The Lumpen HAS Stood Up!

Tiny - Posted on 20 May 2014

May 20, 2014

The people concentrated in US prisons are largely Lumpen. In the classical sense the lumpen-proletariat are a subgroup of the proletariat. In the US this can better be defined as simply the Lumpen class. A “class” simply means people who have a common social or economic relation to society. I.e. in our case, as prisoners we share common relations to the capitalist mode of production--we don’t have a pot to piss in--that currently exists in US society. Our interaction to the means of production results in us existing as Lumpen.

Prisoners have existed as Lumpen even if we have not realized it. Just as Brown, Black, or Red peoples would exist as internal semi-colonies within the US even if we did not realize it. Our interaction with US Imperialism would still validate our existence as internal nations whether it was acknowledged by us or not, for these are scientific laws that exist in the material world.

Class contradictions, like all contradictions in the material world, take on different manifestations. They contract and expand and interact with other phenomena in the natural world and these interactions allow new contradictions to arise and new reactions to develop in response. The Lumpen in not exempt from this process, and so understanding this process allows us to apply dialectical materialism where we can harness these dialectical laws in order to advance the Lumpen and further our class interests which have been out of our reach for decades.

Class struggle is very real and our class enemies understand this far deeper than many of us prisoners.Their understanding is reflected in the prison boom that has plagued the peoples deriving from the barrios, ghettos and reservations throughout the US. We must understand what class struggle really comes down to. Mao explained class struggle as such:

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained, and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.” (Mao Zedong, 1927)

Mao said this to highlight that one class will not be swayed from power via the pen alone or by other reform, that oppression will not disappear easily but will have to be pried from the hands of the oppressor and this is the essence of a class struggle.


What we are currently facing in California prisons in general, and the SHUs in particular, is a concrete example of class struggle that is being waged by the Lumpen and our allies on the outside. Our common oppressor is refusing to budge in its oppressive grip that results in thousands being tortured and thousands more ensnared in the injustice system that imprisons us in these concentration kamps. Our examples of class struggle behind prison walls is seem in the prison strikes. These are class contradictions erupting even if most participants do not identify what the essence of these struggles area about. The State understands them quite clearly. The strikes are a beautiful example of struggle but strikes alone will never bring us totally to victory because political education is also needed in order for a struggle to stay on the right path and avoid sinking to the swamp of reformism.


In order to navigate the challenges we as Lumpen are faced with, let us first understand what exactly we are experiencing. We should understand that the SHU is not simply where they send the homies, it is much more than that. Solitary confinement is designed to render one mentally ill, that is to inflict psychosis. One of the architects who designed Pelikkkan Bay SHU stated it was “designed to hold Hannibal Lecter” (Tietz 2012). Now, for an architect to be honest and candid enough to admit what kind of environment the SHU was designed for speaks volumes to how the state views those of us housed here in the SHU!

People, there is one purpose for sending us to the SHU, and it’s NOT for “rehabilitation.” So if we take the statement of an architect who built this house of horrors, then the criminality of the state has been affirmed from the time the first shovel broke ground.

The hunger/work strikes of 2013 were a continuation of the 2011 strikes. These recent strikes peaked at over 30,000 prisoner participants, a historical record. It was powerful to see that the most brutal dungeon in the US can also produce the highest form of humanity: activism. Only by understanding dialectics do we understand how this is possible.

The strike-related death in Corcoran SHU harkened back to Margaret Thatcher’s handling of the 1981 prison hunger strikes in Ireland, in which she essentially allowed prisoners to starve to death. But prisoners are circling the wagons and remaining determined to stop the torture by any means necessary. Our strikes have unmasked our common oppressor in a way that has not been done for some time by US prisoners. But our resistance has only matched our oppression which has also peaked in a unity of opposites. This opportunity should not be lost, but built on and steered to take on a more revolutionary impulse.

When we really understand the nature of SHUs, we will find more ways to resist. Isolation attempts to destroy our sense of reality. Our interaction as social beings to other people helps ground us in reality, and for this reason the state works hard to keep its SHUs open for business. But profit is not the true motivator to this prison boom--not just in California but throughout the US prison system more broadly. Some have erroneously taken on the notion of the prison boom and mass imprisonment in the US being profit-driven in the form of private prisons and prison labor, but this is not true. The true motive that I have found, having spent most of my life in these dungeons, is in population control. The manner in which surplus labor is extracted from prisons as a whole does not conform to the thesis of prisons being profit-driven. This erroneous view actually negates national oppression which remains at the helm of the criminalization of millions in the US injustice system. Imprisoning huge chunks of the more rebellious sectors of the internal semi-colonies, coupled with neutralizing our leadership at key junctures, insulates the super parasite.

Our oppression as Lumpen is a microcosm of the world-scale and the periphery (oppressed nations) specifically. If we look at it economically, Che got at this when he said:

“Ever since monopoly capital took over the world, is has kept the greater part of humanity in poverty, dividing all the profits amongst the group of the most powerful countries...there should be no more talk about developing mutually beneficial trade based on prices forced on the backward countries by the law of value and the international relations of unequal exchange that result from the law of value.” (Guevara, 1965)

In the US, our poverty results in prison and for those still rebellious we get SHU. While the wealth extracted from third world countries is divided up by the monied class in the US (the bourgeousie) and its internal and external allies, oppressed internal nations on these shores are excluded from even developing economically so long as we are living under the heel of Amerikkka, as Che pointed out. So long as capitalist Amerikkka is breathing, our only options are to help develop it economically, or to resist.


One’s economic relations defines one’s class, as surely as one’s land defines one’s nation. Even as prisoners, we can trace our class compositions from our economic origins. The analysis should be done so that we understand our origin and reason on existence. This also ensures that in our struggles we never fall to economism or other reformism which seeks mere cosmetic changes rather than real advances with teeth. Marx taught us that our social reality stems from the exploitative economic relations, that this is the essence of Marxism and is true even to the Lumpen. In The Poverty of Philosophy Marx illuminates class struggles when he says:

“An oppressed class is the vital condition for every society founded on antagonism of classes. the emancipation of the oppressed class thus implies necessarily the creation of a new society. For the oppressed class to be able to emancipate itself it is necessary that the productive powers already acquired and the existing social relations should no longer be capable of existing side by side. Of all the instruments of production, the greatest productive power is the revolutionary class itself. The organization of revolutionary elements as a class supposes the existence of all the productive forces which could be engendered in the bosom of the old society.” (Marx, 1847)

Here, Marx explains how an oppressed class can only truly free itself from oppression through the creation of a new society because the laws of Capitalism demand that class contradctions remain in place, that is that Capitalism cannot go on breathing so long as classes cease to exist. What’s more, prison oppression will continue to exist so long as Capitalism exists. So in prison we may gain small tokens such as colored pencils or the ability to purchase socks, etc., but our oppression as Lumpen will continue in a Capitalist society. We will continue to supper from national oppression and concentration kamp conditions because the ruling class understands this is indeed a class struggle and their class currently weilds power. As a result they are attempting to crush anyone who threatens their existence (us).

It is the vast majority of the public and prisoners who do not understand what is occurring. But at some point the Lumpen must grasp this truth and only then will we make true revolutionary advances in US prisons as well as out in the barrios and ghettos. The heart of the matter lies in the simple words Marx spoke of above, that in order for true freedom from oppression to come about, the ruling class cannot exist “side by side” with the oppressed class. And this is ultimately what class struggle entails.

Economic oppression is one manifestation we suffer from in the US and which is a factor in all the prisons and our dugeonization. So we need to broaden our understanding and in order to begin to harness the power of the Lumpen, it’s important that prisoners continue to be nurtured politically. This nurturing will derive from the physical realm as well as the ideological realm. In the physical realm, we need to identify and expand our modes of cooperation within the prisons which will serve to fertilize further struggle for prisoners’ rights. Finding ways to collaborate in struggle also serves to strengthen cooperation. Such behavior improves our social relations as prisoners and solidifies commitment to the prison movement.

The physical aspect is only one piece to the puzzle, it is one direction and the ideological realm is another. In order to ensure we have the tools to dig ourselves out of our oppression we need to expand our ideas and learn from history and struggle when people liberated themselves. How they transformed society so that their people no longer suffered under capitalism. Only when we obtain the most correct ideology can we ensure the people are lead down the quickest road to liberation.


The biggest hurdle has been overcome, which is to get prisoners to recognize our concrete reality as a prison movement. All prisoners should be proud of this accomplishment and for making history with our class struggle, but we are not done. Marx said in The German Ideology: “The separate individuals form a class only insofar as they have to carry on a common battle against another class; otherwise they are on hostile terms with each other as competitors.”

Many prisoners will read what Marx said and think how uncanny has words describe prisoners. Marx understood the dialectical laws and the class contradictions that apply to all classes, even the Lumpen. What we think is on;y a prison phenomenon goes on everywhere, even out in society. Marx’s truth is that even with the advances the Lumpen has made with a 30,000 person army standing up in dungeons throughout the US, so long as we continue this class struggle for our class interests we will continue our momentum. Our class character will solidify and become stronger which will translate into us making longer strides and acquiring greater gains and taking back our humanity. If we stop struggling against our common oppressors we will once more be not a prison movement, but simply competitors. As competitors we will be fighting for crumbs swept from the master’s table and in the process we strengthen our real class enemy: Capitalism. This competition will in turn strengthen US Imperialism around the world.

In the barrios and ghettos the people are competing for street corners rather than fighting for our land, our respective national territories and our class interests as well. It’s ok to be fighters and it’s great to struggle, but our efforts should be harnessed to our class interests and aimed at our class oppressors because for awhile now the ruling class has been doing all the fighting and taking the offensive in the US, while we act as competitors against ourselves. But today this is changing because the Lumpen as stood up!

What prisoners should understand is that this was a huge development for the prison movement. when all nationalities delivered a blow to the state. This was a huge development because it confirmed what the prison movement (activists, prisoners and ex-prisoners who work for prisoners’ rights): that prisoners by our very nature are a potential revolutionary force. While the majority of the US Left believes prisoners and Lumpen more specifically are of no use to real struggle and only exist as a burden to a future Socialist revolution. The prison movement discards the Trotskyist views and instead sees more potential for future revolution in prisoners and LUmpen specifically, than in American labor. Our 30,000 persyn army was only a glimpse of the potential that prisoners have, and it allowed us to see the possibilities that the small minority of the left which comprise the prison movement had seen long before us all. So our struggle was not only something special for us prisoners, but was also something for the long years of struggle from our outside supporters in the prison movement. Many times it is a small minority who identifies the truth. Numbers do not equate correctness, this is why we have cadres.


When it comes to analyzing the prison movement, whether one is in prison or out in society, we must do so in a way that helps us see the strengths and challenges. Only in this way can we respond to advance the prison movement the farthest. The Lumpen exercises its class consciousness in the prison movement, so it naturally is something all progressive people should take notice of. The state utilizes prisons in order to drive a wedge between the people and the Lumpen in a divide-and-conquer tactic. The US Left has tended to put their money on US “workers” which are a bourgeosified sector and thus not revolutionary at this time. US prisoners have more to gain from revolution than does Amerikkkan labor, which often wants more crumbs, which ultimately derive from exploitation of third-world countries. Of course, the future may hold other possibilities, but for now prisoners taste oppression more than Amerikkkan labor, or as one article defined it:

“In Third World countries, individual masses in the unions can be won over and, so, are worth targeting since they have come to political activity in some form. In the imperialist country, the labor aristocracy is part of the petty-bourgeousie and has an interest in maintaining imperialism. These individuals can commit class suicide and join the revolution. As a group they will not do this now.” (MIM Theory ⅔)

Here it was defined where the labor aristocracy stands in class struggle in the US. It’s important to note that within our United Front efforts, out in society as well as in prisons, we always apply the concept of “one divides into two.” This means we have a united front but one divides into two will determine whether this front becomes stuck in reformism or takes a revolutionary impulse. This is what I am attempting to apply here to the prison movement, where we have this united front but we must define our political ideology in order to guide the struggle as a revolutionary course. There exist within the prison movement many different levels of consciousness and views, and without apply the concept of “one divides into two,” one would be unable to identify the most revolutionary aspect of the prison movement from the most reactionary. So, it is up to all conscious prisoners to allow the casual observer to see this difference in ideology while keeping the prison movement fully intact.

In an attempt to push the prison movement forward we must first find the principal contradiction. We do this by applying dialectical materialism, which divides all phenomena into its opposite. By identifying the opposing forces in any phenomenon, we can focus our attention and energies on a clear target area. In all phenomena we will find the principal contradiction and everything else will be considered secondary contradictions. In today’s world, the principal contradiction is between the oppressed nations and the oppressor nations. One cannot exist without the other, and they are interconnected like all phenomena in a unity of opposites.

We know the principal contradiction within the prison system is between prisoners and the state, because it is the state which keeps us existing as prisoners and if the state was to be dismantled we would be liberated. But the prison system is not the prison movement, and each has its different contradictions. Within the prison movement the principal contradiction is bourgeois ideology versus revolutionary ideology. This means, on one hand are those who make up the prison movement, including prisoners, in the camp of revolutionaries, who see this struggle to be ultimately aimed at the state and US imperialism, and so we realistically see this as a protracted struggle that will not be resolved anytime soon. Our approach is to chip away at state repression, gaining reforms while raising the consciousness of the Lumpen by educating prisoners and our external allies through practice. This is all done with the main thrust of guiding more prisoners, our external allies, friends and family out in society to the prison movement and ultimately to anti-Imperialism. This is all helping to develop the social conditions on these shores for future revolution. On the other side of the coin are those who cling to bourgeois ideology which expresses itself in parasitism, that is, individualism. Bourgeois ideology includes some who’re just fine with the way prisons are, or the way society is, so long as they are still allowed to oppress and exploit others. Those with Bourgeois ideology are more likely to want to settle for colored pencils or the ability to purchase sodas on canteen. These are two main camps that make up the principal contradiction within the internal prison movement.

As of this writing, the State refuses to grant us our five core demands. It’s interesting how the State attempts to blame strike-related deaths on “suicides,” because California has the most prisoner suicides in the US, almost half of which occur in SHU’s (Ramseth, 2012). This shows that conditions are so barbaric that many are driven to suicide in these torture chambers, but those of us held in SHUs for years understand that this has always been the State’s intent.

Those of us who participated in the strikes have seen retaliation from the State, in the form of write-ups, confiscation of our property (including legal property), and some re-housing. All this was coupled with cranking up the air conditioning so that our cells turned to refrigerators, opening the mechanical door every half hour for “counts,” and loud screaming into the speaker at all hours of the night to inflict sleep deprivation. Most of the world equates this treatment with torture. Even for those of us out on the mainlines, prisons use arbitrary detention in SHU to disrupt peaceful protests of prisoners. Not only are prisoners stripped of basic humyn rights and tortured, but are then disallowed from expressing distaste with being tortured.


Like most people who have spent most of their lives incarcerated, I understand suffering and repression to be entwined in the very fabric of our lives, moreso than any other sector of the US population. But as prisoners, we must develop ways to regain our humyn rights even in these dungeons. In order to advance the prisoners’ rights movement, we need to focus on six steps of development in all US prisons:
1) Achieving a United Front in all prisons
2) maintaining the call to end hostilities
3) Politicizing prisoners for humyn rights activism
4) Regaining national liberation struggles
5) Ending oppressive prison conditions
6) Regaining lost privileges in prisons

Such points of development are ways to strengthen the prison movement for humyn rights: in regaining our humynity, insulating what has been accomplished thus far, while pushing this development to the next stage of evolution.

Although our efforts are prison-centric, it’s important that we understand that resistance is a global phenomenon, because the world center is an individualistic construct (Capitalism-Imperialism) and the periphery (oppressed nations of the world) exist hand to mouth, living and surviving day to day. There will continue to be resistance.

As prisoners, our resistance is limited but not totally restricted. Voice, symbol, and gesture are methods of communication that are low-hanging fruit which prisoners can and must engage in. We may be held captive in the physical realm but we are free in the realm of ideas, and we must recognize this truth. Our communication should arrive wrapped in the social reality that we experience and that we aspire to. In order to achieve this we must educate ourselves. Just as the task of physical science is to know the laws of motion in the physical world, when it comes to social science we should understand the laws of social development, and in this way we can translate the concrete conditions from the masses to the masses.

The US corporate media gives CDCR a platform for propaganda. We have seen this recently when the local news outlets painted our peaceful protests as gang activity. Not only was this ridiculous, but it showed corporate media’s biased allegiance to the State, even when people are being tortured en masse. This proves that we do need our independent institutions such as revolutionary press and we should always work toward supporting and nurturing publications that work for our class interests as prisoners of the State.

A beautiful development came out of the prison strikes: the participation of imprisoned youth and women prisoners, particularly the revolutionary women prisoners in Chowchilla, who stood up with their fellow Lumpen. It is powerful that the prison movement is not confined to just men, and that we are only seeing the beginning. Eventually we have seen women prisoners across the US finding their humynity and participating in struggles, as they too realize they are part of the prison movement. People develop at different rates, some faster than others depending on their oppression, so we should not be too hard on those who are not yet conscious. Rather, we need to find ways to reach them and bring them to our side, the side of jsutice. Another powerful development was at the youth prison at Green Hill in the State of Washington, where youth supported the prison strikes and took their rightful place amongst the prison movement. This too will develop more fully as time goes on, when youth prisons across the US will discover that they too are a part of the prison movement and will follow the amazign example of the revolutionary youth at Green Hill.


Out peaceful protest is far from over, is has just begun. Although our strikes are temporarily on hold, they will continue at some point because our oppression and torture continue. Our five demands have yet to be granted, and this new step down program is a joke, and continues to hold us in SHU for ridiculous things like a drawing or some confidential lies. The State has only made it easier to validate more of the prison population and attempt to cover it up by allowing us to purchase color pens and more candy bars. We are engaged in a protracted struggle, and we mean to wear down our opponent while building up the people politically between battles. Our biggest hurdle has been overcome: mobilizing the people, mobilizing the Lumpen by tens of thousands.

People’s power siempre!


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