I cry and the teardrop is full of metal bars The bars being another representative for these hidden scars No one can feel my pain because it’s locked away How can you sit in a cell and stare at the four walls all day? Looking this way and that way, right and left, which ever way the tears flow Pain and the trauma is the very essence that cause the tears to grow I lost my liberty and the only thing I can do is freely cry
Plastick of MIM(Prisons) adds: I’m sure many of our readers can relate to the pain this poem expresses. The retribution and the brutality the pigs lay out on the masses and revolutionaries strikes us at our hearts. Mao Zedong taught us that all men die, but death varies in significance: death lighter than a feather and death heavier than Mount Tai. Malcolm X in regards to his life as a lumpen gangster said that it is of no shame to have once been a criminal, but the shame comes from staying in that criminal road unwilling to change.
The author of this poem has done more than just cry in prison. Ey has supported MIM(Prisons) financially, reported on local conditions and studied revolutionary theory. Of course these things can all be controlled by the state or the whims of the prison guard, so perhaps they cannot always be done freely, or without retribution. We print this poem as a genuine expression of a USW comrade, but include this addendum since we do not agree with the conclusion as the pages of Under Lock & Key should make clear.
If you are reading this comrade, know that the world is with you! That goes for our readers as well! There’s much more we can do – more that we must do – against the imperialists and the reactionaries. The world is yours!
A few weeks ago lots of Black folks were celebrating Juneteenth, which they claimed was about the banning of slavery in the U.$. Say what? Apparently none of these folks have read the actual 13th Amendment, which only banned plantation slavery, while opening up far more slavery with its Exclusion Section, which basically said “slavery as punishment for a crime is just peachy.”
…how about you get the May 2021 issue of Prison Legal News and read the main article, “The Punishment Economy: Winners and Losers in the Business of Mass Incarceration.”
A fact not mentioned in the article was that businesses (owners) in many foreign countries are making money “servicing” U.$. prisoner needs.
Until just a couple of weeks ago, me at 75 years old, with various health problems, was forced under threat of write-up to work as a kitchen slave. So I get to read the labels on the products used there.
Oranges and mixed vegetables from Mexico. Cut carrots from Spain. Franks (weenies) from Canada. Cucumbers from Mexico. Broccoli from Mexico. Pineapple from Indonesia. Heat sealed plastic gloves from China. White plastic “sporks” from Vietnam.
Do you think the owners of these businesses make donations to U.$. politicians that always vote for more laws, more prisons, and more money to cops?
Wiawimawo of MIM(Prisons) responds: We share this writer’s concerns about prisoners being used as a source of exploited value by capitalists. When Third World countries begin to delink from the united $tates economically, Amerikans will face serious crisis and imposing fascism on segments of the u.$. population in the form of slavery is a likely outcome as we saw fascist Germany do.
However, we think the concern about foreign companies selling cheap produce to u.$. prisons is misled. In fact, most of the value created in producing that food in the Third World is stolen from those who make the food and realized in the First World (see our recent review of John Smith’s Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century). Even those Amerikans reaping the profits on these food sales to Amerikan prisons are not likely backing prison construction. Food is about $2.1 billion of the $182 billion spent on mass incarceration each year in this country.(1)
But what about this question of prison labor? The persyn above has written us numerous times to challenge our line on prison labor. In 2018 we did a survey of ULK readers to further research this subject. And we have extensive articles on the economics of the U.$. prison system available to those interested. But we are always keeping an eye out for new info, so let’s look at this Prison Legal News article.
As it turns out, this article does not offer much information on prison labor at all, far less than our research does. The article is a thorough documentation of many ways that companies are making money by offering services to the government related to prisons and to families of prisoners; what we might call profiteering or even extortion in the case of fees charged to families.
1 in 8 U.$. jobs rely on prisons - Big if True
Daniel Rosen doesn’t cite the source of this one in eight jobs estimate towards the beginning of eir article. Regular writers for ULK have long called Amerika a pig nation. Then why does Rosen turn around and ask, “are we just producing greater corporate profits at American families’ expense?” It is Amerikan families who are getting payed labor aristocracy wages to work these 1 in 8 jobs that relies on this system of punishment. Meanwhile, the majority of people suffering from the injustice system are members of internal semi-colonies, not Amerikans. And this is the exact contradiction we try to bring to light every time we get into this debate.
After citing the exorbitant amount spent on staffing prisons, Rosen offers a section on how employees are underpaid. In states like California, prison guards start at salaries that most reading this newsletter will never see in their lives. To make eir point sound reasonable, Rosen claims “pay for starting prison guards is usually in the range of $25,000-$35,000.” This range actually represents the lowest 10% of prison guards in the country, with the median actually being at $45,000 per year starting salary.(2) Is this underpaid? As regular readers of our work will already know, employed Amerikans are generally in the top 10% income earners globally, including those that make $25,000 per year. An individual living on $45,000 per year is in the top 2%.(3) And as many of our readers know, overtime and hazard pay are a regular occurrence in that line of work, easily putting annual prison guard salaries into six figures.
Our writer contacted us about prisoner labor, not prison guard labor. The reason this is relevant though is that it represents the economics of those who see prisons as a product of corporate interests. It often comes hand-in-hand with those who see $50k/year pigs as the oppressed and exploited opposed to the corporate interests. Even if they’re in the top 2%, they are still in the bottom 99% that the left wing of white nationalism sees as allies. This idealism wants to see all people come together for a common cause, ignoring the different material interests of different groups in the world today. We focus on prison organizing because there is a greater consciousness in prisons that these pigs are part of the imperialist system and that they serve the enemy because they benefit from that system.
I Pay Your Salary, Buddy
Rosen starts off his article with the message that U.$. taxpayers are paying $80 billion per year to lock people up. While there has been an upsurge of concern about spending on incarceration in the halls of Congress, why is it that the same “fiscal conservative” voters who don’t want social services are quick to yell “lock them up” when it comes to so-called “criminals”? Our explanation is that the system that is trying to control the rebellious oppressed serves them. It serves them with some of the highest incomes in the world, from which they pay taxes. These incomes, and taxes, are superprofits stolen from the international proletariat.
We know many in the prison movement are not Marxists, and therefore may not accept the labor theory of value. With such people we are working from different theoretical models and different terminology. It is not a coincidence that such people are predominately reformists. We need to be debating Marx vs. bourgeois economics. Even many self-described “Marxists” in the imperialist countries think there is an infinite amount of wealth to go around.
Rosen writes, “Recidivists are the primary ‘product’ of the punishment economy and the real source of its profits.” It’s true, unlike the military-industrial complex, there is no real product being made here, just ancillary services like phone calls and food delivery. But are recidivists the source of these companies profits? No, the only source of profits is surplus value from surplus labor time. And as we’ll reiterate here, that is coming from the Third World proletariat.
The Endless Road to Reformism
Of course, most of the concerns about mass incarceration that Rosen mentions in this article are ones we share. One that we’ve been discussing lately is how for-profit communication services are replacing in-persyn visits and mail under the guise of reducing drugs. Yet the drugs magically keep getting into prisons, and now prisoners communications are being digitized for easier monitoring and censorship, while valuable resources and family connections are being cut off. We’ve also helped expose the issue of a second-class system for migrants, the vast majority who haven’t even committed any anti-people crimes, being stuck in poorly run, privately-owned prisons on behalf of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).
We just don’t agree with Rosen’s economics and where it leads us strategically.
We agree with Rosen that there is a whole slush economy around incarceration, that’s the nature of the United $tates mall economy in general. And in the case of imprisonment, the result is buying people off to support it. There’s too much money, corruption and greed in this system. But this is nothing particular to incarceration, and incarceration is just a tiny drop in the bucket that is this problem. Do we want to make this tiny corner of the imperialist economy a little less gross? Or do we want to end mass incarceration? liberate oppressed nations from imperialism? end exploitation of the proletariat? We are aware that a majority of our incarcerated readers might lean more towards the first option. And while we appreciate our prison reform allies who stand with us in many campaigns, this newsletter is not a forum to promote reformism.
Rosen writes “[t]he most important way that mass incarceration fails prisoners is by all but guaranteeing that they’ll come back.” This is one of the true crimes of the system. Socialist countries like China showed the world how prisons could be used to integrate former oppressors into a new people-focused society. Yet, “corrections” in the u.$. has always taken a much different form, one of punishment. And this is why we prioritize our Re-Lease on Life Program for those released from prison to help comrades continue to reform themselves and integrate back into society as servants of the people, and avoid getting locked back up. Our humble program is a precursor to a system that will serve to rehabilitate the real criminals on this continent in a socialist future.
This country not only institutionalizes disparities between the oppressed nations and Amerikans in the united $tates, it is a tool of genocide in how it affects the productive and reproductive years of a vast segment of oppressed nation men. These problems beg the solution of liberation and independence.
Rosen closes eir article with a number of examples of progress in reforming the ills ey discusses. We agree these are progressive things, and yet they do not address the problem. Which is why you won’t see these campaigns in the pages of ULK. See recent discussions between USW comrades on how to organize prisoners in a way that keeps our eyes on the prize. Sometimes our campaigns will overlap with the reformers. Even then, we must promote the proletarian line and not succumb to coalition politics.
I’m writing this letter on behalf of all Texas prison inmates who have been denied access to respite areas here at the Mark W. Stiles Unit or anywhere within TDCJ-CID agency state wide.
In United States District Court, Southern District of Texas in the Houston Division, Keith Cole et al. v. Brad Livington, TDCJ Director, et al.; Civil Action No. 4:14-CV-1698, a class action lawsuit, at page 769 it states:
Respite Training and Education
All inmates, both those assigned and not assigned jobs, will be trained on the importance of respite and how to access respite. Training will include:
Respite means cooling off for a period of time in an air conditioned place;
Inmates are allowed to access respite 24/7;
The education wing is now a dedicated respite area;
Inmates do not need to be sick, injured, or feeling bad to access respite, rather they may do so to cool down whenever they wish;
To access respite, inmates can make the request for asking correctional officers if there are problems ask to talk to a ranking correctional officer;
Impress that no one will be retaliated against for asking for respite, and;
Education about why respite is important to protect ones health. The training will follow a script and there will be a time for questions from the inmates. A training circular will be distributed that mirrors the respite notice. There will be a sign-in sheet for inmates to confirm training and receipt of the circular.
Also, a new poster has been developed and will further emphasize these same points. The poster will be placed in common areas accessible to inmates, it clearly states that an inmate may request access to respite areas 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, not being required to be feeling ill. It further states that if an inmate is feeling ill, he should alert staff so that medical assistance can be obtained. The poster also gives the inmates a description of the expectations regarding their behavior in respite, stating that inmates:
Regular access respite any time during the day or night, do not need to be sick, injured, or feeling bad to access respite, rather they may do so to cool down when ever they wish;
Should use respite regularly because it helps the body thermoregulate;
Should be aware that heat is dangerous and heat illness can occur suddenly when temperatures are high;
Should ask staff for medical staff attention if they actually feel ill due to heat;
May talk quietly in respite;
May bring a cooling towel;
Will be provided a chair, and must remain seated;
May not engage in horseplay or arguing;
May not create disturbances;
May not save chairs for other inmates, and;
Must be properly dressed (pants and shirts).
The TDCJ’s Respite Area policy is not being honored here at the Mark W. Stiles Unit even though there are designated areas such as:
Medical Department waiting cage,
Offenders General Library, Windham School District Department
Law Library Department
Note: The Law Library Department, Education Department and the chapel will only be used as a respite area after normal hours at other areas are over.
The current warden has modified or ignored all of these rules. The warden has ordered that all inmates at the Mark W. Stiles Unit must get a pass to have access to respite area and each pass per inmate is only good for 30 minutes. When 30 minutes expires such inmate must return back to their living area buildings to obtain another pass.
These wardens are playing physicians in practicing medicine without a license in the way that they are violating this policy. It don’t have to be hot for another human being in the Texas prison system to be affected by heat related symptoms. There are many drugs that lower heat tolerance, ranging from anti-convulsants to beta blockers. These drugs may disrupt the body’s ability to sweat or thermoregulate, make the body more sensitive to sunlight, or otherwise make people more susceptible to heat illness, and need more respite than thirty minutes broken up by having to go get another pass every time.
There are also reports identifying offenders with heat and/or sunlight sensitivity restrictions, and unit courtroom staff will provide unit security staff with this Medical Heat Restriction List, which identifies offenders who have a heat restriction and is supposed to require security staff to perform wellness checks, in accordance with Administrative Directive 10.64, ‘Extreme Temperature Conditions in the TDCJ.’
Here at the most corrupt unit within TDCJ, the Mark W. Stiles Unit, the respite area and heat related symptoms policies are not followed. In the 11 building restrictive housing area where there is no ventilation system functioning nor any open windows, offenders can not get a cool down shower or access to the respite area, only because the Unit is short handed in staff and all the cool down showers and respite areas are set aside for general population offenders and not those in restrictive housing.
There are offenders in the restrictive housing area that have asthma, use a CPAP machine, or have other respiratory needs/illnesses. Staff will use their chemical agent on an offender which will effect all innocent bystanders, and won’t take anyone to medical even if they do recognize or notice breathing issues owing to the use of the chemical agent. Offenders have to get the attention of the authorities some other way, and once an offender is at the medical department and tells the nurses or other medical providers what’s going on, we can only get medicines or treatment that the security staff approve of, not what we might actually need.
So basically us offenders with heat sensitivity or any respiratory issues are walking dead at the Mark W. Stiles Unit. Please help us investigate and organize against this corrupt TDCJ unit, we in the Texas prison system don’t want to die.
by a North Carolina prisoner September 2021 permalink
On 15 September 2021 twenty four prisoners declared hunger strike at Foothills Correctional Institution in North Carolina. By 2PM the administration locked up 3 comrades. Me and another comrade stayed fasting.
They only give us phone once a week; no yard in a month; and less than 2 hours of recreation per day. Basically we’re in segregation for no reason. I reflect on these b.s. measures, then I asked myself why and how does this opre$$ion end?!
“Why are the battles endless?! Why the Us vs. them?! Why is the Earth CRYING ?!”
In regards to the article by a Texas prisoner “Stimulus Checks are being stolen by TDCJ-CID”, well Texas isn’t the only state with such tricks up its sleeve. Last week the great snake of Arkkkansas done the exact same thing, however, they turned right around & put the money back in prisoners’ accounts after being met with resistance by means of grievances. Quite often they’ll try to pull a caper simply just to see if they can get away with it. Point: Utilize the grievance process.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Right on to the comrades in Arkansas who stood together to grieve this issue. As we say, there are no rights, only power struggles. Just because the law says they can’t take your stimulus money doesn’t mean they won’t. A comrade in California has drafted sample grievances and raised the money to distribute them to comrades who haven’t received their stimulus money in that state. We’ve also been hearing from more comrades in Texas and in the Federal Bureau of Prisons who continue to fight this battle. Because we are getting so many requests, here are some FAQs from https://www.taxoutreach.org
Will the amount of my second stimulus check be reduced if I have overdue debts in prison?
Unlike your first stimulus check, your second stimulus check has greater protection from garnishment. Like the first stimulus check, your second stimulus check is protected from back taxes or federal and state debts. In addition, the second stimulus check is also protected from debt collection. That means that federal and state prison cannot reduce the amount of your second stimulus check to pay overdue debts.
Will the amount of my third stimulus check be reduced if I have overdue debts in prison?
It is unclear whether your third stimulus check will be reduced to pay certain prison fees or debts. We will update this page once we have more information.
What happens if my stimulus check was sent as a debit card instead of as a check?
The IRS sent a letter to prison officials that if debit cards couldn’t be processed at your prison facility, prison officials have to return the debit cards to the IRS fiscal agent at:
Fiserv Attn: RAPID 1007 North 97th Circle Omaha, NE 68122
The debit cards will be voided and you will have to claim the stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 tax return or using GetCTC.org if you don’t have a filing requirement.
Previously I argued that taxpayers are not responsible for government capital policy because they are ignorant. My error was pointed out to me and now I see the truth – the January 6th rioters showed me that they are willing to fight for my oppression therefore their ignorance is irrelevant – they are indeed more responsible than I assumed, therefore I must ignore my compassion for their humanity as unnatural as that is for me. The object is more important than the subject.
When evaluating responsibility, it is tempting to be blinded by the subject. For instance, government officials are directly responsible for enforcing capital policy. However, collaborators often look like our neighbors, friends or even family. These collaborators will support & encourage oppression & tyranny out of ignorance or out of a callous heart. Ignorance cannot be excused if freedom is ever going to be won. When the object of freedom becomes important enough all barriers must fall, even if that means forcing ourselves to do what is not natural.
Rights are never granted, rights are won. Unfortunately, this includes basic human rights such as freedom. To win freedom from the tyranny & oppression that comes with a capitalist economy, the opposition must fall. This necessity does not come naturally, that is because the values instilled in our youth are instilled by capital policy (submission), these values are what allows capitalists to steal your freedom. We must relearn a greater value.
There exist those that will take more than one has to give, that is what capital is (inequality). There is only so much resource & for one to have more than one needs he/she has to deprive another of what they need. For one to be rich, one must be poor.
As I watch the January 6th investigation, one thing is clear. That is the effort was weak. I think that is because the rioters knew in their hearts that they were fighting for the exploitation of an oppressed class. Ironic that they choose to capture the Capitol Building in order to keep their capital wealth at the expense of the oppressed class.
For those of us that are fighting for freedom, We will not make a half-hearted effort because it is our very survival that we are fighting for. We are not fighting for material wealth because we have none. Because our oppression is total & complete then so is our fight for freedom.
We will not fight for one building, not even for one city, or one country. We are fighting for equality. We will not stop until all opposition is fallen. Our fight comes from the heart & that is why it is stronger than the January 6th fight for material wealth.
The difference is that I am sick & tired of being oppressed so that another can live lavishly. The difference is that unlike the January 6th rioters I am not here to have a big party with a bunch of friends at the Capitol Building – I am here to win my freedom and to fight for the freedom of all oppressed people and I will not stop and lay down, I will never stop!!
That is what Marx means by permanent revolution, we must never stop fighting because the very moment we relax is the moment the exploiters continue to exploit as they have always done. Sun Tzu said we can “never leave an enemy on the battlefield.” If we do they will come back again.
As communists we must know our enemy is the object and not the subject. Compassion can blur our vision of the object and it is in these moments I must remember that the capitalists never had any compassion for the oppressed.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This point is relevant as Amerikans remember the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and Afghans sigh in relief as the invader of their country pulls out. Professor Ward Churchill took a lot of heat for quoting Malcolm X on chickens coming home to roost after 9/11 and referring to Amerikans as “little Eichmanns.”(1) Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi in Germany who ran logistics for the system of concentration camps there. He was captured years after the war and in his trial claimed he was just following orders, just a cog in the machine, and should not be blamed for the deaths caused by that machine.
Since the end of the second imperialist war, the Amerikans have run the largest system of concentration camps in the world. While they lack the mass murder of the Nazi system, they are genocidal nonetheless against the oppressed nations that make up the majority of the prisoners. The day will come when Amerikans will be charged for their decades of crimes against humynity. Our success at building anti-imperialism and accountability in the United $tates today will ease the transition to a more just future on these lands.
The most recent killing of U.$. troops in Afghanistan on 26 August 2021 marks the deadliest day in over a decade for the imperialists in that country. It also makes two points quite clear. First, the once reviled Taliban has negotiated a deal with the United $tates in which they regained control of their country in exchange for cooperation against organizations like ISIS(K) who’ve claimed responsibility for the attack. The explosion took the lives of thirteen U.$. soldiers.
ISIS(K) is just one of over twenty armed groups in Afghanistan that pose a threat to Taliban rule. However, the main incentive for the Taliban’s allegiance to U.$. imperialism seems to be the Afghan economy which the Taliban inherited once the “democratically elected” government of Afghanistan realized that U.$. imperialism would no longer prop them up.(1)
Second, [email protected] continue to account for a substantial portion of Amerikan occupation forces in the Third World. Statistics in recent years have shown [email protected] continue to be a growing source of foot soldiers for the Amerikans.
The attack on U.$. troops came just three days before the fifty-first anniversary of the hystoric [email protected] Moratorium. Contrary to what various sell outs, integrationists and those who’ve simply been kept in ignorance have to say about the matter, the moratorium was not about civil rights or equality. Rather, the moratorium was an exercise in power by Raza who attempted to deprive the imperialists of [email protected] troops in their war of colonization and attrition in Vietnam.(2) Thus, it is both heartbreaking and sickening to see that so many years after the last real upsurge against U.$. imperialism in the semi-colonies, [email protected] continue to sacrifice and be sacrificed for the oppressor nation. If [email protected] are to live and die for a cause then it should be for Aztlán, the international proletariat and socialism. August 26 was yet another example of what happens when we fail to organize the oppressed – the imperialists organize them for us.
While four of the thirteen soldiers killed at the Afghanistan International Airport that day were [email protected] born and raised in occupied Aztlán, it should be noted that at least two other fatalities had Spanish surnames.(3) That said, it is still important to note that the attack was a blow against U.$. imperialism by anti-imperialists in the region, and for that we should be appreciative, not horrified. Our sympathies should be with the Afghan family who lost their lives in the U.$. retaliation drone strike and the rest of the victims of the ISIS(K) who were caught in the crossfire on August 26. [email protected] or not, those U.$. soldiers chose their own destiny when they decided it was okay to travel halfway around the world to further oppress an already oppressed population.
It is not far-fetched to envision a reality in which [email protected] youth strive to live and die for Aztlán liberated and free. The development of material conditions will be crucial in this regard, but it will be the struggle of revolutionaries and the masses of turned up youth that will be principal. We should not let the fact that Amerika’s longest war has come to an end deter us from the urgency of organizing the oppressed nations for liberation and against U.$. militarism. “Raza Si, Guerra No!” should be one of many political slogans that we champion in the bi-polar world that is life under imperialism, as Amerikkka’s designs on the African continent promise to become an even bloodier killing field in the years to come.
Notes: 1. The PBS News Hour, 27 August 2021. 2. A MIM(Prisons) study group, 2015, [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán. (available to prisoners for $10) 3. KTLA 5 News, 27 August 2021.
Any pig that enjoys punishing citizens who even think about resisting arrest or even ‘looking funny’ at him should move to Corruptarado (as we call this state) and go work for the Denver Pig Department.
Per an 11 August 2021 article in the Denver Post, “Denver paid $1.1 million settlement to police officers fired after beating unarmed man, records show,” two pigs that severely beat a 23 year-old Latino man in 2011 were fired, but as part of the ‘deal,’ were paid thousands of dollars in exchange for agreeing to never work for a pig department ever again.
But wait. The pigs sued, claiming they should have not been fired. After a ten year battle, the Colorado Supreme Court allows this Colorado Court of Appeals ruling to stand. A ruling for the pigs.
So … one of the pigs got $420k, and the other got almost six hundred grand from the City and County of Denver. City officials said “We are acutely aware that this result means that the officers essentially escape the consequences of their conduct.” Ya think?
No doubt pigs around the country smile when they read of this decision. Maybe many of them will now be sending their job applications to the Denver Pig Department, home of the pigs with 007 licenses to kill.
“From an organizers perspective, [struggling for quality-of-life reforms such as increased phone access] are not battles which we can effectively push anti-imperialism forward, much less MLM…”
The author cites a failure to apply the materialist dialectic, or the ‘science’ behind scientific socialism, to the situation at hand. When viewed in isolation and out of its proper context, the conclusion that they have reached would certainly be a commonsense position to take. And as they write a little further on:
“How can we then deem that prison struggles aren’t aligned with anti-imperialism?”
Yet if the quote being critiqued were analyzed in its totality, we can begin to see more nuance and why such a statement was made in the first place. So to continue where the partial quote left off:
“…without veering into reformist practices of little tactical or strategic value. I am aware that arguments of principle can be mounted to the contrary, but absent a practicable, totalizing strategy for revolution domestically being put forward by an MLM organization that is actionable in the here-and-now, we cannot effectively utilize many of these prison struggles as a proper springboard to corresponding actions in other areas, actions which do not translate into long-term pacification which benefits their prison administration in an objective, cost-to-us, benefit-to-them analysis. If we cannot muster the resources and external manpower to mount a facility or state-specific campaign for a tactical reform to push our agenda and continually imprint firmly in the minds of all incarcerated that we have their best interests in mind, it may be advisable to abstain from participation lest credit for the reforms go elsewhere and become politically-neutered, or, worse yet, the system co-opts the struggle as its own and touts its successes (ie. The First-Step Act). Otherwise, we are gaining no more than sporadic traction amongst those we are attempting to revolutionize, and then only of a transient nature.” (emphasis added)
As mentioned earlier, there is a nuance to the position I have taken that is obscured in comrade Triumphant’s approach to mounting an argument on principle, and that in itself constitutes an incorrect and unscientific approach to proper discourse. Quoting someone out of context may buttress a particular argument or agenda, however arguments begin to lose their strength when quotations are re-situated in their proper place. You ask, ‘how can we then deem that prison struggles aren’t aligned with anti-imperialism?’, but who has or where has such a view been advocated in the first place for this allegation to be made? As you can see, the position put forth in the original commentary advocated not an abandonment of revolutionary struggle within prisons but rather its placement within a more explicitly revolutionary framework. Refining our approach does not imply an abandonment of all struggle just to focus on study.
It is agreed that the materialist dialectic can be applied in all manner of social phenomena, and the Amerikan injustice system and the struggle between prison staff and the captive population are no exception. But the real question is, should it be applied in this particular instance in the manner which the Team One Formation, K.A.G.E. Universal and others have done thus far – that is, pushing for minor reforms largely divorced from a wider revolutionary anti-imperialist agenda resulting in pacification once concessions are made? I would argue that advocating for these various minor reforms to address the prison masses immediate needs can be classified as (presupposing these formations desire revolution or claim communism as their goal) right opportunist deviations.
Right opportunism is an error in practice that occurs when an organization attempts to embed itself in the masses and in doing so gives up a clear revolutionary program in the interest of fighting for immediate demands. This leads to economism/workerism (or in this case ‘prisonerism’), which is the purview of reformism: solely focusing on economic demands (economism), or the demands of prisoners.
You write that “quality-of-life reforms are connected to the strategy of cadre development.” Now can experience be gained in how to train cadre and organize people while doing this? Sure, but similar things can be argued about improving one’s marksmanship and related skills acquired while employed as a cop too. While a rather extreme analogy, what I am getting at is that productive skills can technically be derived from incorrect practice. Yet the question for both scenarios remains the same: Is there a better methodological approach to training cadre?
It is a laudable desire to want to avoid being all ‘study’ and no struggle, but if ‘struggle’ leads a group to avoiding, obscuring or watering down their politics in order to attain their demands, then that is not getting us any closer to our desired results. As MIM(Prisons) notes:
“We can also say that only focusing on the reformist campaigns, without the larger goals, is not going to change anything in regards to ending oppression and injustice.”
It is encouraging to see that in consequence of previous organizing experience comrade Triumphant has pledged to focus on “reorganizing of the TX Team One under a clearer program and a better understanding of what our strategic and tactical goals are.” This statement also aligns with what this comrade wrote in the November 2020 USW organizing update in reference to the reformist practice of the Prisoner Human Rights Movement (PHRM):
“unless anti-imperialist, revolutionary nationalist and/or communists take hold of this movement and see it as a tactical operation instead of a be-all end-all and thereby re-center the movement, it may only further ‘Amerikanize’ the (only) vastly-proletarian revolutionary sector of society we have (lumpen in prison). That could occur if cats become pacified with all these tokens and reforms that have been struggled for.”
But just because we re-center a movement along these lines and dress future demands to the state in sufficiently ‘revolutionary’ language to avoid the perception of reformism does not mean that we are actually avoiding these same pitfalls.
Here I will argue that even with an explicitly revolutionary program guiding us in the struggle for tactical reforms, we can still be susceptible to a sort of unwitting crypto-reformism if our struggles are not chosen very carefully and with the correct tactical, strategic and narrative approach. In the original commentary I wrote that
“we should not be trying to ‘improve’ Amerikan prisons, much like we should not be attempting to cut a bigger portion of imperialist profits from Third World super-exploitation for the lower class, yet still relatively privileged, citizens of empire.”
This statement meshes with your desire not to have strictly-reformist campaigns “further ‘Amerikanize’ the (only) vastly-proletarian revolutionary sector of society we have.” Of course our current approach differs strategically from the reformists but, noble intentions aside, it is still having the same overall effect in practice: we are inadvertently pacifying individuals, making them complacent sleepwalkers again. You may probably think: ‘Bullshit. We are teaching the masses not to fall for any old reform, that these are ’tactical maneuvers’,etc. And you may very well be able to indoctrinate a core of cadre to hold strong to a political line which promotes this view. However, if we view matters through a historical lens, when concessions from the state were achieved via a revolutionary stage of struggle these victories largely blunted the sympathetic masses desire to seek further redress by way of revolutionary means. Whether that be (to cite a non-Maoist, yet anti-capitalist example) during the peak of IWW organizing a century ago, the transient successes of the anti-revisionist New Communist Movement era or our current campaigns to ‘Abolish the SHU’ and ‘Release the Kids in Kages.’ Our ‘successes’ end up serving as a pressure-release for many and creating a ‘kinder, gentler machine-gun hand’ for our opponents to use against us, akin to replacing the arrogance and political incorrectness of Trump for the soothing reassurances of Biden.
From the commentary of the same USW organizing update from November 2020, you write that
“from an anti-imperialist perspective, the PHRM is only a tactic, a means to an end. That end being, sharpening the contradiction between oppressed and oppressor nations, and advancing the oppressed aspect of that contradiction.”
But how do we really expect to sharpen the contradiction between oppressed and oppressor nations and advance the oppressed aspect of that contradiction if we are actively participating in the lowering or resolution of the contradictions which heightened tensions in the first place? There is a periodic ebb and flow of the revolutionary tide in this country; why do we by way of our current tactical, strategic and narrative approach inadvertently help turn an upswing into a downturn? Of course the inherent contradiction in (note:their) Amerikan society will never truly go away absent revolution, but we are in the meantime attempting to apply balm to their societal problems and in effect delay its arrival.
Circling back to the arguments put forth in ‘An Ongoing Discussion on Organizing Strategy’, you bring up a good question when you write that
“the real crux of the issue, as it pertains to linking a totalizing revolutionary strategy, lies in practical experience gained by the masses in asserting their collective power. For, how will we seize state power if the people lack the strategic confidence to assert their power?”
As my position does not advocate pushing for more quality-of-life reforms even if there happens to be some positive by-product in cadre development, my reply to this question is that we should re-orient our tactics, strategy and narrative approach to the masses by over-emphasizing self-reliance and independence-mastery on the road to communist revolution. Therefore we should largely abstain from trying to prevent erosions of their bourgeois legal rights such as affirmative action, LGBTQ rights, abortion access, etc. and, if we are to engage in any tactical reforms to begin with, instead focus on opposition to proposals to place limits on magazine capacity, bans on assault rifles and other perceived or actual threats to their 2nd Amendment and other measures which will aid in our ability to maneuver and take them down when the time comes. This of course does not mean that we don’t support LGBTQ rights or abortion access, but fighting for their (re:Amerika’s) civil liberties and other bourgeois rights keeps many, including some well-meaning comrades, from seeing the bigger picture: Let their country go to hell. The Amerikan government will not become any less imperialist by advocating for more rights for more people within U.S. borders and it is debatable that we are contributing to anything more than a temporary weakening of imperialism domestically. If anything we are contributing to its further consolidation under the guise of new exploiters with more varied genders, orientations and skin tones.
Our cadre and the masses will gain practical experience and strategic confidence in their power by continuing to focus on construction of independent institutions, not making demands of an illegitimate government to provide redress. In the prison context, I repeat: “if we are to engage in any prison organizing, then censorship battles concerning our political ideology, the UFPP and the Re-Lease on Life programs should take center stage… As for our comrades who do not have the luxury of a release date, or have sentences which essentially translate into the same, their best hope for release lies not in reforms but with an all-sided MLM revolutionary organization planning their release through eventual People’s War.”
Bypass the reforms which do not help us either strengthen our party/cell formations, build independent institutions for the people or hasten People’s War.
Say ‘NO’ to negotiations; focus on revolutionary-separation and self-determination.
Wiawimawo of MIM(Prisons) responds: I want to thank Triumphant and S. Xanastas for their thoughtful articulations on this topic. And i hope that printing these in ULK are helpful to others in thinking about how to organize effectively under the United Struggle from Within banner or on the streets.
In my many years of working on this project i would say this two-line struggle is really at the heart of what we do. Of course, how we walk the line between ultra-left and rightism is always at the heart of those deciding strategy for a communist movement. But these comrades address this question in our context today in the United $tates and in the context of organizing the First World lumpen and engaging in prison-based organizing.
In all contexts, going too far left means isolating ourselves from the masses and going too far right means tailing the masses and following them into dead ends. Therefore finding the correct path also requires determining who are the masses in our conditions. If we did not agree on who the masses are then we could not have this discussion in a meaningful way. Since we do agree, this is a two line struggle within our movement. With that frame I want to quickly address a couple points brought up here.
First, I think the strength in Triumphant’s argument is not in the skill-building of the individual cadre leaders as organizers, which arguably could be found elsewhere, but rather “in practical experience gained by the masses in asserting their collective power.” Triumphant also talks about the importance of the tactical battles in “increas[ing] the collective practical experience of contesting the state as a united body.”
S. Xanastas’ suggested program echoes closely to what Narobi Äntari’s calls for comrades to do upon release. And they echo much of MIM(Prisons) focus, especially in more recent years. Yet, i pose the question: can building the Re-Lease on Life and University of Maoist Thought programs mobilize and reach the masses in the same way as the campaigns making demands from the state?
And one final point, is that MIM always said the principal task was not just to build independent institutions of the oppressed, but also to build public opinion against imperialism. Isn’t a campaign exposing the widespread use of torture in U.$. prisons an undermining of U.$. imperialism regardless of the maneuvers the various states make to cut back on or hide their use of long-term isolation? Or should we focus solely on the Third World neo-colonies and expose U.$. meddling in Ethiopia, Cuba and Haiti?
I want to thank you for sending me the newsletter. I’ve been getting fellow prisoners together to help change the ongoing troubles we’re having here on the John B. Connally Unit. I’ve had my mom email the Ombudsman due to the fact that the Warden stated everyone filing a grievance on his officers actions or the units conditions will find themselves in building lockup, facing disciplinary.
So we can’t write a Step 1 or 2 cause they are getting stopped by the officials. Right now we’re on lockdown due to a racial riot that happened due to the guards making our environment ‘hostile.’ A lot of the guards don’t be wearing they mask; and they haven’t been vaccinated, yet they lock us down when one or two people take down our mask.
We try to get an ‘informal resolution’ but they refuse to talk with us. Sgt. J Sandoval stated “fuck you, we don’t care.” Exact words. When they put us on 23 hour lockdowns they make it into a 26 or 28 hour lockdown cause they don’t want to let us up. Some of the guards are 19-20-21 year olds who’ve been an officer for 2-3 months, and they get rank and misuse their power. I’ve also written the Ombudsman and my mom emailed him.
The riot was Brown vs. Black cause the Blacks don’t wanna wear they mask and were tired of going down behind one or two people. Last night everyone had enough, grievances don’t get addressed. They write bogus cases for going to respite for heat restriction. TDCJ policy says we’re allowed respite 24 hours 7 days a week even during count yet when we go to respite, Sgt. Reed and Sgt. Sandoval write out of places cases when policy says we’re allowed respite. Also, August 1st TDCJ is trying to take all our pics of females away and calling pics of women in lingerie or exotic poses ‘contraband.’