Thoughts from the Outside: A view of freedom and self-determination

June 7, 2023

From the May-June 2023 issue of News & Letters

by Faruq

Every one of our discussions has to center on liberation, what would real freedom look like? We can’t be fooled by those on the Left or the Right who are trying to control the narrative, or fooled by musical chairs, replacing one ruler with another.

If revolution means anything, it creates seats for everyone at the table. As Fannie Lou Hamer said, we’re all hungry, we’re all thirsty. Revolution is not a game where some win and some lose. The idea of self-determination means elevating the whole of humanity. Anything less interprets Marxism narrowly.


We seek to liberate human labor from capitalism, which dominates humanity by turning living labor into dead labor. Capitalism makes machinery, technology, the determinant instead of the creative powers of live human beings.

Experiencing capitalism as a killer of life is not just personal. Individuals also reach for a new universal for the whole of society. Reflection helps one see the wholly human aspects in individual circumstances. Reflection helps one challenge various kinds of thinking, one’s own included. But one has to speak up and confront the hard task of analyzing one’s own thinking.

One of the most important moments for me was discovering empathy the way Franz Fanon expressed it. The horror of being in solitary confinement was the total lack of interacting with other human beings. As bad as it was to get through it, it helped clarify for me what humanism means. To be human is to strive to be free, to overcome obstacles to freedom. But freedom is not just leaving solitary, or just leaving prison. To be free came to mean for me to be self-determining, to have my self-determination recognized and to recognize it in others.

People coming to the U.S. borders just want to have a life. Those opposing them cite a supposed threat to their own freedom. But the principles for your freedom must be the same principles for all people’s freedom.


You have to be able to see yourself in the other individual. That’s the transformation that is needed. I talk to all kinds of people. I get to see a slice of their life, of their personalities. One young man said, “I have a street PhD.” I know what that means. You do hear wisdom on the street from a variety of people. Education can happen anywhere there are people. Making education a specialty is a way to alienate people who have been denied formal education. We all have active imaginations. We don’t need fairy tales to learn. We all learn from life, from our experiences.

The capitalist system has a way of limiting who people can become, in part by limiting what people know. Look at the bans to teaching real, i.e., Black history in America.

I had to develop a love for reading. I used to not think much about those who can read a book. But life becomes a lot more comprehensible and you can endure the shocks of life more easily if you have a broader perspective on reality. It’s important to read. If you don’t reflect, you can’t understand your condition.


No history is just the past. All of history is the arena in which we fight right now. For me the phrase “there is no alternative” means there is no alternative to the necessity of standing up to fight.

They can’t scare me by saying “You’re going back to prison.” I may go back, but it matters what I go back for.

Includes Faruq’s reports on the historic 2011 hunger strikes against indeterminate solitary confinement. To order a copy, click here.

Some live in an illusion that everything is going to be OK if we just keep quiet.

Yet look at Todd Ashker or Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, two of the leaders of the Pelican Bay hunger strike against indefinite solitary confinement still persecuted by the prison system. If they were “regular,” that is quiet, subservient prisoners, they might be out. They chose to act at great cost to themselves. Your activity matters in becoming who you want to be, in reaching your potential.

My life became quite different once I understood the value of education by studying Marx and Marxist-Humanism. Education at its best allows you to become one with your humanity and seeing that humanity in other people.

Nothing is more important than the self-determination of the idea of freedom as all individuals experience it for themselves and with others. No other vision, no other methodology, can compare. It gives us a glimpse of what freedom, real freedom, might look like.

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