“Fire In The Hole: Why Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz Is Important To Creative Revolutionaries” by Fred Ho

It was announced Sunday night that Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, a political prisoner in the tradition of George Jackson and so many others, has added COVID to his fourth-stage cancer diagnosis.

The following, written by Fred Ho, is from the prelude of Shoatz’s 2013 book, Maroon The Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz. Ho was one of the book’s editors, along with Quincy Saul.

In the early 1990s, while I was doing support work for the now-renowned U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, at a time when it was really challenging work to get Mumia’s name and case as widely known as it is today, I made contact and did support work for many other U.S. political prisoners, most of whom remain virtually anonymous to the wider public and to the most of the “social change” activists of then and now.

One of those prisoners that really made an impact upon me: Russell Maroon Shoatz. At first, it was the sheer brilliance of his writings along with the legendary fact of his two incredible jailbreaks from maximum-security prisons that earned him the moniker of “Maroon.” One could say that the latter fact–of his escaping and avoidance of capture–exemplified the kind of appeal to “macho men” (What U.S. military special forces are trained to do in SERE programs–Survive, Escape, Resist and Evade). In the early 1990s, I still had this inside of me, though the theory and practice of matriarchy had just started to enter my consciousness and I had begun a personal/political transformation.

But as Maroon and I began our now more-than-two-decades of epistolary exchanges, what most impressed me was that we both were transforming each other, in a mutual symbiotic parallel transformation, toward many of the ideas that are taking root in the theoretical and practical work of an embryonic revolutionary organization called Scientific Soul Sessions.

What were these changes?

First, the theory and practice of matriarchy. While locked in prison, Maroon had begun an extensive self-critical examination of both himself and his movement. More than anyone from the “Roaring Sixties,” Maroon has not only endeavored to sum up the mistakes and flaws of the revolutionary movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, specifically the Black Liberation Movement of which he was a part, but made a deep self-criticism of his role of these errors and flaws, both theoretical and behavioral. At first, revolutionary feminism (whether it be labeled “radical feminism” or “socialist feminism”) ignited the spark as the entire theory of social change had to be interrogated beyond simply improvements to “the woman question.” Ironically, Engels’s classic work The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State provided the foundational premises. But so much of the subsequent movements–as amply demonstrated in the subsequent interpretation of Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, Troskyism, Maoism, or whatever “ism-version” you want to cite–have overlooked, ignored or discarded the fact that the first and longest class struggle has been the overthrow of women.

Though the Marxist classics never discussed “patriarchy” (a concept that the women’s movement and feminist theory has considerably advanced and propagated), clearly “the woman question” could not be mechanically “solved” by a socialist revolution that continued to be patriarchal, as has been the case everywhere (albeit in most cases with considerable strides made in the advancement of rights afforded to women by the socialist cause).

Maroon was looking at the internal causes of why the movement could not attain its revolutionary promise, and how his own sexism and machismo, and that of so many others, harmed and poisoned the revolutionary cause–no matter how dedicated, well-intentioned, committed, and militant.

I, on the other hand, was since my early childhood continually confronted with the experience of domestic violence. Two major forms of racist violence, which set the direction for my development since age three (a story told elsewhere in my various writings). But growing up with patriarchal domestic violence was “avoided” and “put on the back burner” until the early 1990s, when the revolutionary movement I was part of–namely, the League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist)–imploded, turned reformist, and quickly dissolved due to its reformist irrelevance. After the end of the League (and good riddance, as now I believe all the movements, no matter what glory we want to confer upon them or they deservingly achieved, had to go because they were fraught with an incorrect and insufficient revolutionary theory, which inevitably results in a problematic practice and collapse), I was free and unshackled from the doctrinaire hegemony exercised by the League’s leadership (willingly accepted by its membership as part of the reciprocity of cult of personality and its attendant learning syndrome). I was also wondering if I should seek heterosexual marriage and the nuclear family as personal goals, which never seemed to be my nature.

So as sons are not to reproduce their fathers, I was introduced to the theory of matriarchy. Much of this newly arrived freedom allowed me to engage with political tendencies that we in the former League had written off (such an anarchists), and I joined a motley collection of individuals that would become ORSSASM (the Organization of Revolutionary Socialist Sisters and Some Men).

ORSSASM included members of the then-recently-collapsed Love and Rage Collective in NYC, and individuals from Barbara Smith’s valiant effort to organize RSOC (Revolutionary Sisters Of Color). It also included a loose assortment of Marxist-Leninists, some from previous organizations (like myself) and some who had self-developed, admirably so, from the City University of New York campus struggles of the early 1990s; many were young independent communists, mostly of Black, Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Asian backgrounds.

One of our best projects was the Sheroes/Womyn Warriors calendar, which was first published in 1998 (developed from 1995 to 1997) by Autonomedia, an anarchist press. I sent Maroon the calendars and regularly shared with him all my thinking on matriarchy during this time.

I was perfectly driven to answer a question deeply and profoundly rooted to my personal background: how can violence against women end? The answer: only when women defend themselves by any means necessary. With that startling premise, the investigation, study, theorizing, and practical transformation to realize matriarchy began.

For Maroon, this struggle to exorcise his machismo has included tenacious struggle with his fellow inmates (a very macho lot indeed!) and with other male political prisoners (you can surmise the names) and with the Movement as a whole (much of which remains clueless about the importance of matriarchy).

Matriarchy goes beyond any form of feminism because it doesn’t accept gender (and therefore any social assignation of value or power or status differential according to sex). It is the ultimate redistributive social justice and it demands the resocialization of men to become matriarchal mothers!

Maroon is a matriarchal revolutionary man. What does this mean? Since he’s been in solitary confinement and has little contact with other human beings, the main focus for his transformation has been to eliminate his machismo. But more than that, he has striven to center his political vision on matriarchy as the ultimate revolutionary goal, marking the end of patriarchy, the state as an instrument of male violence, rejection of macho militancy, and the development of a matriarchal political strategy for revolution that is mother-centric.

Second, Maroon has shifted from the classic “seizure of state power” revolutionary endgame to a clear and marked emphasis on prefiguration. This is the process of commoning, of both resisting the enclosures of capitalism and patriarchy as well as creating immediate forms and relations in which revolutionary processes are actualized. He discusses food security and sovereignty, not from the conventional activist orientations toward policy changes, protest, and forcing governmental and corporate concessions a la the pressure campaigns of nongovernmental organizations (nonprofits), but rather with an emphasis upon organizing on-the-ground liberation of space, innovating new, transformative processes, and recommoning people’s souls.

Third, he offers us a condemnatory and scathing rebuke of authoritarian and hierarchal vanguardism–though Maroon makes a distinction between leadership and discipline, both critically necessary, and the centralized, top-down commandist structures and culture in which a self-righteous (and self-proclaimed) vanguard substitutes itself as the be-all and end-all.

Lastly, we have Maroon’s latent indigenous-centrism. The very historical reaction examples of Maroon communities (or liberated base-areas) that he has extensively studied and advocates for present-day application (from community food gardens to decentralized revolutionary organization building) are all drawn from the first hybridized Maroon societies in the Americas, mostly of native peoples and escaped Africans. These communities were examples of subsistence-based economies instead of the ecocidial and empire-building capitalist economies dominated by relations of exchange (or the market). They featured genuine equality without gender divisions and differentials of power and authority, and were self-sustaining and regenerative. They were strongest when in alliance with other such communities without becoming centralized, weakest when they adopted and mimicked their enemy’s structure (centralism as putatively more powerful).

In 2010, I along with about ten others, formed the new revolutionary group called Scientific Soul Sessions. As I near the end of my life from advanced metastatic cancer, Maroon asked me, “Fred, how will SSS continue after your death?” I did not have an answer to him at the time. Now I have: when you are free, Maroon, you’ll make sure SSS continues its creativity and develops new revolutionary leaders!

August 2012

(Fred Ho died in 2014.)

Copyright 2013, 2020 by Fred Ho. No copyright infringement intended.

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