Why Prisoners Need Revolutionary Political Education

Guest Editorial for Rock Newsletter

I have seen it asked often by prisoner subscribers to Rock and other publications edited or published by Ed Mead. “Why do prisoners need a political education, and why in revolutionary politics in particular?”

I’d like to confront the question from several angles.

Politics concerns organizing and governing social activity. It therefore relates to every social member’s activities, whether they be a citizen or a subject. Laws are the rules by which societies are governed and the powers of government are regulated.

Laws and government put us in prison, and demonstrably without an understanding of them we leave ourselves open to the whims and abuses of those who pretend to act under authority of law. So, to understand politics is to understand the forces that govern us, but to understand revolutionary politics is to understand our power to bring about fundamental changes to the established system and how to bring those changes about. Political education therefore serves to acquaint us with the power and potential of the opposition and also ourselves. As Sun Tzu said, “When you understand the enemy and yourself you can fight 100 battles without fear of loss.”

Ignorance of politics also renders one to enslavement. And, as I will show, we are slaves—literally. But first a clear example and analogy can be taken from Amerika’s old plantation slave system, where it was against the law to teach slaves to read. In this way they were kept ignorant of the methods by which they were governed and their central role in the economic system. That is, they were kept politically ignorant.

In this way the slavers could trick the enslaved to believe the slaves needed the slavers and their oppressive system to survive, when the opposite was actually the case. Because the slaves were the primary producers, builders, cooks, and maintainers of the plantation system and its wealth, without whom the slavers (who also monopolized government) would be the ones unable to survive and would have no wealth or power. In fact the slave system without slaves would cease to exist. So political understanding made all the difference between enslavement and freedom and the very ability to maintain the system of slavery. And so it is with us prisoners, and is why prison officials go to great lengths to suppress revolutionary political consciousness and literature.

As a result, how easily we are conditioned to and are the source of forging the chains that bind us. Across Amerika, we keep the prisons that bind us operating. We repair and maintain them, and their equipment and vehicles. Often we actually build the prisons, as has been the case here in Texas where I’m confined. We install security enhancements, weld, construct, etc. We grow, harvest, prepare and serve the food that both we and the prison officials eat, we make or repair the clothing, bedding, and guard uniforms, etc. And we give up billions of dollars in free or grossly underpaid labor, and stolen funds in interest and paying for obscenely overpriced phone rates and goods purchased from the prison or jail commissaries, etc. We’re slaves. All of us. Black. White. Brown. Red. So all the old silly divisions based on skin color are rendered obsolete by today’s penal slavery.

And speaking of race, those classifications and divisions were also politically created. The very concept of race was invented in Virginia beginning in 1682 by laws passed in response to slave revolts involving Afrikan, European, and Indigenous slaves who frequently united in fighting their enslavers. One revolt (Bacon’s Rebellion) actually succeeded in overthrowing the Virginia colonial government, putting its governor to flight and burning down the capitol (in 1676).

Before this there was no such thing as race as we know it, and all colors of people were enslaved. In fact the divide and rule scheme of inventing race and using it to elevate one sector of an exploited population as ‘superior’ to the other and using that to manipulate it to repress and police the other super-exploited sector, proved so effective in stabilizing the colonial plantation’s slave system it was exported everywhere that the European monarchs and church powers sought to establish dominance and steal the natural resources and native wealth of peoples’ outside of Europe (who were by and large easily classifiable and non-white). And it still works and is applied today. Ignorance of these designs is what allows us to continually fall victim to them as both proponents, counter-proponents, and victims, and this is what has made it such an effective tactic of subjugation. While those in power are constantly denouncing racism, we see everywhere it is fueled, appealed to, and incited by them—especially the prison officials—openly and subliminally, and every effort is made to counter grassroots struggles to deconstruct racial divisions and privilege.

Finally, let’s look at Ed. No one can deny the role he played in the historical California prisoner hunger strikes or his impact on efforts to end racial hostilities. I’ve followed his years of agitating through his publications and editorials against the racial and group divisions and conflicts that the California pigs’ consciously instigated, facilitated, and in turn used to justify abusing Cali prisoners and imposing the literal torture of long term segregation. And finally, key comrades among them woke up and spoke up—the rest is history … but history still in the making.

Ed has sacrificed a lot of time, funds, and so on in keeping the struggle alive for us and with us. Now in case its escaped everyone’s notice, revolutionary political consciousness is what drives Ed to do what he does, even into his senior years and while struggling with life-threatening illness. Think on that. No political consciousness, no Ed. No Ed, none of these newsletters and editorials and none of the outcomes mentioned above. Also, no Ed and there’d be no Prison Legal News, which he co-founded—the only prisoner oriented legal magazine. Now imagine if we had if we had a hundred Eds, which isn’t hard to conceive of since 95 percent of U.S. prisoners will return to society at some point. That is if we were receiving that revolutionary political education that some have questioned the value of. And here’s the punch line—Ed started out in prison just like us … Need I say more?

Dare to Struggle, Dare to win!
All power to the people!


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