Political Work

Red Guards Austin – A Year Summation of the Life of a Militant Maoist Organization in the U.S. Central South

 

We received this summation of the Red Guards Austin collective and are publishing it with their permission. We are in fraternity with these comrades and think this is a contribution worth sharing, however the views expressed here are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of maosoleum or of the Liaison Committee for a New Communist Party or any of its branches.

Prologue: The Liberalism of the Austin Left

2014 November

The earliest configuration of what was to become Red Guards Austin (RGA) was no more than three comrades who were gradually gravitating towards Maoism at various levels of development. We were still in the process of searching for an outlet for our revolutionary longing in the form of a preexisting “party.” Through careful study and consideration of both local and countrywide leftist groupings, we came to the conclusion that no such organization existed that could constitute a party, let alone one that had firm ideological anti-revisionism, mass work, and the clear participation and leadership of women and people of oppressed nations. We were adrift, leaning on our past experiences as anarchists, animal rights activists, and workers to help us develop into active communists. The first hurdle we faced was due in part to our class backgrounds: none of us had finished high school, let alone received a college education, unlike most of the white middle-class left we had encountered in Austin. We became revolutionary communists out of a dire need for revolution spurred on by our low social status and difficult economic conditions. We were quickly disillusioned by the pomp of local university leftist organizations and had experienced nothing but alienation from them in the past. Continue reading

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Guest, Political Work

Report back on Solidarity Action with the Menard Correctional Center Hunger Strike

Guest post by St. Louis-area collaborator and comrade Ben Lind. Comments and questions are welcome in the comments section or at maosoleumblog@gmail.com.

 

Menard-Correctional-Center[1]

The Menard Correctional Center was built in 1878 and is the largest maximum security institution in the Illinois state prison system. Menard is grossly overcrowded and the prisoners suffer from all of the ills one would expect from too many people packed into old decaying buildings.

On the 15th of January a group of prisoners decided to press their common grievances by way of a hunger strike. Though reports vary, upwards of 21 prisoners began the strike and it seems that others have joined them. The response by corrections staff to the strike has included stripping the prisoners of clothing and personal possessions as well as reports of beatings and threats of forced feedings by medical staff – note forced feeding in this context is an extremely brutal punitive process in which a which a thick plastic tube is shoved down a fully conscious prisoner’s throat and then food is injected into the tube, a practice considered torture by the Tokyo Declaration of the World Medical Association since 1975.

In any case the prison authorities seem to be intent on greeting the prisoners demands with violent repression but the prisoners are also intent on holding firm.

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We comrades decided to organize an outside noise demo, and gathered around noon and one thing was absolutely clear to all of us, it was gonna be cold! It was 10F when I left home in the morning and was probably colder when we arrived in Menard.

The site of the prison itself is intimidating, located at the foot of some bluffs with only one access road running in front of the institution. Upon arrival we met up with comrades from other cities at a small picnic area on the edge of the prison grounds and marched to the front gate with music blaring from a portable sound-system powered by car battery and all the while loudly chanting our support for the hunger strikers. By coincidence we showed up at the same time as a shift change of the prison staff. We were treated to a parade of rubber necking Correctional Officers who laughed, pointed, took pictures,etc.  as they drove by. We marched through the parking lot in front of the prison until guards hustled out to warn us that we could not be on prison property. We lined up across the street from the prison, blasted music, chanted and beat on drums and pots so that the prisoners might hear that someone was there to support them. We carried 2 banners and stood high on a railway embankment so prisoners and staff would see them. Local Chester cops began filing into the parking lot across from us and they conferred with guards who were watching us and taking pictures. After we had been there about 30 minutes we decided to march back to cars and go home. We noticed that one of the Chester cop SUV’s had driven to where our cars were parked and the cops were taking down the plate numbers of our cars , probably to call them in and check for warrants. We stayed together in a group so no one could be picked off in isolation and when we got back to the cars the cop let us leave without bother.

We had a pretty good turnout all things considered and are hoping that a message was conveyed to the prisoners that folks outside the walls are aware of their hunger strike and moreover willing to act in solidarity with them. A new period of struggle has been initiated in the prison system of the United States, the world’s largest and by no means least brutal. The California prisoners hunger strike of 2013 marked a ramping up of this conflict. The hunger strike of the Menard prisoners represents the opening up of yet another front in what looks to be a long season of confrontation against the cruelly oppressive, racist Amerikan penal system.

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Classes and Class Struggle

Brief Note on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the USA’s Government Shutdown

8200027083_57086b1664_o_d[1]So once again the legislature of the United States of America (USA) has locked out the governmental functions they find non-essential as part of their own political plays. I will not go over the details of this, as it can be found in nearly every news source on the internet. I will however briefly address some of the issues this shutdown lays bare and how they relate to the perspective on the dictatorship of the proletariat:

  1. It shows the government and State as distinct – one is a way to organize society, the other is a way to control this organization.
  2. It shows that the government is expendable to the State in times of crisis, or if the political will of a section of the government is of that persuasion.
  3. This precarious existence of the government, is matched by a ruling class consensus on the need for stability of the State.
  4. It show the limits of reformist politics as a way to effect actual structural change – the seizing of government is in the final analysis irrelevant unless the State is also seized.
  5. The State is in the context of the USA is a bourgeois class dictatorship, which means no structural transformation is possible without seizing the State, and that the government is ultimately beholden to the State.

One of the fundamental confusions one sees in the commentary around this shutdown is that of the State and government. The two often overlap, but they are not the same – and this shutdown illustrates sharply their differences.

Simply put, almost all the functions of the government have been shutdown, and almost all the functions of the State remain functioning.

This shows – clearly – the dictatorship of the bourgeois class in action: all of those functions of government the bourgeois has elected to implement as part of their democratic consensus and as a response to the struggles of the people have been shutdown, but those functions that are fundamental for the continuance of the class dictatorship (and its property relations) continue to function pretty much as normal.

The best illustration of this phenomena is the bipartisan law passed to ensure that military personnel and military functions remain fully funded and that all salaries are paid. Another is the continuance of tax collection, entitlement payment, and other outlays not related to the functioning of government on the part of State. Even services that might be understood as being part of government – such as food inspections – remain in function, but these are actually part of the role the State plays as guarantor of the class peace: without such arbitration, the bourgeois order would collapse as it needs it as part of the capitalist property relations.

This difference has very concrete consequences for the pursuit of revolutionary politics. We posit, sharply, that one of the fundamental problems of the left and the proletarian class revolutionary movement is too much preoccupation with the matters of government, and not enough preoccupation with the matters of the State. This is not to say that government is without importance – to say so would be ridiculous – but it is to say the relationship that should be viewed as dialectical, with the the State as the primary dynamic force in the relationship.

We all need government, even under communism: government is the way infrastructure gets built and maintained, it is how disputes are resolved (generally) in socially constructive ways, it is how we process collectively the issues of health, education, safety, and security. Even the most technologically simple human societies have some form of government.  The State, on the other hand is no necessary in the final instance: it is an expression of class dictatorship, in which one class directs government to its own ends, and utilizes repression and a monopoly on violence to do so. Now, we are not anarchists – we do not believe the State can be overthrown in one day, but we are historical materialists, and thus understand that for the State to be eliminated, the proletariat must seize it and establish its own class dictatorship.

What this shutdown shows, very clearly, is the limits placed upon government in the democratic-bourgeois State, and thus the necessity of this overthrow of the bourgeois dictatorship and its replacement . In this case, a law that benefits one camp of the bourgeois (the medical insurance industry), causes the shutdown of all government functions. This law is not a progressive law, and while it might have a palliative effect on the severe lack of affordable health care in the USA, it is far from something any socialist could support. Yet this very capitalist, very neo-liberal, law cause such a stir in the halls of government that it leads to it being shutdown.

Now, imagine if instead of Obamacare were an actual reform of the health care system. Something still moderate, but structurally significant, like a single-payer system. What would have been the response then?

This is a clear illustration of the very real limits of reformism as posit by many forces in the left. Somehow, they seem to think, the issue is a lack of votes: yet here we have a shutdown over a law that was approved by a majority of congress. If such a mild transformation of little structural effect meets with such destructive and disruptive opposition, what would be the response to a real reform of structural consequence? Definitely at least as harsh, most probably much harsher – including the actual disruption of the State functions. And there are plenty of examples, including in the history of the USA itself, of this happening – so it is not idle, abstract speculation to say so. A classic example, however, is the Allende government in Chile, which was overthrown violently by the organs of the State, in spite of being the constitutionally defined government. Those who think this scenario is impossible in the USA, need to heed the historical lesson: the Allende government suffered several shutdowns as a prelude to its overthrown, and then faced a coup attempt that was put down by Pinochet himself! A government shutdown is nearly always a show of strength on the part of the most reactionary sections of the State against its less reactionary sections. Of course, in the USA, these contradictions are much less sharp – Obama is a neo-liberal, Allende was a socialist – but the structural analogy lies in the possibility of a socialist or even a progressive coming to governmental power in the USA. If a neo-liberal faces such fierce opposition, what would a socialist or a progressive face?

The government shutting down shows very clearly the precarious position that those political forces that claim that government, and not the State, are the primary means of social transformation. The precarious existence is precisely why we need revolutionary politics: revolution is the only way the State – not government – can be seized.  The only real government shutdown we can support and feel happy about is when we shutdown the bourgeois government and a people’s government emerges under the dictatorship of the proletariat.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that the path is this easy, that we should stop doing politics until then – but we also have a responsibility to talk about and expose the structure of capitalism and this crisis provides us with a perfect opportunity to do so.

This is of course a brief note, and the topic is indeed a complex one, but lets not make this complexity obscure what is indeed simple: the need for proletarian dictatorship, and the need for a people’s government as a path towards the full emancipation of humanity from class and the State.

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