“Destroy All Prisons Tomorrow”: IWOC Responds to Jacobin

reposted from IGD


A response to the debate on abolition in Jacobin Magazine.

The weekend of August 19 2017, amid the second nationwide inside/outside mass protest against prison slavery in as many years, Jacobin Magazine published an article against prison abolition entitled How to End Mass Incarceration by Roger Lancaster. Lancaster argued that returning to an ideal of puritan discipline and rehabilitation is more realistic than pursuing the abolition of prison entirely.

Jacobin caught a lot of deserved flack from abolitionists on social media for it. Numerous scholars, organizers and journalists decried Lancaster’s article, creating such an online storm that Jacobin decided to publish a response article entitled What Abolitionists Do penned by Dan BergerMariame Kaba and David Stein. Unfortunately, this response fails to fully critique Lancaster’s arguments and instead sells other abolitionists out. Their thesis paragraph reads:

Critics often dismiss prison abolition without a clear understanding of what it even is. Some on the Left, most recently Roger Lancaster in Jacobin, describe the goal of abolishing prisons as a fever-dream demand to destroy all prisons tomorrow. But Lancaster’s disregard for abolition appears based on a reading of a highly idiosyncratic and unrepresentative group of abolitionist thinkers and evinces little knowledge of decades of abolitionist organizing and its powerful impacts.

The Lancaster article levies the typical straw-man critique of abolition as an unrealistic “heaven-on-earth” vision. He presents Michel Foucault’s vision of a carceral society from Discipline and Punish as an alternative aspiration and argues that “we should strive not for pie-in-the-sky imaginings but for working models already achieved in Scandinavian and other social democracies.” He accuses abolitionists of being “innocent of history” and “far out on a limb”  when comparing prison to chattel slavery.

These arguments expose a poverty of Lancaster’s analysis, and they are easily refuted. The idea that the US could adopt a Scandinavian style prison system through simple public awareness campaigns is desperately naive to the history of racial capitalism on this continent. The idea that a Foucauldian carceral society could exist here without massive quantities of racially targeted violence and coercion is far more pie-in-the-sky than the abolitionist recognition that prison depends on and cannot function without abominable levels of dehumanization and torture. Lancaster is the one with a utopian vision divorced from history, his prisons without torture or slavery can only be imaged by someone who hasn’t honestly grappled with the history of the US as a settler colonial nation that has always been existentially dependent on putting chains on Black people.

Rather than confronting Lancaster directly on these points, Berger, Kaba and Stein dodge half the argument. They effectively inform an out-of-touch Lancaster about the practical works of abolitionists navigating reform as a means to our end, and the growing movement that those with abolitionist commitments and analysis have inspired. Unfortunately, they let the rest of his argument stand, transferring his straw man to a group of “highly idiosyncratic and unrepresentative… abolitionist thinkers” who Lancaster’s “reading seems to be based on”. This vague language begs a few questions: who are these thinkers that “demand to destroy all prisons tomorrow” and why can’t they be named? Why is their work excluded from Berger, Kaba and Stein’s understanding of “What Abolitionists Do”?

Neither of these articles managed to mention the August 19 Millions for Prisoners March, or last September’s nationally coordinated prison strike, an event that Jacobin stood out among left and even mainstream news sources in their failure to cover. Instead, Berger, Kaba and Stein focus almost all attention on a strategy of non-reformist reforms. They go in depth describing abolitionists winning victories similar to those Lancaster advocates.

These victories come from good and vital work that we have no desire to dismiss or undervalue. We honor and respect Critical ResistanceIncite! and the other mentioned organizations, and recognize that much of their vision and efforts are not limited to what was portrayed in this article. But we take exception to Berger, Kaba and Stein’s choice to position non-reformist reform as though it is or can be the whole of abolition, and their dismissal of other approaches as “highly idiosyncratic and unrepresentative”.

Both Lancaster’s article and the abolitionist’s response reference efforts to abolish chattel slavery, but neither acknowledge the most important historical event from that time: the Civil War. The southern plantation system was not and could not have been converted into a humane system of rehabilitative discipline as Lancaster suggests, nor could it have been abolished by a steady campaign of “non-reformist” policy changes chipping at it. To suggest either response to the present system of mass incarceration and prison slavery is equally absurd, yet these are the only things being discussed in Jacobin.

The abolitionists of the 1800s certainly engaged in legislation and policy change, and their contemporaries certainly countered with visions of a kinder gentler plantation, but history was in fact made by those who engaged in acts that forced change on a nation unwilling to depart from its racist history. It was the underground railroad, the harboring of freed slaves, and the support for uprisings, sabotage and rebellions which compelled Lincoln to sign the emancipation proclamation. It took the bloodiest war in US history to enforce that proclamation. This discussion about “how to end mass incarceration” that does not include forcibly overcoming the violent persistence of white terror and black captivity in the united states is completely out of touch.

As prison rebels reminded us on August 19, and continue to remind us every day, slavery did not end with the set of reforms that followed the Civil War. In fact, it was the compromises of policy-change oriented abolitionists that allowed the 13th Amendment to pass with an exception clause that leaves us still fighting to abolish slavery here today.

No progress against white supremacy in the United States has ever been made by reform alone. Before the civil war, non-reformist reforms of slavery were won amidst an uncompromising “fever-dream demand” to free all slaves now. That demand was eventually won because slave revolts and the underground railroad did not only dream it, they pursued and realized their demands through direct action. After the war, similar demands and actions were part of every step toward liberation and against convict leasing, Jim Crow, and the Ku Klux Klan. These demands and dreams remain part of the struggle against prison slavery, mass incarceration and white terrorism today. To dismiss them as “highly idiosyncratic and unrepresentative” is an insult.

It is naïve to think that ending prison won’t require as much fight as every other concession wrenched out of the system of racial capitalism that founded America. That fight is already occurring, it’s being led by the prisoners, and the pressure they exert is essential to the advance of any policy change or non-reformist reforms promoted by the article. It is incredibly disappointing to see the scholar-activist abolitionists who wrote this article distance themselves from prison rebellions, prisoner solidarity organizations, and the roots of the abolition movement.

One of these authors, Dan Berger has made his career studying political prisoners and black liberation revolutionaries. He wrote The Struggle Within and Captive Nation, which draw from the rebellions of the 1970s. In this article he departs from the respect and honoring of black revolutionary intellectuals that characterize his other works. He’s erased the fact that prison abolition was largely founded on George and Jonathan Jackson’s deaths and their willingness to die rather than be incarcerated a single day longer. It is an egregious offense for this scholar of that history to now say “a fever-dream demand to destroy all prisons tomorrow.. [is] highly idiosyncratic and unrepresentative… [of] abolitionist organizing.”

Why is this happening? Why is Berger betraying his inspiring research subjects for Jacobin and Lancaster? What reason do these abolitionists have for reframing and excluding radicals and revolutionaries from abolitionism? It appears they’d like to convince Jacobin’s readers that most abolitionists are respectable people whose vision is not so far from Lancaster’s. They also seem keen to define abolition in a way that academics can comfortably adopt without risking career advancement. Then there’s the suspicious coincidence that they’ve limited abolition’s tactical scope to approaches that center the work of the non-profit industrial complex and pandering politicians. We don’t like speculating about the potentially self-serving motives of our allies. We’d rather trust that Berger, Kaba and Stein focused their article on what they saw as the most tedious aspect of Lancaster’s tired argument. We trust, but not blindly.

The last paragraph of What Abolitionists Do recognizes the “urgent need for robust debate” and claims that the “debate must engage what exists in on-the-ground organizing”. We agree, which is why we believe the discussion must include prison rebels and the organizations that fight with them. Anarchist Black Cross Chapters, The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the IWW, and various other groups are working to back up the prisoners who refuse to be slaves today, who won’t wait for some imagined non-reformist reformed future.

We and the prisoners we work with have coordinated the largest prison strikes and protests in history. According to estimates from Solidarity Research, our actions can cost prison systems hundreds of thousands of dollars per day. One anarchist prison rebel in Ohio did the math and concluded that a well supported prisoner strike would tank not only the prison system, but the entire state budget in a few weeks’ time. On August 18, when Lancaster’s article came out, prison rebels and their supporters had frightened Florida and South Carolina into locking down their entire system for the weekend, costing them thousands of dollars, and significant public support. We are building power and pursuing abolition by making prison impossible, not merely by slowly reforming it out of existence.

Abolition now! is not just for “bumper stickers or social media” it is a call to action which is being answered, which is accumulating power, and which can mutually reinforce the work done on non-reformist reforms. The pressure of resistance can force reform concessions, which in turn can empower and embolden further resistance. This feedback loop can have great power to corrode the prison system and eventually topple it, and all the oppressive systems that depend upon it, but not if the non-reformist reformers are more interested in appealing to Lancaster’s disciplinary vision than in solidarity with prisoner resistance.

We support a diversity of tactics, and respect all the work Berger, Kaba and Stein do and hold up in their article. We recognize the need for creative alternatives as well as non-reformist reforms that give our incarcerated comrades, their families and the communities targeted by the prison system room to breathe and space to struggle more effectively. We respect the hell out of the work of the organizers, scholars and journalists who have helped win those reforms, but we also demand that the work and risks of prison rebels and outside solidarity efforts be recognized. We are abolitionists not only because we envision and are committed to building a new world, but also because people we love are trapped in these facilities that existentially depend on abominable practices of slavery and torture and that maintain an intolerable white supremacist social order for the rest of us. We won’t let those who resist from inside the walls, who demand freedom first and freedom now to be quietly swept into the shadows for the sake of easier arguments with abolition’s opponents.


Support the IWW GDC

In the last year, we have witnessed the rapid growth of an increasingly violent far-right. They have been emboldened by a government which looks on and allows or even encourages their violence. Charlottesville has made very clear how urgent it is for us to organize for community self-defense.

Community self-defense promotes solidarity and direct action from within our communities, so that we will not have to rely on the government to protect us. We know that the government doesn’t always protect us from gender violence, from right-wing political violence, or from police violence. In many cases, the government enables these forms of violence. The government exists to maintain the status quo, including the many forms of oppression that we are fighting to abolish. Relying on the government for protection is a losing strategy.

The General Defense Committee of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) is one organization that has been modeling community self-defense in recent years. This includes organizing against police brutality, organizing for harm reduction amongst drug users, broad-based anti-racist organizing, as well as supporting survivors of gender violence. Since the election, we have started new chapters in places like Nevada, Arkansas, Indiana, North Carolina, and grown quickly in cities such as Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Now is the time to organize boldly. We want to build strong chapters across North America, in as many cities as we can, with deep roots in working class communities. With your help, we’ll be able to continue our growth and accelerate our expansion. We can use funding to provide trainings to new chapters, to start a travel fund, and to provide banners, flags, and other tools for expansion.

We want everyone to get involved with organizations that support community-self defense and mass anti-racism. We can help you find or start a GDC chapter, or get in touch with a similar group in your location. Contact us at GDC [at] IWW.org.

Don’t rely on the ruling class to protect your community!

GDC Organizing Fund

GDC-IWOC Joint Statement on Repression of Juggalos

Join the One Big CarnivalFans of the band Insane Clown Posse (ICP), referred to as Juggalos, have been targets of state repression since being designated a “hybrid gang” by the FBI in 2011. The band’s logo, frequently called a “hatchetman,” has been deemed a gang symbol. This has resulted in harassment by local and federal police for having an ICP sticker or tattoo. Juggalos have been fired from employment, have been discriminated against in custody battles, have received longer and harsher sentences in court, and have been discharged from military service. The American Civil Liberties Union and ICP have been fighting this designation in court since 2014. So far, the courts have ruled that the FBI gang report should not be used as a reason to target Juggalos. However, this ruling is often ignored by law enforcement and it does nothing to hold the FBI accountable for the damage it has done.

While a diverse range of people enjoy the music and fandom of ICP, Juggalos are typically working class people living in poverty. Cultural treatment of Juggalos has ranged from mocking to fearful, leading many people to assume Juggalos are undereducated, and possibly dangerous. In part because of this, and in part because of mainstream media’s lack of representation, the gang designation of the Juggalos was not really picked up as an issue for left-leaning activists until fairly recently. This is a particularly personal matter within the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), as we have members who are Juggalos. Juggalos are often mocked by mainstream society; however, we value our fellow workers and take each others’ struggles seriously.

The manner in which the Juggalos were informed of the gang designation was nothing short of state terrorism:

We were very in a very isolated area, 30 minutes up a mountain with no phone service. They announced the gang designation near the end of the gathering and helicopters started circling. We started hearing that people were getting pulled over trying to exit the area. Organizers lined people up in a tent and took their statements about being harassed by police in the secluded area. You used to never see cops on the Gathering of the Juggalo (GOTJ) grounds except to just come in and make a quick arrest and then leave, but since being labeled a gang there have been police on the grounds every year, cops on horses outside of venues, and even rumors of under covers.

We must understand that to this day, Juggalos are targeted for having and wearing band merchandise: pins, stickers, tattoos, and necklace charms. This is just one more way state repression affects our members, and we should offer solidarity, not jokes.

With recent events raising the profile of the Juggalo community, many activists are beginning to realize how the government’s being capable of labeling a group a “gang” without any accountability or due process is an important issue for revolutionaries to engage in.

Most Juggalos identify as apolitical. Some lean left, others right. We still believe that the March on Washington to protest the gang designation is an issue we should support. Repression targeting a working-class subculture, and setting a dangerous precedent of casting wide nets, has to be challenged. An injury to one is an injury to all.

Marching with the Juggalos is a way we can demonstrate our solidarity with fellow working class people. It creates a bridge to support Juggalos in other issues that we hold dear, such as workplace organizing, community organizing, and fighting the prison-industrial complex. Juggalos have had reasons to stick together and “circle the wagons,” being wary of people outside of “the Family.” But we believe by standing with them now, we can begin to build bridges of trust and cooperation. We recognize that trust is earned, and we are dedicated to showing that support through our actions.

We want to acknowledge that while there are themes in ICP’s music we support (anti-racism, anti-elitism, anti-classism), there are also problematic aspects such as misogyny and homophobia. We want to show solidarity to the Juggalos doing work around these things, and around toxic masculinity generally, while also remembering that not everyone has access to help or experience working through these issues as we do. Juggalos can teach us new things about family and mutual aid—and we can teach them new things about consent and power dynamics. Through a compassionate exchange of information, we can emerge as comrades. Struggalo Circus is a community doing that groundwork now. It contains Juggalos and members of IWW, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the Degenderettes, Stand Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), and more.

The Juggalo March on Washington DC is scheduled for September 16, 2017. Planning for the march began a year ago, and it has a specific agenda of protesting state repression against Juggalos.

We call on branches and members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), General Defense Committee (GDC), and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) to support Juggalos in DC on September 16th by promoting the march, helping raise awareness about state repression, sharing news and updates online, helping with jail support and promoting fundraisers that have been vetted, filming cops who may be harassing Juggalos, and asking other organizations to write, adopt, or sign on to this or another statement of solidarity with Juggalos.

We additionally ask branches and members of the  IWW, GDC, and IWOC locals to respect and support Juggalos’ wishes to separate the Juggalo message from the Trump march that will be happening on the same day. Juggalos are already being targeted, and some may have priors or warrants. They are trying to stop state repression against themselves, and we should strive to protect their interests and avoid intentionally causing them additional unwanted conflict. There will be a free concert at the end of the march, and we encourage IWW, GDC, and IWOC members to be careful to not contribute to getting the concert shut down.

Defend the Union! Defend the Family! Defend the Class!

General Defense Committee and

Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the
Industrial Workers of the World

Southern Maine IWW Presents: Anatole Dolgoff, Author of “Left of the Left”

A Conversation with Anatole Dolgoff,
author of Left of the Left
Tuesday, May 2, 7:00 PM
@ Local Sprouts Cooperative cafe
649 Congress Street, Portland, Maine

The Southern Maine group of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union is proud to present Anatole Dolgoff, author of AK Press’s Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff. Anatole will be appearing at Local Sprouts Cooperative cafe at 649 Congress Street in Portland, Maine on Tuesday, May 2 at 7:00 PM for a discussion of his book, IWW labor organizing, and his famous left activist parents, Sam and Esther Dolgoff.

Book Details:

Sam Dolgoff (1902–1990) was a house painter by trade and member of the IWW from the early 1920s until his death. Sam, along with his wife Esther, was at the center of American anarchism for seventy years, bridging the movement’s generations, providing continuity between past and present, and creating some of the most vital books and journals from the Great Depression through WWII, the Civil Rights era, and into the last decade of the century. This instant classic of radical history, written with passion and humor by his son, conjures images of a lost New York City, the faded power of immigrant and working-class neighborhoods, and the blurred lines dividing proletarian and intellectual culture.

“The American left in its classical age used to celebrate an ideal, which was the worker-intellectual—someone who toils with his hands all his life and meanwhile develops his mind and deepens his knowledge and contributes mightily to progress and decency in the society around him. Sam Dolgoff was a mythic figure in a certain corner of the radical left … and his son, Anatole, has written a wise and beautiful book about him.” —Paul Berman, author of A Tale of Two Utopias and Power and the Idealists

“If you want to read the god-honest and god-awful truth about being a radical in twentieth-century America, drop whatever you’re doing, pick up this book, and read it. Pronto! If you’re not crying within five pages, you might want to check whether you’ve got a heart and a pulse.” —Peter Cole, author of Wobblies on the Waterfront

The IWW grassroots direct action unionism in 5 easy steps

originally written by Bristol IWW

1. You’re having problems at your workplace. You may not be getting your correct pay, or your correct sickness pay, or holiday entitlement, but you are unsure what to do because you haven’t got anything written, or you do but it doesn’t make any sense to you and nobody has bothered to explain it to you.

You want to do something about it, but you don’t really know what your rights are and what the law says. You may be bullied, harassed or intimidated by colleagues and/or managers, and feel isolated and depressed. Or, perhaps, you may actually like your job, get on with your colleagues and not have any problems at all with it. You may be unemployed, or a student or a retired person. You may think you have nothing in common with people in different circumstances, but we think you do: we think you should all join the IWW. In the IWW we believe that whether you are in work or not right now, you are still part of a society based on paid work and as such you will be affected by it at some point or other.

In the IWW we believe you don’t join the union only when you have a problem that you need an “expert” to fix; we think you should join anyway because being in a grassroots union is a key element of being involved and engaged with the world you live in. We think everyone has the right to take control and power back over their lives and work. We think everyone has the right to learn about employment rights and legislation and become their own “expert”. We become “experts” through formal training courses in casework and organising, but mostly we learn informally, by sharing knowledge and skills and supporting each other. We are grassroots, we are democratic, and we are fighters.

2. You are a member now, and suddenly you do have problems in your workplace. Your manager may have decided to change your terms and conditions and demanded you to accept. You may notice you are not getting paid all the hours you are working. You may be under a lot of stress and pressure at work and have to take time off work sick because of it. Who you gonna call? The Wobblies! You arrange to meet with one of our caseworkers and go through things with them. You finally have someone to talk to who will listen to you and give you guidance and support, help you understand the law and what to do.

In the IWW we believe in EMPOWERMENT not delegation: we don’t do things FOR you, we do things WITH you. Once you have a clearer idea of the options available to you, it is up to you to decide what steps to take, knowing that the IWW will have your back. The IWW can help you in many different ways, from standard workplace procedures such as grievances and disciplinaries to more complex casework such as supporting you to take your case to an Employment Tribunal if appropriate. All these words and expression may mean nothing to you at the beginning, and you may feel overwhelmed by it all, but slowly, with the help of your IWW rep, you will become your own “expert”. You will start to understand, learn and feel empowered: knowledge is power.

3. So, your case is ongoing and we are following the standard procedures. We may be supporting to write formal demands to your employer, attending meetings alongside you, helping you to find a good solicitor, advocating on your behalf with your employer or other organisations (such as ACAS).

Sometimes though things don’t work, maybe because your employer is not responding, or because the nature of your employment is such that standard procedures are not appropriate. So, what happens then? Simple: we use direct action. We get together, because together we are stronger, and we get your case “out there”. We may ask people to call or write to your employer and complain about they way they are treating you. We may ask for a boycott of the company you are working for. We may get in touch with local and national press to publicise your case. We may hold a demonstration at your workplace until your employer meets your demands.

This is what we have done recently for one of our members who had her wages withheld by the cafe she worked at. And just in case you are wondering, yes, it did work: direct action does get the goods! Read our report about it “What’s outrageous? Unpaid wages!”.

4. All is over now, your employer has seen sense and you are in the pub celebrating with the Wobblies and your friends. You will feel knackered. You will also feel thrilled, energised, inspired. You will look at yourself in the mirror and know you have had the guts to stand up for your rights, no matter how stressful it has been. You have learned that you are not alone, and you will never feel alone again when standing up to your boss because the IWW will always have your back. So, what next? Well, if you haven’t already done so, you could complete our training courses in casework and organising. You will now have the knowledge and skills to support people in the same situation, and you will have a personal understanding of how it feels to have a dispute with your employer and WIN. The sky is our only limit, for us Wobblies!

5. How do you join? Online, here: http://www.southernmaineiww.org/join. If you want to have a chat beforehand, contact us here first: http://www.southernmaineiww.org/contact

What an IWW Membership Can Do for You

The IWW Membership Card, or Red Card

by x365097

Life for a working person in today’s society can be extremely difficult. There’s not much of a “village” left to rely on these days, so working people are increasingly having to fend for ourselves and to try to scrape by as individuals.

When we have to work so hard to make ends meet, there’s often not a lot of time left over for enjoying the better things in life like maintaining friendships, travelling, or personal enrichment, so life can turn into a rhythm of just eating, sleeping, working, and shopping for necessities — week after week and month after month.

If we do this for long enough, trying to keep up can get frustrating. Sometimes we might wonder why we’re even bothering because no matter what we do, we can’t seem to get out from under it. If there are kids in the picture, then sometimes the reason stays clear enough, but it doesn’t make it any easier necessarily.

To help our members to deal with the stress of this situation and the many difficulties that it brings, the IWW serves two purposes:

First, in the short term, membership in the union — or having a “Red Card,” as we call it — entitles you to help from other union members in a variety of areas of your life which have immediate importance. It might come through our main function of organizing to improve conditions in our workplaces, or through other areas where we can show solidarity (togetherness and loyalty) in a direct way — by arranging carpools, petsitting, and so on.

Second, over the long term, the bigger our network becomes, the more we are able to influence society as a whole and to push back on the “business as usual” — all of the bad stuff that rich people get away with at our expense — which keeps us working too hard and divided in the first place. By sharing power and resources democratically within our union, we can ultimately spread these values and practices outside the the union as well, transforming society in the process.

In both cases, the more people join the union and help each other, the easier it gets for everyone involved. Instead of feeling like we are just one lone person against everyone else in a free-for-all, we instead start to feel like we have people we can rely on, people who know what it’s like to be near the bottom of the working “food chain” and to feel alone, like you have no safety net.

If you live in Maine, and you need people you can rely on to help you with your struggles as a working person, contact the Southern Maine IWW to find out more about us and if IWW membership may be right for you. Whatever kind of work you do, or even if you are not currently employed, you can join and contribute to the union; we have room for everyone.

Through our cooperation, a surprising amount can get done! When one person brings soil, one brings seeds, and one brings a watering can, everyone ends up with a garden. Even the hardest challenges you face today can seem a lot easier when you have a union to rely on.

Fundraiser for Boston IWW Colin James

FW Colin James has been fired from his position at Insomnia Cookies in what appears to be retaliation for his activity as a union organizer at the shop. Read all about it and please contribute funds to help him get by here:


picket at Insomnia Cookies in support of FW Colin