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Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
The High Stakes in Iraq -- For Them...And For Us
Now that the mid-term elections are over, the first order of business for the Bush Administration, Congress, and the U.S. political establishment is deciding what to do about Iraq. There is a growing consensus in their ranks that the U.S. is at a critical “tipping point.” It could be heading for a major strategic defeat—if not disaster—the implications of which are potentially staggering in terms of U.S. global power (and in reality the functioning and trajectory of U.S. society broadly). And Bush’s “stay the course” posture must change.
It is not clear exactly how the Bush regime will—or won’t—reconfigure its Iraq strategy, and what mix of options it will pursue. What makes the issue particularly vexing for them is the degree to which the disaster is “embedded” in their objectives in Iraq and the region, the ways in which their actions have created new contradictions for them, and how things are threatening to spiral out of their control—or perhaps already have. And there are rumblings that Bush is considering a “last big push” with another 20,000 troops (UK Guardian, 11/16), underscoring what a decisive juncture this is.
So to understand what the actual terms of this debate are—the choices being considered, why they’re being considered, and their implications—it is necessary to start from the overall framework these imperial “deciders” are working in: Why did they invade Iraq in the first place? What necessity drove this invasion and how did they feel the war would address it? What then did the conquest and occupation of Iraq call forth? What is at stake for the U.S. rulers in Iraq and how deep are the strategic difficulties they face? In this light, what options are before them and what choices are they weighing? Part 1 will address the first two of these questions.
The Iraq War: Neither Incidental nor Capricious
Whether Iraq turns out to be a mistake for the imperialists or not, their decision to launch the war was neither incidental nor capricious. The U.S. is an empire rooted in the exigencies of global capitalism or imperialism—a system which demands the worldwide exploitation of markets, resources and labor and the domination of vast stretches of the globe; a system which gives rise to bitter global rivalries between major powers.
Dominating the Middle East has been crucial to the functioning and power of U.S. imperialism since World War 2. The region is both the geopolitical nexus linking Europe, Asia and Africa, and home to 60 percent of the world’s oil and natural gas. Control of oil isn’t mainly an issue of domestic consumption and SUV’s. Petroleum is the lifeblood of modern empire—a source of enormous strategic power. It’s an essential economic input whose price impacts production costs, profits, and competitive advantage. Oil is an instrument of rivalry: controlling oil means exercising leverage over those who depend on it and over the world economy as a whole. And it is impossible to project military power globally without abundant supplies of oil.
In his memoirs, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called “cheap and plentiful oil” the “basic premise” of post-World War II Western prosperity. (Years of Upheaval, p. 862) Bush himself spoke to this logic when he recently warned right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh that he was “deeply concerned about…the United States leaving the Middle East” because it could leave “extremists…in a position to use oil as a tool to blackmail the West.” (11/10/06, posted at rawstory.com)
Primacy Begets Its Nemesis
By the 1990s the global and regional environments the U.S. confronted had changed radically. The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 was a global geopolitical earthquake. For decades the Soviet Union had been the U.S.’s main imperialist rival and a major obstacle to many of its larger ambitions, including in the Middle East. When it unraveled, the U.S. no longer faced any power that could pose a serious challenge to its hegemony—the “unipolar moment” as neocon strategists called it. But the shattering of the Cold War order also brought a host of new problems, including rapidly shifting global political and economic trends, rising economic competition, and new challenges to U.S. control of the oppressed countries. And overarching all this was the U.S. rulers’ need to seize the moment before their window of opportunity closed, other power centers coalesced, and the various economic, social and cultural tensions besetting them domestically overtook them.
In the Middle East, the U.S.’s grandest ambitions would no longer be checkmated by the looming presence of the Soviet Union on the region’s northern flank. Yet, the U.S. also faced a tightening knot of problems, which were fueling a growing and potentially destabilizing pole of opposition to U.S. hegemony—Islamic fundamentalism.
Ironically, the 1991 Persian Gulf war, a brutal assertion of U.S. might after Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, exacerbated these tensions. Economically, the war exacted a heavy toll, including in the Gulf states where stagnating oil revenues, $55 billion paid to the U.S. for war costs, and soaring population growth combined to produce budget deficits and a staggering reduction in per capita incomes. The right-wing Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami noted, “Primacy begot its nemesis… distress…settled on the region after Pax Americana’s swift war. All around Iraq, the region was poorer: oil prices had slumped, and the war had been expensive for the oil states that financed it.” (Foreign Affairs, November/December 2001)
Despite its vast petroleum wealth, in 1999 the gross domestic product of the 22 Arab League states was less than Spain’s. The 280 million people living in the Arab world earned on average less than one-seventh what people living in industrialized countries did, and one in five lived on less than $2 a day. 65 million were illiterate—two-thirds of them women. (Arab Human Development Report 2002)
The Gulf War spawned anti-America hatred across the region, hatred amplified over the ensuing decade by U.S.-U.K. sanctions which killed at least 500,000 Iraqi children. Desert Storm emboldened Israel, which expanded its illegal settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, land seizures, area closures, house demolitions, detentions, and a constant diet of violence and humiliation against the Palestinians.
By 2002, French journalist and diplomat Eric Rouleau concluded: “The deterioration of the Arab-Israeli situation has started to threaten the very stability of the Saudi state in a way many Westerners, particularly Americans, had not anticipated…outsiders have underestimated the anger roused in the Saudi population by the suffering of the Palestinian people—and the fact that this suffering is blamed less on Israel than on its American protector. Given the privileged nature of relations between Washington and Riyadh, this anger has also started to focus on the House of Saud itself.” (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2002)
Anger also welled up within other U.S.-backed tyrannies—Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and the Gulf states. Historian William Cleveland concluded that after the 1991 war: “Popular disaffection with the ruling elites spread throughout the region… It is difficult to recall a period prior to the late 1990s when popular discontent was so widespread, when so many authoritarian rulers in key states had held onto power for so long and were simultaneously reaching the age when their rule must end, or when a single outside power—the United States—exercised such exclusive domination and aroused such deep-seated resentment.” (A History of the Modern Middle East, p. 525)
This rage and dislocation are taking place when the region’s traditional opposition forces—Arab nationalists and pro-Soviet communist parties (which were often closely allied) were gravely weakened, had collapsed, or (in the case of the PLO) had capitulated to imperialism. So increasingly this oppositional void—both among the upper classes and among the masses—was filled by Islamic fundamentalist trends. These fundamentalist or Islamist trends were given powerful impetus by their seizure of power in the 1979 Iranian revolution, and then later the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, followed by the Taliban ascendancy. (Although the Taliban and the Iranian rulers had conflicts with each other, taken together their rise strengthened the overall pole of Islamic fundamentalism.) These trends are reactionary representatives of the old order—both feudal and bourgeois. They don’t fundamentally oppose foreign capital, but their interests clash in various ways, and often sharply, with the U.S. and its regional clients.
The growth of Islamic fundamentalism has been stoked by the profound transformations wrought by global capitalism. Millions of former peasants have been left adrift and cut off from their traditional roots in the region’s impoverished and rapidly growing urban shantytowns. Yet they have not been incorporated into a new urban proletariat or middle class. There are also many from more upwardly mobile strata who have been educated but cannot find jobs in their home countries. Rooting itself in traditional social relations, especially religion and the oppression of women, Islamic fundamentalism has a certain backward-looking appeal to masses of different strata who feel cut adrift and angry.
Through the 1990s the Islamic fundamentalist pole gathered momentum and increasingly challenged the U.S. setup, both directly and in challenging the traditional U.S. client governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere. Within the U.S. ruling class there arose a school of thought that demanded decisive action to both recast the structures of U.S. domination in the region and, as part of doing that, decisively put down the Islamic fundamentalists.
War for Regional Transformation and Global Power
During the 1990s, the U.S. tried to overthrow Saddam Hussein through coups and sanctions, but failed. U.S. “credibility”—the perception of its power—was undermined, while anti-U.S. anger was stoked by its assaults on the Iraqi people. Making matters worse, the imperialist consensus on enforcing sanctions was unraveling. Their collapse would have been a serious political defeat which could have led to Hussein’s re-emergence and opened new opportunities in the region for U.S. rivals (including for Iraqi oil contracts).
Hussein was neither an Islamist himself nor allied with bin Laden or other Islamists. But his survival and refusal to totally kowtow to the U.S. contributed to an overall dynamic of growing furor at the U.S. across the region which nurtured Islamist opposition.
The Bush regime seized upon the attacks of Sept. 11 to consolidate and launch a new global strategy via the so-called “war on terror.” This became the opportunity to do what was spoken to above—use American military power to forcibly recast the region and defeat the Islamic fundamentalists, as part of creating an unchallenged—and unchallengeable—empire.
For a host of intersecting reasons, overthrowing Hussein was viewed as a crucial initial step in this larger agenda. For one, the U.S. rulers felt compelled following the Sept. 11 attacks to demonstrate “resolve.” As Newt Gingrich declared at the time, “bombing a few caves in Afghanistan” wasn’t going to do it, but invading and conquering Iraq would. But it was also seen very much in relation to reversing the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. Henry Kissinger, now reportedly advising Bush, argued before the war that “The overthrow of the Iraq regime… would have potentially beneficent political consequences as well: The so-called Arab street may conclude that the negative consequences of jihad outweigh any potential benefits.” Afterward, former CIA director James Schlesinger declared, “The outcome will alter the strategic—and psychological—map of the Middle East…. Far less credence will now be placed in the preachments of Osama bin Laden regarding America’s weakness, its unwillingness to accept burdens, and the ease of damaging its vulnerable economy.” (“Political Shock and Awe,” Wall Street Journal, 4/17/03)
The Bush regime calculated invading Iraq would weaken and intimidate Iraq’s neighbors, finish off the Palestinian struggle, and strengthen Israel. (In Spring 2003, in the first flush of U.S. victory, Iran reportedly asked for negotiations with the U.S., including on its support for Hezbollah, recognition of Israel, and its nuclear program. Cheney apparently refused.) Occupying Iraq potentially gave the U.S. direct control of the world’s second largest oil reserves while preventing others from doing so, and placed its armed forces in the heart of the Persian Gulf/Central Asia region and on Russia’s southern and China’s western flanks.
Moreover, the invasion would supposedly kick-start a broad regional transformation, opening up closed or restrictive traditional societies to U.S.-led imperialist globalization, building up the middle class and creating some bourgeois democratic institutions. All this would meet the needs of U.S. capital, while stabilizing unsteady and vulnerable clients (like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan) and cutting the ground out from under Islamic fundamentalist movements.
These broad U.S. ambitions reinforced the urgency of suppressing Islamic opposition. Such transformations are potentially destabilizing (as the Shah of Iran found out when such efforts helped trigger the 1979 revolution), and cannot be undertaken at a moment of political instability and widespread opposition. And the changes the U.S. aims for are precisely those most hated by the Islamists.
The New Yorker’s Nicholas Lemann described how Bush officials envisioned the Iraq war crippling the Islamic fundamentalist forces in the region:
“After regime change, the United States would persuade Iran to end its nuclear weapons program and its support for terrorists elsewhere in the Middle East, especially Hezbollah. Syria, now surrounded by the pro-American powers of Turkey, the reconfigured Iraq, Jordan, and Israel, and no longer dependent on Saddam for oil, could be pressured to cooperate with efforts to clean out Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. As Syria moved to a more pro-American stand, so would its client state, Lebanon. That would leave Hezbollah, which has its headquarters in Lebanon, without state support. The Palestinian Authority, with most of its regional allies stripped away, would have no choice but to renounce terrorism categorically. Saudi Arabia would have much less sway over the United States because it would no longer be America’s only major source of oil and base of military operations in the region, and so it might finally be persuaded to stop funding Hamas and Al Qaeda through Islamic charities.” (“After Iraq,” 2/10/03)
Iraq was to be turned into a model of such transformation and a platform for further U.S. initiatives, military and political. Ironically, this was not because Iraq was then a hotbed of Islamist resistance. Quite the contrary; it was one of the most educated, secular countries in the Middle East. This, plus its large middle class and great oil wealth made the country seem like an ideal candidate for the U.S. agenda, and a gateway to the whole region. Zalmay Khalilzad, now U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, called conquering the country, “a key element in a long-term strategy for the transformation of this region as a whole.”
So for the U.S., Islamic fundamentalist forces were no longer useful allies against Arab nationalism and the Soviet Union as had been the case in the 1970s and '80s. Instead they were now one of the main obstacles standing in the way of U.S. needs and ambitions.
This, not primarily fear of attacks on the U.S. itself, is why officials like General John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, state that if the rise of Islamic militancy is not halted, it could lead to a third world war. (Reuters, 11/18/06)
Sweeping Ambitions Give Rise to Enormous Obstacles
The objectives that drove the invasion of Iraq were deeply rooted in the exigencies of U.S. global capitalism and its particular needs and opportunities in the post-Soviet world and the Middle East. It was and is a war undertaken to deal with real and sharp contradictions facing the U.S. in its efforts to maintain and deepen its domination of the Middle East. What makes the choices now facing the U.S. powers so excruciating is that in many ways their enormous difficulties in Iraq are tightly intertwined with and flow from their enormous objectives. Yet their need to achieve these objectives also underscores how difficult, if not impossible, it would be for the U.S. to simply leave Iraq, and why defeat could have such profound reverberations.
Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
I am going to talk for a while—I don’t know how long, but usually the smart money bets that it’ll be a little while. [laughter] And then we can have some questions and discussion. So I’m very excited about all this.
As you know, the title of this talk is “Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism,” but before getting more directly into questions relating to that, I want to talk about the importance of working with ideas, and the struggle in the realm of ideas. Many of you have probably read the article on this subject which was printed in the RW a while ago now by Ardea Skybreak, titled “Working with Ideas.”2 And the article stresses the importance of actually getting deeply into this realm in its own right, really wrangling with ideas, and having an open mind about what you’re dealing with, and then ultimately taking your ideas into the real world, into the realm of practice and testing them out there.
This is a very important approach generally for people in the sciences, or people generally who work in the realm of ideas. And it is something that people who seek to apply the outlook and methodology of communism should be the very best at. But that takes work. It isn’t an automatic thing. Just because you take up the most scientific, the most comprehensive and systematic world outlook and method doesn’t mean that you are therefore automatically good at working with ideas, or that you automatically arrive at the truth about something. And conversely, as we have also emphasized, there are people who not only don’t apply this outlook and method, but who disagree with it—or even detest it—who nevertheless discover important truths. And understanding that is also a very important part of really grasping and applying the world outlook and methodology of communism. That’s the contradictory nature of it.
So working with ideas is a struggle in its own right. It’s something that has to be gone into deeply in its own right, while of course ultimately it can’t be divorced from the real world, from the world of practice, from people struggling to change the world, and from the masses of people in all the different endeavors and spheres of life that they engage in. But even while we keep that in mind and remain firmly grounded in that as a basic point of understanding and orientation, it’s nonetheless crucial to recognize that in any sphere, if you are really going to learn about it and make changes in that sphere, you have to immerse yourself deeply in it, you have to engage other people who are also working in that sphere, and you have to take their ideas seriously.
One time someone wrote me a letter and asked: how do you read things, do you do what’s called “proof-texting”?—which is a way of reading to refute something. Do you read it in order to make your point? What he was referring to was the approach of only looking for things that confirm what you already believe; for example, you start out with a disagreement with somebody and in reading what they write you look for those things that you don’t agree with, things that prove your point, and then sort of tautologically you go around in a circle. You end up with: “Aha, it’s wrong.” And I replied, no I don’t approach things that way. Even things I vehemently disagree with, going in, I still try to look to see what there is that they are grappling with, what ideas they may hit on even inadvertently or may stumble on, or may actually wrangle with more systematically. There are things to be learned even from reactionaries. There are things to learn from reactionaries, even about politics and ideology, let alone other spheres. That doesn’t mean we take up their outlook or their politics. [laughs] But there are things to be learned. And this is an important point of orientation.
Now, I’m stressing this because, on the one hand, we know that the backbone of the revolution will be the masses of exploited and oppressed proletarians; but there is a great importance to winning people, and to bringing forward people broadly, from among other strata. And in particular there is an importance to bringing forward people from among the intelligentsia—winning them to sympathy and support for our project and our vision of a radically different world, a communist world. We need to increasingly win as many of them as possible to become revolutionary communist intellectuals, actively partisan to our cause, and more than that, to become part of the vanguard. There can never be a communist revolution without this.
And there is a real question that comes up and is often raised: Can you actually work with ideas in a critical and creative way and be a member of a vanguard communist party? Or can you really do creative work in the arts or sciences and be a member of such a party? Many people answer this by adamantly saying no—that, by definition, a party that is disciplined, that applies democratic centralism, that has a strong central core of leadership, and in some cases has a very strong individual leader, by definition will stifle the initiative of other people, will prevent them from really thinking creatively and critically, and will prevent them from bringing forward anything new; that by the dint and weight of the discipline and “bureaucracy” of such an organization, it’s bound to crush and suffocate any kind of creative and critical impulse.
Well [laughs] this is a real question, and it doesn’t have an easy answer. I do believe that fundamentally the answer is and must be resoundingly yes, this can be done. But again, it’s not easy, and it’s not simple and we haven’t entirely solved this problem in the history of the international communist movement. There is much more to be learned, critically summed up and brought forward, that is new in this regard. There is important experience of the international communist movement and socialist society and the dictatorship of the proletariat, very real positive experience in this sphere, but also considerable negative experience, which again, needs to be critically examined and deeply and all-sidedly summed up. And, frankly, we need to learn how to do a lot better.
For example, I have spoken a number of times in various writings and talks about the Lysenko experience in the Soviet Union.3 Lysenko was an agronomist, a botanist, who claimed to have brought forward new strains of wheat that would make production leap ahead in agriculture. And this was a real problem in the Soviet Union, that agriculture was seriously lagging industry. And, of course, if that gap continues to widen it throws the whole economy out of whack and basically unhinges your attempts to build a socialist economy. So this was a very severe problem they were facing, particularly in the early and mid 1930s. And Lysenko basically brought forward a theory which contradicted basic principles of evolution and fell into the whole idea of the inheritability of acquired characteristics and so on, which is not scientifically correct. But pragmatically it seemed like a way to solve the agricultural problems, so Stalin and others threw a lot of weight behind Lysenko. And this did a lot of damage. Not only in the short run and in a more narrow sense—it didn’t lead to the results that they were hoping for—but it also did a lot of damage in the broader sense in terms of how people were being trained to think, and how they were being trained to handle the relationship between theory and practice, and reality and understanding and transforming reality. There’s a way in which this has had long- term negative consequences. First of all, it did in the Soviet Union. And it did in the international communist movement, because it trained people to think in a certain erroneous way.
Now, this situation was very complicated, because many of the people who were the experts and authorities in the field of biology, botany, and so on in the Soviet Union were carried forward from the old society. And many of them were political and ideological reactionaries. So here you see the contradiction is very acutely posed. Lysenko was trying to make a breakthrough to advance the socialist cause, and being opposed by authorities, many of whom—not all, but many of whom—were political and ideological reactionaries. But it just so happened that they were more correct than him about the basic point at issue. Yet political expediency dictated what was done there, and the people who were critical were actually suppressed.
So you can see the complexity of the problem. And it’s not so easy to handle. These are real life and death questions. Whether people eat is a life and death question. That’s what was at issue, was whether people eat, whether they have clothes in the winter. And the Russian winter is worse than Chicago, okay?
When you have a socialist economy you are not relying on the imperialists any more. And you are not relying on exploiting the masses of people. So you are trying to bring forward new forms, new relations in which to carry out production, and “it’s all on you”—it’s all on us, it’s on the proletariat, it’s on its vanguard, it’s on the masses of people. How do you solve these problems?
Well, Lysenko was trying to solve this problem, but the method he came up with wasn’t correct. But what was worse, was that he was supported out of instrumentalist thinking. In other words, you make your ideas an instrument of your desires or aims. You want something to happen, so you “reconstruct reality” so it falls in line with what you want. You make reality an instrument of predetermined aims, rather than proceeding from what reality actually is, and then figuring out how to transform it on the basis of what it actually is and how it’s actually moving and changing and developing, which reality always is. So this is a fundamental question of outlook and methodology.
And, beyond this particular experience of Lysenko, there is overall a real contradiction and real tension that objectively exists between the line and discipline of a party at any given time, and creative, critical thinking and work in the realm of ideas broadly speaking. There is a real, objective tension. The Party is trying to mobilize its own ranks and the masses to change reality. It has to make its best estimate of what the key aspects of reality are at any given time, and how to go about mobilizing people to change them. Which means by definition that there are many things that it can’t pay attention to at any given time. And we have to resist the tendency to “know-it-all-ism.” Communists are people who by definition have strong convictions [laughs]. So, there’s nothing that goes on that communists don’t have an opinion about. [laughter] But it is very important to know the difference between your opinion and what’s well established, scientific fact, that has been determined and established from many different directions through a whole process to be the best approximation you can make of reality at a given time. You go into a movie, you have an opinion coming out. But your opinion is just that. And it’s very important, especially for communists, and especially for leaders of a communist movement and a communist party, to know the difference between their impressions and opinions and what is scientifically grounded fact that is established through many different pathways, has been deeply and all-sidedly confirmed to be true.
So this is another contradiction we have to deal with. You are trying to change reality, and you are trying to grasp reality in its changingness, so to speak—because it doesn’t stand still and wait for you to understand it, it’s moving, changing—and you are trying to mobilize people to grasp and to change reality. And you have to all pull together to do that. In a real vanguard party you can’t have people all going off in different directions, all implementing their own lines, and still mobilize masses of people to change reality. But by definition when you do that—when you all pull together to mobilize masses of people—there is a danger and a tendency to impose thinking from the top. It would be simple if it were just a bureaucratic problem, but there is a necessity to mobilize people behind what you understand to be true, and that does require leadership and, many times, mobilizing people “from the top.”
How do you handle that contradiction—between mobilizing people around what you understand to be true, while at the same time having a critical attitude and being open to the understanding that you may not be right about this or that particular, or even about big questions? That’s a very difficult contradiction to handle correctly. It’s something we have to sum up and learn how to do better on as well. And it’s not easy. But we do have to do better.
The essence of the problem is not, as people sometimes say, learning to think for yourself. In something I wrote a number of years ago, I pointed out that, on the one hand, this is kind of a truism, thinking for yourself. It’s impossible to think with anybody else’s brain. [laughter] So, in one way or another you are always thinking for yourself. You are always using your own mind to think. The question more essentially is, are you thinking according to one outlook and methodology or another. That’s the fundamental question that’s involved. It’s not “free thinking” in the abstract, or as some principle raised above everything else, but thinking in accordance with and by applying the outlook and methodology of communism in order to arrive, in the most comprehensive and systematic way, at an understanding of reality. Not all of reality—that’s never possible—but the essential things that you can identify at a given time that you need to deeply go into, understand and transform, while having an open mind about both those things you’re not paying attention to, and even those things you are. And you have to do this even while you are moving forward to change these things.
So the essence is not free thinking, but what outlook and methodology you are thinking with. But there is an element of free thinking that has to be involved. And this should certainly be no less true for communists than for other people. It should be more true. And that’s where you do run into contradiction and tension. Because free thinking in a communist party—a disciplined, democratic centralist party—doesn’t come automatically and spontaneously either. Or if it does, it often goes off in directions that are harmful. How to get that right, how to handle that contradiction correctly, is something we need to do more work on.
All that I have been speaking to so far has a lot to do with a principle that Mao emphasized—that Marxism embraces but does not replace all these different spheres of society and human endeavor. Each of them has their own, as Mao put it, particularity of contradiction. Each of them has its own particular features. Each of them has things that have to be dug into deeply and wrestled with and wrangled with in an all-sided and deep-going way. That was the point of that Ardea Skybreak article. And whether it’s music, or physics, or biology, or any sphere that you can think of, there are particularities to these things that people who are in these fields are grappling with all the time.
In the history of the Chinese revolution, and in particular through the Cultural Revolution, they brought forward the principle of red and expert, with red leading expert. In other words, the communists and communist line should lead experts in various fields. Which is an important principle because otherwise other ideologies are in command, and they are leading away from the ability to actually synthesize correctly all that people are engaging and learning about, even to arrive most deeply at the truth about a particular sphere.
So this is an important principle—combining red and expert, and red leading expert—but if you are going to lead in a sphere, the first thing you have to do is be good at learning. And you have to be good at drawing forward those people who are in that field who are also advanced ideologically and politically. People like that are a very important lever and link. Now, as Mao said, if you go to the opera—which is a popular form in China—if you go to the opera long enough you can become an expert, even if you can’t sing or compose at all. But to be able to comprehensively understand something requires really being immersed in it.
This relates to one of the big divisions in society that we have: the “mental/manual contradiction,” as we call it for short. Masses of people are locked out not only of particular fields of knowledge, but are locked out of the chance to grapple with the whole sphere of working with ideas. Now, there are exceptions. Everybody knows exceptions. People who go to prison, in the most horrific conditions, who become very developed intellectuals. Some of them become revolutionary intellectuals and even communists. But those are the exceptions, because the conditions are working overwhelmingly against that. Just think about the masses of people and the conditions that people have to work in and the conditions that kids grow up in. Where do they develop the ability to work with ideas? It’s suffocated out of them, it’s squeezed out of them, from a very early age.
This is one of the big contradictions that we have to overcome through the whole transition to communism. Because, as long as this contradiction exists, there is always the basis for it to turn into a relationship of oppression and exploitation. To run a society, you have to work with ideas, you have to think. There’s no way around it. You can’t just do it by taking revenge on the people who used to rule it. That may bring very momentary satisfaction for some. But it’s not what this is about, and it doesn’t lead to the kind of transformations we need. You have to think. You have to work with ideas. But on the other hand, you have to do it without reinforcing, and in fact overcoming, this great divide, between a small number of people, relatively speaking, in the world who have been able to really get into this whole sphere of “working with ideas,” and on the other hand the masses of people who have been essentially locked out of this.
Remember that movie Contact, I think it was called. It was based on the Carl Sagan thing about contact with people from outer space, and Jodie Foster was in it. And there is this character played by Matthew McConaughey who at one point says to her, basically: “What makes you such a smart-ass? 95% of the people of the world believe in religion. And you don’t. What makes you think you know something that they don’t?” Well that’s the contradiction. Because, the “5%” of the people (it’s actually more than that) who don’t believe in religion are right. But the masses of people don’t have the ability to come to the conclusions that this minority of people has come to, because the masses are not only locked out of certain knowledge, they’re locked out of learning how to work with ideas and wrangle in this whole realm.
So this is one of the big things we have to overcome, and we can’t do it by crude methods. We have to do it by applying some of the principles that Mao emphasized, including the principle of “embraces but does not replace.”4 We have to do it by learning how to work with and learn from and synthesize what people in these spheres are bringing forward, and then win them over, particularly the advanced, to that synthesis, and unite with them to win and influence the broader ranks of people, while continuing to learn from them.
This is one of those tricky things. There is a lot of resentment among masses against the intellectuals. In China, for example, the Mandarins, the people who were the educated classes, really lorded it over the masses of people. They grew long fingernails just to make the point that they didn’t have to do manual labor. This was a sign of distinction. “I’m not in that class. You carry my luggage. I don’t do that kind of thing.” Well, in this society you don’t have that. But you do have great gaps. And there is, on the one hand looking down on people, and on the other hand a lot of resentment. And we have to overcome that from both sides. People have to understand the role and the importance of theory and working with ideas. We have to bring forward those among the masses who have more ability to do that at any given time, not because they are superior to the others, but just because through a lot of accident and particular circumstances they’ve been able to develop some ability to do that. And we have to use them as levers and links—I don’t mean use them in a narrow, utilitarian sense of using people—I mean unleash them to be levers and links to bring forward broader masses of people.
When people come forward from among the masses who develop the ability to work with ideas and to take up theory, it’s important that they work in that sphere in its own right on the one hand, but also that they be a lever and link to broader masses of people, to help break some of this down for the masses of people and show them that it’s not a mystery, and help them begin to take up some of these questions themselves.
And that’s not easy. We’ve had experience which has driven home that it is not so easy. We used to think, when we first started out, well you bring forward people who come from among the masses, and naturally they will be able to go talk to other people about all these questions. But there’s another leap involved there. You are not the same as you were. You are not the same anymore and you are not the same as the other masses, and they don’t see things the way you do. So it’s not so easy. It requires leadership and work to take another leap to where you really grasp it deeply enough that you can break it back down to people and open the door to them to begin to grapple with these ideas.
We won’t be able to do this on a massive scale until we have state power. This mental/manual division cannot be broken down in this society, but we can make advances toward it. And we should never accept it in principle, or bow down to it in any kind of strategic sense. But it’s another reason why we need revolution. We cannot overcome this within the confines of this society. This society will continue to reinforce these divisions, even as we are working against them. All of this has to be part of a revolutionary movement to overthrow this system and to bring into being a new society where then we can really go after these contradictions and overcome them in the correct way. Not in a narrow philistine way, where we denigrate and downgrade and look down upon work in the realm of ideas, but where we appreciate it fully and yet bring the masses into it fully in the correct way. It’s a very complex and arduous, long- term struggle to achieve that. And it’s one of the most important aspects of advancing ultimately to communism.
So that’s by way of background to the main points I want to get into.
And I want to say that, in light of all this, it is crucial that we ourselves develop and deepen our own grasp of first of all the importance of working with ideas and the struggle in this whole realm, and of the correct orientation and method for approaching work in relation to this, which has to do with for whom and for what this is all for, and has to do with what outlook and methodology you bring in working and struggling in the realm of ideas.
Now, certainly not the only, but one of the most important focuses at this time is the struggle to confront and combat the constant attacks on the experience of socialist countries, and in particular of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and especially the whole concept of totalitarianism; and at the same time, while doing that, to confront and critically examine the actual experience of socialist countries and the dictatorship of the proletariat, drawing the fullest lessons from this experience—mainly and overwhelmingly the positive lessons, but also facing squarely and digging deeply into the very real shortcomings and errors.
I was reading an interesting comment from someone—it was actually someone in the international movement—and they made the point, “I uphold very firmly the experience of the socialist revolution so far, but I don’t want to live in those countries” [laughter]. In other words, we have a lot of work to do, to do better the next time around. That’s a very dialectical attitude. And a materialist attitude: we should uphold these things historically, there are great achievements; but we also have to build on it and go farther and do better in certain areas, or else people won’t want to live in these societies—and probably we won’t either.
So we do have to confront and combat these attacks, while at the same time squarely confronting and digging deeply into the very real shortcomings and errors. There is a real and very urgent and pressing need to refute the attacks on socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, in a thoroughgoing, deep and living way—not a dogmatic way or stereotypical way. This is a crucial focus of the class struggle right now in the ideological realm. And how well we carry out this struggle has profound implications for work that’s guided and inspired by the strategic objectives of revolution, socialism, and ultimately a communist world.
This applies broadly, and it has important application among the proletariat and basic masses. First of all, it’s a real mistake to think that these questions don’t find their way among the masses. You know, the people have heard this, they’ve heard that. It doesn’t mean they’ve read long dissertations or analyses, but they’ve heard this and they’ve heard that, and it has seeped down into the popular consciousness, and it’s pumped at them all the time in various ways. These summations that are blared out, and sometimes elaborated on in intellectual theses, are also very simply boiled down and blasted at the masses all the time. Plus, they have some real questions that they come up against when thinking about whether the world could be different. There is not just propaganda from the bourgeoisie that raises questions in their mind, but real contradictions in life that they are wrangling with and legitimately want answers to. And we have to not only give them answers, but again, we have to draw them into the process of finding the answers. But there is work to be done by people who do have a more advanced understanding and a developed ability, or developing ability, to work with ideas, to grapple in this realm.
There is importance to combating these attacks on communism and to digging into these questions deeply among the proletariat, among the basic masses of people in society. But there also is particular and particularly important application of this in relation to the intelligentsia. And this goes back to what I was saying at the beginning.
1. This selection is excerpted from the talk Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism, the edited text of which is available online at revcom.us. This particular section was published in Revolutionary Worker [now Revolution] #1250 and #1251 (August 22 and August 29, 2004). [back]
2. Ardea Skybreak, “Working with Ideas and Searching for Truth: A Reflection on Revolutionary Leadership and the Intellectual Process,” Revolutionary Worker #1144 (March 24, 2002), available online at revcom.us. [back]
3. See “The Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie…Soaring to Great Heights…and Grubbing in the Dirt,” Revolutionary Worker #1086 (January 14, 2001); “Once Again on the Intellectuals,” Revolutionary Worker #1087 (January 14, 2001); and “We Can’t Know Everything—So We Should Be Good at Learning,” in the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy. All of these articles are available online at revcom.us. [back]
4. See “Marxism ‘Embraces But Does Not Replace’,” in Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy. Available online at revcom.us. [back]
Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
In the week or so after the election, for many it felt like Oz in the U.S.—the part when everyone sings “Ding Dong the Wicked Witch Is Dead.” People talked about how they could breathe again. I have a friend who attended a Move On party with the World Can’t Wait leaflet on the elections. She talked with the young hostess—someone who’d never been politically active before and who described her feelings about winning as so intense it was almost like falling in love… until my friend broke her the news that the candidates had not opposed the Military Commissions Act and that everything she saw at Abu Ghraib is now legal and legitimate.
It was that kind of week. Just when people expected to see the witch’s legs curled up under the house, the fantasy was rudely interrupted. Millions wanted—and wished—these elections to signal a stop to the kind of certifiable lunacy that has already gone way too far to the kind of future that nobody should want to live in. Instead, the Democrats are all about finding common ground and making nice. Being “uniters and not dividers” with the very people who have cast even mild opposition to the war or torture from their ranks with accusations—sometimes veiled and often not—of treason. The very idea of impeachment is being shot down by leading Democrats as divisive—they have come to Washington to show they can govern and work in a bi-partisan manner to unite the country and work with the President.
Contrast that to what happened when the Republicans got hold of a majority of Congress in 1994—they ushered in the “Gingrich revolution” and went on the offensive. Four years later they impeached a president for a sexual scandal, and two years after that they stole an election for another president who believed—and believes—he’s on a “mission from God.” They ushered in what few took seriously and most people thought impossible in the United States—Dominionists, Theocrats & Televangelists with hundreds of government appointments, veto power over Supreme Court nominees, and weekly access into the highest offices of the land. And if you thought the elections might slow the wanna-be messiah down—on November 17, George W. Bush appointed a director of an organization that opposes pre-marital sex, contraception, and abortion to head the federally funded teen pregnancy, family planning, and abstinence program.
Premature Political Obituaries
Those who proclaim that the time of the Christian Right is over are dangerously deluding themselves, and others. As David Kuo, the disillusioned former deputy director of Bush’s faith-based initiatives, put it in a recent New York Times op-ed, “Since 1992, every national Republican electoral defeat has been accompanied by an obituary for the religious right. Every one of these obituaries has been premature—after these losses the religious right only grew stronger.… Jesus was resurrected only once. The religious right has been resurrected twice in just the past 15 years.” The fact is that the Christian Fascist movement arose on the basis of deep economic and social dynamics in the U.S. It draws on spontaneous currents within American cultural life, but it has also been molded and shaped by ruling class operatives as a strategic way to deal with their political needs in this period. It is not going to blow away like dandelion fluff in the face of an election, as Kuo points out.
Question: who is still setting the moral initiative when the strategy of the Democratic leaders was to run candidates on the intolerant and ignorant Republican view of morality? Or when Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel are hailed as the “architects of Democratic victory” for packing the ticket with anti-choice candidates and refusing to touch the hate-mongering referendums aimed at gay marriage? You can hail the first woman speaker of the House all you want, but it’s as hollow as Condi if this is what is being crammed into people’s heads and legitimized.
A chilling and very important article in the November 27 Nation, “Arrows for the War” by Kathryn Joyce, reports on the “Quiverfull movement.” The movement borrows its name from Psalm 127: “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.” Quiverfull mothers think of their children as no mere movement, but as an army they’re building for God, seeing all this very much in the context of a possible Armageddon that would wipe the global slate clean for Christians. Quiverfull parents try to have upwards of six children. They home-school their families, attend fundamentalist churches and follow biblical guidelines of male headship—“Father knows best”—and female submissiveness. They refuse any attempt to regulate pregnancy. Many openly promote patriarchy—yes, literally so. Joyce also writes that within the Quiverfull movement, “The motivations aren’t always racist, but the subtext of ‘race suicide’ is often there.”
But what should really be noted is the way that one Philip Longman has both endorsed works of the more explicitly Christian Fascist wing of the movement and also written for the Democratic Leadership Council on how to move the party to a “radical middle.” “Who are these evangelicals?” asks Longman. “Is there anything about them that makes them inherently prowar and for tax cuts for the rich?” No, he concludes. “What’s irreducible about these religious voters is that they’re for the family.” Asked whether the absolutist position Quiverfull takes on birth control, let alone abortion, might interfere with his strategy, Longman admits that abortion rights would have to take a back seat but that, in politics, “nobody ever gets everything they need.”
With this logic, to paraphrase World Can’t Wait, you are going to have to learn—or be forced—to accept the literal biblical teaching on the family—one that is based on restoring the position of man as the God-given authority over family and society.
“War On Terror”—Still in Effect
Throughout the campaign, and now since the election, the Democrats have accepted and promoted the Republican logic of the “War on Terror,” and the even deeper, more underlying premise that America should strategically dominate the Middle East, through military power and its client state Israel. Based on this, even the demands of some Democrats last week for “phased withdrawals” are little more than positioning in a process of forging a new consensus on what to do in Iraq, one that for now is based on the view that, in accord with continued and intensified strategic domination, the U.S. cannot afford a strategic debacle, or even the perception of defeat, in Iraq. [See “The Crossroads in Iraq: Why The U.S. Went to War”] And just as obituaries for the Christian Fascists are ridiculously premature, so too with the neocons—these people are still in the executive branch and they are still fighting for their position.
When Nancy Pelosi says, now that we’re elected we have to “govern from the center,” she means that the Democrats will not seriously challenge the theocratic thrust represented by forces around and high up in the Bush regime. In reality, she is effectively giving support to the call from many Democratic theoreticians to embrace, or at least conciliate with—in the name of being “economically liberal but socially conservative”—the essence of Christian Fascist values, which has been brought forward as a needed form of social cohesion and control for millions of people who have had their lives thrown into uncertainty—and a world of hurt—by the structural dictates of a globalized economy and a leaner and meaner competitive capitalist economy.
“Governing from the center” also means that the Democrats will not seriously challenge the underlying assumptions that drove the war on Iraq—the perceived need, according to imperialist exigencies—to aggressively transform the modes of U.S. domination in the Middle East. Instead, they will compete to fight it “better.” It means that they will not—and this they have not even promised!—attempt to repeal the pro-torture anti-habeas corpus Military Commissions Act…that they will not oppose the denial of basic rights to immigrants but will almost certainly “work with Bush” to pass his version of an immigration bill [see “What the Elections Mean—and Don’t Mean—for Immigrants”]…and so on down the line.
Even where they have had real differences—and very bitter conflicts—with the neo-cons and Religious Right, the Democrats have continually given ground to the Right and increasingly accepted the terms set by the Right as the “common ground” on which to differ and contend. They campaigned like this…and they will attempt to govern like this as well.
Acting Now—With Urgency
If you did vote for the Democrats, everything you were hoping they would do is just as urgent now as it was three weeks ago. People are still dying by the hundreds in Iraq—and Afghanistan. The torture goes on at Guantánamo and who knows where else. The medieval inquisitors continue to line up for their appointments to federal judgeships. Black people and other folk victimized by Katrina continue to suffer in makeshift trailers—if they can get that. The demonization of immigrants continues, as does that of gay people. The reproductive rights of women continue to be shrunk.
The truth is that Bush is not going to get a brain, Cheney will never find anything resembling a heart, and the Democrats—no matter how much money and energy you pour into them—are still going to act like cowardly lions. There is no bumbling but ultimately benign wizard behind the screen, no good witch to provide you with ruby slippers to get you back to a home that was not all that sweet to begin with. There are just people. There are the ones at the top—the imperialist ruling class—united in their fundamental interests and divided only by how best to ensure and pursue those interests… and then there are the hundreds of millions they rule in this country and the billions worldwide whom they oppress—including both those on the bottom whom they bitterly exploit and those “in the middle” whom they constrain and dominate—all of whose most fundamental interests are opposed to them. Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will provide a different direction from the place that society is presently hurtling toward. But it is time and past time to dramatically and radically change the whole direction of history—not with the new direction people were promised by ruling class politicians who are lashed to the mast of endless war for empire and repression—but by breaking free and getting unlashed from that mast.
That does NOT mean that we should not demand with even greater force and fervor that these Democrats ACT to end the war, to end torture, to protect science and academia, and all the rest of the intolerable outrages that drove people to the voting booth. And we should certainly support those who want to act to force the Democrats to impeach Bush.
But this society is still on a trajectory toward fascism, only now with a bi-partisan consensus on critical fronts in the process of being re-formed. And splits in the ranks of that ruling class consensus, should they occur, won’t go anywhere good without massive resistance from the people. To quote World Can’t Wait, there is still time but not a lot of time. Seizing it requires people to rupture with certain illusions and yes, finally, confront the fact that you can’t expect government to do this for you. There is no self-correcting mechanism that is going to make these fascists go away.
Those reading this have to challenge themselves and others to cast off self deceit and cynical excuses for not acting in a meaningful way to stop the crimes your government is perpetrating on the world. Being bound by the terms set by this system and the political framework within which all of its political representatives think and act only serves to make people objectively complicit with all the things that were not allowed to be discussed this election. Wanting to avoid upheaval in confronting all this is impossible—and wrong. And since when was any great evil defeated without upheaval, without people’s lives being changed, without… struggle.
The elections are over. They did not and cannot fulfill the hopes people put in them—but they did show definitively that there are tens of millions who are disgusted and revolted by this administration and its whole agenda. Now it’s time to turn to those very people and say—"okay, now it’s up to us. And I’m willing to change my life to make it happen!"
Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
In the wake of the recent elections, with the Democrats taking over the Congress and the seeming repudiation of Bush, many in the immigrant rights movement—as well as broadly among immigrants and the masses as a whole—believe that positive change and direction are in the works. And with the defeat of some of the most vociferous anti-immigrant voices in the House and Senate and the mobilization of Latino and immigrant voters, some are now saying that the Democrats “owe us” and will now have to listen and pass “comprehensive immigration reform.” But all along, the debate and differences in Congress have been over what combination of border militarization, new repressive measures, “guest worker” program, and illusions of legalization will be passed.
With control of Congress passing to the Democrats, “comprehensive immigration reform” may be passed. But what will this mean? Look at the bills supported by the Democrats. These bills have included expanded mandatory detention and deportation, authorization of indefinite detention, construction of more detention centers, greatly expanded grounds for denying legalization, deportation without the right to a court hearing, denial of legalization for anyone who ever used false documents to get a job (!), and many other repressive provisions.
Look at the “guest worker” and “temporary worker” provisions of some of these bills and Bush’s “guest worker” proposal. Enrique Morones of Border Angels (who place water stations in the desert in the U.S./Mexico border areas so that immigrants will not die of dehydration) hit the nail on the head. On the Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor, he called Bush’s proposal a “rent-a-slave program.” All of these proposals would codify and legalize a de facto apartheid system for immigrants. Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and people outside the U.S. would be able to apply for and receive work permits—but the immigrants will have no guarantee that the permits will be renewed or that they will be able to obtain permanent residency or citizenship. They would still be in a very vulnerable position, required to return to their home countries if they go without work for more than 60 days. Just like in apartheid South Africa for Black people, immigrants would be able to come to the U.S. to work, but this would be temporary. The result would be an official caste system where millions of super-exploited immigrants have far fewer rights.
The “legalization” provisions for a “path to citizenship” only apply to people who have been here over five years—everyone else must leave the country. And those who have been here over five years and apply for legalization would face all kinds of hurdles after they have made the government aware of whom they are. Anyone who has ever used a false document, which the great majority of the undocumented have had to do in order to be able to work, would be disqualified and subject to deportation. Any false information in filling out paper work, even if it is the result of an unintentional omission or mistake, would subject the person to deportation.
Think about the process of someone proving that they have worked here for over five years. They would be required to turn over the names of everyone for whom they have ever worked, people who violated the law by employing them. And people would be turning over the names of their family members, whether or not they qualify for legalization. The result is the holding out of the illusion of a “path to citizenship” while bringing people “out of the shadows” so that this highly exploited section of people is much more under government control. Both Democrats and Republicans who support some combination of a “guest worker” program and a “path to legalization” (including Bush) all talk about the need to bring millions of immigrants out of the shadows. What they really mean is their need to bring millions of immigrants who have learned to function and live outside the law under the bright lights and scrutiny of Big Brother.
As I said in an earlier article,
“The Bush Regime is not going to somehow give full equality and a better life to immigrants on the one hand while rampaging through the world and this country, torturing, detaining people in secret prison, jailing people indefinitely without charges, imposing a fanatical fundamentalist government in the U.S., eliminating a woman’s right to choose and all the rest. Think about it. It is just not going to happen. Instead, it will be just the opposite, an even more horrific nightmare for immigrants than it is now. There is absolutely no prospect for a better life for immigrants and everyone else in the world as long as the Bush Regime stays in power.” (“The Movement for Immigrant Rights… And the Battle to Drive Out the Bush Regime,” Revolution #63)
Will the Democrats oppose this? The Democrats overwhelmingly supported the fascistic Patriot Act—which, among other things, includes many highly repressive provisions targeting immigrants. Where was the outcry and opposition from the Democrats to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which allows the president to declare that an immigrant is an “unlawful enemy combatant” and hold that person indefinitely without charges and the right to judicial review, and which legalizes torture? Did the Democrats denounce the Bush administration for rounding up thousands of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian immigrants in the months after 9/11, holding many in secret without charges and without access to lawyers and family? The Democrats have supported or gone along with all of these measures as well as the horrific militarization of the border.
Just like the Republicans, the Democrats are a ruling class party that serves the interests, as they see them, of U.S. imperialism. And in this extreme period of war and repression, the rulers as a whole see immigrants as both a vital source of super exploitable labor and a potentially volatile force that must be suppressed and controlled.
Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
Craig and Cindy Corrie
“…When that explosive detonated yesterday it broke all the windows in the family’s house. I was in the process of being served tea and playing with the two small babies.
“I’m having a hard time right now. Just feel sick to my stomach from being doted on very sweetly, by people who are facing doom. I know that from the United States it all sounds like hyperbole. A lot of the time the kindness of the people here, coupled with the willful destruction of their lives, makes it seem unreal to me. I can’t believe that something like this can happen in the world without a bigger outcry…”
The voice is that of a 23-year-old American woman, Rachel Corrie, writing to her parents from Rafah, Palestine. She was there as a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, an organization which organizes resistance to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using non-violent direct-action methods.
On March 16, 2003, Rachel was run over and killed by a member of the Israeli Defense Force as she stood between a US-made bulldozer and a Palestinian family’s home targeted for demolition. In the days and weeks following her death, the extraordinary emails she had written to her parents about her experience in Rafah circulated across the world.
Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, took their grief back out into the world—courageously telling Rachel’s story over and over again—as part of telling the larger story, as they put it, of what is unfolding in Palestine. The Corries took to heart Rachel’s call, “This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop.”
In April 2005, a play taken from Rachel’s writings, MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE, edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner, opened to great acclaim at the Royal Court Theatre in London. A year later, just as the play was slated to open in New York City at New York Theatre Workshop, the theater caved in to pressures from pro-Israel forces and cancelled the production. Rickman and Viner found another New York theater to produce the play. MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE is currently running at the Minetta Lane Theatre, the production recently extended to December 30, 2006.
I first met the Corries back in August 2004 on the eve of the Republican National Convention when they came to New York City to accept a “Courageous Resister” award for Rachel from Refuse & Resist. We have stayed in touch and when they were back here last week we got together at a Brooklyn diner to talk about Rachel, the play, Olympia, WA, and the wide world we all confront.
* * * * *
CJ: I saw the play with two friends, young women, and they were both crying quietly through most of the play. One of them is Rachel’s age and as the curtain went down she said, “I know if I’d lived in Olympia we would have been friends.” The thing that struck her, and me, about Rachel— she seemed to not flinch from looking at the world as it really was, and then took responsibility for that. And she did not just ask am I doing enough, but am I doing the right thing? Once she’d gone to a place like Palestine and seen what her own government is doing to people, she wanted to not just register protest, but to actually STOP it. Can you talk about this quality of Rachel?
Cindy Corrie: Well, you saw that in the ten-year-old. There was something in the education she had as a young child in her elementary school program. She was in Options, a public school alternative program that we helped to create. It was important to us that this program be within the public school system. We were looking for something that would empower our kids. The core idea was that kids needed to connect to the community and be active participants, and then that their concept of community be extended to the entire world. Rachel had these fabulous teachers. Options remains a very wonderful program. It’s now twenty years old. I think it had a huge impact on Rachel. There were other times when she saw a problem and had to do something about it. I think that was a really strong message she got throughout elementary school and beyond.
CJ: What also struck me watching the play was that Rachel looked at the situation of the Palestinian people and said this is an occupied nation, an open-air prison essentially. The “Palestinian narrative” and “Israeli narrative” are not equally true. One group of people is subjugating another, and it’s wrong.
Cindy Corrie: She was a wonderful observer, always. And I think that comes through in her writing, in those incredibly simple lines. There was a unique way in which she expressed herself. She thought a little differently than other people did. I’m so often surprised again when I hear the lines in the play at how artfully she articulated what she thought. There is universality in much of what she says, but it’s still uniquely her own view of things. Just her way of looking at the world and approaching it, was unique to her, and often enlightening to us. We felt pretty fortunate most of the time simply being in a space with Rachel where we could enjoy and benefit from her thinking.
Craig Corrie: About Rachel’s activism, it’s natural to you [speaking to Cindy] whereas … it’s not really natural to me. But it’s important. People’s children are being killed, dammit. That’s gotta stop. So we have to stop it. I was having a discussion with some staffers on Capitol Hill with Cindy’s sister, Cheryl, who was kind of in their face about something, and this staffer said, “Well, this is your passion.” And Cheryl said, “No, it’s not my passion. My garden’s my passion, and if you guys would do your job then I could go back and work on my garden!” [laughter]
CJ: It’s heavy because people ARE being drawn out of their gardens. There is no referee up there. It’s up to us to stop them.
CJ: I saw that you [spoke] at the World Can’t Wait demonstration in front of the White House on October 5. What did you say?
Craig Corrie: I talked about the buildings around us, how we have walked through all of them trying to make our government work for us. I talked about the temporary tenants who are attacking our freedoms. Just the idea of abolishing habeas corpus is abominable. As a veteran and the son of a veteran it’s shocking to me that this president abuses the Constitution that he’s sworn to protect.
CJ: I imagine that for a lot of people who watch this play, the journey they’re taking is through your parts in the play. She obviously learned a great deal from you and then she went out in the world and came back with some new things, and she struggled with you. What was it like—her arguing with you?
Craig Corrie: She did bring us into it. I talked about how Rachel had a different way of looking at things—[there were] differences we would have over some things. She was very disapproving of corporate America, as so many people who are around me now are. But of course my life has been in corporate America. And I very much treasure the people that I worked with there. They were very kind people. They may have had blind spots but the people in the companies I worked with were trying to help every employee and the customers. They were great people. There’s a difference in some perceptions, but Rachel wouldn’t lie. When she wrote, she wouldn’t write something untrue. She might write something artistic, but she was writing what she was seeing and I knew it was true.
Cindy Corrie: …When she was growing up, there were times when I certainly challenged her about things and she would openly challenge us. She would really debate with us about things. In fact one of the last conversations was in a restaurant in Olympia.
Craig Corrie: She was so mad at me she was in tears.
Cindy Corrie: We’d have these big discussions that would be pretty intense but never would we get mad at each other and not speak to each other for even an hour or a day. But she was struggling with the fact that we— her family—were fairly blissfully ignoring much that was going on in the world—it was adding a lot of meaning to her life—the political work she was doing in Olympia—and her insights about a lot of what was going on in the world were…frankly she was ahead of us in things. We weren’t paying as much attention… She wanted us to tune in and get these things. It was staggering to us to get the emails from Rachel [from Palestine]. She was careful to give me information, websites to go to and books to read. Which I did. She was providing that education; she wanted to bring us along…
Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
I want you to meet a curious, thoughtful, brave, funny, life-loving, life-engaging young woman. A sometimes anguishing, sometimes exuberant, almost always questing young woman who runs at life with her arms and eyes wide open.
I want you to travel with her and see things through her eyes—growing up in America, hanging out in a college town, and traveling to the Gaza Strip in occupied Palestine. I want you to hear her read her journal entries and listen to her letters home to her parents and I want you to hear her sing.
It’ll only take you 90 minutes to get to know her. She’ll make you laugh for sure, and get you angry, and you might cry some too. You may not agree with everything she says—I didn’t—but you won’t forget her any time soon.
Her name is Rachel Corrie. She was killed by the Israeli army when she stood in front of a bulldozer that was moving to demolish a Palestinian home—they buried her under a pile of dirt, and then rolled back over her. But somehow she seems to come to life each night at the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York City, in the play MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE—thanks to Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner who worked her journals into the stuff of drama, and a wonderful young actor named Megan Dodds, who played Rachel the night that I went. And thanks too to the Minetta Lane Theatre, who stood up after another “progressive” theater canceled on the play in the face of pressure from those who will brook no criticism of Israel, and who wanted to bury Rachel Corrie a second time. This time, they didn’t succeed.
So if you’re in New York or anywhere close, go meet Rachel Corrie. But make it quick, because she’s leaving soon.
Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
National elections were held in Nicaragua in the first week of November. Several candidates ran for the office of presidency in this impoverished country of fewer than 6 million people. The vote was monitored by 17,000 Nicaraguan and foreign observers spread throughout the small nation, and 8,000 Nicaraguan soldiers were mobilized. The Washington Post said there was a “large turnout” for the vote. Gustavo Fernandez, head of the 200-member delegation from the Organization of American States, announced that the situation around the elections “has been calm, and there is no reason to think this will change.”
During his 2005 trip to several Latin American countries, George W. Bush had declared that “I think it’s very important for us always to reconfirm the importance of democracy in our hemisphere.” But events leading up to and following the recent elections in Nicaragua reveal just what it is that Bush and his crew mean when they talk about bringing democracy, liberty, freedom and so on around the world.
Prior to the election, Nicaragua saw what the Houston Chronicle described as a “chorus line of U.S. officials,” issuing open and veiled threats about what would happen if the vote didn’t go the way they wanted. The threats were focused around one of the presidential candidates, Daniel Ortega. The Chronicle’s South American bureau chief, John Otis, wrote that U.S. officials “launched a volley of verbal grenades” to “discourage voters from electing Sandinista leader Ortega” (“U.S. Playing Favorites in Nicaraguan Election, 8/20/06). Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research noted that Bush administration officials and other assorted reactionaries “did everything but threaten to invade.” (“U.S. fails in bid to derail Ortega presidential bid,” Christian Science Monitor, 11/7/06)
Daniel Ortega led the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) guerrilla movement which toppled Anastasio Somoza, a brutal U.S.-backed dictator, in 1979. After Somoza’s downfall, Ortega and the Sandinistas headed Nicaragua until 1990. Throughout this period, the U.S. under the Reagan administration funded and trained death squads—known as “Contras” because they were openly counter-revolutionary—who left a trail of murder, rape, and pillage across the country. The Contras killed about 30,000 people—Sandinista officials as well as many peasants, indigenous people, workers, students, and others.
Immediately after the elections in 1984 that declared Ortega president, the U.S. mined Nicaraguan harbors. A Reagan administration memorandum said the goal of this military blockade was to “advance our overall goal of applying stringent economic pressure…and to further impair the already critical fuel capacity in Nicaragua.” The U.S. established open and covert bases in the neighboring countries of Honduras and Costa Rica as launching pads and training grounds for the Contras.
In 1986, the secret (and illegal) arming and funding of the Contras began to be exposed with the leaking of reports that the Reagan administration had sold missiles and other weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of a high-level CIA official being held hostage in Lebanon. Reagan aide Oliver North used profits from this deal to buy arms for the Contras. A major scandal revealed a massive global operation in which the U.S. got its allies and puppets to help fund the Contra war. North and other Reagan officials were caught lying on these matters during Congressional hearings. But one thing that remained covered up during these Iran-Contra hearings was that the Contras’ funding relied heavily on drug smuggling. The CIA gave big drug traffickers an “offer they couldn’t refuse”—U.S. drug and customs agencies would leave them alone if these traffickers helped airlift and finance the flow of arms to the Contras. Robert Gates, who is set to replace Rumsfeld as Bush’s Secretary of Defense, was the deputy head of the CIA in the early 1980s when the covert operations backing the Contras were in full swing.
The Nicaraguan people’s resistance against the U.S. imperialist dominators and their vicious puppets was just and righteous. But Ortega and the Sandinistas never led this struggle in a way that was aimed at real liberation from imperialism. Rather, they were revisionists—phony communists—acting in service of the global interests of the Soviet Union, when that country was an imperialist rival to the U.S. And the Sandinistas lost their grip of power after THE elections in 1990. In the past few years, Ortega has done everything he could to convince Washington that he would be a cooperative partner in the exploitation of the Nicaraguan people. He changed the Sandinista colors from red and black to pink and turquoise. He chose a former Contra to be his vice presidential running mate. He renounced the pseudo-Marxism he once espoused and openly declared himself a proponent of capitalism—and he himself has become a very rich man.
Ortega’s cravenness hit a new low days before the recent election, when he threw the weight of the Sandinistas behind a reactionary law banning all abortions in Nicaragua. The new law mandates 4- to 8-year prison sentences for doctors and other health care providers who perform abortions, even to save women’s lives, as well as for women who get abortions. As a woman from the group Women’s Autonomous Movement in Managua said, “This is a return to the Middle Ages for women’s rights.” (“Therapeutic Abortion Banned in Pre-Election Frenzy," Inter Press Service, 10/28/06)
But even with all this, major U.S. ruling class forces clearly weren’t about to forget or forgive when it came to Ortega and the Sandinistas. Even if they weren’t going for a thoroughgoing revolution, the Sandinistas remain a target of U.S. venom because of their past role in the struggle in Nicaragua, especially in an area the U.S. imperialists consider their “back yard.” And so the recent Nicaraguan elections saw a campaign against Ortega by a vengeful “chorus line” of U.S. officials.
U.S. Ambassador Paul Trivelli called Ortega “a tiger who hasn’t changed his stripes” and threatened to close off U.S. and international aid to Nicaragua—which is already the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher threatened to legally ban Nicaraguans in the U.S. from sending money back to their home country—which would cut off the largest source of foreign revenue for Nicaragua. Rohrabacher asked Bush’s Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to “prepare in accordance with U.S. law, contingency plans to block any further money remittances from being sent to Nicaragua in the event that the FSLN enters the government.” Rohrabacher further ramped up the thinly veiled threat of economic, political, and even military measures by declaring that a Nicaragua headed by Ortega would be “pro-terrorist.”
Others flying down to Managua to denounce Ortega included right-wing Congressman Dan Burton, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Oliver North, who declared that “it’s good to be back.” The U.S. threats have continued after Ortega was declared victor in the presidential election. Carlos Gutierrez, Bush’s Secretary of Commerce, wrote that Nicaragua’s trade with the U.S. and U.S. aid to Nicaragua “will be endangered” with Ortega’s victory.
Think about what would happen if the situation were reversed—if it was the Sandinistas who sent thousands of observers to “monitor” the elections in the U.S., bankrolled certain candidates, threatened dire consequences if the vote did not go their way…and had the power to actually follow through on those threats. The fact that the reverse can—and did—happen, with the U.S. political establishment and the mainstream media treating this as perfectly reasonable and acceptable, points to the reality of power relations involved here.
The elections in Nicaragua were held with a gun—a very large caliber gun—held by the U.S. and pointed at the people of that country, in order to enforce the imperialist domination of this oppressed country. This is what the imperialist gangsters mean when they speak of democracy.
Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
Pat Tillman was a former NFL football player who joined the U.S. Army Rangers in 2002. When he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004, the Pentagon and the Bush regime seized on his death to build patriotic support for the war, and military and political officials appeared with the Tillman family at the funeral. But the official story released to the press and told to the Tillman family—that Pat had been killed by “enemy fire”—was a lie. In fact he had been killed by “friendly fire” from Rangers in his own unit. (See Revolution, November 5, 2006, “Kevin Tillman and the Killing Lies of the U.S. Army.”)
After the Tillman family continued to press for the truth the Army finally released thousands of pages of heavily censored documents on their investigations, which have allowed the family and reporters to piece together some of what occurred.
In July of 2006, ESPN.com ran a 3-part series about the death of Pat Tillman which revealed how military officials have attacked the Tillman family —not only for pursuing the truth about what happened, but because they are not Christians.
Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, the Army Ranger officer who commanded Pat Tillman’s regiment in Afghanistan, conducted the second Army investigation into his death. He told ESPN, referring to the Tillman family, “I don’t know, these people have a hard time letting it (their son’s death) go. It may be because of their religious beliefs.”
Kauzlarich said during his investigation into Tillman’s death he learned that Kevin Tillman, Pat’s brother and fellow Army Ranger who was a part of the battle the night Pat Tillman died, objected to the presence of a chaplain and the saying of prayers during a repatriation ceremony in Germany before his brother’s body was returned to the United States. Referring to this, Kauzlarich said, “When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don’t know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough.”
Then when asked about what he thought might placate the family, Kauzlarich said, ‘You know what? I don’t think anything will make them happy, quite honestly. I don’t know. Maybe they want to see somebody’s head on a platter. But will that really make them happy? No, because they can’t bring their son back.’”
ESPN quotes Mary Tillman, Pat’s mother, responding to Kauzlarich’s comments, saying: “Well, this guy makes disparaging remarks about the fact that we’re not Christians, and the reason that we can’t put Pat to rest is because we’re not Christians… Oh, it has nothing to do with the fact that this whole thing is shady. But it is because we are not Christians… Pat may not have been what you call a Christian. He was about the best person I ever knew. I mean, he was just a good guy. He didn’t lie. He was very honest. He was very generous. He was very humble. I mean, he had an ego, but it was a healthy ego. It is like, everything those [people] are, he wasn’t.”
As executive officer for the Ranger regiment in Afghanistan, Kauzlarich was ultimately responsible for command decisions in the area at the time of Pat’s death. He is also the officer who conducted the second Army investigation into the killing. According to Army documents obtained by ESPN, the Army officer who conducted the first investigation believed that some of the shooters who killed Tillman “could be charged for criminal intent” and several had demonstrated “gross negligence. In Kauzlarich’s investigation, Rangers were allowed to change their stories and only minor punishments were handed out.
Kauzlarich, who was supposed to be investigating and finding out what happened and the circumstances around the death, told ESPN.com that he thought the Army had found out who actually had killed Tillman but that he had never found out! And he said, “You know what? I don’t think it really matters… I had no issue on not finding a specific person responsible for doing it.”
ESPN said Kauzlarich told them he was confident that the investigation would not result in criminal charges—and that investigators would not still be examining the incident at all if it were not for Tillman’s NFL celebrity. This is a particularly twisted comment, given how the Bush administration and the U.S. Army exploited Pat Tillman’s celebrity to portray him as a war hero and to build support for the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Pat’s younger brother Richard Tillman told ESPN about hearing politicians and military men talking at the memorial in front of nationwide TV cameras about Pat’s death, “I remember not believing the story of him running up a mountain, screaming his head off. ..But at the same time, nothing made sense because you just are told that your brother is dead. At the time, you are not going to piece anything together. And I think that is what the military actually plans on because they have seen the way people are when they lose a loved one, and they can basically tell them anything and they are not going to pick up on it.”
And after listening to officials talk about Pat being with God, Richard spoke at the memorial and said, “Pat isn’t with God. He’s fucking dead. He wasn’t religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he’s fucking dead.”
These kind of virulent attacks on the Tillman family are not surprising given the presence of Christian fascist forces in the U.S. military, including among high ranking officers.
People may remember how in 2003 U.S. Lt. General Jerry Boykin went around the country delivering a talk where he showed slides of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and North Korea’s Kim Jung Il and then said: “Why do they hate us?” The answer to that is because we’re a Christian nation. We are hated because we are a nation of believers.” Boykin then went on to say that “the enemy” was not any one of these individuals but that “The enemy is a guy named Satan. Satan wants to destroy this nation. He wants to destroy us as a nation and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army. I’m here on a recruiting trip. I’m asking you to join this army.” Boykin also said that George Bush was “in the White House because God put him there for such a time as this.” And it was after this that Donald Rumsfeld promoted Boykin to deputy undersecretary of defense.
In an article posted on truthdig.com titled “Playing the Atheism Card Against Pat Tillman’s Family,” Stan Goff says that Mary Tillman, Pat’s mother, showed him a page from Pat’s journal when he was 16 years old. Goff says: “It was Pat’s reflection on why he had decided, once and for all, that he didn’t need organized religion. The entry was motivated by Pat’s grief at the death of an old family cat. Pat wasn’t comfortable with the idea that one could love another creature that was being excluded from the bargain in the afterlife. He and his brothers grew up between a river and the mountains, where they roamed countless miles and delighted in the ceaseless interplay of geography, climate, flora and fauna. In his journal entry, Pat speculated about this singular universality, and made up his mind that one didn’t need some anti-material monarchy buzzing with angels to accommodate himself to mortality.”
Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
UCLA students and many others are outraged over an incident of vicious police brutality and racial profiling on campus. The night of November 14, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a 23-year-old Iranian-American student, was given multiple stun gun shocks by UCLA police inside Powell Library.
A six-minute video taken by a student’s cell phone camera, available at the YouTube website, captures the screams of Tabatabainejad as he was shocked five timeswith a Taser, each, according to the Daily Bruin, lasting three to five seconds. Witnesses said some shocks came while he was handcuffed. A taser delivers volts of low amperage energy to the body causing a disruption of the body’s electrical energy pulses, locking the muscles. According to a report from the ACLU, tasers have killed 148 people in the U.S. and Canada since 1999.
What is the cops’ justification for this brutality? They say Tabatabainejad refused to show his student ID card during “a routine nightly procedure” and did not exit the library when ordered to do so. The LA Times quoted the UCLA Police Chief saying, “The officers decided to use the Taser to incapacitate Tabatabainejad after he went limp while they were escorting him out and urged other library patrons to join his resistance.”
UCLA students who demanded an end to the brutality and asked for the officers’ name and badge numbers were either ignored or blatantly threatened with also getting tasered .
Tabatabainejad’s attorney, Stephen Yagman, said his client refused to show his ID because he thought he was being singled out because of his Middle Eastern appearance. On the video of the incident you can hear Tabatabainejad, as he’s being tasered, shouting, “Here’s your Patriot Act. Here’s your fucking abuse of power!”
Yagman plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing the UCLA police of “brutal excessive force,” as well as false arrest.
Many students and others are pointing to the significance of this in the post 9/11 climate of fear and intimidation, in particular the round-ups and detentions of Muslim and South Asian immigrants and the targeting of the Iranian community a few years back during the government’s call for special registrations.
UCLA is also a campus where there’s been an intense battle over “academic freedom” and the right to dissent (a fascist student group last year made a call to tape record the lectures of “radical” professors); and where students from minority nationalities are feeling increasingly marginalized and under attack. (On Nov 15 there was a protest of 200 plus students and activists on campus against Prop. 209, the anti-affirmative action law that has contributed to the low enrollment of Black, Native American, and Chicano students.)
This brutal attack has outraged and spurred to action students from a variety of backgrounds, political views, and campuses. On November 17, a crowd of 200 gathered for a rally and press conference and a joint statement of protest was put out by over 50 student organizations.
The vicious taser attack on Mostafa Tabatabainejad underscores, yet again, the need to resist the whole post 9/11 climate of torture, brutality and repression. As the World Can’t Wait statement says: “That which you will not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn - or be forced - to accept. There is no escaping it: the whole disastrous course of this Bush regime must be STOPPED. And we must take the responsibility to do it.”
Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
In the wake of the October 5 protests across the U.S., the World Can’t Wait organization called for emergency teach-ins in communities and on campuses on the theme of: where is the Bush regime taking the world, and why must it be stopped? According to WCW, teach-ins took place in over 40 cities and towns during the week of Oct. 27 to Nov. 2.
About 325 people attended the “flagship” teach-in in New York City on Oct. 30. This event was web streamed and made available online—and thousands of people have watched it so far, WCW reports. And now the NYC teach-in is available on DVD.
WCW noted that the teach-ins around the country “reflected the breadth and potential to unite with a wide section of people who are seriously alarmed and outraged by the Bush administration’s horrendous rampage that is radically reshaping every sphere of American life.” Among the events was a presentation at Oakland High School by Larry Everest, who spoke on Bush’s war in the Middle East to over 100 students, mainly Black and Latino. (Read more about the nationwide teach-ins online at worldcantwait.org.)
The WCW says they are developing plans for a new wave of teach-ins. And they are calling for people around the country to organize viewings of the DVD of the New York teach-in.