Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kevin Rashid Johnson and Oregon's Isolation Torture Unit

This is an update about Kevin "Rashid" Johnson, a prisoner activist and intellectual who is currently in a dire situation in Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon.
As was reported last week, Rashid has been in the midst of a health crisis for almost a month now, which has included periods of severe disorientation. For a time he was refusing to eat or drink; as far as our most recent information if concerned, he is currently accepting liquids but still not eating.
Rashid has spent most of his adult life in prison, and almost all of that time has been spent in various isolation units. This is a direct consequence of his actively resisting abuse from prison guards and their lackeys in the 1990s, and to his continued political writing and exposing conditions in America's carceral nightmare ever since. A New Afrikan Communist and the founder and Minister of Defense of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter, Rashid is also a longtime mentor to several activists (and, through his writings, other prisoners) in Virginia, and in recent years has gained national attention as the result of the publication of his book Defying the Tomb, and the use of his artwork in numerous progressive publications. Most notably, Rashid is the artist who designed the drawing used as an emblem during the historic 2011 California prisoners' hunger strikes, in which over 12,000 participated.

Rashid is a Virginia State prisoner, yet in 2012 the situation at Red Onion State Prison (where he had been held in solitary for years) escalated, with certain guards singling him out for abuse. In one harrowing incident, he was beaten while in handcuffs, which left him with a dislocated shoulder several of his dreadlocks torn out from the roots (as reported here). This attack came shortly after he wrote an article exposing a pain-compliance technique used at Red Onion which involved twisting prisoners' fingers back, leading in some cases to broken bones. Subsequent to this assault, he was transferred to Wallens Ridge prison where he was informed by guards that he "would not leave the prison walking" (as reported here).
It was following exposure of this set-up, and numerous phone calls and petitions from outside supporters, that Rashid was transferred across the country, to Oregon. This transfer was possible due to an American practice of some States agreeing to imprison people from other States, essentially renting out their prison cells for one another. Upon his arrival in Oregon, Rashid was placed in general population - the first time in almost twenty years that he had not been in solitary confinement. Nevertheless, after just a few months, his work educating other prisoners in revolutionary theory and the principles of solidarity led to his being transferred to Snake River's Intensive Management Unit, a prison within a prison on the border with Idaho in Oregon's remote south-east corner.
Outside supporters do not know the precise details that led to Rashid's current health crisis, periods of disorientation, and refusal to eat food. However, we have no doubts about the general circumstances that led to this situation. Rashid is one of roughly one hundred thousand prisoners in the United States being held in isolation, or solitary confinement. He is also one of a much smaller number who has spent decades of his life in such conditions. This despite the fact that studies have shown that “There is not a single published study of solitary or supermax-like confinement in which nonvoluntary confinement lasting for longer than 10 days, where participants were unable to terminate their isolation at will, that failed to result in negative psychological effects. The damaging effects ranged in severity and included such clinically significant symptoms as hypertension, uncontrollable anger, hallucinations, emotional breakdowns, chronic depression, and suicidal thoughts and behavior.” (Craig Haney, University of California at Santa Cruz)
In the words of Chad Landrum, a communist prisoner in California's notorious Pelican Bay SHU:
Social intercourse with others is a necessity to feed, clothe, shelter, and procreate, in order to perpetuate our species. Seeking out the company of others is a genetic drive programmed within our DNA, and in the process of social intercourse, our personalities as distinct individuals is shaped and molded, giving us our identities. To socially isolate and deprive us of social contact is to dehumanize us and destroy our identity as distinct personalities. A life of both social isolation and sensory deprivation is an unnatural state of existence artificially imposed upon a essentially social animal. Such conditions of social isolation amounts to nothing less that “social-extermination”—keeping us alive biologically as living, breathing, empty vessels, devoid of all social content—a socially engineered lobotomy. (Chad Landrum, "The Final Hour")
Solitary confinement or isolation torture may seem like some barbaric custom imposed out of ignorance or sadism. However, the fact of the matter is that this form of confinement was developed by a multidisciplinary effort of psychologists, neurologists, penal authorities and counterinsurgency experts, all with the goal of developing a form of "clean torture" (i.e. one that does not leave physical marks), the ultimate aim being to break political prisoners and others with beliefs that run contrary to the established order of things. Solitary confinement cannot be understood without appreciating this ultimate goal. In Europe research into isolation torture was pioneered in experiments on political prisoners from groups like the IRA and the Red Army Faction. In the United States, solitary confinement was identified as an important aspect of the government's behavior modification program targeting prison rebels, and most especially Black prisoners, as early as the 1960s. In 1990, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Anthony X. Bradshaw, Malik Dinguswa, Terry D. Long, Mark Cook, Adolfo Matos and James Haskins authored a study entitled "A Scientific Form of Genocide" which continues to provide one of the best available political analyses of penal counterinsurgency in the United States. As they noted, in the 1960s and 70s,
the government became concerned about group control inside the prisons, and to address this concern the government resorted to the use of psychological warfare. Consequently, prisoners of strong religious and cultural beliefs who had organized prisoners to resist and those prisoners who put up independent resistance were singled out and met with extreme oppression as the targets of experimental behavior modification.

We submit that Black people were in fact the first experimental targets of group behavior modification. Furthermore, current data and statistics on the prison situation support our contention that Black people inside the state and federal prisons today remain the prime targets of the government’s program.
The authors of this study exposed the fact that as early as 1961,
a social scientist named Dr. Edward Schein presented his ideas on brainwashing at a meeting held in Washington, DC, that was convened by James V. Bennett, then director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons Systems, and was attended by numerous social scientists and prison wardens. Dr. Schein suggested to the wardens that brainwashing techniques were natural for use in their institutions. In his address on the topic “Man Against Man,” he explained that in order to produce marked changes of behavior and/or attitude it is necessary to weaken, undermine, or remove the supports of old patterns of behavior and old attitudes. “Because most of these supports are the face-to-face confirmation of present behavior and attitudes, which are provided by those with whom close emotional ties exist.” This can be done by either “removing the individual physically and preventing any communication with those whom he cares about, or by proving to him that those whom he respects are not worthy of it, and indeed should be actively mistrusted.”

Dr. Schein then provided the group with a list of specific examples as to how to break prisoners, including physically removing them to isolated areas, segregating natural leaders, systematic withholding of mail, undermining emotional support, preventing prisoners from writing mail, and several other similar recommendations. While it can be assumed that Schein's brainwashing prescription has been modified and perfected over the past fifty years, anyone who takes the time to learn about conditions in America's isolation wings and supermax units will recognize that the basic approach remains the same.
Prisoners like Rashid, who have shown a willingness not only to resist but also to reach out to other prisoners and develop strategies against their ongoing oppression, are the prime targets of such behavior modification regimes. To once again quote A Scientific Form of Genocide:
The penal system is designed to break minds, to create warped and aberrated personalities, and isolation and sensory deprivation play a most singular and unique role in this.

In general, all prisoners are targeted. Even the staff themselves become victimized by the same system they blindly seek to uphold. You cannot dehumanize people without yourself becoming dehumanized in the process. Yes, all prisoners are targeted, and the harshness of their treatment varies only in degree with the most severe treatment being meted out to those with some political consciousness or to those who are in prison for political offenses. They concentrate extra hard on the political prisoner because the political prisoner has the clearest understanding about the true nature of things, about the exploitative relationships that prevail. Accordingly, they concentrate extra hard on the political prisoner because she or he has the greatest potential for awakening and organizing the rest of the prisoners.

So, isolation and sensory deprivation have always played a unique role in the government’s perennial war on the political prisoner. Through isolation and sensory deprivation, through being confined within a limited space, through the denial of privacy, lack of natural light and fresh air, through the lack of intellectual stimulation, lack of comradeship, through the lack of undisturbed sleep, lack of proper health care, lack of educational and recreational outlets—the lack of these things that contribute to fueling life reduces one to an existence of lifelessness.

This is war. This is a war of attrition and it is designed to reduce prisoners to a state of submission essential for their ideological conversion. That failing, the next option, in deadly sequence, is to reduce the prisoners to a state of psychological incompetence sufficient to neutralize them as efficient, selfdirecting antagonists. That failing, the only option left is to destroy the prisoners, preferably by making them desperate enough to destroy themselves.
The unit where Rashid is being held officially embraces its vocation within the kind of behavior modification/brainwashing program described above. According to an April 17th, 2003 memo, the Snake River Intensive Management Unit “by design is not long-term housing. IMU houses inmates to provide programming toward behavior modification and to prepare them for return to general population.” However, the human rights group Solitary Watch has received the housing history of one IMU inmate who spent 12 years in isolation before being sent to an out-of-state supermax unit. In other words, Rashid faces the equally dehumanizing alternatives of a "behavior modification" program to break him, or else years or decades under conditions designed to produce psychological distress. Such a faustian choice is not a bureaucratic accident or the result of the prison officials' ignorance, it is the logical and scientifically developed conclusion to Schein's brainwashing proposals adopted by the Federal BOP in the 1960s.
As such, to deny Oregon and Virginia DOC's direct responsibility for Rashid's condition is tantamount to the prison administrators throwing someone into a swimming pool with hungry sharks, and then claiming that it's the sharks and not them who are responsible for what happens next.
Snake River Correctional Institute is a full day's drive away from Portland, and Rashid has no established base of supporters in Oregon. When the alert went out last week about his situation, there was a wave of support, in the form of phone calls to the prison and to Oregon DOC officials. This was very useful, and helped to make it clear to the prisoncrats that people are watching, and their actions against Rashid cannot be carried out completely in secret. A lawyer managed to speak to Rashid for over an hour on February 23rd, and ascertained that he is aware of the support and appreciated it, and that his chief problem at the moment is that he does not have easy access to his mail or to his personal belongings, including his books.
According to an Oregon DOC spokesperson, Rashid is only given access to his mail for a few hours each evening as part of a program of "incentivizing to improve behavior" - when asked if this meant that good behavior would be rewarded with more access to his mail and "bad" behavior with more restrictions on it - the answer was "exactly". So even according to Oregon DOC’s own spokespeople, limiting access to mail is being used as a form of punishment.
The same Oregon DOC spokesperson described the Snake River Intensive Management Unit where Rashid is being held as a place with "different depths of programming", as "behavior based" and all about (as above) "incentivizing to improve behavior".

Behavior modification amounts to an assault on a person’s psychological integrity, as their environment and their conditions of life are manipulated in order to mould them into submission. As Rashid himself has described what it is like to me targeted for this kind of brainwashing:
[The IMU is] a housing status that lasts from seven months to indefinitely, during which a prisoner must pass through four levels – which requires that he reveal his every thought to his torturers.

Those housed in IMU who receive rules infractions are automatically placed on level one for a month, which is even more restrictive and extreme in sensory deprivation than DSU housing. And for every infraction he then receives, his level one assignment is extended. Such conditions often put prisoners struggling to maintain their sanity in a catch-22, where coping prompts resisting their torturing confinement, and that very resistance prompts infractions which intensify and prolong that confinement. (“Oregon Prisoners Driven to Suicide by Torture in Solitary Confinement Units”)
Perversely, this kind of abuse is rationalized by Oregon DOC’s spokesperson as a way to minimize the effects of isolation torture. As was explained in a recent phone call to a supporter, "there's a lot of discussion in Oregon and nationally about the use of isolation or solitary or whatever one wants to call it" and as a result Oregon DOC "made significant changes to our philosophy; we try to limit the use because we know it can have impacts". The idea being that the IMU will mould prisoners into compliance, and then they won’t have to be kept in isolation!
Already in November, Rashid wrote a report on conditions at the Snake River IMU, in which he related how prisoners were regularly driven to self-destructive behavior as a result of the conditions of severe isolation, bordering on sensory deprivation, that they are forced to suffer. “In 22 years of imprisonment, I have never seen such a consistently high and continuous series of suicide cases,” he wrote.
(Rashid’s report on the Oregon IMU is well worth reading, and provides a much more detailed and specific information than the present article can. It is available on Rashid’s website at
Rashid’s recent period of intense distress is clearly a result of the conditions he is being subjected to. In the immediate short term we need to demand that he be transferred out of the IMU and that he be given access to his personal property and mail. Beyond that, we need to demand that units like the IMU be closed down, permanently.
In the meantime, one of the best things people can do is to write to Rashid. Even if you have never written to him before, or if he does not know you and you don't know what to say, a simple letter or postcard expressing your solidarity and concern for his well-being may be of help. If he is able to receive his mail, such support will constitute a crack in the wall of isolation they have erected around him - and even if they keep his mail from him, they will be aware of the support Rashid enjoys and the attention being paid to his case, and this will hopefully constitute a deterrent to any further abuse.
Rashid can be reached at this address:
Kevin Johnson #19370490
777 Stanton Blvd.
Ontario, OR 97914
Always put a full name (not initials) on the return address; otherwise your letter may be rejected. Similarly, do not write anything you would not want the prisoncrats to see, as it is assumed that all mail is read by guards as a matter of course.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mtl Film Screening: Freeing Silvia Baraldini

This Friday at La Belle Epoque in Montreal, join us for a conversation about political prisoners, and a screening of the film Freeing Silvia Baraldini.

Friday, March 1st at 7pm
La Belle Époque
1984 rue Wellington, Montreal, Quebec

This film documents the life of former U.S. political prisoner Silvia Baraldini. Silvia moved to the U.S. as a child, coming of age at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1970's when hundreds of politically minded people folded back into the comforts of American society, Silvia deepened her commitment to revolutionary anti-imperialist struggle, becoming a national leader of the May 19th Communist Organization. In 1982 she was arrested by the FBI and sentenced to 43 years in prison for her involvement in various acts of resistance, including the liberation of former Black Panther Assata Shakur from prison. She was additionally charged with criminal contempt of court and given another three years for refusing to answer questions to a Grand Jury investigating the Puerto Rican Independence Movement.

Following her arrest, Silvia was one of six women incarcerated at the experimental "High Security Unit" at Lexington prison in Kentucky, a unit established to see if intense isolation and sensory deprivation torture could be used to force political prisoners to renounce their beliefs. While in Lexington, Silvia became ill with uterine cancer; it was only after the unit was closed as a result of protests and legal challenges that she was provided with medical care, eventually undergoing two surgeries and radiation therapy.

In 1999, Silvia was transferred to Italy to serve the remainder of her sentence; she was released on September 26, 2006. Despite the torturous conditions she had been subjected to, she never repudiated her beliefs and never provided the state with any information.

Freeing Silvia Baraldini presents Silvia’s side of the story. This film screening will be in English.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Patriarchy and the Movement: Current discussions and organizing against patriarchy in Portland, Seattle, and Oakland

Join comrades from Seattle, Portland, and (via Skype) Oakland to discuss together the current confrontations with patriarchy within the movement. The dialogue around patriarchy in the movement has fired up recently on the west coast, myriad anti-patriarchy groups have formed, feminists have written several statements in the post-occupy climate, and conversations have ignited within collectives. We would like to bring these discussions to a public forefront in order to understand the challenges of confronting patriarchy within the movement, the analysis and praxis that is being formed, and the timeliness of confronting these issues.

Feb 28th 7pm
Red and Black Cafe
400 SE 12th

To watch the event on livestream:

From the organizers:
We would like to extend an invite to the members of your collective to attend and participate in the discussion titled "Patriarchy and the Movement" at the Red and Black on February 28th, at 7pm sharp. Although this is a public event, we are especially interested in maximum participation of active collective members and organizers, particularly those who are in mixed gender collectives and political spaces. We feel that having this conversation is long overdue, and because of the simultaneous nature of discussions concerning patriarchy in the movement on the west coast we are particularly encouraging attendance from active collective members in order to check in between cities about the prevalence of this issue currently affecting our movement.

Comrades from Seattle who were active in west coast coordination during the occupy movement will come to Portland to speak during this event, comrades engaged in organizing in Oakland will speak via Skype, as well as members of various active collectives in Portland. Comrades from all three cities are part of organizing this discussion. In addition, a clinical psychologist will speak on patriarchy in the movement from mental health perspective, and the traumatic effects of patriarchy. There will be several recent texts and zines on the subject available at the event, and childcare will be provided.

We realize a public discussion of this exact nature is fairly unprecedented - there is a lot of preparation going into this event and it will be run in a tight and serious manner. Because of demand the event will be livestreamed so that collectives in other cities can listen, and we are hearing that some collectives are making attending or viewing the event mandatory and in some cities comrades are organizing viewing parties and discussions.

We hope that your collective can participate in the event, and that together we can build a serious, honest, and respectful conversation concerning the challenges we have historically and presently face in movements and radical organizing, and educate and respect each other through the process.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Kevin Rashid Johnson Emergency

Kevin “Rashid” Johnson is a New Afrikan Communist prison organizer and intellectual in the United States and one of the founders of the NABPP-PC (New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter). He has spent most of his adult life in the prison system and continually been subjected to political repression and violence in retaliation for his organizing efforts. He is currently held at Snake River Correctional Inst in Oregon.

A supporter recently received a very distressing letter informing us that Rashid was in a serious medical situation, and was not receiving adequate care. Details from this letter were circulated online, however are currently being removed in order to respect Rashid's privacy.

On February 22, a lawyer managed to speak to Rashid. This was an invaluable first step, as up until then all we had to go by was a letter from a third party, which was already dated by the time it was received.

The good news is that new x-rays have confirmed that there are no razor-blades in his system and there is apparently no longer blood in his urine. Furthermore, Rashid is now drinking liquids.

According to the lawyer, the two biggest concerns currently are (1) that Rashid receive proper medical monitoring as he gets back to a normal diet, and (2) that he be allowed to receive his mail (which he says has been accumulating for more than a week in a box within sight of his cell).

Rashid explained to the lawyer that he currently has no access to his personal property and mail. Officials  have placed him on a security designation that precludes access to these  things, so he is unable to contact anyone or publish anything. He believes this is in retaliation for articles he published that are critical of the Oregon Department of Corrections. The pretext that the  officials are using to put him on this status is an alleged incident on January 28, 2012, even though he was cleared of any  misconduct in that incident after a disciplinary hearing. Furthermore, deprivation of property and mail  is not reasonably related to the alleged incident.

Rashid thinks thinks the best people to contact would be  Doug Yancey, the security threat manager for the Oregon Department of Corrections, and C. Schultz, the security threat manager at Snake River. They are the ones who made this decision to deprive him of his personal belongings.

As soon as we have phone numbers for Yancey and Schultz, we will post them here.

Apart a brief period in general population when he was transferred from Virginia to Oregon last tear, Rashid has spent close to twenty years in solitary isolation, as a direct result of his activities resisting abuse in various Virginia prisons in the 1990s, and to his political writings and articles documenting ongoing abuse in the prison system since then. Long-term isolation was developed during the Cold War as a method to neutralize political prisoners, both by cutting them off from the outside world, and by inflicting conditions upon them that are designed to inflict severe psychological/emotional distress.

Isolation imprisonment has been described as “clean torture,” for it does its damage without leaving any visible wounds. As Craig Haney of the University of California at Santa Cruz has noted, “There is not a single published study of solitary or supermax-like confinement in which nonvoluntary confinement lasting for longer than 10 days, where participants were unable to terminate their isolation at will, that failed to result in negative psychological effects. The damaging effects ranged in severity and included such clinically significant symptoms as hypertension, uncontrollable anger, hallucinations, emotional breakdowns, chronic depression, and suicidal thoughts and behavior.”

We see both aspects of the isolation-torture regimen playing themselves out in Rashid's case. He is currently cut off from the outside world, deprived of his mail and of any easy means of informing us of what is going on with him, so that we need to rely on communications from third parties. At the same time, he continues to be held in conditions that are known and intended to be detrimental to his health and recovery.

We will continue to keep you abreast of the situation as it develops.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Comments on a Divided World, from Don Hamerquist

In the text that follows, Don Hamerquist addresses the current salience of imperialism, territory, and revolutionary organizing in the First World. This essay is prompted by the review of Zak Cope's Divided World Divided Class by Matthijs Krul, which was reposted to Sketchy Thoughts a few weeks ago. Don explains that "For Krul citations I am using generated page numbers from a print out of the version of the review and its single page of introduction that was on Sketchy Thoughts. These provide a rough guide to the relative locations of the citations, but may not translate accurately to other posted versions of the review. I considered not providing page citations, but I cite the document a lot and expect this will raise questions about interpretation, so this seemed like a better approach."

Here are Don's comments:
It’s not usually wise to comment on a review of a book that one hasn’t read, and I haven’t read the Cope book, Divided World Divided Class, although I hope to shortly. On the other hand, the time I’ve spent functioning politically with, and at times within, variations of radical Third Worldist anti-imperialism provides some insight into Cope’s arguments and some measure of agreement with his political conclusions.  However, just so I can be corrected on any possible misunderstandings, I’ll begin by sketching out my understanding of that position as it relates to some points I’d like to make about Krul’s review.

When Arghiri Emmanuel’s book, Unequal Exchange, was distributed in English in the early 70s, it was received as both a supplement and a correction to Lenin’s theory of imperialism - a theory that was showing some wear as its political context, the crisis of the more or less organized left at the outbreak of WWI, receded further into the past. Lenin’s theory didn’t adequately foresee subsequent decades of perpetuation and expansion of inequalities within and between diverging national forms of capitalist ‘development’. It didn’t explain how distinctively different social and class relations in the capitalist center and the capitalist periphery would be reproduced for decades after the onset of the “general (read final) crisis” of the “highest (also read final) stage” of capitalism.    

Emmanuel provided an approach to national oppression resting on a conception of unequal international exchange that in turn was based on Marx’s theory of prices of production in Volume 3 of Capital. He argued that, under certain assumptions, the economic relationship between low wage countries and high wage countries resulted in a transfer of value from the former to the latter. This process worked largely through exchange, through ‘trade’, and, while not excluding the element of extra-economic imperial coercion that is central to Lenin’s conception, it was not dependent on it. From Krul’s review and some other things that I have read, I understand the Cope book to be an attempt to expand the base of empirical support for the position that Emmanuel and others outlined in more general theoretical form. If I’m wrong about that, I can only hope, it doesn’t make the rest of what I say completely without value.

Emmanuel’s theory clearly pointed towards an accelerated weakening of the potential for internationalism and revolution among a growing, objectively privileged, stratum of the working classes in the capitalist center. While not necessarily replacing the processes that Lenin described as a basis for a labor aristocracy, this argument went well beyond the - essentially temporary - “crumbs” of superprofits that Lenin stressed, and pointed towards a massive long-term enlargement of the base of common interest between workers and capitalists in the imperial center. Then as now, this argument was politically unpalatable to large sections of the metropolitan left and it was widely challenged on both theoretical and practical grounds. Emmanuel’s book ends with extensive appendices where he debates these issues with Charles Bettleheim, a preeminent Maoist theoretician at the time. (Parenthetically I would say that Bettleheim made virtually all of Charley Post’s arguments in the early 70s –in substantially greater detail, with more coherence, and without the benefit of knowing certain things that we all should have picked up from the four decades of subsequent history.)

Just as Emmanuel’s positions were anathema to the mainstream metropolitan left, they have a continuing popularity with various critiques of Eurocentric radicalism and with an array of approaches to revolution on the periphery, including versions of prolonged people’s war. They also play a role in many Global South vs. Global North, “Bandung Conference”, perspectives that promote a radical third world socialism; e.g. Amin, Gunder Frank, and Wallerstein. (I would argue that this last category is essentially either utopian or reformist – or both – although many disagree.)

As Kersplebedeb notes in the introduction to Krul’s review, one of the advantage of the theory and politics of unequal exchange is that: “it strikes many of us as ‘obvious’ on a gut level.” (Review, p. 1) It appears to explain what is undeniable: the growing inequalities between center and periphery; the secular trend towards social passivity in the global North and West; and the continuing turmoil and rebelliousness in the global South and East. And it does this by assuming that these phenomena are interconnected and interdependent – mutually reinforcing - a point which also seems to some of us to be “obvious”.  Whenever the other side of the debate doesn’t simply ignore and evade this reality, it generally asserts that these processes are essentially independent of each other and the residue of unexplained issues is poorly explained through an unpersuasive combination of productivism and workerism.

Before getting to Krul’s review of Cope, I want to consider some of Emmanuel’s theoretical assumptions and raise some possible impacts of the changes in the global context since the late sixties when he actually wrote his book. I hope this will indicate the need for an expanded and modified framework of explanation to support the political conclusions of Third Worldist analysis that should be supported.

Emmanuel assumes a tendency towards profit equalization over a territorial area with an unlimited mobility of capital, but with no mobility of labor. Beyond this, he implicitly, and the like-thinking early Samir Amin explicitly, assume the existence or the real potential for a socialist territorial alternative to the capitalist world market. This ‘socialist camp’ is central to the state-centric oppositional politics that both of them suggest.

There are problems with both of these assumptions. International labor flows, specifically including labor mobility between periphery and center, are a major feature of contemporary capitalism. Any perspective that disregards them or diminishes their importance will encounter major problems. Just as clearly, the disintegration of  actually existing socialism into the capitalist world market makes it improbable, if not impossible, that any hypothetical national liberation state, New Democracy, or similar territorially-based transitional stage to ‘socialism’ will exercise substantive self-determination over basic economic processes for a meaningful period of time. Both of these problems raise doubt about the continuing relevance of the territorial state-centric national liberation framework used by Emmanuel and most Third Worldist radicalism – probably including Cope, and certainly Krul, who speaks of the importance of; “…vast transfers of value from the developing countries (my emphasis) to the developed ones…”. (Review, p. 6)

However, whether or not the Third Worldist framework provides an adequate explanation for it, the “gut level” feeling about global inequalities still is grounded in a significant reality. Inequality within and between segments of the working classes and poor are issues of overriding significance for any viable revolutionary strategy. These inequalities provide much of the content of the competitions among the oppressed and exploited on which the minority power of capital rests, and they constitute a more important element of the rule of capital than the always challenged, “monopoly of legitimate force” enjoyed by its state formations. Confronting the entire gamut of inequality must be the substance of internationalism and emancipatory politics.

Since my opinion of Negri’s current politics and much of his theoretical position is quite low, I’m reluctant to raise his views as a positive alternative to the Third Worldist perspective, although he explicitly presents them that way (see Empire, p. 333, for an example). Nevertheless, I think Negri and Hardt’s Empire provides a superior framework for dealing with the issues of equality and oppression that are based in the current relationship between capitalist center and capitalist periphery. This framework doesn’t exclude unequal exchange, but it emphasizes other aspects of growing inequality and oppression, while pointing out significant areas of tension and stress where these can be better confronted on a class rather than a national basis. These brief excerpts from Empire will give some sense of this point and will hopefully provide a context in which some of the issues with Krul’s review can be clarified.

“… the spatial divisions of the three Worlds (First, Second, and Third) have been scrambled so that we continually find the First World in the Third, the Third in the First, and the Second almost nowhere at all.” (Empire, p. xiii)
“Workers who flee the Third World to go to the First for work or wealth contribute to undermining the boundaries between the two worlds. The Third World does not really disappear in the process of unification of the world market but enters into the First, establishes itself at the heart as ghetto, shantytown, favela, always again produced and reproduced. In turn the First World is transferred to the Third in the form of stock exchanges and banks, transnational corporations and icy skyscrapers of money and command. Economic geography and political geography both are destabilized in such a way that the boundaries among the various zones are themselves fluid and mobile.” (Empire, p. 253-254)
“Empire is characterized by the close proximity of extremely unequal populations which creates a situation of permanent social danger.” (Empire, p. 336-337).
“From India to Algeria and Cuba to Vietnam, the state is the poisoned gift of national liberation.” (Empire, p.134, Negri’s emphasis)

Let me raise two processes, one based in the periphery and one in the center, that illustrate how this framework has the potential to illuminate current social conditions that tend to elude the Third Worldist analysis:

Negri’s conception of the “First World” becoming established in the “Third World” points towards new types of distorted and unequal social relations in the capitalist periphery. These emerge in contradictory relationships between new and growing ruling groupings, that are closely tied to the capitalist global system, and rapidly urbanizing working masses that are losing their ties to land, common areas, and collective resources. These processes can be partially explained in terms of national oppression, but in such a framework important elements of the extension to the periphery of what Marx terms “real subsumption” will not get adequate attention.

After the products and resources of the periphery are forcibly integrated into unequal capitalist relations of global distribution, the most valuable resource of these societies, their productive working populations, are also forcibly integrated into capitalist labor forces. A simple emphasis on the transfer of value from periphery to center tends to treat labor on the periphery as an undifferentiated oppressed unity confined within national social formations. In actuality the element of differentiation, particularly in terms of gender, is of primary importance and the effects of this differentiation cut across territorial boundaries and political jurisdictions in the capitalist periphery.

These are complex processes of expanded and continuing primitive accumulation with consequences that go beyond the separation of those who work from the tools and resources necessary for their minimal self-sufficiency. They cause involuntary and disruptive population movements in general, but more specifically they contribute to gender defined labor forces on a transnational level where a rapidly increasing proportion of women workers are employed at wages that challenge the reproduction of their labor power, while an expanding segment of working age men are permanently marginalized from the ‘legal’ economy. These processes are expedited, and at times resisted, by an array of quasi-state and civil society formations that indirectly and directly enforce labor discipline and control insurgent potentials - in large part through perpetuating male supremacy by overt force, not infrequently, military force. The fact that this occurs in areas that are increasingly characterized by hollow or failed governmental structures gives the results a de facto legitimacy despite all noise about rights and humanitarian interventions.

When it comes to the treatment of the capitalist center, the Third Worldist perspective is prone to make outside of time characterizations of the labor aristocracy. The general argument is that an expanded transfer of surplus value to the center equates to an expanded basis for a social democratic class collaboration that, in turn, equates to greater political stability for capitalism. The capitalist aristocracy of labor enjoys economic and social privileges that may entail some short run deductions from capitalist profit, but these costs are strategically justified by its centrality to the social order needed to maintain and expand capitalist profits over the longer run. This leads Krul to an endorsement of what is apparently one of Cope’s political conclusions:
“…the Western working class currently is not revolutionary, and in fact cannot (Krul’s emphasis)be revolutionary without majorly violating the expectations of Marx and Engels’ theory of historical materialism.” (Review, p.6. I’ll return to this point often.)
One feature of any aristocracy worth the name is that it is essentially hereditary. A capitalist labor aristocracy will only serve its function for capital, if it is a relatively stable network of privileges passed down through generations. So it is certainly a relevant issue for Third Worldist perspectives if, on the balance, processes in the capitalist center are undermining and fracturing this historic base of political support for the hegemony of capital – or if they are not. Negri’s conception of the Third World invading the First World and establishing itself at its heart – an image with deep Third Worldist roots extending back to Martin Nicolaus’s debate with Ernest Mandel in the sixties, points towards “…a situation of permanent social danger”. This “danger” relates to possibilities for major disruptions of the equilibrium provided by the social democratic labor aristocracy. In my opinion, any political perspectives that assume a continuation of current levels of metropolitan stability conflicts with a lot of contradictory evidence – including some that is introduced in the concluding sections of Krul’s review.

Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean that relatively affluent, typically white male, metropolitan workers are on the cusp of becoming militant revolutionaries or that their narrow sectoral demands have a newly acquired radical significance. It does mean that they are increasingly disaffected from what many of them had previously thought was ‘their’ country, ‘their’ government, ‘their’ system – and that there is an increased likelihood that they will eventually begin to act out this disaffection. Unfortunately, without some major changes that don’t appear to be on the horizon, the bulk of any militance and radicalism is likely to be right wing in character, but, nevertheless, this does not bode well for the stability of metropolitan capitalism.

Beyond this there are many other destabilizing elements in the capitalist center that don’t depend exclusively on what this relatively privileged working class fraction does or does not do - including a number of situations marked by that “social danger” from the “close proximity of extremely unequal populations” that Negri mentions. However, at this time I am only arguing that unless the Third Worldists only intend to explain a past that is being superceded, they must either challenge the accuracy of this estimate of current trends toward destabilization and possibilities of social ruptures, or they must adjust their cannot be revolutionary” estimate of the political impact of unequal exchange value transfers on the Western working classes.

This brings me more directly to the Krul review of the Cope book. I’d like to approach it somewhat in reverse, beginning from some of its conclusions before looking more carefully at the content of the argumentation. I think that these conclusions, and specifically some of them with which I have considerable agreement, don’t fit the major themes of the argument, giving the complete product a certain schizoid character.

Krul presents his conclusions quite casually at the end of the review. Consider the following:
“In the current period, the capitalist classes of the First World seem inclined to go more and more against the historic compromise of social-democracy, and the social-democracy is therefore declining in historical vigour proportionally to the shift of capitalist production from the First to the Third World in search of lower wages and higher profits.” (Review, p. 9)
I agree that this is a partial description of the actual tendency of metropolitan capital, although I might quibble about whether it involves a ruling class ‘inclination’ rather than a circumstances imposed compulsion. However, Krul doesn’t seem to appreciate the implications of this passage for the political positions that earlier sections of his review have substantially endorsed.  He has advanced a conception of global capitalism in which value transfers from the periphery become, “an almost total compensation for the domestic exploitation of the First World working class” (Review, p. 6), providing the economic basis for a much broadened social democratic consensus that involves, “…a wider and wider section of the working class of the center.” (Review, p. 6). If that is the case, what are the new calculations and/or new pressures that are inclining the “capitalist classes of the First World” towards a course that will certainly disrupt a relatively functional element of capitalist stability in the center, the arrangement that has provided important support for its capacity to exercise power in the rest of the world – specifically, what Krul terms the “historic compromise of social-democracy”?

Perhaps Krul is pointing to some new and greater threat that demands additional resources; e.g.; the political emergence of the toilers of the East that the later Lenin named as the ultimate guarantee of the working class revolution everywhere. But if there was once a period when it was possible to believe that the movement for national liberation in the oppressed ‘countryside’ was successfully encircling the urbanized center of world capitalism, that period is decades over – and has left behind its own list of unanswered, but still very pressing, questions. 

The concluding sentences of Krul’s review raise the issue more starkly, but still without providing any clear direction:
“This world monopoly is now that of the ‘West’ so-called, and every day it is more broken while every day the Western working class fights to maintain it. What will we do?” (Review p. 10)
Who or what is breaking the, “world monopoly…of the West”, if it actually is becoming… “more broken” every day? Since according to Krul, the, “…Western working class fights to maintain it”, what has changed, if anything, with respect to who they will be fighting with, and who against? What social forces do these changes allies and opponents represent – and how will this “fight”  be conducted?

There is an entire line of analysis that attempts to deal with a portion of these issues on a global level. I’m thinking about Wallerstein and, more specifically, Giovanni Arrighi (The Long Twentieth Century). Their positions emphasize contradictions in global capitalist processes and, at least recently, have moved away from the focus on revolutionary processes in specific national social formations on the periphery that is associated with modern Maoism and its nationally specific notions of prolonged people’s war. I don’t see any necessary conflict between this ‘world system’s’ view and Negri’s conception of empire – at least not on the issues that are of concern here.

Arrighi maintains that successive cycles of global capitalist expansion have been associated with the emergence of a distinctive world hegemonic state, and that there is always some tension between the capitalist hegemon, that functions in part according to a “territorialist logic of power”, and capitalist production that functions according to a universal logic of accumulation. This leads to “…recurrent contradiction between an ‘endless’ accumulation of capital and a comparatively stable organization of political space”. (see Arrighi, p. 27-34 for the general argument)

According to Arrighi, writing in the last years of the twentieth century, this “recurrent contradiction” is currently exacerbated by the decline of the U.S. as world hegemon, with - after he discounts first Japan and then China - no viable successor in view. He sees the contemporary content of the contradiction as follows:
“The uncontainability of violence in the contemporary world is closely associated with the withering away of the modern system of territorial states as the primary locus of world power…Combined with the internationalization of world scale processes of production and exchange within the organizational domains of transnational corporations and with the resurgence of suprastatal world financial markets, these unprecedented restrictions and expectations have translated into strong pressure to relocate the authority of nation-states both upward and downward.” (Arrighi, p. 331)
I have some agreement with these views, but I’m not sure if Krul or others sympathetic to more traditional Third Worldist national liberation politics do as well. However, even if Krul’s conclusion does point to the disruptions and dislocations associated with the decline of the U.S. as the last in a series of Western world hegemonic states, it is still questionable to treat the U.S. as equivalent to the “West”. But the “world monopoly” that Krul describes as broken, but still defended by its working classes, has been presented as the hegemony of the “West”, and not that of the U.S.

In any case, I agree with Krul on two points. First; the working out of the contradictions between profit maximization and political stability in the core territories of the global capitalist system, does leave traditional social arrangements …“more broken every day”. Second; to the extent that the working class in the center confines its resistance to rearguard actions that defend increasingly eroded structures of relative privilege, the best outcome is to bind itself more tightly within its strategic subordination to capital, while the worst is to expand the social base for fascism.

However, I think that Krul goes substantially beyond these points when he appears to argue that the metropolitan working class’s acceptance of the role of junior partner in a failing enterprise is fixed in concrete and beyond effective political challenge from the left. This subordination is presented as a necessary political outcome from the overwhelming capacity of the, “…ruling classes of the center to buy off the exploited working class of the center with the proceeds of this imperialist rent” (an imperialist rent which through social democracy is then) “…shared with a wider and wider section of the working class of the center.” (Review, p. 4). This then expands the sectors of the metropolitan working class that, as Krul has said and as I will regularly repeat, cannot be revolutionary”.

I do like this conception of the way that social democracy has functioned to broaden and generalize the base of class collaboration, however at this time I’m concentrating on problems with this overall approach. First, in my experience politics that are grounded in conceptions of objective material privilege, as is the case with the Third Worldist analysis, generally tend towards overly deterministic conclusions about the linkage between these relative material advantages and the ideas and actions of those that objectively benefit from them. Krul hints at a criticism of one possible form of this reductionist mistake when noting that Cope; “does not wholly avoid the common notion among Third Worldist Marxist writers that the economic analysis as such necessarily generates a set of strategic political concerns…(and – d.h.)…one simply cannot make the leap from historical and political economic analysis to strategy…” (Review, p. 8).  However, it would seem appropriate to ask Krul whether it is not true that his statement, “…the Western working class… cannot be revolutionary”, is exactly such a leap from “analysis to strategy”?

While there certainly are problems if a particular analysis is applied in such a doctrinaire way that it submerges other significant elements of politics, the criticism that Krul implies only deals with a secondary aspect of a larger issue. More important problems emerge when the economic and political reality that is the object of the analysis is presented as the necessary and sufficient cause of the ideas and behaviors of specific social groups. This is a big problem even when the material analysis of conditions is essentially valid. It is a larger problem when this analysis is flawed. It is not possible to adequately explain social action as a mere effect of social circumstances. The essential premise for the possibility of revolution always rests on the potential for enlightened social action to modify and even transform circumstances. Forgive me for an illegitimate argument, but without such a dialectical potential, what graduate student, privileged by definition, might become a revolutionary – and we do see many of them around.

At various points, Krul implies that he – and not only Cope or other Third Worldist theorists that he is reviewing – regards an expanded base for social democracy as equivalent to an expanded social democracy and from this point concludes that the metropolitan working classes (or at least major parts of them) are necessarily non revolutionary. I’d like to respond to this view with a deeper consideration of the implications of two passages from Krul, beginning with a restatement of the full version of the one that I’ve been citing ad nauseum:
“…the Western working class currently is not revolutionary and in fact cannot (Krul’s emphasis) be revolutionary without majorly violating the expectations of Marx and Engels’ theory of historical materialism.” (Review, p. 6).
“This labor aristocracy, so formed, then no longer fulfills the one special role the working class has in Marx and Engels’ theory of historical materialism: namely, to be unable to emancipate itself without overthrowing the conditions it itself reproduces with its labour.” (Review, p. 4).
The first citation combines an accurate description of Western working classes in a first clause, with a second clause that is, at best, an eminently debatable assertion about Marxism. The low regard that Marx and Engel’s had for the English working class in the last half of the nineteenth century, particularly with respect to its attitudes towards Ireland, was based on their estimates of its response to relative privileges. In this case, and in similar ones, substantial “revolutionary…expectations” for a working class segment that is heavily privileged, knows that it is privileged, knows that its privileges are the consequence of the oppression of other workers, and is set on retaining its privileges, certainly are a matter of self-delusion. However, even for a completely determinist view, logic requires that, if privileges are being eroded rather than expanded, any identification with ‘their’ capitalism will be shaken and revolutionary possibilities can be expected to emerge. This is even more likely, if, as is typically the case, the erstwhile privileged sectors have no real understanding that their relative affluence is related in any way to other worker’s impoverishment, and instead have regarded their advantages, assuming that they even recognize them as advantages, as a deserved reward for past struggles and present productivity, rather than as ‘privileges’.

More important, this implied conception of the revolutionary process, at least insofar as such a process is both anti-capitalist and liberatory, leaves out a crucial element. Revolution involves a break with capitalist patterns of competitive consumption; it projects needs that capitalism cannot satisfy and demands that capital cannot completely co-opt. These necessary ruptures with capitalist normalcy are possible, “be their wages high or low”, as someone has said. The issues of material privilege certainly impact the essential struggle for real equality and are thus always relevant to revolution - but they are not all that is important to the process.

This leads to the second cited passage, and its treatment of the, “one special role the working class has in Marx and Engel’s theory of historical materialism.” Laying aside the ambiguity surrounding the theory of historical materialism and the massive debates about its ‘correct’ interpretation; and laying aside as well, the real possibility that Marx and Engel might not provide the final word on the issues that confront us a century and a quarter after the end of their productive collaboration, I’d question both the point being made here and the manner in which it is being made.

We can begin by agreeing that working class revolution must emancipate all social groups in the process of eliminating capitalist production relations and the classes that constitute these relations Then the first question being posed is: can the sections of the working class in the capitalist center that have gained ‘more’ under capitalism commit to anti-capitalism; while the second question, assuming that such relative advantages haven’t completely ruled out this possibility, under what conditions and through what processes will more advantaged sections of the working class commit to anti-capitalism.

I answer the first question in the affirmative. Some of what Krul says implies that he might disagree, but I’m inclined to doubt it. A literal application of that position would treat struggles for improvements in material conditions and expansions of formal democracy in the capitalist center as entirely negative for revolutionary prospects – at least to the degree that they achieve some partial successes. It’s one thing to argue against incremental reformist notions that see revolution as the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow path of sectoral improvements in working and living circumstances. It’s quite another to see the reform struggle as only an inevitable process of corruption of some initially pure revolutionary impulse.

This is an impossible position to translate into any effective practical revolutionary politics in the capitalist center. And for those Third Worldists that might be inclined to discount any revolutionary possibilities in the capitalist center, it’s important to recognize that the same type of critique would also apply to partial struggles in the capitalist periphery – although in a distinctive manner. In the center, the reformist distortion is more likely to take the form of limiting struggles because there is ‘too much to lose’ by challenging capitalism. In the periphery, the reformist distortion can take the form of limiting struggles because there is ‘too much left to win’ within capitalism.

Leaving any implications with respect to peripheral capitalism for examination in a different context, let’s assume that the possibility for some relatively privileged sectors in the center becoming revolutionary is not completely ruled out. Krul might recognize a relatively limited revolutionary possibility in the working classes of the center, although one that is commonly approached in a reformist and opportunistic fashion. Recognizing that the magnitude of this potential and the political approaches required to materialize it will still be potential differences, I could agree with such an estimate. However, some clarifications are still needed to move this past a formal level.

What ‘more’ do the social democratic segments of the working classes of the West have that is ‘too much more’? Can this ‘too much more’ be quantified - with a recognizable break point between where it is determinant and where it isn’t? Is the crucial characteristic primarily a matter of higher wages – real or nominal, and, if so, how much higher? Does the counter revolutionary side of ‘too much more’ relate to the length of the working day, or to the breadth of the franchise, or to the stability of the social security net? Do segments of the metropolitan working class that are not white and male, but that also do have relatively more, also have ‘too much more’?

When these matters are worked through, I very much doubt that Krul’s conclusions about the metropolitan working class – “…unable to emancipate itself without overthrowing the conditions it itself reproduces with its labour” – will mark out any significant distinction between the working classes of the center and those of the periphery. Both areas require a rupture with existing patterns of struggle and accommodation. Although the specific form and content of the rupture will certainly vary, the one essential element that will be involved in both areas is the frontal challenge to all of the forms of inequality that are embedded within oppression and exploitation.

I’d like to conclude this comment by briefly noting some other interesting points that Krul makes in his review. These may or may not be integral to the questions about the existence and the impact of the labor aristocracy in the West. I think that they are, others may not, but at the very least they are important matters in their own right. I’d mention three such topics that Krul’s review raises: the question of the ‘socialism’ of the ‘actually existing socialism’ variant; the conception of social democracy; and the conception of fascism.

In a larger statement on the continuing relative weakness of revolutionary movements in the West, Krul says; “…in being more serious about supporting the so-called ‘really existing socialisms’ elsewhere in the world, the Moscow line parties and ‘Eurocommunists” were arguably still more useful than the current leading groups.” (Review, p. 6). This seems to mean that “serious” support for the socialist camp so-called was, and presumably still is, good politics. This is a common theme among certain Maoist tendencies that are looking to separate what was positive from what was negative in our history. While it’s hard to disagree with the disparagement of, “…the current leading groups”, assuming I properly understand the reference, none of this ‘really existing socialism’ was socialism in the only meaningful sense of that term, as a transition to communism. This was a ‘socialist camp’ that made communism appear undesirable and confirmed prejudices that it was not possible. Its failures and crimes bear more responsibility for the mass rejection of revolutionary communism as an objective, than any of the actions or the ideologies of capitalism. There’s nothing good here and – although there are important things to be learned, that has nothing to do with sifting through the wreckage for some trinkets that might still work.

This is the first time that I have seen the combination of an endorsement of the Comintern 3rd Period conception of “social fascism” with an endorsement of the post-Dimitrov WWII popular front. In my view they fit together and gain an essential similarity as successive massive errors. I think that Krul’s position, insofar as I understand it from this review, involves a mistaken conception of both social democracy and fascism. I think that a radically different conception of each of these is a vital core for an adequate revolutionary strategy, and a more complete understanding of the relevant history wouldn’t hurt either. This is already embarrassingly long-winded for what it set out to be, so I’ll leave it there for the moment, but I am intrigued by the issues and prepared to follow them out in more depth. However, not to repeat some of the problems with this piece, I’d first want to read some of the additional material that Krul indicates he has written.

Don 2/17

Saturday, February 16, 2013

An Open Response Letter to the New Afrikan Black Panther Party with regard to it's Position Paper titled: Black Liberation in the 21st Century: A Revolutionary Reassessment of Black Nationalism

An Open Response Letter to the New Afrikan Black Panther Party with regard to it's Position Paper titled: Black Liberation in the 21st Century: A Revolutionary Reassessment  of Black Nationalism

(from The Amazons-August Third Collective; NAPLA)

Revolutionary Greetings!

We are aware of no less than ten (10) responses already written by various comrads across the board regarding this specific piece, & as far as We can tell, most points have been touched on & amplified to the extent of offering clarity with regard to the myriad of ideological & theoretical entanglement.  Admittedly, some comrads have gone a bit further, We think, than necessary in criticizing some of the points made by the NABPP.  We however, feel that those points have been well made & that is not the area this letter will center on.  In fact, as another rad already pointed out:

"The NABPP has written itself into an ideo-theoretical  quagmire, the likes of which We as a Movement should be long past since We have so much material at our disposal for study & struggle." (2)
And this is true in more ways than one.  Tho' We are not suggesting We should or even can be, mistake free - that's absurd since struggle is born & made into a weapon by ALL experiences that We engage in.  In other words, there are no real bad examples or experiences since all go into the pot of developing struggle, i.e. theory & practice.

Our points regarding the NABPP center on it's obvious display & dangerous adaptation of nostalgia.  And We'd like to go through a few of these which We hope will bring your attention to bear on this unscientific adventure, which if not reigned in could be quite harmful to not only the cadres of the group, but comrads in the Movement & thus the People & struggle.

Why do you call yourselves New Afrikan if you don't  believe or struggle for the self- determination of the New Afrikan Nation? Our elders struggled hard to formulate this ideological line, this conscious understanding of ourselves as a New Afrikan people/nation.  A lot of our elders in the Movement gave their lives, their time & their wealth (possessions) to birth this ideology - & to construct the roadmaps of our revolution.  Have you ever read the Code of Umoja (Constitution) of the New Afrikan Nation?  Do you consider yourselves conscious citizens of the Republic of New Afrika?  It seem to us that you have just affixed 'New  Afrikan' to the name of Black Panther Party to appear as if you are about New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism, but in essence you are not.  Your position paper on Black Liberation shows this clearly.  It's almost as if you are opportunistically  hopping on the bandwagon of an ideology already established & then, like a Trojan horse tactic, you all flood out with a totally different set of lines that serve to disrupt & distort the reality established.  This is why your position paper has caused so much discord & so many responses from various orgs & collectives in the Movement.

If the Black Panther Party, as it existed from 1966 to 1980, was already a so-called Black organization (& We all know it was), why would you need to come along & call yourselves the New Afrikan Black Panther Party?  Isn't that redundant?  We mean, like, doesn't  everyone know what the Panthers were about? See, this is where it comes across as opportunistic when you take an obvious, already well established, orgs names & then clothe it in another ideology to fit the times.  You are being lazy.  You are not starting from scratch.  You are building on momentum that lost its energy, then trying to resurrect it by an ideological blood infusion, but the ideo-theoretical mismatch has caused scheiztsophrenia.   And you publish this confusion as an "official line" which then blurs the vision of young potential cadres who have not learned better & are searching for answers.  That's foul.

By calling yourselves the New Afrikan Black Panther Party it, makes people  (those who don't know any better) think you are somehow a continuation of the old Black Liberation Movement into the current New Afrikan Independence Movement.  But We know that's  not true don't  We?  This is not hip hop, where you come into the cipher & battle as the youngest to out rap the oldest.  This is Our lives - literally.   We question the sincerity here in being revolutionary, let alone New Afrikan.  Why not just call yourselves the New Black Panther Party?  Oh, Khalid Muhammad started that org in the early 1990's. Well, how bout The New Afrikan-Arnerican Panther Vanguard?   Yes, excuse Us again, that group also already exists, right?  So, here you all come calling yourselves the New Afrikan Black Panther Party ... it's all rather confusing. Confusing to anyone who doesn't know better, but to Us it's opportunism & distortion.

But if that's  not bad enough, it's an org that began & to our knowledge, only exists in prison.  It's not a mass based org in the tradition of the Black Panther of renown, no it's a prison group.  And even 'group' & 'org' may be a stretch.  Here's the real danger that We hope to point out to you comrades: history is best qualified to instruct - if it's analyzed correctly, and if it can be applied concretely.  Look back at the history of Our struggle in koncentration  kamps - look  at the comrads We've  lost in the kamps because they felt it expedient to affix a hierarchal title to their names, or to function out in the open, in a 100% hostile environment.  The prison movement was given life by the dialectical flow of conscious people inside & out, outside & in.

The NABPP has its "minister  of defense" in not only a kamp, but in the hole of the kamp. He has been indentified, tagged, & locked down.  This is the "minister  of defense."  How can he offer defense to the group, Movement, & the People from a kamp inside of a kamp?  And, it's Our understanding  that this comrade was recently assaulted, which included pulling some of his hair out by the pigs.  Yet, there was no response from the NABPP.  If the "minister  of defense" can't  defend himself, how can he be in a position to defend the Org, the Movement, the Masses? And, what of secure communication with the "Minister of Defense"?   What about when the "Minister of Information" or "Minister  of Justice" or any other Lofty titled "Official" needs to communicate  sensitive info, or conduct strategy & tactics with the "Minister  of Defense"?! Do you really believe his mail is secure coming thru a kamp? A kamp where he's already been identified, tagged & locked down - & assaulted?   Have We learned nothing from the death of Comrade George, Andaliwa Clark, L.D. Barkley, Sam Melville, Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof & not to mention all the New Afrikan P.O.W's & political prisoners in California Pelican Bay & Corcoran.  Khalfani Khaldun in Indian or Maroon in Pennsylvania??

What's going to happen is, the NABPP is going to be pulled into a trap & encapsulated. The intelligence  network is going to encircle you, manipulate your communications & play you out of pocket.  And We know that the Comrads Sundiata & Maroon advised Us to "protect  this one," but We cannot do so when the traps set are being deliberately ignored & you all are walking headlong into them.

To us it seems that is's a lot of macho posturing & nostalgia playing out in hopes of what - a reputation? A legacy, or place in the book of martyrs? The obligation  of the revolutionary is to make the revolution. Not be a superstar or some macho-macho tough guy.

Let Us ask you this: who's  the Asian leader in amerika?   Who's the Mexicano leader? The Puerto Rican leader? Don't know do you? You know why you don't  know? Cause their "leaders" are in their communities out front leading. They feel no real need to be or have some lofty ass title which serves only to expose & illuminate them to hostile transgressions  from the enemy culture. This all comes off as amateur hour, really.  Atavistic macho posturing.

We know that the BPP in its beginnings, in 1966, could not have been born, let alone grown & developed into the mass org it became by 1968-69, had Chairman Bobby Seale & Minister of Defense Huey Newton, been in a kamp - let alone a hole in the kamp.  And although we know the Coordinating Committee  of the Black Liberation Army was, by & Large, a Kamp based org, it also must be pointed out that the BLA-CC comrads were members of the Army & related formations before being captured. We can't  imagine the logistical problems likely to occur having to wait around for a Minister of Defense, who's captured, sending tactical orders down the line!

Why not call yourself a mere "'theoretician"? Or simply a cadre. What's all the "Minister of Defense" posturing about? From what We've  seen in various publications is that this Comrade is actually the only functioning theoretician of this group anyway. It seems he's the Minister of Defense, the Chairman, the Minister of Information, Minister of Propaganda & the Resident Artist. While We admire the fire & obvious stamina of this multi-tasking Brother, We question the scientific ability of this approach. Not to mention the dangerous exposure.

Are there any women, gays, or transgendered members of this group? Do you all attend New Afrikan Nation Day Ceremonies? It is easy, We all know, to project an image. Film projectors do it all the time. They can throw up an image very life like, onto a wall or screen. Colors & sound, flashes of light, bells & whistles the whole thing - but it's only a two­ dimensional projection, it's not real. It only engages the sight & sound senses. But We all agree some of the movies are really good, right? But at the end of the film the movie's over the screen fades to blank, the actors go on to the next job. The audience goes home - the sensation subsides. That's what the NABPP is like in the sense that We see your writings everywhere - in publications from Quebecs Certain Days Calendar to Bing Hampton's college publication OFF! From California Prison focus to the San Francisco Bay View & all areas in between. But We don't see you on the ground. Theory is good & necessary - where would We be without it. But theory without practice is what's called in Swahili: babaiko "meaningless talk." And talk is a currency everyone can afford - it's cheap. And here is where the NABPP falls flat on it's face because both conscious New Afrikans & the real Black Panther Party are/were about practice.
It's not just about explaining social phenomena it's about changing it. And the fact your "Minister of Defense" is a prisoner starts you out with a strike. Cause aside from the stifling hierarchal structure that this entails - lofty titles manufacturing superior & inferior positions of leaders & followers - it also subjects you to dangerous security problems having to necessarily deal with strategy, tactics & logistics. Everything your Minister of Defense will know from you - the pigs will know. Everything your Minister of Defense sends to you - the pigs will know too. This will allow them to encapsulate you - surround & manipulate your actions until they are ready to swoop down on you & put you in the cage next to or down the tier from your Minister of Defense.

Revolution in amerikkk:a is against the law, it is illegal. If We've learned anything from the failed revolution of the late 60's & early 70's, is if We prematurely show Ourselves - the enemies are coming.  They have to. No alternatives can be allowed to challenge or exist under oppression. They are reading everything We read. Why make it easy for them? Why offer your chest or head up to the snipers? Your spear is your intellect, your wit, your stamina, your ability to advance. Your shield is your strength to ward off, evade, defend & shelter yourself. In tandem they are your weapons of struggle. In every metaphor for life's struggle, whether against the elements of nature, or oppression from humans on humans, the spear & the shield can be used. Your tactical knowledge at any given time will instruct you whether to thrust your spear, or raise your shield. Whether to go on the offensive or to retreat. In order to have this consciousness you'll need to be in tune with objective reality. You can't  wait on orders from on-high when the shells are falling. When you are being subjected to the influence of oppressive lead. Let us share with you something a comrad said:
"'Clandestiny' must come to characterize the entire movement, i.e., a 'mass-based underground' is what We need; a resistance movement in territory occupied by settlers who regard all 'anti'-struggles as threats to the continued existence of the empire. We want to build a New Afrikan movement where 'leadership' can't  be easily identified, because 'leaders' will be the owner of the comer grocery store, the secretary, the phone repair person, the physical education teacher, etc. & they'll only 'surface' after We've  liberated some territory!" (3)

We just don't want to be unnecessarily having to attend funerals that could be avoided. Or, having to a mass all our energy marching to 'free so & so." These things can be avoided by better practice. We fail a lot of the time because of Our own weaknesses giving the pigs the opportunity for easy kills. And when we do this, what's this called? Petty-bourgeois thinking. Why? Because somewhere in our minds We actually think, or still think, that the enemy is going to let us organize a revolution to end its empire on his front lawn! We somehow believe We have "constitutional  rights" to bear arms, assemble & free speech - to be safe from unreasonable search & seizure; to be free, or to be without the hazards of cruel & unusual punishment. Get real. That's petty-bourgeois thinking. That We have to the constitutional right to organize ourselves out front, naked to the world with titles like "minister of defense" or by combining two of amerikkkas worst nightmares together. New Afrikan & Black Panther Party. And We don't  think this combo was lost on those who brought this org into existence. We think a conscious effort at posturing was in effect, sprinkled with a dash of opportunism. Which is not to say you weren't  pushing from a true position, NO. You may have been sincere. Though clearly uniformed & historically challenged. Again to the rads words:

"Why do We need New (secure) lines of communication? Because We don't want the enemy to know who We are, where We are, or what We're thinking, planning, or doing. They may know We're coming, but We don't want to let them know from which direction We're coming, at what rate of speed, what we're bringing, with Us, or how much of a load We're carrying. We need New, secure lines of communication because the old movement is passing away, & the old lines & methods of communication must pass away with it. We can't "re-group" or revitalize a movement which is already in the latter stages of decomposition. We can't build a new movement with lines & methods of communication (to say nothing of theory & other forms of practice) that are EFFECTIVELY detected, intercepted, disrupted & contaminated. Nor can We build a new, secure movement with people who are not only blind to this reality, but they're also deaf & dense." (4)
Again, this is not a battle rap - this is Our lives. And the lives of our future generations. We know that our people have a complex that feeds to the need to "do something" against the system or feel a loathing sense of inadequacy. Usually this complex surfaces in the petty­ bourgeois realm of "showing off," "frontin" or "showboatin." In this way, the loudest, most flamboyant individual usually gets the attention and is somewhat satiated by the admiration - even if the attention is negative. One comrad likened  it to the "invisible man" syndrome after the characterization in Ralph Ellison's novel of the same name. It stims, We think, from a colonial mentality. Or, as Frantz Fanon would say, Colonial War Mental Disorder. We, of course, are no psychiatrists; however, We know Our People. That's our business. So, usually, the need to act out, in order to be made visible - from colonial  obscurity - and enter what's believed to be history, takes on petty-bourgeois characteristics. That is within the set parameters of the oppressor nation culture & laws.

However, We also think that this mentality can manifest in the revolutionary realm as well. Yes, it's actually called adventurism. Or the "lets get busy right now" syndrome. If you're up on your George  you'll remember the first page of BIME where he tells the comrade he's writing about having to "browbeat" the youngsters everyday there who felt that being a warrior was quite enough. Where they felt they didn't need ideology, strategy, and tactics. And it's not so much as you in the NABPP think you don't  need ideology, strategy, or tactics, it's a matter of you mixing & matching an entanglement that serves more to distort & confuse than anything. Lines of a political or military org are made not thru theoretical work alone. Practice ultimately creates the line. Theories are tested in practice to test their validity - to experience their effect in objective reality. That is the criterion of truth. Practice.

What you have done is (obviously) read a lot of different ideologies, theories, and strategies and from these built your own. Then, those which are not in accord with yours, you all combat ideologically as if your lines have been tested. When actually you're theoretically masturbating. It may feel like sex, but actually it's a solo mission. It's easy and quick and until the next sensation, satisfying. But no births, no real life can issue from it, because it's not really life giving, life sustaining practice.  It's just ... well, jerking off. And what are the masses to do, watch? Be spectators as you act out your macho auto-eroticism as a Revolutionary Organization with your anatomy exposed for all to see? The enemy loves that. Easy pickings, one shot, one kill. And then here We are having to begin again with one more grave yard affirmation talking about how "real they were." The pattern by now is predictable. But must it be so? Do We have to keep sacrificing Our best to the beast to prove that We "didn't die in the sick bed"? Again, the obligation of the Revolutionary is to make the Revolution.

Finally, titles, ranks and all that are for show. If a person ain't earned the ability to be something, don't  fall for no self-named anything. Would you call a vest bullet proof if the last person who wore it got shot thru it? Be conscious of who and what you align yourself with. Revolution is against amerikkkan law.

Free The Land!
The Amazons-August Third Collective

(1) Black Liberation in the 21st Century: A Revolutionary Reassessment of Black Nationalism. California Prison Focus, Number 38, Spring 2012

(2) Anonymous-Internal  Army Communication.

(3) Iyapo Tsukama, Study Notes on Secure Communication: So That We Don't  Fool Ourselves Again. Spear & Shield Publications

(4) Atiba Shanna, Ibid.


The above critique of the NABPP has been circulating around, and when i saw a copy i thought it should be posted here. For those who do not know me, just to be clear: i am not New Afrikan, and my relationship to the New Afrikan nation is one of an outsider who lives in and “belongs to” the oppressor nation – as such, my position is external to discussions on the political definition and content of the New Afrikan Independence Movement or any other anticolonial movement.

i published Defying the Tomb, by the NABPP's Minister of Defense Kevin Rashid Johnson who is critiqued in this open letter, and i currently have plans to publish others of his writings. i also intend, if asked, to post on my blog or otherwise circulate criticisms of the NABPP. This is in line with my assumption that in order for successful revolutionary movements to emerge from the ongoing carnage which is patriarchal imperialist capitalism, comrades will need to be able to discuss, criticize, and at times overcome the political lines of yesterday, keeping what is valuable and discarding what is toxic. My intention is not to take a side but to facilitate communication while not artificially puffing up positions through my own lack of clarity.

Saying that, there is definitely a lot to be learned from the above open letter, which puts forward an analysis that - above and beyond the NABPP - definitely applies across the board to many other situations. There are many lessons here that can be learned, and as such this open letter is an important contribution to developing a truly revolutionary praxis in the belly of the beast.

- K. Kersplebedeb

Friday, February 15, 2013

Rape and canadian colonialism

Human Rights Watch has accused Canada's federal police of intimidating and even sexually assaulting aboriginal women and girls in the province of British Columbia.

In a scathing report, which was released on Wednesday, the rights organization documented numerous accounts of women and girls in the province’s indigenous communities finding themselves in a constant state of fear.

"The threat of domestic and random violence on one side, and mistreatment by RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officers on the other, leaves indigenous women in a constant state of insecurity," AFP quoted Meghan Rhoad, co-author of the 89-page report on the issue, as saying at a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

The report also documented a number of disturbing allegations of rape and sexual assault at the hands of police.

"In five of the 10 towns Human Rights Watch visited in the north, we heard allegations of rape or sexual assault by police officers," the report stated.

The report was the outcome of an investigation into the "Highway of Tears" -- the name used to describe an infamous 800-kilometer stretch of highway in central British Columbia where 18 women have disappeared over the past several decades.

Two researchers, one from Canada and one from the US, spent five weeks last summer in the province’s north, interviewing 42 women and eight girls in 10 communities along the highway that connects the cities of Prince George and Prince Rupert in the westernmost province.

The researchers noted that all of the victims in the report were frightened about possible retaliation within their communities or by police, and insisted on having their identities protected.

“(This report) was about the level of fear that I and my colleague witnessed in the north at levels that we found comparable in conflict situations in post-war Iraq,” Rhoad added.

“It’s about the lack of meaningful accountability for police neglect or police mistreatment which creates an environment of impunity for violence against indigenous women and girls,” she stated.

The report called on the federal government to launch a national inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls, and called for an independent civilian investigation into the reports of police misconduct.

The RCMP said it took the allegations "very seriously" but that “it is impossible to deal with such public and serious complaints when we have no method to determine who the victims of the accused are."

Indigenous communities in Canada, also known as the First Nations, say they are frustrated with Ottawa’s failure to address the social and economic grievances facing many of Canada’s 1.2 million aborigines.

Many of Canada’s natives live in poor conditions with unsafe drinking water, inadequate housing, addiction, and high suicide rates.

In a report released on December 19, 2012, Amnesty International called on Canada to address human rights abuses in the country, particularly with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples.
The above report is from Press TV.

One can read the complete Human Rights Watch report here (and press release here).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Video Interview with Sanyika Shakur

In this interview, New Afrikan Communist Sanyika Shakur discusses his personal social development, his time in Pelican Bay-SHU, the 2011 California prisoners' hunger strikes, the effects of long-term isolation torture, New Afrikan nationalism, communism, and the struggle against gender oppression.

In a biographical note written while in PB-SHU, Shakur explained:

i was born Nov 13, 1963.

Raised in South Central Los Angeles, by a phenomenal single, working-class, mother. Cut my teeth in the hostile gang culture in South Central from the mid-70's til the late 80's. Was introduced to the New Afrikan Independence Movement, by way of the Spear & Shield Collective, in 1986, while in the SHU at San Quentin. It was also in 1986 that i became a Shakur. I am a founding cadre of the August Third Collective and a combatant in the New Afrikan Peoples Liberation Army.

I have had an indeterminate SHU term since 1989, for being a threat to the safety and security of the institution - presumably CDCR, though i suspect it's the institution of capitalism. I am an author that has produced pieces for various movement publications over the years as well as a couple of books. Currently working with Kersplebedeb Publishing & Distribution to publish a collection of writings done here in Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit.

Shakur was released from PB-SHU in Black August 2012.

For more writings by Sanyika Shakur click here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Friday, February 08, 2013

Arm the Spirit Archive

For those of you unfamiliar with Arm the Spirit, it was one of the only publications devoted to reporting on the armed resistance movements in the 1990s. There were a very few magazines and newspapers with this purview at the time, and yet in the days before the internet they played an important role in allowing the broader left to understand the guerilla struggle, especially as since the mid-80s this struggle had primarily been occurring outside of the English-speaking world.

For a variety of reasons, Arm the Spirit would eventually cease to exist. Just recently, though, a former member has begun scanning and uploading documents from the group's archive - not only copies of the ATS magazine, many other pamphlets and newspapers from the radical left, dealing not only with themes of armed struggle, but also repression, political prisoners, the squatting movement, and more. Many of these documents have not ever been made available in this form before. It is a quickly swelling treasure trove, straight from the memory vault.

The archive can be viewed on the issuu website here.

For those of you interested in knowing a bit more about Arm the Spirit, here is a retrospective the group wrote in their last print issue in January 2000:

Arm The Spirit Ten Years On ...

A decade has passed since the first issue of "Arm The Spirit - For Revolutionary Resistance" was published. Ten years on and a new millenium is a good a time as any to reflect back and look at what we've accomplished with this project and where we hope to go. In the late 80s a small group of us had been doing solidarity work around political prisoners in the U.S., particularly around anti-imperialist guerrillas - the "Ohio 7" and the "Resistance Conspiracy Case" - who were on trial for seditious conspiracy and other charges. At that time there was a few magazines (Resistance, The Insurgent, Breakthrough ... ) that published documents from armed groups but they came out infrequently and some were in the process of ceasing publication (indeed none of them are around today). Also much of the solidarity work around the trials mostly consisted of a "right to a fair trial", denouncing repressive measures in the courtroom, etc. We wanted to do more than this in our solidarity work by focussing on the political aspect of the armed struggle by disseminating documents from the armed groups and other related material. So in June of 1990 we started with a small 4-page bulletin that quickly grew in size over the next few years.

The aim of 'Arm The Spirit' was never to place excessive political importance on armed struggle, even though the content of the magazine was largely comprised of communiques from guerrilla organizations and discussions about the aims and means of armed resistance. But we felt that there was a need, particularly in North America, for a publication which offered a forum for such information. Although most clandestine resistance in North America had been defeated by state repression by the mid-1980s, the armed left was still very much alive and well in Europe when ATS began publishing. Early issues of ATS, for example, devoted a great deal of space to the armed antiracist actions of the Dutch organization RARA, communiques from Germany's Red Army Fraction (RAF) and the Revolutionary Cells/Rote Zora (RZ), the Basque organization ETA and the Spanish guerrilla GRAPO, and so on. We wanted the left in North America to be informed about the actions by, the politics of, and the discussions within such movements. But of course, we also provided coverage of other forms of militant struggle, such as the squatters' movement and actions against biotechnology, for example, and we always placed a great emphasis on solidarity with political prisoners and prisoners of war.

In addition to publishing the ATS journal and occasional info-bulletins, we also published other materials on certain occasions. For example, when the Kurdish liberation struggle led by the PKK was at its peak in 1992-93, we published a separate "Kurdistan Solidarity Bulletin". We also produced pamphlets on various guerrilla organizations, such as the RAF and the RZ, to distribute at political events. Our ideas have always been much larger than our budget, however, and many projects never made it off our harddrive and onto paper. Such unfinished works include "Fire And Flames: A History Of The German Autonomist Movement", a book which we translated but were unable to publish. Several pamphlets as well were never completed, usually due to a lack of funds.

Without dwelling upon the collapse of the "real existing socialism" and so on, it goes without saying that the political situation changed dramatically during the 1990s. This had an effect on our publication as well, in that most of the movements which formed the bulk of our content in the early-1990s had either disbanded or disappeared by the mid-1990s. Most of the armed left in Europe gave up the fight, and scores of national liberation movements signed "peace accords" which brought guerrilla struggle to an end in many parts of the world. These changes, as well as our eventual shift to online publishing, brought about some changes in the work of Arm The Spirit.

ATS as an organization began utilizing email and the internet for communication purposes as early as 1992, and by 1995 we had established a basic web site and two online email news lists: ATS-L, a general news list for articles and discussions concerning left-radical political movements, armed resistance, political prisoners, and so on; and KURD-L, a list devoted specifically to the Kurdish national liberation struggle and the PKK. We are proud to say that we have consistently maintained both of these free news lists for 5 years now, with all postings archived and accessible on the web. Several hundred people are subscribed to these lists, with more subscription requests coming almost on a daily basis. (These online projects were made possible by the generous assistance of the comrades of the BURN! collective in California and the Etext collective in Michigan.)

It was never our intention to become solely an online information collective. There are many contradictions and limitations involved in using the internet, such as the lack of access by many groups and organizations outside the metropoles, not to mention the fact that political prisoners cannot participate online. But being consistently active on the internet for several years has helped us to establish new contacts and solidify others. And on some occasions, the effects of our work have been felt well outside the narrow confines of the radical-left. For example, immediately after the MRTA unit "Commando Edgar Sanchez" took over the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima in December 1996, in one of the most daring guerrilla actions of the decade, we immediately set up an English-language solidarity site, intending to provide news and updates on what we expected to be a very short-lived event. As the weeks went on, however, our site became an important source of information and attracted tens of thousands of visitors, "thanks" in part to exposure in the capitalist media (CNN, The Wall Street Journal, etc.). Now, of course, web sites devoted to revolutionary movements are all over the Net, but at that time such sites were still relatively new.

As ATS enters the year 2000, our aim is to continue on with our work as much as possible. We slowly have resumed hardcopy publishing, while at the same time maintaining our online presence. We are also looking forward to continutng our cooperation with other projects, such as Antifa Forum, a collection of groups providing information orr militant antifascism.

With this issue, the first in over 5 years, we had to make a hard decision of what to include. We easily could have filled a couple hundred pages but that was logistically impossible, so we decided to focus on a narrow selection of documents and information on and from European political prisoners and guerrilla organizations. In a way this is a return to our roots as we're the only group to be publishing this kind of material in North America. In particular we felt it was important to publish the RAF's final communique and related documents, as well as ETA's return to armed struggle. We hope to have another issue out by the summer and in it we'll publish material that we had to leave out of this one. This next issue will focus on political prisoners in the U.S., the guerrilla struggle in Colombia, the splintering of the Kurdish national liberation movement and several perspectives on the Irish "peace process".

We hope that our distribution and translation of news and political discussions is useful for the left in North America. Information is only power if it is put into use. If movements continually pass on their histories and their discussions, then we can avoid having to re-invent the wheel as new high points of political activity arise. Most importantly, we plan to continue to provide a non-sectarian forum for a variety militant movements and struggles, from a variety of perspectives and locations, based on the slogan "Solidarity Is A Weapon!".

Ann The Spirit - January 2000