Once Hostilities Have Ended
I recently read about the "agreement to end hostilities" and seen this as an essential step forward for prisoners but a step that will include many more steps in the future if prisoners are to truly take back our humynity not just in California but in prisons across the United $tates. Although I support the original five demands and will continue to do so along with any future demands for justice I felt the need to add to the dialogue and perhaps bring some other ideas to the scene. What I noticed from the five demands and many other proposals being kicked around is the absence of the very core of our oppression - the SHU itself. What we have learned since the initial strike was that many civil rights groups and people around the world see the SHU itself as torture, all or most of what is being asked for i.e. contact visits, phone calls, cellies etc. can be granted were it not for SHU. Even things like validation and debriefing etc. become easier to combat when the SHU is out of the picture so it is the SHU itself that becomes the kernel of our oppression in regards to the prison movement in general and the current struggle we are facing in Pelican Bay. This is why any proposals should have at the forefront the demand to close the SHUs! How can we talk of justice or prisoner rights without calling for an end to housing prisoners for any reason in these concentration camps? It's like saying "you can water board me but can we listen to a better radio station while you do it?" No other country is doing what Amerika does with the SHU on this scale but it is ultimately up to us whether we steer the prison movement on a real path of transformation or limit any changes to what amount to mild reforms.
Many struggles throughout history that dealt with prisoners gained far more than what has currently been proposed in our situation. A couple of situations that quickly come to mind are the Puerto Rican revolutionary group Macheteros who were arrested in the 1960s for acts against Amerika in their quest for independence. Well it came out via Freedom of Information Act years later that the national security advisor was on record saying the Macheteros should be released because of the protests and support and how these protests do not look good for Amerika in the eyes of the world. This is on record and the Macheteros were released. They were released from prison and linked to bombings and other acts against the U.$. Government
Another group of prisoners were the Red Army Faction of Germany who were in prison for acts against the government; bombings, cop killings, murders of politicians, etc. When this group was arrested they were housed in a specially constructed area of the prison - kinda like the short corridor - and were in solitary confinement and not allowed to come in any contact with any other prisoners but through hunger strikes and supporters out in society raising awareness about their treatment they were finally granted yard time with each other and better treatment after a year or two of constant struggle. My main thrust here is that if those who were assassinating government officials, judges etc., in an attempt to overthrow the government were able to overturn the isolation and draconian treatment surely we can as well!
In beginning to grapple with our oppression and find the best method of resistance we must first understand the origins of our oppression. One cannot move forward with a correct game plan without knowing ones opponent. When a boxer is about to fight a formidable opponent what does he/she do? Well they watch the videos of the opponents fights in order to understand the opponents strengths and weaknesses thus preparing oneself for a proper offensive. We must also do our homework on this current anti-SHU struggle, things like where the SHU came from, why is it used so much by Amerika - more so than in other countries, who controls such a system? We must identify our opponent if we want to more forward.
We know the SHU and all prisons are a part of the "state" apparatus, but who controls the state? The ruling class is not including the people (the poor people) it is the rich who run things. These rich, or capitalists, have developed into what Lenin defined as "imperialism" which is simply capitalism on steroids, it is economic exploitation on a global scale. So the state and thus prisons are run according to what is in the interest of this ruling class. Prisoners in general are not profitable to this ruling class as most prisoners derive from what Lenin defined as the "lumpen proletariat" which is basically the underclass or can better be defined in the United $tates as simply the "Lumpen" which are prisoners, the unemployed, those caught up in crime, etc. Most lumpen don't work or pay taxes so to the ruling class the lumpen are just taking up space and not helping the wheels turn in the economy. But more importantly, the lumpen are a potential revolutionary force as this is the natural order of repression inviting resistance. Whenever one is being smothered the natural reaction is to struggle to breathe. Our acts of resistance in the 2011 strikes clearly proved this to be true.
There are many phenomenon that occur that are long held communist principles that may be practiced today by many prisoners without ever knowing their origins. We must use these tools to gain victory in our current situation, one such tool is historical materialism which is used to transform things in the material world. It does this by understanding historical events and processes which created a specific reality. In our current struggle in order to change or transform our torture conditions in SHU we would first have to understand the process of what brought the SHU itself to be created. When we understand it was the state and ultimately the ruling class which created the means to throw away vast swaths of the population and smother any embers of resistance then we'll know we won't change things simply by picketing around a prison or filing a lawsuit because we are up against something more sinister than simply "tough laws." Marxism is a method not dogma and so it is fluid and continues to find new responses in its interactions with the material world, so it will continue to be applied to different phenomenon. Although asking the state for changes is cool and must be done, the more crucial change must come from within one's own approach to our oppression, we are deprived of so much but the most vital opportunities are low hanging fruit, these being opportunities in the theoretical realm. The truth is we can't "change the system" and by system I mean capitalist Amerika which runs prisons and SHUs, it is all in the state apparatus so it is one and the same - in prison lingo it is one "car." We can't change the system we must rip it out by its roots, dismantle it in order for true change to occur. To really believe we can change this system is to take a stance as the democrats who think change comes out of the voting system via reforms.
The task we have ahead of all of us held in U.$. prisons is a real uphill battle that is in sync - even if we don't realize it - with many other struggles aimed at the U.$. empire not just in the United $tates but globally. While our effort is different in many ways, we should face this effort like a guerrilla war. Rather than a passive state, guerrilla warfare is a combination of defense and offense in our pursuit of victory but our initial victory should be to unmask the brutal dictatorship of the state and deny it the ability to operate cloaked in secrecy. Let us strip it bare and display its most grotesque parts to society. In doing this let every dungeon where conditions have peaked to intolerable proportions raise the banner of resistance in regards to material conditions, in this way we will expose the contradictions in "American democracy" while obtaining small gains to our conditions. What occurs in our living conditions is worse than what we even realize. Even though most have grown accustomed to SHU, it is not norma. People are social animals. Our entire existence as people is to interact with others, our senses demand this, it is a dialectic which exists on reacting to people and the environment and when all sensory input is deprived it works against our very being, i.e. it destroys us, dehumanizes us.
Lastly, although I would of course always like to hear editors of publications ramble about what some have referred to as "commie rhetoric" I would much rather hear a prisoner's perspective on communist principles or how they apply to the prison movement in general or the anti-SHU struggle in particular. But one cannot discuss "prisoner rights" without discussing prisoner oppression and thus what is behind prisoner oppression (capitalism). Today's society profit is put ahead of the people as far as education, food, land, etc and thus crime rises then our next natural step is finding an alternative society where prisons and SHUs are not used as concentration camps. The only society that would really truly change the system is a socialist system — to deny this is to deny history.