Letter from a Prisoner on:

“Not Walking West When You Think You’re Going East”

February 10, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


The following letter was sent to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund:


For several years now—due to the generosity and commitment of the PRLF to my political and ideological development—I’ve come to appreciate and sincerely admire the contributions which the first stage of communist revolution has handed down to our generation today. There’s been no other  historical precedent in human history in which humankind had consciously taken ahold of “the reins” of its civilization, with the ultimate goal of placing our species on the only road that could once and for all bridge the array of gaps which has divided people since the dawn of class society. If we take a step back and really ponder the magnitude of what we actually set out to accomplish, that time period in our collective history should be something that the masses should take great pride in—not just acknowledge it with a sense of awe and admiration as if it was just some “dead historical artifact” of some “Golden Age” in an anthropology museum, but as something that we should seek to familiarize ourselves with—both the positive and negative lessons that can be gleaned from those experiences—in order to do an even better job the next time around.

Besides, we’ve been celebrating the history of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class) since we all learned to say the pledge of allegiance. Why shouldn’t we be proud to celebrate and acknowledge our own—the first two dictatorships of a proletarian-kind in human history? And nah... we shouldn’t be surprised that the bourgeois media, their historians, and apologists for this capitalist-imperialist system doesn’t share in our celebratory spirit any more than we should expect the slave owning classes (also class dictatorships) of history to “celebrate” the liberation of their slaves. Why should they had?

As this new campaign to “Set the Record Straight” in regards to the first stage of communist revolution kicks off, I’m reminded of something that Malcolm X once said back in 1964 to a crowd of young people in Mississippi. He said: One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent decision for yourself. If you form the habit of going by what you hear others say about someone, or going by what others think about someone, instead of searching that thing out for yourself and seeing for yourself, you will be walking west when you think you’re going east, and you will be walking east when you think you’re going west. This generation, especially of our people, has a burden, more so than any other time in history. The most important thing that we can learn to do today is think for ourselves. (Malcolm X Speaks edited by George Breitman p. 137)

How relevant are those words of advice today? I would say that it’s the heart of what this campaign is all about—knowing the facts for yourself, so one can always draw sound conclusions about it confidently.

I remember when I first came to prison and before I had read that speech by Malcolm, I had a lot of misconceptions and had drawn incorrect conclusions about a gamut of things. For example, I remember once believing that the Black Panther Party had been a black version of the Ku Klux Klan. I gotten this impression not only from several people I had spoken to, but also from someone I had watched on T.V. one time, who spoke briefly about “their legacy.” It took years before I realized none of those people, including that guy who spoke on “their legacy” knew what the fuck they were talking about and probably never researched any of the false stuff that they had been told about them, themselves. To this day, I still find myself now being the one having to “Set the Record Straight” when it comes to the true legacy the Panthers left behind.

It’s somewhat funny to me when I think back to that particular stage in my development, though, because it amazes me how often I really believed “I was going West” when in fact  “I was actually going East.” When I finally picked up some books about the Panthers and familiarized myself with their history, their ideology, their accomplishments, AND shortcomings, I learned two very important lessons: Not only should we know things for ourselves, but we should also not romanticize about the past in such a way that prevents us from learning from those errors and shortcomings that actually existed. Unfortunately, it did take me several more re-evaluations (on various subjects) before I consistently made this a principle I live by; but once I did and began applying it to all my future studies, I came to realize that there’s really no shortcut to being informed.

This brings me back to the first stage of communist revolution and what this campaign to “Set the Record Straight” is all about. Today, when it comes to the question of what was actually done in the Soviet Union between 1917-1956 and in China between 1949-1976, many of us when we began to share our thoughts about those “legacies,” we immediately start walking West, when we THINK we’re proceeding East. If I didn’t think this particular proclivity on our part was such a hinderance to people understanding the problems of capitalist society and how life doesn’t have to be this way, I probably wouldn’t be disclosing my feelings about the significance of this campaign to “Set the Record Straight.” However, I know this is one of those contradictions, which is principally the reason why a lot of people can’t even see another way to organize society to meet our needs on an ever-expanding basis, as we relate to each other in a much more meaningful way.

I’m still learning a lot about both of these historical periods even today; and there’s a lot I’m still yet to understand about the Soviet experience, since I’ve been preoccupied with gaining a concrete grasp of all the accomplishments AND shortcomings of the Chinese project; however, what I’ve learned about the Chinese experience between 1949-1976 over these past 4 years, has made me really admire the leadership of Mao Tsetung, as well as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1959) and Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) that he was instrumental in giving moral guidance and leadership to.

I think a lot of people lose sight of what China was like before 1949. This was a country that had been dominated, exploited, and kept underdeveloped by western and Japanese imperialism for decades (1840’s to 1949). The bureaucratic comprador capitalist class, who supported Chiang Kai-shek’s regime up to 1949, before liberation, had controlled 80% of China’s industry, commerce, foreign trade, banking, etc.—not for the benefit of developing China and raising the standard of living for the Chinese people, but as an extention to the needs and pleasures of those imperialist economies and people. This was a country where in Shanghai that you had signs in “public” parks that once read: “No dogs or Chinese allowed.” In Han Suyin’s book Wind in the Tower, she pointed out how “out of about 600 million people, there were only five million (Mao’s own figure of 1957) who had achieved middle school or higher levels of education.” (p. 61) Before liberation, women didn’t even have any divorce rights, polygamy still existed, child brides were common, infanticide was a problem, children were often sold to pay off debts, and you had 90 million opium addicts to name just a few of China’s problems that contributed to her backwardness. In short, life in China was fucked up, especially for the working class and peasants. People forget that out of the 600 million people living in China, 500 million were peasants, over 80% of her population.

My question is: where were all those apologists for this capitalist-imperialist system when all that was going on and most of whom actually supported their country’s foreign policy, even though those policies reinforced such conditions? Come on... lets really “Set the Record Straight” on who supported repression, lack of democracy, and state terrorism. It definitely wasn’t Mao Tsetung and his policies!

No, the first thing Mao and the Chinese Communist Party did when they had achieved their liberation was to pass the 1950 Marriage Law which established marriage by mutual consent, the right to divorce for women, and outlawed the sale of children and infanticide. By the early 70’s, China was able to adequately feed all of her people, while the great majority of the university population were worker and peasant students, and no longer the monopoly of the children of the feudal and comprador capitalist class as it had been before liberation. Yeah... it’s understandable that the feudal and comprador capitalist class and all those who benefitted from their class dictatorships, didn’t have much “good” to say about Socialist China and Mao, but again, did the Confederates have anything “good” to say about the abolitionist movement and their slave population they once ruled over? Come on now...let’s really “Set the Record Straight.”

If we are to do that, then we must acknowledge the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Before there had been an Occupy Wall Street Movement, there was a Cultural Revolution in China, which was like an Occupy Wall Street phenomenon on steroids. Yeah... on steroids! And guess who was the visionary and biggest champion of this movement? Yeah, you guessed it right: Mao Tsetung. After he had witnessed the reversal of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism there (in a bureaucratic state capitalist form), he realized that the only way the Chinese revolution would continue down the socialist road to communism would be to empower the masses themselves at all levels of the state. He foresaw the need for there being many “Occupy Wall Street-type” of cultural revolutions throughout the ENTIRE socialist transition period to communism in order to: awaken the political and ideological consciousness of the people; to enable them to become the new leaders and successors of the revolution; to challenge all levels of leadership which no longer was keeping the society upon the socialist path; to attacking bureaucracy itself; and combatting all those habits, customs, and relations in society that prevented the masses from consciously being their own masters, collectively, and individually, of both nature and society.

Unlike all other class dictatorships (slave owning, feudal, and bourgeois), the proletarian one even places before itself the historical task of even bringing to an end its own class dictatorship. As BA says: 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 in 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)

In the last analysis, this is why this campaign to “Set the Record Straight” is so important. There’s been many so-called “democracies” in history. Which we can turn to and juxtapose to each other—the first being the slave owning class democracy in Greece. However, I challenge anyone who truly wants to leave behind a better future for their children and grandchildren, to contrast every democracy that has ever existed throughout the annals of recorded history—even this capitalist class democracy right here in America—with the proletarian one that had once existed in socialist China between 1966-1976, and then YOU be the judge of what’s possible and what we can possibly achieve the next time around even better. In the meantime, always think for YOURSELF.

In Solidarity, XXX

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