson is the second Blackest city in the United $tates. Mississippi is the Blackest state with 35% of its voters being New Afrikan.(1)
Even though the rate of white voter turnout was more than twice that of New Afrikans, and some 90% of whites supported the other guy, Lumumba came out victorious.(1) All of these facts support the decision of the MXGM to focus on building a base of power within New Afrika in Jackson, Mississippi. However, elections themselves cannot be a tool for liberation or independence, and the only cases where MIM(Prisons) might promote them would be for tactical victories. This election was part of a strategic plan that MXGM released almost a year ago.
This plan states:
"The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) firmly believes that at this stage in the struggle for Black Liberation that the movement must be firmly committed to building and exercising what we have come to regard as 'dual power' — building autonomous power outside of the realm of the state (i.e. the government) in the form of People's Assemblies and engaging electoral politics on a limited scale with the express intent of building radical voting blocks and electing candidates drawn from the ranks of the Assemblies themselves."(2)
The idea of the oppressed nations building organizations that are independent of and not funded by the state can be a controversial issue in this country. While there is nothing illegal or inherently threatening about organizing independent from the state, Amerikans rely on repression in order to prevent the self-determination of the oppressed nations. If the oppressed nations are to break free from imperialism's choke hold, it will threaten the luxurious lifestyles of the average Joe the plumber who lives off the wealth of oppressed nations abroad. We saw one example of this mentality among Amerikans when recent issues of Under Lock & Key were censored in North Carolina specifically citing as the justification the fifth point of the United Front for Peace in Prisons — Independence.
While "independence" is a fairly broad term used to define a thing in relation to another thing, "dual power" has a much more specific meaning to Marxists. Independence on its own does not constitute the establishment of "dual power." When MXGM uses the term "dual power" they appear to really be talking about parallel strategies of community organizing and electoral politics.
The condition of dual power actually exists when there is an emerging state coming up against an existent, and dying state. This, of course, is the product of class struggle, the motive force of history. In discussing Engels' ideas in defining what state power is, Lenin wrote:
"What does this power mainly consist of? It consists of special bodies of armed men having prisons, etc., at their command. ... A standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power."(3)
Dual, of course meaning two, would imply that you would have two different political structures with their own police, army and prisons, etc. in order to have dual power. Such a situation would mean that a civil war had begun. When Lenin first coined the term in 1917 he was speaking of the emerging Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies that would seize state power later that same year.(4) Certainly this is not the condition in Mississippi today.
MXGM recognizes their electoral efforts are limited, and considers them one pillar of their strategy of building political power in the region that is separate from their work to build autonomous structures (People's Assemblies).(2) But these People's Assemblies are not parallel to the Soviets in 1917 or the liberated zones in China in 1948 or even the countless regions in the world today where power is held by emerging states (see Palestine, India, Colombia, the Philippines, etc).
Within the context of oppressed nation territory, there is an argument to be made for engaging in electoral politics as a step towards building one's base. While the Lumumba campaign has a clear connection to revolutionary nationalism, it is not based in proletarian ideology. Revolutionary nationalism can come in different class forms. The lack of proletarian ideology leads them to succumb to populism. Populism threatens New Afrikan independence because of the economic pull of U.$. imperialism. With "economic development" as part of his political platform, it seems hard for Lumumba to avoid playing the role of bribing his own people with superprofits won from imperialism. This is one reason it is hard to justify supporting electoral work except to make tactical gains.
The MXGM economic program, the "third pillar" of their Jackson Plan, focuses on cooperative economics and building green economies. Such a strategy does not confront the structure of capitalism, but is a concession to petty bourgeois idealism. As long as capitalism exists people are either exploited or exploiters, so all efforts should be on exposing the need to end that system rather than white-washing it with co-ops and eco-friendly operations. There is no example in history of building new economic systems that effectively challenged capitalism without first establishing true dual power. Therefore if dual power is not feasible in our conditions, these economic strategies become reformist at best. We are better off struggling to maintain our political independence at this stage.
While running for and being elected Mayor limits Chokwe Lumumba politically, the public release of the Jackson-Kush Plan a year prior means that his landslide victory represents a majority of New Afrikans in Jackson who are at least open to the idea that political independence from Amerika is in the interests of their nation. Establishing that fact in the eyes of the New Afrikan masses is one small victory on the road to New Afrikan liberation. But electoral politics are a feeble bridge. The more people rely on it to reach liberation, the sooner it will fall out beneath them. Unless the bridge is strengthened with correct revolutionary theory, it will be doomed to leave the New Afrikan masses on the wrong side of history.
Amendment I of the Bill of Rights of the United States:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
After decades of expanding the repression of the U.$. prison system, and despite their effectiveness in misleading and breaking up unity, the control units remain a flashpoint of struggle within U.$. borders. These flashes do take time to develop, due to the excessive restrictions placed on those in these units. So when they do come to light, they emerge from much struggle and are not likely to fizzle out soon.
The struggle against control units is a struggle against torture. It is a struggle against not just the violation of some of the most basic rights that this country was founded on, but also basic humyn needs like sunlight, exercise, mental stimulation and social interaction.
Orders From the Top
As U.$. president, Barack Obama once honored Rosa Parks and the movement of civil disobedience that she symbolized. It was a movement of Black people for basic rights under U.$. imperialism. Yet today the Obama administration gives its explicit approval to the torture and repression going on in a country that imprisons more of its population than any other state in humyn history, and a higher percentage of Blacks than the openly racist Apartheid state of South Africa. U.$. prisons also hold a higher percentage of their prisoners in long-term isolation than any other state that has been documented.
The 2014 federal budget proposed by Obama includes an overall increase in funding for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. More damning, it describes the remodeling of the recently acquired Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois to include an Administrative Maximum Custody (ADX) and Special Management Unit (SMU). ADX "houses the most violent, disruptive, dangerous and escape-prone inmates within the Federal Prison System including those convicted of terrorist activities." "The SMU program is for inmates who have participated in or had a leadership role in geographical group/gang-related activity or those who otherwise present unique security and management concerns." The budget proposal claims that one in six prisoners in maximum security are "gang affiliated." It does not specify how many of the 2100 beds will be SMU or ADX classified.(1) While lawsuits challenge the constitutionality of the treatment people face in these units, and international bodies like the United Nations condemn them as torture, the Obama regime is providing clear leadership to the hundreds of state and local agencies involved in the U.$. prison system on how prisoners are to be treated.
Obama's role is even more clear in Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners are being held as enemy combatants by the military. Prisoners there began another hunger strike on 6 February 2013. Since then the ranks of the strike have grown to over 130 people.(2) Many are being force-fed, and many are skeletal in appearance now.
All this is being done as the United $tates still has the audacity to claim it is promoting freedom around the world, with bombs. As we highlight the connections of the struggle against control units to the struggle against the imperialist system itself, the global importance of this struggle becomes evident. As RAIM pointed out in their recent statement to the international communist movement, failures at building socialism in the past have been connected to a temptation to imitate Amerikan ways. One way the anti-imperialist minority in the First World can strengthen the movements in the Third World is by making it very clear that this is not a model to follow, and that the Amerikan dream is built on torture, genocide, exploitation and injustice.
What to Expect
A Yemeni prisoner held in Guantanamo Bay, who has been on hunger strike since the start had an Op-Ed published in The New York Times, where he wrote,
"I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can't describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn't. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.
"I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I'm sleeping.
"There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren't enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up."(3)
Another prisoner who has since been released from Guantanamo Bay after a 438-day hunger strike reported how the force feeding was brutal and they did not clean the tubes between feeding people. The prisoners asked military personnel why they were doing this:
"They told us, 'We want you to break your hunger strike.' They tell us directly like that. They ask us to break our hunger strike. They said, 'We'll never deal with you as the detainees until you break your hunger strike.'"(2)
Comrades from NCTT-Corcoran-SHU (a New Afrikan think tank) have reported that staff at Corcoran State Prison have been announcing similar plans to prisoners in California, indicating that they will not be providing proper medical care and attention to strikers in their prison in the future. These threats, which violate state policies, will also result in undercounting strikers.(4) It is possible that information will not flow as freely this time around, meaning outside supporters will have little information to go on until the struggle is over. This reinforces the need for strong unity among those inside and the ability to act independent of outside support.
We've also received word of plans to move prisoners and staff around strategically over the next couple months. In particular, Special Needs Yard prisoners are reportedly being moved to other facilities and given work assignments. Prison staff apparently thinks this will dilute the spirit of prisoners. However, depending on the balance of forces, this could go either way. We know there are strong supporters of the prisoners' rights movement in SNY already, and we hope these coming months provide the conditions to further break down the divisions within the imprisoned lumpen class. While we know that staff regularly bribe prisoners to create disruptions among the population, the mass support for the interests of all prisoners will make it hard for these bribed prisoners to create disruptions openly in the coming months, hopefully longer.
There have been positive reports of prisoners being moved to areas they once could not go, as a result of the agreement to end hostilities that has been in place for over 6 months now, which was endorsed by the largest organizations in California prisons. In particular, positive reports have come from Pelican Bay and Corcoran, where two of the main SHUs are located. San Quentin death row has also reached out to share ideas to build their own prisoner rights campaign over the coming months.
We have received some letters about ideas on tactics for advancing the prisoner rights movement in California. We've printed some in ULK and shared others with United Struggle from Within members in California. But in most cases it is impossible for us to have a full understanding of the balance of forces, and thus we are not in a position to determine which tactics are best. In addition, conditions vary so much between facilities. Clearly the comrades in Pelican Bay and Corcoran took the lead in struggling to shut down the SHU and they will likely continue to do so. What we can say for sure is that July 8 will be an opportunity to have your voice amplified by acting in solidarity with all across the state, and many in other states as well. To determine how you can best do this, you must think through and balance the effectiveness of your tactics with the risks involved.
Where we can provide leadership is in our ideological alignment. Some lists of goals that are circulating include things that are not humyn needs. These demands may be subjectively popular among the prison masses, but will greatly damage support from the outside and internationally by trivializing the struggle for basic rights. As we presented in ULK 31, below are the strategic goals that, if attained, we think would represent the establishment of basic humyn rights for prisoners (note a small change to point 1.f.).
An end to torture of all prisoners, including an end to the use of Security Housing Units (SHU) as long-term isolation prisons.
Basic humyn needs are centered around 1) healthy food and water, 2) fresh air and exercise, 3) clothes and shelter from the elements and 4) social interactions and community with other humyns. It is the SHU's failure to provide for these basic needs that have led people around the world to condemn long-term isolation as torture. Therefore we demand that the following minimum standards be met for all prisoners:
no prisoner should be held in Security Housing Units for longer than 30 days. Rehouse all prisoners currently in SHU to mainline facilities.
interaction with other prisoners every day
time spent outdoors with space and basic equipment for exercise every day
healthy food and clean water every day
proper clothing and climate control
an end to the use of and threat of violence by staff against prisoners who have not made any physical threat to others
access to phone calls and contact visits with family at least once a week
timely and proper health care
ability to engage in productive activities, including correspondence courses and hobby crafts
a meaningful way to grieve any abuses or denial of the above basic rights
Freedom of association.
As social beings, people in prison will always develop relationships with other prisoners. We believe positive and productive relationships should be encouraged. Currently the CDCR makes it a crime punishable by torture (SHU) to affiliate with certain individuals or organizations. This is contrary to the judiciary's interpretation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We demand that prisoners of the state of California only be punished for violating the law, and that there be:
no punishment based on what books one reads or has in their possession
no punishment for jailhouse lawyering for oneself or for others, for filing grievances or for any challenges to conditions of confinement through legal means
no punishment for what outside organizations one belongs to or corresponds with
no punishment for communicating with other prisoners if not breaking the law
no punishment for tattoos
no punishment for what individuals of the same race/nation/organizational affiliation do unless you as an individual were involved in violating a rule or the law, i.e. no group punishment
no punishment for affiliation with a gang, security threat group, or other organization - in other words a complete end to the gang validation system that punishes people (currently puts people in the SHU for an indeterminate amount of time) based on their affiliation and/or ideology without having broken any rules or laws
1 May 2013 - The so-called labor movement in the imperialist countries has long been limited in support and influence due to the overwhelmingly privileged conditions that most First Worlders live in. So in an attempt to seem relevant, and to perhaps mask their white nationalism, they proclaim "solidarity" with worker struggles across the world. In the worst cases, this "solidarity" actively works to mislead the struggle of the proletariat towards economism and tailing of First World development models. But even when it is just "solidarity" in words, it is used to defend the privilege of the exploiter populations in the First World. On this May Day, the featured interview on Democracy Now! epitomized this tendency.(1)
Charlie Kernaghan of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights was interviewed for a segment on the recent tragedy in Bangladesh and the labor struggle in general. Kernaghan informed us that 421 people are confirmed dead and another 1000 are still missing, meaning they are probably dead under the rubble of the factory that collapsed. He explained that the workers were not only threatened with no pay for the month, which would equal going hungry, but they faced the immediate threat of thugs with batons. As the recent fertilizer explosion in Texas showed, the profit motive under capitalism puts everyone's lives at risk. Still, there is a quantitative difference between being forced back into a dangerous situation with batons, and being unaware that it exists. The relative risk faced in the Third World is higher.
As MIM and others have shown elsewhere, there is a qualitative difference between First World wage earners in that they earn more than the value of their labor and are therefore exploiters, in contrast to the exploited proletariat.(2) The conversation around the Bangladesh tragedy degenerated into white nationalism when interviewer Amy Goodman began asking about what is to be done. After cheerleading for more protection of Amerikan wages, the guest began calling for trade barriers to goods from countries like Bangladesh until they can follow certain labor standards enforced by U.$. law. Such opposition to free trade organizes the exploiters at the expense of the exploited.
The elephant in the room became harder to ignore as the guest talked of workers making 21 cents an hour in the same breath as the immiseration of Amerikan workers. Yet, when Goodman began dancing around the wage question the guest responded:
"Well, like I said with the legislation, it's not our job to set wages around the world. That's up to the people in their individual countries. But what we can do is we can demand that if you want to bring the products into the United States, that these workers must have their legal rights."
How is it that we can enforce child labor laws, but when it comes to wages the Third World is suddenly on their own? How can you talk about international "labor solidarity" without talking about an international minimum wage? The idea is ridiculous and the only reason it happens is that the Amerikan labor leaders know that the average wage in the world is well below what they are already making. They want to keep earning more than their fair share, while putting up trade barriers for products produced by exploited labor.
We presume that the people of South Asia will not mistake people making $20k a year, and much more, as being part of the proletariat. But as we come closer to the heart of empire, the proletariat's class view becomes more and more skewed. There is no better example of this than in Aztlán today, where migrant workers see the vast wealth around them and the possibility of getting a piece of it. After the oppressed nations took over May Day in the United $tates seven years ago, the left-wing of white nationalism worked overtime to infuse this new proletarian movement in the belly of the beast with the line of the labor aristocracy.
Today, as the federal government claims to be close to enacting "immigration reform" that will amount to more Amerikan exceptionalism and favoritism, we favor the focus on reunification of families that some in Los Angeles called for on this May Day. This is an issue that ties in well with the national question, rather than economist demands for more access to exploiter-level wages. Reunification challenges the repressive border that keeps families apart, and keeps whole nations of people alienated from the wealth that they produce. As integration in the United $tates has advanced, challenging the border and fighting white nationalism, or better yet First Worldism, needs to be at the center of a progressive proletarian movement in Aztlán. These are the issues that really sparked the massive May Day rallies in 2006 in response to pro-Minutemen Amerika.(3) This is the spirit that we celebrate this May Day.
The recent events around the bombings in Boston has been confusing to internationalists. Last week, we mourned the 3 unnecessary deaths and over 200 injuries that occurred in Boston on 15 April 2013. Today we mourn the over 250 unnecessary deaths (and counting) and over 800 more who remain trapped in the rubble in Bangladesh [10 May 2013 update: the death toll has passed 1000]. Yet we are confused, though not surprised, by expressions of sadness that are so disproportionate among Amerikans surrounding these two events. Both were unnecessary results of imperialism. Reports today from one of the bombers in Boston state that he was motivated by the U.$. invasions and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan — both imperialist occupations for Third World resources. The deaths in Bangladesh came after a garment manufacturer, who produces goods for the U.$. market, threatened employees with starvation to get them to work in an unsafe building, which then collapsed while they were inside.
People die in bombings everyday in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where there has been heavy U.$. military involvement, and yet we don't see Amerikans respond like they have over the last week. Those who got teary-eyed over the deaths in Boston, while barely registering those in Bangladesh as a blip at the bottom of their TV screen, are emblematic of the problem of national chauvinism in the United $tates. In place of this view we promote a view of collective responsibility. Humyn society is a product of humyn actions that we, as a collective species, determine. For those of us who are citizens of the most powerful country on Earth, our responsibility is that much more grave.
So, the Amerikan reader might ask, should we bow to the demands of anyone who plants a homemade bomb in a crowd? Of course not. What we are saying is that if Amerikans paid as much attention to deaths caused by their nation as they did to deaths inflicted on their nation, then the latter would be less frequent. Of course the latter already pales in comparison to the former, as Amerikans kill far more people of other nations than vice-versa. Taking responsibility for this fact and acting to change it is the single most practical thing one can do to prevent unnecessary deaths of all peoples. Most of the "response" to the bombing in Boston has been political posturing and emotional subjectivism — all show, no substance. For the people of the world who face death on a daily basis, such platitudes are not enough and only real solutions earn respect, not empty words.
A peaceful world is possible. But a peaceful world is precluded by one without exploitation. You cannot maintain wealth inequality and profit motives without the use of force. MIM(Prisons) stands for an end of such use of force, an end to all oppression and exploitation, and an end to the unnecessary deaths that are the result of the system of imperialism in so many forms. We challenge U.$. citizens to join us in taking collective responsibility for the actions of our government and the deaths and destruction that result from it. Taking responsibility means taking action to change those things, while combating the culture of chauvinism that dominates our society.