Prisoner support should be an essential facet of any anarchist’s political
activities; yet our prisoner support groups attract little actual support from
our fellow anarchists. Why is this?
Of course, it is natural for us to support someone we are close to, friends
and family or even a comrade from ones affinity group, when they are
banged up. Yet why do so few anarchists support comrades from within the
wider movement, let alone prisoners in general? Mutual aid and solidarity
are surely a central tenet of the anarchist ‘belief system’, one brick that any
anarchist society should be built upon, yet it is often in short supply.
Not Sexy Enough
We know prisoner support is not glamorous, or even rewarding in terms of
apparent immediate effect: we don’t see our circle A spray-painted on the
wall, cash points glued-up, disruption caused by a picket, or our article
printed in our favourite propaganda rag (though most of those can also be
used as a weapon in any prisoner support campaign). Prisoner support is
largely invisible, the writing of letters, the sending of money and the giving
of other practical support. Yes, we might go to a benefit gig for prisoner
support, but are we going to donate funds or because we like the bands?
We might read a call-out for support for a particular prisoners’ campaign,
but are we really paying attention? Are we going along to prison pickets
when they are called? This is one simple and effective way of showing
solidarity & support for individual prisoners, and shows the prison bosses
that we outside the prison walls know and care about what they try to do to
our comrades on the inside. And prisoner support groups regularly get
feedback on these events showing clearly that they work – the prison
authorities take notice and are less likely to abuse the prisoners supported.
Certainly Not Trivial
Writing letters may seem a trivial method of showing support for prisoners
but it is a concrete and practical starting point, and one that also lets those
‘inside’ know that those ‘outside’ are showing them solidarity.
But there are few anarchist prisoners you say. It’s true the level of struggle
in this country is low, and that is reflected within the prisons, but that is no
reason for being complacent. Anarchists should be seeking out class
struggle activities to support wherever they occur, inside prisons and in the
wider communities, in the UK and abroad.
Another area where practical solidarity is valuable is in sending funds to
prisoners or their support groups. Whilst the £ may be weak at present, our
cash goes a long way in places such as Eastern Europe & South America.
Another is taking your solidarity to the streets. A classic example of this is
the Greek prisoners’ hunger strike in November 2008, when most prisoners
in Greece’s 21 prisons went on 18-day hunger strike to support a 45-point
demand for prison reform. Mass demos and solidarity actions outside the
prisons helped secure major concessions from the Greek state.
The Social Prisoner ‘Problem’
This brings us to the so-called ‘social prisoner’ issue, often a problem
within the anarchist movement, with more liberal elements decrying any
involvement with ‘common criminals’. Fortunately, most anarchists involved
in prisoner support see it in a different light.
Therefore, when we come across prisoners who have become radicalised
by their prison experiences, who are engaged in the class struggle against
the system of social control that is prison, we should be supporting them in
their struggle. After all, we as a movement need to get the idea of a non-
hierarchical decentralised class-free society more widely accepted, and
those at the sharp end of the state’s system of social control should be
more receptive than most.
Also, when anarchist prisoners that do end up inside are looking around for
comrades to engage with in resistance, who else can they make common
cause with in struggle? So we should be showing them solidarity now, not
waiting till it becomes a reward for the mutual aid and solidarity that they
have themselves shown our imprisoned anarchist comrades.
Just as prisoner support should be more than just first aid to fallen
comrades, support for other class struggle prisoners should be a conscious
act of revolutionary solidarity, of practical everyday anarchist politics.
Prisoner support cannot be reduced to just a form of charity, it should be an
integral part of the anarchist struggle, against the prison society and in
support of the new society we wish to see built in the ruins of the old.
In the end the most important thing we all can do is to get out there and get active. It is only through struggle and building a revolutionary movement that we will help not just anarchist prisoners, but everyone in need of solidarity.