A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE RAF

… a piece we wrote after the dissolution of the RAF … it didn’t run in Arm The Spirit, but I think it may have run in Love And Rage …

A  Brief History Of The RAF

by Arm The Spirit / Spring 1994

In April 1992, the Red Army Fraction (RAF) took the step of unilaterally calling off its campaign of assassinations of key members of the political and economic apparatus as a first step towards a negotiated settlement with the state, a settlement which they insisted must include the release of prisoners, particularly those, such as Bernd Roessner and Ali Jansen, who were in poor health and those who were amongst the longest held such as Irmgard Moeller, who after 21 years had spent close to half of her life in prison, as well as an agreement which would allow those who were underground to surface. The resistancepic15areactions both amongst the prisoners and within the broader anti-imperialist and autonomist movement was predictable. All hell broke loose. To some, if not most, the decision was treason. The decision was portrayed as a betrayal of 23 years of history. And in the spirit of the German left, a hot and heavy debate, much of which was immortalized on paper, has followed. Since we, Arm The Spirit, have translated a number of different documents concerning the RAF and the situation of political prisoners in Germany, we feel some background is in order to help our readers understand the parameters of this debate. What follows, as such, is a brief examination of the history of the RAF

The RAF was not the first expression of armed action on the part of the New Left in West Germany in the 60s and 70s. It was, however, the first organization to give armed struggle a consistent and structured form within the context of the international anti-imperialist movement of the day. The RAF, as such, can be said to have been formed on May 14, 1970, when Ulrike Meinhof led an armed unit in freeing Andreas Baader, then serving a prison sentence in connection with 2 firebombings carried out in April 1968. In it’s first Manifesto, The Concept Of The Urban Guerilla, a document steeped in the bc1Marxism-Leninism of the day, the RAF stated, “We affirm that the organization of armed resistance groups in West Germany and West Berlin is correct, possible, and justified. We further state that it is correct, possible, and justified to conduct urban guerilla war now. (…) It can and must be started now, and without it there will never be an anti-imperialist struggle in the metropoles.” Further on they added, “The concept of the urban guerilla comes from Latin America. It can only be here, as it is there, the method of revolutionary intervention of generally weak revolutionary forces.” The RAF closed this document by placing itself within the international context. “To carry out urban guerilla warfare means to lead the anti-imperialist struggle offensively. The Red Army Fraction creates the connection between legal and illegal struggle, between national struggle and international struggle, between political struggle and armed struggle, between the strategical and tactical position of the international communist movement.”

In May 1972, the RAF carried out a series of bombings. The first, on May 11, against the U.S. 5th Army Corps stationed in Germany, was in solidarity with the Vietnamese liberation struggle. The following day they detonated 3 bombs at the Augsburg police headquarters in retaliation for the police killing of RAF member Thomas Weisbecker. On May 15, the RAF deployed a car-bomb against Karlsruhe federal court judge Buddenberg in retaliation for the mistreatment of arrested RAF members. May 19 saw the bombing of the Springer building in Hamburg in response to the ongoing campaign of anti-left propaganda conducted by the Springer Press. Finally, on May 24, the Heidelberg headquarters of American Armed Forces in Europe was bombed in response to the U.S. raflogomine blockade and carpet-bombing of Vietnam. Although people were injured or killed in most of these bombings, with the exception of the Buddenberg bombing, they differ from later RAF attacks in not being directed against specific individuals, a point that should be kept in mind when examining the RAF’s history.

Between June 1 and June 15, 1972, virtually all leading members of the RAF were arrested, bringing to an end what might be seen as the first phase of the RAF’s struggle. Although two other guerilla groups, the 2nd of June Movement (which would dissolve and partially integrate into the RAF in June 1980) and the Revolutionary Cells (currently engaged in its own debate about the future of armed struggle in Germany), continued to carry out armed attacks, the RAF was not to carry out another military action until April 1975.

However, the RAF was far from inactive. Both in prison and within the context of the trials, RAF members worked to clarify their perspective and strategy for armed struggle. Some of this is clarified in Ulrike Meinhof’s September 13, 1974 statement regarding the liberation of Andreas Baader. She states, “The struggle against imperialism (…) has as its goal to annihilate, to destroy, to smash the system of imperialist domination, on the political, economic, and military planes; to smash the cultural institutions by which imperialism gives a homogeneity to the dominant elites; and to smash the communications systems which assure them their ideological ascendancy.” She adds, “Faced with the transnational organization of capital, the military alliances with which U.S. imperialism encompasses the world, the cooperation of the police and secret services, the international organization of the dominant elite within the sphere of power of U.S. imperialism, the response from our side, the side of the proletariat, is the struggle of the revolutionary classes, the liberation movements of the Third World, and the urban guerilla in the metropoles of imperialism. That is proletarian internationalism.” It is in a paper called Conduct The Anti-Imperialist Struggle! that the RAF most clearly outlines how it understands this anti-imperialism and internationalism. “If the peoples of the Third World are the vanguard of the anti-imperialist revolution, meaning that this rafone (2)revolution is objectively the greatest hope of the people in the metropoles for their own liberation, then it is our task to present the connection between the liberation struggle of the peoples of the Third World and the longing for liberation wherever it emerges in the metropoles…” As to the practical implications of these observations, in an interview with Le Monde Diplomatique, RAF members stated, “If it was and is possible for the RAF to develop an idea of the Federal Republic’s role in West Europe, from which resistance develops nationally and internationally (…) then that means the RAF will reach its tactical aim, that is the dialectic of anti-imperialist action and reaction, from which the armed resistance of small social revolutionary groups becomes a strategic possibility for proletarian internationalism.”

When the RAF did act in an armed capacity again on April 24, 1975, it was to seize the German embassy in Stockholm, Sweden. The commando had one simple purpose, to secure the release of 26 political prisoners, most, but not all, members of the RAF, in exchange for the military and economic attaches being held hostage. This action was doubtless modeled on the kidnapping carried out by the 2nd of June Movement in February and March of the same year. Peter Lorenz had been kidnapped and successfully exchanged for 6 imprisoned members of the 2nd of June Movement. In this case, however, rather than negotiate an exchange, the police stormed the building, killing two members of the commando and injuring five others. It is worth noting in passing that the commando was made up entirely of former members of the SPK (Socialist Patients Collective), a group of former psychiatric patients involved in a radical anti-psychiatry project in Heidelberg who had come under extreme police pressure for corresponding with imprisoned RAF members.

VarGraf9On September 5, 1976, Ulrike Meinhof was murdered in her prison cell. The remaining months of 1976 saw the arrest of all of the key lawyers representing RAF prisoners as well as many other supporters. In virtually all cases these people were charged with support for a terrorist organization under paragraph 129a of the West German criminal code. 1976 also saw 2,956 demonstrations, the greatest number in one year in German history. Against this backdrop, the RAF began a campaign that was to culminate in the most significant political event in post-war Germany, the so-called “German Autumn”. On April 7, 1977, the RAF executed Chief Federal Prosecutor Siegfried Buback, holding him responsible for the deaths of Holger Meins (a leading RAF member who died during a hungerstrike to end isolation in 1974) and Siegfried Hausner (who died due to lack of medical treatment while in prison following the police attack on the German embassy in Stockholm).

This attack marked a shift to a strategy that would be marked by an overwhelming focus on assassinations of key members of the state apparatus and the business elite. Although this might not have been recognized at the time, it was a shift to an entirely new phase in the RAF’s practice. On July 30, the RAF struck again, this time executing Jurgen Ponto. Ponto, who served on the boards of 30 banks and companies in Germany and was the president of Germany’s second largest bank, the Dresdner Bank, was seen as one of the five most important German businessmen at that time, playing a key role representing Germany both at NATO and elsewhere in the international arena. It is possible that the RAF intended to kidnap Ponto in the hope of releasing him in exchange for prisoners. On September 3, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office was bombed as part of a pressure campaign to have political prisoners, who were being held in isolation, placed together in groups of fifteen.

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On September 5, 1977, the RAF undertook what was certainly its largest action, kidnapping Hans Martin Schleyer, who, as the president of the Federal Association of German Industries and the president of the Federal Employers Association, was probably Germany’s most important and influential capitalist. They demanded the release of eleven leading RAF prisoners in exchange for Schleyer. This kidnapping elicited a state of emergency and widespread draconian police activity. A stalemate punctuated by police actions against perceived RAF supporters continued until October 13 when a Palestinian commando calling itself “Commando Martyr Halimeh” of the Struggle Against World Imperialism Organization (SAWIO) hijacked a Lufthansa airliner en route from Palma de Majorca to Frankfurt, Germany. They demanded the release of the eleven aforementioned RAF prisoners, as well as two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) being held in Istanbul. The RAF also issued a communique supporting this action and reiterating the demands.

Following 5 days of tense negotiations, negotiations which saw Secretary of State Hans-Jurgen Wischnewski visit Algeria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq seeking a country willing to accept the prisoners, and during which the prisoners were put in complete isolation and even denied access to their lawyers and any form of media (‘Kontaktsperre’), the hijacked jetliner was stormed in Mogadishu, Somalia by Germany’s crack anti-terrorist unit the GSG-9. Three of the four hijackers were killed and the fourth was severely injured. On the same night Gudrun Ensslin, Jan-Carl Raspe, and Andreas Baader died in prison. Although the state claimed the deaths were the result of a suicide pact, evidence, including medical evidence, contradicts the suicide thesis at virtually every point. Only Irmgard Moeller, who was stabbed, survived this attack.

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In retaliation for the killings of the Commando Martyr Halimeh and the prisoners, the RAF executed Schleyer, leaving his body in the trunk of a car in the French border town of Mullhausen.

On November 12, Ingrid Schubert, one of the 11 prisoners whose release had been demanded in exchange for Schleyer was found hanging in her cell.

With Meins, Meinhof, Ensslin, Raspe, Baader, and Schubert dead, virtually the entire leadership of the RAF had been eradicated.

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The RAF was not heard from again until June 25, 1979, when they attempted to assassinate the Commander-in-Chief of NATO, U.S. General Alexander Haig. This failed assassination attempt was followed by another lengthy silence, broken on August 31, 1981 with a bomb attack on the headquarters of the U.S. Air Force in Europe in Ramstein, followed 2 weeks later by a failed attempt to assassinate Frederick Kroesen, Commanding General of the U.S. Army and of the NATO Middle East Section. These actions, although unsuccessful from a material point-of-view, established that the RAF was not entirely defeated and allowed them the opportunity to put forward their analysis of the political situation faced by the German and the West European left in the 80s. The Haig communique contained the first hint of a significant change in perception that would subsequently harden into a strategic shift. In clarifying their perception of the international balance of power in the post-Vietnam era, it stated:

“The people of the world are confronted with a new American offensive, which, at the same time, marks a qualitative leap forward in the development of the relative strength between the forces of revolution and the forces of counter-revolution; or, as we have already said, the worldwide revolutionary process is the encirclement of the metropole by the people of the hinterland.
“With the victorious liberation of Southeast Asia and Africa, the front is moving nearer the centre, it is coming closer to the metropoles and makes the tactical and strategic retreat of U.S. imperialism inevitable. In other words, the so-called ‘displacement of the strategic crucial points’ is towards West Europe.”

In the Ramstein communique they further developed this theme:

“The imperialist war of destruction is now returning from the Third World to Europe, from whence it began. The people of Europe, of the FRG, are realizing that this development will mean their destruction if it cannot be stopped. They are now getting a direct, physically close concept of what has been reality for people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America for hundreds of years: imperialism, when you yourself are in the position of the oppressed.”

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And again and more clearly in the Kroesen communique:

“West Europe is no longer the hinterland from where imperialism is waging the war. Now, with the victories of the wars of liberation in the Third World, with the development of the guerilla in West Europe, now that the whole of imperialism is suffering crises, West Europe has become part of the worldwide front line. It is the part where they possess everything. But it is also the part that has become vital for the process of liberation for the entire worldwide front line.”

In May 1982, the RAF released a strategy paper entitled The Guerrilla, The Resistance, And The Anti-Imperialist Front. This paper, which came to be known simply as “The May Paper”, marked a major re-evaluation and reorientation of RAF strategy, both raffrontanalytically and practically. Building on statements made in the communiques accompanying the post-77 actions, they stated that “it is now possible and necessary to develop a new phase in the revolutionary strategy in the metropoles.” The basis for this new strategy was to be “The Guerrilla And The Resistance…A Single Front.” For the RAF, the period up until ’77 was distinguished by “that which built the armed struggle or prepared its path.” What was important, however, from their point of view by ’82 was “to regroup the guerilla movement and the militant political struggles into an integrated whole from the perspective of a strategy of development in the metropole.” For the RAF this front was more than a possibility, it was a necessity. “The anti-imperialist front is urgently needed and even though it is underdeveloped, it could be strong in West Europe, creating enormous possibilities on the level of the international war of liberation.”

rzrafpic3-001As had been suggested in the communiques from ’79 and ’81, the RAF saw a special significance for resistance in Western Europe. “On the level of the entire imperialist system, their global project of restructuring can only function if the plan of development in the interior of the imperialist centres unfolds in a relatively easy fashion without serious or profound friction. This project could not withstand the rupture caused by an anti-imperialist struggle here…” And finally, in this vein, they state, “The Revolution In West Europe Has Become The Cornerstone Of The Worldwide Confrontation.” And vis-a-vis West Germany in particular, “The offensive within and from West Europe, supporting itself on the central state, i.e., West Germany, is essential for imperialist strategy to assure itself in a new round both its domination as a functioning system on the world scale and the reproduction of capital. From our side, in the face of this offensive, the frontal development in the metropole is asserted as simply and vitally necessary, as a necessary condition to break the present tendency of the global process of liberation from stagnating in the East-West opposition and, for the countries where there has been national liberation, from the fact of their obligations for the development of their state.” Quite plainly this line of reasoning pointed to a substantial shift in the RAF’s perception of its role. Up until ’77, there is no indication that they saw themselves a anything more than the armed expression of an anti-imperialist movement lending rearguard support from within the metropole to national liberation struggles in the Third World. “The May Paper” indicated that they now saw their role as key to international liberation. Such a shift was no small issue and it didn’t sit well with many of those who had supported the RAF’s earlier anti-imperialist strategy.VarGraf5

“The May Paper” was destined to be the hotly debated, with various segments of the anti-imperialist movement and the far-left in general taking pro and con positions. Some felt that the RAF was using its front strategy to gain hegemony over the growing, but largely unstructured, new young left of the early 80s. Others felt that the front strategy would leave segments of the legal movement open to prosecution under the paragraph 129a of the criminal code, a paragraph which was open to a broad interpretation in criminalizing activities deemed to constitute “support for a terrorist organization”. Still others sensed a betrayal of fundamental principles of anti-imperialist theory and practice. This latter is perhaps the most important criticism. In July 1984, Antiimperialistischer Kampf (Anti-Imperialist Struggle) issued its critique, perhaps the most systematic and thorough, which juxtaposed the early RAF position with that of “The May Paper”. In reference to the first generation of the RAF, they stated, “They consciously placed the anti-imperialist struggle in the West German metropole under the hegemony of the national liberation struggles of the peoples and nations of the Third World whom imperialism oppressed.” In this regard, they stated, “The RAF’s 1982 May Paper (…) indicates a complete revision of the line that formed the basis of the RAF’s struggle in the 70s…” This rift continued to divide the anti-imperialist movement until the end of the 80s and to some degree it marked the beginning of the process that led to the cease-fire of April 1992.

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The RAF carried out their first action after the release of “The May Paper” on December 18, 1984. A commando placed a car bomb at the SHAPE School for NATO officers in Oberammergau. The bomb was discovered and defused.

RAFSoliBreakthrough (2)Several days after, RAF prisoners began a hungerstrike for the end of isolation and free association in large groups. This hungerstrike allowed for the first concrete expression of the front strategy in practice. For the remainder of December and throughout the month of January 1985, RAF supporters carried out hundreds of small and medium level bombings in support of the prisoners’ demands. These actions culminated in the RAF assassination of arms industrialist Ernst Zimmerman. The prisoners subsequently called off their hungerstrike the same day. This campaign, impressive as it was, was to prove to be the glory days of the West German anti-imperialist front.

In January 1985, the RAF and the French guerilla group Action Directe (AD) issued a common statement calling for the construction of a West European anti-imperialist front. This paper set the stage for an action that would ultimately prove to be the RAF’s most controversial and divisive. On August 8, 1985, the RAF and Action Directe claimed responsibility for the bombing of the U.S. Air Base in Frankfurt. The action, whichrafad (2) succeeded only in killing two passers-by, would probably only have been seen as significant in anti-imperialist circles because it was the first (and ultimately only) common action of the RAF and Action Directe were it not for the fact that the RAF kidnapped and executed GI Edward Pimental so as to use his ID card to gain access to the Air Base. Even to many of the RAF’s supporters this killing seemed unnecessary. Some commented on the irony that while the RAF prisoners were demanding to be treated as prisoners-of-war, the RAF had executed a prisoner to acquire an ID card which they could have acquired without killing him. Criticisms within the anti-imperialist movement and amongst even the RAF’s closest supporters were so intense that the RAF took the extraordinary step of answering criticisms in a September 1985 interview carried out by supporters:

GerGuer1 (2)Q: You know that there has been and still is a very controversial discussion about the Air Base action and the shooting of GI Pimental. Most important, you gave the cops a chance to construct their propaganda against the action.

A: It was certainly a mistake not to send the second communique and the ID card together. We presumed that those who understood the action would make the connection.

(…)

Q. But there is still a difference between the two deaths on the Air Base and the GI. The determination of the action as you have outlined it doesn’t explain the case of the GI. Isn’t this a contradiction?

A: No. Basically the relationship between us and them is war. We needed his card, rzrafpicotherwise we could not have accomplished the attack. Of course, we wouldn’t say we should now shoot every GI who comes around the corner or that other comrades should do so. One can clarify this only by considering the actual situation, the political-practical determination of the attack, i.e., it is a tactical question.

These responses failed to satisfy many of the critics and the RAF was forced to issue a “self-criticism” of sorts in January of 1986. This paper, entitled To Those Who Struggle With Us, which was largely a reiteration of the RAF’s front strategy, dealt with the Pimental killing at several points. The opening paragraph read:

“Today, we say that the shooting of the GI in the concrete situation in the summer was a mistake which blocked the effect of the attack against the Air Base and the debate about the political-military purpose of the action, as was the case with the offensive overall. [The RAF referred to their 1986 actions as the 1986 offensive – trans.] It is clear that shooting the GI was a degree of escalation which, in itself, had a strategic quality, because it means sharpening the war against U.S. imperialism, in the sense that, for all of us, all things connected to the U.S. forces are everywhere and at all times targets for military attacks. To justify this step as a ‘practical necessity’ is politically impossible, because it can only develop from a strategic quality. However, this does not correspond to the subjective development of the resistance and the objective situation which exists here today.”

raffrontLater on, the same text states:

“Naturally, we have, as a result of our mistake, that is not making it politically clearer how we understood the attack and our silence about the GI, which prevented people from knowing if it was a counter-action, made the discussion very difficult and triggered debates that were not, in themselves, relevant.”

Although this statement purported to be a self-criticism of errors, it was perceived by many people in the anti-imperialist movement and in the left at large as a critique of the movement. The RAF presented any errors on their part as merely technical oversights. The real problem apparently was a lack of maturation and clarity on the part of the West German left, a lack of maturity and clarity which led them to engage in “debates that were not, in themselves, relevant.” If this statement was meant to defuse the growing critique, it backfired seriously, offending the sensibilities of many critics who felt that there were real political and human issues which needed to be discussed. In many cases divisions within the anti-imperialist movement hardened as a result of this statement. Such divisions left the anti-imperialist movement in a weak position and open to attack, and such an attack was not far off.

On July 9, 1986, the RAF assassinated Karl Heinz Beckurts, the president of Siemens and a key figure in SDI (Star Wars) production. Less than a month later, on August 2, 1986,RAFBeckurts (2) RAF member Eva Haule and supporters Luiti Hornstein and Chris Kluth, both residents of the Kiefernstrasse squats in Dusseldorf, were arrested in a Russelheim cafe. Less than two weeks later, on August 13, two more supporters, Barbel Perau and Norbert Hofmeier, were arrested in Duisburg. The following day there was a third arrest in Duisburg. These were the first of a series of arrests aimed at criminalizing supporters of the RAF who were functioning in the legal left within the context of the front strategy outlined by the RAF in 1982 in “The May Paper”. The state attack that many people had anticipated with the advent of the front strategy was, in fact, beginning.

On October, 10, 1986, the RAF assassinated Gerold von Braunmuhl, the political director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a key figure in the development of Europe’s imperialist strategy, particularly in relation to the Middle East. The police responded with a raid of the Kiefernstrasse squats on October 29.

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On December 18, the Kiefernstrasse squats were again targeted with the arrest of residents Andrea Sievering and Rico Prauss. The attack against Kiefernstrasse continued with the arrests of Thomas Klipper on September 8, 1988 and Rolf Hartung on October 4.

On September 20, 1988, the RAF failed in their attempt to assassinate Hans Tietmeyer, a German representative to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

13-1f63c6e4f7-2On February 1, 1989, RAF prisoners began a hungerstrike to end isolation conditions and to gain recognition as political prisoners with the right to associate with each other and with people outside the prisons. The demand for humane treatment garnered wide support on the left and amongst liberals. Although the prisoners called off their strike without achieving their goals, it was widely perceived that they had reached layers of the population that had never before stood with the prisoners in their demand for humane treatment. But a letter written by Karl-Heinz Dellwo in May 1989 gave the first indication of what was to come:

“By ending the hungerstrike we will be maintaining the political level on which the struggle for association can and will continue, after the confrontation was blocked politically and practically.
“It would, at this point, only have been a qualitative development. We have long been the antagonistic core, and our comrades on the outside no longer need us as the motor for them on their terrain. They themselves are it.
“This is a new political quality and we must all struggle to give it content and depth. For our part, we want discussion with everyone. In order for this to occur, we must find a common political denominator. It can’t be any other way.
“It is possible to find such a common denominator today because the concept of a fundamental reversal doesn’t only emanate from the revolutionary core within society, but from everyone. The concept, however strong or weak, is there, is already ripe. It results from the experience that there isn’t a productive solution for anything in this system.”

GerGuer2 (2)This letter indicated two developments within the RAF, developments which set the stage for the April 1992 cease-fire and the subsequent internal struggle. For the first time a key political prisoner was suggesting that the prisoners were not at the ideological core of the RAF, a role that the prisoners had always de facto played since the first arrests in 1972. As well, Dellwo was suggesting that the conditions existed for a multi-party discussion with everyone. Later in the same letter, he would suggest, in relation to ending the hungerstrike, that such a discussion might even require a tempering of RAF actions. “Because everyone must also be a subject in their own process of awareness, we did not want to escalate the struggle to a level which many people would have experienced as going beyond them and which would have, as such, reproduced the same old divisions in a new way.”

Between Dellwo’s May 1989 letter and the cease-fire communique of April 1992, the RAF carried out two more actions. On November 11, 1989, they assassinated Alfred VarGraf21 (2)Herrhausen, president of the Deutsche Bank and Germany’s most influential capitalist. And on April 4, 1991, they assassinated Detlev Korsten Rohwedder, president of the Treuhandanstalt, the body responsible for integrating the East German economy into that of West Germany.

In keeping with assurances offered in their April 1992 communique, the RAF has not carried out an armed attack aimed at any representative of the German state apparatus or German capital. Their one action, the March 1993 bombing of the new high-tech prison in Weiterstadt, was meant to prevent this prison from coming on line. Although this action was perceived favorably throughout the world, it was not immune to criticism within the ranks of the German anti-imperialist movement. In October 1993, RAF political prisoner Eve Haule wrote, “We have seen where this process of political self-dissolution has led. The story of the ‘Verfassungsschutz’ infiltrator and the subsequent events was only the end-point. [This is a reference to the June 1993 ambush and murder of RAF member Wolfgang Grams. RAF member Birgit Hogefeld was arrested during this action.] And armed actions like Weiterstadt further cement this process. Their only function is to signal populism and retaliation – because the state hasn’t changed its policy towards the prisoners.”

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Weiterstadt after RAF bombing

It is a virtual certainty that the struggle currently being waged both within the RAF itself and in the broader anti-imperialist and autonomist left will spell the end to the RAF. It is equally clear and has been argued that errors made by the RAF since 1982 and particularly since 1986 contribute in no small way to the current crisis. Some people have even argued that the current crisis stems from the errors made in 1977. It is beyond a doubt that a consistent argument can be raised to support any and all of these positions. However, the decline of the RAF must also be placed in the larger picture. The EuropeanGuerrillaPic (2)RAF has certainly been adversely effected by its errors, but it has also been effected the overall decline in armed struggle in Europe. The 80s saw the definitive defeat of Action Directe in France, the Red Brigades in Italy, the Fighting Communist Cells (CCC) in Belgium, and GRAPO in Spain. The IRA and the Basque ETA have also faced crises that throw their continuity into question. Within Germany itself the Revolutionary Cells (RZ) is undergoing its own process of re-evaluation and at least part of its structure has publicly broken with armed struggle. Although little is known about the internal debate within Rote Zora, the organization itself has been effectively inactive for some years.

It is equally important to consider the impact of recent developments in global geopolitics on the West German left. While the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Eastern Bloc has had a profound influence on politics throughout the world, nowhere in the First World has the impact been greater than in Germany. Overnight the German left found itself faced with an entirely new constellation of social and political issues. The former GDR was suddenly to be integrated into West Germany and with it came an influx of former East Germans into the west sector in search of employment as uncompetitive industries in the east closed down. As the former Eastern Bloc dissolved entirely, the influx of economic refugees swelled, putting further pressure on Germany’s declining economy. These East European refugees joined Third World asylum seekers and southern Europeans to exert enormous pressure on Germany’s employment and housing markets. The extreme right moved quickly to capitalize on growing social discontent, forging an neo-nazi movement that has gained international attention for its extreme violence. On an official level the state moved to stem the flow of refugees by drafting draconian laws meant to severely limit the number of people who would be eligible for asylum.

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The impact of these changes has been seen on guerrilla groups throughout the world. VarGraf42 (2)Latin American guerrilla groups such as the Tupamaros in Uruguay and the FMLN in El Salvador have given up armed struggle to enter the electoral arena. The ANC and the PLO find themselves forced to negotiate settlements within the context of international capitalism. Even Sinn Fein, the effective legal arm of the IRA, is showing an increasing desire to achieve a settlement at the negotiating table. Talk of socialism, when it arises at all, is more form than substance. While Third World national liberation struggles are in retreat, sectarian warfare is wracking both the former Eastern Bloc and parts of Africa.

In this context the RAF cannot posit itself as a rearguard of national liberation struggles as it did in the early and mid-70s. Nor, however, can it realistically call for an anti-imperialist front in Germany or a West European guerrilla front as it did in the 80s. While Dellwo may talk about a widespread sentiment within society in favor of “a fundamental reversal” which favors a new open dialogue as the basis for a renewed left, this is rhetoric at best and delusion at worst. However, any call to stay the course is no less deluded. In fact, the crisis facing the RAF, which is not realistically addressed by either position which has arisen from within its own ranks, is the same crisis which is the left faces everywhere in VarGraf13 (2)the world. How are we to respond to western imperialism in a situation where transnational capitalism has effectively deprived national struggles of much of their revolutionary potential? How do we rebuild an egalitarian option to global capitalism given the virtual blanket defeat of the socialist option? How do we respond to the permanent marginalization of growing numbers of people resulting from the growth of technology as the central force in production? The pertinency of the current debate within the RAF and the anti-imperialist and autonomist left lies in its ability to address these and other questions.

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DYKES AND FAGS WANT TO KNOW …

 Dykes And Fags Want To Know…

… from the back of the pamphlet: … ” This interview was originally published sometime in DandF1 (2)1991 by Queers United in Support of Political Prisoners (QUISP). This “unauthorized” version was produced by Arm The Spirit in July 1995 and was expanded to include articles and poetry from Laura and Susan. We produced it for Pride Day in Toronto on July 2, 1995. We hope we didn’t tread on anyone’s toes … “

[This interview took place sometime in 1991. – ATS]

A written interview with lesbian political prisoners Linda Evans, Laura Whitehorn, and Susan Rosenberg. They are three North American anti-imperialists currently being held in U.S. prisons because of their political beliefs and activities with the armed clandestine movements resisting the U.S. government and its policies.

Susan Rosenberg has been one of the three women political prisoners imprisoned in the Lexington Small Group Isolation Unit the first explicitly political prison in the U.S. She Lexington2 (2)was born on October 5, 1955 in New York City. She has been an activist all of her adult life. While still in high school, she worked with and was greatly influenced by the Young Lords Party and the Black Panther Party. She was active in the anti-Vietnam war and women’s movements. In 1976 she traveled to Cuba to build a day care center, as part of the Venceremos Brigade in solidarity with the Cuban revolution. She worked throughout the 1970s in solidarity with national liberation struggles – the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, the Black liberation struggle and other world-wide movements for liberation. Susan is a Doctor of Acupuncture who studied with Black acupuncturists at the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America (BAAANA), a community health center in Harlem, New York dedicated to fighting the drug plague and providing health care through acupuncture and Chinese medicine.

Linda Evans – Born May 11, 1947, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Revolutionary and anti-imperialist since 1967. SDS regional organizer against the U.S. war in Vietnam and to support the Black liberation movement. Participated in 1969 anti-war delegation to North Vietnam to receive POW’s released by the Vietnamese. Political/cultural worker in guerilla street theatre troupe, all-women’s band, and women’s printing/graphics collective in Texas. Active in the women’s liberation movement and in the lesbian community. Organized support for struggles led by Black and Chicano/Mexicano grassroots organizations against the Ku Klux Klan, forced sterilization, and killer cops. Fought racism, white supremacy, and zionism as a member of the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee. Built support for Black/New Afrikan, Puerto Rican, and Native American POW’s and political prisoners, and for the right of these nations to independence and self-determination. Began working to develop clandestine resistance capable of struggle on every front. Arrested May 11, 1985. Convicted of harboring a fugitive and using a false name to buy 4 guns; serving a total sentence of 45 years.

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Laura Whitehorn – “I grew up during the era of the rise and victory of national liberation struggles, so my own hatred of oppression, injustice, racism, and sexism could be channeled into a productive direction: revolutionary anti-imperialism. I’ve been involved in struggles for human rights for a little more than 20 years – from the Civil Rights Movement to supporting the Black Panther Party, the Black Power Movement and the New Afrikan Independence Movement, to fighting the KKK and organized white supremacy, supporting the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico, to struggling for the liberation of women and full democratic rights for gay people. In Boston, I helped Black families to defend their homes against racist attack during the ‘anti-busing’ offensive, and I helped to found the Boston/Cambridge women’s school. In New York, I worked to expose illegal FBI counterintelligence (COINTELPRO) and was a member of the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and the Madame Binh Graphics Collective. A visit to Viet Nam in 1975 in an anti-imperialist women’s delegation confirmed my belief that socialist revolution lays the basis to fulfill human needs and creativity – including achieving peace and justice.VarGraf28 (2)

Over the past 20 years, the intransigence, corruption and aggression of the u.s. government has made sustained militant resistance necessary. I’ve struggled to be part of that, because justice is worth fighting for and the real terrorism of u.s. imperialism needs to be defeated. I’ve been involved in clandestine resistance because the government uses the full force of repression to destroy developing opposition.

Since my arrest in 1985, I’ve experienced this first-hand as a political prisoner: held in ‘preventive detention’ without bail, kept in solitary confinement for much of the time, classified as a ‘special handling’ prisoner, because of my political ideals and because I’m determined to live by them and fight for them.”

RCC613 (2)Laura, Linda, and Susan (along with co-defendants Alan Berkman, Marilyn Buck and Tim Blunk) were indicted in May 1988 for conspiring to “influence, change, and protest policies and practices of the United States government.” The indictment alleged that the Resistance Conspiracy defendants were part of a network of underground groups responsible for a series of bombings of u.s. government and military targets from 1983 to 1985.

After over 2 years of legal and political resistance, the 6 forced the government to negotiate a deal which dismissed all the charges against Susan Rosenberg, Tim Blunk and Alan Berkman. Laura, Linda and Marilyn pleaded guilty to the bombing of the u.s. capitol in protest of the invasion of Grenada in 1985. Marilyn Buck was sentenced to an additional 10 years on top of a 70-year sentence. Linda Evans got an additional 5 years. She is now serving a total of 40 years. Laura was sentenced to 20 years. Susan Rosenberg and Tim Blunk were already serving 58-year sentences for earlier charges of possesion of explosives, weapons and false I.D. Alan Berkman was released in June 1992.

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Linda Evans, Marilyn Buck, Laura Whitehorn, Susan Rosenberg

QUISP: I’m an activist. How come I’ve never heard of you before?

Laura: I think it’s because there’s been a long time during which the “left” and progressive movements haven’t really tried to know who’s in prison – including but not limited to political prisoners and POW’s. For instance, how many AIDS activists know about the many PWA’s in prison, and the horrible conditions they live in? Aside from Mike Riegle at GCN (Gay Community News), how many writers and media folks in our movements try to reach into the prisons to support lesbian and gay prisoners, whose lives are often made pretty rough by the pigs.VarGraf7

In general, this country tries to shut prisoners away and make people outside forget about us. In the case of political prisoners, multiply that times X for the simple fact that our existence is a danger to the smooth, quiet running of the system: our existence shows that this great demokkkracy is a lie. The government doesn’t want you to know who we are – that’s why they try so hard to label us “terrorists” and “criminals”.

Linda: Political prisoners have been purposely “disappeared” by the u.s. government, whose official position is that “there are no political prisoners inside the u.s.” This is the way that the government denies both that the motivations for our actions were political and that the movements we come from are legitimate, popular movements for social change. The prison system isolates all prisoners from their communities, but especially harsh isolation is instituted against political prisoners: restricted visiting lists, frequent transfers to prisons far away from our home communities, mail censorship, “maximum security conditions”, long periods of time in solitary confinement.

But our own political movement, too, has ignored the existence of political prisoners. I think this has largely been a product of racism – most U.S. political prisoners/POW’s are Black and Puerto Rican comrades who have been locked up for over a decade. Unfortunately there has never been widespread support among progressive white people for the Black Liberation struggle, for Puerto Rican independence, or for Native American sovereignty struggles – and these are the movements that the Black/Puerto Rican/Native American political prisoners/POWs come from.

VarGraf11Also, many political activists have actually withheld support for political prisoners/POWs because of disagreements with tactics that were employed, or with actions of which the political prisoners have been accused or convicted. These disagreements are tactical in nature, and shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the fact that we all have been fighting for justice and social change. This withdrawal of support leads to false divisions amongst us, and actually helps the state in its strategy to isolate political prisoners/POWs from our communities and political movements.

Susan: The activists/radicals of the late 1980’s and 1990’s have to reclaim” the history of resistance that emerged and continued through the 1970’s and 80’s. As long as the government and mass media get to define who and what is important then the real lessons contained in ours and others experiences will get lost. People haven’t heard of us (except as a vague memory of a headline – if that) because there is a very serious government counter-insurgency strategy to bury the revolutionaries who have been captured in prison. I have been in prison 6 years and over half of that time was spent in solitary confinement or small- group isolation 1000’s of miles away from my community and family. My experience is similar to the 100/150 other political prisoners in the U.S. If the individuals from different movements (ie., the Black, Puerto Rican, Native American and white movements who have seen the need for organized resistance to oppression) are destroyed it is a way to delegitimize the demands of the movements.

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QUISP: Did you do it? Did the government misrepresent what you did? If so, how?

Laura: Yes, I did it! I did (do) resist racism, sexism, imperialism with every fiber of my queer being, and I believe we need to fight for justice. The government’s “version” of what I/we did is a complete lie, though, in that they call resistance a crime. It’s sort of like the way Jesse Helms calls us “sick” – he’s as sick as you can get. On the morality meter he doesn’t even make the needle move. Same way the U.S. government, a genocidal system, calls acts of revolutionary struggle “terrorist violence”, and their system of law, “justice”.

Linda: Yes, I’m proud that I’ve been part of the struggle to build an armed clandestineRGRARMPIC4 (2) resistance movement that can fight to support national liberation struggles, and that will fight for revolution in the U.S. Of course the government misrepresented what we did first of all by calling us “terrorists” to make people think we were a danger to the community, as if our purpose was to terrorize or kill people. Quite the contrary: all the
armed actions of the last 20 years have been planned to minimize any risk of human life. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the actions of the terrorist government, which is responsible world-wide for supporting death squads and mercenary armies like the contras and Savimbi’s UNITA in Angola, which supports the israeli war of genocide against the Palestinians and the brutal system of apartheid, and which supports daily police brutality in Black and Third World communities here, even such acts as the aerial bombing of MOVE in Philadelphia in 1985, which killed 11 people and created a firestorm that left over 250 people homeless.

Susan: I have been a revolutionary for much of my life. A revolutionary in the sense that I believe in the need for profound social change that goes to the roots of the problem. Which I believe is systemic. Consequently I have along with others tried many methods BTSpring1982Graf1 (2)of struggle to enact a strategy to win liberation and attack the state (government) as representative of the system. First as a peace activist in the late 60’s, then as a political activist in the 70’s, and then in joining the armed clandestine resistance movement that was developing in the 80’s. I am guilty of revolutionary anti-imperialist resistance. Of course the government has misrepresented me and all of us. The main form that has taken is to call us terrorists, which is something that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just like all opposition to the cold war of the 50’s was labelled communist, the 80’s equivalent is terrorist. Now there are all kinds of terrorists according to the U.S. – all of it bullshit.

I don’t mean to beg the question in the specific. I believe that no revolutionary captured comrade says what they have or haven’t done within their revolutionary work.

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QUISP: Audre Lorde says the master’s tools (violence) will never dismantle the master’s house (the state). How do you react to this?

Laura: I don’t think “violence” is just one thing, so I don’t think it’s necessarily “the master’s tool”. If revolutionaries were as vicious and careless of humanity and innocent human lives as the U.S. government is, then I think we’d be doing wrong. But when VarGraf15 (2)Aoppressed people fight for freedom, using “violent” means among others, I think we should support them. Would you have condemned African slaves in the U.S. for killing their slave masters, or for using violence in a struggle for freedom? To me, the issue is how do we fight effectively – and humanely – for liberation. As we build the struggle, we have to be very self- critical, very self-conscious about how we struggle as well as what we struggle for. But I think we also need to fight to win – and I think that means engaging in a fight for power. For the past 5+ years, I’ve witnessed close up the violence – slow, brutal, heartless of genocide against African American women. To refuse to fight to change that (and I don’t believe we can fight for power completely “non-violently”) would, I think, be to accept the violence of the state in the name of rejecting the violence of revolutionary struggle.

Linda: I disagree with posing the question in the way she does (or how the question VarGraf29 (2)does). I don’t think the issue is violence, but rather politics and power. Around the world, imperialism maintains itself – keeps itself in power – by military power and the threat of violence wherever people struggle for change. Liberation movements have the right to use every means available to defeat the system that is oppressing and killing people. This means fighting back in self-defense, and it means an offensive struggle for people’ power and self-determination. But reducing it to a tactical question of “violent means” doesn’t recognize all the aspects of building a revolutionary movement that are crucial to actually mobilizing people, developing popular organizations, empowering oppressed groups within the people’s movement like women and indigenous people, developing a revolutionary program that can really meet people’s needs and that people will fight to make real. A slogan that embodies this for me comes from the Chinese Revolution: “Without mass struggle, there can be no revolution. Without armed struggle, there can be no victory.”

Susan: I always took the quote from Audre Lorde to mean the opposite of what you say. Funny, no? I always interpreted her saying that to mean the masters’ tools being electoral/slow change. Well – there you go!

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QUISP: Why is it important to support political as opposed to non-political prisoners? Shouldn’t we be concerned about all prisoners?

Laura: I think we should be concerned about all prisoners, and I don’t think it’s ever been us political prisoners who have promoted any irresolvable contradiction between us and the rest of the prisoners in the U.S. But within that, I think there is a particular need for progressive movements to defend political prisoners, because it’s a part of fighting for the movements we come from. If you are fighting racism and homophobia, and there are people serving long sentences in prison for fighting those things, I think you advance the goals by supporting the prisoners. I also think that support for political prisoners helps expose how repressive and unjust the whole system is. That can also be an avenue to supporting all prisoners. Support for political prisoners is a concrete act of resistance to the control the government keeps over all our minds: it fights the isolation and silencing of political prisoners and POWs. It asserts the legitimacy of resistance. And in my experience it is a major way that people outside become aware of the purpose and nature of the prison system as a whole.RGRPic5 (2)

Linda: Yes – it’s important for our movement to be concerned about all prisoners, and I think it’s especially important for the lesbian and gay movement to concern ourselves with combatting attacks on lesbian/gay prisoners, and supporting all prisoners with AIDS. Concerning ourselves with all prisoners, and with the repressive/warehousing role of prisons in our society is another way of fighting racism, since the majority of prisoners are from Third World communities. Prisoners get locked away – out of sight, out of mind – and the few prisoners’ rights that were won in prison struggles are being undermined and cut back. Human rights are nearly non-existent in prison, and without community support and awareness, the government can continue to escalate its repressive policies, and conditions will just steadily worsen. This is especially true for prisoners with AIDS, since the stigma attached to AIDS in society generally is heightened in prison. Prisoners with AIDS die at an even faster rate than PWAs on the outside because treatment is so VarGraf12sporadic, limited, and conditions are so bad.

So I would never say for people to support political prisoners as opposed to non-political prisoners. Our interests inside prison are definitely not in opposition to each other. All
the political prisoners/POWs actively fight for prisoners’ rights, and for changes in conditions that will benefit all prisoners. But it’s important to build support specifically for political prisoners because we represent our movements, and it’s a way for us to protect and defend the political movements we come from against government repression. For the movement on the outside to embrace and support political prisoners/POWs makes it rz95-001possible for us to continue to participate in and contribute to the movement we come from and it makes it impossible for the government to isolate and repress us in their efforts to destroy our political identities.

Susan: All prisoners are in desperate need of support, and as the population gets greater (in prison) and the repression gets heavier the prisons will become a major confrontation within the society. If the prisons are to become a social front of struggle then there must be a consciousness developed to fight the dehumanization and criminalization that prison intends. Political prisoners are important to support because we are in prison for explicitly social/political/progressive goals. Our lack of freedom does affect how free you are. If we can be violated, so can you. There is no contradiction between political and social prisoners.

QUISP: How does being a lesbian fit in with your work?

Laura: The same way it fits into my life – it is a basic, crucial part of my character, my VarGraf6LWPicoutlook on things, my personality. Because I’m a lesbian, the fight against homophobia and sexism take on particular importance. But really I think my lesbianism helps me care about the oppression of others by the imperialist system. So I think my lesbianism makes me a better anti-imperialist – it makes me fight all the harder. Being a lesbian in prison is often very hard, but being “out” gives me a lot of strength. I have to say that I am very proud when I hear or read about the struggles queers are waging out there.

Linda: Being a lesbian has always been an important part of the reasons why I’m a revolutionary – even before I was self- conscious about how important this is to me! I don’t separate “being a lesbian” from any other part of my life, or from my politics. Because I experience real oppression as a lesbian and as a woman, I am personally committed from the very core of my being – to winning liberation for women, lesbians, and all oppressed people. This makes me more willing to take risks and to fight, because I have a vision of a society I want to live in, and to win for future generations, where these forms of oppression don’t exist. I think being a lesbian has also helped me recognize the importance of mutual solidarity and support between the struggles of oppressed people, despite the sexism, heterosexism and racism that often interferes in the process of building these alliances. I really believe that we have a common enemy – the imperialist system – and that we have to support each other in all the forms our struggles against that enemy may take. These alliances need to be built in a way that respects the integrity of our various movements.

Susan: Well! Being a lesbian is part of the very fabric of my being – so the question is not vargraf18 (2)really how it fits into my work rather how conscious do I make my lesbianism in living in prison or in the life of resistance I lead. It alternates depending on what the conditions are. Recently I have “come out” because at this point I have chosen to be more consciously lesbian- identified. I have done this because I believe that as gay people we need more revolutionary visions and strategies if our movement is to become significant in linking the overturning of sexual oppression with other forms of oppression. The other reason I have felt compelled to be out is that my tightest, most important women in the community we live in are the butches. It is the butches who suffer most for their choices/existence in prison. In recognition of Pete, Cowboy, JuJu, Slimie, and all the other sisters it seems only right. Finally – Laura and Linda have been out since the RCC6 began and it has been a very important political and personal experience for them, and for us all. They have through their struggles created an environment of love and solidarity that enabled me to subsequently “come out” aVarGraf38 (2)s well.

QUISP: How have you struggled with sexism and heterosexism in the groups with which you have worked?

Laura: Mostly by confronting people when I think they are being sexist or heterosexist, and by fighting for women’s liberation and lesbian and gay liberation to be included not just as words but as real goals. The saddest times for me have been those times when  was in groups where we didn’t do this. I think it’s very important for people to be able to struggle for a variety of goals without setting up a hierarchy or exclusive list. I will continue to join groups whose main program is, for example, anti- racism or support for Palestine or Puerto Rico, because those things are just as necessary for my liberation as women’s and lesbian liberation are. And I won’t demand that my liberation be made a part of every agenda. But I won’t ever deny my identity, my right to be respected, and the urgency and legitimacy of lesbian, gay and women’s liberation, either.

Susan: I have become much more of a feminist over the last number of years – and by VarGraf39B (2)that I mean ideologically and politically I believe we have to examine the position of women, the structures of the society and how male dominance defines women’s position in all things. I don’t think in the past I fought against the subjugation of women and gay people enough. I substituted my own independence as a woman with actively struggling against political and social forms of oppression. For example: in Nicaragua now, the women militants of the FSLN are re-evaluating their practice of struggling against sexism, and some of them are self-critical that they subordinated the struggle of women to the needs of the so-called greater societal good. What it means now is that abortion and the struggle for reproductive rights under the new non-revolutionary society are being set back generations, and the level of consciousness among women is not (at this point) strong enough to effectively challenge this development. I believe that to subordinate either women or gay people and our demands is a big mistake.

QUISP: What is the connection between the primarily white middle class gay rights movement and the struggles of other oppressed people? How do we envision a gay movement that encompasses other struggles?

Laura: I believe that any struggle of “primarily white middle class” people has the danger of being irrelevant to real social change unless it allies itself with the struggles of oppressed people. This country has a great track record for buying off sectors that have VarGraf20 (2)privilege. Once that happens, not only do things stay the same, they get worse. But even more than that, I feel that we cannot be full human beings unless we fight for all the oppressed. Otherwise, our struggle is just as individualist and racist as the dominant society. In that case, we’ll never win anything  worth fighting for.

I think the queer movement needs to talk to other movements and communities, in order to work out common strategies and figure out how to support one another. I think we need to talk to groups in the national liberation struggles in order to figure out how to set our agenda and strategy – like what demands can we raise in the fights about AIDS that can help other communities fighting AIDS? It’s a struggle, not necessarily an easy process, but it’s crucial. It’s also true that our movement has already adopted lessons from other movements – often without even realizing or recognizing it. We’ve especially incorporated strategic concepts developed (at a high cost!) by the Black Liberation struggle from the Civil Rights movement to the Black Power and human rights struggle. It’s no accident that Stonewall’s leadership was Third World gay men and lesbians. So I think it’s important to recognize that whenever we pose the question of alliances and coalitions, we don’t need to “encompass” other people, we need to ally with them, learn from, and struggle side by side with them. We need to support them. And we need to fight for them as well as for ourselves, because the second we accept divisions or ignore the urgency of fighting racism, we lose.

Linda: I don’t think that struggles against sexism or homophobia or racism can be delayed, because these are forms of discrimination/oppression that actively disempower individuals and groups of people who can be mobilized to actively participate in the VarGraf36 (2)struggle. Racism, sexism, and heterosexism cannot be tolerated in our movement or in our alliances because we don’t want to duplicate the oppression that we’re fighting against. Of course the process of building these alliances is difficult and long-term because building trust and respect requires building relationships that are really different from those that exist in society in general. So I don’t think the primarily white middle- class gay rights movement can, or should, “encompass” other struggles. White middle class gay men and women cannot set the agenda for other movements or for other communities. Rather, I think that this movement should actively support struggles against other forms of oppression as a way of making our own movement stronger, more revolutionary, less self-centered, and more supportive of the goal of liberation and self-determination for all oppressed people.

Susan: This is a big question and has many aspects to it. I can only offer a small answer, as I believe that prisoners who have no social practice in a movement because of being locked up have a warped or limited understanding of the real dynamics in the free world movements. The gay movement as it is currently constituted has re-emerged since I have been in prison so I have not been a part of its development. I don’t think the gay movement can be relevant to other oppressed peoples and their struggles without an anti-imperialist analysis of the roots of gay oppression and then correspondingly a practice that implements that. In other words a movement that is led by white middle class men – even those oppressed because of their sexual identification/orientation – without ceding power (within the movement) to Third World women and men, and dealing with their agendas will ever be anything but reform-oriented. To only struggle for gay rights without struggling for the rights (human and democratic) of all those in need, and specifically those who are nationally oppressed sets up competing struggle rather than a cohesive radical opposition to the government.

QUISP: What was going on in your life that led you to participate in or support armed struggle?

Laura: I began supporting armed struggle in the late 60’s, when I realized the government would keep on killing Third World people if left to its own devices. TheVarGraf35001 murder of Fred Hampton (chairman of the Illinois BPP) by the Chicago pigs and FBI was a turning point, not only because it was an assassination, not only because the state tried to cover it up, but also because it made me understand that the U.S. would never agree to “give” oppressed nations their human rights. That’s why the government had to kill Fred, and Malcolm X, and so many other leaders. I’d hated the injustice of this society for years, but it was in the 60’s, when I supported the Vietnamese, Native American struggles, the Black struggle, Puerto Rico and saw those nations waging struggles for freedom that included armed struggle – that I started to see that there could be a struggle to win. Once I began supporting Third World nations’ right to use armed struggle to win self-determination, it made sense to me that I should be willing to use many forms of struggle to fight, too.

Mostly, I think that it’s my vision of what a wonderful thing it would be to live in a just, humane, creative world that motivates me to embrace armed struggle as one part of what it takes to fight for a new society.

Linda: When I first became a political activist, I was a pacifist. I had never experienced real violence in my own life, and naively hoped that the changes I envisioned could come VarGraf31 (2)about non-violently. Then, I got beat over the head and tear-gassed by cops guarding the Pentagon at my first major demonstration. I came “head-to-head” with the fact that this system maintains its power through violence on every level – from beating up protesters, to genocide against internally-colonized nations, to waging war against nationally-colonized nations, to waging war against the people of Vietnam.

I became an activist in a time that was defined by the victories and development of national liberation struggles around the world and inside the U.S. I was especially inspired by the Vietnamese and by Black people struggling for civil rights and then for Black Power/Black Liberation. Vietnamese women fighters and Black women in the struggle were role models for me – because they were dedicated to fighting until victory was won. Their courage and dedication, their willingness to risk everything for freedom, the fact that women were being empowered by the process of struggle – all were exemplary.

So by supporting these national liberation struggles I came to support the right of oppressed people to fight for liberation by any means necessary. Malcolm X, Che Guevara, and Ho Chi Minh were important influences in my life and political VarGraf30 (3)development. But I actually became determined to participate in armed struggle because of the rage I felt after the FBI/police raids on Black Panther Party offices and homes all over the U.S. and particularly the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by Chicago police.

The intensity of this police terrorism against the Black community in so many cities made me realize that whenever a political movement even begins to threaten the stability of the status quo, the state will act in whatever ways it must to destroy it. In order for a revolutionary movement and vision to prevail, therefore, it’s necessary for us to defend ourselves and our comrades, and to build our own capacities toward a day when we can seriously challenge the repressive power of the state, so that state power can be taken out of the hands of those who use it to oppress, taken over, instead, by the people themselves. I know this sounds idealistic, yet it is a struggle that has succeeded in many countries around the world.

I believed then – as I do now – that U.S. imperialism was the main enemy of the people of the world, and I wanted to fight on the side of the oppressed to build a better world for VarGraf32 (2)all. This was the era of Che Guevara’s call for “2, 3, many Vietnams”, and I recognized that the U.S. government depends on the “domestic tranquillity” of its population to allow for imperialist interventions around the world. This is one reason the Black Liberation struggle was such a threat, and why white people fighting in solidarity with national liberation struggles were threatening as well. That’s part of the reason that the repression of the internal liberation movements was so immediate and devastating, and why there were such efforts to divide off white struggles from these struggles.

Susan: The war against the Black Liberation movement by the FBI/U.S. government was most influential for me in seeing the necessity for armed self-defense. The challenge placed on us who were in a position of solidarity with revolutionary nationalist Black organizations was to uphold self-determination and to fight for it. The other element that most personally propelled me into armed clandestine resistance was witnessing the genocide of the chemical war being waged in the South Bronx against Black and Puerto Rican people. As a doctor of acupuncture and community health worker I watched us fail to stop the plague.

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QUISP: What do you do all day?

Laura: My time is divided among: fighting for decent conditions and against the prison’s denial of those things (a daily necessity!), working on my political and legal work, communicating with people via letters and phone calls, talking to other prisoners (and working with them to try to deal with legal issues, health issues, etc.), meeting with my co-defendants, trying to find out how my comrade Alan is (he’s engaged in a hard, life-and-death battle with cancer, shackled to a bed in the I.C.U. oncology unit at D.C. General Hospital [Editor’s Note: Since this interview took place, Alan has recovered and was released from prison in June 1992]). I spend a lot of time talking to women about AIDS – by one estimate, 40-50% of the women in here are HIV+, yet there is no program, no education, no counseling provided. Like my other comrades, I spend a lot of time doing informal counseling and education on this.WOMEJAIL

Linda: Work and work out.

Susan: Because I am a doctor of acupuncture and a conscious person I have become (in addition to a political prisoner) a peer advocate/AIDS counselor. It is not recognized by the jail but I spend 75% of my time counseling people – women who are HIV+. The other time is spent doing my other work, and talking with others. We spend a lot of the day locked down in our cells. Because of the overcrowding, and lack of programs the administration keeps us locked down an enormous amount of time.

QUISP: How do you deal with your white privilege in jail?

Laura: I struggle to be aware of it; I fight racism actively and organize for that fight; I try to make the resources that I have access to, available to others. Educating people about how to fight AIDS is another way, because that’s information that the gay and lesbian movement have that women in the D.C. Jail lack – and it means that women are continuing to contract the HIV every day. That is a crime.

Linda: I try to use the resources and education I’ve had access to as a result of my white privilege to benefit all the prisoners I live with, and to fight for our interests. This takes WOM-FITEmany forms, from struggling as a prisoner for the institution of AIDS education and counseling programs, to helping individual women with legal problems or abuses of their rights by the jail. When I was in jail in Louisiana, we were able to win a jailhouse lawyer’s legal suit forcing the jail to give women glasses and false teeth (all jail dental care amounts to is pulling teeth, and few jails replace them). One of the conflicts I confront is between dealing with immediate needs and crises as an individual counselor/agitator/jailhouse lawyer, and always pushing the institution to provide the services and programs that prisoners should be entitled to as a basic human right – education, medical care, exercise, mental health and AIDS counseling.

Susan: Well! I struggle against racism in every way I can. I have learned patience, and how to be quiet, and how to really listen to who is talking, and what they are saying.

QUISP: What observations or advice do you have for lesbian/gay and AIDS activists as we start to experience police surveillance, harassment and abuse?

Laura: Fight it. Don’t back away. Develop clandestine ways of operating so that the state won’t know everything that you’re doing. Support one another so that, when anyone is targetted for state attack, they can resist – that resistance will build us all. Don’t ever give information – even if you think it’s “safe” information – to the state. Don’t let the state divide the movement by calling some groups “legitimate” and others not. Unity is our strength. Support other movements and people who are also targets of state attack. When the state calls someone a “terrorist”, or “violent”, or “crazy”, or anything, think hard before ever believing it to be true. Resist. Resist. Resist. VarGraf41 (2)

Linda: Be cool. Develop a clandestine consciousness. Value your work enough that you don’t talk to the enemy about it (like over tapped phones). Don’t underestimate the power and viciousness of the state, and don’t expect white privilege to make you exempt from repression. Take the lessons of past repression against political movements seriously – not to demobilize you or make you afraid, but to safeguard and defend your work. Remember you’re building for the future, not just for today, and keep struggling to broaden your vision. Remember that reforms are only temporary concessions, that they’re neither permanent nor do they really solve fundamental problems.

Susan: Study other movements here and around the world and examine the state’s methods in order to develop tactics that allow you to keep functioning. Very important, if one self-consciously is building a movement that knows the state will destroy it if the movement begins to pose a real or perceived threat.

QUISP: What is your position on go-go girls in womens’ bars?

VarGraf1Laura: Take me to a bar and we’ll have a scintillating discussion of this issue, OK?

Linda: Take me to a bar and I’ll let you know!

Susan: I think that anything that objectifies women as sexual objects (versus sexual beings) is anti-woman. Even in an all- woman context. Being lesbian is subversive because women loving women is a crime against the state, and against the bourgeois
patriarchal morality of this society – but being subversive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about liberation. If nothing else I have learned that liberation and the need for it begins in oneself – objectification/sexual stereotypes/misogyny not only destroy us in the world, they corrode our own hearts. I am not interested in a society that promotes those things. Although I don’t believe that they will be ended until we decide to end them – they cannot be overturned through the law of this state.

Queers United In Support Of Political Prisoners (QUISP)
380 Bleecker St., #134
New York, NY
10014 USA

 

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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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.

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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.

RCC618 (2)

“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….

RCC66 (4)

“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)

RCC63 (2)

 

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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?

cointel

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?

assata1

(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.

assata2

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.

assata8

 

—————————————————————–
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
Toronto, Ontario
M5W 1P7 Canada

 

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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!!

O7TransAction

… 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.

DTTK1 (2)

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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