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Revolution #56, Posted August 1, 2006
Received from A World to Win News Service
24 July 2006. A World to Win News Service. Israel’s attack on Lebanon is causing horrendous death and destruction. The future may hold even worse. Israel has staged two major invasions and countless incursions into its northern neighbour before. But this time the war is taking place within the context of and in the service of something new and even more terrifying. There is every reason to fear that it is part of a US campaign to prepare for a broader and even more murderous war.
While millions around the world watch the television footage of mounting civilian casualties in horror – the UN’s Jan Egeland says that a third of the dead are children – the US has openly defied any notion of human decency. It has gone so far as to brazenly block the UN from calling for a ceasefire. George Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice justified this by dividing the globe into those who want this war, on the one side, and on the other the “snakes”, “terrorists”, “subhuman” Middle Easterners, wishy-washy Europeans and worse who oppose it. Rice unashamedly declared that the war must continue until Israel has achieved its objectives – that peace would only help “the terrorists” by allowing them to escape Israel’s wrath and to rearm. As the US conducted a “diplomacy” dedicated to shutting up the clamour for peace, in the military realm it rushed through a shipment of more hi-tech, high-explosive bombs for Israel. What kind of world has this become when “Save the children!” is a pro-“terrorist” position and killing children is considered acceptable if they are the offspring of “snakes”, and thus potential “snakes” themselves?
The Bush regime declares that we are witnessing the widening ripples of September 11, 2001. This is the truth – turned upside down. The events surrounding Israel’s attack on Lebanon have little to do with the World Trade Center attack, that continuing pretext for a phoney “war on terrorism”. Instead, they are truly reflective of “the post-911 world” in another way: they are the consequences of the Bush regime’s decision to seek undisputed American control of the entire Greater Middle East. This campaign began with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and now threatens war against Iran, a major target of today’s US-sponsored Israeli attack on Lebanon. Israel’s actions can’t be understood without taking this context into account.
Bush and his ilk have tried to tie Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran into a single package. There are connections, but they are not at all what the US government claims. These regimes and organizations are not tied together by religion, and still less by any desire to wage war on the US. In fact, their interests are often contradictory, and they don’t really want to be tied together at all. What they have in common is that the Bush regime considers them obstacles to the realization of its vision of an American Middle East. Pro-American and Israeli critics have complained that Israeli’s naked cruelty only inspires more hatred among the region’s people. But this is not at all in conflict with what the US and Israel are trying to do with this war now. With the broadening of the attacks that have until now been centred in Palestine, the US is using Israel to deal pre-emptive blows. The aim is to weaken and split perceived enemies, prevent them from taking advantage of the hatred of Israeli crimes that inflames people more every day, and impose “shock and awe” to dishearten any organized opposition in advance.
In one sense, the situation is very easy to understand. Many millions of people all over the world are becoming more furious about this war every time they watch the news. But at the same time it’s complicated because there are many different kinds of contradictions working on different levels that are influencing one another. There are very real, distinct contradictions working at the local level, each with their own particular logic, and they in turn are embedded in layers of broader regional and global contradictions that shape them.
Hamas and the Palestinians
The contradiction between Israel and the Palestinians continues to be a driving force in this situation, even with much of the world’s attention focused on Lebanon. It was not Iran or Syria but Israel itself that set off the chain of detonations, not only by taking away the Palestinian people’s national rights over decades, but also by deliberately escalating its humiliation and oppression of the Palestinians right now. Hamas, it should be recalled, had maintained a ceasefire with Israel. That ceasefire came to an end in June after a series of Israeli kidnappings of Hamas leaders in Gaza and at least three massacres of civilians by Israeli rocket attacks. Those who would like to claim that Israel’s “security” was in danger want to ignore the fact that it was not until after these events that Hamas resumed firing its small homemade missiles at Israel and conducted the operation resulting in the capture of an Israeli soldier.
Despite the Hamas-elected government’s efforts to come to terms with Israel, Israel clearly took the decision to crush it instead. On another level, especially after the events of the last weeks, it seems that Israel’s decision to seek to eliminate Hamas now was linked to wider strategic considerations, as we’ll see.
Hezbollah and Lebanon
The Lebanese organization Hezbollah chose the moment of Israel’s attacks on the Palestinians to launch a cross-border operation into Israel from the north, attacking a patrol and capturing two more Israeli soldiers. Although this conflict overlaps with the Palestinian question, it mainly involves a different issue.
Lebanon has never been a unitary state. France originally created it by carving out a coastal slice of Syria and, in typical colonial fashion, favouring various ethnic groups over one another. The term “Lebanonization” has come to describe any country where the rivalries between ethnic and religious-based forces make a stable national government impossible. For decades Israel and Syria, sometimes in unity and often in conflict, tried to dictate Lebanese life. In 1976, when the armed Palestinian national liberation organizations and Lebanese groups were on the verge of defeating forces originally put into power by France and by then tied to the US and Israel, Syria invaded Lebanon to save the existing political set-up – at American urging. Then, in 1982, Israel invaded to crush the Palestinian movement based among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees living in camps there, and the revolutionary ferment that attracted people to Beirut from throughout the region and beyond. History will never forget the massacres in the camps of Sabra and Shatila carried out by Israel’s local allies under the supervision of Ariel Sharon, then the leader of the Zionist army.
Armed and trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards with help from Syria, Hezbollah came into existence and grew rapidly because it was the only force fighting the Israeli occupiers after the Palestinians were no longer a major political factor in Lebanon. Ironically, although it is not only based among the Shia, one of the country’s half-dozen major religious communities, but a vociferous exponent of Shia Islamic ideology, Hezbollah’s reputation as a national liberation organization is a major factor making it popular among Lebanese of all ethnic groups and religions, including leftists and other secular people.
For several years now Hezbollah’s leadership has been signalling its willingness to achieve a stable relationship with Israel and the US and leave the Palestinian question unresolved. (Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah said this to American journalist Seymour Hersh in an interview in the July 28, 2003 New Yorker magazine.) Controlling southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has actually prevented Palestinian refugees from attacking Israel across the border. For a decade, even during the hide tide of the Palestinian intifada, both sides of the border have been very quiet, except for minor Hezbollah/Israel clashes in the Shebaa Farms area still under Israeli occupation. Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on Israel show that they are a much better armed and more formidable military force than any of the Palestinian groups. Yet these rockets were kept in storage until after Israel started bombing and attacking Hezbollah.
Hezbollah had captured Israeli soldiers and traded them for its own prisoners several times in recent years, even after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2005, but this time Israel reacted by unleashing a war. This shows that Israel’s aims had changed. Had Hezbollah’s? Some observers, such as the progressive American expert Juan Cole, have said that in deciding to show support for the Palestinians in this symbolic way (after all, they could have fired their Katyushas), Hezbollah was reacting to the situation in Lebanon itself, basically trying to preserve and expand its power within the Lebanese government in the face of rising Israeli and US pressure. That, Israel felt, was unacceptable. But again, even those who consider Israel’s existence legitimate cannot present facts to argue that the Zionist state’s “security” was endangered by this act. Among similar media accounts, the San Francisco Chronicle (21 July) reported that Israel’s armed forces had been planning and even rehearsing this attack for at least a year. Israeli aggressive air incursions into Lebanon over the last months seem to have been meant to prepare as well as perhaps provoke a war.
Again, here we have to shift our gaze to see the contradictions on a higher level that this particular contradiction is embedded in. Syria was at its most powerful when it was a Soviet client state. Its young president Bashar Assad would like to come in from the cold war and find a place in the new US-dominated world, but his requests have so far been rejected, as Assad complained to Hersh. Assad’s eagerness to reach an agreement with the US and Israel appears to be confirmed by the indisputable fact that Syria has kept quiet about the continuing Israeli occupation of the militarily strategic Golan Heights seized in 1967.
The Syrian and US secret services worked together very closely after 2001, when Assad believed that he could hand the US intelligence about Al-Qaeda as a means to a broader arrangement. According to Hersh, former CIA head George Tenet protected the Assad regime against Bush regime figures who wanted to attack it. But when Assad refused to endorse the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, unlike his father who supported the 1991 US invasion, the US put the Syrian regime on its target list. Even so, while Assad may have felt that an open endorsement of the American occupation of Iraq might mean the end of his regime, Syria seems to have implicitly accepted the occupation. For instance, when the US armed forces crossed over into Syria in June 2003 and wiped out a convoy of vehicles – civilians unrelated to the Saddam Hussein regime figures the US claimed it was perusing – Assad held his tongue.
Here, too, claims that Israel is “protecting” itself are a lie. Israeli sent fighters to buzz Assad’s presidential palace in June, saying that they did so to demonstrate their ability to kill him whenever they want to. This was before the Hezbollah cross-border operation Bush wants to blame on Syria.
Israel’s aims in Lebanon and beyond
When France turned against Syria and joined with the US in demanding that country’s withdrawal from Lebanon, the weakened and much chastened Assad regime complied. This led to the so-called “Cedar revolution”, the formation of a new Lebanese government Bush hailed last year as an example of how the US is spreading “democracy”.
But that was last year. The US was happy to see Syria go, but it wants to keep Lebanon Lebanonized, just as it has worked hard to create religious-based “identity politics” in Iraq to gain allies and undermine opposition. Since then, the US and Israel have been pressuring the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah. In fact, that is the central demand of Israel’s current attacks on Lebanon. The amount of hypocrisy involved is stupendous. First of all, Israel demands that Lebanon implement UN Resolution 1559 requiring the disarming of all militias – this from the Zionists who for decades have defied UN resolutions to withdraw from the territories they occupied in 1967. Secondly, Israel is calling for the Lebanese government, which includes Hezbollah, to send out its weak and divided army, many of whose soldiers and officers support Hezbollah, to “disarm” (fight) the country’s only real fighting force capable of putting up resistance to Israel. This would amount to making Lebanon an Israeli protectorate.
Israel’s military actions so far make their political aims unmistakable. Israel openly avows that at least for now, it wants to empty the Shia population of Lebanon south of the Litani River, a well-populated farming area 20 kilometres from the border at some points... Lebanese newspapers report that half a dozen southern villages have been hit with cluster bombs and phosphorous. Israeli planes dropped leaflets on villages warning the population that the entire area was about to be pulverized, but then, when villagers tried to flee, Israel systematically rocketed all moving vehicles. In one of the worst incidents early in the war, a convoy of villagers in pickup trucks headed for the city of Tyre. Israeli gunfire hit the women and children in the back of the lorries. Then an Israeli helicopter came up and fired rockets, killing 23 of the 24 people. The only survivor was a four year-old girl burned on 70 percent of her body. Other, similar incidents include an attack on a crowded minibus, also near Tyre, and countless rocketings of private cars and taxies filled with families.
The bombing raids have also targeted the heavily Shia suburbs on the southern edge of Beirut. An Israeli commander announced that they would destroy ten multi-story buildings in the Shia residential suburb of Dahaya for every rocket fired at the Israeli city of Haifa. Israel boasts that its raids demonstrate that support for Hezbollah means death. When refugees were taken in by mainly Christian villages and neighbourhoods, Israel bombed them as well. Among other aims, this is meant to discourage people from taking in those fleeing the south.
Shias, historically given little place in Lebanon’s imperialist-assigned ethnic government arrangements, are by far the country’s single biggest community and may amount to half its population. (There hasn’t been a census for decades, because it would officially reveal that those groups whose clan leaders are most directly tied to Israel and the West and guaranteed the top posts in the government on the basis of their supposed majority status are in fact a small and shrinking minority.) Israel is attacking not only Hezbollah but Shias in general to make a point: they can’t be allowed to threaten the country’s power arrangements. Israel has also specifically targeted Christian and other communities. For instance, the Israeli army destroyed Lebanon’s Christian and Sunni Moslem-owned television and mobile telephone facilities, claiming that they were being used for “Hezbollah propaganda”. In fact, Israeli’s real target was television news footage of Israeli atrocities riveting and unifying all Lebanese and the communications networks that tie the country together.
While claiming that its goal is for the Lebanese government to send its army to take control of southern Lebanon, Israel has even bombed Lebanese army barracks that have nothing to do with Hezbollah. It has also hit government offices and facilities in general. Perhaps the most telling component of Israel’s bombardment campaign is the targeting of the country’s physical infrastructure and economy. Air strikes against bridges and roads have cut the south off from the rest of the country. They have also hit roads, bridges, the Beirut airport, all the seaports, petroleum storage facilities and factories all over Lebanon, all trucks and other moving machinery, including ambulances. Some 800,000 of the country’s less than four million people have been driven out of their homes. This adds up to a decision to ensure that when Israel is done, the country will be crippled and helpless. When Rice met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (by Lebanese law, that office must be held by a Sunni), she assured him of Bush’s “support” but refused to give him the support he asked for, flatly rejecting his plea for a ceasefire to prevent the country from being torn apart. As other commentators have pointed out, this was a gangster message: cooperate with us or else.
In short, the immediate American-Israeli war aim is to create an entirely subservient Lebanon, indirectly, at least, if not literally through occupation. Israeli commanders have not ruled out occupation, but they clearly fear having to face the kind of long-term resistance that they have been unable to defeat in the past, in Lebanon, and of course the West Bank and Gaza. Those fears have been sharpened by the Israeli army’s dramatic difficulties in the two key ground battles with Hezbollah so far. Israel suffered what army sources called heavy casualties in trying to take a village called Maroun al-Ras, just across the border. It failed in its initial assault on southeastern Lebanon’s major town, Bint Jbeil. Israeli officers complain that their tanks and monster military bulldozers are not effective enough against the tunnel warfare Hezbollah is waging.
Bush’s repeated statements putting the blame on Syria for Hezbollah’s actions has mystified many serious analysts who can’t see much evidence of major Syrian active involvement. In fact, the only specific US charge is that Syria has been a conduit for Iranian supplies for Hezbollah. But rather than a sign that he doesn’t understand what his advisors tell him, Bush’s insistence is a key part of what’s really going on, just as the phoney Bush/Blair claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were not a mistake but part of what can truthfully be called a conspiracy. The aim is to isolate, paralyse and perhaps overturn the Assad regime as a further step in preparing for war with Iran. A well-informed 24 July New York Times analysis said that the US aim was to force Syria to “distance” itself from Iran and cut off Hezbollah supplies. Syria is Iran’s only state ally. The Iranian regime has often said it would consider any attack on Syria as an attack on itself – and that would be very definitely the case.
Some pro-Bush political figures openly proclaim it and “everyone” – everyone who seriously studies the situation and doesn’t just swallow propaganda – knows it’s true: the looming threat of a US war with Iran is an enormous and probably decisive factor behind Israel’s actions.
The Iranian regime noisily welcomed the Hezbollah operation. It, too, is sending a message. After decades of on-again, off-again relations with Israel, with the mullahs receiving Zionist weapons during the early years of their reign and maintaining contacts and economic ties even in recent years, the Iranian regime would like to harness the regional hatred for Israel in a desperate bid to ensure its own survival.
This anger at Israel, at the US standing behind it, and at the American protectorates that rule most of the Middle East, has an enormous potential power. Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf monarchies are widely understood by their own people to be American neo-colonies. All of these regimes have much to fear if a nationalist fever and a mood of resistance were to sweep the region. At a rare illegal rally in Cairo, demonstrators carried portraits of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah together with those of Gamal Nasser, the Egyptian president considered the symbol of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 60s. Similar incidents have been reported in other countries, including Gaza, where marchers carried portraits of Nasrallah and Yasser Arafat. At this moment in the Middle East, Nasrallah – a “terrorist” for Israel and the US – is many times more popular than any of the darlings of American imperialism. For the Iranian theocrats, the anti-Israel and anti-American sentiments of the people might not be the weapon they want, but they see the potential for harnessing this hatred as the best weapon they can get.
In short, Israel’s attacks on Hamas and Hezbollah are also secondary attacks on Iran, aiming at weakening two groups that could cause trouble in the event of a US-launched war against Iran. It is also possible that the Iranian Islamic Republic welcomes a chance to show the US that it does have armed influence in the region and can fight back.
The “terrorist international united front”
Whatever connections there may be between Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran’s mullahs and, according to a leading US State department official, North Korea (!), they are not mainly about religion or ideology. Hamas is a Sunni organization, an offshoot of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt. The Brotherhood was financed by Saudi Arabia and encouraged by the US to undermine the nationalist Nasser regime and the communists. Hamas was on the receiving end of many Israeli secret police favours in a campaign against the Palestinian Liberation Organization. It has ties with Iran’s ruling Shia mullahs, but probably not much religious sympathy. The same seems true of Hamas’ relations with Hezbollah. As for Syria, Assad’s father slaughtered thousands of civilians to put down a rising by the Moslem Brotherhood. In Lebanon, Syria allied with Christian reactionaries against the Palestinians. And as for North Korea…
The last country, especially, makes it plain that the main thing all these regimes and groups have in common is worry that their survival is incompatible with the Bush regime’s vision of an American-squashed globe. Tellingly, the weaponry Iran is supposed to have supplied Hezbollah is mainly Soviet-era technology, another indication that the U.S. is trying to overturn a world order that grew out of the existence of the rival Soviet imperialist bloc. When Bush ideologues scream about now being the time to move against “the worldwide terrorist united front”, what they mean is that they can’t wait to wage war on all the organized forces that stand in their way anywhere. In this “all or nothing” logic, since these potential enemies might help each other, it’s best to go after them all at once. (The U.S. former rightwing Congressional leader turned imperial strategist Newt Gingrich seemed to have this in mind when he enthused over the prospects for what he called “world war 3” growing out of Israel’s attack on Lebanon).
The explanation for the cruelty and wild ambitions of Israel’s military campaign cannot be found in Israel alone. Israel is just one more weapon of mass destruction in the American arsenal. The US created, armed, financed and directs Israel for strategic purposes that have little to do with Zionist influence in the United States. What is most basically at stake is what we have already seen in Iraq: the US is determined to make the entire Middle East into a string of American neocolonies, countries formally independent but under its economic, political and militarily control. The ultimate goal is not only to grab the region’s oil and the riches created by its people, but even more to use this control as a central pillar of an American-dominated global political system that can guarantee – against all rivals as well as the people – the conditions of profitability for American capital throughout the world...
The problem is that all of the main actors on this stage, in terms of those playing speaking roles, are reactionaries and will not be able to represent the people’s interests to the end. Their politics reflect the fact that they are exploiters whose interests are necessarily narrow because they are rooted in clan, semi-feudal and imperialist-dependent capitalist relations. At the same time the potential power of the vast Middle Eastern masses who have not been allowed to speak has never been clearer. That is the contradiction that needs to be addressed if the great storm whose rising wind can be so readily felt is going to change things in the people’s favour.
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
Historic Talks by Bob Avakian
Last week we were proud and thrilled to announce the posting of important new talks by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA, on bobavakian.net and revcom.us. These talks are truly pathbreaking explorations in communist theory and its application to a breathtaking range of questions, including political questions which are urgently and sharply posed in today’s situation. They are also living laboratories in the communist method and approach to the world. There is a scope and a depth to each talk, and the talks as a whole, that is really unprecedented and extraordinary.
The first talk—”Why We’re in the Situation We’re in Today…And What to Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need for Revolution”—underlines and illuminates the great urgency of this moment, and the high stakes. Things are changing, radically; whether that change will be in a very negative, or a positive—perhaps extremely positive—direction has everything to do with what we do.
Today there are millions restlessly and urgently questioning the direction of things. They need to know about and hear these talks!
If you’re a regular reader, you have probably already begun listening to these talks, and are beginning to share them with people you know. Now try to imagine the difference it could make if millions of people got with these talks. What would it mean if thousands, and then tens of thousands, were deeply getting into this, grasping the content and beginning to make the method and approach in these talks—the living application of materialist dialectics—their own? What would it mean if tens of thousands more were engaging with the talks—looking at things in new ways and beginning to “go back and forth” with genuine communism? And what would it mean if millions became acquainted with the talks, getting to know Bob Avakian and what he’s all about, and having all that circulating in their minds?
How would that affect the atmosphere, including how people very broadly saw the possibilities and their role in things? How would that change the political equation? What would that open up, in people’s thinking and in reality more broadly?
You have to remember: this understanding of the world—and this way of understanding the world—is still way too much of a secret. That really has to change—and quickly.
To that end—and as a beginning—we are calling for a major public opinion campaign to really launch this out there in the next two weeks. We have created a poster on the back page of this issue. This poster is available as a downloadable pdf from our site. You can also download the poster in postcard, flyer, or sticker size. Over the next two weeks—and with a major organized push on the weekend of August 4th through 6th—we are calling on everyone to get this poster out everywhere. Imagine this poster appearing in many different places. It needs to be in the big cities, the suburbs, the rural areas, the prisons, the schools, the day labor corners—among growing numbers of people in every part of society. It needs to be on the walls of the streets, and up in the coffee shops and bars, the barber shops and beauty parlors, the community centers, theaters and cultural centers and gyms.
We envision teams organizing up for that weekend, going out with the posters and playing the talks as they do, getting the word out, and making new ties with people. We envision a high-impact move on public opinion that gets word of this out to literally millions of people, that makes a big stir and drives thousands and thousands to the web sites to listen to and download these talks.
And that would be just the beginning. There is a whole range of ways that this has to get out, and we want to hear from you on this—your ideas and your experiences, including from the August 4-6 weekend—as we carry forward and get the word out.
There’s nothing like this on the planet. Let’s do what cries out to be done to make sure that truly huge numbers of people know about it and are seriously engaging it.
Posted August 4, 2006
Question 1: You’ve addressed that there is too much relativism – that it’s killing the advanced and their ability to even recognize what’s going on in the world and in this society. Could you elaborate on this? In particular you’ve talked about World Can’t Wait, Drive Out the Bush Regime — that this is something that really needs to be done, yet people don’t really want to see what’s happening. Could you speak more to that also?
Question 2: My question flows out of the “Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State…” series that ran in Revolution newspaper. You wrote about Engels’s statement that in early communal society there is not a difference between rights and duties, and that Marx said there’s no need for laws once property relations are transformed. Then you made a statement about how under communism there’s no need for law to codify and institutionalize relations among people. I have a hard time understanding how there’s no need for laws under communism. Even though social antagonisms as such don’t exist in the same way, it’s not as though we’re going back to some early pre-communal small groupings where everybody knows each other. It will be highly complex. Then there is also necessity and there are things still happening. So how is it that you don’t need some kind of rules of the game in dealing with necessity? I understand, not laws in the sense of people going to prison. But, can you talk about why it is that once, particularly property relations and everything that flows from that, gets transformed there’s no need for codified laws, but there will still be some basic understanding among people in society?
Question 3: My question deals with some of the material from the two series: “Views on Socialism and Communism” and “The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution”.
I’ve been thinking about two things: One is a statement by Arundhati Roy in an interview where she basically said (this is paraphrasing), “I support the Maoists in India even though I would probably be the first person they would kill.” Second, I’ve also been thinking about this in relation to the need to make a distinction as you’ve emphasized between those who are actively plotting to overthrow the socialist state and those who are just dissenting or even vehemently opposed to it, but not actively plotting to overthrow it.
My question is – taking into account the socialist experience and the very secondary aspect where Arundhati Roy might have a point based on what happened in China and also taking into account the particularity of India and the particularities of this country: what should communists say to the Arundhati Roys of the world in relation to this contradiction and why should they believe us?
Question 4: In your talk on “The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters” you talk about basketball and you get into coaching, the metaphor of coaching. And you’re not against coaching obviously, but you talked about coaches’ ability to play an initiating role in terms of the productive forces that they are given, in unleashing and freeing what was really positive in changing the game. Could you talk more about that?
Question 5: You’ve spoken about two major events in the late ‘70s and ‘80s — the Iran revolution and the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan and how these two events had more of a long-lasting effect comparatively to other things that were going on in Central America. A lot of your works and analysis in the Revolution newspaper speak to the rise of globalization and religious fundamentalism taking root in different countries. My question is about what’s going on in Latin America—on the one hand this rise of Pentecostalism and the role of religion, the church and even theocracies in Latin America but on the other hand the emergence of people like Lula and Chavez and Morales. In Chile the recent president is a woman who considers herself agnostic. So, what is the deal with Chavez and Lula, but in the context of where the world is at – in terms of McWorld vs. Jihad?
Question 6: My question is in relation to a point you made about democratic intellectuals like Amy Goodman not getting beyond the shopkeeper in their thinking and not getting beyond the confines of bourgeois right. In contrast, the need for communists to continually get beyond the bounds of bourgeois right in their thinking. In studying the “Views on…” series, it opens with the understanding that it’s necessary and right to want state power as a communist. In thinking about changing people’s sentiments, including our own sentiments, it seems that seeing the necessity for wanting state power is one fundamental aspect of getting beyond the bounds of bourgeois right.
I wanted to hear more of your thoughts on that and communists continually making ruptures and leaps in their thinking and in understanding and analyzing the world.
Question 7: My question relates to the question of positivism, but in a certain way relates to many things you address because it deals with the question of science which is a word you use a lot. I think in the book “Marxism and the Call of the Future…” you made an aside along the following lines: "Of course when I talk about science I don’t mean a bourgeois conception of science."
Could you speak to that point, and also speak to what it means methodologically to take a bourgeois approach to science? What are some examples or illustrations? What is the impact in the international communist movement of having that kind of approach, which I believe is a kind of positivist approach to science?
Question 8: This question is in relation to some methodological questions. For the talk, “Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy” – in choosing that question to go into and in formulating that title – how do you approach a sphere?
These are huge world-historic questions in reality among the masses, as part of the whole process of getting to communism. It’s not a priori, “who would be a good target to make our point.” There is what Jefferson concentrates to anybody who theoretically gets into the question of democracy and all the ways that seeps down into people’s thinking today. So this is a basic question on the questions you take up. It’s not just that it’s your special thing. It’s not incidental to this whole project. In terms of approach, there were four or five books on Jefferson that you listed.
Further, there’s a lot of reality that is fascinating that you can approach. So, how do you even choose something to go at?
Question 9: In your talks, one of the threads of many is about the oppression of Black people being a foundational part of how this society formed in the economic base and the whole way this country developed. The things that you’ve written and talked about: slavery and democracy, the New Deal and Great Society programs; the conscious policies and the southern politicians. Your talk on minstrelsy and how the NBA is an extension of that was very heavy. I’m trying to understand this more because it is so intertwined with this society. Related to this is the point about the struggle of Black people being an Achilles heel for the system. Can you comment further?
Question 10: My question comes from reading “Views on Socialism and Communism…” series — “The Communist View of Communism” in particular. We use this phrase “freely associating community of human beings,” I think that came from Marx, to describe communism, but after reading “Views on…” it seemed to me that there was a lot of stress on communist society not being a collection of individuals, of it being a society (I’m trying to understand the dialectics of this) with more coherence, not less. To me “association” connotes less coherence in society. Then there’s the question of “freely associating.” You talked in the series that there’s still necessity in communism and you’ve said that 10,000 years from now there’s still the forces and relations of production and that contradiction.
It’s what Marx says, people are born into, they don’t decide the production relations they live under when they come into life. It seems like what you’ve brought forward has gone beyond that conception, that “freely associated community,” and that even in communist society necessity will still be there. It would be transformed, it would be very different necessity, but it would still in the overall sense be principal.
When I read “A Communist View of Communism” I was picturing communism as more subordination in the sense of more integration into the overall life of society and the questions that it’s wrangling with. I think there’s some truth to that, but then you were also saying, I think, that individual conscience and pursuit of reality will have an important and broad scope in itself and as part of the overall role of changing the world. I am very curious what your thinking on all this was? I think this is related to there being institutions and rules but not laws in communism.
Question 11: I would like to ask about how the process of the leap from perception to cognition took place in the synthesis in your talk, “The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show…” It was really provocative and liberating. Did you go into this with a working thesis?
How much did that interpenetrate with some of the work that you’ve done in terms of how embedded and fundamental national oppression is to the base and superstructure of this country.
Question 12: You’ve made the point about boldly propagating communism all over the place, all of the time. There’s propagating communism politically but also epistemologically and philosophically, for instance saying, “Okay, we should have a discussion of positivism,” to more deeply understand something like identity politics, although they’re not one and the same. It’s also related to what you said about being interested in how people think and what people are thinking and the importance of social investigation.
I know there’s not a formula for how you do this, but how do you approach figuring out where you’re going to carve in with the masses you’re struggling with or engaging. Sometimes you have to wage a struggle over epistemology to even have a discussion of the political issue at hand. But sometimes you have political unity with people who are involved in something and they are philosophically wed to Jeffersonian democracy and very anti-communist along with it. You have to unite politically, but you also have to engage them on the philosophy and the more you do it actually can help their politics.
I know there’s not a formula, but I want to cheat and ask how do you do it right? How do you go about it, how do you approach it? — that is my question.
Question 13: This question is related to “hastening while awaiting” and “repolarization for revolution.” I think I’ve inherited some positivism in terms of envisioning what a revolutionary situation would look like. I’m trying to get a picture of the combination of factors, both subjective and objective, while breaking with this idea of, “well you just go out and struggle with people to become class conscious and then you await something happening and then people automatically respond in a certain way, and that affects something over here and then you have a revolution.” I’m trying to get a more concrete picture of how this subjective element becomes THE thing in combination with objective factors. Could you speak to this?
Question 14: When we seize power how does the decision making process work?
How do we decide at different times that we should give funds to this or that and a number of things at one time? For instance, people who disagree or some masses, they don’t consider pornography to be pornography, they consider it to be eroticism. So, how will the decisionmaking go? What gets on TV and what will be on the air voicing disagreement?
Question 15: In your talk, “Why We’re In the Situation We’re In Today…And What To Do About It…” you take us through a very rigorous sweep of history, which was marked by the principal contradictions that were being posed in the world. You made the point that the principal contradiction is a defining and determining contradiction in terms of what’s happening in the world. The fall of the Soviet Union is a point at which the formulation of a period of transition with the potential for great upheaval was basically put forward. Could you elaborate on how we should understand this as the principal contradiction in the world today?
Question 16: Some years ago, I think it was in your piece, “End of a Stage, Beginning of a New Stage…”, you wrote about the positive role of unresolved contradictions under socialism. It was focused up around key or fault line things in the socialist society. I’m trying to understand that point in the context of the new synthesis and the whole question of solid core and elasticity. It seems to me that while the new synthesis comprehends this point, it’s not exactly the same point. It points to something I think about the synthesis. There’s a way in which that’s going to have to take concentrated expression around these key fault line questions. For instance, around the struggle over uprooting national oppression and white supremacist ideas — we would really concentrate some effort to bring forward solid core with elasticity — putting it in the hands of the masses but opening up dissent, bringing forward representatives of different kinds, including opposing views on this, to have people grapple with those ideas and that type of thing. This is part of the way that you can take leaps in transforming both the base and the superstructure. Could you comment on the connection between those two points, that earlier point and this one, the synthesis point?
Question 17: I have two questions. One question is this: In listening to your talks and also reading the “Views on…” series, I’m trying to get a better understanding of where do social relations exist in relationship to the base and superstructure? My understanding is that the social relations — like the oppression of women for example – are rooted fundamentally in the economic base of society but then they take expression within the superstructure of society. Could you speak to that more?
The other question is related in some ways. How do you see the application of solid core and elasticity within the transformation of the production relations and in the economic base of society under socialism?
Question 18: A book I read, Racial Transformations, has a subhead which says, “How Latinos and Asians are Remaking the World.” It’s getting at changing the discourse about race relations and class relations just being about white supremacy and the oppression of Black people even though that’s definitely a part of it. Could you speak to how different immigrants and different minorities are entering into these production relations in a very different way than Black people who were forced into slavery and its aftermath. How are different immigrants and minorities part of and changing the dynamics, the racial dynamics within this country and what that means for revolution and what we are trying to do?
Question 19: In your talk “Communism: A Whole New World and the Emancipation of All Humanity…” you talked about revengism and that our outlook and vision can’t be the last shall be first and the first shall be last. It reminded me of a statement you made about what the oppressors will try to force us to become in trying to make revolution. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about your memoir when you talked about Peter Tosh and ego. On one level all that you’ve brought forward, including the example of your life, rebukes that.
Having listened to your recent talks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the great privilege it is but also the responsibility that we all have. Could you talk about the role that all the individuals here and communists around the world can really play in trying to bring forward the profoundly liberating vision that you’ve been talking about?
Question 20: In the Revolution newspaper series “The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution” you have a quote from a comrade that said that people should embrace non-communists and non-communist ideas. Could you speak more to that? Why is that so important in getting over the first great hump and actually beyond that? Why is it so important to embrace non-communist ideas?
Question 21: Could you speak to the question that under socialism, the constitution will be a moving target, but apparently one of the principles is that socialist society would be set up along the lines of democratic centralism. I want to understand that in terms of solid core with a lot of elasticity.
Question 22: You’ve spoken a lot about internationalism, but I was hoping you could talk about how — in furthering the world revolution — there can be a contradiction between building socialism in a particular country where power has already been seized and actually furthering the overall world revolution?
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
Terrorists on a Monstrous Scale
“Carpenters are running out of wood for coffins. Bodies are stacked three or four high in a truck at the local hospital morgue. The stench is spreading in the rubble.
“The morbid reality of Israel’s bombing campaign of the south is reaching almost every corner of this city. Just a few miles from the Rest House Hotel, where the United Nations was evacuating civilians on Thursday, wild dogs gnawed at the charred remains of a family bombed as they were trying to escape the village of Hosh, officials said.
“Officials at the Tyre Government Hospital inside a local Palestinian refugee camp said they counted the bodies of 50 children among the 115 in the refrigerated truck in the morgue, though their count could not be independently confirmed.”
reporting from Tyre in Southern Lebanon,
New York Times, July 20
“It will take us time to destroy what is left.”
Brig. Gen. Alon Friedman,
a senior army commander on the northern front
speaking on Israeli Army radio
As this article is being written, over 350 Lebanese have been killed in the first ten days of Israel’s attacks on the country. Almost all of those killed are civilians, many of them children. On Friday, July 21, Israel called up thousands of reserves and began massing troops and tanks on the border with Lebanon. Israel ordered all civilians to leave their homes in a large area of southern Lebanon, stretching along the southern border and going about 20 miles inland, which is the home to over 300,000 Lebanese.
As the Israel delivers massive terror to the people of Lebanon, the U.S. has announced that it is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel. While Israel and the U.S. have not released the details of the arms being shipped to Israel, it likely include GBU-28—5000-pound laser-guided bombs that are used to destroy concrete bunkers and inflict massive damage.
This arms shipment is both a message to the world that the U.S. stands behind the Israeli terror, and it is literally a shipment of mass death. Israeli bombs (made in and financed by the USA) have already hit Lebanon’s two largest milk factories, a major food factory, an eagerly awaited aid convoy that was making its way toward Beirut, 55 key bridges, many roads and two hospitals. Homes, and whole villages have been destroyed. And even before the latest Israeli order to evacuate more than 500,000 people—about one in eight in the country—have been forced from their homes and towns by the Israeli attack.
Aljazeera news reported on July 21, “After more than a week of heavy bombardment, the south Beirut suburb Haret Hreik resembles a Hollywood-like scene of apocalypse… The few buildings which stood were blackened by the fires which raged within from bombs and missiles days earlier… Furnishings from apartments had been thrown by the blasts and hung from balconies and open windows. Cars and other vehicles, their colors either faded or difficult to discern from their shrouding of dust, were tossed on their sides, some bent and misshapen under layers of concrete, brick and metal.”
But all of this is not enough for Israel and the U.S. Military officers quoted in the New York Times (July 22) say that the rush shipment is both “highly unusual” and an indication that Israel still has a long list of targets in Lebanon to strike.
The UN World Food Program warned that hundreds of thousands of people displaced in Lebanon were finding it increasingly difficult to find food. “Damage to roads and bridges has almost completely disrupted the food supply chain, hurting large numbers of the displaced,” said Amer Daoudi, the leader of a World Food Program assessment unit now in Beirut.
“It’s a very serious escalation,” Lebanon’s Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad said of the bombing of the milk factories. “We were putting a lot of hope on the milk factories, to get milk for children and elderly people.”
Doctors and emergency services working in south Lebanon say it is extremely difficult to access the wounded as Israel has targeted Red Cross vehicles and civilian traffic. Maha Mrouweh, a financial administrator at the Jabal Amal Hospital in Tyre, told Aljazeera: “They are targeting the civilian cars. They are preventing the food from arriving in the south. They are preventing the Red Cross from arriving to the destroyed buildings. They are shooting the Red Cross.”
Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The Israelis have refused to give guarantees that vehicles carrying supplies and wounded will not be targeted. I have worked in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo and I have never seen a situation where humanitarian organizations have faced such access risks. We are living a humanitarian disaster… They are in a desperate situation. There is no milk, bread and medicine.”
Two brothers, Ali and Ahmad al-Ghanam, refugees in Tyre, told the New York Times how Israel had massacred 23 members of their family. When Israeli loudspeakers warned villagers to evacuate the village of Marwaheen, the al-Ghanam family collected what they could and piled into a pickup and drove toward Tyre, with Ali and Ahmad trailing behind.
As the pickup raced to Tyre, Ali told the New York Times, Israeli boats shelled their convoy, hitting the car and injuring the women and children. But within minutes an Israeli helicopter approached, firing a missile that blew the truck to pieces. The only survivor was the brothers’ four-year-old niece, who survived with severe burns to much of her body.
The dead cannot be buried in their village where Israeli bombing continues, and even burying them in Tyre is considered too dangerous because it would likely draw an Israeli attack. “The Israelis can’t understand that we are people, too. Should they wonder why so many of us support the resistance?” Ali told the Times.
“How soon must we use the words ‘war crime’? How many children must be scattered in the rubble of Israeli air attacks before we reject the obscene phrase ‘collateral damage’ and start talking about prosecution for crimes against humanity?
“The child whose dead body lies like a rag doll beside the cars which were supposedly taking her and her family to safety is a symbol of the latest Lebanon war; she was hurled from the vehicle in which she and her family were traveling in southern Lebanon as they fled their village—on Israel’s own instructions. Because her parents were apparently killed in the same Israeli air attack, her name is still unknown. Not an unknown warrior, but an unknown child.”
Robert Fisk in Beirut
July 20, 2006
The civilian casualties and the destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure are not the result of miscalculations by the Israeli military, so-called “collateral damage.”
From the very beginning of its attack Israel has made clear that they are not just targeting Hezbollah military targets but the entire country of Lebanon. “Nothing is safe in [Lebanon], it’s as simple as that,” Dan Halutz, Israeli Army Chief of Staff said as the war began.
This flows from Israel and the U.S.’s overall strategic goals in the war which include, in addition to the destruction of Hezbollah and Hamas, sending a message to the regimes in the region that they will now be required to be actively involved in the suppression of Islamist or anti-imperialist forces or themselves be considered part of the “enemy” by the U.S. and Israel.
“We’re also mindful of the cost to innocent civilians in Lebanon and in Israel, and we have called on Israel to continue to exercise the greatest possible care to protect innocent lives,” Bush said in his radio address on July 22. What lies and hypocrisy! How can Bush claim that the U.S. is concerned about the lives of civilians when the U.S. is supplying the bombs that are killing them! And what does it mean for the U.S. to call on Israel “to continue to exercise the greatest possible care” in the midst of its widespread bombing of civilian targets as well as the civilian infrastructure of the Lebanon?
Collective punishment of the population and attacking facilities indispensable for the survival of civilians—which is exactly what Israel is doing in Gaza and Lebanon—are explicitly forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. So is the use of “disproportionate force” that may harm civilians and has no military purpose.
In front of the eyes of the whole world, Israel and the U.S. are refusing to stop bombing civilians. Even the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the Israeli attacks probably amount to war crimes.
An article in the San Francisco Chronicle (July 21), revealed that Israel had drawn up a plan for attacking Lebanon and presented it to U.S. officials over a year ago. The Chronicle wrote: “More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail.”
This shows that claims by Israel that its attack is in self defense is a bald-faced lie. This attack was planned many months BEFORE any seizure of Israeli soldiers. And it shows that the U.S. had clear foreknowledge of the attack.
The Guardian newspaper in Britain quoted a senior European official saying, “It’s clear the Americans have given the Israelis the green light. They [the Israeli attacks] will be allowed to go on longer.” The Guardian also reported that British officials privately acknowledged the U.S. had given Israel a green light to continue bombing Lebanon until it believes Hezbollah’s infrastructure has been destroyed.
In addition, the U.S. has done all that it can to put off calls for a cease-fire that the government of Lebanon has requested. The U.S. blocked a motion condemning Israel in the Security Council. It sabotaged calls for a cease-fire at the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg and has deliberately delayed sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region to give Israel more time to attack.
Secretary Rice is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Sunday, July 23 to begin negotiations. However, the start of negotiations might actually lead to an intensification of things in the region. Rice made clear that she does not want a cease-fire in the region that does not accomplish Israeli/U.S. objective of destroying Hezbollah. And even before beginning talks, Rice declared, “Syria knows what it needs to do, and Hezbollah is the source of the problem.”
Israel has said that the negotiation process will not slow down their military actions. “We are beginning a diplomatic process alongside the military operation that will continue,” said Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister. “The diplomatic process is not meant to shorten the window of time of the army’s operation, but rather is meant to be an extension of it,” she added.
Israel’s Role As U.S. Attack Dog
Since its creation in 1948—by the forced dispossession of the Palestinian people—Israel has been propped up, financed, armed and protected by the U.S. as an outpost for U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. Israel is like the U.S. Army’s Fort Apache—a forward post deep in “Indian Country” during the late 1800s—fed by a steady train of supplies and weapons, manned by a steady stream of recruits, and backed up by the full power of the distant U.S. government.
The U.S government has long recognized the strategic importance of the Middle East, both for its large oil reserves and its strategic location at the intersection of Africa, Europe and Asia. Over the years the U.S. has worked, using the most sinister and cynical means, to prop up governments in the Middle East favorable to its interests. But the reactionary Arab governments are unstable—they serve the interests of corrupt pro-imperialist cliques and are threatened by the justified discontent of millions of oppressed and impoverished people. In that situation, the U.S. has found it very useful to have a heavily armed colonial settler-state functioning in the middle of the Arab world.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. rulers sensed a historic opportunity to deepen its control over the region and have embarked to remake the region, with the role of its attack dog, Israel, central to the overall strategy. While every U.S. administration has backed up Israel, the Bush administration has taken the leash off Israel in a much greater way than previous administrations. And we can see in Lebanon the horrors that this means for the people.
Prominent ruling class mouthpieces, including many that are closely allied with Bush, have begun calling openly for wider regional war. These forces argue that U.S. policy in the region has become “too weak.”
Michael Rubin, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute and protégé of Cheney advisor Richard Perle, characterized recent State Department policy as “all talk and no strategy” that had emboldened enemies, especially Iran, to challenge Washington and its allies.
In an article in the National Review, bluntly titled “Eradication First,” Rubin argues that diplomacy in the current crisis will only be successful “if it commences both after the eradication of Hezbollah and Hamas, and after their paymasters pay a terrible cost for their support. If…peace is the aim, it is imperative to punish the Syrian and Iranian leadership,” he wrote.
Influential neo-conservative William Kristol wrote, “They are now testing us more boldly than one would have thought possible a few years ago. Weakness is provocative. We have been too weak, and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as weak.” Kristol went on to call for a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
While the neo-conservative forces around Bush have taken the lead in arguing for wider war, there are literally no voices in the U.S, ruling elite who are raising even a criticism of Israel’s actions. Furthermore there is a broad consensus, among both Democrats and Republicans, that this is a regional crisis and that the U.S. needs to take on both Iran and Syria.
For example, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously on July 18 to approve a resolution that not only endorsed Israel’s military actions in Gaza and Lebanon without calling on it to exercise any restraint, but also urged U.S. President George W. Bush to impose across-the-board diplomatic and economic sanctions on Tehran and Damascus. The House passed the resolution by a vote of 410 to 8 on Thursday, July 20.
This situation is developing rapidly, and it’s not yet clear exactly how it will unfold. Many different forces with different interests are in the field and the U.S. and Israel, even while they commit war crimes and prepare for even greater atrocities, do not have everything under their control. It is extremely important in this situation that the people of the whole world oppose the Israeli-U.S. aggression.
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
With much of world attention focused on Lebanon, Israel has stepped up its aggression against Gaza and the West Bank over the last week.
On July 19, Israeli tanks invaded the Mughazi refugee camp in the Gaza. At least 16 people were killed as Israeli tanks and missiles bombarded homes in the region, in several days of Israeli attacks.
Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician in Gaza, described the situation there on Democracy Now: “I am sorry that one of the injured was one of the health emergency team whose both legs were amputated. And the army tanks destroyed the power plant in that area, so the whole area of the middle camps, besides the majority of the Gaza Strip, still doesn’t have electrical power. The hospitals are working under heavy load of increasing number of casualties, besides the deaths. We are working while the drug stores in Gaza Strip are in very bad need for medications and medical supplies. So, the situation is actually deteriorating.
“The Israeli occupying forces are moving from one place to another. After they finished with Beit Hanun village in the north, they are moving to the middle camps. They are continuing their assault against different ministries, the buildings, and while they are bombing Gaza Strip official buildings, they don’t avoid civilians. And I can say the whole situation is a very ugly situation and is not promising. We still live in big prison, Gaza. I call it big prison. A whole nation is living under collective punishment. A whole nation is captured, is really captured. We are captured. We are chased by the gunboats from the west of Gaza and the army tanks in the east and north, while the air raids continue on top of Gaza.”
Israel expanded its Gaza attack into the West Bank, staging a large operation in the West Bank town of Nablus, attacking and destroying the Palestinian muqataa (government office compound). A Palestinian security official said, “Three bulldozers are destroying it night and day and reducing the buildings to dust. The police building, local interior ministry and preventive security building have been entirely destroyed.”
At least four were killed in Nablus. Ahmed Anab, a 38-year-old resident whose house is adjacent to the local muqataa was killed outside his home from the force of explosives detonated by the Israeli army. Three bodies riddled with dozens of bullets were recovered from the muqataa by the Palestinian Red Crescent. Red Crescent Director Anan Al Atirah told Ma’an Press that the Israeli forces left those they had injured to bleed for several hours before they allowed the Red Crescent to come in and that the continuous bleeding after injury led to their deaths.
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
The U.S. claims that Israel is acting in self-defense and its war on Lebanon is in retaliation for two soldiers seized by Hezbollah or to keep Israel safe from rockets launched by Hezbollah into Israel. This stands reality on its head
The seizing of the Israeli soldiers was aimed at a prisoner exchange, something that has happened many times between Hezbollah and Israel, most recently in January 2004. Further, there is evidence that Israel’s invasion was planned over a year in advance of the seizure of its soldiers.
It is Israel who illegally occupied southern Lebanon beginning in 1982, causing intense suffering and hardship for the people, until they were driven out in 2000. During its occupation Israel stole water from the Litani River and even took fertile topsoil back to Israel. Israel won’t tell the U.N. or the Lebanese government the location of thousands of land mines it planted during the occupation, which continue to injure people.
Since Israel pulled its troops out of southern Lebanon in 2000, Israeli aircraft have continued to fly illegally over Lebanese territory. Israel controls large farm acreage, the Shebaa Farms, which are Lebanese soil. Although there have been border raids by both Israel and Hezbollah, the raids by Israel have been larger and more destructive.
On July 19, 2004, a senior Hezbollah official, Ghaleb Awwali, was assassinated in a car bombing in Beirut, and most suspect Israel as being responsible. June 2006, the Lebanese military arrested an assassination squad led by a former corporal of Israel’s puppet South Lebanese Army. According to statements, the cell was trained and supported by the Mossad, an Israeli intelligence agency.
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
“I’m at a loss for words to look at this [explicative] report and to hear that torture existed but that there was no way we can deal with it”
tortured by Chicago police commander Jon Burge in 1983,
Chicago Sun-Times, July 20, 2006
“It’s just like putting salt into the wounds”
Mary L. Johnson,
whose son Michael was tortured by Burge in 1982,
speaking to Revolution
On July 19, the findings of a four-year investigation into police torture in Chicago were made public. Authored by Special Prosecutor Edward Egan (retired prosecutor and judge) and Robert Boyle (retired prosecutor), the nearly 300-page “Report of the Special State’s Attorney” had many things in it. Detailed descriptions of white police detectives beating, burning, and using electronic devices to shock Black men. Sharp criticism of former Chicago Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek for failing to stop Burge early on. Findings that dozens and dozens of claims of torture by police were credible, and for the torture of Phillip Adkins, Alfonzo Pinex, and Andrew Wilson, that there was enough evidence to bring criminal charges against Burge and other police detectives. But look as carefully as you could, there was one glaring omission from the report—any hint of justice!
* * * *
“I think it’s a joke, I think it’s a whitewash.”
attorney for torture victim Aaron Patterson,
Chicago Sun Times, July 7, 2006
“The evidence is sufficient to establish that Lieutenant Jon Burge and at least one other police officer committed armed violence, intimidation, official misconduct, aggravated batter…[and] perjury and obstruction of justice.”
From the “Report of the Special State’s Attorney”
While acknowledging what has become the obvious—that Burge and many of his subordinates did beat and torture suspects during the time he was in charge first of Area 2 and later Area 3 detectives—a great deal of the report was devoted to defending Egan and Boyle’s determination that Burge and other detectives would NOT be charged in any of the torture. Nor would there be any charges brought against anyone who was a member of the prosecutor’s office at the time Burge was carrying out the torture—from then-Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Daley (currently Chicago’s mayor), then-First Assistant State’s Attorney Dick Devine (currently Cook County states attorney), or then-First Assistant State’s Attorney William Kunkle (now a judge). The report concluded that there was no basis to claim conspiracy and no evidence of obstruction of justice, and that because the events happened from ten to twenty years ago, the statute of limitations on the crimes has simply run out. First they spend years and years covering up this torture, whitewashing it, and lying about it. Then they say they can’t press charges because it happened too long ago!
On one hand, cold hard evidence of torture—and on the other, the harsh reality that the authorities intend to do NOTHING about it. No indictments. No fines. No consequences whatsoever. It’s a maddening contradiction, all the more intense when you read some of the descriptions of just what Burge and Co. were doing behind the walls of police stations. This excerpt from the report details what happened to Andrew Wilson, who on February 14, 1982 was hauled in to Area 2 violent crimes headquarters as a suspect (and eventually convicted) in the shooting of two police officers:
“…Burge took out a device, attached clamps to Wilson’s ear and began cranking. This caused Wilson to grind his teeth, scream and rub the clamps off. Burge and Hill stretched him across the radiator in the room so that the radiator was under his chin. Burge placed the clamps on his fingers and began cranking again, causing Wilson to scream.
“Burge then took out a device that looked like a curling iron. The device had a cord on it and wires sticking out of it. Burge began rubbing the device between Wilson’s legs, and Wilson could feel a tingling sensation. The shock from this device was stronger than from the crank device. When Wilson was being shocked, he was on his knees stretched across the radiator, and Hill was kicking him in the back. Burge took the devices out of the room and Wilson was left alone until he was taken to the line-up at Area 1.”
These experiences were repeated over and over for years by other Black men pulled in for questioning. Ronald Kitchen kneed and beaten with nightsticks repeatedly in the groin. Darrell Cannon shocked with a cattle prod to the lips and genitals. Aaron Patterson suffocated with a typewriter cover. Philip Adkins beaten so badly that he urinates and defecates on himself in the police car. And according to the report, this was repeated dozens and dozens of times.
* * * *
“This is carrying on the tradition of slavery… They can no longer carry this hate crime under the name of the KKK, the white city council, or the skin heads, they have to do it legally with the backing of the system, they have to do it as officers who wear badges who then are supported by prosecutors who have degrees who then are protected in the courts by judges who wear robes instead of sheets.”
Mary L. Johnson,
mother of Michael Johnson and long-time anti-torture activist,
speaking to Revolution
While many of Burge and Co.’s victims are still languishing in prison after convictions based on tortured evidence, the perpetrators have moved on and up in life. While Burge was finally fired from the police force in the face of growing opposition, he continues to lead a comfortable life in retirement on a police pension in Florida. Other torture-detectives received awards and commendations and had “distinguished” careers in the police department. Then-State’s Attorney Daley has been the Chicago mayor for the last 17 years.
There is something perverse where a report can be issued acknowledging torture and yet there will be no charges because too much time has passed. Too much time because all the players—from the police department to the Mayor’s office—did their utmost to sweep these crimes under the rug. It is the killing nature of bourgeois law. The principle of using the same “rule” for both rich and poor, for the oppressed and oppressor, translates into a statute of limitations which—while purporting to protect individuals from being endlessly subject to the threat of charges for a crime—gets used to permit the powerful to engage in torture and brutality with no fear of consequence.
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
Update from Mississippi
For the last week, Operation Save America—a Christian fascist organization that has spent years terrorizing women and doctors at abortion clinics—has descended on Jackson, the largest city in Mississippi with nearly 300,000 residents, mostly Black. In response, volunteers have answered a call put out by the National Organization for Women for a Reproductive Freedom Summer to defend abortion rights for women. I have come with a group of activists from the World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime movement from as far away as New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Texas.
We too show up each morning at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. Our shirts are bright orange and read, “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology.” We make it into the news several times ourselves, denouncing the Christian fascists who’ve come to Jackson and the even more dangerous moves of the Bush regime to turn this country into a theocracy. Afterwards each day we canvas homes and businesses—talking to people about the crimes of the Bush regime, including the attacks on women’s right to abortion and birth control, and the need for massive resistance on October 5th to Bring the Bush Program to a Halt.
By the end of the week we have heard dozens of stories from women about the choices they made about bearing or not bearing children. How many women would step forward against the avalanche of obstacles to birth control and abortion, against the patriarchal poison being preached about “women’s place,” and against the obligatory shame and guilt that women are burdened with for attaining a simple medical procedure, if they had a vehicle to enable them to act?
Across town another team has taken a break to get some soul food. Many of the young Black men and teenagers who stop in while the activists eat are homeless and have taken to referring to the woman cooking up the food as “Mom.” She is glad to find out what brings the multi-national team of WCW activists into her restaurant and quickly invites them to hold their evening meetings in her space. After breaking down how Bush’s regime is torturing people, waging unjust wars, betraying the Katrina survivors and moving to end women’s rights to abortion and birth control, they ask a young man what he thinks. He simply answers, “Look at me.” At first, the activists are confused, so he continues, “I just got out of prison after five years. I got no job. I got no place to live. I come here when I feel like I can’t stand it any more—just to talk to someone. What do you think I think of Bush?”
That morning, the local newspaper announced a new policy to enforce a curfew and lock up all homeless people overnight and then force them to do “voluntary” labor—like cleaning up trash—to pay for their “accommodations” during the day.
All week, we have met Black people who, once asked, speak bitterness for hours about how their lives have been devastated by George Bush and the system he is part of: Katrina victims with their stories of the flood, of being cheated out of their FEMA relief and of being homeless since Katrina; a female janitor at Jackson State who remembered when state police fired more than 460 rounds of ammunition at student protesters in less than one minute, killing two, and saw the same disrespect for Black life in the way Bush handled Katrina; a groundskeeper at Tougaloo campus who fills our ears with the evils of capitalism and George W. Bush. Still, many of them flip flop between anger and resignation, retreating into the notion that god has a mysterious plan or that maybe the End of Times is near. How powerfully this righteous anger could transform the country, could infuse with and carry further the discontent of others, if it were brought to the surface in hopeful, determined, uncompromising resistance.
A few of the other activists cautioned World Can’t Wait to stay away from talking about “God” with folks, but this proves impossible. Everywhere we go it seems God—or at least the idea of god, since no real gods exist—has gotten there first.
Denise is a middle-aged Black woman who works in another soul food restaurant. As she heaps our plates with turnip greens, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese and more, she asks what brings us to Jackson. She is silent as she listens to our answer and I wonder if the big Bible quote that hangs behind her means that she is supportive of the OSA protesters.
When I come up to order more seconds, she passes me an overflowing plate and refuses to take my money. Then, she follows me to the table to pile more corn-bread on top and we begin talking. Although Denise opposes abortion and recalls her own decision at eighteen to have a child, she quickly moves on to how much she hates the war on Iraq. One of the young men from the restaurant is in Iraq and he, like many others, Denise points out, doesn’t know why he is over there. Then she slows down, leans in, and speaks very deliberately, “I would go all the way up to DC to tell Bush to move out.”
Defying the advice given to me, I tell Denise that the same people who lied us into this war have also been lying about what an abortion is and even about the existence of God. She listens as I explain the difference between a fetus and a baby, nodding her head when I say that OSA and the Bush administration use abortion and gay marriage as a way of courting Black people for a genocidal program. She then draws an interesting distinction about different kinds of Christians that she learned to make based on the history in the South of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists using the Bible for hateful purposes. She’s clearly never talked to an atheist nor has she heard anyone challenge the assumption that a fetus is a baby. When I leave she takes a stack of flyers to bring to her liturgical praise dance class the next night at her church.
On our fourth night in town, we pull together a local meeting of people we have met. A gay man in his early thirties who has spent several days with us after we met at the Universalist Church opens up: “Before you all came to town, I have hardly left my house at all in the last year. I keep thinking that in ten years I will look back and say, ‘Where did my life go?’ But I just can’t stand it out there. I can’t even go to the gas station without the conversation turning to Jesus… And the more high-holy-sounding people get when they are preaching at you, the more they feel righteous about being wretched and tearing you down as soon as you walk away.”
Just in the week since we have been in town, the pogromist atmosphere has escalated. The OSA Christian fascists staged a gruesome and threatening protest outside of the Unitarian Universalist church on Sunday, declaring the pastor a “Minister of Satan” and announcing plans for a “week of violence” in Jackson. Later in the week they attempt to burn a Q’uran and a rainbow gay pride flag.
A young Black man we met earlier, who just got out of prison and considers himself a Christian, listens as a woman and the man go back and forth discussing how rapidly the mood against gays is hardening and the laws are piling up. The woman is especially disgusted with the Democratic Party, even though she considers herself a member and describes how at their last local convention Black preachers were pitted against gays to adopt a plank against gay marriage. The unlikely group of locals look at each other and the woman remarks, “I am so glad that people came in from out of town to do this, so that we could find each other.”
After the meeting, they find each other at dinner and start to make plans for a protest in Jackson on October 5th, a national day of protest to bring the Bush program to a halt. How many in other cities are currently hiding in their homes or moving to other states because the bigotry is too much to take? What would happen if they found each other and all of them made October 5th their day?
* * * *
As I finish this piece, the World Can’t Wait organizers get a call from a resident in Arkansas, the next stop on their Bus Tour. The woman complains that the WCW web site, which states that “the Bush regime is setting out to remake the world, very quickly, and in a fascist way, for generations to come,” doesn’t fully capture how bad things are. She describes how, after she spoke out for the rights of her gay son, she was assaulted and sent to the hospital by a group calling itself the “Southern League.”
Already, the news that the WCW Bus Tour is coming through as it snakes across the country has led her to start looking for other progressive people in her area. I cannot help but think of the thousands and thousands of others like her who need to be found and brought into the movement to Drive Out the Bush Regime, who need to act together on October 5th in ways massive and bold enough to shatter the suffocating political climate that sits on them, who together can create a situation where the regime is driven out for their crimes.
Ultimately it will take millions for this to succeed and those millions exist. Will those who are reading this step out of their routines, veer from their beaten path, and go out and find them?
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
Revolution received the following statement:
It’s 2006 and we are very close to losing Roe. Fifteen states have criminal bans on the books that would outlaw abortion with few exceptions, and Ohio legislators are considering a law that will prohibit all abortions with no exceptions, even if the woman’s life is at stake.
This movement and all people who care about the fundamental rights of women are facing a juncture, and which way we go will decide the future for generations. The pouring of all hopes and energies into the Democratic Party that has sacrificed the issue of abortion to “winning” in the mid-term elections leaves us with this question: at what point will we decide to really fight and at what point does it become too late?
The women of the pro-choice movement must resolve to take a radical departure from the strategy that is in large part responsible for the ground we have lost. Funneling all our energies, money and imagination into elections and candidates and a political process that is howlingly disconnected and at odds with people’s needs, objectives, interests and principles has to be roundly and decisively rejected.
Unless there’s a drastic shift of strategy from accepting “what’s possible” within the official politics of this country that are pitching far right, unless we bust through the confines that are squeezing the life out of what we have going for us the most—the initiative of millions of women who are looking for a way out and asking to be called into action—we are going to lose it all, and the agenda of the Operation Save America lunatics now moving to shut down the last abortion clinic in Mississippi will be the handmaid’s tale we will actually be living.
When you have a situation where even the nine pro-choice women Democrats in the Senate support Pennsylvania’s Robert Casey Jr., an anti-choice, pro-war, anti-stem cell research Democrat, because, in their words, his election is “critical to our efforts of regaining the majority in the U.S. Senate,” isn’t it time for something drastically and radically different?
There is still time, but the clock is ticking. If we treat Roe as already gone we will certainly lose. We cannot settle for a defensive strategy of fighting attacks on abortion state by state. And what is most important, if the whole agenda of unlimited war, torture, massive spying, attacks on gays and women and the destruction of basic rights is not rejected and the Bush regime driven from power, it will become increasing impossible to stop any single outrage. The entire Bush agenda and fascist remaking of society have to be brought to a HALT.
World Can’t Wait is calling on people to reject accommodating to and settling for what has become a killing logic. What begins as something too dreadful to contemplate becomes today’s compromise position that is then signed into law and given a bipartisan legislative mandate and legitimacy. The point is not, voting or not. Our point is that if our struggle remains confined within the parameters of the elections, we will lose—even if the Democrats win.
World Can’t Wait is calling on people to step outside of these confines—to find your sharpest tongues to say the whole political discourse around this is WRONG and has to be radically altered in the way political discourse has always been changed: by what is initially a minority of society stepping up and stepping out in massive enough numbers to create an entirely different discourse and political dynamic than the one officially permitted. The passivity and demobilization of the pro-choice and women’s movement needs to be swiftly reversed. And the money we need must be found by going directly to the people, instead of allowing ourselves to be limited by the purse strings of those who want to muzzle us.
Public opinion on the war did not change because people voted for Democrats—it changed in spite of it. Massive political action in the streets put out an example and a position that the actual reality of the war soon confirmed for millions of people who were not yet convinced. What would have happened had we not been there in the fall of 2002? Would people be drawing the same conclusions? Would opinion polls on the war be what they are now? Would dissent have been completely silenced without millions of people refusing to “watch what you say” and instead going up against that kind of intimidation in massive resistance, saying “No! Your war is wrong and unjust, and you will not prosecute it in our name”? Would GI’s today be able to say, “I refuse” without this?
The only thing that has a chance of beating back the assault on abortion, on derailing the assertion of patriarchal morality and authority being made into law, of stopping the dangerous fascist remaking of society that is undergirding an endless war for empire, is to put all our energies, post haste, into truly massive mobilization and resistance.
On October 5th World Can’t Wait is calling for a day of mass mobilization to break the paralysis that still grips too much of American political life and to say Enough—Bring This to a Halt! Drive Out the Bush Regime. We are calling on people to walk out of schools, and off their jobs, to stop shopping and close their shops, and to assemble in massive demonstrations.
Be part of taking this momentous step. It is time to pool our energies and resources to take responsibility to really change the course of history. There is no other way the political will of the people will be heard this fall—no other way it will not be frittered away and dissipated.
As the World Can’t Wait Call says: The future is unwritten. Which one we get is up to us.
Drafted by Mary Lou Greenberg, an activist in the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s who has defended women’s clinics and abortion providers across the country. She received a Susan B. Anthony Award for grassroots activism from the NYC Chapter of the National Organization for Women in 2001. She works with World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime and is a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA—NYC Branch
Debra Sweet, National Coordinator, The World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime (www.worldcantwait.org)
Merle Hoffman, Founder/President of Choices Women’s Medical and Mental Health Center, Long Island City, NY, est. 1971 as one of the first ambulatory abortion centers; co-founder of the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and founder of the NY Pro-Choice Coalition; publisher/editor-in-chief of On the Issues: the Progressive Women’s Quarterly
Eleanor J. Bader, co-author, Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism; contributor to Z, Library Journal, Lillith, NY Law Journal and The Brooklyn Rail
Rosemary Candelario, Pro-choice activist, co-founder of the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund, formerly of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Abortion Access Project, and the Reproductive Freedom Taskforce of Refuse & Resist.
Elaine Brower, World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime spokesperson, anti-war activist and mother of a Marine stationed in Iraq
Lucinda Marshall, Founder, Feminist Peace Network (www.feministpeacenetwork.org)
Rev. Monica Corsaro, Co-Covener Religious Coalition for Equality, President of Washington State Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, serving as Ecumenical Campus Minister at University of Washington, ordained elder of United Methodist Church Pacific Northwest Conference
Carolyn R. Swift, Professor Emerita, English Department, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI
Please sign and circulate widely. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know if we can add your name to this Call to Action.
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
Capitalism-imperialism is driven by relentless lust for profit. Capitalism is driven to exploit workers, enslave whole nations, and to compete with other capital to do all this even more viciously in a game of survival of the most ruthless. This drive for profit has created 250 million child laborers in the world. Those 250 million humans, whose childhoods are stolen and who are chained to machines, working in the fields, or forced into the sex trade, are—alone—enough to indict capitalism-imperialism as worthless, a failure, and a horror. And reason enough for socialist revolution that will end child labor, as part of overthrowing the rule of capital.
* * * *
A report by the International Labor Organization estimates that 250 million children are involved in child labor around the world—or one out of every six children in the world. 120 million of those are working full-time.
UNICEF estimates that 5.7 million children are working as bonded laborers (essentially slaves while they pay off debts), that 1.2 million children are or have been trafficked, and that 1.8 million are prostitutes or are used to make child pornography.
One million children are working in mining around the world—a job that the ILO calls “some of the worst conditions imaginable.” A 1997 UNICEF report stated that one in five children in Latin America, and one in three in Africa, are working.
Human Rights Watch estimates that somewhere between 60 to 115 million children are working in India, and that as many as 85% of them are working in agriculture. A 2002 report quoted twelve-year-old T. Basheer, who worked in a silk reeling unit in Ramanagaram, India: “Boiling water falls on your hand. You are always in water, standing in it. The skin on your hands and feet peels off. It gets loose.” Lakshmi, interviewed in another HRW report on India, had been weaving carpets since she was ten years old: “This work is good, because it gives us some income. But it is very bad, too… All day long we are sitting here, and it hurts our backs and legs. Little pieces of wool come into our mouths and hurt our lungs, making us sick. Our fingers are raw and give us constant pain.”
Human Rights Watch estimates that 175 million children around the world are working in agriculture. A 2004 report on El Salvador quoted a 15-year-old boy who worked cutting sugarcane, one of the most hazardous of all crops to harvest; he had cut himself with a blade and didn’t have money to pay for the doctor. “I wrapped it up and returned to work the next day… We don’t have the money to pay [for a doctor]. It’s about $2 that we have to pay.” In 1998, the General Accounting Office estimated that there were 300,000 children working in agriculture in the U.S. alone—a job that, along with forestry and mining, is one of the three most dangerous jobs in the country.
1.75 million children are employed in domestic work. Child laborers are trafficked from poorer countries, India in particular, to wealthier Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
An estimated two million women and children are sold into the sex trade every year, the U.S. research group Protection Project states. In Lithuania, 20 to 50 per cent of prostitutes are believed to be minors. The Thai government reports that 60,000 Thai children have been sold into prostitution. Almost 200,000 girls from Nepal, many of them under the age of 14, are working as sex slaves in India. In 2006, Time Asia interviewed Lek, a 14-year-old girl working as a prostitute in a Thai brothel who tried to run away after her second day. The brothel’s owner found out where she was: “Mama San paid the police to come and arrest me. They held me there with only bread and water for three days. After that I was too afraid to run away.” Another 14-year-old prostitute, Tip, told the reporter: “We don’t have feelings anymore… We cleared them out.”
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
Recently, an independent production company by the name of Proletariat Productions released a music CD, A Cryptic Gospel, by an artist called Ecclesiastes. This CD puts forward things that are very wrong, in terms of a vision of a different world and how to get there; it upholds and even extols things which are not only wrong but could be extremely harmful to serious efforts to resist the current course of the regime in power and to actually bring a better world into being. The people responsible for this CD also did things in the promotion and production of this CD which attempted to associate it with the organization World Can’t Wait and with the Revolutionary Communist Party; yet what is put forward in this CD is in basic opposition to the viewpoint and objectives of the Revolutionary Communist Party and to the goals and methods of World Can’t Wait, whose aim is to drive out the Bush regime through mass political action.
Lyrics on this CD appear to positively portray certain things which are by no means positive or helpful. This can in fact do real damage to the development of the kind of mass political resistance which is urgently needed to drive out the Bush regime and to create more favorable conditions for positive change in society, and the world. Of course, the lyrics of a music CD are a form of artistic expression, and as such should be considered “protected speech”; but especially in this day and time, people need to take care not to be naive, infantile and frankly stupid, and give a highly repressive state a potential opening for attacking progressive and revolutionary forces. But when people, including in the production of artistic works, do not exhibit the necessary care and concern in this regard, and, moreover, when they associate statements, artistic or otherwise, with others who emphatically disagree with their content and regard them as extremely harmful, then it becomes necessary, even while opposing repression by the state, to dissociate from those people who have acted in this kind of reckless and highly irresponsible way.
And this is what has happened. World Can’t Wait formally notified the people involved in this CD to cease and desist from associating with World Can’t Wait. World Can’t Wait will no doubt continue to make clear, to all who are interested in knowing the actual facts involved, why it has taken the steps it has taken in this regard, from the standpoint of its own principles and basis of unity. From the standpoint of our Party and its involvement, along with many others, in World Can’t Wait, we view things in this way: What is involved with regard to this CD, and those who have produced and promoted it, is not simply a matter of ideological differences—our Party works to build unity with and seeks to carry out, in a consistent way and on a principled basis, a process of unity-struggle-unity with many different people and organizations with which we have differences, in some cases fairly major differences, with regard to ideology and politics. For example, there are a diversity of people and forces who are involved in and associated with World Can’t Wait, and naturally there are differences, even significant differences, among them over a number of questions. But all of these people and forces are united around the basic position and aims of World Can’t Wait, which is embodied in its Call. It is unprincipled for any individual or group to portray their own particular positions as those of World Can’t Wait. Particularly where an individual, or a group, holds a position which is contrary to the basic aims, principles or methods of World Can’t Wait and its Call, they have a responsibility to take great care not to say, or even to suggest, that this is the position of World Can’t Wait, or to in any way associate World Can’t Wait as such with that position. If they do not take such care, and in fact act in a contrary manner, then it should be perfectly understandable why World Can’t Wait might find it necessary to dissociate itself from that position and even to sever ties with those putting forward that position in that kind of irresponsible way, as it has done in the case of the CD A Cryptic Gospel.
For their part, upon becoming aware of this CD, representatives of organizations associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party, in particular RCP Publications, publisher of Revolution newspaper, 3Q Productions (which produced the DVD of Bob Avakian’s speech Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About), as well as the bobavakian.net web site, issued a formal statement to the people involved in the production of the CD A Cryptic Gospel which indicated very clearly: “We want nothing whatsoever to do with this kind of thing, which is completely wrong and extremely harmful; and with people who are responsible for or would associate themselves with things of this kind; we will not be, we refuse to be, associated in any way. We do not want to be associated in any way with Proletariat Productions or anyone associated with that production company or the CD, A Cryptic Gospel. Nor do we want anyone associated with that production company…to be involved in any way with promoting or in any other way being involved with, anything having to do with the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and its Chairman, Bob Avakian, such as the DVD, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About and the newspaper Revolution.”
Once again, regarding the views of our Party and our strategic aims, we want to emphasize that there is a profound and fundamental difference between genuine revolution and the kinds of views that are found on this CD. The accompanying boxes—”Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—In Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution,” along with the two excerpts from Bob Avakian’s recent talk “Why We’re in the Situation We’re In Today…And What to Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need for Revolution”—provide a good foundation for understanding what a genuine revolution is all about, and how it is diametrically opposed to the kinds of scenarios and values that are found on A Cryptic Gospel.
None of this is a game. These are extremely serious issues, in very serious times. While we are not at this time completely clear as to the thinking and motivation behind the creation and promotion of this CD, we are very clear as to the very harmful nature of its content.
Once again, we recognize that this CD is a form of artistic expression, and as such puts forward its viewpoint in a different way than a political manifesto. (For example, not every character in a novel or song expresses the viewpoint held by its author.) And we are firmly opposed to any efforts that might be undertaken by the ruling structures and institutions in this country, and in particular the openly and highly repressive Bush regime now in power, to seize on such forms of artistic expression as a pretext for further repression, against those who have produced and promoted this CD as well as against others, including our Party and organizations such as World Can’t Wait, which have made clear their very strong disagreements with this CD. We recognize the urgent need and great importance of uniting very broadly and of moving forward and not allowing ourselves to be distracted or derailed from building mass political resistance to the current regime and its crimes against humanity—and, from the strategic point of view of our Party, we grasp very firmly the need to unite broadly in building a revolutionary movement of masses of people to finally put an end to the system that continually brings forward the crimes and horrors that are finding such concentrated expression in this current regime. From this perspective, it is our hope that, if they are sincere in wanting to see an end to crimes and horrors that people in the U.S., and throughout the world, are subjected to under the current regime and the prevailing system, those responsible for this CD will recognize the harm this CD is actually doing and, frankly, the irresponsible way in which they have acted in producing and promoting this CD; that they will draw the appropriate lessons before further harm is done, and on this basis honestly work to repair the damage that has been done, and apply themselves to making a more positive and helpful contribution to the struggle for a better world.
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
Revolution is a very serious matter and must be approached in a serious and scientific way, and not through subjective and individualistic expressions of frustration, posturing and acts which run counter to the development of a mass revolutionary movement which is aimed at—and which must be characterized by means that are fundamentally consistent with and serve to bring into being—a radically different and far better world. Revolution, and in particular communist revolution, is and can only be the act of masses of people, organized and led to carry out increasingly conscious struggle to abolish, and advance humanity beyond, all systems and relations of exploitation and oppression.
A bedrock, scientific understanding which must underlie the development of such a revolutionary movement is that:
The whole system we now live under is based on exploitation—here and all over the world. It is completely worthless and no basic change for the better can come about until this system is overthrown.
In a country like the U.S., the revolutionary overthrow of this system can only be achieved once there is a major, qualitative change in the nature of the objective situation, such that society as a whole is in the grip of a profound crisis, owing fundamentally to the nature and workings of the system itself, and along with that there is the emergence of a revolutionary people, numbering in the millions and millions, conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it. In this struggle for revolutionary change, the revolutionary people and those who lead them will be confronted by the violent repressive force of the machinery of the state which embodies and enforces the existing system of exploitation and oppression; and in order for the revolutionary struggle to succeed, it will need to meet and defeat that violent repressive force of the old, exploitative and oppressive order.
Before the development of a revolutionary situation—and as the key to working toward the development of a revolutionary people, in a country like the U.S.—those who see the need for and wish to contribute to a revolution must focus their efforts on raising the political and ideological consciousness of masses of people and building massive political resistance to the main ways in which, at any given time, the exploitative and oppressive nature of this system is concentrated in the policies and actions of the ruling class and its institutions and agencies—striving through all this to enable growing numbers of people to grasp both the need and the possibility for revolution when the necessary conditions have been brought into being, as a result of the unfolding of the contradictions of the system itself as well as the political, and ideological, work of revolutionaries.
In the absence of a revolutionary situation—and in opposition to the revolutionary orientation and revolutionary political and ideological work that is actually needed—the initiation of, or the advocacy of, isolated acts of violence, by individuals or small groups, divorced from masses of people and attempting to substitute for a revolutionary movement of masses of people, is very wrong and extremely harmful. Even—or especially—if this is done in the name of “revolution,” it will work against, and in fact do serious damage to, the development of an actual revolutionary movement of masses of people, as well as to the building of political resistance against the outrages and injustices of this system even before there is a revolutionary situation. It will aid the extremely repressive forces of the existing system in their moves to isolate, attack and crush those, both revolutionary forces and broader forces of political opposition, who are working to build mass political resistance and to achieve significant, and even profound, social change through the politically-conscious activity and initiative of masses of people.
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
* * * *
And all along, without overstepping things at any given time, and without getting off onto the wrong road and attempting things prematurely and inappropriately, it is necessary to be working consciously with strategic goals in mind, with the correct strategic orientation, so that even the development of political movements and political influence and organized ties when there is not yet a revolutionary situation among all strata of the people and stretching into every part of society is geared strategically toward the situation when the conditions for revolution will have emerged. Again, let me emphasize that it’s crucial to do this without overstepping things and acting as if you’re in one kind of situation when you’re not yet in that situation, which will lead to disaster. If there is to be a revolution, a fundamental element of that is there has to be a revolutionary people in masses, not in a few hundred or even a few thousand, but in the millions, and a revolutionary orientation, a strategic revolutionary orientation is grounded in that and leads toward working toward that objective because that’s the basis without which there can be no revolutionary struggle for the seizure of power. And any attempt, whatever the road is, any attempt to wage a struggle for power or to confront the other side in those terms, without a revolutionary people in masses, in millions, is bound to lead to defeat and to severe setbacks, not only practically, but politically and ideologically, leading to demoralization of the masses, to their being smashed organizationally and politically and their being disoriented and demoralized for a long period of time. So that’s a bedrock principle: if there is to be revolution there must be a revolutionary people, and that is dialectically related to the developments toward and then the emergence of a revolutionary situation, because you will not get a revolutionary people in the millions except in dialectical relation with the development of a revolutionary situation and its full ripening. But you have to be working toward that all along the way, without overstepping, without getting onto the wrong road and without acting in ways that are only appropriate when there is a revolutionary people and a revolutionary situation.
* * * *
So among other things…[terrorism is] a very wrong attempt at a solution, wrong in many dimensions, to the very real contradiction of technological disproportionality, if you will, or in the terminology of the imperialist military, the asymmetrical nature of the technological component of the contending sides. It is in every dimension a wrong, and worse than wrong, ultimately a reactionary response to that real phenomenon, and it is bound up with a whole ideological and political viewpoint and program which aims for things which are not fundamentally an alternative to, and insofar as they are an alternative to imperialism, are not a positive one. They are not a fundamental alternative, and insofar as they represent any kind of alternative, it is not a positive one. So this is an expression, terrorism is an expression overall, of an incorrect outlook and methodology serving a program and interests other than a thoroughgoing revolution leading to the abolition of all exploitation and oppression and ultimately the emancipation of all of humanity. It doesn’t aim for that and it’s not capable of achieving it. And both things are important. And that is why increasingly, as I said, it ends up targeting not the actual source of oppression of the people, but even sections of the people themselves, and it aims for something which would not lead to the emancipation of all of humanity. And the two are bound together: For the same reasons that the military approach, if you will, is wrong-headed, it is also part of an overall ideological viewpoint and program that is not in the final analysis emancipatory and cannot be emancipatory. Even if this were applied by people with a different outlook than, say, religious fundamentalism, there becomes, in the application of this approach, too much of a fundamental divide and contradiction between professed aims and actual means.
And it’s important to distinguish terrorism from a genuine people’s war—where that is possible and the appropriate strategy. This is an important point to stress because the imperialists deliberately set out to obliterate that distinction and to declare every kind of armed struggle against them, even one that has massive popular support and participation, to be a form of terrorism. And that’s particularly true in these days, so it’s very important to actually draw the objective distinction, to recognize and to emphasize the objective distinction and to combat the attempts of the imperialists to obliterate that distinction and to equate any kind of a revolutionary struggle, even that with massive popular support and involvement, as being an act of or a form of terrorism.
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
From Part 1: An Historical Materialist Perspective
People look at marriage, the family and sexual relations in society and tend to see them as something separate and detached from the economic relations in society. But as discussed in the first part of this article (“An Historical Materialist Perspective”), the character of marriage and the family reflect and in turn reinforce the basic economic and social relations in society.
This understanding of the material basis for the family can be a very liberating truth because it means that these relations between the sexes are not decreed by biology or “just the way people are.” It means that George Bush is wrong when he says that marriage is an “enduring” institution defined as the “union of a man and a woman.” It puts to lie the claim by reactionary Christian theocrats that gay people should not be given the right to marry because the institution of marriage—as it now exists—has been embedded in society for thousands of years. And it means that sexual relationships, marriage and the family can change— that all these things can be transformed in a truly liberating way with the revolutionary transformation of society.
The family and marriage ARE changing institutions that reflect, in an overall way, the basic economic relations in society and changes in these relations. This means real things under capitalism where economic relations are capitalist relations—where there is socialized production but private appropriation. Where the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the daily necessities of life and everything else is socially produced. The production of these things requires the work of hundreds of thousands and millions of people, sometimes in different parts of the globe… BUT the fruits of all this labor are privately taken and owned by a class of capitalists who own and control the factories, capital and other means necessary for production.
In capitalist society, there is the dominance of patriarchy, in which males control the family, as well as all other major institutions in society. And while reforms under capitalism have been fought for and achieved, this has not fundamentally changed the fact that women are systematically exploited, oppressed and subordinated. But the basis for real emancipation, for utterly abolishing this oppression, exists. The theoretical understanding of this was developed by Marx and Engels and then shown by the experience of socialist society.
To get a more concrete picture of what this means, let’s look at the history of China—specifically at the kind of changes that took place in the family and marriage—before the communists came to power in 1949; then during socialism, between 1949 and 1976; and then, after the death of Mao in 1976, when a reactionary coup resulted in capitalism being restored.
From Feudalism and Capitalism to a Socialist China
Before the victory of the communist revolution, China was a poor, semi-feudal country dominated and oppressed by the U.S., Britain, Japan and other foreign powers. The overwhelming majority of the people were poor peasants living in the countryside, suffering under the tyranny of landlords who worked them to death and ripped them off. A woman was considered inferior to men in every way, consigned to the role of serving her husband and giving him many sons. There were arranged marriages, child brides, and polygamy.
Simone de Beauvoir, in her 1957 book The Long March: An Account of Modern China, described the situation of women before the revolution:
“Her working potential being viewed as superfluous, she was considered simply as someone extra to feed. As a servant or female she represented a commodity with a certain market value, but it was far lower than the worth conferred upon a boy for his productive capacities; it was quite natural that a famished father with plentiful children regard one daughter more as a useless burden; his power of life or death over her was acknowledged, he would simply be exercising a right: millions of girl babies were drowned or given as fodder to swine; this kind of child murder became so much a part of custom that the new Marriage Act had to specify explicitly that it constitutes a crime…”
The Marriage Act referred to here, one of the very first laws enacted after the communists came to power, gave women the right to divorce. This resulted in big changes in the family and in the relationships between men and women. The 1950 law immediately targeted the most horrible feudal practices and traditions that enslaved women. It prohibited child marriages, concubinage (the keeping of multiple women as basically sexual slaves and servants), and interference with the remarriage of widows. And it emphasized free choice in marriage, monogamy, equal rights for women, respect for the old, and care of the young. In the old society, women had no say whatsoever in whom they married—marriages were arranged by parents. And women had no right to divorce, which meant that hundreds of millions of women were forced to stay in loveless and abusive marriages.
Before the revolution, the reactionary Kuomintang government had done things like pass a law that forbid the hiring of little girls as servants or their sale as slaves. But in 1937 there were still two million girl slaves, not to mention the “normal” practice of child brides in which little girls became virtual slaves in their husband’s household. So how was something like the passage of a the new Marriage Law in socialist China going to be any different?
The difference is that the proletariat class now ruled society and controlled the means of production, and had established a socialist society with the goal of a communist world, free of all classes, free of all exploitation and oppression.
Addressing the real needs of the people like women’s inequality, and enacting and enforcing laws to carry this out, was now actually possible because under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the communist party could lead the masses of people to build a new socialist society, with socialist, not capitalist, economic relations.
For example, the peasants, no longer oppressed by cruel landlords, began to work the land together in more cooperative forms. Industries and factories formerly owned by big Chinese capitalists and foreign imperialists had been seized and were now run by the state. Production, under socialism, was no longer based on a system of private ownership. The driving force behind production was no longer profit in command. And a key goal of the new socialist society in China was to constantly narrow the differences and inequalities between the great divides of mental and manual labor, town and countryside, agriculture and industry, men and women, and the dominant and minority nationalities.
The very nature of the basic economic relations in society had changed. And this made it not only possible but necessary to bring about corresponding transformations in the realm of politics, education, culture, ideas, traditions, etc.—such as the new Marriage Law which aimed to free women from the oppressive social relations which prevented them from playing a full and equal role in the economic, political, and social life of society.
Women’s Associations were formed in cities and villages which popularized and implemented the Marriage Act. This meant not only making sure that women knew their rights, but that husbands, fathers, mother-in-laws, and others didn’t stand in the way of women actually exercising the right to divorce. Government authorities, the courts, trade unions, and youth organizations got behind the Marriage Act. And literature, theater, and schools actively promoted and worked on behalf of free marriage and the emancipation of women. The masses of people were mobilized in a huge way to promote and implement the Marriage Act, and the state backed them up.
Breaking Out of the Confines of the Home
The Communist Party stressed the importance of women “getting out of the home” and participating in the economic and political life of the community. But there was a lot of resistance to this—from men as well as other family members, like mothers-in-law who expected their son’s wife to do all the housework and produce and take care of children. So there was a lot of struggle to change the social relations and division of labor in the home. Men were struggled with to help take care of the children so that women could work as well as play more of a role in social and political affairs. And there was struggle in general against feudal, backward thinking which treated women as private property and servants and inferior to men.
But problems like childcare couldn’t be solved as long as this remained a question for individual families, of sharing this task between husband and wife. The real solution was to socialize things like childcare—to have society as a whole take up and solve such things and solve them in a collective way.
This process of socializing the labor women did in the home was an important part of building a whole new society in which people worked and lived in a cooperative and communal way. This went hand in hand with, and was made possible by, continual changes in the economic relations of society. And in turn this reacted back on and helped to reinforce and make further revolutionary transformations in economic relations.
Let’s look even closer at how this back and forth relationship—between changes in the economy and changes in the superstructure (of politics, ideas, culture, etc.)—took place in revolutionary China.
Revolutionizing the Economy
In the old society, women were subjected to the unequal and oppressive division of labor in the family in which, even if they had to toil in the fields or work in a factory in the city, they still had all or most of the responsibility for childcare and household duties.
A goal of the new socialist society was for women to break out of the confines of the home and participate equally, alongside men, in every sphere of life. But how could this happen if the economic relations in society still compelled women to stay in the home? How could women even take the first steps of working outside of the home if there was no one to take care of the children and cook the family meals?
In fact this could not happen unless revolutionary transformation took place in all three aspects of the economic relations in society. Transformations had to take place in terms of ownership—in which class owns and controls the means of production. They had to take place in the division of labor in society—in the position and role of different groups of people in production, as well as in the larger functioning of society overall. And they had to take place in terms of distribution—in the distribution of social wealth among different groups in society.
The masses of people in socialist China, in their hundreds of millions, were mobilized to consciously wage struggle to bring about such changes. And revolutionary transformations in each of these three aspects of the relations of production provided the material basis for transformations in the family and the status of women. Let’s break this down:
In terms of ownership: In socialist China there were two forms of socialist public ownership. There was state ownership of the major means of production in industry. And in the countryside, there was collective ownership in which large groups of peasants worked and owned agricultural tools and machinery and small-scale industry in common.
This kind of socialist, not private, ownership meant that production could be both planned and geared toward meeting social need. This is something fundamentally impossible under capitalism where profit is in command and production is subject to the anarchy of different competing capitalists all doing their own thing. In the countryside, higher forms of collectivized labor, including communes which brought together perhaps 10,000 or 15,000 peasants, also made it necessary and possible to collectivize other aspects of life—such as child care, cooking, and the care of sick and old people.
In terms of the division of labor: There were efforts to continually narrow inequalities, differences in pay, and job opportunities; and women were allowed and encouraged to take up jobs that had been dominated by men in the old society. It was a great advance for women to break out of the confines of the home and participate in building the new socialist economy. As long as women were economically dependent on their husbands, even if they were given certain rights by law, they would not be able to break through the actual restrictions that kept them chained to familial ties of oppression. Working outside the home, as well as participating in the social and political life of society, helped to widen women’s interests, knowledge, and abilities. And places where people worked were no longer treated as simply sites of production, but were also places where social needs were being met—childcare, free dining rooms, and health care were set up in factories or near the fields where peasants worked. And places where people worked also became a place for political as well as social activity.
In terms of distribution: Socialist ownership and control of production made it possible to allocate resources to things like free or low-cost childcare centers and communal dining halls. And it also became possible to have a planned economy that took such necessities and priorities into account. Also, as things like childcare and dining halls were provided either free or at a low cost, this helped to transform the family away from being the main economic unit in society that is responsible for taking care of these things.
Making these kinds of economic transformations took sharp ideological struggle among the masses. Backward thinking and practices, including those that reinforce the oppression of women, like the belief that women are inferior or that their main role should be in the home, came not only from the old society but were also regenerated by the inequalities that still existed in socialist society. And it was crucial to lead and mobilize ever-growing sections of the masses in their millions to become conscious of their role in knowing and changing the world, in order to continue building socialism with the goal of a communist world.
During the Cultural Revolution, millions of people were involved in a fierce class struggle over whether China would keep building socialism or go back to capitalism. And the struggle against women’s oppression was a big part of this “revolution within the revolution.” Top leaders in the communist party who wanted to restore capitalism argued against breaking down the traditional family structure and popularized feudal Confucian ideas, like the view that everyone should accept their “place” in a hierarchical society. In opposition to this, the revolutionary forces, led by Mao, waged tremendous struggle in the superstructure—in the realm of politics, education, thinking and culture. Whole new levels of revolutionary culture were developed which served to combat old thinking and ideas which stood in the way of liberating women. For example, “women hold up half the sky” became a popular slogan, and revolutionary plays, operas, and art were developed that extolled the full participation of women in society. (See my article: “Yang Ban Xi: Model Revolutionary Works in Revolutionary China,” Revolution #51)
So transforming the economic relations in socialist society required the struggle to bring forward new ideas, new culture, etc. in opposition to backward and traditional thinking. AND such economic transformations also provided a material basis for such new thinking and practices.
To take one example: Some men wanted to hold on to their patriarchal role in the family. They were against their wives working outside of the home and argued that the whole family would fall apart and their children wouldn’t be well taken care of. But then when their wives did work outside the home, when things like collective childcare were set up, and when there was a lot of political struggle over these things, the men started to see things in a new way.
So here, too, we can see the dialectical relationship between constantly revolutionizing the economic base of society and how this makes it possible to make revolutionary changes in the social relations in society. We can see how this requires changes in the culture of society and in the thinking of the people. And how, in turn, these changes in the superstructure reinforce the socialist economic base and help to bring about even further changes in the relations of production.
The Return of Capitalism and the Return of Women’s Oppression
We see how in socialist China, the family, marriage and status of women went through tremendous changes, reflecting and reacting back on revolutionary changes in the economic relations.
So what happened in 1976, when Mao died and a reactionary coup took place? What has happened because socialism was overthrown and capitalism returned? Do the new capitalist economic relations of exploitation and oppression which now exist in China have a corresponding and horrific effect on the masses of women?
Yes. The restoration of capitalist relations of production in ownership, in the division of labor and in distribution, all based on private property and profit in command—have meant the return of all the economic, political and social relations of exploitation and oppression, including with regard to marriage, the family, and the status of women. Just a few examples:
China has seen a re-emergence of the practice of abducting and selling women as brides; and prostitution, which was effectively wiped out in socialist China, has made a big comeback. UNICEF estimated in 1999 that China had between 200,000 and 500,000 child prostitutes.
China now has the highest female suicide rate in the world and is the only country in the world where more women commit suicide than men.
Oppressive images of women are prevalent throughout the media and culture, along with the commodification of sex and women’s bodies.
According to Time Asia, 287,000 women committed suicide in the year 2000 and suicide ranked as the No. 1 cause of death for women aged 18 to 34. One-third of young rural women who die do so by their own hand, and a common method is drinking of pesticides.
Corporations such as Nike, New Balance, Disney, and Apple have sweatshops in China. Labor rights organizations have exposed the deplorable conditions in these factories where women endure forced overtime and forced pregnancy tests (and forced or coerced abortions), and are prohibited from organizing or protesting. In 2005, a 30-year-old woman, He Chunmei, died of exhaustion after a 24-hour work shift at her factory, where her fellow workers reported they had been forced to work 15-hour shifts all that week.
The Emancipation of Humanity and the Abolition of the Family
Socialist society is the transition to communism. It is the way that, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the masses of people can consciously and continuously revolutionize all of society. It is the way that a communist world can be achieved where for the first time in history, human beings are truly emancipated.
This communist world will be a world where, as Marx put it, the “four-alls” have been achieved: the abolition of all class distinctions, the abolition of all the relations of productions on which those class distinctions rest, the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these production relations, and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that correspond to these social relations.
We can dream about what this far horizon will look like—what it will be like in a society where relationships between people are free of all notions of private property, dog-eat-dog competition, and look-out-for-number one thinking.
Society will undergo extraordinary transformations and tremendous upheaval to get to a communist world. There will be new levels of social cooperation, society will have moved beyond the mere struggle to survive, and people will be able to live as freely associating human beings, sharing the common abundance of their labor, and taking responsibility and caring for each other in ways that are only possible in a world that has gotten rid of all oppressive economic, social, and political relations—and all the oppressive ideas that go along with such relations.
At this point, we can only stretch our imagination and speculate about what such a world would actually look like. It is impossible now to say how humanity in a communist world will continue to deal with different contradictions in all the different realms of society. But we can say that human relationships, including sexual relations, and the production and rearing of new generations of children, will be completely and radically different.
And we can also say that the family, as a relatively small economic and social unit which fulfills the functions of raising and socializing children, will no longer exist. It will no longer correspond to economic and social relations in society overall. And it will have become not only unnecessary—but a hindrance to the further development of society. Institutions that allow for and enable far richer human relationships and the mutual flourishing of individuals in the context of the whole society will have emerged through the course of long struggle and transformation.
As we have seen, the institutions of marriage and family arose in human society, and have developed and changed, in a way completely bound up with the development of the economic relations in society. And for tens of thousands of years of class society, the family and marriage have been institutions of patriarchy, enforcing the oppression of women.
But humanity has now reached the point where there is a material basis for moving beyond all this, to the emancipation of all humanity, where people can for the first time trully live in a liberated world.
On the Position on Homosexuality
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
For a week, starting on July 15, over 12,000 athletes and an estimated 60,000 spectators gathered in Chicago from over 70 countries for the 7th Gay Games Sports and Cultural Festival. Among the prominent supporters of the events were former NFL defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo, champion diver Greg Louganis, and tennis champion Billie Jean King.
Participants talked enthusiastically about both the high level of competition at the Games’ 30 different events and about the warm and welcoming atmosphere that surrounded the whole experience. Sean Burns talked to Revolution as he prepared to compete for a gold medal in doubles tennis: “Particularly for men, in sports, the assumption is that we couldn’t possibly be gay and be strong, and be athletic. This is an opportunity in a great environment to just dispel that myth and again to be able to express ourselves athletically.” Sean said, “The fact is any sport, say college athletics, it’s the 'Straight Games.'” He added, “We are guests at those games. We are not invited to be who we are. We are invited to participate as long as we don’t talk about it and we don’t demonstrate who we are. In this instance, we get to be who we are. These are the Gay Games! Everyone gets to stand up and say 'This is who I am. I’m not embarrassed, I’m not ashamed. And everyone who comes to watch these games, with the exception of an unbelievably minute minority, are supportive of who we are.'”
Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
Jennifer Harris played in every game during her two years on the Penn State women’s basketball team. She averaged 10.4 points a game her sophomore season, started 22 of 30 games, and averaged 25.8 minutes a game. In March 2005, Coach Rene Portland—who has a long record of overt discrimination against lesbians or any behavior she perceives as supposedly non-”feminine”—kicked Harris off the team.
Harris filed a suit, supported by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, charging that she was repeatedly asked by Coach Portland if she was a lesbian and pressured to change her appearance to be more “feminine,” and that Portland harangued and humiliated Harris, saying things like, “That’s why they don’t let coaches carry guns” and “Break a leg so you can’t play and put me out of my misery.”
Harris refused to conform to Portland’s regime. “As I told [Portland], ‘This is who I am,’” Harris says. “My dad doesn’t like the way I dress. I haven’t changed for him; I’m not going to change for her.”
According to a story in USA Today, after being kicked off the team, Harris felt as if her heart were breaking. The paper reported that Harris “barely ate. She seldom slept. She hardly spoke. She skipped classes, and she lay on the couch and wondered: ‘Will I ever love basketball, or anything else, in the same way again?’”
Rene Portland is known for a policy of “no drinking, no drugs, no lesbianism.” In the wake of Harris’ lawsuit, other players on the Penn State team have come forward to expose this. One woman told USA Today that “She [Portland] told me point-blank in her office that if she ever heard of any lesbian activities that not only would I be kicked off the team, but transferring would be impossible and I’d never play basketball again.”
A woman trainer on the team was quoted as saying, “I grew my hair long. I wore more makeup. I stopped going to alternative night at Players, the club on campus. I dressed differently. To the point where my parents noticed a difference. I knew I needed Rene’s name on my résumé. She was asking questions. So, I had to give the appearance of being straight. It didn’t come up again. I’d always been open about my sexual orientation. It was the first time in my life that I hid. I never had to do it before, and I’ve never had to do it since.”
Again and again, over 26 years, women athletes were interrogated about their intimate lives and threatened. And young women were repeatedly forced to leave the Penn State basketball program. Jennifer Harris said: “In the end, I knew I had to speak out. Coach Portland very nearly destroyed not only my athletic career, but also my dream of completing my education and becoming a doctor. I do not want to see a single other student damaged in this way.”
Penn State’s investigation found that Portland created a “hostile, intimidating, and offensive environment.” The university declined to remove Coach Portland—giving her a formal warning, a $10,000 fine, and diversity training.