Thursday, May 18, 2017 at 6:36PM

CHICAGO, IL— “What struck me about this movie – and don’t get me wrong, there is tons of good information about how they invented the whole ‘war on drugs’ thing just so they could lock people up and turn us into modern-day slaves – but still I was struck by how every inmate you saw in this film was black. I guess a lot of what we see on TV and movies shows that picture, but I remember looking around in prison and thinking, ‘Hey, where did all these white dudes come from?’”
This comment came from a young, Black worker at a screening of Thirteenth, a documentary about mass incarceration and racism in the United States. This young man worked for the Worker’s Center for Racial Justice and, like about a third of Black men, had spent time behind bars before becoming a labor organizer. His critique of Thirteenth was a refreshing relief from the “white skin privilege” ideas that are all too common at university sponsored mass events like this.
Mass Incarceration Is a Class Issue
In the audience of about 50 people were some members of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). Working in various organizations we get used to hearing all sorts of reformist political ideas, often promoting identity politics of some sort. Though a little surprising, it was good to hear someone state so clearly that, like racism and sexism, mass incarceration is a class issue.
More clearly than giving a long, political analysis, this young man nailed it with a key observation from his own life. It helped that he was a long time friend of several PLP comrades. He may not have noticed this skewed editing in the film had he not had a multiracial group of friends, many PLP members. It helped that he was engaged in demonstrations with us in Ferguson as well as rough-and-tumble debates about Black Nationalism in friends’ kitchens over the years. Having what was probably the sharpest political point raised by this friend also helped PL’ers as we struggle for revolutionary communist ideas inside the organization that put on the screening. Whether we argue for multiracial unity over identity politics or for the need to use violent means if we ever want to end capitalism, our ideas are more respected in the midst of a serious and consistent fight against racism.
Organizing for reforms is hard work and can be very frustrating. Some comrades think that the “progressives” in many organizations will never be revolutionaries. They are stuck on the roller coaster of reform, they are too religious or they are too committed to capitalist ideas. Being a serious communist means not giving in to those anti-worker ideas. What makes us so special? We all believed a lot of the same capitalist hype until we were exposed to the Party’s ideas repeatedly over time by people who we respected. So our job is to be active in these reform organizations, to earn respect as we struggle together for some improvements in our lives. But, at the same time, we do not hide our communist politics. We explain that a better world is not only possible, but is necessary for the working class. Agreement may not come quickly, but the struggle continues!

Article originally appeared on The Revolutionary Communist Progressive Labor Party (
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