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While Claiming to Defend Freedom Around the World, the U.S. Has Dozens of Political Prisoners—and the Majority are People of Color


Racism is still the driving force behind U.S. political imprisonment

Political imprisonment in the United States exists primarily as a tool of racist repression. It is aimed disproportionately at people of color, as well as others engaged in anti-racist struggle. Whether in the fight against racism at home or against racist foreign policies, wars, occupation and colonialism, the overarching purpose of political imprisonment is to intimidate and try to crush militant forms of anti-racist struggle.

By treating U.S. political prisoners as “common criminals,” the criminal justice system individualizes each case as if they are somehow separate from their social contexts. This ignores root causes and impedes the development of political solutions to the underlying issues for which people have been arrested.

Readers can discern for themselves what is revealed in the findings presented here, and in the US Political Prisoner list this article analyzes. The large number of people of color and others involved in the anti-racist struggle arrested for their activities is sadly predictable. Our entire history and existing political and economic institutions are founded and advanced squarely on the foundations of racism.amertkan political prisoners

The problem is the entire U.S. social, political and economic apparatus. It’s the system that must change. Only when that happens will political prisoners find justice and true liberation in the U.S. We fight for the liberation of Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal. But as wonderful as winning freedom for individuals may be, without a political solution, little is accomplished regarding the causes for which these prisoners have sacrificed their freedom.A poster with a group of people

Description automatically generated with low confidence[Source:]

Not all U.S. political prisoners are in jail for explicitly anti-racist struggles. There are those in prison for opposing the whole fabric of militarism and war, women who have defended their bodies from abuse, striking blows against patriarchy, and eco-defenders.

Recognizing the racism that permeates U.S. political imprisonment does not diminish the validity of the struggles for which they were arrested. Without exception, racism and anti-racism is a factor in every facet of U.S. popular movements. For instance, all anti-war and anti-imperialist struggle has a fundamentally anti-racist aspect. The one existing imperial power in the world today is the U.S./NATO Empire, an Empire centered among mostly White nations, in service to global capitalism and western geopolitical hegemony. That Empire is the primary global purveyor of the exploitation and dispossession of Black, Indigenous, and other colonized peoples in the nations of the Global South.

We further recognize that we can and must look to anti-racist struggles, especially Black and Indigenous liberation, for guidance, lessons, and leadership, regardless the area of activity. The Alliance for Global Justice analysis published August 5, 2020 (which this paper updates), explains that,

“…We are convinced that African people, including the African diaspora, play a leading role in all revolutionary and transformational struggles. African and Indigenous peoples have been specially targeted for repression and exploitation from the very beginning days of the global spread of capitalism. Today, in the U.S., the movement for the rights and self-determination of Black people has, above all else, shown that it is not a temporary struggle but that it has staying power.

There is a thread that connects the struggles of the very first enslaved people through the historic Civil Rights Movement to the… Black Lives Matter uprisings today. The struggle for Black liberation in the U.S. is huge, mature yet young: multigenerational, experienced, politically savvy, and enduring. The successes of Black liberation struggles have always, in every instance, opened the way for other struggles. The struggles against slavery and for Black voting rights led directly to the women’s suffrage movement. The Civil Rights Movement was a foundation for an endless list of struggles, including anti-war, anti-poverty, women’s rights, Latin American and Asian liberation movements, disability rights, gay rights, and more. (Indigenous defense of the land and its people is, of course, the oldest movement in resistance to Empire in the Americas.) Thus, we can say that the prominence of African heritage political prisoners in the U.S. is a situation that concerns all of us.”

AFGJ has maintained a list of U.S. Political Prisoners since 2013, when Stan Smith of the Chicago Committee to Free the [Cuban] Five put that list together for the first time, counting 38 U.S. Political Prisoners. Due to a lack of capacity at the time, we did not undertake an update again until 2018, when we were able to hire Nasim Chatha to help us organize a new comprehensive and updated list. Nasim had been our intern in 2012 and had written some of our pioneering work on the related theme of Prison Imperialism. (Prison Imperialism focuses on the export of the US mass incarceration model to other countries.)

Ours is not the only political prisoner list, and we have always consulted the work of others while augmenting those with our research. We have especially relied heavily on the advice and feedback of Claude Marks from the Freedom Archives and have regularly referenced the Jericho Movement, the Nuclear ResisterEarth First!, and the Anarchist Black Cross.

How we define who is a “political prisoner” is a classification always open to debate. We note that some organizations, such as the Jericho Movement, do not list people as political prisoners unless they have asked or agreed to be so listed. As we noted in our 2020 report,

“There is a concern that prisoners may experience further targeting and harassment as a result of attention brought by well-meaning supporters. We very much respect that. For our purpose, we are trying to build a comprehensive list that reflects the overall extent and reality of politically motivated arrests in the United States. We are not involved in direct advocacy. For political prisoners who have specific solidarity campaigns, we have tried to provide links. If there are no advocacy organizations linked, they may not exist or be wanted.”

We are not attempting to maintain a complete list of all U.S. political prisoners. Instead, our list is of U.S. political prisoners who are also prisoners of Empire (PP/POEs). There are, for instance, animal rights activists whom we do not include. A person arrested for direct action against the inhumane conditions suffered under the conditions of factory farming, or to liberate animals from pens where there is no freedom of movement, is not included, unless there is some element directly related to the struggle against the underpinnings of Empire.Home | Jericho Movement[Source:]

Even under socialism, under nations in resistance to Empire, sometimes even under locally autonomous communities, there are animals kept and exploited under conditions that can only be described as cruel. But one cannot simply blame Empire for this, even when and if it exacerbates the problem.

How, then, do we define political prisoners who are also prisoners of Empire? Our August 5, 2020 report on political prisoners states:

“Our definition of political prisoners refers to people who are incarcerated for alleged crimes related to resistance and liberation from repression. We believe that these cases should not be treated as isolated, ‘common’ crimes, but [cases that] require a political solution. In many cases, those in jail are there because of false allegations or because they were framed and railroaded through the courts. Our list is not only of political prisoners, but also of what we term “prisoners of Empire.” By that, we mean people who are jailed because of activities that constitute a direct challenge to the national and international dominance of U.S., NATO, and transnational capitalist imperialism.”

We also note in our listing that,

“…political prisoners […] require a political solution […] Whether the circumstances of the alleged crimes are true or false, we strenuously reject the individualized and out-of-context treatment of these cases as simply ‘common crimes.’ Our listing of these prisoners does not constitute an endorsement of the tactics or immediate goals of every individual. We also recognize that people have a right to resist oppression, and the failure to do so can be, itself, a crime against the people. In many cases, those arrested have been set up, falsely accused, railroaded, and/or denied adequate defense and basic human rights. More often than not, they have received harsher sentences than usual because of the political nature of their activities.”

Although the origins of our PP/POEs list date back to 2013, this is only the second comprehensive analysis we’ve published. The first analysis was in response to the 2020 uprising sparked by the extrajudicial killing of George Floyd. We admit that what we have could be significantly augmented.

We need another major and exhaustive review of the definitions, criteria, and categories we employ. Towards that end, we’ve established a committee that will spend the next year revising all aspects of the list. This is an ongoing process, and if you have suggestions for improvements, we want to hear what you have to say. Feel free to send your suggestions to

One must also look at the back stories behind the numbers and trends. For instance, in 2018, we listed 50 political prisoners. After several minor revisions in the interim, in which the total was steady, we published a major update in August of 2020, following the peak of the 2020 uprising. We found that after the 2020 uprising, the number of PPs/POE had risen by 12.28% to 57.

As of the present moment, the number has diminished to a count of 55 U.S. PP/POEs, as of August 10, 2022. The decline in the overall number can be attributed to paroles, completed sentences, as well as deaths, of several PP/POEs. Especially, over the past two years, several Black PP/POEs arrested in crackdowns during the previous century have died in prison or been released after decades behind bars. These include the MOVE 9 and participants in historic Black liberation struggles, both armed and unarmed.

In 2020, we found 38.60% of PPs/POE were Black, and just over 72% were people of color. Today, the percentage of Black PP/POEs has dropped to 34.55% (19), while the overall number of people of color who are PPs/POE has dropped to 69% (38). Of the other PP/POEs who are people of color, 10.9% (6) are Latino; 5.45% (3) are North “American” Indigenous; 3.64% (2) are Asian-American (non-Arab, Middle Eastern, or Central Asian); and 16.36% (9) are Arab, Middle Eastern, African Muslim, or Central Asian (one PP/POE is of Pakistani heritage, and one PP/POE is included under both Latino and Arab, ME, etc.-heritage categories).

As for the last category, we have included these together because we’ve found it difficult to find statistics related to these specific ethnic groups. Instead, we find the closest readily available statistics have to do with Muslims in prison—and Muslim is not an ethnicity and can include people from all over the world, including those who are not necessarily people of color.

Although Muslim or perceived-as-Muslim peoples are not ethnicities, they are discriminated against as if they were, targeted as a class because of their actual or perceived religious identification. Similarly, prison population statistics regularly confuse the count of Latino prisoners by counting most of them simply as “white.”

To understand the racism revealed in these percentages, we must compare them to the demographic percentages of the US population as a whole. Respectively, we find that the U.S. general population is 13.6% Black, 18.9% Latino, 1.3% Indigenous, and 1.1% “Muslim.”

The racist application of the “criminal justice” system is a feature of the entire system, not just of political imprisonment, which itself reflects a larger reality. For instance, we find that Black persons are incarcerated at a rate 3.5 times higher than that of Whites.Progression from slavery to mass incarceration in US history[Source:]

We need to place the differences and the total number of PP/POEs within context. Among the U.S. PP/POEs, it is significant that just over 14.55% (8) of the total are those incarcerated for their activities during the 2020 Uprising. There are also still two PP/POEs that remain in jail for activities related to the Ferguson uprising in 2014, following the extrajudicial killing of Michael Brown. If we add those together, we find that 18.18% of U.S. PPs/POE have been jailed in relation to charges stemming from the birth and continued growth of the Black Lives Matter movement.Michael Brown: Missouri police officer who killed the 18-year-old faces no  charges | CNN[Source:]

How do we determine who and how many are PPs/POE because of anti-racist struggle? We count 22 of 55 PPs/POE, or 40%, arrested for domestic anti-racist actions. As an international solidarity organization, AFGJ is keenly aware that U.S. foreign policies and international relations are extensions of the same policies, attitudes, and actions that drive domestic racism. U.S. wars, sanctions, blockades, and Prison Imperialism are overwhelmingly wielded against nations with a large majority of people of color, countries of the Global South. We find that 11 PPs/POE are in jail for actions of international solidarity with specific nations targeted by Empire (as Noam Chomsky defines it, “an integrated policy of U.S. military and economic supremacy”).

Another 8 are people involved in activities of self-determination, liberation, and defense of their territories from occupation, war, sanctions, and blockades.

Among them are Simon Trinidad from Colombia, Ivan Vargas from Colombia, Alex Saab from Venezuela, the Virgin Island Three, Mun Chol, Myong, and Leonard Peltier (in defense of the Lakota nation in occupied South Dakota). Together, these represent 34.55% (19) of those engaged in struggle directly against the international application of U.S. racist and political repression. When we combine those arrested for domestic and international resistance to U.S. racism, we find that 42 of 55 PPs/POE, 76.36%, are incarcerated for acts of anti-racist resistance.

In other words, more than three quarters of US/POEs are in jail for activities that can be described as anti-racist.Simon Trinidad, a trophy by way of extraditionSimon Trinidad [Source: prenasural.comNoDAPL Water Protector Michael 'Rattler' Markus Sentenced to Federal Prison  - UNICORN RIOTMichael “Rattler” Markus [Source:]

We also count 5.54% (three) PP/POEs jailed for eco-defense. 7.27% (four) were arrested for activities generally or directly opposed to U.S. militarism and wars. 7.27% (the Cleveland Four) are in prison for generalized resistance to the U.S. political system and global capitalism. 3.64% (two) women are in jail for defending themselves from their abusers or rapists.

As for the last category, the reality is that there are hundreds if not thousands we might include in that category. We need to pose several questions and investigations to determine who and how many of these there are and who, if not all, could be considered Prisoners of Empire. We ask the reader to be patient with us as we delve into this complex and challenging area of research for next year’s report.

For now, we include Maddesyn George and Fran Thompson as emblematic cases for which we know there is a much higher total.Maddesyn's Story — FREE MADDESYN GEORGEMaddesyn George. She is a native woman sentenced to six and a half years in prison on manslaughter charges after she defended herself against a white man who raped and threatened her life. [Source:]

We also note that there is overlap in some of these categories. For instance, Fran Thompson is included as a woman arrested for self-defense and an eco-defender, exacerbating her prosecution and sentencing. There are other cases where people are counted in more than one category.

At the 2013 Tear Down the Walls conference in Tucson, Arizona, Margaret Prescod of Global Women’s Strike argued that all those interned under the inherently racist and classist U.S. model of mass incarceration are political prisoners. That may not be our definition, but who can honestly claim she was wrong? Tutorial At HomeAna Belen Montes [Source: tutorialathome.inFranThompsonFran Thompson [Source:]

In our list of classes of political imprisonment, we include those held in immigrant detention centers and those still held in occupied Cuba at the Guantánamo prison. But they are not counted among the 55 PPs/POE that we document.

We do know this—even if we added the 36 inmates in Guantánamo, the thousands held in immigrant detention centers, the many women jailed for defending themselves against their rapists and abusers, and, therefore, in resistance to the patriarchal underpinnings of the Empire, these inclusions would only underscore what we already know: political imprisonment in the U.S. is a tool of racist as well as other easily identified forms of repression both at home and abroad, and all of these cases require political solutions, not individualized and decontextualized punishment.

Ultimately, systemic change is needed, which is another way of saying revolution.


‘Mothers of Gynecology’ monument exposes horrors of slavery

By Monica Moorehead 

A righteous tidal wave of anger followed people seeing the nine-minutes-plus videotaped police lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis late May 2020. Racist monuments glorifying the slave-owning Confederacy came tumbling down, especially in the Deep South. These acts to take down the statues were part of historic mass protests that swept the country during the summer of 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The enslaved Black “Mothers of Gynecology” are now honored in this memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

Two years earlier the monument paying homage to J. Marion Sims, once praised as the “father of modern gynecology,” was removed from Central Park in New York City, following many years of protest.

What led to the removal was a growing understanding and anger that Sims, a 19th century gynecologist in Montgomery, Alabama, used enslaved Black women as guinea pigs, experimenting on them with new medical techniques without using anesthesia or obtaining their consent. His techniques resulted in unspeakable torture.

Sims believed that Black women did not experience the same kind of pain as white human beings. Black people were nothing more than chattel to Sims and his ilk, who viewed them as less than human and actually treated them worse than animals. This was the prevailing view of enslavers in the South and even in some regions of the North.

Black women during this period were denied the right to control their own reproductive systems and destinies, starting when they were adolescents. This is horribly similar to the recent case of the 10-year-old girl from Ohio, raped twice, impregnated, and in order to receive an abortion, was forced to travel to Indiana, because of the fascistic anti-abortion law in Ohio. The doctor who performed that abortion is now being threatened with prosecution by the attorney general of Indiana, using a legal technicality to harass and punish her.

Treated as property, enslaved Black girls and women were systematically raped and sexually assaulted by white plantation owners and treated as “breeders” to produce more enslaved people. The enslaved grandmother of the great Mississippi activist, Fannie Lou Hamer, was forced to give birth 21 times as a result of this barbaric treatment.

Honoring those who resisted

In Montgomery where Sims first performed his horrific experiments, a stunning new monument was unveiled Sept. 24, 2021. “Mothers of Gynecology” includes figures representing Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey, three of the 11 enslaved women who were unwilling participants in Sims’ depraved procedures. Anarcha was reportedly pregnant at age 17 during this time.

The statues, located at the More Up Campus, are almost 15 feet high and were created by local Montgomery artist and activist Michelle Browder. The campus is dedicated to changing how history is remembered, “by finding creative ways to honor the voiceless, the minimized, the ignored.” (

Browder says of her motives, “The endeavor is to change the narrative as it relates to the history and how it’s portrayed, regarding Sims and the women [who] were used as experiments. They’re not mentioned in any of the iconography or the information, the markers.

“No one talks about these women and their sacrifices and the experimentations that they suffered,” Browder said. “And so I feel that if you’re going to tell the truth about this history, we need to tell it all.

“There’s more to this history than Dr. King and Rosa Parks, and the Confederacy.” (, Sept. 27, 2021)

The monument is a gut-wrenching reminder of the strategic role that slavery played in establishing the U.S. as the most powerful imperialist country in the world, through the ongoing systematic and systemic repression of Black people as an oppressed nation.

As every Confederate monument comes tumbling down, new monuments should eventually take their place, honoring those who gave their life’s blood to resist and destroy the monstrous institution of white supremacy.

Besides the legendary heroes Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey,

Gabriel Prosser, Osborne P. Anderson and John Brown, now in Montgomery the less-well-known heroes are honored — Lucy, Anarcha and Betsey.


A New York organization paid poor widows of Tuskegee experiment $100 to further study their dead husbands’ bodies

A Black man has blood drawn by a doctor in Tuskegee, Alabama in the Tuskegee syphilis study. Image: The National Archives

The Tuskegee Experiment was a 40-year research project that studied the effects of the disease syphilis when left untreated. Black rural farm workers were the subjects of the U.S. government-sponsored study and were kept in the dark as they were being left to suffer. A whistleblower revealed the unethical and morally unjust aims of the study after he went to the press in 1972.

For four decades, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) studied the effects of the untreated disease in 600 Black men from Macon County, Ala. Starting in 1932, 399 of the 600 sharecroppers to be studied were already afflicted with the venereal disease. The farmers were led to believe that they were being treated for “bad blood,” a term used to describe a number of unknown ailments. The Tuskegee Institute, also in Alabama, was the site where the study took place.

The disease spread to the families of the men in a devastating fashion. By the end of the experiments, 28 men died from the disease, another 100 died from complications related to the disease, 40 of the wives contracted syphilis, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis.

After several years, a foundation in New York has apologized for its role in the infamous experiment. The Milbank Memorial Fund said its role was to pay for the funeral expenses of the deceased men, up to $100, if their widows agreed to an autopsy allowing doctors to further study the bodies of their dead husbands, the Associated Press reported.

The fund’s apology came with a donation to Voices of our Fathers Legacy Foundation, a descendants’ group. The Milbank Memorial Fund said it became part of the study in 1935 after the U.S. surgeon general at the time, Hugh Cumming, asked it to. Milbank gave a total of $20,150 for about 234 autopsies, according to a study by historian Susan M Reverby.

Christopher F. Koller, president of the Fund, said there is no justification for what happened. “The upshot of this was real harm,” he told the Associated Press. 

In 1972 when Peter Buxtun, a White PHS venereal disease researcher, got the insidious nature of the study out to the public by way of the Washington Star, Sen. Edward Kennedy called several Congressional hearings over the matter, which Buxtun and other researchers testified. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed a class-action lawsuit, which was later settled for $9 million. The settlement also included free treatment to the surviving study patients and their families.

In 1974, Congress passed the National Research Act, which helped develop guidelines for human medical research and was sparked by the findings at Tuskegee. On May 16, 1997, then-President Bill Clinton apologized to the study participants and their families, calling the act “racist.”


After almost 50 years, former Black Panther Sundiata Acoli to be released from prison

Sundiata Acoli, a former Black Panther member who was convicted of murder in 1974 and has been denied parole multiple times, will now be released from prison. The New Jersey supreme court has granted parole to Acoli, ruling that he was no longer a threat to the public.

85-year-old Acoli has been serving a life sentence for the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper during a shootout in which Assata Shakur, the self-exiled aunt of Tupac Shakur, was also arrested. Shakur escaped in 1979 and fled to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum. Acoli had been eligible for parole since 1992 but had been denied so many times.

In the 1970s when the Black liberation fighters’ struggle was at its peak in the United States, it gave birth to militant groups like Philadelphia-based MOVE founded by John Africa in 1972 and the Black Panther Party founded in late October 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The Black Panthers’ militant wing was called the Black Liberation Army.

Acoli, a member of the Black Liberation Army, was on May 2, 1973, driving just after midnight when a state trooper, James Harper, stopped him for a “defective taillight”. Acoli was then in the vehicle with two others — Assata Shakur and Zayd Malik Shakur — who were also members of the Black Liberation Army. Harper was joined by another trooper, Werner Foerster, at the scene. Foerster then found an ammunition magazine for an automatic pistol on Acoli. A shootout ensued; Foerster died in the process and Harper was wounded.

Assata Shakur was arrested while Zayd Malik Shakur was found dead near the car. Acoli fled but was caught some hours later. Acoli and Assata Shakur were convicted of the murder of Foerster in separate trials. Acoli said he did not remember what happened as he passed out after being hit by a bullet. In 1974, Acoli was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Acoli became eligible for parole in 1992 but was not allowed to take part in his own parole hearing.

All in all, he has been denied parole eight times. His lawyer, Bruce Afran, said each time he is denied, the reason given is the same — “he hasn’t done enough psychological counseling; he doesn’t fully admit to his crime, or he hasn’t adequately apologized for it,” according to the Post. In 2014, a state appellate panel ruled that Acoli should be released, citing good behavior since 1996. The state Attorney General’s office however contested and the case was sent back to the board. Again, it denied Acoli’s request. Acoli started appealing that decision.

After being repeatedly denied parole, New Jersey’s Supreme Court has now voted 3-2 to overturn a parole board ruling, according to BBC. Acoli’s prison record has been “exemplary”, the judges said, adding that he had completed 120 courses while in prison, received positive evaluations from prison officials, and participated in counseling. The parole board had “lost sight that its mission largely was to determine the man Acoli had become”, the judges said.

Activists now hope that Acoli’s release would bring attention to other elderly members of the Black Panthers who are still imprisoned in the U.S


Products Sold by Companies using Prison Labour

Products-sold-by-companies-using-prison-labor-from-letter-from-imprisoned-man-by-Jahahara, Celebrating International Workers’ Day!, Culture Currents News & Views

Other side of the walls! Several months ago, i received this powerful copy of a hand-written graphic from a young incarcerated brother. Please take a good read, act in truth and with justice and share with others. Amen. Asé. – Photo: Baba Jahahara

VIDEO: Steve Arrington Shares Video for ‘Make a Difference

Today, Steve Arrington shares a video for “Make a Difference,” from his new album Down to the Lowest Terms: The Soul Sessions out now via Stones Throw.



The Nat Turner rebellion.

In 1831 a slave named Nat Turner led a rebellion in Southhampton County, Virginia. A religious leader and self-styled Baptist minister, Turner and a group of followers killed some sixty white men, women, and children on the night of August 21. Turner and 16 of his conspirators were captured and executed, but the incident continued to haunt Southern whites. Blacks were randomly killed all over Southhampton County; many were beheaded and their heads left along the roads to warn others. In the wake of the uprising planters tightened their grip on slaves and slavery. This woodcut was published in an 1831 account of the slave uprising.

Protest Police Terror & Tribute to Delbert Africa

MALCOLM X COMMEMORATION COMMITTEE PRESENTS: “APPRECIATING THE DIPLOMACY OF MALCOLM X”… Register Now To Join Co-authors Ilyasah Shabazz, Herb Boyd With Guests Zak Kondo & Abdul Alkalimat on Facebook Live – FRIDAY, JULY 17TH @ 6 pm – 8 pm ES

Join co-authors Ilyasah Shabazz, Herb Boyd and; Guests Zak Kondo  and Abdul Alkalimat on Facebook Live
Friday July 17, 2020 @ 6-8 pm EST
Join  Malcolm X Commemoration Committee 
on Facebook Live for this engaging appreciation…
Presenters include co-authors of The Diary of Malcolm X, Ilyasah Shabazz and Herb Boyd and Malcolm X Scholars Baba Zak Kondo and Prof Abdul Alkalimat…
This event marks the anniversary of the Malcolm X delivering his historic Memorandum to the Organization of African Unity in 1964.
The event is dedicated political prisoner Jalil Muntaqim, fighting Covid19 for his life and fighting for his freedom after 49 years in prison!
The event is FREE, but we are encouraging everyone to contribute to aid Jalil Muntaqim at
Join us as we host special guests Ilyasah Shabazz , Herb Boyd, co-authors of The Diary of Malcolm X, and scholars Baba Zak Kondo and Prof Abdul Alkalimat for an engaging appreciation of the legendary diplomatic travels of our ‘Black Shining Prince’ @ 6pm EST…
@ Facebook Live!… On the anniversary of his delivering his historic Memorandum to the Organization of African Unity on behalf of “22 million AfroAmericans”…Proceeds from the evening will to go to Panther political prisoner Jalil Muntaqim, fighting Covid19 for his life and for his freedom after 49 years in prison!


Free All Political Prisoners! •

From the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: From Black mass revolt to Freedom

Editor’s note: News and Letters Committees issued the pamphlet Black Mass Revolt in October 1967, following uprisings in Detroit and Newark. It was signed by the organization. Raya Dunayevskaya was the principal author of some parts, including the final Part V, “Where to Now?” which is excerpted here. The pamphlet can be found in the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #3526.

“Has Whitey got the message?” asked one of the Black militants. “Have our own leaders? The system has got to go.”

We trust no one will, at this late stage, presume to ask that young militant whether he “really” meant the capitalist system as if, facing the aftermath of a raid on a blind pig [speakeasy] on 12th Street, Detroit, the youth was talking about a system to break the bank at Monte Carlo.

Now that a new page in the dialectics of liberation—its thought as well as its struggles—has been opened, the question is: where to now? The dynamism of the debates around the question of Black nationalism reveals that the new feature of class awareness distinguishes this Black nationalism both from that of the “Nation of Islam” and of “Black Christianity.” Heretofore the latter two differed from each other by their religious, rather than their class, nature. Now they must relate themselves to the Black nationalism that is conscious of its class character which, in turn, has relegated the question of violence vs. non-violence to secondary importance. Instead, the primary question has become one of future direction.

The significance of the Detroit revolt is that here “Burn, baby, burn” meant putting to the torch not only white but also some Black establishments. Not only that. The Black masses had here raised the question of the middle-class nature of their Black leaders.

It may satisfy some vain self-styled leaders to think they have but one problem, that of “civilizing whites.” But the Black masses know that the Black “intellectual vanguard” is the same flesh as all elites. Elitism, no matter what color, is blinded by the concept of the alleged backwardness of the masses. Because this has always been so, those masses have no illusions about leaders, no matter what their color, who are glib with words against whitey, but tongue-tied when it comes to passing on leadership tasks to the rank and file.

Here is what one who had attended the Black Power Conference in Newark had to say on the subject:

The Black Power Conference in Newark is another example of how the leadership looks at the masses of Black people. It was held in the rich business district of Newark, in the Episcopal Diocese house and two of the richest hotels there. Also, it cost $25 to attend, which put it out of the reach of the poor working-class Black man.

At first they didn’t even want to let Newark people in without paying. Then it came to light that it was just to let people blow off steam, but to keep the old leadership in the spotlight, that all the projects afterward would be decided on by leaders who would then tell those who attended what to do. We changed some of that, but not everything.

Ever since the rebellions in Harlem and Watts in 1964 and 1965, there has been a movement among the Black masses of America toward either total freedom or death. Harlem and Watts manifested the fact that the civil rights movement was dead; that the Black man in this country wanted more than just civil rights.

The Black people want Freedom and Self-Determination, which, in itself, means the total overthrow of this society—in other words, revolution, And that is just what it is called by the youth as well as by the old—the Revolution.

The name of Black Power caught on. We have pride in being Black. We see both young and old (but mainly the youth) taking an interest in Black art and culture. The fact that they are now supporting the Black artists and writers and studying their own history to find out about themselves points this out. They are calling each other brother and sister and literally meaning it.

But though the Black Power slogan is popular, it is not the name that the masses give to what they are doing. They have another name for it. It is Revolution.

The whole point against whitey is to get rid of the power structure, that is to say, the capitalist class system. Without tearing that out by its roots, no freedom is possible. Tokenism will not do. That must go. Far from creating jobs for the masses, or ridding the slums of rats, much less ridding them of the tenements themselves, or sending the poor Black man’s children to the universities from which one may reach Congress, the Senate and now even the Supreme Court, tokenism props up the status quo, “the system.”

Too many of the leaders who talk about Black Power mean only electoral power as if that would change the system. They talk about being the majority, or promise they “soon will be,” in the cities. But the masses down South, where they are the majority, know that voting doesn’t change anything very much. It isn’t only that whitey cheats them out of their majority—that they do expertly even when the Blacks do come and vote. But the greater truth still is this: so long as the “boss and Black” relationship remains, no vote can change their conditions of life.

So overpowering is that relationship of “boss to Black” that when the New Deal first came South, even the federal power had to bow to it. And it is even more true now that “neutral” mechanization—Automation—has taken over. Just consider the single fact that even in the state of Mississippi, in the 17 counties where most of the cotton is grown, no less than 75% of all cotton picking is done, not by human labor, but by machine. It is in the heart of the South, in the places where the Negro is still the majority, where there is actual starvation, actual infant mortality that compares with what it is in the most technologically underdeveloped countries like India—where the actual health conditions of the adult population in any village are comparable to those in Lowndes County, Alabama, or the Mississippi Delta.

It drives the masses from the farms to the cities, in the South as well as the North. But, though there is 65% urbanization among Negroes, this too solves no problems as unemployment follows the Negro wherever he goes. Of course, they have certain power, as the revolts in the cities have shown. But, unless one is strategically placed in industry, one cannot stop its wheels from turning and thus stop capitalism in its tracks.

To give any other impression by claiming that the organization of the ghettos is equivalent to the organization in the factories is only to sow disastrous illusions. The masses are right to reject these illusions, and, instead, try to find some solidarity with white labor—the white rank-and-file workers who do oppose management. Not only are they involved throughout the country in big strikes together, but the Black workers are right to use this as the reason for not isolating themselves from the white workers by lumping them in the same category as the whitey who is boss.

It may appear to the middle class Negro that it is only a question of working out “new lines of communication” with the masses to bring the “message” to them. But the Black masses refuse to blind themselves to the inherent faults of leaders—even the uncorrupted ones—who are under the illusion that they can get something for the masses within the system. The masses know that, by any name, these crumbs called “reforms” are, in fact, an acceptance of the system.

Nor are they about to accept a Sunday sermon as a “philosophy of history.” Just as Black nationalism didn’t change its class nature by moving from Elijah Muhammad’s “Nation of Islam” to the Christianity of a Black Jesus and a Black Madonna, so Black Power, exhilarating as that naturally is, will not mean tearing the system up by its roots unless it means mass power, working-class power. This is what a Black worker meant when he said, “I like to listen to Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael. I like to hear them lay it on the line to whitey. They talk it up good. But that doesn’t mean I’ll follow them. I have to see things change right here, first,” and he pointed to the production line.

Like the human force itself, theory, too, cannot be created out of thin air, no matter how many sermons some leaders and their publicists christen “a philosophy of history.” For a philosophy of liberation one must have a view of the movement of history. Theory has its own history, its own roots, its own dynamic. No greater page has been written in American history, for example, than the one by the Abolitionists. Their philosophy of history—to abolish slavery—was the greatest for its time and place.

But once that vision exhausted itself with the abolition of chattel slavery by Civil War, not even a Frederick Douglass, who saw the need for political struggles, nor a Wendell Phillips, who saw the need for a new force—white as well as Black labor—could extend the lifetime of the old philosophy of history.

The time had come, with the end of the Civil War, for a new philosophy of history based on a new, united labor force, and a new vision. This new vision was one of man himself who would be whole, ending once and for all the class division between manual and mental labor. Man himself would be that unity of body, heart and mind which could, by its mass movement, reshape the whole course of human history.

That is precisely the greatness of Karl Marx; he never separated mass movement from the underlying philosophy of freedom that would change, in its entirety, the whole course of human development. The very idea of theory was transformed from an intellectual exercise into a historic narrative which, precisely because it dealt with actions of masses who were doing their own thinking, became, at one and the same time, self-emancipation and historic Reason.

It will not do to speak of a “philosophy of history” as if that, to use an expression of Marx’s, is nothing more than “the evacuating motion” of the intellectual’s own head. Unless the philosophy arises out of a historic movement of masses struggling for total freedom, and the whole world is its stage, it can neither answer the urgency of our life and times, nor bear the seeds of the future forward movement of humanity. Because the Carmichaels understand this (but only in part), they are trying to associate “Black Power” with the struggles of the “Third World.” The advantage there is that this means the mellowing of the blackness, since there are many oppressed whites, yellows, and whatever other color the human is.

The trouble is that this “Third World” that is being associated with “Black Power” seems to be only that part of it which follows the “Communist line”—and that only at the moment when it is not revolutionary, but more racist than either nationalist or internationalist. At the same time, Carmichael is so preoccupied with “shortcuts to revolution” (guerrilla warfare) that he doesn’t even realize that, instead of a shortcut, he is holding on to a short circuit. But the revolution in America is not about to short circuit itself before it has ever gained sufficient momentum to achieve the goal of total freedom.

The advantage of all the talk of Black Power is its own dynamism, the fact that it is altogether too late now to turn it back to a talk among “leaders.” What some call the civil rights doldrums, and others call the fatal division within the Black nationalist movement, we, of News and Letters Committees, see as the organization of mass thought by the masses themselves. There is no substitute for this self-organization of thought, any more than there is a substitute for the self-emancipation of the masses. The task is too large, too vital, to be left to intellectuals, or even to a “cadre organization.” It has to be a mass activity.

At the same time, the very need for such mass participation will not tolerate mere waiting for “the day of revolution.” The need demands daily practice, daily laboring at the task of working out a new relationship of theory to practice. It is this which transforms the possibility of achieving a new unity of theory and practice into an actual adventure. . . .

The purpose of developing this unity of Black and white, of theory and practice, of national and international relations, is to construct the means by which the tearing up of the capitalist system by its roots would assure the reconstruction of society on totally new, truly human foundations—free from wars, racism, economic crises and the mutilation of human beings.