The third goal of the expanded newspaper [from the ULK 64"Make ULK Monthly" article (1)] states, "Broader distribution of anti-imperialist information." Furthermore, in the "who should be part of this expansion?" section of the article MIM(Prisons) states that "we will continue to publish articles from individuals who share our anti-imperialist agenda though perhaps are not Maoists."
I believe that the third goal can be achieved by practicing the above quote. The ULK subscription rate would increase by allowing "outsiders" to publish material within the publication (such as anarchists). This increase in subscribers would also increase the number of art and article submissions to ULK, as well as donations.
Let us remember that Marx agreed with Proudhon and other anarchists in regard to the necessity for the proletariat to abolish the state. It is only by abolishing the state that we can create a class-less society (since the state is the manifestation of class antagonisms). The dividing line between communists and anarchists is not the abolition of the state, but the process in which the state should be abolished. Because there are many similarities between communist and anarchist ideologies both ULK and its readers would benefit greatly from the inclusion of anarchist commentary (besides, MIM(Prisons) can always comment on an anarchist article to correct it if necessary.)
MIM(Prisons) responds: MIM(Prisons) welcomes anarchist writers to submit to ULK. This writer is correct that our areas of disagreement are limited to the strategy to getting to classless society, and we agree on our ultimate goal of society with no groups of people having power over other groups. There is also a lot to agree on in the struggle along the way.
The new newsletter in the works will still be a Maoist newsletter, meaning that all writings will pass through a Maoist editorial staff that will either edit or respond to any writings that disagree with the basic tenets of Maoism depending on the position of the author. We do think our readers benefit from seeing debates, and we want to focus on debates that push our movement and our unity forward. We share this comrade's idea that expanding the contributors to this publication will also expand our distribution. We invite potential contributors to get in touch.
Arguably the hardest aspect of organizing (especially revolutionary organizing) is building consciousness. Not specifically of the subject matter (i.e., anti-capitalist/imperialist, socialism, equality, prisoner struggle) but of their role in the larger picture and its influence on their lives. Such consciousness leads to meaningful action. Due to this, it is the most rewarding of political objectives. It is also the most difficult to cultivate.
In pursuit of building consciousness, revolutionaries face many obstacles. A predominant, recurring obstacle is expanding peoples' perspective beyond their individual material concerns. A person's material interests constitute primary motivation for activism against and contributing to capitalism. In the Third World we see stringent struggles against capitalism. The opposite is equally true within capitalist societies. Material interests/motivations are inextricably welded to an individual's perspective of, and instinct for, self-preservation. This leads to a spectacular (depending on your ideological bent) narrowing down of alternatives, options and ultimately choices. A non-conducive situation for First World revolutionary organizing.
Our natural inclination is to allow self-preservation to impulse our actions once fear or a threat exceeds acceptable levels. People react as basic as scared animals in danger. Due to social evolution, our responses are more complex and advanced, more involved, what one can call a "social" self-preservation instinct. Similar to the brain shutting down because of excessive stress or trauma, emerging consciousness among First Worlders regresses when one's standard of living is threatened. Breaking First World attachment to physical/material comforts (possessions, commodities, thing-centrism) is first imperative to any revolutionary organizing, in particular; and wider political consciousness, in general.
A great amount of time, energy and attention must be given to shattering these real constraints. Class suicide among First World activists is the end result of such efforts. Through a patient, methodical process of expansive efforts (educational of real costs of capitalism/imperialism), diligence in those efforts and demonstrating the feasibility of alternative means (non-capitalistic), an organizer can make a meaningful contribution to supplanting capitalism.
People are selfish and revolutionary anti-imperialists should remind themselves that their target is the personal element, first and foremost. Even the perfect rally/demonstration, regardless of how correct its politics, will have a difficult time penetrating the calloused minds of those long accustomed to, and blinded by, capitalism. Especially when it concerns prisoners and penal systems/institutions. Most First Worlders simply deem it a necessary evil to preserve society.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Those First Worlders this author refers to are right that the prison system and institutions are a necessary evil to preserve the society as it is. That's the main difference between our prison work and that of many prison abolitionists — we know that we can't get rid of prisons in their current form unless we also get rid of capitalism.
This article brings up real challenges in our work. In ULK, we hope to host an ongoing conversation about ways we can be most effective in accomplishing the tasks this author calls out as most imperative: building consciousness, changing value systems, showing alternatives, etc. Send in your experiences and successes so we can continue learning from each other!
by a North Carolina prisoner February 2019 permalink
I have been fighting for better conditions in my current prison since I got here in June 2017. Tell the prison masses they have to write en masse to their unit managers, warden and director of prisons in their state. It's free!! There is no excuse.
The easiest thing to do, which I did, is to write up your declarations and remonstrations using carbon copy paper. Make 2-3 copies for each block/pod in every unit. Pass them out to comrades in those blocks, so they can encourage/force/persuade the masses to take 15 minutes to recopy and post it out. Done.
The first time I initiated these shots the warden called me to his office for a meeting with him, the unit manager, and assistant warden. He stopped the early counts, the 9 p.m. count, and turning off of phones. This sh!t works. On the second salvo he initiated recreation seven days a week. We are still pounding.
MIM(Prisons) responds: More reasonable hours for count, more contact with the outside world, and more recreation are all related to our anti-imperialist struggle, even though they may seem like petty reforms. Better sleep makes us mentally sharper, for writing, self-control, and creativity. Interaction with the outside world can give us motivation and positive social contact. And exercise (especially outdoors) helps with our physical as well as mental health.
We'd love to analyze a little deeper the benefits of running a campaign like the one described, because it's not just good for changing conditions. The people who are copying the letters and seeing results are at a special place in their recruiting. They might not be ready to initiate a campaign like this, and they might not even identify as part of "the struggle." But they have some interest in this work and are putting in some (albeit relatively small) effort.
At this stage, the best thing we can do for them is help set up "easy wins." They probably aren't dedicated enough to remain committed after a big setback. So asking them to put in a ton of effort for no reward is just not realistically going to inspire them to stay engaged. Whenever we can devise campaigns or activities that give this positive feedback to the people participating, with minimal effort, we should jump on those projects. These folks might not have learned the relationship between working hard and reward, so we can help teach that association. "Without directly experiencing the connection between effort and reward, animals, whether they're rats or people, default to laziness."(1)
Also keep in mind that all is not lost on the folks who are not participating, and are watching the campaign from the sidelines. Like we wrote in our response to "Sack the Sack Lunches," this type of campaign can help spark people's interest, just by witnessing and experiencing the results. Let's not condemn these folks for not participating, and instead let's try harder to inspire them with our successes, and then help them with easy wins when they are ready to participate.
In some states like Texas, where even indigent mail is restricted to 5 letters per month, it's not free to write to these administrators to change conditions. There are plenty of excuses (or reasons) why people can't engage in this type of campaign. Still, whenever possible, we agree that we should be pushing campaigns like these. It just means we have to get more creative in developing them.
I feel inspired by the fact that you decided to use my Liberation Theology article in ULK 65. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute to our movement. I will continue to submit articles to you in the future.
The feedback you gave on the article was great. Under the MIM(Prisons) responds section, you agreed with me that Liberation Theology can be a useful revolutionary tool, and that it's good to "try to approach people where they are at." However, you also said that "we should be careful not to mislead them into thinking that we endorse their mysticism. The very belief in a higher power discourages people from believing that they can control the development of their own and all of humanity's future." You also warned against neglecting materialism.
I 100% agree. While I did mention that I was an atheist in the article, I failed to mention that materialism truly is the best world view if you're going for revolution. After all, materialism deals with reality in so far as we humyns are capable of comprehending it. And proper theory leads to proper action which leads to better theory.
But I just like how you do feedback in general. You encourage the people to submit their views and if you ever disagree with or wish to qualify a comrade's ideas, you publicize eir views and then explain why you disagree underneath it. Mao would have it no other way. This is why ey encouraged the people and the intellectuals to think for themselves, because ey knew that because eir method is sound, ey would be able to refute errors on logical grounds without having to lie or undermine the people's freedom, which is what the U.$. power-elite does.
Also, I read the book Grit that you sent me. I learned some valuable lessons from it. The main thing I've been able to utilize was the simple chart Duckworth advocates for organizing goals. I've made it a habit to review my own goal chart. My highest goal says "undermine and liberate," which means undermine the imperialists and liberate the oppressed. My low level goals are different throughout the week. Writing this letter to you, comrades, was one of these goals. Every little goal adds up to the top one.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Comrade, you were not the only one glad we printed your piece. Multiple USW comrades wrote us mentioning your article as being useful. We appreciate this comrade's feedback on our feedback, and we're always looking for more info from our subscribers on how we can do our job better. It's a topic we are always reviewing and trying to improve, like any good organizer should! We especially appreciate hearing feedback from people who have contributed to our programs and campaigns.
We all need to be able to learn from constructive criticism, and this ongoing discussion is an example of the criticism/self-criticism process in action. Only by learning from our mistakes (and those of others) will the revolutionaries and the movement continue to grow and move forward. People, and organizations, that dogmatically insist they are always right will quickly stagnate and offer no real hope for the oppressed. And as you can see in the pages of ULK this is a two-way street. It's not just about MIM(Prisons) telling writers where we think they are wrong. It's also about us learning from readers of and writers for ULK. The self-criticism printed in this issue regarding our George Jackson article in ULK 65 is a small example of this.
In the interest of transparency, we want to underline that MIM(Prisons) is the editor of this newspaper. So we choose what letters we respond to, and we often cut parts out of those. We aim to give a platform to the articles that contribute to the ongoing conversations in ULK, and that contribute to anti-imperialist organizing in general. So ULK is not a reflection of what everyone is writing to us about, but it is a reflection of the anti-imperialist organizing going on behind bars.
Editorial power is one reason why we advocate for single-nation organizations to lead their own nations, including having their own ideological platforms such as newspapers. Newspaper editors inherently filter what they think is most important to include and discuss, and our judgement on what is important to all nations could be wrong.
In hopes of getting a back issue of ULK (preferably issue 53 - with Texas reform updates) I shared ULK 59 with a few others. Most had something to say about the drugs in prison. The best way I can summarize most of the conversations is that thinking is hard and people are reluctant to do it.
Most who I talked to fall into two groups: either they do drugs as a way to escape, which I think is a psychological and environmental problem I can't say much about; or they do them to feel like they are "beating the man." These are the ones that will smoke openly in the dayroom, even if it means the whole building will get locked down. Explaining to them that they aren't beating the man when he's getting paid an obscene amount of money to bring it in isn't effective. Not sure where to go from there.
MIM(Prisons) Texas Coordinator responds: Directly contradicting a belief that someone holds strong enough to put a whole facility on lockdown is unlikely to change their mind, like this comrade has experienced. Peer pressure is often one huge motivator for people, and I'm honestly surprised that the rest of the prisoner population isn't shutting down people smoking in the dayroom, for their own persynal interests of not being on lockdown. A group of people telling someone to stop a behavior is much more impactful than one individual.
On an individual level, there are conversational techniques that are more or less effective, depending on the persyn we're struggling with. In this case, there's one technique that stands out to me to try: asking questions. Instead of coming at the persyn's belief head-on, try to show em the contradictions and illogical thinking in eir plan by asking questions and getting a really deep understanding of eir thinking.
So rather than saying "your belief is wrong," we can ask em "how does that work?" and actually try to get em to explain eir reasoning. Building trust by validating what is true about eir perspective ("you're right, we can't just sit around and do nothing") helps open em up to share more. The main goals in this kind of conversation are 1) to underline we're on the same team (us against the pigs), and 2) to try to understand where ey's coming from, and 3) help em come to eir own conclusions about what is wrong about eir thinking, and what ey needs to think about more. This is just one technique to try, and i would love others to write in on what's worked for em in dealing with this kind of problem.
I've always been revolutionary-minded, but it's a struggle here in Bill Clements Unit. Here's one example that happened early last month. I work in the laundry. Well all of us are waiting for them to call for chow (lunch), but all of a sudden the C.O.s running chow forget to feed laundry! So the chow C.O.s tell the laundry C.O. that they are going to give us sack lunches. All of a sudden, this is the sad part, a bunch of my fellow coworkers are going back into the laundry. Well a few of us spoke up saying we've been working and are NOT going to accept a sack lunch. Eventually they opened the chow hall for us. Well I guess this is all for now. Again thank you for all you do.
MIM(Prisons) Texas Coordinator responds: Small incidents like this one might seem inconsequential to many people, like those guys who just went back to laundry when told they were gonna get sack lunches. These are small wins that make a huge impact on people's minds, though. Showing people little successes like this whenever we can helps plant seeds in their consciousness about resisting oppression and standing up for themselves. It was a completely fair argument to make, that the C.O.s made a mistake and should fix it. So rather than get hung up on how sad it is that so many people just were going accept the sack lunches, i think it was really great that so many people got to see what having a backbone looks like in real life. Inevitably, this is what inspires people to grow their own backbones and start standing up for themselves. Thanks for this awesome report.
I have learned a lot from ULK 63, particularly from an article from a Michigan prisoner on "Challenges and Growth in Recruiting Skills." I myself have always been a passionate orator since my former days as an official of the Moorish Science Temple of America. But as my political consciousness began to rise and I became more of a revolutionary realist, I find that the hellfire and brimstone approach is not always wise.
I have learned that most reasonable men can be persuaded through intellectual dialing based on facts, statistics and logic. Then there are the masses that really don't know what they want but know something must change. I have some good ideas on how to organize some comrades although I must admit my objective is somewhat obscure. I love how this prisoner from Michigan laid out the format of organizing through dialectical materialism, which he later gave a definition of as I would say "a scientific process of trial and error." I love hearing and reading the understandings of others, it raises my own.
One aspect of organizing that is paramount for recruitment and retention of revolutionaries is comprehending the psychology of the oppressed. Oppressed psychology is not meant to insinuate some distinct or identifiable character flaw, or what not, inherent in those oppressed; nor something which destines us (oppressed) to be the whipping boy of the oppressor. Oppressed psychology denotes how the system influences oppressed nations into believing, accepting and living in adherence to a mentality and mode of existence calculated to promote the greatest benefits for both the oppressor classes and capitalism overall. Just contemplate: what allows us to lash out at others who are equally oppressed, but by and large do little to resist or confront our oppressors?
In prison, this wall (oppressed psyche) expresses itself in no uncertain terms: "This is what we are." "It's what we do, all we can do."(1) It's an acceptance of the lot foisted upon our shoulders. I have identified this as a type of Stockholm Syndrome, where we, the oppressed, validate and reinforce an ideology and mentality detrimental to self-determination.
An oppressed psyche is a crippling inhibitor. First, it dissuades us from considering any meaningful steps toward resistance. For instance, "This is the way things are, have always been," or "Any resistance can only worsen an already bad situation." Second, because we accept it as part of who we are, its loss equals our loss of identity. This is expressed in comments such as "There's nothing else for me in life," or "If not a criminal, then what am I?" Third, it promotes half-measures and depreciation of our value as revolutionaries. We may very well feel nobody will care one iota about what we have to say or think. These, and more, are the serious impediments to scaling the oppressed psyche wall. Indeed, these are monumental obstacles but not insurmountable.
As stated elsewhere, the surest method of overcoming walls is demonstrative action. It is the duty of revolutionary leaders to disseminate among the masses the consciousness of their destiny and their task. This duty translates to practice in "Build, Break, Build." Once we, as organizers and leaders have forged an iron weapon of proper foundations — correct political line, appropriate application of dialectical materialism, and understanding of the struggle — it must be launched at oppressed-psyche walls like a spiked hammer, in order to chip away and break them down. After breaking down the walls, it remains to build up a new revolutionary structure.
There are too many variations in peoples' characteristics, backgrounds, and such to lay down any definitive, universal rule, or guidelines to be followed in the Build, Break, Build process. The only general rule I can acknowledge is: after an initial engagement in "breakage dialogue," organizers should chart their next steps depending on the amount of (or lack of) receptivity they encounter. Also, it is important to recognize people generally treat new concepts with ambivalence at best. A key aspect of the oppressed psyche is to cling to what is familiar, and be cautious of the new, or unknown. To be certain, the oppressed psyche is a formidable wall. Breaking it down may require several attempts, going back over old sections of the wall previously chipped away.
Focus the breakage dialogue on hard questions like those asked in "If Black Lives Matter, Don't Integrate Into Amerika."(2) Or the issues highlighted by the AV Brown Berets in "Mobilize Raza for Independence."(3) The building of revolutionary consciousness and purpose is a duty which demands thoroughness.(4) Like an aggressive cancer, at times you must operate in an old area anew. Walls, such as oppressed psyche, are a cancer degrading the revolutionary movement, inhibiting the masses' consciousness of their role and task, complicating recruitment, and all but precluding retention. In organizing we must recognize walls and be prepared for Build, Break, Build.
This issue of ULK is a follow-up to issue 63 (July/August 2018), which dove into the question of tactics around engaging people in our movement. We often see in these pages why we need to engage in revolutionary politics, who we should be working with, and what campaigns we need to work on. What is often lacking is how to get people on board. In 2018 we dove deep into this question, and this ULK is part of that ongoing conversation.
Some of our learning about effectively teaching and recruiting others can come from historical practice. We can look at what the Black Panther Party did to attract people through their Serve the People breakfast program which included political lectures during the free meal. And we can learn from the Chinese Maoists who helped people in prison learn from their mistakes through the process of group discussion and re-education. We learn from the Chinese peasants who, after the revolution was won, saw that many poor peasants were still afraid to speak out against religious leaders who had brutalized and exploited them. A few individuals led by example, attacking not the religion but the actions of these leaders, and this inspired others. We take lessons from the Communist Party of Peru in the 1990s who mobilized the indigenous countryside into a structured resistance movement that also provided education and health care services to its communities. There are many revolutionary movements that provide great examples and inspiration for our work today. (If you would like to study these revolutionary movements, send us some work to trade, or ask for a price list of books available.)
Studying revolutionary history, and particularly the practices of those communists, can give us some great ideas that we can apply to our own practice. But we also need to evaluate our own work and look for what is relevant in our current conditions. Doing this together, through the pages of ULK, will help everyone learn and improve their organizing, education and recruiting.
We can start by looking at our own persynal histories and how we ourselves were recruited into revolutionary politics. Below, the comrades in Arkansas and Maryland outline their lifetimes of political development, which are common to many letters we receive from our subscribers.
An Arkansas prisoner: I first started learning about the struggles of being a minority from my mother who raised my siblings and I in a strong Black Power presence household. Throughout my childhood we were homeless a number of times, and the system didn't provide any alternatives for us. Instead, all the so-called programs they provided were to keep us dependent on them, and remain in the revolving door of helplessness. So I learned early that we were living in a broken system.
As I got older, I studied books like The Willie Lynch Letters, The Making of the White Man, and studied the Black Panthers. But I was too young to join the NBPP, so I became affiliated with the Crips. The problem was we were screaming "community restoration in progress," but we were destroying more than we were building. After some years I realized that we were on the wrong path. I then became a Muslim.
I was always taught the Muslims were the pillar for the Black community. However what we lacked was political experience, or basic knowledge of politics. As I became incarcerated I was having a conversation with another brother about "Black Beauty over White Beauty." Somebody overheard our conversation, and pulled me to the side asking if I ever studied Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. I hadn't, and that was the starting point of me being laced up with the knowledge of socialism.
That was two years ago, and I'm proud to say I've came far in my journey on self-development so I may be able one day to greatly assist in community development. I've been able to steer a few brothers on the development of self so they one day will be able to aid our people in our struggles.
A Maryland prisoner: Since I can remember I always had a natural rebellious reflex instinct for injustices dealt to people of the struggle. Growing up in the slums of East Baltimore it's virtually impossible to not have a leftist political perspective once you educate yourself. In inner-city life, especially an inner-city that is mostly populated by Negros, the evidence of oppression is clearly overwhelming.
I was fully turned on to revolutionary politics after Freddie Gray was assassinated by the Baltimore city police department. That incident alone sparked strong emotions in me that I've never felt before. I felt as though Freddie Gray could have been me or any other youth from Baltimore, which I think is true. I was incarcerated when the Freddie Gray assassination took place, then I was released probably about a month later.
At the end of 2015 I was back incarcerated again for a physical altercation with two Baltimore city police officers. Since being incarcerated this time I've sharpened up on my political consciousness. Most of my days are spent on studying my religion, politics and the history of the Negro people. I cannot stand to see people being oppressed by the "power-to-be" and I wish I could somehow extend a helping hand to every political injustice forced upon the people in the struggle.
Another Maryland prisoner adds: I became a Revolutionary Conscious Citizen of the Republic of New Afrika about 2 years ago. It made me totally awake! Each day i stride forth in knowledge, understanding and wisdom of my great Ancestors. I was recruited by a dear friend who watched my character and actions and revealed to me another side of life and how to truly make a difference. He showed me how the universe moves and how colonization, capitalism and imperialism destroyed nations and lives and how neo-colonialism is nothing but us uniting with our oppressor! How patriarchy grasped our minds and interacted in our way of lives in our daily actions!
I can honestly say i came a long way, yet i know that the community is more important than the individual. And as a New Afrikan Communist i overstand that everyone has the chance to change through learning and relearning through a revolutionary education. Yet, comrades, the brothas where i'm at — it saddens me! They walk around like walking zombies high off the K.
Yet i know George Jackson said: The ruling clique approaches its task with a "what to think" program; the vanguard elements have the much more difficult job of promoting "how to think." Thus it's our job of building consciousness to our dumb, deaf and blind Brothas and Sistas! Like Johnathan Jackson said, "Some of us are going to have to take our courage in hand and build a hard revolutionary cadre." We can't give up, continue the struggle! Build to win! Can't stop won't stop!
MIM(Prisons) adds: A lifetime of persynal experience being oppressed in the United $tates naturally leads us toward revolutionary politics. Our dedication doesn't appear overnight with our first exposure. Some incidents, like the murder of Freddie Gray, make a stronger impact than others. But repeated exposure to oppression, and resistance, is what leads us to make the struggle our own. A strong parent or a good mentor can make a huge difference. Working as educators, we can still be very effective even if it's just one of us working with one recruit.
Some people assume that since you were recruited, that you somehow now possess an inherent ability to recruit others. Just because you're interested in a topic and want to contribute doesn't in any way imply that now you have the skills to do so. What to us (the recruit) looked and felt like a normal conversation, to the organizer or recruiter is actually a work of art. It takes time and effort to become an effective organizer, not just agreement with a line.
One way we can become better organizers is to reflect on our own practice. Below are letters from a variety of contributors on this topic.
The first Maryland prisoner continues: In this prison I can relate to most dudes because we've had somewhat a similar journey of hardships growing up. At the same time most dudes understand and can comprehend the very conditions of oppression, but show no signs of resistance to the ill forces of the oppressor. It literally will be a handful of brothers who'll stand up for the whole tier if these pigz blatantly disrespect or mistreat another brother(s). It is peculiar to me that most times the brother(s) that is being disrespected or mistreated will not stand up for himself, but will not hesitate to bring harm to the next brother(s) if he even so happens to think about looking at him wrong.
Each time it's time to take a stand I'm usually right on the front lines, me and a few other brothers. We try each and every time to obtain some type of unity amongst ourselves against these pigz. I slowly but surely engage in political conversations with certain brothers to try to analyze their perspective and teach them a few things based on the same struggle we're in. Some brothers gathered a selfish outlook on the struggle because they've felt as though why should they stand up for other brothers who don't want to stand up for themselves or yet anyone else.
Due to the fact that there's constant tensions brewing between brothers of different gangs, the unity level is at an all-time low. Meanwhile, these pigz set up "smoke screens" to delude brothers of what oppressive techniques they're putting into motion. I try to stress that point over and over again to brothers around here but it's to no avail. By me being the person I am, I can't let certain or every failure in progress to justice for the struggle stop me like other submissive brothers. It is my revolutionary duty to stay positive, encouraging, and consistent.
Now, as far as the outside society, I've put together a blueprint to help the community to be self-sufficient. That's why during their time of me being down I'll continue to educate myself and strategize plans for the struggle ahead. In conclusion, this is my brief elaborate story of "how I was recruited." I greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time to read this piece of material. All Power to the People.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade consistently maintains a positive and encouraging outlook. Any insight on how one goes about doing that is always appreciated, as we all get discouraged sometimes and can use a reminder on how to stay up. As for not understanding people's inconsistencies in what they accept vs. fight over, i have some questions for reflection:
Has there ever been a time in your life when you were like one of those brothers who doesn't stand up for emself against the pigs, but will bring harm to another persyn? What was your own thinking behind that behavior? What were you afraid of? Can answering these questions about our own histories help us have a better understanding of (and more effective conversations with) people we're trying to get on board?
I also have some questions about standing up for people who won't stand up for themselves, which is a common complaint. I'm curious if there's a way to find a middle ground on this. In one way, we are doing the whole prisoner population a service by defending people and not letting the pigs get away with anything. But on the other hand, we are enabling people's inaction because we're doing the hard work for them. How can we enforce some, even minor, participation from the people we're helping?
For example, MIM Distributors has a policy about writing letters to administrators when our mail is censored. If we had more resources, we would protest all censorship of our materials. At this time, we only write letters on behalf of people who are also appealing the denials. Part of it is about our limited resources, and part of it is about not going to bat for people who aren't going to stand up for themselves, or us. Same with our Prisoners' Legal Clinic, Free Books for Prisoners Program, etc. We ask for some kind of participation before putting extra resources into people.
A big benefit of this approach is it helps distribute our limited resources so the people who are putting in work are getting some attention from us. It also functions to hold people to a high, yet reasonable, expectation. We aim to be supportive, and demanding, and we believe this approach will do the most to build participation and leadership.
A Missouri prisoner: In this struggle I recruit by being willing to spot for you on yo bench press, even though my thing is the elliptical machine. I am willing to only listen when you need to do all the talking. I am able to be the one whom doesn't have to be "right" when wrong is of no consequence!
I feed off of the energy that is already in existence! I know gangs, religion, drugs, prison politics, music, nationalists, highways, vehicles, food & find our connections. And the best part of it all is I've recruited a comrade and not divulged a single plan yet!
reddragon of USW: Having different convos here and there it dawned on me that I was able to engage others based upon certain interests, and that in the past my attempts were fruitless based upon my inability to understand that approaching political ideology/ theory from one side only was the reason the convos bore no fruit!
Therefore i conducted a simple personal experiment in which I engaged different persons from different angles based upon their interests. For example, one brother is interested in business administration, another in talking about military strategies/tactics, etc., and another in music and the arts. All of these things have a place in the revolution. After the seizure of power we will no doubt need planners, administrators, as well as many other positions once held by the bourgeoisie and the former oppressors. So by interjecting communist thought into convos about a new society we can create certain sparks. There are those who feel inadequate in certain areas that they feel are too complicated so they shy away. So approaching them from angles of particular interest is something to think about.
Comrades, let us prepare with a sense of haste. As the conditions become ripe, as economic crisis and the threats of war with a major power looks imminent, the time may come sooner than we think.Dare to struggle, dare to win, all power to the people! Victory is ours! In solidarity I remain!
MIM(Prisons) adds: What reddragon and the comrade from Missouri have in common is meeting the potential recruits where they're at, and engaging them on what they are already interested in, while relating it to the revolutionary movement. The California comrade's approach, below, is slightly different. Ey gets into a single tactic, rather than an overall approach, that ey uses in conversations with potential recruits.
A California prisoner wrote: When it comes to people and you're trying to impress upon them a particular concept or an idea, sometimes the direct approach isn't the best tactic. So #1, when having a conversation with them, we utilize the ask-and-answer approach to see how much they know, and how receptive they are to the topic at hand.
Because for the most part, uneducated people are negative and close-minded. They become argumentative and want to express their viewpoint in order to appear right and that they know what is correct. But the truth of the matter is they know absolutely nothing.
So, the question and answer approach, in a sense, will expose them. This will put you in a superior position to teach them without any opposition. And now they know that they can learn a great deal.
However, through this Q&A tactic, you've now piqued their interest in a profound way. Hence, becoming receptive and open-minded to knowledge and understanding about revolutionary change. This is the greater reality for us socialists who doesn't fear the movement of teaching what life is, and that a society without imperialism is possible.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This tactic coming out of California is similar to the Socratic method, which has been used for thousands of years to test our implicit beliefs and present analysis. It helps expose the errors in our thinking so that we can work through them and come to a deeper understanding. If we approach the debate head-on, the dialectics inherent in a conversation will have us arguing our side with the other persyn going even harder arguing eir side. It takes a lot of humility to give up one's argument in this type of conversation, and often leads to a dead-end debate or escalation of tension.
While i agree with this comrade's approach in using questions to help the persyn see the errors in eir thinking, one major thing i would adapt about the approach would be to see these recruits more as friends, rather than adversaries. We have no interest in teaching people "without any opposition," and we certainly don't believe that people who are uneducated "know absolutely nothing." They might not be educated by bourgeois institutions, or even in political philosophy or history. But imprisoned masses have a lifetime of experience in living oppressed in bourgeois society. Rather than knocking people down, to be receptive to our "wisdom," we want to help open people up and get us learning together. Certainly there are occasions to just go at someone who's being loud and ignorant, but we don't want to do it as a general rule.
Another part of recruiting tactics is choosing who to focus on, by identifying who we're likely to have the most success with. There are probably lots of different views on this, and below is one comrade's method. The details of who we aim to recruit are likely to vary depending on our own strengths and weaknesses as an organizer, as well as the conditions where we're at. We've received many letters that contradict some of the principles below, so we don't hold them as hard rules for all organizing.
A Texas prisoner: There goes a lot into recruiting people into Maoism. Once I have overcome the social stigma of communism by instead calling it "Maoism," I have overcome one barrier. Like the word "Islam," it is too taboo a subject.
I treat and focus on each individual differently. I look at variables of my peers. Is my cellmate young or old? Is he poor or rich? Is he antisocial or outgoing? Is he educated or uneducated? Many things go into approaching someone and a good place to start is with my cellmates.
A young cellmate is easy to guide. That is why gangs approach the youth. Instead of older individuals, the young person has not been "burnt out," has not had so many bad experiences in politics, as they are inexperienced. The youth naturally enjoy to rebel. Most young prisoners are here because of the capitalist systems' manipulation in laws. So they yearn for a revolution of change. The older are too mundane or too frightened to rebel. Or they do not wish to get off their butts and demonstrate. Rather than participate in capitalism, they should try Maoism, I teach them.
The poor prisoners think of their oppression with disdain. The poor prisoner understands the struggles of poverty. They already know that capitalism has stacked the laws against them. Most prisoners have or own little property. Though most prisoners have labored, there was never any relief from poverty. I explain to them that under a Maoist system of government all property would belong to the workers/laborers. And that most of the elite are rich because others labor for them. Though participating in the status quo, the laborer is exploited. Maoism would abolish this system, I teach them.
An outgoing prisoner is preferable to the cause because they are out and about. The behavior could be cultivated into political work or demonstrations. An anti-social prisoner is often oppressing other prisoners, while hindering his peers. He is not ideal for the movement. They are difficult to work with and not worth the trouble.
I use the educational material provided in ULK to recruit and teach my people. The most uneducated person with a drive to learn is never a waste of my time. I enjoy taking the time to explain the examples of capitalism and Maoism. There are many questions a curious, young person might have and a outgoing individual should be more than happy to explain. Never the less, patience is a virtue.
And finally I believe that I should start with my cellmates first because they are here and available. I can show what I preach.
My ideal recruit would be a young, poor, uneducated but willing to learn cellmate. As of this writing, I am recruiting my current cellmate. I am not perfect but I am hopeful that my quest is the right path.
MIM(Prisons) adds: We encourage all our readers to go to this level of thoughtfulness about their recruiting methods. Complaining to MIM(Prisons) that "nobody is interested" is partly an admission that you have a lot more work to do to develop into an effective organizer. The effects of bourgeois capitalism on our recruiting base give us real, hard challenges to our efforts. And with centuries of practice, the U.$. criminal injustice system is very skilled at frustrating any movement toward justice, progress, or revolution. It's a tough job, but the more we practice at it, the easier it gets.
Here in Colorado there has been a push for solidarity amongst prisoners, particularly in units at Sterling Correctional Facility and Colorado State Penitentiary. I've been in prison for 5 years here in Colorado and have seen very little of this solidarity until now. Unfortunately, we here still have a long way to go.
Staff, who fear the trend of unity, have begun to sow seeds of unrest amongst certain groups. To do this, staff have resorted to spreading false rumors of sexual harassment, coupled with promises of "packs" and sexual favors for assaults on their intended targets. Staff's goal is to start a race war in place of the quelled tribal wars that have plagued this state for years. Unfortunately some prisoners have bought into this line of thinking, hook, line, and sinker.
In ULK 64 an article touched on this type of "damsel in distress" thinking in Colorado prisons. This type of thinking is grounded solidly in our own informal subculture that ultra aggressive, chauvinistic behaviors promote ones own reputation for toughness and overall appearance of being a convict. The reality is that we as convicts are entirely in control of what standards define "toughness" and "convicts."
While I fully agree that some recourse should be taken against those who commit sexual crimes against children, women, and others in general, I'm not sure that violent action is the best solution in most cases. And taking violent action against another prisoner based upon unsubstantiated allegations of a prison guard (who, rather than use prison disciplinary methods, sought retribution by bribing prisoners) seems entirely anti-convict to me.
Maybe it's time for us as prisoners in Colorado to re-evaluate what it is to be a convict in this state. I know in many states, prisoners who do the pigs' bidding, even the violent or illegal acts, would be considered stool pigeons for the man to control them.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We've heard about this awakening within Colorado prisons from a few folks behind bars, and also of the repression that pigs are using to try to quell that unity.(1) This comrade raises the important point that building unity requires a rethinking of how people interact with one another. We have to start by defining who are our enemies and who are our friends. The C.O.s are not our friends. As this comrade points out, their goal ultimately is to sow division. We also can't trust the state to tell us which prisoners are our friends. We need to look at their actions. Even those claiming to be revolutionaries may not be friends of the revolution if they are acting counter to the unity of the oppressed. Re-evaluating what it is to be a convict in Colorado is building on the budding lumpen unity in that state.