What is the ABC, the ABCF? Who are Political Prisoners?
Beginning around 1906-1907, the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) became the banner under which many anarchists organized prison support. Since then the ABC has ebbed and flowed to the present day. In the mid-’80s ABC organizations flourished due to the efforts of New Afrikan anarchist and then Political Prisoner, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin. Unlike earlier ABC formations, the ABC collectives broadened their interests to cover a wide variety of prison-related issues.
U.S. ABCs remained totally autonomous and therefore were never really able to unify or grow collectively. As a result, we feel it stagnated, became isolated and ineffective, offering virtually no organized support to Political Prisoners or Prisoners of War (PP/POW’s)… or anyone. For instance, to the disgrace of the ABC mission, in December 1986 a New Afrikan anarchist POW, Kuwasi Balagoon died in prison of AIDS with no support from the ABC. Though ABC came to support a broad spectrum of prison issues, the one thing we all agree upon, (in theory at least) is the defense and support of PP/POWs. This was the very foundation upon which the ABC was born in the early 1900s.
So in 1995, NJ ABC along with New Afrikan anarchist POW, Ojore Lutalo, proposed the formation of an ABC Federation. As is required to build a federation, the groups who were uniting needed a common goal. That common goal was the support and defense of PP/POWs.
The first question to be asked before supporting PP/POW’s should be who a Political Prisoner or Prisoner of War is. The Anarchist Black Cross Federation (ABCF) along with many other groups, individuals and PP/POW supporters from around the world use the following definitions to determine who we support for a variety of historical, strategic and practical reasons:
Political Prisoner: A person incarcerated for actions carried out in support of legitimate struggles for self-determination* or for opposing the illegal policies of the government and/or its political subdivisions. (Special International Tribunal on the Violation of Human Rights of Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War in the United States Prisons and Jails, December 1990)
Prisoner of War: Those combatants struggling against colonial and alien domination and racist regimes captured as prisoners are to be accorded the status of prisoner of war and their treatment should be in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Conventions Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. (August 12, 1949, General Assembly Resolution 3103 [XXVIII])
*Self Determination: the right by virtue of which all people’s are entitled freely to determine their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic cooperation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence. (Common Article 1(1) of the International Human Rights Covenants, 1966)
As is evident, these definitions were not our creation. We do take objections to the term “illegal” in the PP definition and know full well that the United States and all capitalist and imperialist governments have now and will always murder, oppress, and/or otherwise deny people the right to self-determination under the guise and protection of “law”. We also believe that the POW definition lacks recognition for those combatants struggling against institutionalized and “legal” economic and class oppression. However, as accountable members within an international community of activists, we feel it is our responsibility to respect these definitions that were collectively agreed upon at the 1990 Special International Tribunal on the Violation of Human Rights of Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War in the United States Prisons and Jails. We also feel it is our responsibility to develop our analysis and positions of these objections so as to best articulate them to this international community for acceptance in an appropriate, inclusive forum. Changing these collectively agreed upon definitions without any or adequate dialogue or debate between the activists and prisoners these definitions will effect is unaccountable and irresponsible. It would also deny us the opportunity to hear possible objections or possible improvements to our positions.
While we believe that many people in prison are victims of an unjust political system, we do not believe that all prisoners are PP’s or POWs. We believe it is a vital struggle for progressive and revolutionary people to build recognition that there are over 100 prisoners in this country who refused to become a victim of injustice and decided to organize and consciously fight back. The struggle is to build recognition that there is indeed a conflict in this country in which people are organizing and have organized themselves to resist. And that of those people, many are dead, and many are in prison, and that those prisoners are PP’s or POWs. The ABCF acts accountably toward that end.
Being declared a PP or a POW is not an attempt to grant some great status to people who have struggled politically to change or create a new society as some try to imply. As Sekou Odinga, a New Afrikan POW now imprisoned in a federal prison in Lompoc, CA for his political and military actions to build a revolutionary movement has stated, “Although I consider fighting for my people a good thing, being declared a POW doesn’t entitle me to any luxury (or great status). You become an enemy of the state.” The political reality of being an enemy of the state (such as a PP/POW) is much different than that of the victim of the state (such as a social prisoner). Indeed, as a class war POW, Bill Dunne adds; “Being recognized as a PP or POW comes with greater liabilities than benefits and is done more out of responsibility and obligations to one’s politics than for any desirability of the status.” Social prisoners can and often do change their reality and imprisonment from that of a social nature to that of a political nature through their political experiences and activity in prison. We believe those prisoners who righteously struggle deserve the support to the extent the outside organizations are capable of supporting them. But these prisoners are not PP or POWs.
Furthermore, the reason we feel PP/POWs should be prioritized by those people claiming to be revolutionaries can be summed up in the following quote by Anarchist POW Ojore Lutalo; “Any movement that fails to support its political internees is a sham movement!” We feel that PP/POW’s deserve priority support of the very political movements they came from, helped and continue to help build. We believe that for a movement to progress and support social prisoners, while its own PP/POW’s are left with insufficient or in this case, virtually no support, is unprincipled and politically wrong.
While this introduction and the following guide is the position and contains policies of the ABCF, we feel that it can be useful for anyone with the desire to support and defend PP/POWs. Indeed these positions and policies are not responsible or practical because they are ABCF policy. They are ABCF policy because they are responsible and practical for anyone.