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Hundreds of Thousands Say NO
Revolution #041, April 2, 2006, posted at revcom.us
A great upsurge is taking place across the United States! Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are stepping out of the shadows, into the sun. In Chicago, up to a half million filled Daley Plaza, shutting down the city, chanting "¡se siente, se siente, el inmigrante esta presente!" ( The immigrants are here, you can feel it!) In Milwaukee—home of Congressman Sensenbrenner, author of the cruel bill that set off the protests—25,000 marched. Tens of thousands went into the streets in Washington DC. In Phoenix, over 20,000 demonstrators marched to the office of Republican Senator Jon Kyl, co-sponsor of a bill that would give illegal immigrants up to five years to leave the country. In Georgia, tens of thousands of immigrants stayed away from work in protest against a new state law there that would deny state services to adults living in the U.S. illegally and impose a 5 percent surcharge on wire transfers from illegal immigrants. As we go to press, students have walked out of schools throughout Southern California, and hundreds of thousands are filling the streets of Los Angeles.
The protests by immigrants are in response to the imminent danger that the U.S. Senate will pass the Sensenbrenner bill, which already passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year. The Sensenbrenner bill would make the lives of undocumented immigrants much more hellish than they already are [see box].
This is a moment and an upsurge to be embraced, and to be united with by ALL who are ground down, fucked over, stepped on, oppressed, exploited, censored, persecuted, and discriminated against; by everyone who possesses a basic sense of justice. Traumatic changes are taking place that threaten to make this planet even more hellish. But these same changes could open up possibilities for the proletariat (the worldwide class of workers with nothing to lose but their chains) to lead humanity to wrench something much, much better out of all this madness— if people resist and raise their sights to revolution.
In that light, it can't go down that non-immigrants stand on the sidelines in this battle, much less get played into fearing or opposing this just struggle. Instead, we have to look critically at how this situation developed, and what are the fundamental interests of the vast majority of people—around the world and within this country.
The mainstream media bombards people with the lie that immigrants threaten the security of people in the U.S. and steal the jobs of Americans. On the O'Reilly Factor, for example, Congressman Tom Tancredo says, “We are seeing an invasion on our borders.” And “It is not immoral to secure our own borders.” And “What's wrong with thinking about justice for the guy whose wages are being depressed because of the millions of people who are coming in here to take the job at even a lower price. When you think about justice, sir, think about it in a bigger picture, because there are a lot of people in this country who deserve it too.”
Okay, you lying hypocrite, let's look at the bigger picture for real. What is the real story on why people from around the world are being driven to this country? You can't understand things by just looking at a border and deciding it's immoral for someone to cross it. You have to ask how did that border get there, and what does it represent.
More than ten thousand years ago, a few dozen or so humans migrated over the Bering Straits that connected Alaska and Russia, and began to inhabit what is now called the Americas.
When the Spanish conquistadors came and drew new borders in what they called the Americas, they did it in the service of plundering the people and wealth of this continent. Historians estimate that between 60 and 80 million people were killed by the European invaders—from diseases they brought, through massacres, and through literally working people to death. The conquerors carried out an orgy of rape and death, and tried to wipe out the culture and languages of the people they conquered. In fact, it was the enslavement of indigenous people in mines and the massive kidnapping of slaves from Africa that marked—as Karl Marx, the founder of communism, put it with bitter sarcasm—the “rosy dawn” of global capitalism.
The Mexican-American War that ended in 1848 was a blatant theft of half of the territory of Mexico by the United States. The U.S. seized the area now comprising the states from Texas to California. Here, again, the question is not just that someone crossed someone else's border, but why. What forces were behind that? What agenda? The Mexican people had won their independence from Spain, and shortly after that Mexico abolished slavery in 1824. But slavery, of course, was still riding high in the United States. Both expanding Northern capital and Southern slavery in need of more land were forces behind the war
And then there is the present day—when the border is a scene of horror and starvation and brutality for immigrants who are forced to come here and work for slave wages—to enrich the U.S. capitalists. The capitalists can super-exploit these workers because they are deprived of rights—and that deprivation, that terror, begins right at the border, enforced by the border police (la Migra) and, now, armed vigilantes.
So there is nothing in the least sacred about this border. It was established by force and murder, in the service of plunder. And from the conquistadors of the 1500s, to the slaveholders of the 1840s, down to the capitalists of today that has been the case. Justice hasn’t had a damn thing to do with any of it.
Fast forward to today. What is it that drives people, from Mexico for example, to risk a terrible death in the desert of the Southwest to work in a packinghouse in Iowa, a garment shop in Los Angeles, or to clean a high-rise in Chicago?
Nativist and anti-immigrant forces claim that immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy. A widely cited study by Dr. Donald Huddle, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Rice University, claims that immigration (legal and illegal) will cost $932 billion over a ten-year period ending in 2007. .Anti-immigrant groups like “FAIR” (Federation for American Immigration Reform) promote the myth that “immigration is a drain on the economy; the net annual cost of immigration has been estimated at between $67 and $87 billion a year.” (Source: FAIR website)
In fact, many authoritative studies have documented that, in part because they are ineligible or scared away from using social services, immigrants contribute much more in taxes to local and national government than they use in services.
Beyond that, this myth of immigrants as “parasites” on U.S. society turns things upside down. On one level, it is totally upside down to claim that the people who are actually doing the work to build the houses, mop the floors, and harvest the fields—who are actually slaving away in the dangerous factories and slaughterhouses—are somehow “parasites”! And it is the ultimate in hypocrisy for people who enjoy a better standard of living because of the superexploitation of immigrants, and the “trickle down” perks of living in a country that plunders the world, to join in that chorus.
To scientifically understand who the real parasites are, you need to know that the whole world system we live under today is one where not only are billions of proletarians and other working people exploited by a relative handful of capitalists, but that capitalism itself has developed to a stage where a handful of imperialist countries exploit and plunder whole nations, and that this plunder is the lifeblood of the whole system. And that is the relation between the U.S. and Mexico—the U.S. politically and economically dominates Mexico as part of this whole world system of extracting wealth from the masses. This parasitism plays itself out in millions of ways—including in how immigrants have been forced to come to this country, where they are super-exploited by this same capitalist system that drove them here in the first place.
An article in the New York Times (“NAFTA to Open Floodgates, Engulfing Rural Mexico,” Dec 15, 2002) gives a hint of how this works. The article profiled the plight of Eugenio Guerrero, a Mexican pig farmer, whose farm was ruined by cheap imported U.S. pork. In 1994 the U.S. and Mexico signed the NAFTA agreement—the North American Free Trade Act—which enabled U.S. capital to more thoroughly penetrate Mexico. Shortly after NAFTA went into effect, the Mexican financial system nearly collapsed under the burden of foreign debt. The big capitalists in the U.S. then engineered a so-called “bailout” deal, which forced the restructuring of the Mexican national budget to further serve external imperialist capital. In 1995, the Mexican government ended most agricultural subsidies, making it even more difficult for Mexican pig farmers like Eugenio Guerrero to survive. (According to this same Times article, a typical farmer in Mexico receives $722 a year in government subsidies, while the average American farmer receives more than $20,000.)
The combination of cheaper imported pork from the U.S. and the slashing of subsidies worked together to further chain the lives of the people of Mexico to U.S. imperialism. By the end of 2002, one third of all Mexican pig farmers who had farms when NAFTA was implemented had been driven out of business. Eugenio Guerrero told the Times, “[W]e are putting our independence at risk. We are becoming a country that depends on foreigners for food."
There are literally a million such stories—of vegetable, chicken, pig, and other farmers driven off the land in Mexico. According to a 2004 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at least 1.5 million Mexican farmers lost their livelihoods under NAFTA.
Some of those displaced campesinos ended up in the maquiladoras, the vast belt of sweatshops on the U.S.-Mexico border where workers, including large numbers of youth and women, have the life worked out of them for wages that are something like 1/10th those paid to workers in the U.S.
But the relentless motion of capital has swept even some of those jobs to Asia, where wages are even lower, and workers’ rights are even more brutally repressed. All this is just one expression of a whole worldwide setup that drives hundreds of millions of people from their homes, often across borders, to survive—and to be further exploited.
In fact, large numbers of immigrants from Mexico and other places have ended up in the U.S. meatpacking industry, where their low wages and repressive conditions have facilitated the restructuring and profitable revival of the U.S. meatpacking industry. And U.S. capital cashes in yet again when the packaged meat is shipped to Mexico, a country now largely stripped of agricultural self-sufficiency. The meat may turn a profit for the U.S. corporation, but the cost in human lives is huge. And it doesn’t stop there—these parasites who have destroyed Mexican agriculture and restructured it to suit their needs, who have driven workers from those farms to then slave in their industries within the U.S., now skin the ox one more time: using these same workers as scapegoats for the economic insecurity caused by their system.
It's worth one more look back at the history of this country—not so far back. After the Civil War, Black people in this country were re-chained to the Southern plantations as sharecroppers, living under constant threat of lynching, denied basic political rights, and living lives little different in many ways than slavery. Black people at this time were forged into a nation within the borders of the U.S.—but an oppressed nation, in a setup that enabled the agricultural barons of the South to superexploit them. But with innovations in cotton production that made them “no longer necessary” in that work, along with the growing demand for industrial workers in the factories and the fear of lynching, they were driven north in search of work.
The jobs Black people were sent into included the hardest and most dangerous jobs in on the bloody and disease-infested killing floors of the meatpacking plants—jobs chronicled in the blues songs of the period that talked about being “tied to the killing floor.” Like Mexican immigrants today, they were pushed from their homes and pulled into industry by the motion of capital.
There were Tancredo types back then too, whipping up racist attacks on Blacks (in this same period, there were also racist mob attacks on Chicanos—the “Zoot Suit Riots” as well as mass deportations of Chicanos and Mexican-Americans regardless of their citizenship). In the cities of the North, white workers in particular were told that Black people, not the system, were responsible for crushing their lives.
In the spring of 1943, three Black workers at a Packard auto plant in Detroit were promoted to the formerly all-white job of metal polisher. Up until that time, Black workers in the Detroit auto plants were kept in the most low-paying, dirty, dangerous jobs—often in the ferociously hot foundries. White workers went on a week-long racist strike known as the “Packard hate strike.” That June, fights between Blacks and whites broke out at Belle Isle, Detroit's largest park. Over the next 24 hours, 25 Black people (and 11 whites) died—at least 17 of the Black people who died were killed by police, who sided with the white mobs (see, among other accounts, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, by Thomas J. Sugrue). Just as they are now, the system promoted and enforced racist hatred at the same time it claimed to be waging a global war for democracy and freedom.
Playing on and promoting white supremacy, directing the anger of exploited white workers at Black people has been a hallmark of this system, and those who see how this works with racism directed at Black people need to recognize how it is being used now, again, against another scapegoat—the immigrants.
The proletariat is one class, worldwide. Proletarians in every country share a common interest—a world without classes and class distinctions and all the oppressive ideas and institutions that go along with those distinctions; a world where the division between oppressor and oppressed nations has been overcome through struggle and where, ultimately, borders become a thing of the past. That is the outlook of proletarian internationalism, and it requires a struggle against the oppression of nations and against the persecution of any section of the proletariat on the basis of that oppression.
The bourgeoisie constantly fights to divide the proletariat along national lines, appealing to people on the narrow basis of “me first.” This is national chauvinism. It is the outlook and ideology of the enemy, and it must be defeated—in the realm of ideas and, very concretely, by getting out and joining in the struggle against national oppression.
The outpourings among immigrants come at a time when dangerously radical changes for the worse are being implemented by the Bush crew, as a concentration of the motion of capital. The standard of living and relative economic security that imperialism granted to broad sections of the U.S. population is now under severe attack—not by the immigrants, but by imperialism itself, driven to more thoroughly exploit even ‘its own’ workforce. The rights that people had taken for granted are being stripped away, in the name of ‘security.’ There are also very positive changes—white supremacy and male supremacy continue to be challenged, and other cultures are finding expression.
In this situation, fear is being spread and there are fascist movements being promoted from on high which offer people “certainty”—and provide them with scapegoats—in a time when the ground seems to be disappearing from beneath their feet. The main fascist force is the movement led by people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson. These Christian fascists either blame the poor for their own condition or else give them false hopes of a “better life through Jesus.” Meanwhile, they seek to impose a cruel morality based on a literal interpretation of the Bible — which includes very harsh measures that will be imposed on the masses, including measures that have genocidal implications for Black people and other oppressed nationalities — and they demand that this be made the law of the land. Along with this, the Christian Fascist agenda provides a program to cohere or re-forge a “united Christian America” on a white supremacist, male supremacist, “USA Number One” basis.
At the same time, an anti-immigrant, nativist movement—like what you see with the Minutemen—is emerging with powerful backing from on high. Some of these forces try to be slick and some of them are openly racist, but they all bring to mind the vigilantes and lynch-mobs that are so integral to American history and culture. This fascist vigilante movement both overlaps and combines with the Christian Fascists, and also has its own dynamic. This state-sponsored nativism bases itself on backward sections of white middle class people, but it also seeks to mobilize white and Black workers (and even documented immigrants) against those whom, based on their real interests, they should be standing shoulder to shoulder with.
Think about it. This system of imperialism has militarily and politically dominated nations around the globe. It has ransacked their economies, chained people's livelihood to imperialism, and driven people from their homes to this country. It viciously preys on them when they are forced across the border into the U.S. And then, this system says these people are illegal, a threat to “national security,” and the cause of the problems of everyone else in this country. All this, in service of a system of global plunder.
To break these chains of global exploitation and oppression requires revolution — socialist revolution — leading ultimately a world without classes and without borders — communism. And revolution requires a revolutionary movement. This means not only supporting the current outbreak—important as that is— but also, and ultimately even more importantly, giving people a conscious understanding of what is driving these attacks, what they are a part of, and diverting this movement from being coopted into one or another form of program that make things worse.
In that context, we need many, many people now connecting with Bob Avakian, and the way of understanding and changing this world that he is bringing forward. We need people reading, subscribing to, contributing to, and distributing this newspaper.
From the perspective of the global victims of this system, the presence of millions of immigrants in this country, legal or not,is a great and powerful potential contribution to not only protest, but to preparing for and making a revolution that will bring down this system that causes such misery for the people of the world.
Last December the House of Representatives passed an immigration bill, known as the Sensenbrenner bill (or HR4437). Among the main figures behind this bill was fanatic anti-immigrant Congressman Tom Tancredo, who had pushed for even more radical measures not included in HR4437—such as effectively overturning the 14th Amendment by denying citizenship to children born in the U.S. of parents who are undocumented. The Sensenbrenner bill calls for a nakedly Nazi-like crackdown on immigrants. It would make it a felony to be in this country without legal status, and also make it a felony to extend any help to people who are undocumented. The House bill also includes the building of a 700-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a measure that will undoubtedly lead to more deaths among people driven to cross.
In early March, the Senate Judiciary Committee began discussions on a Senate version of an immigration bill. If the Senate passes a bill, it will then need to be “reconciled” with the House version into a unified bill that goes to the president for signing into law. Such a law—whatever its final shape—will bring on major changes in the situation of immigrants, and this could happen in the coming few weeks or months.
Bush has some differences with the Sensenbrenner bill. He has been proposing that whatever new repressive law is passed should include some kind of provisions for “guest workers.” Another Senate bill proposed by Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and Republican Senator John McCain doesn't contain the most draconian aspects of the Sensenbrenner. It would give special visas to some people from outside the country who want to work in the U.S., and allow these “temporary” workers to apply for a “green card” (permanent residency) after several years of employment. And some undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. would be eligible for a temporary visa (provided they could prove that they are not a “security problem” and have a “work history” and a “clean criminal record”). They could then apply for permanent status—if they clear further security checks, pay thousands of dollars in fines and taxes, and pass English/civics tests. This opening to possible legalization is what distinguishes Kennedy-McCain from other proposals (like Bush's, as well as another Senate bill by Republicans Cornyn and Kyl) that have “guest worker” provisions.
But from the standpoint of the people, the problem with Kennedy-McCain is that, first of all, it accepts and operates from the basic premise behind the Sensenbrenner bill—that there's some big problem with a “broken border” that endangers U.S. “national security.” [See accompanying article, “What Is Behind the Immigrants’ Struggle—And Why We Must Support It!”, for a full exploration of the real causes of immigration, and the interests of the people in this whole situation.] And it makes the situation for immigrants worse in many ways. While Kennedy-McCain doesn't call for making immigrants felons or building a 700-mile border wall, it would mandate the Homeland Security Department to develop a “National Strategy for Border Security,” including such things as “aerial surveillance technologies” to “enhance border security.” The militarization of the border in the past decade—increased Migra patrols, walls, motion-detectors and other high-tech devices, along with “unofficial” armed vigilantes like the Minutemen—has already led to thousands of deaths, as immigrants are increasingly forced to cross through remote and dangerous desert areas. Any further build-up of “border security” can only mean more brutality and death for immigrants.
As for the “guest worker” program and the possibility for legal status in the Kennedy-McCain bill, a big part of why some ruling class forces back these proposals is that they see this as the best way to exploit these workers and also to enable the government to keep closer tabs on immigrants. Such a program would institutionalize a caste-like system where millions of immigrant workers are under “temporary” legal status and watched closely by the government, with deportation hanging over their heads if they raise their voices in protest.
As the Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings on the immigration bill, the committee chairman, Republican Arlen Specter, introduced his own “compromise” proposal. The Specter bill incorporates many of the fascistic provisions of HR4437, including classifying any immigration-related offenses as felony, but also includes a “guest worker” program. However, unlike Kennedy-McCain, Specter does not offer any path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
The Bush White House praised Specter's proposal as a “comprehensive approach to immigration reform.” Tancredo blasted Specter's bill as an “unmitigated disaster,” claiming the “guest worker” program would threaten the “national and economic security” of the U.S.
As we go to press, it is unclear what final form the Senate bill will take. But one thing is clear: none of the competing immigration proposals are in the interests of the people. These divisions around the immigration issue have to do with differences among the imperialists over how best to pursue their reactionary class interests as they move to extend their global empire, while they hammer down a new, more repressive social compact within their “homeland.” The differences within the ruling class over the immigration issue take place within this overall reactionary framework, and whatever “compromise” emerges out of this will not be any good for immigrants and the people as a whole.
Picking a lesser of two evils is a dead-end strategy. Case in point: look at the abortion battle, where the leaders of the pro-choice movement have refused to fight over the morality of abortion, and have agreed to concession after concession, and now the right to abortion hangs by a thread and the initiative is with the forces of women's oppression.
We have to break out of a logic that will have us start with McCain Kennedy, then get channeled into the Specter “compromise,” and then pretty soon ending up with Tancredo.
Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom
Revolution #41, April 2, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Editors Note: The following is drawn from a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, to a group of Party members and supporters in 2005. It has been edited for publication here, and subheads and footnotes have been added.
Revolution is publishing this work by Bob Avakian in installments. Published so far are:
Here it is necessary to begin by emphasizing something that is extremely important, but also frequently ignored, overlooked, obscured, distorted, and even suppressed: the fundamental truth that needs and wants are socially determined, and change with a changing material, social, and ideological "environment." Of course, this is one of the big charges against communism, that we're always trying to change "human nature" and change what people want and need and even change how they see their desires. But if you step back for a minute, you can see that wants and needs and desires are socially determined, and on a number of different levels.
For example, Marx pointed out that production itself creates needs. Think about computers, for example—now that we have them and use them. And think about what it would be like to go back to typewriters [laughter], to have to work with that "primitive technology." Well, you have a profound need and want for a computer now. This has now become a want and need. How? Because you got up one day and said, "I'm tired of typewriting and sending things by snail mail, I'd really like to do it by computer—only I don't know what that is." [laughter] "And I'd like to send e-mail, although I have no idea what that is, either." [laughter] So production creates needs: The development of technology, the development of productive forces and of production, creates needs and wants. So that's one sense in which things are socially determined.
Another way is that the culture, as well as the production relations, creates needs and wants. You know, the youth in the inner city: "I gotta spend thousands of dollars on rims for my car." Imagine if you went back to early communal society, some of which still exists in the world, you went into Africa, talking to the !Kung people in Africa, and you said, "I got some rims. You want to buy some rims?" [laughter] "What?" Maybe if you gave them some rims, they would use them to sit on or something, but they wouldn't pay any money for it. [laughter] And the fact that some rims look shiny and really cool, especially when they spin around fast on a car wheel, wouldn't really have much meaning to them; they might think these rims were interesting artistic objects or something, but the whole way in which youth in the inner cities of the U.S. look at rims would be totally alien, because it doesn't correspond to the production relations and the corresponding superstructure of people in an early communal society. I won't even mention even more grotesque things among the consumer items in American culture.
But the essential point is this: these wants and needs are socially determined. When we talk about the slogan of communism, "From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs," we're not talking about needs as they are socially determined under capitalism and imperialism. It was interesting, just to take an aside, this guy Roberts, the Supreme Court nominee, it came out that a couple of decades ago when writing for the Reagan administration, when he was opposing equal pay for equal work for women, he said, "Well, all these people are just ignoring the fact that there are historically evolved reasons why men should get more pay. They might as well inscribe on their banners: From each according to their ability, to each according to their gender." Just in case we think these people we're up against are not thinking people.
But these are socially determined things, things people think they want and need, or do actually want and need in a given context. An automobile is a necessity for the most part, living in this society, although not in Manhattan. Because of the particular way that things work out, you can get by in Paris without one, too—it's easier, in some ways, than in Manhattan, not to have a car. So these are socially conditioned things, socially shaped and influenced and ultimately socially determined things.
And take the phenomenon in capitalist society, with all its consumerism, for example, the phenomenon that is promoted among women, particularly though not only in the middle classes, that shopping is a quintessential activity. Men have sports and women have shopping. Both of those are socially determined, socially created wants and needs. I used to always crack up when there was that Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 song—one of their songs—and they were doing this rap, complaining about how their wife or girlfriend would always want to watch the soap operas on the TV and they couldn't even watch the ball game or the Sugar Ray fight! [laughter] As though somehow there were something superior about the ball game and the Sugar Ray fight, as compared to the soap operas [laughter]. But each is just a form, for the one and the other, of socially conditioned and created needs and wants.
And all this consumerism, the idea that shopping is a quintessential activity—and not only an activity but you can even get existential philosophizing about it, how it's somehow essential to a worthwhile and authentic existence to go shopping. [laughter] This is part of the way that the particular economy of U.S. society and capitalism is structured these days, with a regular debt structured into it on every level, including the consumer level, and it's reinforced by a whole advertising industry that artificially creates wants and needs. Now the rage is "reality shows" on TV. Nobody demanded to have "reality shows" ten years ago. But now you can't do without them. Many people can't do without those "reality shows."
So it appears that these are things you really need or that they're just something inherent in your own character. There is something essential about "my identity," that I like to collect these things, or have that thing, or consume this thing, or eat this kind of food. Even the way in which people consume the basic necessities of life is socially determined. Now, with things like food, clothing, and shelter, and so on, it is not the need as such but the need to do it in a certain way and the desire to do it in a certain way—to eat this kind of food rather than that kind of food, to drink this kind of liquid instead of that kind of liquid, to live in this kind of dwelling rather than another kind, to have this kind of vehicle rather than another kind, and so on—all that is socially determined and varies in different historical periods and from one society to another, and differs between different classes and social groupings within the same society.
There's Pepsi and Coke and, at least when I was coming up, among Black people there was RC Cola. That's a different want and need. You can see the same thing with cigarettes and different things. There are different strata and groups in society with different preferences, or socially determined wants and socially determined needs. With the constant reinforcing of individualism in this society—which has an underlying material basis in commodity production and exchange, and is constantly reinforced in the culture—you can think these are things that are inherent in and essential about "my very nature and identity," so that "I have to have these things"; but if you stepped back from this, you could realize that things that were important to you ten years ago are no longer important to you, you don't need them or want them, and things that you didn't need or want ten years ago are now indispensable to you, either as a want or even as a need. And this is all the more dramatically demonstrated when you look at different societies throughout history, and people in different societies and different parts of the world today.
Among the Christian fundamentalists in the U.S., the Bible is an absolute want and need. [laughter] But among the fundamentalists in Pakistan, for example, it's not—it's the Qur'an. But, of course, those things, too, are socially determined, and historically evolved, wants and needs.
In the discussion with Bill Martin in the "Conversations" book,1 I brought out in connection with our discussion of Kant (which I'll come back to later) that Marx made a very profound point in his "Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" when he said even the formation of individuals takes place, and can only take place, in a social context. Scientific discoveries have further borne this out. There are what they call "feral" children who grow up and live for some time in the wild: If they do this past a certain point, they have a very difficult time learning certain basic human functions and assuming certain human qualities, like speech, for example. These are socially learned and developed capacities. The learning of these things, and even the development physiologically to do these things, interpenetrates with the social environment. Even the formation and the development of individuals, as well as their wants and needs, can only take place in a social environment. In fact, even the assertion of extreme individuality, or individualism, can only take place in a social environment, in conflict with other individuals. Imagine if you lived on an island all by yourself: "I am going to assert my individuality!" [laughter] Well, who gives a fuck? There's nobody else to care. [laughter] You can't assert your individuality in that context, because everything exists in terms of its opposite. There's no opposite to your individuality. You're it, buddy. [laughter] Your individuality doesn't have meaning in the way that you would think of it in another context, in a social context.
So it's very important for us to understand that these needs and wants and people's views of them are socially determined and historically evolved. They relate to the character of production, to the mode of production, to the production relations, and the corresponding superstructure.
Just as there is no such thing as unchanging human nature, but in fact, different notions of human nature existing among people in different societies and even within different classes in the same society, so there is no such thing as some inherent want and need. And when communists say, very correctly, that we're going to carry out the "4 Alls"—not only the first three, but the fourth one, having to do with revolutionizing people's thinking—and we're going to carry out the two radical ruptures that Marx and Engels spoke of—not just the first one but the second one, involving the radical rupture with traditional ideas—we are very right to say so.2 This is not some horrific catastrophic notion of trying to engineer unnatural changes in human nature. It's a materialist, dialectical understanding of how these things take shape and change anyway, even without our intervention, if you want to put it that way—although the changes we're talking about are qualitative, they are radical ruptures, and that's why they're so bitterly opposed by the people who can perhaps allow for certain quantitative changes or certain changes in the form, for example, in which exploitation takes place, but not the uprooting and elimination of exploitation. [In a deliberately exaggerated voice, conveying sarcasm:] "That runs counter to human nature and to people's urge to assert themselves in competition with others."
But we are very correct to say we're going to realize the "4 Alls": the abolition of class distinctions generally, or all class distinctions; of all the production relations on which those class distinctions rest; of all the social relations corresponding to those production relations; and the revolutionization of all the ideas corresponding to those social relations. We are absolutely correct to recognize that this is possible and necessary. And, similarly, the radical rupture, not just with traditional property relations—which is another way of expressing the underlying production relations of which those property relations are an expression—but also a radical rupture with all traditional ideas: We are absolutely correct to say that is both necessary and possible. And, yes, it has to be done without "social engineering" in a coercive sense, fundamentally. But it cannot and will not be done without a great deal of struggle in the realm of ideology and culture, as well as political struggle and struggle to, in turn, transform the underlying material conditions in the economic base, and the dialectical relations involved in all that. To change people's ways of thinking in dialectical relation to changing their circumstances, as Marx once put it.
This revolution is about changing people and circumstances—and correctly doing that—doing that in the correct dialectical relation. There are ways in which people's thinking runs ahead and must run ahead of their circumstances. If that weren't true, there could be no communist theory, for example. There could be no envisioning of a future society without thinking running ahead of the circumstances. But if we try to impose thinking on people which does not correspond to the circumstances—rather than correctly handling the dialectical relation in which their thinking causes people to act on their circumstances to change them in a fundamentally voluntary and conscious way—we would fall into some of the horrors that we're accused of. And wherever people acting in the name of communism or anything else have attempted to do that, it has resulted in horrors.
So you have to handle this correctly, but the idea that there is some "unchanging human nature"—let's look at a little history to examine this more fully and why it's wrong. Now, it is not true that the development from early communal society to class society to communism represents some kind of "negation of the negation" in the way that Engels and Marx spoke of it (the emergence of class society represents the negation of early communal and basically classless society out of which class society emerged; and, in turn, the transition to classless society represents a negation of the emergence of class society = "negation of the negation"). Rather, it represents a complex unfolding of contradictions through various forms and stages in the way that I was speaking to earlier—the constant back and forth between the different aspects of the contradictions between the forces and relations of production, and the economic base and the superstructure, and between those contradictions and other contradictions they give rise to. Through all this complexity, we see history developing and the coherence emerging that Marx spoke of, and things being brought to the threshold, to the possibility, of a leap to communism, though not to the certainty and inevitability of it. And here, once again, a very important principle emerges, another way of speaking to the question of necessity and freedom—a statement by Marx where he says: People make history, but not in any way they choose. They make it in accordance with the material conditions that they inherit, with the necessity that they are confronted with at any given time. Yet, at the same time, as dialectical materialists, we understand that those material conditions get reflected in people's consciousness. People form ideas and concepts about those material conditions and how to change them; and, if those ideas and concepts are actually in accord with that underlying material reality, rather than a fundamental or essential distortion of it, and if they are in accord with the way those contradictions are tending, then people can not only make those changes but can accelerate them.
This is where the freedom and initiative lies. This is the role of a conscious communist vanguard and why it is so valuable, precious and, yes, indispensable. Because, given the class relations that exist, it is not going to be the case that everyone, all at once and spontaneously, is going to get to the point of more or less—not absolutely, but more or less—correctly reflecting reality in their ideas, concepts, plans, and programs, in terms of that reality's contradictory character and motion and development.
So people make history but not any way they choose—this is back to the point about the anarchists and the utopians. You have debates with these people and they say, "Well, why do you want to have leaders? That's part of the problem." No, at this stage of history that is overwhelmingly an essential part of the solution; and the fundamental question is what is the character of that leadership and do the ideas, concepts, programs, plans, and so on, of that leadership actually correspond to the resolution of the actual underlying and driving contradictions in the interests of the masses of people. That's the essential question.
Once again, what's essentially involved is that matter gets reflected in people's consciousness and, in turn, consciousness reacts back upon matter and changes it. How does it do so? In what direction, in what interests, to what purpose, for what objectives—that's the question always, whenever anybody steps forward and says anything. Yes, there's a lot of complexity bound up with that. But that's the essential and fundamental question.
Everybody has ideas, more spontaneous or more systematically thought-through ideas. Everybody has ideas, and they are responding in some way or other to material reality. The question is: how systematically and thoroughly do they actually reflect the underlying driving forces of reality, and what do they have to do with resolving, in the interests of the masses of people, the actual contradictions that are driving things? That's the question. And that is the decisive question in terms of leadership. Posing any other question as decisive is a diversion from the real fundamental and essential thing that has to be gotten at. Yes, we may have to speak to other questions that get raised about this, but they are a diversion, even if we have to speak to them in order to get to the heart of things.
So people make history, but they don't do it any way they choose. This, once again, has to do with the point about constraints and the dialectical relation between constraints and transformation. It has to do with the point I made earlier about socialism emerging with the birthmarks of capitalism and Lenin's point that we don't make revolution with people as we would like them to be, even while we're trying to change them. Yes, we are trying to change them. "They're not going to try to change how people feel about things, are they?" Yes, we are. Because feelings are fundamentally a question of your understanding and your outlook on things. We're not going to order people to feel differently or try to put a gun to their head and tell them to feel differently; but we are going to try to transform them, yes, even in their feelings, because people's feelings are an expression of how they see the world. If you really and deeply understand what it means, and what it leads to, for one human being, or one group of human beings, to use others for personal and private gain, why this is a fetter on not only the particular individuals who are exploited in this way but on humanity as a whole—and especially as you come to see that humanity has reached the point where such relations of exploitation are not only unnecessary but are a hindrance to the further development of human society and of human beings—then you will feel a passionate desire to see all this abolished and uprooted. But if you don't really understand what this kind of exploitation involves, and why it is not necessary and can be done away with, you will feel very differently about it—you may actually feel that it is not a bad thing, or at least that there is nothing that can be done to change this, and trying to change it might only lead to something that is somehow worse. Should we not try to change people's thinking and, yes, their feelings about fundamental things like this?
Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State made the following very important comment, which is worth pondering. He said: "The less the development of labor and the more limited the amount of its products, and consequently, the more limited also the wealth of society, the more the social order is found to be dominated by ties of lineage." And you see this in early communal societies, including some which still exist in places like Africa and isolated pockets in Latin America; you see it in the Native American societies historically, and still somewhat today in what's now the U.S. Engels' statement embodies a materialist understanding of how society is organized—that it's not some arbitrary organization but, again, the organization of society is essentially an expression of the character of the productive forces. And even what are the basic units of society—family and lineage ties, in the case of early communal societies—have to do with the character of the productive forces of those societies. Engels examined a number of early communal societies, in different parts of the world—different parts of Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean and so on—and he showed that, with the change in the productive forces, the character of the way society was organized—in other words, the production and social relations—changed accordingly.
Engels goes on to say, in the same work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, that in early communal society "human labor power still did not produce any considerable surplus over and above its maintenance costs." In other words, if you think of a gathering and hunting society, they go out and they gather berries and fruits and nuts, and things like that, and occasionally there's some hunting to supplement it; and pretty much the people consume, more or less directly and immediately, whatever it is that they gather and get by hunting. So, human labor power, in this form of society, still does not produce any considerable surplus over and above its maintenance cost. Then Engels goes on: "That was no longer the case after the introduction of cattle-breeding, metal-working, weaving, and, lastly, agriculture"—and Engels also identifies the separation of handicrafts from agriculture as another key leap.
Now, going back to the more positive side of Jared Diamond for a minute, in Guns, Germs and Steel he does examine this from a largely materialist standpoint. They recently did a TV series on PBS, based on the book, where Diamond goes into some of this—how, once handicrafts is separated from agriculture, once you could specialize, once the agriculture could produce enough to support a part of society engaging in specialization, beginning with handicrafts, and with the further development of technology, then you've got a whole dynamic going where that technology would react back upon agriculture, would provide new means of production, new technology for agriculture, and in turn agriculture could produce more surplus above and beyond what was used for immediate consumption, which in turn provided the underlying material base for further specialization. And along with this, of course, came the further development and unfolding of class differentiations in this society.
Another way to say this is that this brought with it very significant changes in production and social relations. And Engels points out how this was particularly true with regard to slavery in ancient times. That when you didn't, and when in fact you could not, employ people to produce much more than they would themselves consume, slavery didn't make much sense economically. So, when people were captured by another tribe or kinship group, they got killed, they got let go, or they got absorbed in the tribe as a member; but it didn't make sense to try to take massive numbers of people as slaves if your productive forces were not capable of employing them in a way that would produce a lot more than what they would consume. Otherwise, you're just adding people on without much gain.
But once agriculture, especially settled agriculture and differentiation between agriculture and handicrafts, and so on, began to unfold, then it made economic sense to take slaves. There were—we're not romantic about the history of humanity—there were, between different early communal groups, conflict and hostility and warfare, or at least violent conflict, in North America and other parts of the Americas, and in other parts of the world. But within the ranks of a particular tribe, there were not the class divisions, nor the division and oppression that's so familiar today between men and women, that later developed with the emergence of these different production relations, on the basis of further development of the productive forces.
And, of course, one of the most salient, striking examples of these transformations in production and class relations was the taking and employing of slaves. Once the character of the productive forces was such that it made economic sense to take slaves, rather than killing them or simply absorbing them in as equals, then slavery began to take hold. That doesn't mean everybody thought slavery was a good idea and it didn't mean that suddenly people became "evil"—like in the Adam and Eve myth in the Bible—the fall of humanity, and all of a sudden everybody became corrupted. Of course, people's outlooks did change. When you start taking other human beings as slaves, your outlook changes accordingly. And guess what? You now have a social need and want for slaves. An historically evolved and socially conditioned need and want for slaves that's based on changes in the character of the productive forces, and not on some inherent tendency of human nature to want to take other people as slaves. If you were to go into early communal societies and say to people, "Why don't you enslave each other?" they would just go: "What? What are you talking about?" And what would the response be? "Well, apparently you haven't fully developed your human nature yet." [laughter] No. They have different ideas, different superstructural expressions, corresponding to their different mode of production, corresponding to the character of their productive forces. But when slavery begins to "make sense," economically, it begins to take hold, even over the resistance of those who aren't able to take slaves or for whatever reason might think it's not a good idea.
So slavery now began to be profitable. There was a material basis for it, and the stealing and taking of slaves became a part of the activity of the group—raiding other tribes, in particular, or other groups of people. And Engels talks about how the "gentile constitution" (here he's not talking about non-Jewish people—he's talking about a society based on gens or kinship and lineage groups, when he says "gentile"), "The gentile constitution in its best days presupposed an extremely undeveloped state of production, and therefore an extremely sparse population over a wide area." If you think, for example, about Native American peoples, there was this fictional series on TNT, "Into the West," and they talked about this. The series revolved to a considerable extent around the conflict between these two ways of life, and went back and forth between the Lakota and the Cheyenne and other native peoples, on the one hand, and on the other hand the settlers moving from east to west. And there was a whole point about how the juggernaut of white settlers just kept coming, and it got embodied in things like the pony express, and then in the telegraph, and then in the railroad and more and more settlers. And you begin to see that the way of life of the Lakota, and other native peoples, can't survive in these circumstances because it required a large territory for a small number of people in order to maintain that mode of existence. It was not a settled way of life that would, increasingly, bring about greater output on a settled territory by continually developing the productive forces. This is not a matter of saying that one way of life was "superior" and the other "inferior"—there is nothing inherently superior or inferior about gathering and hunting, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, engaging in settled agriculture and the accompanying development of technology. Rather, it is a matter of stressing, from a scientific materialist standpoint, that these two different ways of life were increasingly in direct and antagonistic conflict with each other, and it is a matter of recognizing why, with the combination of circumstances that existed at the time, one way of life forcibly prevailed over the other. When more and more settlers came, backed up by the military, of course, but also reinforced by all these productive forces and by a way of life that utilized these productive forces—again, I'm not speaking to the justice or injustice of it, I'm speaking to the material reality of it—there was less and less basis for their way of life among the native peoples, because they could no longer continue to exist as small, relatively sparse populations that required a large territory to range over in order to hunt and gather. This is the same thing that Jared Diamond examines in Papua New Guinea with the peoples there.
In speaking of a way of life that does not involve and depend on settled agriculture and the corresponding development of technology but which, instead, involves a sparse population ranging over a wide area, we can think not only of the Native American peoples, for example, but also similar groupings in ancient Greece, in the period before the Greek city-states. Engels comments—and this is definitely worth reflecting on—that "the growing economy [in and around Athens, in ancient Greece] penetrated like corrosive acid into the traditional life of the rural communities founded on natural economy." This process in ancient Greece, which did involve more development of technology and more differentiation of people into different social groupings—the organization of people that was beyond, and began to break down, the lineage groups and organized people instead according to territory and at the same time according to class—this, Engels points out, "penetrated like corrosive acid into the traditional life of the rural communities founded on natural economy" and what we got out of it was the slave economy and the slave society in the ancient Greek city-states.
Or take this example. The Germanic (and other) "barbarians," in conquering Rome, and being confronted with the need to maintain and administer what they had conquered—if they simply didn't want to raze it to the ground and destroy it, then they had to maintain and administer it—in these circumstances they experienced the break-up to a significant degree of their own previous form of social organization and its replacement by one essentially in keeping with the mode of existence of the society they had conquered. In other words, in Rome they "did as the Romans did," not instantly but over a period of time.
Well, in the talk "Revolution," which is on DVD,3 I cited examples from ancient Mexico and also ancient Egypt, where people began to settle down, engage in settled agriculture, and unevenness and class differentiations began to develop and this gave rise to a state and all the things that go along with a state. And with this came the separation between intellectual endeavor and underlying productive activity, the engagement in cultural activity on the one hand and productive activity on the other. I talked about how in a part of ancient Mexico, near the Coatzacoalcos River, the people settled there after a certain period of hundreds of years where they had engaged in gathering and hunting; but they didn't decide one day, "let's go over to the river and settle down and do agriculture." Now, we don't have any psychological studies, and no polls have been taken [laughter], but we can assume that they were used to their way of life and weren't particularly anxious to give it up; but historical investigation reveals that partly through their own gathering and hunting they used up the very things they were gathering and hunting, plus there were changes in the climate. So they were driven to go settle down in a different area.
This is the point, once again, that I've made a number of times—it's a point that historical materialism emphasizes—that often people engage in changes in their mode of existence and way of life which have far-reaching consequences, which they in no way anticipate or intend. But those changes become, themselves, a material force which reacts back upon the people involved. So these people in ancient Mexico went from this one way of life to another, settling down by the river; and, lo and behold, some land is closer to the river and more favorably situated and is more fertile, and other parcels of land are not. So, not in a mechanical, one-to-one way, but in an overall sense in relation to this, you get differentiation, some people accumulating more than others, some people doing well, others not doing well. Guess what happens to the ones who aren't doing well? Many of them get hired—or in some way employed—by the others who are doing well.
This is what happened in China in recent times, with the restoration of capitalism after Mao died: when you break up the communes and go back to the capitalist mode of production, many peasants become severely impoverished and cannot make a living on their own land, so they go into the cities or they get hired on by the people who do well. There is polarization and great gaps develop among the people, with many ending up being exploited by the others. And, as this took place in early human society, such as in ancient Mexico, out of this you get the emergence of people who specialize in different technologies; people who specialize in cultural activities, intellectual activities; and some who specialize in state activities.
And the same kind of process went on in ancient Egypt, even before the Pharaohs, in relation to the Nile. If you look at Egypt, the whole society is basically organized on a thin strip, on each side of the Nile. But even within that, there is differentiation, along with the fact that there are people who are farther away from the Nile who were more unfavorably situated. So in ancient Egypt, even before the Pharaohs, you had the same general kind of process—of differentiation, polarization, exploitation, oppression, and repression, with the emergence of social, class distinctions and the emergence of a state.
Is this because of some inherent quality in human nature? When these people were in Mexico thousands of years ago, carrying out gathering and hunting, there was just some inchoate and irresistible longing to develop a state and exploit and oppress other people? And, somehow, you just can't prevent this from happening without creating a monstrosity by trying to curb the inherent and undeniable quality of the human spirit? Bullshit! [laughter] This happened for very material reasons, brought about by changes in the character of the productive forces—which, again, were propelled by necessity people confronted and often led to results and consequences they did not anticipate—leading to changes in the relations of production and, in turn, corresponding changes in the politics, the ideology, the culture, the ways of thinking and, yes, the wants, needs, and feelings of people.
This is how human society has developed—not out of the unfolding of some plan of a conscious designer, but out of the largely unconscious process of people responding to the necessity they are confronted with and making changes which often have far-reaching and profound results, unanticipated and unintended even by them.
So, when we come up to the present era of human history and we look at the question of communism and the "4 Alls"—when we look at the "Two Radical Ruptures," not only with traditional property relations, but with traditional ideas—when we think about the principle "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs"—we have to understand the dialectical back and forth between the changes that will be taking place in the economic base of society, in the production relations and the corresponding social relations, and in the superstructure of politics and ideology, until an abundance is created on the one hand, which removes people further and further from the necessity of the daily struggle for survival—where that, in fundamental terms, is guaranteed and is no longer a preoccupying thought of the people who make up society—in dialectical relation with people's wants and needs changing correspondingly.
This is the way we have to conceive of advancing to communism, and not in some utopian sense. Now, I'll come back to this more fully: Communism is not some utopian idea where everybody gets to do their own thing, without any constraint, and somehow it all works out for the common good. That is not a materialist and a real understanding of how you would get to communism and what communism will actually be like. It is something very different, corresponding to a different world view, which really has nothing whatsoever to do with communism at all. I will speak to that more fully later.
1. Bob Avakian and Bill Martin, Marxism and the Call of the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics (Chicago: Open Court, 2005).
2. The "4 Alls" refers to a statement by Marx, in The Class Struggles in France, 1848-50, that the dictatorship of the proletariat represents the necessary transit to the abolition of all class distinctions (or class distinctions generally); of all the production relations on which these class distinctions rest; of all the social relations that correspond to these production relations; and to the revolutionizing of all ideas that correspond to those social relations. The "two radical ruptures" refers to the statement by Marx and Engels, in "The Communist Manifesto," that the communist revolution involves the radical rupture with traditional property relations and traditional ideas.
3. Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About. Available in DVD (Eng/Span), VHS (Eng), and VHS (Span.). $34.95 + $4 shipping. Order online at threeQvideo.com or amazon.com; or check/MO to Three Q Productions, 2038 W. Chicago Ave. #126D, Chicago, IL, 60622.
Revolution #041, April 2, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Over the month of March, thousands of college student have been going to New Orleans for their spring break. They have come as volunteers to do work the government has proved, time and time again, it is unwilling to do. A big part of the work they are doing is gutting and cleaning houses in devastated areas hit by Hurricane Katrina so they can be rebuilt. Volunteers are also working with the community to meet people’s basic needs, like distributing food and other social services. Many different groups and collectives have called for and are organizing the volunteers.
A crew of us have come down to New Orleans to learn about what is happening, to pick up a shovel and do some work ourselves— and to connect the Party and its Chairman with the people. We have only been down here for two days so far— but it feels like weeks. Here is a bite of what we've learned and seen so far.
When we arrived we hooked up with the Common Ground Collective, one of the first volunteer groups in New Orleans after Katrina to provide assistance to hard hit residents. Common Ground organizers say they have already organized some 2,500 volunteers this month. The founder of Common Ground, Malik Rahim, testified at the first Bush Crimes Commission in New York last October about the ethnic cleansing taking place in New Orleans, particularly in the predominantly poor Black areas of the 9th Ward.
Common Ground Collective has been organizing many different projects, and a big part of their effort is saving houses ruined by flood waters so residents can rebuild and move back in. This is very contentious because there is real resistance by the government to allow people to move back in to certain areas.
On our first morning in New Orleans, Darell, a resident of the 9th Ward who has been working with Common Ground, took us on a tour. We drove to the lower 9th Ward, one of the worst hit areas of the flood. The lower 9th Ward community is east of the the larger area known as the 9th Ward. It is separated by the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, a body of water contained by the levees which broke down.
As we drove over the bridge from to the lower 9th Ward, we got an elevated view of the devastation that stretches for blocks and blocks. Darell told us that as bad as it looks with houses smashed up, it had been far worse. As we got closer we saw how many of the houses have been completely destroyed, smashed and torn to pieces. I was surprised, however, to see how many of the houses still held their basic structure. Inside, the houses are a mess— mud caked on the floors and walls which are often rotting and filled with mildew. Most intense is that in the midst of all this are the remnants of people’s destroyed possessions.
Most of the houses in the lower 9th were owned by residents, with many of the houses passed down from generation to generation. It is heavy to think about this in the context of the whole history of the oppression of Black people, the history of the South and slavery— and what it must have meant for previous generations to buy this land and build homes on it.
The lower 9th was a disaster area and the wost hit from the hurricane and flood. Darell told us that just after the flood waters ripped through submerging the 9th Ward, houses were physically thrown into the streets. Imagine a neighborhood being put in a washing machine— cars sitting on houses, appliances in random places strewn across streets. In fact, many refrigerators were in the streets because people used them to float on in the flood.
As we talked with Darell we learned some very deep things about exactly what happened here and what is continuing to happen. Driving around, it is striking that government workers like FEMA aren't the ones out full force, cleaning and fixing things up. What you see is groups of volunteers, in protective tyvek suits, respirators, and goggles cleaning up the houses. I asked Darell, "Where is the government?" and he said they just ain't here, that if it wasn't for the volunteers nothing would be happening. I asked him what he thought of the volunteers and after reflecting a while he said it meant a lot. As Darell talked, I could feel the deep-seated anger and frustration at how the people, and Black residents in particular, have been treated, the failure of the government to meet the basic needs of the people, and the continued and conscious neglect.
Darell said, "You've been here a day or two. You can see how many government workers you have seen around here. There is a church across the street from Common Ground, River of Hope, you know they volunteer. That's all you see is volunteers. You don't see not a government worker besides the New Orleans police riding around harassing people. You don't see a city or government worker coming through here. If it hadn't been for the volunteers, New Orleans would still be trash right now."
In talking about the volunteers Darell said, "It lifts my spirits. I can't take nothing away from them. I'm glad of them. We've had all kinds of kids come here from D.C., Chicago, folks are getting on the Internet and learning about Common Ground. They're hearing about it, just flying here and driving here at their own expense." Darell said he used to be "more out for myself." But meeting the volunteers has changed some of his thinking. Darell said, "I'm not going to go by anyone's house and do this here for nothing—that's the way I figured at first, 'I ain't gonna work on no house and not get paid.' Them kids are coming here and working hard and giving 100 percent."
I remarked on the second of the three lessons issued by the RCP just after Katrina about the people coming together in spite of the government and what this shows about the potential for the future (see"On Hurricane Katrina: Three Fundamental Lessons" in Revolution #14, September 18, 2005). Darell picked up on this right away, nodding in the affirmative. He told me about a guy he had met, a white youth who was a plumber, who had come as a volunteer. He said "I talked to one guy, he said he never came up around Blacks. And now he was starting to understand that the things that he was taught are different [than how things are], different than what his ancestors had taught him." Darell said this had also changed him, seeing that people could change like this—a white guy who was really learning about Black people for the first time.
I asked Darell what he had taken away from this whole experience with Katrina. He quickly responded "I don't trust the government, I never really believed in politics any how. But I know one thing, that sure means you can't trust them."
In the evening we made our way over to St. Mary's of the Angels school, which is housing hundreds of volunteers. St. Mary's is a school is run by Father Bart in the 9th Ward. He kept the three-story building open during the storm and the top floors served as a refuge for people. It has been turned into a center where volunteers eat, sleep, get trained, and get their gear to work on cleaning out houses. Students are here from all over the country. When we arrived the place was bustling with activity. Volunteers preparing dinner, playing music, some resting from a long day of work, others meeting or talking.
We met a crew from Mills College, a liberal all women’s college in Oakland, California. The school had donated close to seven thousand dollars to fly 19 students to New Orleans. I spoke with Alex, Heidi, and Amanda, who had already been in New Orleans for almost a week. They had been gutting houses in the 9th Ward, among other things. Heidi said, "I thought it was interesting to see all of us come together. I witnessed my peers bringing out couches and refrigerators...and working as a team." I asked about the the government not being around and Amanda said, "The Government is here but they don't have a huge presence. The other day we just saw OSHA (Occupation Safety and Health Administration) when we were walking to the women’s center, and we see FEMA coming around occasionally although they just kicked out, what, 8,000 people from hotels. So they're here, but the huge presence here now is volunteers and political activists taking care of stuff and trying to open up schools and help these people retain their houses. The government just wants to bulldoze houses and get rid of everything." The Mills students also talked about the experience of being together with so many other volunteers. Alex said, "There are so many people from all over the country, it’s almost unifying to see that we have the same desire to help volunteer to do what it is that we are doing... It's nice to see that people from all over the country want to help out other people."
We distributed tons of copies of Revolution, including the special issue on Hurricane Katrina. This served as a good discussion piece to talk about the failure of this system to provide for the basic needs of the people, and at the same time the tremendous potential shown by people helping each other. A number of volunteers wanted to know what communism was all about. We got out copies of the DVD sampler of Bob Avakian's talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About and dug into these deep questions. During one discussion a young woman who had read some Marx said she had trouble seeing how the society he is talking about is possible. I thought to myself about Lenin's point on communism springing from every pore in society. Here were all these people, making sacrifices, working together while debating big questions. Learning of the anger and frustration from the people of New Orleans and getting a firsthand look at just how deep national oppression and racism goes. I said to her, well what about what is going on right here? Doesn't this give you a sense that something else is possible? She agreed and said that it had actually been making her think a lot about what was possible.
We talked to a group of Black students from New York who had organized 20 students to come down. Gwenamo came from New Jersey and told us she had been planning on going to the Bahamas for spring break but instead decided to go to New Orleans. She said, "The house we gutted today was in the lower 9th Ward and it was completely destroyed. We got there and it looked like it was impossible to get the amount of work done that we did today and we got it done by working together. We talked to the homeowners and heard their stories and hearing that they had hope, and that they are coming back here and how much they care about the city really inspires you and makes you want to change things. Really makes you feel for them." When I asked her about Bush, she said, "It's not coincidence that the majority of the people, 73% of the people in New Orleans are African American, it's not coincidence at all and it makes me really angry to think about that. That a president who is sitting in a mansion can sleep comfortably at night knowing that there are people here that are suffering that have lost their homes. It's disturbing. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever. That's the country we live in, the land of the free and the home of the brave, that's what it is."
The next day, we woke up at 7 a.m., chowed down and suited up in our tyvek protective suits. Our work crew got picked up by Omar a resident of New Orleans. He took us out to Pontchartrain Park, a neighborhood built by working class Black people after WW2. About nine of us loaded up in his truck with shovels, rakes, and crowbars tucked in and a big red wheel barrow. Omar's house had also been hit and he was in New Orleans for five days after the flood. He had been helping his neighbors fix up as many houses as he could in his neighborhood and save their property. "My time has been spent in my neighborhood. We've gutted probably about 30 houses and cleaned up about 100 back yards." I asked him what the goal is of the gutting and cleaning of the houses. He said, "I think it’s neighborhood specific. In my neighborhood they are not knocking down houses. I live in the 7th Ward, a middle class Black community. Blue collar workers built the houses that we live in. At this point their grandchildren are living in those houses. We are gutting our houses out so we can move back home." I asked him about what is going to happen to people's property. He said "I think that's the question. Nobody's clear about what is going to happen to those people's property. There is a lot of proposals, but there is no plans. So that is what people are concerned and up in arms about. There is no direction. And they have no idea what happens next."
I asked Omar about his thoughts on all the volunteers coming down and the fact that it was the people and not the government who was putting in all this work. He said, "I'm not shocked. That's the way it always happens. People make the difference, the government don't. My experience is that change doesn't happen because the government decides change is gonna happen. The people decide that things need to be different and that's when change takes effect. So I'm not surprised. But for the volunteers we need them. We need as many folks as we can to come down here and get this place together."
At the end of the day we were pretty exhausted from gutting a house. What was becoming clear through the different conversations is that a major battle is shaping up over the right of the people to return to their homes and whether people will be allowed to rebuild. Many areas still have no electricity or regular garbage pickup, and the word is that they might not open those areas back up. Trailers are peppered throughout the 9th Ward in front of the damaged homes. The government has given people trailers while they rebuild, but little else. And many have yet to receive trailers, which are loaned out for only 18 months, starting the day after the Hurricane. This means that the residents who are getting the trailers six and ten months after the hurricane now only have them for a short time.
Many things happening here in New Orleans remind me of the point Lenin made that "communism springs from every pore in society." Barriers being broken down among people from different nationalities and classes. People learning from each other, about what each other’s lives are like. There is a lot of transformation going on down here—and many shoots and seeds of what could be.
While we were working with Omar, gutting one house, I chatted with the woman who owned the house next door, Predina Jordan, a 47-year resident of New Orleans. She and her son had gutted and cleaned her house, which she had owned for 15 years. She had been waiting for over six months for a trailer from FEMA to live in and begin rebuilding. I asked her if she had met any of the volunteers and she said, "Some (of the volunteers) passed by and they were very nice. They held a conversation just like you are doing and asking stuff. So I just invited them to dinner, some red beans and rice and some fried chicken. So they came over, it was about eight of them. We put on five pounds of beans and I told them we are going to have to do it again. If not red beans then white beans, something like that. So I was like why don't we just bring the beans to the place where ya'll are staying at—so everybody would get some."
Revolution #041, April 2, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Revolution received the following comments from readers about articles by Bob Avakian:
From: Quorri Isra, Masters student in Seattle
Comments Re: "A Leap of Faith" and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods (see http://www.revcom.us/a/010/avakian-leap-faith-leap-rationale.htm)
I love this article because it relates to my life very well. About ten years ago I was experiencing Sleep Paralysis, many people do. However, I was not aware of this, rationally. I only knew that I was waking up fully aware of reality and yet not able to control my body at all or move in any way. After a while of this condition persisting, I finally woke up one night and experienced a vivid perception that an "evil" entity was in my room with me, that the entity then began moving toward me and, finally, that it sat on my chest and tried to take my breath away. This experience was, no doubt, extremely frightening. Unfortunately, I, very early the next morning, encountered my friend's uber religious parents and told them of what happened. In my state, when they told me I was attacked by a "demon," I believed them. I jumped and "leaped" at the first explanation that came my way. I had previously been unconvinced of God's existence. I was saved and led a devoted Christian life for at least a year. Finally, one day, after already having conflictions with Christianity and the Bible, which I actually read, over gays and women and all sorts of things, I ran across a medical article about the condition of Sleep Paralysis and the rare but documented final stage of hallucination. All people who had reached this stage of Sleep Paralysis had experienced the same or entirely similar hallucination I did and scientists were explaining to me in this article why. The chemicals involved and whatnot. Finally, I made the leap from perceptual to rational knowledge. Now I support the party and I love all your writings. Bob, you keep me sane :o) What would we do without leaders like we have?
From: A former member of the Oakland City Council
Comments on the article: “Reform or Revolution, Questions of Orientation, Questions of Morality” (see http://rwor.org/a/032/avakian-reform-or-revolution.htm)
In the second to the last paragraph, Bob uses the term a “radical change” as a synonym for revolution. I like that term better. Revolution carries conceptions of events that are not about what I would consider to be truly “radical change.” For example, the American Revolution was about overthrowing the monarchy of the King of England and replacing it with the oligarchy of landed-gentry. That is called revolution but it is — in my opinion — not radical change. For most of the people of the US — most particularly the slaves and the Native Americans — there was no change. Some of the slaves and Native Americans were told by the “revolutionaries” that things would be better for them if they helped the “revolution.”
I point out this last bit to present what — I think — is a true measure of radical change. Radical change is embodied in the way that we relate to each other one-on-one. If you are not relating to me — for example — in a non-commercial, non-materialistic, non-hierarchical way, then how am I going to be able to believe that you are about radical change? If you call for me to storm the barricades with you in order to get the antibiotic to cure the plague and you have not demonstrated that you truly care about what happens to me and mine, I have to question whether you are truly about radical change or just about revolution in the sense of the American Revolution.
So the placing of the towels on the foreheads of the plague victims is more than a pathetic act. It is a small demonstration of connection and caring; and it is necessary to build the trust that is necessary for true communications and the opportunity for joining. It is a demonstration of radical change — in relationship — at the place where it can be perceived and realized what that is truly about.
This is an aspect of what I have in mind when I say that the vision must be presented and present about where we are truly going. The way ahead should not just be about fear or “how can I get mine?” Radical change — if it does not happen NOW with how those of us who want it relate to one another, it will not happen. No matter how many storage facilities with antibiotics we break into or George Bushes we bring down, radical change will not happen. This is a struggle for hearts and minds; it is not SIMPLY a struggle for things that can be stored up in a chamber somewhere.
Truth be told, the greatest medical advancement in human history has been habits of sanitation. This has meant more to the advancement of human health than all the antibiotics and CAT scanners by far. Bob is right in stating that it is wrong and harmful to be resigned that placing a towel on the forehead “is all that can be done.” But also let us not fall into the trap of believing that the only true solution is assuming the same “instruments of power” that the current oppressors wield and believing that “we” can wield them better. In using Bob's example of the plague, the people could be just as successful by understanding and adopting habits of hygiene. Gandhi — in a sense — overthrew British rule by showing people how to weave their own clothes and collect salt from the ocean rather than buy British goods. By focusing on the antibiotics, we give the oppressor power over us. By focusing on a deeper understanding of the illness, we not only over come the plague but get a leg up on other diseases as well and “dethrone” those who had brought “a big stash of antibiotics” back in time with them. The people would have taken a great leap forward in radical change. It would be more difficult for anyone to oppress them again because they would have learned to recognize and hold the power that they have in themselves without giving it to anyone else.
From: An unemployed 58 year old programmer/analyst
Re: Comments Re: Newfound Criticism (see http://rwor.org/a/026/avakian-newfound-criticism.htm)
An immoral and unjust act should be opposed because it is immoral and unjust. To criticize it only for failing to succeed is the stance of a scoundrel, and worse.
That's absolutely correct. I agree with most of your philosophy, but your arguments against religion and God are counter productive. You are alienating any ally. Jimmy Carter stated "war is never good" before the war started as a warning. Religious leaders around the world condemned the actions of the US government before the war started. Greed, which is the capitalistic virtue that makes the world go round, is considered a vice (sin) in Christian thinking. How hard is it for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven? His chances are practically non-existent, according to the new testament. The problem is the rich (mostly corporate) powers in the U.S. and elsewhere have hijacked the government and deluded both themselves and a good portion of the populace into believing that they speak for God. That the accumulation of great riches is "Good." "You have to be competitive" "It's only right (God's will) that I'm rich". If an action, including war or the spreading of fear to justify the war makes money, then the action is good. It becomes "God's will". In reality, follow the money and you'll see the filth and lies and misery it has created. The aggressor in a war is at fault. "He made me do it" is the rational of a 5 year old, about to get a spanking. Both the democratic and republican parties make me want to vomit.
Revolution #41, April 2, 2006, posted at revcom.us
The following is the text of the speech by Travis Morales at the March 25 protest in Los Angeles.
I am a member of the World Can’t Wait, Drive Out the Bush Regime. President Bush, listen to us. Listen to us, President Bush. Here we are! Here we will stay! Here we will fight!
We have not come here to beg or ask for crumbs. We have come to demand and take what we need to live with equality and dignity and not live like slaves or animals.
There is no savior in Congress. There is no savior in the Democratic Party. The only savior we have is ourselves fighting in the streets.
Don’t tell me. Don’t tell me that immigrants are criminals because they cross the border to work and survive while the biggest criminals in the world are in the White House. The Bush regime tortures and defends it. It launches unjust and illegitimate wars based on lies. It militarizes the border, causing the death of thousands. It builds concentration camps for immigrants. It arrests immigrants, detains them without the right to see their lawyers or family, and secretly deports them. The attack on immigrants is a cornerstone of a fascist program. If we want to defeat it, we must organize a movement of millions in the streets to stop it.
No militarization of the border. No discrimination. No criminalization. No anti-immigrant laws.
We are right. The World Can’t Wait, Drive Out the Bush Regime!
Los Angeles, March 25— An estimated 700,000 to over 1 million people converged in downtown to protest against HR 4437. The day before the demonstration, local radio reported that buses from the Southwest or Northern California to Los Angeles and motels in the area were fully booked. On the morning of the 25th, there were long lines to board city buses, subways, and trains heading downtown, and the freeways and streets were at a standstill. People began gathering as early as 6 a.m., 4 hours before the march's start. In the following hours, wave after wave of people filled the 26-block area of Broadway and streets connecting to it—as far as the eye could see. The marchers called on workers from the garment factories and construction sites to join in this historic day.
The day before this march, thousands of South L.A. and East L.A. students from various high schools walked out to protest HR4437. Defying school administrators (and in some cases scaling fences because the school was locked down), students marched for many miles through predominantly Latino immigrant and Chicano neighborhoods. Students from Jordan H.S. marched through the housing projects in Watts.
Check This Out
Revolution #041, April 2, 2006, posted at revcom.us
From time to time, Revolution will run tips from our correspondents and readers on movies, art exhibits, books, plays, and other cultural events that readers should know about. No endorsement implied, but worth checking out.
Sir! No Sir!
A Film About The GI Movement Against The War In Vietnam.
by David Zeiger
“The Vietnam War has been the subject of hundreds of films, both fiction and non-fiction, but this story—the story of the rebellion of thousands of American soldiers against the war—has never been told in film. This is certainly not for lack of evidence...
“ Sir! No Sir! will change all that. The film does four things: 1) Brings to life the history of the GI movement through the stories of those who were part of it; 2) Reveals the explosion of defiance that the movement gave birth to with never-before-seen archival material; 3) Explores the profound impact that movement had on the military and the war itself; and 4) The feature, 90 minute version, also tells the story of how and why the GI Movement has been erased from the public memory.”*
* From the website: http://www.sirnosir.com/the_film/synopsis.html
Reviews, schedule of showings, trailers and much more available at this site.
Revolution #41, April 2, 2006, posted at revcom.us
On February 23, Maoist political economist, Raymond Lotta delivered his talk, “Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be A Far Better World” at Harvard University. The audience included students from diverse fields, including economics, anthropology, and romance languages. There were students from Eastern Europe and a few visiting scholars from other parts of the world. A member of the Harvard Medical School faculty emceed the program.
The Harvard program was the third leg of the “Set the Record Straight” speaking tour by Raymond Lotta that has already gone to the University of California, Berkeley and UCLA. The Set the Record Straight project is taking on the lies and distortions leveled against communism and the whole experience of socialist revolution in the 20th century. It is presenting facts and analysis about the great and unprecedented accomplishments of the socialist revolutions of the Soviet Union (1917-1956) and China (1949-76). And it is popularizing Bob Avakian’s exciting vision of communism.
We are constantly told that “this is the best of all possible worlds…the only possible world…and you might as well accept it.” There is a constant ideological drumbeat that communist revolution only leads to nightmare. A whole generation of young people has only heard this summation of history and human possibility. Many contemporary radical and progressive scholars who were part of or were influenced by the ferment and upheavals of the 1960s have also have been affected by this attack on communism. There is a belief that socialist revolution is deeply flawed.
Raymond Lotta’s speaking tour is designed to stimulate an honest and urgently needed conversation about the real experience of socialism--the overwhelmingly positive achievements, as well as shortcomings and errors--in order to point the way to a far better future for humanity.
There was considerable “buzz” at Harvard about the program. There was broad distribution of thousands of leaflets, postcard announcements, and a “pop quiz” that challenged people’s knowledge about social achievements in China during the Mao years, especially the Cultural Revolution. Hundreds of small posters went up in buildings and kiosks around campus. Ads were placed in the campus newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. A few days before the program, Lotta had a lively interview about socialism and its relevance to today’s world on the MIT campus radio station.
People on campus built for the program in various ways--getting the word out on listservs, talking it up among friends, and getting postcard pluggers out in different departments. A teaching assistant in Chinese history planned to make an announcement about the program in class, but was prevented from doing so by the professor (who happens to be a prominent China scholar).
Raymond Lotta’s speech explains what communism is really about. It examines the rich and complex experience of building liberating societies in a world dominated by imperialism. Lotta picks apart many standard misconceptions and distortions about revolutionary policies, like sending intellectuals and students to the rural areas during the Cultural Revolution. Lotta discusses what he calls “the learning curve” of proletarian revolution: how Mao learned from and advanced beyond the Soviet experience, and how Bob Avakian is summing up this whole “first wave” of proletarian revolution and bringing forward a radical new model of socialist society.
This was a challenging talk for many in the audience. People raised important questions: about the Great Leap Forward and whether Mao should have done it differently; about why the revolution was defeated in China after Mao died. A professor from a nearby university took issue with Lotta’s assessment of Stalin. Someone wanted to know more about political rights and political debate under socialism, and how different Marxist trends would be treated.
Harvard is one of the world’s leading research and learning centers. As an elite school, it feeds policy recommendations and personnel into the ruling institutions of society. But it is also place where big and innovative ideas are taken up and debated…where some progressive and radical thinkers work and have influence…and where many students want to gain and contribute knowledge for a better world. There is a great deal of anti-war sentiment on the campus.
Harvard is a place of political debate and controversy. The same day Lotta spoke, Niall Ferguson, a prominent British historian and unapologetic booster of Western empire and America’s Iraq war, gave a lecture. Two days before Lotta’s speech, Harvard’s president, Lawrence Summers, had resigned under pressure. He had alienated many progressive faculty by demeaning the scholarship of Cornel West, a leading African-American intellectual, and suggesting that intrinsic differences in the scientific aptitude of men and women explained why there were not more women in scientific professions. After Summers stepped down, various forces and conservative commentators accused his faculty critics of “political correctness”--a conservative code phrase for the continuing influence of the ideals of the 1960s and progressive scholarship on campuses.
This is the atmosphere in which Set the Record Straight is promoting discussion and debate about communism’s past and communism’s future and is having an impact. And Set the Record Straight is learning from the questions and disagreements raised by people, from research and analysis of others, and from suggestions offered by people building for and coming out to the events.
All this shows the great need and the great potential for the Set the Record Straight project.
Available at: revcom.us
Next installment: Part 13: The Cultural Revolution – Complex and Liberating Struggle.
The project to "Set the Record Straight" is inspired by the writings of Bob Avakian.
The purpose is to take on the distortions, misrepresentations, and supporting scholarship that hold such sway in academia about the first wave of socialist revolutions, in the Soviet Union in 1917-1956 and China in 1949-1976.
Against the facile verdicts that socialism has been a nightmare, or at best a terribly failed experiment, we are bringing forth the real and historic accomplishments of these revolutions, especially the lessons of the Cultural Revolution, without papering over mistakes and shortcomings.
The idea is to stir debate and discussion as to why these stand as vital, if initial, experiences at building liberating societies. At the same time, we are bringing forth what Avakian has been pointing to, in terms of where we have to do better and what it means to take the communist project to a whole other level of understanding and practice if it is to be viable and desirable in the 21st century. In short, communism is alive.but also developing.
We are undertaking a wide range of activities: fact sheets, articles, mass leafleting, forums, etc.; and we are networking with progressive scholars and want to learn from the diverse insights of others.
We are seeking to influence both students and professors and scholars.
We want to contribute to creating an intellectual current that challenges the slanders and superficial summations, that insists on truthful examination of what these revolutions were actually striving to accomplish, the difficulties they faced, and what they were able to achieve, and that sees the relevance of all this to the deeply felt desire of so many for a radically different world.
You can contact "Set the Record Straight" at:PO Box 981
See STRS articles online at revcom.us/strs/index.htm