Are We Prison Abolitionists? (A Response To Bob Avakian’s “Abolition: Real And Illusory”)

I was invited by affiliates of the Revolutionary Communist Party-USA (RCP) to write a “refutation” of a short polemic by the RCP’s Chair Bob Avakian titled, “Abolition–Real and Illusory.” In inviting me to reply they expressed, “a critique with substance would be greatly appreciated and a welcome change from the pot shots some choose to direct at BA without even bothering to read what he has actually written.”

The Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party (RIBPP) accepts this invitation and appreciates its recognition that we commit to critiquing other lines and positions based upon principles and not sensation, particularly where this writer has critiqued positions taken by BA in the past.



BA begins his article making a distinction between abolition in relation to literal slavery that still exists today and “abolition” as a movement aimed at ending institutionalized racism in Amerika, which ties in with mass incarceration and class society that engenders these oppressive conditions.

He argues that the latter form of abolition cannot be achieved except through a revolutionary struggle aimed at overthrowing this capitalist-imperialist system and replacing it with a socialist system with the ultimate goal of achieving world communism (a world without nation states, classes, and so on). I agree completely with this position. As I have expressed before, echoing comrades Kwame Nkrumah and Fred Hampton Sr., racism and capitalism go hand in hand.



Furthermore, one cannot abolish prisons without abolishing the state itself. As V.I. Lenin aptly explained in “The State and Revolution”, the state is an instrument of class rule, which enforces that rule through special bodies of armed people, namely the military, police and prisons. To abolish the military, police, or prisons means abolishing the state, which is impossible short of achieving world communism.

Wresting power from the exploitative and murderous capitalist class will demand armed struggle, and it will demand maintaining specialized bodies of the people to defend against and ward off the capitalist’s relentless drive to regain power.

Revolutionaries understand that even under socialism, where the capitalist class has been overthrown, there must be an armed socialist state to carry forward and defend the achievements and interests of the working class. Maoists, in particular, understand that under socialism class struggle continues and even sharpens.

The difference is that under socialism the body of armed people who enforce working class rule (namely, the new military, police, and prisons) will consist of the workers themselves alongside others who were previously oppressed and exploited under the rule of capitalist state power, with the distinction that prisons , and the military, and police for that matter, will look and operate very differently under workers’ control that it has and does under capitalist-imperialist rule.



I think that most prisoners agree that there are some people who present a real danger to society whom society needs to keep under some control. Who among the people in society doesn’t agree with this? During revolutionary struggle, there are some people on the street whom the revolutionaries should arrest and confine for the good of society. These are not new questions. In 2007 I wrote:

“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?” (1)

So, in a very real sense, revolutionaries understand that abolishing prisons is not at all a realistic proposition at this stage of human society short of world communism.



Revolution is a birthing process, the old society is pregnant with the new. The struggle must be used to create more favorable conditions for struggle, which develops from a lower to a higher level.

As revolutionaries we want to transform the prisons into “schools of liberation” to train cadre and fighters for the revolution. But on a deeper level our aim is to revolutionize social relations under capitalism to better enable us to revolutionize social relations under socialism and in the advance to communism.

Since we began in 2005 as the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (NABPP) and reconstituted in 2020 as the RIBPP, we have upheld the line of abolishing prison Slavery in Amerika by amending the 13th amendment to strike the clause that allows for the enslavement of those convicted of crimes. We advanced this slogan across U.S. prisons which gained momentum and led to numerous prison work strikes and a broad movement to amend the 13th, which swept U.S. prisons and won broad public support, particularly from 2014-2018.

With the increased number of anti-statist leftists on the outside in this prison-based struggle, the movement to abolish prison Slavery (Amend the 13th Amendment) and transform the prisons into schools of liberation has been increasingly converted into a movement to abolish prisons (without the necessary protracted struggle to abolish capitalist-imperialism and the need for state power).

While we agree with the object of abolishing prison conditions as they exist and operate under the existing capitalist-imperialist system, we oppose the notion that prisons can or should be abolished without the ultimate achievement of global communism.

Dare To Struggle, Dare To Win!
All Power To The People!



 (1) Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “Promoting Proletarian Consciousness As Prisoner Rehabilitation” (2004). http://rashidmod.coml?p=374


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