Revolution #259, February 12, 2012

Ask a Communist

There Are 2.4 Million People in Prison in the U.S.—Why? What Do We DO About It? And How Does the Notion of a "Prison-Industrial Complex" Get This Wrong?

The last 30 years have seen a massive and unprecedented imprisonment of millions of people in this country. To give some idea of this, there are more than eight times as many people in prison today as there were in 1970! This comes out to 2.4 million people (and that doesn't even include the 363,000 immigrants passing through "detention centers"—many of which are worse than prisons—awaiting deportation). In addition, millions more are being indirectly controlled through probation and parole. No other country on the planet even comes close to imprisoning as many people, or as high a percentage of its population.

Almost more than the sheer volume, the most fundamental aspect of this massive imprisonment has been its targeting of Black and Latino people in particular. To give some sense of this, the proportion of Black prisoners relative to whites has more than doubled in the past 40 years; and today Blacks are incarcerated at a rate seven times higher than whites. A 2007 study pointed out that "a young Black male without a high school degree has a 59 percent chance of being imprisoned before his thirty-fifth birthday."1 Today in the U.S., more Black men are in prison, or otherwise caught up in the penal system through probation, etc. than were enslaved in 1860!

Meanwhile, the conditions in prisons have become even worse and more severe—with roughly 50,000 people locked down in ongoing solitary confinement in conditions that international law has condemned as torture!

This program has genocidal elements right now and a definite genocidal direction to it. We have seen in history what happens when whole groups of people, whether through explicitly directed racial laws or just what seem to be "the workings of the system" are removed from society, stigmatized as enemies of "decent PEOPLE," and then warehoused in prisons or prison-like conditions; genocide doesn't have to happen overnight, it can develop in stages. People must not be tricked, misled or intimidated into putting up with this. On the contrary: we need—we urgently need—a massive uncompromising movement that refuses to put up with this and calls into question the very legitimacy of a system that would commit such a crime.

The False Explanation of "Prison-Industrial Complex"

And in fact, there is a growing movement around this. Within this movement, there is debate and struggle over the cause of the problem and solution to this horrific outrage. What is behind the ruination of literally millions of lives, and the shadow that is cast over tens of millions more?

One popular explanation is that this has been driven by a "prison-industrial complex." Angela Davis, the most notable advocate of this explanation, or line, has written that this massive imprisonment arose as a convenient "response of first resort to far too many of the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty."2 Once this happens, she writes, mass imprisonment of people in the oppressed communities "literally become[s] big business."

All this work, which used to be the primary province of government, is now also performed by private corporations, whose links to government in the field of what is euphemistically called "corrections" resonate dangerously with the military industrial complex. The dividends that accrue from investment in the punishment industry, like those that accrue from investment in weapons production, only amount to social destruction. Taking into account the structural similarities and profitability of business-government linkages in the realms of military production and public punishment, the expanding penal system can now be characterized as a "prison industrial complex."3

Other people who hold this view note that these prisons are almost always built in rural areas—yet most of the people locked up in them are from urban areas. These prisoners are counted as residents of those rural areas, even though they aren't allowed to vote there or anywhere else. This shifts influence and resources from those urban areas to the rural sites of those prisons. And finally, some of the people who put forward this explanation, including Davis, link this to what she calls "structural racism in the economy," and the demonization of Black and other peoples of color in the institutions and culture more generally, as well as the whole history of white supremacy. They further say that this so-called prison-industrial complex is directly related to the cuts in welfare, the gutting of education and health care, and other essential needs—and that a movement against this could enable moneys to be spent on those needs instead.

Some of this reveals part of the truth about mass incarceration; once this program was embarked upon, a number of corporations did get their snouts into the trough, and there is now a whole structure of interests that has something of a life of its own and tries to influence things. But much of this is wrong. This program was NOT some kind of misguided or even cynical response to crime nor still less to "the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty." This did not cause the gutting of education, health and housing—nor would the reversal of this whole program (which we must definitely fight for) "free up" money for those needs. (The reason this is so has to do with how the U.S. imperialists view their "options" in a period of extremely intense cut-throat competition with their international rivals. Everything that is not absolutely essential to maintaining and expanding their share of worldwide plunder must be cut; and even the military, which they do see as essential to their share of global plunder, and the prisons themselves, which they view as essential to enforcing order and stability "at home" is coming in for some "surgically done" cuts. This, even as the prisons continue to bulge, overcrowded in ways that recall the slave ships of the "rosy dawn" of capitalism, and the military retains its overwhelming advantage against other powers and oppressed nations in carrying out slaughter and destruction.)

This "prison-industrial complex" paradigm as a whole is badly misleading. It does not portray the problem correctly and because of that it blunts the edge of the needed struggle and it leads down dead ends.

This is so for two big reasons:

One: The massive expansion of imprisonment, directed primarily against Black people and other people of color, has NOT happened because some interest groups saw a way to make money out of it and manipulated the government machinery, using white racism, to do that; nor was it a response in any way to "social problems that burden people ensconced in poverty" (to again use Davis' strangely neutral description). It has mainly gone down because the powers-that-be were profoundly shaken by the 1960s, and in particular the Black liberation struggle and the growth of revolutionary sentiment. To deal with that, they set out on a course to crush the movement for revolution and to prevent it from arising again. To do that, and to also deal with other changes and social dislocations brought about by the functioning of capitalism, they "re-tooled" and reinforced the deep roots of the oppression of Black people, and other minority peoples. The result: a "new Jim Crow"—that is to say, a new and more perverse and dangerous stage of the oppression of Black and other minority people by this system. Because it misses this, or at best de-emphasizes it, the prison-industrial complex line covers over the deep roots of the oppression of Black people in this country, the revolutionary potential of the mass upheaval in the 1960s, and the viciousness of the counterattack by the powers-that-be.

Two: This line portrays, or implies, that the core institutions of the state—the courts, police, prisons, army, bureaucracy and executive power—are neutral, or can at least be used for good. It says, or implies, that the state can be used to serve the oppressed groups as well as the oppressor, as if these oppressed groups could learn how to work the machinery of the system to benefit themselves. In fact, this state machinery—both its tools of violent suppression and its "democratic procedures"—historically developed, and is structured, to serve the interests of the capitalist-imperialist class. It is a bourgeois (capitalist-imperialist) dictatorship, serving bourgeois interests. It cannot serve the interests of any other class. To attempt to make it do so will not only not lead to any fundamental change—it will play into the hands of the rulers, and ultimately aid them in their attempts to prevent the development of a movement for revolution among the people and to crush it if it does arise and take root. That doesn't mean that you cannot win any concessions, that doesn't mean that you can't change the way society sees this, that doesn't mean that the masses can't transform their understanding, and it doesn't mean you can't put the ruling class back on its heels politically. All this can happen as a byproduct of determined, relentless mass struggle and sometimes such struggle can be very important and must be waged, both as part of "preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution" and to prevent people from being ground down—as it is now. But such changes will be partial and temporary short of a revolution. And there is plenty of bitter history to prove this. In short, the prison-industrial complex line covers over the real nature of the capitalist state machinery—that is, the prisons, police forces, courts, armies, etc.

There are extremely high stakes to getting both the diagnosis and the cure correct; we use the formulation "genocidal elements and a definite genocidal direction" very seriously. So let's break both of these points down.

Point Number One: Massive Incarceration Comes Out of—and Takes Further—the Systemic Oppression of Black and Other Minority Peoples

In many works published by our Party,4 we show how white supremacy—the oppression of Black people, as well as the genocide against the native American Indian people, the theft of land from Mexico, and many other horrors—has been at the core of America since Day One. This oppression has gone through changes as that system has developed and as people have risen up in struggle against white supremacy. But at every step of the way—even after the Civil War of the 1860s, even after the Black Liberation struggle of the 1960s—instead of doing away with this oppression, the capitalists who actually rule society developed new forms of it.

The movement of the 1960s in particular developed into one with a revolutionary thrust and rocked the system back on its heels. But revolution was not made, and the rulers of this system —the capitalist-imperialists—regrouped and counter-attacked. As a key part of this counterattack, these oppressors developed the program of unprecedented levels of mass incarceration.

This horrific program wasn't the brainchild of a few so-called "special interests." The program of mass incarceration was and is part of a whole multi-level offensive directed from the highest levels and designed to crush revolution and to prevent new revolutionary movements from taking root. The program of mass incarceration was developed by key leaders of the ruling class of imperialists—and it has been maintained and made worse by every top political representative of this system for the past 40 years—beginning with Nixon, and going on through Reagan, Clinton (who presided over the doubling of the prison population and the crippling of legal rights), the two Bushes and, yes, Barack Obama—with his hateful 2008 "Father's Day" speech that puts the blame for this disaster squarely on Black people themselves.

This imperialist counter-revolutionary strategy involved many things, only some of which we can touch on here. Much of the revolutionary organization and leadership of the time were violently repressed, and other forces who called for "working within the system" were built up. Some opportunities were opened up for a minority of Black people and other oppressed nationalities in education, employment, culture and small business, even as conditions were actually made worse for most of those communities. (Then later, these concessions—like affirmative action—also came under attack.) Politicians openly unleashed white racists nationwide as an even more potent and ugly force.

In addition to this conscious policy of the imperialists, and part of the reason for that policy, there were major jolts and developments in the U.S. economy. The economic dynamics of the system—that is, the profit-above-all, expand-or-die, and exploit-to-the-maximum laws of capitalism—had continued to develop. These dynamics led to the elimination of many of the industrial jobs in which Black people had worked in the '40s, '50s and '60s. Factory production was streamlined and shipped from the inner cities to the suburbs or overseas. African-American unemployment in the urban cores went off the charts. In response to this, the ruling capitalists stepped up a policy of penning Black people into the central cities (or in some cases, the older, more rotting out suburbs) and slashing education, health care, and housing—while building up the police and giving them vast new powers and arms.

A key part of all this was the so-called war on drugs. The authorities channeled drugs into the ghettos and barrios as a way to both addict and demoralize the masses AND to provide a pretext for drastically expanding the prison population and police powers and arms. This drug trade also filled the economic void left by the withdrawal of industry. As part of this, a whole dog-eat-dog, look-out-for-number-one, and our-'hood-above-all culture around gangs and "gangsta-ism" was allowed to flourish and then built up.

This in turn was part of a larger ideological offensive (that is, an offensive to shape the way that people think) to not only blame African-American people for the problems of their oppression, but to get Black people to blame themselves. This last point included not only the promotion of Bill Cosby's viciousness, but its reinforcement by Clinton and Obama especially, and it also meant the further building up of the church in the African-American community.

A cornerstone of this offensive in how people think was the ruling class and its puppets saying this: "Black people are equal now. We got rid of those old laws that discriminated. So if people have 'problems'—if they lack an education, or are unemployed, or evicted, or end up in prison—it is the result of 'bad choices' that they made and therefore their own fault." But the reality is this: the old forms of inequality have been replaced by new forms that are deeper and more vicious, precisely because they are masked. Inequality has not been abolished—it has been "retooled," and given an even more deadly, deceiving and destructive new form.

And the rulers launched a major campaign in the political realm, the media, and the educational institutions designed to reverse the real gains that had been made in the '60s: they insisted on this lie that equality had been achieved and that now the problem was that Black people, as well as Latinos, Native Americans, and other oppressed nationalities, were demanding too much and weren't "working hard," and that it was whites who were supposedly being discriminated against. Now, once again, the oppressive conditions—which were growing more intense for the majority of African-American and other oppressed nationality peoples—were blamed on the victims themselves.

To sum up this first point: the heart of the problem is not that some interest groups, drawing on deep-seated racism in the U.S., have used their influence in government to enrich themselves by imprisoning millions of people, and have thereby deprived those communities of needed social services. Yes, that has happened—and it is an ugly testament to how this system plays out. But this is still a description, not a correct diagnosis, and it is a description that leaves out the most important part. The role of racism, which is in fact a central component, is not mainly a question of these interests taking advantage of that racism or even promoting it so as to make profits—no, the role of the massive re-pumping of racist garbage into society is a) much more directly linked to a multi-pronged counter-revolutionary offensive against the legacy of the 1960s and in particular the revolutionary edge of the Black liberation struggle, an offensive that has been launched from the highest levels of the ruling class; b) much more designed to prevent any future upsurge that could conceivably be part of a movement for revolution against the system from happening again; and c) a really insidious campaign to somehow justify the horrendous conditions for African-Americans and to prevent any serious struggle that might develop from gaining allies from other sections of the people. (It is not for nothing that writers or thinkers, some of them attached to the ruling class, have called the minority youth in the urban cores potential social dynamite and have also worried about their influence on the broader culture.)

Nor is the problem that so-called "American democracy" is not living up to its supposed promise. The problem is that "American democracy" has always meant the systemic and systematic oppression of Black and other oppressed nationality peoples; that "American democracy" has always responded to every change and challenge by adopting new forms of this oppression instead of abolishing it; and that now "American democracy" has given this oppression a new, more masked, and more intense and potentially more deadly form.

By making it seem as if this comes from the narrow interests of this or that section of capitalists, the "prison-industrial complex" theory covers over the essential character of the explosion of mass incarceration: that it is a policy decided upon from the highest levels to reinforce the white supremacist foundations of the U.S. empire in a new form. By cutting out the consciously counter-revolutionary character of this offensive, the line of "prison-industrial complex" badly underestimates the depth, the systemic character and the direction of the attack—and it underestimates and covers over the latent potential for a movement for revolution.

Point Number Two: The U.S. State Power Serves, and Can Only Serve, the Capitalist-Imperialist Class; It Cannot Be Reformed to Serve the People, but Must Be Dismantled and Replaced with a New, Revolutionary State Power

This gets to point two: the nature of the state apparatus. In speaking of "the state," we do NOT mean this in the same way that in this country we commonly refer to the different geographic areas that make up the U.S.—for example, the state of Illinois, the state of Georgia, etc. By state, we mean the core institutions of the government—the executive power (the president, the cabinet, and the bureaucracy) and the machinery of force that they wield or embody, which includes the prisons. This is the core because here is where the monopoly on "legitimate armed force and violence" rests—these are the main institutions through which the ruling class exerts its domination of the other classes in society and pursues its interests in the world.

The state is NOT a neutral instrument. It is not a machine that can be wielded equally well by one class or another. The core institutions of this state—the army, the police, the prisons and the courts—were all molded by and developed to serve and ensure a specific form of class rule: capitalism, which has now developed globally into imperialism. U.S. capitalism-imperialism included slavery at its very foundation for its first 90 years (and for 150 years before that, when it was a colony of Britain), outright genocidal war against the native peoples, and the theft of vast stretches of land from Mexico through war—all of which were carried out and defended by the army. This form of class rule has also meant scores of wars, occupations, and military actions against other countries, all of which were in the service of building up or defending a worldwide empire of plunder.5

In regard to prisons in specific, the system of imprisonment in America right down to today has reflected the deep stamp of slavery on U.S. society. (This was convincingly brought home in the Revolution interview with Robert Perkinson, the author of Texas Tough.6) And there are hundreds of examples of how institutions like the prisons, the police, the courts, and the army have been molded to reflect, preserve, and reinforce the values of a class and a system that feeds off the exploitation of billions of people, that oppresses most of the nations and nationalities of the globe as part of that, that is saturated from head to toe with white supremacy, and that subjugates one-half of humanity—women. Beyond the numerous examples in this article, you can read of these every week in this newspaper.

Any attempt to reform such machinery never has and never will change its essential character as the machinery of domination by the capitalist-imperialist class. For all the talk of "democracy," there is no such thing as a democracy above classes; as Bob Avakian has said:

In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about "democracy"—without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no "democracy for all": one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality. (BAsics, 1:22)7

Further: there is no such thing as a democracy that is not also a dictatorship—that does not exercise a monopoly on the use of "legitimate" force and violence against those "whose interests are in significant opposition to, and/or which resist, its rule."8 So long as there are different classes in society, any state will either be a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, with democracy (and dictatorship) that reflects and reinforces the maintenance and expansion of exploitation and oppression... or a dictatorship of the proletariat, with democracy (and dictatorship) which aims to overcome relations of exploitation and oppression and the institutions and ideas which reflect and reinforce those relations and to, eventually, transcend the need for a state itself. What is needed is the latter: a new state power, one which "bases itself on, and proceeds from, the fundamental interests of those most bitterly exploited and oppressed under the [capitalist] system, and the masses of people broadly, and provides the means for them to play an increasingly widening role in the exercise of political power and the functioning of society in accordance with those interests—in order to carry forward the struggle to transform society, with the goal of uprooting and finally eliminating all oppressive and exploitative relations among human beings and the destructive antagonistic conflicts to which these relationships give rise."9

These two lines on the U.S. state—"neutral instrument that can be used by different classes or groups of people" versus "machinery of suppression developed by and able to serve only the ruling class of capitalist-imperialists"—ultimately concentrate two very different roads. The second line gets right to the heart of the problem and accurately shows where mass incarceration comes from: its deep historical roots in the oppression of Black people in this system and the needs of the ruling class today to maintain that oppression in new forms. It shows how mass incarceration was actually part of a whole counter-revolutionary response to the revolutionary upheaval of the 1960s. It shows the way forward in a movement for revolution, unleashing people once more—but this time with a clearer understanding of the problem and solution, and with revolutionary leadership with a vision, strategy, and forms of organization and struggle that can take things to full liberation once the conditions emerge that make that possible. And those who take up this line participate in and build the struggle against mass incarceration, reaching out as broadly as possible, and fighting with relentless determination, as part of building that movement for revolution.

The line of "prison-industrial complex" covers over the real nature of the state and thus keeps people locked on the treadmill of this system. It gets people looking away from how deeply rooted the problem is and how radical the solution really must be, and into thinking that a few reforms can solve the problem. And so it leads people on a road of tinkering with the machinery of oppression, instead of uprooting and dismantling that oppression at its very source. Ultimately it will lead them to get in on, or try to get in on, that machinery. This is the logic of this line; and that logic will assert itself despite the good intentions of many who hold it and put it forward. In sum, this line is not only wrong, if followed it will lead to disaster.

With Angela Davis herself, there is a long history of consciously promoting reforms in opposition to revolution. Despite the fact that she came under heavy and unjust attack by the state back in 1970, her actual role in those times—through the line she struggled for and carried out and the organization that she built—was to work to blunt the more revolutionary expressions of the movement. At a time when the Black Panther Party (BPP) and other forces were actually trying to build a revolutionary movement, she worked to turn people toward a party that posed as communist but in fact worked not to overturn the state but get in on it—the so-called "Communist" Party, USA.10 The "C"PUSA at that time made a concerted effort to turn the BPP away from the path of revolution, and Davis was a big part of that effort. Today she sums up that period in such a way so as to erase the revolutionary content of groups like the Panthers and to merge it together with forces that were actually opposed to the road of revolution and were working for reform, like Martin Luther King.11 (See, for example, "The Two Nations of Black America,"12 an interview with Angela Davis on the PBS TV show Frontline, in which she reduces the struggle between the BPP and the cultural-nationalist trend to whether youth should get involved in "campaigns against police violence" or whether they should "wear African clothes," and says nothing about the revolutionary content of the BPP and its fight for an internationalist position—including its orientation toward revolutionary China at the time of Mao's leadership.)

Today, this line of "prison-industrial complex" takes people's outrage and anger at a crime of imperialism and misdirects them as to its cause. It misleads them down a false path that leaves the source of the problem untouched and imperialism in power. It covers up this essential point: THIS SYSTEM CANNOT AND WILL NOT WORK IN THE INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE AND MUST BE RADICALLY OVERTURNED.

Other people take up this line for different reasons. Some people have not actually heard a revolutionary explanation or have not heard the two different lines compared in a sharp way. Some people sincerely oppose the gross iniquities and horrors of imperialism, but at the same time are drawn to analyses that locate the problem somewhere outside the essential workings of the system itself. They are pulled toward seeing the problem as residing in the powers-that-be violating the rules of the system and the solution being bound up with getting them to follow those rules—as opposed to the cold hard truth that "the rules" themselves (the basic class divisions and social relations of capitalism, and what it requires to function) ARE the problem. Ultimately, this view reflects the position of those in society who are "caught in the middle" between the capitalist-imperialists on top, on the one hand, and those who "catch hell in the hardest ways every day under this system"13 on the other, and whose most fundamental interests can only be resolved by a total revolution.

So, again, this position "in the middle" gives rise to a striving to seek solutions that seek to stand above the fundamental antagonism or conflict, that rend society and that tend to deny the depth of that conflict; but that is impossible—that antagonism defines and conditions everything in society, and must be resolved in either one direction (revolution, leading to emancipation) or another (continued, and intensified, exploitation and oppression). Revolutionaries need to get into this question of the real problem and real solution with people who are drawn to and/or put forward this prison-industrial complex line—as we unite with them at the same time to go forward in struggle together against this outrage.

Right now, the battle against mass incarceration is crucial. There are genocidal elements in this mass incarceration program, and a genocidal dynamic. It is already a human disaster of terrible proportions; if the direction on this is not reversed, it will get far worse. People will and should come into this struggle with all sorts of viewpoints, and it is extremely important to unite all who can be united. This should mean people with many different views as to why this is happening and what to do about it coming together to say NO! And it should and must mean vigorous discussion over, and struggle for clarity about, the real problem and real solution, with revolutionary communists putting forward and fighting for a scientific analysis. Such struggle, on a principled basis, can strengthen unity and sharpen the thrust of a movement—and it is essential to preparing the basis for the struggle for a world where humanity really CAN be emancipated from all relations of exploitation, all the institutions that reflect those relations and keep them going, and all the ideas that grow out of and reinforce that exploitation and oppression.


1. Douglas Massey, Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 2007. [back]

2. Angela Davis, "Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison-Industrial Complex,", September 10, 1998. [back]

3. Here Davis explicitly draws on the formulation of a "military-industrial complex" that was made by none other than a former U.S. president and general, Dwight Eisenhower. This is actually telling: Eisenhower pointed to certain effects of the massive expansion of the U.S. empire after World War 2 and the explosion in spending on the military that went with it NOT to warn against the empire per se nor still less to call for its dismantlement (!), but to warn against certain "unintended effects" of this empire—that some defense industries and the military itself might put their own narrowly perceived interests above that of the empire (our word, not Eisenhower's) overall.  As we'll see, the formulation of a "prison-industrial complex" also looks at certain effects—but, as does Eisenhower's "military-industrial" complex, it leads people away from a true understanding of how the system has required this expansion of state power and makes people think that this can be solved within the terms and framework of this system. [back]

4. Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 2008; "The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need," Revolution #144, October 5, 2008. [back]

5. As for the Civil War, in which the army was deployed against the slave-holding class, this took place because slavery had come into conflict with the further expansion of capitalism; and after that war, once the former slave-holding class had been subdued, it was relatively quickly reintegrated into the ruling structures in a different form and the army once again became an instrument of domination against the African-American people. [back]

6. "Revolution Interview—"Robert Perkinson: Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire," #208, July 25, 2010. [back]

7. BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 2011. [back]

8. Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), p. 3. [back]

9. Ibid, p. 2. [back]

10. The full role and scope of the "C"PUSA—which both functioned as an instrument of the imperialist interests of the Soviet Union, which by that point was socialist in name but imperialist in actual essence AND pursued its own reformist, get-in-on-the-system agenda within that—is beyond the scope of this article. As a party, it played a dual role of openly attacking the more advanced expressions of the day—particularly any trends or individuals drawn to the example and line of what was at that point the revolutionary example of China, as it was led by Mao Tse-tung—and also undermining those forces by, in some cases, attempting to unite on unprincipled bases, wielding the influence that they did have in certain sections of the people and institutions of society as a lever in that. This party was revisionist—they claimed to be Marxist (or Marxist-Leninist, in their case), but cut (or revised) the revolutionary heart out of communism. [back]

11. As we've written elsewhere, "Martin Luther King made many sacrifices—and indeed made the ultimate sacrifice—in seeking to bring about what he put forward in his 'I Have a Dream' speech. But, as indicated by that very speech, the outlook of Martin Luther King was precisely one of making America 'live up to its promise,' when that 'promise' has always involved, as one of its most essential elements, first the outright enslavement, and then the continuing oppression of Black people in other horrific forms... And the fact is that, whatever King's intent, the realization of this 'dream' could, at most, apply only to a small percentage of Black people, and would in reality come at the expense of the masses of Black people—and millions, even billions, of other people, here and around the world, who will continue to be preyed upon and to suffer horribly as a result of the workings of this capitalist-imperialist system and its systematic exploitation and merciless oppression, all enforced by its organized machinery of mass murder and destruction.

"Consistent with his outlook, King's program was straight-up one of reform, directly and explicitly in opposition to revolution..." ("The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need," Revolution #144, October 5, 2008) [back]

12. "The Two Nations of Black America: Interview Angela Davis," Frontline, PBS. [back]

13. "A Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party: On the Strategy for Revolution," Revolution #224, February 11, 2011. [back]


Additional Sources:

"Immigration Detention," American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

"Conservatism, Christian Fundamentalism, Liberalism and Paternalism ... Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton ... Not All "Right" But All Wrong!," Bob Avakian, 2007

"Pushing That Personal Responsibility Poison: Obama Sings Lead in the Blame the Poor Choir," Carl Dix, Revolution #138, August 3, 2008

"Why Does the United States Lock Up So Many People?," Karen Franklin, Psychology Today, January 30, 2012

"Hellhole: The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?," Atul Gawande, New Yorker, March 30, 2009

"The Caging of America: Why do we lock up so many people?," Adam Gopnik, New Yorker January 30, 2012

"1 in 31 U.S. Adults are Behind Bars, on Parole or Probation," Pew Center on the States, March 2, 2009

"Subjective and Objective Indicators of Racial Progress," Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, May 12, 2010

"Prisoners in 2010," U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 15, 2011

"Jail Inmates at Midyear 2010," U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, April 14, 2011


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