Race & Class
53(2)completing complex battlements and fortifications. After four days, on 13September, with negotiations stalled over the question of amnesty from criminalprosecution for the prisoners, Governor Nelson Rockefeller refused for the fourthday the men’s (and Commissioner Russell Oswald’s) request to come to theprison. Instead, he ordered 1,000 National Guard troops, state police and prisonguards to storm the prison and retake it. Tear gas was dropped into the yard, andstate troopers, using shotguns, fired for over two minutes into the smoke. Thetelevised show of force, which ended with prison guards shouting ‘white power’,left twenty-nine prisoners and ten hostages dead, all killed by state troopers andguards as they retook the prison. The McKay Commission, although critical ofNelson Rockefeller’s handling of the uprising and the brazen lies that the mediapublished and that prison personnel circulated about who killed the hostages,did little to stop the wave of reprisals that followed.Notwithstanding the still prevalent view that Attica was a spontaneous riottriggered by an incident of prisoner abuse, the uprising at Attica was well pre-pared, the culmination of a period of organising within and outside of prison, astheir declaration made clear: ‘The entire incident that has erupted here at Atticais not a result of the dastardly bushwhacking of the two prisoners on September8, 1971, but of the unmitigated oppression wrought by the racist administrativenetwork of this prison throughout the years.’
At Attica, the remarkable unity ofthe men had been painstakingly built and no doubt helped by the failure ofprison authorities to respond to demands that prisoners had been making peace-fully for quite some time. The wave of prison rebellions that occurred in thewake of the intense activity at Soledad prison in California and after George Jackson’s death – at Attica and also in San José, California; Dallas and SanAntonio, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; and Bridgeton, New Jersey, to name afew places – occurred in the context of a prisoners’ rights movement in the USthat began in the 1920s, peaked in the early 1950s and exploded from 1960 to1971.
This movement was not, by any means, confined to the US and, duringthis same period, there was also a wave of revolts and strikes in European pris-ons, including youth facilities, notably in Sweden, France, Germany, NorthernIreland and Italy. In 1971, in Italy alone, there were almost monthly work, hun-ger and solidarity strikes, revolts, protests and riots across the country in Turin,Monza, Treviso, Milan, Naples, Sardinia, Genes, La Spezia, Brescia, Forlì,Catania, Udine, Modena and Pisa.
In France, a hunger strike by the politicalprisoners swept up in the post-1968 repression and by the 1970 ‘
’law led to the founding of the Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons (GIP) in1971, which then, in turn, networked not only with prisoners in France, but alsowith prisoner movements across Europe and the US.
The whole question ofwhat was ‘intolerable’, the title of GIP’s journal, was now tied directly, constitu-tively, not only to the depredations of capitalism, imperialism and militarism,but to repressive policing and imprisonment in the name of security.In the US, the escalation of the Black struggle in the 1960s and the criminalisationof its participants had, by 1970, produced a distinct population of political pris-oners connected to the Black Panther party, with its anti-racist Marxism, and
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