Jailbreak the Prisonhouse of Nations! On the Role of the Euro-Amerikan Nation

Map produced by the Chinese Communist Party of Unrest and Uprisings after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968.

By: Comrade Valerie

At the first conference of the Maoist Communist Party – Organizing Committee, the body that originally generated For The People, it was agreed that “the contradiction between oppressor/exploiting nations and oppressed/exploited nations remains the primary contradiction of our era of capitalism-imperialism.” Though the Organizing Committee has strategically decentralized and the individual FTP chapters are engaged in party building autonomously, this point is still broadly agreed upon by the FTP/MCP milieu. For an organization that prioritizes the liberation of colonized peoples and the leadership of women, the participation of white women is impossible without first disentangling our complicity in white supremacy from our fight against patriarchal violence. For clarity’s sake, I am a white, butch lesbian FTP-PDX cadre, and I am writing this because we fervently believe that organizing white people is the responsibility of white people and white people alone.

Organizing in Portland, a city that is 70% white, presents unique challenges for communists in general, much less Maoists who agree that organizing towards national liberation for colonized peoples is priority number one. Our white cadre, which still make up a majority of our members, are frequently hesitant to act without the leadership of colonized people, and the question of what exactly our responsibility is hangs heavy over us. We are eager to avoid falling into the same traps that settler leftists have fallen into for over a hundred years in this country. As J. Sakai says in the ending paragraph of Settlers, “Every nation and people has its own contribution to make to the world revolution. This is true for all of us, and obviously for Euro-Amerikans as well. But this is another discussion, one that can only really take place in the context of breaking up the U.S. Empire and ending the U.S. oppressor nation.” Through our organizing to break up the US Empire, we hope to find out what this role is, and we have some ideas about what it might be.

   Struggling With Our Own

Recognition of the white settler nation as just that, the white settler nation, is what J. Sakai calls “a key to leading the concrete struggles of today.”  So how do we white communists organize without reproducing the settler parasitism that infects the entire historic communist movement in the so-called United States? The first step is uniting behind and supporting the existing militant, revolutionary communist leadership of colonized people. Just because the settler left is bereft of organic radical leadership doesn’t mean that the same is true of colonized peoples, whose position as the primary targets of Amerikan imperialism at home and abroad will produce revolutionary movements until their victory. Settler leftists, especially so-called Maoists, need to give up on finding colonized leadership that perfectly adheres to their chosen subculture-masquerading-as-ideology and remember that correct theory comes from struggle. Hiding out online or in tiny subcultural spaces and refusing to participate in the incrasingly militant struggles of colonized peoples because there isn’t a clearly delineated communist leadership yet is settler infantilism. Leadership doesn’t come from saying the right slogans, it comes from practical experience.

That the Indian, Filipino, Nepalese, and Peruvian Maoists have used Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to wage people’s wars (successful and unsuccessful) is not enough to grant their self-proclaimed ideological heirs leadership of the movement here in the belly of the beast. Maoists in each country must pay special attention to the unique conditions of their own struggle, and every Maoist party waging actual struggle understands this. The Indian Maoists pay specific attention to the struggles of Adivasi people and Dalits as they represent the lowest and deepest masses. This is where they draw their leadership and support from, and these groups make up a signficant portion of Party membership. Surely if the Naxalites only organized members of the dominant castes, they would have been wiped out decades ago. Why then would communists pay so little attention to the contradictions amongst the lumpen/proletariat in the US? 170 years of communist history in Amerika and worldwide has proved that it will be the New Afrikan nation, the indigenous nations, and all colonized peoples that will lead any revolution here. Ignore them at your own peril.

The second duty of white communists is to organize the lower classes of the settler nation into partisans of national liberation for all oppressed nations. Decades and decades of white radicals trying to unite with settler workers over immediate gains without revolutionary colonized leadership and a program of national liberation for the colonized has produced no tangible results. The misguided efforts in the 60s and 70s of a hundred stripes of settler radical, from the Progressive Labor Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the October League etc. have left us with nothing. The conclusion to be drawn from this, as J. Sakai points out, is that settler leadership, even radical settler leadership, will nine times out of ten lead the movement down the road of reproducing settler colonialism, rather than overthrowing it. White communists must take great pains to connect the real struggles of the settler lumpen/proletariat to the revolutionary movement of colonized peoples. Settler radicals must spend a great deal of time explaining to those who, despite their exploitation and immiseration under capitalism, still have a strategic unity with the settler bourgeoisie, how it is the colonized revolutionaries who will lead the liberation struggle. Only through this arduous work can the unity of the oppressor nation be broken apart. As Butch Lee reminds us in Night Vision, white workers do not need unity but rather the strategic disunification of the settler nation.

We need only imagine what a prison guard who suddenly finds herself with a revolutionary consciousness might do. Should she speak with her supervisors and union rep about the condition of the prisoners, advocate for nicer food, more yard time, and other reforms? We know from what we’ve seen from attempts at police “reform” that these attempts, rather than weakening the pigs, strenghten their unity and provide them with more funding. Or should she work with the prisoners, give them what cover she can to plot an escape, and when the day comes leave the right doors unlocked? We know that there is no reforming the prison camps or the prison guards’ unions, that they are only fit to be razed to the ground and done away with entirely. The so-called United States of Amerika is, as Lenin said about imperialist Russia, a prisonhouse of nations, and the settler nation, from the top to the bottom, are its deputized guards. There is no reforming this prison. George Jackson states, “if one were forced for the sake of clarity to define fascism in a word simple enough for all to understand, that word would be ‘reform.'” There is only jailbreaking those trapped inside and abolishing this prisonhouse of nations altogether.

   The Role Of Men

The arduous tasks above do not solely apply to white radicals. In FTP-PDX, 95% of our cadre are women or non-men (a phrase used to denote gender-oppressed peoples who lay outside of the gender binary and are unaffiliated with manhood), and in every case the struggles we have intervened with in the last year have been dominated by predatory men, and in each of those cases other men have covered for the abuser and helped push out the victims of abuse. Faced with this stark reality we launched a mass org for survivors to combat this misogynistic chauvinism. In general, women survivors responded with enthusiasm for our work, even if they didn’t always agree with our broader political goals or ideology. Men and their apologists, on the other hand, responded immediately with hostility and cop-jacketing. So we are confronted with the question: what is the role of men in the communist movement, and where do we as white women fit?

   Similar to the task of white communists, the responsibility of communist men is twofold: unite behind the leadership of revolutionary women, and struggle with other men in order to turn men into partisans for women’s liberation. The leadership of men in the communist movement is often assumed. From Lenin to Stalin to Mao to Gonzalo to Chairman Bob, the “great man” we’re supposed to give fealty to varies from formation to formation, but is usually equally inadequate. This has to end. It can’t just be the nagging wives of the party that push this issue. Revolutionary men, if they are to truly be revolutionary, have to take up this fight themselves. Communist men are quick to say that women hold up half the sky, but in their mouths it just sounds like men giving themselves too much credit.

   I am not proposing that we jettison the genuine lessons that revolutionary men have taught our movement (except Chairman Bob, you can keep him), but that the de-facto assumption of men’s leadership needs to end. There will be no white man playing Lenin or Mao’s roles in the eventual breakup of the Amerikan empire and we’d all be better off abandoning any fantasy that there will be. If there are men (particularly white men, it is not the place of this piece or of myself to criticize revolutionary black men unduly) in communist organizations who are in positions of leadership they need to ask themselves why a gender-oppressed person isn’t in their place. If there are no gender-oppressed people in the group it should dissolve.

   Why does our solution to this problem mirror our solution to the problem of organizing white cadre? Because, put simply, patriarchy and settlerism are twin brothers and cannot be dealt with separately. Butch Lee writes:

“The most important commodity in the neo-colonial system is neither the computer chip nor petroleum, but Third World women. […] A modernization process in which ‘women are bred to subservience,’ devalued, conditioned to accept inhuman treatment, and follow male authority is not so much a prescription for tribalism as it is social conditioning to be a human commodity in the new multi-national economy.”

The hyper-exploitation of colonized women, at home and abroad, is necessary to maintain the neo-colonial economy and the settler nation’s way of life, regardless of gender. So in this way it is not merely enough to propose women’s leadership, as if women have monolithic interests. Working class colonized women and non-men must lead. White women have stood behind their men in the centuries long genocide of Afrikan and indigenous peoples. From the days of chattel slavery to the lynching of Emmett Till to the racism of the white lesbian separatists, white women assert their agency by denigrating and outright murdering New Afrikan men and strengthening the settler state. Butch Lee states in her review of Petronella Lee’s book Anti Fascism Against Machismo:

“It was white women more than white men who as always did the dirty household work of keeping schools segregated. Of maintaining the Color White. Of holding together white communities as right-wing social fortresses. Which they now are revealed to be to this day.”

   Settler women must break from this trend and break from the diseased settler nation. Only by falling in line behind the revolutionary leadership of colonized women and fracturing the unity of the settler state can we achieve true liberation.

   If white men are going to organize other white men then they need to be doing the painstaking work of turning themselves into revolutionary partisans of womens liberation. While gendered oppression is not the primary contradiction, it is an important one. Our experience in PDX shows us that simply because proletarian men and women share class interests does not mean that proletarian men are natural allies of womens’ liberation. Similar to the “blue wall of silence” that pigs use to protect each other, men, even so-called revolutionaries, almost never betray the boys’ club. Proletarian feminism must be in command, anything less assures the betrayal and abuse of women organizers and revolutionaries. The code of silence that men have with each other has to be disrupted, and if revolutionary men won’t do it then revolutionary women will, and even the communist members of the boys’ club will wind up in the crosshairs. Pigs is pigs.

Unity-Struggle-Unity

I am frequently baffled by the way communists, those whose responsibility is the ruthless criticism of all that exists, handle our own with kids’ gloves. The basis for Maoist work with other organizations is the unity-struggle-unity formula, but frequently it feels like settler communists leave out the middle. We want a united left because we think that if we just all get together tomorrow, then the so-called USA will collapse, no problem. Never mind that all the settler formations and affinity groups couldn’t fill a stadium, and between them there’s barely enough coherent strategy to organize a vegan barbecue. Tom “Big Warrior” Watts, settler opportunist leader of the rump NABPP, once said that “white radicals are nine parts bullshit and one part hesitation.” That this wound up being true about ol’ Tom himself only proves its truth even further. We as white communists need to stop fearing struggle in our work with other settlers; we can’t afford to pull any punches or wait any longer.

If we are to become genuine revolutionaries, we have to take up the national liberation struggle of colonized peoples as our own struggle, not ours to lead but ours to serve as partisans within. The old slogans calling for a united working class aren’t enough. The settler lumpen/proletariat, for all its contradictions, is already united with the settler bourgeoisie into the parasitic settler nation. It is our duty as white communists, as those who would be partisans in the revolutionary overthrow of the Amerikan prisonhouse of nations, to take hammers to these contradictions and turn them into fractures. Butch Lee, author of Night Vision, is correct when she says that “the oppressed have to break with parasitism — which means dis-unity with anyone who can’t give up parasitism or won’t. ‘By any means necessary.'” White women cannot continue to flood into the ranks of reformist, electoral movements. Electing “witty” bourgeois feminists might help us sleep at night, but the drones fly regardless. Butch Lee calls on white women to “…detox from patriarchy. To get our bearings on our own. To set out learning from our own plans. We need to walk away. And start on our own forty years in the wilderness.” To the uninitiated this might seem like a call for empty separatism, but in reality this is a call for working class white women to break our strategic unity with white men and the settler nation. This can be done, daunting as it might seem. We just have to do it, to set ourselves against the settler state. We will undoubtedly be in the minority, but all revolutionary movements start small, and we will certainly not be alone. 

White communists must do the arduous work of organizing our own and fracturing the settler nation. This will mean confronting our short term interests in maintaining settler power, discarding the privileges and power afforded to us by our white skin, and turning the passive contradictions between the settler lumpen/proletariat and bourgeoisie into active ones. This is a monster of a task, but it is not impossible. J. Sakai reminds us:

“Although the stereotype is of student radicals from wealthy or very suburban backgrounds, a number of the most radical collectives and armed struggle groups of the 1960’s were disproportionately working class in their composition. The George Jackson Brigade or the semi-underground G.I. organizations, for instance. But then, these weren’t folks trying to reform the white union at the Ajax chrome toilet factory – they wanted out, of their dead culture with its racist and repressive rules and loyalties, out of their sick nation, the whole thing. They were a small minority, of course (although still many thousands, then).”

The colonized people currently struggling within the prisonhouse of nations that is the USA can and will make revolution without the settler lumpen/proletariat, that much is certain. If we don’t want to be a bloody stumbling block to that revolution, if we want to regain our humanity and connection to revolutionary peoples through struggle, we have to take up these tasks without hesitation. Anything else is a cop out.

Comrade Valerie
FTP-PDX

Sources:

J.Sakai: Settlers

Butch Lee and Red Rover: Night Vision: Illuminating War and Class on the Neocolonial Terrain

CPI-Maoist: Urban Perspectives

J.Sakai Comments on Looking On the White Working Class Historically

On Reading Petronella Lee’s  Anti-Fascism Against Machismo: gender politics and the struggle against fascism (Review by Butch Lee)

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