Capitalism, the Prison System, and its Interconnection

As a species, to continue living we must first and foremost procreate, feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves above all else. And only through cooperating with one another can these necessities be realized. Hence the source of our social essence.

Today in the current state of economic development (capitalism-imperialism) the vast majority of the world’s people have been separated from their means of production (land, natural resources, technology, intellectual property, factories, etc.) by property rights which the capitalist classes of the world, who predominately reside within fi rst world borders, have laid claim to. And yet this doesn’t change the fact that as a species we still need access to the world’s resources so that we may continue living.

Under this form of economy the world’s masses won very little if anything at all, and are forced to sell to the capitalist classes the only thing they do own so that they may in turn purchase life’s necessities. And what they sell to the capitalists is their labor power.

With a small exception, the capitalists purchase this labor power from the majority of the world’s masses far below its value. This is not only the source of profi t and capital (surplus value), it is the creation and perpetuation of today’s racial oppression and social inequalities, including the source of today’s prison industrial complex.

Surplus value is that value which is created through unpaid labor power. For example, if a capitalist invests $1,000 a day for the production of shirts—$200 of which pays for the cost of human labor power (variable capital), and $800 which pays for the cost of electricity, oil, cloth, thread, technology, etc. (constant capital), and if it takes, let’s say, fi ve hours to produce $1,000 worth of shirts (the original amount invested), this fi ve hours of expended labor power is the true value of the workers’ labor power. But being that this labor power has been purchased and therefore is now owned and controlled by the capitalists, the workers are required to expend their labor power for the remainder of the working day, whether it be 10, 12, 14, or however many hours the capitalist can get away with. In search of higher profi ts, imperialist expansion takes the capitalist across the globe under the guise of spreading d democracy, looking for the cheapest source of labor power and natural resources, i.e., where the people are most desperate and can be thoroughly exploited along with their natural resources. It is this cheap source of labor and natural resources that is at the root of capitalism’s so-called “economic success.”

Let’s say 12 hours constitutes a full working day for our shirt workers. If it takes fi ve hours to make a $1,000 worth of shirts, our shirt workers are still required to expend their labor power for an additional seven hours—the remainder of the working day. These seven hours over and beyond the fi ve hours is surplus labor—seven hours of unpaid labor power that the capitalist is robbing from the workers.

Being that workers are paid in either hourly wages, piecemeal, or by the day, these various forms of payment only serve to disguise and camoufl age the unpaid surplus labor, creating a false appearance that the workers are being paid for all of their labor power which simultaneously disguising the parasitical nature of capitalism.

In a nutshell the capitalists pay the workers below the value of their labor power and pocket the difference in the form of profi ts and reproduction of capital (surplus value) upon the sale of the goods produced by the workers. What does this have to do with us as a prison population? This mode of production not only creates and perpetuates already existing poverty; it creates with these objective conditions the corresponding subjective ideology that fuels the development of a prison industrial complex.

All prison struggles transcend their prison walls whether we are conscious of this or not. It is not “us” as a nation pitted against other nations we have been taught and programmed to believe throughout our lives. The prison system is just one aspect of a much larger interconnected class struggle that transcends all national borders. We as a prison population must deepen our knowledge and raise our political consciousness.

We must transform our incorrect narrow nationalistic views into a scientifi cally correct internationalist outlook and recognize the concrete material reality that we are just one of the numerous side effects of an outdated and insuffi cient economic system that results in the social inequalities where a prison system becomes necessary to protect the stolen riches and privileges of a small powerful elite—the same profi t driven economic system that oppresses and exploits 3rd world peoples around the globe. Our interests do not lie in siding with our own domestic ruling classes in the imprisoning of over two million of our own population, or in the exploitation of billions of 3rd world people around the globe. Our interests, however overwhelming as it may seem, lies with our own impoverished and 3rd world people against not only our own capitalist ruling class and its benefi ciaries, but against all capitalist ruling classes of the world regardless of national borders.

So long as we live in a society that’s divided into social classes, the preservation and need for a prison system is guaranteed. And any achievements gained internally or externally of the prisons themselves, as welcomed as they are, will be purely reformist, i.e., temporary. To be successful as possible and maintain continuity in struggle (progress), our ultimate goal must be that of a classless society—that is the abolition of the objective and subjective conditions that give rise to a prison system.


This article first appeared in The Rock v. 1 #11, November 2012

Chad LandrumChad LandrumChad Landrum

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.