The Revolutionary Communist Tour

The Revolutionary Communist Tour aims to build a communist movement among the people locked on the bottom of society in the current era of Bushite Christian-fascism. Contact us at, or P.O. Box 941 Knickerbocker Station New York, New York 10002-0900 866-841-9139 x2670

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Down for Revolution, an Interview with Clyde Young [formerly Comrade X]

An Interview Reprinted from the Revolutionary Worker (now renamed Revolution)

In this interview, the RW talks with Clyde Young [formerly known as "Comrade X"], a leading comrade in the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. His life journey - as a Black street youth coming up in the early 1960's, through two prison rebellions, and up to the present - is of definite interest to all sisters and brothers who are looking for a way out of this racist and downpressing system. The interview originally appeared in RW issues #569-573.

Part 1
Coming Up: Fried, Dyed and Laid to the Side

RW: You spent a lot of time in prison when you were coming up and you became a revolutionary in prison - and a revolutionary leader. So we'd like to get down on that whole story. And we know that your experience can shed some light for the brothers and sisters - who are right now up against some heavy fire from the powers-that-be - on why they should become revolutionaries.
There's some lines in the rap by Public Enemy "Don't Believe the Hype" that typify the situation for Black youth today:
"About the gun...
I wasn't licensed to have one
The minute they see me, fear me
I'm the epitome - a public enemy
used, abused without clues
I refused to blow a fuse
they even had it on the news
Don't believe the hype."

How does this song relate to your situation when you were coming up in the 1960's?

Comrade X: A lot of what's captured there speaks to what it is for Black youth and other oppressed youth coming up in this society, not just now, but when I was coming up too. One of the main differences is that now the shit is a lot sharper. Public Enemy has this picture on the front of their album - a Black youth with a target on his chest. And a lot of what characterizes the situation today is that the powers are tightening up their whole state apparatus and in the name of the war on drugs actually conducting a war on the people and the youth. That's the character of it.
Malcolm X used to talk about that there was a minimum security and maximum security. He'd be talking and be saying he had been in prison and he'd tell people, "Well don't be surprised, you're in prison too - it's a question of maximum versus minimum security prison." But increasingly from what I can see, the distinctions are getting blurred. I mean, when you have people getting stopped like these youth stopped in Boston and strip-searched out in public and shit - and housing projects being turned almost literally into prisons - some of the distinctions between the maximum and the minimum is beginning to get blurred.
So things are a lot sharper. And even in terms of the reaction of the youth I think, as is somewhat captured in the lyrics of Public Enemy and some of the other rap groups, there is a rough edge or a hard edge that didn't exist quite in the same way when I was coming up. But there's a lot that's similar in terms of going up against the other side. Like that point from Mao about how the oppressed fight back and in fighting back they search out for philosophy and I think that speaks in a lot of ways to what my life was like.
I can remember when I was arrested for the first time was when I was nine years old. It was a situation where I was in a five and ten cent store - I don't they even have those anymore. I stole something. At this time I can't even remember what it was but it was something really petty. And I was arrested and taken downtown and put in jail. I was in a cell by myself, but I was actually in the jail for men - when I was nine years old. And they held me down there and tried to intimidate me - and succeeded, at that age - until my parents came and got me. This is the kind of thing that happens growing up Black in this country. Had I been white it probably would have been resolved a lot differently, just by either taking me home or telling me not to do it anymore. But in my case, right from the beginning, it was resolved in a very harsh fashion.
From the time before I was a teenager up until I was a grown man way into my twenties, I was repeatedly involved in various contradictions with the state and being put into prison. And if you put together the crimes supposedly that precipitated that, they were all very, very minor. But I'll try to get into some of that as we go along.
The first time that I was really convicted of something was a very minor and petty offense - I stole a pound of hamburger. At the time when I was coming up we were very poor, so I had a scheme that I would work. My mother would send me to the store with a dollar or two, and I would steal what she wanted me to buy, and then I would keep the money to have some spending money. And this one Saturday - I can remember it very vividly - I went in to do that and I got busted. And once again, right away they took me downtown. But this time it wasn't even a question of my parents coming to get me. They put me in a juvenile detention center for a couple
of months and then I was put on probation. This was when I was 12 years old.
By the time I reached 13 I had been arrested again for shoplifting and riding in a stolen car, or stealing a car, which was a violation of my probation of the previous incident of stealing the hamburger. So I was sentenced to the reform school (or boys school) for a period of time. Actually the way they did it at that time was they sent you there indefinitely until you were 18 years old.
At that time I was not really conscious of how to understand all this. There were some ways I knew that this shit wasn't right, some things were wrong, and I had some sense of how Blacks were oppressed. But it wasn't any kind of put-together understanding that I had at that time. So I went off to reform school for nearly a year, and I would say that through all of this I was beginning more and more to get an understanding of some things.

RW: A lot of times the youth are caught up in it but they don't see that it's the whole system coming down on them.

Comrade X: Of course I can see it much more clearly now looking back. At that time when I was growing up in the South, people still had to sit in the back of the bus and were subjected to all kinds of Jim Crow shit. And that was not only true in the South but also in the North. In fact, Malcolm X made the statement at one point that the South began at the border of Canada. In other words, it was the whole country, because in the North some of the same stuff went on, but it was more disguised. 'Cause I can remember even where I lived which was in the North, some
of the drug stores and restaurants, Blacks couldn't sit at the counter - the same way it was in the South. But the whole system, the whole penal system and the whole state apparatus, was set up in sucha way so that everything was aimed back at the oppressed people. And this is the same kind of thing that you see coming down on the youth today in a lot of ways.
You'd go in to see your probation officer or the social worker, and the interviews a lot of times would consist of, "Were you fed well, did your parents abuse you?" Here was a situation where we were very poor and a lot of times it was a question of not having anything to eat of having fuel or coal. I would have to go out and find wood so we could stay warm and eat sugar sandwiches and shit like that. In other words, we didn't have shit. This was before there was a lot of openings in the 60's where people began to get into better paying jobs. And instead of that being looked at as the source of the problem, the authorities, the social workers and such, would ask you, "Well, do you think you're a kleptomaniac?"
And ultimately I came to see it as a bigger problem - that capitalism and imperialism was the source of this and the whole character and nature of the oppression of Black people in this country, having been brought here as slaves, forced into slavery, and then even after slavery being forced into a state of virtual slavery in the South. And all of this had everything to do with the
contradictions that I was facing as I was coming up as a kid.

RW: What happened when you went to boys school?

Comrade X: When I went to boys school it was a very regimented type of situation. The boys were in cottages which were like small houses. But first they kept you in what they called "quarantine" where they oriented you to the rules and basically began the process of breaking your spirit, which is what it was all about. I can remember being in quarantine. The floors were just spotless, you could almost eat off of them. And largely what we spent our time doing was mopping and waxing the floors and walking around with pieces of cloth under our feet so we wouldn't scratch the floors. We couldn't wear shoes or anything.
It was also very segregated. The Blacks were in certain cottages and the whites were in certain cottages. And the whites, to the extent that this could be the case, had more privileges than the Blacks. When I got out of quarantine I went into this cottage - and everybody was going into what we called the scullery - I guess it's some English word for the kitchen - and I was the last to go in. As I walked past the cottage supervisor he said something to me and I said, "No," and all hell broke loose. He knocked me down, threw a chair on top of me, and hit me with a
chair, pulled out a whip and whipped me, and all of this was because I didn't say, "Yes SIR."
They only let you wear your hair so long, so in order to keep your hair long you had to put on a woman's stocking. You'd take it and put it on your hair so that it would be pressed down and it wouldn't be too long. Otherwise they'd make you get it cut off, because when you first go in there it's just like the army. They cut your hair off, it's very regimental, very humiliating. They make you march in formation and say the Lord's prayer and pledge allegiance to the flag and all this kind of regimentation and strict control over everything you did. There were certain areas in the cottage where you could talk and where you couldn't talk and if you were caught talking, there were snitches and whatnot that would write your name down. And if your name came on the list then you would get the strap. For all this talk about child abuse, they would make you lean over a chair and make you pull your pants down and beat you with a razor strap. For talking in the dining room you'd get ten licks - but if you let go of the chair before the cottage supervisor got to ten then you had to start all over again, so this could go on for quite a long time. It was just very fascistic in that kind of way. And that was not all that inconsistent with the atmosphere in the country in the '50s and early '60s - that was the way things were carried out. Later on when I got out and got a little older and came back, I rebelled against some of that - including challenging the cottage supervisor himself.

RW: Where were most of the guys from, what kind of background?

Comrade X: Overwhelmingly proletarians. A lot of the people I met in reform school - and these people came from all throughout the state - later, when I was older and went to prison, there was the same people. This was the track you were on and the people you met there were frequently the same people you met when you got to prison later on in life.

RW: Some people treat the whole question of crime in the inner cities and youth gangs like it never existed before, when in reality the oppressed people have always been in a situation where it was allowable to brutalize each other but crossing that line to fight the system was something different.

Comrade X: That's definitely true. In fact that was a point the Chairman made in the interview about the Black Panther Party. Where I grew up it wasn't like there was organized gangs as such, but it was more that there was turfs, which is more or less the same. It was the East side versus the West and the North side versus the South. If you went on the wrong side of town then it was your ass. Of it you went to a party on the wrong side of town and you stepped on somebody's shoe or something, these minor kind of things like this, it very often went over to violence. And in some other places like Chicago, not only did they have gangs, but they were like empires. Thousands of people were in them and in fact you were forced into them. So it is definitely the case that this has existed for a long time.
And also, too, this whole point of it being "allowable" in a certain sense if you are doing it to one another. It is different than if you even step out and start committing violence and violent crimes against whites, to say nothing if you begin to go over to become a revolutionary and start attacking the system. Then there is a whole different ballgame.

RW: Getting back to your story. Clearly when you were in the boys school and they ran this whole discipline trip on you, it did not work. It did not achieve the results that they desired.

Comrade X: No, it did not. I would have to say before I began to take up revolutionary ideas and especially before I began to take up Marxism-Leninism-Maoism that they could confuse you. They never really succeeded in breaking me and a lot of the people that I grew up with, but they could confuse you in terms of your understanding. I used to think, "Why am I getting into this shit all the time. I don't want to get busted all the time but here I am. I made a promise to myself
that I wasn't going to get into this situation again, but here I am again." In other words, there was a whole thing of making you think it was really you that was the problem rather than that there's a whole system and the whole setup. Like when I was young and used to shoot dice, they used to have different kinds of fake dice they could put in on you. And that's the way this system is: the dice are loaded. They are shooting loaded dice against you.
It wasn't like I really had it all together in terms of why all this shit was happening this way. But like a lot of youth, I not only had dreams but I also thought about why shit was this way and why it was that people over here were poor and people over there were just born rich. Where I lived, on this street and this whole area was all Blacks and extremely poor, but then not far away from where we lived it was like a whole rich section of town. And you'd think about these things. Why was it that way? Why was it that people had to go hungry and go without the basic essentials of what it takes to live? And on the other hand they were mocked and surrounded by all this wealth. That was a thing I did ponder when I was a kid before I came to understand fully what this was all about.

RW: Who were your heroes?

Comrade X: As I grew older I wanted to be a hustler, I wanted to live by my wits and I wanted to be in the streets. I didn't see much of a future in working like a slave eight hours a day like I'd seen my parents do and other people around me. It just didn't seem to be heading anywhere. It didn't have any attraction to me. What attracted me was this other kind of life, where you are more in the streets and living by your wits and hustling. And that's the sort of thing I got into.
When I was coming up a lot of the people that I admired were the older "brave elements" - the brothers who stood on the corners and wore their pants high up. They used to have a style where you wore your pants all the way up to your chest. And they wore their Kadies and they had their switchblades. It was just a certain style of going up against things, not in a conscious way, but there was a certain style in opposition. And it was what it meant to be a youth at that time. Those were a lot of the people that I admired and later ended up in prison with - the
"Brother Russells."
Brother Russell, who himself is dead now, was one of the people that I admired and looked to as a "role model" as opposed to somebody like King. I was reading recently this tale about Staggerlee, and he reminded me of Brother Russell. He was one of the "brave elements" that hung out on the corner. Brother Russell got into prison because he was involved in a crap game and somebody made the mistake of slapping him and he ended up in prison for murder. Brother Russell was not the type of person that you'd want to slap, that was like a serious mistake and ended up to be a fatal mistake. So Brother Russell ended up going to prison and ended up in
prison when I was there. By that time I had become a revolutionary and I became a different kind of "role model" for him so it was kind of a switch.
Those were the kinds of people, the people who had their hair fried and dyed and laid to the side, with a part not too wide. Back then, it was like a process. There was a certain edge to that style that was not respectable, that was "in your face." Black people who were respectable or who were in entertainment might wear a process, but to wear your dorag and to have your dorag in your pocket and that sort of thing, there was a certain unrespectable edge to it that sent the other side up the wall.
They were the outlaws. They would wear their outrageous clothes and they would stand on the corner and they would croon and those kinds of things. And that?s who I admired and who I wanted to model myself after. And later it was me that was out there like that.

RW: In opposition to the treatment you received you developed a certain contempt for death which is similar to the attitude in the lyrics of the NWA rap Fuck the Police:
"...They have the authority to kill a minority.
Fuck that shit, cuz I ain't the one
For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
To be beatin' on and thrown in jail."

Comrade X: I think early on a lot of this contempt for death and a lot of the way the stuff came down was against one another. There was this whole thing about who was bad on the corner and you weren't gonna let anyone get the better of you.
But there was also contempt for the pigs. When I first began committing robberies and burglaries, I would go into a place and start burglarizing it and just in terms of the fearlessness I had of the state, I would go in and start cooking myself a meal. Like I figured they had the same thing that I had and I probably had more heart than they did, so if they came I was ready for them. And that was the spirit that I had and in fact a lot of the youth had, and it?s not all that different
than what exists now.
I was just not long ago rereading some of Malcolm X, and he talks about when he was coming up - this whole thing about "face." It's like a street code and also it's a similar type of code in prison. In other words, the way he puts it in his book is that for a hustler in our sidewalk jungle world, "face" and honor were important, no matter. No hustler could have it known that he had been hyped, meaning outsmarted or made a fool of, and worse a hustler could never afford to have it demonstrated that he could be bluffed, that he could be frightened by a threat and that he lacked nerve. It just basically comes down to machoism - that you can't let people do anything that would offend your manhood or offend your face. And if that happened then you had to go down, or you weren't down.
That was a whole part of existing on the street is that you had to have that heart, have that nerve, not be able to be backed down by someone else if it came to a confrontation. That's part of the whole psychology of the streets that goes on, and some people from the '60s who are getting down on the youth today forget that. This is not something that even just existed in the '60s, Malcolm is talking more back in the '40s, that same kind of code of the streets and also something that exists in prison.

RW: Looking back on it you said you see positive and negative things in it. What do you mean by that?

Comrade X: On the negative side, what can I say: that street code of prison code has a lot of individualism mixed up with it - to say nothing of machoism and male chauvinism. I've been there, I know what it is all about. And I've come a long way in breaking with that kind of outlook. That's the Man's way. Our way is: "Brothers rising up with sisters, strong, proud and with equality: that's our way, the way we all get free." The youth today (and here I'm speaking especially of the brothers) have to be struggling over that kind of thing, that kind of macho outlook. The revolutionaries have to have a first-string orientation and all-the-way revolutionary
politics in command, uniting with the anger of the people and striving to direct it in the most powerful way at this cesspool that they call "the greatest system on earth." And we got to make that part of preparing to bring this system down. As we've said: "While we're battling them back, politically like that, we got to make this part of getting ready for The Time - and it can come soon - to wage revolutionary war."
On the positive side, when these youth begin to become more conscious and that same fearlessness and anger and contempt for death begins to be directed and the system and the powers that be, then you have a whole different ballgame. All that is a necessary part of what we have to do in bringing this whole thing down, you need that, you need that spirit. You obviously need a lot more than "heart" but you do need that. So that?s how it divides into two. On the one hand the way it plays itself out in the streets and in prison and all of that is a reflection of
machoism and gangsterism and that sort of thing. But on the other hand, there is the situation that when that attitude gets transformed through the leadership of a party and when people begin to take up the science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, it?s not like you lose that same fearlessness and that same hatred - it's just tempered, if you want to put it that way.
I can remember having a lot of hatred, but it was not focused and not directed and oftentimes it would be focused in the wrong way and the wrong direction, but it?s not like I've lost that hatred and anger. I still have a monumental anger and a monumental hatred for imperialism, as the song says, "deep in my heart I still abhor 'em." And after all these years, I still don't fear them. So the question is how do you lead that, how do you have a first-string orientation.
When I was coming up, there wasn't a party, there wasn't a party that was based on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, that could give some direction. And later as I got into my teens there was the Black Panther Party which played a vanguard role and made a tremendous difference. Today there is a party, our party, that is preparing to make revolution in this country as a component part of the world revolution. There is a party with the line, leadership and battle-plan to lead things all the way this time around.
A whole generation of youth came forward in the '60s who wouldn't be intimidated and weren't too impressed with the power of the state, and we need to bring that forward again and take it all the way this time.