FROM THE GULF WAR TO THE CLASS WAR
There's a difference between frustration with the law and direct assaults upon our legal system.
George Bush, 3 May 92.
The Los Angeles riot was the biggest in American history. There were of course negative aspects. But fighting between members of the working class dropped during the riot and has subsequently stayed low, despite the best efforts of the police. The rebellion saved lives. Initially, the media were so floored by the uprisings, they produced a wealth of evidence that they were examples of class struggle. Subsequently, they have been trying to make out it was all race.
In a racist society, class struggle often takes an apparently racial form. For example, if a particular ethnic group run the grocers' stores in poor areas, they are likely to be the first to be attacked. The fact that some rioters express their hatred of being ripped off in racial terms should be opposed, but does not invalidate the basic class nature of the struggle. As Willie Brown, a prominent Democratic Party politician in the State Assembly, and no friend of the class war, put it in the SF Examiner: "For the first time in American history, many of the demonstrations, and much of the violence and crime, especially the looting, was multiracial - blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians were all involved." The press all expressed horror that black people burnt down 'their own' neighborhoods. But the working class has no neighborhood. These 'communities' are always divided up into shopkeepers and proletarians: two classes with irreconcileable interests. The rioters expressed that antagonism against all the talk of neighborhoods and communities, and a black lefty councillor had his office burned down. The old ploy of 1965, 'Black Owned', didn't work. Capitalist enterprises of all races were attacked. Unlike the '65 Watts revolt, the riots spread over a wide area of LA. More than 5,500 buildings were burned. People shot at police stations. Seventeen government buildings were destroyed. The Los Angeles Times building was attacked and partially looted.
The riot stopped short of a full scale insurrection. Shortage of guns was certainly not the problem, and probably not absence of organization. The police were easily overwhelmed, and the military did not appear until the rioting had abated. Gang members with megaphones tried to turn the uprising into a war against the rich. "We should burn down their neighbourhoods, not ours. We're going to take it to Hollywood and Beverly Hills" man with megaphone, London Independent, 3 May. A few blocks from the mansions of the rich, burnt-out stores testify to how close the riot came to attacking the enemy class directly. But such an attack would have been repelled by police, crack army units, and the rich themselves. Perhaps the rioters realized that the time had not yet come. Class organization needs to develop a lot further before this happens.
"On Sunset Boulevard on Thursday evening, I watched children with mobile phones coordinate the movements of their gangs with the arrival of police and fire trucks, warning looters when police were on their way". London Guardian, 2 May. The organization which is normally associated with drugs was used by the proletariat to its own ends.
After drawing up a formal truce based on the Camp David agreement, the Crips and the Bloods signed a deal with the National Korean-American Grocers' Association to employ and train gang members, some in management positions. However, not much has come of this. After the Watts rebellion of 1965, there was still room for reform. A black bourgeoisie was created. Now, this is no longer possible. The state of California is bankrupt, and the federal government is not into giving money to the poor. On the contrary. The August/September welfare checks will be down on the previous ones. The last traditional blue collar auto plant in LA shut in August. Rubber, steel and auto have now all gone. A program known as "Weed n' Seed" is what is on offer. The Weed part is to get the cops to sell drugs, and arrest people who buy them, then offer them immunity in return for informing. This threat is difficult to resist because of the draconian drug laws, which include imprisonment for a first offence and seizure of all your assets. The Seed part is to introduce "Free Enterprize Zones", wherein there are no safety or pollution laws, no minimum wage, etc.. These enclaves of Third World exploitation are already being built. This is what the bourgeoisie has to offer behind the "rebuild LA" rhetoric.
"The rebellion was community. It was liberation" - woman from South Central.
We have done what we can to find out more about what happened and what has happened since. This is some of the information we got from our few contacts in the LA area. The rebellion started among black people, spread immediately to involve Latinos in South Central (which is about 42% Latino) and Pico Union, and then brought in unemployed white workers from Hollywood in the north to Long Beach in the south and Venice in the west. East LA was only spared because of a massive show of force by the Sherriff's Department. Everybody came out onto the streets. There was an unprecedented feeling of togetherness. Liquor stores were looted. Before the stores were torched, people got out hoses to defend their houses against the danger of fires spreading. Old people were evacuated. This was a family occasion. Carloads of people turned up at a clothing factory, and men, women and children loaded up and drove off. There was two days of continuous looting involving thousands of people, mostly black and Latino, with a few white people. The police were nowhere to be seen - "there were no arrests in my area". Essential items were redistributed, otherwise some people would have had nothing. As far as the beating of truck driver Reginald Denny goes, some of the people who beat him had just defended a 15-year old against being beaten by the police. This of course is not being mentioned in the media.
Since the rebellion, young men who have spent their whole lives unable to visit the next street because it is on another gang's territory can now do so. "As a woman, I feel much safer on the streets". Welfare mothers from 4 different areas have come together to fight the welfare cuts. This is a remarkable new development. When these women demonstrate outside welfare offices, the ruling class knows that behind them stand over 100,000 insurgents. The number of participants is definitely into 6 figures. We know this because there were around 11,000 arrests (5,000 blacks, 5,500 Latinos, 600 whites), and the vast majority of rioters and looters were able to get away scot-free. There has been a downturn in the drive-by gang shootings which plagued the area. Of those killed during the uprising, most were not even participants, they were simply bystanders murdered by the police. Police assassinations have started again. There were much worse incidents before the Rodney King beating, for example, in Compton, police killed two suspects on their knees in cold blood. The police are desperately trying to undermine the gang truce. They need the working class of South Central shooting each other.
There are two theories why the media repeatedly showed the Rodney King video. One is that the ruling class as a whole wanted to provoke a riot in order to justify repression. A more plausible explanation is that forces within the ruling class opposed to Daryl Gates wanted to generate support for a law which would enable the mayor to control the LAPD Chief. Either way, they got more than they bargained for.
Defendants campaigns are in a terrible state. There is no coordinated campaign based on defending all those arrested. The campaigns which do exist are concerned with particular defendants, or particular aspects of repression, e.g. racism. Liberal lawyers have refused to defend rioters, and concentrated on those arrested on peaceful demos. Anyone in the USA who claims to be a revolutionary should be involved in trying to defend imprisoned insurgents. Failure to do so immensely weakens the struggle, as we discovered during the miners' strike in Britain during 1984/85. Plea bargaining was used by the state a lot. Those arrested were told they could either plead guilty and be let free with a felony conviction, or wait in prison for a trial. Many took the former option, which means continuous police harrassment. Others pleaded guilty because this would result in six months in a county jail, rather than risk the possibility of being found guilty and being exposed to the horrors of a federal penitentiary.
The political significance of the LA uprising can perhaps best be gauged by comparing the riot in San Francisco, which was the second biggest in the country. If this riot had happened without any uprising in LA, it would have been by far the most important in California since the sixties. But the LA uprising put it completely in the shade. In SF, on April 30th, more than a hundred stores were looted and trashed in the downtown area of Market Street. Most of the yuppie shops in the financial district were trashed, and the rich scumbag lair of Nob Hill was invaded and cars smashed up. One of the main hotels had its windows smashed by a gang of youths chanting "The rich must die". These actions were echoed across the Bay in Oakland and Berkeley.
A comrade in the Bay area describes the events : "I sat up late that night listening to the news reports and call-in talk shows on the radio. Everyone was hysterical. Everyone but a few white simians condemned the not-guilty verdict. But as far as the rioting was concerned, most people I heard, of all colors, and mostly working-class, were concerned with how to stop the violence, with the idea that destruction and appropriation of property is morally wrong, and that we should pray for peace. As the uprising progressed, however, I heard more and more voices declare that their only regret was that "we are doing it to ourselves... we ought to be going into the rich areas!" Throughout the next few days and continuing the vile American tradition, issues of race and class were confused, juggled, mistaken, manipulated, and recuperated on a vast scale. But the media and political circus found it difficult to paint this rebellion in racial terms only. It was so clearly multiracial, so definitively a working-class insurrection in the inner cities that it really has eluded attempts at being characterized as purely racial conflict. Even certain politicians and media creeps were caught admitting that this was CLASS WAR.
At 6:45 I arrived at the State Building. There was a crowd of maybe 300. Speakers were ranting about racism and injustice. Suddenly, from all corners of the gathering, 30 or so very young mostly black and Hispanic youth came charging out of the crowd, down Fell Street toward the Financial District, shouting and roaring and smashing windows. I followed them immediately, as did everyone. It was happening. I now know what is meant by the phrase, 'vanguard of the proletariat'.
Odd bits of construction material on the sidewalks were instantly put to proper use, deposited through shattered glass into the Government offices lining the street. I picked up a 2x4 length of wood and chucked it, screaming "Burn baby burn!". All the young hooligans at the the forefront of the assault had zealously given themselves over to the task of destruction, joy mixed with nervous fear. I was one of the first whites to join them. I recall making eye contact and trying to demonstrate my positive agreement and collusion in their actions. These were young men in Raiders jackets and basketball hats, street youth brought up by "Fuck tha' Police" rap culture and the worsening urban conditions of the 80s. They looked hurriedly around as they saw us others not of their crowd or culture join them enthusiastically... and within minutes all social barriers seemed to melt away in the attack on our enemies. Unfortunately, I was soon to be well acquainted with a treacherous element of law-abiding idiots who proved to be enemies within.
The march continued. Several blocks later, the pig scum attempted a diversionary tactic by parking about twenty men along a wall that the march was passing. They were hailed with abuse, but it was here where I first experienced that complacency, that hesitation that our law-enforced life in this society conditions in us. We had this line of cops surrounded. Sure, they were screamed and hissed at, and occasionally whacked with a stick or stone, but how were they able to intimidate us, who completely outnumbered them, into not kicking the shit out of them?
Soon we were on Market Street, the main drag through the Financial/Shopping District. Blocking our path was a thin nervous line of blue. They stopped us for 10 minutes or so, as we teased and poked them with kicks and verbal abuse. Our comrades to the left were invading around them, and before long we were all cutting through and they were shunted to the side. They were left behind as the proletarian army advanced down Commodity-Spectacle Boulevard whooping and revelling in the attack. Two blocks later I came upon a jewelry store which had already taken a great deal of damage. A few of us, I and probably almost all blacks, mainly older, stood there pondering the possibilities. Occasional shouts of "The cops are coming!" made us hesitate, but it became obvious that we were safe. The marching crowd seemed to have doubled in size since we began - the street and sidewalks were full of people. I saw that the main window on the shop was unhinged and only hanging by its top. Picking up a corner, I began to carefully pull it out. I paused and scanned around at a distant cry of "Police!" But it was nothing... behind me a deep, black voice joyfully urged, "Pull it down, white boy, pull it down!" - and I tore the thing onto the pavement. Crash! All around me people rushed into the window, scooping up the goodies.
As I watched the looting a man came up near me and began taking photographs. I approached him, and politely suggested that we shouldn't take pictures because the police might use them to identify people. "But they're looting!!" he responded incredulously... I was hurt. Here I stood, confronted with the very real claws of the leftist counter-revolution. I had given him the benefit of the doubt, hoping against naive hope that we were were all class-conscious revolutionaries in action. I tried to get some support from the looters against this enemy-within, but no one was listening. My confrontation with this vigilante cop heated up quickly and it looked like he was about to throw a punch when some guys came up from the crowd to break up the fight: "Let's fight them, not ourselves!" they implored... "But he's taking pictures of looters in order to turn them into the police!" I insisted. Like an angelic chorus of choir-boys, these 'alternative' looking students, or whoever they were, all announced in harmony, "THAT'S OK, WE'RE AGAINST LOOTING HERE!" speaking for the mob as if they were its appointed moral guardians. You can imagine the demoralizing blow such an encounter could wield. I was alone in the crowd. The looters, my only hope for support, were apparently not concerned for such "political" matters, just wanting to get out with their jewelry scoopings as fast as they could. I was helpless. Enraged, I flipped the petty-cops a FUCK YOU salute and struck off for more successful endeavors.
The march had left Market Street, and headed north toward Nob Hill and some other shopping areas. Half a block up an undercover police car was mired inside the crowd, nonchalantly communicating on his radio. I jumped into action. 'Hey! It's a pig! Let's get him!' I entreatied to the protesters, on whose skin every color in San Francisco seemed represented. Nobody listened. Everyone appeared to ignore me. I looked from face to face, searching frantically for signs of solidarity. Nothing. The cop was making his way to the rear of the crowd. I gave up on seeking support, started kicking at the back of the car out of desperation. It is not everyday that such opportunities avail themselves. But again, nonviolent moral sentiment in the crowd reared its stupid head. "We don't want any of that around here," yelled a big black woman, surrounded by supporters. "Well, I do!" I retorted. "No, you get out of here -this is our day." Her stern glare spoke of deeply held beliefs. So did mine. "That's a racist comment!" And she completed the discussion's degeneration: "No, you're a racist!" No one else in her group, 3 or 4 black men, said a word. As in LA, black churches throughout the SF Bay Area attempted to gather people together into a strictly pacified, grovelling, doggie position. As in LA and elsewhere, they had little success...
The next day there were the mass arrests of about 650 people who were coming to the announced demonstration at 24th and Mission streets... I was among them. We were held for 36 hours and it would've been longer if it weren't for the political rivalry between the liberal city council (who called off the state of emergency - the first since the 1906 earthquake) and the law-and-order mayor, Frank Jordan. The police chief, Richard Hongisto, had also been a mayoral candidate, on the ultra-liberal ticket. One of his first (and last, it was to emerge) acts was the May 1st counter-revolution. It was quite amusing to hear the complaints of the liberal-activist crowd in jail: 'I voted for Hongisto!' There was much talk among the prisoners of the prospects for revolution. Most were totally supportive of rioting and looting."
In San Jose, students looted and attacked police cruisers with rocks and bottles. Police were shot at by youths rioting in Tampa, Florida, and in Las Vegas rioters burned a state parole and probation office and shot at police, who just managed to save the casino area from the anger of the mob. Armed confrontations between police and local people continued for the next 18 days. In Seattle, a burning vehicle was pushed into police ranks, the interstate highway was closed for 2 hours, and there was loads of looting, smashing and burning. Similar events occured in Atlanta, where tear gas failed to stop the rioters. There were smaller riots in numerous locations across the nation. At a march in New Brunswick of 1,000 people on 1 May a truck driver plowed through a crowd, but quickly retreated as a large angry crowd quickly materialized. It is possible that the attack on the truck driver in LA was sparked off by a similar provocation.
Until the uprising, under the law in California the state had to arraign suspects within 72 hours of arrest or let them go. The California State Assembly voted unanimously to "temporarily" extend the arraignment period. The bill was flown on a National Guard airplane to be signed by State Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Lucas. This is the epitome of democracy in action. In a democracy, the ruling class and their hired orchestras of lackeys brag that the difference between a democracy and a more open form of despotism is that under democracy there are rules that limit the degree to which our rulers can screw us. But when the rules don't work, they show how meaningless they are by changing them.
KAPD NOT LAPD
The first major uprising of the 1960's was the Watts riot in LA in 1965. Hundreds of buildings were burned down by angry black proletarians. It was not simply a question of race, as the Situationist International wrote in December 1965 :
"This was not a racial conflict: the rioters left alone the whites that were in their path, attacking only the white policemen; conversely, black solidarity did not extend to black store-owners or even to black car-drivers. Even Martin Luther King had to admit in Paris last October that the riots did not fall within the limits of his speciality: 'They were not race riots,' he said, 'they were class riots.'"
Another major uprising occurred in Detroit in 1967, and in 1968, as the Vietnam-centred crisis of US capitalism reached its climax, the assassination of Martin Luther King became the pretext for a massive wave of riots across the country (he was no longer around to stop them). Tanks had to be used to quell the uprisings. Twenty years later, the proletariat in the USA had been crushed by the Reagan years of immiseration, bans on strikes, racism and atomization. The Vietnam syndrome had apparently been overcome.
That has now changed for the time being. The phrase "class war" was widely used by the insurgents. This was a momentous reassertion of class against the US bourgeoisie's attempt to bury class awareness under the myth that the market and democracy are the end of history. However, it will take more than a few riots to overcome the massive defeat the working class in the US has suffered since the sixties.
BRITISH JUSTICE ON THE RUN
"This is one of the dirtiest, evilist, corrupted, perverted systems in the world." Paddy Hill of the Birmingham 6.
The release of the Guildford 4 in 1990 began a series of spectacular successful appeals against false convictions obtained by police threats, torture, and fabricated evidence. The Maguire 7 and the Birmingham 6 acquittals followed. Then the Tottenham 3 were released, followed by Stefan Kiszko, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years for the sexual assault and murder of a school girl, after police had forced him to sign a confession. Needless to say, he was brutally mistreated by other prisoners. The growing embarrassment of the legal establishment came too late for Derek Bentley, hanged in 1953 for allegedly telling his comrade Chris Craig to shoot a cop, after police had faked a confession. Craig was too young to hang, so they hanged Bentley, aged 19, instead. Now he is likely to get the rare and coveted prize of a posthumous pardon from the Queen. The West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad was disbanded after an avalanche of appeals against its convictions.
Millions of working class people know that the police are persistent liars, but never before has it been so openly acknowledged. The state's need for reform was well summed up by Judge Verney in April. Sentencing a South London policeman to 30 months in jail for stamping on a man's head and shouting "You black bastard, this will teach you to mess about with the police", Verney perceptively noted that "nothing could be more calculated to ensure disrespect". The exposures of police frame-ups have undermined faith in the system. Juries have in the last two years swung from convicting people on the grounds that they are Irish to letting free open IRA supporters like Dessie Ellis. The state would prefer it if the people who actually committed crimes like the Birmingham pub bombings were in jail. The reason for this is that exposure of the infamies of the the criminal justice system could lead to a major attack on it during the next upsurge of class struggle in Britain. But creating a fairer criminal justice system is not easy. The Appeal Court initially tried to avoid acquitting the Irish victims altogether, then freed some of them on technical grounds, avoiding any criticism of the police or other judges. Finally, quashing Judith Ward's conviction after 18 years of imprisonment for planting bombs, the Appeal judges admitted that scientists, police, prosecution lawyers including the new Lord Chief Justice Peter Taylor, and a police doctor, were all involved in inventing and suppressing evidence during her trial.
The Royal Commission, set up to repair the system after the Birmingham 6 acquittals, will have to try to change the esprit de corps of the police. Royal Commissions are not whitewashes, they are attempts to reform some aspect of the state which is in serious trouble. But attempts to professionalize the police will only meet with resistance, even during periods of relative class peace. During upturns, when they are under attack, the police tend to move to the right, self righteously defending their difficult job against the reforms of the establishment and the bricks of the proletariat, and refusing to change their operating methods. When, after the LA riots, the government decided it was not going to issue the British police with American-style long batons after all, the police were outraged.
Improvements in conditions for prisoners do not necessarily dampen the struggle, as was shown by the riots at Moorland prison in Yorkshire in August 1991 and January 1992. New facilities, including computers and the well-equipped recreation room, were wrecked by the ungrateful miscreants.
In a word, the British state is in trouble. Our attitude is not to demand Justice, as liberal campaigns do. Justice would mean that the people who really did kill PC Blakelock defending Broadwater Farm against the police in 1985 would be in prison, not just that those who were fitted up for it were let free.
JUDGE NOT THAT YE BE NOT JUDGED
Whatever the trials and tribulations of Justice in Britain and the USA, it is still extending its power over the rest of the world. The New World Order has instituted a rapid expansion of the rule of law in time and space. The concept of retrospective legislation putting someone on trial for something which was not illegal when the deed was done was established through a campaign against so called Nazi war criminals. Following unification, ex East German border guards were tried for shooting people trying to escape acts which were perfectly legal under East German law. The USA extended the rule of law by kidnapping General Noriega from Panama and extraditing Columbian alleged drug dealers, charged with breaking US law without setting foot in its territory. The Supreme Court decided that the US Constitution extended to all the world's inhabitants. This is no abstract legal fiction. As we write, the United Nations is trying to bring two Libyans before either British or American courts. They can choose to be tried in Birmingham, UK, or Simi Valley, USA. The imposition of Justice includes punishing countries' working class populations for their rulers breaking international law, as happened in Iraq during the Gulf War.
In LA, the state obviously made a tactical mistake in setting up the acquittal of the LAPD by moving the trial to a fascist suburb. To demand Justice is to demand that it doesn't make such mistakes, to demand that it is more effective. Justice is not just a justification for the rule of property invented by the ruling class, it is a deeply internalized conception held especially dear by the people who have least interest in it, the oppressed. The immediate cause of the April uprisings was the failure of a bourgeois court to find four policemen guilty of beating up Rodney King. Another was the non-custodial sentence given to a shopkeeper who had shot dead an alleged shoplifter, Latasha Harlins. The gay 'White Night' riot in San Francisco in 1978 was based on a demand for someone to get a longer prison sentence for shooting the mayor. However we must argue that there will no more be Justice in communist society than there will be a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
Revolutionaries utilize blatant examples of injustice to attack the state, to spread distrust of the police and hatred of the prison system, to add to the possibility of widespread working class conflict with its oppressors when the class struggle picks up, by helping to undermine attitudes which accept the rule of law. But in doing this, we can't simply point to injustice, we have to undermine the idea of Justice as well. As a dramatic illustration of why we are against Justice, consider the following demand from Women Against Violence Against Women in London: LIFE IMPRISONMENT NOW! (for someone who allegedly killed his wife). They urge supporters to write to the Home Secretary, "demanding that the government enforces its own law, and inform him of how disgusted you are that his party having been elected three times on the LAW AND ORDER platform is today setting murderers free, unpunished".
On a more serious note, this quote from Pashukanis' Law and Marxism succintly summarizes why Justice is inseparable from the exchange economy:
"Deprivation of freedom, for a period stipulated in the court sentence, is the specific form in which modern, that is to say bourgeois-capitalist, criminal law embodies the principle of recompense. This form is unconsciously yet deeply linked with the conception of man in the abstract, and abstract human labour measurable in time... For it to be possible for the idea to emerge that one could make recompense for an offense with a piece of abstract freedom determined in advance, it was necessary for all concrete forms of social wealth to be reduced to the most abstract and simple form, to human labour measured in time... Industrial capitalism, the declaration of human rights, the political economy of Ricardo, the system of imprisonment for a stipulated term are phenomena peculiar to one and the same historical epoch", cited in Molossi D and Pavarini M, The Prison and the Factory, MacMillan, 1981.
We could add that exchange is another, even deeper precondition, without which the idea of Justice could not exist. The idea of deprivation of freedom for a given time-slot as recompense, or payment, for a particular crime is evident in the frequent reports of victims arguing for longer sentences for criminals, and their outrage at their assailants getting "less than they deserve". To be able to make this calculation, you must have in mind that a particular crime deserves a particular quantity of punishment. Calling for a particular sentence rather than any other, more or less extreme, implies labour time and exchange, which did not arise spontaneously. Justice is not a product of human interaction, it is the expression of class domination, in other words, the State. Undermining Justice is primarily a matter of undermining state authority.
SUPPORTING PRISONERS - WHO, HOW AND WHY
Communists are very few and far between, and inevitably have priorities. We argue that, especially when the criminal justice system is in open crisis, support for its intended victims is a key issue. This is for strategic, not humanitarian reasons. Demonstrations against prison, contact with prisoners, publicity around wrongful convictions etc., can achieve far more than other kinds of militant activity.
The 'Who' is more difficult than the 'Why'. Given practical limitations, we should argue for specific support for particular prisoners, as well as general support for the struggle of all prisoners against prison. The 'How' includes offering to put up relatives when they need to stay overnight for prison visits. Moral support includes writing letters to prisoners. This is not a token gesture - it is crucial to help overcome isolation. Poll tax prisoners were greatly encouraged by the hundreds of letters they received. The demonstrations outside prisons in support of the prisoners had the same effect. The screws took measures to try to prevent prisoners hearing the demonstrators shouting and singing. Isolation is crucial to make prison work.
Support for prisoners is such a central part of the class struggle that there is a tendency not to criticize prisoners at all. The non-angelic character of some prisoners has tended to be swept under the carpet. During the trial of the scapegoats for the Strangeways prison uprising of 1990, supporters rightly kept quiet about some of the crimes they may have committed. It is an uphill struggle explaining why we should support people who have committed anti-working class crimes who subsequently rebel against their imprisonment. But it can't be avoided. At one of the pickets outside Wandsworth prison, when the poll tax prisoners' campaign put forward the programmatic demand "Burn it down, burn it down, burn it to the fucking ground", a passer-by pointed out "there are child murderers in there". In the USA, this argument has even more weight. An easy answer to these public fears is to say that all the anti social elements would be wiped out if we ever got the chance. This is wrong for two reasons.
Firstly, it implicitly supports brutality against alleged sex offenders by other prisoners. The prisoner who got killed during the Strangeways uprising was an alleged sex offender. This is outrageous, considering that there must be hundreds of people in prison framed up by the police. Prisoners should know this better than anyone, yet they often turn their frustration against an underclass created by the prison system. We should make no excuses for this state organized diversion. Attacks on Rule 43 prisoners, who are segregated for protection, are against the class struggle (with obvious exceptions, e.g. imprisoned policemen). Secondly, even if we agree that the worst perpetrators of anti-working class violence would have to be eliminated in a post-civilized society, what about those who are reformable, but not yet to be trusted? Anarchists oppose incarceration of any kind on principle. Their only alternatives are let them go free, or shoot them. This is ridiculously simplistic.
Albert Dryden is a clear example of a class war prisoner. A worker made redundant from the steelworks at Consett, NE England, when it was closed down by Thatcher, he kept himself busy by building a bungalow. The local council wanted to demolish it because of some legal technicality that Albert had overlooked. Adding insult to injury, they brought along camera crews to televize the confrontation. Albert felt that they were going to make him look a fool in front of millions. So he did the only thing he could under the circumstances: defended himself and his house against the forces of the state and media with a gun. He managed to kill the council planning officer in charge of the demolition attempt and wounded a policeman and a BBC reporter in the process of trying to blow away the council solicitor. Now he is doing a life sentence in Durham jail. Write to him expressing your support. A demonstration for him in Newcastle was banned, but he has many friends and supporters in Co. Durham.
Nick Mullen was illegally extradited from Zimbabwe. Framed up for supposedly allowing the IRA to use his flat, he is a straightforward political prisoner, hated by the police for his radical politics. Winston Silcott was one of the three acquitted for the Broadwater Farm cop-chop. He wasn't released because he was already doing life imprisonment for another "murder". There are many dodgy aspects to this case as well. Basically Winston was defending himself against assailants armed with knives. Kenny Carter was framed for murdering another prisoner, who in fact committed suicide, i.e. was murdered by the prison system. Martin Foran, framed up by the West Midlands pigs, has been recaptured and is being denied urgent medical treatment. Prisoners are frequently moved, so for the latest information on the whereabouts of these prisoners and numerous others, write to London ABC, c/o 121 Bookshop, Railton Rd, London SE24.
Another good example of prisoners who have to be supported is those charged with the notorious attack on Reginald Denny during the LA riot. The defence say that he had taunted the black men involved, by shouting out that the Rodney King police were not guilty. Obviously, we don't know whether this is true or not. But we have to support Damian Williams and the other three defendants, because a successful prosecution, regardless of their actual guilt or otherwise, would effectively tar all the insurgents with the brush of racist brutality: a rather hypocritical stance for the American Justice system. The riot would be remembered, not as a massive reassertion of class and community, but as a series of racist attacks. All the other insurgents should be supported, regardless of what they are charged with. None of them could get a fair trial, and even if they could, we would still take a clear line of unconditional support for all hostages taken by the state during the May Days.
A list of other American class war prisoners can be obtained from the Peoples Law Office at 343 S. Dearborn, Suite 1607, Chicago, IL 60604, or the Fall 1991 issue of Social Justice, obtainable from PO Box 40601, San Francisco, CA 94140. Information about imprisoned war resisters from the Gulf War can be found in The Anti-Warrior, 48 Shattuck Sq, Box 129, Berkeley, CA 94704.
We do not believe in supporting only those prisoners who pass a test of political correctness. We believe in supporting virtually all prisoners in their struggle against the system. But it is practical to concentrate on those who are particularly politically pugilistic. Irish Republicanism is a product, and to a lesser extent, a cause, of Anglo-Irish working class division. It is not opposed primarily by denunciation, nor even by analysis, but by undermining the divisions in the class which reinforce it. This does not mean abstractly arguing for unity between prisoners, and then doing nothing to support particular examples. Supporting our class comrades in Northern Ireland means supporting demands for their imprisoned sons and daughters to be released, or at least to be moved to prisons nearer their families, supporting campaigns against sexual harrassment in Mughaberry women's prison, etc.. It is impractical and dangerous to attempt to divide Irish people in prison for political offences. Where exactly would you draw the line? Even the most celebrated innocent prisoners, the Birmingham 6, were sympathetic to republicanism. Others became more interested in Irish nationalism whilst inside. Given the racist divisions in prison, this is hardly surprising. Our aim is to overcome these divisions. In Britain at present, this includes supporting all Irish political prisoners as prisoners, regardless of their guilt or innocence. In other Western countries, analogous arguments apply, though not in a mechanical way. With all allowances made for local conditions, involvement in prisoner support work is a priority for revolutionaries today.