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Views on Socialism and Communism:
Revolution #037, March 5, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Editors Note: The following is drawn from a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, to a group of Party members and supporters in 2005. It has been edited for publication here, and subheads and footnotes have been added.
To get right into things, and to touch on a most essential question: Why did I begin "Reaching For the Heights, Flying Without a Safety Net"1 talking about state power? Why did I emphasize that we want state power?
Let's start with the simple and basic answer: It is right to want state power. It is necessary to want state power. State power is a good thing--state power is a great thing--in the hands of the right people, the right class, in the service of the right things: bringing about an end to exploitation, oppression, and social inequality and bringing into being a world, a communist world, in which human beings can flourish in new and greater ways than ever before.
All you have to do, in order to get a clear view on this, is to think about all the things that the masses of people are subjected to. I'm going to talk about this a little bit now and return to it as I go along. Think about all the things the masses are subjected to, and what could be done to uproot those things with revolutionary state power, and what cannot be done about them because we don't have that state power. Think about the way in which people in the inner cities, for example, are continually subjected to humiliation, abuse, outright brutality, and even repeated murder at the hands of the present state power, in particular the police. And think what it would mean if state power were in the hands of the masses of people, and the state apparatus backed them up in doing away with every remnant of that, and in approaching problems among the people in a completely different way, with state power backing that up in a different way.
Think about the problem of rape in society, a massive problem, which is deeply rooted in the fundamental relations of this society. Think about what can be done about that, even in a very short time, once capitalism has been overthrown and the socialist state has been established--greatly reducing the incidence of rape and changing it from a major phenomenon to one that occurs infrequently, and moving in decisive ways toward eliminating it altogether--by wielding state power, in a revolutionary way, on a communist basis (on the basis of communist leadership and with communist objectives).
You can go down the list of everything that's happening to masses of people all over the world because they do not have state power in their hands--all the things to which they're repeatedly subjected, the conditions of disease and malnutrition, what Marx captured so powerfully in the term "agony of toil" and the crippling poverty and brutality that accompanies and reinforces this for literally billions of people in all parts of the world, and a thousand other abuses and unnecessary suffering, essentially because state power is in the hands of their exploiters and oppressors instead of in their hands.
No one should call herself or himself a communist who at this stage of history does not want state power and is not anxious to get state power--and doesn't know what to do with it if they do get it. There are a lot of complexities bound up with this, but it's time, and way past time, to get rid of absolutely any apologies about wanting state power, or doubts and existential agonizing over whether proletarian states are a good thing. They're a very good thing. You can, and should, study the presentation that is being given by Raymond Lotta, beginning on a number of university campuses, "Setting the Record Straight" on the history of the exercise of state power by the proletariat,2 and see what was able to be done, even with real shortcomings, on the basis of proletarians exercising state power, led by their communist vanguards. If you are at all scientific, you can see that none of those positive and truly world-historic things could have been done without that state power. And you can look at all the things that need to be done in the world today--in terms of getting rid of all the horrors the masses are subjected to, and in terms of advancing to a stage of society where these things no longer exist or can have a basis--and you can see very clearly why state power is a very good thing and very necessary.
Of course, there are the fundamental questions of orientation: For whom and for what do we want this state power? But, with the correct orientation, wanting state power and the willingness, as well as ability, to lead people toward that objective are tremendously important, and indeed precious, things, precisely for the masses of people, for their emancipation and ultimately the emancipation of humanity as a whole.
There is, today more than ever perhaps, a tremendous amount of slander and distortion in terms of what the history of socialist society and proletarian state power has been about. And without an honest and scientific approach to this, it is not possible to correctly understand either the great achievements or the significant shortcomings in this experience and to grasp the new synthesis3 that is required in order to, as I have put it, "do better" in the next round of proletarian revolutions and the socialist states they bring into being.
First of all, let's put things on the scales and get a balance sheet. Let's weigh what we know about that historical experience in the Soviet Union and in China when they were actually socialist countries (and by that I mean in the years 1917-56 in the Soviet Union, and 1949-76 in China). Let's look at the ways in which the problems and the needs and the interests of the masses were addressed on the one hand, and put that on the scale, and let's put the shortcomings on the other side of the scale. Which one weighs far more heavily? Let's put on the scale the things that were done in terms of overcoming the exploitation and oppression of the masses of people in those countries, creating new social relations, new culture, new ways of thinking, new international relations. Put all that on the scale and weigh that against the alleged, or even real, ways in which, in the course of all this, some problems were not handled as well as they should have been, and some people, including among the artists and intellectuals, suffered as a result.
Does it matter that masses of people were not starving by 1970 in China, that for the first time in centuries and millennia, China had solved its food problem in basic terms, in the socialist society that had existed for just 20 years? Does it matter that for the first time, tens and hundreds of millions of peasants had health care? Do these things matter to anybody? Does it matter that masses of people could get up in the morning and walk down the street and not fear the police--or even each other, for that matter--because a new state power was making possible the creation of new social relations? Does it matter that, for the first time in the history of China--and, on the scale it happened, really this was something new in the history of the world--the masses of people were encouraged and led to take up affairs of state and to involve themselves in wrangling with the direction of society and the situation and struggles of the people in the world? Does that matter?
So, if you want to make a balance sheet--yes, it's bad that there were errors and, yes, even some real excesses, in the Cultural Revolution, and they do have to be taken account of and analyzed scientifically, along with everything else, but let's not lose perspective and a sense of what was really going on there, on the larger scale. A number of artists who lived in China in that period raised that, "We weren't allowed to put on certain artistic works during the Cultural Revolution." Yes, there were some real problems in that regard, and they do need to be summed up deeply and all-sidedly--and, again, we need a new synthesis that will enable us to do better with all this the next time around. But, once again, as a matter of fundamental orientation, let's put that in the balance scale, weighing it against the fact that, for the first time in the history of China--and in contrast to what goes on in every society throughout the world where the proletariat does not hold state power, including the United States--masses of people were not being worked like slaves in the factories, with one-man management, piecework, speed-up and all the rest of it, and were in fact increasingly becoming masters of society. Does that matter? How should we evaluate that in relation to the fact that, for example, you couldn't put on certain dance productions during the Cultural Revolution in China?
I remember hearing Baryshnikov talk about his experience coming from the Soviet Union to the U.S.--and this was when both of them were capitalist: one was revisionist (socialist in name, but capitalist in deed and in essence) at the time and one was, of course, openly capitalist. And at least Baryshnikov had a certain amount of honesty, he said that he left the Soviet Union because they wouldn't let people dance Balanchine, but on the other hand, in the Soviet Union from an early age if you were inclined to go into ballet, and you showed some talent for it, you got the real backing of the state, you got all the resources, you could learn how to do ballet. He was at least a little bit honest about how he availed himself of that until he got good enough to dance Balanchine and then he left to go to the U.S., where they'd let him dance Balanchine, and so on. And he was also honest about the fact that many, even most, of the dancers he knew in the U.S. were having a very hard time just making it--many of them working in restaurants waiting tables and similar jobs, just to be able to live--and were not able to devote themselves anything like full time to their art. Now, there we are talking about revisionism in the Soviet Union, not socialism. But let's say they wouldn't let you dance Balanchine in a real socialist country. Do we have more work to do to get a better synthesis on that? Yes. But, by the way, as part of accurately and scientifically evaluating things, it is very important not to overlook or downgrade the tremendous achievements and breakthroughs that were made, not only politically but artistically, through the Cultural Revolution in China, including in the arena of ballet and dance.
Among other things, we hear a lot of distortions these days about how, during the Cultural Revolution, many intellectuals were sent to the countryside. As I have pointed out a number of times, nobody asked the hundreds of millions of peasants in China if they wanted to go to the countryside. Now, is that the complete answer to how intellectuals were dealt with in the Cultural Revolution? No. We do need another leap, we do need a further and new synthesis. But if we have to weigh these things, where do we start from in seeking to achieve a new synthesis? What's our starting point? Where are our feet planted, so to speak? What is our basic orientation? Is it with the masses of people and their needs and interests and the goal of revolutionizing all of society and the world and ultimately emancipating all of humanity, including the intellectuals and other strata, from the shackles of class-divided society and all the consequences of that? Not in some crude way of pitting the masses versus the intellectuals in some economist sense--and in a sense of seeking revenge against the intellectuals and other strata among the people who have historically occupied a more privileged place but are not the rulers of the system and the exploiters and oppressors of the masses of people--but instead looking at the needs and fundamental interests of the masses of people and revolutionizing all of the world and emancipating all of humanity.
Where do we start from? Do we start from the individual and individualistic concerns? Or do we start from fundamental questions, concerning the masses of people and the essential economic, social, and political relations in society, and the world, and then move forward from there, synthesizing on that basis? As a fundamental point of orientation and approach, we have to proceed from the right place. As I have emphasized a number of times, we must not have an approach of trampling on the rights of individuals and individuality, but instead must strive to make this flower more fully among the great majority of people in society, and ultimately among humanity in the world as a whole; yet, at the same time, we cannot make the concerns of particular individuals weigh more heavily than the larger questions of how to uproot all exploitation and oppression and advance to the emancipation of all of humanity. As I'll come back to, there is a lot more work to be done, and we cannot and must not be narrow and philistine in our orientation and approach; we must not promote philistinism, economism, and a "revenge-line" among the masses of people, if we are going to do what we need to do; if we are really aiming, as we must, for the emancipation of all humanity, we have to rupture thoroughly with all that, but not on the basis of springing backward to bourgeois democracy and bourgeois individualism, but springing forward to what is, in fact, a new and higher synthesis on this, which is grounded in and aims for the goal of a communist world, where exploitative and oppressive relations among the people, of all kinds, will have been overcome and buried in the past forever.
Now I want to speak to how do you correctly understand and correctly apply the statement, by a comrade in the international communist movement, with which I have expressed strong agreement: "I uphold very firmly the experience of the socialist revolution so far, but I wouldn't want to live in those countries."4 This is a statement whose meaning can be, and has been, misunderstood and misconstrued. Some people who should know better, who are partisan to the cause of communism but who themselves have been influenced and even somewhat disoriented by the seemingly endless and ever more deafening crescendo of attacks on communism, have even fallen into seizing on the orientation in this statement to say: "Oh, finally, we can unload all that Stalin stuff--we don't have to talk about that anymore. We can even shake Mao off our shoulders and say, ‘no, no, that's not us, we have a new synthesis, we don't want to live there, so we're not held accountable for that.’" That is a total perversion of what's being said with "firmly uphold but wouldn't want to live there."
To begin, with what is the meaning, after all, of "firmly uphold"? And what is the principal aspect here? The principal aspect, looking at this with historical perspective, is firmly uphold. These were positive, very positive, unprecedented breakthroughs that were achieved in the historical experience of socialism; and, at the same time, there were real and in some cases very serious shortcomings that we don't want to repeat, and should not have to repeat, even with all the necessity we're going to be up against. We ought to be able, at least in crucial spheres, to make leaps and ruptures beyond this. But, here comes that old question from the song back in the day--when you say "firmly uphold, but wouldn't want to live there," here comes that punchline from that song: compared to what? This statement has been distorted. If "wouldn't want to live there" is interpreted to mean, compared to bourgeois society--NO. Once again, put things on the scale: If I have to live in bourgeois society or those countries where the proletariat held state power, I don't even have to take time to pack my suitcase, I'm heading for where the proletariat held state power. [laughter] That's not the comparison. That's a complete perversion and distortion. "Wouldn't want to live there," compared to what? Compared to what we can and must achieve the next time around. That's the point here. Building on, but leaping further--and yes, making ruptures, and yes, doing better. So the standard is: compared to what we need to and can achieve the next time around. That's the meaning of the deliberately provocative statement, which it obviously is: "firmly uphold, but wouldn't want to live there."
So, again we have to be clear on what is principal here. Boldly uphold is what's principal--not because we'd like it to be--let's "accentuate the positive." No, it's because this is true, it conforms to objective reality. If the first round of socialist states and proletarian revolutions were in fact mainly negative, we would have to say so. We'd have to confront it, we'd have analyze deeply why that was so, and we'd have to share that assessment and that analysis with people. But when that is not so, to go around acting as if it is so because it's easier to tail spontaneous bourgeois prejudice and systematic anti-communist propagandizing, is a betrayal of what we're about. It is not true that this historical experience has been mainly negative. That's not real. And simply trying to tail the spontaneity of what people have been propagandized and conditioned to think--that's going to land you, as Lenin pointed out, firmly in the swamp. You won't be able to stand on anything, if you try to bend and twist what you say to fit the prejudice of people who are being pounded--that's not too strong a characterization, bombarded and pounded--with anti-communist propaganda, distortion, lies, slander. It's like a cottage industry, this anti-communism these days. Or to refer to another phenomenon in popular culture these days, it's like betting in poker: "Mao killed 10 million," someone says. "I'll see you those 10 million and raise you another 10 million." <[em> laughter] This is what's going on with the intellectual camp followers of imperialism, and it is being swallowed uncritically by way too many people who should know better, and would know better if they hadn't suspended their critical thinking when it comes to the assault on communism. Many good people--including many people in the arts, intellectuals, people in the academic world--are being taken in by this.
I pointed this out about Jared Diamond. He writes a book that has some unscientific aspects and some mechanical aspects, but Guns, Germs and Steel is a very good book overall, and in the middle of that and then when he's at a bookstore talking about the book, he says the most ridiculous, ignorant things about China and the Cultural Revolution. I saw a tape of a C-Span thing he did on Book TV, where he says, "and then in the middle of all this, in the Cultural Revolution in China, some idiots decided to close down the educational system." And I felt like reaching into the TV and pulling him off of that tape and saying to him: "Jared, what happened to you? Here you are trying to apply all this science, really thoroughly, about why there's all this inequality in the world, and then you got to this and you just dropped all your science altogether, and just picked up the latest attack, pandered to or accepted yourself the latest prejudice. Come on, Jared, be systematic, be scientific all the way. And, while we're at it, let's talk about some Marxism, too, so you can really be systematically scientific." I think he knows some Marxism, by the way. I doubt that he has not read Engels on The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, for example. He is out of the '60s period himself. But that's what goes on, this anti-communism is the currency now, so many people have forgotten what they know, or become convinced--on frankly the shoddiest of bases--that they were wrong in knowing what they knew before.
Someone was explaining to me--I kept asking, "how can these people do this, how can they go along like this, being pretty systematically scientific, then all of a sudden, BLAM, it's just like they went into a different universe?" And the person, the comrade I was talking to, said, "Well, first of all, you have to understand, these people are not like you. They don't think the same way you think. Yes, they apply science, but they've been taken in by the idea that to say these things, these anti-communist things, is no more controversial than to talk about the Holocaust. They don't think anybody who's a reasonable person who should be listened to would ever conceivably disagree with these things"--referring to the slanders against communism. These things have become "common sense"--in other words, they've become things that are deeply embedded in the culture, so deeply that people accept them without questioning them. That's why one of the big aims of "Setting the Record Straight" is to bust these questions open to being questions again. That's one of the aims, is to make people think about these things: no, that is not a settled verdict--and in fact it is not true.
What we want to do, in terms of orientation in "Setting the Record Straight," in taking all this slander on in a big and bold way, is to say: "Here are the lies you're told, here's the truth-- and we can prove it." But people don't know this. People, broadly in the intellectual, artistic, academic circles, assume these are settled verdicts--socialism and communism is a failure, it is a disaster, a catastrophe, it leads to a form of tyranny, to totalitarianism. And they suspend critical thinking when they get to this, because they accept certain assumptions. Now, it is a fact that you can't engage your critical mind about everything thoroughly, all the time; so you put in your mind those things where you think: "that's pretty much settled." Nowadays, we're finding settled things are becoming unsettled all over the place. For example, evolution. Who knows what's next, the Copernican system? I'll have more to say about that later.
But people in these various fields think this negative verdict on communism is a settled question. For most of them, it's not their particular sphere to sum up the experience of socialist countries, but it's been done by others and "everybody knows what the truth and the verdict is." So we have to shock them: "Wait a minute, you didn't investigate this. You're making pronouncements, but you don't have any foundation underneath these pronouncements. If someone came into your classroom and did the equivalent with the subject matter that you're teaching, you would tell them to go back to the drawing board and start studying before they come in and make pronouncements. But here you are, doing exactly the same thing." So these are the objective conditions we're faced with, in general and specifically in "Setting the Record Straight." And if we're going to pander to that, we're going to be in a world of trouble; and, even more fundamentally than that, we're not going to be doing what we're supposed to be doing--which is knowing the world as it actually is (and knowing history as it has actually been), in order to change the world, in line with the way in which it's tending and in line with the way it needs to go in the interests of the masses of people all over the world.
So, yes, we should boldly uphold and boldly criticize the experience of socialist revolution and socialist society so far, but boldly uphold is the principal aspect--not because, proceeding a priori, and from the point of view of idealism, we have gone around in a circle and tautologically declared it to be so, but because, proceeding as materialists and applying dialectics, this actually is the truth--the positive aspect of this experience is the principal aspect. As Mao taught us, the principal aspect at any given time determines the essence of a thing, while the secondary aspect does not. The secondary aspect may be very real, may be very important, may be very necessary to thoroughly investigate and study, dissect and synthesize, but it is not the decisive and determining aspect of things. So, when I say these things, "firmly uphold" or "boldly uphold" the experience of socialist society and the communist revolution so far--when I say the positive aspect of this experience is the principal aspect--it's because it's true. And because, in order to know and change the world the way it needs to be understood and changed, we should proceed on a scientific basis. Yes, there are truths that make us cringe, and we shouldn't shrink from them, or shirk our responsibility to dig into them deeply. But it is not a truth--whether it makes us cringe or not, it is not a truth--that the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist society so far has been a catastrophe, a disaster, one endless reign of tyranny, a totalitarian nightmare, or even, principally, or anywhere close to principally, a negative thing. Exactly the opposite. And as materialists, as people who are scientific, we should grasp this and we should apply it, and we should do so boldly, in both aspects: boldly uphold, as the principal aspect; and boldly criticize the secondary but very real and significant shortcomings.
So, returning to the question with which I began: Why do we want state power? Because it's absolutely necessary to get to the next stage of human history, because it's essential for the liberation of the overwhelming majority of the people on the earth and ultimately for humanity as a whole. It's absolutely essential. And, if you want to really deeply understand this, just think about everything that frustrates you, that you can't do anything about right now. Whether it's what happens to people crossing the border into the U.S., what happens to people in the inner cities, what happens to people in the sweatshops, what happens to children working in Pakistan or Haiti, what happens to people in Africa, starving or being mutually slaughtered for the interests of exploiters and oppressors, whether it's women being brutalized and raped and abused and degraded. Go down the line and think about everything that you're frustrated about and why you became convinced of the need for radical change in the first place, and then you'll know what state power is good for and why we should want it--and, yes, in the correct sense, with a correct understanding of what and whom this is all for, why we should crave greatness in this respect too.
1. "Reaching for the Heights, Flying Without a Safety Net" was a talk given by Bob Avakian toward the end of 2002. Excerpts were published from April 20 through August 17, 2003 in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution).
2. The talk referred to here, "Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Far Better World," is currently being serialized in Revolution and is available online at revcom.us.
3. In addition to what is said throughout the course of this talk on this subject, Bob Avakian speaks to this new synthesis in Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism (available online at revcom.us) and in the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, by Bob Avakian (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005).
4. This statement was first cited by Bob Avakian in the talk Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism.
Revolution #037, March 5, 2006, posted at revcom.us
The Iraqi people took another wrenching leap deeper into the hell of U.S. occupation in the early morning of February 22. A group of men dressed in police uniforms set off bombs that destroyed the golden dome of the Askariya shrine in Samarra, one of the most important mosques for Shi’a Islam. The reactionary attack on Askariya in turn triggered more reactionary violence aimed at the mosques, political parties, and ordinary people associated with Sunni Islam, the main rival trend to Shi’a.
As of February 25, two straight days of curfews had been declared in Baghdad and nearby areas, and some 200 people reportedly hadbeen killed, mainly Iraqi Sunnis. News headlines around the world described Iraq as "on the brink" of a civil war, and described U.S. efforts to politically hammer together a new client regime as "in ruins."
U.S. officials immediately blamed Al Qaeda in Iraq for the Askariya bombing, hypocritically posing as voices of moderation and tolerance while washing their hands of any responsibility. But first of all, it is not at all clear who carried out the February 22 bombing; different forces with different motives could have been involved. Second, whoever was responsible for this specific attack, the deeper reality is that this incident and the resulting bloodshed ultimately stem from the U.S.'s illegal, immoral, and unjust war in Iraq—just like the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, the rampant death squads, the use of white phosphorous bombs against people, and the other horrors—and literal war crimes of the U.S. occupation. And the continuing U.S. occupation can only mean worse nightmare and suffering for the masses of oppressed Iraqis.
Let's get into this more and look at what's happening here in the context of what the U.S. has been doing overall in Iraq and the region.
Before the U.S. invasion, the Hussein regime enforced a particular structure of oppressive relations in Iraq, relying on a certain social base—the largely secular Baathist Party and its followers, which was mainly though not exclusively based in areas of the country where Sunni Islam was dominant and which violently suppressed a whole range of opposition groups, from communists to Kurdish nationalists to followers of Shi’a Islam. The Hussein regime never attempted to break with or even challenge its subordinate position in the world imperialist system, but it did try to play the rival imperialist powers off against each other for its own advantage. At different times and to different degrees, the U.S., the former Soviet Union, France, and others all extracted wealth from Iraq and utilized it as a tool in power struggles within the region. By the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. imperialists increasingly aimed to "liberate" Iraq—that is, to oust Hussein and make themselves the dominant and basically unchallenged power in Iraq, as part of a larger strategic design to transform the Middle East and bring it more firmly under U.S. domination.
With 9/11, the Bush regime saw its opportunity to do that. Despite the lack of any ties between the 9/11 attackers and Iraq, and despite the UN’s failure to find any "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, the U.S. launched an utterly unprovoked war against in Iraq in March of 2003. The Bush regime's goal behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq (aside from directly taking over a major oil producer) was to make Iraq into a kind of forward base for the U.S. military, as well as a "model regime" for reconfiguring the other societies and regimes in the Middle East— on the basis of intensified imperialist domination.The main Bush strategists and planners apparently thought the U.S. could relatively easily and quickly dismantle the old Baathist regime in Iraq and then hammer together and force on the Iraqi masses a new oppressive structure drawing in various anti-Hussein forces (with the possible role of former Baathists up for debate) and under the domination and protection of the U.S. military, which would have bases in the country.
To hammer together this new oppressive structure, the U.S. occupiers began with a reign of terror, both in areas where the Hussein regime had some strength and in other areas like Baghdad. At the same time the U.S. threw hundreds of thousands of people, who were formerly part of the Baathist social base, out of their jobs in the government, military and police, and state-owned enterprises. But in many respects this backfired, and many people who had been neutral or at least did not put up active opposition when Hussein came under attack came to hate the occupation forces and increasingly went into resistance against them. At the same time, the U.S. also unleashed and supported various ugly reactionary forces in Iraq, and have consistently tried to manipulate religious hatred and violence to serve its consolidation of a new regime. Sometimes this means stirring up "ethnic cleansing" against Sunnis and directly and militarily supporting the death squads located in the current government, sometimes propping up Sunni clerics and demanding "inclusion" for them in the regime; sometimes turning a blind eye to Shi'a militias, sometimes going against them; sometimes backing more secular forces, and so on. And sometimes doing all of the above simultaneously.
Despite the presence of over 140,000 troops, and despite their feverish efforts to sponsor one after another puppet and to manipulate ethnic and religious divisions, the imperialists have found to their dismay that this has not been the "cakewalk" they envisioned. The forging of the new repressive structure has not gone smoothly, and the level of anti-occupation resistance has surprised and stunned the U.S. imperialists, throwing into disarray many of their particular plans and stratagems.
The situation is complex and fluid. First, there is just resistance against the U.S. imperialist occupation going on. The U.S. army has no right to be in Iraq! The only "stability" it aims to bring is a further deepening of imperialist penetration and domination, and this on the basis of huge war crimes. No one should accept that. At the same time, there are different reactionary political forces in Iraq—none of whom represent the real interests of the oppressed masses—jockeying for position, including in the framework of who is going to have what share of an imperialist-dominated neocolonial state apparatus. To the extent that there is not a clearly anti-imperialist, revolutionary trend setting the terms within the resistance, these reactionary forces will and do try to utilize the resistance to serve their own narrow ends. But, again, this situation is fluid and the positive thing in all this is that, for a complex mix of reasons, the U.S. has NOT been able to consolidate an even more subservient repressive client government in Iraq—the situation is still in motion, there is still the potential for an anti-imperialist revolutionary trend to emerge.
In his work "The New Situation and the Great Challenges" (first published in 2002 and reprinted in last week's issue of Revolution and online at revcom.us), Bob Avakian pointed out, in analyzing the U.S.'s sweeping and brutal war to "reshuffle the deck, reorder the whole situation" on a global scale, that: "All of this comes together and mixes wildly—that's why I call it a cauldron of contradictions—to produce a lot of potential for things to go in many different directions and even to get out of their control… A crucial point to emphasize here again is the imperialists have set things in motion that can't be easily reversed, and may not be easily controlled."
This "potential for things to go in many different directions and even to get out of their control" is taking a particular and acute form now in the situation the U.S. imperialists are facing in Iraq.
The New York Times (2/24) noted: "The violence in Iraq after the bombing of a Shiite mosque this week has abruptly thrown the Bush administration on the defensive... The American enterprise in Iraq seemed beleaguered on two fronts, political and military... ‘The situation is very, very, very bad,’ said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who supports the American efforts in Iraq. ‘The bombing has completely demolished what [U.S. Ambassador] Zalmay was trying to do…’"
The Wall Street Journal editorialized (2/24) that what's happening now in Iraq "could be the tipping point beyond which neither U.S. forces nor Iraq forces can re-establish control."
And all this could spread beyond Iraq and shake up the whole region. A UN official told the NY Times (2/26): "A civil war in Iraq would be a kind of earthquake affecting the whole Middle East. It would deepen existing cleavages and create new cleavages in a part of the world that is already extremely fragile and extremely dangerous."
In the face of these developments, and given what the Bush regime's aims and actions have been in Iraq, what would it mean for people outside Iraq—especially inside the U.S. imperialist "homeland"—to support U.S. moves to "stabilize" the situation in Iraq? Such a stand—however it's couched or whatever the intentions behind it—is not going to do any good for the people of Iraq and around the world. It can only aid the U.S. efforts to get things "under control" and to complete its "mission" in Iraq, as part of its agenda of war for greater global empire. This could only guarantee the continuation of murders, tortures, and other vicious acts carried out by the U.S. and its Iraqi puppets, and the continued buttressing up of backward and reactionary elements within Iraq (including theocratic forces). As part of that, and to serve it, it would also mean an exacerbation and continued manipulation of the oppressive divisions within Iraqi society in many ways, shapes, and forms for decades to come.
In contrast, if the U.S. were forced to end its occupation of Iraq and pull out, this would be in the interests of the oppressed Iraq nation as a whole, even if such a pullout resulted in intensified chaos and conflict in the short term. And it would also be in the interests of the people of the world, who have no interest whatsoever in the emergence of a consolidated "forward base" and "model" for U.S. imperialism in Iraq. What is really needed right now is a revolutionary secular force that genuinely attempts to rupture with imperialist domination of whatever kind—and the driving out of the U.S. from Iraq could help the emergence of such a force. And beyond that, a U.S. defeat in Iraq would be a serious blow to the U.S.'s global war for empire and would make further aggression more difficult. This would give heart to people all over the world and possibly fuel new waves of anti-imperialist and revolutionary struggle internationally.
In all this, it is crucially important that the Iraqi people, and people all over the region and the world, see that there is a force from within U.S. society that opposes its own rulers in their designs to bring Iraq, and the whole world, under even tighter imperialist domination by the U.S. It is crucially important that there be a movement that is not based on "how best to secure American interests," but on opposition to the crimes of this regime, in Iraq, around the world, and within the U.S. itself.
Revolution #037, March 5, 2006, posted at revcom.us
We received the following correspondence from Houston:
On February 14, Walid and I and several others left Houston well before dawn to make the seven-hour drive to New Orleans. That afternoon, Walid and I walked through the deserted St. Bernard Development -- the largest housing project in the city. Walid grew up and lived here until he was a young man. Between then and now, he has been to Angola Prison farm, learned a skill as a cabinet maker, and lived in California for several years. He was forced out by Katrina and now lives in Houston.
"It’s pretty hard to see this, you know. It’s like a ghost town. So many memories here," Walid said. "What I see is how they have displaced all the people that lived in St. Bernard. They’ve placed them all over the United States, and now these people have other things in front of them that they have to deal with in order to come back to New Orleans. And then if you get here, that’s when it really starts. You got to deal with all this devastation, just to remain here, to remain at home. Like this telephone pole still laying right here in the middle of the sidewalk, five months later. And look at the buildings. People have the knowledge to rebuild all this. But you can’t do it by yourself."
On February 12, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) heartlessly stopped payments on hotel bills for over 14,000 people who had been evacuated from their homes after Hurricane Katrina. Thousands found themselves desperate to find a place to stay, their worldly belongings stuffed in a couple of plastic garbage bags. In New Orleans, a small tent city was immediately set up on the grounds of New Orleans City Hall by some evacuees and their supporters. On February 14, residents of the St. Bernard development and others, including anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, rallied in front of the St Bernard community center to demand that the development be reopened. The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) had threatened to put a fence around the projects on that day, but postponed this when they learned of the scheduled protests. Later in the week, city authorities were doing their best to bring tourists in for the official opening of the Mardi Gras season -- housing them in the hotels which had only days before evicted New Orleans residents.
Jay Arena, who is a member of C3-Hands Off Iberville, the group that organized the February 14 protest at St Bernard, said "Alphonse Jackson, Bush’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said New Orleans will not be as Black after the hurricane as it was before. His policy is not to reopen public housing. And this is now controlled by the federal government. The direction of HANO (the Housing Authority of New Orleans) has been imposed by Washington, so they’re getting directives from Washington, from Jackson and Bush. Jackson also came down here and said that what they did to the St. Thomas projects will be the model for the rest of the developments. Well, the St. Thomas was a project of 1,500 apartments, about the same size as St. Bernard, and they reduced it under this mixed income scam to under 200 units. So, if they’re going to do that to the rest of the developments, that’s just massive downsizing. It’s a recipe for, it’s to help guarantee a form of ethnic cleansing in the city. Ethnic and class cleansing."
Several residents of St. Bernard, including four who had driven in from Houston that day, spoke to why they had made the long trip. Stephanie Mingo told us, "I was on the third floor waving my flag for them to come and get me, and they kept on going. The Coast Guard said as long as the water level is off on the second floor that they were going to send the boats back to get us. But the boats didn’t come back until mostly everybody was evacuated because the young men was finding boats and coming back and getting people water and something for the little children to eat. They got canoes that got most of the people out of here to evacuate. The Coast Guard didn’t evacuate everybody and they forcibly evacuated people that didn’t want to leave, like the old people that was afraid to get in that water because they didn’t know what was going to happen to them.
"Those young men were heroes. Especially the people that was on the first floor that wasn’t able to get out. Like this lady right here, she was in a wheelchair, and she can’t walk. The water got way up to my neck. The sun was shining just like it’s doing now, when I went inside and saw the toilet overflowing. I told my children we got a flood, and we went outside. By the time I walked from this building to that building, the water was up to my neck.
"Bush said his man did a great job. His great job was to keep us in this here housing project to die. They didn’t help nobody. The water was going right up over the cars, right here. Because you know, the hurricane really didn’t do nothing to us. We had some rain, and after the hurricane we were all sitting outside, then the water started coming up.
"I lost my mama in Katrina. Why do I want to come home? Because this is my home. This is where I want to be. These other people like Bush aren’t worried about me, because they have somewhere to be. I paid 418 dollars faithfully, every month, to live here. It really do hurt. FEMA ain’t doing nothing for me. Just give me my home back."
Loretta Lyons said she had lived in St. Bernard since she was seven years old and now wants to come home. She said, "They’re paying the rent for us now, but what’s going to happen to me when the 12 months is over? I’m going to be on the street somewhere. I lost everything I had. I don’t have anything, anything. I was on the first floor. I’m not able to buy a house or anything, but I do want to come home and there’s plenty of people in Houston who want to come home to New Orleans. There’s a whole lot of talk out there about the Louisiana people. When I got to the employment office I tell them I’ve worked all my life. They tell people on the TV that Texas has a lot of jobs for you. When I go to the unemployment office they see I’m from Louisiana, and they tell me, ‘oh, we don’t have no jobs.’ I need a job, I need a home, and I want to come back to Louisiana, to New Orleans. FEMA money is never gonna take care of the people. You done lost your job, lost your home, lost everything."
A civil engineer who examined St. Bernard emphatically made the point that the development is livable. The restoration of electricity and other utilities would make the second and third floors immediately livable. And while that was being done the first floors of the buildings, where the flooding happened, could be restored.
Cindy Sheehan spoke powerfully to how her experiences in New Orleans affected her: "Every time I think that our government cannot disgust me or appall me more, they do. They sink to the level where they disgust me. Last time I was here was right after the hurricane. I couldn’t get in because the areas were so flooded. Yesterday I took a tour of the Lower 9th Ward. I have a question for the media. Why don’t we see that in the rest of America? Why haven’t helicopters flown over that war zone and shown us the images? Because the corporate media does not want us to be exposed to the failed policies and the incompetency of our government."
When the rally ended, Loretta and her daughter took a couple of us over to the section of St. Bernard where they had lived. A lot of St. Bernard looks much as it did months ago when everyone was forced out in the days of the flooding. Kids’ bikes are still chained to the railings of second and third floor apartments. Barbecue grills and stuffed animals are on the patios, and there are still family pictures on the walls.
HANO has posted "No Trespassing" signs on all the buildings in St. Bernard, and put metal plates over the windows and doors of many of apartments. But we were able to walk right into Loretta’s old apartment. The possessions of her lifetime -- from family treasures to the TV set, are still in there, all ruined, moldy, and rotting from the flooding. The memories of a lifetime, of a family and community now scattered, are also here. Loretta slowly walked through the small apartment, pointing out things big and small, telling us what they had meant to her.
"I was here over thirty years, since my daughter was a little baby. But there ain’t no sense in crying over it. I worked hard to keep this place. And now they tell me I can come in here and clean this up. But I could never clean this up. The whole building has to be cleaned up. This is my third time back. The first time, I couldn’t do anything. The water was still in here, and the whole place was stinky. The second time I did what I could and got what I could. You see here all these encyclopedias I got for my children. Now they don’t want us back, and I can’t get no job in Houston. This is still home to me."
After Hurricane Katrina, Richard Baker, a Congressman from Baton Rouge, said: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did."
On February 20, the New Orleans City Council met to discuss the future of public housing in the city. Council President Oliver Thomas said that "public housing residents who are unwilling to work are unwelcome to return." Thomas made the outrageous and enormous lie that people in public housing have been "pampered" by the government and said, "at some point, you have to say no, no, no, no, no." Two other council members and Nadine Jarmon, the federally appointed head of HANO, agreed with the outrageous and condescedning comments from Thomas. Jarmon said that no decisions have been made on whether all the projects in New Orleans will be reopened and that even for those that are, there will be "a series of steps to determine who can return," including background checks and "asking about people’s ability or willingness to work."
As Jay Arena, member of C3-Hands Off Iberville, said at the February 14 protest at St Bernard, "The mayor has said, ‘people come back.’ Well, what does that mean if you don’t reopen public housing for the thousands of families that resided there before the hurricane? It shows the hypocrisy, that they don’t want people to come back. In practice they’re doing everything that they can to prevent working class Black people, the majority of the pre-Katrina population of this city, from returning."
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Revolution #037, March 5, 2006, posted atrevcom.us
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Black History Month
Revolution #037, March 5, 2006, posted at revcom.us
This is the text-only from a photo spread in Revolution. Get a copy of this issue of the newspaper to see the powerful images in this article.
To isolate and defeat the southern slaveowners, the northern capitalists had to promise the slaves their freedom and had to promise them (and poorer whites in the South) that they would get land and rights when the war was won. For a few years after the Civil War, some parts of these promises were kept, but even then the U.S. government used its federal troops to put down Black people (and poor whites who sometimes joined with them) who tried to get their promises paid in full. And before long, Black people were forced back onto the same plantations they had slaved on.
The northern capitalists had gotten what they wanted and needed out of the Civil War: domination over the whole country and greater openings for the expansion of their capitalist system. Equality for Black people and an end to the plantation system—keeping the promises made during the Civil War—was in conflict with these capitalists' interests. So the promises were broken and brutal force was used to keep Black people poor, exploited, segregated and discriminated against, treated like peons on the plantations, now under the ultimate control and domination of the capitalists.
The masses of Black people were exploited as sharecroppers and farm laborers, still working for The Man from "can't see in the morning till can't see at night." They were held down by debt they could never seem to get out of, and they were terrorized by scum like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and a whole set of laws and codes—all working to chain them in new ways to the plantation system.
It was not until World War 2—nearly 100 years after the Civil War—that a basic change began to be brought about in the situation of Black people in the U.S. Millions of Blacks went from a rural life to an urban setting. They went from being peasants (tied to the land as sharecroppers and poor farm owners) to being mainly proletarians—not tied to any one place or any one job but forced to live by selling their labor power (their ability to work) to the capitalists, or going unemployed if the capitalists could not get enough gold by working these proletarians.
The biggest change came in the years after World War 2. Southern agriculture was drastically changed. Tractors were brought in on a large scale, and mechanized methods of planting and picking were also introduced in a big way. Machines were replacing human labor and patterns of land ownership were being changed. Millions of Black people were uprooted from the land and pushed toward the cities by the "invisible hand" of capitalism and its supreme commandment: profit, and more profit. Before, the interests of the capitalists dictated that Black people be forced and terrorized to remain on the southern plantations. Now, these same capitalist interests dictated that Black people leave the southern farmlands.
On the basis of these economic changes, certain political and social changes had to be brought about also. Segregation was brought under fire. Battles were waged, and barriers were knocked down. Black people could no longer be legally denied the right to vote or to eat in the same restaurants or even use the same bathrooms and drinking fountains as white people.
The gains of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and early 1960s were the result of great struggle and sacrifice—they were won—they were not a "gift" from the "high and mighty." And more, what the capitalists up top did give in to—the changes that they did come across with—were those changes that were most in line with their own interests and needs, or that posed the least threat to their whole system.
The US ruling class was faced with a massive, militant struggle. They were faced with the danger that this struggle would continue to explode all out of control, especially as the Civil Rights movement gave way to a revolutionary Black Liberation movement in the late 1960s.
Revolution #037, March 5, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Recently, Revolution ran an excerpt from a pamphlet I wrote, which was originally published in 1987, U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters' Vision of Freedom. In that excerpt, there is a quote from De L'Esprit Des Lois (or, in English, "The Spirit of the Laws") by Charles Montesquieu, an 18th–century French philosopher, who was one of the sources of inspiration for the U.S. Constitution, and in particular the theory of the separation of powers that is incorporated in that Constitution. The quote from this work of Montesquieu's, which was published in 1748, is one in which he recites an extreme and grotesquely racist justification for "the enslavement of the Negroes." In relation to this, it is not infrequently argued that Montesquieu was being ironic here, and deliberately overstating this argument, in order to, in effect, polemicize against the enslavement of African people, and that in general Montesquieu's writings express opposition to slavery. But the reality is not so simple as this, nor does this reflect what Montesquieu was essentially seeking to do in this part of "The Spirit of the Laws." It can be said that in "The Spirit of the Laws" Montesquieu's position is one of general opposition to slavery, and he indicates that slavery is not appropriate in countries like France; but, at the same time, he speaks to various circumstances in which he believes slavery can be justified or reasonable. For example, he argues that in the parts of the world, in particular the southern regions, where the climate is warmer, this climate makes people lazy (indolent), and slavery may be justified in order to get them to work (and he argues that in a despotic country, where people's political rights are already repressed, slavery may not be worse for people in that condition).
This, and the general discussion of slavery that makes up this part (book 15) of "The Spirit of the Laws," is included in a broader discussion by Montesquieu on the nature of different societies and governments in different countries and parts of the world (this is found not only in book 15 but also books 14 and 16 of "The Spirit of the Laws") in which Montesquieu argues that geography and in particular climate plays a big part in determining the nature of different peoples and the character of their society and governing system. And it is important to understand that, although in this discussion Montesquieu makes logical refutation of certain arguments, including certain defenses of slavery, this is not a polemic for or against slavery, or other forms of government, and its character is not that of moral argumentation, so much as it is an attempt to explain why various practices, and various forms of society and government, have existed (and in some cases continue to exist) in various places.
Another way to put this is that what Montesquieu is doing, in these parts of "The Spirit of the Laws" (and generally in this work), is attempting to make a kind of materialist analysis of these phenomena, including slavery in many places where it has existed--although it must be emphasized that this is not a thoroughly scientific, dialectical materialism but instead a rather crude and vulgar materialism which is marked, and marred, by a considerable amount of determinism: it is a kind of mechanical materialism that argues for a direct and straight-line (linear) connection between things like geography and climate and the character of society and government. It is a kind of materialism that does not adequately and accurately characterize the real motive forces in the development of human society, and in fact this kind of vulgar materialism has often been used to justify various forms of oppression, including colonial and imperialist domination. While we can, and should, recognize that, in the circumstances and time in which he wrote--about 250 years ago--there are aspects of what Montesquieu was seeking to do that were new and represented a break with the suffocating and obfuscating feudal outlook and conventions, it is very important to understand how Montesquieu's outlook and method were marked, and limited, by the social, and international, relations of which they were ultimately an expression: relations in which one part of society, and of the world, dominates and exploits others. And that is the basic point that was being emphasized in relation to Montesquieu and the U.S. Constitution, in the pamphlet U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters' Vision of Freedom.
With regard to the specific passage that was cited in U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters' Vision of Freedom, "on the enslavement of the Negroes," there is, in fact, some reason to accept that Montesquieu does not actually agree with the justification for this enslavement that he summarizes, and that he is actually subjecting this kind of justification to some ironic and satirical treatment. A reasonable interpretation of Montesquieu's arguments, as he goes on in this part of "The Spirit of the Laws" (book 15), is that this kind of argument, about the non-human character of the Negroes, is not a valid argument, not one that actually justifies this enslavement. But then he does go on to explore the question of what might actually be reasonable justifications, in certain circumstances, for slavery; and, as spoken to above, he finds such justifications in situations such as those where there is a despotic government, or where--as he concludes, through an application of vulgar and determinist materialism--the warm climate makes people lazy and unwilling, on their own initiative, to work.
Thus, in looking into and reflecting on this further, I would say that, while it is important to understand the complexity and nuance of what Montesquieu writes here--and it can be said that the way in which I cited Montesquieu in writing this pamphlet on the U.S. Constitution does not really or fully do that--it is not the case that what Montesquieu was doing here was actually making a case against the enslavement of the Negroes, or against slavery in general. Once again, it is important to keep in mind the fact that, although he was opposed to slavery on general principle, and declared that it was a good thing that it had been eliminated in his home country, France, and more generally in Europe, Montesquieu did not think slavery was wrong, or without justification, in all circumstances. And it also seems that Montesquieu did not hesitate to invest in companies involved in the slave trade. In this, there is a parallel with John Locke, the English philosopher and political theorist, who, as I pointed out in this same pamphlet ( U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters' Vision of Freedom), was also a major influence in the conception of the U.S. Constitution. As I wrote in Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? (p. 29):
"In sum, the society of which Locke was a theoretical exponent, as well as a practical political partisan, was a society based on wage-slavery and capitalist exploitation. And it is not surprising that, while he was opposed to slavery in England itself, he not only defended the institution of slavery, under certain circumstances, in the Second Treatise, but turned a not insignificant profit himself in the slave trade and helped to draw up the charter for a government headed by a slave-owning aristocracy in one of the American colonies. For as Marx sarcastically summarized: ‘The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.’"
From a World to Win News Service
Revolution #037, March 5, 2006, posted at revcom.us
November 28, 2005. A World to Win News Service. While the U.S. government has insisted that global warming doesn’t exist, most scientists are convinced otherwise. Some researchers say global warming was a major factor in the deadly series of hurricanes (as the violent tropical storms or cyclones that hit the Americas are called) that struck the Caribbean, Central America, and the U.S. recently. At the Montreal international summit on climate change, the first such meeting since the 1997 Kyoto summit, the U.S. continued to refuse to recognize the dangers or even the existence of global warming, which an attending UK scientist declared is as perilous to the future of humanity as weapons of mass destruction. Observers at the opening of the Montreal meeting of 190 countries had little hope that it would make real progress in achieving international agreements to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the main factor in the rapid rise in world temperatures. Even though the targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions agreed to at Kyoto are criminally inadequate (the goal is to reduce emissions to 5 percent below the 1990 level by 2012), so far actual emissions have increased, not decreased, and even the European Union, which supported Kyoto, has failed to meet its target.
What is the link between global warming and tropical storms? What are the causes of global warming? To what extent is global warming caused by human activity, and what can be done about it? How dangerous is global warming? Why do the rulers of the U.S. and other major powers refuse to take serious action even as disaster stares mankind in the face? These questions are addressed in this article, which is being run in five parts. See earlier issues at revcom.us for:
This brings us to the third aspect of this situation: dealing with this kind of potential catastrophe will require the experience, thinking, creativity, efforts and sometimes sacrifice of the human race as a whole in all its billions around the world. No one could argue that such a thing is even conceivable under the present economic, social and political global system.
Development and greenhouse gases do not have to be synonymous. Many scientists and environmental activists have explored the concept of sustainable development—an economy that can increasingly meet human needs without destroying the planet we live on. If society—eventually all of human society worldwide—were run not according to the principles of capitalism but those of socialism, why couldn’t a planned economy in which the highest goal was the emancipation and welfare of humanity and its environment create an economy to serve these ends? Why would humanity have to put up any more with the wastefulness and destruction imposed by capitalism? And what would prevent such a society from devoting the necessary resources to prevent or at least lessen the impact of natural catastrophes?
About the time when capitalism was first putting humanity on the road to the risk of global warming we face today, Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, "Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like a sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells."
Nature may bring predictable and unpredictable catastrophes of all magnitudes at all levels in the course of human interaction with nature. Disasters strike socialist societies just as they do capitalist. Some may be due to destructive forces of nature; others may be caused by human activities. However, socialist society can curb and/or cope with the impact of disasters far better than capitalism. It is certain that future socialist societies will face very serious environmental challenges. But conscious decisions made collectively at the societal level, and as soon as possible at the global level, rather than decisions made behind the closed doors of corporate boardrooms and a handful of capitalist state bureaucracies, are much more effective in minimizing and combating natural calamities. The recent events of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita hitting the heart of the U.S. Gulf states is a case in point. The American capitalist system headed by the world’s most powerful capitalist state bureaucracy and war machine failed to take the most elementary precautions, which could have greatly reduced human suffering. Even worse, when the masses of poor people in New Orleans and other places did try to cope with the situation collectively, the state, instead of helping, sent the police and National Guard to point guns at them, turning a natural catastrophe into a crime of tremendous proportions. How can anyone deny that a social system based on the needs of the world’s people could do a lot better than that right from the beginning?
One hundred fifty years ago Karl Marx wrote in Capital, "From the standpoint of higher economic forms of society [socialism and communism], private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the globe. They are only its possessors’ they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition."
In short, while we need to fight every possible battle to force companies and especially governments to implement measures that can make a big difference, nothing short of making revolution in every country when the opportunity arises and overthrowing the global imperialist system can fully unleash the powers of humanity to face this problem. The magnitude of global warming crosses all geographic, national, cultural and social boundaries, and the solution lies in a radical political and social rupture with the world as it is now organised.
The challenge is great, and so is the potential strength of the 6 billion people whose future is at stake. We the masses of people of the Earth must step forward to overthrow this imperialist madness and its unnecessary destruction of the environment and create a new world free from exploitation and oppression and the reckless destruction of the environment that is their result.
Revolution #037, March 5, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Tens of thousands of people of Rolpa in Nepal are building a 57-mile road to be known as Sahid Marg (Martyrs Highway). Rolpa is at the center of the People's War led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). In November 2005, the first international road building brigade, consisting of seven volunteers from Australia, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Germany, and Norway went to this liberated area to help work on the road. These excerpts are from their "Provisional Report of the First International Road Building Brigade to the Magarat Autonomous Republic of Nepal." This is the second of two parts. See revcom.us for part 1.)
Wherever we went, the start of work was marked by a collective gathering. Flags were raised, drums began to beat, and 100 road builders set off on the day’s work. On our second day we saw a young mother who’d strapped her toddler to her back, carrying a pick-axe in her hands, putting it down only occasionally to nurse her infant. At a work break, the leader explained to the Nepalese that the road brigade had come from around the world to join their efforts. Though conversation was very difficult because of language problems, people came up to the brigaders with huge smiles and raised clenched fists in solidarity. We did manage to have brief discussions with a number of people and learned that many of them had lost a loved one in the course of the revolutionary war, usually at the hands of the RNA (Royal Nepalese Army).
During one session the brigaders spoke with an older man of the Magar nationality, Lila Darpun, 65, from Corshavan. When we asked why he had come, he said, "We’ve come here for ourselves. We feel good about what we’re doing. It will help us. Even though I’m very old, if I can just lift a few stones, I’ll be very happy. As a young man I worked so hard, but this work is different, it’s special."
Though the work was indeed physically demanding, many women took part too. When asked the same question, Ima Kumari, a 43-year-old mother of three, explained, "I’m still illiterate. I don’t know much about books. But I know that the road is a good thing. We’re building a new country. It used to take days to get salt and clothes, but with the new road we can do it in hours."
The monarchy and some of the media have tried to slander the road-building effort as "forced labor." They make lurid comparisons with the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and generally play on "anti-totalitarian" stereotypes. But it was clear from watching and talking with the people who’d come to do their share that there was nothing at all "forced" about the inimitable combination of good humor and serious dedication with which they went about their work. Perhaps those whose whole lives have been devoted to clawing their way to the top and "looking out for no. 1" either find it impossible to imagine the people they rule over, oppress, and despise joining together in a broader collective effort—or if they can imagine it, they are determined to nip it in the bud.
In any case, the effort to carve this road through this difficult terrain has struck a deep chord among the people here. Government after government had promised it would be built—but somehow the money never came through, or if it did, it just disappeared into the deep pockets of corrupt politicians. After all, who would benefit? Just some peasants in the hinterland—and that was hardly sufficient motivation for the Kathmandu elite to act. So what no Western-backed government ever managed to do, despite their hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid, now the people, mobilized by their new leaders, are doing themselves.
The team was asked constantly about the situation in our own countries, especially about the woman question, and people took notes of what we said. The local people were also very eager to show us other new projects they were working on. There was a "model commune" and two "model schools" "not far away"—but "not far away" in the Nepalese countryside meant hours of walking, making a visit impossible in our short stay. They had also launched a big fish-breeding farm, a new thing in this part of the country, which was created with help from people living in a liberated area in another region where this was a more common activity. We were very happy to be able to benefit from it quite directly—one brigader said it was "the best fish I’ve ever tasted," to the contentment of the new fish farmers.
We saw other new things that had been impossible under the old regime. When one of the brigaders fell pretty ill one evening, our hosts travelled through the darkness to find a "barefoot doctor," a young village man who had been trained under the new regime in the basics of medicine. He came at four in the morning, gave the sick brigader a drip feed, and stayed by his side till the next day when he was better. Under the old system, many, perhaps most, of Nepal’s doctors choose to live in Kathmandu, where life is easier, and attend to the middle classes. But the new revolutionary regime has drawn on the experience of China under Mao to develop new health care policies aimed at serving the majority of Nepal’s people, the peasants in the countryside, and relies on mobilizing them to solve their own needs.
The brigade members looked back on all this and felt a heightened sense of responsibility to strengthen solidarity with the struggle in Nepal—a revolution suddenly moved off the news pages and acquired faces, names, and voices. Those from the imperialist countries shuddered at the thought of what it means when their own governments, like Britain, provide weapons to the RNA. Were cluster bombs and bunker busters the next weapons to be used against the people we’d been with—for the "crime" of taking their destiny in their own hands and building up their own self-reliant economy and society? This took on bitter meaning not long after the brigade left, when we learned that Comrade Sunyil, the PLA commander of the region where the road is being built, was killed by a bomb dropped from a helicopter supplied by the West. Only a couple of weeks earlier, Comrade Sunyil had enthusiastically welcomed the brigaders at the initial reception, and none of us had failed to notice the warmth and camaraderie that greeted him wherever he went among the villagers, and the easygoing but deep respect that he commanded. The news of his death hit hard—and it fuelled our determination to step up the battle to spread the news of what the Nepalese masses were accomplishing and to stop the big powers from continuing to aid the fascist Gyanendra regime.
We also thought a lot about the potential for future groups of young people to go. Despite the portrayal of youth in the West as simply into "live for the moment" hedonism, many of them, for example in the anti-globalization movement, are very concerned for their brothers and sisters in the oppressed countries. The countries of the world are divided into two, into a handful of rich countries and a great mass of countries that are kept enshackled in poverty and dependence on the wealthy imperial powers, which have a whole range of so-called solutions for third world development. The problem is that none of these actually work for the masses of people. Some of us had attended the G8 protests in Edinburgh, and were only too aware that in Africa for instance the suffering and impoverishment seemed to mount almost in direct proportion to the amount of so-called development aid. Yet what we were witnessing working on the road here was a completely different path: some of the poorest people on earth were breaking with age-old traditions and the established way of doing things and relying on their own efforts to forge their future. We had become part of that—and could see the potential for many others to want to do the same. Quite a few young people who had considered going on the trip had been held back by attending school—yet here was an education that you’d never get from any teacher we’d ever known!
Revolution #037, March 5, 2006, posted at revcom.us
On February 3 three of us traveled to Bladensburg High School in Maryland to pass out the World Can’t Wait leaflet calling for a protest the next day at the White House demanding BUSH STEP DOWN and take your program with you.
As school let out we said: "Leaving thousands of people to die in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina -- are you with that shit or against that shit…waging war based on lies, killing over one hundred thousand Iraqis -- are you with that shit or against that shit…Bush Step Down."
We asked the students: What kind of future did you want? We told them people in New Orleans, in Iraq, Guatánamo Bay…are counting on you.
Students were grabbing up our leaflets and stickers and passing them out to each other.
One Black parent stopped her car in the middle of the street and listened and watched what we were doing. She shouted out: "This is really good!" Many other parents took leaflets.
A school administrator told us he supported what we were doing. We challenged him to organize his colleagues and come out and stand up with us on February 4.
After only about 10 or 15 minutes of doing this a school police rolls up on us.
He yells: "You cannot do that here!" When I explain that what we are doing is not against the law he yells: "You cannot do that in Bladensburg!"
After stopping only long enough to laugh at this modern-day George Wallace, we continued leafletting. (George Wallace was the white supremacist governor of Alabama in the early ’60s who stood in front of a school with the police to prevent Black students from coming in to integrate the school and said: "This is not the United States, this is Mississippi!")
Suddenly some Bladensburg police cars roll up. The cops jump out and confront us. One of them says: "No ifs, ands, or buts about it. They pass out another leaflet, cuff them!"
We pass out more leaflets. Two pigs rush me. They lift and slam me onto the patrol car. Two others rush A.T. (A.T. is a member of the L.A. Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade.)
They singled out the two Black people in the group of us leafletting. One pig had his fist balled up as he beat on A.T. Immediately they came out with pepper spray. Burning, blinding, and choking us with this shit. During this time, students were grabbing leaflets off the ground and from the hood of the police car. The police got into a confrontation with the students and threatened to arrest those who were taking the leaflets.
They charged us with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. They added a battery charge on A.T. Our lawyer comes to the jail but they refuse to let him see us. They refused to accept 10 percent of the bail, so we had to come up with the full amount. It took us a little while to get over all the obstacles they were putting up and when we finally raised the money through donations and got out--the protest at the White House was over.
Why did they come down so heavy-handed--the real way they rule--for passing out leaflets? What are they afraid of?
It was clear to me that they wanted these students to stay in their "place." They feared these Black and Latino students busting out of their "place," standing up and taking responsibility for changing the direction of society. They feared these students acting on the call from World Can't Wait with people of other races and from other parts of society--bringing their experience and insights into this movmement to force: BUSH TO STEP DOWN AND TAKE HIS WHOLE PROGRAM WITH HIM.
Joe Veale--DC REVOLUTION correspondent
Revolutionary Communist Tour
Leading up to the Feb. 4 protest at the White House to demand that "BUSH STEP DOWN", Joe and A.T. were maced, pepper-sprayed, roughed up and arrested while leafleting in a poor, oppressed Prince Georges County, Maryland neighborhood. Thousands of dollars are needed now to fight these arrests. You can donate online at the RC Tour webpage. Go to: www.rc4tour.info - click on "Call for the Tour" at the top and then scroll down to "Make a Donation."
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The Revolutionary Communist Speaking Tour
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