published by Kersplebedeb in 2010
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Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson’s Defying the Tomb is an excellent example about the prescient and thought-provoking analysis that is being produced by a new generation of organic intellectuals that are being bred in the nascent ‘schools of liberation’ that are the American prison-industrial complex. The first section of the book largely consists of biographies of Rashid and Outlaw; the second section, and the largest section of the books, is a series of letters that cover a wide gambit of issues that plague New Afrikans and the revolutionary movement alike. The issues covered are dizzying, the array of source materials that Rashid and Outlaw rely on is both broad and deep especially considering the conditions under which they are read and commented upon, and the synthesis of theory and praxis that they have produced together is refreshing. And finally in the third section we see key essays penned by Rashid that serve as the cornerstone of the theoretical edifice of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter, and demonstrate a different and more mature Comrade Rashid. The book is replete with images and drawings by the author himself and they often serve as pictorial essays. They seek to not only represent the conditions of national oppression that the New Afrikan peoples experience in the contemporary USA, but also identify a revolutionary subject that is attempting to break free.
Comrade Rashid is the Minister of Defense of the NABPP-PC and this book is a rare document as it documents the intellectual and political development of two revolutionaries, not one, inside the ‘razor wire plantations’. Indeed, this book serves as a useful demonstration of Chairman Mao’s ‘mass line’ in which through a process of ‘unity-struggle-transformation’, we see the transformation of both Outlaw and Rashid. Even though Outlaw is the younger comrade in this exchange of letters, Rashid does not simply didactically preach but rather he learns as well. Rashid takes Outlaw’s ideas in their raw form and gives them back in a more concrete sense, whilst changing his own ideas because of new insights and interventions by the very capable Outlaw. Outlaw and Rashid are both teacher and student alike, and demonstrate a passion, care and ingenuity that can do nothing but gladden the heart of a now cynical Left and serve as an inspiration. This is most powerfully borne out by the fact that at the end of this book we see the rise of the NABPP-PC. This openness to new ideas and arguments is demonstrated in the very opening pages of the book when in the thoughtful Forward, Comrade Russell “Maroon” Shoats openly states his disagreements with Comrade Rashid’s emphasis on a more conventional form of democratic centralism. Such honesty and humility is something that is all too rare in our contemporary Left.
There are numerous theoretical quibbles that one can have with the theoretical propositions that Comrade Rashid enunciates; I definitely have many, especially the adoption of a revolutionary humanism and the replacement of ‘pantherism’ with Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. However, to enunciate them now seems to be simply characteristic of an academic exercise and this book definitely is not intended to be such an exercise. Rather, the book serves as a revolutionary primer for anyone organizing in the ghettoes, ‘razor wire plantations’, schools, and workplaces in North America to build a revolutionary movement and a revolutionary party. An interesting aspect of Comrade Rashid’s theory is his revival of the role of the urban guerrilla in his work and, like many other comrades around the world, emphasizes the need for the an armed section of the movement that can in fact protect the mass movement. Unfortunately, and as this is not an academic quibble but rather a tactical difference between us, Comrade Rashid does not theoretically develop the role of the armed movement in the capture of State power besides the limited self-defense role that was adopted by the BPP. Nevertheless, this book is an amazing example of a jailhouse philosopher trying to not only interpret the world, but from solitary confinement to actually change it. Furthermore, this book serves as a continuation to a dialogue that seems to have largely stopped, although some circles and communities remain, with the collapse of the underground revolutionary left in the 1980’s, and the paralysis, as Rashid points out, of those comrades who were part of that initial wave of the revolutionary movement. Thus, it synthesizes the lessons of the Black Panther Party and the BLA, especially through a critical re-evaluation of the works of Comrade George Jackson (in fact after reading Defying the Tomb I immediately contacted a close comrade and suggested that we re-read Blood in my Eye) and Comrade Huey P. Newton’s theory of intercommunalism, with Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to produce an original new revolutionary course for the US revolutionary movement which he has termed, “pantherism”. A project that many have taken up, but never have completed. Defying the Tomb serves as a useful step in that right direction, especially as it actively engages with other political and religious tendencies that currently exist in the revolutionary movement.
Defying the Tomb is a valuable addition to the subterranean, yet active, tradition of New Afrikan communist theory, which includes the works of James Yaki Sayles, J. Sakai, Butch Lee, and Bottomfish Blues. I am sure that all of these differnet authors would have theoretical differences with one another, but this is why this is such a dynamic and interesting movement. And one hopes that other books by Comrade Rashid and other members of the NABPP-PC are indeed forthcoming in the coming years as Comrade Tom Big Warrior suggests. Also, it is incumbent on all of us that call ourselves the Left to read these books. For far too long the Left has occupied itself by bemoaning the lack of contemporary organic intellectuals when such a tradition already exists under our very noses! It serves as a powerful reminder to those of who have the privilege to not be incarcerated of our responsibilities to those comrades that continue to struggle under those conditions and to the people who we seek to serve.