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Revolution #54, July 23, 2006
The NBA: Marketing The Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters
Communism and Religion: Getting Up and Getting Free – Making Revolution to Change the Real World, Not Relying on "Things Unseen"
Conservatism, Christian Fundamentalism, Liberalism and Paternalism ... Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton ... Not all "Right" But All Wrong!
"Balance" Is The Wrong Criterion – And A Cover for a Witch-hunt – What We Need is the Search for the Truth: Education, Real Academic Freedom, Critical Thinking and Dissent
Question and Answer sessions
Revolution #54, July 23, 2006
“Mohammed Akkash’s voice cracked as he listed the names of his 10 grandchildren who were killed just hours earlier in an Israeli air raid on his son’s home. The youngest one, Safat, was just 6 months old. ‘Is a 6-month-old baby a resistance fighter? What happened is a crime,’ he says, as other mourners sitting on plastic seats outside his home nodded quietly in agreement.”
Christian Science Monitor
on Israel’s bombing of Dweir
in Southern Lebanon, July 14, 2006
“Nothing is safe in [Lebanon], it’s as simple as that.”
Dan Halutz , Israeli Army Chief of Staff,
On July 13, Israel, with U.S. backing, launched a major military assault on the country of Lebanon. Coming in the wake of its bloody and ongoing siege of Palestinian Gaza, this is yet another reactionary and criminal act of aggression by Israel. But it is also more than that. It is taking place in the context of the ongoing U.S. occupation in Iraq, growing threats by the U.S. and its allies against Iran, and the Bush doctrine of radically reshaping the entire Middle East in the service of U.S. imperialism and global hegemony, and it represents a serious escalation of tensions in the entire region.
The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy, but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism.
Many different forces are at work in this situation, and Israel’s aggression carries with it the potential for a regional war. Such a war portends both enormous suffering for the peoples of the region—on top of the suffering they are already enduring at the hands of the U.S. and Israel—as well as deep and unpredictable consequences for all of the forces involved.
The Attack on Lebanon
The situation in the Middle East is unfolding rapidly. On the first day of its attack, Israeli planes attacked Beirut’s international airport, bombing runways and gas tanks used to store fuel for planes. All bridges and roads linking Beirut to the south have been bombed. The Beirut-Damascus Road has also been damaged. Israeli military ships have sealed off Lebanon’s harbors. All routes in and out of the country are being destroyed.
In southern Lebanon, Israel has attacked villages where the group Hezbollah has political influence. Reporting from Lebanon, British journalist Robert Fisk wrote, “They came first to the little village of Dweir near Nabatiya in southern Lebanon where an Israeli plane dropped a bomb on to the home of a Shia Muslim cleric. He was killed. So was his wife. So were eight of his children. One was decapitated. All they could find of a baby was its head and torso, which a young villager brandished in fury in front of the cameras. Then the planes visited another home in Dweir and disposed of a family of seven.”
Journalist Dahr Jamail reported that an estimated 15,000 Lebanese crossed the border into Syria on the first day of the attack to escape the bombing. “I was in an area south of Beirut which was bombed heavily by the Israelis,” 55 year-old electrician Ali Suleiman told Jamail. “There were so many refugees in shelters nearby us, which was also nearby an old hospital which the Israelis bombed last night. It was terrifying at night when they attacked our area, and the Israelis thought the hospital was an ammunition dump for Hezbollah so they bombed the hospital. Both Syrian and Lebanese people are leaving now. There is no more food, not even bread. There was no more electricity or water in our area. If this situation continues, it will be a giant catastrophe.”
Lebanese government officials put the death toll from the first two days of air strikes at 63 and the number of wounded at 165.
As this article is being written, Israel is expanding its attack to include central Beirut as well as the region near the border with Syria, and a ground invasion appears likely.
Israel: U.S. Attack Dog in the Middle East
These latest crimes and horrors are products of U.S. imperialism’s decades-long efforts to maintain its grip on the Middle East, in particular its building up of the state of Israel into an indispensable regional attack dog and gendarme.
A key U.S. objective has been attempting to drown the revolutionary and national aspirations of region’s people in blood, while strengthening the state of Israel. The U.S. has consistently backed (and funded to the tune of billions of dollars a year) Israel’s systematic, 50-plus-year campaign, marked by one crime against humanity after another, to destroy Palestinian society, prevent the emergence of any viable Palestinian state, and crush the Palestinian people. In recent years this has taken place, under the rhetorical veil of various “peace plans,” through what Noam Chomsky calls a “program of annexing the valuable lands, most of the resources, including water, of the West Bank and cantonizing the rest and imprisoning it.” (Democracy Now!, July 14)
The assault on the Palestinian people has escalated following the election of Hamas to lead the Palestinian Authority in 20051 — Israel and the United States at once announced that they were going to punish the people of Palestine and the punishment has been severe. The United States and most Western European countries cut off all financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority. This caused extreme hardship among the Palestinian people, who lack an independent economy and are reliant on this aid. At the same time, Israel made it impossible for Palestinians who worked inside Israel to cross the border, cutting off another major source of Palestinian income.
Today, the Bush regime is attempting to forcibly reshape the entire Middle East in order to solidify and deepen America’s hold on the region and its petroleum wealth, as part of its broader global agenda. This means wiping away all impediments to U.S. hegemony, ranging from the resistance of the masses to reactionary states and forces not firmly under U.S. control. In this situation, Israel has become an even more crucial ally and tool, and Israel’s actions cannot be understood apart from either this history of U.S. support or the current Bush agenda.
Israel and its supporters are howling that they have done everything possible for peace by withdrawing from Gaza and Lebanon and claiming that the “terrorists” are attacking anyway and taking Israeli soldiers captive (a couple of its soldiers have recently been taken captive). This ignores what led to this crisis and the basic fact that Israel (and the U.S.) are holding the whole Palestinian nation captive, while reigning death and terror on tens of thousands in Lebanon.
What preceded the kidnapping of the three Israeli soldiers? Over the last few months, Israel has fired over 6000 artillery shells and missiles into the Gaza Strip. On June 8, an artillery shell landed on Beith Lahia Beach killing seven members of the Gahila family. Four days later, Israel killed seven more people, including two children and three medical workers in an attack on a crowded section of Gaza City. On June 20 another Israeli missile hit a refugee camp and killed three children, aged 5, 6 and 16.
Israel’s current military offensive in Lebanon has a number of immediate objectives: first, to weaken or destroy Hezbollah and to turn Lebanon into a state pliant to Israel. “We will not go part way and be held hostage again. We’ll have to go for the kill— Hezbollah neutralization,” the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. stated, “and it won’t stop until militias like Hezbollah are disarmed and the Lebanese State is in full control.” (Washington Post, July 16)
Second, to inflict another blow on the Palestinian people by attacking its supporters. Third, Israel is stepping up pressure on Syria and Iran to cease support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and warning them about what is in store if they refuse to come to terms with U.S. imperialism.
In other words, Israeli/U.S. goals are not merely to knock Hamas or Hezbollah down a peg but to completely destroy these groups or force them to come to terms with the U.S./Israeli vision of the Middle East. “We’ve decided to put an end to this saga and to change the rules of the game,” said Isaac Herzog, a member of the Israeli Cabinet.
All this fits within U.S. strategic goals in the region, and the Bush regime has stood firmly behind the Israeli assault and may well have given Israel a green light in advance. U.S. officials told the Washington Post (July 16), “For the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East,” and against “a hegemonic Persian threat” in the region.
The U.S. and Israel have gone out of their way to blame Syria and Iran for the current fighting. These two states are on the Bush regime hit list because they have supported, in varying degrees, Hamas and Hezbollah, and their actions and agenda pose impediments to unfettered U.S. imperialist regional domination.
“Again, the Iranians and Syrians also have a choice to make,” threatened presidential spokesman Tony Snow, “which is whether they continue provoking and supporting terrorist organizations within the region.” The U.S. posture constitutes giving a bright green light to Israeli aggression, while preparing the ground for further U.S. and/or Israeli assaults on Iran and Syria. George Bush continues to declare, “Israel has the right to defend itself,” deliberately covering up the Israeli aggression that led to the current crisis.
The United States used its veto power on Thursday to block a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have accused Israel of a “disproportionate use of force,” and pointedly rejected Lebanon’s calls for a cease-fire.
Risk of Wider War
Many different forces are at work in this situation, and Israel’s aggression carries with it the potential for a regional war, whether by design of any of the forces involved, as a result of the underlying dynamics of the situation, by accident or miscalculation, or by a combination of factors.
The Bush regime’s strategic goal is to gain radically greater control of the Middle East as a crucial step in its overarching agenda of unchallenged and unchallengeable global hegemony. While not anti-imperialist, the reactionary regimes in both Iran and Syria are obstacles to that goal and the Islamic Republic of Iran is currently the focus of intense international pressure (it recently turned down demands by the U.S. and its allies to immediately agree to their terms for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program) and growing military threats from the Bush regime.
Significant ruling class voices are calling for seizing on the current crisis to escalate the U.S. attacks on Iran and Syria. In a February 14 editorial, the Wall Street Journal (July 14), whose editorials often reflect the thinking of neo-conservative forces around Bush, declared, “The White House has cited Syria and Iran as the culprits behind this week’s events, but more forceful words and action are called for. The Middle East stands on the cusp of its worst crisis in a generation, and this is no time for formulaic statements calling for ‘restraint from both sides.’”
And leading neo-conservative William Kristol wrote: “No Islamic Republic of Iran, no Hezbollah… And perhaps no Hamas either… We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait?” (It’s Our War,” Weekly Standard, 7/24).
While the situation holds great danger for the people of the Middle East, there is also the potential for problems to develop for the imperialists and other reactionary forces in the region. In Iraq, initial victories in the war against Saddam has turned into a very difficult situation for the U.S. What is needed are people, with an understanding of class interests of all the various forces, working to seize revolutionary opportunity out of every outrage the imperialists and reactionaries commit and every difficulty they face.
1 For an analysis of the role of Hamas see the article Submit or Die the Politics of Israel’s Attack on Gaza in Revolution #53
Revolution #54, July 23, 2006
Even as the bombs fall on Lebanon, Israel’s brutal siege of Gaza continues into its third week. Like the attack on Lebanon, the attack on Gaza is aimed at an entire population as well as the civilian infrastructure. Israeli F-16s bombed the power station, plunging most of Gaza into total darkness. Lack of electricity also means no water, no sewage system, no cooling, no storing of whatever food is left, no communication, and more.
Hospitals have been able to function with generators. But generators rely on fuel and Israel has sealed off all the entrances to Gaza for the last two weeks, preventing fuel as well as water, medicine, and food from reaching the people and leaving thousands of people stranded. Sick and elderly sustained on machines are slowly perishing. Babies in incubators are dying. With the growing piles of rubbish that can no longer be picked up from the streets, disease is festering. A large humanitarian crisis is developing in Gaza because of Israel’s attacks.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared, “I want no one to sleep at night in Gaza,” and Israeli jets fly over Gaza air-space forcing the population to live in a state of heightened tension, expecting an attack at any moment. An even more brutal tactic is the sudden explosion of sonic booms over towns and refugee camps in Gaza. These are not the kind of sonic boom you might hear from a high-flying jet in the U.S. Made by low-flying Israeli fighters, these sound and feel like a very large explosion has taken place very close by and can shatter all the windows and shake buildings.
Nora Barrows-Friedman, a co-host of Flashpoints on Pacifica radio, reported from Gaza on July 13, “Israel killed 24 people yesterday, including an entire family in Khan Younis, in the middle of the besieged prison of the Gaza Strip. Mother, father, children. All wiped out. Several days earlier, the same story—a family trying to enjoy a bit of a respite between shelling, barbecuing corn on the cob in their backyard, when a missile landed on their heads. And who can forget, before the official Israeli siege began late last month, the June 9th explosion on the Gaza beach, which killed seven members of the Ghaliya family—the young surviving girl running frantically between the sliced and charred bodies of her father and mother, six-month-old brother.”
According to Ma’an Press Agency, the Palestinian Ministry of Health revealed on July 10 that the Israeli Army was possibly using banned chemical weapons. The Ministry of Health reported that doctors in Gaza are reporting injuries caused explosives containing toxics and radioactive materials which burn and tear the victim’s body from the inside and leave long term deformations.
Revolution #54, July 23, 2006
The situation in the Middle East includes brutally repressive, reactionary regimes - and forces aligned with them - who are opposed for their own reasons to the U.S. and Israel, but who do not represent genuine liberation struggles. The forces described here fit into that category:
Hezbollah (which means Party of God) is a Shi’ite Islamist fundamentalist party and military organization in Lebanon that seeks an Islamic republic modeled after Iran. Its leader is Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah fought the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, when Israel was forced to withdraw. It is the main Shi’ite political party in Lebanon and receives support from both Iran and Syria.
Syria had a large military presence in Lebanon until 2005 when it was accused of involvement in the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister. Protests forced the Syrian army to withdraw from Lebanon, in what is known as the “Cedar Revolution.” The new Lebanese government was hailed by the United States as an example for the region. Hezbollah holds seats in the Lebanese parliament and has several cabinet positions, but it is not the main force in the Lebanese government. In fact many of the forces in the Lebanese government don’t like Hezbollah, because it receives support from Syria. The Hezbollah militia does control much of the territory in southern Lebanon, which the central Lebanese government is too weak to control.
Hezbollah is part of an Islamist movement that seeks to establish its version of Islam as the ruling ideology and reshaping power relations throughout the Middle East. This agenda has often put this movement at sharp odds with the U.S. and Israel.
In 2005, Hamas was elected to run the Palestinian Authority. Since the late 1980s Israel has at times promoted the growth of this Islamic fundamentalist group as a way of undercutting secular forces and to stoke clashes among Palestinian groups. Hamas, with its reactionary ideology, is in some ways a perfect foil for the U.S. and Israel, who try to portray themselves as modern democracies confronting obscurantist theocracies.
Revolution #54, July 23, 2006
Report from Jackson, Mississippi:
After years of violently blockading abortion clinics, terrorizing women and doctors, and agitating for biblical rule, there is a smug sense of triumphalism coming from the “pro-life” organization Operation Save America/Operation Rescue (OSA/OR). I have come down to Jackson, Mississippi, and will be writing throughout the week (July 15 to 20), during which time OSA/OR will be staging an extended protest aimed at closing the state’s last abortion clinic—with the expectation, in their words, that “the laws of our land will reflect the victory that was won in the streets.”
From the Jackson, MS Clarion Ledger
Online readers of Jackson, Mississippi’s only newspaper, the Clarion Ledger, who went to the paper’s web site the evening of the face-off at the city’s abortion clinic, read a story that included the following:
“Tracey Stern of Atlanta stood across State Street with about a half dozen volunteers from the anti-Bush administration organization, the World Can’t Wait.
“‘We are here because we see this as a showdown about whether women are going to be able to control their bodies or whether there will be Christian theocrats who believe the Bible will be the law of the state,’ she said.”
The next morning’s print edition quoted Sunsara Taylor, who they also identified as “part of the World Can’t Wait: Drive Out the Bush Regime Now organization.”
With George W. Bush in the White House OSA/OR, and the larger Christian fascist offensive they are a component of, has cause to be pumped up. One of Bush’s first presidential pen strokes prohibited U.S.-funded international organizations from mentioning abortion to the people they serve. Since then there has been a torrent of nearly 2,000 restrictions and challenges to abortion introduced by legislatures nationwide, most notably the statewide abortion bans in South Dakota and Louisiana. During the same period, individuals in two states have been sent to prison for their involvement with self-induced abortions.
But even as an avalanche of new laws makes it increasingly difficult for women to access abortions, OSA/OR has continued to train and mobilize a core of Christian-fascist foot-soldiers. Whether it be their “No Place to Hide” campaign that distributed photos and home addresses of abortion providers, their violent assaults on women’s clinics, or their more recent aggression onto public high schools to harass and shut down gay/straight alliances, they have spent years building up and training, ideologically and practically, a fascist street-fighting vigilante force. The fact that OSA/OR and other fascist foot-soldiers—including the anti-immigrant Minutemen, the blindly obedient BattleCry youth, and men’s cell groups like the Promise Keepers—have not only been allowed to flourish but openly encouraged by powerful figures grouped around Bush is designed to make the atmosphere overall even more intimidating.*
From an Interview with World Can’t Wait Activist Elaine Brower, whose son is currently deployed in Iraq
Q: Could you paint a picture of the kind of resistance that would be needed in this country in order to actually drive out the Bush regime?
In other words, OSA/OR’s siege on the last abortion clinic in Mississippi must be seen not just as a threat to women’s right to choose whether or not to have a child—critical as that is—but as part of a larger fascist movement that aims for a forceful reassertion of unvarnished patriarchy and a Christian fascist state to enforce these rules. This movement must be called out and not conciliated with.
On the other hand, a serious battle to defend abortion rights is both urgently needed and can play a role in helping forge a real movement against the whole Christian fascist agenda. Most of the U.S. population still believes women should have the right to abortion. And if pro-choice people respond decisively, this week in Mississippi with counter-protests (which I am participating in) that could serve as a rallying point for millions to not only push back against this assault on abortion but can help unleash a movement against the whole Bush program of repression, empire and theocracy—a movement capable of driving out the regime.
“Submission Is God’s Design for Women”
A Fetus Is Not a Baby
With its assault on basic science, including evolution, and its intentionally misleading and grotesque signs, the fundamentalist movement has misled many into imagining that aborted fetuses are cute little babies just waiting to be cuddled. In fact, 90% of abortions take place when the fetus is no longer than this string of o’s: oooooooooooooo. Since there is no way these fetuses could become fully formed, independent human beings except as a subordinate part of a woman’s overall biological processes for nine months, declaring that they all should be preserved means reducing women to incubators and slaves.
No matter how many people have been duped into joining the anti-abortion movement on the basis of “saving babies,” as Bob Avakian has pointed out in his book Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality but Not Traditional Morality, “The essence of the anti-abortion ‘movement’ has been to assert patriarchal control over women, including to insist on the defining role of women as breeders of children. The fundamentalist foot-soldiers of this ‘movement’ make this very clear. The following prayer offered at an ‘Operation Rescue’ rally, cited in Life magazine (July 1992), typifies this: ‘Oh please, Lord, break the curse on women’s hearts that says we don’t need our men. Break that independence.’”
A quick look at the cast of characters involved with OSA/OR over the years turns up a “who’s who” of the Bush regime’s most influential and demanding theocratic supporters, and draws out the theocratic and misogynist character of this regime. Among them:
At the core of OSA/OR’s efforts is an attempt to tighten the patriarchal chains of tradition. Consider: There is not a single anti-abortion organization in the country that supports birth control. Beverly LaHaye, the founder of Concerned Women for America, a group whose members Bush has sent as delegates to United Nations commissions on women and children, put it this way: “The woman who is truly Spirit-filled will want to be totally submissive to her husband…. This is a truly liberated woman. Submission is God’s design for women.”
As Benham, the OSA president, explains, it is this same ideal that motivates his thuggish approach to women at the doors of the clinics: “It seems ugly, my speech. But it’s because we love them that we scream at them. You have to have a bad guy who will confront them.”
Why the Republican Party Is Being Driven by a bunch of Theocrats…
How has it come to pass that such unadorned, blatant, patriarchal lunacy is not only being trumpeted in the streets, but echoed in the halls of power? In the last 50 years, the U.S. has witnessed massive changes in the role of women in the economy as more jobs have been opened to women and more families are forced to have two incomes in order to get by. This has given rise to, and interacted with, changes in the family and the rise of the women’s movement. All of this, including its impact on people’s thinking very broadly, has profoundly undercut the basis on which the traditional male-dominated family has been held together.
The Bible Belt Is the Lynching Belt
In some ways, OSA/OR does us a favor by being more open about its views than its brethren in the White House, Congress and, increasingly, the judiciary under the Bush regime. One of Operation Save America’s T-shirts reads: “Homosexuality is a sin. Islam is a lie. Abortion is murder.”
Less known, but perhaps more revealing: OSA/OR’s office space was donated by Lincoln Log Homes International, whose CEO, Richard Schoff, was once a leader of Indiana’s Ku Klux Klan. Fittingly, a picture of the infamous segregationist George Wallace hangs in the hall not far from OSA/OR’s door.
Indeed, one cannot talk about “tradition” or “traditional values” in this country—particularly in the deep South—without implying not only patriarchy but slavery and racism.
There’s nothing “unnatural” about that—the family hasn’t always existed, and it is an evolving institution. But those in power see these changes as undermining an important part of the reactionary ideological glue that “binds America together”—especially needed now as the U.S. and the world are hurtling through major transitions since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the U.S. rulers feel driven to contend for unchallenged and unchallengeable supremacy.
This is why the core of the Republican Party has a program to forcefully and radically reassert traditional values in the face of those changes—and the Christian Fascists within that core have a program to actually turn the country into a theocracy.
…And Why the Democrats Won’t Resist
It is against this backdrop that the lack of opposition of the Democrats to this whole anti-abortion, anti-birth control and anti-woman program must be evaluated.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called defending abortion a “game” the Democrats “can’t afford to play” any longer. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) has called abortion a “tragic choice,” ceding the moral high ground to religious fanatics when, in fact, abortion should require no shame or apologies. As a key part of regaining seats in the Senate, the Democrats are running the vehemently anti-choice Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania. And revealingly, the Democrats recently unveiled a new “95/10 Initiative,” which aims at reducing the number of abortions by 95% over the next 10 years—but which doesn’t even mention birth control, and is absolutely outrageous to introduce at a time when the real problem is the wholesale assault on access to abortion and the very legality of the procedure itself.
Some in the Democratic leadership claims that they are doing this to “get elected.” In fact, there are bigger things at work. The Democratic Party leadership actually agrees with the need to reinforce the traditional male-dominated family, as witnessed by Bill Clinton’s signing of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, his promotion of the idea that there is somehow something wrong with a woman getting an abortion (through the “safe, legal and rare” formula), and his infamous harangue against the Black masses in a Memphis church over, among other things, “family values.” What is going on now—the outright sacrifice of the right to abortion on the altar of supposed “electoral expediency”—is just the logical extension of all that.
This basic agreement stems from an even more fundamental agreement between the Democrats and Republicans—the need to maintain the U.S. as the dominant, unchallenged empire on the planet, and the need for “social stability at home” to manage the kinds of huge challenges and changes that go along with that imperative. They may and do differ on exactly how to do that. But because the Democrats do not have a coherent alternative to the Republican program; and because their role is to appeal to people who don’t like the Republican program; and because they do NOT want to fundamentally challenge the Christian fascists and risk bringing the massive potential opposition to this into the streets—they have pushed very hard for conciliation with and, in fact, capitulation to these forces. Now, it has gotten to this: if the Democrats win, then women—and people much more broadly—will lose.
That is why the terms of relying on the Democrats are killing confines—and why the only way forward is to break out of those confines and bring forward a whole different dynamic—one set by the millions and tens of millions who detest the whole direction of this society, who do not WANT a theocratic fascist society undergirding an unbridled empire, who will NOT conciliate with those who want to render women and gay people as less than human. This can happen, but it cannot happen unless people act. Yes, this country is extremely polarized. The way to act on that situation that creates a more favorable situation is for those who uphold the rights of women and gay people and who oppose this whole theocratic direction must also be speaking out to the world this next week, as broadly and powerfully as possible, when the theocrats attempt to shut down the Jackson clinic.
The simple truth is that a woman who cannot control her own reproduction has no more freedom than a slave. And if half of humanity is not free, then no one can truly be free.
The clock is ticking toward the resolution over the battle over abortion, and this is part of, and will have a big impact on, the overall direction of society.
The World Can’t Wait Bus Tour and the Jackson chapter of the National Organization for Women are planning counter-protests all week long. There is little that could be more important this week than joining them in the streets of Jackson to help build a movement to counter the theocratic zealots in the only way it can be done: through the independent political action of millions to drive the Bush regime from power.
* An ominous dimension of all this is the video games like Left Behind games that are conditioning young men from this Christian fascist orbit and beyond to live and die to blow away non-believers, and are also training them in military tactics. Even more chilling is the enlisting of hundreds of white supremacists in the U.S. military, specifically in light infantry where they aim to learn skills—such as house-to-house raids and urban combat—that they believe will be useful when it comes time for the “racial cleansing,” as recently reported in the New York Times. Back to text
Revolution #54, July 23, 2006
George W. Bush has repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment that “defines marriage in the United States as the union of a man and a woman.” He has argued that marriage “is the most enduring and important human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith.” And he has warned against attempts to “redefine marriage.”
Christian fundamentalists say giving gay people the right to marry will destroy the “sanctity” of marriage. They argue that the institution of marriage—as it now exists—has been embedded in human society for thousands of years. And Bush has echoed this. Endorsing a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to two people of the opposite sex, he said that after “millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization.”
But is it true that marriage and the family have been unchanging, enduring institutions that have been the same throughout history, in different times, in different societies, and in different cultures?
The short answer to this is no.
The longer answer to this very relevant question sheds light on how society really changes; why this question has become so controversial; and why it is so important for progressive people, including the proletariat, to oppose and beat back the attacks on gay marriage and the concerted efforts to tighten the chains of women’s oppression. So, let’s get into this.
To start with: The original meaning of the word “family” (familia) among the Romans did not at first even refer to a married pair and their children. Famulus meant a domestic slave and familia was the total number of slaves belonging to one man. The Romans invented the word “family” to describe a new social institution where the male head of the house ruled over the wife and children and a number of slaves—with the power of life and death over all of them. And we can also look at another example: When the Tenth Commandment in the Bible says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s”—the wife, servants (slaves), ox and ass are all considered the man’s property.
These are only two examples of how the “most enduring,” age-old family that Bush celebrates was tied up with slavery from its very beginnings. This also shows how throughout history, “the family” has reflected the current economic and social relations. And over hundreds of thousands of years, sexual relations among human beings, marriage and the family, and the way children are reproduced and raised, have taken many different forms.
Some early societies practiced “group marriages” in which a number of men had a number of women in common. There has been polygamy, where men have many wives. There has been polyandry, where women take multiple husbands. In some cultures marriages between members of the same family were allowed. In others there were strict taboos against incest. There have been various kinds of homosexual practices. There have been different forms of monogamy, in which people have only one sexual partner at a time. There have been matrilineal societies where kinship is traced through the mother. And for thousands of years of class society, there has been the dominance of patriarchy, in which males control the family, as well as all the other major institutions in society.
So marriage is clearly NOT a sacred, unchanging institution in human society.
But on a deeper level, what explains the changes and all the various ways people have come together in different ways to reproduce future generations? Is this accidental? Due mainly to human biology and “sexual drive”? Or because of some kind of “natural war of the sexes”?
WHY have sexual relations, marriage, and the family changed throughout history? And what are the underlying forces that have given rise to and driven these changes and have made them possible?
To answer this, we need to look first at what, in a sweeping and overall way, is the most determining factor in the history of human beings. In The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, Frederick Engels further developed the Marxist dialectical and historical materialist analysis of the family and marriage. He put forward that the most fundamental thing about the life and society of human beings is the production and reproduction of life. By this he meant, on the one hand, the production of the means of producing the material requirements of life—producing food, clothing, and shelter and the tools necessary for that production. And on the other hand, he meant the production of human beings themselves—the creation and raising of children.
At different stages of history, humans have been confronted with productive forces that have historically evolved to a certain character and level. We can look at any point in human history and see the development of technology and tools, raw materials, scientific knowledge, and people themselves. We can see how, generally speaking, certain social production relations have corresponded to these different levels of the production forces. And we can see a certain superstructure in society—of politics, education, culture, ideas, tradition, etc.—that arises on the basis of, and in order to reinforce, the basic relations of production in society.
And the family plays a very important part in this superstructure. Just think about the role of the family in passing on traditions, ideas, morals, social “norms”—even the very notion and concept of the family itself. This has certainly been true in societies and times in which families were more rural and isolated, in which for instance, the family had the main responsibility for educating children. But even today, the family is a big way that children get socialized and inculcated with the dominant ideas and relations in society.
Marriage and Traditions
Even if we look at more recent history, say over the last few hundred years, we can see how the family and marriage have changed, in terms of actual laws, as well as how most people think and act. What may be enforced, justified and widely accepted as tradition at one time may be legally banned and socially unacceptable later—reflecting changes in the economic and social relations in society and the culture and thinking this gives rise to.
To take just one example: In the 1800s there were widespread anti-miscegenation laws in the United States. Such laws made it a felony for persons of different ethnic groups to get married. And these laws were often based on interpretations of the Bible. In 1965, a judge in Virginia, Leon Bazile, sentenced an interracial couple to jail, writing: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” This decision wasn’t overturned until 1967 in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia (dramatized in the 1996 movie with Timothy Hutton, Mr. & Mrs. Loving).
Such racist laws were rooted in the economic relations of the system of slavery, Jim Crow, and the racist culture and ideas that have gone along with the exploitation and oppression of Black people in the United States. And this is one example of how throughout the history of the United States, the Bible Belt and the lynching belt have gone hand-in-hand in the South.
The end of such laws did not put an end to the intense discrimination and racism that continues today in the United States. But such changes which took place during the Civil Rights Movement came after huge struggle by the masses. And they were also the result of a necessity the U.S. faced after World War 2: to pose as the upholders of democracy in opposition to their imperialist rivals, France and England; and then later during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, to not be seen internationally as a blatant defender of racism and discrimination.
We can also look at how marriage traditions in many parts of the world still reflect (and enforce) semi-feudal economic and social relations. Under feudalism, land, wealth and power is in the hands of an elite aristocracy, while the masses of people work the land as poor peasants. In this setup, the feudal family serves as an economic and social unit, serving these property relations. And women are literally exchanged as property, traded by their fathers through the institution of marriage or even outright as indentured servants—in exchange for more wealth for the family or to pay a debt. Historically, this was true for the aristocracy, where marriage was a way to bring together wealth and power of different families and groups. And this has also been true, in a different way, among the peasant class, with women valued in terms of their labor and their ability to have children—which also provide labor and are inheritors of land and wealth.
Third World countries today are subordinate to the international relations of imperialism—in a lopsided world where a handful of rich capitalist countries dominate and exploit the rest of the world. Semi-feudal economic, social and cultural relations have been incorporated into this global capitalist system, are used to bolster and enforce the relations of imperialism and exert themselves in old as well as new ways.
For example look at the feudal marriage traditions in India and other parts of the world, which dictate that men and women from different castes cannot marry. That widows cannot remarry and must spend the rest of their lives living in wretched conditions of impoverishment and as social outcasts. That parents arrange the marriages of their children who have no say whatsoever in who they marry. That girls as young as 10-years-old are married to older men.
These long-practiced traditions reflect the economic and social relations of feudal society where women were treated as family property. And now today, even though these things may be formally outlawed, they are still practiced and enforced by “family tradition”—along with all the ideas that justify such practices.
And even as globalization has brought high-tech sweatshops to many parts of the world, the most murderous feudal and religious family traditions have been integrated into the economic and social relations of capitalism. Just look at the horrific practices in large parts of the world where women are sold by their fathers into sexual slavery, where women are not allowed to go out in public without covering themselves with the burka or a chador, and where “shame killings” are still enforced—which means brothers are obliged to kill a sister who has had (or is even just suspected of having) sexual relations outside of marriage or even if she has been the victim of rape.
Some people may be surprised to find out that for most of human history, the concept of “love,” as most people would define it today, didn’t necessarily have much if anything to do with who people did or didn’t marry. And we can see this reflected in novels and movies that take place in different eras. For example, in stories set in feudal times of kings and emperors, landlords and peasants, there is frequently a theme in which two lovers cannot marry because of the rigid rules of marriage enforced by tradition and the family. Such themes, like in Romeo and Juliet, reflect the historical fact that the purpose of dowries and other feudal rituals and customs were historically linked to the creation and consolidation of new households and the passing down of wealth. The often-told tragic story of the young woman who cannot marry the one she really loves because she is promised to the son of another powerful family—again, reflects the historical fact that monarchies and royal families of Europe, or dynasties in Asia, or empires in other parts of the world, were the product of wars, rivalries and powerful political alliances in which marriage played an important role.
Capitalism, Private Property, and the Family
We can now see how in class society, social relations of the family have reflected and served to enforce the prevailing property relations.
So what does this mean in terms of the world we live in today? How are the property relations of capitalism reflected in marriage and the “modern day family”—and how do these institutions, in turn play a big role in interacting back on, and reinforcing, the economic relations of capitalism?
First of all, in the history of class society, the patriarchal rule of men has taken different forms with regard to marriage and the family. Thousands of years ago, in slave societies, all of the people in the family were under the control of the patriarch. Some—like women and slaves who were perhaps captured in battle, were outright property, which could be bought and sold. In feudal society, women were also subordinate to the patriarchal head of the family and, as we have seen, were treated as family property.
Now, under capitalism, the patriarchy and the treatment of women as private property do not take the same form as they have in earlier slave and feudal societies. But they take place nonetheless—and they are no less a reflection of oppressive class relations in society.
Under capitalism, the exploiting class, the capitalist class owns and controls the means of production—like the factories, the machines, and investment capital. But the bourgeoisie don’t own the people they exploit. The masses of people must sell their own labor power to the capitalist—in order to survive they must sell their ability to work.
Some people think this makes people “free” under capitalism—that the working class, unlike the slave or feudal serf, has real freedom within the capitalist labor market. But this illusion of freedom only serves to cover up the reality of the real subjugation of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. For the great majority of people, the “freedom of choice” comes down to this: the choice to work or starve; the choice of which exploiter to sell your labor power to; the choice to “work for the man” or try to survive through some illegal means (which are subject to the dog-eat-dog relations of capitalism as well).
This is the basic nature of production relations under capitalism. Such economic relations are reflected in and reinforced by the institution of marriage and the family. And here too there is the illusion of freedom—the illusion that with regard to the “modern family” women are free, that they have choices and exert control over their own lives.
It is true that under capitalism, women are not outright owned by their husbands. They are not bought and sold by their fathers. But the reality of patriarchal social relations under capitalism is brutally oppressive to women in thousands of different ways.
The family serves as a basic economic unit of consumption in society—and this too works against the independence and liberation of women. How many women are constrained and contained by the compulsion of economic necessity within the family? How many women find themselves trapped in unfulfilling or abusive relationships because to leave would mean immediate poverty, even homelessness?
Relations between men and women mirror the economic relations in capitalist society—in which the man plays the role of the bourgeoisie in the family. There is the oppressive division of labor, in which women are consigned to—and valued in terms of—their role as wife, mother and housekeeper. And then there is the whole commodification of the female body, in which women are subjected to the “meat market” of sexual relations and bombarded with degrading ideas and images that reduce women to a commodity. Women’s bodies as commodities (and sex as a commodity) is so prevalent in today’s popular culture—in many different forms. For example there is the whole “sex in the city” mentality which may have the appearance of being “too cool to be used” but in reality amounts to saying, “I’ll control the terms of my own exploitation”—a view not that different than the wrong-headed notion that if women were the CEOs of the sex industry it wouldn’t be exploitative and dehumanizing.
And what does it reflect about the nature of capitalist society, where millions of women are subjected—daily, hourly and by the minute—to rape, wife beating, incest, and sexual harassment?
Under capitalism the family is a basic economic and social unit that plays a key role in maintaining social control and cohesion in society. It plays a crucial role in raising and socializing children, including teaching and enforcing traditional ideas and values that uphold and reinforce the prevailing property relations. And the traditional role of women in the family—and the subordination of women in the family—is the linchpin of keeping this social and economic unit together.
This is a big part of why the idea that a “woman’s place is in the home” is so sacred to the ruling class and reactionary movements based on maintaining and enforcing the system and its prevailing oppressive relations. And these reactionary forces are pressing ahead with their anti-woman agenda with real urgency exactly because the traditional role of the family has been and continues to be undermined by the very workings of capitalism itself.
Two Sides, Two Futures
The “traditional nuclear family” has significantly broken down over the last several decades in the United States. Most women are economically compelled to work and are not full-time housewives. Many marriages end in divorce. Immigrant families must often exist across borders. A lot of households are headed by women. And many children are born “out of wedlock.”
These changes in the role of women and the family have given rise to very volatile and problematic contradictions for the ruling class. For example, when women get jobs and are able to escape the suffocating confines of the home, this can widen not only their experience in the world, but open up their views on many different things. Having some degree of economic independence can affect the way women see their role and independence in society more generally. All this comes into conflict with the ruling class need to enforce traditional values and maintain the cohesion of the family. And it is in this context that Christian fascists and other reactionary movements are on a rampage to drive women into submission and obedience to the authority of men, and more generally to the authority of patriarchal relations of capitalist society.
This is what is behind the fanatical attempts to ban abortion, including the Democratic version of making it “legal but rare,” and the whole Christian fascist offensive against birth control as well. This is what is behind the promotion and assertion of backward “traditional” and religious morality, used as a battering ram to try and beat women “back into their place.” This is what is behind the theocratic attempts to subject women to a brutal and murderous literal reading of the Bible. And this is what is behind the vicious attacks against gay marriage—which includes attempts to impose biblical morality and theocratic lunacy on the definition of marriage as well as moves by the Democrats like Clinton’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
And alongside all this, and in spite of pious statements about concern for the plight of women in Third World countries, imperialism continues to prop up regimes in countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan that impose some of the most horrifically backward and murderous conditions on women.
ALL of this and MORE has and is intensifying as the imperialists seek to reinforce traditional family relations and values as part of buttressing the social stability of the “home front” of their push for unchallenged imperialist supremacy in the world.
The horrifying future capitalism offers half of humanity is a powerful statement about the completely outmoded nature of this system.
What we need is NOT a reasserting and reinforcing of traditional chains on women. What we need is the shattering of these chains and the liberation of women, along with the emancipation of all of humanity. And there is every basis to fight for and bring about such a radical and world-changing vision.
Part 2 of this article will discuss: Socialism, communism and the abolition of the family.
Revolution #54, July 23, 2006
On July 6 Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN) was officially declared the winner in the Mexican presidential election. Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, presidential candidate of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) has said that he is the winner. Before, during, and after the elections, there was obvious evidence of fraud including video of ballots being destroyed. Lopez Obrador has demanded that the votes must be recounted and the election decided by the Federal Election Tribunal.
Mexican media have reported charges that the election itself was rigged through “cybernetic fraud.” The computer system used for the election tallied 30,000 more votes for the president than for senators in all the states where the PAN won and 300,000 less votes for president than for senators in the states where the PRD won. When the votes were counted in the polling places, in the areas where Lopez Obrador won, votes were taken off, and Calderon’s votes were duplicated. 827,000 ballots from poor neighborhoods, where the vote was more likely to be for Lopez Obrador, were supposedly left blank. The software program used in the computer to tally the votes was written by a company owned by Felipe Calderon’s brother-in-law.
The Federal Election Commission in charge of conducting the election and tabulating the votes is completely dominated by the PRI (the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution—which controlled Mexico as a virtual one-party state until recently) and the PAN. Many of the long-time commission members are supporters of the richest bankers in Mexico, PEMEX (Petróleos Mexicanos, Mexico’s state-owned oil company), and representatives of foreign corporations.
Aside from outright rigging of the voting process, the voter rolls were tampered with ahead of time to purge likely PRD voters, and people who receive public funds were threatened if they did not vote for the PAN. It was reported in the alternative press that two election workers from the PRD were killed in Guerrero. Before the election the PAN organizations in the U.S. received a $4 million grant from the Ford Foundation to strengthen their ability to organize the vote for the PAN. With the help of the Mexican Consulate they used the state databases to identify those who would vote for the PRD and they were eliminated from the voting rolls. Those Mexicans who traveled to Tijuana to vote found that there weren’t enough ballots available.
The “Huge Postponed Poverty Agenda” and U.S. Domination of Mexico
Underlying the tension around the election result is the intolerable situation for the vast majority of Mexican people. The election was staged (and managed) to divert people’s anger into a process that did not and could not address the fundamental problems people face. And now, with massive election fraud coming out in the news, if Lopez Obrador just accepts the results, that anger could erupt in ways outside of the control of the system.
One of Lopez Obrador’s U.S. polling consultants put it this way: “This society has a huge postponed poverty agenda, and Lopez Obrador speaks for these people. If he backs down without defending their votes, he runs the risk of pushing those people out of the electoral arena into other options that are not good for anyone.”
While Lopez Obrador does not in fact “speak for” the real interests of the people, there is indeed a “huge postponed poverty agenda” in Mexico. In Mexico today, ten percent of the population control 40% of the wealth, the third richest man in the world is a Mexican businessman, while 50 million Mexicans, roughly half the population, are living on less than $4 a day.
Setting the stage for all this, and hovering over every aspect of Mexican society, is the massive impact of deeply embedded capital from the United States. NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) has uprooted millions of people: one out of ten people in Mexico (10%) migrate to the U.S., and the remittances sent home have become the second largest source of income for the country after oil revenues. Another 15% of the population uprooted by the agricultural crisis migrates inside the country, often to the belt of sweatshops (maquiladoras) near the border with the U.S.
NAFTA eliminated all barriers to U.S. capital and commodities, slashed back social programs, and privatized state-owned enterprises. Lower-priced U.S. products have flooded Mexico. Mexican farmers can’t compete with capital-intensive U.S. agribusiness, which receives large government subsidies from the U.S. government. Millions of peasants and small businessmen have been bankrupted. Every year, almost 3 million tons of Mexican corn is left to rot because it is too expensive to sell while Mexican commodity importers receive low-interest loans to buy crops from the United States.
Neither Calderon or Lopez Obrador had a program that would fundamentally change the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. But Lopez Obrador called his campaign “For the Good of All, The Poor First” and said that his main objective is to “promote hope” among those who have most suffered from the free trade NAFTA program.
While an analysis of Lopez Obrador’s agenda is beyond the scope of this writing, he did not have a platform that would fundamentally challenge the domination of Mexico by U.S. capital. Nevertheless, Lopez Obrador was never intended to win this election. The candidate considered most reliable by the U.S. is Felipe Calderon who vows to complete the economic restructuring to benefit free trade that Fox was not able to carry out, such as opening the country’s state-controlled energy sector to private investment. The various levels of fixing the election took place in that context, as will whatever “review” is conducted by the electoral commission.
Post-Election Tension, Potential Dangers, and Opportunities for the People
The intense struggle around these elections is occurring within a social climate in Mexico that is already taut with explosive struggle. In the months before the elections there was extreme government repression carried out against workers and social movements. Lopez Obrador has remained silent about all these struggles. After an explosion and cave-in killed dozens of miners, the government attacked their families when they protested the terrible conditions in the mines. Two steelworkers in Michoacan were killed by government forces who attacked their strike, as were several teachers in Oaxaca. In punishment for struggles to defend land in Atenco, two youth were killed, almost 100 arrested and the women gang-raped by police called in by the mayor. In Chiapas, the PRD candidate for the Senate has declared that the Zapatistas must be smashed and he is vehemently hated by the masses.
This is a very explosive situation that could develop in unpredictable ways and spin out of control. There is potential for a whole range of developments, including more repression on either or both sides of the border. Millions are searching for real solutions and radical change. What is now an electoral crisis could leap out of the electoral framework creating openings for genuine struggle from below and opportunities for advances in revolutionary activity .
Revolution #54, July 23, 2006
From A World to Win News Service
10 July 2006. A World to Win News Service. For four weeks football fever gripped the world, and now that the World Cup is over many millions have been left with a sour taste in their mouths. We saw victories and defeats, shared the joy and sadness of players and supporters, witnessed beautiful and ugly moments. We saw the tears of the players when they lost or were forced to leave the tournament. We saw ugly moments when the players pushed and injured each other. We have seen widespread racist insults against black players by supporters of the opposite team and even fans of their own team. All these and other ugly moments pose the question: Does this sports event really do what it’s supposed to do, further friendship, cooperation and the exchange of culture between the world’s peoples? Does it have to be the way it is?
For those who live in this time, it is clear that football is not an ordinary sport anymore, or it would not set off such a world-sweeping storm of contradictory feelings. Undoubtedly soccer is one of the most popular games in the world, and at the same time, football, or at least the World Cup, is fully politicized. It is a full-force political scene, with heads of state and prime ministers prominently presiding over the stadium while their country’s team is playing. The US, as usual, is especially shameless in displaying its reactionary politics. Its ill-starred team, ultimately dispatched by Ghana to the delight of many millions, chose the symbolic lodgings of an American military base, and its coach announced, “We’re here for war.” When the side was criticized for an especially brutal style of play in a match with Italy, a prominent American political columnist mocked this as the unmanly complaint of the same European “post-heroic and post-militaristic culture” that had failed to support the invasion of Iraq. (Roger Cohen, International Herald Tribune, 21 June) But when the Italian team beat France in an equally foul-studded final, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi couldn’t help a little militaristic glorification himself as he praised his team for “fighting to the last drop of blood.”
In a world divided into nations and artificially-distinguished “races,” into haves and have-nots, oppressors and oppressed, many are looking for their trampled rights. They are looking to restore their oppressed identities. In a world marked by the exploitation of human beings by human beings, the domination of nations by other nations and the hideous concept of “racial supremacy,” anything, including football, can be used for confrontation and contest. Some people look to the success of their national team to achieve the self-confidence and self-satisfaction denied them in other areas of life. While the dominant powers, using public interest in football and racist organised gangs, are trying to strengthen reactionary and national supremacist ideologies in the oppressor countries, many people on the other side in the oppressed countries respond, on the basis of their own long rage and fury, by fervently wishing for the victory of their national team. They want to prove themselves at least in this sphere. Those sentiments are abused by the rulers of the oppressed countries.
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The ideological and political abuse of football is not the end of it. There is also a major economic aspect, in which this sport is used to boost the capitalist economy in general and especially to bring huge profits to investors.
It is beyond the scope to this article to analyse all the factors and complicated elements that make football so attractive, but some can be mentioned. Like other collective games, the rise of football is related to the development of capitalism that laid the bases for these kinds of sports. In its present form, football goes back to mid 19th century England, at the height of the industrial revolution (although some people say it was played in a more rudimentary form in ancient China). Its requirements are those characteristic of the modern world: speed, strength, confidence, hard work and especially collectivity and discipline. It consists of hundreds or even thousands of challenges between the players of the two opposing teams. While efforts are made to avoid direct engagement as much as possible, the game becomes most interesting when one team is advancing towards the heart of the other side’s ground. What makes football especially fabulous is the combination (and dialectical relationship) of collective work and the high degree of initiative and skills of individuals within that framework. Its rules are easy and nearly everyone can understand them—this is certainly one source of attraction. Football has the advantages of many other sports combined in one.
But because of this popularity, the ruling classes have entered into it in a big way, especially after the Second World War. This sport has come to embody serious ideological and political issues, and the national clubs are run accordingly. Further, the local football clubs on which the sport is based have become profit-driven economic units. These reactionary political and economic aims determine everything about how football is organized and played. It is now considered normal and even praiseworthy to think of nothing but winning. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the World Cup final. Especially when competition reaches this level, so much money and prestige is at stake, for the side and its members and the capitalists looking over their shoulders, that highly developed teams and enormously gifted and skilled players are forced—not only by owners and coaches but also by the logic of the situation itself—to play very conservatively, putting emphasis on preventing the other side from scoring, on blocking, psychologically destablizing and even injuring other key players, and “diving”, faking injuries themselves in hopes of being rewarded with a penalty shot. As Italian midfielder Gennaro Gatusso put it after Italy’s victory, “Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but we are hard to beat.” (Another Italian player said that if people want a beautiful experience, they should go to the cinema — football is about winning.) This is what destroys what was once known as “the beautiful game.”
That approach has moulded the style of play and the training of the players and led to the prevalence of a certain kind of tactics. Italian supporters and other football fans were increasingly disgusted by the famous catenaccio (“the bolt”), a very defensive, rigid formation style of playing especially favoured by the Italians in the 1960s and ‘70s. It managed to get Italy to the 1970 World Cup final in Mexico, but in the final match Brazil’s crushing defeat of the Azzurri was also an overwhelming defeat for a tactic that makes results everything and kills the initiative of the players. When they came home the Italian team had to avoid angry crowds. Nevertheless, this vision of football became especially widespread among European teams.
Attempts to change these ugly features the game had acquired ran up against insurmountable obstacles rooted in the workings of capitalism. For example, the emergence of new style of play by the Dutch, who presented an offensive system at the 1974 World Cup, was hailed as the best hope of saving soccer’s attraction for the masses. However, this effort was short lived. The new style needed a different system, even in the most narrow sense of the organisation of this professional sport itself, not to mention the economic and social relations and values of the social system it is part of. It proved impossible to play football on this model and keep the old organisation, including the coaches, some of the old players, the plans for training, equipment and so on. More than that, clubs had to be ready to put at risk the stable situation that every team or club had at that time. To play matches where the score would not be the only thing that mattered, much preparation would have been required for the players—and the fans. Further, such a change would have required a tremendous amount of resources that football clubs could not or were not willing to spend. In any case, even to the degree that this new style was introduced, again the only criterion was results—winning at any cost, which inevitably reproduced other ugly tactics and moments inconsistent with the stated aims of this fundamental reorganisation of the system. One of the ugliest features of modern football remains its defensiveness—what is most prized is not a team’s speed and offensive abilities, but its ability to keep the other side from scoring. So the occasional appearance of good football, due to the injection of highly developed techniques and hard discipline, cannot compensate for the burden that the dominant politics has put on the back of this sport.
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How else could it work—how could there be any basic change in the gladiator nature of today’s soccer when teams play only for profit? When coaches train and organise their side to get the desired results or lose their job? When supporters are lured to promote national chauvinism and despise the opposite side, and even worse to strengthen openly fascistic reaction and racism? When the host country undertakes the games to promote tourism, including sex tourism, and give a boost to the profits of its ruling class? When players are under inhuman pressure not to make any mistakes, to use violence against players from the other side, and still look like actors or fashion models—and when many of them are alienated from the spirit of sport and miserable about being forced to violate what are hypocritically upheld as the norms of play? If players try to break with the real, ugly norms of play and somehow don’t “succeed,” or if they make a mistake, then a howl goes up from the tabloids and media, not to mention the coaches and owners and sports establishment and its authorities. These players end up with a profile that will never be wiped from their dossier. Their market value plummets and they may fall from the top to the depths. Whoever scores is the champion, with little consideration for the side’s collective work or the quality of the game. Despite the hard-won organisation of the team, the spirit of taking initiative is rare and what generally rules is conservatism and fear of breaking patterns.
This is why attempts to change at least the defensive and boring aspects of European football have failed. According to César Luís Menotti, “If you look at the last three rounds of the World Cup, all of them are, in a way, an insult to offensive football… In a way, all the teams have been more or less oriented in the tradition of catenaccio and were seeking to win in a defensive game.” (Interview in the German newsweekly Die Welt, 30 June 2006. Menotti was the Argentine football team coach between 1974-1982. He is famous for refusing to shake hands with Argentina’s ruling generals when the country won the World Cup in 1978.) These aspects have changed the features of football. Football is supposed to be a sport, but it is no exaggeration to say that what matters least in football is the game and the sporting spirit.
In a word, this sport is increasingly alienated from meeting the needs of the people. This includes the need for the masses of people (including women) to have the opportunity to take part in sports themselves as well as enjoy high-quality sports performances, and for a society and values based on cooperation and solidarity, as well as daring, individual initiative and seeking to create new and interesting things and advance through a break with the defined and normal patterns of already set boundaries. The basic selfish logic and brutal ethics that determine how football is now organized can only favour the proliferation of the hooliganism, alcoholism and racism that has cost the life of many and injured and terrorized many more. When everything is sacrificed for the profits of the rich clubs of the rich countries, and when a sport is organized in the service of the ideological and political aims of a reactionary ruling class, then the ugly moments we’ve witnessed in the past month are no surprise.
Obviously if competitive games aren’t played to win, the fun is lost, but when winning is made an absolute, or even the primary goal, it has a disastrous effect—including on the fun of the game for players and spectators alike. It spreads the seeds of conservatism, kills the initiative of the players and prevents the development of the game. Most importantly, instead of promoting friendship and solidarity, it gives rise to hostility among the masses, exactly the opposite of the role that an international sport and in fact any sport should play.
What makes football turn ugly is when all the corruption of capitalism—not just bribery and petty corruption, as in today’s football scandals, but far more deeply the rotten relations of class society—imposes itself forcibly on this beautiful game and poisons the people’s enjoyment.
Does it have to be this way? In a world dominated by imperialism and capitalist relations, it seems there will be no other way until we have won a new world where profit is not in command.
Revolution #54, July 23, 2006
Guantanamo—the U.S.-run military prison camp has become infamous around the world as a place where hundreds of prisoners have been held for years, most without charges, subject to torture and brutal interrogation. This place is a kind of 0a legal “black hole,” because Bush and those around him have insisted that no laws govern the treatment of these prisoners—except the rules they make up for themselves under what they claim are Bush’s powers as “wartime president.” This has included the military tribunals (or commissions) set up by the Bush regime to try some of these prisoners—basically kangaroo courts where a defendant can be convicted in a trial that he cannot attend with “evidence” that he cannot see and that may include statements obtained through torture.
In another blatant example of the Bush regime’s utter disregard for truth, White House spokesman Tony Snow said a few days after the Supreme Court ruling that “the instruction manuals used by the Department of Defense already comply with the humane treatment provisions of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” (Associated Press, 7/11/06) Many people know about the infamous memo from Alberto Gonzales to George Bush in January 2002 (for those who don’t, check out “Torture Advocate to Head Justice Dept.” online at revcom.us). At the time the White House counsel, Gonzales argued in that memo that the global situation requires “a new kind of war” and that ignoring international law would enable the U.S. president to “preserve his flexibility.” Gonzales ended by saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”
On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Hamdan vs Rumsfeld (Salim Ahmed Hamdan is a Yemeni who was captured by the U.S. during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, brought to Guantanamo, and charged with “conspiracy to commit terrorism”) that “the military commission convened to try Hamdan lacks power to proceed because its structure and procedures violate both the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] and the Geneva Conventions.” The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) are the laws used by the U.S. military to hold court-martials, and the Geneva Conventions are international laws about military conflict, including treatment of prisoners.
One thing needs to be made clear right off the bat about this Supreme Court decision: This is NOT a ruling against the Bush administration’s use of Guantanamo and other prisons around the world to lock up people they have seized and accused of being “terrorists” and “enemy combatants”—and hold them indefinitely. In fact, Bush declared that the June 29 Supreme Court decision endorsed Guantanamo: “[The Supreme Court] didn’t say we couldn’t have done—couldn’t have made that decision, see? They were silent on whether or not Guantanamo—whether or not we should have used Guantanamo. In other words, they accepted the use of Guantanamo, the decision I made.”
Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, had made a similar point a few days earlier when he said that the Supreme Court didn’t say “we could not continue to hold enemy combatants indefinitely for the duration of hostilities, which was something the Supreme Court said we could do… That path is still available to us.”
At the same time, the Supreme Court ruling against Bush’s military tribunals does seem to point to some thinking within the U.S. imperialist ruling circles, including in and around the Bush administration, that they need to limit the political damage internationally from exposures about the outrages at Guantanamo. A New York Times article (7/14/06) quoted top Republican Senator John McCain remarking, in relation to Guantanamo, “America’s image in the world is suffering.” Earlier in July, three Guantanamo prisoners committed suicide—and there have been dozen of suicide attempts over the years, as well as a widespread hunger strike by the prisoners against their conditions. Prisoners released from Guantanamo have told horrible stories about abuse at the hands of the U.S. military. As NY Times columnist Bob Herbert noted (7/13/06), “Prisoners were beaten, sexually humiliated, denied essential medical treatment, deprived of sleep for days and weeks at a time, held in solitary confinement for periods exceeding a year, and tortured.”
But again, let’s be clear: All this does NOT mean that the U.S. government and military will now stop the inhumane treatment and the denial of basic rights at Guantanamo and other military prisons. The Supreme Court decision sent the issue of what kind of trials to set up for Guantanamo detainees to the Congress. There appear to be two possible ways that the Congress could go on this. One is to approve a version of the current military commissions with (in the words of Daniel Dell’Orto, a top Pentagon lawyer) “minor tweaking.” This would involve an Orwellian redefining of the Geneva Conventions. As the NY Times reported, “Administration lawyers urged Congress to pass legislation that would narrowly define the rights granted to detainees under a provision of the Geneva Conventions.” (“White House Prods Congress to Curb Detainee Rights,” NYT, 7/13/06)
Another way that Congress could go is to set up a court martial system under the UCMJ for the Guantanamo detainees—but with “tweaking” that would make them essentially like the kangaroo military tribunals that Bush had set up.
Either way, the Bush regime’s aim is to put out a few words about complying with Geneva Conventions and “respecting rights”—while proceeding ahead with Guantanamo and their whole juggernaut of war and repression.
And the Democrats? They did NOT oppose Guantanamo when Bush first set it up. They have NOT mounted opposition to it even with all the exposure of the torture and denial of rights of prisoners. And they will GO ALONG with whatever arrangement that Bush and the Congressional Republicans come up with. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has already said on national TV on July 2, “Had [the Bush administration] come to Congress a few years ago on this issue, my guess is they would have gotten most of what they wanted.” Revealed here is an essential—if “inconvenient”—truth: the Democrats are a ruling class party which views things from the angle of imperialist class interests. And in that context, they have accepted the necessity of the “war on terrorism” and everything that goes with that including torture and detention without trial.
Revolution #54, July 23, 2006
When the U.S. Army brought charges against Lt. Ehren Watada on July 5 (see Revolution #53, “Iraq War Resister Lt. Watada Charged by Army”), they charged him with “contempt toward officials,” notably, President Bush. Army charging papers say Watada violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 88 with these words:
“In that First Lieutenant (name blacked out) U.S. Army, did, at or near Fort Lewis, Washington, on or about 7 June 2006: use orally and publicly the following contemptuous words against the President of the United States, to wit:
"‘I could never conceive of our leader betraying the trust we had in him…As I read about the level of deception the Bush administration used to initiate and process this war, I was shocked. I became ashamed of wearing the uniform. How can we wear something with such a time-honored tradition, knowing we waged war based on a misrepresentation and lies? It was a betrayal of the trust of the American people. And these lies were a betrayal of the trust of the military and the Soldiers…But I felt there was nothing to be done, and this administration was just continually violating the law to serve their purpose, and there was nothing to stop them…Realizing the President is taking us into a war that he misled us about has broken that bond of trust that we had. If the President can betray my trust, it’s time for me to evaluate what he’s telling me to do.’"
Lt. Watada was also charged with a second count of contempt toward President Bush, with missing troop movement, and three counts of “conduct unbecoming an officer” for other statements of belief. To substantiate the “conduct unbecoming” charge, Army papers cited statements by Watada saying that the war in Iraq is “morally wrong” and “a breach of law,” and that to take part in the “wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of Iraqis” would make him party to “war crimes,” etc. The Army called these statements “disgraceful.”
In other words, Ehren Watada is being prosecuted and threatened with seven years behind bars because of publicly stating his beliefs, which happen also to be true!
Ehren’s attorney Eric Seitz told Revolution that Watada is being prosecuted for what is supposed to be “protected speech” by U.S. law. Seitz, an attorney specializing in defense of soldiers and military law, said he hadn’t heard of a case of contempt toward officials being brought by the military since the Vietnam War. According to the website thankyoult.org, the last time the military brought such charges was in 1965, and largely Article 88 was largely used during the Civil War and World War I.
Seitz told Revolution that he sees the attempt to punish Lt. Watada in light of an overall campaign by the military and the Bush administration to control and intimidate the media and to keep people silent, both inside the military and in general. He pointed out that the charges against his client are coming at a time of increasing opposition within the military to the war, including even from admirals and generals. Thousands of soldiers are AWOL, and a number have publicly resisted the war in various ways.
On Democracy Now! Seitz said, “We did not really anticipate that they would charge him with additional offenses based upon the comments and remarks that he’s made. And that opens up a whole new chapter in this proceeding, because what the Army has clearly tried to do by the nature of these charges is send out a message to people in the military, that if you criticize the war and if you criticize the decisions that were made to bring the United States into this war, that you, too, could be charged with disloyalty, contemptuous remarks and disrespect for higher officers, and in this case, specifically in this charge, the President.”
Trying to Turn Reporters into Tools of the Prosecution
On top of the unprecedented nature of the charges against Ehren Watada, this week a Reuters news story said the Army may call two reporters who published interviews with Lt. Watada as prosecution witnesses to “corroborate” statements he made to them! The two reporters who, according to Attorney Seitz, the military has put on its witness list, are Sarah Olson, a freelance journalist from the Bay Area, and Gregg Kakesako, of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
Seitz said he knew of no case before this in which the military called civilian reporters to testify in court martials. Sarah Olson told Revolution the listing of her and Gregg Kakesako as potential witnesses should be seen in the larger “macrocosm of the Bush administrations attempts to control the press,” and that “it’s not my role to help the military prosecute its cases and I shouldn’t serve any function in a military court martial.” Olson said that if the government can call reporters to court to testify against their sources, “people will have a deeper fear of talking to the press.”
She said that Lt. Watada has raised “serious questions that deserve answers and they should be considered by the administration… No one has answered the questions asked and the concerns raised by Lt. Watada.” She added, if elected officials can’t answer them, then the public has to take them up.
The persecution of Lt. Watada and the attempt of the military to use supportive reporters against him must be opposed. What’s taking place in this case is another escalation by the government and military to assert unprecedented authority, to redefine and eliminate the rule of law, and to seek to create a climate where dissenters, and the truth itself, is silenced. They cannot be allowed to succeed.
Revolution #54, July 23, 2006
In the article “Rape and Murder of Abeer Qassim Hamza: The Bloody Reality of U.S. Occupation” in the last issue of Revolution, we cited the FBI as a source of information on the rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and her family by U.S. troops. The FBI is not a reliable source of information, and has a long history of fabricating evidence, including to attack progressive movements. Details of the murder have also been reported by more credible sources and in mainstream news media. See “5 more charged in Iraq rape-slayings case,” the Associated Press, July 9; “GIs May Have Planned Iraq Rape, Slayings,” the Associated Press, July 1; “Details Emerge in Alleged Army Rape, Killings,” Washington Post, July 3; and “Ex-G.I. Accused of Murders and Rape in Iraq,” New York Times, July 3.