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Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Editors Note: Over the past number of months, including in our last issue, Revolution has been publishing excerpts drawn from a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, to a group of Party members and supporters in 2005. In this issue of Revolution, we are publishing the following, which is drawn from an excerpt from another talk by Bob Avakian, in 2004. It has been edited for publication here, and some explanatory notes have been added by the author, within the body of the text itself, within brackets. Beginning with the next issue of Revolution, we will resume publishing excerpts drawn from the 2005 talk by Bob Avakian to a group of Party members and supporters.
To put the problem provocatively, to tie together some threads that I have been speaking about--to perhaps indulge in hyperbole, in order to make a very real and crucial point-- the problem is that, most of the time, most communists are not communists!
This is a problem with regard to our Party, but it is also a world historical problem of the communist movement and the whole experience in socialist society. Think about the phenomenon they talked about in China: bourgeois democrats turning into capitalist-roaders. [This refers to the fact that a significant number of people in China who supported the revolution there, and even joined the Communist Party that was leading this revolution, never advanced ideologically beyond the position of simply wanting to remove the barriers and shackles that were placed on China and Chinese society by imperialist domination and the related persistence of feudal (or semi-feudal) relations, in both the economic and social relations and in the superstructure of politics and ideology. Once the Chinese revolution had won initial victory over imperialism and feudalism, and the revolution had entered the socialist stage--and especially as this revolution continued to advance in the socialist stage, with the goal of uprooting and abolishing all exploitation, oppression, and social inequality--many of these people no longer supported the revolution and increasingly came into opposition to it. This took a concentrated expression within the Chinese Communist Party, and in particular among leaders of the Party who adopted lines, programs, and policies that would in fact lead society back to capitalism (and hence these Party officials were characterized by Mao as "capitalist-roaders"). Because the socialist system had become relatively well established in China, and had broad support among the people in China--particularly the workers and the great bulk of the peasantry, though also many revolutionary intellectuals and others--these "capitalist-roaders" presented their capitalist program as "socialism." Indeed, the destruction of socialism and the restoration of capitalism is precisely what has happened since these capitalist-roaders, headed most decisively by Deng Xiaoping, seized power in China through a coup d'etat and suppressed the revolutionary forces, in the Chinese Communist Party and in society more broadly, after Mao's death in 1976. But, beyond the particularities of this situation and struggle in China, the reality is that the phenomenon of bourgeois democrats turning into capitalist-roaders will occur, in one form or another, in every revolution that advances to socialism and aims for the ultimate goal of a communist world. This is why Mao emphasized the crucial importance of continuing the revolution once socialism has been established. And the problem of how to prevent the restoration of capitalism in a socialist country, how to continue advancing toward communism--and how to do so through means and methods that are consistent with the goal of communism--is a decisive question with which communists must continue to wrangle deeply, in order to make further advances, first of all in the realm of theory, and then in the practical experience of new socialist states that are brought into being.]
Most people in the Chinese Communist Party did not become willful capitalist-roaders. That is, they did not set out to adopt and fight for and implement a whole set of policies and lines that would lead back to capitalism. But a great number of them followed that line, they thought it was bean curd cheese; they didn't know the difference between black cat and white cat. ["Bean curd cheese" is a reference to a statement by Zhang Chunqiao, one of the main leaders within the Chinese Communist Party who upheld and fought for the revolutionary line of socialism and communism and who, after Mao's death, was arrested and imprisoned as part of the so-called "gang of four." In an article, "On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship Over the Bourgeoisie," written not long before Mao's death and the reactionary coup d'etat led by Deng Xiaoping, Zhang spoke to the danger of just such a coup and capitalist restoration; and, referring to the attitude of many Communist Party members toward the "allure" of revisionist, capitalism-promoting lines and policies, Zhang said that many of these Party members think that these lines and policies are like bean curd cheese--they smell bad but taste good! "Black cat/white cat" refers to a notorious statement by Deng Xiaoping a number of years before he finally led the successful reactionary coup d'etat to restore capitalism, in which Deng argued: Who cares if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. This meant: what difference does it make if the policies we adopt for developing the economy embody socialist or capitalist principles, as long as they lead to the emergence of China as a powerful modern state. This too had an allure among many, including within the Chinese Communist Party, and this is related to the phenomenon of bourgeois democrats turning into capitalist-roaders.] The majority of the cadres of the Chinese Communist Party followed that revisionist line when it won out, and when the people fighting against it were purged and decimated and, in many cases, executed.
How did that happen? In the Chinese revolution, and in every revolution that leads to socialism, you can be one part communist and one part bourgeois democrat in one form or another. You can have one part of you that's straining to get beyond what Marx characterized as "the narrow horizon of bourgeois right" and one part that's willing to accept some version of bourgeois right. These contradictory tendencies will continue to express themselves, and the one tending to bourgeois right can win out. ["Bourgeois right" refers to social inequalities characteristic of capitalism which, during the socialist period, are left over from the old society and which can be finally and completely eliminated only through the advance to communism--including the profound division between mental and manual labor, as well as other great differences among people which constitute, or contain the seeds of, oppression and exploitation--and "bourgeois right" also refers to the reflection of these economic and social relations in the political structures, institutions and functioning of society, including the law, and in the thinking of the people. The phenomenon of communists who do not in reality rupture beyond the bounds of bourgeois right is fundamentally owing to the fact that, as Marx and Engels put it in "The Communist Manifesto," the communist revolution involves and requires a radical rupture with traditional property relations and with traditional ideas. Those traditional property relations (economic and social relations of exploitation and oppression) and their reflection in the thinking of people (traditional ideas corresponding ultimately to economic and social relations of exploitation and oppression) will continue to persist, and to re-emerge and re-assert themselves, until the basis for them has been finally eliminated through the advance to communism, throughout the world. And, until that final goal is reached, the influence of these traditional property relations and traditional ideas will find expression not only in society as a whole but also among the communists, where the phenomenon of failing to rupture beyond, or being pulled back within, the narrow confines of bourgeois right can assert itself in such a way that "communism" itself comes to be "re-defined" in terms that in reality amount to bourgeois democracy and the capitalist economic and social relations that are in fact served and reinforced by bourgeois democracy. Bourgeois democracy is, after all, an embodiment of the rule over society by the capitalist class: it is a form of bourgeois dictatorship1
In pointing to the fact that communists themselves can have one part that is communist and one part that is bourgeois-democratic, I am not raising this to promote some kind of "self-cultivation"--"Oh, what am I about, what is my essence?" It's not a matter of communists making revolution within themselves--in and of itself, and for itself. There is a need for ideological struggle and making revolution within yourself in that sense, but not in a self-cultivationist, turning-inward sense. It's a matter of what line and what world outlook you follow, and where that will lead, what effect that will have in society and the world--that is the essence of the matter. Do you take up deeply and grasp firmly the communist world outlook and method and program, or do you take up, or get spontaneously pulled to, another one?
There are a lot of injustices in society. To take one stark example, there is horrendous national oppression and the racism that goes along with it. At this point, this is noted, in a certain way and up to a certain point, even by some representatives of the ruling class. For example, not long ago Howard Dean, in seeking to explain his comment that the Democratic Party needs to appeal to southern white guys with Confederate flags on their pick-up trucks, said, "well, I regret the imagery, but the point I'm making is that we have to appeal to the Southern whites." [This was during the period when Howard Dean was still running as a candidate in the Democratic Party primaries.] But then, probably because he knew this had gotten him into a lot of hot water, he said at the same time: "We have to have a big conversation about race in America." And he went on to talk about a new study (yet another one!) which illustrates how persistent discrimination is in American society. This study specifically showed that, if you're a youth--they had groups of college students do this--and you go out and apply for a job and they ask "have you ever been convicted of a crime" and you indicate that you've been convicted of crimes like possession of drugs with intent to sell, if you are white you're more likely to get called back for a job than a Black person who has an absolutely clean record.
This is just another manifestation of the continuing oppression of Black people, and you can apply this to other oppressed nationalities as well. It's a manifestation of great injustice. And then there are the continual murders by police, particularly police murdering people in the inner cities, one after the other. There is the oppression of women. There are all kinds of injustices in this society--most of them are spoken to in our Draft Programme, and for good reason. You can get deeply involved in struggle against those things, and you can come to recognize that without a revolution to overthrow the existing system you can't get rid of these profound outrages and injustices--you can take up that position without really rupturing beyond the bounds of bourgeois right. To make that rupture is a sharp and continual struggle that repeatedly poses itself as an acute question. This is the challenge that is continually posed for all communists.
Now, it is important to stress that, in the course of building struggle against the many outrages and injustices that are continually produced by the workings of this system--and in developing and, as Lenin put it, diverting that struggle toward the goal of revolution, socialism, and ultimately communism--it is correct, and necessary, to unite with many different people and forces, with a diversity of ideological views and political positions. Another way to say this is that it will be necessary to unite with very broad numbers of people who have not yet ruptured beyond the bounds of bourgeois right and bourgeois democracy. In fact, there will be many people who continue to adhere to views and positions that are still ultimately within these bounds, for a long time to come, even well into the stage of the socialist transition; and we will never succeed in advancing toward the goals of the communist revolution--and never win such people to in fact make the leap beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right--if we adopt a stupid, sectarian, and dogmatic attitude and refuse to unite with people unless and until they have made such a leap and have repudiated bourgeois right in all its expressions. But the point is that, while carrying out a process of unity-struggle-unity with a broad range of people--and, with regard to the "struggle" aspect of this, boldly putting forward our communist views and aims and engaging others, in a good way, in discussion and principled wrangling over this, while uniting with them in opposition to the oppression and exploitation, the outrages and injustices, that we can find common ground to resist--those of us who are, and are determined to be, communists, must carry on a consistent struggle, of a different kind, and in a different context, among our own ranks, to continue to deepen and strengthen our grasp of and our application of the communist outlook and method and our striving for the aims of the communist revolution.
To put this another way, "stand" is not enough. Even among communists, there is a lot of confusion about this. Sometimes people say, "he or she has a really good ideological line," and by that they mean the person has a good stand--is really dedicated, filled with hatred for oppression, and so on--but stand is not enough. Zhang Chunqiao wrote something about this (at least it is claimed that he wrote something about this, and I'm willing to believe it, to take it as fact and go with it). After the coup in China, the revisionists, in one of their attacks on the "gang of four," said that Zhang Chunqiao had insisted that theory is the most dynamic factor in ideology. The reason these revisionists were raising this was to say, "oh, he's just a dogmatist--he's all theory and no practicality, no dignity of immediate actuality." [This is a reference to a statement by Lenin that practice has the dignity of immediate actuality as well as of universality. But, in the hands (and minds) of revisionists, what Lenin was getting at has been vulgarized and perverted into the notion that theory is unimportant, or only of very secondary importance, and furthermore practice is reduced to practice in only a narrow and immediate sense. This ignores the fact that, in the same philosophical writings in which he made this observation about practice, Lenin also emphasized that theory, as abstraction, is a higher and more concentrated reflection of reality than practical experience, of which theory is an abstraction (of course, Lenin was speaking of theory that is correct, that correctly reflects, and concentrates, reality as it actually is, and as it is moving and changing). And the revisionist rendering, and narrowing, of the sphere of practice and its importance ignores the decisive truth that Lenin also insisted on: Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.]
What is attributed to Zhang Chunqiao is very important. Mao said that communist ideology consists of stand, viewpoint, and method. And stand is important--if you don't have an orientation of standing with the masses of people, why would you want to take up this science of communism and do anything with it? But stand itself is not going to carry you beyond a certain point.
Theory is the dynamic factor, because how do you change your ideology, your world outlook? How do you change your understanding of a question, how do you even change your sentiments about things? Think about that, how do you actually change even your sentiments? You do so if and when you come to understand something in a different way, especially if you are a person trying to be scientific, trying to actually achieve the great things that we are setting out to achieve--which require a scientific approach to achieve (even if we don't always remember that).
Theory is the dynamic factor in ideology. If you don't study, if you don't wrangle with Marxism (or, as we say today, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism), if you don't strive to figure out how it applies, and to continue developing it while applying it, you are going to get dragged down by spontaneity: by the powerful pulls exerted by the prevailing relations of exploitation and oppression--and the dynamics driving things in a society, and a world, dominated and shaped by systems of exploitation and oppression--and the corresponding ways of thinking that have a dominant position and are widely disseminated and drummed into people, through the mass media and other means of molding public opinion and conditioning people's outlook. Without a continuous and ever more conscious struggle against the pulls and influences of all this, even your stand is going to deteriorate. Sooner or later, if you simply seek to rely on stand, if you do not continue to ever more deeply ground yourself in communist theory--or if you follow a pragmatic approach of making theory dependent on and conditioned and even defined by whatever are the requirements of the immediate situation and struggle--you are going to give up on the goal of making revolution and achieving socialism and ultimately a communist world. If, in your thinking, you do not make the rupture--and continue deepening the rupture--beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right, even your understanding of communism and communist revolution will remain within, or be reduced back down to, a variation of bourgeois democracy, to yet another expression of a society and world in which bourgeois relations and bourgeois rule are dominant. You will either give up on the goals of communist revolution openly and overtly or, as often happens, you will continue to say (and perhaps even to believe, on one level) that you are still "for" these objectives, but you will have consigned them to some distant future, while acting as if they have lost any real meaning and are completely severed from the tactics that are necessary in the present circumstances, and/or in your own thinking you will have actually watered down "revolution" to what is in reality some gradualist, reformist notion of change; you will have turned socialism into "at best" some ideal of improvement in the social welfare of the people and a further extension of bourgeois-democracy, without any shattering and transforming of the structures and institutions of power and the power relations that dominate in society and the world, without the transformation of the underlying social relations and economic relations and processes that enslave the vast majority of humanity, and without any radical change in the thinking of the people; you will have turned "communism" into merely some meaningless utopian notion, in some far-off never-never land. In short, you will have "denatured" revolution, socialism and communism and disconnected them from what is happening at any given time and from the "practical necessities" of the present struggle.
So stand is not enough. Theory is the dynamic factor in ideology. To maintain the correct stand, but also to go further in your grasp and application of communist ideology, you have to take up and wrangle with the cardinal questions of line and theory--not in a way that reduces them to something relevant merely in relation to the situation and struggle you are most immediately and directly dealing with, but as they present themselves in a far broader, worldwide and world-historic dimension, and in the connection between that dimension and the more immediate situation. You have to steep and continually re-steep yourself in what communism, as a world outlook and method, is all about and why and in what ways it is a scientific approach to reality--the most thoroughly, systematically and comprehensively scientific approach to reality and its motion and development. If comrades do not study and grapple with communist theory in this way, and the application of that --and not something else--to the many social questions and world affairs that they think about and act on; if, as a key part of that, they are not continuing to familiarize themselves with, and to grapple with, the body of work and method and approach of our Chair; then the powerful pull of spontaneity, and what is out there in the movements of opposition and more broadly in society and in the world--all that will lead them to increasingly apply and take up some OTHER world outlook and method.
For example, let us take a sphere which is becoming an increasingly crucial and intense arena of struggle, with profound implications for the whole direction of society, and for the world as a whole: religion, and in particular religious fundamentalism of various kinds, including the growing influence of fundamentalist Christian Fascism within the U.S. in general and particularly within the ruling structures of the U.S. and its role in the world. In today's situation in particular, there are a number of books, including some written by progressive religious people, which speak to crucial aspects of all this and provide valuable (or in some cases invaluable) insights. I myself like to--and think it is very important to--read many books about religion by many people with many different viewpoints. I not only find this useful, I often find it very invigorating. But, at the same time, I don't confuse that with--or think it is more important than, or even as stimulating as--analysis (and synthesis) by someone who is engaging these questions with the communist world outlook and method, and with the objectives of the communist revolution in mind. What you find interesting and significant--this fundamentally depends on, and is conditioned by, what you are aiming for. The point is that it is only by applying the communist world outlook and method that it will be possible to engage reality, to grasp its essential features and dynamics, and to transform reality in the most fundamental ways, in the interests of and with the goal of achieving the emancipation of the great majority of the world's people, and ultimately humanity as a whole. And, yes, it is very important to understand that others, proceeding from different world outlooks and methods, can and do have important insights and make important analyses, and contribute in important ways to the understanding of key aspects of reality. But it is the case that, even in order to engage most deeply and fully--and to learn the most from--things that are brought forward by people proceeding from viewpoints other than a communist one (on religion and religious fundamentalism, and other critical questions) it is necessary to continue to deepen our grasp of and to apply the scientific world outlook and method of communism.
In What Is To Be Done?,Lenin talked about how, in order to become fully class conscious, the proletarians have to not only, and not even mainly, engage in more immediate struggles relating to their working and living conditions, but beyond that they have to take up the all-around struggle against the system, and they have to engage with what's happening among all strata in society and come to understand how various phenomena get posed and taken up among all these different strata. But he also says: they have to learn to do that from the communist point of view, and no other.
That is a profoundly important point. And, as a way of giving further emphasis to this point, let me cite the following reflections by a comrade:
"In recent months I've had occasion to return to What Is To Be Done? and--coupled with study and reflection on some other points as well, including the campaign to promote and popularize our Chair--it's led me to a renewed appreciation for the almost gravitational pull of spontaneity: no matter how high you aim to fly, if you don't fight the pull, you'll come back down. It's worth thinking about the huge percentage of one-time revolutionaries--both parties and individuals--who've come crashing down on those rocks. They almost all came into things with genuine revolutionary convictions. But one day, after years or even decades of battle, they somehow find their name at the bottom of a contract for a sell-out, maybe without even being conscious of how they got to that point, or even having signed it. That's the strength of spontaneity--quite apart from your convictions, unless you find the ways to divert the natural stream of things, you're gonna end up drifting downstream to a place you once swore you'd never go....
"Are we doing everything we can to make revolution? Are we focusing on the right questions? Are we pushing hard enough--or in the right direction - on the limits of the possible? Are we looking enough at things from our final goal back, and are we forging strong enough links between that goal . . . and the many pressing tasks of today? Are we thinking rigorously enough about the points raised by people who don't agree with us on strategy, but who may be on to something we need to learn from nevertheless...?"
All this is of decisive importance if indeed we communists are to be communists, consistently and in the all-around way that we are called on to be, in a way that is firmly and ever more deeply grounded in and constantly basing itself on the scientific, critical and creative nature of the communist world outlook and method, its application to reality, and its ongoing development in that way; that is guided by our strategic goals of revolution, socialism, and ultimately a communist world, and is, at every point, an embodiment of the living link between those strategic objectives and what is to be done at the given time, in order to continue advancing toward those largest objectives and not to be strategically diverted, derailed or defeated in the pursuit of these world-historical and world-emancipating aims.
1. In addition to extensive discussion of this question in his book Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? (Chicago: Banner Press, 1986), Bob Avakian speaks, in a recent talk, "Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism," to how democracy in capitalist society--bourgeois democracy--is in fact a form of capitalist rule in which, ultimately and fundamentally, there is democracy only within the ranks of, and in the interests of, the capitalist ruling class, which completely dominates not only the economy but political power in such a society, while repressive rule is exercised over the proletariat and other sections of society and is brought to bear, as ruthlessly as necessary, in suppressing any political activity, and any group of people, that is seen as posing a serious threat to the rule of the capitalist class. This makes clear why and how bourgeois democracy is, in its essential character, a form of dictatorship--the dictatorship of the ruling capitalist class, or bourgeoisie.
The Experience of Socialism in the Soviet Union and China
Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at revcom.us
"Socialist society is marked by new and different contradictions than the old society, and carrying forward the revolution under socialism depends on correctly identifying and dealing with those contradictions and the forces and struggles they set in motion. This brings up one very important factor in all this: the positive side of unresolved contradictions under socialism--the bringing to the fore of driving forces for revolutionary transformation in the socialist stage--forces on the cutting edge of contradictions that are coming to the fore as decisive questions in terms of whether society will be moved forward or dragged backward. A very important aspect of all this is the woman question, the struggle for the complete emancipation of women. This will be a decisive contradiction giving rise to crucial struggle throughout the socialist period."
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP USA
from "The End of a Stage – The Beginning of a New Stage"
The proletariat seized power in the Soviet Union in 1917 and began building a new socialist society. Before the revolution women faced widespread and horrible oppression. It was not unusual for women to be bought and sold as brides and servants. Women were treated as beasts of burden, on farms and in menial sweatshop jobs.
With the victory of the revolution came immediate and sweeping changes in the lives of women. New laws legally stripped men of authority over wives and children, ensured the right to divorce, and mandated equal pay for women. Marriage was made a civil, not church-sanctioned, ceremony. Maternity hospital care was free. Abortion was immediately decriminalized and then legalized in 1920. Prostitutes were no longer punished and prostitution was eventually eliminated. Child marriage was abolished as well as the selling of women. Work places provided maternity and abortion leave.
Lenin, the leader of the Russian revolution, said: "The experience of all liberation movements has shown that the success of a revolution depends on how much the women take part in it."
In the new socialist Soviet Union, the question of womens liberation was widely discussed and struggled over. There was lively debate in newspapers, women's magazines, schools, and workplaces -- about sex, marriage, the family and the role of women in the revolution. Oppressive and patriarchal customs were criticized and challenged.
Measures were taken to free women from the tasks of childcare, cooking, and cleaning. Communal kitchens and nurseries were set up in neighborhoods and at large factories. By 1920-21, 12 million people in the cities were eating together in communal cafeterias, over 80% of the people in Petrograd and 93% of the population in Moscow. Children were fed for free.
In the Soviet Central Asia, where many Muslims lived, women's revolutionary organizations encouraged women to reject the veil and take up new economic and social roles. In 1927 at a celebration of International Womens Day in Bukhara, 100,000 women tore off their veils and burned them. (Bukhara is in what is now Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan.) In a counter-revolutionary backlash, hundreds of women were attacked, and many murdered, by their husbands and fathers.
As a result of collectivization new opportunities opened up for women, to take jobs they had never be allowed to do before. Women took on political and administrative responsibilities in the management of collective farms. And in the home, the patriarchal authority of fathers and husbands was challenged. The campaign against illiteracy in the countryside was an important part of liberating women. At the start of the 1930s, less than 40% of rural women could read. By the end of that decade, over 70% could read.
Mao Tsetung led the Chinese people to revolutionary victory in 1949. He said, "The Chinese people have stood up!" And women lifted their heads.
In 1950, a new marriage law put an end to arranged marriages and child brides and gave women the right to divorce. Women's associations struggled against men and other family memberswho expected women to do all the housework and childcare. And it was no longer "his business" when a man beat his wife -- women organized to confront and take strict measures against wife beaters.
Men were struggled with to share in the household tasks. At the same time, socializing things like cooking and childcare was an important part of liberating women and building a new society where people worked and lived in a cooperative and communal way. In the early 1950s a network of childcare facilities in city neighborhoods and rural villages was established, run by neighborhood organizations, factories, schools, or peasant cooperatives in the countryside.
The 1958-59 Great Leap Forward launched by Mao was a huge mass movement. It was a big step forward in economic development--especially in the countryside where peasants were mobilized to develop agriculture and small, local industry. It challenged feudal, oppressive traditions and thinking. Collective forms of farming were developed in the countryside and communes were established where tens of thousands of peasants lived and worked in common.
Socialized childcare helped free up millions of women to participate in building socialism. By 1952, the number of childcare centers in factories, mines, government organizations, and schools had expanded to 22 times what they had been in 1949. This trend continued throughout the 1950s, especially during the Great Leap Forward. By 1959, it was estimated that in rural areas there were almost five million childcare centers and kindergartens and more than 3.5 million public dining rooms. Some cities set up "meals on wheels" delivery services for people who were sick or had to stay home to take care of sick children. Childcare schedules were fitted in with the factory schedules and they were located as closely as possible to where the women worked.
In 1966 Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which was aimed at overthrowing those leaders right inside the Communist Party who wanted to bring back capitalism. Millions of people throughout society were mobilized to debate and struggle over whether China would continue building socialism or restore the nightmare of capitalism. The Cultural Revolution hit at all the backward traditions and practices of class society. And the struggle against women's oppression was a big part of this "revolution within the revolution." Mass campaigns were launched to criticize feudal Confucian and capitalist thinking that upheld oppressive and unequal divisions in society, like between mental and manual labor, town and countryside, and between men and women. There were new plays, ballets, and operas featuring women as strong central characters, that were popularized and produced throughout the country, including in remote rural areas. Young women in their millions participated in the Red Guards, who were a spark throughout society, challenging entrenched bureaucrats and party leaders who advocated capitalism.
In Maoist China, "women held up half the sky" in building a new socialist society.
The historic breakthroughs in women's liberation under socialism — in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1956 and in China from 1949 to 1976 — were greater and went further than anything that has been achieved or is ever possible under capitalism. Today both of these countries are no longer socialist — proletarian state power was defeated by counter-revolution and capitalism was restored. Along with other aspects of exploitative bourgeois society, women's oppression has returned in full force.
Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at revcom.us
The last day of January 2006, what people just a few months before thought could not happen did. Judge Samuel Alito—an avowed ideological and political opponent of abortion—was voted onto the Supreme Court by both houses of Congress and the whole thing went down with barely a whimper.
By mid February the Supreme Court had agreed to decide this year whether the federal ban on late term abortion is constitutional. Then, ominously, the South Dakota legislature outlawed abortion even in the case of rape or incest—a law strategically chosen to set the stage for a frontal attack on abortion going before the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe Vs Wade.
How did we get to such a dark and disastrous place, and what is to be done about it? How do we change the whole direction of things so that political powers with theocratic ambitions do not end up controlling the most intimate spaces of human personal and sexual relations and extinguishing one of the most fundamental rights of women for the next generations? Revolution will run a series of articles over the next few months on how and why this crisis came about, and what we must do about it. In this article, we address the ideological and moral battleground.
The stakes in this are very, very high. These right-wingers will not stop at banning abortion—the end of Roe v. Wade would not only be a horror in itself, but would set the stage for even worse. Theocrats like James Dobson and Paul Weyrich have built up a fascist movement by whipping people up against abortion and gay marriage. They won votes for Bush and Senate and House seats for other theocrats in the 2004 elections, and they are now collecting signatures for ballot initiatives to ban gay adoption in the 2006 elections. These victories in banning abortion and gay marriage are only whetting the appetite of religious fanatics who have taken over the Republican Party and been appointed to the highest offices in the land.
There is not a single "pro-life" organization that supports birth control. The mission statement of the largest right-to-life educational organization—The American Life League—reads "A.L.L. denies the moral acceptability of artificial birth control and encourages each individual to trust in God, to surrender to His will, and be pre-disposed to welcoming children."
The "Pro-Life Activists Encyclopedia" explains the justification for efforts to ban contraception:
"Contraception cannot be separated from abortion. In fact, anyone who debates on the topic of abortion will inevitably be drawn to the topic of artificial contraception over and over again, especially in the post-Roe era of pro-life activism....How does contraception lead to abortion? Quite simply, they are virtually indistinguishable in a psychological, physical, and legal sense...those individuals use artificial contraception take the critical step of separating sex from procreation. Contraception not abortion was the first step down the slippery slope".1
Banning birth control it is the next target of these Christian Fascists. They are already in full swing on this, passing laws in South Dakota, Arkansas, & Mississippi that legally allows pharmacists to refuse fill birth control prescriptions on moral and religious grounds. And this is becoming the new Christian Fascist litmus test for running for office—in some states like Kentucky candidates who want the endorsement of Kentuckyâ€™s Right to Life must now oppose the use of standard birth control (not just the morning after pill).2 This lunacy where contraception is now being equated with genocide; where sex that is not for procreation is evil, and where abstinence is government policy enforced not just here but all over the world, are the ground that politics is now being conducted on.
This is a matter of reactionary religious doctrine in service of a morality that wants to take society backwards. Bill Napoli, a state legislator speaking on behalf of the South Dakota ban on abortion, put it this way: "When I was growing up here in the Wild West, if a young man got a girl pregnant out of wedlock, they got married, and the whole damed neighborhood was involved in the wedding. I mean, they wanted that child to be brought up in a home with two parents, you know the whole story. And so it can happen again.... I donâ€™t think weâ€™re so far beyond that, that we canâ€™t go back to that."3
Napoliâ€™s "whole story" is one where young people are forced—through the notorious "shotgun marriages"—to get married and where young women in particular are coerced into having children that they do not want. The "whole story" is one of reasserting and reinforcing the traditional order of things where a womanâ€™s role is to be subordinate to her husband and the procreator of his children, where women are openly the property of men to be controlled by their husbands. It means going back to a morality that cuts women off from acting in the larger society, contributing all they can to that, and living full lives as productive human beings in every sphere and independent from men. This is the traditional biblical morality that says wives must "submit yourself unto your own husbands as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church" (Ephesians 5:22-23)—and these people want to return society to a place where THAT standard sets the law of the land. That would be a horror for women and a terrible thing for society as a whole.
The mass access to birth control and abortion has undermined religious doctrine and traditional morality that subordinated women for centuries. Though they are still held down by the underlying social relations of capitalism, this step enabled women to participate much more in every sphere of society—something that after 30 years we may take for granted but is actually a relatively fragile and new idea in this history of human society. And now these people want to rip this away!
This was the morality against which tens of millions of people rebelled in the 1960s and â€™70s. The movement for womenâ€™s liberation that arose in that era made widely known and accepted the whole idea of abortion on demand.This unapologetic position of womenâ€™s liberation changed the culture—it changed the ways people thought and changed the quality of human emotions. It shifted the way millions of people viewed reproductive rights and sexual equality, which paved the way for Roe v. Wade and the legalization of abortion in 1973. And this was overwhelmingly positive in emancipating the full potential of women and in benefitting all of society in doing so.
There is nothing immoral about terminating an unwanted pregnancy or removing a clump of cells that have not yet developed into a viable human being from a womanâ€™s body. A fetus is not a baby. If a woman doesnâ€™t want to continue a pregnancy all the way (for whatever reason), she should have the freedom to end it, safely and easily. There is nothing tragic about it—indeed, the real tragedy lies in the lives of women that are foreclosed and disfigured and even ended by being compelled to have children that they do not want, a tragedy that happens millions of times a day on this planet, with the connivance and support of the U.S. government.
The life of a woman who is forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy is endangered. From the dangers of illegal abortions to the disrespect for her own life, she is harmed and demeaned as a human being. Being forced by society to have a baby when a woman either does not want or cannot care for one is one of the age-old tragedies that are no longer necessary for anyone to have to suffer. But if a woman is not allowed to control her own body, her own reproduction, not allowed to decide whether or not or when to become a mother, she has no more freedom than a slave. This is for the greater good for the health and overall well-being of that woman, whose life we should value and cherish more than that of a partially formed fetus. And for the greater good of humanity—for donâ€™t we want a society where all forms of slavery are ended?
The morality that should be supported and fought for is one that values the rights of women to lead full social lives. It supports social and intimate relations where people respect each otherâ€™s humanity and flourish together—and not where women are supposedly commanded by "God" to "submit themselves" to men. This morality sees children as a joy to society, and as ultimately the responsibility of all society, while not compelling anyone in any way to have children against their will. It does NOT, as these theocrats do, sanctimoniously shout hosannas to a clump of cells that might someday become a child—while feverishly upholding the murder of real live children in the war being waged by the U.S. in Iraq, and self-righteously dooming literally millions of other real live children, right in the U.S., to lives of deprivation and punishment—in the name of those same traditional values.
In fact, overturning the ban on abortion—a ban which consigned thousands of women a year to death or horrible mutilation, and millions more to humiliation and oppression—was a profoundly moral thing to do! It was and is part of a morality that corresponds to the fundamental interests of the vast majority of people in this society and worldwide. These values are also consistent with communist morality, which in addition to the emancipation of women aims at the elimination of all oppressive and exploitative relations among people and the establishment of a freely associating community of human beings. And at the same time, there are many, many people beyond communists who actually yearn for and even strive to live by values that promote and celebrate equality between women and men, and between peoples and nations; that appreciate both diversity and community; that put cooperation over cut-throat competition and the needs of the people over the accumulation of wealth, that oppose imperialist domination, and that cherish and foster critical thinking.
Why in the world should anyone be defensive about such a morality? Why should we not proudly proclaim these morals and values, strive to live up to them and put them in practice, and rally millions more to live their lives by them? Truly, we should and we have to—it is an absolutely crucial and necessary part of defeating this reactionary fascist offensive.
But these days the major pro-choice advocates stay away from the morality question. They concede that abortions should be reduced and prevented. In the wake of the frontal assault on Roe v. Wade in South Dakota NARAL is urging "responsible legislators to enact common sense legislation to prevent unintended pregnancy." In February, NARAL placed an ad in the conservative Weekly Standard asking abortion opponents to "Please, help us prevent abortions." The ad encouraged abortion foes to support a bill introduced by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat who opposes abortion, that aims to reduce unintended pregnancies by making contraceptives and family planning services more readily available.
Todayâ€™s shrinking ground is now being fought over contraception—but this will lose if it is not fought from the morality of upholding the right of women to control her own reproduction, including abortion as indispensable to this. And again, we can even now see where this logic is leading, as Democrats for Life of America is pushing "95-10," a plan they claim would reduce abortions by 95 percent in ten years in a platform that doesn't even mention birth control.
How did we get to this place where the "national dialogue" on abortion now portrays it as tragic, terrible, and wrong? Where having an abortion is stigmatized and women are shamed, where unintended pregnancy is seen as an act of not taking personal responsibility and even a "sin"? And now, where even the right to abortion is being conceded, in the name of still trying to maintain birth control—which itself is slowly being given away. The road to this hell was paved by a series of moral concessions and political retreats.
The roots of this lie very deep and go very far back, but there is a way in which much of what has led to this spot is concentrated in the Clinton years. While now portrayed as a period of defending the right to abortion, the Clinton years were in fact a period of intense attack and an official ideological and political policy by the Clinton administration of reconciliation with resurgent traditional morality. Clinton ceded critical moral and political high ground to the opponents of abortion. He signed the anti-gay "Defense of Marriage Act" and made the formulation that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." Principal in all this is the idea that abortion should be rare, that at best it should be seen as some kind of necessary evil. Hilary Clinton took this further in a speech in which she also called abortion "a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women." And Ted Kennedy says, " Surely we can all agree that abortion should be rare and that we should do all we can to help women avoid the need to face that decision." The movement to defend abortion followed suit and more than ever framed their position as pro-choice vs. pro-abortion; they disdained the slogan "abortion on demand and without apology"—an eminently reasonable slogan which enables people to struggle around the real moral questions at the heart of this battle—as somehow being extreme.
Casting abortion as a necessary evil has meant stigmatizing the providers and the women who have them. It has meant uniting with the premise that abortion is morally wrong. Pro-choice appeasement of the so-called pro-life movement has succeeded not in protecting the right to abortion but instead in ceding both science and morality to the Christian Right. "Finding common ground" has led to changing the way people are trained to think and to peopleâ€™s emotions being manipulated and twisted into the emotions of shame and regret.
Women who have had abortions are now being re-educated to look back principally at how hard this decision was and to re-writing memory to devalue wise choices they may have made over the timing of when they decided consciously to plan a family and their own future. Young women now come up in a culture that looks at abortion as morally wrong, as baby killing. And even when a young woman chooses, against tremendous societal and legal pressure, to terminate a pregnancy, she is being burdened with guilt and shame.
This is nothing but bowing down before the morality of religious and patriarchal control over women—and to people who strive for a world where human beings are equal. THIS is morally unconscionable!
What has to be recognized is that Clinton, Kennedy, and the rest of the top Democrats answer to a different standard than the emancipation of women. They are above all ruling class politicians—and that has real content. It means that they put the ability of the U.S. to maintain its empire above everything else. They agree with the Republicans that the widespread questioning of traditional morality, among other things, that so marked the 1960s and early â€™70s, has to go—that people have to accept "God, country and family" morality and the whole system of oppression that has arisen on and serves to fortify it. They differ with the Republicans on how to do that and, in certain circumstances, those differences could become explosive—but thus far and overall they have mainly served to grease the way for the dominance of the theocratic fascists. They uphold "choice," but only within the constraints of it being rare, difficult, humiliating, and shameful experience. This "pro-choice" position accepts the underlying morality of women-hating patriarchs. It is unacceptable on a moral plane. And the fruits of this in the political realm were on sharp display in the Democratsâ€™ capitulation to the elevation of Alito to the Supreme Court.
If the Bush regime and the Christian Fascists are allowed to prevail—if Bush and his whole program are not driven from power and the whole direction of society changed—we are in for a very dark time—overall, and in particular around women. And this is not a "back to the future" of the 1950s, bad as that was. If Roe is overturned and abortion becomes a crime, doctors will face much more extreme punishment than in the â€™50s where those who performed abortions were typically prosecuted only if the woman died. In a post-Roe world, doctors could be tried for murder of the fetus. 34 states have passed "Unborn Victims of Violence" legislation and fetal protection laws. 15 states have passed fetal homicide laws that apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy "from fertilization to birth."
In Texas in 2005, 17-year-old Erica Bastoria asked about an abortion and was falsely told by her gynecologist that she could not get one. Desperate, she asked her 19-year-old boyfriend Geraldo Flores to stand on her stomach, and she miscarried. Since abortion is still legal in Texas, Erica was not prosecuted. But under the Unborn Victims of Violence Act her boyfriend was prosecuted and convicted of homicide and sentenced to life in prison.
On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion Catholic high school students were bussed in to march in a grotesque celebration of the Alito nomination. The president of the "March for Life," Nellie Grey, predicted to the triumphant crowd that "The United States would hold the equivalent of Nuremburg trials for "feminist abortionists" and called support for a womanâ€™s right to choose "crimes against humanity." Bush called to congratulate her on a "noble cause" and said, "We will prevail."
This is the future according to Bush. But it is not a future we are doomed to. As the Call of The World Canâ€™t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime puts it, "The future is unwritten—which one we get is up to us." We need a movement that does not cede the morality of abortion and that consistently stands up for the facts and for principle. We need a movement that boldly and without any shame-facedness stands up for the morality of equality, and a critical and scientific understanding of the world and human reproduction. If we build such a movement, we will find
that people are receptive and many are waiting for someone to stand up and say ENOUGH nonsense! Even those confounded and confused by the steady propaganda that has promoted ignorance and intolerance can be won to a very different world view if people stand up for the truth.
And it is on us, all of us, in the broadest sense, to build and be that movement.
1. American Life League, "Introduction: The Abortion-Contraception Connection" Chapter 97 of Pro Life Activists Encyclopedia.
2. "Right to Life adds Pill to List" (Cincinnati Enquirer, April 2002). Original research from Christina Page, How Pro-Choice Women Saved America—Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex (New York: Basic Books, 2002), p. 19.
3. Jim Lehrer News Hour—"South Dakota Bans Abortion" March 3, 2006.
Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at revcom.us
"Before the initiation of the People's War I did not know anything about politics or parties. But after the initiation one of my relatives suggested that I take part in the local cultural group and asked me to go to their rehearsal. I didn't tell my mother or father about this—I only told my older brother who said, â€˜Go ahead, if you want to die... Can you carry a gun on your shoulder?' I replied, â€˜You didn't give me a chance to study and now I am eager to solve the problems of the people and the nation. I want to fight for liberation. If you won't allow me to go I will rebel.â€™"
"There have been many changes in people's thinking since the initiation. Fathers and brothers are now involved in things like cooking, getting water, washing dishes. There is also a change in the women's thinking. Before, women were not permitted to do things like make the roof of the house or plow the fields. But now where the People's War is going on, it is easy for women to do this. Before, women didn't make baskets and mats, according to tradition. And women used to think they weren't good enough to do this work. But when we dared to do this work it was easy. So if we dare we can do anything—there's no distinction between men and women."
The fight against the oppression of women is woven into the fabric of this People's War. When the armed struggle started in 1996, it was like the opening of a prison gate—with thousands of women rushing forward to claim an equal place in the war. Some had to defy fathers and brothers. Some had to leave backward–thinking husbands. Others ran away from arranged marriages where parents had decided their fate. They all had to rebel against feudal traditions that treat women as inferior, that make women feel like their ideas don't matter.
(Pluto Press and Insight Press, 2005)
In 1999, Li Onesto traveled deep into the guerrilla zones of Nepal where a Maoist revolution has been raging since 1996. Allowed unprecedented access, she interviewed political leaders, guerrilla fighters, villagers in areas under Maoist control, and relatives of those killed by government forces. This book is the result of her journey. Illustrated with photographs, it provides an invaluable look at the roots of this revolution.
Dispatches is available from:
Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at revcom.us
The Campaign for the Abolition of All Misogynist, Gender-Based Legislation & Islamic Punitive Laws has organized marches and demonstrations, from March 4-8, starting in Frankfurt, Germany and ending on International Women's Day, in The Hague, Netherlands.
This campaign, launched in March 2005, has united a core group of hundreds of Iranian and international women activists and personalities who have long been fighting for womenâ€™s rights, including some who have spent many years in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic.
The A World to Win News Service wrote: "The campaignâ€™s call for the abolition of these laws and its overall stand has the potential to unite the majority of the women while at the same time targeting the heart of the religious regime. The success of this campaign can be a strong blow to the IRI [Islamic Republic of Iran] since it targets the very foundations of this theocratic state. Furthermore, since these laws have their roots in centuries-old traditions, the struggle against them is a struggle against these traditions and the prevailing social relations they are based on. And this would encourage women and the whole society to fight for higher goals." (For the full article, see: European March for Womenâ€™s Liberation in Iran)
The following call and statement, issued by the campaign, have united people fighting for womenâ€™s rights in Europe and elsewhere in the world, Iranian womenâ€™s groups and individual activists, academicians and artists in exile, and a broad array of Iranian opposition movements in exile, from communist and labor movement activists to progressive democrats.
If you are against death by stoning!
If you are against forced veiling!
If you are against prosecution and imprisonment of women!
If you are against lashing a womanâ€™s body!
If you are against any form of patriarchy!
If you are against all the medieval laws of Iranâ€™s Islamic Republic of Iran imposing inequality against women!
Join the great walk against anti women laws in Iranâ€™s Islamic Republic on March 8th 2006!
For over 25 years one of the most anti women governments of the world has ruled Iran. A government whose fundamental existence is based upon oppressive laws securing domination of women.
For over 25 years Iranian women have struggled and resisted against poverty and injustice in the political, cultural and economical aspects of life . Women have endured being lashed, stoned to death , jailed, tortured and executed, but they have not surrendered to the medieval laws of Iranâ€™s Islamic Republic.
March 8th 2006 is a time to show, once more our solidarity with the relentless struggles of Iranian women. We should make this day, a day for expressing exciting and magnificent exhibitions of solidarity against the anti- woman system of Iranâ€™s Islamic Republic.
We, the women of the "Campaign for the abolition of all Legislation confirming inequality and imposing Islamic punishment on Iranian Women", will observe International womenâ€™s day, by organising a great walk from Germany to Holland.
This rally is the right place for :
Any woman, who feels brutalised by hearing news that her sisters are stoned to death in Iran.
Any woman, who has felt the bitterness of punishment by lashing simply for defending the right to choose her own clothes.
Any woman, who refuses to surrender to inferiority and inequality.
Any woman, who fights for the right to control her own body.
Any woman, who is struggling for the right to determine her own destiny.
Any woman who believes in a womanâ€™s right to divorce, the right to travel, the right of choice, the right of custody and all other basic human rights.
Any woman, who is not willing to submit to the medieval laws of the Islamic Republic.
Any woman who wants to abolish the interference of religion in all aspects of political and social life, in particular when it concerns womenâ€™s lives.
In this rally, there is a place for all freedom loving women and men, all political and progressive and revolutionary forces, who want equality between men and women in every aspects of life, a place for all those who oppose gender discrimination in any form.
Freedom loving men and women!
Your active participation in this walk will resonate the voice of the just struggles of Iranian women. We want this voice to be heard throughout the world, and we want to mobilise the International womenâ€™s movement against world Imperialism, the main protector of male chauvinism in every corner of this world.
Let us play our role in burying this medieval regime, by joining in solidarity with the struggles of Iranian people.
Let us pay our respect to the needs and demands of Iranian women whose struggles have become the shining example of these struggles. No doubt the degree of progress and freedom in any society is measured by the rights and liberty of women in that society.
To all women who suffer from inequality
To all activists and organisations of the Iranian womenâ€™s Movement
In the last 26 years, Islamic legislation has deprived Iranian women of the most basic human rights. Forced veil has reduced women to second class citizens. Honour killing is legal and women are condemned to hanging and death by stoning for â€˜unchaste behaviourâ€™.
Forced segregation has lead to womenâ€™s isolation, reducing their role in society. The youth are deprived of free association . Homosexuals are pursued as criminals. Polygamy and temporary marriages (Sigheh) are not only legal but they are promoted by the state.
Legislation regarding marriage and divorce, has deprived women of a free choice in finding a spouse, the right to have children, the right to become guardian of their own children, the right to choose employment, the right to work or not to work, the right to travel.
For 26 years, the Iranian theocratic state has secured the imposition of all these anti women laws with street vigilantes, courts, prisons, hanging and stoning to death.
It is 26 years that deprivation from basic rights has made womenâ€™s lives hell. Addiction, prostitution, suicide, self-immolation are increasing at a frightening rate amongst women.
For the last 26 years, our struggle against inequality has taken many forms. In the streets, in the first demonstrations against forced veil, in prisons and under horrific torture, when young prisoners were raped so that they would not â€˜ascend to heavenâ€™. Iranian women have fought daily against security forces who attack them for â€˜insufficient veilâ€™, in the corridors of divorce and custody courts, against sexual discrimination in schools and universitiesâ€¦ We have fought in so many ways to prove our existence, against these anti-women legislations and the prevailing patriarchal culture.
In recent struggles, we have made sure the world remembers Zahra Kazemi1, we have delayed the death by stoning of Hajiyeh and we have managed to obtain the release of Afsaneh Norouzi form prison. However as long as the unequal, anti women legislations remain, women will not escape slavery. As long as these laws exist, women like Atefeh will be executed, others will be stoned to death like Shahgol.
These enslaving laws are the pillars of the religious state in Iran. These laws and all the repressive organs guaranteeing their implementation make sure women are held down completely. Without the abolition of these laws, the separation of state and religion is meaningless. It is up to every free minded person to raise her/his voice against these anti human laws and to struggle for their abolition. The battle to abolish these laws is a struggle to overthrow Iranâ€™s Islamic regime and for the establishment of a different order, where womenâ€™s equality in all aspects are recognized and guaranteed.
When these medieval laws were passed, when they forced the veil on our heads and when they executed political opponents, Western governments watched in quiet satisfaction. Now that our struggles have forced the regime to retreat, now that we have made the world hear our voices, they falsely claim support for us. The experience of women throughout the world, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq has proved that the current political, economic and military powers of the world offer nothing but more poverty and exploitation. Everything we have achieved so far has been through our own efforts and it will be the same in thefuture.
Let us join forces and create a powerful united campaign to eradicate these unequal laws and Islamic punishments against women as soon as possible. Let us make our voice in opposition to these laws heard throughout the world. Let us create such a storm that no one would ever dare impose such retrograde laws on us.
Signature: Campaign for Abolition of all Misogynic Gender Based Legislation & Islamic Punitive Laws in Iran
1. Zahra Kazemi is an Iranian-Canadian reporter who was killed while in the custody of Iran's Islamic regime.
From a World to Win News Service
Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at revcom.us
30 January 2006. A World to Win News Service. On the occasion of 8 March, International Womenâ€™s Day, the women of the Campaign for the Abolition of All Misogynist, Gender-Based Legislation & Islamic Punitive Laws in Iran have planned a march to start 4 March in Frankfurt (Germany) and end 8 March in The Hague (the Netherlands). The organisers hope that people of many different nationalities, including Kurds, Germans, Turks, Iranians, East Europeans and others, will join it in the cities along the way. The marchers will move on foot through city centres and then travel by car caravan to the next stop. They will hold marches and demonstrations on successive days in Frankfurt, Mainz, Cologne and Dusseldorf before arriving in The Hague, where welcoming rallies are being prepared. There they will march through the city, focusing their protest on the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the International Criminal Court, the end point of the march, chosen as a symbolic site to bring out the support the worldâ€™s imperialist powers have given, some openly and some in other ways, to prop up the criminal regime in Iran.
The call for this march begins like this: "If you are against death by stoning! If you are against forced veiling! If you are against the prosecution and imprisonment of women! If you are against lashing a womanâ€™s body! If you are against any form of patriarchy! If you are against the medieval laws of Iranâ€™s Islamic Republic of Iran imposing inequality on women! â€“ Join the great walk against anti-women laws in Iranâ€™s Islamic Republic on 8 March 2006!"
This campaign was launched in March 2005 when women activists and militants issued a statement declaring: "These slavery laws are an important pillar of the religious regime. These laws and all the repressive organs that enforce them are imposing total inferiority on women. Any talk about the separation of religion and the state is meaningless without the abolition of such lawsâ€¦ The struggle for abolishing them is the struggle for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic regime and moving in the direction of the establishing a system that would recognize and ensure the equality of women in all spheres."
Since then, it has united a core group of hundreds of Iranian and international women activists and personalities who have long been fighting for womenâ€™s rights, including some who have spent many years in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic. More than a hundred women and men fighting for womenâ€™s right in Europe and elsewhere in the world have signed the call. Iranian womenâ€™s groups and individual activists, academicians and artists in exile, among them the 8 March Womenâ€™s Organization (Iran-Afghanistan), have been the backbone of this effort. So far it has been able to unite a broad array of Iranian opposition movement in exile, from communist and labour movement activists to progressive democrats.
This legislation criminalizes women on the grounds of such simple normal habits of life as going out in public with uncovered hair and or wearing un-Islamic clothing (anything except a head-to-toe cover), or strolling in public with men who are not their husbands or blood relations. The Islamic Republicâ€™s laws make death by hanging or stoning the punishment for unfaithful wives and "un-virtuous" women; they allow a father to marry off daughters as young as nine years old; and give men a free hand to kill their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters for violating their "honour". Women have to obtain their husbandâ€™s officially signed permission to travel. Their worth is considered half of that of men in matters such as bearing witness in court. They can be divorced unilaterally or denied divorce depending on the manâ€™s wishes. Abortion is a crime. Islamic judges can interpret all other matters not spelled in these civil laws by relying on Sharia (Islamic law) and their own interpretations and referring to books written by any ayatollah (high ranking priest in the Islamic hierarchy).
For the last 27 years these Islamic laws have deprived women of their most basic rights as human beings and intensified the marginalization of women, creating a gender segregation that has made society a hell for all and forcing many women into suicide, prostitution and drug addiction. Women are setting fire to themselves in increasing numbers. These laws represent and impose a state of semi-slave social relations on women. They have strengthened the already brutal patriarchal and male-supremacist relations in the country. A vast apparatus of morality police has been set up to keep an eye on women and punish them if they violate these medieval moral codes of conduct. This is the dark ages in the 21st century.
After the overthrow of the Shahâ€™s regime and its replacement by the Islamic regime in 1979, women soon realised they would have to prepare for a vigorous fight against the Islamic Republic because it was serious about making womenâ€™s lives unbearable. Iranian womenâ€™s struggle for liberation entered a new phase. On 8 March 8, 1979 the slogan was launched: "We Did Not Make Revolution to Go Backwards!" This was in defiance to Ayatollah Khomeiniâ€™s call for mandatory veiling of women. Out of that outpouring several womenâ€™s organisations were formed. Revolutionary communists led some of them, including Jamiat-e-Zanan-e Mobarez (Association of Militant Women). Islamic Republic thugs repeatedly attacked this group. In 1981, when Khomeini launched a bloody suppression of revolutionaries and progressives, a large number of the associationâ€™s members were arrested. Many of them were executed. Many others who escaped arrest and death were destroyed in the clutches of brutal patriarchal social relations and traditions which did not tolerate strong and independent women. A number of those who survived imprisonment are now activists in the womenâ€™s movement in Iran as well as in exile.
Despite severe repression over the last quarter century, women in Iran have been resisting the many forms of inequality in any way they could. In the streets in the struggle against the compulsory veil, in prisons and under savage torture where young girls are raped so that they supposedly canâ€™t go to "heaven", women have fought in different ways and refused to accept these laws and the anti-women culture they are part of.
Over the last decades women have been at the core of the struggle against the Islamic Republic. Their resistance has played an important role in developing the political awareness of the masses and the political struggle against the regime. It has been a source of concern for the rulers. So the role of the women in Iran is not secondary. Not only are women half the population, but even more basically, the freedom and democratic rights of the whole country are inextricably bound up with their liberation.
In the recent years their struggles brought the murder of Zahra Kazemi (the Iranian-Canadian reporter killed while in the regimeâ€™s custody) before the court of public opinion on a world scale. They forced the regime to free Afsaneh Nourouzi, a woman condemned to death by the courts. They have fought around many other successful and unsuccessful cases. And finally during the last few years the struggle of women has taken the form of organized protest, such as the one in Tehran University in last June.
The development of the general situation in Iran has made it possible and necessary for the struggle of women take a higher form and become more united, more on the offensive and more organized, so that, first of all, the Islamic Republic will not be able to get away with this oppression, and secondly, so that reactionary forces inside the country as well as abroad will not be able to take advantage of the womenâ€™s movement. The campaignâ€™s call for the abolition of these laws and its overall stand has the potential to unite the majority of the women while at the same time targeting the heart of the religious regime. The success of this campaign can be a strong blow to the IRI since it targets the very foundations of this theocratic state. Furthermore, since these laws have their roots in centuries-old traditions, the struggle against them is a struggle against these traditions and the prevailing social relations they are based on. And this would encourage women and the whole society to fight for higher goals.
The other important aspect of this campaign is that it calls for the unity of the masses of women, relying on themselves and on the people and not on the imperialists and reactionary powers and forces.
It appeals to all people, especially women from all over the world, to express their solidarity and see this struggle as theirs. As the campaign explains in one of its leaflets: "The American governmentâ€¦ has declared that it seeks to liberate the women of the Middle East from the yoke of Islamic fundamentalism. This is a ridiculous claim that makes a mockery of real liberation and is an insult to the women of the Middle East. The march of events in Afghanistan and Iraq should have helped those who were taken in by these self-styled liberators of Middle Eastern women to realize how badly they were fooled. If anyone still believes that George Bush and his ilk are liberators of women, please talk to American women fighting to prevent him from taking away their right to abortion as well as against the efforts of the Christian fascists to dominate every aspect of the lives of women in the U.S. What George Bush is taking away from the women in the USA he will not deliver to women in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or any other country."
In Iraq under US occupation women have seen an enormous deterioration in their status as compared to the pre-occupation period. Religious fundamentalists have written womenâ€™s oppression into law and insecurity has imprisoned many women at home. The situation for most women in American-occupied Afghanistan still resembles slavery, sanctioned by a Sharia-inspired constitution. The fundamentalist warlords are once again a pillar of the government. Only a few months ago, in a region controlled by German troops and not the Taleban, a woman was stoned to death. And Afghanistanâ€™s women are raising their voices louder and louder.
Womenâ€™s struggle is global. In todayâ€™s situation when the US and other Western powers are trying to pose as liberators of women against medieval regimes (most of which the Western powers set up in the first place and keep alive today, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan), it is vital that all progressive forces, especially women in those Western countries, support women in Iran in their fight against their brutal reactionary regime as well as the equally brutal and cynically hypocritical imperialist powers. Further, this would show the women of Iran that their real backers outside of the country are the people and not Bush and those like him.
A section of progressive people in the West who are against the US-led occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq are hesitant to actively promote the struggle of the peoples of Iran and specifically womenâ€™s struggle against the Islamic regime for fear of helping the US build a case for invading Iran. This is exactly the trap that the US government has laid for these progressive forces. The oppressed women of Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, along with women everywhere, are fighting to liberate themselves from the injustices of this world. And the people of the world should stand with them in their fight against the reactionary Islamic Republic of Iran. Surely they would learn a lot from each other in the process of advancing such a struggle, and in this way become more united, experienced and clear about the cause of womenâ€™s liberation not only in Iran but all over the world.
The U.S.â€™s drive for global hegemony and the challenges that it has faced have moved Iran toward the centre of the world situation. In this context, the position that this womenâ€™s movement is putting forward could play an important role in helping to make the international line-up in relation to Iran and in Iran itself more favourable to the peopleâ€™s interests and a revolutionary solution, instead of one imposed by imperialism.
As this effortsâ€™ appeal concludes, "We call upon you to support our campaign and the march that has been organized for 8 March 2006, and join us to make it a resounding victory. We call upon all progressive individuals and forces in the global anti-war movement not to hesitate to strengthen the genuine voice of the peopleâ€™s movement in Iran.
"Celebrate 8 March 2006 with us and help us to build the independent ranks of women against US imperialism as well as the reactionary states governing these countries."
From a World to Win News Service
Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Revolution received the following from A World to Win News Service:
27 February 2005. A World to Win News Service. Somebody's knocking at the door! Who is it? If we donâ€™t open up, theyâ€™ll break in! Is it American soldiers? They raid homes and terrorize children and the whole family. Weâ€™ve seen it on TV. They insult, beat and arrest the menâ€¦
"In Fallujah many women were killed. Seventy-two women were killed the same way, shot once in the head, and their only sin was they opened the door to their homes," said a witness at the World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul. But the men at the door might be just common thugs and criminals who break in and rape the women. None of this was common before the U.S. invasion. An Iraqi woman at the Tribunal testified that from the day that Iraq was invaded, there has been growing violence against women and systematic denial of their rights. They have been kidnapped, raped, and even hunted to be traded to foreign countries for the vast global prostitution network. An Iraqi woman told a journalist, "Kidnapping and raping women has become so widespread that every woman worries that she may become the next victim. Very few women are seen on the streets. It was not like that before the war, no! Many are frightened to step out of their home."
Since the invasion, especially in the southern city of Basra governed by U.S. and British-backed Shia clerics, women have been pressured to cover their heads. Barbers have been warned not to shave men, and tailors have been told how women must be dressed. So many women have been driven out of their jobs, especially young women, that now only 10 percent work. "Honor killings" are increasing at an alarming rate all over Iraq, even in Kurdistan.
After last yearâ€™s approval of the new constitution and the establishment of an Islamic regime based on Sharia (religious law), the kind of things that were happening to Iraqi women in day to day life became enshrined in law.
Now Islamic forces are dominating the lives of Iraqi women. A traveller from Afghanistan would rub their eyes, thinking that they hadnâ€™t gone anywhere at all--thatâ€™s how much life for women in Iraq is coming to resemble what has been happening to Afghanistani women. In fact, the same U.S. that claims to have "liberated" the women of Afghanistan is now very busy "liberating" Iraqi women in the same way.
The invadersâ€™ "liberation" of Iraqi women has at least three dimensions. One is economic: most people have suffered from the invasion but women have been the worst affected. The second dimension is represented by the atrocities committed by the invaders in order to humiliate and crush the spirit of the people. Again, the whole people of Iraq have been suffering, but women have paid especially dearly. And the third dimension is the demolition of womenâ€™s rights by an Islamic regime that is increasingly dominating the political scene of Iraq--thanks to the U.S./UK invasion.
What is so painful is that this all-around oppression of women will not end here. It will also have a huge impact on the way of life of the Iraqi people as a whole and help to consolidate backward social relations within the society.
The economic sanctions imposed by the Western powers after the first invasion of Iraq in 1991 were a foretaste of the blows that would be inflicted on Iraqi women by the 2003 invasion.
According to the BBC, the number of women dying of complications of pregnancy and childbirth has tripled since 1990. Figures for miscarriages jumped, partly due to war-related stress and exposure to the chemical and depleted uranium weapons used by the U.S. Today 65 percent of Iraqi women give birth at home.
After the eight-year war with Iran that caused the death of half a million people in the 1980s, women came under pressure, since they were the only source of income in many families. This situation worsened considerably after 1991. Many government jobs paid so little that men quit, but women had to stay on since they had no alternative. Women working on farms were paid half of the already low wages. The economic situation overall became so bad that even some better-off families had to sell household appliances such as washing machines and freezers to offset their daily expenses. This increased womenâ€™s burden at home. And their desperation for a job reduced their wages to half that of men. When it came to educational expenses, families had to decide which one of their children should go to school. Usually, girls were not chosen.
In December 2003 a woman prisoner at Abu Ghraib smuggled out a note. "The note claimed that U.S. guards had been raping women detaineesâ€¦ Several of the women were now pregnant, it added. The women had been forced to strip naked in front of men, it said. The note urged the Iraqi resistance to bomb the jail to spare the women further shame." Female lawyers of women detainees discovered that this was true not only at Abu Ghraib but that the same thing was "happening all across Iraq." (This and subsequent quotes from the UK Guardian, 20 March 2004)
Since many women find it hard to talk about what happened to them, a woman lawyer named Swadi who had taken up several womenâ€™s cases visited a U.S. military base at al-Kharkh. She talked to a female prisoner there. "She was crying. She told us she had been rapedâ€¦ several American soldiers had raped her. She had tried to fight them off and they had hurt her arm. She showed us the stitches. She told us, "We have daughters and husbands. For Godâ€™s sake don't tell anyone about this."
The Guardian continued, "Astonishingly, the secret inquiry launched by the U.S. military in January 2005, headed by Major General Antonio Taguba, has confirmed that the letter smuggled out of Abu Ghraib by a woman known only as â€˜Noorâ€™ was entirely and devastatingly accurate."
Some of the 1,800 photos American guards took at Abu Ghraib show a U.S. military policeman "having sex with an Iraqi woman," according to Tagubaâ€™s report. Taguba also confirmed that guards videotaped and photographed naked female detainees. Although the Bush administration prevented the release of all these photos, some of these previously secret pictures of women were shown and placed on the Web by an Australian television station that obtained a copy of a CD made by the guards. When U.S. soldiers arrest and imprison women accused of prostitution, this seems to be a license for further sexual abuse.
Professor Huda Shaker al-Nuaimi, a political scientist at Baghdad University, said, "We believe she (Noor) was raped and that she was made pregnant by a U.S. guard. After her release from Abu Ghraib, I went to her house. The neighbors said her family had moved away. I believe she has been killed." That has been the fate of at least several other women ex-prisoners. Since in Islamic societies rape is considered a dishonor staining the woman and her family, few women talk about what they experienced while in U.S. jails and detention camps.
According to the same report, other sorts of humiliation of women for the amusement of their captors are also common in these prisons. "An Iraqi woman in her 70s had been harnessed and ridden like a donkey at Abu Ghraib and another coalition detention center after being arrested last July," the report revealed. UK Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who investigated the case, found this to be true. Women, like men prisoners, are kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. Family members who frequently gathered in front of Abu Ghraib and other prisons say that many women have committed suicide.
There is reason to believe this abuse is still going on. When the lawyer Swadi tried to visit women at Abu Ghraib recently, American guards refused to let her in. When she complained, they threatened to arrest her.
After the overthrow of King Faisal by General Qassim in 1958, Iraq adopted a relatively secular constitution compared to many countries in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein accepted it when he came to power. Women were legally equal to men. They were guaranteed education up to the primary level. They had a right to divorce, and polygamy was made impossible in practical terms. Women had the right to vote and stand for public office. They had the right to wear what they wanted.
These laws relating to womenâ€™s rights started to crumble after the first Gulf War, when the U.S. tried to isolate Saddam and at the same time began courting and promoting Shia Islamic groups. Saddam also felt compelled to appeal to religious sentiments to get the support of clerics and tribal leaders. He allowed men to take up to four wives, and kill them without punishment if they were suspected of infidelity.
After the 2003 invasion and the overthrow of Saddam, as the U.S. began close cooperation with Shia and some Sunni Islamic political parties, Islamists took increasing control over peopleâ€™s daily lives. Again, women were the first to suffer from these developments.
This situation developed most quickly in predominantly Shia areas such as Basra in southern Iraq. Women were forced to wear an Islamic hejab (head covering). Those who refused risked harassment and even kidnapping and rape. Nowadays in Basra it is unusual for a woman to go out without a veil. A woman activist told the Guardian newspaper that religious pressure groups mainly related to the Shia fundamentalist parties go to schools, take over classrooms and make all the girls put on veils and even gloves. Women have not been left alone in the universities either. Many young women students feel it is unsafe not to wear a veil. More than a dozen cultural and religious associations have emerged on the campuses in the last two years. Incidents of intimidation by classmates connected to Shia parties and militias are increasing. In one of these incidents at Basra University, militiamen attacked and reportedly killed at least two women students.
The point is that the hejab is only the beginning of severe oppression for women. Iranâ€™s Ayatollah Khomeini started out attacking womenâ€™s rights by making the hejab compulsory. The hejab is a sign of subjugation and in turn brings a series of further forms of subjugation. It degrades women. Not letting women dress normally is a sign that they will not be permitted to do other normal things. The very purpose of the hejab is to limit womenâ€™s participation in society and keep them at home. This has numerous psychological consequences for women and a devastating impact on their relationship with society.
Iraqi women and even single men increasingly find themselves unable to become independent of their families because they cannot afford to live on their own. For both economic and security reasons, there has been a whole new phenomenon of young people returning to live with their extended families. This in turn revives the tribal relations that the constitution of 1959 had hit. During past decades the increasing number of people going to work and receiving education had weakened tribal relations. Now, under the U.S. occupation, the trend is being reversed. This enforces and provides a more solid foundation for the harsher oppression of women. In such conditions the oldest man in the extended family can play the role of the tribal head. Men are considered the protectors of the tribeâ€™s honor and can decide the fate of any girl in the extended family. When tribal relations are strong and take new forms in the cities, then tribal chiefs can refuse to accept civil laws if they contradict their traditional law. Even if the law allows women some freedoms or the men of the family agree to them, the tribal rulers wonâ€™t allow it.
Iraqâ€™s new constitution finalized the establishment of an Islamic regime. It regulates important issues, including womenâ€™s rights.
Article 2 of the final version of the constitution makes Islam the official religion of Iraq and its state and makes it clear that no law can be passed to contradict it. Article 14 of the final constitution guarantees equal rights for women as long as those rights do not "violate Sharia" (Islamic law). The new constitution of Iraq also guarantees all rights in "international treaties and conventions as long as they do not contradict Islam." So Sharia comes first. Of course, religious law does contradict womenâ€™s rights and human rights on many points, and in all those cases womenâ€™s rights are denied explicitly.
According to Sharia, only fathers can have custody of children in case of divorce. Women are officially valued at only half the worth of men in matters such as inheritance and bearing witness in court. How exactly Sharia is going to be applied depends on the government, judges and of course the clerics. But it is obvious that women have already lost many basic rights, and others such as education, health, employment and so on are under serious threat.
The evolution of this situation is important to note. When Abdul Aziz Hakim (the leader of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq) was chairing the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), there was an attempt to insert Sharia into family law, namely article 137. This article sought to make family law conform to Islamic law and limit womenâ€™s rights. The council approved it in December 2003. This article provoked much controversy in different circles, including within the council itself. But it was not declared law because the then U.S. overseer of Iraq, Paul Bremer, ultimately did not sign it. The U.S. did not see it in its interest to approve the law at that time, perhaps because it was only a temporary law, and they felt that it was not worth facing the criticism of many women and even some of the forces supporting the U.S. invasion, such as the Kurdish leaders.
But in January 2005, when the Shia parties won the election, once again they started to push for a new constitution based on Sharia. They wanted religious courts to handle marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance cases. Some even sought the constitutional recognition of tribal justice. There was a long debate about the wording on the role of Islam. The Shia Islamic parties who dominate the Iraqi government proposed that Islam be labelled "the" main source of Iraqi law, while those opposed, like the Kurds and other minorities, wanted the constitution to call Islam "a" main source of law.
In short, both factions wanted Islam to have a main role in the constitution. However, after a few U.S.-imposed deadlines were missed due to a political stalemate between the factions, finally the U.S. intervened directly. Kurdish and Sunni negotiators later revealed that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad suggested calling Islam "a primary source" of law, which basically supported the most extreme religious view and severely undercut womenâ€™s rights. The clear U.S. support for the Shia fundamentalists provoked and embarrassed even many who had supported the U.S. invasion.
In order to hide this trampling on womenâ€™s rights, the constitution guarantees women 25 percent of the seats in parliament. But this is merely for show. The bitter reality is that no matter how many women are in Iraqâ€™s parliament, with the new constitution in force the new generation of women in Iraq is even more oppressed than the last. The U.S. invasion is responsible for this situation. Although these religious fundamentalists certainly reflect real social relations and have a social base, they were put into power by American guns. In the end, it is the U.S. who dictates to them and not the other way around.
The U.S. "helped midwife an Islamic state in Iraq," approvingly wrote Isabel Coleman, a Senior Fellow and Director of the Women and U.S. Foreign Policy Programme at the Council on Foreign Relations in the unofficial U.S. ruling class theoretical journal Foreign Affairs for January/February 2006. She calls for more of the same across the Islamic world. Under U.S. sponsorship, some of the "experts on women" involved in writing the new constitution for the U.S.-occupied Islamic Republic of Afghanistan also helped write the new constitution for the budding Islamic republic of Iraq.
U.S. support for fundamentalist Shias is not support for the majority of the population and it is not a policy adopted as a way out of the stalemate that has seized the Iraqi government. Male supremacist Islamic traditions are being used to revitalize the tribal and feudal relations that the U.S. needs to give their occupation a more solid base. Limiting womenâ€™s rights and increasing womenâ€™s oppression strengthens the backward feudal and tribal petty tyrants who are the main allies of the U.S. imperialists in Iraq. The experience of Afghanistan and the U.S.â€™s alliance with the most reactionary feudals and warlords in that country give a rough idea of what path the U.S. is taking--one that clashes increasingly sharply with the most basic interests of women and the people as a whole.
Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished (raped).
If this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
When you approach a town to attack it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it responds peaceably and lets you in, all the people present shall serve you as forced labor. If it does not surrender to you, but would join battle with you, you shall lay siege to it....You shall put all the males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, and the livestock, and everything in its townâ€“all its spoil--and enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy which the Lord gives you.
Final Week of Revolution Sustainer Drive
Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at revcom.us
I've read about Mobile.1 I don't remember meeting him myself, but I can see he was a cool person who spent a lot of time fighting for the people. I gave the article to someone in here who knew him who in turn put it in his photo album... I'm enclosing some stamps for the fundraiser for the newspaper. I can't just yet but when I get to where I may go I should be able to start buying my own subscription when I get a job there.
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1. See "Statement by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, on the Occasion of the Death of Willie â€˜Mobileâ€™ Shaw" and "Whoâ€™s Going to Step Up and Fill Mobileâ€™s Shoes?" by Joe Veale in Revolution #27 (December 19, 2005), available online at revcom.us
Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Revolution received the following from the Anti-Minutemen 5:
Right now this country is seeing increasingly vicious attacks on immigrants, justified in the name of the "War on Terror." When people step out to oppose these outrages, they must be supported. And when they are attacked, they must be defended. A group of five young people – white, Latino, Muslim – are facing up to four years in jail for a protest against the racist vigilante group the Minutemen. We need you to join in demanding that the charges be dismissed immediately against the Anti-Minutemen 5.
Legal and political precedents are being set that are chillingly similar to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Since 9/11, the administration has built legal precedent for the concept that immigrants — especially Arab and Muslim — are not entitled to due process, and can be held indefinitely in deplorable conditions. Legislators such as Tom Tancredo and Dennis Hastert are calling immigrants a threat to America, defending harsh profiling, and manipulating fear to justify any anti-immigrant measures in the name of the "war on terror." The Sensenbrenner bill (HB 4437), which passed the House in December, would turn millions of immigrants into felons for crossing without permission – and would make it a felony for anyone to aid or assist them. If this passes the Senate it would mean millions of teachers, health workers, and activists could become felons for giving aid or education or even a drink of water or a ride to the hospital. And in February 2006, the U.S. government announced a $385 million contract with Halliburton to build detention centers for immigrants. This in a country that runs notorious torture centers in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.
Just what will happen in these detention centers, built to lock away undocumented people whose legal rights have been disappeared, and who have been cast as "hordes," "invaders," and a threat to national security?
In this atmosphere, groups like the Minutemen serve as semi-official shock troops and enforcers. They patrol the border with guns, hunting the human beings they call a threat to the "fabric of America." Recently they attacked a teacher in Elgin, Illinois, for teaching about Mexican Independence Day, acting as the self-appointed enforcers of patriotism and jingoism. Minuteman co-founder Chris Simcox accused his opposition of being "terrorists" – and despite his complete lack of evidence, this accusation was disseminated widely by the Associated Press.
They hold rallies on the lawn of the Capitol, to national press coverage. Rep. John Culbertson of Texas has introduced bills asking for financial support and legal recognition for their armed patrols. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has twice praised these folks for doing a "fine job."
On October 15, people of different nationalities held a peaceful protest on the public sidewalk in front of the site of a Minutemen conference, in Arlington Heights, Illinois, near Chicago, in a show of solidarity with immigrants. This protest was sponsored by many immigrant rights groups and the Chicago World Can't Wait committee as well. Two of the defendants have been active in World Can't Wait. They chanted and spoke out against the Minutemen and in favor of immigrant rights. The response? On orders from the Minutemen, the cops attacked the protest, even though demonstrators were not preventing anyone from entering the conference, and had done nothing but chant on the sidewalk. They called in two regional special task forces, drawn from police from more than 90 surrounding cities, dogs, riot gear, and heavy artillery.
They singled out five of the most vocal activists – including the only woman at the protest wearing a hijab (Muslim head scarf), which they tore off of her head in a blatant violation of her religious rights. Those five were given outrageous and trumped-up charges of resisting arrest and battery against the police officers. Some are facing potentially four years in jail. Two state’s attorneys have refused to discuss a plea without jail time. Their case goes to trial on March 24.
This is part of the overall criminalization of dissent in this country, where protest is equated with treason. Where the president declares the right to spy on anyone, for whatever reason he wants, and says that the real danger is that newspapers dared to write about it!
When opposition to the Minutemen is attacked, while they are protected and promoted, it is clear that the government intends to enforce its anti-immigrant program and to silence anyone who gets in the way. The message is this: Don’t protest. Don’t resist. This can’t be allowed to happen! Charges like this have and can be defeated, but not without tremendous political battles for support. You have an important role to play in this. Here’s what you can do:
Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Editor's note: Revolution is serializing the speech "Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be A Far Better World" by Raymond Lotta.
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Communism and Socialism
Part 3: The Bolsheviks Lead a Revolution That Shakes the World
Part 4: The Soviet Experiment: The Social Revolution Ushered in by Proletarian Power
Part 5: The Soviet Experiment: Building the World's First Socialist Economy
Part 6: The Soviet Experiment: World War 2 and Its Aftermath
Part 7: Mao's Breakthrough — The Revolution Comes to Power
Part 8: Mao's Advance — Breaking with the Soviet Model
Part 9: The Great Leap Forward
Part 10: The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China - Not Fanatical Purge, But the Socialist Road vs. the Capitalist Road
Lotta is on a national speaking tour as part of the Set the Record Straight project. Information on upcoming speaking dates and related materials are available at www. thisiscommunism.org.
Mao Tsetung made a theoretical breakthrough for Marxism. He analyzed that antagonistic classes continue to exist in socialist society. He analyzed that the class struggle--between the proletariat, which rules society, and the bourgeoisie, which is ruled over in socialist society--also continues under socialism.
This is complicated. Youre not mainly dealing with old-style capitalists waving property deeds or stock certificates. Yes, remnants of the old bourgeoisie will still be around in the early years of socialism. And various old-line reactionary political operatives will seek to organize against the new system. But as the revolution progresses and consolidates the socialist economy, you are mainly dealing with a new bourgeoisie. This new bourgeoisie exists within the political, economic, and ideological relations and structures of socialist society.
Politically, its very complicated. It would be easier if this new bourgeoisie went on TV proclaiming to the masses, "Hey, we want to tear down the whole system and exploit you." No, it organizes and fights for its interests and programs within the institutional framework of socialism and in pseudo-Marxist and pseudo-socialist language.
All this has to do with the very nature of socialist society.
Socialism is a great leap forward. I have been talking about the great things it makes possible. But socialism is also a transitional society. It contains the economic, social, and ideological scars of the old society. What do I mean by this?
There are the differences in development between industry and agriculture, and between town and country, and between regions. Very importantly, there is still the division between mental and manual labor--between people who are mainly engaged in intellectual, administrative, and creative activities and those who are mainly working with their hands.
There are still differences in peoples incomes. Money and prices and contracts continue to play a significant role in the economy.
These and other social inequalities, as well the persistence of commodity exchange, must be restricted and ultimately overcome to get to communism. The ways these things influence people's thinking and values must also be ideologically challenged and eventually overcome to get to communism. But this will require a protracted and complex process of revolutionary struggle and transformation.
Mao analyzed that these social differences and commodity relations are the soil out of which new privileged forces and a new bourgeoisie grow in socialist society. And he took this analysis further. He showed that the core of a new bourgeoisie is found within the top reaches of the communist party. Why?
The communist party is the leading political institution in socialist society and the main directing force of the economy. The masses need revolutionary leadership to carry the struggle forward to revolutionize socialist society. You need vanguard leadership and a proletarian state to lead society and coordinate the economy in the interests of the masses and in the interests of advancing the world revolution. You need a strong proletarian state to stand up to the imperialists who are breathing down your necks.
But here's the rub. There are forces in high positions of leadership in the party and state that push and fight for a bourgeois line. By bourgeois line, I mean an outlook and policies that seek to expand the kinds of inequalities that I have been talking about. I mean an outlook and policies that seek to restrict the initiative of the masses. And these forces in high leadership who push a bourgeois line will be strategically positioned to implement their program: to institute policies and to restructure economic and social relations in a capitalist direction. These "capitalist roaders," as Mao called them, are also strategically positioned to rally and mobilize sections and forces in society around a program of neo-capitalism.
Some people might ask, "well, why not avoid the problem and just do away with a vanguard party and state?" But that doesnt solve the problem. It just leaves you powerless and even more vulnerable in the face of all the contradictions Im talking about. And the bourgeoisie will come back to power.
So a vanguard party has to lead the revolutionary process forward. But the vanguard party also becomes the focus of the contradictions of socialist society. And the struggle within the party between the socialist road and the capitalist road becomes the focal point of class struggle under socialism.
This was a pathbreaking discovery by Mao.
But Mao was also pioneering the means and methods for dealing with this problem: mobilizing the masses from below to politically strike down the bourgeois power centers within the communist party and to revolutionize the party and institutions of society; and waging ideological struggle to transform people's thinking and understanding. In this way, the socialist revolution digs up the soil that regenerates capitalism.
So with this political and theoretical background, lets look at the Cultural Revolution.
NEXT: The Cultural Revolution as a Seismic Eruption of Liberation