I'm at the most racist prison in Georgia, Hays State Prison. I am currently on lockdown in the Tier 2 program (long-term solitary confinement) and the other day they shook down a prisoner's room and found two knives. Being that this is a lockdown the Unit Manager Reids and the Lieutenant Jones were pissed because we're not supposed to even have a way to get a knife, plus sharpening them. And there are 7 or 8 cameras in the dorm, so they can't hide this like they used to back in the days when there were no cameras.
They have to report this to the Warden and log it in the log book for everyone to see. They were so mad at this prisoner that they took it out on the dorm by keeping the dinner trays outside the dorm for an hour and a half. Other prisoners in the dorm made a statement to the dorm saying that we all should refuse these trays and make them go get us new hot trays instead of those cold ones outside. Everyone agreed and when the officer came in to pass out the trays (a racist officer) everyone started screaming "We don't want those cold trays! Go get more trays." When the Lieutenant came in he threatened to give out a DR (disciplinary report) to any prisoners who refused to take a tray.
The goal is to not take the trays. If one person takes the trays then no one will get new trays, and we refused our tray by choice. But if no one takes the trays then they have to go get new trays. They have to feed us. So things were going good, the first 5 rooms refused, until Lieutenant got to the 6th one. He took his tray, then two more rooms did after that. Others were refusing but like I said when one takes a tray it's pretty much a failed mission.
My Brother in the room with me and my two other Brothers next door said they was going to get their trays since a few took theirs. They didn't want to go unfed on a weekend where we only get fed two times. I told them "Hell naw! Just because the others took theirs that don't mean we give up an fold! If we got to go hungry and starve just to let the white man know we as Blacks and as prisoners won't go for anything then so be it. We have to sacrifice for the greater purpose."
True, my stomach was touching my back. But I was ready to starve just to show the white man he does not rule me mentally. But unfortunately when the trays got to my two Brothers' room they took them. Then they were in front of our door and my roommate grabbed me one and passed it to me. At first I was going to refuse, well I wanted to, but seeing the tray with food I gave in.
While we were eating, the Lieutenant came to our door and said "Good boys. Y'all keep being good." That made me feel so bad and embarrassed. I let the white man win another war. He made me feel so low like I'm a mutt and he told me to sit, I obeyed, and he rewarded me with a bone and said "good boy."
I was mad at myself. I should have refused the tray even if it means I'm the only one refusing. At least I will feel good about myself and what I did for my self-respect. But I didn't. Another Black man falls to the worst side of a white man. Why are we so weak-minded? Why can't we Blacks stick together against oppressors? Why do we fall for their Willie Lynch tactics?
"My Brother is my Brother and I am my Brother's keeper." "2 Black minds are stronger than one, and one strong Black mind is better than none." I guess I needed that extra mind to motivate me to go further with the protest. And when it didn't I folded, because of feeling alone, vulnerable and hungry.
That day I told myself that won't happen again. If I have to starve by myself then I will. Our ancestors went through much more worse than this. I won't fail them again.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade provides us a good example of self-reflection and learning from our mistakes. Even the best revolutionaries won't be perfect all the time, in fact we will make many mistakes. But the key is always keeping an open mind to learning from these errors. And also learning from the successes and mistakes of others. This was essentially what the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was about in China: encouraging people not to blindly accept what their leaders said and instead to be critical of incorrect actions and political line, and to learn from mistakes. During this period in China prisoners were offered an opportunity to learn from their errors, undertake serious self-criticism, and return to society as productive members. Although we don't currently live under a Socialist government which is encouraging and enabling these progressive practices, we can still learn and grow, as this comrade bravely demonstrates.
Here is an example of choosing a small winnable battle by utilizing a United Front theory in practice among prisoners of Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC), organized to overcome the oppressive penal system about the human right to wear facial hair. In January 2015, the U.$. imperialist supreme court ruled that ADC could not prohibit prisoner Gregory Holt from growing facial hair for religious reasons. Prior to this ruling prisoncrats argued that prisoners could hide contraband in their hair or beards. With the above court ruling, prisoners had to apply for a religious accommodation script in order to sport a beard. In the spirit of revolutionary change, the prisoners within Arkansas collectively organized and filed 5,600 applications requesting a religious accommodation. Also there were 607 grievances that protested that all prisoners should be allowed to wear facial hair. Because of the surge of prisoner requests and grievances ADC asked the board to remove the restriction, allowing all ADC prisoners to wear beards. Beginning 14 January 2016 all ADC prisoners were allowed to wear facial hair. It just goes to show the power of a United Front, when prisoners put their differences aside to accomplish a common goal.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This is a good example of the power of united action, even in prison where the people have so little power. One element of a United Front that is critical to anti-imperialists is revolutionary leadership. While it is possible for people to come together under even reactionary leadership to effect change, it is revolutionary leadership that makes it possible to consolidate the lessons of the organizing work and push forward from a basic unity around one issue to a broader unity to build a movement that can take on the criminal injustice system. This comrade's example of the fight to wear a beard is a very good starting point. It is an issue that unites many, and beard restrictions are generally religious repression covering for national oppression, disguised as a security issue. We can expose how this repression fits into the broader problem of national oppression, which the Amerikan prison system reinforces. As people see their power to come together to effect change, and understand the system behind the individual problems they are fighting, we can gain more supporters and activists in the anti-imperialist struggle.
There is no justice for the Black man in the United $tates. "All black people, wherever they are, whatever their crimes, even crimes against other blacks, are political prisoners because the system has dealt with them differently than with whites." - George Jackson
The only way to receive justice is to fight. The comrades in prison will have to fight from a different position. They would have to build cadres to take on different tasks. All collectives through a mass line will organize the masses around the problems of their particular prison. Every cadre should have different responsibilities.
For example, there should be a cadre responsible for studying the psychological warfare that is implemented by the correctional officers and finding ways to combat it on a peaceful level. Another would study prisoners' rights and be ready to challenge all violations. A cadre would write down all injustices that are manifested by the officers and pass information on to the cadre leaders. A cadre should be in contact with outside sponsors that can help our struggle by bringing to light our problems to the public. All cadres are just components to the machine. These are only examples.
We must continue the fight, especially on these plantations. However, we have to be on point and tighten our security to protect ourselves from agent provocateurs who claim to be on our side but are actually on the side of the oppressor. Be mindful of those who are always showing up at all the religious services, hoping to identify radical prisoners who may speak at these gatherings. These agents are only there to ear hustle so they can report back to their masters (prison administration). You will be able to identify some of them through their actions. They're always preaching about Black history and Blacks uniting, but they are never doing shit to protect the rights of the prisoners. They speak out against those who are true vanguards of the people and try to turn the masses against these warriors by spreading false rumors in hopes to destroy these men's work and characters. Please do not be fooled! They will stop at nothing until their mission for massa is completed. They are not only working against their own people, they are against the entire prison population! You will see them trying to cut in or befriend every group, organization, or nationality to learn what they can about them. Be very mindful comrades.
There have been many strong Black revolutionaries who have died in prison for the chimurenga (struggle) and they must never be forgotten. Comrades like George Jackson, Hugo Pinell, William Christmas, Howard Tole, James McClain, W.L. Nolen, and the many unknown but dedicated warriors who have fought and never gave up until their deaths, should always be loved and remembered. These brothers taught and trained others to carry on the torch so that the struggle will continue behind these walls. And in response many of them have suffered and remain in lock up (SHU) since the 1990s, 80s, and even the 70s because they refuse to denounce George Jackson!
Majority of the comrades are locked down in long-term isolation (SMU, ADX, and Pelican Bay), not because they have incident reports, but because they are carrying the torch and fighting against the injustice of the Federal and State prisons that our fallen Freedom Fighters gave their lives trying to destroy. We are not terrorists! We are revolutionary Freedom Fighters striving to free the people (Black and white) from the bloody claws of the imperialist monster. All committed liberators should join among their own kind and work together in solidarity. Let's use the comrades that paved the way as examples and continue fighting together, united with one clenched fist! Can't stop! Won't stop! Long live the guerrillas!
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade provides a good example of how to think about organizing tactics. We start from the assumption that the only way we can get justice is to fight for it, and then we must think about how we can be most effective in this fight. One key element of our organizing should be building unity, as this writer points out. We can build unity with all who oppose the criminal injustice system, but at the same time, we strive to put forward the most advanced political line to help raise consciousness and build a revolutionary movement. The United Front is an integral part of this movement, but not all participants will be revolutionaries themselves. This is ok, as we seek to unite all who can be united in the fight against the criminal injustice system.
by ULK Writers Study Group January 2016 permalinkMIM(Prisons) upholds nation as the principal contradiction in the United $tates at this time. In that contradiction we see the oppressed nations as the primary motive force for change. And within the oppressed nations in the United $tates we see the lumpen class as the greatest vehicle for revolution. In exploring this last point, we are interested in studying class contradictions and especially the class make-up and loyalties of the oppressed internal semi-colonies. In addition, in our prisoner support work we come across lumpen organizations that do not fall within a certain national alignment, leaving class as the common demoninator of those organizations.
This essay was written for the book on the lumpen class that MIM(Prisons) has been working on for a few years. We took a break to focus on putting out [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, and now that that book is published and distributed we are refocusing on our analysis of the lumpen class in the United $tates. We have already completed a draft of a chapter of the book, based on our economic research about the size and composition of the lumpen class. We are distributing this draft chapter as a pamphlet for feedback.
While analyzing economic statistics is a vital part of understanding the lumpen class, the next step is understanding how to influence the class, and hence the class consciousness.
We are publishing this essay in Under Lock & Key to spark discussion and ask for feedback. We want to know how you've seen individuals and groups develop lumpen class consciousness. We are especially interested in how lumpen organizations (parasitic or proletarian-minded) develop class consciousness amongst their membership. How does that class consciousness overlap, interact or even conflict with national consciousness? Please send your reports to Under Lock & Key so we can all learn and grow from your practice!
What is class consciousness?
Simply stated, consciousness is being aware and knowing what it is you are observing. When you eat you may be conscious of the chewing and swallowing. Many people eat without being aware of the act of eating – this is parallel to most people acting in a class's interests without being conscious of doing so; they just do what is good for them at the time. Consciousness of chewing does not automatically come with eating, and neither does consciousness of class position automatically come with belonging to a particular class.
The Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement (RAIM) defines class consciousness as "The understanding by members of particular classes that they represent a certain class, that their class interests may intersect or oppose those of other classes, and of their agency when collectively organized for class struggle. Typically, class consciousness is used to describe the most broad, clearest perspective of either the proletariat, the bourgeoisie or their sub-classes."
Why do we study class consciousness among the lumpen?
We study class consciousness in an effort to shape the lumpen into an alliance with the international proletariat. Without class consciousness, the lumpen act in ways which strengthen the position of the bourgeoisie: by upholding bourgeois cultural propaganda (e.g. radio rap), participating in self-destruction of oppressed nations (e.g. by selling drugs or fomenting gang divisions), allying with Amerikkkans against the international proletariat for "patriotic" reasons, and the list goes on.
National oppression already leaves a persisting impression upon the consciousness of the lumpen of oppressed nations. All of the features of lumpen existence in the United $tates – police brutality, urban decay, limited job and education opportunities, mass incarceration, etc. – are features of national oppression. The elements of national oppression that lead the lumpen to the prison doors in the first place are then exaggerated once behind the razor wire. We would be in error to not appreciate that the lumpen has some intuitive grasp of their place in U.$. society. On some level people of the lumpen class realize they are disadvantaged.
Karl Marx said in 1847:
"Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle."(1)
In order for a lasting development to be realized in the lumpen, we need to do as Marx said and become a class "for itself" rather than a class blindly working for the bourgeoisie. Our work presently is in studying the contradictions today in our neighborhoods and cellblocks, and employing dialectical materialism to create short-range programs in order to push the people in the prisons, barrios, hoods and reservations forward to reach our long-term goals. We need cadre organizations, liberation schools, youth brigades and our own press. We need to develop alternative forms of power which rely on the people's independence outside of imperialism's sphere of influence. Time has proven that imperialism and the basic exploitative character of capitalism cannot be reformed nor can it be made to serve the interests of the people. It can only continue to engender war, poverty and untold strife at the expense of those neatly tucked away in the periphery.
In search of a better way, and in rejection of the comforts of imperialism and its blood money, we must choose which side of the struggle we are truly on. At any particular time lumpen, like all people, are either acting in the interests of the international proletariat or in the interests of imperialism. Most lumpen have no apparent probability of status advancement, so allying with the international proletariat is in the lumpen's class interests. But if socioeconomic factors were to change and the lumpen now see opportunity for status advancement, then being allied with the international proletariat becomes class suicide.
One socioeconomic factor to take into account is the national question, which is directly related to national oppression and not necessarily economic status. For instance, there are New Afrikan and [email protected] labor aristocrats whose economic interests are with imperialism. And white lumpen are generally allied with imperialism and the Amerikkkan nation, even though they are imprisoned or their communities are poisoned by mining refuse due to capitalism. Thus, one may be an oppressed New Afrikan labor aristocrat and while aligning with the international proletariat may be viewed in an economic sense as class suicide, in a social sense this alliance would actually improve the probability of status advancement overall and not necessarily be class suicide.
Lumpen unity and class consciousness in the U.$.
Speaking on the proletariat of his day, Marx pointed out that a common situation existed for the proletarians to unite under common interests. The same could be said about the Brown Berets and Black Panther Party during the 1960s and 70s. There existed a sharp level of oppression and police brutality within [email protected] communities, which inspired the Brown Berets to serve as protectors of their communities as well as reach out to those from other barrios, mainly lumpen, to join ranks with them by being productive forces for their people rather than common "gangsters."
The Black Panther Party (BPP) did a remarkable job building and developing class consciousness among the masses of the New Afrikan nation. The BPP was able to tie much-needed community programs to the stark material reality of New Afrika. Not only were the Panthers feeding the youth through the Free Breakfast Program, they educated the masses on their class position through this altruistic act. In one stroke they were able to secure the trust and gratitude of the people and illustrate the failures of the semi-colonial relationship in which the New Afrikan nation is ensnared.
There are glimmers of class consciousness in prison at times, but these episodes ebb and flow due to the bourgeois mindset of much of the prison population. Being raised in a First World country, we are influenced by its culture although it is not our own. As Mao said in eir essay "On Practice," "in class society everyone is a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with a brand of class." The assumption of inevitable imprisonment or death; the glorification of drug and pimp culture; hustling for individual gain while harming our kin; and nihilism are examples of lumpen culture under the influence of the bourgeoisie.
At times we may see prison uprisings, strikes, or other prison organizing across national lines, but these events don't usually remain intact for very long. This is because class consciousness does not develop spontaneously, rather it must be cultivated and spread through education and agitation. Only through the help of an educated cadre — both inside and outside prison walls — can class consciousness develop.
Present-day examples of class consciousness development in prison
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels said of class struggle for the workers, "The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever-expanding union of the workers."(2) Marx and Engels understood that class struggle would continue so long as classes exist. They saw the union of the proletariat as the prize, not what concessions were gained from the ruling class per se.
Something similar was experienced with the California prison hunger/work strikes in recent years. The words of Marx and Engels were seen manifested, not in a "union of the workers" but in a union of the imprisoned lumpen. This union of lumpen produced the Agreement to End Hostilities. The real victory is in getting lumpen to see and experience that it is really us versus the pigs, and that a concrete force exists which oppresses ALL lumpen prisoners in some way. These are acts which cultivate an environment where class consciousness can grow; it creates a fertile ground for this process.
Within the environment of prison, lumpen organizations (LOs) are by far more structured and disciplined than they are on the streets. Despite the negative activity and values of parasitic LOs, there is reason to believe that they can operate to achieve revolutionary ends. Pick up any Under Lock & Key newsletter and one will find evidence of LOs working in prison to contribute to the anti-imperialist movement. So it isn't a far-fetched idea to use LOs as revolutionary vehicles in building consciousness among imprisoned lumpen.
Lumpen organizations already bring out a form of consciousness within their membership, meaning they instill pride within their own people. LOs in prison are often organized by "ethnicity," and in that sense they develop their national pride, identity and culture. Their consciousness as a subgroup is raised. This is not class consciousness, and most times not even national consciousness, but it's a start, and more it's a platform which can be used and highlighted. Most LOs already have an ideological indoctrination process in place for new recruits; adding class consciousness to this structured education shouldn't be much of a stretch.
Class consciousness will only develop so much within a LO just like a crocodile will only grow so much when confined to a small fish tank. If the LO is engaged in anti-people activities, it is prevented from advancing politically. The parasitic nature of a profit-driven LO will never allow true unbridled class consciousness to develop because to do so would change the fundamental purpose of that LO. This is why Growth is one of the 5 principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons. Comrades must not be discouraged from growing from a parasitic lumpen actor to a class-conscious revolutionary lumpen actor.
Lumpen organizations and other subgroups can come together to become a whole and thus unite as a class, as did the proletariat in Marx and Engels's day, as did the Russian proletariat unite with the peasantry (uniting two classes) and how Mao Zedong united the peasantry in China upon common interests with the proletariat. When conditions in prison reach an intolerable level of suppression that affects all prisoners as a whole, we will begin to see each other as sharing the same interests of ending oppression behind the walls. Unfortunately this will not automatically make all prisoners come together in unity. Prison conditions alone aren't a sufficient factor to promote class consciousness amongst imprisoned lumpen.
Practical experience shows that the more repressive the situation people find themselves in, the more likely they are to challenge the situation and find ways to combat it. In some facilities, a wide range of reading material is permitted to be possessed by prisoners, and the pigs aren't readily looking for politically conscious leaders to repress and harass. At first glance it seems the freedom of movement and association would be a good environment to run political study groups and organize with each other. However, the flip side of having little repression is that many choose to spend more time chasing and idolizing bourgeois lifestyles; instead of picking up some political lit to read, they choose to discuss Nikki Minaj's ass on the VMAs.
How to organize
Class-conscious lumpen must lead
The job of class conscious prisoners is to not just understand that change and development is good and inevitable, but we need to find ways to translate this understanding to the broader lumpen masses, and as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is on the lumpen to look beyond the interests of our own to achieve a higher level of political consciousness, and it is on politically conscious prisoners to point out the cause of our problems as well as what's stopping all from uniting.
Organize around local experiences/conditions
There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to awakening the imprisoned lumpen class. There are many different types of individuals and different backgrounds/histories and beliefs. And we organizers all have different strengths and operate in varying conditions. But in general, open lines of communication, dialogue, re-education, and finding common-ground causes to fight for helps the process.
What should be stressed as a development to higher consciousness is the injustices experienced in common. With this sense of having a common injustice done against us, we will be more susceptible to change. If there isn't a lot of immediate suffering to organize around, we can call on our common experiences prior to imprisonment. Even in relatively comfortable prison conditions, we can start by exploring how we came to imprisonment in the first place. The poor quality of teachers in our schools and mis-education given to us by the imperialists is by design.
We can then use these direct experiences to organize with others on practical projects – campaigns to improve our collective conditions of confinement, collective legal actions, appeals, literacy, etc. — and work to add to the preconditions of class consciousness in prisons. Attempts to integrate politics with a prison struggle will bring a higher level of class consciousness only if we can explain to others how it's not just an isolated struggle within prison we're all confronted with, but the infrastructure behind the prison industry itself, its society, the socio-economic relations, its effects on our interpersynal relationships and culture, and the world. When imprisoned lumpen begin to unite for common interests, then politically conscious prisoners should advocate for continued struggle. Once any concessions are granted, many tend to think "well, that's all we're going to get", or they see a tiny concession as a huge victory, and step back from organizing. This is a sign of a lack of class consciousness, and a lack of internationalism, that must be addressed by the prison movement leaders head on.
Build study groups
We can lead study groups on deeper topics, or open debates on anything as simple as a news report. Although this may be harder in isolation, it is usually still possible to share material with others in your pod or initiate discussions on the tier. Sharing your views and hearing others' can bring many together if a common objective is trying to be reached. It helps to build public opinion in opposition to the bourgeois media outlets. When there are one or two lumpen within every group agitating in this way, along with strong communication in other circles, sharing reading material and legal work, it all works to push their studying into actual work, and go from being spectators to actors in the process of transforming these dungeons and the imperialist system generally.
There are many topics to study to give a thorough understanding of our class position, including the works of Marx, Mao, Lenin, Engels and other communist revolutionaries before us. Political economy unlocks the mysteries of the origins and results of class struggle. The bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production) and the proletariat (those who had nothing so must sell labor power) make up the principal contradiction in the realm of political economy. Understanding these classes, and all their sub-classes, requires one to perform a class analysis so that one understands where people stand on the economic totem pole, and determine where the social forces stand. Part of class consciousness is understanding who's on our side and who's trying to imprison, kill, and dismantle us.
If we were to utilize the tables out on the yards for educational-neutral grounds instead of real estate or casinos, a lot more will be susceptible to change their patterns. One table could be strictly legal work (grievances, lawsuits, etc.); one for help with reading, college and GED; one for addressing the daily issues so that nothing arises to blindside folks; one for political education, etc. These tables would be neutral ground for all nations, LOs, etc. to gain knowledge and put it to use. They would function simultaneously as Serve the People programs and political education meetings, building unity and transforming the lumpen into a class "for itself."
Sitting back and just observing everyone who I have encountered while in prison, I would say one man comes to mind because he truly inspired me. Deauce is a true socialist and freedom fighter. Within the Arkansas Department of Corrections at the East Arkansas Regional Unit, we are housed in open barracks with about 75 prisoners to a barrack. Deuce looks out for everyone and helps anyone that he can assist. Regardless of your race he'll help you out. Whether it's help with writing a grievance, or you just need a radio to listen to the news or a movie, he'll make sure you even have food or coffee if you don't have money to buy commissary. Others call him hustle-man because he's always hustling up stuff for new prisoners or others in general. In my eyes he has demonstrated the true meaning of a freedom fighter. Watching him in action has encouraged me and allowed me to see how others react to a socialist in action.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This essay came in response to our call for people to write about the freedom fighters who have inspired them. And this is a good reminder that our actions every day have a big impact on others. Revolutionaries should strive to serve the people and demonstrate the principles of our ideology in practice. We can take people like Deuce as a good example of our starting point, but we need to go further and tie our work serving the people to our work educating the people about why we do this work, and why they should get involved too. Otherwise we can get bogged down by the charity aspect, leaving the revolutionary purpose behind.
A good example of this is the Black Panther Party's Serve the People Breakfast for Schoolchildren program. The BPP fed many children who otherwise were going to school hungry, a problem that interfered with their ability to learn. And while they were providing this food, the BPP also provided revolutionary education, turning these kids on to a way of thinking they weren't exposed to in public schools. Freedom fighters are found all around us, and we commend this comrade for calling out the value of the everyday work done by Deauce in serving the people.
In 2010 a comrade in California initiated a campaign to demand that grievances be addressed by the California prison system. This comrade created a petition that anyone behind bars could use. The campaign quickly took off in California and spread to other places where customized petitions were created for use in 14 different states.
We have reports from some states that are still actively fighting the corrupt and broken grievance systems using the petitions developed to demand grievances be addressed. But we also have a number of states for which we have petitions, but we haven't gotten an update in a long time. We still get requests for copies of these grievance petitions, but we're not sure if they are being put to use, or if the petition is entirely ineffective.
The goals of the grievance petition campaign are first to build unity amongst prisoners around a common goal, and second to try to resolve grievance problems, in order to help address some brutalities and injustices of the prison environment. An individual sending out one petition won't bring relief, but building with others in your facility around this campaign will help address at least one of these goals.
Here is the list of states for which we need updates on grievance campaign work: Arizona Colorado Kansas Montana North Carolina Nevada Oklahoma Oregon South Carolina
If you are in one of these states, let us know what you did with the grievance petition. Help us update the campaign, even if it's just to say that your work so far hasn't produced success. Tell us what grievances you are trying to fight, how you used the petition, and the participation of your fellow captives.
It is a critical part of the work of any political organization that we learn from our practice, and continue to improve our work. By reporting on your grievance campaign work, you are contributing to the dialectical materialist method of revolutionary struggle. Together we can improve our practice to be even more effective over time.
I would like to let you know of a situation that occurred on 1 December 2015, at Ely State Prison in Nevada. A white corrections officer (CO) was taking a Black prisoner to yard in handcuffs. CO Edwards is a known racist pig, and while taking this prisoner to yard he slammed his face against the sally port door. When the prisoner went to his knees, CO Edwards then slammed his face on the ground. The reason given was that the prisoner "turned his head too fast."
The prisoner was taken to the hole. But it caused us to unite. Nevada has become a highly individualized state. No one wants to get involved with any struggle. But yesterday a comrade and I pushed the issue, and we got a large number of prisoners to file grievances. We filed them as AR340 misconduct complaints against the pig Edwards, which are supposed to be sent to the Inspector General's office.
It was nice to see us united. I will keep you updated on this issue.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade is doing the hard work necessary to build an anti-imperialist movement: repeatedly trying to inspire others to come together to fight injustices. Even if the action is small at first, the unity around this one incident helps to build unity around bigger issues. People learn through action, even if that lesson is that the oppressors are far more powerful than us right now. We still have to take the opportunity to offer information about the criminal injustice system, why we take on these battles, and how they fit in to our longer term goal of putting an end to the oppressive system of imperialism.
Let's talk about religion. Specifically, let's address the question of whether religion is or is not useful in the struggle against prisons and against imperialism.
Many of today's prison groups and lumpen organizations (LOs) are well rooted in religious ideas, theories and practices. For example, the Nation of Gods and Earths and the Rastafarians are both very influential among New Afrikan LOs. The LOs in prison have had experience in the areas of adopting certain religious values for the sake of defending themselves against total annihilation. Whether using religion, spirituality or faith as a conventional method to serve this goal for prisoners will bring about liberation faster than any other method will be determined by prisoners and prisoner-led efforts. [History has already proven dialectical materialism as an ideology to be far more effective at bringing about liberation than religion and faith, but we agree with testing it as a tactic in certain conditions as discussed below. - ULK Editor]
Prisons are a political effect of the bourgeois imperialist oppressive structure, which is determined to take more of the world's wealth and riches than it gives. Therefore prisons are political and produce political prisoners, as MIM(Prisons) holds: "...all prisoners are political prisoners because under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, all imprisonment is substantively political."
Prisoners begin to develop a consciousness of their environment by evaluating the material conditions they are in. Through a process of unity-criticism-unity they often transform themselves into the change they wish to see. This transformation often begins to manifest in individual decision-making skills. One begins to evaluate the pros and cons of indirect and direct action, to spread solutions to fellow prisoners' conflicts, and eventually one becomes sought out by the masses as a leader.
While the reality is that all prisoners are political, as we begin to develop our political consciousness we find that we are prohibited from being directly involved in the politics that we are subject to. When U.$. prisoners take that conscious state of mind to the level of organizing, campaigning and agitating, they become victims of laws criminalizing politicking in prisons. Many prisoners and LOs are well aware of this weapon of the snakes. Prisoners have little to no legal standing in the U.$. bourgeois injustice system to defend against the assaults on their humyn right to politically advocate and demonstrate their class interest as lumpen in the United $tates.
By law, according to the U.$. Constitutional standard, prisoners have a right to grieve conditions relative to the prison environment. They have the right to correspond with members of society, including the press. But when those of the prison population begin organizing the locals into group actions, they are labeled as security threat group leaders. Prisoners are incapable of putting forth a defense to these charges because by state standards their groups are un-sanctioned. Without a license we are prohibited from driving forward the people to a state of consciousness from where they may liberate themselves.
LOs don't register their groups with the state, they don't report their activities to the state, and the majority of LOs don't pay taxes on any income of the organization; all behaviors criminalized by the state. Essentially, prisoners being involved in a public manner in/with prison politics are whooped from the jump start.
It is therefore no coincidence that religious/spirituality groups that focus on the lumpen have become quite popular within U.$. prisons. They provide a more free outlet for expression and camaraderie. Of course, this has been a role played by religious organizations since the days of the Roman empire, when the church recruited the labor of those who had no legal warrant to sell their labor. This can lead to these religious bodies being a voice in service of the oppressed or to the religious body suppressing the desires of the oppressed to the benefit of the oppressor.
At different times religion has played different roles ideologically and politically. Many New Afrikan lumpen read in Dr. Suzar's Blacked Out Through Whitewash that:
"'Jesus, was the Panther? An original name for Jesus was... son of the Panther!' (Blavatsky: The Secret Doctrine).
"Even the Bible refers to him as 'the Lion of the tribe Juda.' (Rv. 5:5) 'Jesus in fact, was a Black nationalist freedom fighter... whose goals were to free the Black people of that day from the oppressive... White Roman power structure... and to build a Black nation.' (I Barashango)
"Schoenfield reports in The Passover Plot p 194: 'Galilee, were[sic] Jesus had lived... which was home of the Jewish resistance movement, suffered particularly. The Romans never ceased night and day to devastate... pillage [and kill].'
"In the Black Messiah p91, Rev. A.B. Cleage Jr. writes that Jesus was a revolutionary 'who was leading a [Black] nation into conflict against a [white] oppressor... It was necessary that he be crucified because he taught revolution.' Jesus stated, 'I have not come to send peace, but a sword.' (The Holy Bible - Mathew 101.34 - King James Version)"(1)
Depending on the leadership of the religious institutions and the cleverness of the lumpen, religion and politics can go hand-in-hand with one another. Devout members of the left will disagree and dogmatic rightists will call for a lynch mob. But at the end of the discussion the outcome is to be decided by those directly related to and at the source of the phenomenon.
It is the position held by MIM(Prisons) that i admire most:
"In some ways communism is the best way for religious people to uphold their beliefs and put an end to the evils of murder, rape, hunger and other miseries of humyns. Some argue that Jesus Christ must have been a communist because he gave to the poor."(2)
Many prisoners utilize liberation theology as a means to merge their political strengths with the legal warrant of the First Amendment right to freedom of religious exercise as the defense against political attacks from the police state.
The lumpen's religion is the exception to the world's norm of religion as representing the status quo. There are many prisoners who fall into the wash of all faiths, but there is a powerful source of prisoner liberation theologists at the forefront of the anti-imperialist prison movement too. It is possible that this very source is the face of the prison struggle for the age we are entering. Working smarter is working harder within the belly of the beast.
Prisoners should struggle to have their political interest respected by the state, but they should not concentrate more on convincing the police state that prisons are inappropriate, and the greatest crimes are being committed by themselves. They know this good and well already. LOs must concentrate on tactics that will forge united fronts capable of pushing the forces of history forward faster.
We conclude with a quote from Russian leader V.I. Lenin:
"We must not only admit workers who preserve their belief in God into the Social-Democratic Party, but must deliberately set out to recruit them; we are absolutely opposed to giving the slightest offense to their religious convictions, but we recruit in order to educate them in the spirit of our programme, and not in order to permit an active struggle against it."(3)
by a North Carolina prisoner November 2015 permalink
I am writing to inform you of the work that I have been doing here at Tabor Correctional Institution in Tabor City, North Carolina. I am currently housed on Intensive Control (ICON) and I've been spreading the word to a few people in my block. One of the brothers in my block was the real confrontational type who would try to start arguments with different guys simply because the block was too quiet. Usually I would ignore his antics because I understood his cry for attention and fear of having to look in that proverbial mirror, i.e. being alone with his own thoughts. One day after hearing him verbally attack another comrade as well as just cursing out officers without cause I reached to him by calling him on his childish and misguided ways. At this time he told me he never got involved in the conversations that myself and a few others often had because he didn't know anything about it. I then told him the easiest way to learn about it was to ask questions, which led to me sending him two issues of Under Lock & Key. Now this same young brother is a part of these conversations about the various degrees of prison struggle. He is also a member of the Soldiers of Revolution (SOR).
I founded the Soldiers of Revolution (SOR) while housed on ICON. I did so after witnessing the relentless ongoing cycle of gang violence within the North Carolina prison population. I became a member of the Bloods organization in 1998 and in 2015 I renounced my position as a member of that organization to found the Soldiers of Revolution.
I founded this organization because of the gang violence but also because of the constant oppression the prison population endures with no one to teach them how to go about overcoming the oppression. I saw that while many gang members claimed to battle oppression they failed to do so because they were perpetuating it. I understood that they didn't know how to begin the fight against oppression because they were never educated on the many levels of oppression. So SOR was created to educate the masses as well as to be the voice and vanguard of the politically ignorant prison population in North Carolina.
SOR is a political organization founded on the principles of mass political education of all oppressed nations, the battle to end oppression, and peace within the prison population to end gang violence. We stand united in the face of oppression and fully understand that the first step to breaking the cycle is to initiate proper political education. Since we understand the importance of political education in regards to the struggle to liberate the oppressed nations, we have study groups and issue class assignments to further the desire to be politically conscious and active.
SOR is not a gang nor gang-affiliated, though some members are former gang members. As we are primarily a non-violent organization we do not condone or support gang bangin' in any fashion. We do not wish to perpetuate the lifestyles and stereotypes that plague many oppressed nations. We do not adhere to the doctrine of oppressing others to further our own cause. We will offer our assistance and stand united with other political organizations of the oppressed nations but we will not be ruled or governed by anyone but SOR.
MIM(Prisons) responds: SOR is doing important work pushing forward the political education and unity of oppressed nations, and underscores a point that is important for activists: oppression and violence are learned behaviors and we need to work hard to help humynity unlearn these terrible habits. We can't expect this change to happen overnight. In fact we know from the experience in China and the USSR that even after a socialist revolution a new group of people (many of whom were oppressed before the revolution) will attempt to take power for personal gain. This is not surprising since the individualist elements of the culture of capitalism will not be wiped out overnight.
The Chinese initiated a mass fight against the ongoing idological holdovers of feudalism, which they called the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, as they worked to create a culture of socialism. Everyone was encouraged to study politics and freely criticize their leaders. This vigilance is the only way we will eventually eliminate the culture of oppression and violence which permeates every aspect of society and pulls the lumpen into anti-people activities like bangin'.
Each individual who belongs to a lumpen organization needs to assess your own situation to decide whether it is best to stay in that organization and struggle from within to build the anti-imperialist movement, or if you need to leave your organization to push forward your revolutionary organizing. There is a place for all of these organizations in the United Front for Peace in Prisons, where we can all come together to oppose prisoner-on-prisoner violence and build unity among lumpen organizations.
by Informacioni Sekretarijat of Revolutionary People's Party-Front
Reprinted from http://en.rnp-f.org
Although the Marxist-Leninist theory advocates the validity of all methods of struggle for the sake of the revolution, one particular method is often ignored or frowned upon: hunger strikes. Western worker’s movement is proud of the acts of self-sacrifice by its militants as it's the basis of the most important historical victories, yet hunger strike is often seen as a waste of human lives with little or no value for the class struggle.
Such is the general opinion of the hunger strike led and organised by Party-Front of Turkey (DHKP-C) in the period of 2000-2007, also called "Death Fast". Seven years long, Death Fast has claimed lives of 122 revolutionaries and it was considered to [be] a victory. Something that fellow communist parties very often criticise and questioning the effectiveness of such methods of struggle.
However, to entirely understand and properly evaluate the Death Fast, it would be incorrect to limit ourselves to the superficial manifestations of the whole process. Given a perspective of over a decade since its beginning, we are in a good position to see its effects and give more clarity to the historical circumstances in which it took place. Let us consider it from the historical perspective, the perspective of the class contradictions and the state the revolutionary movement in Turkey was in during that period.
The years between 1999 and 2001 were politically very interesting years. There were a couple of reasons for this:
Turkish state was in a state of permanent crisis. Since almost 10 years there were nothing but impotent coalition governments that failed to win the consent of the people. They were forced to resort to violence but this quickly made them unpopular, which, in the long run, undermined their legitimacy.
In February 1999, Kurdish leader Ocalan was captured and delivered to Turkey by CIA. During his trials in 1999 he made a surprisingly submissive defence and offered collaboration to the state. This made a serious negative impact on the Kurdish movement and the other left-wing movements that are tailing the PKK. What had been experienced and felt after the collapse of Soviet Union inside the European communist parties, was now being experienced in Turkey after 10 years. Since 1990, apart from a couple of movements, majority of the radical left were reduced to legal, weak social democratic parties. And the imprisonment of Ocalan meant to deliver the finishing blow:
"Everything was in vain, state was too powerful to beat, armed struggle brought nothing but pain, the only solution was to be a member of EU, so that the country might be democratized." This was the general mood among the wide reformist circles.
In August 1999, a huge earthquake hit the Marmara Region which was the most industrialized, most populated part of Turkey. It killed approximately 50,000 people. Three months later another earthquake with the same severity hit the same region for the second time. The state was incapable of bringing any aid. They just swept the rubble of the buildings off towards the sea with the dead bodies of the people inside. It was soon revealed that the corrupt businessmen who were then backed by the state built the collapsed buildings. People were angry, but the revolutionary alternative was weak, stuck in prisons and some revolutionary neighbourhoods with some armed cells here and there.
In September 1999, the state forces launched a violent attack against Ulucanlar Prison. This turned into a massacre as the military forces killed 10 revolutionary prisoners from 4-5 different organizations and wounded hundreds of prisoners with real bullets. This was done to send a message to the revolutionary movements: "It is your turn."
By the end of 1999, the balance of the class forces was like this:
There were the weak, scattered and ideologically low self-esteemed reformists, begging for EU involvement.
There was the demoralized Kurdish movement, with its leader in prison, openly talking about disarming and disbanding the organization.
There were the ruling classes with their strong military and police forces, but with a withering hegemony over the desperate population who has been looking for an alternative. And after the earthquakes not only the political crisis but also the economic crisis was at their doorstep.
And there were the radical/armed/revolutionary movements:
Some of them, like Maoists, were still obsessed with the old strategy of storming the cities from the countryside, whereas the 70-80 percent of the population had now started to live in metropolitan cities rather than villages. They were also in a state of crisis and getting divided into smaller organizations because of disputes on strategy. Some other organizations were opportunists with a not-so-clear ideology about how to make a revolution: Now you see them heavily criticising the Kurdish movement, and now you see them tailing the PKK. Gradually sinking into legalism, reconciliation, hesitation.
Finally there was the Party-Front (P-C). Although not as physically strong as the Kurdish movement, P-C had a kind of ideological hegemony over the other radical/revolutionary organizations and was constantly pushing them to take a solid attitude against the establishment. This was the case in 1996 Hunger Strikes and in the other prison resistances after it. When the other political parties stepped back or showed some signs of hesitation, militants of P-C encouraged them, criticised them in the prisons. And exposed them in its publications when they stepped back, which would harm their prestige among their own people.
In the year 2000 the crisis was deepening, the ruling classes knew that they had to take the necessary precautions. They were done with the reformists, they thought that they were done with the Kurdish movement and now, if these revolutionary/radical movements could not be bowed down, they would become an alternative for the desperate Kurdish and Turkish masses in case of a crisis. And if you wanted to destroy them, you had to start from their ideological hegemons, the P-C, that still continued to preach revolution, armed struggle and anti-imperialism.
Thus, the state prepared a plan to destroy the revolutionary discipline in the prisons: It decided to transform the existing prison system into a high-security prison system where the political prisoners would be isolated from each other in small cells. In this way, the ruling classes were hoping to destroy the organizational ties among the prisons, turning the political prisoners into isolated individuals.
Then came December 19, 2000. 20 prisons were simultaneously raided for three days with nearly 9000 soldiers. They used more than 20,000 gas bombs, thousands of real bullets against the unarmed prisoners. As a result 28 prisoners were killed, nearly 600 prisoners became permanently disabled in 3 days. The rest of the prisoners were forcedly sent to high-security prison cells.
It was not an issue of physical destruction alone. Compared to 60 million population at that time, there were only approximately 10 thousands of political prisoners in total. But still the prisons were like the headquarters of ideological production. Prisoners were writing [a] majority of the articles and books, composing songs, heavily training the future militants. Imprisoning stopped being a punishment and the militants knew that if they were sent to the prison, near to their comrades, they would undergo an extensive Marxist-Leninist training and continue their revolutionary activity.
On the other hand, the ruling classes at that time were trying to spread the ideology of desperation as opposed to revolution. "Nothing is worth to sacrifice yourselves" they were saying, "especially for socialism and revolution which has already collapsed". It was the end of history. The entire world was giving up. IRA in Ireland, ANC in South Africa, FMLN in El Salvador, Palestinian Liberation Organization, PKK in Turkey. The dream was over.
And one year after the Hunger Strikes began, 9/11 happened in US. Bush has declared the New World Order and clearly put that [b"“you are either with us, or against us".
What would it mean if the prisoners had submissively accepted this menace? Since 1980s it was one of the main tenets of the revolutionaries that if you are left in a position where you don’t have any weapons to fight, you should better die than to surrender.
P-C knew that from past experience: Those who surrendered to the impositions of the 1980 Military Junta were destroyed. They either became reformist, legal organizations or their militants were transformed into liberal, even right-wing intellectuals. Yes, they physically continued to live, but they had had a brain death. They had become the extensions of ruling class ideology.
They were the best propaganda materials for the ruling classes: "Look at these so called leaders of proletariat! They are telling you to fight until the end, but they do not want to make even a smaller sacrifice for their own cause. Is this what you are going to die for? Don’t be stupid young people."
However, when people resisted and died (either in hunger strike or an armed action) it made a huge impact, firstly among its comrades and among the people. It was the same in Kizildere in 1972 when Mahir Çayan and his comrades were massacred. The entire organization had been destroyed with them. But in just 2 years, hundreds of young militants swore to take their revenge. It was the same in 1984 and 1996 hunger strikes.
That was the basic thinking behind the hunger strikes: If you make the necessary sacrifice, you may die but at least it can make an impact that deeply influences the others to carry on.
Death Fast Logic
Two main causes can be emphasised over the others to explain the logic behind the death fasts:
Death or permanent injuries were the risks of the hunger strike. But the same risk is carried by any other revolutionary activity, especially the armed one. On the contrast, the submission to the government and accepting high security prisons would result in what the government really aimed at: to destroy the organisation from within and incite the ideological crisis. The revolutionaries in prison that preached heroic self-sacrifice and struggle would be discredited in the eyes of the people outside of the prison and in the eyes of the guerillas and militants who risk their lives on daily basis.
By design, these prisons were intended to interrupt the communication between the revolutionaries and isolate them from their comrades, from the external world, so that their thinking and behavioural habits would change and they will give up the idea of revolution later on. They are meant to destroy the revolutionary fervour and discipline, something which the organisation could not submit to. In such a case, giving up would mean willingly destroying the tradition of resistance inside the prisons, for the inexperienced, incompetent young militants would sink into depression and despair. What should they do, even when their "leaders", "wise comrades" surrender? The high security prisons would be seen as "hell [on] earth", as the horrible factories that produce tamed, subdued ordinary people out of the fervent, audacious revolutionaries once you go in. You can force the people to do everything, once you instil this "fear of imprisonment" in their minds.
The hunger strikes started [on] 20th of October 1999, after the state openly declared its new prison policy, and went on until 2007, when the state agreed to show some flexibility in its isolation policy.
From this perspective, we can say that hunger strike was a political victory. Because:
Revolutionary movement and its militants managed to protect the tradition of resistance inside the prisons. Now in every single high security prison there is a very strong network of revolutionary prisoners who wake up, do exercise, study, write, and paint – according to one single schedule, although they may not see each other for years. They developed innovative and complex networks of communication inside the prison. In the former prison system, it is said that 60% of the revolutionary prisoners resumed the struggle when they were released, whereas this rate is now 80% according to some sources. The massacre and the new prison system created the opposite results for the ruling classes thanks to this resistance.
Outside, the memories and sacrifices of resistance continued to live and both ideologically and emotionally strengthened the cadres, militants and sympathisers of the revolutionary movement. It was clearly shown that socialism is a cause that is still worth to die for and the revolutionaries in Turkey were ready to do this, while the Islamists and patriots who always talked about "making sacrifices for Allah or for the homeland" became part of the establishment.
Regarding the other radical/revolutionary movements: 15 years later after the prison massacre and 8 years after the end of the hunger strike, now there is a huge ideological gap between the other left and the revolutionary movement, the P-C. Some of these organizations that refused to take part in the resistance splintered into pieces. Some of them went through an ideological crisis and legalised themselves, liquidated their illegal organizations. Many of them started to tail the Kurdish movement and became part of HDP as the Greek reformists did with Syriza in Greece. Revolution stopped being the main purpose, whereas imperialism stopped being their main enemy; they started to look for some excuses when the Kurdish movement initiated an open collaboration with US in Syria. For years they have not carried out a single legal democratic, mass campaign apart from their campaigns for the corrupt elections. Marxism-Leninism was thrashed. Their mass base waned.
When the hunger strike was ended 2007, none of the initial demands of the revolutionaries were accepted. A revised version of the demands, which involved the freedom to see other people for 10 hours a week, was agreed on. Compared to the main aim of the ruling classes to isolate the revolutionaries, to bow them into complete submission, it this was an important achievement too.
As to the question: "did it worth to sacrifice more than a hundred people just for this?" while ignoring the political and ideological victories of the Great Resistance. The purpose was to put an end to the revolutionary ideology in Turkey and they failed in doing this. Turkey did not become the next Guatemala, Palestine or South Africa as they wanted it to be.
Hope survived and although the revolutionary movement came out weakened, it did survive and grew stronger over the years. Now there are pro-Party-Front groups emerging in different fields of the struggle. There is a music band called Grup Yorum that organizes public concerts all around Turkey where they sing their revolutionary songs with hundreds of thousands people. An institution called Engineers and Architects of the People started to organize inside the revolutionary neighbourhoods, trying to put forward an alternative way of living with popular assemblies, public gardens, wind turbines to allow the community to produce their own electricity. There are attempts to organize the shopkeepers within a cooperative so that they can resist against the monopoly of the shopping malls and big supermarkets. In the last couple of years, a series of successful worker resistances were supported by the Revolutionary Worker Movement, which declares itself to be pro-Party-Front. On the other hand, Party-Front itself continued its armed activities, some of which are widely publicized in the international media. It has militia bands in the main revolutionary quarters of Istanbul which fight against gangs, drug dealers and the state forces. These activities must have attracted the attention of the imperialists, so that some analysts started to speak of Party-Front as an "emerging threat" in Turkey. The US State Department issued a warrant of arrest for whom they think to be the top leaders of Party-Front. Imperialism declared that "up to 3 million dollars" will be rewarded to those who assist in capturing these people, whom the US considers to be the "most wanted people in Europe".
We will see what will come up in the following years.
MIM(Prisons) adds: We are reprinting this analysis from http://en.rnp-f.org because of the relevance to conditions and struggles within Amerikan prisons. Our comrades behind bars sometimes find themselves in a position where a hunger strike is one of only a few potential avenues of protest against conditions that are brutal and often deadly. This article demonstrates the potential successes that can be gained from long-term hunger strikes.
However, it MUST be noted that these strikes in Turkey were in a very different political context than the one faced by prisoners in the United $tates. In Turkey in 1999 there were relatively large networks of revolutionary organizing in the prisons and a solid (and armed) network of support outside. Without those conditions the sacrfices made would not have had the same impact. In our current conditions in prisons in the United $tates we are not anywhere close to this level of organization. Hunger strikes in U.$. prisons are not focused on protecting such advanced political activity and organization behind bars, rather they are used to gain reprieve from conditions of torture and create opportunities for some organizing. Because of these differences we can not simply apply this analysis directly to our situation.
Our knowledge of the RNP-F is limited. We applaud what little we have seen of their work and look forward to learning more about their political line and practice.