From the November-December 2013 issue of News & Letters:
Maroon the Implacable
Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz (PM Press, 2013).
Pelican Bay State Prison, Calif.—These essays are written by a revolutionary theorist forced to endure the psychological and physical torture of solitary confinement for the past 40 years. It is a prison within a prison, designed to create an environment of total sensory deprivation with the intent to destroy a person.
How could a person having to endure that kind of dehumanizing treatment for 40 years survive and, most of all, retain their mental capacity? Within the pages of this book one comes face to face with an intrepid spirit of a human being who has a largeness of heart embracing the whole of humanity.
Maroon sets forth cogent perspectives to which serious freedom fighters should give ample consideration.
THE DRAGON AND THE HYDRA
For example in the essay “The Dragon and the Hydra: A historical study of organizational methods,” Maroon contrasts centralization and decentralization. By drawing on the legacy of fugitive slaves, who established self-sustaining and prosperous communities hidden and defensively protected, Maroon presents a vivid picture of the centralized communities’ critical flaws that later led to a compromise with their former colonial enslavers. That may or may not have been due to the self-serving interests of a few at the top, who failed to have a deeper view of what was truly at stake. The critical flaws in those centralized communities didn’t seem to appear in the decentralized communities. A decentralized social structure didn’t allow for one or two figures to rise to a position where they could assert a self-serving short-term interest.
One reasonably assumes that within the innate nature of decentralized organizational structure is a fundamental principle: that the freedom of one is the basis of freedom for all. This kind of principle caused the Hydra or decentralized communities to never separate their freedom from those slaves still held in bondage.
The decentralized communities demonstrate a strong propensity to not compromise their freedom for minimal gains. Those communities sought to continuously assert their human right of self-determination in which their productive forces could be freely unleashed.
Maroon’s analysis of the Dragon and the Hydra relates to our present-day dilemma of vanguardism vis-à-vis horizontal formations. The methodological structure of democratic centralism renders the theory of the party-to-lead an impractical tool for moving us towards freedom. Our future is at stake.
Maroon states that he was helped in developing his conclusions on the theory of anti-vanguardism by the Marxist C.L.R. James, who also developed the idea of state-capitalism along with Raya Dunayevskaya. What was then known as the Johnson-Forest Tendency emerged from within the Trotskyist Movement in the USA during the 1940s until its break up in 1955. The Tendency was led by Johnson (James), Forest (Dunayevskaya), and Hauser (Grace Lee Boggs). It is through reading Dunayevskaya’s brilliant writings that this writer came to share the view of the flawed nature of vanguardism.
Maroon leaves no stone unturned in his effort to get us to re-examine our historical legacy bequeathed to us by African slaves who took sole responsibility for their freedom. An essential part of that legacy is the Underground Railroad.
Maroon’s two points inform our thinking today as we struggle to develop a path forward. “1) [The Underground Railroad’s] defiance of the government and popular sentiments; and 2) why it was one of the main causes of the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved Blacks.” Maroon concludes this chapter by saying, “the author challenges readers to more closely study the resistance to slavery in North America, then look in the mirror and ask yourself: just where do you fit in the historical drama? How do you measure up to the generations described here, which had so much effect on events that today’s oppressors try very hard to keep the real accomplishments hidden?”
WOMEN’S LIBERATION AND HUMAN FREEDOM
Maroon’s purpose for these essays is to get us to think in non-superficial terms, to vastly stretch our imaginations, elevate our minds, while reaching for deeper and richer levels of cognition. Nowhere is that purpose revealed more poignantly than in the chapter “Respect Our Mothers.” Maroon uses the analogy from the movie “The Matrix”—Morpheus telling Neo how deep the rabbit hole is as indicative of what it is going to take to destroy the matrix.
That particular point mirrors Marx’s contention that if we are to construct a new society from the ashes of the destruction of capitalist social relations, then it has to begin with what is most fundamental, the man/woman relationship. Marx predates the Women’s Liberation Movement. Nonetheless, Marx was a clear proponent of the rights of women (consult Raya Dunayevskaya’s 1982 Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution).
The critical engagement with writings of two feminists, Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, enabled Maroon’s conception of women in general and women as principal actors in humanity’s liberatory struggle in particular. Maroon is more than hinting at the need to make a category of women’s revolutionary participation. There is a union between Maroon’s position and that of Raya Dunayevskaya when she singled out women as reason and force for the transformation of oppressive capitalist society.
Reading Maroon the Implacable is an inspirational and worthwhile experience. What comes through is how a raging fire, fully deprived, can still burn bright and simultaneously light a path toward a possible escape. The escape has a much more profound meaning because it isn’t just about running off into the night, to hopefully never be seen again. No! It is not about running from, but running to—freedom.