Today's principal contradiction, here in the United $tates, is the national contradiction — meaning that between oppressed nations and oppressor nations. MIM(Prisons) provides some very provocative questions as to secondary contractions, their influence on or by and in conjunction to the current principal contradiction. Class, gender and nation are all interrelated.(1) Many times, while organizing our efforts and contemplating potential solutions to the principal contradiction, we overlook the secondary and tertiary ones. Such narrow-mindedness oftentimes leads to difficulties, hampering efforts toward resolution. Other times it makes resolving the principal, effectively, impossible. Analogous to penal institutions making it possible to punish a citizenry but impossible to better it due to the irreconcilable contraction between retributive punishment and rehabilitation. This is why reforms consistently fail and prisons persist as a social cancer.
In regards to intersecting strands of oppression, prisons are illustrative of more than pitfalls of narrow-mindedness (i.e. reform of one aspect while leaving the rest intact). Prisons also provide numerous examples of oppression combinations. Interactions of nation and gender oppression are some of the most evident. Penal institutions are inherently nationally oppressive, because they are social control mechanisms allowing capitalism to address its excluded masses. Since the United $tates is patriarchal in practice, prisons over-exaggerate this masculine outlook, creating an ultra-aggressive, chauvinistic subculture.
Intersection occurs oft times when a female staff member is present. Other than the few brave people, most wimmin in prison are regarded as "damsels in distress." Generally speaking (at least in Colorado prisons) a male will accompany a female; though, most males make no effort to do this for other men. Capitalism's undercurrent to such "chivalrous actions" is rooted in wimmin being the weaker, more helpless and vulnerable gender. In prison, machismo culture such is the chauvinist's belief. While many wimmin aid in their inequality by accepting, encouraging, or simply not protesting such "chivalry," brave, independent wimmin experience a form of ostracism — they are derided, an effort to enjoin their conformity. At the same time men are being chivalrous, they sexually objectify females, further demeaning them, reinforcing their second-class status under machismo specifically and, capitalistic patriarchy generally.
Furthermore, there is also the ever-present nation bias (e.g. hyper-sexualizing Latina females, white females should only fraternize with whites). As prisons are "snapshots" of general society, the contradictions — their intersecting and interacting — hold useful material for revolutionary-minded persyns.
Intersection of different oppression strands (as shown above) demonstrates that the resolution of one does not automatically mean resolution of others. For instance, should machismo in prison dissolve, the national oppression will still remain and vice versa. Prisons are an encapsulation of society, meaning, their abolishment will not necessarily translate to class, nation, gender contradiction resolutions throughout society. Although, it is a very good, versatile place to start. Penal institutions are more of an observation laboratory where the effects and affects of contradiction co-mingling manifest. A place to watch, document, analyze, formulate and possibly initiate theory and practice. There is no better way to comprehend oppression than to witness it in action. Nor is there any better way of combating the many oppressions than from the front lines.
[Editor's note: This review of Grit follows on several articles printed in ULK 64 about the book and lessons we can glean for our organizing. This comrade offers a more in depth review of some of the practical uses for our work, but also some good criticisms of the politics of the book. We encourage readers to check out ULK 64 for more on organizing theory and practice.]
I really like this book, not just because I found lots of useful tactics and strategies for pursuing my own personal goals in life, but because I was able to see that I've already been putting many of the author's suggestions into practice, both in my capacity as a revolutionary and as someone pursuing a particular goal; my freedom. Therefore, in writing this review, I have not only tried to sum up the tactics and strategies I found most useful, but those which others might find use for as well. However, this review is not without criticism.
The author of this book is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and she wrote this book to make one basic statement: success in any endeavor is dependent on the amount of time, hard work, determination, and effort that someone puts into something.
Now this concept might not seem so special or even new to someone, but to a dialectical materialist, it speaks power to truth in that it demolishes certain idealist and metaphysical notions about what it means to be gifted and blessed in bourgeois society. Of course, as a dialectical materialist, I also understand that this book must be viewed with a critical eye, as it contains both positive and negative aspects.
Professor Duckworth makes it a point to begin her book by explaining that lofty-minded individuals aren't usually the type of people to accomplish much of anything. Rather, it's those with a never give up attitude that will reach a marked level of success. Professor Duckworth also successfully argues against the myth that there is such a thing as "talent", instead she says there is only developed skill which is the result of consistent and continuous practice. From a Maoist perspective this means that it is people who take a materialist approach to life and who understand the dialectical interplay between people and people and between people and their surroundings that will go the furthest the fastest.
In addition, the author puts forward organizational guidelines that are useful to just about anyone, even the imprisoned lumpen. How prisoners decide to exercise the professor's tools is entirely up to them. We would hope however, that USW members and other allies participating in the United Front for Peace in Prisons would choose the lessons in Grit to further the anti-imperialist prison movement, as what they essentially amount to is the piecemeal approach to struggle.
So what does it take to develop grit as the author defines it? The following are just some of the books pointers that I could relate to and I'm sure you can to:
Having direction as well as determination.
Doing more of what you are determined to do and doing it longer equals grit.
Learn from your mistakes.
Grit is more about stamina than intensity ("Grit is not just working incredibly hard, it's loyalty").
Do things better than they have ever been done before.
Goals are essential to strategizing long term: you must also have lots of short term goals along the way.
Having goal conflicts can be healthy: what may at one given moment seem contradictory may in fact be complementary.
Don't be intimidated by challenges or being surrounded by people who are more advanced or developed. This can only help you grow.
Overextending yourself is integral toward growth, it's what helps you develop. Also, repetitive diligence cultivates.
Daily discipline as perseverance helps you to zero in on your weaknesses.
Passion is a must!
Go easy on newcomers.
Look for quality over quantity when measuring growth.
What we do has to matter to other people.
Have a top level goal.
Maintain a growth mindset.
Don't be afraid to ask for help!
Following through is the single best predictor of grit.
Getting back up after you've been kicked down is generally reflective of grit. When you don't, your efforts plummet to a zero. As a consequence, your skill stops improving and you stop producing anything with whatever skill you have.
So now that we've looked at tools for overall improvement, growth and development let's look at some specific tips on how to add a little more intensity to our routines and organizational skill set. The author talks about something she calls deliberate practice. What is deliberate practice? Deliberate practice is a technique or range of techniques that people across different professions use to become masters in their fields. Whether someone is a spelling bee champ, professional basketball player, or computer programmer, all these people have one thing in common: deliberate practice. I include the message here because it can be useful to revolutionaries. Simply put, deliberate practice is all about becoming an expert at something. Deliberate practice is the essence of grit:
More time on task.
Wanting to develop.
Not just more time on task but better time on task.
Focusing on improving your weaknesses; intentionally seeking out challenges you can't yet meet.
Practicing alone, logging more hours and more hours than with others.
Seeking negative feedback for the purposes of improving your craft.
Then focus in on the specific weaknesses and drill them relentlessly.
Don't be afraid to experiment if you find yourself getting stuck or even if you're not. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone even if you're already doing good. Who knows, you might do better.
Now, at the beginning of this review, I said this book was not without criticism. So here are some problems I found with the Grit.
To begin with, the author caters to the idealist Amerikan ideology of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" and failing to take into account the structural oppression faced by the internal semi-colonies in the United $tates. Furthermore, most of the author's case studies, those who she refers to as "paragons of grit," come from privileged backgrounds and their success in life can be easily linked to the surroundings in which they were allowed to develop their skills to their fullest potentials. Compare this to the experience of the oppressed nations: the lumpen in particular who exist along the margins of society, or the [email protected] semi-proletariat who must struggle in order to meet its basic needs. Therefore, all is not simply a matter of will and determination for the oppressed as we might be led to believe. There are a variety of social factors in place which the oppressed must contend with in the grind of daily life.
Another problem I have with this book is where the author makes the statement that it generally takes up to 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice for someone to become an expert in their field. The author bases this hypothesis on data she's gathered in preparation for her book. This inherent flaw in the professor's work is exactly the type of problem that comes from applying bourgeois psychology and sociological methods according to bourgeois standards within a narrow strip of bourgeois society. This was something of a turn off to me as I grappled with the concepts from a revolutionary perspective. I can imagine how discouraging it can be for our young comrades or those otherwise new to the struggle to read that it takes 10 years to become an expert in something, especially when they come to us eager to put in work. I wonder if I, myself, would have continued engaging Maoism if I would have heard or read this book when I was a newcomer? I would like to think that I had enough grit to not listen to the naysayers and instead keep on pushing, but I just don't know.
Maoist China also grappled with similar questions during the Great Leap Forward (1959-61) and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Beginning with the Great Leap Forward, there were those in the Communist Party, as well as in the economic sector, who advocated an "expert in command" approach to work and politics. The people pushing this line believed that only those with years of study or practice in China's greatest institutions or in the West's most prestigious universities were qualified to lead the country towards socialism. Most of these people would turn out to be enemies of the revolution and ultimately responsible for putting China back on the capitalist road.
On the other side of the discussion where the Maoists who advocated the slogan "red and expert" to emphasize the importance of revolutionary will and determination over that of expertise. In other words, it was more important to pay attention to the masses motivation of serving the people according to revolutionary principles than to the bourgeois commandist approach of top down leadership and authoritarianism that was the essence of "experts in command." Furthermore, the Maoists understood that to overly emphasize a reliance on the bourgeois methods of organization for the purposes of efficiency and profit was not only to widen the gap between leaders and lead, but to return to the status quo prior to the revolution. What's more, those calling for expert in command were also criticized for their stress on theory over practice and adoption of foreign methods of organization over that of self-reliance and independence. As such, the Maoists opted to popularize the slogan "red and expert" as they believed this represented a more balanced approach to political, cultural, economic, and social development. To the Maoists, there was nothing wrong with wanting to become expert so long as the concept wasn't separated from the needs of the people or the causes of the revolution.
Partly as a response to the struggles gripping China during the time, but more so as an attempt to meet Chinese needs, the Communist Party initiated the "sent down educated youth" and "going down to the countryside and settling with the peasants" campaigns in which thousands of high school and university age students were sent on a volunteer basis to China's rural area to help educate peasants. The students lived and toiled with the peasants for months and years so that they would not only learn to empathize with the country's most downtrodden, but so that the revolutionary will and resolve of the privileged urban youth could be strengthened. Part of the students' mission was to build the schools in the countryside and teach the peasants how to read and write as well to help advance the peasants' farming techniques according to what the youth had learned in the cities. While these students may not have been "experts" in the professional sense they did more to improve the living conditions of the peasants than most professionals did criticizing this program from the sidelines.(1)
The barefoot doctors program is another Maoist success story which even Fidel Castro's Cuba came to emulate. Recognizing that the majority of China's population were peasants and had virtually zero access to modern medical care. To address this problem, peasants were given a few years training in basic medical care, and sent to work in China's rural area. Again, the focus here was not on expertise, but on practice and revolutionary will for the sake of progress not perfection. While those trained certainly were not expert medical doctors, they were of more use to the peasants than the witch doctors and shamans they were accustomed to.
While Grit offers a lot of useful information for comrades with little organizational experience, we should keep in mind that much of what we communists consider correct methods of practice has already been summed up as rational knowledge by the revolutionary movements before us. Bourgeois psychology can be useful, but history and practice are our best teachers. Look to the past and analyze the present to correctly infer the future.
As Mao Zedong Stated: "Marxists hold that man's social practice alone is the criterion of the truth of his knowledge of the external world."(2)
During the summer of 2018, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) attempted to initiate a radical new policy to re-integrate General Population (GP) and Sensitive Needs Yards (SNY) prisoners throughout the state. These two populations have been separated for decades, but are now living together in what they are calling Non-Designated Programming Facilities (NDPFs).
SNYs were first created in the late 1990s to provide safe housing for prisoners convicted as sex offenders and other prisoners who had fallen out of favor with prison gangs. This population exploded during the early 2000s, when the CDCR began to ease housing restrictions and criteria on SNYs.
In 2015, the office of the Governor of the state of California, Jerry Brown, authored the document "The Governor's Plan: The Future of California Prisons" in which they published the rising costs and administrative difficulties related to operating SNYs. It was within this document that the questions of how to stem the growing need for SNY, and possibly re-integrate GP and SNY, was first asked. In 2016, a "SNY Summit" was held by CDCR officials and so it seems that NDPFs developed from both the Governor's Plan and the SNY Summit.
According to a CDCR memorandum titled "Amended Non-Designated Programming Facilities Expansion for 2018," additional NDPFs were to be created out of existing GP and SNY. The stated purpose for this expansion was to "...expand positive programming to all inmates who want it." The NDPF expansion was scheduled to take place as early as September 2018 at two different institutions with more to follow in the months ahead.
The official list of NDPFs is relatively short, and only reflects NDPFs affecting level 1, 2 and 3 prisoners at this time. However, MIM(Prisons) has been receiving a lot of contradictory information on this issue from prisoners, much of which can be attributed to rumors from both pigs and prisoners. Therefore it is difficult for us to assess the situation and sum up matters. Naturally these developments have prisoners on both sides of the fence worked up and full of anxiety.
The forceful integration of GP and SNY prisoners poses obvious concerns for the safety and security of everyone involved. As dialectical materialists, the left-wing of United Struggle from Within (USW) understands that change cannot be forced from the outside to the inside within this particular situation. Rather, unity can only develop from the inside to the out, which is why we are against NDPFs. Re-integration of SNY and GP is something that can only work once prisoners themselves settle the disputes and resolve the contradictions that led to the need for prisoners to de-link from the rest of the prisoner population and seek the protection of the state to begin with.
Contradictions amongst the people must be peacefully resolved amongst the people; there's no other way around this. Until this happens, the new prison movement will remain divided and unable to unite along true anti-imperialist lines. It is for this very reason that we continue to uphold and promote the correct aspects of the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH), which was developed by prisoners themselves. In the AEH we see an end to the large scale prisoner violence that racked California prisons for decades. We also see a possibility for the re-emergence of revolutionary nationalism amongst the oppressed nation lumpen of Aztlán, New Afrika and the First Nations.
The AEH is a foundation for the movement, but movements are not built on foundations alone; for this we need brick, mortar and other materials. Likewise the building blocks to the new prison movement will need the contributions and participation of as many of California's prisoners as possible if the signatories to the AEH really wanna live up to the revolutionary ideals which they profess and which so many claim to be instilled in the AEH, lest the AEH be but a hollow shell.
No doubt that the AEH was hystoric, progressive and even revolutionary six years ago, but the time has come to amend the document. All language excluding SNY prisoners from the peace process and casting SNY as enemies should be revisited if prisoners from the Short Corridor Collective and Representative Body are truly interested in taking the AEH to the next level.
For more information on re-integration and NDPFs contact Julie Garry Captain Population Management Unit (916) 323-3659.
In an effort to make work reports more useful within the Council, the below was passed unanimously, with the majority voting to keep the old method of reporting work hours in addition to the below. We are printing this in ULK to solicit work reports from USW leaders who are not yet Council members. By submitting short monthly reports to the Council, we will better be able to sum up the efforts of USW as a whole, while vetting emerging cells for Council membership.
All USW cells with an active Council representative must submit monthly work reports to remain in the Council.
All USW cells are encouraged to submit monthly work reports to the Council.
Work reports should be one to two paragraphs. They should address the following points as needed to update the Council on your work in the last month:
What types of activities did your cell participate in that contributed to USWs mission?
What campaigns did your cell participate in or promote in the last month?
What Serve the People programs did your cell operate?
What were the responses from the masses and USW recruits to this work?
What questions came up? How did you answer them? Or do you need help answering them?
What lessons did you learn in the last month?
What are the most pressing issues that are of concern to the masses in your location? Are there any new or developing issues of concern to the masses there?
What organizations/services have you recently found useful in your work (include contact info)?
What successes have you achieved in the last month?
MIM(Prisons) will not share revealing information with the Council. Please keep in mind that your outgoing mail is being read and report on your work accordingly.
19 October 2018 — One week to the day of the Dia de la Raza celebrations in Mexico, a caravan of three to four thousand migrant men, wimmin and children (forming part of what's been dubbed the Central American Exodus) stormed the Mexico-Guatemala border at the southern Mexico State of Chiapas demanding passage through Mexico on their way to the United $tates. The migrants had spent the previous seven days walking from Honduras, where the caravan originated, through Guatemala, where they grew in numbers as Guatemalans joined the procession. Upon arriving at the Mexico-Guatemala border, the migrants were stopped by an assortment of Mexican Armed Forces equipped with riot gear, armored vehicles and Amerikan-supplied Blackhawk helicopters. The neo-colonial government of Mexico was acting on orders of U.$. Pre$ident Donald Trump who had issued the threat of economic sanctions against Mexico and warned of sending troops to the joint U.$.-Mexico border if Mexico didn't stop the caravan from reaching the United $tates. Similar orders were given to Honduras and Guatemala, who initially ignored the command. As a result, Pre$ident Trump has warned of cutting off economic aid to the recalcitrant countries.(1)
Hungry, thirsty, tired, and now frustrated, the caravan broke through the border fence and began flooding into Mexico where Mexican forces fired teargas and resorted to the use of their batons on the migrants in an attempt to push the caravan back. While some migrants began throwing rocks at the police, the event reached a focal point when various young men began climbing the gates of the bridge where they were held and began to jump into the shallow Suchiate river below. After unsuccessfully trying to dissuade people from jumping, a reporter present at the event asked the question, "why jump?" One migrant responded that he was doing it for his children, and while he didn't want to die, the risk was worth it if only he could provide for his family. Others stated that they would rather die than return to the crushing poverty and pervasive gang violence that awaits them back home. "We only want to work," other migrants stated. When it was all over one child was reported to have died from teargas inhalation.(2)
Unfortunately, the assaults on the caravan did not end there. Forty-eight hours after being stopped at Suchiate, about half of the caravan was eventually admitted into Mexico while 2,000 opted to board buses heading back to Honduras. On 22 October, the remaining members of the caravan along with additional Central American refugees already in Chiapas came together, after which their numbers swelled to 7,000 to 8,000 strong. This included the 2,000 children in their midst, along with the migrants' rights organization Pueblo Sin Fronteras. Members of the caravan made a public plea to the United Nations to declare the Central American Exodus a humanitarian crisis. They ask the U.N. to intervene and send envoys and a military escort to monitor the caravan's journey through Mexico which they referred to as a "Corridor of Death." Representatives of the group accused the Mexican government of perpetuating human rights abuses against them. They claimed that wimmin had been raped and children stolen. They also spoke of children in the caravan suddenly traveling alone because their parents had disappeared.(3)
Meanwhile, further south in the hemisphere, actor Angelina Jolie, who is a special ambassador for the U.N. Human Rights Commission for refugees, traveled to Peru to call attention to the "humanitarian crisis" that is currently playing out in neighboring Venezuela where inflation and food shortages have led to mass migrations into Peru, Brazil, and Colombia.(4) The migrations out of Venezuela have been extensively covered by the Amerikan media, along with increasingly hostile rhetoric from politicians to topple the government of Nicolas Maduro, which has stood against imperialist control of the country. In comparison, the plight of the Honduran caravan has barely been given any attention by English language broadcasts except in its influence on the mid-term elections here in the United $tates. Could this be because the Venezuelan government has been a thorn in the side of U.$. imperialism for the last 20 years while the combined governments of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras have been faithful, if reluctant, servants of that same imperialist power?
Since 2005 the official number of refugees in the world has climbed from 8.7 million to 214.4 million in 2014.(5) However, since the very definition and criteria for refugee status is set by the imperialists themselves, and hence politically motivated, we're sure the real number is way higher. For example, according to the U.N., Honduras isn't even considered a country of origin for refugees. Neither is Mexico, and yet the majority of people migrating to the United $tates come from Mexico and certainly the people of Honduras and Guatemala are fleeing conditions comparably worse than the recent crisis in Venezuela.(6)
As of 2014, there were 11.2 million undocumented migrants in the U.$.; 67% came from Mexico and Central America. Of these 11.2 million migrants, 72% live in four of the 10 states with the largest undocumented populations. Of these 10 states, four are Aztlán i.e., California, Texas, Arizona, and Nevada.(7) Statistics also show that migrants from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador will integrate into Aztlán and their children will assimilate into the [email protected] nation.(8)
As the principal contradiction in the world (imperialism vs. the oppressed nations, principally U.$. imperialism) continues to develop, and crisis heightens, we can expect to see more of these mass exoduses in the not-too-distant future. Already, there are reports of another caravan leaving Honduras of at least 1,000 strong. Surely to Amerikans this must seem like a nightmare come true, literally thousands of Third World refugees banging at the gates of their imperialist citadel. As tragic as all of this seems it is but a glimpse of how the Third World masses will finally rise up, and in their desperation, put an end to imperialism once and for all. Oddly enough, revolutionary forces in Mexico have yet to make an appearance and lend a helping hand to the caravan while ordinary working people have already stepped up to lend their assistance. How will [email protected] respond? That is left to be seen.
MIM(Prisons) adds: The U.$. National Endowment for Democracy was involved in both the 2009 coup to overthrow Zelaya in Honduras and 2002 coup to overthrow Chavez in Venezuela (later reversed). Hillary Clinton infamously helped orchestrate the coup in Honduras as well. Since then murderous generals trained by the U.$. School of the Amerikkkas have terrorized the population, killing indigenous people, peasants and environmental activists. The U.$. has established a large military presence in Honduras since the coup, backing the robbing of land from poor indigenous peasants and peasants of African descent.(9)
Enclosed is a clipping from the Austin American-Statesman (2018 May 3) I thought pertinent and might be of interest.
Not having first-hand knowledge of the University of Texas (UT) course "MasculinUT," I found it interesting that the reactionary philistines again attacked academia for addressing patriarchal oppression. As far as I'm concerned, conventional notions of masculinity are a societal conditioning of the psyche, ergo, much like a Black persyn ensnared in a eurocentric society, a mind fuck. So, yeah, maybe the yahoos are correct that traditional concepts of what masculinity entails (e.g., violence against wimmin) is a mental health issue, and as such, men need to be subjected to re-conditioning via communist transition. Maybe, like the bourgeoisie under socialism, men will be repressed. Maybe, hell!
MIM(Prisons) responds: The article enclosed, from the Statesman, talks about the UT masculinity education program, which is an awareness campaign formerly run by the University's Counseling and Mental Health Center. Conservatives attacked the program, claiming it treats masculinity as a mental health problem.
In response, the MasculinUT program was moved to Dean of Students, and, in a statement from its website, "the program's original steering committee was reconvened and expanded to provide recommendations and feedback to ensure that the program's mission is clearly defined and fully aligned with its original intent of reducing sexual assault and interpersonal violence."
We're with this comrade in thinking it might not be so bad to think about masculinity as a mental health issue. As long as we're clear that this and many other mental health issues are a product of the capitalist patriarchy. People aren't born being sexist idiots. They are trained to believe that wimmin don't know what they want, to see wimmin as objects, and to view maleness as a sign of superiority. People will need a lot of retraining to overcome a lifetime of patriarchal education.
We don't know what's involved in the UT program so we can't comment on it. But we can say that after the imperialist patriarchy is overthrown we'll have a long period of cultural revolution where we need to re-invent humyn culture and re-educate everyone to see all people as equal. This is about the patriarchy, but also about the oppression of all groups of people over other groups, across the strands of oppression of nation, class and gender. This involve forcibly repressing patriarchal culture and institutions. We hope that forcible repression of half the population (men) will not be necessary, but there will need to be active promotion of feminists into positions of power, and a careful re-consideration of the appropriate interactions between all humyns.
July 2018 — In ULK 61 the contentious topic of sex offenders was discussed with great objectivity (even in certain subjective analyses) and openness. The following will attempt to clarify, expound and expand on some of these positions from my perspective.
I wrote, "Excluding all non-sexual depredations (public urination and such), SOs constitute a dangerous element; more so than murderers because SOs often have more victims, and many of those victims become sexual predators, creating one long line of victimization." As a rejoinder to this comparison, MIM(Prisons) stated: "When someone is murdered in lumpen-criminal violence, often there is retaliatory murder, and subsequent prison time."
While this may prove accurate among lumpen organizations (LOs) and loosely associated persons, this is very far from the truth in society, generally speaking. A majority of people, even a majority of lumpen class, do not resort to such literal "eye-for-an-eye" justice. While there are many (mostly males between 14-22 years old) who do seek retaliatory murders, on the whole they produce a minority to be certain. Just as murderers constitute a noticeable minority of the 2.3-million-plus currently incarcerated through the United States.
Contrarily, sexual predators affect the entire societal composition. They perpetrate crimes against males and females, provoking deep-burrowing psychological problems, and turn many victims into victimizers (not all turn to outright sexual depredation). There is no question murder is irrespective of class, gender, nation, and provokes intense psychological trauma. The difference is not in the severity of the anti-proletariat crime — taking a life or ruining a life — but in the after-effects. To make the argument that murder creates murder in the same, or even similar, manner as sexual victimization creates future victimizers is beyond stretching. It is a patently false premise. Were it even close to the reality of present society, there would be anywhere from 10-50 times more murders and murderers in this country and its prisons.
Not to be crass, but murder is more of a one-two punch knock out. Where sexual depredation is twelve rounds of abuse by Robert Duran with your hands behind your back. Most murderers are not serial killers, which means their victims are family and known associates. Sexual predators habitually prey on strangers who fit their desired victim profile, in addition to relatives, friends, or associates. Murderers are normally incarcerated once arrested. Sexual predators are often times released.
Also it is much more stigmatizing to be a victim of sexual violence — shame, feelings of inferiority, desire to vengeance, self-deprecation — than a murderer's victim. Desire for justice, feelings of powerlessness, and greater stigmatization arises from the criminal injustice system's treatment of sex crime victims. Many are left feeling as if they are the perpetrator instead of the victim. This is why so many sex crimes go unreported. Such is not the case with murders, unless persons decide to seek vigilante justice. Considering the above, it is clear why a more negative perspective is attached to SOs than to murderers. Logically, a murder is traumatic but almost all overcome the event without becoming killers. In the case of sexual victimization, a slim minority overcome the stigma, and more than half become victimizers; whether emotionally, physically, or continue to harm themselves, reliving the victimizations perpetrated upon them.
"Lumpen criminal violence (created and encouraged by selective intervention and neglect by the state) is one of the reasons why 1 in 3 New African men will go to prison at some point in their lifetime." This is undoubtedly true. Although to state such a statistic to disprove the "logic" behind SOs being viewed as pariahs more than murderers is slightly disingenuous. Capitalism is formed in a manner destined to exclude great numbers of people. Mass incarceration is capitalism's answer to this exclusion. This is the manner in which capitalism addresses the lumpen class it creates in order to maintain a steady course on the capitalists' globalization/exploitation road. Crime and violence are incidental to the system that created a mass lumpen class. So, while this does "represent a long line of victimization," it is inherent to capitalism, but sexual depredation is not.
As it relates to imminent or immediate efforts at rehabilitating sexual predators, my meaning was that efforts can be made on an individual basis by revolutionaries who are able to see past label prejudice. Through their efforts, if conducted scientifically, a systematic method can emerge for once the revolution is successful. Practice directs theory and theory is validated in practice, of course. But my overall meaning was and remains that sex crimes will be a problem for capitalism, socialism, or communism. Sexual depredation is a social contagion which transcends borders of politics, gender, economy, class, nationhood and age. Revolutionaries will need to address the problem sooner or later. For those who can be ahead of the curve, they should be. Revolutions need innovative trail blazers as does every department of humynity.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We appreciate this clarification on this writer's article in ULK 61, and find some compelling points here for distinctions between the impact of murders and sexual assaults. Though we still maintain that we will need to reform all who can be reformed, regardless of crimes (conviction or not).
We need to address a few factual questions. The author claims that "SOs habitually prey on strangers who fit their desired victim profile; in addition to relatives, friends, or associates". The reality is that studies of sexual assault have found that around 70%-75% of survivors know their rapist. It is a myth that sexual assault is mostly perpetrated on strangers. This myth serves the racist idea that New Afrikan men are raping white wimmin. And this falsehood has been used to target and persecute New Afrikan men going back to the time of slavery, specifically targeting ones seen as a threat by those in power. So although this is a minor point in the author's essay, we want to clarify the facts.
We want to also address this writer's comment that "sexual depredation is a social contagion which transcends...gender." Sexual assault is one of the most blatant symptoms of a system of gender oppression. It is the exercise of gender power. Sexual assault is a product of the patriarchal system that sets up gender power differences in our society.
And so, we disagree with the author that crime and violence are inherent to capitalism but sexual depredation is not. In the abstract this makes sense: sexual depredation is a result of the patriarchy, a system of gender oppression. Capitalism is a system of class oppression. The two are distinct systems of oppression.
But society has evolved to intertwine class, gender and national oppression so intimately that it is not practical to think we can eliminate one without eliminating the others. Seeing gender oppression as something outside of capitalism suggests we can eliminate gender oppression entirely under capitalism. While we can certainly target aspects of gender inequality and oppression for reform under capitalism, this is similar to enacting reforms to the systems of national oppression. We might improve conditions for individuals within the capitalist system, but the underlying system of oppression will remain.
This doesn't mean we ignore gender oppression right now. We must expose it, and we should demand that it be stopped wherever possible. For instance, fighting against rape in prison is a battle that could reduce the suffering of many prisoners. But we can also see the outcome of state responses to prison rape in the ineffectual and sometimes counter-productive PREA regulations.
With that said, we do agree with this writer that we can work now towards a systematic method to deal with sex offenders and sexual predators. But we will have fewer resources and less power to help these individuals reform now, before we have state power.
We won't reach the stage of communism until we eliminate sex crimes. We disagree with the author's assessment that sex crimes will exist in all systems. Communism is a society without oppression, where all people are equal. We will have to eliminate class, nation and gender oppression before we can achieve a communist society. And so this writer is correct that revolutionaries must address the problem of sex crimes, both sooner and later. As we discuss in the article "On Punishment vs. Rehabilitation," the stage of our struggle will help determine how we deal with those who commit crimes against the people.
Being a recent student participant of an on-site college program, I heard about Grit via my psychology professor, who really sold the book as "the best work of its kind" in his lifetime. He was an abnormally straight shooter, and over the spring semester he gained a high level of respect from me and several Gods attending his classes. That being said when I read the title I became ecstatically interested in reading it. To make things 1000% better ULK sent a request that asked me to direct a selected few ideas from the book's chapters, repurpose the information in a way that makes it useful for prisoners and prisoner movements.
Taking Grit to the cipher those last days of Ramadan provided the forum that I used to gain opinions from the Gods here. First it was introduced and the purpose was established as to what I was planning to do within our cipher with regards to the book. It was agreed that we would give light to its reading, our interpretation of the book knowledge as it regards the prisoner movements (meaning unified actions of prisoners between different lumpen orgs, religious orgs, racial groups and at times including sexually non-conformist groups).
Once that was the base of our collective understanding, we read the very first part out loud in its entirety, without stop. This was done in order to gain a clear mental picture of what the author, Dr. Angela Duckworth, wanted us to know: How she defined "grit." Her purpose for writing this book. How this information could be used (individually, as a group, systematically, as a tool of help or to exploit). Lastly we brainstormed on whether the subject was new, unique or reminiscent of other books any of us read.
This was all done on day one. It included reading the preface along with chapters 1-5, checking the dictionary and thesaurus for words we either didn't understand or had different definitions for. This was to ensure we all stayed on the same page until a full grasp of the work was gained (or as we say, the who, what, when, where, how and why). Once that's gained then each God can go back to the cell and reflect on what is being said versus what the author's voice is trying to persuade the reader of. Because of lockdowns we didn't come back together again for some time. In that time I made 6 copies of the book and hand delivered the copies to each member of the cipher. I read ahead because of these time restraints for my response for ULK to be ready for this 63rd issue.
The subjects that I found applicable to the prisoners and prisoners' movement's need to develop grittier comrades on the front lines are from the Part II chapters: Interest, Practice, and Purpose.
Using "the grit test" [a questionnaire measuring someone's passion and perseverence - ULK Editor], we can discriminate in positive ways to create better recruiting methods when it comes to bringing individuals into the inner communal cipher or cadre. This will change the qualities that community leadership uses to identify like-minded soldiers. Though most will have to use interview methods instead of written questionnaires, and questions will have to be asked again and again in different ways before confirmation can be made.
The study habits and increasing interest in each member's confidence in sharing these interpretations of studied materials must become the job of all in leadership, with little to no critique at first and high praises to study habits and being able to communicate ideas in their own voice.
Standing up to injustice must be celebrated. Especially in times they are made to suffer by the authorities for doing the righteous and self-respecting thing — which is the institution's systematic way of pushing said prisoner to believe they are powerless. This is the creation of the passive prisoner who just puts up with all levels of abuse from authority. To fight this mental bullying the leadership must celebrate the comrade's actions openly with high energy. Leadership must show and prove they are willing to suffer some loss if and when making a stand causes such losses — a united front plus true knowledge of where the cadre stands on issues by actions, not just theory or talk-based instruction.
Grit is made of both passion and perseverance, creating and maintaining, stick-wit-it-ness, evolving interest and deep commitment. As opposed to natural skill, know-how or raw talent which may or may not assist in being a success. Comrades, being grittier means overcoming obstacles, learning from defeats and setbacks, and never allowing them to define who you are nor the movement. Remembering effort is worth twice as much as talent.
Example: Recently myself and eleven other political prisoners attempted to establish a self-introspection help program. At the beginning the administration acted positively about allowing the program to have a pilot try, yet once we got a free body volunteer to facilitate our group the administration changed its decision. This forced me to educate myself on group creation, rules of submittal and how to get sponsored state-wide, which I’m currently in the process of doing. The lesson is: don't stop at the first (or second or third...) signs of resistance.
This chapter was organizational gold when clearly understood. Leaders please pay close attention to each comrade's passions within your cadre or cipher, with even more emphasis on possible new members in relation to the struggles the cadre is immersed in. Understand what each person is passionate about, issues they will be more able to persevere through any pushback or reprisal.
Besides that, knowing each person's passions and convictions helps to know what position everyone is good at and areas they need assistance developing, which can be introduced in creative, fun ways, then incentivized through recognition and praise for gradual growth in areas of difficulty.
Example: Say a comrade is uncomfortable communicating their ideas publicly. This problem is amplified when the COs are involved to the point this comrade doesn't assert his legal rights nor is he respected as a man in the righteous way. Leadership must cultivate these skills in members who have difficulties related to these identifiable areas. The "you spoke really well" type or "the way you used those descriptors in the last essay was golden, so please continue to develop those skills" type of recognition and praise. I call it fanning the flames of passion, then directing the flames of progress and confidence among comrades.
Practice is something all gritty people have in common. You've heard the saying "practice builds perfection." Well after reading this chapter I must take it even further. Without practice as a united front executing plans in concert, you don't know how to work as one body. This will create the "big me and little yous," or followers resentment. Learn to practice making decisions together by hearing everyone involved out, allow each person the opportunity to lead in every activity. Practice writing write-ups, working out as a group, being inclusive as much as possible. This will make the cadre able to operate even when separated.
The author's research shows that this kind of practice must be done in association with a positive state of mind related to the balance of quantity and quality of time spent in skill development. We must also seek out new creative ways of practice in direct relation to the top-level goal. Formal repetition and fun activities loosely associated to goals are also useful tools.
Examples: Getting our comrades to rap in the cipher, incorporating subjects, words, ideas related to the group's mission may help them develop a public speaking style, confidence in speaking these opinions, and help them be more connected to positive public communication as a way to handle issues. Another more formal method is reading and discussing essays with the group, both on the yard and in closed room settings.
ULK readers this may be the most important thing to learn about in this whole book with regards to prisoner movements and issues that create the necessity for a more inclusive united front. This author makes the definition of "purpose" more than the passion of the moment. Purpose is also the intention to contribute to the well-being of others. The balance of both is what is needed in these occasions and is found in all the grittiest revolutionaries.
The comrades that feel they were born to live and die for the people are of such destiny-driven molds where this quality is found, manifested and acted out. These people are rare and even when they reach the stage of public awareness they are usually murdered by one of the system's arms of imperial aggression. Purposeful Revolutionaries must be supported by the people and understood by their peers as the magnetic all-inspiring super-motivation-drivers that they are. When unity is necessary these forces of nature will bring organization.
Example: Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the BPP was placed inside prison for a shootout with the police, and he was railroaded the first trial. The whole country polarized over this miscarriage of injustice creating one of the most supported appeals California had ever seen. "Free Huey" was the call, Black Power was the purpose, and the results are revolutionary history and the thing of legends.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Thanks to this comrade for reviewing Grit from the perspective of a revolutionary anti-imperialist prisoner organizer. We also studied the book and found lessons we can draw from it for our own work. We can't summarize them all here, but will respond to some points in the review above and emphasize what we see as the most important points from the book. (Grit is available from MIM(Prisons) for $10 or equivalent work-trade.)
We are hesitant to take any of the studies in Grit as representing humyn nature itself. As with all bourgeois psychology, the studies were conducted under conditions of imperialism. So we don't know if they're absolute representations of how humyns' minds work. But since we're also organizing under imperialist conditions, the studies do apply to our present conditions.
Throughout Grit, the author uses scientific studies and also case studies of "paragons of grit" — people who have reached pinnacles of performance in their jobs. This is one place where Duckworth's bourgeois perspective shines brightly. The book opens with a study of the most elite forces in the U.$. military, and jumps from athletes to musicians to chemists. The only mention of a socialist hero is when Duckworth puts Joseph Stalin's name right next to Adolf Hitler's. Ey admits Stalin had grit, but also that ey was "misguided" and "prove[s] that the idea of purpose can be perverted." In our communist version of Grit we would include case studies of not only Stalin, but also Mao Zedong, George Jackson, Stanley Tookie Williams, Assata Shakur, and the tens of thousands of people who participated in the over-5,000-mile Long March in China in the 1930s.
Regarding the grit test, we caution against using it as a measure of who should be allowed into our movement. It can be a tool for assessing where people need development, and how much we could count on them to follow through in this moment. But Duckworth emphasizes strongly that grit can grow. In fact, Chapter 5 is titled "Grit Grows," Part II is titled "Growing Grit from the Inside Out" and Part III is titled "Growing Grit from the Outside In." There are many interventions we can use to increase the grit of our cadre. And building our own and our comrades' committment and perserverence should be our focus. The grit test may be useful for measuring if we're improving our abilities to build grit in others, but should not be limiting who can participate.
USW7 outlines above the importance of group practice, and we also want to add the importance of individual development for improvement. Elsewhere in this issue of ULK we lay out the guidelines for deliberate practice. The group mentality is important, but we can't rely on it for our development. Kevin Durant summarizes the ratio by saying ey spends 70% of eir time practicing alone. Both are necessary.
Besides our ability to grow grit, one of the most important points Duckworth makes in Grit is that effort counts twice. Duckworth warns us against being distracted by talent, or assuming that one's skills are dictated by talent. Talent plays a part, but without effort, one's talent won't develop into skill. And without effort, one's skill won't develop into achievement. People who have less talent certainly surpass those with more talent in their achievements. They do this with effort. The ability to put in effort even in spite of repression, setbacks, failures... that is grit.
Within prisons we find ourselves confronted with multiple obstacles to organizing efforts. Obstacles spanning from legal and material to psychological and physical. Before we can even engage in political activities we must confront these various road blocks, what I call "walls" (barriers against activism and organizing).
Psychological walls manifest in two primary ways: 1) lack of receptivity in conversations; and 2) perspectives of hopelessness. For prisoner activists these are Goliathan problems. In the first instance you find yourself talking to a brick wall. In the second your points may be acknowledged as valid but still dismissed as useless opposition. A most frustrating situation, because one – your words can not make an impression; and two – your arguments prove valid but produce no effect. In both cases real victories (read demonstrations) proving the validity of arguments and feasibility of proposed actions is the surest method of overcoming such obstacles. In the former, a prisoner sees the validity. In the latter, a prisoner gains motivation. Even a small victory – a granted grievance – is capable of advancing organizational efforts to be heard and considered.
Material walls are next formidable in line. Including almost every privilege extended to a prisoner and their financial security. Following capitalist society, prisons use these privileges and financial control to maintain leverage over prisoners' behavior/thought. Furthermore, as most prisoners are stuck in parasitic thinking in pursuit of a capitalistic existence, such advantage creates a strong disinclination towards jeopardizing them, even if it is in their best interests. As with capitalism in general, there is no convenient nor easy answer that can be applied with certainty. All prisoners' privileges and financial interests intensify identification with classism (antagonistic) and capitalist priorities. Considering this, no general rules of approach can be established as each's interests influence differs. Fortunately, every answer that can be applied can be approached on first, an individual, then, group or demographic level, expanding in concentric circles.
Legal and physical walls are less conspicuous; most prisoners view political activity as futile. Still once activism gains momentum and organizing becomes realistic, these last walls spring up. Within prisons these signify various administrative "conveniences" (e.g., Ad-Seg, SHU, MCU, punitive segregation, out-of-state transfer, and varied movement/privilege/property/financial/communication restrictions or other arbitrary sanctions). Outside of prisons, many courts conspire to create so many legal formalities, exorbitant fees, byzantine procedures and lopsided laws that most trained lawyers are bemused and at a loss. For the prisoner who does survive such a crucible, pride is only the beginning of the prize.
All in all these many walls constitute the primary, secondary and such obstacles to organization behind bars. These difficulties should not be taken as reasons to dissuade political action but rather, as motivation to pursue these endeavors. Why else would there be so many protective measures if activism and organizing were indeed useless? Once the prisoner understands their interests in the matter these insurmountable walls become merely constant annoyances necessary for progress and material dialectical processes. Nothing worthy of having ever comes easy. With greater obstacles comes a greater and more valuable prize. Rise to such challenges, allowing your hunger for real equality to increase along and as much as difficulties faced; if not more so.