Revolution #183, November 15, 2009

Figuring Out the Way Forward

We greatly appreciate receiving these letters from prisoners and encourage prisoners to keep sending us correspondence. The viewpoints expressed here are those of the writers and not Revolution newspaper.

Dear Revolution,

When I read that Revolution #183 would be a special issue about prisons and prisoners, it took me back to the ’70s, when I was in the penitentiary and in a study group with a few other women.

Even though the revolutionary movement was no longer at its height, big questions were up in society and the world, and those of us in that little circle were trying to figure out the way forward. I sent away to every revolutionary organization I could find an address for asking for literature. Another woman in the circle had a subscription to Peking Review. We all read and argued over George Jackson’s Blood in My Eye. We were fond of quoting Ho Chi Minh, “When the prison doors are opened, the real dragon will fly out,” because we wanted to be “real dragons,” people who would fight for a brighter future for all of humanity.

Then one of us got a visit from relatives who had begun to hook up with the Revolutionary Union. I’d heard of Bob Avakian and the RU before, but I had no idea what their line was. I just knew that the line I’d been following was not going to lead to revolution. I’d read some Marx, Lenin, and Mao, but it wasn’t until I was locked up that I looked to revolutionary theory in earnest to find a better way. The connection to the RU was life-changing. Every time my friend’s relatives visited her, she talked with them about what they had been learning from the RU/RCP (the Party was founded during this time) and conveyed what she and I had been discussing with each other and with other prisoners we were corresponding with. When her visitors left, my friend and I met and discussed and struggled some more.

From the beginning, the RU’s scientific attitude impressed me. The RU’s analysis of the Black national question stood out from that of other organizations. My friend and I had read Lenin’s and Stalin’s writings on the national question, and like many people in the movement at the time, we were pretty sure that Black people in the U.S. were a nation. However, we didn’t have a very deep understanding. The lines of groups like the Black Workers Congress and the Communist League either proceeded from the point of view of the Black nation itself rather than from the international proletariat, or were bizarre attempts to shoehorn the Black national question into Stalin’s definition of a nation with little or no “concrete analysis of concrete conditions.” The RU came at this question scientifically. Guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought, it analyzed the history of Black people in the U.S. from slavery, through Reconstruction, and on through the great migration to the cities in the 20th century, and developed not only a scientific explanation of this question, but a program for the revolutionary movement and for the future socialist society.

We analyzed everything: from the way we’d begun to ourselves adopt some of the misogynist attitudes that prevailed among us convicts (we vowed never to refer to anyone as “bitches” or “broads” again), to how to look at the contradiction between cities and rural areas in the U.S., to the nature of the state and the role prisons play within that. We followed what was later called Mao’s Last Great Battle in the pages of Peking Review—when the censors let it come through—and tried to figure out what was going on.

I hooked up with the RCP for real as soon as I paroled. I heard Bob Avakian’s speech, “The Loss in China and the Revolutionary Legacy of Mao Tsetung,” at one of the Mao Memorial Meetings in 1978. This, too, was a landmark experience. Avakian figured out—for the whole world—what had gone on in China, how socialism had come to be overthrown and capitalism restored there, and why. Striving to be a “real dragon” a la Ho Chi Minh was no longer good enough: I dedicated my life to being one of Mao’s successors.

Today there are more women in prison in the U.S. than ever before, and even bigger questions are up in the world. The world has been without a socialist country for more than 30 years; we still need revolution and communism and we have the leadership we need to get there. Read the March 8, 2009 issue of Revolution, A Declaration: for Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity and The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have (#170, July 19, 2009). Think about what it would mean for women prisoners to get hold of that! We can’t squander this revolutionary potential. Contribute all you can to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund.

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