INTERVIEWS WITH F.A.L.N. PRISONERS OF WAR

 

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… back in 1992, Ron and I interviewed a couple of Puerto Rican prisoners of war on CKLN radio in Toronto … both had been arrested in 1983 and charged with being members of the F.A.L.N. (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional / Armed Forces for National Liberation) … both were released from prison in 1999 … the interviews were then transcribed and published in Arm The Spirit # 13 … what follows is the introduction from ATS # 13 and the two interviews … there are 90+ issues of Libertad (Official Organ Of The National Committee To Free Puerto Rican Prisoners Of War) up on the ISSUU site, spanning 1979 to 1990 … all issues are in both english and spanish and contain incisive and insightful articles / commentary / updates from many of the POWs …

Puerto Rico Libre!

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With this issue of Arm The Spirit we have focused, somewhat on the colonial situation of Puerto Rico, and the independence struggle being waged to free the island from U.S. imperialist control by the independentista movement and the armed clandestine organizations both inside Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland. As July 25 is celebrated in Puerto Rico as Independence Day and around the world as an International Day in Solidarity with the Puerto Rican Independence Struggle and with the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War, we are including in this issue interviews we have done with two Puerto Rican Prisoners of War, Edwin Cortes and Alberto Rodriguez; imprisoned as members of the F.A.L.N. (Armed Forces of National Liberation), as well as statements by two independentistas on trial for their involvement with Los Macheteros (The Machete-Wielders).

It is important to realize, as the world begins to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, that in 1493 he also ‘discovered’ Puerto Rico; then known as Boriquen. In the name of Spain, Columbus laid claim to the island and re-named it San Juan Bautista. In 1511, after gold was discovered, it received yet another name: Puerto Rico, or Rich Port. Since the days of Columbus, resistance to colonialist aggression and control has been strong. From the fierce resistance of the Indigenous Arawaks and Tainos against the Spanish, to the F.A.L.N. and Los Macheteros, Puerto Ricans have always struggled and organized to regain their land and sovereignty.

FALN6 (2)It was in the 1960s, that groups such as the CAL (Comandos Armados de Liberacion) and MIRA (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria en Armas) began to engage in military actions such as the bombings of U.S. businesses that exploited Puerto Rican workers and hotels in San Juan which catered to the U.S. tourist trade. In the mid-1970’s, the F.A.L.N. emerged, calling for a strategy of uniting all the necessary forms of revolutionary struggle of the Puerto Rican people into an effort to overturn colonialism through a protracted people’s war for independence.

The F.A.L.N. has carried out its actions within the borders of the United States; as its intent has been to operate within the metropolitan areas of the enemy colonial power, where millions of Puerto Ricans reside, facing conditions of colonial violence, exploitation and poverty. F.A.L.N. actions were centered in New York City and Chicago and included attacks on banks, government offices, and police stations.

Likewise, the Macheteros emerged towards the end of the 1970’s in Puerto Rico, and in the words of one of its founders: “Los Macheteros is a clandestine organization formed in 1976 that uses armed struggle to oppose U.S. repression in Puerto Rico.” Its actions haveFALN17 (2) included the 1981 bombing of nine National Guard planes which caused damage of $50 million, rocket attacks aimed at U.S. courthouses, and in 1986, in a joint action with two other armed clandestine organizations; F.A.R.P.( Armed Forces of Popular Resistance) and O.V.R.P. (Organization of Volunteers for the Puerto Rican Revolution), the bombing of military installations to protest the possible training of Nicaraguan contras in Puerto Rico and the beginning of commercial logging in the Puerto Rican National Rain Forest.

Although at the present time armed resistance is at a low ebb, there are 18 Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and political prisoners imprisoned for being part of these armed clandestine organizations and their support apparatuses. The United States government has repeatedly violated the human rights of these Puerto Rican political prisoners and POWs by subjecting them to brutal and tortuous prison conditions. These abuses include sexual and physical assaults, long periods in isolation cells and control units and the denial of medical care.

FALN39 (2)Dr. Luis Nieves-Falcon, coordinator of Ofensiva ’92; a campaign to free the political prisoners and Prisoners of War, has captured the spirit of the POW’s when he writes that they “are fueled by the fact that they are people who have faith in the valiant men and women who will never be anyone’s slaves. They believe in human valour and have faith in the right to freedom, in the recuperation of our homeland’s sovereignty and in the conscious men and women of Puerto Rico. The POW’s are fully aware of the empire’s size, but are convinced that Puerto Rico’s right to independence is much greater. The POW’s are also convinced that in the near future, we will all be together in a free homeland that, in spite of its current colonial status, will proclaim their
innocence.”

We at ATS join in the just demands for independence for Puerto Rico and freedom for all Puerto Rican political prisoners and Prisoners of War.

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Interview With Alberto Rodriguez

In an article you wrote in 1988 entitled ‘The Right to Fight is Non-negotiable’ you stated that “The armed struggle in Puerto Rico is not simply a movement dedicated to violence. It is neither militaristic nor inclined towards violence.” What is your conception of armed struggle in Puerto Rico; what kind of movement do you see it as being?

I envision the struggle as being a political-military struggle in which the political aspect of the struggle would be more dominant. Particularly in the situation of Puerto Rico, for a lot of different historical and political reasons, I don’t see the classic models of people’s war as seen in predominantly agricultural places like China or Vietnam working. I think it has to be a political-military struggle in which the political aspects of the struggle would dominate. The politico-military aspect of the struggle would always be in support of and in solidarity with, and hopefully in certain situations even leading, the strictly political forces of the movement.FALN26 (2)

The political-military organizations that would lead the struggle would have to be clandestine in order that they can operate free and clear of the U.S. government that has, since the invasion of 1898, maintained a large intelligence and spying network in Puerto Rico that makes any attempt to organize publicly and openly suicidal. The history of Puerto Rico has shown that every time the independence movement has grown and it began to challenge U.S. imperialism, the independence movement has been smashed, with the leaders jailed, and many of them murdered.

We would have armed propaganda in which the armed struggle would educate and raise consciousness. The armed struggle would be used as a form of identifying and bringing to the struggle  the most conscious element, the most dedicated and committed elements of the independence movement to the struggle. So I see the armed struggle as being an integral part of a public movement, of an independence movement that operates on many different levels; in the unions, in the universities, in the communities, it would be
an integral part of a political struggle.

You were arrested in 1983, allegedly as a member of the FALN. In many of the FALN communiques there is significant discussion of how elections in Puerto Rico are an attempt to force the Puerto Rican struggle to take place within the legal apparatus of imperialism. With this in mind could tell us about the Puerto Rican independence movement’s opposition to colonial elections, and could you tell us something about the Principle of Reatramiento on which this opposition is based?

FALN14 (2)The Puerto Rican independence movement has always had an electoral aspect to it. In the beginning, in the 1900’s, the independence movement as a whole, through different parties, participated in elections. In the 1930’s Don Pedros Campos, President of the Nationalist Party, ran in the elections of 1932 and saw firsthand how elections controlled by U.S. colonialism only led to divide the people. He saw a situation in which Puerto Ricans were fighting Puerto Ricans over some position which really did not challenge the status of Puerto Rico, which did not bring into question U.S. colonial rule over Puerto Rico. Basically Puerto Ricans were fighting Puerto Ricans over a position or an office. So Campos laid out the program, or the concept, of reatramiento, which basically mean ‘boycott’ and non-recognition of colonial life.

The concept of the electoral boycott is based on the fact that the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico in 1898 and for two years there was a military government. In 1900, the military government was turned into a civilian government which continued to be controlled by
Washington D.C. To this day the essential elements of this relationship have not changed. Even though now we have a Puerto Rican Governor and a Puerto Rican Senate Puerto Rican sovereignty continues to lie in the U.S. congress, and control of Puerto Rico; real economic and political control, lies in Washington D.C.

Reatramiento sees elections as a political device created by the U.S. to perpetuate their control. We in the independence movement who are opposed to U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico, should not participate in these elections because it is to negate the very things that we are struggling for. Now the independence movement as a whole is very divided on the question of elections, and I would say personally that my opinion is that this participation is based on a lack of vision, a lack of faith in revolution, a feeling that BreakThroughPic6 (2)since nothing else is really going on, well, we’ll just go to elections every four years. I feel that for us to participate in elections is for us to every four years enter into a process in which we are going to lose. Everything is against us, the whole electoral system, and the whole educational and political system is set up to equate independence with terrorism and criminality, and we cannot win in that kind of environment.

So, really, it is the revolutionary independence movement that opposes elections and that sees elections as a fraud, a scam, and a conspiracy to keep Puerto Ricans arguing amongst themselves over issues and meaningless political positions while the true power stays in Washington. So the FALN and other political-military organizations, and several public organizations have attempted to organize fronts against electoral participation, and this also includes participation in plebiscites and referendums created by the U.S. whose purpose is not to decolonize the island, but to create a new situation or a new set up where they can continue their control.

Reatramiento, then, to me, continues, over sixty years later, to be a reality, to be something that I feel is a principle that can rally the Puerto Rican people together. It is a revolutionary program which can challenge people to break with U.S. imperialist control and begin to think about developing a political project which exists independent of the U.S., and only then will the Puerto Rican independence movement no longer be a movement of opposition but a national liberation struggle. I believe that one of our great
flaws and weaknesses has been our inability to develop a true national liberation struggle. Instead we for the most part act as a left opposition to U.S. government and U.S. imperialism. Puerto Rico is a colony, it is a classical colony. It is controlled by the U.S. through military and repressive means, and for us to have a movement in opposition which is simply a legal, loyal, political opposition, then we are not going to go anywhere in the long run.BreakThroughPic7 (2)

I see reatramiento as being an important concept to raise revolutionary consciousness, to challenge U.S. imperialism, to create an independence project, to create a revolutionary strategy which the U.S. cannot control, that the U.S. cannot dictate the terms of. This reatramiento, along with a political-military struggle , like the one I outlined earlier, would be a winnable strategy.

The point has been made that the Puerto Rican struggle for independence and socialism is part of the revolution of the exploited and oppressed masses of Latin America against the oligarchies, capitalism, and imperialism. However, in some of the countries of Latin America we are seeing the discontinuation of the armed struggle for national liberation. Many of the guerrilla groups are entering into negotiation with the state and oligarchies or are surrendering their weapons and entering the electoral arena, as we have seen most recently with El Salvador and Columbia. How do you feel about this turn of events, and how does it affect the Puerto Rican struggle?

Without question, this is something that affects us very deeply. We have always seen ourselves as part of an overall Latin American strategy to defeat U.S. imperialism BreakThroughPIc5 (2)through the use of people’s war and armed struggle.

The question to be asked honestly is the question of whether armed struggle is a winnable strategy in Latin America. I continue to believe that it is, even though many guerrilla groups and armed organizations have begun to lose faith in their ability to win and feel that with the fall of the Soviet Union and the Socialist bloc that it is time to cut and run; to try to make the best deal possible. I do not feel that the fundamental conditions in Latin America have changed, in which organizations should enter into negotiations with the state, with U.S. imperialism and its puppet states, because the conditions are such that they cannot be resolved by some type of political accommodation with imperialism.

So I really don’t know where it is going to end up and I feel that it is different in each country. I think in El Salvador, because of the strength of the guerrilla movement that they will be in a much better situation to guarantee some democracy and some improvement in the lives of the masses, while in Columbia the guerrilla movements are much weaker and will be in a worse situation. You have in Peru the continuation of the armed struggle, and so I don’t see El Salvador or Columbia as being the only future.

How do you view the rapid changes which have been occurring in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and what effect do you feel these changes will have for the developing world and national liberation struggles?

As a Puerto Rican who has felt U.S. colonialism since the first beginnings of my political consciousness back in the early 70’s, I have identified with the Soviet Union and the FALN32 (2)socialist bloc because of their anti-colonial stand. As I developed politically and began to see the contradictions of the Soviet and Chinese system; the way communism and socialism had been practised, I still identified with it and supported it in the sense that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Now with the fall of the Soviet Union there is still an emotional side, a certain sadness while as I think about it and as I see what good could come of it I feel each day less and less sad about it. I think that a lot of people in the left found ourselves defending the Soviet Union even when the Soviet Union was not defendable. Some of the positions they took in Eritrea, some of the things they did in Afghanistan; how they attempted to hold together a system based on repression, how they attempted to develop a system in which they ended politics, they ended democracy, and in a sense they became everything they were ideologically opposed to.

Now that it is gone we no longer feel burdened by that. We no longer feel the need to defend that system. And I think that we can learn from it. I think that it gives us an FALN20 (2)opportunity to learn from that experiment and see that we cannot develop a system fundamentally based on repression. As pretty as we can make it sound, we cannot build a new world order based on repression; it must be based on democracy. So I think it is a time of challenge. I think it is a time for us to put away all these conceptions. Many of us in this generation who came out of the Vietnam war and the struggles of the 70’s developed a very romantic and idealistic obsession with the struggle. And now that the romanticism and idealism has been destroyed and we see the end of that experience, it challenges us, in a sense, to be much more radical than we were because instead of accepting ideas, we now have to be challenged to create our own ideas, to develop ideas that are not based, really, on lies.

The Puerto Rican independence movement has always faced severe repression from the U.S. government. The FBI in particular has been instrumental in pursuing the U.S. policy of attempting to crush the struggle for national liberation in Puerto Rico. Recently, revelations have come to light concerning the role of the FBI and an organization called ‘Defenders of Democracy’ in the assassination of two Puerto Rican patriots at Cerro Maravilla. Could you tell us what originally happened at Cerro Maravilla, and what was the FBI’s involvement?

We in the Puerto Rican independence movement have been saying for many years that the F.B.I. headed a death-squad type unit in Puerto Rico and that it has maintained FALN35 (2)control of the Puerto Rican police since the 1930’s, since the Puerto Rican police were mobilized along with the National Guard to smash and destroy the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.

For years, many of our detractors attacked us and said we were paranoid and that this death-squad did not exist and there did not exist this F.B.I. controlled police force that was against the Puerto Rican independence movement. Now we have been vindicated because the whole Cerro Maravilla situation has shown that there has existed a death-squad in Puerto Rico made up of elements of the Puerto Rican police, the F.B.I., and other Federal government officials, particularly people in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marshall service.

In the Cerro Maravilla case, two young Puerto Rican independentistas were organized FALN41 (2)and mobilized into an organization which was a government created organization. They were put into a situation of carrying out armed attacks against the U.S. which had been totally set up and then they were lured to a communications tower where they were surrounded by the police and murdered in cold blood. The U.S. and Puerto Rican police attempted to cover it up, but they failed because certain witnesses, certain people in the Puerto Rican independence movement have not allowed it to go away, and have pushed and pushed it. And to this day new revelations come up about the intensity of the U.S. role in this whole affair and the fact that the F.B.I. was actually there.

Thus for us, the importance that the F.B.I. was there and that there exists a death-squad made up of U.S. government officials and the Puerto Rican police is that it shows that Puerto Rico is a colony despite the fact that we have a certain status known as Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and that the U.S. refers to us as a democracy. This shows that Puerto Rico is no different than the rest of Latin America where you have governments that stay in power by force, that create extra-legal means to stay in power.

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The Cerro Maravilla case has gone to the highest levels of government in Puerto Rico and it has gone to the highest levels of government in the U.S. Where it will end up is hard to say, because it is the government investigating itself. Elements of the Autonomist wing of Puerto Rican colonialism that are presently in power feel that they can gain something from investigating this conspiracy to kill the two comrades at Cerro Maravilla. At the time of the murders the government in power was the Statehooders. So they are attempting to use this as an opportunity to down the Statehooders and hopefully win the election at the end of this year. It is not clear how far they are willing to go, and the fact is they may end up cutting their own throats because they have been junior partners, for 5 decades, in maintaining U.S. control in Puerto Rico. If this investigation continues and it keeps on going to the very heart of the U.S. role in Puerto Rico many of their party FALN29 (2)members will be questioning their own policies and their own thoughts.

So it is hard to say how far they will go and I do not believe that the Puerto Rican independence movement is strong enough to force the government to continue the investigations. So the investigation could end at any moment and whatever has been discovered has been discovered and there will be nothing more to it.  The U.S. government obviously has an interest in trying to stop it and they are doing everything possible to stop the investigation. But without question it has exposed to the masses of Puerto Rican people the fact that there is a death squad, that the government has no qualms about using violence against its own people to stay in power, and that the U.S. is the master of Puerto Rico without question, they are the ones who pull all the strings and  whatever happens in Puerto Rico comes from Washington D.C..

So, for us it has been a vindication. It vindicated many of the things we have been saying for years and it has been good for us. We have been able to bring to us many new people, and its been a very positive thing. I don’t know how much more we can gain from it, but up to now it’s been very good for us.

Puerto Rican women have always played an important role in the Puerto Rican liberation struggle, but in your words, sexism runs rampant in the independence movement. Do you FALN13 (2)see the struggle against sexism as an integral part of the independence struggle?

The Puerto Rican independence movement, coming from a society which is patriarchal, has been a chauvinistic and sexist movement, without question. While we have examples of Puerto Rican women who have stood up and fought and died for Puerto Rican independence, for the most part women have been shut out. Women have forced themselves onto the scene and have forced men to recognize them and to accept them as equal partners in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. But it has not been because we have opened up the ranks and allowed them to enter the movement. It has been in spite of men, and not because of them.

Without question, if we are to be serious about developing a new society and a new way to thinking, then we can’t say we are going to change some aspect of ourselves and of our society and not other aspects. We have to be willing and able to open up to discussion and to the struggle all aspects of Puerto Rican society and the struggle for independence. I think the struggle against sexism has to be an integral part of the struggle of the Puerto
Rican people to develop a new way of thinking and a new society. In Puerto Rico you FALN4 (2)have a situation where the main cause of death among Puerto Rican women is domestic violence. We have a terrible situation of battered women and of incest and rape. This is aggravated by the deteriorating economic conditions in Puerto Rico and by a colonial ideology that condones and even encourages such violence against women. The Puerto Rican independence movement has not been immune from these things. Some have attempted to raise these issues and to raise consciousness, but we have a long way to go. Puerto Rican women lead a dangerous existence, their lives are in danger every day, going out in the streets at night is a threat, even living at home is a threat to them.

So I think the situation in Puerto Rico is like the situation in the U.S. and Europe and everywhere in the world where women are developing their own political thoughts, their own ideology to question patriarchy.

Several years ago, one of the organizations in the Puerto Rican independence movement, the MLN, held a congress, and a major part of that congress was dealing with sexism, the family, homosexuality and questions that for the most part the independence movement has ignored. Now I think the MLN has begun a process in which the whole independence movement is questioning its past with regards to the issues of homosexuality, sexism, FALN31 (2)and attitudes towards women, children and the family. A lot of very good things have come about. In the Puerto Rico today women are organizing their own organizations and their own projects and they have challenged men’s leadership in the independence movement. I think in the last five or six years some very good steps have been taken towards dealing with sexism in the independence movement, but I think we have a long way to go. And I think that this cannot be just a woman’s project, men have to take a role in it also. Women will lead this struggle, but men have to be willing to change and to open ourselves up to criticism and enter this process. I think it is challenging and threatening to us because for so long we ran the show and now to have women challenge us puts us in a predicament that for many men is very difficult to handle. But I
think if we are to grow as a movement for social change and not just as a narrow nationalist movement, then I think we have to open up to the struggle of women and the struggle against sexism, patriarchy and homophobia and all these questions that we have ignored too long. And we suffer because of that ignorance.

Any last words?

I definitely want to thank you for giving me this opportunity. I think that the Puerto Rican independence movement has for a long time suffered a curtain of silence. Many people think of Puerto Rico only as a wonderful place to vacation; an island with FALN16 (2)beautiful mountains and the sea, and they don’t really realize the fact that we have suffered colonialism for 500 years. And also, there are over 1.5 million Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. in conditions of an internal colony and that challenge U.S. imperialism in each and every day. I think that the left has to recognize that it doesn’t have to go half way around the world to fight colonialism; colonialism exists right next door and I think that the left in North America needs to look at the fact that there is colonialism right in their own backyard, and to rally around it and fight for its independence.

The last thing is, I think that the left in general has to realize that there are people in prison because of their principled stand against imperialism. And even if one disagrees with the tactics that they have used, or if they take a non-violent approach to their political struggle, nonetheless, these brothers and sisters who suffer long years of imprisonment are part of the very same struggle and should not be ignored.

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Interview With Edwin Cortes

On June 29, 1983, you and three others were arrested in Chicago and accused of being members of the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional), a revolutionary clandestine organization active in the United States which has assumed responsibility for
over 100 armed actions carried out in support of Puerto Rican independence. Could you tell us something of the history behind the FALN, within the context of the history of the armed struggle for Puerto Rican independence?

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The FALN has been an natural extension of the Puerto Rican struggle for independence and socialism. The armed struggle was initiated September 23, 1868 in what is known as the Grito de Lares (Cry of Lares) occurred, led by Dr. Ramon Emeterio Betances. This set a course in Puerto Rican history for armed struggle. Secret Societies and revolutionary activity continued when the United States militarily invaded Puerto Rico on July 25, 1898. The armed guerrillas declared the Republic of Ciales in August of 1898. The armed struggle continued developing in Puerto Rico in the 1930’s up until the 1950’s with the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party; and with the experience of the Nationalist Party and the previous movements, the armed clandestine movement really began to function around 1967 with the development of the Commandos Armados de Liberacion and other organizations, some of which embraced the strategy of Prolonged People’s War. And in 1974, the FALN came about, attacking United States governmental, military, and corporate structures; perpetuators of colonialism in Puerto Rico. The FALN developed clandestine methods of organization in order to neutralize U.S. governmental repression and to further the struggle for Puerto Rican independence and socialism.

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Are there at the present time any organizations carrying out armed actions in Puerto Rico?

The Ejercito Popular Boricua Macheteros led by Filberto Ojeda as well as the Fuerzas Armadas Don Pedro Albizu Campos have claimed credit for various actions and their have been many acts of sabotage, many which have no one has claimed credit for, in relation to worker’s strikes and other movements. Overall, the armed revolutionary activity in Puerto Rico is at a low ebb.

In your opening statement to the court in August of 1985 you stated that “In keeping with my principles, with the tradition of our heroic freedom fighters and in accordance with international law, the only law which has a right to try me, it is my obligation to declare myself a Prisoner of War.” Could you explain the reasoning behind the Prisoner of War position?

The POW position that we assumed was developed by Guillermo Morales in 1978 and in 1980 by Carmen Valentin, Alicia Rodriguez, Luis Rosa, Lucy Rodriguez, Ricaerdo Jiminez, Carlos Torres, Haydee Beltran, Elizam Escobar, Adolfo Matos, and Dyclia Pagan as well as Oscar Lopez in 1981, and it was due to the intensification of the armed struggle in Puerto Rico and the United States as well as an ideological and political debate going on within the independence movement as to whether or not the armed struggle was even necessary, and questioning it vis-a-vis a tactic or a strategy. The POWs embraced the armed struggle within the strategy of a Prolonged People’s War.

FALN37 (2)We assumed the position in order to further the struggle for Puerto Rican independence because we felt that armed struggle was a necessary component of the independence movement, and was necessary at that time; and it is still essential today in order to combat U.S. plans to destroy the independence movement and annex our homeland. We also challenged the legality of the Treaty of Paris of 1898 which was signed between the U.S. and Spain. Spain gave Puerto Rico to the U.S. as a piece of property, which did not belong to Spain. Spain had already granted Puerto Rico its autonomy under the Charter of Autonomy of 1897. The United States invades Puerto Rico in July, 1898 and a “State of War” exists between the Puerto Rican people and the U.S. government. Regardless of the state of that war, it still continues today. And finally, our POW position is rooted in international law, particularly resolution 1514 which recognizes the right of colonial people to self- determination and independence, and other various resolutions of the UN which recognize armed struggle as a means to achieve independence and which confer a Prisoner of War status to those captured in colonial armed conflicts.

How then does the ‘Prisoner of War’ position contrast with the ‘political prisoner’ position?

FALN10 (2)Both positions complement each other. The only difference between a political prisoner and a prisoner of war is that a POW acknowledges his participation in the armed struggle, whereas a political prisoners usually has been arrested for some political crime, and not necessarily an armed action.

You were found guilty in 1985 of seditious conspiracy. What is seditious conspiracy and why is it an impossible crime for Puerto Ricans?

During our trial, Don Juan Antonio Corretjer, who was the national poet of Puerto Rico and was one of Puerto Rico’s greatest independentistas and socialist thinkers, attended our trial, and he developed the concept of sedition being the impossible crime. Unfortunately, Don Juan died in 1985 with full military honours and bestowed with the rank of Commander. Sedition is for us an impossible crime because, first of all, the U.S. accuses us of conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government by force and violence in order to obtain the political independence of Puerto Rico. And the authority that we are challenging is an illegal and colonial authority, the U.S. has no lawful authority in Puerto Rico. Colonialism is a crime against humanity. We also challenged the U.S. military intervention in our homeland in 1898, and the illegality of the Treaty of Paris.

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Also, for us sedition is a crime of thought; because for Puerto Rican independentistas, just advocating armed revolution, or support for armed organizations is enough for the U.S. government to charge them with sedition. Somewhere in the future, if the Puerto Rican struggle does reach a high level of struggle, it is my opinion that the U.S. will not hesitate to charge other independentistas with sedition. This was shown in 1937, with Don Pedro Albizu Campos, a Harvard educated lawyer, and leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, who was charged with sedition for just merely advocating Puerto Rican independence. He was never accused of carrying out any armed actions. During our trial, Jose Rodriguez, who took a political prisoner defense, also challenged sedition and it became obvious during the trial that he was accused of sedition for only merely
supporting Puerto Rican independence, and not for participating in any armed actions.

So, the U.S. government really does not need for people to be involved in armed acts to charge them with sedition. It’s merely a political statute that they use to incarcerate Puerto Ricans. Also, in 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court passed a decision that Puerto Rico belongs to, but is not a part of, the United States. And we used this decision to demonstrate that Puerto Rico is a Latin American country in the Caribbean and that it is fighting for its national independence.

Could you tell us about the campaign known as ‘Ofensiva 92’?

Ofensiva ’92 began in July 1991, and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. they are organizing local committees in different parts of the island, thus far they have organized about 30 local committees. In the United States, the National Committee to Free All Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Political Prisoners, in Philadelphia, Chicago, Hartford, New York, and other cities have been restructured to embrace the wide support we have received from different sectors. The campaign is aimed at 1992 because we will b commemorating FALN30 (2)the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the americas, and so it’s appropriate the for Puerto Ricans to intensify the struggle for Puerto Rican independence and the ex-carceration of its political prisoners and POWs. Also, the UN has declared the 1990’s as the decade for the elimination of colonialism, and this resolution gives further ammunition to our valiant cause.
I think Ofensiva 92 has the potential of organizing and mobilizing the Puerto Rican people around support for POWs and political prisoners, and that we can be a unifying force within the independence movement today. This campaign is similar to the campaign waged in the early 1970s for the Five Puerto Rican Nationalists who were in the United States prisons for over 25 years.

What can be done to support the struggle for Puerto Rican independence and the struggle to free the Prisoners of War and political prisoners?

I think a committee in support of Puerto Rican independence and POWs and political prisoners would be in order. I think such a committee could take up the work of educating people around the colonial case of Puerto Rico as well as why we have been imprisoned and mistreated. The committee can expose the hypocritical posture of the U.S. human rights policy; it goes around the world talking about human rights andFALN24 (2) freedom for political prisoners, while it negates its own human rights violations and denies the existence of political prisoners here in the U.S. The U.S. also alleges that Puerto Rico is its own internal affair and refuses to recognize the jurisdiction of the United Nations. It is the responsibility of all peace loving and progressive peoples of the world to be involved in the struggle to free Puerto Rico. A committee in Canada would help to internationalize the colonial case of Puerto Rico.

How do you see this struggle to free the imprisoned fighters in relation to similar struggles around the world?

The last few years we have been able to make contact with various movements in RGRARMPIC5 (2)support of freedom for political prisoners – the Irish struggle, the Palestinian struggle, the struggle of GRAPO and PCE(r) prisoners in Spain, and various other movements. And we are trying to set some kind of agenda where we could talk about the incarceration of political prisoners and prisoners of war and the repressive nature of the state. Through the work in support for political prisoners we have also been able to understand and support the struggles against imperialism, racism, zionism, etc.. We have very much in common with people who are fighting for national independence and social change throughout the world. Together we can make the 1990s the decade for the ex-carceration
of all political prisoners and prisoners of war.

FALN1 (2)

 

 

 

 

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RED GUERRILLA RESISTANCE

position paper published by the Guerrilla Resistance in the mid-80’s … circulated, but not, as far as I know, published … concentrating on “questions of strategy organization, and tactics,” and making “particular arguments about armed clandestine organization and armed propaganda” …

 Red Guerrilla Resistance

The Red Guerrilla Resistance is a communist politico/military organization comprised of RGRSYMBLrevolutionaries from the North American oppressor nation. Over the last few years we have initiated a program of armed propaganda and done a number of armed actions under the name of the Revolutionary Fighting Group and Armed Resistance Unit.

We are releasing this paper at this time for a number of reasons:

1) To contribute to the development of revolutionary theory. We feel that our entire movement is being held back by the refusal of communist elements to deal seriously with our task of developing theory. “Breakthrough” is the only theoretical organ sustained by our part of the Left, and, it makes an important contribution. It is not adequate, though, both because of its infrequency and because there are real strengths and weaknesses that come with being an organizationally defined journal.

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We are not yet in a position to publish a regular journal ourselves, so we must ask comrades to reprint and circulate this and future statements.

We do want to contribute to the struggle in our movement by putting forward some of our ideas in a formal and written fashion. We think it is a grave problem that major political and strategic issues are being argued out in our movement in an informal and thereby, unaccountable fashion.

Without written materials, it is difficult to rigorously analyze positions. Criticism must therefore remain largely empirical: this worked or this didn’t. That may be adequate for tactical questions, but will leave us unable to take on larger questions of line or strategy.

The decisions that we arrive at matter not only to our own movement but to Third World comrades as well. Open struggle allows comrades from other movements to have input and creates a basis for principled relationships. We liquidate any reality to strategic Third World leadership if we don’t make those strategic questions accessible to them.

The circulation of written positions enables comrades in prison to participate. They are some of the best cadre produced by our movement and their contribution should be maximized. While they as individuals have their mass work defined by their material conditions, their degree of isolation is largely determined by how actively our movement engages with them. The more our movement produces journals, papers, and hopefully at some point, a newspaper, the more these comrades can contribute and continue to grow.

We realize that some of these developments await the future growth of our movement. At the same time, we think it is partially due to an anti-theory position that needs to be overturned. We also think that theoretical struggle and development will help us to achieve that growth.InsurgPic1 (2)

We are also acutely aware of security issues involved in writing: this paper is both more concrete than we would like vis-a-vis the state and less concrete than we would like vis a-vis our comrades. We think that adequate compromises can be reached.

2) We have a specific focus for this paper. We are going to concentrate on questions of strategy organization, and tactics. Issues of political line will be addressed more in this context than as separate ideological arguments.

Within that, we will make some particular arguments about armed clandestine organization and armed propaganda. This emphasis does not stem from a position that we are the only communists responsible for this or that it is the only area we can discuss. Rather, we emphasize it because it is a central issue and the focus of considerable debate , and we do believe that we have particular experience and perspective to contribute. Part of that perspective is that we believe that the existence of the current armed clandestine movement has transformed the  question facing our movement from one of how to support armed struggle to one of how to build it.

As will become apparent in the body of this paper, we think that how we pose the questions for debate and the very concepts and terms that we utilize in the struggle will largely determine the outcome. We have disagreements with how this is proceeding as well as with some of the positions and practices that are emerging. Since there is no organization that can speak for us on these issues, we wish to make our own voice heard.

3) To heighten the level of mutual accountability between the public movement and the clandestine movement.

Our organization has a dual nature.

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As a communists organization, we have our own line, strategy, and program just as public communist formations do. We fight for those things, as evidenced by this paper.

At the same time, part of our program is armed propaganda. We are very aware of the fact that this practice helps determine some of the conditions under which a wide range of anti-imperialist forces, Third world as well as white, do their work. We have tried very seriously to avoid organizational chauvinism or political sectarianism in our actions and communiques. We try as much as possible to speak for our revolutionary anti-imperialist tendency and not just an organizational line. We believe that the United Freedom Front tries to have a similar perspective on a mass line.

Our own evaluation at this point is that we have largely been successful at this and that armed propaganda plays a positive role in our movement. We don’t believe that it is just up to us to determine that, however, and we invite evaluation from comradely organizations as part of promoting mutual accountability.

We do believe that accountability is a two-way street and that public anti-imperialist organizations that support the armed clandestine movement should do so in a consistent and non-sectarian fashion. We will put forward at the end of this paper our proposal for how this should be done.

4) To build support for captured combatants.

BTWinter1983Graf3 (2)A significant number of cadre from both oppressor and oppressed nations have been captured over the past year and a half and charged by the FBI with building armed clandestine organizations. Particular charges may not be true in particular cases, but these comrades have clearly identified themselves as either political prisoners or POWs and as supporters of armed struggle.

We don’t think that the support given these comrades by our movement has been adequate. It seems to us that there has been a self- conscious distancing going on by comrades in the public movement. We assume that this reflects a political vacillation on the role of armed clandestine organizations in this period. When applied to the Third World comrades, this become racist. We hope that by taking on this underlying political struggle that we will make a contribution to build support for those captured comrades currently facing charges and for all imprisoned political prisoners and POWs.

This paper is both lengthy and touches on many issues. It encompasses questions of ideology, line strategy and tactics while trying to stay rooted in some contact with the actual practice of our movement. We primarily want to put forward what we do think but also will raise things that we don’t agree with. It is a little eclectic and would benefit from being more tightly structured; those weaknesses are accurate reflections of the development of our thinking. We thought it more important to have the paper out for broader discussion and struggle than to try to perfect it internally.

We could start at anyone of a number of places. We’ve chosen to start with a brief section that directly deals with the issue of support for captured comrades. We start here because we think that there is an urgency to building support for these comrades and because we think that the conflicts over how to support them reflect in a concrete fashion come of the more general line struggles that are going on.

SOME GENERAL LESSONS FROM RECENT SETBACKS

Over the past 18 months, 4 comrades from the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, 8 comrades from the New Afrikan Independence Movement, and 7 North Americans have been arrested and charged by the government with building armed clandestine PRFIGHTorganizations. Some of these comrades have openly stated that they are combatants; others say that they are not but that they do support the building of such organizations.

While any or all of the specific government allegations may be false, there is no question that there are important lessons to be learned from these captures. Some of them are specific, and each grouping of comrades will need to decide how those lessons are to be analyzed and fought for within their own nations and within the overall revolutionary struggle in this country. Revolutionaries from each nation will need to analyze how these lessons apply to the further development of their struggle.

We want to address the North American anti-imperialist movement. We are concerned that our movement is not learning the correct lessons, and so will be condemned to repeat certain errors. That would be tragic and unnecessary. It would be still worse if we are not learning the lessons because we don’t think we need armed clandestine organization.

1) We know that some comrades in our movement have examined some of the recent arrests and drawn out the lesson that the “principle of separation” was violated. Captured comrades are criticized for jeopardizing the public movement, and this is used to justify the further withholding of support. Separation, which is actually a tactic, is elevated progressively to a strategy and finally a revolutionary principle. The logical outcome of this criticism is a construct that creates a gulf between the “public” movement and· the clandestine movement, between “public communists” and clandestine communists.

This is directly contrary to our vision of a revolutionary movement that is increasingly united by common principles, strategy, and ultimately by a unified revolutionary organization.BTSpring1982Graf1 (2)

One conception of politico/military organization is that of a single organization that helps to build and lead both the political and military fronts and increasingly unites the two. Within a politico/military organization there can be a tactical separation between those who are defined as combatants and those who are primarily mass workers. Either category of member may be underground or aboveground, but the entire organization is clandestine . The exposure of part of the membership of such an organization might well include people who are known primarily as mass leaders. as mass leaders. While the errors that led to such an exposure have to be analyzed, the fact that combatants and non-combatants are in the same revolutionary organization is not itself an error in our
estimation. We believe that this model of politico-military organization is one that has been implemented in many different movements. We do believe that there is an important lesson to be learned: given the historical development of our movement, the building of effective clandestine organizations requires that some number of cadre go underground and build an underground clandestine core. We are too small and too exposed to the state to build from “the top down”. This is a strategic issue for our entire movement, for we need to produce the kind of cadre who are willing and capable of building an underground. Rather than distancing from the clandestine movement, public comrades should be concerned with the health, survival, and future path of the armed clandestine movement. Most specifically, we think that public comrades should be concerned with the question of people to replace those who have been captured.

October20thCoalition2) Many errors have been made in the course of building clandestinely and, those of us who make them need to take responsibility for them. It is important to understand, though, that functioning clandestinely is difficult, and that it’s particularly difficult in
the early stages when you’re first figuring out how to do it. The lesson to be learned from the arrests is not that building armed clandestine organizations is impossible, but neither is it that comrades were just careless.

Instead, we need to learn specific lessons from what happened and draw whatever general conclusions we can. It’s important to recognize that correct clandestine procedure involves a constant struggle against opportunism; this entails a fight against all forms of subjectivity and a commitment to objectivity and science. We sincerely believe that the quality of careless error that results in capture or other disaster at the armed clandestine level is made by comrades in the public movement all the time. The ramifications are so much less, though, that the error is barely noticed. We know this because some of us have made those errors in both sectors of our movement.

Clearly, the issue isn’t to justify errors. Rather, we need to understand that life in the public movement has historically not trained people well for clandestinity. More importantly, we believe that that can and should be changed. Combativity, competency, and discipline will benefit all aspects of our movement and will distinguish it as a movement worthy of being joined and supported. We believe that one of the real strengths that will come from our movement having an active armed clandestine movement is that concrete lessons that come from clandestine work in general and military work in specific can be utilized in all areas.

RGRM19CO1 (2)3) All of the captured comrades are people who have made an exemplary and leading commitment to fight imperialism. All should not only be supported but respected and emulated. We have encountered comrades who seem much more conscious of the errors that were made than of the heroism and determination that motivates the captured comrades. Without validating the state’s allegations, it is striking that one consistent theme is that these captured comrades were working on freeing political prisoners and POWs. Our movement has always seen this as a strategic task and has celebrated the liberation of William Morales and Assata Shakur. Those who struggle to give some reality to the slogans of our movement should be recognized and respected for their efforts and not just criticized for their errors. It is definitely true that waging armed struggle does not make an individual or an organization correct on any single political issue, but if we do recognize that it is the most difficult form of struggle and requires deep ideological commitment, then we should all listen to and engage with these comrades on a very serious level.

4) We have heard an emerging position that a lesson to be learned is that armed clandestine organizations cannot survive until there is more mass support. It is definitely true that the support of the masses is a qualitative factor in the development of all aspects of the struggle, including the armed clandestine movement. Even a the level of infra-structure, it is far better to have active support from a wide range of people than to rely on public services and institutions.

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However, we firmly believe from our own experiences and analysis of other organizations, that armed clandestine organizations can exist now. They will be small, as our movement and public organizations are small.  As the movement grows, so will the A.C.M. It’s existence, in fact, should help make that growth possible. The lack of support among the masses of the oppressor nation should not be used to justify a lack of support from conscious revolutionary elements.

5) Expropriations are an integral part of building an active armed clandestine movement. They are neither great revolutionary actions nor simple criminal activity — they are a revolutionary necessity. If a movement is not at the stage where it commands the financial support of the  masses nor is in a position to demand revolutionary taxes from the wealthy, it needs to take the money necessary to sustain cadre and build infrastructure. We are sure that great care is taken by every revolutionary organization to avoid injury to civilians, to minimize confrontation with the police forces, and to never take a penny from the masses.

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SOME STRATEGIC PREMISES AND POLITICAL CHANGES

The decision to build an armed clandestine organization was neither spontaneous nor primarily determined by legal considerations. In some ways, though, it was· done much more out of desire than be scientific design.

We want to schematically put forward some of the thinking that underlay our initial formation and the subsequent changes in line, strategy and organizational thinking that we have undergone. We hope that it will not only clarify specific issues about our organization but will also contribute to the larger strategic debate going on in our movement.

Some of the general strategic premises that guided our initial decision were:

1) Our movement needed a multi-level capacity to fight alongside national liberation TIMstruggles – particularly those of the oppressed nation of the U.S. federalist state. Revolutionary forces in the New Afrikan, Puerto Rican, and Mexican movement had long made clear that armed struggle is an integral part of the development of their movements and not just a spontaneous mass phenomenon that appears just before a final insurrection, It’s also been clear that serious white allies could play an important role. Revolutionary struggle takes place on all levels, but we knew that we had a lot to learn if we were going to be able to build a military capacity.

2) We believed that our movement needed an offensive capacity. Even at the earliest stages, the armed clandestine movement gives a capacity to attack. Our movement needs this even though we’re strategically at very early and defensive stage in the struggle against U.S. imperialism. We need to be able to respond to the offensives of Third World struggles with an offensive of our own. The rules of attack, like all rules of war, need to be learned, and the armed clandestine movement is the best place to learn them. Then they need to be generalized and applied to all forms of struggle.

RGRSupportNAFF2

3) We believed our movement needed a defensive capacity. After October 20th, 1981, May 19th and other anti-imperialist comrades in the New York area began to get a sense of the kind of repression that has primarily been directed at revolutionary Third World comrades for a long time. We also knew that it was just the beginning. It was absolutely correct and important to fight at the public level in Goshen, against the federal RICO case and against the grand jury, but we also needed the capacity to resist on our own terms as a revolutionary movement. We also felt that with the further development of the overall struggle, the armed clandestine movement could give a capacity to retaliate — an important part of. the fight against repression .BLAPic1A

We still think that these premises are valid, and perhaps would be adequate if we were building the “military wing” of a revolutionary movement with an established and correct political line and strategy. We increasingly felt that wasn’t the case.

We began to realize that “building the armed clandestine movement” was not an adequate definition of our task. The armed clandestine movement can be comprised of many different types of organization: underground collectives that do only military work, clandestine collectives of aboveground people who do armed actions, political organizations of varying ideologies who have armed actions as part of their program. They are all part of a “movement” just as the public movement is made up of numerous types of organizations.

We began to grapple more with the concept of a communist clandestine politico-military organization. We particularly treated to analyze and apply the concepts that Don Juan Antonio Corretjer and other comrades from the revolutionary Puerto Rican PRGRLSYMIndependence Movement have fought for over the years. We increasingly felt that as communists, we had as much responsibility as other communist formations in our movement for an overall line and strategy for the anti-imperialist struggle in the oppressor nation. Armed struggle needed to be waged in the context of a clear and correct revolutionary anti-imperialist line and as part of a self-conscious strategy to build a revolutionary movement.

As a first step, we looked critically at the history of our sector of the left in an effort to define our strengths and weaknesses. We tried to analyze not only the efforts to build armed clandestine organization but our work in the public movement as well. We were limited by how little good written material is available and primarily had to draw on individual experiences. These are clearly limited but did extend back to the early 1960s and did encompass varying organizational experiences in the anti-imperialist movement.

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We have had some struggle with comrades who characterize the dominant error of our tendency as militarism. We don’t really agree with that so we would like to put forward some of our analysis of our tendency’s history and then draw out some of the errors that we think need to be addressed.

Our revolutionary anti-imperialist tendency developed in response to the rise of national liberation struggles – in particular, that of the Vietnamese and of the Black liberation struggle. Education and mobilization went on among broad sectors of the white oppressor nation;  there were numerous mass organizations within which self-conscious revolutionaries could work and organize. A number of communist and cadre-type organizations developed out of the New Left including what eventually became the Weather Underground Organization. It is interesting to note that these groupings formed a the peak of or actually shortly after the peak of mass struggle in this country.

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The societal contradictions subsided with the victory of the Vietnamese and the temporary but serious setback for the Black Liberation Struggle. White revolutionary anti-imperialists found themselves with no mass base for their politics and no long-term strategies. It was an objectively difficult period.

The response of most of the New Left communist formations was to join the Old Left in the morass of reformist working class organizing. The WUO, on the other hand, gave a “hippie” and petit-bourgeois bent to their plunge into opportunism. Rather than try to build a base for anti-imperialist politics, they tried to construct a mass movement by building a coalition between the “anti-imperialist” and the reformist “base-builders.” They correctly recognized that there were numerous secondary contradictions in this society that affect white people and bring them into some conflict with the system; what they refused to do was apply the primary contradictions of national liberation and changingweatherimperialism to each of the secondary contradictions and struggle to win people to anti-imperialism as a strategy for revolutionary change. Instead, national liberation struggles became one more “interest group,” all contradictions were equal, a nice shopping list of demands was drawn up, and “unpopular” demands were minimized or side-stepped. Given the nature of the white oppressor nation, some of the more “unpopular” demands included self-determination for the New Afrikan / Afro-American nation, Independence for Puerto Rico, issues of seniority and affirmative action, and any struggle against Zionism. As is often the case, armed struggle went out the window along with anti-imperialism.

Criticisms were made by New Afrikan comrades and there was a rectification of our tendency’s line. It proceeded through a number of stages including one in which imperialism had three pillars (national oppression, class exploitation, women’s oppression) rather than primary and secondary contradictions. Continued struggle by New Afrikan comrades, as well as a clear two line struggle over how to analyse and relate to the bourgeois women’s movement (the Houston Women’s Conference) in specific, finally led to the emergence of a clear position on the primacy of national liberation. On the East Coast, at least, it took the specific form of a line on the centrality of the Black Liberation struggle.

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The WUO itself split and then dissolved. During the course of the struggle, it was exposed that members of the WUO had unprincipledly and undemocratically manipulated certain public formations. Unfortunately, a position arose in reaction to this practice that communist clandestine organizations are inherently unprincipled or that public leaders should not be members of clandestine organizations.

With the split in PFOC, we can speak directly about events on the East Coast. We were undialectical. We increasingly felt given the reality of white supremacy and opportunism, that we could only deal with the primary contradiction. We eliminated any of the secondary contradictions that defined real society.

1. National liberation became an abstraction, particularly the struggle of oppressed nations internal to the U.S. borders. This was racist and we ended up unable to support the human rights struggles of Third World people on a principled basis.

RGRARMPIC3 (2)Having reduced everything to an “idea” of self-determination, we could not see that the contradiction expressed itself through the daily struggles for human rights that Third World people wage. Killer cops, white supremacist violence, unemployment, health care, housing – the struggle against the concretes of national oppression. They are also the areas where white revolutionaries could most directly struggle with white people about white supremacy since certain sectors of the white oppressor nation also experience some of these contradictions.

While Third World comrades struggled with us to understand the intimate connection between human rights struggles and revolutionary organizing, we often ended up pitting our support for revolutionary organization and revolutionary line against the concrete struggle struggles of Third World people. It was racist and interventionist.

IF we were going to characterize this error, we would say it was idealism (metaphysics). We were dogmatic, more concerned with the purity of an abstract line than with the implementation of a strategy to move real people into the struggle against imperialism.

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We want to give an example of another form that idealism took in our movement. We were so defined by the idea that the struggles in the white settler colonies were the only strategic revolutionary struggle in the world that we could not deal with the struggle in Central America. We could understand the significance of the victory in Zimbabwe, but not that of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. It is “a priorism” – we had decided in our minds that only the white settler colonies were strategic, therefore, Central America could not be.

2. We made the white oppressor nation homogenous and without contradiction. We were the exceptional white people. Having no internal contradictions, the white oppressor nation could only be acted upon by outside forces – the national liberation struggles. Our tendency, then, was to place ourselves inside the national liberation struggles and outside the white oppressor nation. We literally positioned ourselves on the periphery of the society and yelled at people from street corners.

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We were sectarian. We removed ourselves from the complexities of the actual conditions of struggle in the oppressor nation and set up our own organizations. Often these organizations existed more to publicize a series of positions than to wage actual struggle against some aspects of imperialism. Communist organization simply had a more complete line and its members were full time activists. It didn’t, in our mind, have responsibility for a revolutionary strategy but was rather the coordinating centre for the different areas of mass work.

Why did we stay rooted in metaphysics and idealism? Some the major reasons that we could analyze were:

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1. We were a petit-bourgeois movement in an imperialist centre with almost no history of significant Marxist-Leninist organizing. It is a struggle to become dialectical materialists, since it is not simply “common sense.” Our anti-ideological bias made sure it was never a priority.

2. Given the lull in revolutionary struggle in the world during the mid to late 70s and the ongoing low level of mass struggle inside this country, it was hard to figure out how to implement a real strategy based in revolutionary politics. Isolation was the easiest, but clearly not the best, way to deal with the realities of opportunism, white supremacy and reformism in even the most progressive sectors of the white oppressor nation.

3. Not dealing with secondary contradictions could be used as a rationale for not proletarianizing ourselves. To even seriously explore some of the secondary contradictions in the oppressor nation would have meant some of us taking more proletarian jobs or integrating ourselves into a community. We had internalized a lot of the negative aspects of “youth culture” and it became very convenient for many of us to get “hustles” rather than serious jobs and justify it by citing the need to do “political work.” The fact that a number of adults would live together often enabled us to live in gentrified neighborhoods rather than working class neighbourhoods and there was little basis for community work in those areas. We don’t mean to say that the only secondary contradiction is the class contradiction, but it is the secondary contradiction that has the most potential for being antagonistic in the long run. If our opportunism around this continues, it guarantees that we will not be in a position to do a serious class analysis to guide our revolutionary organizing.dttk2

The break with sectarianism involves far more than learning to work in coalition with forces that we don’t have total unity with. More fundamentally, it means a willingness on our parts to transform ourselves and work with some sectors of the white “masses” and build a base for our politics.

4. Idealism meant that we could talk about a strategy of waging armed struggle but never had to do it. We didn’t build armed clandestine organization but rather public organization. Most of the confrontation we had as a movement resulted from interaction with the pigs or the right-wing when they tried to interfere with our street tables or public events. We mostly avoided any confrontation with the Klan, for example, whether it was in Connecticut or in Washington, D.C. In Washington, for example, we let Third World people fight the Klan in the streets while we retired to a nearby church.

Why do we call these errors sectarianism and dogmatism rather than militarism and focoism?

BTSpring1981Graf1 (2)Not because there weren’t some militaristic aspects to our line but because our articulated line did not govern our strategy. We had, at various times, a militarist understanding of people’s war, whether in the early stages in Puerto Rico or in the culminating period in Zimbabwe. Through political struggle and criticism from Third World comrades even that began to change though, and we increasingly recognized the role of politicization of the masses in protracted people’s war.

Yes, we often dealt wit the strategic concept of war in America as if it were a concrete description of our current realities, and we would distort the realities to march our ideas. And we sometimes made the militarist error of separating military tasks from political tasks and assumed that only those who picked up the gun would lead.

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But militarism is a real strategy that involves the building of real armies, just as focoism was a real strategy in Latin America where thousands of committed revolutionaries went to the countryside and built the guerrilla focos. They died implementing a strategy, not simply propagandizing and idea.

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Perhaps the WUO was implementing a militarist strategy and trying to adopt focoism to this country for a brief moment when almost the entire organization went underground and withdrew from mass work. Once the townhouse happened though, that strategy was gone and it isn’t real to label that organization “militarist” when they criticized the BLA for fighting the police in the Black community. Opportunist would be more correct.

After the Hard Times Conference, was our tendency militarist? Although the LA-5 were busted for attempting to do an armed action, the reality was that there was not one functioning armed clandestine organization developed by our tendency until 1982. The reality is that we largely dismantled clandestine structures and built public revolutionary organizations.

In reality, our strategy was two-fold: to educate some white people from a distance by articulating at line, and to take advantage of our colour and class to gather material aid for various national liberation struggles. At points, and at our best, we did mobilize ourselves and a small periphery to fight organized white supremacist forces on a mass level.

On the East Coast, a small number of individual “leaders” did aid clandestine ThirdBreakThroughPic4 (2) World forces, but is was so peripheral to the main thrust of our strategy that it was somewhat of a part-time task for them. This doesn’t mean that that relationship wasn’t valuable, but it was so marginal to our strategy that no coherent plan was ever formulated yet alone implemented, to make it a consistent or growing part of the practice of our tendency.

It would be an error to take our verbal positions as the primary object of critical analysis rather  than our objective practice. We will end up with  criticisms that are as idealist – even if more “correct” – than our earlier formulations. The tendency in correcting for militarism is to withdraw support for armed struggle – a conclusion that will liquidate one of the real strengths of our movement. It is a phenomenon that is occurring – not necessarily at the level of “line” at the moment, but in a number of very concrete ways. We need to correct our errors of sectarianism and dogmatism or else we will make no significant contribution to the revolutionary process here. We need to not only theoretically recognize the role of the masses in making revolution, but we need a program to proletarianize ourselves and be in a position to organize. We cannot continue to avoid struggling against the realities of white supremacy and male supremacy in this society by creating a self-contained mini-environment called “the movement.” But we will be opening up the doors of opportunism very wide if we approach these necessary changes with a theoretical construct that labels as ” militarist” a tendency that has produced barely a handful of guerrillas and has almost never taken up arms in anger.

LYMBRGraf2 (2)A line and strategy cannot be reduced to the individual, but the cadres are a product of the line. Looking at our own profound weaknesses as guerrillas, we have great difficulty in seeing our movement’s problem as militarism. We collectively encompass years of “military” experience of our movement, both in the building of the WUO and in the direct solidarity with clandestine Third World organizations. We are not just talking BreakThroughPic1 (2)about our collective unfamiliarity with weapons or some individuals active aversion to them; we are not just referring to the struggle its been to understand how to analyze a military situation and develop a plan for taking control. More fundamentally, we are talking about our lack of combativity.  Combativity is the putting into practice of our commitment and will to win; it is an issue of ideology and not just training or innate aggressiveness. For white guerrillas to be enemies of the state requires a constant struggle for combativity, fighting against the bonds of white supremacy and privilege that tie us to the state and sometimes make us feel that we have more to lose than to win by fighting. Combativity involves being willing to take the offensive and not be defined by the terms set by the state. Heightening the struggle at any given point may be riskier, but in that risk, scientifically assessed and taken, like the potential for victory. We believe that these are critical lessons for our entire movement and not just for military combatants. Combativity in no way guarantees the correctness of a strategy, but a lack of combativity guarantees that no strategy will succeed. Our own struggles to become blaoneguerrillas have deepened our respect for that will to win that has characterized some of our comrades of the Black Liberation Army, William Morales, and some of those comrades recently captured in Cleveland.

Based in this struggle and many others that we won’t go into here, we made a number of changes in the political line and strategy of our organization. Some of the major ones are:

1. We reaffirmed the strategic conception of revolutionary anti-imperialism led by national liberation struggles. Within that, we reaffirmed the strategic leadership of those oppressed nations internal to the federalist state and of Puerto Rico for the revolutionary struggle here. We thought we had been wrong, though, in mechanically translating this into a position that  white people should only function internal to various national liberation struggles.

We want to be clear that we think that this can be a leading form of proletarian internationalism for individual, and that solidarity brigades have a long and illustrious history in the world revolutionary movement.

Where we saw a problem was in the history of communists from the oppressor nation maintaining their own organizational form, political line and program, and internal discipline while functioning internal to Third World organizations. We believe that some of us had attempted to use this position for “leverage” in promoting our own line andBreakThroughPic2 (2) even our own small organizations with our Third World comrades. Correspondingly, within our own movement, we tried to use our relationships to Third World comrades to gain influence or prestige in an unprincipled fashion. This interventionism reinforced personal racism in our movement rather than combatting it and led to a practice of blaming Third World comrades and movements for our own weaknesses.

The greatest strength of our movement for years has been our sincere commitment to self-determination of oppressed nations, and particularly those most directly oppressed by “our” oppressor nation. We went underground largely to build our movement’s capacity to fight on the military level for the liberation of oppressed nations. We did not want to compromise that through continued attempts at intervention – racist and unprincipled in any form, and potentially disastrous at the armed level where leadership and discipline in any specific situation needs to be absolutely clear.

RCC616 (3)We have tried to build a communist organization of revolutionaries from the oppressor nation that is steeped in proletarian internationalism, with an anti-imperialist strategy and program, and which has a specific commitment to direct solidarity work and appropriate material aid. Relationships with Third World movements are guided by a firm commitment to uphold the right of self-determination; non-intervention in internal affairs; the upholding of all agreements and commitments; mutual respect, integrity, and honesty; ongoing internal struggle over any manifestations of racism and national chauvinism.

2) We recognized that we had an incomplete and incorrect understanding of the world imperialist system. Our analytical framework had actually been the system of white supremacy. Both systems obviously exist and are tightly interlinked, but imperialism has to be the foundation on which our analysis and strategy are based. We were brought up against this problem when we found that an analysis based in white settler colonialism could not account for the obvious strategic importance of the struggle in Central America. This seems obvious now but was not the position of much of our movement in 1982.

Our strategy in based in an analysis that this period is defined by the struggle of LATINGUNoppressed nations outside the U.S. borders, and that Central America in particular is a weak link in the imperialist chain. As anti-imperialists, our priority – but not the whole of our program – is directed at adding our efforts inside the belly of the beast to those revolutionary forces in Central America and to the efforts of anti-imperialist peoples and nations around the world to break the imperialist chain at its weakest link. While we will not elaborate further, we also recognize that this world-wide front against imperialism has been significantly weakened by the impact of revisionism in both the Soviet Union and in China since the period of the Vietnam war.

3) We understand white settler colonialism as a primary form of imperialist domination. “Israel” and South Africa are major sub-imperialist powers that attempt to economically, politically and militarily dominate entire regions while colonizing the Palestinian and Azanian people. Support for the Palestinian and Azanian/South African struggles remains a strategic priority.

Internal to the U.S., white supremacy and zionism are key components of the state’s efforts to consolidate a base for fascism within the oppressor nation. The state has made it clear that it has no concern for Third World people’s lives, and white supremacist violence has more legitimacy than it has had in decades. While the progressive movement in the oppressor nation does not condone “extra-legal” racist violence, it has been notoriously reluctant to take a clear stand against killer cops and is openly a pro-zionist movement (or comfortably accommodates these elements).

BARRNPic3 (2)4) If we are to break with sectarianism in the concrete, we need to develop a serious class analysis of the oppressor nation. Class analysis can bridge the gap between the sterile sectarianism of seeing the oppressor nation as homogenous and the classical opportunism of idealizing the white masses. Unfortunately, we’re not yet in a position to do that kind of analysis, and we haven’t seen it forthcoming from anyone else.

We can put forward some thoughts that are currently guiding our analysis, but we readily admit that we need to do an enormous amount of social investigation and social practice.

We do think that there is an exploited proletariat among white people. As we’ll talkBARRNPic2 (2) about later, we think it’s relatively small since we do not believe that the class structures themselves are transformed as the oppressor nation consolidated with the rise of imperialism. Capitalist exploitation, though, does create the material basis for revolutionary consciousness, although it in no way guarantees it. It is potentially an antagonistic contradiction, although we don’t believe the potential can be realized in this period. We don’t believe it will be realized until the primary contradiction of national liberation and imperialism is closer to resolution, and specifically until the national liberation struggles internal to the U.S. are more advanced.

RGR9 (2)

Why does it matter then? Because it becomes the strategic long-term goal of communists to organize and mobilize that class force to fight imperialism. Proletarianizing our movement becomes a strategic issue and not merely a moral one. While recognizing that the capitalist/worker contradiction is not currently a revolutionary one, it does mean that organizing some working class cadre should become a priority for our movement. And because the oppressed nations in this country are so overwhelmingly proletarian in composition, we now both from theory and from an analysis of the labour movement that the capital/labour contradictions will be a major front of the developing national liberation struggles.

We think that we, and our movement as a whole, has suffered from a lack of a consistent materialist approach to the oppressor nation. We hear numerous formulations about building a mass revolutionary movement in this period. We don’t think this is possible. Such a movement can only exist when some class force makes the overthrow of the state its strategic goal. In this period, revolutionaries are being organized as individuals and relatively small revolutionary organizations are the organizational embodiment of proletarian ideology in the oppressor nation. They are not a direct expression of the class struggle.

When we talk of a revolutionary movement as opposed to issue-oriented mass struggles, womanguerrillanln1969108-001we need to begin to formulate a program of demands. People overthrow governments for a reason, and the reason is not an abstraction like “socialism” or even less, “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Nations, classes, or some combination thereof seize political power and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat so that certain demands can be implemented that the imperialist state never will. We believe that communists in the oppressor nation must begin to formulate the basic elements of such a program as part of adopting a class perspective.

We believe such a program should include:

1) The full liberation of oppressed nations. An end to imperialist war.

2) Full human rights for all. An end to all forms of national oppression.

3) An end to white supremacist violence and fascist terror.

4) The liberation of women and the destruction of the system of male supremacy.

5) Economic justice.

Revolutionaries fight for all these demands. In doing our actions and writing our communiques on the basis of a “mass line”, we had to struggle among ourselves to recognize that “peace” is a legitimate demand, “even” coming from white people. Not if it was peace based in imperialist domination, but peace if it involved and end to imperialist war and the liberation of oppressed nations. The masses around the world want peace and we couldn’t continue to delegitimize that demand when it came from people in the white oppressor nation. The issue becomes winning people over to anti-imperialist peace and not imperialist peace, and to recognize that peace cannot exist as long as oppression and exploitation do.

As a movement we’ve had real difficulty in correctly relating to the secondary contradictions in the oppressor nation. Our relationship to the struggle for women’s liberation is a concrete example.

RGRMBG1

We’ve long had a principle about the full liberation of women. At various times, though, this translated into a perspective that viewed  women only as a sector of the oppressor nation that could be more easily organized to anti-imperialism because of women’s oppression. Any day-to-day struggles against the system of male supremacy were ignored and regarded as reformist. They are reformist, but that doesn’t mean they are not legitimate and that some women could not be won to a revolutionary position while struggling for those reforms. Women are not going to see proletarian revolution as being in their interest if the revolutionary movement does not prove itself in practice as being committed to the liberation of women by fighting male supremacy as part of the revolutionary process. No one is going to accept abstractions about equality under socialism if they can’t experience it in embryonic form during the course of the revolution.

At other times we did involve ourselves in these struggles and did put forward demands that were anti-racist and anti-imperialist. We think, though, that we often limited our effectiveness by creating our own forms of organization rather than working inside existent organizations. Even within our own “mass women’s organization”, we verbally WMNGRLLAput forward a position about socialism being the only form of society in which women’s liberation could be achieved, but we did not consistently organize women to become revolutionaries. On the east Coast, at least, we did try to organize anti-imperialist women, but we did not struggle to build women as communists. An anti-imperialist women’s movement is part of a revolutionary strategy, but it does not substitute for the building of effective revolutionary communist organization.

Analogously, we think that there are legitimate demands of white workers for better conditions, wages, employment, the right to organize. We think that some of us need to be involved in these struggles. We would struggle for these demands to be put forward in an anti-racist fashion, recognizing the need to fight white supremacy in the labour movement. It would be sectarian and self-defeating, though, to try to get the labour movement to put forward revolutionary demands in this period. Rather, we should simultaneously be organizing the most advanced workers into study groups, involving them in anti-imperialist activity outside the workplace, and organizing those who we can to be communists.

5) We changed the militarist conception that we had of our own organization. What we YEAROFADVANCEmean by “militarist” in this context is that we saw ourselves as responsible only for doing as many military actions as we could; public organizations would be responsible for political organizing. Instead we define ourselves as a revolutionary organization with a political, organizational, and military strategy. Our military actions are designed to further our political goals and not to substitute for them. In this period, our military strategy includes acts of armed propaganda done by underground forces, illegal actions by aboveground clandestine groupings, and militant mass tactics. All of them are designed to strengthen resistance, promote anti-imperialist consciousness, and facilitate revolutionary organizing.

RGROne (2)

6) The main internal work of our organization became the building of cadre. We were not going to be able to implement any part of our program without well-trained, self-reliant, and exemplary cadre. Obviously the military work demanded it, but so too does the mass organizing. Our movement, let alone our small organization, is tiny and not well situated for growth. Cadre need to be put into new areas of mass work alone or with only one or two other people: they need to figure out how to break with our history of rigid sectarianism on the one hand and avoid opportunism on the other. How to recruit someone clandestinely was something we all needed to figure out. Given our small size, every cadre needed to be exemplary and able to influence a number of other people. We thought of the example of Angel Cristobal of the LSP and the Vieques struggle. His militant practice, the clear political position he took as a POW in line with the development of the most advanced forces in the Independence Movement and his exemplary character enabled him to play a defining role in the Vieques struggle. The revolutionary sector of the Independence movement could not supply large numbers of cadres or extensive organizational resources, but through its cadre development was able to give political leadership.

ACM1 (3)

We’ve found that a key part of becoming communist cadre is the struggle for ideology. We had studied for years but our dominant practice was to use bits and pieces of revolutionary writings as dogma to justify pre-existing positions. It’s been much different to try to become dialectical materialists and gain some objectivity on ourselves and on the world. We studied collectively and encouraged each other to pursue individual interests. Women cadre in particular struggled hard to overturn sexist stereotypes that make science and ideology “male domains”. It is both difficult and exciting to acquire the basics of dialectical and historical materialism; it is more difficult and more exciting to try to apply it to our own reality.RCC616 (5)

Ideology has been our major tool in the struggle to imbue ourselves and our organization with a revolutionary character. The struggles against personal and political opportunism, the struggle against the profound and manifold forms that individualism can take has been our most difficult and persistent fight. The “hothouse” effect of living in clandestinity may heighten these struggles, but they all existed for us prior to going underground. The struggle against racism and sexism did not disappear because we chose to be combatants; elitism and bad styles of leadership had to be overturned; arrogance and sectarianism had to be combatted.

A number of us thought that because we had decided to become guerrillas that we were revolutionaries. Well, we still believe that it was a revolutionary decision to make, but that there is a struggle every day to be a revolutionary. We have to be dialectical about ourselves: society is constantly changing; revolution is a process and not an event; revolutionaries have to change and grow every day to remain revolutionary. Complacency and bourgeois conceptions of prestige are antithetical to revolutionary morality. It is a real struggle to internalize dialectics, to recognize the need to change and even grow to thrive on it, to make criticism/self-criticism an objective and collective way to facilitate that growth and change. As soon as we get a stake in our “self-image” rather than contributing whatever we can to the revolutionary struggle, we know that we will begin to make subjectivist and opportunist errors.

We’ve had to deal a lot with the form of individualism that Santucho describes as self-sufficiency. Rather than building a real collective, the individual reserves to her/himself the right to supersede the collective judgement by their individual judgement. As long as the collective judgment and the individual’s agree, or as long as the collective is obviously correct, everything seems to be fine. It all breaks down in an emergency or when the correct answer is not apparent. Of course, that’s exactly when you need the most unified action. It’s clear that this is potentially disastrous in certain types of military work, but it’s damaging in all our work. We began to understand it as a reflection inside revolutionary organizations of the alienation in the dominant society of the worker from her/his labour: the organization becomes “other than oneself” even though the relationship is voluntary and the organization cannot exist without cadre.

PALEGRLAThe cadre are the heart of the organization; the revolutionary character of an organization resides in its cadre. This requires a correct line, but we’ve found that it also requires a very self-conscious plan for cadre development. In the past, our revolutionary organizations were little replica of bourgeois organizations with the cadre existing to support the leadership. We could read about the fact that for many years the People’s Liberation Army in China did not have special uniforms for officers, but we would still go ahead and create organizations where there was a qualitative difference between membership and leadership. leadership dealt with strategic issues and the cadre implemented them. Leadership issued general directives but rarely led the practice. Leadership even had petty privileges. It was all backwards, profoundly anti-democratic and anti-communist. It could only promote political backwardness and alienation among the cadre, and elitism and arrogance within the leadership. The membership decides and the leadership is empowered to lead the implementation of those decisions. It is the only basis for democratic centralism.LYMBRGraf1 (2)

A revolutionary organization needs a revolutionary program and cadre can only be built through struggling to implement it. But it’s vital that we remember that the embodiment of the program in the cadre her/himself. The masses experience the leadership of the organization through the practice and example of the cadre. Opportunist cadre will never be able to implement a revolutionary program, but revolutionary cadre will be able to note and struggle over any opportunist errors that arise in the line or program of the organization. A down to earth example that we experience all the time is the struggle to unite on the fact that we will not do a military action if we don’t think we can do it on a correct revolutionary basis. Any single action that we do in this period can only have a very limited impact on either the enemy or the anti-imperialist  movement; however, it can have a major impact on us. By this, we don’t mean whether or not we can get away with it. We mean that if we do it well, it’s a significant step towards building our capacity on a revolutionary basis; if we commit opportunistic errors, or use cadre who are not really in a position to undertake the action, then we are building an opportunist practice. This is a qualitative difference, even thought the action looks the same to anyone else.

ResistancePic1 (2)In this period, when revolution seems so distant and repression so real, each cadre has to explore his/her own revolutionary commitment. The sacrifices in going underground are real, and idealism and moralism don’t last too long; they can’t be replaced by the equally idealist notion that as individuals we will likely share in the eventual fruits of a socialist society. Many of us think back to something Don Juan said during one of his first visits: that he had always been a free man because he has fought for the freedom of his country. The joy for us has to be in the making of the revolution and not in the guarantee of our individual reward of socialism. To embrace the struggle for revolution fully means that we cannot see ourselves in any ways as victims or pawns. Our decisions must be our own, and we must take full responsibility for them. To the extent that we can feel a little of that freedom that Don Juan has talked about, we know that we will be capable of resisting anything that the state can do to us. To the extent that our movement understands that sense of freedom, we will be able to win others to want to make revolution and build a society based in real freedom.TomManningPicK (2)

In our view, a program of support for armed struggle at this time would include:

1) Making the politics of the armed clandestine organizations accessible by reprinting all the communiques, reading them at demonstrations and forums, etc.

The armed organizations build their military infrastructure and do acts of armed propaganda to contribute to the entire movement and not just for their own organizations. Those communists who have access to public propagandizing should make that available to the armed movement. While the actions themselves get covered in the press (though the state clearly tries to suppress them), the content of the communiques obviously will not be disseminated by the New York Times and the Washington Post, nor will they likely be distributed by the opportunist “left” press like the Guardian. Especially in this very early stage, the armed clandestine organizations must rely on the sector of the anti-imperialist movement that has a principle of supporting armed struggle to put that into practice by reprinting all the communiques.

A position has emerged in the movement that it’s more correct for public communist organizations to reprint and distribute selected communiques. This position holds that its insecure for a public organization to reprint every communique because the public organization is then identified with the clandestine organization, or seen as speaking for it.

We disagree. We think that reprinting and distributing the writings of any organization is an act of support and solidarity, and of general agreement with the overall aims of that organization, not a sign of identity or complete unity. A communist organization that publishes all the communiques of an armed clandestine organization shows that it has the principle to give concrete form to its political support for the development of armed clandestine organization, and that it refuses to be deterred from doing so by fear of the state.

RGRUFFARU1 (2)

We are talking here about communists or other cadre organizations, not mass organizations. We think mass organizations should reprint and distribute those communiques that deal with their particular area of struggle. At this stage, it doesn’t seem right to us for mass organizations to make support for armed struggle in the oppressor nation a principle of unity. But we do think that communist organizations should.

We think communist organizations should reprint all the communiques of the armed clandestine organizations, whether those conform to their own political line or not. LYMBRGraf6 (2)Reprinting only those communiques that reflect a public organization’s line and program serves the needs of that organization, and is not synonymous with principled support for the building of armed struggle. In effect, when a communist organization chooses to print only those communiques that reflect its line, it is censoring the politics of the armed organization. This sort of censorship can unwittingly play into the state’s hands, because however good people’s original intentions may be, censoring the communiques helps the state implement its program of denial (denying support to clandestine forces). If the political statements of the armed clandestine organizations can’t reach the movement – and especially those sectors of the movement that would be most open to them – then the state has a much easier time of isolating armed clandestine forces, preventing us from playing a political role in the movement, and keeping our politics from the masses.

Instead of being defensive in the face of the state’s attack on the revolutionary armed struggle as “terrorist”, we think communists in the public movement should see the reprinting of communiques as one form in which to combat legalism and fight the state’s attempts to constrain the revolutionary movement and isolate the armed clandestine organizations.

RGRPic4 (2)

2) By dealing seriously with the politics of the armed clandestine organizations and responding to them.

This is an issue of basic respect and integrity.  Organizations have emerged within the armed clandestine movement. They have politics and practice and they deserve to be dealt with as serious components of the revolutionary movement.

For example, when we issued our communique after we bombed the IAI, we made a criticism and argued that zionism and white supremacy were responsible for our movement’s failure to act in support of the Lebanese people when they were under attack by the U.S. and “Israel”. Comrades in the public movement did not respond to our criticism -either to accept or reject it, to agree with our analysis or to offer an alternative explanation for the lack of militant protest. We thought it was wrong for the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee to excerpt our communique in Death to the Klan, instead of printing the whole thing, as well as to choose not to respond to our criticism.

RGRPic3 (2)

Altogether the armed clandestine organizations in the oppressor nation have only issued 19 communiques over the past 2 1/2 years. These communiques are a way for us to be in struggle with comrades in the public movement. In the communiques we take positions and raise political and strategic issues. Responding to these issues and positions is an important way to enable the armed clandestine organizations to participate in the political struggles raised by our actions.

3) By building cadre who want to be guerrillas.

RGRARMPIC4 (2)

The primary issue here is that any revolutionary movement has to build cadre who are willing and able to take up any of the tasks of that movement. For reformist organizations who condemn armed struggle, there is no issue of building cadre who would be ready to go underground and become guerrillas. In our sector of the movement, though, this has to be an integral part of cadre-building: the ability and readiness of any cadre to fight imperialism wherever she/he is needed.

Ultimately, any revolutionary organization has to recruit for itself from among the masses, from the mass struggles. We look forward to the day when our structures will be developed enough to do that. Clearly this is not yet the reality.

RGROne (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RESISTANCE IS NOT A CRIME! INTERVIEW WITH RESISTANCE CONSPIRACY CASE DEFENDANTS

 

… as members of both Toronto Anarchist Black Cross and Arm The Spirit, we did a fair bit of work around the Resistance Conspiracy Case 6 … we visited them in DC Jail and attending their sentencings, corresponded with them, published their writings and spread the word about their case.  We showed our solidarity and provided support  as best we could. We were certainly inspired and motivated by the 6 and were / are proud to have stood with them in prison, in court and, much later on, on the outside …

… below you’ll find an article written in 1988 by the Committee to Fight Repression about the 6, an interview with some of the 6 done up by a German comrade and an article from Toronto Ecomedia that details the outcome of the trial(s) of the 6 …

RCC63 (2)

Six Political Prisoners Arraigned in D.C. Major Conspiracy Trial Ahead

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On May 25, 1988, Laura Whitehorn, Marilyn Buck, Linda Evans, Susan Rosenberg, Tim Blunk and Alan Berkman were arraigned in D.C. Federal Courthouse for conspiracy to “oppose, obstruct or change the foreign and domestic policies of the U.S. Government through violent and illegal means.” It was clear in the arraignment before Judge Harold Greene that the government will relentlessly pursue and punish people who refuse to go along with U.S. violations of human rights. The Justice Department and the FBI are making an example of this case to show what the government will do if you dare to oppose it. The defendants are kept separated from spectators by a thick plexiglass barrier; the security forces are massive in the courtroom; the defendants are held under intolerable conditions. This display of power is meant to intimidate people and put an end to serious dissent in this country.

The women and men on trial are loved and respected by those who have known and worked with them. For over 20 years they have participated in movements for social change and justice. They are a few among the many of the world’s decent people, who resist rather than stand by and tolerate injustice, racism and genocide. They became targets of the U.S. Government and were jailed for their actions and convictions over 3 years ago. For these reasons they are political prisoners. Most are already serving repressively harsh sentences of over 40 years, isolated in special control units such as the Lexington women’s control unit and the infamous Marion Federal Penitentiary. The U.S. denies that it has a single political prisoner. This is a lie. There are over 200 in U.S. prisons. This is a political case brought by the corrupt Meese Justice Department for political reasons.

RGROne (2)

During 1982-1985, there was a period of active resistance from several clandestine organizations. The slogan, “Build a revolutionary resistance movement,” was raised by groups such as the Armed Resistance Unit, the Red Guerrilla Resistance and the United Freedom Front in communiques claiming responsibility for attacks against U.S. military/corporate/government institutions responsible for war and aggression. The attacks were bombings, carried out during the night with warning calls, so that no one was injured. The communiques urged growing numbers of people to intervene and disrupt the U.S. war machine by varied and creative ways. They argued that this is an important expression of solidarity with the nations and peoples under attack by the U.S, such as the people of South Africa, Central America, Puerto Rico, Grenada, Palestine and Black/New Afrikan people within the U.S. itself.ACM1 (3)

The women and men under indictment are accused of functioning underground and carrying out some of these actions, including the bombing of the Capitol in 1983 after the U.S. invaded Grenada. At the arraignment they stated that they were anti-imperialist political prisoners and were guilty of no crimes.

The trial will take place in the same courthouse where Oliver North will face trial. The difference is staggering in how the government deals with those responsible for carrying out its oppressive policies versus those who resist them! Oliver North implemented the foreign and domestic policies of the U.S. Government through violent and illegal means.’ His operations were funded not only by illegal arms sales, but by the deadly traffic of cocaine and crack in our communities. Oliver North is called a hero. These defendants are labeled terrorists, and are held under the following conditions:

  • The prison, D,C.Jail, at the direction of the Justice Department, has severely limited their access to lawyers and paralegals.
  • The six are prohibited from meeting together, with or without lawyers, even though they are co-defendants in this complex conspiracy case.
  • During all legal meetings, they are forced to wear both handcuffs and leg irons, which is painful and makes it impossible to write. They are denied use of the law library.
  • Their living conditions violate every international standard for the treatment of prisoners: they are kept in strict solitary confinement for 71 out of 72 hours; they never get outside for fresh air; other prisoners are warned not to speak to them; they are shackled hands and feet whenever they leave the immediate vicinity of their cells; they are strip-searched after every visit. They have no contact visits with friends or family.

resistance-consp-rades-bw-webThe government is doing this to break them and dehumanizethem in the eyes of the people so that they are feared and hated. They hope that no one will care if their human rights are violated in this legal mockery of a trial or behind the prison walls.

Ronald Reagan went to the Moscow Summit to raise the issue of human rights violations everywhere around the world except in his own backyard. He wants to deny that there are political trials and political prisoners right here because of human rights violations. In Hartford, 15 Puerto Rican patriots are being prosecuted for conspiracy for similar charges as in this trial. What is at issue is the right to resist a government bent on war and the destruction of human rights. Those arrested in the course of pursuing their convictions have met with severe repression in the courts and in the prisons

RCC63 (2)

Resistance Conspiracy Case Interview – 1990

Q: Could you first describe the state security forces’ investigation against you and then sort of give the reasons why the state goes on with the Resistance Conspiracy trial, charging you with the bombing of the Capitol in 1984?

RCCRCC: We believe that the investigation of the seven of us who are indicted in this case really grew out of the FBI’s investigation of the armed clandestine resistance within the black liberation struggle and the Puerto Rican independence movement and their links with revolutionary anti-imperialists here in the U.S. This investigation intensified as political bombings which occurred from 1982 to 1985 were claimed by a variety of armed clandestine organizations: the United Freedom Front, and the organizations accused of the armed actions in this case – the Revolutionary Fighting Group, the Armed Resistance Unit and the Red Guerrilla Resistance. We are tracing the beginning of this investigation back to an international law enforcement conference about “The War Against International Terrorism” that took place in Puerto Rico in 1978. The FRG was part of it, Israel and Uruguay were participating and the U.S. was the initiator. At that point we mark in our analysis the initiation or the consolidation of a modern counter insurgency strategy against U.S. revolutionary groups.

RGRUFFARU1 (2)

Q: Could you describe some the actions within this strategy?

RCC: I think there are several aspects. One of them is the military aspect, one is the psychological aspect – both against the revolutionaries themselves and against the populations and of course the political aspects in terms of propaganda. I will give examples of all of those, how they are being used in the U.S. context domestically, later. But the conference meant that the war against revolutionaries inside the U.S. – both from the national liberation movements inside the U.S. and the white allies – was brought into the international “war against terrorism”. So it had a domestic component at that point and it was part of the overall strategy in the Reagan era of building up the international “war against terrorists” as a way to destroy revolutionary movements. One of the developments of this conference was the formation of the Joint Terrorist Task Force (JTTF) of the FBI in 1980. The JTTF was actually formed immediately after William Morales, a Puerto Rican independence fighter, escaped from a prison hospital, and after Assata Shakur, a leader of the Black Liberation Army (BLA) escaped from a maximum security prison in 1979. Some other comrades of the Resistance Conspiracy Case have been accused of assisting in both of these prison escapes.

The JTTF actually represented a major development in police surveillance and counter insurgency in so far as it is the unification of police forces from every level under the leadership of the FBI. That means that they have many more resources, they have more money to work with, they have an incredibly sophisticated computer system which is national in its scope and they certainly have more people and many more experts in terms of numbers of agents to work with. So it is the JTTF that actually pursued the investigation of the seven of us and is in charge of the investigation of the Puerto Rican independence movement and the black revolutionary movement. We realized that in 1981 there was a major breakthrough for the JTTF in terms of their ability to follow up on an incredible number of leads that they got from a failed expropriation of anRGRSYMBL armoured truck in upstate New York, known as the Brinks expropriation. Several black revolutionaries were arrested at that time and several white anti-imperialists were arrested with them. In the process of the JTTF’s investigation one New Afrikan comrade, Mtayari Shabaka Sundiata, was murdered in cold blood by the police after a shoot-out. His companion, Sekou Odinga, was tortured and it took three months of hospitalization before he could even function in a normal manner. Another man was tortured until he turned state evidence. There was a major Grand Jury investigation in which people were subpoenaed and in an attempt to force them to testify they were imprisoned. Many of them resisted – Alan Berkman, who is one of the defendants in this case – was one of the people subpoenaed on that case who resisted and went to prison rather than testify.

Q: Could you describe some of the methods in to the JTTF’s investigation of you?

RCC: In the process of following up the leads from the various arrests in 1981 and in 1984 of several Puerto Rican revolutionaries, the JTTF both got leads in terms of identification, methodology and they were able to intimidate and force some people – very few, but enough comrades – to turn traitor and testify and give them information about the inner workings of the clandestine organizations as well as the identities of many activists in the various movements. That then gave them information about how people operated underground. For example the JTTF targeted the comrades accused of bombings claimed by the United Freedom Front, who had children with them in clandestinity, by going to childcare centers and schools and disseminating wanted posters of the children. Against the seven of us, the JTTF did the same thing with health food stores, because they knew that some of the revolutionaries ate healthy food. They attempted to get a wide network of people in a self-conscious way to cooperate with the FBI. One of the things they did was using blockades on highways as a means of checking for revolutionaries, doing spot checks of cars, passed out wanted posters to people in the cars and checking if there were any of the people on wanted posters in that car.

The JTTF also published sensationalistic articles about us in Readers’ Digest, complete with wanted poster photos. This magazine is distributed to nearly every dentist’s and doctor’s waiting room in the entire U.S as well as being in every library, newsstand and sold in every grocery store. There was a lot of illegal surveillance and searches of houses and public telephones which was done absolutely without warrants. The U.S. government has a systematic way whereby both telephone, room or house surveillance and searches are done. Although there was no warrant obtained by the FBI, all the illegal surveillance will be used in all of the subsequent trials. They did a lot of break-ins into homes and political offices of families and supporters and they of course used again Grand Jury subpoenas and threats of imprisonment.

Q: Could you go into more detail why the state is bringing these indictments against you and why the state pursues the Resistance Conspiracy Case, especially since you have been through 14 separate trials already and 4 of you have already received sentences between 45 and 70 years.

RCC: We have a total of 235 years against us and they want to give us 258 years more. It is an obvious question – why would the state pursue this indictment when they already have us in prison basically for the rest of our lives? This goes back to some of the political and psychological reasons and tactics within the counter insurgency strategy.

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This case is basically the last political indictment that was brought down by the Meese Justice Department before Meese was forced to leave in total scandal and disgrace. At the time of the indictment, people in the U.S. were becoming more determined to resist U.S. interventions in Central America. There had been numerous demonstrations after the U.S. invasion of Grenada, along with the bombing of the Capitol that we are accused of. People were outraged by the blatant violations of both U.S. and international laws that were being exposed in the Iran/Contra scandal and opposition against U.S. support for apartheid in South Africa was growing too, especially among students. In order to continue to implement its aggressive foreign policies, the U.S. needs to repress, control and stop domestic political opposition to those politics. So the indictment against us is part of a strategy to control and intimidate the resistance movement, especially the most militant sectors.

This case is designed to stop serious, militant activists from developing any capacity for clandestine resistance and from developing any revolutionary strategy that includes armed struggle as a component. It is also an attempt to divert attention from the Iran/Contra scandal and from the role the highest placed U.S. officials were playing in it. I think there is a second aspect to it. They want to divide the progressive movement along the lines of violence versus non-violence, legal protest versus illegal resistance. The U.S. government wants to be able to define the boundaries of the resistance movement in every way possible so that they can control it. Therefore in the U.S. there is a lot of reluctance to break laws in terms of building a protest movement and the U.S. has really manipulated that by saying that people who do illegal activities are terrorists. Therefore they have succeeded to some extent in building a wall between the most militant sectors of the resistance movement and people who are engaging in resistance at a different level, perhaps not wanting to break the law, but willing to participate in demonstrations.

Q: Is there any equivalent to paragraph 129a in the FRG which is used against revolutionaries and the legal resistance?

129ARCC: Here there is nothing like that. What they have done – which makes it very difficult to bring our politics into our trials – is that they insist we should be tried in the most narrow, criminal and technical way possible. There are a couple of ways that they have done that: One is that they have charged a lot of revolutionaries with “racketeering” and being part of racketeering influenced organizations which puts us on the same level as the Mafia. The use of racketeering evokes the whole aura of drug trafficking and profiteering when in fact none of the revolutionaries charged under this statute are convicted of drugs or activities for personal profit. I think the other thing that they have done which is important in terms of criminalisation is that they charged some people, especially the Puerto Rican independence fighters, under “seditious conspiracy” which means an overt attempt to overthrow the U.S. government. They can do that particularly to the Puerto Ricans because the Puerto Ricans are fighting an anti-colonial battle for independence. They have also used it against some white anti-imperialists who were on trial in Massachusetts, known as the Ohio 7. Three of the seven were recently on trial for charges that combined both racketeering charges and seditious conspiracy.

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Q: In your current trial you are being tried with “conspiracy”. Does that entail that the government actually has to prove that you did the bombing of the Capitol or that you just have to conspired to do so?

RCC: I think that is another reason why the government has brought the trial at this point. Legally, they want to continue to expand the use of the conspiracy laws. The answer to your question is “no”. They don’t have to prove that any of us did the Capitol bombing or any of the other bombings that we are accused of. They have no direct evidence of that and they admit this. They have no eye-witnesses, they can’t place any of us at the scene of any of the bombings. What they have done is to try to use a lot of circumstantial evidence and political evidence to prove that we agreed with each other to implement the goal of conspiracy which they say is to “influence, protest and change U.S. policies and practices in various international and domestic matters through illegal and violent means”.

So, obviously the goals of the conspiracy as defined by the government, were to influence, protest and change – which under many conditions would be absolutely legal in the U.S. What they intend to do is a criminalisation of our political associations and they want to prove that by knowing each other, by agreeing with each other politically, by having worked with each other in various organizations, we therefore are guilty of conspiracy, by agreeing to have a political goal. The way this will be applied to the specific bombings and to convict us of them is through a combination of using and aiding and abetting law which means that anything you do to support one of the bombings could be considered “aiding and abetting” – even passing on a communique, manufacturing some kind of ID, renting an apartment that was then used by revolutionaries. All of that could be considered “aiding and abetting” and you become as guilty of the bombings as if you had done the bombing itself.TIM

Q: Does that criminalise the whole legal support work?

RCC: Potentially, it could.

Q: Part of the support work that is being done around your case is actually focused on the upcoming trial. It seems like the conditions the state is creating for the trial are very similar to the conditions of the trials in Stammheim.

RCC: The militarisation of the courtroom is unprecedented. They have built a bullet proof wall in the courtroom, they put in surveillance cameras for the first time in a federal court that are aimed at the defendants and at the spectators specifically for surveillance purposes by the FBI. This is part of their whole strategy of portraying us as “terrorists”. The atmosphere in the courtroom, the propaganda in the media is aimed at isolating us and to intimidate people from supporting us. The militarisation of the courtroom is part of that because people will be afraid to attend the trial, because it is scary to go into a courtroom when you see the whole place is ringed with marshals. There are helicopters over the courtroom, there are snipers on the roof of the courtroom, they all have bullet-proof vests. They will have a high-speed convoy with police sirens and many police cars that bring us to court every day through the streets of Washington, D.C. so that everybody can point and say “there go the terrorists”.

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The whole atmosphere around the trial is designed to terrify the jury, so that they can assume that we are guilty before the trial even begins. Another aspect of what we are going to struggle very hard against is that in other political trials in the past, they have instituted anonymous juries. Normally in the U.S., defense lawyers, the court and the prosecutor know who the jurors are which enables people to pick a jury. Then there is some chance of some sympathetic or open-minded juror. Trying to institute an anonymous jury is part of just terrorising the jurors. They are isolated in hotels throughout the trial, under armed guard by the U.S. marshals and they are told it is for their own protection, because the people on trial are “dangerous”. I think the other reason that the state brought this indictment is because they are really trying to rehabilitate the FBI. It went through a period of being restricted after the illegal programs of the 60’s and the COINTELPRO program of the early 70’s were exposed. Now the FBI is resurgent and it is getting more powerful and its scope is broader. They want to solve the Capitol bombing and they want to be able to show themselves as successful in their “anti-terrorist” strategy. This then will justify all the illegal activities that they have done.

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Q: By these special conditions that are being created around this trial, do you feel it will be at all possible for you to defend yourselves as revolutionaries? And is a political defense allowed under the conspiracy laws?

RCC: As I said before, the laws that we are being tried under are criminal statutes. It means the judge automatically can restrict the amount of political information that we bring into the trial. The trial itself is going to be a battleground for ourselves to make into a political trial and for the government to narrow it into the most narrow criminal trial. What we plan to do – and hope to do – has a couple of different political aspects. One is to portray ourselves as revolutionaries, to show what our history of work in the many parts of the progressive movements has been, to portray ourselves as supporters of the national liberation movements here in the U.S. and around the world. And to show that we are part of a progressive movement in this country that is fighting for change – to stop racism and racist attacks, to support women’s liberation and an end to lesbian and gay oppression, a movement that supports the basic human rights of all people to have housing, food, education, health care and jobs. The second thing which we really hope to do is to expose the U.S. government as an outlaw government under international law and to show all the different ways – or as many as the jurors can Insurgent4 (2)comprehend – how the U.S. violates international law, how it violates basic human rights every day of its own citizens. Because some of us have fought against the Klu Klux Klan as public activists, we hope we will be able to show how the U.S. government encourages white supremacy and white supremacist organisations like the Nazis and the KKK here in the U.S. to expose that to the jury. We hope to expose the illegal activities in the contra war against Nicaragua and in El Salvador that the government has perpetrated. Similarly its support for Zionism and its support for apartheid.

So we plan – as best possible – to bring in experts on international law and explain to the jury our motivations as part of the resistance movement.  This does not mean saying FISTSTAR“yes, we did the bombings”, but “yes, we are part of a resistance movement that has many different aspects to it and it engages in many tactics of resistance”; that this movement is a legitimate movement, that is justified because of U.S. crimes around the world. So, these are two of the things we hope to accomplish with the trial and of course the kind of outside support we are able to build is very important.

Q: It seems that around all the other trials there hasn’t been a very big media campaign. The information hasn’t been so much directed at the broader public, but at the progressive community. Do you think that this pattern will be broken with this trial?

RCC: No, I don’t think so. Its show trial character will be dominantly directed in the courtroom and at the anti-imperialists who support a revolutionary struggle. Part of the 1978 conference in Puerto Rico was an overt agreement between the press and the U.S. government that they would not portray revolutionaries as human beings and that they would ignore the political context of our actions in the media. The media will cooperate with the FBI in portraying us only as criminals and terrorists, and that agreement has been pretty much fulfilled by the press. there has been some alternative press coverage, some coverage in the lesbian and gay and women’s press, but overall we really had to struggle to get our perspective on the trial out. And I think that will continue to be difficult.

Q: Before your arrests all of you have been long time activists in various public progressive movements. Could you describe that a little bit and probably describe why you decided to take up a more militant struggle against the system?

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RCC: I think all of us were formed in the crucible in the 1960’s when the national liberation movements around the world were on the rise and were challenging the hegemony of U.S. imperialism. For all of us that has been a very formative experience for a couple of reasons. We were all anti-racists and each of us had been impacted by the civil rights movement, had joined in activities in support of the black masses in the South who were demonstrating and risking their lives for the right to vote and to end segregation and to fight for human rights. We all had been impressed by the fact that such a simple thing as the democratic right to vote demanded that people risk their lives and come up both against the Klu Klux Klan and against the power of the state. In the 60’s, when we began to see a black power movement talk about nationhood, talking about the right to self-determination that impressed us as a correct strategy for ending racism. At the same time when we saw the nation of Vietnam capable of winning against the U.S. that also told us something about the potential for changing things, not just protesting and being dissatisfied, but changing things. All of us had some relationship to the black liberation struggle as a very formative part of our politics. The black liberation struggle raised the issues of power and how change can be made. It also raised fundamental issues of the values of the society and the content of our lives – the things we fight for. Several of us were right in the beginning of building some solidarity organisations with the Puerto Rican independence movement. All of those things formed our politics. They also brought us in direct confrontation with the forces of the state, particularly the FBI, and as a result we were also targeted by counter intelligence programs in the 60’s. That played a big role in convincing us that you cannot build any kind of a resistance movement – not just a revolutionary movement – that seriously challenges the ability of the U.S. government to carry out its colonialist policies inside the borders of the U.S. and around the world without having a clandestine component of it. That is one of the reasons why we are all committed to build an armed clandestine movement.

Q: At the time when you chose or were forced to go underground it seems like the first changingweatherwave of organized armed struggle in the U.S. had already been suppressed by COINTELPRO and by the Weather Underground basically dispersing. Were you relating a lot to their experiences and how did you relate to the mass movements, i.e. the Central American solidarity movement, at the time when you were underground?

RCC: That is a hard question. First of all, it is true that during the 60’s when there was a massive anti-war movement the resistance movement was very broad and encompassed many forms of resistance. There were other armed groups as well, not just the Weather Underground. It is also true that the Weather Underground stopped engaging in armed struggle and withdrew from support for national liberation struggles in the mid-70’s. BLA-SYMBHowever, the Black Liberation Army (BLA) continued to function right up into the 80’s. The FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion National) of the Puerto Rican independence movement continued to function. One of the things that influenced us very much was that we were always engaged in revolutionary solidarity on many different levels. We are committed to resisting and stopping U.S. war crimes and that both makes us a part of the Central America movement and also differentiates us from many sectors of the movement. Within the movement there are people who want to try to intervene to stop U.S. war crimes and others who only want to educate people about U.S. politics. That sector of the Central America movement believes that you should not break the law or use militant forms of struggle. Because the government’s policies towards Central America are continuing, the more militant sector has become more sympathetic to us and our committment to resist. There is more support for us now than there was at the point when we were still underground. I think part of that is because we are in prison now, we are more accessible for people, they can struggle with us. We have more of a relationship to some of the mass movements now. Whenever you have a series of arrests as serious as ours and the other clandestine resistance organisations in this country, youPRGRLSYM have to re-evaluate. You have to evaluate both your strategy and tactics. You can’t say it was all tactical errors. There have to be strategic errors. The six of us are not part of one revolutionary organisation and we are all rethinking many different things. But I think it is safe to say for all of us what we will never give up is our ability to resist.

Q: You said earlier that all of you have been very much influenced by the women’s liberation movement. What do you exactly refer to by that?

RCC: For those of us in this case who are women, we all went through the experiences that women in this society have – being targeted by all kinds of violence, being denigrated, being treated as second-class citizens and more, being forced to internalize certain forms of our own oppression. Our response to that oppression was to identify with other oppressed people and to commit ourselves to fighting for our own liberation. For us the beginnings of the women’s liberation movement had held out not just the hope of our own equality and freedom and the right to fully participate in this society, but also the whole concept of liberation itself. That is such a revolutionary concept, RCC67which I think is why there can never be a sustained women’s liberation movement outside the context of a revolutionary movement. As a whole the concept of sexual and human liberation that are a part of what it will mean for women to win their liberation and for lesbians to win their liberation, is fundamental to changing the values this society is constructed on.

Q: I would like to come back to that. Linda and you (Laura) both have been outspoken lesbians. Do you see any contradictions for yourselves in working with a mixed anti-imperialist group?

RCC: Linda and I, and Marilyn and Susan, have all been part of separate women’s organizations, but never separatist. The difference is that the separatist women’s movement and the separatist lesbians movement have a different analysis of who the enemy is – they define patriarchy and men as the enemy, as opposed to imperialism and male supremacy. I have been able to work with separatist groups, but only on a very limited basis, because I look at the national liberation struggles as my ally; they look at only women as their allies and men of any nations as their enemies. We believe very strongly in the need for women to have caucuses, groups, separate organizations. Being part of autonomous women’s groups or women’s caucuses or trying to create a separate women’s program is not just a reflection that men are hard to work with, which they very often are, but to me it is also part of developing a revolutionary process which at RCC65 (2)the end will create a different society from what would exist if we didn’t have that.

Q: In Europe, people have mostly seen what the Reagan administration has done on an international level, but maybe you can talk a little bit about what has changed domestically and how these changes effected any kind of domestic opposition to the system?

RCC: The policies of the Reagan administration both internationally and domestically were characterised by increased domination and exploitation, by an unprecedented build-up of the military capabilities and military industries. All in an attempt to reinstitute the U.S. as the hegemonic imperialist power. The attack on the first black socialist nation in this hemisphere – Grenada – showed what the Reagan administration’s position on self-determination was. The Reagan era has had a devastating impact on probably on all but the ruling class. It has been felt in every class and it is being particularly felt by the oppressed nation’s communities. The level of cultural genocide was raise. The so-called “war on drugs”, the drug war, has really been a war against black people and Latin American people, Puerto Rican and Mexican people. And they have been very successful in turning everything around – it is what George Orwell called “newspeak” – to make things be the opposite of what they really are. The state has created conditions that leaves people homeless, where there are no social programs or medical care. Even the small level of reforms that people gained in the late 60’s and 70’s has been cut and wiped out and basically the state said “everyone for themselves”. This has taken place at the expense of black people and working class white people and women. I think that the Reagan era has been very devastating domestically, but to a large degree that has been based on a level of consolidation of what they call “winning RCC613 (2)the hearts and minds”. This is what they have learned from Vietnam – they have been successful to divide the struggle, to divide the people. The state has shaped the questions to try to create an internal enemy. So now, anti-imperialists like ourselves become part of the internal enemy. Black people are made part of the internal enemy. The government is creating enemies in order to divert attention from racism and the concept of white supremacy and to cover up the real question of who is the enemy and what is the enemy, to allow them to increase repression – such as the “war against terrorism”.

Q: All of you are talking about the U.S. as an empire and colonial nation, both domestically and internationally. Could you specify that and could you also specify what effect that has on the struggle in the U.S.?

RCC: The main thing about the U.S. being an empire is that, because there are internal colonies that are held by one government within the same land base, there is no homogenous struggle – there is no one working class, there is no one movement, and so the anti-imperialist sector of the movement has been defined, grown up and matured in relationship to the advances of national liberation movements inside of the internationally held colonies. I think that is the most critical difference between us and our European counterparts, in addition to us being in the centre of what has been until recently the centre of the imperialist system. So it has got the most intense elements of the contradictions. It is also for us been analytically the tool for the destruction of this country.

Because there are internal colonies, because there are oppressed people and because it is an empire that has grafted together different peoples into one federal state, the key to its change, massive change – whatever form that may take – is primarily been from the RCC614 (2)Third World people in this country. As the national struggles achieve self-determination, the empire will be broken up. The eight years of the Reagan regime have entrenched a fascist ideology in this country and an economic system that is the base of that. But it is the struggle of the internal colonies that is the most dynamic, both because of their national character and because it is the members of the internal colonies who also are in the most militant of the working class. Because the genocide against the oppressed and poor people has taken such a strong advance, there is a reaction and there is going to be more of a reaction.

For example in the black communities there is a beginning of an understanding again of the police, and the role of the police, as an occupying force by the U.S. to maintain domination and control in that community, i.e. in New York where there has been a lot of opposition by different black people and African Americans. Now the opposition is not in a very organised state of development, but it is definitely emerging again. I think the 90’s are going to be about that kind of mass struggle around social conditions and with some kind of political consciousness that comes from the fact that it is based on racism and national oppression. There has been a series of murders of black people by white people in every major urban centre in the last period and there has been a response by the black community to that in New York. They called it the “day of outrage” and there were several thousand people who occupied downtown Manhattan in protest of that.

That is just one example of the kind of development. Now, that is not necessarily a new development, but it is part of a political process whereby new strategies and opinions can begin to emerge. I certainly believe that if there is going to be any kind of a change – revolutionary or reformist – it is going to be located and motivated from the struggle of oppressed peoples.

There are other examples in terms of the Puerto Rican movement. I would say very briefly that Puerto Rico has been a direct colony of the U.S., and for us as anti-imperialists we believe that it is our absolute responsibility to struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico. That is a struggle that is going on right now, and it is going on with the Central America solidarity movement, to say that they have to include Puerto Rico, because the U.S. government occupies 19% of the land in Puerto Rico through the military bases. It is U.S. military and nuclear power that dominates the life of the island.

The U.S. at the moment is trying to force on the Puerto Rican people a false plebiscite, namely to cover their tracks in the international community. Because the Central PRWOMENAmerican and Caribbean nations recognise Puerto Rico as part of the Caribbean and as part of the struggle that is going on in that region. And as long as those nations continue to agitate against the U.S.’s hold on Puerto Rico, the U.S. feels some pressure on that issue and they don’t want to deal with that in the next period because Puerto Rico is also very profitable. It is also very important militarily. It is from the Roosevelt Naval Base in Puerto Rico that the U.S. will launch any kind of military operation in any part of Central America. It is their only option in regard to losing the Panama Canal. There is a lot of motion around Puerto Rico right now and whether or not the liberation movement is going to be able to use it in the most positive way is unclear. But what is absolutely important for anybody looking at the U.S. left is that the independence movement cannot be destroyed by the U.S.

Q: What are the conditions under which you are being held in the D.C. Jail? How has that been and has isolation been used against you?

RCC: When we first got here at the D.C. Detention Centre we were held at what they call here special handling which meant that we were locked in our cells 23 hours a day. We were never allowed to go out with other prisoners. We had all our conversations and correspondence monitored and whenever we left our cell block we were both in leg irons and handcuffs, including in legal meetings. This was done directly at the request of a special group within the U.S. Marshal Service that handles security for political prisoners.

They spread rumours among the staff and tried to get to the prisoners that the six of us were involved in a white supremacist group rather than with a revolutionary group thereby trying to isolate us further from the bulk of the population, the African-American people who are here. We tried to fight those conditions through a mass RCC612mobilisation and in the courts. After about six months we were actually able to get the judge to order some changes in our conditions. For most of the past year we actually have been held in conditions not too dissimilar from the bulk of the population here. One thing that was part of the special handling and continued for a year was that we were never allowed outside. At the end of the year the judge decided that this was in fact becoming cruel and unusual punishment. We are now allowed to go outside for two hours a week which is just as much as the rest of the population gets here.

I think the critical thing in terms of the D.C. Jail and our current conditions for people in Europe to understand is to what extent prisons in the U.S. really are concentration camps and warehouses for particularly African-American people, but certainly for other Third World people as well. I’ve also spent two years in a series of county jails and in jails in other large cities that also had a large percentage of black prisoners where the conditions are very similar to the conditions in the D.C. Jail: basically tremendous overcrowding, no educational programs, essentially no legal facilities, restrictive visiting; basically horrible run-down conditions. And I think it is important for people to understand that in many ways it corresponds to the same kind of conditions you see in the school systems, in the social welfare systems, in any of the institutions in this society which primarily deal with poor people and especially poor Third World people. For many people, for many young people from the African-American community that you see coming in here, caught up in the cycle of poverty and unemployment and too often drugs which go along with it, it is like going from one institution to the other – it is just part of this cycle, of life in the U.S.

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Q: Almost all of you have been held in isolation which seems to be a part of the special counter insurgency program the state security forces are using against political prisoners in the U.S., but also in the FRG for example.

RCC610 (2)RCC: Without exceptions all of us in fact have spent long periods of time in isolation before we got here and again it always gets done under the guise of security precautions. Like a lot of the things that happen with political prisoners inside prisons, they take techniques that are also used against certain social prisoners, but against political prisoners it is systemized, made more intensive and there is no guise of it being disciplinary, it is totally administrative. Isolation is increasingly being used in the U.S. prisons. But usually there are some justifications – there is the justification that the person was involved in some violent incident, that the person tried to escape. But with political prisoners, from the moment they are arrested, the intention is to isolate us in many ways. The idea is to isolate us from the people on the outside which I think is the primary thing. We are held in places where we have restricted phone calls, totally monitored correspondence. And when you get to a place like the Lexington HSU (High Security Unit for women) or Marion (HSU for men), isolation is totally embodied in the institution itself. The institution is designed to try to disrupt any ties that you have on the outside, to try to completely isolate you and that serves two purposes: one, it throws the prisoner back upon her or himself and on our own resources to try to maintain our own identity in a period of time when you can’t see people from the movement, can’t correspond with people from the movement in any significant way – they also censor the newspapers we have access to. They try to cut off every part of our political identity and force us back onto our own resources. On the other hand I think that the political prisoners often are people who have been some of the most committed militant fighters from their own movements and so also our own political input and the ability to have access to what is going on in the outside movements are clearly attempted to be cut off by isolation.

I do also want to comment on the fact that the U.S. has a death penalty. I think it is inhumane and as applied in the U.S. totally racist in nature, even as it is used in relationship to social prisoners and to date it has been mostly used for social prisoners. Although a number of years ago certain crimes against the state – as part of a resurgence of the whole FBI counterinsurgency apparatus – is about to become one of the few crimes where there is a federal death penalty in the U.S. For instance, a bombing of a federal building in which someone is killed carries a federal death penalty now. Usually murder is a state charge, not a federal charge, but they created certain federal crimes which are particularly designed in relationship to what they label “terrorist activities” to carry out the death penalty.MUMIA

There is a political prisoner in the U.S. – Mumia Abu-Jamal – who was given a death sentence and is currently facing the death penalty because of an intense confrontation with the police that resulted in Mumia being critically wounded and a dead policeman. So the death penalty remains as the ultimate sanction in the U.S.

I also want to mention the use of sexual harassment, in particular against women comrades. That was most developed at Lexington where not only the issue of isolation, but very intentionally the use of male guards – and yet again male guards are used in women’s prisons throughout the U.S. – was enforced. I think in isolation units that are specifically designed to break down the identity of strong women political prisoners, they very intentionally use male guards; they used cameras that were designed to allow the guards to watch the women in the shower, to afford no privacy in the cells, and then for Susan Rosenberg and Alejandrina Torres to physically abuse them – doing forced rectal and vaginal searches. The state feels particularly when women decide to struggle “by any means necessary” and bring their strength to the struggle and so they have also a particular part of their plan designed to try to break down those women political prisoners.

facerealityQ: The U.S. government actually claims that it does not hold any political prisoners at all – although there are currently around 200 political prisoners and prisoners of war held in U.S. prisons. Could you explain where the political prisoners and prisoners of war come from politically and what the term prisoner of war (POW) relates to in the U.S. context?

RCC: In the U.S. the national struggle and political struggle has developed largely in relationship to national movements, and by national movements I mean the fact that in the U.S. there have been historically developed oppressed nations. Africans were brought to the U.S. as slaves – there is some fluidity now how African-Americans call their own national identity as African Americans. Certainly, the word “Black” was used with capital letters, not with a small “b”. New Afrikans also try to give a small sense of a transported African people in the U.S. It is not true there is a great melting pot in the U.S. There basically still is a dominant nation that has large oppressed populations where certain individuals can advance, but the bulk of the nations are kept under colonial or semi-colonial conditions.

Similarly there was a Native American population which was conquered and that was largely eradicated, but it has continued to struggle in this country. Puerto Rico was claimed as part of an expansionist war in 1889 and approximately 40% of the Puerto Rican population has immigrated from the actual country of Puerto Rico to the cities of the U.S. And Mexico – the U.S. as part of what is called its “Western expansion”LAND&SOC, 150 years ago, took the northern half of Mexico through a war against Mexico and a forced treaty. There are some 20 million Mexican people in the U.S. So people in those populations have suffered from denial of basic human rights, basic democratic rights. And in many cases as their struggle has developed for basic access – sometimes for instance, like the black civil rights movement, starting with a view towards assimilation, but through struggle realizing that that really was not going to be won – those movements have often taken the form of explicit national liberation movements with a demand for self-determination in whatever form that can be. So as people have struggled against injustice and for a view of self-determination and liberation, they have encountered the state and in encountering the state people get arrested and become political prisoners. Now within those movements, there, at times, have developed organizations which explicitly are trying to develop an ability to wage armed struggle. The Black Liberation Army (BLA) was one that largely developed from the Black Panther Party (BPP) when the BPP was repressed by the F.B.I Some of the people in the BPP felt the only way they were going to survive was to form an underground resistance.

MACHESYM

Similarly within the struggle of Puerto Rico, clandestine organizations have developed on the island and here inside the U.S. The FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion National) has been most clearly developed, and in the last few years the Macheteros who are rooted on the island in Puerto Rico have developed. They have had several people who have been arrested and become political prisoners in the U.S. People from the American Indian Movement (AIM) are in the prisons as political prisoners. And there are also white North Americans such as ourselves who have tried to build our anti-imperialist resistance movement and have fought in various ways against the state, some as part of an armed clandestine ARMEDNATmovement. And then there are other white North Americans* who have been involved in militant, but passive civil disobedience actions against the military who are also in the prisons in the U.S. Now, we all are obviously political prisoners, but the people from the oppressed nations who are waging armed struggle consider themselves under international law to be captured combatants and are prisoners of a liberation struggle recognized by Protocol 2 of the Geneva Conventions and other international conventions. They claim status as prisoners of war.

Q: Do the U.S. courts recognize that status?

RCC: No, the courts refuse to – although it has been challenged many times, the courts in the U.S. refuse to apply international standards, including Puerto Rico as the clearly most recognized example. The world community and the United Nations recognize it as a U.S. colony, but the U.S. courts refuse to recognize it as a U.S. colony and therefore people who are freedom fighters from that movement are not going to be recognized as anti-colonial freedom fighters. Internationally, increasingly they are. This was made most clear when William Morales was captured in Mexico and the U.S. tried to extradite him back to the U.S. as a criminal. Mexico decided that he was a political prisoner in the U.S., that he was a captured combatant from Puerto Rico, refused to extradite him to the U.S. and released him to Cuba where he was given political asylum. Another blow to that assata4strategy was the liberation of Assata Shakur. Assata, a leading member of the BLA, had been characterized by the F.B.I. and the media as a “blood thirsty cop killer”. After her liberation from prison she was granted political asylum in Cuba and has since gained recognition internationally and in the U.S. as a respected spokesperson for the black liberation struggle.

Q: But do these movements themselves claim you as their political prisoners?

RCC: That varies because again there are different realities that are going on and this is both the strength and the weakness of the political prisoner/prisoner of war movement in the U.S., but also of the social struggle in the U.S. in general. I think that there is a very implicit embracement of political prisoners in Puerto Rico, for example in the case of Filiberto Ojeda Rios who is admittedly one of the leaders of the Macheteros. He recently was put on trial. He hadbeen held for several years on charges in the U.S. which he never went to trial for. He was then brought to Puerto Rico and put on trial for a shoot-out when the FBI captured him in 1985. An FBI SWAT team with bazookas and automatic weapons attacked his home and he and his wife were there. He defended his home and his life against the attack and one FBI agent was wounded in that shoot-out. He went on trial in Puerto Rico, admitted that he had shot it out with the FBI and basically defended himself in front of a Puerto Rican jury. The jury acquitted Filiberto of all the charges related to the shoot-out. The verdict clearly was not based on legalities, it was based on the fact that Filiberto did have a right to defend himself.

filiberto1

I recently spoke to Filiberto and he said in a very humble way that he cannot walk the streets of San Juan without being stopped on every block and somebody coming up to him – and these are not just people from the independence movement – and saying “you represent our country we support you.” I think among white North American movements that has not been historically true, and the link has not been made, especially with people charged with organizing in armed struggle. I think it was a weakness as the struggle developed those links were not there, were not organically developed in earlier years and so it is still been an ongoing process since people’s capture to try and forge the links between the various levels of struggle. Because certainly I think, the political goals are very shared, and of course the isolation and conditions of capture can make that very difficult to do.

Q: What kind of support do political prisoners and p.o.w.’s receive at this point?

RCC: The support for political prisoners as it is defined largely by the conditions and the state of the movements we come from. I would say that overall there is not a whole lot of support, there is not a lot of consciousness. We are having to begin from the premise of just establishing the existence of political prisoners in the U.S. from the point of view of consciousness raising and those efforts are just in the beginning. There are some exceptions – there are some political prisoners who are more well-known than others – probably most progressive people in the U.S. are familiar with the case of Leonard Peltier. He has probably more support and recognition than any other political prisoner in the U.S., and that is probably true internationally as well. His case has some over-arching significance for the Native American movement and for the last 10 years or so it has been both a symbolic struggle and rallying point for the Native American movement.

The Puerto Rican political prisoners and p.o.w.’s have support within the Puerto Rican independence movement and it has begun to become more broad in the last two or three AMNESTYyears. Filiberto Ojeda Rios and the comrades that were arrested as a group known as the Puerto Rican Independence 16 and accused members of the Macheteros who are on trial for the expropriation of the Wells Fargo Truck – $7 million – have become cases of extreme importance to the independence movement. In the last year and with the coming of discussions about the status of the island, from the point of view of the independence movement and even some of the pro-colony forces, the question of what will happen with the political prisoners and p.o.w.’s is very much part of the discussion because they have been involved in the struggling for the status of the island.

Q: But it seems that a lot of Black political prisoners and POW’s have not been recognized by the Black community. Does that sort of reflect the political state of the black community at this point, that a lot of Black Panthers are sitting in the jails and have been there for many years and seem to be forgotten, or is that a wrong impression?

PANTHER

RCC: I don’t think it is a wrong impression. But what has to be understood is that one of the outcomes of the counterintelligence program that was developed in the 60’s and early 70’s was, that the organizational structure in the Black community was really targeted for destruction and was somewhat successfully destroyed. Not just revolutionary organizations – you can go back and read FBI papers – groups like “Black Architects” had formed and were infiltrated. Any kind of organization that led people’s struggle on their own terms was systematically targeted for destruction. And it you don’t have forms of organizations you just cannot reach a mass of people and you cannot even perpetuate your own history very easily. And then, lets face it – the other thing is that some of the people who were militants were co-opted. A small percentage, you know, that was part of the programme too. You set up university programmes, you get people middle class, some of the perks that come with social advancements. You can destroy a movement partially through repression and also partially through cooperation. Even under Reagan you have to look at the fact that Ronald Reagan never met with any leaders of the major, very mainstream reformist black civil rights organizations. It was very clear that the US government was not going to allow black people any self-directed organizations through which they could struggle. I think that there will be a more active claiming of the people who have struggled in that direction and there is a base of support. I just think that there is much more of a base of support that is incipient there, that could be mobilized, but it is not organized, it is not directed at this point, and therefore it cannot make itself felt.

Q: In the FRG support work for political prisoners is really viewed as an important front in the fight against repression and people who are doing that kind of work often define themselves as anti-imperialist. Is there any comparison to the support that you receive as white North American anti-imperialist prisoners?

A: No, I don’t think there is any comparison. It is just at an altogether different starting point. Here in the US “anti-imperialism” is defined somewhat differently than in the FRG. Here it refers to those sectors of the progressive movement which analyze the US as an RCC64imperialist nation, oppose imperialism as a whole system and act in solidarity with national liberation movements. The anti-imperialist movement here is very small and isolated. I would say within having spoken some about the other national liberation struggles, within the dominant white left there is a very low level of consciousness of political prisoners and p.o.w.’s, whether it is the political prisoners from any of the national liberation movements or the anti-imperialist left. So, one they don’t really know that we exist. Those that do know, and the support that we began to get through our trials in the last couple of years, is fairly defined at the level of basic humanitarian, human rights concerns. It’s is just not seen yet as a significant front of the struggle in and of itself. Perhaps that was more true in the 70’s when some of the urban rebellions were taking place. When George Jackson whose name might be familiar to people in the FRG was assassinated in a California prison and there were a series of uprisings around the country. There were numerous political prisoners in prison from the struggles of the 60’s and they played a role in those rebellions, and there was a much different sense about the prisons as a whole, but some of the political prisoners as well. At this point there is really no perspective of the political prisoners as being like fighters or combatants of a movement and that you take steps to defend those people as part of defending your movement.

I think that is something that is changing. Until very recently there were not many people who were even doing it for humanitarian reasons. In fact what we had there was a small core of people who were themselves committed anti-imperialists who were doing it clearly. I think, for basic political purposes in terms of seeing both the prisoners as very important people for the movement – having supported the development of the clandestine organizations themselves – and seeing it a form of being able to expose and fight the repressive part of the state and what the FBI was doing and believing that it was important to strengthen the movement. Even a lot of people who are involved in social movements in the US don’t understand that the state responds by repression if challenged. We have a difficult time even perpetuating our own history and it is actively being rewritten all the time. People don’t really remember what happened in the 60’s even in terms of the role of the FBI and various red squads. So that when CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the Peoples of El Salvador) which is a Central American anti-intervention movement was targeted by the FBI and that operation was finally exposed in the 80’s, people thought it was a new thing. No, it wasn’t a new thing at all, it goes back – it was the perpetuation of something that as the social struggle had gone down was less obvious. And then as people began to respond and tried to challenge US policies in Central America, the FBI resumed it role much more aggressively as a political police force. And so I think it is in fact only in the last few years that around the core of committed anti-imperialists who have done that work there are others supporting political prisoners.

Q: Do you think that the broad opposition against the HSU in Lexington was sort of a starting point for the recognition of political prisoners by a broader public?

Lexington2 (2)

A: Yes, definitely it backfired on the US government. The US government or the Bureau of Prisons never thought that there would be the kind of opposition that ended up emerging in relationship to Lexington.  They thought that the rhetoric of terrorism would be enough to scare off any kind of human rights activity and they miscalculated on that basis. Also it was such an extreme and so obviously an experiment that I think contributed to that.  And I would say specifically that ther Puerto Rican independence movment had a very important role to play at least in initiating that opposition.

Q: And do you think the public awareness that was created through that can continue, for example during the time of your trial or do you feel that the campaign against the Lexington HSU was yet another one of the single issue mobilizations in the US?

A: I think it was mixed.  Supporting people, supporting human rights which is something a lot of people can get behind – although not enough – is coming. The dominant basis upon which people objected to Lexington was that they didn’t like isolation, and its Lexington1 (2)easier to become involved in opposing that  than it is to support revolutionaries. People didn’t like a democratic country torturing its own dissidents, which was really what was going on there.  That is a little bit different than when you are going on trial as being an enemy of the state in a very self-conscious, politically orchestrated show trial where the government has a lot at stake in winning a victory right there and then. But I think in so far as a climate was created through not just Lexington, but through the attack on the Puerto Rican movement, through the attack that went on against the Black movements – in New York the number of political attacks has resulted in trials and then the emergence of more political prisoners – the emergence of both has come together in beginning to change at least minimally, but I think significantly, a climate that says “yes, there is political opposition, there is repression, it is political, there is a political police, and yes, there are political prisoners”. So, I think there has been a number of things, including the Lexington struggle, that went on that created a climate that hopefully will help us as the struggle intensifies which undoubtedly it will.

A: One of the sources that our support has come from in the last period is from the gay and lesbian movement. And I think that part of that is because Linda and I have been out-lesbians, have said that we are lesbians and that four of us in this case are women, that all of us have fought for women’s liberation including the men who have supported the struggle for women’s liberation very much in their political histories too.  But I think that there is another reason, which is that the gay and lesbian movement is challenging the government on the question of AIDS which is a life and death struggle for people. It brings people up against control of the state over their lives and their bodies and how they live their lives. The growth of homophobia in this period, the increase of the attacks on gay people, and the increase in laws directed against gay people is having an impact on people’s thinking. So ACT-UP, which is the most militant part of the AIDS movement, has been extremely militant in its actions. And I think that when you are in a confrontation with the state like that you have less questions about other people who resist. You are more interested in uniting with people against a common enemy, which is a concept that is very important to us.

Q: Where do you see the role of political prisoners in the slow re-emergence of a more grassroots level of opposition within the different national communities. And where do you see your own role? How do you think that it will be possible to achieve some unity and to relate to the struggles on the outside?

A: I think that prisons in the US are going to become an increasing focus of resistance in the US, both at the human rights level and at the level of violence and resistance and rebellion inside the prisons. The prisons are going to play  – and have historically played – an important role for the state in siphoning off the most radical, militant elements of not even necessarily the self-conscious opposition, but people who are in rebellion against their condition, either as a result of racism or poverty.

The state itself says that in the U.S. in less than 5 years from now, 1 million people will be in prison in is an enormous percentage of the population. I think the role of political PRISONprisoners will be greater if we are accepted as such by the movements and the social opposition and the political opposition that develops. Certainly we have to play a role in the prison itself in trying to build unity among as many prisoners – social and political prisoners- in order to forge a front of struggle inside the prisons to make that rebellion more direct. And I think that is one of the reasons why the government clearly wants to isolate us. Beyond that specifically, as political prisoners we have a responsibility to keep a flame of resistance alive in the sense of an ideological, political position. We represent something that historically has been important in the left. Right now the dominant location of us is in prison, which is a big problem. I think probably similar to some earlier periods in the FRG when a number of people were in the prisons and a voice that needed to be on the outside was not there. And how well we can or we can not do that is going to be determined by a number of things – the use of isolation in the US, the use of control units, and the struggle that has brought about recognition of ensuring of our defense on human rights.  I think we are all going to push the struggle ourselves…

Q: Let me ask you a question in relation to that. In the FRG, the prisoners of the RAF and the resistance have been for years fighting isolation with the demand for association of all RAFSoliBreakthrough (2)political prisoners. This demand also has the central demand of the last hungerstrike and it is the central demand for most of the support work on the outside. Do you see political prisoners in the US, do you see yourselves at a point where you will demand association?

A: I think in the longer term it will be a demand. Given the real material condition in this country around the question of political prisoners, I don’t think it is a demand that we can yet establish. I think that we are still in the stage of in a sense combating the US government’s criminalization of political prisoners. We will be somewhat successful, but I think it is a long struggle. It is like trying to look at things in stages – and one stage of it is to really affirm that there are political prisoners in the US.

A: I know it is a big question to people in Europe who ask “why don’t you demand association, or why isn’t there unity”. But again we are talking about a situation where there are prisoners from every different struggle. So while we have a very strong basis – we are in the prisons together – to build unity against the state, and where we have been together we have done that absolutely – we are also responsible to accountable in some ways to different movements on the outside. And you as a prisoner do not implement your own strategy separate from whatever goals and definitions and struggles are the movement you are a part of.

One specific example in terms of an answer to that is that the Puerto Rican p.o.w.s – there are 25 in the U.S. prisons – have raised the demand for association at different points to all be put in a military prison and to be tried by a military court under basically what are the Geneva Accords that would be applied to POW’s. And that flows from a political position of their movement that they are colonized people and therefore have a right to that under international law.  They don’t raise this demand all the time, but they raised it at different points. Of course there is no response from the US government, but there is a response in keeping them separated from one prison to another. The men are all in different prisons around the country, and there are 50 different federal prisons in the US in a lot of different places. I think that is one part of an answer to the issue of how do we raise association. In the last 5 years 22 anti-imperialists have entered the prisons asBARSFIST political prisoners. And I think we have to make a determination about what and how we want to deal with that issue and I think as Marilyn said, it is a process. My personal feeling is that we did have small group isolation at Lexington, but it functioned as association. and it was the reason why we could maintain and win the struggle at Lexington.

Personally, I think that we will demand association, but how we do it, when we do it, on what basis and for whom are all questions that we have to struggle out as the state implements its strategy and as we understand the conditions we are in. One reason why I do feel that we will end up raising that demand and not general population is because I strongly believe that as a political prisoner you have to have a political struggle with the state. It is not automatic, there is nothing automatic about maintaining your political stand when you spend years in behaviour modification, isolation, and regimentation. So then the issue of an active confrontation with the state, which I think is our role inside the prisons, means that there has to be something very specific. But because of the empire, because of the colonialism, because there are different prisoners from different nations, struggles, classes, sexes, movements we have to figure that out. And I think the government is going to do everything it can to make dialogue around that impossible. I really think that the first struggle we are going to have is about even having some kind of communication. The condition for the struggle for association are very, very different from Europe both in the content of prison life itself, but also in terms of what exists on the outside that can help to push for and organize for that demand.

Q: In the Relatives Info during the last hungerstrike of the prisoners of the RAF and the resistance, there were a number of letters from you and there were also letters on support activities around the hungerstrike in the FRG. What kind of role did you play in that and how do you relate to the overall struggle of the prisoners from the RAF and the resistance?

A: We have had a relationship of shared struggle for the last ten years, and increasingly in the last five or six years.  We have tried to study the movement in the FRG, which is at an altogether higher level of development than us here. We have also studied the armed 13-1f63c6e4f7-2organizations in the FRG, because it is a very difficult thing to establish a guerilla front and for better or worse, with its ups and downs, the RAF has existed by close to 20 years in the FRG and that is a significant achievement. So., naturally we are trying to study that from a point of view of political revolutionary resistance. When we came into the prisons this interest really just continued to grow, largely because many of us were immediately confronted with isolation. And then all of us received immediate gestures of solidarity form the political prisoners in the FRG and it just reaffirmed a bond which we felt at a more abstract level for a period of time. They and their attorneys invited our attorneys to come to the FRG and there has been a constant exchange since 1984 about understanding the means of repression and the means of fighting that. And we have benefited tremendously from our relationship with the political prisoners in the FRG, both in terms of concrete suggestions and ideas about how to combat isolation an an individual level, and also more recently, we have been learning a lot from them about the importance of and the integrity of the movement and the struggle for political prisoners within the anti-imperialist movement as a whole.

So, I just want to preface the issue of the hungerstrike with saying that there has been a pre-existing and very solid relationship. So, when we heard about the hungerstrike being called, to us it wasn’t just an occasion to send a nice solidarity message. We felt that the most important thing that we could do would be to try and break through the media blockade that existed around the hungerstrike, and we thought that we could try and mobilize some support activity of political prisoners in the US. As it happens, at the same time there was a significant hungerstrike going on in South Africa of political detainees who were on strike against preventive detention, which is also an issue here, it is also an issue for us in this case. The struggle against apartheid and US support for apartheid in FIST-WOMsolidarity with the Southern African national liberation movements has been extremely formative to our experience. We couldn’t do one and not do the other. There was just sort of a coalescence of issues and events that demanded a response and we sent out a call for solidarity to the other political prisoners – I don’t think that such a thing has quite ever been done on that level and we didn’t know what to expect. We called for a one day solidarity fast, and on the day that it happened it turned out that close to 600 prisoners participated from around the country.

Q: Both social and political prisoners?

A: I would say the majority were social prisoners. I think dominantly the social prisoners were responding to South Africa and we understood that that would be the case initially, but because thee were also comrades, Puerto Rican POW’s, and some other anti-imperialist prisoners who were leading and organizing the efforts there, we know that they did a lot of educational work about the FRG and about the RAF prisoners and about isolation. So while South Africa may have been a starting point for many prisoners, in the end of it, people knew who the RAF was and what the hungerstrike was about.

Q: Do you feel that this was also a starting point to raise the level of consciousness and activities inside U.S. prisons?

A: Absolutely, that was so important about it. It did initiate a number of actions of self-determined activity by prisoners themselves, especially prisoners on death row. So the important part was prisoners acting together and I don’t think it ever quite happened this way, at least not since the early 70’s, but certainly not around issues of international solidarity.

Q: And it seems to have related to activities on the streets as well. We saw some pictures of a demonstration in New York City.

A: There were small demonstrations. There was a confrontation at the FRG consulate in NYC where people demanded to see the West German ambassador and got to see one of the press flakes who insisted he had no knowledge on any hungerstrike in the FRG. But we made some breakthroughs in the media, some in the left press, but mostly in the international press.

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Conspiracy Conviction

Ecomedia Bulletin, January 14, 1991

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Washington D.C. On Thursday, December 6 in Federal Court, two women were sentenced for “conspiracy to influence, change and protest policies and practices of the United States concerning various international and domestic matters through the use of violent and illegal means,” and for one count each of aiding and abetting the 1983 bombing of the Capitol Building following the U.S. invasion of Grenada (no one was injured in the incident).

Anti-imperialists Linda Evans and Laura Whitehorn stood before the court and delivered their statements to sentence surround by bulletproof glass. More than a hundred supporters came to the trial from across the United States, Canada and Europe.

Despite a clearly political defense, the judge denied that Linda and Laura were political prisoners, denied that the U.S. held political prisoners and refused to recognize that political motivations set their actions apart from those carrying out similar acts for personal gain. The judge called the women terrorists and a threat to society. He sentenced Laura Whitehorn to twenty years in addition to the five years she had already spent in preventive detention while awaiting trial. The judge then sentenced Linda Evans to two five year sentences to be served concurrently, in addition to the thirty-five RCC617 (2)years she is currently serving on other, related convictions.

Following the sentencing, co-defendants Tim Blunk and Susan Rosenberg were paraded before the courtroom to hear their acquittal on these same conspiracy charges. An earlier plea bargain made by the “Resistance Conspiracy Case 6” or the “DC 6” (the above-mentioned four plus co-defendants Marilyn Buck, already sentenced and transferred to Marianna Prison in Florida, and Alan Berkman, in hospital experiencing remission of Hodgkins’ disease), meant that Buck, Whitehorn and Evans would plead guilty to conspiracy in exchange for dismissal of charges against Blunk, Rosenberg (already serving life sentences) and Berkman, in the hopes that Berkman would then be granted the parole for which he is eligible. Parole would enable Berkman to get adequate medical treatment for the cancer, currently denied him by the prison administration. Despite the plea-bargain, Alan’s parole is still being denied.

Although a political conspiracy conviction is a significant win on the states’ side, the process of building support for the RCC 6 defendants has been very valuable. Educating around the case has afforded not only the opportunity to build awareness of political prisoners in North America, but also to talk about domestic repression, political self-defense, and of the range of possible strategies for struggle within the North American context.

The significance of the experience is best summed up in these excerpts from a statement by the RCC 6 themselves.

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“When we came here two-and-a-half years ago we were the “Capitol Bombers”, the “terrorists”, the outcasts of the Left movement. We lived in shackles and chains, we knew almost no one in this city. Six people faced 40 to 45 additional years in prison. Our commitment to anti-imperialism together with the solidarity of countless people enabled us to turn repression into resistance. We stopped the government from isolating and criminalizing us, our politics, and our movement. We all began to relearn the lesson that if the government can do it to us, they can do it to all who resist. It is our firm belief that we waged a successful fight against the state’s attack.

“Many people have asked us, “What happens now?” We believe that all of us must intensify our work—to build a movement that is politically prepared and capable of stopping US military aggression in the Persian Gulf, in Central America, or the attacks on the African-American community in D.C. We have seen a change in the years that we have been in prison. More people are conscious that political prisoners exist in prisons across this country. But awareness alone is not enough. Our freedom can only be won when the political price the government must pay to hold 150 of us is too high, and that can only happen in concert with developing revolutionary alternatives and a resistance movement. We hope that the struggle to free all political prisoners and p.o.w’s will become an integral part of your overall political work, becauseit is an integral part of the fight for justice….

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“All of you have helped us to feel alive, to be productive, to forge political association and propel our spirit of resistance. Don’t let the walls go back up between us. We’ve been able to reach one another through the US government security shield, through the walls of the prisons. Now, as we are sent off to the federal prisons, it will take even more struggle to maintain our connection. Don’t let the walls of Marion and Marianna (prisons) bury us. Because together we can and will win.”

Alan Berkman, Timothy Blunk, Marilyn Buck, Linda Evans, Susan Rosenberg, Laura Whitehorn. (December 6, 1990)

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ASSATA AND THE POPE

… back in 1995 or so, when the internet was still pretty new, Arm The Spirit started up the  ATS-L Listserve, which people could subscribe to … as we noted: “ATS-L is a listserv which carries articles and news items from Arm The Spirit and other left-radical organizations on subjects such as political prisoners, anti-fascism, the struggle against patriarchy and homophobia, national liberation struggles, armed anti-imperialist / anti-capitalist resistance and more.” Here is an interview that we put up on the listserv in June 1998 …

“Assata And The Pope” – Interview With Assata Shakur

Interview by Karen Wald of Assata Shakur during the Pope’s visit
in January 1998

assata4Q: The New Jersey State Police asked the Pope to intervene on their behalf to get the Cuban government to extradite you to New Jersey. Before asking your reaction to that, I think it would be a good idea if we could summarize what happened in New Jersey, with a little background.

Well, I was captured in May of 1973 on the New Jersey State Turnpike. I was asked to put my arms in the air, which I did – at which point I was shot, once with my arms in the air, once in the back. I was left on the ground to die; they kept coming back and saying “Is she dead yet? Is she dead yet?” When it was clear that I was not dead or going to die immediately, I was taken to a hospital where I was held four or five days incommunicado. I was beaten, tortured, had stuff stuck in my wounds.

I was charged with all kinds of false charges, and of all the additional charges I was found “not guilty”, or the charges were dismissed. In the case of New Jersey, I was tried by an all-white jury, accused of felony murder of a police officer, found guilty in a county in which 70% of the people who lived there already thought that I was guilty based on the pre-trial publicity. I was sentenced to life in prison plus thirty-three years plus thirty days. I was all together in prison six and a half years. I spent more than two of those years in solitary confinement in men’s prisons.

I was sent to several places in the prison system. One for example was a special prison-within-the-prison in Alderson, West Virginia, where I was put in a unit with about 15 members of the Aryan Sisterhood which is the sister organization of the Aryan Brotherhood, which is a neo-Nazi organization and famous for “torching”. “Torching” means, in prison language, throwing lighter fluid or some other inflammable substance into a cell, and then throwing a match.

Who they are famous for torching are black prisoners. So I became convinced that the prison authorities were trying to kill me while I was in prison. The same thing basically happened, kind of, trying to set me up when I went to Clinton Prison in New Jersey. I felt it was only a matter of time before they did something to kill me, and with the help of some of my comrades in 1979 I was able to escape. In 1984 I arrived in Cuba, where I am currently living, in exile, as a political refugee.

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Q: Even for people who understand and have encountered, the racism of the police system in the United States, or in many of the police departments of the United States, the viciousness with which they treated you may seem somewhat shocking. What was it about you, or about what you had been doing, do you think, that produced that particular reaction on the part of the New Jersey State Police?

Well, to start off I was a political activist most of my adult life. Some time during the mid-60s I was targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, and that program was designed to eliminate all political opposition to the policies of the United States PANTHERgovernment. I was an activist in the student movement and in the anti-war movement, and later I joined the Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party was the number one organization in the 1960s that was targeted by the COINTELPRO program. And because of my activities in the Black Panther Party I became more of a target of the FBI and I was subsequently forced to go underground based on false charges being levied against me, accusing me of harboring a fugitive.

And so I think that the New Jersey State Police at some point probably recognized me, I mean, they had my photograph everywhere. And I think what happened was that either they just decided to kill me on the spot or just got nervous and started to
shoot.

Q: You mentioned having been acquitted in a number of other trials previous to this. Do you think there was an element of frustration there?

Well, I was acquitted after I was captured. Certainly they did everything to try to get a conviction, and in fact, I don’t know what they promised the witnesses but in one case a witness was asked what the FBI had promised him to testify against me and he took the 5th Amendment and refused to say what he had been offered, because he wanted to avoid self-incrimination.

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Q: Prior to this New Jersey trial, though, there had been number of other times when you had been accused of things and they didn’t succeed in getting a conviction, right?

Once I was captured in 1973 I underwent quite a few trials. Before my capture what happened was that the FBI systematically fed information to the press accusing me of being a bank robber, accusing me of kidnapping drug dealers, accusing me of attacking police – all of those charges were dropped or I went to trial on them and was acquitted.

I went to trial something like three or four times on different charges before the New Jersey conviction in 1977.

Q: I want to ask you a question now: there are a lot of things that people do throughout their lives that may be defined by a particular system or system of laws as being illegal, but which people do because they believe that they are justified in doing them, or to test a law – for instance, Puerto Rican independence fighters who believe that they are carrying out a number of actions because they are fighting for the independence of their country, and will probably say “yes, I did this, and I had a right to do this”. Or people who were testing the original segregation laws in the south.

You’re sitting here now in Cuba. You are safe for the time being from the grasp of the people who would imprison you. Of all the things that they have believed and/or accused you of over the years, are there any that you have actually done?

When I started to be an activist in the movement it was against the law to go to the park, it was against the law to go to the zoo, to eat in restaurants – this was in Wilmington, North Carolina, where my grandparents lived. So that the law, at that time was used overtly to oppress black people and other people of color. When I was forced to go underground, I was part of a network of people – some of whom were in contact with each other and some of whom were not – which was loosely called the Black Liberation Army. And that organization was involved in analyzing whether or not armed struggle was applicable in the conditions that existed at the end of the 1970s, and if so, how. And also, we hid people, we helped draft dodgers to escape from going to fight what we considered the very criminal war in Vietnam, and different sectors or units of the Black Liberation Army were involved in activities which could be considered illegal. And we also helped people to escape from prison.

So even though they were considered illegal by law enforcement agencies, we BLA-SYMBconsidered that we were involved in a very moral, correct struggle, that we had the right to resist the oppression and the repression of the United States government by any means necessary. But the reality is that the Black Liberation Army was basically a response to the very illegal activities of the COINTEL program. What they did was try to frame people, which forced people to go underground, which forced people to go into hiding. What they did was outright assassinate people. What they did was to go into Panther offices and shoot – with no warrant, with no legal authority. And what happened was that we responded. Where there is repression there will be resistance.

Q: Going back to the specific acts for which the New Jersey State Police are asking for you to be extradited – although you already indicated you were shot by the New Jersey police with your hands in the air – did you in fact carry out any of the acts for which they wish to extradite you?

No, I did not kill Werner Forster; no I did not shoot – I was a victim in that. I was innocent.

Q: What was and what is your reaction and your response to this communication to the Pope on the part of the New Jersey State Police?

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You know my first initial response was just outrage – you know, how dare they!? I mean it was such a cheap, shoddy little maneuver to capture the attention of the press. It was such a repetition of what had gone on before in my life that for a couple of days I just walked around bumping into my furniture in kind of a daze. But really it was like a deja vu kind of situation. [And then] I said, I just have to do something. And what I decided to do was to write a letter to the Pope, not only talking about my own history, which I think is not that unique – I think many other people were victimized by COINTELPRO. Some of them are still underground; some of them are dead. Some of them are still in prison, and some of them – you know, one of the things that most pains me, because when people talk about COINTELPRO, they don’t talk about all the mental, psychological pain that many people suffered, and many people really lost their minds, or were frightened out of being activists, and just became inactive and totally paranoid about any type of political activism, and I don’t think that part has been spoken to.

But I decided to write the Pope and explain some of the realities of justice, not only in the state of New Jersey but in the United States as a whole. There are right now 1.7 million people in prisons in the United States. And that indicates that the United States has a rate of incarceration higher than any other country in the world.

The racism involved is enormous. There are no words to describe a population for example, like in New Jersey, which has a population that is more than 78% white, but the … women in prison are 80% Black and Latina. In terms of the prison population as a whole you’re talking about 75% are people of color, which is outrageous.WOMEJAIL

And that is just a microcosm of what goes on in the country as a whole. Out of every two black men, one will be arrested [some time in his life]. One out of three young black men between the ages of 20 and 30 is in prison or the jurisdiction of the so-called criminal justice system.

If I were to cite these figures in the context of Nazi Germany no one would be surprised, but in the context of the United States people either believe that can’t be so, or there is a tendency to totally negate the implications of the statistics as they apply to how prisons are used in the United States.

What we’re seeing more and more is that prisons are becoming new kinds of plantations. They’re moving factories into the prisons, and prisoners who could not find jobs in the streets are all of a sudden being forced to work for slave wages inside the prisons. And that tendency is on the uprising. The prison industry is the fastest growing industry in the United States.

Q: What if anything do you expect or hope the Pope’s response to be?

I did not ask the Pope to intercede on my behalf; I did not ask the Pope to look into MY case. My interest is more to call the Pope’s attention to the real violations of human PRISONrights in the United States; to talk about the use of repression in the United States, so that he would have some kind of context into which to put not only my letter but also the letter of the New Jersey State Police. I essentially hope that the Pope would do his own investigation and really speak out against human rights violations in the U.S., to speak out against racism in the U.S., and to speak out in favor of social justice, economic justice,
political justice in the context of the United States. And I realize that that would mean that the Catholic Church would take much more progressive positions than they have taken in the past.

But I hope that the Pope’s recent speeches on the evils of poverty, the evils of the drug traffic, on the abuse of children, etc., indicate that the Catholic Church is taking positions that are more in favor of social justice and have really turned away from the policies of before, when the Catholic Church was very much involved in either turning the other way in terms of slavery, in terms of oppression and exploitation, and ignoring or upholding the colonization of people all over the world.

Q: The Pope spent four or five days here in Cuba and probably a whole forest of trees were felled in creating the newsprint, the paper that went into all the media that were covering his visit – although unfortunately Clinton’s sexual exploits decimated their
ranks in the middle of the Pope’s trip. Given that most people heard from the Pope whatever they wanted to hear, in one direction or another, it would be interesting to know what you think about the trip in terms of from the Cuban viewpoint, from the Church’s viewpoint – what do you think this trip was all about and what came out of it?

Well, I think that – immediately, I think it was very positive, his visit. I think that the image of Cuba being this country that’s against religion and is totally persecuting religious people, I think the Pope’s visit kind of destroyed that image, which was to start with a very false image. I think that Cuba, as the revolution has grown, has become more and more open to religion and more and more, and more and more hopeful that there will be some kind of convergence between the struggle for social justice and the struggle for religious morality, for lack of a better way of putting it.

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But the long-term effects of the Pope’s visit remain to be seen. I think that there are ver ypositive things that can come of this. But then I also think – I also HOPE – rather, that elements in the Catholic Church that have a reactionary agenda, do not try to use the churches here as a counter-revolutionary movement against the Revolution – something which happened at the beginning of the revolution. I hope that the Church has grown and that the Church is willing to come out on the side of people who are committed to securing basic rights for people, whether it’s health care, or education, or peace.

So I think that we’ve seen the initial reactions, but I think that it’s important to wait and see how the Church continues to interact with the Cuban Revolution.

Q: There are people who would share many of those positive views, especially the interest in social justice, economic justice, greater equality in the distribution of wealth around the world, but who also believe that Cuba is a dictatorship, that there is no democracy in Cuba because there’s a single party, that Cuban doesn’t respect human rights because it doesn’t grant certain civil liberties or basic freedoms to opponents of the revolution, and that is what *they* were hoping for a change in by the Pope’s visit. And many of them still, judging from the media response, think that is a potential outcome of the visit. In fact that’s what they think the pope came here for. How do you, as someone who has fought for justice and social justice your whole life, respond to that?

NWRLDORDWell, I think that no system of democracy is perfect. What I feel about Cuba is that, number one, the Cubans’ democratic system – I mean, they have elections and it’s a kind of grassroots movement where people are elected based on what their history is in their communities, and I think that that’s very important. I think that the attacks made on Cuban democracy come from, essentially, countries that have not a dem-ocracy but a dollar-ocracy where big business and millionaires essentially control the electoral process, the campaign funds, and dictate the political and economic policies of those countries. So people have to be very careful when they talk about “freedom”. What countries like the U.S. government mean when they talk about “freedom”, they’re talking about “free enterprise”, they’re talking about “free trade” for the huge companies that go all around the world making profits while the workers who work for those companies receive a salary which just allows them to subsist. And often workers don’t even get the basic things they need to survive.

So I think that although Cuba is not a fantasyland or a perfect country, I think it is a country that is struggling very hard to perfect its system of democracy and also to increase the levels of human rights that exist in Cuba. And I think that compared to other countries which no one ever attacks, the Cuban government’s record on human rights is a good one.

Q: I think this is a question that a lot of people have been wanting to ask you, which is: how have you found life here in Cuba? Starting off with how would you compare the freedom and democracy you experienced in the United States with that which you found in Cuba?

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(Laugh) Well, I didn’t find too much freedom and democracy in the United States (stilllaughing). I would have to get a super, mega-telescope to find it. But (more serious), when I came here, you know, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was very pleasantly surprised. I found people who lived without the kind of fear, the hostility, the violence that exists in the U.S. I felt extraordinarily free here. Before the special period I used to take walks at 3 o’clock in the morning and feel perfectly safe. It’s still, compared to most other places, relatively safe.

It’s not as safe as then, because of the economic problems that the Revolution is now facing because of the blockade and because of the disappearance of the socialist camp in Eastern Europe.

But for me personally Cuba has given me, first, the possibility to unite and to bond with my daughter who lived here for several years, and also given me the chance to do some basic healing, growing, introspection. And to experience what it is like to live in a country where there is a real sense of community, where there’s a real sense of the importance of human beings. And where people relate to each other in a natural way: people know their neighbors, people care about their neighbors. I have never been anywhere where my neighbors have been more supportive and more a part of my life. So I find living in Cuba a very good experience in many ways.

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Q: There have been articles and even books that have taken extremely opposite positions regarding the racial question in Cuba. They range from those that have said that Cuba is still very racist to those that have said that all racism has been eliminated. As a black woman, what has your experience been like and how do you analyze the situation in Cuba?

Well of course when I came here that was one of the first questions that I had, and I certainly have looked at what is happening in Cuba very carefully. Unfortunately, a revolution is not a magic wand, it’s not this paint that you paint over everything and everything turns perfect. A revolution is a process.

I think it would be very idealistic to think that a revolution that is less than forty years old could completely overturn and change and destroy all racist ideas, attitudes, etc.
But I DO believe that the Revolution is committed to eradicating racism in all of its forms.

I think that as people study racism as a phenomena, people learn more and more about racism, and learn that the concepts of racism that existed in 1959 were very different from the concepts that exist today. And so I think that the Revolution cannot afford to rely on definitions that existed in 1959. All of us understand that as what we know about racism increases, then our struggle and the ways in which racism is struggled against have to increase and intensify.

And since I believe that racism is not a national phenomenon but an INTERnational phenomenon, I don’t believe it can be eradicated in one country unless that country is completely isolated from the mass media, the movies, the television programs that come from places that fabricate racism, like the United States. So I think that the Revolution needs to continue to be very vigilant and very serious about struggling to end all
racism.

Q: Looking back now over the years that you’ve been here in Cuba – what you have been able to accomplish, perhaps also some of the things you maybe couldn’t do because of the isolation that has been imposed on Cuba – going back to 1984, and you are on the threshold of deciding where in the world you want to go, and you could go any place that you wanted: would you make the same decision? Would you come back to Cuba?

Absolutely. Yes.

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—————————————————————–
Arm The Spirit is an autonomist/anti-imperialist information
collective based in Toronto, Canada. Our focus includes a wide
variety of material, including political prisoners, national
liberation struggles, armed communist resistance, anti-fascism,
the fight against patriarchy, and more. We regularly publish our
writings, research, and translation materials on our listserv
called ATS-L. For more information, contact:

Arm The Spirit
P.O. Box 6326, Stn. A
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REFLECTIONS ON THE FREEDOM STRUGGLE / BIO / DON’T JUDGE ARMED STRUGGLE – JAAN LAAMAN

jannpic3 (2)… came across the 4 loose pages that comprise Jaan’s piece entitled “Reflections On The Freedom Struggle” tucked inside a copy of “Can’t Jail The Spirit: Political Prisoners in the U.S – A Collection Of Biographies.” Originally published in a zine called  “Trans-Action” which came out in 1991. 450 copies were printed, out of Chicago, and it also included a couple of pieces by Ray Luc Levasseur as well as bios of the Ohio 7 … first up is a bio Jaan wrote in 1991 that was published in the Sedition Committee newsletter and last but not least is an interview with Jaan, conducted by Betty and Herman Liveright, that ran in The Guardian…

Bio

from Sedition Committee Newsletter

Hi, sitting here in Leavenworth Penitentiary, on my 41st birthday (3/21), with Spring just beginning, a fresh breath of new life and hope … is an appropriate time to put down some biographical thoughts.

Captured combatant / political prisoner since 1984, community, labour and student activist since the 1960s, underground work from 1971. Father of a wonderful 7 yr. old son and two fine daughters, 15 and 13, who I share with my comrade-wife Barbara.

From a close knit blue collar family, thankful to have my parents still alive and having 3 brothers, 2 sisters, most married and joyful, I am an uncle to an increasing number of little ones.jaanbarbararichard (2)

I am Estonian, having immigrated to the usa with my family when I was 3. My grandfather was part of the anti-czarist Bolshevik struggle, but sadly I never knew him. My parents were not socialist or politically active.

We lived in the Roxbury section of Boston until I was 10. I feel fortunate in having first learned something about racism and working class survival as a kid in a black community. We then moved to the west side of Buffalo, a predominately. Italian neighborhood. School was always easy but my teen years I was more interested in girls, streets and cars than anything else. At 16 getting a car and money was more important than school so I quit. I went to work in car lots and eventually made it to the steel mill.

This was during the mid-60’s and the Vietnam war was heating. up. Many of my friends got drafted and some returned in body bags. Meanwhile, jobs at major industries were suddenly available as war production went up and young workers were drafted. While at Bethlehem Steel I was part of a wild cat strike led by younger black and white guys from our local. Fighting the company, cops and union bureaucrats taught me a lot about the power of unity of workers.

Police and trouble were constant features in my neighborhood. In 1966 I was convicted of assault, given a 5 year sentence and spent the next 21 months in Elmira and Wallkill prisons. Thrown into a brutal prison at 18 , I had to learn quickly how to survive, but  I also began thinking of what was happening and why. I finished high school and took some college courses and began some serious reading.

I left prison in early 1968 and went to Cornell Univ. where I ran into and joined SDS protesting against the war and racism. For the next 2 years I attended the U. of New Hampshire. I was very active in the anti- war movement, did draft counseling, co-founded a SDS chapter and did some regional organizing. I worked with marxist groups

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Jaan Laaman and Ray Levasseur

and came to consider myself a maoist. We supported National Liberation and labor struggles and, in particular, the Black Liberation Movement in this country, especially the Black Panther Party. From the Vietnamese I learned that revolution was a protracted effort and in order to be successful, it had to be multi-leveled, utilising all methods of resistance.

After the 1970 invasion of Cambodia and the killings at Kent and Jackson State, the U. of New Hampshire went on strike. Soon after, I lost my scholarship and returned to Buffalo. I began doing anti-racist work with youth gangs. Soon my parole was violated and I was sent to Attica. There I had the privilege of working with dedicated revolutionaries like Sam Mellville.

I got out of Attica in the Spring of ’71. I did some public speaking about the struggle in prisons and soon became a target of police surveillance. unwilling to go back to prison on some trumped up charge or to give up my revolutionary work, I went underground.

In Feb. of ’72, I was injured and captured and charged with bombing Nixon’s re-election headquarters and the police station in Manchester, N.H.. I was convicted and sentenced to 20 years.

I spent the next 7 years in captivity: 5 years in N.H. state prison and 2 years in Lewisburg and Atlanta. I helped prisoners fight for HUMAN RIGHTS, FILED LAWSUITS AGAINST BARBARIC CONDITIONS, MET AND WORKED WITH SOME OF THE MOST DEDICATED FREEDOM FIGHTERS I’VE EVER KNOWN – PEOPLE FROM THE BLACK LIBERATION ARMY REPUBLIC OF NEW AFRICA, PUERTO RICAN INDEPENDENISTAS AND WHITE REVOLUTIONARIES. In ’78, I won an appeal, had my sentence cut to 10 years and was released.

I moved to Boston and became active in anti-racist, community security and South African support work. Shortly after arriving, I met my soon to be close comrade, Barbara Curzi and her two wonderful daughters. Before the year was up we moved together as a family.

In ’79, I was active as an organizer and a martial arts instructor for the Amandla Festival of Unity. The idea was to fight racism in Boston while building support for Southern Africa. After the concert, Amandla People’s Security continued offering Tae Kwon Do training and doing security at cultural events, rallies and at people’s homes when they were under racist attack. As a teacher and organizer in this, I drew surveillance and threats from the cops and reactionaries. By ’81, with two young girls and Barbara pregnant with our son and in order for me to continue to do revolutionary work, we went underground.

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Jaan and Tom Manning

We were captured in Cleveland, Ohio on 11/4/84. Since then I have been convicted in Massachusetts of being in a shoot out with State Police and received a 39 to 45 year sentence. Then I was convicted and sentenced to an additional 53 years in the Ohio-7 trial in Brooklyn federal court. We were charged with the actions of the United Freedom Front, including bombings of the South African government facilities and u.s. military and corporate sites. In August of ’88, my comrade Tom Manning and myself had all charges dropped against us in the on-going Ohio-7 Sedition Trial in Springfield, Massachusetts.

I have never denied nor admitted any of these charges.

I am guilty of no crimes.

But, I am proud to say I am a revolutionary and fully support National liberation struggles and socialist revolution!

FREEDOM IS A CONSTANT STRUGGLE!!

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… the Ohio 7 … graphic from Trans-Action …

Reflections On The Freedom Struggle

from Trans-Action, 1991

JaanLaaman1Revolution, Liberation and Freedom Struggle is a large and long undertaking. This is probably clear to most folks, especially those of us who are already part of the effort. Yet too often still, it seems that a lot of people limit their views on what it takes to succeed or even what it means to build and engage in a Freedom Struggle. This a broad subject so what will be discussed here will focus on legal and ‘extra’ legal methods and ideas on how to define what resistance is and should be.

We as individuals, organizations and movements across the progressive spectrum (national liberation, anti-intervention, anti-imperialist, Women’s, Peace, Labour, Gay, etc.) can not allow the government / opposition / enemy to define what our methods of resistance can and should be. Whether from a reform approach and most certainly from a more thorough going revolutionary perspective, to allow your opponents to set the terms of your efforts, bluntly put, guarantees the failure of those efforts.

This raises the question of the legitimacy of the government and what obligation or duty an individual living in this country has to the usa government. At the very least, for those who feel they hold some obligation to this government and see it as having some legitimate morally justifiable authority to make and enforce its rules and policies, these people should be ready to oppose at least those laws and policies that are morally repugnant or illegal under international law. This opposition would include civil disobedience, waiting to be arrested or not waiting, symbolic protests and actions, etc. What it can’t mean is allowing a rule or law to stop you from taking action and making known your opposition to unjust and reactionary actions of the u.s. government and system.

As for those of us with a revolutionary class or nationalist understanding, the TomManningPicE (2)government in Washington has to be seen as having NO legitimate authority – morally or legally. What it does have is military and financial might and it thus imposes its policies on us here and other peoples and nations worldwide. Therefore it is not only correct, but necessary to oppose u.s. government policies. In fact it needs to be argued that there is no good reason to conform to any law of the u.s.a. other than tactical considerations. Morally and legally oppressed nations have no requirement to submit to their colonial oppressors. Similarly, exploited and oppressed classes and specifically the working class, should not and must not accept the “legitimacy” of the ruling class or any of its institutions (government bodies, armed enforcers – police and army, “legal” edicts, etc.)

Realistically, we do often have to accept their rules, but again, it should only be tactical and temporary and we should always keep the right and need of our Freedom Struggle in the forefront.

Looking at the world, and our own history, it really is time to conclude that we need, must have, a multi-leveled opposition struggle. This has been true in EVERY revolutionary effort anywhere and especially in modern times. Certainly, every country and struggle has unique and specific realities that have to be understood and made part of that struggle, but beyond this concept, there is nothing somehow different or exceptional about the u.s.a. and our Freedom Struggle here. It would be just as  wrong (and futile) to use some other country’s blueprint for freedom here, as it would be to put forth that we don’t need or shouldn’t employ certain types and methods of resistance here.

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We need and to have a public opposition movement (which just recently saw millions take to the streets against Bush’s Gulf war). Building it and involving more and more of our people is key to any serious attempt at fundamental change – no question about this. The public sector has the right and in fact does operate both within and outside the proscriptions of u.s. government law. There are many considerations in determining whether the oppressor’s laws should be observed in any specific public activity and it is up to the people and groups involved to do this.

Complimenting the above ground movement, there is and needs to be, a clandestine effort. An underground is more than just a bunch of guerrillas though. History, including American history, is replete with the work and significance of clandestine struggle. John Brown’s organizing and raids. Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad, the Central American sanctuary movement of the past decade are only some examples.

The general categories of underground resistance include passive and active work and defensive and offensive struggle. Broadly viewed this means at least some of the FISTSTARfollowing: passive – networking and creating secure communications, transportation and residences; active – gathering information and exposes of government and corporate activities; defensive – developing and providing defense and protection for leaders, teachers, institutions and the people in general and teaching people and groups how to do this themselves; offensive – and yes, it also includes offensive actions using forceful means of clear revolutionary resistance.

The American Declaration of Independence aside, u.s. laws, including the Constitution, have always criminalized people’s attempts to make revolution. The American government has never hesitated to punish, repress, crush and kill those people and groups who have tried to bring fundamental progressive change to this country. Usually the system covers its repressive acts under the mantle of “laws,” but examples of cold blooded set-ups, trumped-up charges and murder go back to the earliest days of the u.s. government’s existence.

The question of force being used in popular struggle is really moot. The government and PALEGRLAthe system have always used force to maintain and expand itself. The u.s.a. was founded on the forceful theft of the land from Native Americans, on the stolen forced labor of Africans, on the forced and exploited labor of poor and indentured Europeans and it continues in like manner to the present. The question more honestly needs to be posed is: when, in what ways and as part of what overall strategy will most of the progressive movement begin to deal with and oppose this government violence with revolutionary force.

Not all progressive and revolutionary organizations and individuals will agree with or support forceful or perhaps even clandestine methods of struggle. None the less, it is important for us (all) to listen and consider other progressive groups ideas and criticisms. But the historical and practical justification for and need to further develop and engage in a multi-levelled resistance movement is a pressing issue now. Specifically the need to build and rebuild a working underground – this means a political opposition that is beyond the immediate reach of the u.s. government and its armed bodies and this is capable of force itself.

Underground formations carry a deep responsibility to listen to and stay linked with the popular movements, even while practical necessities mandate that no overt links be visible with any public organizations or individuals.

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Theoretical arguments abound, including from many sincere left groups, about how and why it is not possible or right to develop underground and military capable revolutionary organization(s) yet, but the fact is, there is no magic “correct” time to begin this type of work. History teaches us that at certain times (in various countries) greater levels of agreement were achieved for armed and clandestine struggle, but there has always been at least some opposition to it as well. The challenge and responsibility for taking the step into underground work is directly linked to the potential for breaking new ground, developing new political and practical unity and taking the struggle on to a sharper and more advanced level.

There should be no illusions of quick victories or of easy roads. Romanticism and subjective analysis will only lead us to defeats and set backs. Concrete analysis of concrete situations is only way we can actually understand reality and revolution can only be made based on the objective realities of the society in question. Yet a multi-levelled struggle is just one such necessary part of objective reality that is called for and needed to actually challenge and ultimately defeat u.s. imperialism.

Revolution is only possible during a period of deep crisis and even then there is no guarantee that it will succeed. Of course, significant masses of people must be directly involved in the struggle. Yet again, in order to move forward and take advantage of upcoming crises, we need now to build our multi-levelled resistance – our public legal and extra-legal organizations, our clandestine defensive and offensive formations. We can’t put off any of this work for some future ‘correct’ time.

Much study, preparation and imagination needs to go into building clandestine groups. ARMEDFGRBut we have had and have, both positive and negative direct experience here in the u.s. (as well as internationally) in our recent past – 25 years or so – of underground struggle and while security precludes spelling everything out, things can always be figured out and done. We must never underestimate the enemy, but neither should we be over-awed and paralyzed with fear of the u.s. government. Successful long term clandestine struggle is possible (this is a proven fact, with organizations being active for 10 or 15 years in spite of the u.s. governments most desperate attempts to capture and suppress them).

Recent world events have shown how seemingly well entrenched governments have been rapidly  rocked and overthrown. Things turning into their opposites is a fundamental reality of nature and of society and the u.s.a. system is just as subject to crack and fall as any empire in history. We need to begin both chiseling away at it now and preparing our capabilities to help seize the moment and lead large numbers of angry and fed up people when the monster of u.s imperialism does seriously stumble and crack.

Be realistic, but fear nothing, all power to the imagination and be down for the whole thing. Freedom is a constant struggle!

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Don’t Judge Armed Struggle

The Guardian, May 15, 1991

“A dangerous terrorist.” That’s how the Bureau of Prisons characterizes Jaan Laaman, JaanPic8 (2)one of the Ohio 7. He was the first of the political prisoners we were scheduled to  meet at the U.S. penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., during our prison trip last summer.

Estonian-born Jaan Laaman came to the United States with his working-class parents when he was three, and grew up first in one of Boston’s poorest Black neighborhoods and then in a largely Italian and Puerto Rican blue-collar section of Buffalo, He was a rebellious kid with lots of street smarts, with a deeply resentful but politically unfocused awareness of the racial and class inequalities surrounding him and a marked propensity for getting into trouble with the authorities. At 18 he wound up in jail, serving a youth sentence for assault.

That was a jolt. A pivotal point in Laaman’s life. The brutalities of prison, in addition to shocking reports of neighborhood buddies coming home from Vietnam in body bags, put his life on a new course as a passionate crusader for radical social change. He completed high school in jail and after being paroled won scholarships enabling him to trade jail for college—first Cornell, then the University of New Hampshire. Those years for him were crammed with furious political activity: leadership in student peace strikes, organizing Students for a Democratic Society, mobilizing white support for the Black Panther movement – activities-that lost him his scholarships and earned him a short stay in Attica for violating parole.

GOING UNDERGROUND

Early in 1972, Lawman was captured and charged with complicity in the bombing of President Nixon’s re-election headquarters in Manchester, N.H.  For that he did a stretch in a New Hampshire prison. Since then, in prison and out, in the community  andJannPic5 (2) underground, he has unswervingly dedicated his life to the cause of “socialism and revolution, – dedication that did not preclude his falling in love with and marrying his “dearest comrade,” Barbara Curzi. Working with a group of revolutionaries committed to opposing atrocities of U.S. imperialism, Laaman was now under intense government surveillance and in 1981 felt compelled to go underground. Three years later, culminating in what has been described as one of the largest manhunts in U.S. history, Laaman, Barbara Curzi-Laaman and three of their comrades were captured in Cleveland. Two other comrades were taken in Virginia; the group came to be known as the Ohio 7. The seven were charged and tried for bombing U.S, military recruiting. centers, a. South African consular office and buildings of corporations dealing with repressive regimes in South Africa and Central America, as well as conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government. Laaman was found guilty and given a 53-year sentence.

Toward the end of our day’s drive to Leavenworth, we reached Lawrence, Kansas. We crossed the placid, willow-lined Ossawatomie River on whose banks John Brown and his contingent of abolitionists had encamped and from which they launched a furious counter-attack against pro-slavery forces who had assaulted Lawrence.

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This chance evocation of John Brown brought us back to a question that repeatedly had been thrust at us, even by left political activists, and which we had been wrestling with recurrently on our journey from upstate New York to California and, now, into Kansas, How can concern about the treatment of U.S. political prisoners be expected to embrace prisoners whose methods of struggle include the use of violence—so alien to a majority of progressives in this country? We had decided this would be the first subject we would discuss with Laaman.

Laaman seemed so unlike the stereotyped image of a “terrorist conspirator” that meeting him in in the prison’s visiting room was a shock, Laaman struck us as a cordial, ceremoniously polite and reserved person with a scholarly air. He responded with instant enthusiasm to the chance of offering his views on the use of force. As it turned out, that subject took up most of our time with him.

“On the one hand,” Laaman explained, “we saw the huge outpouring of support, admiration, respect and love for Mandela when he toured this country—literally millions of people were moved and inspired by Mandela, a revolutionary who spent 27 years in dungeons and until very recently the American government called a ‘terrorist’ and who to this day upholds the right of people to use arms in seeking freedom. “And yet, when this issue in respect to political prisoners is presented to most people and organizations in this country there’s a wholly different attitude. It seems to me that for the past 25 years we’ve supported struggles in other parts of the world without being moved and motivated by issues right herein this country. This is much less true, of course,” he went on, “for Black people, Indian people and Puerto Ricans, but,” he shook his head and trailed off, “white North Americans.”InsurgPic1 (2)

“Well, sometimes it’s a little tough,” he went on after a pause.’ “People say, ‘I have a tactical or a strategic difference with you, or with your actions—at least the actions which the government attributes to you. So I can’t support you.'” He spread his hands and smiled wanly. His next words came with deliberation: “And so the government becomes the definer of what are acceptable and unacceptable methods of resistance.” “That’s why. I think, it’s a big mistake,” Laaman continued, “for parts of the left to take a hands-off approach on political prisoners even if they don’t happen to agree with some, or even most, of the activities .which led to their captivity.”

Then, like a persuasive teacher summarizing an important lecture, Laaman sounded authoritative. “We’ll never reach any ultimate victory in this country,” he said, “if we allow the government to define what we can and what we can’t do in opposing it.”

“Isn’t it possible,” we suggested, “that at a certain stage in the struggle for a decent society, violent acts front a clandestine base could alienate so many potential supporters that, on balance, such acts could prove to be detrimental, rather than …”

BTSpring1982Graf1 (2)“I agree! I agree!” he, interrupted explosively and explained that throughout the Ohio 7’s period of clandestine action, he and his comrades hurdled innumerable logistical obstacles in order to debate in meticulous detail the appropriateness of a proposed “assault.” (The matter-of-fact use of that word by this gentle, studious man was startling).

REVOLUTIONARY TACTICS NEEDED

“Forceful means, ‘armed means’ – those terms cover a broad spectrum, you know. The sanctity of human life to me, as a father, a man, a revolutionary, is extremely high. The right to harm somebody else’s life, perhaps that’s especially accepted to me because of what the government has done to my life. So I don’t advocate terrorism, the concept of using the innocent public to enforce any kind of political principle or position. But I can support in certain circumstances the use of force.”

“I believe,” Laaman stated, “that in order to build the kind of movement—a serious professional movement—required to bring about basic change in this country, (here has to be a multilevel effort in which all avenues of struggle wire utilized.” Revolutionary tactics today, he suggested, must respond to the tactics our government has developed in recent years in its repression of political dissidents, “everyday government. actions which would have been incredible twenty years ago.” He offered some examples: indiscriminate road blocks; fingerprinting of children, “on the pretext,” Jaan said bitterly, “that you might be able to identify the body of a murdered child;  the reinstitution of the death penalty in many states; the continuation of Cointelpro-type programs under other acronyms. “They chip away at our rights, piece by piece,” Jaan said. “We have to learn from our experiences of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s—the infiltrations, agents provocateurs, individual leaders set up and put in jail or murdered. We have to learn how to build and protect our organizations more effectively. We’ve got to develop structures and methods of work that are not se vulnerable to government penetration. Our movement needs a structure for underground activity which can secure and protect itself when and if the time comes.

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“If you object” Laaman summarized, “to waiting until you’ve created a revolutionary militia, or until a general strike happens, or 11,0,000 people are massed in the streets of Washington for three or four months the way the people were in East Germany in 1989, well, I say these things don’t happen spontaneously. That’s why I’m convinced of the need for an underground movementin conjunction with a primary public, aboveground effort.”

When the guard came and stood near Laaman to signal that our time was up, we snapped off the tape machine, too docilely, perhaps. But Laaman, raising a hand in. friendly enough recognition of the security officer, kept on talking for a minute. The last thing he said before his warm farewell, was a repetition of the injunction he had PRHASTAdelivered before: “We simply cannot let the government define for us what are acceptable and unacceptable methods of resistance.”

On the next lap of our journey we stopped in Lawrence at a little camera shop to buy film. We told the alert and amiable young salesperson about our just-completed mission at Leavenworth, and he seemed surprised that there were inmates there whom we called political prisoners. We shifted to the topic of .John Brown, Asking if he knew of any memorials or special sources of information in Lawrence relating to the famous abolitionist. He grinned sheepishly, “Guess all I know,” he said, “is there’s a barber named John Brown has .a shop a couple of blocks from here.”

Betty and Herman Liveright, former co-directors of the Berkshire Forum, are engaged in a project, “Their Chance to Speak,” to increase public response to the inhumane and unconstitutional oppression of U.S. political prisoners in federal, state and county institutions.

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INTERVIEW WITH ABDUL MAJID

… in Arm The Spirit, No. 14/15, August-December 1992 we ran an interview with Black Liberation Army political prisoner Abdul Majid … the interview originally took place on October 7, 1992 on CKLN, a progressive radio station in Toronto …

Abdul Majid passed away in prison in 2016…

Abdul Majid In His Own Words

The government incarcerates political leaders to silence them. Here is a biography of Abdullah Majid in his own words, written several years ago:

My name is Abdullah Majid, formerly Anthony LaBorde. I was born on June 25, 1949 in AbdulPic4 (2)Flushing, New York. I am the father of four children, and the fourth child of five boys. My two elder brothers are deceased, as is my father. My mother lives in Jamaica, New York.

My political awareness began in earnest when I was 15 years old, around the time of the murder of El Hajj Abdul Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X). I can recall vividly in 1962–63 many of the news accounts of the struggle in Africa, particularly the Congo; the murder of Patrice Lumumba and several other patriots of the national liberation struggle in Southern Africa, and the civil rights (national liberation) struggle in amerikka by people of African descent. I realized, despite geographical differences, the stunning similarities between the oppressed as well as the oppressors both here and there.

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As a result of this awareness, I began working with other brothers in Jamaica, Queens, starting with the Grass Roots Advisory Council. We attempted to get funding from the  poverty programs in the community with no success. After about two years of this, we realized the limitations placed upon us struggling in this manner. By this time I became involved with the Black Panther Party and the Republic of New Africa. I found both of these organizations to be much more relevant and effective with respect to the issues affecting our people. I worked in various programs such as free breakfasts for children, free clothing, liberation schools for youth, and adult political education classes, all with positive results. The Party and the RNA were also involved in important community issues, i.e., community control of the murderous police department and community control of the schools, as well as the struggle around health care in our communities. I was also in a leadership position, which required more and more time working with new Party members. From 1968 to 1971, I was a full-time Party member.

Needless to say, I became a target of this government’s “law enforcement establishment” (COINTELPRO) for my political work, along with thousands of other activists. Recently, some of the underhanded operations to disrupt, frame, and murder many of the imprisoned freedom fighters are coming to light.

In the spring of 1981, much to my surprise, I became a primary suspect in the shooting death of one cop and the wounding of another. Being familiar with how the police react to attacks on them, I decided not to wait for them to come to me. This led to a nine-month search-and-destroy campaign by the government both nationally and internationally. While being hunted by these gestapo I attempted to maintain a normal existence with aid from family and friends.

I was finally arrested in January 1982 by the Philadelphia gestapo after a physical AbdulPic1 (2)confrontation with them during which I sustained injuries to my head. I was transported back to New York City to stand trial with Bashir Hameed (James York), who had been apprehended in Sumpter, South Carolina, for murder and attempted murder of the same two cops.

After five years and three trials, the state was finally able to engineer a trumped up conviction with flimsy and circumstantial evidence. I was sentenced to 33 and 1/3 years-to-life total on the two counts. Some five years after the murder conviction, our case was finally heard by the appellate division, second department (N.Y.), November 19, 1991. True to form of not dealing with the law where political prisoners are concerned, the court pandered to the desires of the “law enforcement” community. The court wasted no time in dispensing “justice” by issuing what has to be the fastest decision in its history (December 19, 1991). Just one month later, the court affirmed this conviction. This was no mean feat for the court, considering the fact that it has the largest caseload of any state appellate court in the nation and is backlogged by over one calendar year with cases waiting either to be heard or for rulings on cases already heard, according to court personnel. After a motion for re-argument, the appellate court remitted the case for hearing on our Batson claim (Batson vs. Kentucky), wherein we raised the issue of racial discrimination during jury selection. After a hearing, the appellate court reinstated its original decision. Our last resort in state court was denied in June 1996 by the New York court of appeals. All appeals (state and federal) have been exhausted for Bashir and me. We are exploring the possibility of a collateral attack on the sentence.

Bashir Hameed returned to Allah on August 30, 2008 at Comstock Prison as a result of medical (murder) neglect by agents of the state.

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The government has been very uncooperative about turning over requested documents being sought by me under the Freedom of Information Act. During the three trials, there were deliberate acts by law enforcement agencies to hide certain evidence helpful to the defense. Attorneys are still in the process of trying to make law enforcement agencies turn over all evidence in this case. In spite of my long incarceration, prison has not broken my spirit of struggle. I have been harassed, seriously assaulted twice, denied proper medical treatment, then placed in the special housing unit (SHU) as a result of being assaulted. I have also been refused certain programs offered to the general population because of my political background, supposedly due to the “influence” I am alleged to have with other prisoners. I have been repeatedly transferred hundreds of miles around the state away from my family, friends and supporters.

However, the government has not been totally successful in its attempts to criminalize our struggle for self-determination. The masses do understand the courageous positions of those who are jailed as a result of their political acts. It will be just a matter of time before that understanding by the masses turns into action. While we have had setbacks as a result of subterfuge and subversion from both within and without, we must intensify our current efforts to mobilize the masses for survival and liberation. I believe the only real guarantee we prisoners of war and political prisoners have of staying alive and surviving these prisoner-of-war camps is by keeping our conditions and status before the public both domestically and internationally.

Insha ALLAH (ALLAH willing) we will get the relief (freedom) denied us for the last four hundred years in Babylon.

Interview With Abdul Majid – Black Liberation Army Political Prisoner

The following is an edited transcript of an interview that took place October 7/92 on CKLN, Abdul12 (2)a progressive radio station in Toronto, Canada. The interview was transcribed and published in Arm The Spirit, No 14/15, 1992 …..

Could you give us an update on, and maybe a bit of a background to, the case of the Queens 2?

Right. The case stems from a shooting incident in the spring of 1981, in the county of Queens, which is in New York City. Two police officers, during the course of their tour, pulled over a van during the early morning, and two men allegedly got out of the van and opened fire on the police. As a result one police officer was killed and one was wounded.

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Myself and my co-defendant, Bashir Hameed, were subsequently marked as the individuals who allegedly were involved in the shooting. And as a result of that, warrants were taken out for our arrest. I was arrested in January of 1982 and Bashir was arrested in August of 1981.

We went to trial on the charge of murder and attempted murder of police officers back in 1982 which resulted in a hung jury on the murder charge and we were convicted of one of the lesser charges of attempted murder of one of the officers.

We were tried again in 1983 and that ended with a 8 to 4, 9 to 3 verdict of jurors leaning towards acquittal. After this second trial we were tried again in 1986, which resulted in our conviction on the murder charge. So we were tried three times on the same indictment, and presently, in 1992, we are back in Queens on an appeal, not an appeal actually, but an evidentiary hearing on an appeal resulting from the murder conviction. The hearing begins on the 13th.

The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether or not during the course of the third trial the prosecutor used his pre-emptory challenges, which each side had, to exclude a certain number of jurors – whether or not the prosecutor used his pre-emptory challenge to prevent Blacks from being on the jury.

So we can see that the prosecutor was running a very political prosecution against you and Bashir. They don’t try too many people three times in order to get a conviction – especially after two hung juries. What sort of tactics did you see the prosecution using, besides as you mentioned the jury selection and the barring of Black jurors. Did they do anything else in terms of manipulating evidence against you?

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The case was very highly publicized, and it was political. One of the reason for that was that both Bashir and I were former members of the Black Panther Party, as well as being still very politically active in the New York/New Jersey area, in the Afrikan-American community, and working with the progressive white community as well as with the Latino community. And so we were pretty well known from our Black Panther Party days, and through our still active involvement. So, we became the likely suspects.

In the third trial not only did the prosecutor do everything possible to eliminate Blacks from the jury, as well as other Third World and non-white people, but he also manipulated evidence. Evidence was withheld from the defence. One example of withheld evidence was the reports that were made by the investigating officers. At the first trial we were given about 350 or 370 of these, and by the third trial we had been given about a total of 400. After the third trial I instituted a Freedom of Information suit to find out what stuff the police and prosecution had in their possession pertaining to the case. I just recently learned that they had some 3000 documents in their possession, and we were given only approximately 400 of these documents. So now we are in the process of trying to obtain these documents to see what other materials there are that may have
been helpful to exonerate us, or to explore other areas that the prosecution could have but refused to for whatever reason. So we are waiting for these documents now.

Also, there was a manipulation of witnesses who were arrested across the south-eastern part of the U.S. and they were brought to New York to give testimony about matters which they had no knowledge of. There was also manipulation of the fingerprints that were supposedly lifted off the van that was involved in the shooting. Police officers themselves got on the stand and deliberately perjured themselves and gave falsetestimony, and this was common practice. So these are the sorts of things that went on during the third trial.

Did the witnesses and people supporting you and Bashir face a lot of harassment by the police and the state? I know that in other political trials, particularly of people whose testimony conflicts with the story that the state tries to put together, they are often faced with really high levels of intimidation and violence directed against them in order to silence them or get them to change their story. Were there any instances of this in your
case?

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Well, yes, in fact this is what was done; this is what I was referring to when I said that there were people dragged in from across the south-eastern part of United States. They went as far as South Carolina, and people were arrested and held under order of protective custody. Friends of mine and Bashir’s were arbitrarily arrested. These were people who had given statements to the police during the course of their investigation, and over a period of time they were coerced into changing their prior statements, in order to conform with what the police wanted them to testify to, and this was in contrast to their original statements that the police had gotten during the course of their investigation. It was at least six or seven people who were brought into court in this fashion – under protest you know – but nonetheless they were coerced into testifying. In fact, one of the witnesses came back and he recanted his original statement that he had made on the stand during the third trial, and he told the court and the jury about what had been done to him. And the jury nonetheless convicted us. This is just a small glimpse of what was being done to other witnesses who were brought in and intimidated.

Also, I might add, that at least three witnesses received reward money. There were some $30,000 in reward money, and one witness, who was a taxi-driver who had not witnessed the shooting, but who had picked up two men in the vicinity of the shooting, in 1982 he appeared at a preliminary trial hearing on the identification issue to see if he could identify Bashir or myself, and he unequivocally said that he did not see the two men that he picked up in his taxi in court at the present time. In 1986, during the third trial this man was called to testify – he did not testify at the first or second trial – and he positively identified Bashir and myself as the two men that he had picked up on the day in question. It was learned later that he was also a recipient of some of the $30,000 reward money that was put up by the police department and the Policeman’s Benevolent Association of New York City.

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And there were also two other witnesses – a taxi-driver and his passenger – one identified both of us and one identified Bashir as being the persons they saw exit the van, shoot the police, and then get back in the van and drive away. And they got some of the reward money. In fact, one of them, the one who identified both Bashir and myself, was subjected to hypnosis, and so his whole identification was questionable because in his pre- hypnotic statement he identified the two men as being in their early twenties and 5’6 or 5’7 in height, and around 150 pounds in weight. At the time, I was 32 and Bashir was roughly 39; I’m 6’3 and Bashir is about 6’1, so the descriptions were totally at odds with what became his testimony in court. And again, these contradictions were raised during the first two trials, and apparently the jury didn’t buy it, but I guess it was due to the pressure that was applied to the jurors because the first two trials they deliberated a week before coming back with a verdict – the result of the first trial being a compromise verdict, and at the second trial they could not reach a verdict.

You mentioned that both you and Bashir were working with the Black Panther Party (BPP). Could you tell us something of your own political development and your involvement in the Black Liberation Movement, and what sorts of activities led you to become a target of the government?

Back in the latter part of the 1960’s, J. Edgar Hoover, who was then the head of the FBI, had made a statement that he believed the BPP to be the most dangerous organization in
existence. He characterized it as a terrorist organization, an extremist organization, a militant radical organization, etc., etc. It was his position that the BPP should be destroyed at all cost; and you are probably familiar with the infamous COINTELPRO program which has been divulged by members of Congress, as well as by people in the legal and political community, and they have gone into great detail about the tactics that were used by the FBI to disrupt and destroy the BPP.

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I’ll give you a short history of the BPP. It was started by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966, as a result of the police brutality that was rampant in the Afrikan-American community and Latino and other non-white communities in America. The Party put its emphasis primarily on controlling police in the Afrikan- American community, and this was done in a lawful manner. It started out in Oakland, California, and then spread throughout California. It then grew and expanded to become national and international.

Our focus went from just the issue of police brutality to encompassing the whole issue of the right to self- determination of Afrikan-American people, that is, the right to control the police department, the right to control the schools, and housing, and the economy of our communities, and exemption from fighting for the racist government and its military which did not protect the civil rights and human rights of the Afrikan- American people.

We were demanding the release of Afrikan-American people from prison who had been imprisoned falsely or who had not been tried in a fair and impartial manner. We were
demanding justice in the courts and we also called for a plebiscite to decide as to what national course Afrikan-American people wanted to take in terms of their destiny.

There were also several programs that the Party initiated. We had a breakfast program because we realized that hunger was a real issue. We instituted free medical and health services in our community, Liberation schools and political education classes for adults.

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We organized clothing drives from time to time. This was all done in an attempt to meet the needs of our people who were being neglected by the government and the various agencies of the government. These were attempts by us to take matters concerning
our destiny into our own hands and hopefully by the example that the Party set it would encourage the masses of our people to follow suit. So these were the objectives and aims of the BPP – to teach Afrikan-Americans the need for self-reliance.

You mentioned the counter-intelligence program of the FBI, and that both you and Bashir became targeted for this frame-up because of your involvement in political projects within the Afrikan-American community. At what point did you become aware that you yourself were being targeted by the FBI or other police agencies?

Well, I was aware at the time of my involvement in the BPP that the police and different law enforcement agencies kept files on Party members. At rallies they would take photographs, plus they had informants, and agent provocateurs and there was police
infiltration of the Party that we were aware of.

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As to who they felt was an immediate threat, some of this information did not come to light until after my having been arrested and charged in this case. However, a fellow comrade of mine, Dhoruba Bin Wahad, who served 19 years in prison for a similar charge of attempted murder of a police officer – and back in 1975/1976 I worked with some people on Dhoruba’s case – he had a Freedom of Information request that he had sent in to the FBI, and maybe 3 or 4 years later after the suit began, the FBI was forced by the courts to turn over the documents that they had in their possession pertaining to a program they called “NewKill” – the codename of one of their investigations. And they turned over some 30,000 pages of documents. And through my reading of the documents, I learned that I was very much a target of the FBI – there was constant mention of myself and other Party members from the New York area.

So this gave me some idea of the level or the magnitude of interest that they had in BPP members here in New York

What should activists on the outside do in supporting comrades who are inside prison?

I’m sure you are familiar with the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is facing the death penalty, and that is imminent, and we need to try and work to get people to come out in support of him. There has been some success, as I understand the Governor of Pennsylvania has deferred to sign the death warrant. Pressure has to be kept on continuously because as soon as the concern and the vigilance lower, naturally the State will go and sign the warrant to execute this brother.

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What we need, and what we encourage those on the outside to do is try to make inroads into the community. Because for those of us who are incarcerated – while it is true that we need support and that support is what keeps us alive – there is a need to mobilize the masses, not only around the issue of political prisoners and Prisoners of War, but around their own condition, because, here, from what I have been able to observe from the inside, there appears to be a great deal of apathy among the masses, particularly in the Afrikan-American communities, and the poor and Third World communities. People are concerned about their immediate survival, and they seem to look upon the system as being omnipotent or unchallengeable, or because of the failures they have seen as a result of the activities of some of us, they have taken the attitude that nothing, or next to nothing can be done, and that very little will change no matter what we do.

So there is a need for those with that level of political consciousness and awareness to become more involved and more active in the community.

I think by first concentrating on mobilizing the masses around the political prisoners and Prisoners of War will not solve the problem, and will not be the motivating factor in
getting the masses moving. There is a need to motivate and move the masses around their own existence, their own needs – housing, an end to police brutality, jobs, getting people involved in controlling their own destiny.

I think it has to be a two-pronged approach by those of us who still have political consciousness and the spirit to fight. There are those who have political consciousness, but do not display the fighting spirit. You not only have to have the will, you have to put that will into motion and into action.

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RICHARD WILLIAMS – “LIFE LONG ANTI-IMPERIALIST”

When I went down to the Sedition Trial in 1989 (before joining the Toronto Anarchist Black Cross and pre-Arm The Spirit), the first person I saw when I walked into the courtroom was Richard Williams, and then, beside him, Ray Luc Levasseur. We smiled at each other and gave each other a clenched fist salute. An indelible memory and an  indelible experience.

Richard Williams passed away in prison in 2005.

As one of his comrades wrote, Richard “was a life long anti-imperialist and socialist, one of the Ohio 7 who had been in captivity since 1984. Richard was a peace and justice activist, a revolutionary and a freedom fighter. He was the people’s soldier, a friend and an ally of the poor and oppressed, of the working class around the world.

As a young man Richard was inspired by the life and words of Che Guevara, and in his own life he became a true example of proletarian internationalism.”

What follows is an interview we did with Richard back in 1991, along with a couple of remembrances of Richard by his comrades and a couple of biographies written by Richard.

For more information on Richard, remembrances, etc, please check out:  4StruggleMag  (Views, Thoughts and Analysis from the Hearts and Minds of North American Political Prisoners and Friends).

 Statement on Richard Williams from Ray Luc Levasseur

December 8, 2005

RichardWilliams10 (2)The first time I met our comrade Richard Williams was in a safehouse, underground. For the next decade we engaged in a common struggle to provide whatever support we could muster to the downpressed—be they victims of apartheid in South Africa, or slaughtered in Central America—and to defend ourselves. It wasn’t until the last hour of the last trial that we were consigned by our enemy to different prisons. I would never see him again.

Richard, like many political prisoners, has never received the recognition and respect he deserves. He has been vilified in the media and ignored by the left—a shared experience by many political prisoners. But then, Richard never sought accolades. The brother I know is not ego driven nor laden with grandiose ideas about what others should march to. He has at his essence that uncommon quality of a revolutionary—feeling every injustice done to the poor and working people of this planet.

I know Richard well, having risked our lives together time after time. He never waivered when confronted with danger, and didn’t disappoint when demands upon us were critical. I’ve seen him act decisively when it took courage to step up, and step down in situations that required defusing. He’s all of that—a people’s soldier and friend.

A man of deep commitment and fiery passion, he dedicated his life to others. The fallout from that was not being able to see his own children during the most dangerous years. RichardWilliams3 (2)He made that sacrifice, but the longing for his kids was intense and it laid heavy in his heart.

Sacrifice. How deep the sacrifice for what we believe true and necessary? When the U.S. killing fields in Central America were littered with the bodies of compañeros and their children, Richard did not stand idly by. When apartheid drenched South Africa in the blood and suffering of African people, Richard chose to act. The lineage from prison and antiracist activist to underground guerilla is not difficult to figure—Richard has the heart, consciousness, and political perspective to take it to a brutal enemy.

He did it in his time, when time was of the essence. When he knew he had the strength and endurance for a protracted and extraordinarily difficult struggle. That time has now past.

The brother I know, who withstood 50,000 volt stun gun assaults and the rigors of solitary confinement, has fallen. This brother of such infectiously good humor, so respectful of elders, and without a cynical bone in his body, is dead. He chose to pass on in as dignified a way as possible given the inherently abusive conditions of his confinement. They never crushed his spirit.

Brother, I do not say goodbye, for there are no words for this in the language we know best. Until next time—among oak leaves, the feathers of a hawk, nurturing new life from a coral reef ….

I love you, Ray

RichardWilliams12 (2)

  Richard Williams: A Short Biography from Can’t Jail The Spirit / 1998

I am a single father and grandfather. I was born on Nov. 4th, 1947, in Beverly, Massachusetts, which is a small coastal city 25 miles north of Boston.

RichardWilliamsPic2 (2)My mother was a factory worker and seamstress and my father was a machine operator. I have one sister younger than me by six years.

Just when the draft was getting heavy for Viet Nam I turned 18 and promptly received my notice. Like most working class kids, white or black, there was no easy way out of it. Either get drafted, join, or hide. I chose not to go. At 20 years old, I was arrested for having marijuana, which in Massachusetts was a felony. Given the choice of 6 months in jail or joining the army, I went to jail in 1967 and became ineligible for the draft.

I continued to have brushes with the law when in 1971 I was arrested for robbery in New Hampshire and received a 7-15 year sentence. I was 23 and faced five solid years in jail at least. I realized at that I was going nowhere fast – that I needed to change something- so I started with myself.

I became involved with trying to better the prison conditions I was in , which were deplorable. It was 1971, the year George Jackson was murdered, the year of the Attica Rebellion. There was unrest in most prisons, because overall the prisons were brutal and inhumane. I was elected chairperson of the New England Prisoner Association. Inside, I met with legislators, and participated in food and work strikes and protests for better conditions. I read a lot of history and worked in political study groups. I was locked up, beaten, and shipped out for my activities. I learned through study and my efforts that the struggle was much larger than my surroundings. I became a communist.

Upon my release I worked briefly for the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee. I went to RichardWilliams1Awork for the New England Free Press- a radical collective print shop- for almost 2 years. Along with Barbara, Jaan, and Kazi, I was part of the Amandla Concert in Harvard Stadium in 1979. Featuring Bob Marley, Amandla was a benefit concert to provide aid to liberation forces in Southern Africa. My role was as part of a People’s Security Force which provided security for the concert. We also did security work for the community- such as house sitting with people who were under attack by racists. We went to Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979 to protest the killings of Socialist Workers Party (SWP) members by the KKK.

I went underground to join the armed clandestine movement in 1981 and was captured in Cleveland November 4th, 1984, my 37th birthday.

I was convicted for five of the United Freedom Front bombings in 1986 in Brooklyn Federal Court. In 1987, I got a hung jury at the Somerville, NJ trial in the death of a state trooper during a shoot-out with Tom Manning. Next I went through a two year trial in Springfield, Mass, along with Pat and Ray Levasseur for seditious conspiracy and RICO. The jury refused to convict us. In December, 1991, I was convicted of killing state trooper Lomonaco in 1981 after my second trial on these charges in Somerville, NJ. I am to serve 45 years for the UFF actions when I finish my NJ sentence of 35 years to life.

As with all dedicated revolutionaries the government has caught they have tried to bury my body away in prison, while being unable to crush my spirit.

Biography / 1988

I am 41 years old, born November 4, 1947 in Beverley MA, which is a small coastal town RichardWilliams1520 miles north of Boston. I am the oldest of 2 children in my family. My sister, who is 6 years younger than I is now married and has 2 children. I am a divorced father of 3 children – Netdake who is 12, Henekis who is 9 and Richard who is 18 by a previous marriage.

My father was a machine operator and my mother was a seamstress and factory worker. She also took in foster children for a while. My parents separated shortly after my sister was born. My mother, sister and I went to live in a cold water apartment. Money was very tight. Back then welfare was very different. There weren’t food stamps, but we were given government surplus food such as powdered milk (which I never got used to), velveeta cheese, spam and peanut butter. For a long time I viewed those things as a treat as we were lucky to get them.

My mother was made to feel like she was a beggar when it came to applying for welfare, so she did everything she could to not have to go down to city hall and ask for assistance. She got very little support from my father. My mother made sure we got food to eat but I know that she went without herself many times to feed us. I can remember going to bed with my mother and sandwiching my infant sister between us and hugging to say warm on cold winter nights.

Peer and parental pressure and the frustration of trying to make ends meet when there was no way she could, forced my mother to reconcile with my father against her will. IN the space of two years I went from a rat trap apartment to a one family home. I had moved 4 times that spaces of time and had attended 3 different elementary schools. My father had a drinking problem and he was violent at times especially with my mother and me. My sister was spared the violence as he knew he wouldn’t get away with it. Needless to say, he and I did not get along well and I was getting wild.

RichardWilliams26 (3)I went to school only up to the 11th grade, having missed a year due to a stint in reform school. I left home at 18 and went to live in Boston. Beverly was basically an all-white city at the time and it was a very racist environment.  When I went to reform school at 15 I had my eyes opened up and my prejudices blown away. I met kids of all different colours and got along with them fine. I had not previously had the opportunity to know many black people. And, being a product of my surroundings, I had many racist attitudes. It is hard for any white person brought up in North America to say they are absolutely free of racism, but I will say that I lost a lot of my racist attitudes there in reform school. I really like some of those kids regardless of their colour. So upon getting out of there and returning to Beverly, I found it very stifling, very small town, very racist. I had outgrown many of their petty attitudes. I just sort of marked time until I was 18 at which time I left, as I previously said.

Shortly after leaving home and only a few weeks after turning 18 I received my draft notice. I did not go in for my physical. I wasn’t really politically motivated at the time, but I did not understand the war and I wasn’t going. At the time – 1966 – I was part of the counter-culture. Tune in, turn on, drop out. It was the hippy era. It was a fun time for me. I met many good people and had a real mellow time of it. But it didn’t last. At 20, I was arrested for drugs of which one drug, marijuana, was a felony at the time in Massachusetts even though it was under an ounce.

After spending two months in jail I was brought to trial and basically told by the judge that if I consented to sign up for the armed forces that my arrest would be expunged from the record. The choice I had was that or six months in jail. I took the six months in jail because by then I was totally against the war and because of the felony conviction I was exempted from eligibility.

I continued to get into trouble until I went into prison in 1971 sentenced to 7 – 15 years for a robbery.  After I got into the prison and had settled down to do my time, I came to realize that if I didn’t change my outlook, my values and my goals, I would on in an endless cycle of in and out of jail. I started with trying to better the conditions around me (prison) which were terrible. I also began to read a lot, something I had never really done before.

RichardWilliams27 (2)I applied my newfound knowledge. I became a prison activist. Hence I spent a lot of time locked in my cell for supposed infractions and for participating in work and food strikes. My politics were formed on the hard edge of prison struggles of the early ’70s – Attica, George and Jonathan Jackson and so on. I helped establish a clandestine inner prison lending library made up of books sent to me and other by different book stores who at the time sent free books to prisoners. Many were political books. I was part of study groups that met to discuss the books we read. I was elected chair-person of the short-lived inside New England Prisoners’ Association of New Hampshire State Prison.

So, after 5 years of lock-ups, ship-outs and of helping in a small way to better conditions inside, I was let out. I got out with the clothes on my back, $80.00 and not much else.

With the initial help of my friends and my own initiative I began life on the outside again, but I was a different person from when I went in. Recidivism, which is very high, is at its highest right after a prisoner gets out. Because after a stint in jail it’s easier for someone to fall back to the old ways because its all they know. It takes a lot of determination to start up new and forget the old ways and not fall back on them when the going gets tough which it invariably will. That’s why many people go back to prison so soon after getting out because they go back to the way they know best – the same thing that got them in in the first place. There are just not that many incentives to want to change.

Soon after I got out I went to work for the New England Free Press for a period of almost 2 years. After that, I worked as a spray-painter, carpenter and mover. I did not affiliate myself with any political group organizations but I did make it a point to check out the various groups in the Boston area.

While I was in prison I had formed definite views on armed struggle. Views that I tested out on these various groups. I found out that while many people supported armed struggle abroad they wouldn’t even want to seriously discuss it in the context of armed struggle here in the United States – inside the belly of the beast, the importer of world-wide violence and terror.

I’m proud to say that I participated in the Amandla Concert in Harvard Stadium in July of 1979. It was a benefit for the aid of South African liberation forces, starring Bob Marley and the Wailers, Tito Puente and Olatungi.

My mind was made up even when I was in prison that I would join the armed clandestine movement at the first opportunity. And if I had to wait for some years to do it then I would wait, but I never lost sight that I would eventually join it.

I went underground at the beginning of 1981 and was captured on November 4, 1984 onRichardWilliams24 (2) my 37th birthday. I have been in prison for 4 years now. Two years ago I and 5 others were convicted of bombing various military reserves and corporate headquarters of some of the worst multi-national companies such as IBM and Union Carbide. I received some 45 years.

I am presently in Hartford going to trial in Springfield for Seditious Conspiracy and RICO. After the trial, I am to go for a retrial in New Jersey, probably in 1990, for the death of a New Jersey State Trooper. The first trial was ruled a mistrial when 7 of the 12 jurors voted for my acquittal. We continue to fight these charges to the best of our ability in and out of court even though it seems endless at times.

We will win!

Venceremos!

RichardWilliams16 (2)

Interview with Richard Williams on CKLN / Toronto / July 30, 1991

republished in Arm The Spirit  No. 10

Meanwhile, In New Jersey…Richard William’s Trial Continues

As we reported in Arm The Spirit no. 7, anti-imperialist political prisoner Richard Williams is now being re-tried on charges that he shot and killed State Trooper Philip Lamonaco in New Jersey in 1981. In 1987, Tom Manning was found guilty of the self-defence killing, but the jury could not reach a verdict on Williams and a mistrial was declared.

During testimony, Manning has steadfastly denied William’s presence at the shooting and has refused to answer many questions from the state; arguing that to do so would violate “revolutionary principles of non-collaboration with the enemy, which is this case is the U.S. government.

In October, prosecutors used results of advanced blood tests as evidence, claiming that the blood from the car is “consistent with the profile of Mr. William’s blood.” These DNA tests are the only new evidence in the trial of Williams and such tests have never been used as evidence in a “criminal” trial in New Jersey until now.

Tom Manning began his testimony in November and on November 8th he demonstrated toTomManningInterview (8)_LI the jury his shoot-out with Trooper Lamonaco. Manning has refused to answer questions about other comrades, stating that “I’m not going to talk about anybody other than myself and Richard. If it has something to do with the armed clandestine movement, which is something we are participants in, I can’t talk about it.”

This principled stand on the part of Tom has meant increased repression and harassment for Tom and his supporters. In a letter to a comrade, Tom writes that ” In one 6 week period I was in 5 different cells, each move an opportunity to ransack and confiscate more of my property. At court, I was kept chained in a cell while the metal walls were continuously pounded by as many at ten state troopers using boots and clubs – continuously for two and a half hours before I’m brought into court to testify.”

In the first week of December, over the objection of the Federal Marshals and the Bureau of Prions, Ray Levasseur was allowed to testify. Originally, the Federal Marshals and the B.O.P had argued that Ray was “too dangerous to move from Marion to New Jersey;” however after some legal wrangling, Ray was brought in under extremely heavy security and allowed to testify. Ray was on the stand for about forty minutes, and like his comrades, refused to answer any questions which could compromise others.

RichardWilliams20 (2)

Interview with Richard Williams

RichardWilliams19 (2)

Your retrial on these charges is coming up this fall and to start off, could you give us an update on the trial status and a description of the charges.

My second trial, the retrial, will begin September 23rd. That’s when we’re going to start picking the jury. We figure that might take a week or two and immediately after that we’ll start the trial, which should be sometime in the beginning of October. The trial should take about two months.

The charges stem from the death of a state trooper in December 1981 in New Jersey on Route 80. The charges specifically are murder and a related robbery and escape. It sounds like more that what it is. The prosecution came up with this hypothesis that Tommy (Manning) stole his gun back, but I don’t even want to get into that. It all has to do with the death of the trooper. There was no robbery as in a store being robbed or anything. They’re all rolled into the death of the state trooper.

RichardWilliams6 (2)

This is the second trial, as you said before. We were tried at the end of 1986 and 1987 in Somerville, New Jersey – that’s were the new trial will be held as well – in front of the same judge, judge Imbriani. At that trial, Tom (Manning) was convicted of felony murder charges and was sentenced to life in prison plus ten, I think. Five or ten. When you get life, it’s hard to keep track of anything after that. I got a hung jury, which means they couldn’t come to a unanimous decision. To be convicted or acquitted, the jury has to be unanimous. The majority of the jurors voted for my acquittal, but because they weren’t unanimous, that makes it a mistrial. We’re hoping to win the second time around. The state has come up with some new blood testing, DNA testing, that is very dubious and is just something more to add into the trial to try and convict me. At the end of the last trial, the prosecution asked the judge if they could change the indictment and delete where it named me specifically as shooting the cop. In essence, what that’s saying is that they know I didn’t shot the cop, but I’m still being retried on these charges.

RichardWilliams7 (2)

In political trials in the united states it is common for the state to try and prosecute the defendants as many times as possible – in order to both “send a message” to other activists as well as to try and set precedents which can be used in future political prosecutions. We’ve certainly seen this with you and your comrades, the OHIO 7, who have all been tried a number of separate times – in the case of the Seditious Conspiracy/RICO trial in Springfield you were tried on many of the same specific charges for which you had been previously prosecuted. How many trials have you been through at this point and how long have you been imprisoned awaiting the retrial?

I was captured on November 4, 1984, which happened to be my birthday – happy birthday, right – so I’ve been in almost seven years. We had a trial in Brooklyn on specific bombing charges in 1985-1986. That trial took about six months. We were all convicted of various charges, ranging from , at the most 53 years and the women getting 15 years. Then Tommy and I were tried in New Jersey on the cop shooting, and I’ve just explained that trial. Then we were all taken up to Boston and they were going to try us in Boston but through a lot of struggle we got a change of venue. They kept it in the same district but they moved it to Springfield, Massachusetts because basically, the judge agreed there had been too much publicity.

The Springfield trial took a year to pick the jury and year for the trial. In the process of picking the jury the judge and the prosecution worked it out that having all of us there was really to bulky – too hard for them to try the case – so the judge basically asked the prosecution if they’d like to cut loose some of us who were doing large amounts of time already, so that’s what happened. Carl (Manning) pleaded guilty to a deal – she didn’t rat on anybody or anything, she just pleaded guilty to charges and was sentenced. Barbara’s (Curzi-Laaman’s) charges were dropped. The charges against Tom and Jann (Laaman) were dropped because they both had a large amount of time, Jaan having 48 years on a state charge and 53 years on federal charges. They figure he’s going to be jammed up for quite a while. It was only Ray (Levasseur) and I who had only had the federal charges against us. That trial lasted two years. This is my fourth trial coming up, which we think will take a couple of months. So I’ve been busy.

RichardWilliams13 (2)

Of course, the Seditious Conspiracy / RICO trial in Springfield ended with the acquittal of yourself and your comrades Ray Levasseur and Patricia Gros Levasseur.

The funny about that was that we were charged with Seditious Conspiracy and RICO charges. RICO is basically criminal charges, racketeering charges, which we strongly denied. The Seditious Conspiracy charges were basically political charges and going into the trial, we saw the most important charges to fight were the RICO charges. If we were to be convicted of anything, the Seditious Conspiracy would be the lesser of the charges to be convicted of. We don’t look at Seditious Conspiracy as being criminal charges, although they specifically are to the state. We fought all the charges and what happened was that we were found not guilty of the Seditious Conspiracy and we had a hung jury on the RICO charges, but the trial took two years. It was a defeat for the prosecution and they decided not to retry us on the RICO charges. So, it was a victory.

The state has shown quite plainly over the past number of years that one of its main counter-insurgency strategies is the attempt to create a situation where it can define political opposition itself as criminal activity. It was clear in the Seditious Conspiracy / RICO trail that the state was attempting to use yourself and your comrades as a test case to try and expand the “legal” parameters of “criminality” into political activities, whether above-ground “legal” activities or clandestine activities.

That was our main task in these trials, and still is even in the new trial. They always tried to say “This isn’t a political trial,” even in the Seditious Conspiracy trial. Now I don’t know what a political trial is if you charge somebody with with trying to overthrow the government by force of arms – and that’s not a political trial? That’s sedition. That’s treason actually, and we put that to them. We said, “Why don’t you try us for treason?” But they tried to downplay the politics and tried to say it was a straight criminal trial and our major task in all these trial has been to fight criminalization. That has been first and foremost. Of course we want to win the case, but you’re duelling on the enemy’s ground.

RichardWilliams9 (2)

We do have faith in the people and we do have faith in the jury itself. I don’t know if I have faith in the jury system and the courts the way they are, but we do have faith in the jury as people. We always try to talk to and work with the jury and it’s worked out sometimes. In the Seditious Conspiracy / RICO trial, if you want to go by their laws, we were guilty because we were charged under RICO with some of the same things that we were charged with and convicted of in Brooklyn. In the Seditious Conspiracy / RICO trial they only needed to have two convictions of those same charges we had been convicted on in Brooklyn to show a pattern of “criminal” activity, i.e. RICO. But we were able to talk to the jury, explain to them our politics and let them see a little bit of ourselves, and they chose not to convict us of the RICO charges.

I think they did it, basically, because they believe in us. These were just basically white middle class people and we were able to get to them and show that we were at least sincere. If they didn’t agree with our politics, at least we’re sincere and the government, throughout the trial, showed how insincere they were. They did a lot of lying and a lot of manufacturing of stuff and we were able to bring that out. They have to show some of their true colours in front of a jury to try and convict you, and it is very vindictive what they’re doing. In comparison between us the  prosecution, the jury went with us. They weren’t going to convict us.

And after that trial, you were sent back to New Jersey to face the retrial this fall?

Right. I was sent back here in December of 1989 and for various reasons the prosecution stalled trying to get time to do this DNA blood testing, and then finally they did it this spring. Tommy and I refused to give blood but they basically took it. We fought them and they just got a whole bunch of guards and they were able to pin us down and strap us to a gurney and stick needles in us.

RichardWilliams15 (2)

Well, that leads into my next question about the conditions in Trenton State Prison, where both you and Tom Manning are being held. Tom is in the Management Control Unit (MCU) in Trenton and you were as well up until just recently. There have been more and more reports coming out over the past year about the conditions at Trenton and the brutalization of the prisoners by the guards and the administration. What are the conditions which you are facing especially since you are held under a special status called Special Housing which in some ways places you in a different situation than most of the other prisoners?

They’re turning Trenton into the maximum control prison for the state of New Jersey. Supposedly they send the “baddest of the bad” here and they’ve sectioned off parts of the prison and put up barbed wire and fencing, really turning it into a Control Unit. To put me in a state prison – basically I should have been put into a county jail – the governor had to sign an executive emergency order basically declaring martial law in my case, which means it suspends my rights. So they sent me to a state prison. Normally you can’t be sent to a state prison unless you’re doing time, unless you’ve been convicted, and of course, I haven’t in the state of New Jersey. Originally, when they sent me here I hadn’t been convicted of anything.

In putting me here they labelled me Special Housing, basically a pre-trial status. With that Special Housing status they have suspended all my rights which I would normally have as a prisoner in Trenton State Prison. Not that we have a whole lot of rights but there is due process, meaning that before they can sentence me to any isolation or segregation they have to give me a hearing. Well, in my case, being Special Housing, there’s no such thing as that. They don’t give me hearings, they just do it. Even Tom, once he was convicted of the charges, they had to give him a hearing to put him in MCU. Basically what happened was that they put me in MCU for a number of years.

This time around, when I came back, they put me in administrative segregation, which is a punishment unit, and I beefed about it. I said, “how can you put me in a punishment unit? I haven’t done anything wrong.” So they shifted me off to the Protective Custody Unit which is a place where there’s a whole lot of informers and people who, because of the crimes they’ve done or because they’ve informed on people, are really not considered people that the general population would let walk around without doing some serious harm to them. So they put me in the Protective Custody Unit which I strongly objected to. It too me eight months, but I finally managed to fight my way out of it and they put me in the Management Control Unit. It sounds weird to want to be there, but the Management Control Unit houses most of the political prisoners, and if I want to be kept any place, it will be where other political prisoners are.

A couple of months ago, they came in the middle of the night with the goon squad, which is a bunch of guards all dressed up on protective clothing and cameras, and took me and brought me here. I’m back in Protective Custody. My status as Special Housing means basically they can punish me without having to give reasons for the punishment. They usually say, when you press them, that it’s for matters of security or it’s to protect the population from me – depending on who you talk to and what kind of mood they’re in, you get different stories.

RichardWilliams22 (2)

Basically, I’m in non-congregate status. What that means if that I’m not allowed to associate with any other prisoner here. Basically, that’s solitary confinement, I’m even recreated alone. Being non-congregate status, I’m not eligible for any hobby programs, meaning that in general population and even in MCU, if I wanted to paint or if I wanted to do different things for recreation in my cell, I’m not allowed to do that. I’m not allowed to associate with anybody, so I’m basically locked in my cell 24 hours a day, except for two hours on alternate days when I’m put out for recreation. I’m put out into a yard all by myself and I’m recreated. Now recently they have brought in a couple of other people who are in Special Housing status and they go out to recreation with me. But basically I’m in a type of solitary confinement with no due process. I’ve appealed to the department of “corrections” and get various answers back like “You’re pre-trial” or “You’re a security risk,” or whatever.

My visitors have to get prior approval from the prison. If and when they are approved, and some people have been disapproved, if they’re approved, they must make an appointment 24 hours in advance to be able to come in and see me at a window visit, that’s a non-contact visit. When they come into the prison they have to submit to a thumbprint and a photograph before they can come to see me. I’m allowed to have no contact visits whatsoever. Just for a point of reference, everybody else in the prison is allowed contact visits – MCU, everybody is allowed contact visits. Nobody’s visitors have to make an appointment beforehand. Anybody can come in and visit anybody in the prison, that includes MCU people.

RichardWilliams21 (2)

So my status is a status that is a special punishment, it seems logical if you look at it in a sane way – you can’t really look at it in a sane way because their minds are not sane in the way they rationalize their treatment of me. Basically, I’m being punished for not being convicted. As I said, my co-defendant Tom, who has been convicted, has to be given due process before they can take away his contact visits or before they can restrict his “freedom” within the confines of the prison. Not so with me. I’m allowed no hearings. I have no contact visits. My visits are through a telephone and a window, and that goes for family. I applied for my mother, who lives in Florida, to come up and see me and I wanted a contact visit. They said she’s status just like everyone else. She comes in and she gets an hour at the window. So of course I said it’s not worth it. My people don’t have money. For her to come up from Florida, it would have to be a worthwhile visit, and I don’t see an hour in front of a window with a telephone as a very worthwhile visit.

Other places where we’ve been held have allowed contact visits. All of us have had contact visits in other prisons where we’ve been held and at no time were there any problems with the contact visits. So this is basically to try and break my will and interfere with my frame of mind in getting ready for this trial. It hasn’t worked yet and it won’t.

We’ve been seeing in the united states, during the last 10 years especially, increased state attacks against progressive organizations and liberation struggles – a continuation of the COINTELPRO-type programs we saw in the 1960s and 1970s. I know that you as well as your comrades have a long history in above-ground activism before choosing to go underground and join the clandestine movement. Could you talk about why you made that decision to go underground?

RichardWilliams14 (2)

As you mentioned, COINTELPRO taught us a big lesson, or it should have, which I think a lot of people have actually forgotten. What COINTELPRO has done is shown that the united states government and its agencies will stoop very low and infiltrate all aboveground organizations. Any progressive organization has been infiltrated. The fact that it was exposed and the state said ” Now that you’ve busted us, we’re not going to do it any more” is full of it. They just intensified it and covered it up more.

A lot of us felt that to function in any kind of aboveground organization, you might as well just write a report to the police because you’ve been infiltrated. A lot of us figured that the best way to function would be beyond the eyes and ears of the government. The only way to be able to do that is to join the armed clandestine movement and to go underground and assume different identities, which means also cutting yourself off from the rest of your family and friends. Anyone who didn’t come with you, you didn’t contact ever again because then you’re putting them in jeopardy. Basically, that’s why. A lot of us felt that we could function better underground – do more, accomplish more, and not really have to worry about informs as much by going underground.

Do you think that lesson, the revelations about the organized states attacks on the movements, has been to a large extent forgotten by the Left in north america?

Well, I don’t know if it’s forgotten, but the problem is that you don’t know who in these organizations are informers. You don’t know who in the Left are paid informers. So the problem with being aboveground is that anybody can infiltrate the organization, any aboveground organization. An effective informer – i.e., a mole, to use their spy-talk – the state inserts someone into an organization and into a lifestyle early on so that they establish extensive credentials and they would be the last person that you would look at as being informer. Now, I’m not naming names. I’m just saying how they do it in the spy-world, so let’s interpret it and let’s put it into the civilian world. You don’t now who is reporting, it may be that the person with the best credentials in the one who’s an informer. They have their finger on the pulse of what every organization is doing and we shouldn’t think otherwise for even a minute. And I do think that some of the people on the Left do forget that there’s a lot of informers out there paid by the government to inform on you and they’ve infiltrated a lot of organizations.

RichardWilliams4 (2)

Another problem that I see on the Left is that they forget to teach history, meaning that new people coming into the movement may not know abut COINTELPRO. They need to be educated about COINTELPRO. They government says they stopped it, and that’s a lie. They say they’re not imperialists, but the are, you know. So for the government, which is totally corrupt, to say they’ve stopped the program just means that they’ve found a way to cover it up even more.

Of course we had the revelations in the mid-1980s, which were not as widely publicized as COINTELPRO which came around the same time as the Watergate scandal, that the fbi again was monitoring and infiltrating the Central American solidarity groups and anti-intervention groups. A very similar kind of operation which was exposed only five years ago.

Well, basically it was a very successful program for them because they did sow a lot of bad seeds in a lot of good organizations by infiltrating them. They were able to turn brother against brother and sister against sister. They were able to infiltrate organizations and kill key people. They killed a lot of Black Panther people and Black Liberation Army people. They totally disrupted a lot of other organizations. So, for them, its been a successful program, so they’re not going to discontinue something that’s been successful to that degree, they’re just going to cover it up more. Just like you said about the Central American solidarity committee, it came to light in the 1980s they they’re still doing this. For us to think that they would have stopped would be totally crazy.

Do you think that we’ll see a resurgence in clandestine organizing?

It’s hard to say. I think it’s necessary for the reasons I gave – to be able to have any kind of successful organization could not be done publically. It could not be one which follows the rules that the government lays down for people to organize, because the rules that they lay down make it easy for them to subordinate any kind of organization. So we have to make up our own rules, and one of the ways to make up our own rules is to have groups, meetings and organizations that function clandestinely. I think there’s a need for it. If you’re asking if I see a resurgence in it, I haven’t yet seen a resurgence, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. I hope it is happening.

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 My Friend Richard

by Jann Laaman

(Below are some words I wrote for and about Richard Williams, one week before he died. Sadly he never got to hear or see them)

Richard Charles Williams, my dear brother, my comrade, I could write a honk or maybe a screenplay about you and your life. It would be a righteous movie, action packed, principled, some real humor, and all built around a life of struggle and hope. Of course between revolutionary “need to know” principles and Hollywood’s comic book propaganda movies, it’s not too likely your real movie is going to get made just yet. But your revolutionary life, your warm good heart and your determined spirit of resistance will continue to inspire and guide those of us who know you and all those who will yet come to know you.

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From our earliest days, 34-35 years ago, working together, struggling and having each others back, I remember how seriously you took the words of Che Guevara and how much you admired his life. You know I’ve always thought of you as embodying the true living spirit of Che. While you have consistently been reasoned and practical in strategic outlook, you have always been willing to pick up the struggle of oppressed nations and peoples anywhere in the world. You are a true anti-imperialist and humanitarian. Your entire adult life is a solid expression of the real meaning of proletarian internationalism. And if anyone is not real familiar with this term, go do a little investigating. It’s not only to see what kind of man Richard has been his whole life, but this world needs new and more socialists and revolutionaries in the 21st century – you could be one.

You long were a solid Marxist and Maoist. Besides the labels and “isms” though, if I had to briefly tell you about Richard, I’d say he is for real, a regular and nice person. He is someone you would want to be your friend and fellow worker. For me personally I have no dearer friend or closer comrade than Richard. We were there for each others children’s home births, and we put in some hours on pin ball machines in quite a few pubs and clubs. From construction sites (Richard was a good carpenter) to picket lines and yes, battle lines too, I feel proud and honored to have shared these with you my comrade, my brother, my friend.

Jaan Laaman
Ohio 7 anti-imperialist political prisoner
December 1, 2005, Walpole State Prison

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