On 14 May 2018, after seven days of being on lockdown and receiving one shower, 6 prisoners at the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP) in the Management Control Unit covered their windows in protest and demanded they be given showers. The administration argued that they had been taken off lockdown on May 12, and therefore were not due showers.
On May 12, the facility had been taken off lockdown for 10 minutes and as soon as the doors opened multiple prisoners began fighting and the facility immediately went back on lockdown not ten minutes later leaving prisoners without a chance to take showers since May 10th. Colorado's policy is that prisoners get a chance to shower every 72 hours.
At CSP each tier has 8 cells housing one prisoner each, 2 tiers per pod and 8 pods per unit. Six out of 8 prisoners all agreed to protest by covering their windows. Rather than allow the prisoners the human dignity of a shower, the cell extraction team was deployed, and a chemical weapon known as FOXISPRA Jet Oleoresin Capiscum (O/C) spray was applied. This caused several of the prisoners, including the author who has respiratory issues and is "O/C restricted" yet was still sprayed, to pass out. Apparently to Colorado DOC, being unconscious is considered resting. As usual staff tailored the reports to fit their needs, each prisoner was given disciplinary charges and monetary fines of $117, most of which was for one time use items that should have been split six different ways.
Sadly, the goal was not accomplished, however the 6 were allowed to shower to remove the O/C spray. The bright side is that solidarity such as this is on the rise in higher security prisons in Colorado, and this story has been circulating around the facility with high regard.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Building unity around common oppression is an important part of organizing behind bars. When people start to come together to demand their basic rights, they also start to see the power of this unity. Revolutionaries can build on this unity by helping folks to see how these individual situations of oppression are tied to the broader criminal injustice system. And making these connections we can start talking about what we need to do to fight back on a broader scale. Lots of people report their political awakening going back to persynal experiences of oppression, coupled with revolutionaries helping them see the ties to the broader system of oppression. United Struggle from Within comrades can play this leadership role by starting from where people are at and building with them.
This letter is about how we need to encourage and educate each other while we are all in here. I am in my late 30s and this is my first arrest ever in my life. So the first couple of weeks was rough, until one of the guards made a threat against me and I did a greivance. The other prisoners laughed and said it would do no good. At first I felt they were right. The CO I wrote up was given the grievance and ripped it up in front of me and started to tell the others I was a snitch. I felt helpless.
Then I realized every other prisoner is between 17 and 23 — youngsters. So I decided to educate myself and others. So I got a copy of the grievance policy and exhausted it. Then a copy of the state commission policies and filed with them.
Finally I got a copy of your newsletter and passed it around and — bam! — the fire was lit in 2 people on my rung. They wanted to know how to file grievances so I showed them, walked them thru, and gave the support and explained that it all takes time to get any kind of legal paperwork done. After 2 and a half months, 2 suspensions and termination, I was moved to population. After about 2 hours of talking with the 20 inmates I was going to be housed with, we handed in 19 grievances. So now i am back in seg. The basic message is this: we need to teach these youngsters, educate them. As a common voice we can be heard and make a difference.
Revolutionary greetings of love, dedication and resiliency to all freedom fighters and fearless front line generals, soldiers and warriors who dare to struggle and sacrifice for liberty, freedom and equality from behind the walls, fences and cages of genocide and oppression. As we continue to raise awareness and lift up our voices so that we may be heard on the issues of systematic racism and economic exploitation in the criminal justice system, as well as prison slavery, police killings and brutality. We continue to see an evil and determined enemy dig in its heels in the name of white supremacy.
I am a Missouri prisoner who has been imprisoned for 32 years. I am educated with a paralegal degree. With my credentials, I have a legal clinic of 10 comrades. We have taken it upon ourselves to do separate booklets of individual civil complaints such as: censorship, religion, cruel and unusual punishment (prison conditions) etc. We will be sending those to MIM(Prisons) upon their completion. We have made censorship our first priority, and already sent this one in to MIM(Prisons).
However, we only have an ex-amount of time in the law library, so we have to copy case-law (hundreds of them) and take them back to our cells and work on our booklets. Our resources are limited and we need help! So if any of my comrades know of places that will send "unlimited" printed caselaw to us, please contact MIM to pass the message on.
MIM(Prisons) responds: These comrades are setting an example of how to make your work impact more than just one persyn. Many can benefit from concise information on how to fight specific legal battles. The first guide created by this group, fighting censorship, is a good example of this as it ties directly into a problem that the revolutionary movement behind bars faces regularly — the censorship of our literature. Under Lock & Key and other lit that we send in is often rejected and our only recourse is grievances and legal challenges. Because of the critical role that revolutionary education plays in our organizing work, we prioritize this legal battle. And we distribute a censorship guide to all who have our lit rejected.
We have a few cautionary notes to those working on this legal project and others who are interested in taking up similar legal work. First, there are many guides already out there for prisoners, so anyone putting time into this type of project needs to start by making sure you're not duplicating work.
Second, as with our anti-censorship work, it's important that we tie our legal work to our revolutionary organizing. There are many legal battles that prisoners are fighting, but these can be a distraction from the larger struggle if we don't tie them to the reality that the legal system isn't going to make real or substantive change for us. We might win a few censorship battles, but we'll never effectively stop censorship through the imperialist courts. We use the censorship struggle to highlight the hypocrisy of imperialism and underscore their fear of revolutionary education, while making some room for us to reach people with politics.
We need to be organizing people to use legal battles as a part of the larger campaigns that the movement prioritizes. We can attempt to use the courts to our advantage, but our goal in the long run is to dismantle the imperialist courts and replace them with a system of people's justice.
For a while now I've wondered why all the conflict between anarchists and socialists/Marxists/Maoists. I mean, we are two revolutionary forces who are committed to the abolishment of capitalism, imperialism and all forms of oppression. We have that in common and that is what's important. I understand that our strategies and ideologies are a bit different, but what's preventing us from getting together in solidarity, agreeing to disagree and focus our energies on the revolution combining our strengths and common ground? Why can't we cease to tear each other down? I don't know about anyone else, but this bothers me! The energy used to tear one another down, discrediting one another, could be used to gain some real headway by picking up arms together to combat oppression. Of course there are more experienced and more politicized people than me that may wish to give me some feedback and critique. I welcome critique, feedback and criticism.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This is a good question, especially for building a united movement against imperialism. There are many reasons to build unity with all who can be united. Maoists advocate a united front against imperialism because this format of organizing allows all organizations to freely build their own movements and push their own ideologies, but come together against a common enemy.
At the same time, we do believe there are some very good reasons to refuse to unite with some organizations. Just because a group calls itself "socialist" or "anarchist" doesn't mean it is automatically on the right side of the struggle. In the extreme, we have the national socialists who are really fascists, as an obvious example. But even among those claiming to be progressive revolutionaries there are some organizations that have taken up such wrongheaded and dangerous political lines that we consider them to be more use to the fascists than to the revolutionaries.
In the case of anarchists in general, we do not see them as enemies. In fact we believe that anarchists have the same end goal as communists: a society where no people have power over other people. But anarchists don't have a strong history of success in progress towards that goal. We see their approach of jumping right from imperialism to anarchism as idealist, because it hasn't played out in real life at even a comparable scale to the socialist experiment.
It's just not realistic to overthrow the imperialists and keep them overthrown, without a period of proletarian state power. We have too long of a history of class, nation and gender oppression for that to happen. The bourgeois classes will need to be forcibly repressed, and culture will need to be radically altered on a mass scale. It might take generations before humyns evolve to live peacefully with no oppression. As MIM write in MIM Theory 8: "Communists know that it takes power to destroy power, whereas anarchists see power itself, independent of conditions, as the enemy of the people."
In the First World, in particular, there are some anarchist (in addition to socialist) groups which are doing work that actively supports imperialism. It's important that organizations clearly work out what are the most important questions of political line that we face today. For instance, we have, in this country, a bought-off class of people who are clearly economically and ideologically in support of imperialism. Yet some so-called socialist and anarchist organizations see these people as their mass base, and call on them to rally for even higher wages and a bigger piece of the imperialist pie. That's not progressive, that's a call to fascism! And so we can't unite with such political stances. In fact if that group calls itself "socialist" or "anarchist" or even "Maoist," we think that's more dangerous than if they openly organized for fascism, because it is misleading people about what is the communist struggle.
by a Michigan prisoner April 2018 permalink"Cast away illusions, prepare for struggle." -Mao Zedong (1893-1976)
I am writing to update you comrades on new developments regarding my censorship battle at this prison. After 2 long and hard-fought battles with these reactionaries and their censors in the mail room, I finally received the latest ULK 60 a couple weeks ago.
Specifically, when I transferred back into this gestapo prison in October 2017, the censors were rejecting all ULK issues and MIM study materials sent to comrades under MDOC policy directive 05.03.118 (NN) (4) and (6), and giving us false pretense or rationale for its rejection, solely because of the political (revolutionary) content of the newsletter, contrary to PD-05.03.118 (D) which clearly states that prison censors are prohibited from rejecting incoming mail "solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social, sexual, unpopular, or repugnant."
Their excuse or pretext for rejecting MIM periodicals was because they claimed it advocated or promotes "violence, group disruption, or insurrection." See, "notice of package/mail rejection" and "administrative hearing report," enclosed herein is an example of the totally bogus rationalizations they use for censoring ULK.
The prison censors, particularly mail clerks J. Sanford and M. J. Dollar, had censored every MIM ULK issue sent to me and other comrades since October 2017. Not only were the issues improperly rejected, but the censors failed to conduct mail rejection hearings in a prompt manner as required by PD-05.03.118 (WW). More, I doubt if they were even notifying you (MIM) of the censorship or the reason why the newsletters were rejected, nor an opportunity to an appeal. Per MDOC policy, the prison censors must mail senders/publishers a "notice of rejection" anytime that an issue is rejected, which is a requirement under PD-05.03.118 (VV) so you can exercise your right to appeal the rejection to the warden.
Your right to be notified is a "due process" right, under the Fourteenth Amendment. Just for future references, if the prison censors fail to notify you of the illegal publication ban on your materials, your organization can sue for damages, including, but not limited to: (1) the suppression of your free speech; (2) the impediment of your ability to disseminate your political message; (3) frustration of your non-profit organizational mission; (4) the diversion of your resources; (5) the loss of potential subscribers and MIM supporters; among other violations under the First Amendment's free speech and free press clauses. It's easy money, since these reactionaries are voluntarily bagging it up for you, why not take it and help fund the revolution?!
With this in mind, you must be prepared to struggle with me in combating censorship in the future, just in case the censors get back on bullshit. It's only so much that comrades can do from inside the bowels of the imperialist beast where the terms of the struggle are defined by our oppressors. The facility head (warden) was upholding the improper rejections and subsequent appeals, knowing damn well it's illegal to ban publications solely because of its political content.
What this all boils down to, in the final analysis, is that they don't want us to learn political theory and critically recognize the situation that we find ourselves in, or the root cause of our oppression. They want us "politically dead," so that they can better control us and not have to worry about us transforming the criminal (lumpen) mentality into a revolutionary mentality and ushering forth the "new man" (within ourselves) to succeed the old, as both Malcolm X and Comrade George showed us we could through the process of study and self-reflection. The reactionaries and prisoncrats know that this sudden shift of revolutionary consciousness by the lumpen prisoners would create a "new situation," one that would no doubt threaten their control over us and make it possible for us to unite and move forward en masse against our oppressors, as Huey said, "with implacable fortitude."
My friends, you recognize the fact that the arbitrary censorship of ULK, a critical organizing tool that meets our educational and informational needs, is nothing more than a counter-revolutionary strategy by the prisoncrats to get ahead of the "revolutionary wave" and put down the new radical prison movement that is emerging. But, dialectical materialism teaches us that nothing can prevent this revolutionary process. The new always leap forth to succeed the old. In the words of Fanon: "The repressions, far from calling a halt to the forward rush of national consciousness, urge it on." So, understand the arbitrary censorship and political repression that a lot of us lumpen are facing, or will face in the future, by these reactionaries and their prison censors only expedites matters and moves the struggle forward to its ultimate conclusion. Therefore, cast away illusions and prepare for struggle against the prisoncrats' reactionary agenda to suppress political education among lumpen comrades (prisoners).
No doubt I will continue to battle censorship when it occurs on this end, but this must be a shared responsibility. We have to coordinate from both ends and concentrate our fire on this fascist agenda. There is pressure that can, and sometimes must, be brought to bear on the prison censors. Sometimes political pressure, in the form of telephone or email campaigns, should be exerted on the warden and the director about the censorship, demanding that the issue be corrected immediately or that the current prison censors be removed from their positions in the mail room. I believe we can wage a far more effective struggle against censorship this way. It will, at very least, give us a tactical advantage.
MIM(Prisons) responds: As some of our readers may have noticed, over the past year we've been able to step up the fight against censorship from the MIM(Prisons) side. Wherever our comrades behind bars are taking the initiative to appeal or protest censorship, we are also submitting letters of protest. We will always send you a copy of these letters, which are going to prison administrators and other relevant personnel. We agree with this writer that these censorship battles are most effective when it is a shared responsibility both from behind bars and on the streets.
So if you're fighting censorship of ULK or other mail we've sent, be sure to let us know so that we can support your battle with protests of our own. We won't always win, but we regularly have victories. And the outrageous rejections, as well as our victories, are reported in the "Censors in their own Words" articles we publish periodically in ULK and on our censorship reporting webpage. If you get notification of censorship, either from your prison, or from us, do your part to stop the prisoncrats from removing revolutionary education from the prisons by filing a grievance to protest the censorship. Put them on notice that you will not be silenced!
I wanna talk about an upcoming topic of "sex offenders" and their role in the struggle. A primary question is, I think, do they have a role in the struggle? It boils down to our moral outlook on sex offenders who were convicted by the imperialist justice system. How many wrongfully-convicted comrades are there in prison? I mean those who are not sex offenders. Are we wrong when we say that the U.$. imperialist justice system is broken and biased and oppressive and due to its historical implementation is invalid? No. I think most agree that this is the case.
And if that is the case, we cannot make exceptions to certain crimes and convictions. Or can we?
That leaves us to draw on what we ourselves as communists consider unlawful under socialism. Sex crimes, like all other physical assault, are unlawful. But how do we filter the sex offenders convicted by imperialists into the category with the rest of the convicted so-called "criminals" who fight within our ranks?
We know on the prison yards that we rely on what we call "paperwork" which is any police report or transcripts from the preliminary hearing or trial transcripts or even just mention or allegation that indicates someone's involvement of the crime or "snitching" for a dude to be blacklisted as "no good" on the yard. But that goes back to relying on an imperialist's rule of thumb when determining guilt.
Under our own law we would need to measure someone's guilt by our own standards and come up with ways of determining how to do so.
But what about the sex offenders who actually are guilty of sex crimes? Are they banned for life? Is there no "get-back" for them ever? Becuz of their crime can they provide no contribution to revolution or to society under a socialist state?
I think they can make a contribution to revolution. And under a socialist state, after being appropriately punished (not oppressed) and taught the lesson to be learned against crimes of humanity rehabilitation can be achieved.
Note that I'm not an advocate for sex offenders, so if I must set aside emotion and personal disgust for correct political analysis and conclusion to further the movement on this question, then we all must.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We want to use this contributor's perspective as an opportunity to go deeper into looking at the current balance of forces and our weakness relative to the imperialists. Our difficulties in measuring guilt, and helping rehabilitate people who want to recover from their patriarchal conditioning, are extremely cumbersome.(1)
The imperialists are currently the principal aspect in the contradiction between capitalism and communism. The imperialists have plenty of resources to set social standards (i.e. laws), conduct and fabricate "investigations," hold trial to "determine guilt," mete out punishment to those convicted, and even often find those who attempt to evade the process.
We hope by now our readers have accepted this contributor's perspective that we can't let the state tell us who has committed sex-crimes by our standards. The next step would be for us to figure out how to deal with people who are accused of anti-people sex-crimes in the interim, while we are working to gain state power. We can set our own social standards, attempt to conduct investigations to a degree, establish tribunals to determine guilt, and in our socialist morality, either mete punishment, or, even more importantly assist rehabilitation when we have power and resources to do so.
How much of this we can do in our present conditions is open for debate. How much someone can actually be rehabilitated by our limited resources while living under patriarchal capitalism is debatable. How relevant it is to put resources into this type of activity depends on how important it is to the people involved in the organization or movement.(1) How much resources we put into any one of these "investigations" depends on conducting a serious cost-benefit analysis.
For example, if someone contributes a lot to our work, and is accused of a behavior that is very offensive and irreconcilable to others who work with em, then that makes developing this process sooner than later a higher priority. At this stage in our struggle, low-level offenses should only be addressed by our movement to the degree that they build an internal culture that combats chauvinism and prevents other higher-level offenses from arising. Of course there is a ton of middle ground between these two examples. But what we might be able to address when we have state power (or even dual power) at this time may just need to be dealt with using expulsions and distance.
There are very few labels more stigmatizing than "sex offender" in prison. While sex crime encompasses a wide variety of "criminal" behavior ranging from urinating in public to actual sexual depredation, once labeled a sex offender (SO) any individual is automatically persona non grata; black-listed.
Many, myself included, view SOs as the scourge of society, far below cowards, and even below informants (snitches). As such prisoners generally do not debate SOs other than in a negative light. For the prisoner-activist/revolutionary, who is politically aware and class conscious, the SO debate takes on an interesting color. In particular, when we contemplate how a movement can best confront the problem of real sexual depredations. What possible solutions can be put into practice? Isolation? Ostracization? Extermination? Or is there some way in which the democratic method — unity/criticism/unity — can make a difference?
Excluding all non-sexual depredations (public urination and such), SOs constitute a dangerous element; more so than murderers because SOs often have more victims, and many of those victims later become sexual predators, creating one long line of victimization. What is a revolutionary movement to do to stop this terrible cycle? In prisons, at present, the only resolutions being practiced are ostracization and further exploitation. SOs are deliberately excluded from most, if not all, social interactions outside of being extorted, coerced, threatened and or beaten. While prisoners may find approval for these actions of victimization, these actions do nothing at all to solve the problem.
In a discussion with participants in an extension study group (debating topics from MIM(Prisons) study group) it was advanced that all SOs should be put on an island away from society or summarily executed. First, such drastic measures ignore the problem just as current solutions do. In the former (an SO's island) case it creates a subsociety, a subculture, dominated by sexual depredation and its approval. As a member of our group quickly concluded "this would definitely be a bad thing." In the latter case all you do is commit senseless murders.
Any possible solution with the real probability of success must be found in the democratic method. In order to eradicate the senseless cycle of sexual victimization revolutionaries must engage in a re-education campaign. Beginning in unity of purpose: a society based on equality without exploitation, class struggle and antagonism. To achieve this all elements in society must work in concert and be healthy. Following this is the critique phase, where the process of re-education becomes important. Interacting with SOs, demonstrating why, how and where they went wrong. From there one would begin inculcating an SO with proper respect for their fellow humyn and all the rights of individuals, along with a new comprehension of acceptable behavior. For the imprisoned revolutionary the most important aspect is their role in engaging the SO and initiating the re-education. This in itself is a revolutionary step requiring fortitude and stoicism considering current prison norms and expectations.
At any rate, assuming an SO can be brought to understand the incorrectness of their thought and action, they will cease to be a detriment to society. As revolutionaries, of course, this opportunity would extend to a political education as well. In the end one can reasonably hope to not only have reformed an SO, but to have built a new, dedicated revolutionary. The hardest step toward any goal is always the first one, but it must always be made.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Certainly it is correct to oppose sexually violent behavior. But we're still not entirely sure why "sex offenders" are more pariahs than murderers in the prison environment. We lay out a theory for why prisoners are so obsessed with vilifying "sex offenders" in our article Sex Offenders vs. Anti-People Sex Crimes, and we welcome others introspection on the topic.
This author presents an interesting argument, although we're not sure the logic is sound. When someone is murdered in lumpen-criminal violence, often there is retaliatory murder, and subsequent prison time. Lumpen-criminal violence (created and encouraged by selective intervention and neglect by the state) is one of the reasons why 1 in 3 New Afrikan men will go to prison at some point in their lifetime. That represents a long line of victimization.
Rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence are also staggering. We are not trying to weigh sexual violence against murder and try to determine which is worse. Instead we highlight these arguments made by our contributors to question why they hold the perspectives that they hold, to encourage more scientific thinking.
We disagree this contributor where ey says that revolutionaries in prison should make it a priority to try to rehabilitate people who have committed sex-crimes. As we've explained elsewhere in this issue, we have a limited ability to do that, and this challenge is exacerbated by the fact that we still live in a capitalist patriarchal society. It would make more sense to focus this rehabilitation effort on people who are otherwise contributing to building toward socialist revolution and an end to capitalism. But reforming people who have committed sex-crimes for its own sake is putting the carriage before the horse. At this time, our first priority is to kill capitalism and the patriarchy.
I would like to address the Delaware comrade who wrote "Maintain the Trust in the United Front" article in ULK issue #55. I'm currently housed at High Desert State Prison in Nevada. I'm in my 20s and I'm in a level 1 PC unit. I'm not a snitch, a drop out or a sex offender. I was arrested and convicted of pandering, 2nd degree kidnapping, and felony possession of marijuana. I was basically forced to "PC up" because one of the original charges included sex trafficking.
I agree that snitches can't necessarily be trusted on a scale where you'd conduct normal operations with them, but I believe those who snitch are uneducated and most of the time made the choice because they were young and afraid. If you're too closed-minded to educate these young comrades and reform the way they conduct themselves when dealing with the bourgeoisie then how can you consider yourself a revolutionary? You should judge a person by their behavior and not their past. If "dry snitching" or hanging around the swine is a habit of theirs then most likely they can't be trusted. Just remember not all of us were raised in an environment where "the code" was instilled in us at a young age.
As for sex offenders, why would you judge a man by a label given to them by the bourgeoisie? Often I find that these men labeled "SO" are well-educated, intellectual and humble characters who could be considered dangerous to the government! If these comrades can be educated in revolutionary theory they can be helping hands in the progression of the united front's movement. We will find our strength in numbers, intellect and unity under a mutual interest. Don't allow the oppressors to further divide our class and turn us against each other. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
I also agree that the bourgeoisie perceives our class as ignorant and frowns upon any comrade labeled "criminal", but in their eyes it doesn't matter if it's a sex offense or a theft-related charge. The only thing we can do is prove them wrong by striving for perfection, self-discipline, cleanliness, and physically and mentally training on a daily basis.
Steadfast Revolutionary Salutations! I received ULK 58 and found it to be the gasoline which the machine required to continue to stride forward. Kan't Stop Won't Stop!
The piece "We Can't Write Off Whole Groups from the UFPP" truly hit home for me as I've been vigorously debating this very topic with my comrade in arms over the last couple of years! I am a Muslim of New Afrikan DNA/background, virtually raised in fedz system ('92-'09). My comrade in arms is a Cali native, steeped in typical fratricidal mores, yet striving to be catalyst for structural growth! We've had some quite spirited dialogue on SNY politics.
Over my recent prison sojourn, I have been forced to re-examine previously-held views and/or biases toward others, based solely upon convictions. As I've told many cats here: if we believe the U.$. system to be unjust, then how can we accept convictions in their corrupt kourts of injustice at face value, and call ourselves revolutionaries or progressives?
By the same token, there must be a "People's Tribunal" in place which properly investigates the background(s) of those claiming revolutionary authenticity! A "mistake" in judgment whilst under influence, a statement given under duress, or as a juvenile, a case put forth by suspect persons, etc., etc. could be examples of "how"/"why" a cat has a particular conviction or jacket and must be analyzed accordingly.
We also ask, how can anyone claim to be "People's Vanguard" yet not stand for the most vulnerable of our oppressed nation citizenry? I.e. children and elders! How can the People's trust be earned and their support given if we do not, at minimum, give justice to the molesters of children, or abusers of our Grandmamas? As a Muslim, I find peace of mind and yet, I am under NO illusions that simply donning a kufi, making Salat, or fasting shall make U$ klansmen stop killing my kind in particular, poor folk in general! I realize that I must organize, myself and others around our klass commonalities and the politics of oppression! Need to stand up!
It is becoming quite clear that the enemy has used his misinformation/disinformation campaigns, along with his "tools" (those who serve pig-interests and destroy OUR klass unity in the process) to where we no longer have basic codes of morality!! We of the revolutionary/progressive ilk are very few and far between here in Oregon. However! We are steadfast in our devotion to struggle in unity, as it relates to resisting ALL oppression and/or racist violence directed toward us! However, the molesters of a child! or elder can never be our komrade(s)! Nor any that fraternize with them... Did "Che" not hold tribunals for the vermin/anti-revolutionaries?
In closing, we ask, if a former criminal tells pigs (snitch) on his confederates, then years later embraces revolutionary ideology and identity, is his/her past to be held against revolutionary authenticity today?
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade raises some very good points about dealing with crimes against the people. First, the point about not trusting the government labels of people is key. We know the pigs don't hesitate to create divisions among the oppressed through any means at their disposal. Labeling a revolutionary as a child molester is well within their tactics. So we can't just let the state tell us what to think about people.
On the other hand, this comrade is also correct that we can't just let it slide when people do commit crimes against the people. For this we need a people's tribunal that can independently judge what really happened, and then we need a real system of people's justice that can both punish and rehabilitate folks. Of course these things are much harder to set up when we don't hold state power. But we can implement some good practices in our local circles. We can create internal structures to fairly investigate charges against people claiming to be our comrades, so that at least our organizations address these issues when they arise.
And we can study the history of revolutionary societies that implemented real systems of peoples' justice. The best example we have of this is communist China under Mao. Under the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat in China prisons really were focused on rehabilitating those who had committed crimes against the people. Thorough investigation was conducted of these crimes, and a lengthy process of criticism and self-criticism was implemented in the prisons. There is an excellent autobiography about the prisons, written by two Amerikans who were caught spying for the Amerikan government and locked up for years. They came away with praise for both the prison system and the revolution in China.(1)
This issue of ULK is refocusing on an ongoing debate we've held in these pages of the role "sex offenders" can, or can't, play in our revolutionary organizing. Many of our subscribers see "sex offenders" as pariahs just by definition of their conviction, yet we also receive letters from "sex offenders" with plenty of interest in revolutionary organizing. How/can we reconcile this contradiction? This is what this issue of ULK explores.
As you read through subscribers' article submissions and our responses on this topic, you'll see some common themes, some of which have been summarized below. This article also is an attempt to provide a snapshot of where we are now on this question, and suggest some aspects of our organizing that need to be developed more deeply.
The "Sex Offender" Label
There are three groups that are discussed throughout this issue that need to be distinguished.
People who have committed crimes by proletarian standards, but have not been convicted of them (i.e. Donald Trump, people whose sexual assaults go unreported, prisoner bullies, etc.). These people are not called "sex offenders" according to the state's definition.
People convicted of being "sex offenders" who didn't commit a crime by proletarian standards (i.e. people labeled as "sex offenders" for pissing in public).
People who are convicted as "sex offenders" by the state, for behaviors that would also be considered crimes by proletarian standards (i.e. physical assault, pimping, etc.).
Throughout this issue the term "sex offender" is used to mean any one of those categories, or all three. It's muddled, and we should be more clear on our terminology moving forward. By the state's definition, the term does include some benign behaviors such as pissing in public (group 2); crimes which are convicted in a targeted manner disproportionately against members of oppressed nations. So we put the term "sex offender" in quotes because it is the official term that the state uses, and it includes people who have not committed anti-people (anti-proletarian) sex-crimes. Under a system of revolutionary justice, people in group 2 would need no more rehabilitation than your average persyn on the street.
We cannot trust the state to tell us what "crimes" someone has committed, and this is true for sex offenses as much as anything else. This country has a long history of locking up oppressed-nation men on the false accusation of raping white wimmin, generally to put these men "in their place." We have printed many letters from people locked up for "sex offenses" but who have not committed terrible acts against people.
Interestingly, most of our subscribers know there are many falsely-convicted prisoners in all other categories of crime, and they readily believe that many are innocent. But when the state labels someone a "sex offender" that persyn becomes a pariah without question. This is an important thing for us to challenge as it represents, to us, a patriarchal way of thinking in prison culture. Usually it is paired with rhetoric about the need to protect helpless wimmin and children and is just a different expression of patriarchal norms: in this case the non-"sex offender" playing protector-man by attacking anyone labeled "sex offender."
Why don't we see this with people with murder convictions? Isn't killing someone also a horrifying act that should not be tolerated? And why is sexual physical assault in prison allowed to proliferate? In the 1970s, Men Against Sexism was a group organizing in Washington state against prison rape, and they effectively ended prison rape in that state.(1) Statistics show that people "convicted of a sexual offense against a minor"(2) are more likely to be sexually assaulted in prison. Are the people who are "delivering justice" to these "sex offenders" then cast out as pariahs? Why is the state's label, and not people's actual behavior, given so much validity? These are questions United Struggle from Within comrades need to dig into much deeper.
Anti-people crimes include many different behaviors, from complacency with capitalism and imperialism, to extreme and deliberate acts of reactionary violence. Anti-people crimes include manufacturing and selling pornography, illegal drugs, and even alcohol and cigarettes, much of which is legal or at least permissible in our Liberal capitalist society. And it includes all sadistic physical assault, which would include all forms of sexual assault.
From our perspective, this discussion has raised more clearly for us the importance of not glorifying or fostering positive images of any types of anti-people violence among prisoners. Sometimes folks from lumpen organizations hold up their history of reactionary violence as a badge of honor and we need to criticize that, just like we need to be critical of any positive or even neutral discussion of sexual violence. But we still can't take the labels from the criminal injustice system as the reason for this criticism. Those locked up on protective custody yards for sexual assault convictions don't merit this criticism merely for their PC status. That gets into the realm of "no investigation, no right to speak" because we can't take the injustice system's labels as sufficient evidence.
Anti-people behavior of all kinds is unacceptable both within and around the revolutionary movement. Our challenge is in the fact that we are not currently in a position to investigate individuals' crimes. In truth the change needed from all of us is impossibly difficult without a revolutionary government and culture to back it up. As revolutionaries, we all do the best we can to fight external influences and keep our lives on a positive track so we can be contributing revolutionaries. But there is a difference between people with class/nation/gender backgrounds that will lead to counter-revolutionary thoughts and actions, and those who commit anti-people crimes. Where to draw the line between what we can deal with today and what we put off until after we have a revolutionary government in power is not a clear and easy question to answer.
In our current conditions, we have to ask ourselves, for instance, what about the persyn who commits violence as a part of eir job (say selling drugs) but then spends eir spare time building the revolutionary movement? There's a clear contradiction between these two practices. Do we dismiss eir revolutionary work entirely as a result, or do we consider em an ally while we struggle against eir reactionary violence? The answer to this will come from the masses, and not from abstract revolutionary principle.
In the real world, perhaps we don't need to make this comparison. If someone in a revolutionary organization engaged in some sort of non-sexual extreme anti-people violence the organization would need to address this directly. The intervention would at least include independent investigation and calls for self-criticism, and if an individual doesn't recognize their error and take serious steps to correct their line and practice they could be ejected from the organization. It could also include other interventions, based on the organization's needs, skills, and resources.
Any anti-people violence is going to harm the movement, and of course the people it is directed against, and so perpetrators of these actions should not be a part of our revolutionary organizations. We will still struggle with those who have class and/or national interests aligned with the revolutionary movement but who are acting out extreme anti-people violence. But until they understand why what they did/do is wrong and demonstrate change in their practice, they should not be admitted into revolutionary organizations.
Sex-Crimes vs. Other Crimes
One argument for why sexual violence should be distinguished from non-sexual violence could be that gender is the principal contradiction within any revolutionary movement that admits people of all genders, and we need to deal with it differently within our organizations. For example, we have contemplated the value of separate-gender organizations because of this contradiction, though to date we have not advocated this solution.
Another argument could be that victims of sexual violence in imperialist countries are more likely to take up revolutionary politics, fueled by their experience of gender oppression. And because of the pervasiveness of sexual assault in imperialist countries, we will end up with a lot of
revolutionaries, mostly bio-females, who have experienced sexual violence.
This could again raise gender to a principal contradiction within imperialist-country movements because of the traumatic background of so many members. It becomes a contradiction the movement has to deal with (when any patriarchal violence arises within the movement), and one of the greatest propellants forward on gender questions.
Neither of these principal contradiction arguments make a case for a significant distinction between sexual and non-sexual anti-people violence in the abstract. Rather they are relevant in terms of of how our organizations need to deal with the problems. And in both cases it has to do with the people within the movement's perception of these types of violence.
Applying this same concept to organizing in the hyper-masculine prison environment, it may make sense to exclude "sex offenders" from our projects because of the pervasive anti-"sex offender" attitude among prisoners. However, we already discussed above that we're not using the state's definitions of crime. If revolutionary prisoners determine a need to exclude people who have specifically committed sexually violent anti-people crimes from their organization, to maintain organizational strength, they should do this. But of course this is different from excluding "sex offenders." (group 2)
In dealing with sex-crimes accusations, the primary difference between organizing people on the streets and organizing in prisons is the presence of an accuser. With prisoners, we don’t generally interact with an accuser, we just have a label from the criminal injustice system. Though certainly prison-based organizations will have to deal with accusers in the case of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults. This prison-based situation is more similar to the situation in organizations on the streets where a member brings up an accusation against another member.
And in the case of prisoners, like the Central Park 5, some "sex offenders" did not even have an accuser on the street. The survivor of the assault had no recollection of the event. The state picked out these 5 young New Afrikan men to target, to set an example and vilify New Afrikans in the media. They were later all acquitted.
Whereas on the streets, or when organizing inside with non-"sex offender" prisoners who have survived sexual violence, we are almost always going to be directly interfacing with the survivors.
While we are here minimizing the state's definition of "sex offender," we in no way mean to minimize the accusations of victims of sexual violence. In general society, false accusations are statistically rare, and the best practice is to put substantial weight on the validity of accusations of sex-crimes.(3)
Anecdotally, we've seen a high prevalence of sexual violence survivors attracted to revolutionary work. It's easy to see why people who have experienced the ugliest gender oppression in our society would be drawn to revolutionary organizing. Suffering often breeds resistance.
Within revolutionary movements, the rate of false accusations is in all likelihood more common than in the general population. This is because the state will use any method imaginable to tear us down, especially from the inside out. Many comrades have been taken down from false sex-crime accusations from the state or agent provocateurs. We need to build structures in to our organizations that protect against state attacks, and simultaneously hold the claims of victims in high regard, not just of sex-crimes but of any anti-people behavior that could come up internally. This process will vary organization-to-organization, but our internal strength comes in preparation. Not only by creating a process to follow in case something does come up, but also in creating a culture, and even including membership policies, that prevent it from even happening in the first place.
These principles and processes need development and input from organizations that already have them in place and have used them. This is definitely not a new concept to revolutionary organizations and radical circles, and even with all that practice under our belt there are still many unanswered questions. Some basic practices might include: un-muddling the relationships between comrades (i.e. no dating within the org) and establishing and practicing communication methods and skills to create cultural norms for preventing chauvinistic behaviors and addressing these behaviors when they do arise.
How we handle this process now in our cell structure will be different if a cell has 2 members versus 2,000 members. The process will need to be adapted for different stages of the struggle as well, such as when we have dual power, and then again when the Joint Dictatorship of the Proletariat of the Oppressed Nations has power. And on and on, adapting our methods into a stateless communism.
Even with policies in place, we have limited means of combating chauvinism, assault allegations and other unforeseen organizational problems endemic to the left. Rather than wave off these contradictions, or put them out of sight (or cover them up, like so many First World-based parties and organizations have done), we need to build institutions that protect those who are oppressed by gender violence.
Potential for Punishment
We do not yet have the means at our disposal to deal with crimes against the people as thoroughly as we would like. To do that, we would indeed need institutions tantamount to state power. If found guilty, the most we can do is issue expulsions, orders of isolation, and disseminate warnings privately to anyone in the movement who might be endangered by the offender. The principle of these measures is the isolation and (hopefully) separation from the anti-imperialist movement of personalities that not only put comrades in physical danger, but through their violent and narcissistic habits (seeking validation, circumventing investigations, denying rectification) leave the movement open to plants and pigs who have never passed up the opportunity to use such unstable personalities as entry points. The individuals we are most interested in excluding are those who have not only committed anti-people acts, but who continue to pose active physical risks to the movement and individual comrades. In all cases which can be addressed without expulsion, we certainly encourage thorough and continual self-criticism and rectification.
Regardless of the crime though, there is almost no way MIM(Prisons) could investigate any of the crimes committed by people behind bars. We have had subscribers write to us to tell us another of our subscribers is a rat or sexual predator, and we've had people write to us who do say their conviction is true. One could make an argument that we need to ask prisoners to make a self-criticism that demonstrates that they now understand what they did was wrong, and we should do more to encourage this. But if someone doesn't admit to the crime ey is accused of, then we are at a loss.
In organizing through the mail, the most we can do is note an accusation as something to potentially be aware of for the future. If we saw this manifest in the accused subscriber's actions interacting with MIM(Prisons), or other prisoners, then we would consider cutting off contact or taking other measures to exclude em from our organizing work. The amount of resources required, and the risk of state meddling, to conduct an investigation on guilt and enforce punishment, brings us back to our line that practice must be principal in our recruiting. Comrades demonstrate in practice their commitment to the movement and their political line, and that is the best thing we have to judge them on from the outside.
Potential for Rehabilitation
How should we handle people who have committed sex-crimes by proletarian standards when they do want to continue to participate in revolutionary organizing? Should they be banned from organizing with us (which is basically how "sex offenders" are treated in prisons now)? Or relegated to the role of "supporter" only, and not member? Should we avoid organizing with them altogether, or can we work with them in united front work? Or are people who have committed sex-crimes an exception to our work building a United Front for Peace in Prisons?
Defining what we need to trust people to do (or not do) is a decent starting point. Assessing whether these tasks can be trusted to someone with a particular behavioral history is then possible. This would be true of any crime. For example, if someone had laundered money from a people's support organization in the past, it would be difficult to trust em as the treasurer of a revolutionary org. Many checks would need to be built into place in order for this persyn to be trusted to do bookkeeping, and probably it's a better use of our limited time and resources to just not have them doing the bookkeeping at all.
Whether we can actually build in these checks and balances for any crime will depend a lot on the crime itself. For example, we organize with a lot of former-gangbangers, who have a history of committing sexual violence in the context of their lumpen-criminal activities. If this was the only context in which someone engaged in sexual violence, and they have very thoroughly engaged in a self-criticism process about eir time banging, then it's reasonable to expect that if ey's not banging that ey is most likely not committing sexual violence. On the other hand, if someone committed sexual violence in the context of molesting people simply because they are weaker than em, for sadistic pleasure or eir twisted perspective of "love", we may not have resources or expertise at this time to reform these people before we destroy our current patriarchal capitalist society.
In discussing rehabilitation of people who have committed anti-people sex-crimes, we also find it useful to examine the social causes of why people commit sex-crimes in the first place. MIM(Prisons)'s analysis is that people commit these horrible acts because they are raised in our horrible patriarchal, militaristic, power-hungry, individualistic, capitalist society. Part of our challenge is we can't remove people from this society without first destroying the society. So can we expect someone who is so deeply affected by our fucked up society to also deeply heal to the point where we can trust em with whatever is needed for our struggle? Any sadistic anti-people activity will require extreme rehabilitation, which we may just not be in a position to assist with at this time. We can and should encourage self-criticism for past errors from those serious about revolution. But from a distance (through mail) our ability to help and foster this self-criticism is greatly limited.