On My Interstate Transfers, the Constitution of the New Afrikan Nation, the Role of Euro-Amerikan Comrades, Prison Exploitation, and George Jackson on Fascism
by Marquis Winston of Kite Line Radio (2018)
This interview has been republished through Red Voice by courtesy of Kite Line Radio.
Kevin "Rashid" Johnson is an incarcerated prison organizer, author, and artist who works within the NABPP-PC (New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter) as its Minister of Defense.
Current updates on his status within prisons can be found on his blog, along with his writings and artwork.
Marquis: What was the intent of the authorities to move you to Florida? Did they see it as disconnecting you from the contacts you had in Texas? Doesn't moving you allow for building new networks in different states?
Rashid: Each one of my interstate transfers (from VA to OR, then TX to FL) was intended to isolate me and deter my political work and involvement in exposing and challenging abusive prison conditions.
However, everywhere I went I continued my work which prompted each prison system to get rid of me in turn. And, yes, the unintended consequence (unintended for the officials that is) has been to allow and facilitate the spread of this work and networks.
What they anticipated, and tried to instigate, was violent conflict between me and other prisoners, which I didn't fall for. Instead, I won others over and focused on publicizing official abuses and exposing their lying attempts to cover up what they were doing.
Marquis: How should outside supporters focus their energies? Should we attempt to build a united front around a few key issues? How do we keep "politics in command" when mobilizing a mass base for reform-oriented goals?
Rashid: There's such a broad range of work to be done, which single-issue organizing and groups can't and won't meaningfully grapple with. There has to be a political center that correctly analyzes the overall problem and its interrelated parts, And organically connected to it you have to have locally based groups and programs that address and confront the various aspects of the system adapted to the particular local conditions. This is the meaning behind the revolutionary organizing principle of having a solid core with a lot of elasticity.
So the focus of outside folks should be on the one hand building and consolidating that solid core (within which there is ideological unity) and on the other hand linking that core up with various local struggles including that against the repressive prison structure.
In this way you will be building and practicing the politics of a broad and mass-oriented united front. By remaining rooted in the overall revolutionary ideological and political line of the central body of the movement, the local activists will remain politically focused, or, as you say, they'll keep revolutionary politics in command, even though their immediate work may be reform-oriented.
Marquis: If the New Afrikan Nation is not constituted as a territorial nation, what does its constitution look like? How will social forces be developed for national independence?
Rashid: The New Afrikan Nation is a geographically dispersed one. There is no contiguous territory as Amilcar Cabral pointed out to Eldridge Cleaver during talks they had before Amilcar's assassination, and during the period when the Black Panther Party embraced the politics of revolutionary nationalism.
Now I don't agree with Amilcar's view that this factor deprived New Afrikans of being a historically constituted nation/nationality of people. In fact, that we are no longer a people concentrated in the South, (as we were up until the era of the two world wars when we undertook massive migrations to urban areas in the North and West), has allowed us to undergo an important class transformation from a primarily rural farming people (essentially a peasant nation) to an urban-based wage-laboring people (essentially a proletarian nation).
This advances us not only to a higher stage of historical and class development and thus potential revolutionary organization, but also ties us to the proletariat of the world which of course includes all nations/nationalities, genders, "races", and so on. This in effect unites us with all the world's oppressed peoples and because of our particular historical relationships with Amerikan imperialism, which was born from our centuries of oppression and exploitation, it gives us a vanguard role in its destruction.
Our struggle should not be one for mere territorial acquisition on which to constitute ourselves as a nation-state (which isn't possible given the political-economic, technological, etc. interdependence of the world under U.S. imperialist domination, and the fact that there are no "free" nations), but rather to play a leading role in destroying this system so the entire world can be free.
To this end we must unite with all oppressed peoples and classes in a revolutionary intercommunalist struggle to defeat US imperialism.
Marquis: If there is a multinational, multiparty vanguard in the US, will the New Afrikan vanguard play a leading role? Should Euro/"white" comrades focus their energies on facilitating the liberation of the New Afrikan Nation or organize in their communities around economical/political issues? If so, how can there be maintained an anti-racist, anti-neo-colonial politics amongst the white proletariat?
Rashid: As I just pointed out, yes, the advanced sectors of the New Afrikan Nation should – indeed must – play a leading role in the vanguard of this struggle.
Euro/"white" comrades should work to unite the oppressed sectors of "white" Amerika with the rest of the oppressed world to pull them from under the cultural and racial sway of the ruling class, and unite them in their political and economic struggles with the rest of us. This is the reason we founded the White Panther Organization (WPO) as an arm of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (NABPP).
White comrades as a part of our Party can take our line and programs into the white communities, and build alliances and programmatic unity between our communities and the programs we develop to serve them. By members of the Party taking its politics and programs into the white communities, this will spread and perpetuate living anti-racist and anti-neocolonial politics.
Marquis: Can you give some thoughts on the work of the NABPP and the IWW/IWOC to organize prisoners as workers? Do you think that incarcerated workers occupy a strategic role in the US economy? Or is the goal more subjective in raising the lumpen to
a proletarian consciousness?
Rashid: Foremost, our task is to awaken in prisoners a revolutionary working-class consciousness. As a criminalized community, prisoners are almost all subject to lumpen influences and behaviors, although many are in fact proletarians, or slave laborers within a capitalist-imperialist political economy, much as Marx observed of Amerika's antebellum chattel slaves. Some comrades have erroneously classified those chattel slaves as proletarians, like Theodore Allen in his writings. This is an important distinction.
In any event, prisons have generally served as a school of criminality where folks are enculturated into a criminalistic lifestyle. Our role is to instead convert the prison into "revolutionary schools of liberation" where we "transform the criminal mentality into a revolutionary mentality." This is actually the guiding slogan of a newsletter the NABPP now puts out called Main Line.
The NABPP and IWW/IWOC haven't formally united in carrying out this particular agenda, but our joint work moves in this direction. Much of what we've consciously united around is building consciousness and support for various prison strikes that have taken place over the past few years.
No, the role of prisons in the US economy isn't a strategic one – however, within the imperialist system's structure of oppression, its role is indeed strategic, which is why spreading revolutionary politics on the inside is vital to the broader movement. Let me illustrate my point with a little history:
Many of us know that the struggles here in the US in the late 1960s and early '70s nearly brought the system to its knees – struggles in which the BPP played a vital leading role.
Because of that work in general, and Comrade George Jackson's in particular, the prisons became bastions of revolutionary learning and a growing united struggle (that crossed and defied racial lines in particular), which came to influence the outside movements.
When George was assassinated by guards in 1971, which contributed to the Attica prison uprising only weeks later, the pigs devised to suppress the spread of revolutionary influences inside the prisons and on the streets. They devised to do this by reintroducing solitary confinement on a wide scale in US prisons, through which to isolate and attempt to mentally break the politically conscious who were influencing others and leading the struggles. This was initiated with the opening of the Marion Control Unit just a few months after Attica, which began the proliferation of solitary confinement units and prisons (euphemistically called "control units" and "supermax" prisons).
A later warden at Marion, Ralph Arons, revealed this true purpose of such units in federal court where he admitted "The purpose of the Marion Control Unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in prison, and society at large." (Quoted in Stephen Whitman, "The Marion Penitentiary— It Should be Opened Up Not Locked Down," Southern Illinoisan, Aug 7, 1988, p. 25).
So the massive proliferation of solitary confinement units and prisons during and after the '70s wasn't by happenstance, but was in direct response to, and calculated to, suppress the movements of the '60s—'70s. And it worked.
But now prisoners and their allies are rising in protest against the wide-scale abuse of solitary confinement in US prisons, which came about in response to those earlier struggles, among other unresolved outrages. And remember, the US Supreme Court had ruled solitary confinement to be cruel and unusual torture and unconstitutional in 1890, (See, In re Medley, 134 U.S. 160 (1890)), following which its use largely fell out of favor in US prisons – until 80 years later.
So you see, there is a particular strategic value in raising prisoners' political consciousness, even though prisons don't per se play a strategic role at the point of production in the overall economy.
Also, these politically conscious prisoners have an important role to play upon reentering society, as vanguard elements having had the time and opportunity to receive revolutionary teaching that the time inside affords.
Marquis: Can you share your perspectives from your experience in different states around the corporate/state profiteering in prisons? How should this issue be contextualized, especially in mobilizing a United Front politics?
Rashid: The profiteering is obscene. Take the handful of corporate commissary vendors that charge prisoners usurious prices for demonstrably inferior and substandard goods, of which our loved ones bear the brunt, since prisoners must work for free or only pennies per hour. We most all come from poor communities, so subsidizing our imprisonment in this manner is a burden for our loved ones.
Then there are the overpriced telephone rates and our having to pay "mailing" costs for emails, which people in society send and receive for free. It's a monopolistic scam at every turn. And for "allowing" these scams, the states receive massive kickbacks.
As you are aware, alongside the present pervasive abuse of solitary confinement, the widespread practice of slave labor in US prisons is, at present, a hotly protested issue by prisoners and our allies, as is the profiteering of vendors.
These struggles are ready-made to link up with broader struggles of outside workers in other sectors of the economy countering the manipulative pretenses of the Trump administration with creating jobs for US workers, when prisoners are made to perform corporate and other work for free or pennies that should be paying outside workers a living wage to do. This is taking jobs that people need, so corporations and the state can save billions in labor costs that they'd have to pay in wages and legally required benefits to outside workers.
It all links together quite clearly to articulate and organize a United Front politics around. Not to mention adding the issues of police state oppression, racism, etc. that also tie right into it.
Marquis: There has been a lot of talk about fascism recently, mostly around how to define it. Do you think George Jackson's works on fascism are underutilized? The notion that the US is already fascist I believe would be hard for people to grasp, but is in my view the most appealing theoretical assessment.
Rashid: The NABPP is the only group I'm aware of that has formally adopted George's views of US fascism. I analyze and endorse his position in my 2006 article, "Some Thoughts on Amerikan Fascism and our Contemporary Situation," formerly titled, "What is Fascism?" (see also, Panther Vision: Essential Party Writings and Art of Kevin "Rashid" Johnson, pg 405).
That the US already is and has since WWII been fascist may indeed be difficult for many to grasp, but it doesn't change this reality which exists independent of what's going on inside people's minds. What's decisive is for those of us who do understand this to lead and organize accordingly.