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Surplus Absorption, Realization Crisis, and Imperialism

February 5, 2017

By DAVID GILBERT

David Gilbert, a political prisoner held in New York State since 1981, wrote the following text in 2015, examining the the ways in which capitalism is confronted by, and contends with, crises in surplus absorption and realization, in the imperialist age.

David was not entirely satisfied with this text in the end, however here at Kersplebedeb i thought it actually was pretty thought-provoking and useful, so he agreed that i could put it online, which is what i am doing. For more information about David, including his contact information, please click here


 

Synopsis

Left authors often describe various political developments as resulting from the economic imperative for “surplus absorption”—without much further explanation. This paper seeks to ground that phenomenon more explicitly in mature capitalism’s chronic and mounting “realization crisis”—the difficulty in selling what’s produced, at least at the expected price. There are two main reasons for developing this analysis: 1. This approach emphasizes that whatever wasteful methods capitalism generates, the system still totally depends on the exploitation of labor, especially on the high rates achieved through imperial expansion and through women’s un- and under-waged work. 2. Highlighting such realization costs provides one indication of modern capitalism’s colossal wastefulness, politically critical in an era when environmental destruction has become an urgent front-line struggle.

Introduction

When writers on the Left refer to economic drives and contingencies behind various political changes, they often cite the compelling need for “surplus absorption.” That formulation draws on Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s seminal 1966 book, Monopoly Capital, and also on many subsequent essays in Monthly Review (MR) magazine. Monopoly capitalism generates vast profits which are difficult to profitably re-invest due to a chronically stagnant economy. That problem within what was called “the industrialized countries” led to a mushrooming of certain sectors that previously were not seen as productive: the frenetic sales effort, the military industrial complex and many other state expenditures, the burgeoning of the financial sector. Their analysis, among other contributions, underscored the wastefulness of modern capitalism, along with providing an early alert about the dangers of the dizzying upward spiral of financial speculation.

Yet there’s a problem in how this analysis has been used by some writers in citing “surplus absorption” without more careful and detailed analysis. By itself the phrase can conjure up an image of simply disposing of the surplus in any old way—even in economic boondoggles or perhaps dumping it in a hole in the ground. In contrast, we need to be clear that for capitalism the compelling drive always is to make a profit, which entails exploiting labor along with, in a stagnant economy, finding ways to sell goods and services in order to realize the potential profit embodied in the results of earlier labor. This overriding need to always create and reap more profits makes the continued imperial expansion, with its very high rates of exploitation of labor and the extraction of resources, crucially important. (In addition to direct, poorly paid workers, imperialism extracts value from the global South’s small farmers and agricultural workers whose products sell on the world market for way below the value of the labor that went into them.) Similarly women’s unwaged labor in the domestic sphere to cheaply raise the next generation of workers (and thereby lowering the subsistence wage), along with their under-waged labor in social production, is also crucial. A major development in the current “globalized” stage of imperialism is the creation of hundreds of millions of workers in the informal sectors. E.g., a family may scour a garbage dump, despite the high toxicity, to find items that can be re-sold. Analogous to domestic labor, those cheap recycled goods can lower the survival costs for wage workers.

What’s crucial here is that stagnation does not eliminate but rather heightens capitalism’s compulsion to exploit labor. At the same time the increasing portion of society’s efforts that goes into realization, to finding ways to sell previously created products rather than create new value, is one measure of how scandalously profligate modern capitalism is, a major factor hurtling humanity toward the cliff of multiple ecological catastrophes, most dangerously global warming.

This paper is an attempt to re-root surplus absorption in realization crisis and thereby highlight the relationship to imperialism, the oppression of women, and the exigent environmental crises. First, though, I want to offer a brief personal note and then a word on method.

Personal Note

In the late 1960’s my analytical work focused on imperialism, consumerism, and growing waste in the economy. Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital was a welcome advance. At the same time I wanted to develop an analysis that closely related growing waste with the imperatives of imperial expansion. But by the late 1960s, the high tide of struggle in the streets, and then my joining the underground resistance in 1970, meant that I never fully developed, let alone wrote up, my approach. I haven’t returned to that type of work since. Some 45 years later, without ongoing study of the literature, I obviously can’t offer any rigorous exposition of what’s commonly called “Marxian economics.” (I use quotes because for Marx economics can’t be neatly separated out from the broader relations of production and the class and social struggles they engender.) Nonetheless, recent examples I’ve seen of using “surplus absorption” in isolation have led me to feel it might be useful to engage some of the broad concepts involved. My following word on method argues for a framework that avoids narrow economism.

Method

To me, the best starting point for analyzing a society is Marx’s “the sum total of the relations of production” (from the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy). He focused on, but did not reduce it to, wage-labor and capital, which were playing an especially dynamic role in the Europe of his day.

But we need to be clear that capitalism also subsumed the preceding foundation of patriarchy, using that to impose the massive exploitation of women’s un-waged reproductive labor (caring work), as well as lower pay for women in jobs. Homo- and trans-phobia have been key means for building and enforcing patriarchy, along with terribly pervasive violence against women. Imperialism, with its super-exploitation of the labor and resources of entire nations and continents, including the internal foundation of white supremacy in building and structuring this country, is a completely central and defining relation of production. And while I’m not sure exactly how to put it, ecology, imperialism’s rapacious plunder of humanity’s common wealth in nature, is also critical to defining today’s social and economic reality.

The validity of the following analysis does not depend on accepting my exact formulation above, as long as there is broad agreement that patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism and ecology are all of crucial importance and, while overlapping in many ways, not completely reducible one to the other. This paper doesn’t attempt to develop a comprehensive analysis of the economy as shaped by that set of relations, but rather that’s the context for examining the particular issue of surplus absorption.

A Few Building Blocks

People familiar with Marxian economics have undoubtedly seen the famous formula for the rate of profit, s/c+v. The rate of profit is of crucial importance because the only reason that capitalists invest is to make a profit. If the rate goes down for a company or for an entire industry, that will deter new investment and new economic activity in those areas. If it goes down for the economy as a whole, investments could dry up, leading to an economic contraction and even a depression. Marx created this formula as a way to show a powerful and disruptive tendency in the capitalist economy. Subsequently this formulation has been terribly misused as a kind of talisman directly precipitating economic crisis.

“v” stands for variable capital, the wages the capitalist pays to workers. “c” is constant capital, the investment in producer goods such as plant, equipment and raw materials.

Constant capital has been purchased at a price that covers both the wages of the workers who made it and the profits realized when it was sold. The new profits generated, “s” for surplus, come from the difference between what the workers produce and what they receive. Thus, s is directly proportional to v, but capitalists strive to make that ratio of exploitation as steep as possible by minimizing wages. s/c+v gives the overall profit rate, but not for each particular firm since those with market advantage extract some surplus from weaker ones; landowners and financiers also appropriate a portion of surplus. But it does give what will be the average rate of profit for society as a whole.

A contradiction arises from how c becomes disproportionately larger as capitalism develops. Each unit is compelled to “accumulate, accumulate, accumulate” (to quote Marx) on pain of extinction, especially to invest in machinery that raises productivity. The first firm that does so can make bigger profits by underselling competitors, some of whom will go under while others manage to catch up. After a while the industry as a whole evens out at a new level of constant capital, productivity and price; but, these dynamics entail a major increase in c. Since s is proportional to v, a growing c with all other things being equal would make s/c+v go down, for a falling rate of profit.

Unfortunately many Marxists parlayed this into an iron law that led to inevitable depressions. Marx himself, as a historical materialist, understood that the contradictions of capitalism got fought out in the arena of class and related political struggles. The rate of profit and the state of the economy depend on a number of factors like the length of the working day, battles over wage levels, new areas for exploitation, wars, and more.

Nor did his economic analysis hinge solely on s/c+v. There are many possible counter-tendencies. A key one, as it turns out, is that increases in productivity can mean that a smaller portion of what workers produce can be adequate for their survival and continued ability to work; thus, the rate of exploitation can go way up. To take a striking example, the mechanization of cotton production in California meant the labor that went into producing a bale of cotton went down from 423 hours in 1940 to 26 hours in 1960. This means a lot smaller proportion of labor time—or the wages needed to cover that—is required for workers to buy the clothes they need. While c continues to grow, s/v isn’t static and might rise at an even greater pace, keeping s/c+v high.

Other tensions, however, can create contradictory pressures. In Vol. II of Capital, Marx devoted considerable attention to the two main departments of production: I. — goods and services that go into production; II. — goods and services for final consumption. They have to complement each other in proper proportion for supply and demand to balance and to afford the basis for continued economic growth. But there’s a problem, a contradiction between what capitalism needs in production and what it needs for consumption. In production the capitalist seeks to maximize profits by minimizing labor costs, or v. But on the consumption end the vast majority of goods are purchased by the working class. Sure, the bourgeoisie is known for lavish luxury, but when you’re worth, for example, $30 billion, even buying 1/2-dozen mansions doesn’t make much of a dent. The capitalists accumulate such vast wealth mainly for purposes of investment. The working class and poor constitute the vast majority and are the main source of consumption.

On the production end the capitalists are hell bent to minimize wages, but on the consumption end it’s hard to sell all that’s put out, especially as productivity rises, with wages so constricted. There are conceivable mathematical solutions, but they don’t work in practice. The capitalist could invest almost all their profits into making new producer goods, but such investments lead to more consumer goods, already hard to sell. They could keep consumption apace by passing on all productivity gains to the workers in the form of higher wages, but they won’t do that because of the impact on class struggle. Workers who are that highly paid would be in a position to take time off or readily quit a job they didn’t like, thus undermining the class discipline so essential to continued exploitation.

This growing tension means that capital is caught in a kind of scissors, closing down as productivity rises, where moving away from one blade pushes them closer to the other. If they lower v to raise their profits, they have trouble selling enough consumer goods; if they raise v to boost consumption, they threaten profit and class discipline. Even this “scissors” isn’t any kind of inexorable iron law, but it does help illustrate capitalism’s instability and can be a catalyst for a range of class and social struggles.

In early, competitive capitalism when new productivity led to lower prices, economic crises often started with declining profits.
With the development of monopolies (really “oligopolies” with a few giant firms dominating, which leaves some aspects of competition) that can keep prices high, problems of selling all that was produced at the expected price became endemic. Thus capitalism’s mania to increase productivity at a faster rate than wages leads to “overproduction”—not in terms of human needs but rather for what a constricted market will bear for the products offered.

Historic Stages

Capitalism, with its compulsion to accumulate, is a system that powerfully channels society’s resources toward the rapid expansion of the means of production. For society that means—or meant 200 years ago—new factories and more powerful machines and processes.

Without at all forgetting the brutal human costs and the now accumulating environmental dangers, we can recognize that the drive to accumulate played a certain role in increasing the means of production. (Even in the attempt at a noncapitalist route to rapid industrialization in the Soviet Union, Stalin ruthlessly pushed to maximize the portion of value that went into developing means of production.)

That channeling of resources plays a partially productive role when infrastructure is being newly constructed. It takes a lot of capital—even before any consumer goods come out—to build a factory from scratch or construct a network of railroads to transport those goods. Capitalism is still uncoordinated and unstable, but the maximizing of investment does not directly lead to overproduction.

However, once that basic infrastructure is established new investment more immediately leads to new output of consumer goods; at this point the drive to minimize wages, restricting what working families can buy, becomes a crimp on what can be sold, thereby limiting the outlets for new, productive investment. That leads to stagnation, a chronic slowing of growth. As MR has elucidated often and so well, monopoly capitalism has a long-term and growing tendency toward stagnation.

Some economic historians mark the period of 1870-1900 as when the basic infrastructure was built. That makes sense to me because this period was the takeoff point for some major, structural changes: 1. Oligopolies became dominant in the economy. 2. Government and its role in the economy expanded qualitatively, in part to maintain standing armies but also with other expenditures to help bolster demand. 3. While capitalism always depended on the plunder of the global South, the form changed, as outlined by Hobson and Lenin, to center on finance capital and direct control of the subject economies. That need engendered fierce inter-imperialist rivalries leading to world wars. (Imperialism has in many ways entered a new stage since the 1970s, which I won’t address here. The above changes that started with mature capitalism are part of what has led to a new stage and continue to create mounting problems of surplus absorption today.) 4. The sales effort moved from a minor complement to production to becoming a major sector of the economy, leading to today’s giant scope of advertising, style changes, planned obsolescence, the manipulative creation of pseudo-needs, and the proliferation of luxury items. 6. Finance began its transformation from a small adjunct of production to becoming the largest, most dominant sector.

Surplus Absorption / Realization Crisis

Mature capitalism means that the system’s compulsion to maximize investment generates chronic stagnation. Economic tendencies are not fixed inevitabilities, and there are possible counter forces. For example Baran and Sweezy point to the impact of an epochal new invention, like the automobile, which can stimulate massive investment in new infrastructure such as roads. But such a stimulus is very unusual; even computers today do not call for such massive new infrastructure, and stagnation tends to be chronic and growing.

Thus the greatly increased rate of exploitation, a rising s/v, promises greater profits, but they can’t be realized due to constricted consumption, creating a growing problem of surplus absorption. Here, “surplus” is not the same as the total of surplus value created by exploiting labor, but rather the portion of the latter that can’t be reinvested productively. Still, from the capitalists’ point of view the only thing that matters is how to make a profit. Even parasitic sectors can’t snatch profits out of thin air; the surplus value had to be created somewhere. The capitalist imperative to maximize profits requires either the creation of new value or at least a recouping of surplus value created by social labor but not realized if the goods can’t be sold at the expected price. To me, realization has become a core problem within the centers of imperialism, one that has driven the explosion of waste in the contemporary economy.

How do we define “waste”? Here we’re not delving into the (completely apt) critique of capitalism’s totally backward social and environmental character. Socialism will be qualitatively different in that production will be determined by (democratically decided) use values—what’s useful to human beings—rather than the current basis of exchange values, what can sell for a profit. Here though, for the more limited purpose of highlighting some internal contradictions and the historic decadence of capitalism, I’ll define productive as all that contributes to future production. That very much includes the goods and services needed to reproduce the work force, to provide for their lives and ability to work and to raise a new generations of workers. (Today such consumption is also intertwined with much that is wasteful or even harmful.) Luxury goods and services for the bourgeoisie or other nonworking classes are not productive, even when provided by a company making a profit.

Waste

Many authors would argue that the old distinction between productive and non-productive labor no longer applies in our post-industrial economy. After all, finance, advertising, and military industries are some of the most profitable sectors today. Also, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate out the categories. Workers need footwear—but that doesn’t account for most of what’s spent on getting the latest Nike Jordans. Computers may be helpful in developing a modern work force, but not at the rate of the 47 million discarded a year in the U.S. Similarly, “government expenditures” can’t all be lumped together. Funds going to health and education help reproduce the work force; expenditures for wars and repression don’t.

As interpenetrated as this all is in the advanced economies, to me the distinction between producingsurplus value and realizing it is still critically important. The massive economic activity that doesn’t add to production exposes how capitalism is a decadent system even relative to its own claim to fame of expanding the forces of production. All of that waste, at the same time that basic human needs are not being met, is another count in the long indictment of this system’s rapacious destruction of human life and the environment. In addition, for analytical purposes, calling out the waste necessitated by mounting realization costs clarifies that the direct exploitation of labor—including the high rates achieved through imperial penetration and through the oppression of women—is the fundamental basis for generating surplus value.

The areas that bloomed under mature capitalism are mainly about realization. The one trillion dollars a year spent on marketing in the U.S. is primarily about promoting sales of other goods and services. A multi-million dollar aircraft carrier doesn’t add to production, regardless of whether it sits in a harbor or launches lethal attacks. Today’s financial frenzy is in large part an effort to make money independent of, really appropriated from, production, and has created a mountain of debt that is four time GDP. (It’s worth noting that consumer debt is a way to expand working class consumption beyond what can be covered by wages … at least until the credit bubbles burst. The imposition of irrational debt on many of the poorest countries has been a primary weapon for imposing “structural adjustment programs,” painful austerity measures, the project most destructive to human life and the environment in the world today.) Since areas like advertising and the military don’t involve the output of either producer or consumer goods, I believe (as Baran and Sweezy also posited) that they constitute a third department, one defined by waste. Within the U.S. it’s probably now bigger than either of Marx’s original two.

Let’s look at advertising. It functions like c in that it enables the firm to fight for market advantage and doesn’t raise the wages of production workers. But unlike productive investment, it doesn’t increase the output of the goods involved or raise productivity. On the consumption end it works like v in putting more money in circulation, which then can be used to buy consumer goods. Much of that is in the form of wages to workers, but not to those producing the goods involved. Rather than enhancing labor’s bargaining position, this different layer of jobs creates more stratification within the work force. (In my view, these nonproductive workers are still part of the working class because their families live by the sale of their labor power, but their role and status contribute to the very harmful divisions that have made it so hard to forge a conscious, international proletariat.)

Stagnation and Profits

Expenditures such as advertising, taxes and interest payments bolster consumption and thereby facilitate realization—but at a cost. What’s the impact of the mammoth realization efforts on profits? Please bear with me as I use some unfamiliar nomenclature, which hopefully helps clarify but is not essential for the concepts involved. To apply Marx’s s/c+v given stagnation, we need to distinguish sr for realized surplus value, from sp for potential surplus value. With stagnation and the challenge to realizing s, the gap between sp and sr, between potential and actually realized profits, grows. Now let’s call what goes into realization, our third department, “k”; k is a cost of production, whether in the form of marketing costs, taxes or interest payments, but it doesn’t generate new value the way productive investment in new c and v would. In other words, instead of our having a new s/c+v, k is an added cost to what was already produced. In terms of profit, it would be added to the bottom, with sr on top, and change it to sr/c+v+k, lowering the rate. But that’s not the only impact. To the degree it is successful it adds to what is realized, which I’ll call “kr.” So the way to express the profit rate under stagnation is sr+kr/c+v+k. That formulation doesn’t provide a predetermined mathematical result that covers all inputs. But the way it has generally worked under real world conditions is to provide a higher profit rate than would sr alone, but a significantly lower one than if sp could be fully realized without the costs of k at the bottom. Thus, to finish up with these formulas, under most real world conditions, sr+kr/c+v+k will be larger than sr/c+v, but smaller, and increasingly so as stagnation and waste mount, than sp/c+v.

Letters and subscripts aside, the point is that the bigger k is the further the economy is from its productive potential. Also, the way k bolsters realized profits but causes them to become progressively lower than potential profit rates is another indication of the continued importance of productive labor.

Here are some of the political implications of this analysis:

  • The ongoing creation of new surplus value via productive labor is still essential. Imperialist penetration is a cutting edge for that as is women’s un-waged and under-waged labor.
  • Clearly defining the now colossal Department III, the sectors of the economy devoted to realization, as waste helps to spotlight how capitalism has become a decadent system—even relative to its own claim to fame of developing the productive forces. The centrality of such waste can be an impetus for arenas of political struggle such as anti-consumerism and ecology.
  • Capitalism’s inherent drive to expand is incompatible with having an environmentally sustainable society. At the same time the colossal level of waste shows us that we can radically cut back on the energy and resources we use, still have considerable productive capacity to take major steps toward the long-range project of repaying the debt to people of color and the poor throughout the world, and still have a good—in many ways better—quality of life.

Conclusion

Economic tendencies are helpful to indicate possible tensions—but the outcomes are products of class and related social struggles. The system we face is built on the super-exploitation of the labor and resources of entire nations and continents, on the imposition of un- and under-waged labor of women, on the labor and abuse of a wide range of workers, and now on the rapacious destruction of the environment, an existential threat to humankind. These essential and overlapping relations of production—patriarchy, class rule, imperialism/white supremacy, and ecocide—are enforced through the incredibly pervasive use of force and violence, along with incessant cultural and political offensives. The summary term that I prefer for the system is “imperialism,” to emphasize its global nature along with the intense oppression and leading examples of resistance of 3/4 of humankind. But no single word is adequate unless it clearly and fully includes all these fundamental relations of production.

All these structures and dynamics overlap and reinforce each other in major ways, but they can’t be reduced to one or the other. If we gloss over the differences, we won’t be fully equipped for the complexity of building principled alliances or for the depth of struggle needed against these forms of oppressiveness within us.

Recognizing the power and scope of these interlocking structures makes the challenges we face far more daunting. At the same time, that reality expands the range of people in fundamental contradiction to this system and gives us all so much more to win.

Thank You Sisters! Statement on the Women’s March

February 1, 2017

Thank You Sisters!

Listen on Prison Radio: “Thank You Sisters!” (5:51) by Jaan Laaman

We all should thank the women who put out the call and organized, coordinated, led, spoke at and participated in the January 21st “Women’s March.” Truly sisters, your insight and effort created a tremendous result, literally unlike any event(s) we have ever seen in this country.

The huge central march in Washington, and the 600-plus rallies in cities and towns across all 50 states, brought out 2 to 3 million people, and maybe more. These marches were ver positive and heartening and definitely very necessary. As a long held political prisoner, I was up early and spent most of the day in the cell block TV area, watching a lot of CNN and MSNBC. Even the Republican Party sycophants at Fox News admitted that huge numbers of protesters were marching across the country.

As many have chanted in past marches, el pueblo unido, jams sera vencido – the people united, can never be defeated, yesterday, we saw the reality of unity and power. Let’s be clear, these marches and rallies across the United States, were unlike any other public protests ever seen in the country. Of course there have been previous marches that were very large, coordinated and occurring in multiple cities simultaneously. As a lifelong revolutionary activist, since the 1960s, I have taken part in huge marches, peaceful rallies, civil disobedience and street fighting. Let me tell you, what we saw on January 21st, has never happened before in the U.S. Thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands marchers gathered in cities in all 50 states, united in positive determination for women’s rights, human fights, for justice, equality and much more.

Historically and around the world, much smaller numbers of protests and protesters have led to regime change and the launching of revolutions. Of course the purpose and plan of yesterday’s massive outpouring of young and old women, men and children, was the peaceful but determined expression of a wide range of people, telling this new government and the world, that justice, equality, freedom and basic human rights were realities that must be upheld. The many, and also very large, rallies in other countries, London, Berlin, Paris, Sydney, Rome, etc., showed that people in the U.S. were not alone in standing up for these very important rights and principles. These international marches also showed that Donald Trump and his new government were causing concern and worry around the world, and not just for us here in the United States.

International solidarity is great, but the real strength and significance of January 21st, was the massive outpouring of all kinds of people across the USA. This huge historic statement is the ground on which the Trump government begins operating. As powerful as the marches were, I’m sure few of us doubt that Trump and his government will soon still begin its assaults on various groups within the U.S. public.

While many dynamic and significant organizations and women were responsible for calling and coordinating the rallies, no one organization or leadership did it all. Many groups and organizers worked together and huge numbers of women heeded the call and came out. Now, the really important steps ahead are how to maintain this unity and build on the powerful momentum of January 21st.

As a man sitting in a federal prison cell, it is not my place or ability to tell all you good activists, organizers and people of conscience, what do to and how to keep the momentum going and growing. What I do know and have already heard expressed, is that marchers have been urged to go back home and connect with activist groups in their communities, as well as larger formations and national organizations. Many paths and efforts are and will be put forth. Reformist electoral organizing, beginning with local elections; work towards new parties – a labor party; grassroots community programs and organizations; building and joining with national left/labor organizations; joining with or creating caucuses at work or school. No one size or strategy will be enough. The important point I would urge, is for all the marchers, and those concerned people who did not actually get to a rally, to join with others in building for the principles and goals you marched for. We have to use the energy and power of this historic mobilization and upsurge of so many people, to be ready to stand up to and confront Trump as we know we soon must. Even more importantly, we really should build and create life and hope centred efforts and momentum to not only stand up to bigotry, war, misogyny, injustice and other hateful policies, but to go beyond Trump. It might take 4 years to be rid of Trump, but we can already be working on and creating a more just, equal, peaceful and life centred society from our neighbourhood up. The time for that is now and yes, we will, no doubt also need to get out into the streets in all our numbers and even more, to stop at least some of the attacks Trump has in store for us, the people of the United States.

Let’s remember –

Unity brings strength,

brings hope,

brings change!

Freedom is a constant struggle!

Jaan Laaman – anti-imperialist political prisoner

January 22, 2017

Write to:

Jaan Laaman #10372-016

U.S. Penitentiary Tucson

P.O. Box 24550

9300 South Wilmot Road

Tucson, AZ 85734

Prison Activist Gassed in Clements Unit Prison, Texas Law Enforcement Is Violently Out of Control

December 29, 2016

4strugglemag’s resident artist, Rashid Johnson, urgently needs your help.

Sign this petition to demand that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice complies with the following:

1. Immediately provide medical attention to Kevin “Rashid” Johnson before returning him to a decontaminated cell
2. Immediately return/replace his stolen legal materials and commissary items
3. Prosecute the guards who gassed Kevin “Rashid” Johnson for neglecting post-contamination procedure
4. Protect Clements Unit guard Britta Townsend from physical and administrative retaliation
5. Stop the gassing of prisoners at Clements Unit

Why is this important?

On Wednesday, December 21, 2016, a prisoner at the Texas Clements Unit, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, was gassed in his cell while handcuffed from behind. A letter written by Mr. Johnson to a supporter, dated December 22, 2016, reported that his gassing was “all retaliation for my involvement in exposing the foul abuses here.” Kevin “Rashid” Johnson is a well known scholar and prison activist who has dedicated his efforts to exposing the civil and environmental injustices behind bars.

His most recent letter also reads:
“I’m in a gas-covered cell now. The law requires that they decontaminate a prisoner and his cell anytime they spray gas on him/her. They refused in my case. My sheets and bedding are covered in bright orange gas, underwear too, as is the cell wall.” According to the supporter who received Rashid’s letter, she could smell the toxic gas as soon as she opened the envelope.

The vicious treatment of Mr. Johnson is part of a clear pattern. There is evidently a culture among prison staff that encourages such sadistic behavior. What they have done and continue to do — both to Mr. Johnson and to thousands of other victims — constitutes a clear violation of basic human rights.

A signed statement from prison guard Britta Townsend corroborates that Mr. Johnson was confined to a gassed cell that was not decontaminated and forced to sleep with sheets covered with the bright orange gas. According to Mr. Johnson, Ms. Townsend now fears that she will be targeted by her peers and higher ranking officers.

 

Help former political prisoner Barbara Curzi deal with cancer!

November 3, 2016
tags:

Dear Friends,

Carol Saucier, Ray Luc Levasseur and I write today to ask that you help our dear sister and former co-defendant, Barbara Curzi. Barbara is a former political prisoner, one of the Ohio 7, who, after their arrests in Ohio in 1984, went on trial for actions by the United Freedom Front against corporations who upheld apartheid in South Africa and contributed to the wars in Central America. (Please donate).

Unfortunately, Barbara was recently diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer. She is beginning an intensive six-month chemo regimen and then is expected to undergo surgery, possibly followed by radiation. Barbara lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts with her cats and dog and hopes she can keep her home while she fights this terrible disease. Barbara hasn’t been well for a while most especially since she lost her beloved son, Ricky (whose father is political prisoner, Jaan Laaman) five years ago. The more health problems she had, the more she has struggled financially to keep a roof over her head and is now dangerously close to losing that.

She was about to get a part-time job just before her diagnosis,to supplement her disability check but now instead finds herself way behind not only on her mortgage and utilities, but can’t get Internet and phones services back until she pays them off completely. Fortunately, the amount to keep her in her home and get her back to functioning, is not so insurmountable that we can’t raise enough to at least take those worries away from her. Once caught up, Barbara would still need some support to keep up with her monthly expenses, while waging this battle. Her struggle will be compounded by additional expenses related to trying to get better, including travel and integrative treatments, among other things. Suffice to say that she is in dire straits and those of us who love and respect her, want to reach out to others who can chip in whatever they can to help alleviate her burdens.

Barbara served 7 years of a 15 year sentence she received after conviction in Brooklyn, New York for Conspiracy. She returned to Massachusetts after her release from the federal prison system to rebuild her life with her children. As many former prisoners, and especially political prisoners, Barbara has struggled to find work and survive, but she is still deeply committed to the struggle for justice.

If you would like to contribute to the effort to minimize the stress for Barbara, and help her make it through this battle, please see the linked “Go Fund Me” page at: https://www.gofundme.com/barbaras-loving-circle-2w49vnqs

A “Lotsa Helping Hands” page has been set up to help organize care and comfort for Barbara, so if you think you can help with practical matters or would like to follow Barbara‘s progress, please see: mycancercircle.lotsahelpinghands.com/c/737929/

Donations received will go directly to Barbara to help alleviate her troubles. Please spread the word by sharing this email and contribute whatever you can. Thank you.

Love,
Pat (Rowbottom, formerly Levasseur)
Carol (Saucier, formerly Manning)
Ray Luc Levasseur

Support Bo Brown!

October 6, 2016

https://www.youcaring.com/bobrown-655777

Long time revolutionary , and former Political Prisoner, Bo Brown‘s health
is declining.

Bo was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, a disease that is not as well
known as but very similar to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s however it is very
likely that this will soon lead to Parkinson’s. Some of the unfortunate
features of Bo‘s medical condition are falling due to a lack of awareness,
fainting, and then there’s the seizures. Bo has had eight seizures since
January of this year. Also, Bo has made it very clear that she’d like to
live at home for as long as possible. The current shower at her house is a
bath tub, shower combination, and the tub has a high wall, so the need for
a new shower to suit Bo‘s needs is now an urgent issue.
With the unfortunate news of Bo Brown‘s diagnosis and all that comes with
it, there are plenty of individuals doing what we can to support Bo
through these tough times. There are medical expenses that the funds here
will be directed to as well as the very specific shower that is more
conducive then her current one to her condition.

It is so important that we support our comrades through the tough times.

Bo Brown has worked tirelessly against racism, sexism, homophobia,
transphobia, and has brought awareness and attention through all means to
the plight of the prisoner. She hasn’t forgotten about the Political
Prisoners either and we definitely should not forget about the current
Political Prisoners or the former. Prison is a tough road to travel , and
then there’s the weeks , months and even decades that pass in the post
prison period, but the prison experience doesn’t ever leave. From growing
up in Klamath Falls to the federal prison time in Alderson , WV to the
current struggles that she now faces in Oakland CA where she resides, Bo
has been fighting all her life.

Help us show Bo the kind of support that she deserves. Let’s raise this
$10,000 for her!

Thank you so much! We’re going to need all the help we can get!

Nationally Coordinated Prisoner Workstoppage for September 9, 2016

September 6, 2016

Prisoners from across the United States have just released this call to action for a nationally coordinated prisoner workstoppage against prison slavery to take place on September 9th, 2016.

This is a Call to Action Against Slavery in America

In one voice, rising from the cells of long term solitary confinement, echoed in the dormitories and cell blocks from Virginia to Oregon, we prisoners across the United States vow to finally end slavery in 2016.

On September 9th of 1971 prisoners took over and shut down Attica, New York State’s most notorious prison. On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.

In the 1970s the US prison system was crumbling. In Walpole, San Quentin, Soledad, Angola and many other prisons, people were standing up, fighting and taking ownership of their lives and bodies back from the plantation prisons. For the last six years we have remembered and renewed that struggle. In the interim, the prisoner population has ballooned and technologies of control and confinement have developed into the most sophisticated and repressive in world history. The prisons have become more dependent on slavery and torture to maintain their stability.

Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th amendment to the US constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons. It states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.

Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.

This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.

Non-violent protests, work stoppages, hunger strikes and other refusals to participate in prison routines and needs have increased in recent years. The 2010 Georgia prison strike, the massive rolling California hunger strikes, the Free Alabama Movement’s 2014 work stoppage, have gathered the most attention, but they are far from the only demonstrations of prisoner power. Large, sometimes effective hunger strikes have broken out at Ohio State Penitentiary, at Menard Correctional in Illinois, at Red Onion in Virginia as well as many other prisons. The burgeoning resistance movement is diverse and interconnected, including immigrant detention centers, women’s prisons and juvenile facilities. Last fall, women prisoners at Yuba County Jail in California joined a hunger strike initiated by women held in immigrant detention centers in California, Colorado and Texas.

Prisoners all across the country regularly engage in myriad demonstrations of power on the inside. They have most often done so with convict solidarity, building coalitions across race lines and gang lines to confront the common oppressor.

Forty-five years after Attica, the waves of change are returning to America’s prisons. This September we hope to coordinate and generalize these protests, to build them into a single tidal shift that the American prison system cannot ignore or withstand. We hope to end prison slavery by making it impossible, by refusing to be slaves any longer.

To achieve this goal, we need support from people on the outside. A prison is an easy-lockdown environment, a place of control and confinement where repression is built into every stone wall and chain link, every gesture and routine. When we stand up to these authorities, they come down on us, and the only protection we have is solidarity from the outside. Mass incarceration, whether in private or state-run facilities is a scheme where slave catchers patrol our neighborhoods and monitor our lives. It requires mass criminalization. Our tribulations on the inside are a tool used to control our families and communities on the outside. Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution—as protests surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and so many others have drawn long overdue attention to—but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work.

Our protest against prison slavery is a protest against the school to prison pipeline, a protest against police terror, a protest against post-release controls. When we abolish slavery, they’ll lose much of their incentive to lock up our children, they’ll stop building traps to pull back those who they’ve released. When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the US prison system, the entire structure of courts and police, of control and slave-catching must shift to accommodate us as humans, rather than slaves.

Prison impacts everyone, when we stand up and refuse on September 9th, 2016, we need to know our friends, families and allies on the outside will have our backs. This spring and summer will be seasons of organizing, of spreading the word, building the networks of solidarity and showing that we’re serious and what we’re capable of.

Step up, stand up, and join us.
Against prison slavery.
For liberation of all.

Find more information, updates and organizing materials and opportunities at the following websites:

SupportPrisonerResistance.net

FreeAlabamaMovement.com

IWOC.noblogs.org

Prisoners’ voices blocked and censorship in U.S. prisons

June 15, 2016

By Jaan Laaman

 The United States is often called the country of prisons because we are five percent of the world’s population, but the U.S. holds 25 percent of all the prisoners in the world. Recently we have heard talk from the White House and Congress about the need to reduce this huge prison population, which is costing the taxpayers billions.
            Occasionally you might hear a prisoner’s voice on some media platform, usually a Human Rights or community outlet. These present words are written by Jaan Laaman. I am a long held political prisoner presently locked up in the U.S. Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona. Let me be very clear, prisoners have a hard time getting our words and thoughts out from behind America’s many, many prison walls. While prisoners do have a legal right to express their thoughts and report on issues and abuses, actually getting your words out is often very hard or impossible.
            All incoming and outgoing prisoner communication, postal mail, phone calls and some restricted email services that some prison systems allow, are all opened and monitored. This is authorized by regulations and law. Further censorship and outright blocking of communications and publications, also routinely occurs in prisons throughout this country.
            Letters, magazines and books critical of government policies and wars are often not delivered, even if official policy states that prisoners are allowed these materials. Sometimes a prisoner has all his or her phone or email communications arbitrarily shut off for months. While an official appeal channel is usually available, these are biased at best and could easily be labelled a kangaroo court process. Communications would be shut down for months, even if the prisoner ultimately wins appeal and has his or her communications restored.
            Censoring, restricting and flat out blocking communications, especially of political prisoners, is a harsh and dangerous reality going on now, in prisons all across this country. My own voice, which has previously been heard on radio and in print over many years, has been almost totally cut off since February. No official explanation has been given, other than, that prison authorities do not like my commentaries and essays. Freedom of speech—Freedom of expression, for America’s prisoners is a constant struggle!
            These words are from Jaan Laaman and I hope I can, once again, speak more directly to you in the future.
Jaan Laaman (10372-016)
P.O. Box 24550
Tucson, AZ 85734 USA