Promoting Proletarian Consciousness as Prisoner Rehabilitation (2007)

Since our inception, the NABPP-PC has emphasized the leading role of the proletariat in any genuine revolutionary struggle.  In our founding article, “the NABPP-PC: Our Line,” we explained this position and contrasted the revolutionary character of the proletariat with the counter-revolutionary character of the lumpen (or “broken”) proletariat.  That discussion bears quoting at length:

“Many people when presented with the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist idea that only the proletariat can lead in making all-the-way revolutionary class struggle question why it is, and why some other class (without changing its class perspective) cannot lead such a struggle.  One reason is because the proletariat is the only class that has no real stake in preserving the class relations of the capitalist system, but has everything to gain in taking control over the social wealth it has itself created by its labor and the tools it uses to create it.  Another reason is that the proletariat (in contrast to the lumpen), has the conditioning in patient work, social unity and cooperation necessary to wage the protracted class struggle required to abolish all exploitation and oppression.  Basically, it is our social practice that determines how we think and not how we think that determines our social practice.

“The proletariat has a strong sense of family commitment and unity and a sense of respect and commitment to the community.  These values grow out of the routine of going to work each day in the social environment of the workplace to provide for the needs of one’s family and not only maintaining employment but also engage in domestic labor in the home, rearing children, and taking part in the social life of the community.  This requires and instills stability, discipline and responsibility as well as cooperation with one’s peers.

“The class conscious worker can be of two sorts: the militant and the revolutionary.  The militant worker takes the sense of commitment beyond the family into the workplace and will stand up to the bosses for workers’ rights, even to the extent of jeopardizing one’s employment, freedom, and safety by participating in strikes and job actions.  The revolutionary worker takes the sense of commitment even farther and challenges the oppressive social order to change the social relations for all and put an end to class exploitation and oppression once and for all.  The revolutionary is inspired by a great love for the people and sense of duty to the masses and to future generations.

“The revolutionary worker doesn’t swagger or boast and has little sense of ego.  He or she is serious-minded and self-disciplined.  The revolutionary knows that like a strike, the revolutionary struggle must be a unified mass struggle, and that it will take quite some time to succeed.  Each contribution is important, and the end result is to benefit the overall society.  In contrast to the proletarians’ practice and outlook, the lumpen schemes and preys upon others to acquire survival needs and personal wealth, which renders him or her indifferent to the effects visited upon others and society as a whole.

“The lumpen mentality mirrors—on a smaller scale and with less sophistication—that of the big gangster (the monopoly capitalists), and amounts to a ruthless drive for immediate self-gratification, power, control and “respect” (even though their lifestyle is anything but respectable), through deception, corruption, violence and intimidation of others.  These tendencies are what lies behind certain lumpen aspiring to be perceived as “crazy” and unpredictably violent.

“Translated into the revolutionary movement, the lumpen tendency has some thinking that militant swaggering, posturing, and “talking shit,” is acceptable behavior for revolutionaries which is very wrong and demonstrates political immaturity and lack of a true proletarian outlook.  Such posturing leads to actions of a reactionary, adventurist and provocateur nature, that invites enemy attack that the movement is unprepared to deal with and alienates the masses…

“Also because they are conditioned to seek immediate and short term benefits in their practice, the lumpen generally lack the resolve to pursue and stick with tasks that require hard work and patience…

“The motives behind revolutionary violence are fundamentally different from the reactionary violence of the lumpen who model their violence after that of the big gangsters.  Revolutionary violence is rooted in the collective resistance of the masses organized against the violence of the big gangster bourgeoisie system of oppression and exploitation…

Without remolding their class outlook, the lumpen will pursue ultra-leftist militant acts of exhibitionism and spew forth, “Off the pig!” rhetoric and when this provokes repression from the Establishment they will flip-flop to right opportunism, turn rat and become enemy agents or run for cover.  Lacking correct analysis, self-discipline and patience, they will vacillate left to right and they will confuse one stage of the struggle for another and try to skip the stages that require hard work and tenacity.

“These elements disdain to apply the mass line, ignore the Democratic Centralism of the Party, fear criticism and self-criticism and lean towards individualism and “commandism,” indulging in personal attacks and attempts at intimidation and coercion of other Party members and the masses through threats and force.  Their unremolded lumpen ideology is a corrosive to building Party unity and maintaining discipline and it makes them easy prey for recruitment by the enemy.  The lumpen are capable of “the most heroic deeds and the most exalted sacrifices, or of the basest banditry and dirtiest corruption.”

“A large part of our work in the NABPP-PC is to properly educate and re-orient the lumpen through ideological and political training and bringing as many of them who are capable of “the most heroic deeds and the most exalted sacrifices” into the active work of the struggle as possible…”

Because lumpen values have been deeply ingrained in the New Afrikan and general urban and prison culture, advancing revolutionary proletarian ideology is essential to building our Party, organizing our mass organizations, revolutionizing prisoners and the oppressed masses in general, and consolidating the struggle against capitalist imperialism.

As quoted above, we promote proletarianizing prisoners through ideologically and politically training them in the principles and practices of class struggle and in the science of Revolution (Historical and Dialectical Materialism).  But, there’s yet another approach (which can turn a negative into a positive), namely by genuinely transforming prisoners’ economic statuses from that of slaves into wage earning proletarians.

This can be done within the prison setting.

Our Party has already taken a firm stand in promoting abolishing prisoners’ slave status (including amending the 13th Amendment to strike the clause that legalizes convict slavery) and granting them the right to vote (which is the fundamental component of citizenship), and abolishing the racist death penalty, indefinite solitary confinement, physical and mental torture, and other humyn rights abuses.  But an additional step in organizing prisoners, advancing our revolutionary consciousness and ranks, and preparing us for a more stable and productive reentry in to society is to demand prisoners’ right to work for minimum wage and to union representation.

As part of and in addition to advancing proletarian consciousness, paying prisoners a real wage for their labor could help them support their families and build up a nest egg for when they get out to get a place to live, a car, survival and therefore greatly reducing recidivism.  They could pay off fines and restitutions before they get out and be more likely to sustain relationships on the outside as well as retain legal services.

This would counteract warehousing of prisoners and reducing us to slaves, and instead promote proletarian consciousness and aspirations as a means of rehabilitation, which would include the right to organize and to strike.  This would not be a move to legitimize the Prison Industrial Complex and the use of convict labor for profit (which the imperialists are already doing).  But turning the conditions that they have created against us to our benefit and that of revolutionary organizing.

As Karl Marx pointed out, productive work is essential to womyn and mankind’s very existence, that independent of meeting financial needs, people need productive labor—enforces idleness, corrupts and deteriorates the humyn character and is itself a humyn rights violation.

The lumpen are distinguished from unemployed workers because they do not look for work and avoid it—it is in this sense that they are “broken.”  If given a choice, they prefer to steal, deal, hustle or pimp, living as parasites and preying on others—even killing their fellow humyns.

Proletarianizing the lumpen is the highest and only legitimate form of “rehabilitation.”  Prisoners have a right to be rehabilitated as opposed to the humyn rights violation of being merely warehoused (unless the “criminal justice” system admits its real design and intentions to be that of creating and unleashing predators to prey upon the general society), and this means freedom to sell their labor power and to collectively bargain over the terms of sale.

Enforced slavery contradicts the “inalienable” rights, as declared in the US Declaration of Independence, of all people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Beyond the security consideration inherent in incarceration, the state cannot be allowed to kill, cannot be allowed to deny the right—the liberty—to be a proletarian or to pursue meaning and purpose in life.

If society accepts that one must do time as punishment for a crime, then it follows that the time must productively serve the needs of the society by promoting the genuine rehabilitation of the incarcerated individual so that s/he will function as productive members of the society upon release.

Enslavement does not teach one how to be free.  Abuse does not promote good citizenship or emotional stability.  A criminal justice system will still be needed under socialism—to deal with anti-social criminal behavior.  But our model must be a “school of liberation.”  The principles of a genuine correctional system must be articulated and struggled for as part of the overall revolutionary struggle.  The question is how should these prisons be run and what rights should the prisoners have that are inalienable and will promote rehabilitation and good citizenship.

Revolution is a birthing process, the new society forming in the womb of the old one.  Through struggle we create more favorable condition for greater struggle.  Nothing comes instantly.  Changing social and economic relations must proceed and develop from a lower to a higher level.

As revolutionaries we want to transform the prisons into “Schools of Liberation” to provide the revolution with trained cadre and fighters.  But on a deeper level we want to revolutionize social relations under capitalism to better enable us to revolutionize social relations under socialism and in the advance to a classless society.

Our goal is not to make acceptance of wage-slavery more palatable and thus prolong the inequality, exploitation and injustice of capitalist-imperialism.

Our goal is to serve and advance the interests of the world proletarian revolution to abolish the system of capitalist-imperialism.

Toward this end we should seek to proletarianize the prisoner population through revolutionary political education, promoting revolutionary culture and as much as possible drawing them into proletarian social relations to the means of production.

Can the system altogether oppose the demand for the right to work and to collective bargaining through union representation?  They do want to exploit convict labor.  A concession on this issue would force the state to expand work industries bringing more prisoners into the workforce and counter the present model of long-term segregation.

Free world unions could be won to support the prospect of 2.5 million new dues paying members and an equally large electoral voting bloc.  It’s also possible to win criminologists and people in the criminal justice system to support this program.

Organizations like the National Council on Crime and Delinquency are already actively advocating increasing prisoners’ wages to free world levels.  The policy statement of the NCCD’s Board of Directors reads in part:

“The present condition of prison industries limits the value of [work programs].  The deficiencies vary from prison to prison… The pay for inmates employed in prison is too low to be regarded as wages.  The average prison laborer receives from ten cents to 65 cents a day.  Few institutions pay inmate workers for a day’s work what the federal minimum wage law requires for an hour’s work.  The rate of pay…is only a token…a daily rebuke to the inmate, reminding him [or her] of society’s power to exploit at will.

“This counterproductive prison labor system must be changed.  An inmate receiving equitable payment for work performed will be able to provide some support for his [or her] family, continue payments on social security…make some payment for room and board, and save money to assist himself [or herself] upon return to society.

“Therefore the National Council on Crime and Delinquency urges the introduction of federal and state legislation requiring that an inmate employed at productive work in a federal, state, or local institution shall be paid no less than the minimum wage operative nationally or in his [or her] state.”

Developing prison labor unions is also a practical goal, as such institutions presently exist with beneficial results in other countries.

“Prison labor unions are not an American invention.  The first successful prisoner labor union was organized in Sweden.  Since 1966, the union, which represents the vast majority of Swedish prisoners, has carried out a long series of successful negotiations with the government.  Every effort has been made to make the prisoners’ wages the same as free wages.  Prisoners pay rent for their cells and board for their food.  They are encouraged to pay their debts in the free community, including restitution to the victims of the crimes.  They pay taxes and generally have enough left at the end of the month to save around $50.

“Additional benefits from unionization have been a good working relationship with Swedish industry, widely available vocational training, safer prison factories, eligibility for workmen’s compensation and, perhaps most important of all, the democratic involvement of prisoners in forming their own destiny.

“The union is credited with diminishing violence in prisons, lowering recidivism and making prisons more open institutions in Swedish society.”

–Paul Comeau, Labor Unions for Prison Inmates

Amerika’s liberal democratic revolution of 1776, of which the Civil War (1861-1865) was a continuation, remains an unfinished revolution.  The most glaring examples of this are the U.S. prison system and the continuation of the status of “slave,” the racist death penalty (legalized lynching) and the institutionalized racism, sexism and humyn rights abuses that constitute “legally sanctioned torture.”  Until the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is extended to all in Amerika—including those convicted of crimes—the Liberal Democratic Revolution remains unfinished.  To bring this stage to its completion and move forward to socialism the proletariat must lead this struggle.  Democracy leads to socialism and Democratic revolution leads to Socialist revolution.

The slave emancipates her/himself by becoming a proletarian and the proletarian emancipates her/himself by the abolition of classes.  Recognizing that the bourgeoisie are no longer a progressive and revolutionizing force as they were in 1865 when they overthrew the chattel slave system, in fact they have become reactionary to the core and increasingly fascist and anti-democratic, the proletariat must lead in completing the democratic revolution and carry it forward to make socialist revolution to put an end to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

We are not calling for an all new Democratic revolution, but there is unfinished business that clearly falls under liberal democracy, and resolving it moves us forward towards socialist revolution.

Towards this end, the New Afrikan Service Organization (NASO) should outline a comprehensive program for Transforming the Razor Wire Slave Plantations into Schools of Liberation.  This program should include amending the 13th Amendment, abolishing the death penalty and life without parole, establishing voting rights for prisoners, job training and the right to work and union representation, education and cultural programs, religious freedom and self-help programs, freedom of correspondence between prisoners, an end to political censorship, etc.  It should call for a national task force of humyn rights abuses and institutionalized racism and sexism to investigate the federal, state and local prisons and jails.

The program should be based upon the NABPP-PC’s 10 Point Program in its minimal form—ending the slave status for prisoners and establishing our status as proletarians, and from there moving forward to proletarian socialist revolution.

Dare to struggle—Dare to win!

All Power to the People!


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