Paths for an Abolitionist Future
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Borders have served and continue to serve the aim of protecting private property and whiteness. Borders protect private property to the degree that they enforce the enclosure and expropriation of what ought to be common: land, water, resources, the means of production and subsistence, as well as the ability to collectively determine the future. Borders remain intrinsically connected, then, to the ongoing forms of dispossession and accumulation that characterize racial capitalism. Borders also serve to protect the historical project of whiteness in enforcing whiteness itself as the standard by means of which communities, norms, institutions, and subjectivities are constituted. Read more about how political communities are constructed, who borders protect, how borders transform, multiply, and create labor, and more below.
The imprisoned Black Radical Tradition, termed by queer political prisoner Stevie Wilson, is at the center of the Black Radical Tradition, or as Joy James suggests, it moves beyond it entirely; and as Dylan Rodríguez points out, “Black radicalism is the Black radicalism created and mobilized under conditions of imprisonment and incarceration.” The imprisoned Black Radical Tradition is a liberation and freedom focused tradition, determined to destroy the walls of the violent carceral system through new and intersectional definitions of prisoner, freedom, community, and blackness and protracted struggle. As Stevie Wilson has pointed out, academics working within the Black Radical Tradition have often perpetuated the marginalization of the lived experiences of incarcerated individuals. The revolutionary prison writings of Marcus Garvey, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, George Jackson, and many others, contribute to the Imprisoned Black Radical Tradition’s critical approach to the growth of the prison-industrial-complex and mass incarceration and revolutionary aspirations and struggles against them.
State violence and interpersonal violence are not separable from one another. Abolition Feminism, which began as a grassroots anti-violence movement, maps out the connection between these two forms of violence and the violent matrix of heteropatriarchy more generally. It addresses how the oppressive logic of the carceral capitalist state harms women, trans, queer, and gender-non-conforming communities, especially those that are BIPOC; it outlines how the prison regime ultimately furthers community and interpersonal harm by removing those who have harmed and locking them in cages, rather than allowing for collective accountability and the transformation of the material conditions from which harms emerge. Abolition feminism highlights how accountability—as opposed to punishment—offers us an opportunity to reduce shame, harm, and suffering.
Social Reproduction Theory interrogates the very boundary drawn between reproductive and productive labor in order to reveal the structural reliance of the supposedly free market on both unwaged and waged reproductive work. Traditionally, Marxist theory has been focused on the various forms in which labor-power is exploited through the extraction of surplus value, all in the interest of capital accumulation. Social Reproduction Theory shifts that focus to both the macro and micro levels at which labor power itself, which is to say the workforce, is reproduced. This reproduction includes the literal making and sustaining of human life, but also includes other ‘life-making processes’ (to use Tithi Bhattacharya’s term) of reproduction such as the emotional labor of sexual relationships, the labor that goes into cooking and feeding, and education and healthcare, to name just a few. Rooted in a historical materialist perspective, these scholars and activisits take up not only an analysis of what reproductive labor is and how it functions, but the historically specific ways in which this labor is mediated through processes of racialization, hierarchical gender differentiation, sexualization, and imperalism.
The struggle against the carceral capitalist state is a struggle against the political and legal apparatuses which serve the interests of the ruling class, who exploit workers and expropriate peoples and their resources around the globe, who sap resources by investing in war, arming and militarizing a police force which terrorizes and murders our Black and brown comrades, our trans and gender non-conforming comrades, who privatize healthcare andschools and make them into a privilege for the few, who live parasitically on the backs of workers of all colors. To struggle against the carceral capitalist state today is to struggle against all of these things––against counterrevolution––and to bring about a new horizon for freedom and human flourishing.
There are many disputed definitions of who and what a political prisoner is. The anthologist of writings by revolutionary political prisoners, Joy James, argues against the idea that all prisoners are political prisoners, in an attempted “refusal to politically romanticize criminals.” However, this, for James, comes from a desire not to include the crimes of stockbrokers and statesmen in the category of political prisoner. This makes sense. But when we think about incarceration more broadly and especially about whom the state deems criminal (those whom the state makes a grand effort to lock away in cages for the ultimate profiteering of mass incarceration), we come back to this need to define all of those incarcerated as political prisoners. Yet, revolutionary enemies of the state (whom James refers to as political prisoners) are and must be distinguished as such to grasp their objectives: they seek to build entirely new structures and norms altogether—they seek a total transformation for ultimate liberation. To articulate visions of insurrection and rebellion against the white-supremacist capitalist state, we must engage with the works of political prisoners.
The Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin, has exerted a profound influence on revolutionary socialist and communist movements in the twentieth century and beyond, especially in (but not limited to) the Third World. This path will thus focus on the theoretical, historical, and political significance of Lenin’s thought, particularly with respect to problems such as the function of the capitalist state, imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism, the relationship between theory and practice, reformism and opportunism vs. revolution, the role of the party in revolutionary struggle, the necessity of proletarian internationalism, and the critical role of dialectics. This path ultimately aims to provide a point of departure not only for understanding what later came to be known as ‘Marxism-Leninism’, but also for grasping the theoretical and practical richness of Lenin’s thinking on its own terms. Significantly, it shall also include texts those who have both drawn on and modified Lenin’s theoretical contributions in light of the specificities and contradictions of their own historical conjunctures, which is, after all, the living core of Lenin’s teachings.