“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?
The following is a response to some topics of debate within the article “Maoist Third Worldism: Responding to Criticism from a Reader” by Mazur of the blog Struggle Sessions. “Maoist” projects in the United States have put forth a number of lines in recent years as worthy of dividing over. In our mind, there is none more important than the class structure of this country. And if anyone wants to attempt a follow up to Mazur’s effort, we request they respond to Imperialism and its Class Structure in 1997 by MC5, rather than some ideas in your head about what MIM Thought is.
Value and Price
Struggle Sessions asserts that the proponents of unequal exchange between imperialism and the oppressed nations (i.e.: finished goods and export commodities are unbalanced in such a way that the countries whose wealth is being extracted are given a raw deal) couch their views in part on a belief that the price of a given commodity is set as equal across different countries. To that allegation we reply: in what ‘Third Worldist’ publication has this been written? To my knowledge MIM has not claimed this, nor was this asserted by the earlier contributor. Cite your sources. Do not attempt to employ a selective choice of academics as a stand-in with an eye towards deceiving your online readership by purposefully distorting matters to the benefit of your dogmatic conception of economic affairs and reality. That is why it is easy for you to tear down your chosen academic-as-foil such as in your statement that:
Amin would later adopt this to equalize price levels so that a given use value costs the same in U.S. as it does in Guatemala. Before getting into this this is just not true anyways…
You perceive yourself as rather clever, don’t you. We wonder into what other topics of discussion you have inserted such imperious analysis and judgments which have also resorted to similar rhetorical deceptions and sleights-of-hand. Also, if our stance on unequal exchange was really a “less sophisticated version” as you claim, wouldn’t you just stick to picking apart that easier prey instead? So we see again that you, Mazur, have run into problems, problems concerning deceit and faulty logic in equal measure.
You are at least correct on one thing, and that is your statement that your academic could not stand the test of Marxism. So let’s drop any other “version that is worth using” and stick with Marxian economics. And by Marxian economics, we do not refer merely to its classical conception (it is worth noting that Marx claimed even he was not a Marxist, alluding to the fact that Marxism is a living science, ever changing and developing new insights, not static and impervious to advances in economic complexity over time); we also refer to its continuity within a Leninist framework in the era of imperialism, super-exploitation and the labor aristocracy, which Lenin gave clarity to and which MIM Thought has further expanded upon through materialist analysis.
You allege that in our analysis we deliberately ignore the labor theory of value. So, we will begin with Marx:
What, then, is the value of laboring power? Like that of every other commodity, its value is determined by the quantity of labor necessary to produce it. (1)
‘Value’ in its final form must correspond to the labor power embodied in a given commodity. Yet properly gauging this has become more complex under imperialism. The main way we have typically measured it is through its price, its exchange value. This follows what is termed the law of value, but, when commodities and the labor embodied in them (what is termed ‘dead labor’) are transferred from the developing peripheries to an imperialist nation via multinational corporations, the connection of value to its price is distorted to the point where the product (your banana) is finally placed in the produce section at an American supermarket, so much super-profits have accrued from not paying the Guatemalan workers the value of their labor that upon its sale there is enough excess profit for the United Fruit Co. to in turn bless its American management and warehouse employees with more than the value of their labor, in effect purchasing their allegiance to where they no longer have just their ‘chains’ to lose. They have become invested in the continuation of super-exploitation of the Guatemalan proletariat as have many additional Americans in their role as consumers, fresh off the job in your glorified manufacturing sector, who purchase the produce (yes, despite paying over its market value in Guatemala “and regular distribution and retail costs, the speculative costs of the money market, etc.”) and, being entitled to similar wage privileges, can also afford to have their money manager include shares of United Fruit in their investment portfolio, if they so choose. As for our plantation worker: “In Guatemala, where the minimum wage is roughly $11 a day” and workers “struggle to bring home even $220 a month” (2), they may not have the luxury of being able to afford the very product of their own toil without first considering whether it will cut into other essential purchases or payments owed, despite it selling for close to its actual value. The logic behind these processes are so elementary that all but those who are ‘so intelligent, they are stupid’ cannot fail to comprehend it. This is on display when you surprisingly acknowledge that this wealth transfer happens to the extent we describe, yet simultaneously are unable to understand or remain willfully ignorant of its far-reaching implications. You state:
“Because of capital export it does indeed follow that the U.S. is a net importer of commodities and that there is a stratum of monopoly capitalists who derive their profits solely from interest from their direct foreign investment that melts down to this strata …”
But, not to be deterred, you say that exploitation happens at the point of production and the lazy dogmatist in you resurfaces as you go on to state further:
“… but the U.S. is still the second largest manufacturer in the world, behind only China. This is something the ‘TWist’ does not want to recognize, that the class which has nothing to lose but its chains is concentrated in large numbers in the USA.”
Who is proletarian? Are they a revolutionary vehicle?
We are glad that we can agree that the proletariat is the class that has nothing to lose but its chains. But the relevance of manufacturing statistics we find confusing. Once again, you do not want to recognize the full extent of this wealth transfer, but this time as it plays out in the domestic manufacturing sector:
“They can’t compete with China in terms of labor. An American manufacturing employee makes an average of $26 an hour, while his or her Chinese counterpart makes only $5 an hour, according to the Reshoring Institute.”(3)
American manufacturing operations are still dependent on raw materials and parts with unpaid-for embodied labor within them that is obtained under a system of super-exploitation and shipped across borders for Amerikan workers to tinker with. This results in wages that are at least five times higher and above the value of their labor because there is enough money being made for the capitalists to both turn a profit and purchase their allegiance. When you deny the hidden transfer of value between national economies, perhaps it makes sense to estimate the size of the proletariat based on GDP numbers as Mazur does above. The United States being “the second largest manufacturer” only proves that a lot of value is being realized here, not where that value is coming from.
While, we do not recall anyone ever not recognizing that some Amerikan workers are employed in the manufacturing sector, the one thing we do not equate them with is being a part of the proletariat. Lenin reexamined the meaning of ‘proletarian’ in a more nuanced manner when he said:
“The Roman proletarian lived at the expense of society. Modern society lives at the expense of the modern proletarian. Marx specifically stressed this profound observation of Sismondi. Imperialism somewhat changes the situation.”(4)
The proletariat can most accurately be described as the social group that is the revolutionary vehicle. This does not mean that it is synonymous with the industrial working class for all times and contexts. Mao understood this when he harnessed the immense latent power of the Chinese peasantry, who at the time made up around 95% of the population. They became the revolutionary vehicle while the industrial workers, due in part to their marginal proportions, assumed more of an auxiliary role. Would you also embrace the lazy dogmatism of the Trotskyists who cling to their orthodoxy with a religious fervor and state that, because the peasantry is not the industrial working class, it cannot be capable of being the backbone of a revolution? History showed us otherwise, while you would have been as insistent as Chen Duxiu and got nothing accomplished. No, Mazur, in this matter you are much like the ‘Marxists’ who see Cuba or China as socialist. How so? Because you identify things based on their form rather than their substance. You have lost the ability (if you were ever able) of discerning who is revolutionary and who is not, who are our friends and who are likely to betray us to protect their stake in the system. You see occupations instead of workers economic co-optation within that occupation by way of a reactionary vested interest in their allegiance to empire and its spoils. This makes you no different than the ‘Communists’ of yesteryear who saw workers in hardhats attacking demonstrators protesting U.S. involvement in Vietnam as objectively revolutionary, or the socialist parties who supported their nations’ entrance into imperialist world wars as to the workers’ benefit at the munitions plants:
“Thus, on the outbreak of the imperialist war in 1914 the parties of the social-traitors in all countries, when they supported the bourgeoisie of their ‘own’ countries, always and consistently explained that they were acting in accordance with the will of the working class. But they forgot that, even if that were true, it must be the task of the proletarian party in such a state of affairs to come out against the sentiments of the majority of the workers and, in defiance of them, to represent the historical interests of the proletariat.”(5)
This is why when you say that our line leads one to the inevitable conclusion that the working class in the U.S. and other imperialist countries are the main exploiting class of the people of the world and that “this would make the task of Communists to divide and discourage the just rebellion of the masses,” we would concur, save for the whole bit of rhetorical flourish about it being a ‘just rebellion.’
But you continue harping on that the imperialist working class faces, in your words:
“… exploitation in many forms, with work speed-ups, greater temporary contracts, de-skilling, through greater constant capital being introduced and wage depression.”
Clearly such things applied to even an exploiter working class would still benefit the capitalists. We do not claim that these workers are insulated from unfair working conditions despite benefiting from their relationship with imperialism, as they remain the subordinate partner in this role. But we do not go so far as to label it ‘exploitation,’ because being ‘exploited’ is a very precise Marxist term. We would like to make clear that this does not mean that by extension we believe that no one faces conditions of exploitation within the imperialist centers, nor do we “contend that there is no proletariat to organize in the imperialist countries.” The previous ‘TWist’ contributor also did not claim this. They criticized you for arguing “that the labor aristocracy is not the majority class in the first world” (emphasis ours). MIM(Prisons) has this to say:
“Our claims, however, are far from this. Our claim is that the masses here are a minority force: they are oppressed nation, they are migrants, they are prisoners, etc. We have been saying this for many years, yet [our critics] ignore this line and claim that we do not believe that anyone is oppressed in the First World. We don’t claim that there are no masses here, we claim that the constantly dying imperialist system needs to fall in order for proletarianization of the labor aristocracy to happen.”(6)
We can look to segments of the internal semi-colonies including the over 500 Indigenous nations on the continent, sectors of the Third World diaspora including the so-called ‘illegal’ migrant workers residing within imperialist borders, the revolutionary youth and intellectuals, and the revolutionized lumpen and prison populations as wellsprings for our revolutionary mass base in this country. But you would, again, looking at form rather than substance, likely scoff at this and act like we are just going to accept and network with these groups uncritically as we encounter them and not pursue their further proletarianization. This is not the case. We also express with a higher degree of actual confidence and certainty that the above-mentioned groups have a greater interest in seeing the tables turned in this country, and turned violently, than your bourgeoisified working classes you seek to lose yourselves in.
And note: it is at this point that, having just detailed our position clearly and corrected the record, we will formally ask you to cease claiming that we believe that there are no proletarians or masses within the imperialist centers to practice the mass line with. Quote us correctly. Honesty may not come naturally to you, but those who stumble across this blog page deserve a truthful and accurate representation of views other than your own. You can only deceive the masses for so long before they find out and call you on your bullshit. On a related note, it is amusing (while incorrect) that you paint proponents of the labor aristocracy-maturation line as “largely abstentionists from revolutionary practice” when we can observe the prison ministry of the MIM testing its ideas, struggling with the imprisoned masses and developing theory through practice. Providing this leadership and developing new cadre in the prisons while retaining fidelity to anti-imperialism and the international proletariat is a verifiable practice of theirs. On the other hand, it remains to be seen how you and your lazy dogmatist cohorts will translate such fine rhetoric as “recogniz[ing] the importance of organizing the proletariat [in the manufacturing sectors] as a vital trench, to defeat imperialism’s political influence through the labor aristocracy among the proletariat” into concrete policies and actions.
Role of Consumption in Determining Our Friends
You are quick to dismiss arguments about Amerikan access to wealth by saying that as real Marxists we know that exploitation happens at the point of production,
“We see then that exploitation does not happen at the level of circulation. It happens at production as will be explained further below.”
Yet we do not argue that the proletariat is being exploited at the supermarket. Rather we are saying that surplus value is calculated by the simple arithmetic of subtracting value received by the worker from the value added by the worker. Therefore, increasing value received has the potential of creating a negative value on the right-hand side of that equation; surplus value can be negative. Of course this can only be true for a subset of so-called workers or capital would cease to circulate.
You take another grain of truth from Marx and extrapolate it inappropriately in your sentence:
“For TWists who distort Marxism, the greater amount of use values a wage can command=the lesser degree of exploitation of a waged worker.”
Marx’s model predicts an increase in use values becoming available to the proletariat, and even becoming part of the value of labor (the basic cost of survival). An example of this would be that by 2018, 83% of adults in Third World countries had a cell phone.(7) Banking and other services are often only available in remote regions via cell phone. Therefore, having a cell phone in general would not be a good indicator of the degree of exploitation someone faced in 2018. Whereas in 1990, it was a good indicator that you were not exploited.
“Pure and simple, a temp worker at a plastic shop earning 25,000 in the USA doesn’t exploit anyone, while a food production small business owner in Managua who earns less than 25,000 who has employees who earn less than what he does exploits – exploitation requires a position of ownership and control over the means of production.”
While 86% of adults in Kenya have a cell phone (less than half of those have smart phones), the average consumption of the poorest 20% of Amerikans is about 10 times that of the average Kenyan.(8) What economic logic would Struggle Sessions use to justify enjoying use values an order of magnitude greater than those in the Third World, while maintaining that both groups are exploited proletarians with nothing to lose but their chains? Here you argue that an Amerikan making more money than a Nicaraguan has more revolutionary potential. What happened to “nothing to lose but their chains”?
Another metric provided at the website above is the number of Big Mac’s a McDonald’s worker can buy with one hour of wages in 2007. An Amerikan working at McDonald’s at that time could buy 6 times as many Big Macs as an Indian working the same job.(8) Will Struggle Sessions argue that the Amerikan is more productive flipping burgers? Not to mention the fact that most Amerikans are now engaged in service work like this where the possibility for great increases in productivity don’t even exist as they do in manufacturing.
From there we must ask, what systems of militarism, war, borders and financial manipulations must be maintained to keep that differential between the Amerikan McDonald’s worker and the Indian one? And how does Struggle Sessions propose we can organize these Amerikan McDonald’s workers to oppose militarism, war, borders and international finance manipulating the economies of the Third World?
Pray tell, comrade, how are you going to combat the siren song of the labor aristocracy in their workplaces, especially when you fail to even properly recognize who is and isn’t a part of the labor aristocracy? And we ask, are you going to offer less opportunities to fight for ill-gotten spoils of imperialism? No, that won’t do it, no. So not only are you going to 1) hop into the ‘trench’ of worker privilege, valiantly protecting and further fattening the bloated hourly earnings of production workers, their pension plans and paid-vacation leave; but 2) you are going to attempt to convince them that they should want to overthrow the government and corporations which supply their cushy material existence; following that up by 3) asking them to be on board with a future reduction in pay and standard of living to pursue the objective of an equal global distribution of wealth and reparations to the Global South; and 4) all the while being supportive of a proposal for a demilitarized, open border with Mexico so that the working classes of all nations can pursue better employment opportunities?
Mazur, we can’t even say that we wish you luck (and certainly not on the first point); just that it’ll be the workers themselves, not their employers or security, picking you up and throwing you out of the factory floor and onto your ass. But go ahead and falsify our thesis and you will effectively accomplish what no amount of keyboard clattering on your part can do at present. That is essentially what it comes down to. Show us. Moreover, do so without inadvertently activating social-fascism.
Applying Marxism to Our Conditions
In the 100-odd years since the first successful revolution leading to a dictatorship of the proletariat, none have occurred in an imperialist country with the industrial working classes as the revolutionary vehicle. You acknowledge we are right in pointing this out. Yet you still cannot comprehend the full gravity of the labor aristocracy maturation-line to know that the reasons that you cite for this failure (fascism, revisionism) are intrinsically tied up with a failure on the part of Communist organizations to determine the true extent of the rot and subsequently to cease catering to the labor aristocracy’s demands altogether. The problem lies in part with the fact that you believe (as if it were still the second decade of the last century, not the current one) that:
“The reality is such a condition for labor aristocracy is rooted fundamentally in the opportunist political leadership of sections of organized labor, courting favor with U.S. imperialism in competition on a world scale. It was never defined, by Lenin, Mao or any other past revolutionary movement from among the oppressed nations and proletariat, as a strata that encapsulated the entirety of the working class (white or otherwise) of the ‘First World.’”
Lazy dogmatism rears its head once more when you go referencing the classics without taking into account the particular dynamics of our ever deeper progression into the imperialist era and our unique geographic location within it. Chairman Gonzalo had something to say about people doing just that while expounding on the need to better understand Maoism and struggle for its supremacy. In our quest to promote a better understanding of the full implications of the labor aristocracy maturation-line and the necessity to struggle for that line over the ossified views of our erring Maoist fellow travelers, we will quote him at length (we feel that, if nothing else gets their attention perhaps quoting him will be the spark necessary to get the ‘Principally Maoists’ to correct their thinking on the matter):
“In order to better understand Maoism and the necessity to struggle for it, let us remember Lenin. He taught us that as the revolution advanced in the East it expressed specific conditions that, while they did not negate principles or laws, were new situations that Marxism could not ignore, upon the risk of putting the revolution in danger of defeat. Notwithstanding the uproar against what is new by pedantic and bookish intellectuals, who are stuffed with liberalism and false Marxism, the only just and correct thing to do is to apply Marxism to the concrete conditions and to solve the new situations and problems that every revolution necessarily faces. In the face of the horrified and pharisaic ‘defenses of the ideology, the class, and of the people’ that revisionists, opportunists, and renegades proclaim, or the furious attacks against Marxism by brutalized academicians and hacks of the old order who are debased by the rotten bourgeois ideology and blindly defend the old society on which they are parasites. Lenin also said clearly that the revolution in the East would present new and great surprises to the greater amazement of the worshipers of following only the well-trodden paths who are incapable of seeing the new; and, as we all know, he trusted the Eastern comrades to resolve the problems that Marxism had not yet resolved.”(9) (emphasis ours)
We would add to Gonzalo’s statement that Lenin would have also trusted the imperialist nation comrades to resolve the problems that Marxism-Leninism had only begun to address and solve, and to not mechanically parrot their words on the scope and potential solutions to problems which in their time were but saplings compared to the broader trunks and deeper roots which we must now contend with, axe in hand. The labor aristocracy maturation-line, flowing from Lenin’s analysis of the split in the working class movement in the early 20th century with its antecedents in Marx and Engels’ analysis of the English working class in the 19th century, contends that this split has only continued and with minimal interruption for the past 100 years in the imperialist centers, absorbing whole sectors of the working classes, bribed now in a thousand more ways than before. It was impossible for Marx, Engels and Lenin to examine and address these issues as well as we can today, because they were a relatively new development at the time. We, however, now have the extensive benefit of hindsight, history and statistics not available then. Yet Lenin did direct our attention to its creeping progression:
“The longer bourgeois democracy has prevailed in a country, the more complete and well established it is, the more successful have the bourgeoisie of that country been in getting into those leading positions people who are reared in bourgeois democracy, saturated in its attitudes and prejudice, and very frequently bribed by it, whether directly or indirectly.”(10)
Mao also spoke on this subject:
“In the various nations of the West there is a great obstacle to carrying through any revolution and construction movement, i.e., the poisons of the bourgeoisie are so powerful that they have penetrated each and every corner. While our bourgeoisie has had, after all, only three generations, those of England and France have had a 250-300 year history of development, and their ideology and modus operandi have influenced all aspects and strata of their societies. Thus the English working class follows the Labour Party, not the Communist Party.”(11)
Because of this, Mao went on to disagree with Lenin:
“Lenin says, ‘the transition from capitalist to socialism will be more difficult for a country the more backward it is.’ This would seem incorrect today.”(12)
We can no longer point to just ‘the opportunist political leadership of sections of organized labor’ and call them the whole of the labor aristocracy. They now represent a class of workers who have become bourgeois in outlook and have only grown exponentially over time. At what point do you realize and accept that the imperialist nation industrial working classes and service sectors are no longer a viable revolutionary vehicle for Maoism, and that we must focus our organizing in areas separate from these? At what point do things finally begin to click into place for you, or are you allowing your pride and dogmatic rote-learning to blind you to the reality which screams for recognition? If for whatever reason hearing this message from us in particular is just too much to stomach, then we recommend the book Labor Aristocracy: Mass Base of Social Democracy by H.W. Edwards for more detailed analysis. We encourage everyone with an inquiring mind to not just take our word for it – examine our references and arrive at the necessary conclusions on this important subject matter. Do not allow idealism or lazy dogmatism to cloud your judgment any longer to the futility of throwing yourself against the wall of the labor aristocracy in your organizing efforts.
There are two final matters we would like to address. The first is that it is said we have come by our views through and subsequent traffic in “petty-bourgeois empiricism-posing-as-analysis,” to which we reply:
“The lazy dogmatists actually see no real role for science in agitations. In response to Mao’s proof that line is decisive, they accept at face value the revisionist slander that calls Mao idealist. By downplaying science, they pave the way for fascism, which consciously relies on mysticism for victory in people’s hearts. They imagine that being good Maoists means being idealist, not practitioners of the science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.”(13)
By criticizing our use of statistics, percentages and numbers, you are by extension leveling your criticism at Lenin:
“Lenin used many more such statistics, including Tsarist statistics and criticized those who would not make much use of them.”(14)
Our critics don’t like it when we use basic addition and subtraction to show that their math doesn’t add up.(15) We must remind our readers of this line:
“For TWists who distort Marxism, the greater amount of use values a wage can command=the lesser degree of exploitation of a waged worker.”
Does that mean you believe the inverse? As First Worldists you believe that material wealth can increase infinitely without disqualifying one from being exploited? Must we bring up the old NFL player example and ask if they have nothing to lose but their chains? And to pivot to our final topic, Colin Kaepernick was protesting the murder of young Black men in the streets by the state, not wages or working conditions. Same reason cities burned across the country last year, and the same reason they’ve burned almost every other time in the last 60 years.
We find your agnosticism on the national question problematic, “In regards to the white nation, we [Struggle Sessions] have not taken a formal position on this.” First we are in the era of imperialism, which is defined by the contradiction between nations. To not be able to address the national question in one’s own country is to fail to address the whole of modern political economy. Second, the question of first importance is who are our friends, and who are our enemies. To not have a line on the nature of the euro-Amerikan nation, while having a very well worked out line on military strategy in the United $tates (a line we know is dear to the hearts of Struggle Sessions authors), is a dangerous example of putting the cart before the horse.
To address the question as you raise it, we will begin by saying that U.S. imperialism is a multinational project in two respects. The first pertains specifically to the makeup of the Euro-Amerikan oppressor nation, and the second in the national-patriotic sense with the inclusion of token elements of the New Afrikan and [email protected] bourgeoisie in leadership positions both in business and government and the participation of their respective labor aristocracies in the plunder of the Global South. But our focus is in addressing the seeming paradox of the Euro-Amerikan Nation, and whether it is myth or fact. You state that:
“In this case they are lumping a bunch of languages, cultures, regions and psychologies into one nation. For instance the psychological makeup of Jews, Slavs, Irish and Anglo Americans are not the same, and their languages are often different, too.”
The Euro-Amerikan Nation (or ‘white’ nation in more simplified terms) has historically assumed the role of dominant oppressing force since the founding of the United States. Being ‘white’ in America is not only so much a matter of genealogy and physiognomy as it is one of hierarchy, both in terms of class and nation. We agree that these people were something else before they were ‘white’ or Euro-Amerikan – Corsican, Welsh, Jewish, German etc. Yet through a common historical bond rooted in violence, rape and looting of labor and land, began a process of washing the disparate tribes white, a belief in being ‘white,’ becoming a unified, melded nation in the patriotic and national sense. In the United States, the separate Irish, Anglo, Polish, etc. immigrant nationalities of old are now mostly forgotten ‘dead nations,’ with forgotten mother tongues, blended beyond recall save in surname or remnant cultural practice seldom exercised in day-to-day existence. They have transformed themselves over the generations into a single unit sharing a common culture, language (English), economy (within the borders of the U.S. excluding most other nations) and territorial cohesion (again, much of North America). Your denial of this could only be justified by some racial theory of bloodline.
For you to say that ‘there is no common economy, there is no common language, there is no geographic territory, and so on’ is an ahistorical delusion that serves no purpose whatsoever. By denying this, it would seem that by extension you would also deny the same ‘nation’ status for the ‘Black’ or New Afrikan Nation, and furthermore any right to their own self-determination because ‘at best’ you see several nations that, through participation in the brutal receiving end of the settler project in the past, were able to achieve uneven status and integration into ‘blackness.’ (Mazur links to a now official paper by Struggle Sessions that addresses the intersection of so-called “race” and class in relation to New Afrika. For now, we will present MIM Theory 7 as a counter to that piece.)
The Great Migration of Black sharecroppers to the industrial north and west in the early to mid 20th century dispersed the population of the Black Belt south throughout the modern colonial borders of the United States. Nonetheless, New Afrikans constitute a nation as a result of the historical (forced) melding of different cultures, languages and psychologies into a new and unique shared culture, language and segments of territory. It is our hope to one day see the will of the New Afrikan Nation expressed in a plebiscite on self-determination. Perhaps Mazur & Co. will be on the right side of history when this occurs.
One final note, we are in agreement with the statement that:
“‘Privilege’ itself, as well as the absence of national oppression, does not in any way actually prevent those with a relative ‘privilege’ from facing oppression and exploitation as well.”
The white youth, intellectuals and revolutionized white lumpen and prisoners have an interest in revolution as traitors to their class and nation. We do not overextend our analysis to exclude these potential allies in our struggle.
Notes: 1. Karl Marx, “Labouring Power,” Value, Price and Profit, Martino Fine Books, 2017 p. 39. 2. Lauren Villagran, “A Desperate Quest for American Dream Denied,” USA Today, December 23, 2020. 3. Michael Braga, “Manufacturers Facing Hurdles in Return to US,” USA Today, December 22, 2020. It should be noted that back in 2018, hourly earnings for production workers were pegged at $22.71 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Thus a steady increase has occurred in 2 years’ time rather than a trend towards wage suppression as our labor-aristocratic Maoists allege. 4. V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism,” Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International: Documents 1907-1916, John Riddell, ed. New York: Monad Press, 1984 p. 497. 5. Jane Degras, ed. The Communist International: 1919-1943 Documents, London: Frank Cass & Co., 1971 Vol. 1, p. 129 (hereafter Degras) 6. MIM (Prisons), “A Falsifiable Thesis,” Who’s Got Something to Prove, JMP?, August 2020. www.prisoncensorship.info 7. Laura Silver, 5 February 2019, Smartphone Ownership Is Growing Rapidly Around the World, but Not Always Equally, Pew Research Center. 8. https://www.justfacts.com/income_wealth_poverty#international 9. Communist Party of Peru, “Introduction”, Fundamental Documents. 10. Degras, Vol. 1, p. 119. 11. Mao Tsetung, A Critique of Soviet Economics New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977 p. 50. 12. Ibid. 13. MIM Theory Number 10, “Lessons From the Comintern: Continuities in Method and Theory, Changes in Theory and Conditions”, Coming to Grips with the Labor Aristocracy, 1996. p. 22. View PDF at www.prisoncensorship.info 14. Ibid., p. 42. See Lenin’s “Statistics and Sociology,” Collected Works, Vol. 23. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964. p. 271. For Mao talking about dogmatist lazybones, see Mao Tse-Tung, “On Contradiction,” Four Essays on Philosophy. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1968 p. 37. 15. MC5, 1997, Imperialism and its Class Structure in 1997, part C.5..
MIM(Prisons) submitted this response to Struggle Sessions. While no response has been received yet, we cannot expect from them in days, what took us many months. However, we have already received some astute responses from others that we are including here.
ADDENDUM 1: A comment on ‘Mazur’s’ understanding of unequal exchange
The theory of unequal exchange of Samir Amin is one thing, the theory of Arghiri Emmanuel is another. I do not know if MIM ever commented on the distinction between the two theories (perhaps for political purposes given the overwhelming First Worldist hysteria surrounding it), but the theory of unequal exchange ‘in the strict sense’ as based on global wage differentials is what MIM (and also Cope’s 2012 book) have always made reference to; ‘Imperialism and its Class Structure in 1997’ makes explicit reference to wage differentials in Section A Chapter 5-6 and Section C Chapter 5. This theory does not depend upon either differing organic compositions or differing productivities within the same branch of trade. And Emmanuel’s criticism of the doctrine of comparative advantage does not depend upon a criticism of the quantity theory of money, as he implies in quite literally one of the first paragraphs of the Introduction. The reference to declining terms of trade in Emmanuel has absolutely nothing to do with the distinction between primary and non-primary commodities (explicitly contrary to the Prebisch–Singer hypothesis), but rather with the wages in the two sectors. Let us note one more error on the part of Mazur before we get around to explaining where the error arises.
“If there are the same prices and the wages in the U.S. are higher, and capital goods costs the same, then the cost price of any given commodity would be higher in the U.S. This means (since the price of the finished commodity is the same) that the rate of profit would be lower in the U.S., so no transfer would even take place.”
Let’s start from the basics. Ricardo’s theory of comparative costs represents a “special” case where the labor theory of value is invalidated. The labor theory does not govern prices at an international level, Ricardo states, because profits cannot equalize. Profits may equalize within nations because capital is mobile, but it cannot equalize between nations where capital is immobile as such immobility results in specialization and therewith the governing of comparative as opposed to absolute cost. Wages do not enter into Ricardo’s equation because he operated under the assumption that wages tended towards the subsistence level because of the Malthusian law of population. (In other words, Ricardo takes equal wages as a given.)
Marx overthrew the Malthusian “iron law of wages” and this fact is the starting point for Emmanuel. What Emmanuel emphasizes is a world where capital is mobile, and therefore profits do indeed tend towards an equality, but where the Marxian law of exogenous wages rules. Why does this matter? Because labor is not mobile, and because wages in the First World are in fact higher without being subject to the discipline of equalization, wages are the only ‘independent variable’ governing global prices of production. It is no argument against Emmanuel to claim that he abandons the labor theory of value, because in the real world market prices fluctuate around not values but rather prices of production. Perhaps Mazur missed the publication of Volume Three of Capital, but Emmanuel had not. Hence “factor rewards” (namely wages) are not given by prices, but rather prices are given by “factor rewards” (in neoclassical parlance). Emmanuel therefore inverts the logic of Hecksher-Ohlin-Samuelson: prices do not determine wages, but rather wages prices. This is Emmanuel avec Marx.
The products of industries employing workers at low wages, therefore, have relatively low prices, and those which employ workers at high wages have relatively high prices. This is precisely the point of Emmanuel’s argument — because we are dealing with different commodities being exchanged. Critics of Emmanuel imagine that they are intelligent in coming to the profound conclusion that high wages translate into a lower rate of surplus-value and therefore profit. Emmanuel does not deny this; he instead shows that with an equalizing profit rate the surplus-value of the Third World is transferred to the First World because products of low prices are exchanged for products of high prices. It’s really quite that simple. And to repeat ourselves for the tenth time, the prices are high and low because of differing wages. To believe otherwise is nothing more than marginalism. Emmanuel’s argument is not, in fact, that unequal exchange is preferable to lower wages in the First World from the viewpoint of the capitalist; it is only that the lack of wage equalization partially compensates the drop in the rate of profit.
No child, us Third Worldists do not argue that super-profits originate in circulation (a libel of Bettelheim), but rather in the super-exploitation of the Third World proletariat. If they were not super-exploited, if the rate of surplus-value was not in fact higher, there would not have been enough surplus-value to transfer and either First World wages or capitalism itself would have had to collapse.
Mazur writes that:
“Because the organic composition of capital has allowed much more surplus value to actually be generated, we see then that the rate of exploitation is often higher in spite of wage increases.”
Imagine such crass physicalism coming from an avowed defender of the labor theory. Capital with a higher organic composition does not allow “more surplus-value to actually be generated”. It quite literally implies less variable capital (relative to its size) and therefore less surplus-value because constant capital does not contribute an iota of surplus-value. Mazur wants us to believe that because capital-intensity is usually higher in the First World, this axiomatically makes First World workers more “productive” of surplus-value. First Worldists have never proven labor intensity is higher in the First World, which is what this claim necessitates demonstrating. We have already seen that this does not put a dent into Emmanuel’s theory, and Emmanuel explicitly (and consequently) asserts that, e.g., First World primary producers (Australian coal, Canadian timber, etc.) still benefit from unequal exchange. But this is of course a mirage, and as soon as the parasitism of the labor aristocracy confronts the “Marxist” defender of the labor theory of value, they turn into John Bates Clark and want us to believe that wages are governed by labor’s marginal productivity.
I could continue, and I would like to defend Sakai from the virulence he has been subjected to, but I will leave that to someone perhaps more competent than myself.
ADDENDUM 2: On Appalachia
loop-3: Given that MIM(Prisons) has no materialist analysis of the region, and certainly no experience organizing within it, it is unclear why you now incorrectly say that
“Poor whites in Appalachia… have an interest in revolution as traitors to their class and nation. We do not overextend our analysis to exclude these potential allies in our struggle.”
This is a striking political regression. The actual Maoist Internationalist Movement had a far more correct position on this. According to MC5,
"Often times we Marxists are told that we should go organize the Appalachian poor for their economic demands. Duncan gives us some up-to-date evidence on why that is a silly idea. Between 1980 and 1990, Blackwell county shrunk in population by 12%. That is the real social movement of Appalachia. Yes, there is a shortage of jobs, so people move. That is why there is no class solidarity or class consciousness that arises in Appalachia, no matter how many Marxists bang their heads on the wall there. To the extent that Marxists do influence or awaken anyone, they simply move or succeed in their middle-class ambitions. We do not need Marxism for that and hence we find the subject matter of Duncan’s book boring. It is about how to integrate people into middle-class life. There is no other possibility when poverty is only in isolated pockets and not a generalized economic condition within a country’s borders…
"Even if Appalachia had closed borders, it would only then be equivalent to some of the poorer European countries. At $15,321, central Appalachia’s median income would still be more than 10 times higher than that of the median for the international proletariat. Between 1980 and 1990 meanwhile, Gray Mountain’s income literally doubled.
"Both the Mississippi Delta and central Appalachia are shrinking in population. Already in 1980, the two infamously poor regions combined had only a population of 1.8 million in a country of 226.5 million with open borders internally. In other words, they are less than one percent of the population and it was ridiculous to expect any class formation there. By 1990, the two regions combined shrunk to less than 1.7 million, or less than the number of people in prison today.
“The trillions in super-profits sucked out of the Third World make it possible for whole countries to be rich like the United $tates. Although inequalities continue to exist within the United $tates, they are not nearly as central or as important to Marxists as those on a global scale.”
In addition, MIM Theory 1, in the article “Pittston Strike Shows Depth of White Working Class Alliance,” favorably quotes from this section of J. Sakai’s Settlers on this issue:
"Despite the 60 years of repeated radical organizing drives [in Appalachia] there has been, in fact, zero revolutionary progress among the mining communities. Despite the history of bloody union battles, class consciousness has never moved beyond an embryonic form, at best. There is no indigenous [here, Sakai is referring to regional whites] revolutionary activity - none - or traditions. Loyalty to U.S. imperialism and hatred of the colonial peoples is very intense. We can see a derailment of the connection between simple exploitation and class consciousness…
"This points out the fact that what is poverty-stricken about settlers is their culture.
“The Euro-Amerikan coal miners are just concentrating on ‘getting theirs’ while it lasts. In the settler tradition it’s ‘every man for himself’. They have no class goals or even community goals, just private goals involving private income and private consumerism. Meanwhile, the local N&W land manager says that they do have future plans for Appalachia: ‘We don’t intend to walk off and leave this land to the Indians’. Of that we can be certain.”
MIM(Prisons) respond: We thank loop-3 for pointing this out and include eir well-cited argument here. And we have removed the clause “poor whites in Appalachia” from that sentence as it was misleading as if the class interests of that population somehow make them more likely allies than anyone else in the white nation. We must be cautious and clear when trying to organize Amerikans around their own interests. While virtually everyone has some interests opposed to imperialism, and anyone can end up a victim of the system, white Amerikans must go against their class and nation (and gender) interests to ally with the international proletariat and the communist project, as S. Xanastas correctly pointed out in that paragraph.
White youth have more gender interest in revolution and are less bought into their class and nation. White lumpen arguably have some class interest different than other Amerikans. What is more clear is that white lumpen will more often take an interest in revolutionary politics when they are surrounded by oppressed nations in prison or part of multi-national lumpen organizations. As for the intellectuals mentioned, they do not have different interests so much as a different view of the world. So it is in these groups that we see the greatest percentage of exceptions to the rule – those who are willing to go against their own class and nation interests and side against U.$. imperialism.