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Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
Outrage in New York
Taped to a small brick wall, just a few yards from where Sean Bell was brutally murdered, is a large color photo of Sean, with the following words printed underneath: “There’s an answer to every question. Question is, who’ll answer it TRUTHFULLY?”
Indeed, who will tell the truth of what happened to Sean Bell and two close friends in the early morning hours of Saturday, Nov. 25, on Liverpool, a quiet street in the New York City neighborhood of Jamaica, consisting mainly of small, unassuming one- and two-story homes in which working class and lower middle class families dwell—mainly Black people who have emigrated from the Caribbean? Who will tell the truth of how the quiet of that street was shattered that day when NYPD undercover police opened fire—50 bullets in all in a space of only seconds—on Sean Bell’s car, in which he and his two friends were sitting, killing Sean, 23, critically wounding Joseph Guzman, 31, and seriously wounding Trent Benefield, 23?
Will the undercover cops themselves tell the truth? Will it be Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who, despite mountainous evidence to the contrary piled up over the years, has earned a reputation in the capitalist mass media for “telling it like it is”? Or maybe Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been playing it cool and cagey—unlike his ham-fisted predecessor, Rudy Giuliani—meeting with the grieving and infuriated Bell family, offering his condolences to them and the Guzman and Benefield families as well, and even going so far as to state publicly that he agrees the fusillade of 50 bullets appears to be “excessive”? All this on Bloomberg’s part in an effort to contain and channel the people’s rage into the all-too-familiar dead-end of investigations and politics as usual.
The truth? In fact, even now, just a week after the 50 shots were fired, the contours of a typical cop cover-up and counter-attack are already clearly visible, in which the victims themselves are to be blamed for their victimization. So, let’s compare the truth of what transpired on Nov. 25—as it has come to light so far, based in particular on a number of eyewitness accounts, all of which in the main corroborate one another—with the poisonous, paralyzing brew the NYPD and other local authorities are concocting, and which they hope the people will swallow.
What Happened Outside Kalua Cabaret
On Nov. 25, Bell, Guzman and Benefield went to the Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica to celebrate the wedding later that same day of Sean and his fiancée, Nicole Paultre. According to several eyewitnesses who were at the club, an argument broke out between the three and two other men—an argument, which Bell told Guzman and Benefield, was not at all what he had in mind for his bachelor party. “Let’s be out,” he said. “I’m getting married. I don’t need this.”
But the dispute continued in the Kalua’s foyer, as the three were trying to leave, and then outside the club, where one eyewitness said threats and counter-threats were made—the sort of posturing and bogarting that goes on all the time in situations like these. And, in fact, Benefield reiterated what Bell had said moments earlier about it being time to split, and the three headed for Sean’s car parked a block away, on Liverpool.
Also in the Kalua that night was a male Black undercover cop, part of a special NYPD unit that was scoping out the club for possible prostitution and drug activity. Police Commissioner Kelly has admitted that this cop had a couple of beers before the shooting that followed but that he is considered to have been “fit for duty.”
Having witnessed the argument, the undercover cop signaled those outside, who were sitting close by in an unmarked minivan and Toyota Camry, that one of the three friends might have a gun. As the three got to Sean’s car on Liverpool and were climbing in, the minivan and Camry arrived and the inside undercover walked toward Sean’s car, hollering at the three. What happened next (as told to their attorneys and the media by the wounded Guzman and Benefield a couple of days later from their hospital beds—to which they had been handcuffed until enraged family members and others forced the police to take them off) was that all three of them thought they were about to be robbed or car-jacked. In an attempt to get away, Sean Bell first lurched the car forward, which the police claim “clipped” the undercover cop, threw it into reverse, climbing over the sidewalk and bashing the rear end into the iron gate covering a store front, and then lurched forward again, hitting the minivan.
At that point, the undercover cop who had approached Sean’s car opened fire, immediately joined by the others. One of them reloaded and clicked off 31 shots. In a matter of a few seconds, Sean Bell was dead and Joseph Guzman, hit 11 times, and Trent Benefield, hit three times, were fighting to remain alive.
The undercover cop who initiated the execution swears he announced he was a police officer before he began to fire. But several eyewitnesses say that’s an outright lie. An attorney representing at least three of those eyewitnesses—all of whom are willing to testify before a grand jury looking into the incident—said they all agree that “the undercover never identified himself. Never.” The inside undercover cop also claims he could see that Guzman, while he was in the car, had a gun tucked into his waistband. That’s why, the cops claim, they “justifiably” feared for their own safety and opened fire. But no gun was found in the car or anywhere at the scene.
So, what is the truth? The truth is that three unarmed young men of color, two Black, the other Latino, were targeted by a bunch of cops acting like a death squad, shot at with 50 bullets—50 bullets! The truth is that Sean Bell died at 23 and his two friends ended up in the hospital struggling to live. As Sean’s fiance, Nicole, told a local hip-hop radio station, “They were murderers, murderers. They were not officers. No one gives anyone the right to kill somebody.”
All of this raises bitter and haunting memories of how, in 1999, members of another NYPD special unit, the street crimes unit, fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo as he stood on the steps of his apartment building, with 19 hitting him and tearing his body apart. The “justification”? The SCU plainclothes cops feared for their lives because they thought Amadou Diallowas reaching for a gun. Turned out he was just reaching into his back pocket for his wallet, to identify himself.
NYPD’s Outrageous Raids—Cover-up for an Assassination
With no gun found at the carnage on Liverpool St., the NYPD has turned to Plan B: they say there may have been a fourth person either getting into or standing next to Sean Bell’s car, who ran away just before the cops began shooting and who police investigators insist may very well have been carrying the gun they argue was at the scene! In their frantic efforts to locate this “fourth man,” the police on Nov. 29 and 30 conducted a number of raids, including an apartment in the same building in which Trent Benefield lives, arresting four people for criminal possession of a weapon. Other raids elsewhere in the city involved more arrests, mostly on gun charges, but none of which involve the gun ostensibly in the possession of the “fourth man.”
On Dec. 1, the NYPD announced with great fanfare that they have identified one of those arrested during the raids—27-year-old Jean Nelson—as the supposed “fourth man.” The police had to quickly release Nelson, since they had no charges against him. Nelson said the police claim about him is absurd, and his lawyer (and lawyers for some of the eyewitnesses) denounced the police tactics, charging that the police were trying to scare potential witnesses who might be called before the grand jury. Nelson had already consented to appear before a grand jury before cops busted him.
These raids have infuriated a Black community, as well as many others in New York, who are already boiling over with anger at the murder of yet another unarmed young Black man. “I think what they’re doing is repulsive, disgusting and deplorable,” said Bishop Erskine Williams Sr., whose son is a good friend of Trent Benefield’s and was arrested during the raids for an unpaid summons of $25. “They’re trying to put together something to cover up an assassination, an execution of this young boy,” Erskine Williams Sr. said.
The people’s rage over the execution of Sean Bell pulsed on Liverpool St. last week, where a memorial area has been carefully and lovingly set up right next to the iron gate that Sean’s car backed into as he and his two friends tried to escape. On the sidewalk are dozens of lighted candles, bouquets of white carnations and red roses, and a large, multi-colored flowered wreath sitting on a triangular stand, with a photo of Sean, Nicole, and one of their two young daughters in the hollowed center of the wreath. And taped to the brick wall standing above the sidewalk is the question posed at the beginning of this article, of who will tell the truth of what happened on this street in the early morning hours of Nov. 25, along with a number of other posted thoughts and comments.
One of these is a neatly typed letter addressed to the NYPD and signed by “a mother of 3 African-American sons and 2 African-American grandsons.” It reads, in part: “Last Saturday’s encounter was nothing less than an execution. What is painfully, frightfully obvious to Black people is that those young men could have been ANY BLACK MEN, and it wouldn’t matter about their social or economic status. However, know this: We are collectively mad as hell and are not taking it anymore!!!”
One day last week, a number of people visiting the memorial, both from the neighborhood but also from other parts of the city, expressed to a Revolution reporter their anger and anguish but also their determination to help bring these executions to a halt. Said a woman who was born in the country of Jamaica but has lived in the U.S. for 35 years, many of them in Jamaica, N.Y.:
“I think the police are the Ku Klux Klan. I think they’ve got that uniform on, but they’re really the KKK. And I think it’s a conspiracy of them to kill as many Black youth as they possibly can…. Right now, we Black people have like a slavery syndrome, where we are scared to fight. So anybody, especially the cops, can do anything they want and get away with it. But I personally believe it’s time for us to fight back. I have three sons and they grew up in this country but I sent them to London, where we’re originally from, after leaving Jamaica, because I didn’t want the cops killing them. I haven’t seen one of my sons for 21 years, and I haven’t seen another one for 14. But if they were in this country I probably would have had to bury them a long time ago. So even though I can’t see them, I know they’re alive. Although, on the other hand, I know England is not much better in how they treat Blacks—not much better, but better than what happens to them here. That really says something about this country, doesn’t it?”
The local branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA has been widely distributing a statement that read in part:
“This system [of capitalism and imperialism] is what the police exist to ‘serve and protect.’ They are nothing but modern-day slave-catchers for a system of profit based on the exploitation of people here and around the world who have nothing to lose and can only live through selling their work—when they can get work. The master’s whip has been replaced by the NYPD standard issue semi-automatic and they gun people down again and again, until it seems like we can’t have any more tears left. This is why this keeps happening, no matter how many Black and Latino cops get hired and no matter how much ‘diversity training’ they get and no matter how ‘sensitive’ the mayor is…
"Today, a 'leaner and meaner' globalized American empire ships whole factories across the globe to more brutally use people in every corner of the world, and millions of Black people and others who can't be profitably exploited fill the prison growth industry in the U.S. Right-wing religious fanatics like Pat Robertson and others close to, or in, positions of power, contemplate Biblical punishment for those they consider a 'stain' on society. Thousands died in Hurricane Katrina and thousands more were separated from families as they were removed from New Orleans--not because of a natural disaster but because of a criminal regime. Meanwhile the President can now legally put anyone he decides is an 'enemy combatant' in secret prisons, to be tortured, for the rest of their lives.
"If you think Black people and those on the bottom of society have always caught hell and it couldn't get any worse, think again. A core of the ruling circles in this country is following the logic of genocide."
(From “Justice for Sean Bell! 50 More Reasons—We Need Revolution,” Statement from RCP New York Branch. The whole statement is available online at revcom.us.)
On Dec. 1, several thousand people passed through the church in Jamaica, Queens for Sean Bell’s funeral. Hundreds gathered outside to denounce police brutality and demand justice for Sean. All the authorities are frantically running around trying to tamp down the burning outrage among the people and head off an even bigger outpouring. But the anger of the people and their demands for justice are righteous. And everyone—from all walks of life—should support and join in the struggle for this demand.
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
Killing to Enforce Capitalism and White Supremacy
I’m thinking about the killing of Sean Bell and how it brings to mind the police murders of Amadou Diallo, Anthony Bryant, Mingo Mason, Nicholas Heyward Jr, Anthony Rosario and many more victims of the NYPD than I can list here. And of how the cops who killed them got off scot-free.
This shit isn’t unique to NY. It happens in cities all across the country. Look at Atlanta, where cops recently broke into the home of Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old grandmother, on a “no-knock” drug raid and killed her. At first the cops claimed an undercover cop had purchased drugs at her house. Then they changed to saying a confidential informant had told them he had bought drugs at her house. Now the no longer confidential informant has come forward to say the cops are lying and he had never been to the woman’s house.
Why is it that cops brutalize and even kill unarmed people again and again, year in year out?
The answer to this comes down to what the police are actually out there to do in this society. It isn’t protecting and serving the civilian population. Nor is it making sure that justice is served. It means maintaining and even enforcing the dominant economic and social relations that exist in society, including the severe inequality that these relations concentrate. It means enforcing American capitalism and its all-too-legitimate child, white supremacy.
Before the Civil War, enslaving Black people was legal and much of the country’s economy was based on slavery. In fact, the great wealth of this country that they brag about so much today couldn’t have developed the way it did without slavery. It’s clearly unjust to treat human beings as property to be worked and abused as the owners of this “property” want. But the law protected and maintained this, including mandating that if any of this human “property” escaped, law enforcement had a duty to return it to its owner. And anyone who helped slaves escape risked imprisonment, torture and execution. In states where slavery was in effect, it was enforced by both the official police forces and by unofficial forces like the patrollers or “paddy rollers” who tried to keep slaves from running away. In other words, the police and other armed forces were organized to protect the open slavery of that time.
Today in this imperialist system, people all around the world, including millions in this country, work collectively to produce tremendous wealth. Yet this wealth is taken—expropriated—by a small handful of capitalists. The political and legal institutions in this society—the state—exist to maintain this situation and these relations, and the police are a part of that state structure.
Look today at New Orleans. The government failed to evacuate people before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast region of the U.S. And after Katrina hit, the government failed to provide either rescue or emergency supplies for people whose lives were at risk. Yet when people took the food and water they needed to survive—that is, when they violated the “laws of capitalist private property”—they were condemned as looters and thugs by the same government officials who had left them there to die.
Police in New Orleans killed people for “looting” on the direct orders of the governor. How many people did the New Orleans cops kill? We don’t know because no one bothered to count them. What has happened to those servants of this system responsible for the deaths and dislocation in New Orleans? Nothing. They were “just doing their job ” under this capitalist system.
It’s a fact that police murder and brutality falls most heavily on Black and other oppressed nationality communities. From slavery to Katrina, white supremacy has been woven deep into the economic and social fabric of this society, and it’s a crucial part of what the police are out there to maintain.
Decades ago the resistance of Black people to the oppression they faced rocked this country and electrified the whole world. People won some concessions, but things didn’t go all the way to the revolution that a lot of people hoped and fought for, and which was and is needed. Since then some of the forms of the oppression of Black people have changed. A section of Black people have gotten ahead in this society—but even these folks face racist discrimination and police brutality and even, at times, murder. And for most Black people there is either a life of low wage labor, crime, prison, or all three. The way police patrol oppressed communities, like U.S. Marines swaggering through occupied Iraq, is aimed at keeping this shit in effect and at breaking people’s spirits and keeping their heads down.
OK, so how do we stop all this? To really get rid of this kind of injustice once and for all, we need a communist revolution, one that could sweep away everything reactionary and build a completely new and different society and world in its place.
A world where a handful of capitalists no longer expropriate the wealth produced by the millions who labor around the world, where people aren’t forced to endure oppressive and degrading social relations based on their race or gender and where a handful of imperialist countries don’t enslave and run the whole damned world and wage wars to fortify that enslavement.
A world where the needs of the masses of people, not the profit motive of a handful of super rich capitalists, are what dictates what gets done.
A world where those entrusted with enforcing the laws of society would sooner risk their own lives than take the life of an innocent person.
A world where the old order is shattered and state power is on the side of the masses and used to not only suppress the former rulers and big exploiters, but to transform society in the interests of the people; where more and more of the masses are increasingly involved in the actual running of every sphere of the society; and where society is vibrant and full of wrangling and debate, where people who are not yet won to the goals of the revolution can raise their questions and express their opposition, with all this aimed at getting to the truth of things as part of moving forward to a society without classes and states.
This kind of revolution is what the world is crying out for today. It’s the only way to break the stranglehold that capitalism has on humanity and to unleash the productive capacity that can meet the needs of people all over the world. The only way to cure, prevent or treat the many diseases that needlessly kill and disable so many people around the world. The only way to put an end to the domination of and discrimination against whole nations and peoples. And the only way to stop the police murder and everyday abuse that put Sean Bell, Kathryn Johnston, and too many others in their graves week in and week out. Nothing short of revolution can accomplish this.
Communist revolution can only be the conscious act of the masses of people, organized and led to carry out increasingly conscious struggle to abolish and take humanity beyond capitalism and all systems of exploitation and oppression. In a country like this one, revolution can only be made when there’s a major change in the situation, one where the whole society is engulfed in crisis. Today the U.S. rulers face a difficult situation. They invaded Iraq as part of making their global position so strong no one could even think about challenging it. Yet it has brought them even more opposition. In the U.S., they’re moving to remake society in a fascist direction which is driving broad sections of the people to think very deeply about what’s going on and what needs to be done about them.
All this is creating openings to bring into being another crucial ingredient for making revolution in a country like this—the emergence of millions and millions of people who are conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it. It is urgent that those who are outraged by this police murder and the many other foul things the system brings down develop their understanding of why revolution is needed to end this shit once and for all and how revolution could be carried out when the time is ripe. That they spread this understanding to others. And that they join wherever people are fighting back to hasten forward the day when such a thing is possible. Right now, that means joining in with, supporting and helping to build the struggle for justice for Sean Bell and for all the other victims of police murder.
There is leadership for doing all this. Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has developed a vision of the kind of world we can bring into being through making this kind of revolution and how this vision could be realized. People who are concerned about the state of the country and the world need to dig into the writings and speeches of this revolutionary leader and need to get with Bob Avakian and the party he leads.
Go to the web site revcom.us to check out Avakian’s work. And to check out Revolution newspaper, the newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party that Avakian leads.
At the same time, we must be building massive political resistance to the ways the system is coming down on the people today. Look at the impact this police murder has had on people. Leading them to question why such foul things happen again and again, and what needs to be done to end them. And look at the way so many people have risen above the muck and mire of day to day life the system keeps us enmeshed in to raise their heads and join in the struggle for justice. This is righteous and must be built on.
Already hundreds of people have taken to the streets in outrage around Sean’s murder in the few days since his death. Calls to remain calm or to wait till all the facts come out must be rejected. Enough facts have already come out. A young man leaving his bachelor party and a few hours away from his wedding is dead. Two of his friends are recovering from gunshot wounds. All were unarmed when the cops fired 50 shots at them. And the police are now carrying out raids in Sean’s neighborhood, arresting family members and friends of the people they shot. That’s enough to conclude that a terrible crime against the people has been committed.
Mass political action that targets the killer cops and the officials who unleash these brutal, murdering cops and cover up and justify their crimes must continue.
Without this kind of resistance, the authorities will feel like they can do any damned thing to us, and we’ll suffer it in silence. We have to make clear we will fight to beat back this kind of injustice. And as we do this, we have to be wrangling with and spreading revolutionary ideas and building a movement that’s winning over millions to see that the system is worthless and revolution is what’s needed.
Carl Dix is the National Spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA and can be contacted at P.O. Box 941 Knickerbocker Station, New York NY 10002-0900, (866)841-9139 x2670, e-mail: email@example.com
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
Statement from RCP New York Branch
What do the police see when they see three young Black and Latino men in a Nissan Altima? A target. Doesn’t matter if you have a PhD or work at McDonald’s. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing something desperate to survive or if you are trying to stay off the streets.
Sean Bell was going to marry Nicole Paultre on November 25. They were getting ready to start a life together with their two young children, thinking of moving south, out of the city. Instead, Sean was killed when the police fired a rain of 50 bullets into his car as he and his friends drove away from his bachelor party. It doesn’t matter what Sean Bell was doing—he and his friends were Driving While Black. One of the cops who shot into the car emptied his gun and reloaded and kept firing. Sean’s two friends who survived, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, were handcuffed to their hospital beds until outraged visitors intervened.
Why does this keep happening—in New York and all over the country? Why does it happen with white cops, Black cops, Latino cops? Under white mayors, Black mayors, Latino mayors; with Democratic administrations, Republican administrations? Why does it keep happening—under “America’s Mayor” Rudy Giuliani who displayed nothing but contempt for Black people when he was the Mayor of New York and is now considered “viable” presidential material, and under the supposedly more “fair-minded” Mayor Bloomberg, who rushed to express “condolences”?
ENOUGH. We don’t need condolences and justifications for crimes that are intolerable and inexcusable in the first place. We need this to stop. And there is only one way this will ever be ended for real: revolution. Such a revolution is possible, once the right conditions develop. Once there is a major, qualitative change in the nature of the objective situation, where all of society is in a profound crisis, owing fundamentally to the nature and workings of the system itself—and along with that there is the emergence of a revolutionary people, numbering in the millions and millions, conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it.
Think about how we got here with our hearts full of pain. We live under a capitalist system that first flourished in the “new world” of the Americas on the blood of slaves stolen from Africa and Native Americans sent to their deaths in silver mines. Children who didn’t work hard enough in the mines had their hands cut off. Slaves who tried to escape had their achilles tendons cut so they couldn’t try to walk away again—but they could still work in the fields.
The blood of slaves flows down into the veins of modern-day global capitalism and imperialism—joined by the blood of child prostitutes in Thailand and rug-weavers in Asia who never see daylight, joined by the blood of whole families and villages wiped out in Africa for lack of the AIDS drugs locked up by pharmaceutical companies calculating profit and loss balance sheets. Joined by the blood of 100s of 1000s of Iraqis killed in an American war and occupation to remake the world for this global capitalist empire. Bishop Lester Williams, who was going to marry Sean Bell and Nicole Paultre and now is burying Sean, called his death an execution, and said to the New York Times: “It’s little Iraq, I’m sorry, especially toward the Blacks in the community. We don’t feel protected.”
This system is what the police exist to “serve and protect.” They are nothing but modern-day slave-catchers for a system of profit based on the exploitation of people here and around the world who have nothing to lose and can only live through selling their work—when they can get work. The master’s whip has been replaced by the NYPD standard issue semi-automatic and they gun people down again and again, until it seems like we can’t have any more tears left. This is why this keeps happening, no matter how many Black and Latino cops get hired and no matter how much “diversity training” they get and no matter how “sensitive” the mayor is.
Today, a “leaner and meaner” globalized American empire ships whole factories across the globe to more brutally use people in every corner of the world, and millions of Black people and others who can’t be profitably exploited fill the prison growth industry in the U.S. Right-wing religious fanatics like Pat Robertson and others close to, or in, positions of power, contemplate Biblical punishment for those they consider a “stain” on society. Thousands died in Hurricane Katrina and thousands more were separated from families as they were removed from New Orleans—not because of a natural disaster but because of a criminal regime. Meanwhile the President can now legally put anyone he decides is an “enemy combatant” in secret prisons, to be tortured, for the rest of their lives.
If you think Black people and those on the bottom of society have always caught hell and it couldn’t get any worse, think again. A core of the ruling circles in this country is following the logic of genocide.
But slaves can resist and rebel and rise up. Empires can lose wars and empires can fall. And history has shown that the situation of millions of Black and other oppressed people is like a volcano at the foundation of the U.S. empire. Where will liberation come from? Not from getting on our knees to imaginary gods. We need to start lifting our heads. We need massive political resistance to all the outrages of this system, we need to prepare minds and organize forces politically. This is how the ground would be prepared for a proletarian revolution that would have a serious chance of winning, a revolution with a backbone of millions, of all nationalities, with nothing to lose—a revolution that has an answer to this deeply hated, centuries-old oppression that this system can never have.
Think about what it would be like if the power of a revolutionary state was in the hands of the masses of people, and the state apparatus backed them up in doing away with every remnant of oppression. The people’s police would handle any of these situations totally differently from the enforcers in this society. Our Chairman, Bob Avakian, has said that in a revolutionary socialist society, “We would sooner have one of our own people’s police killed than go wantonly murder one of the masses. That’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re actually trying to be a servant of the people. You go there and put your own life on the line, rather than just wantonly murder one of the people.”
Such a revolution is possible. Many groups of people protest and rebel against things this system does, and these protests and rebellions should be supported and strengthened. Yet only those with nothing to lose but their chains can be the backbone of a struggle to actually overthrow this system and create a new system that will put an end to exploitation and help pave the way to a whole new world.
Such a revolution is possible. There is a political Party that can lead such a struggle, a political Party that speaks and acts for those with nothing to lose but their chains: the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. This party has the vision, the program, the leadership, and the organizational principles to unite those who must be united and enable them to do what must be done.
Such a revolution is possible. All those with a burning desire to see a drastic change for the better; all those who dare to dream and to act to bring about a completely new and better world: Support this Party, join this Party, spread its message and its organized strength, and prepare the ground for a revolutionary rising that has a solid base and a real chance of winning.
Check out the writings and works of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist party. Read and distribute the RCP’s REVOLUTION newspaper. Get organized with the revolutionary movement. Become an emancipator of humanity.
The Revolutionary Communist Party New York Branch
November 29, 2006
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
Socialist society should be a very lively and vibrant society, full of wrangling and struggle over all kinds of questions, in which we’re moving step by step to narrow and finally to eliminate the differences and inequalities that mean that some people are locked out of whole spheres of society. But that’s a process that’s going to go through stages, and through twists and turns, and not in a straight upward line. And at each stage there will be a very acute contradiction between holding onto power and continuing on the socialist road while at the same time drawing ever greater numbers of masses of people into this process, overcoming these inequalities to the greatest degree possible at every stage, and laying the basis to make further leaps in the future with regard to things that you cannot overcome at the present time.
The challenge is one of developing and applying the correct principles and methods so that all of this develops in such a way that it serves the advance toward communism, toward a communist world, so that socialist society is a vital and vibrant society in which masses of people are, in a great diversity of ways, increasingly wrangling with and engaging all kinds of questions having to do with the nature and direction of society; and, through all this, not only is political power maintained in a way that serves the fundamental interests and needs of the masses of the people and the world revolution, but the advance is carried forward toward the eventual abolition of state power altogether and the emergence of a community of freely associating human beings all over the world, a communist world where, to quote Mao, human beings consciously and voluntarily transform themselves and the objective world. And all this will be achieved through a wrenching process of struggle and wrangling, and not in some orderly, neat straightline way, and not with uniformity of opinion about everything all the time, by any means.
So democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat, democracy for the vast masses of people, has to take in all these dimensions. It doesn’t just mean that they have the right to speak out freely without being suppressed—which it does mean and must mean—but it means much more than that. It means not only their ability to associate politically and to demonstrate and to criticize, to raise disagreements with the official policy at any given time, or even with the leading ideology at any given time. But it also means that this has to be done in such a way that it’s moving toward the withering away, first of all of dictatorship—that is, rule in society by one class over another and its use of an apparatus of repression, that is, armed forces, police, courts, and so on, to enforce its rule and to suppress those who would seek to overthrow it. Not only do we have to be moving toward the eventual withering away of all this and developing and applying concrete steps which actually lead to that—not just mouthing the words that we’re working toward this withering away, but actually developing concrete forms and institutions that lead in that direction. But, together with that, we also have to be moving toward the withering away of democracy.
That, of course, is a very controversial statement. What do I mean by that? What I mean is not that through the advance of the dictatorship of the proletariat there is less and less democracy for the masses of people, until eventually it’s eliminated altogether! That’s not what we mean by the withering away of democracy together with the withering away of dictatorship. What we mean is, in essence, the opposite of that. We mean that the forms and means are developed through which the masses of people, in a certain sense, “naturally” take up, wrangle with, and ultimately make decisions about all different spheres of society.
As I spoke to in a series that was printed in the RW—excerpts from a talk I gave, Getting Over the Two Great Humps (2)—it means that the institutions and structures that are necessary to ensure that the rights of the people are upheld, and that one part of society, even among the people, is not being suppressed by another part—those structures and institutions no longer are necessary, and new structures and institutions are brought into being which correspond to and give expression to the fact that among the people there are no exploiters and exploited, there are no profound social divisions that lead to exploiters and exploited. At that point it will no longer be a question in society about whether one group among the people is going to oppress and dominate another. We will have moved, both in material reality and in the thinking of the people, beyond the point where that is even a possibility, because the economic and social conditions have been brought into being and, together with them, the political structures and institutions and political processes, and the ways of thinking and the culture have developed in such a way that the idea of one person, or one group in society, exploiting and oppressing another will be understood to be outrageous, absurd—and impossible.
Marx said about the future world, the world of communism, that it will seem as ridiculous and outrageous for one part of society to privately own the land, and everything that goes along with that, as it now seems for one human being to own another. Communism will mean that we have reached the point where the very idea that the way society should advance is for a few to benefit and then to proclaim that to be in the general interest of the society, where that idea will seem so ridiculous and outrageous that in a certain sense, to put it simply, it couldn’t get a hearing. Where people would investigate what is the problem mentally [laughter]—what chemical imbalance has caused someone to talk in this way. [laughter]
Now we have to be careful, because dissent and people disagreeing with the established norm is always going to have to fight an uphill fight. This will undoubtedly be true in communist society as well. As Mao put it, newly emerging truths are always in the hands of a minority. So even under communism that will be true. The point is that there won’t be organs of political suppression, so that if you bring forward unpopular ideas or new and different proposals for how things ought to be, people might think you are odd, but you are not going to become the object of political suppression or of social suppression, even without a state.
You can see why this requires not only transformation of material, economic and social conditions, but also the thinking of the people. Even the slogan “from each according to their ability to each according to their needs” would never work under the present ideological conditions we have. What are my needs—well, you know, I need some new rims for my car. You could just go on, and the whole thing will come flying apart. This requires an ideological transformation where people see needs very differently. Needs are socially conditioned in any case. The idea that you need rims for your wheels is socially conditioned. That’s not something that you thought of all on your own, in a vacuum. So, as you transform the material conditions, you transform the thinking of the people—so that individuals are thinking about their needs in relation to the larger interests of society, and are “naturally” subordinating their own individual interests to the larger interests of society, while still not obliterating the role and the needs of individuals and individuality. That requires a major ideological transformation. That’s part of what has to go on too, in order to advance to communism.
Now, another aspect of this that I want to speak to briefly is what I call “the synthesis of the points that were emphasized in the polemic against K. Venu and some arguments made by John Stuart Mill.” Now, in this polemic against K. Venu (3) I basically made the point that we can’t have bourgeois democracy, we have to have the dictatorship of the proletariat. If we try to implement all these instrumentalities of mass democracy, without any distinction among the people, we are going to hand power back over to the bourgeoisie, after everything people have gone through to seize power in the first place, and all the sacrifice that that has required. In socialist society, we still have to have a vanguard party that leads, and we have to have an ideology that leads. Even if we don’t want to insist that everybody has to profess that ideology whether they agree with it or not, we still have to have a vanguard party that leads, and an ideology that leads. This is one of the points that I was stressing in that polemic. But what I am referring to by synthesizing that, combining it in the correct way, with arguments of John Stuart Mill is that Mill makes the argument that no opinion should be discounted, let alone suppressed in society, until all those people who wish to argue for it have had an opportunity to do so. And he goes on further to make the point that it is not enough to hear ideas characterized by those who oppose them, it is necessary to hear them put forward by people who are ardent advocates of those ideas—in the book Democracy Can’t We Do Better Than That (4) I addressed this.
Well, of course, as I spoke to earlier, what he argues for can never literally be implemented. There is always somebody who wants to make one more argument for an idea. [laughs] There does come a time when you have to close the debate, at least for the time being. There are material reasons underlying that, and there are also reasons of politics. Decisions have to get made at certain points. You can’t just go on arguing endlessly and conducting searches to see if there is anybody else who wants to argue for a point of view that nobody else agrees with.
Still, there is a point that Mill is getting at with this argument that it’s not enough to hear positions characterized by those who oppose them, it is necessary to hear ardent advocates arguing for these positions. This relates to something that I think we have to incorporate more into the dictatorship of the proletariat and the rule and transformation of society by the masses of people. And this goes along with not just tolerating but encouraging dissent: we have to allow for people to explore many different ideas, and to hear advocates of many different ideas—without giving up the whole game, without losing power, without undermining and destroying the dictatorship of the proletariat. And that, once again, is a very complex and acute contradiction.
In order to handle this correctly, there are a couple of principles that I think are very important. One was actually articulated for me in a conversation that I had not long ago with a spoken word artist and poet. I was laying out to him how I saw socialist society and some of the same points that I’m making here about how we have to hang onto power and keep things going in a forward direction toward communism, while on the other hand there is a need for a lot of experimentation in the arts, a lot of critical thinking that needs to go on in the sciences and all these different spheres, and you have to let people take the ball and run with it, and not supervise them at every point on everything they do. And I asked him, for example: could you write your poetry if every step of the way there was a party cadre there looking over your shoulder, examining what you are writing. He said “no way.”
Then, as we discussed this for a while, he came up with what I thought was a very good formulation. He said, “It sounds to me like what you are talking about is ‘a solid core with a lot of elasticity.’” And I said “yeah, you’ve really hit on something there,” because that was exactly what I was trying to give voice to—that you have to have a solid core that firmly grasps and is committed to the strategic objectives and aims and process of the struggle for communism. If you let go of that you are just giving everything back to the capitalists in one form or another, with all the horrors that means. At the same time, if you don’t allow for a lot of diversity and people running in all kinds of directions with things, then not only are people going to be building up tremendous resentment against you, but you are also not going to have the rich kind of process out of which the greatest truth and ability to transform reality will emerge.
So this is another expression of a very difficult contradiction that we have to learn how to handle a lot better. Mao had some good ideas about this, and struggled a lot to get the party to implement them. Mao was wrangling with this, but he was only able to get so far with it. As he pointed out, human life is finite. He was only able to get so far with it, and then he died and what happened in China happened. And people—in particular the people now ruling that society—no longer were concerned with wrangling with that contradiction.
So we have to take this up and go further and learn to do even better with it the next time around. And in order for that to happen, those who are won to or seriously grappling with the question of this whole revolutionary process have to start engaging these questions now, and prepare ourselves as well as bring forward broader and broader ranks of the masses to be wrangling with these things, so that when we do seize power here and there, we are further along in our ability to be dealing with these things in a much more practical sense, even while, as I said, continuing to wrangle with them in the realm of theory.
Now what goes along with the principle of “solid core with a lot of elasticity” is another very important principle and method, which I characterize this way: being able to distinguish the difference between those times and circumstances where it is really necessary to hold the reins tightly, and pay very detailed attention to things, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, those times and circumstances where it is not necessary to do this, and in fact it is much better not to do so. And if you think about it, this contradiction applies to all kinds of things on all kinds of levels. In anything that you take up at any given time, there are always aspects that, if you don’t pay great detailed attention to them, and even in certain ways insist that “this is the way this has to be done,” the whole thing flies apart and comes undone. And there are other aspects where, first of all, if you try to pay that much attention and insist on “just this way” about them, you can’t even do it. And to the degree you can, you make a mess of things.
Think about any process that you want to undertake, even writing something. There are certain core, central ideas that you really have to get right. You might spend a long time really coming to grips with those things and understanding them. And then there are other things—it’s not that you don’t care what you say—but you can’t, and shouldn’t, pay the same amount of finely calibrated attention to those things.
It’s the same thing in a meeting, for example. You go to a meeting, and despite what some of the anarchists think, you have to have an agenda [laughter], and you have to have some organization to the meeting, or it won’t go anywhere. And if people get totally off the subject, you have to insist, “Hey, we are not talking about that, we are talking about this. We can talk about that next, but if we talk about everything at the same time, we’re not going to be able to resolve anything.” But, on the other hand, while people are talking—and they want to talk from different angles on the subject—you are not going to step in at every point and say, “No, that’s not the way to do it, you have to talk about it this way.” Because, first of all, that’s going to be the end of the discussion pretty quickly, and you are not going to have a meeting. Everybody’s going to get up and leave. Or never come back after that one meeting. And second of all, you won’t have any richness if you try to sit on top of everything everybody says. You will certainly not learn anything that you don’t already know. And you will actually undermine some things that you do know.
And you can break all these things down into different levels. Even with the things where you say “this is the point on the agenda,” you have to allow a certain flexibility about that, or else people can’t express themselves. So, even while on one level you are insisting this is the point on the agenda, on another level you are letting a lot of points come out within that, and allowing a lot of diversity. And sometimes, yes, that crosses over to where people are actually talking about a different point; but if you are too quick to stomp on that, you won’t really get good discussion about the point that is on the agenda.
So, on one level, you are insisting this is the way it’s got to be—for example, this point, and not another point, is what is on the agenda now—but, on another level, you are letting a lot of different things come out in relation to that. And if you don’t, you are not only stifling particular people, but you are stifling the process through which a lot of richness is going to come out that you can then synthesize and get the most truth out of.
And you can go on and on with things in life. If you think about anything, you’ll realize that there are those things where you really should insist that “this is the way it has to be done, and we have to very finely calibrate this,” and many, many things in the same process where you not only don’t have to do that, but where you should not do that.
And this applies especially to the whole realm of working with ideas. If you are going to have a lot of wrangling in society, then you have to have wrangling within the vanguard. While there is a difference between the vanguard and the masses and that shouldn’t be obliterated—the people who are part of the conscious vanguard take things up in a different way, and have different structures for how they wrangle with questions—if you make an absolute out of that, and erect just a complete wall between the party and the masses in that regard, you won’t get the kind of liveliness that you are seeking.
So you have to determine, even within a party, what are the things over which we absolutely have to have firm unity. Where do we need this “solid core,” in other words, and what are the things over which we can have a lot of differences and diversity, and we don’t have to put our foot down and resolve it and say it is this way or that way. Every movie you go to, you don’t have to have a unified line about that movie. [laughter] Things will be awfully boring if you insist on that—and, of course, much more severe problems will arise.
When you are going into a realm of science, there are a lot of questions that are unresolved at any given time among the people who are deeply immersed in that field. Why should you have to step in and—to borrow a metaphor from Mao—the moment you alight from the horse, you start issuing proclamations about what’s true and untrue. That’s very harmful.
Within a party, you need to have the kind of living process I have been talking about—even while you also definitely need your “solid core.” You need “elasticity” on the basis of a solid core. The solid core is principal and essential, but if you don’t have the elasticity and a lot of wrangling and diversity on the basis of that, you are going to dry up and you are going to lose everything.
So we can’t let go of this solid core. There are things we really do have to insist upon. Think about it. I was having another discussion with another poet, and he was arguing that you really shouldn’t suppress ideas, you really have to let all these ideas come out, and then criticize the things that you think are wrong and let people learn. And I said: “Well, that’s good as a principle, and it should be applied to a significant degree, but you can’t make an absolute out of that.” And I gave this example: imagine if you were trying to build a new society, and you go down the street and at every street corner are paintings of women being raped and Black people being lynched. Do you think you could build a new society with those images assaulting people at every turn? Some things you have to put your foot down and say “This will not be allowed, because if it is, the masses of people are going to be demoralized and disoriented, and the reactionaries are going to be emboldened.” So there are some things—as I said it’s not so simple—there are some things you just cannot allow.
But there are many, many things you can, and should, allow. For example, how do we uproot male supremacy and white supremacy? You can allow a lot of debate about that, and should allow a lot of debate about it—and a lot of criticism and struggle over many different things. So there again, you have your solid core, and a lot of elasticity. You have those things where you have to put your foot down and say yes, or no—this is the way it is, and this is the way it is not.
But, again, this “you” needs to be constantly expanding. Still, at any given time, that leading core does have to lead in that way. It does have to correctly combine a solid core with as much elasticity as possible on the basis of that solid core. Even while it is an expanding core, at any given time it has to determine when to hold the reins tightly and pay very detailed attention to things, and what are those conditions and times and circumstances where it is not necessary to do this, and in fact it is better not to do so.
Now, in this regard it is interesting to think about us in relation to the ruling class. To a significant degree, what is happening in the ruling class in the U.S. at this time is that you have a group of people, open and unabashed reactionaries, that has a very solid core. They are constantly launching attacks on relativism. It’s interesting though—a lot of them, the people grouped around Bush, and a lot of the people who want to promote religious fundamentalism—they actually in some ways like to promote post-modernism. Because they like relativism in a certain way and up to a certain point. They like it when it is directed against science. [laughter] They like it when it argues that science is “just another narrative” that is neither inherently true or not true, but just expresses its own “paradigm.” Because then they can promote all kinds of shit like creationism on the basis of having knocked down the idea that science can lead to any truth.
But in general these people hate relativism. And they want to promote absolutes. So they have a certain absolutist solid core, these people that are more—just a short-hand description—grouped around Bush, and in particular those who are part of what we call the Christian Fascist grouping, which has a powerful representation and support from powerful sections of the ruling class.
So they don’t really go in for much elasticity. And it’s interesting that the sections of the bourgeoisie that do tend to go in for more elasticity, the “liberal” sections of the bourgeoisie—and their reflections among more popular sections of the society—are actually very incapable of answering this absolutism. Their relativism doesn’t stand up very well to this absolutism, because it’s a relativism without a center, without a solid core. That is, without a center or a solid core that can answer the core assumptions of this other force, this more fascistic force. So the “liberals” are constantly ceding ground to this more fascistic force, because liberalism actually shares many of the same assumptions, and it can’t find a solid grounding for its differences. It wants to be the nice guys in the face of very mean-spirited people, and sometimes the latter allow that, with the orientation of “all the better to eat you with.” In other words, these more fascistic types are perfectly willing to allow the liberals to be tolerant of them. The problem is, you can’t fight a force like this with that kind of tolerance. It’s interesting when you hear about things like this new liberal radio station (“Air America”) and so on—it’s kind of a dud. Because they don’t really have an answer.
We do have an answer. But our answer cannot be an absolutist solid core that’s just the opposite of theirs in outward form (the “mirror opposite” of it). It has to be one that really is a solid core with a lot of elasticity, and in that way really brings to the fore the actual interests and increasingly the conscious initiative of growing numbers from among the masses of people.
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 selection was published in the Revolutionary Worker [now Revolution] #1257 and 1258 (October 31 and November 14, 2004). [back]
2. Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World is a talk given by Bob Avakian in the late 1990s. Excerpts from this talk appeared in the Revolutionary Worker and are available online at revcom.us. The series “On Proletarian Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship—A Radically Different View of Leading Society” appeared in RW #1214 through 1226 (October 5, 2003–January 25, 2004). The series “Getting Over the Hump” appeared in RW #927, 930, 932, and 936-940 (October 12, November 2, November 16, and December 14, 1997 through January 18, 1998). Two additional excerpts from this talk are “Materialism and Romanticism: Can We Do Without Myth” in RW #1211 (August 24, 2003) and “Rereading George Jackson” in RW #968 (August 9, 1998). [back]
3. Bob Avakian, “Democracy More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That,” appendix to Phony Communism Is Dead…Long Live Real Communism, 2nd edition (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2004). [back]
4. Bob Avakian, Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? (Chicago: Banner Press, 1986). [back]
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
The High Stakes in Iraq—For Them And For Us
By Larry Everest
[Part One of this series, "The Crossroads in Iraq: Why the U.S. Went to War" is online.]
The U.S. invasion has turned Iraq into a waking nightmare for the Iraqi people. This past week Patrick Cockburn of London’s Independent reported:
“In Baghdad the police often pick up over 100 tortured and mutilated bodies in a single day. Government ministries make war on each other… As Shia and Sunni flee each other’s neighborhoods Iraq is turning into a country of refugees. The UN High Commission for Refugees says that 1.6 million are displaced within the country and a further 1.8 million have fled abroad.”
Iraq has also turned into a potential nightmare—of a fundamentally different kind—for the Bush regime: a looming debacle that threatens the U.S. grip on the Middle East, its global standing, and the Bush doctrine of global transformation for greater empire.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines “quagmire” as “A complex or precarious position where disengagement is difficult.” For the U.S., the situation is complex and precarious because in many ways its difficulties spring from its sweeping and predatory objectives, and because its responses to these difficulties have made matters worse. And for the imperialists, the stakes in Iraq and the Middle East are global and enormous, making “disengagement” excruciatingly difficult. In sum, the U.S. rulers’ necessity is growing, while their freedom is shrinking.
Bush’s Imperial Rupture in the Middle East
How did things get to this point? What drove the U.S. to invade Iraq? And why haven’t things gone according to plan?
The Bush regime felt compelled to conquer Iraq for a number of reasons: to demonstrate superpower resolve after Sept. 11, to remove a troublesome regime, and to begin the radical transformation of the Middle East. The Bush team felt the status quo there was no longer stable or viable, in part because of the growth of anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism in the 1990s. Their planned transformation would topple unfriendly regimes, “shock and awe” the masses broadly, and restructure the region’s brittle tyrannies through imperialist-led “democratization” and deeper economic penetration. Most directly it would serve notice on their Islamic fundamentalist opponents that there would be a high price to pay for any opposition and more strategically would undercut and then essentially defeat them, as a viable and dynamic opposed force.
Iraq presented opportunities as well as necessities. It was weak, Hussein was despised by many Iraqis, and its large middle class, relative secularism, and vast oil reserves made it seem like a prime candidate for the kind of restructuring the U.S. envisioned. Various neocons and Iraqi exiles claimed Iraq’s Shias were moderate and democratic-minded, and would be supportive. The new Iraq under U.S. control would be key in launching an irresistible “tsunami” of modernization and democratization across the region.
The U.S. invaded Iraq with a relatively light, quick force of 140,000 (less than a third of what had been mustered for the 1991 Persian Gulf War which only sought to expel Hussein from Kuwait, not conquer the country) not only because Iraq had been weakened by over a decade of war and sanctions, but also because Iraq was viewed as only one phase in an unbounded war to create an unchallenged and unchallengeable U.S. empire. For this, a flexible, mobile force, able to quickly fight wars on different fronts in rapid succession, was essential—as was breaking with the “Powell doctrine” of overwhelming force in every situation.
The plan was to quickly conquer Iraq, quickly hand power off to hand-picked pro-U.S. exiles, and quickly move on. “Within weeks, if all went well,” the Washington Post reported, “Iraqis would begin taking control of their own affairs and the exit of U.S. troops would be well underway.”
Speeding to Baghdad, Colliding With Reality
The speed of the U.S. conquest was stunning. Twenty-three days later after invading Iraq, the U.S. had captured Baghdad and Hussein—and his statutes—had been toppled. Even more stunning, it would turn out, was the speed with which U.S. plans ran into the profound contradictions roiling Iraq and the Middle East. On April 17, 2003, eight days after the U.S. took Baghdad, daily life was in shambles, chaos and looting raged across Iraq, and journalist Robert Fisk would report, “It’s going wrong, faster than anyone could have imagined.”
Many of the U.S.’s assumptions went up in smoke along with Iraq’s looted infrastructure and shattered state: the notion that Iraqis would joyously greet them as liberators, that all Hussein’s forces would be destroyed or capitulate rather than launch a guerrilla resistance, that the U.S.’s allies would be capable of quickly establishing a governing authority, and that it would be possible to stabilize the situation by rapidly improving life for ordinary Iraqis.
More fundamentally, the Bush regime underestimated how the shock of the invasion and collapse of the Iraqi state would lift the lid on the profound contradictions roiling Iraq, including hatred of the U.S. and its ally Israel, and how it would open the door to a host of anti-U.S. forces, especially different Islamist currents among both Sunnis and Shias.
(Journalist Nir Rosen describes how religious forces quickly stepped into the vacuum in post-Hussein Iraq: “Without the Baath Party or any other political force, without police or an army, all that remained was the mosque. Old authorities were destroyed and angry young clerics replaced them, arrogating to themselves the power to represent, to mobilize, and to govern.”)
In short, they found more necessity (in the form of anti-U.S. hostility, Islamic fundamentalism, and openings for other regional powers) and less freedom than they expected.
Playing Catch-up and Losing the Initiative
The Bush regime quickly realized that things weren’t going according to plan, and made various adjustments within the parameters of their strategic goals. But their adjustments have turned out to be either too little or too late (although it’s not clear whether anything could have “worked” for them given the profound contradictions they faced and the limits of U.S. power), or they created new, more intractable contradictions. A dynamic was unleashed in which the U.S. increasingly lost the military and political initiative, and was caught in a downward spiral of shrinking freedom, more onerous choices, and growing necessity.
For instance, Gen. Jay Garner, the first overseer of the occupation, was fired after less than a month and replaced with J. Paul Bremer (a neocon, State Department official, and Henry Kissinger protégé). Garner had been following the Pentagon game plan of preserving the Baath state, quickly handing power to pro-U.S. exiles, and quickly leaving. As soon as Bremer arrived in mid-May 2003, he immediately tried to exert a firmer hand and change course. He quickly issued decrees banning Iraq’s Baath Party, disbanding Iraq’s army and police force, closing unprofitable state-run industries, and beginning the privatization of Iraq’s economy. Bremer also scuttled the proposed interim government in favor of a “Coalition Provisional Authority” which would gradually unfold the political process and form a new Iraqi government under tight U.S. control.
These decisions were taken for tactical and strategic reasons. Those still loyal to the Hussein regime and the Baath Party were seen as the greatest danger to the occupation, and de-Baathification was undertaken to shatter any institutional foothold they had, win over the Shias, and gain broad legitimacy. Pentagon neocons also saw an opportunity to push forward their agenda of regional transformation by building a new Iraqi state from the ground up.
This “volte face” had profound implications. After declaring they had come as liberators, the U.S. was now openly setting up an indefinite occupation with power tightly in its hands, exacerbating what former occupation official Larry Diamond described as “deep local suspicions of U.S. motives combined with the memory of Western colonialism and resentment of the U.S. stance in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle” and creating what he called “a massive lack of legitimacy for the occupation authority.”
Bremer’s decisions drove Sunnis toward the incipient armed resistance, which is a complex mix of supporters of the Hussein regime, nationalists, and Sunni Islamists. Many were educated professionals and crucial to the functioning of Iraqi society, and they were now being given no way out, treated like “terrorists, “with us or against us,” and basically told they were permanent enemies of the new state and had no place in Iraqi society.
On the military front, the U.S. responded to the insurgency with a combination of brutal search-and-destroy missions, sweeping round-ups, sieges of whole cities, and institution of widespread detention and torture. The U.S. never increased its troop levels, and these measures didn’t crush the resistance, they spread it. Attacks on U.S. forces rose from 75-150 a week in the summer of 2003 to 800 this fall.
Empowering Potential Enemies
The spreading insurgency, the weakness of secular pro-U.S. exiles, and the growing strength of Shia religious parties (along with Washington’s refusal to add more troops) drove the Occupation Authority to speed up plans for creating an Iraqi government, and relying more on reactionary Shi’ite and Kurdish forces. Both have generated new, reinforcing, contradictions.
The U.S. apportioned power and organized elections either directly along sectarian lines or in ways which strengthened those divisions. The Shia parties in particular (and there are a number of different factions among the Shia), and also the Kurds, have their own agenda which is often at variance with U.S. objectives. The strongest Shia organizations want to impose theocratic, Shia-based rule, exercise tight control of Shia regions where most of Iraq’s oil wealth is located, and essentially replace the Sunnis as the dominant force in Iraq—not liberate all Iraqis. Most also have strong links to Iran. And the Kurdish parties have sought to preserve their own autonomy in the north, including by ethnically purging Kirkuk, and this has also been in sharp contradiction with the aim of creating a new unified Iraq.
Shia factions have been using their control of the state and various ministries to build their own sectarian strength (in preparation for a fight to the death with the Sunnis—or perhaps even to expel the U.S.), not to create a multi-national state along the lines the U.S. envisions. The U.S. had been counting on a new Iraqi army to take over security and fight the insurgency, but the new Iraqi army, such as it is, has either proven ineffective or beholden to sectarian militias. “Shia militias had become the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army,” Rosen notes. (And there is widespread evidence that the U.S. not only tolerates, but has directly helped organize, anti-insurgency Shia death squads that operate from within Iraqi government ministries.)
All this—and the fundamentalist religious and reactionary ideology of the dominant Shia parties as well as elements of the Sunni insurgency representing the interests and outlook of traditional feudal and bourgeois strata—has uncorked a wave of murderous ethnic and religious cleansing that now threatens the very existence of Iraq as a unified country.
Through all this, both the resistance and sectarian war have devastated and destabilized Iraqi society and made it impossible for the U.S. to rebuild the country, stabilize daily life, and build political support, much less open Iraq up to the profiteering and integration with global imperialism that was a big element of the agenda. This, in turn, has deepened both the resistance and the civil war.
The Role of Bush Regime Epistemology
Why were the Bush regime’s assumptions so wildly out of sync with reality, and why did they continue to miscalculate and insist on “staying the course” in Iraq?
All manner of bourgeois commentators and politicians have lambasted the Bush team for being “out of touch with reality.” But the problem doesn’t begin there. The Bush team felt that previous strategies had failed to address the growing problems of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East (and the experience in Iraq only underscores the growing challenge by Islamic fundamentalism), and that drastic action was necessary, even if it was risky.
So Bush’s insistence on “staying the course” is based on what he perceives to be the need to press ahead in the face of adversity (and great danger)—which they somewhat expected given the scope of their ambitions—because the stakes are huge and retreat could spell disaster. There is an element of desperation here—a fear that any retreat or major course correction could derail the whole enterprise. And it seems that the Bush team’s judgment has been conditioned, and clouded, by these needs and ambitions, with a kind of ‘faith-based’ (or wishful thinking) epistemology taking hold, as if they could bend reality to their will if they just stayed focused enough. All this has made them less flexible and able to adapt to new developments or difficulties.
Take the case of Bush’s refusal to send more troops—probably the decision most criticized among bourgeois ranks. For one, committing tens or hundreds of thousands more troops to Iraq could have created even greater difficulties for the broader Bush agenda. It would have greatly changed the domestic political calculus—heightening antiwar sentiment and perhaps lifting the lid on the real costs and horrors of the overall Bush agenda—hence their strategy of preserving a sense of “normalcy” domestically—”go shopping,” Bush told people after Sept. 11.—as they are busy undermining and transforming social and political “norms.” And yes, there was wishful thinking, with Bush and company repeatedly deluding themselves that some tactical military and political adjustments (and they greatly overestimated the efficacy of military technology in dealing with an insurgency) would bring things under control.
The Bush regime has scaled back its objectives in Iraq from democratic transformation to “ensuring that the nation can govern and defend itself and that it is stable, not a threat to neighbors, and an ally in the fight against terrorism.” (Washington Post, 12/2).
It may be too late for even that. The U.S. has been unable to quell the Sunni-based insurgency, and the Iraqis they allied with have their own agendas. The volatile Iraqi mix has unleashed sectarian warfare that threatens current U.S. objectives of avoiding the collapse of the new Iraqi state, keeping the country together, not allowing other regional states to become involved, and preventing the contagion to spread throughout the region, including by turning the Iraq war into a regional war. Journalist Robert Fisk (12/1) writes: “There can be no graceful exit from Iraq, only a terrifying, bloody collapse of military power… The fracture of Iraq is virtually complete, its chasms sucking in corpses at the rate of up to a thousand a day.” (And there are already reports that Saudi Arabia would dispatch fighters to come to the aid of their Sunni brethren in Iraq if the Shia campaign of ethnic cleansing continues.)
Yet leaving Iraq could make matters even worse for the U.S. imperialists. Iraq could fly apart, anti-U.S. Islamist forces emboldened, and the rug pulled out from under already brittle U.S. regional allies like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. As Lenin described World War 1, crowns could be soon rolling on the ground across the Middle East.
NEXT: NO GRACEFUL EXIT
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
November 18 on Chicago’s Southside, Michael Smith was waiting to get his hair cut and went into the convenience store to get some chips and a soda. As he came out of the store with two other young men, two men approached with hoods on and guns drawn. Moments later Michael lay dying with a bullet in his stomach. The hooded men turned out to be police officers
The police first claimed that Michael Smith “came toward them [the cops] with his hands in his pockets and wouldn’t take them out when ordered to.” Later, they claimed that Michael had “wrestled one of the officers for his gun.”
Witnesses on the scene tell a whole different story. One of the guys Michael was with described how the plainclothes cops, with guns already drawn, came up to them without identifying themselves. One of them pulled Michael to him, and the gun went off. Others at the scene confirm that this was what happened.
Michael was 22 years old and worked on and off at his uncle’s HVAC business. He was living with his fiancée and his two kids—a 4-year-old and a 14-month-old.
On Nov. 27, about 200 people gathered at the spot where Michael was killed and then marched through the neighborhood. According to people who were at the protest, the police began to follow the march—and more and more came. The cops ordered the news cameras to leave. After the media left, the cops jumped out of their cars and attacked the march. They knocked down a youth on a bike, picked up the bike and threw it into the middle of the march. People scattered, and the police chased them to the house of Michael’s family, where they began grabbing and beating young men and women—slamming them up against cars or onto the ground—and arrested 17.
Michael’s uncle spoke of his sorrow and outrage. “I put my nephew, who really had not begun to live his life, in the ground… You put a hood over your head, you and your partner come out with your guns drawn, and you surprise a group of young men coming out of the store. Now, all of a sudden, one of them is dead and it was justified. There’s a big problem with that.”
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
From a reader in Atlanta
An hour or so past sundown on November 21, three plainclothes narc cops cut through the burglar bars and battered down the door of a single-family home in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood. On the other side of that door, fearing for her life, was 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston who had a rusty revolver. After many rounds fired by the police, the three cops ended up wounded…and Ms. Johnston was dead from the police bullets.
The assistant police chief claimed that the three cops “did everything by the book. They had a search warrant, announced themselves and knocked first.” Family, friends, and neighbors are outraged. One man asked, “So if home-invading thugs yell ‘Police!’ before they kick in my door, I don’t get to shoot them?” “As far as I’m concerned,” said niece Sarah Dozier, “they shot her down like a dog.”
Kathryn Johnston had lived for 17 years in a neighborhood that is “in transition.” New homes are being built as older homes deteriorate, and there is plenty of crime. The houses on Ms. Johnston’s block are neat and well cared for, but all have burglar bars on the doors and windows. The elderly and folks like Ms. Johnston who live alone keep their guard up, especially after the sun goes down. From the neighbor who delivered her groceries to the man who tended her yard, all who knew her agreed that Ms. Johnston lived in fear behind those bars. The fear led her to keep a pistol—with a permit—close at hand.
Initially, neighbors thought the police must have raided the house by mistake. One young woman said, “I’d sooner believe that the world is flat before I’d believe that Johnston condoned drug activity in her house… She hated the drug presence in her neighborhood. She hated it.” As time went on, however, it has turned out that nothing was the way the police first told it.
The search warrant? The sworn affidavit behind the “John Doe” warrant claimed that a “reliable source”—who is not an undercover cop, contrary to what the police originally stated—had used city money to purchase crack cocaine “from Sam” at that house earlier that day. This “reliable source” allegedly turned over the purchased drug and informed the police that “Sam” had security cameras all around the house that he monitored constantly—a sure sign of illegal activity.
Trouble is, “Sam” doesn’t exist. “Reliable source” has now gone public, telling police investigators and the TV news cameras that he never went to that address and that there was no person named “Sam” and no security cameras. It was all made up. “Reliable source” now says the cops called him after the attack and warned him to cover for them, or else. It’s also come out that one of the narcs who swore out the affidavit is being sued for fabricating charges in an earlier case. Finally, investigators have now disclosed that the “narcotics” seized at the scene of the shooting were in fact a small amount of marijuana; the buzz is that they had found nothing at all.
The FBI is in charge of the “investigation” by the city along with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s office. An FBI spokesman insisted that there were as yet no findings and that nothing would be revealed before the end of the entire investigation. But a TV news report showed more than 100 bullet holes at Ms. Johnston’s house. And, according to a report on the local radio on Nov. 30, ballistics tests show that Ms. Johnston had fired only one shot before being killed, and that forensics evidence indicates only one cop got hit by a bullet—the others were wounded by shrapnel.
As of this writing, seven narcotics officers and a sergeant involved in the raid are on paid administrative leave.
Grieving relatives and people outraged at the killing have kept a vigil outside Ms. Johnston’s home. Spontaneous outpourings of anger have given way to organized protest and resistance. There have been rallies and public meetings—of 400-500 or more people at a time—to demand justice. Prominent among the organizers are the New Black Panther Party, FTP Movement, Malcolm X Grass Roots, and New Order Human Rights Organization. Present at one mass meeting were professor and Native rights activist Ward Churchill and former Representative Cynthia McKinney.
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
Millions of people feel relieved or even euphoric at the Democrat victory in the mid-term elections and think something good will come of this. But something happened in these elections which has actually strengthened very bad terms around the U.S./Mexico border and immigration. This may pave the way for a rapid move to pass a set of dangerous new laws with far-reaching consequences when Congress reconvenes in January.
Nancy Pelosi, new Democratic Speaker of the House, has announced that immigration is one of the first fronts of bipartisan efforts with the Bush White House. This is a key and immediate issue that will not only set the terms for the border and immigration, but overall for the Bush/Democrat partnership. Bush has made “comprehensive immigration reform” his top priority domestic issue, one where he sees “common ground with the Democrats.” And all top Democrat leaders, from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton (who chastised Bush for not “exponentially” beefing up Border Patrol as she had suggested), are lining up firmly behind the Bush program of “comprehensive reform” (comprehensive is a catchword for the guest worker program).
There is broad consensus among ruling class circles and their political representatives (both Republicans and Democrats) on “securing” the border with Mexico.” What remains is to hammer out how to forge a temporary work program that satisfies the need for a super-exploitable labor pool (especially in U.S. agriculture, where immigrant labor comprises over 70% of the work force).
The bipartisan consensus may be one reason why Bush rushed to sign the Secure Fence Act in late October. It authorizes the construction of a 700-mile fence, additional checkpoints and advanced technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles to track and hunt immigrants at the border. This new law, which only awaits funding to implement, was originally part of the House Sensenbrenner bill (HR 4437). This bill was rightfully seen by millions as a fascist-like clampdown, with its provisions to make felons of anyone who hired or assisted immigrants, and provoked massive protests last spring.
A so-called “compromise” bill that passed the Senate, while not making felons of everyone, is basically as repressive and in line with the Bush plan. It calls for a triple-layer border fence, huge increase of Border Patrol and detention centers, AND makes English the official language.
Many among all sections of the people, including many pro-immigrant and otherwise progressive forces, see these “compromises” as a positive thing. But this is a very bad program for the people, with strategic implications, not just in terms of ramping up repression against immigrants (which it does), but even more fundamentally with how the U.S. ruling class is going to shape U.S. society, and relations with Mexico, as they pursue their war on the world.
Setting Terms of Debate/Shaping Public Opinion
Look at the dynamics of what happened in Arizona. While there are real differences in the ruling class over how to handle this situation, the net effect of the elections was a sort of “good cop/bad cop” routine, with so-called “moderates” opposing the most reactionary Minutemen candidates. While the Minutemen didn’t win, they were able to set the terms of the debate and make the Bush/Democrat reactionary anti-immigrant program the consensus and the “best you could get”—again, a program that is bound to be very bad for the people. Meanwhile, the whole dynamics in this election gave credibility to the Minutemen vigilantes. They—lost but were able to establish themselves as a “possible alternative” in the discussion over what to do regarding immigration. They were considered a legitimate part of the political debate (like when Ku Klux Klan vigilante leader David Duke ran for office and was treated as a legitimate, serious candidate who should be listened to).
In this overall atmosphere, it is not surprising that four anti-immigration ballot initiatives passed. These initiatives restrict posting bail, restrict public benefits, deny punitive damages to the undocumented, and establish English as the official language. These cruel anti-immigrant laws were passed in the same state (Arizona) that was also the only one in this past election (out of eight states) to defeat an anti-gay marriage initiative. This reflects the complexity of the current political landscape, where even those who reject aspects of the Christian fascist program are falling for elements of the fascist attack on immigrants.
Many among the ruling class political representatives, from Colorado’s ultra-reactionary Tom Tancredo to Hillary Clinton, argue for situating immigration and control of the U.S./Mexico border in the context of the US so-called “war on terror” as a national security issue. FBI Director Robert Mueller has claimed that “individuals from countries with known al Qaeda connections have attempted to enter the United States illegally using alien smuggling rings and assuming Hispanic appearances.” And the House Committee on Homeland Security recently released a report that claims Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is supplying fake documents to enable terrorists from all over the world to enter the U.S.
Border Concerns of an Empire
The U.S./Mexico border dates from the U.S. invasion in 1846, which stole half of Mexico’s land in order to expand its slave system in the south. For 160 years, U.S. capital and capitalists have continually crossed this border to dominate and plunder Mexico’s economic and human resources, and wreak havoc on its political, social, and cultural institutions. And the U.S. didn’t hesitate to send its military across the border in 1916 to try and crush the Mexican Revolution.
Since 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has ruined millions of Mexican peasants who couldn’t compete with cheap U.S. agri-products flooding the Mexican economy. Mexico’s many border factories/maquiladoras, which make cheap products for U.S. corporations, have moved to China where the term “starvation wages” is even more literal. This global process of exploitation has meant unprecedented human migration and misery within and between many countries, including Mexico.
The border with Mexico is not an incidental question for the imperialists. It is essential for an empire to control its borders, especially during its current rampage to establish itself as an unchallenged and unchallengeable empire. This is not just a question of monitoring who crosses it in some general sense. There is a larger dimension at work in Bush’s proposal to further militarize an already-militarized border. It has to do with the real fear this government has of social and political upheaval, even revolutionary upsurge, that could cross the border.
That is, beyond simply scapegoating immigrants for all of society’s problems, they are trying to deal with real necessity and fears as to the political and social stability domestically and “in their backyard.” The U.S. pays close attention to things like the current uprising in Oaxaca. They see the border with Mexico and the millions of immigrants here as part of centrifugal forces which potentially threaten America’s national cohesion—a cohesion founded on white supremacy and imperialist chauvinist domination of countries like Mexico. The U.S. is the only imperialist country that has a country it directly plunders pressed up against the “belly of the beast” and one that has pulled millions they ruthlessly oppress into its very belly to further ruthlessly exploit.
Out of the Shadow and into the Fascist Light
Given this, there is ruling class consensus on forcing millions of undocumented immigrants “out of the shadows.” This is meant to address the system’s economic compulsion for cheap labor while keeping this section of workers in a caste-like status—and as a preemptive measure to monitor and shut down any kind of resistance or upheaval. With an international agenda of endless war, the U.S. ruling class and their political representatives need stability on the homefront—i.e., a compliant populace and work force, including millions of super-exploited and exploitable immigrants. This means millions of people simply cannot be permitted to continue living “outside the law.”
This is especially the case with a section of people at the base of U.S. society who have some experience and knowledge of the ugly role the U.S. plays in Mexico and other countries. Given this U.S. imperialist history and present reality of the Bush program, what are the implications of tens of thousands of U.S. Border Patrol and now National Guard troops constantly stationed right at the U.S.-Mexico border as to U.S. intervention in any serious political upheaval in Mexico, Central or Latin America? And what prevents these same troops to be used to crush any upheaval on THIS side of the border?
Resistance and Revolution
What is needed now is for the struggle begun last spring to intensify and broaden. There must be no compromise—on the fundamental rights of immigrants and on opposition to the militarization of the border. This means no common ground with the Bush regime’s overall program, including his comprehensive immigrant repression. This means waging ideological struggle among the working class and oppressed, as well as others, to see that the same interests and forces that are behind people being forced to immigrate to the U.S. (and that create the oppressive and exploitative situation in the countries they come from) are the same interests and forces (and system) that are oppressing and exploiting Black people and other masses as a whole in the U.S. It means helping people to see that people have a common oppressor and a common interest in fighting and getting rid of this system
This kind of potential was expressed in embryo when there were immigration raids in the Bible-belt town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Black workers, white middle class people, and even city officials came to the support of immigrant workers (reported in the Boston Globe, July 24, 2006 “Raid on Immigrants Violates Sense of Community”). This was also indicated when the Minutemen, nominally led by a Black homeless man, staged a fanfare in the African American Leimert Park of Los Angeles. A handful of vigilantes were met by many more angry protesters—Black and white. And in October at Columbia College, at a program featuring representatives from the reactionary Minutemen, students demonstrated outside and inside, some took to the stage to protest.
Alliances among different sections of the people, including the oppressed and proletarians, urgently need to be forged to beat back the immediate attacks on immigrants, but also with an eye towards greater upheaval to come, including potentially revolutionary upheaval. The intensifying current crisis provides the backdrop for things to go in a multitude of directions. Left on its own, things will develop in ways that are even worse for the masses, on both sides of the border and across the globe.
The complex and underlying dynamics of this system are driving the Bush Regime and the Democrats to unite on controlling the border and repressing immigrant masses. And what is called for is mass resistance, in various ways and dimensions—to change the situation and work towards hastening the possibility of any future openings for revolution and being able to seize on such openings if and when they develop—on either or both sides of the border.
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
From A World to Win News Service
It was reported in the media that on November 21, formal agreements were signed in Nepal between Chairman Prachanda, the leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and Girija Prasad Koirala, the Prime Minister of the current government of Nepal.
According to the U.S. media, the background leading up to this has been a country beleaguered by “out of bounds” rebels. But, in fact, it is the old state in Nepal—including its army and the social conditions it has enforced on the people—that has been widely exposed to very broad masses of people in Nepal as an oppressive and illegitimate power. In opposition to this, the new people’s power in large parts of the countryside—brought into being by ten years of Maoist-led people’s war and a people’s army—has created important beginnings of something truly liberating. This, along with the huge struggle in April 2006, involving many class forces against the Nepalese monarchy, has brought events in Nepal to this current juncture, which now poses major questions about how to go forward from here.
We need to understand this current agreement more fully, and in particular the thinking of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). We do believe that revolution is what’s needed. In Nepal that means a new democratic revolution which is a step in a socialist revolution there, and part of a struggle toward the goal of communism worldwide. This requires a whole new state—a revolutionary state which gives backing to the masses of people in making deep changes, including in fundamental economic and social relations. The people’s war in Nepal set out ten years ago to do that, and it has now reached a very important crossroads. While the path to revolution is not straight, all major steps in any revolutionary process need to be understood and evaluated in relation to achieving these fundamental goals.
The following article by A World To Win News Service contains the basic news about the content of the agrement that was signed. We are printing it here for our readers’ information.
* * * * *
November 27, 2006. A World to Win News Service. “This ends the 11 years of civil war in our country,” declared Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda as he and Prime Minister G. P. Koirala signed a “Comprehensive Peace Agreement” at midnight 21 November. The CPN(M) and the seven-party alliance currently governing the country agreed to form a transitional government by December 1, and hold elections for a constituent assembly to establish a new constitution and governmental system by next June.
The government declared the following day a legal holiday and asked people to carry out the traditional Deepwali lighting ceremonies. The CPN(M) called for victory rallies and mass meetings that day.
Friends of the revolution in Nepal around the world are asking how to view this agreement in light of the CPN(M)’s stated objectives when it launched the people’s war February 13, 1996 – the carrying out of a New Democratic Revolution as the first step toward socialism and communism.
After ten years of people’s war the great bulk of Nepal’s countryside had been liberated by the CPN(M)-led People’s Liberation Army. In areas under the control of the PLA, organs of people’s power were created and real transformations have hammered away at the centuries-old backward social system headed by a king who claimed to be the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. The poor peasants, oppressed nationalities and victims of the vicious caste system stood tall and helped exercise power together with those from the upper castes who broke with Brahmanism. In a few years the formerly horrendous position of women in Nepal went through astounding changes, with women playing a vital role in the revolution, enrolling in the PLA in vast numbers (35 percent of the troops) and starting to create a new democratic culture where more and more women and men married whom they wanted, going against barriers of caste or family.
The armed protectors of the old state known until recently as the Royal Nepal Army has been more and more holed up in the capital and a few major towns and a few heavily fortified barracks in different parts of the countryside, unable to travel except by helicopter or in large convoys. The RNA received substantial support from the US, India, Britain, China and other reactionary states, but is widely hated by people in city and countryside alike. Almost all Nepalese consider the king himself guilty of the murder of his brother and much of the rest of the royal family in a 2001 palace massacre. In April 2006 the monarchy in Nepal was further battered by a massive movement in the capital and other cities demanding the end of the monarchy. As a result of this movement and the on-going people’s war, the king was forced to take a back seat and he restored the previously dissolved parliament. The Royal Nepal Army was rebaptised the Nepali Army but the old murderous commanders stayed the same. A ceasefire was declared between the Nepali Army and the People’s Liberation Army. What kind of society, what kind of state, will be established throughout Nepal has been the uppermost question on the mind of the whole society.
Arrangements for the two armies
Under the new agreement, the People’s Liberation Army is to be confined to seven cantonments (designated areas), with three smaller camps within each cantonment. Most PLA members were reported to have arrived in a cantonment by the time the agreement was signed, and the rest were expected shortly. These areas were chosen by a joint committee of the PLA, Nepali Army and UN.
The agreement states, “After placing the Maoist combatants within the Cantonments, all the arms and ammunition except those required for providing security to the Cantonments shall be securely stored and the keys to the single lock shall remain with the side concerned [the PLA]. The UN shall monitor the process of placing the weapons under a single lock by keeping records and fitting a device along with a siren. In case of need to examine the weapons placed under the single lock, the UN shall do so under the presence of the concerned side. All the technical details along with camera monitoring shall be prepared under the joint agreement of the UN, CPN (Maoist) and the Government of Nepal.”
The Nepali Army (ex-Royal Nepal Army), for its part, “shall be confined within the barracks. Guarantee that the arms shall not be used for or against any side. The Nepali Army shall store the same amount of arms in accordance with those of the Maoists and seal it with a single lock and give the key to the concerned side [the Nepali Army].” The rest of the arrangements are the same as for the Maoists, according to the unofficial English translation provided by the Kathmandu daily Kantipur. (Both that translation and the one posted by Nepalnews.com are used in this article. They differ slightly.) According to the media, the PLA has some 35,000 members and the Nepali Army almost three times as many. Since both sides would lock up the same number of arms, this implies that the Nepali Army would not put most of its weapons under lock and key.
The Council of Ministers, which is to be formed by December 1 and include CPN(M) ministers, is to “control, mobilise and manage the Nepali Army as per the new Military Act. The Interim Council of Ministers shall prepare and implement a detailed action plan for the democratisation of the Nepali Army by taking suggestions from the concerned committee of the Interim Parliament. This shall include tasks such as determining the right number of [soldiers in] the Nepali Army, preparing the democratic structure reflecting the national and inclusive character and training them as per the democratic principles and values of the human rights. The Nepali Army shall be giving continuity to tasks such as border security, security of the conservation areas, protected areas, banks, airport, power houses, telephone towers, central secretariat and security of VIPs.” Another section states, “The government shall be taking care of the security arrangements of the Maoist leaders.”
This new government is to provide rations for the PLA members in the cantonments, which is no small matter since it involves concentrations of thousands of soldiers in each one. “The Interim Council of Ministers shall form a special committee in order to inspect, integrate and rehabilitate the Maoist combatants,” the agreement continues. Both armies are forbidden to wear combat uniforms or carry arms “illegally” while travelling outside their confinement areas, or at public gatherings, and to recruit soldiers and procure new weapons. However, “the security forces deployed by the interim government shall have authority to conduct routine patrols, explore in order to prevent illegal trafficking in weapons, explosives or raw materials used in assembling weapons, at the international border or customs points, and seize them.” Further, the Kantipur translation says, “The Nepali Police and Armed Police Force shall give continuity to the task of maintaining the legal system and law and order, as well as criminal investigation as per the norms and sentiments of the Jana Andolan [the April mass demonstrations that forced the king to abandon direct rule] and the peace accord as well as prevailing law.”
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Personal Representative Ian Martin and other UN officials have been closely and directly involved in the process. The next step after the Comprehensive Agreement and a precondition for further steps, Martin said, is a tripartite agreement concerning the details of the management of arms and armies between the government, the Maoists and the UN team he heads. Although high US and EU officials have been on the spot and the US, UK, India, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and Israel have issued statements welcoming the agreement, the UN Security Council has yet to meet to formally consider the subject. Once it issues a mandate, arrangements can be finalized to send UN personnel – 60 monitors to start with, Annan said – tasked with ensuring that neither side can access its stored arms without setting off alarms, being filmed by surveillance cameras and otherwise detected.
A letter sent to the UN by the prime minister and Maoist party chairman in August, reaffirmed by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, asks the UN to play a continuing role in Nepal in terms of five issues: monitoring the human rights situation, helping monitor the 25-point Code of Conduct between the two sides, confining the two armies to their camps and barracks, monitoring the locked-up weapons and acting as observers during the election of the constituent assembly. With the signing of the peace agreement, the UN High Commission for Human Rights has said her organisation would focus on Nepal’s districts and step up monitoring in rural areas.
The interim government, legal system and the king
Prachanda and Koirala reached an extensive draft agreement at a summit conference 8 November that was to be finalized and signed by 16 November. Why this did not happen has not been fully explained, although the November 21 Comprehensive Agreement reaffirms that draft and contains it as an annex. Nor is there any word yet about the interim constitution that was to be finalized and signed by November 21. That constitution is to be the basis and guide for the new government and its measures. The Comprehensive Agreement states that the existing legal system and constitution will prevail until an interim constitution is adopted, and after that the old laws will continue in force unless they are “inconsistent” with the new constitution. The Agreement also says, “Both parties agree not to operate parallel or any form of structure in any areas of the state or government structures as per the letter of the decisions of November 8.” Those decisions specify that “The people’s government, people’s courts run by the CPN (Maoist) would be dissolved on the day of the formation of the interim parliament. Interim bodies will be formed at the district, city and village level.”
According to the 8 November document, the interim government to be formed by December 1 will be headed by a cabinet to include Maoists. In addition to 209 current members of parliament from the seven-party alliance, the interim single-chamber parliament is also to include 73 new Maoist representatives. There will also be 48 new seats apportioned to members of “civil society” from among supporters of all of the different political formations in the country. Of the new total of 330 seats, the CPN(M) would have only a few less seats than the biggest party, the Congress Party, and the same number as the second biggest, the UML. Some former members of parliament – 11 according to a newspaper report – deemed “pro-regression” because they “opposed the people’s movement” are to be excluded.
The Comprehensive Agreement strips King Gyanendra of “any authority regarding the governance of the country”, but not of his crown. The property of the former king (Gyanendra’s brother) and his wife is to become a state trust. All properties Gyanendra personally acquired since he took the throne (palace, forests, parks, heritage and archaeological sites) are to be nationalized. The continuation or ending of the monarchy is to be decided by a simple majority vote at the first meeting of the constituent assembly, which is to decide the country’s future form of government.
Speaking at a gathering of politicians, diplomats and other prominent people after signing the agreement, Chairman Prachanda said, “This moment marks the end of the 238-year-old feudal system,” referring to the date when the monarchy began.
The agreement expresses “determination for the progressive restructuring of the state to resolve existing problems in the country, based on class, cast, religion and sex; reiterating the full commitment towards democratic values and acceptance, including the multiparty democratic system of governance, civil liberty, fundamental rights, human rights, full press freedom and the concept of the rule of law; keeping democracy, peace, prosperity, economic and social change, and independence, indivisibility, sovereignty and self-respect of the country at centre… declaring the beginning of a new chapter of peaceful collaboration by ending the armed struggle throughout the country since 1996, through political consensus between the two sides to ensure the sovereignty of the Nepali people through a constituent assembly, a forward-looking political solution, the democratic restructuring of the state and economic, social and cultural transformation.”
Later, it pledges these specific goals: “To adopt a political system that complies with universally accepted fundamental human rights, a multiparty competitive democratic system, sovereignty inherent in the people, the supremacy of the people, constitutional checks and balances, the rule of law, social justice, equality, an independent judiciary, periodic elections, monitoring by civil society, complete press freedom, people’s right to information, transparency and accountability in the activities of political parties, people’s participation, and an impartial, competent and fair concept of bureaucracy.
“To address the problems related to women, Dalits, indigenous people, Janajatis, Madheshi, oppressed, neglected, minorities and the backward by ending discrimination based on class, caste, language, sex, culture, religion, and region and to restructure the state on the basis of inclusiveness, democracy and progression by ending the present centralised and unitary structure of the state.
“To keep implementing at least programmes of common consensus for the economic and social transformation to end all forms of feudalism.
“To adopt the policy to implement a scientific land reform programme by ending the feudalistic system of landholding, follow the policy for the protection and promotion of national industries and resources. To adopt policy to establish rights of all citizens in education, health, housing, employment and food reserve. To adopt policy to provide land and other economic protection to landless squatters, Kamaiya, Halia, Harwa, Charwa and economically backward sections. To adopt policy to severely punish people amassing properties by means of corruption while remaining in government posts. To form common development concepts for economic and social transformation and justice and to make the country developed and economically prosperous, at the earliest time. To follow the policy to increase investment in industries, trade and export promotion in order to increase opportunities for income generation by ensuring professional rights of the labourers.”
Both sides are to immediately return all seized property, including public and private buildings and land, release all people detained and political prisoners, provide details on the disappeared, allow displaced people to return home without obstacles and “not to discriminate or exert pressure” on people because of the political affiliation of family members. Measures for the relief of those harmed or displaced during the war are to be taken up by a National Peace and Rehabilitation Commission. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is to “probe about those involved in serious violation of human rights and crime against humanity in course of the armed conflict and develop an atmosphere for reconciliation in the society.”
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
Interviews with Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto and Sgt. Liam Madden-USMC
The situation in Iraq is extremely complex, with many different forces involved and many different and volatile contradictions intertwined. One thing is clear: There is growing agreement at the top levels of the U.S. power structure that Iraq is at a “tipping point.” The U.S. imperialists could be heading for a major strategic defeat—even a huge disaster—and the implication of that would be far-reaching.
As Larry Everest’s recent article in Revolution noted, “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.” (“The High Stakes in Iraq—For Them..And for Us,” Revolution #70, revcom.us)
The upcoming report from the Iraq commission—headed by the Republican consiglieri James Baker and Democratic consiglieri Lee Hamilton—is supposed to present policy recommendations to get Bush out of the Iraq mess. The New York Times reported on Dec. 2 that even Donald Rumsfeld, just before leaving his post as Defense Secretary, told Bush that “a major adjustment” was needed in Iraq. But it’s unclear exactly how the Bush regime will—or won’t—reconfigure its strategy in Iraq.
And meanwhile the difficulties, contradictions, and necessities facing the U.S. rulers are intensifying by the day.
Among the deep problems for the U.S. imperialists is the broad and growing opposition to the war among the people—including, very significantly, right within the U.S. armed forces. The Pentagon itself estimates that 8,000 soldiers have gone AWOL since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Army recently announced it was court-martialing Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. And a group of active-duty GIs have launched a public campaign—“Appeal for Redress”—calling for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq and an end to U.S. occupation.
Revolution recently interviewed co-founders and organizers of the Appeal effort. Jonathan Hutto is a seaman in the U.S. Navy, stationed at Norfolk, VA. Liam Madden is a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps stationed at Quantico, VA. He is an Iraq war veteran who was deployed in Haditha, Iraq.
The “Appeal for Redress” states:
“As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.”
Articles on the appeal have been printed in the Navy, Army, and Marine Times, and it has been circulated on the internet. As of Nov. 20, organizers have been able to verify 700 signers of the Appeal who are military members.
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Revolution: Can you first of all describe the purpose of the Appeal for Redress and what you hope to accomplish with it?
Jonathan Hutto: The purpose of the Appeal for Redress is to give active duty, reserve, and guard personnel the opportunity to voice any reservations or misgivings about the current Iraq occupation. What the Appeal asserts is that the current status quo policy in Iraq is not going to work. And that ultimately we have to win our political leadership to the principle of withdrawal. That’s what the Appeal for Redress seeks to do. So for those service members who agree with us, they can send in an appeal through this process. What we hope to achieve in the short term is to add our weight to the dialogue, debate, and discussion, in the hopes that it can affect the outcome of policy decisions. That’s in the short term. In the long term, we hope to build an actual active duty service member organization that can potentially serve as an advocacy arm on behalf of active duty members of the military, especially the enlisted.
Liam Madden: The ultimate goal is to end the occupation of Iraq. That seems lofty, but shoot for the stars and you won’t end up with a handful of mud, right? Short term goal is to get several thousand appeals sent to Congress to kind of set the tone for the next Congress. Hopefully prioritize the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq as one of their biggest missions.
Revolution: Can you talk a little about some of your own experiences, in terms of why you joined the military and what has been the process that you’ve gone through to come to the position you’re taking now?
Madden: A lot of people ask me that, and they’re kind of looking for the answer that there’s something specifically traumatic that happened to me in Iraq and it’s not true. I went to Iraq opposing the war and I left Iraq opposing the war. I always opposed the war so there was really no development in that or any specific development only I could have gotten from my vantage. It was really something that any American could get, just by staying abreast of the situation, like, ‘where are these WMDs, what threat did Iraq pose,’ just critically looking at the situation. Numerous other things: Why are we ignoring the will of the Iraqi people? Why are we insisting on staying in a situation that aggravates the violence? Things that any American could see. It’s really just a coincidence that I’m a Marine and it’s a great opportunity to have a platform.
I see American history, what you get fed growing up, in American schools and the standard curriculum and furthermore what the news tells you is news, it basically paints America as the knight in shining armor, maybe occasionally misguided, but basically the good guy. A big influence on me was reading Howard Zinn. I’m basically an independent enough minded person to acknowledge that that’s just not so, we’re not always the knight in shining armor and lots of times there’s an agenda to our foreign policy that’s not on the surface. It’s just obvious to me that WMDs, it’s obvious to everyone, that WMDs—although they were on the surface, there was an agenda beneath that. Then they made the surface the terrorist link, but there was something beneath that. And now they’re kind of relying on, ‘it’s democracy, we need to spread it.’ That’s a very valid thing to say we want there to be. Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant and it’s good that he’s gone. But there’s another agenda, other than these righteous-sounding things and that’s one of the big reasons I oppose the war.
Hutto: In terms of my personal experiences. It’s interesting because oftentimes I get questions from reporters asking me if I had some sort of personal revelation, was there some kind of event that took place. That’s not the question you’re asking, but it’s kind of a naïve question, in the sense that it seems to propose that people who join the military are staunch defenders of the status quo. That’s not true. The majority of the people who join the military primarily join for economic reasons. Those reservations and misgivings I have about the Iraq war are those that I had when I joined, and that many of us have when we joined. Many of us joined for all sorts of reasons, to straighten out their personal lives, pay off some debts, get some degree or educational opportunity or what have you.
In terms of my own personal beliefs, my personal political background starts in Atlanta, Georgia post civil-rights era, being raised in a family and in a community, by institutions in my community—whether it was my school, whether it was my church, whether it was the YMCA in downtown Atlanta right there where the King center is…where the history and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King is. Growing up in that city we were reinforced with the principle of peace and justice and ensuring equality and fairness in society. This is something that’s just part of me as a person, whether or not I’m in the military or teaching school or working in corporate America I would totally have it in mind, peace and justice in society.
I definitely had experiences since I’ve been in. I’ve been the recipient of racial harassment, xenophobia on behalf of shipmates and dealing with those within the chain of command who pretty much were intolerant to the type of person that I am. But we definitely handled those situations appropriately. When I was off the coast of Iraq, we had one shipmate pull out a hangman’s noose in front of me and in fact make a mockery of lynching, a very brutal history, a very brutal time in history of this country…. But the petty officer is no longer a petty officer. He had his rank taken from him and also he was restricted to boat for 30 days. This type of stuff is the culture of what goes on in the military. Unfortunately it’s an institution that is laced with a lot of racists, a lot of sexists, a lot of xenophobic behavior.
So just in my own personal life in the military, it’s coming up on three years now, but because of my own background, having been born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, having gone to the historic black college Howard University where I was very politically active, having also worked with two nonprofit organizations—the ACLU and Amnesty International, I knew how to fight, I knew how to get my issues across if I needed to. I’m not someone who was trained to be obedient or subservient in the face of so-called authority. We come out of a tradition where Dr. King taught us there is such a thing as moral law and immoral law and you have an obligation to break immoral law. If order seems to affirm somebody putting a hangman’s noose in your face then you have to break that law, so that’s the tradition that I come out of.
Revolution: How did you get to the position where you felt you should organize this Appeal?
Madden: I don’t know if you know how Jonathan and I met, but we met…I was talking at an event down in Norfolk, VA and Jonathan got my e-mail address. And he e-mailed me maybe a month after that and said “do you want to get more involved in creating a movement, letting our voice be heard regarding military personnel who disagree with this war?” And there was no question in my mind that I wanted to. I already opposed the war. I was already the type of person that believed that you can’t just feel something and not act upon it. It’s kind of your civic obligation to act and move and do these things. So we started brainstorming, and Jonathan did a lot of the leaps and bounds in the research part, and legally, and it kind of just grew from there.
Hutto: When I was overseas, an old friend of mine sent me a book. The book is called Soldiers in Revolt, written by David Cortwright. David Cortwright at the time was enlisted in the United States Army, from 1968 to 1971. In 1975 he wrote this book, which is the definitive chronicle of that history, the history of the GI movement. The history of active duty soldiers, sailors and marines during the Vietnam era who were active within the armed forces back then, raising these issues.
Reading this history I thought to myself, “How could active duty soldiers, sailors, and marines get active in today’s context? How could they legally, in a constructive way do so?” We began doing our research. We began pulling up the documentation and doing research and we found the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, which said any and all military members without prior command approval, can communicate with a member of Congress, and cannot have any reprisal against themselves for having done so.
So that’s what they say the law is, then we want to test the law and see if the law works. Now unfortunately, some believe military members should be separate from the political process, which to us would actually be military members existing within a fascist order. They say this is a democracy, so they call it, so let’s participate. That’s what a democracy is. It’s a government of, for, and by the people, and the military members are people and citizens of the government. So let’s find out if it works
Revolution: You mentioned, Jonathan, and I noticed an article where you were quoted talking about a similar appeal during the Vietnam War and that there was this widespread opposition within the military then—some of it is documented in the movie Sir No Sir…
Hutto: I have seen that.
Revolution: But given that experience, how do you look at the opposition within the military right now and also looking at that, how do you see the role of GIs today in ending the Iraq war, etc.
Hutto: There is no comparison. At that time, you had essentially what became a mass movement, a movement that was spontaneous in nature, but a movement that was mass. Because at that time it got to that point, particularly in the late 1960s, where dissent and resistance became a culture within the United States. You couldn’t go anywhere in the U.S. and not be touched by this culture of dissent, whether you were going into the military, whether you were going into college, or just going into the workforce. You were going to be touched by the movement. The hot summer of ‘67, right? You got urban cities burning all over America. You got the summer of ‘68, you got the Democratic convention. The spring of ‘68 you got the assassination of Dr. King and America in flames. Robert Kennedy, whether you love or dislike Robert Kennedy, his assassination also sparked much upheaval. So you couldn’t go anywhere, 1969 you got Woodstock, you couldn’t go anywhere and not be touched by it.
I think today, even though there’s been a lot of mass protest, I mean the ANSWER coalition and others have been very active. But we haven’t been able to create that culture of dissent within the country. On top of that, one of the things that was different was that back in the ‘60s you had a draft that touched every element of society. You had people like the current president—I can’t say anything slanderous about him, DOD regulation—but the point is you had people like our current president who went into the Texas national guard. I mean the draft was touching every element. Today you don’t have a draft, you have a volunteer army. A volunteer army of men and women who primarily come from the margins of society. They come from that part of the society that people don’t care about. And it’s by design. Because people don’t value that which they feel has no value. So that’s the difference, that’s the basic difference.
I think, what would it take for there to begin to be a mass movement? I think the longer and longer we stay in Iraq, people on their third and fourth tours, the more frustrated people get, the more people see their lives are not being improved and the more people see their loved ones taken away. Between what’s happening in Iraq and the degradation of their communities at home, the frustration level rises, the misery rises, and people will begin to take action.
What we’re doing is a legal and constructive way to get active. But I’m reminded that when legal, constructive means do not bring about what the masses of people are looking for, people do look to other alternatives. But this here is a legal, constructive way for people to get involved.
Revolution: Where do you think soldiers and others are at in terms of developing that kind of a movement or that kind of a mood?
Hutto: I think the mood is there actually. I haven’t talked to too many people that I work with who are overwhelmingly supporters of the Iraq war. The question is not so much the mood, the question is having the spark and the catalyst that can set the mood in motion. Sometimes that takes a particular case, takes a particular issue. But I think that powderkeg is already there. It’s going to take something to really, really set it in motion. I think the election two weeks ago is a case in point about what I mean about the mood being there. But the mood being there and who captures the mood are two different things. You got a mood throughout the country that what’s taking place in Iraq is not good and it’s not in the best benefit of the citizenry. But who captures the mood, is it the people or the Democratic Party, that’s the question.
Revolution: It seems like people are voting to both end the war and stop the whole direction of things in many ways, at least that’s what they hope happens, there’s a big sentiment for that, but that’s not what the Democrats are planning to do.
Hutto: I think people should get that. I mean, our initiative is not partisan, it’s not partisan for a reason. We know the occupation of Iraq was not a Republican occupation. This is an occupation that was agreed upon, it was a bipartisan agreement. And we’re not going to allow those who voted for the Iraq war to now position themselves as all of a sudden being anti-occupation. These are people who affirmed it. Even John Murtha, who has come out as the anti-war hero in the House of Representatives, he supported the initial invasion of Iraq. We have to keep that in mind.
Revolution: Can you talk about the extent and the character of the opposition to the Iraq war among active duty GIs?
Madden: I think within the Marine Corps, which is definitely one of the more conservative branches, it would be a pretty fair estimate to say one-third oppose the war and want us to leave, one-third support the war and want us to stay, and another third are in the middle and they have feelings like, well I don’t want to be there but if we left things would go to hell. Or they don’t really have an opinion either way, they just see it as a job. There’s a third in the middle that could really go either way.
Hutto: I think it’s pretty broad actually. There’s not mass support for what’s taking place in Iraq. People are not going to Iraq because they are really gung-ho and ready to go over there and kick some butt. People are going to Iraq because they have to go, because they are legally obliged to go. They have families, wives and children, bills to pay. So this is their way of life. They’re protecting what they perceive to be their way of life and their way of living. And if getting back to their families means staying out of trouble and fulfilling their obligation, they’re going to fulfill that obligation. I think it’s more of an obligation and an economic basis than it has to do with any sort of ideology.
Revolution: There is opposition within the military, like the Lt. Watada case and many thousands who have gone AWOL.
Hutto: I think right now, like I said earlier, the mood is there. People have to see some way in which they can voice their concern. First they have to be won to see their concern even matters. They definitely have concerns, they definitely have views, they have reservations, they have misgivings, as shown by our initiative and things you mention in terms of AWOL and desertion, even though we’re not advocating people do that. But I think people have to know they have a way in which they can channel that energy and we have a responsibility to organize that energy. But in terms of the sentiment and the level of sentiment, I think it’s already there. I just think it has to be organized. People have to be shown they can participate and have their voices heard and that their political leadership will take them seriously.
Revolution: In terms of the sentiments of people in the military, and your own personal sentiment too about, in particular, the domestic situation, what the Bush regime is doing in this country—there’s been the Military Commissions Act which has basically legalized torture, the stripping of habeas corpus, there’s been this whole NSA wiretapping and spying on people and so forth, there’s a whole direction of things with this administration, so I’m just wondering your sentiments or if you could comment on that and also is this a topic among active duty GIs, in terms of what they’re thinking about.
Hutto: DOD regulations doesn’t allow me to make any slanders about the Commander-in-Chief, but I will say this, that all the issues you mentioned are issues of serious concern to myself. I’m definitely very much concerned about the eroding of civil liberties and civil rights in this country, eroding of the Bill of Rights. I think the Patriot Act should definitely be one of the first major agenda items to be addressed by the Judiciary Committee of the House when they come back to session the first of the year. I think all of the issues you listed are definitely top priority for myself, and I think many military members as well. I can’t say for sure, I haven’t polled on any of those topics. But I will say I think those topics are of prime concern.
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
A few weeks ago on Fox News, a man appeared in an orange jumpsuit flailing and gasping for air as his head was repeatedly pushed under water by hooded men in black screaming, “Are you ready to talk now??!”
Watchers soon learned that the victim was a Fox News reporter who willingly subjected himself to water boarding. This is a torture technique “that induces the effects of being killed by drowning.” (1) It’s widely known the CIA has used water boarding. (2)
Moments later, the Fox reporter returned to camera, hair blown dry and ready to chat: “It’s more about fear than pain, just seeing them tearing that saran wrap off when they’re about to put it over your face, it really gets you scared. Just imagine people who go through this day-in day-out. You really learn you can crack pretty quickly… But the thing that really impressed me is how just fast you can recover. They took me to the brink where I was ready to tell them anything within minutes. And then just minutes later I was standing by the side of that pool feeling fine. So as far as torture goes… this seemed like a pretty efficient mechanism to get someone to talk and then have them alive and healthy within minutes.”
There is a public training going on. A grotesque new ethos is being forged in America: it is okay to methodically, repeatedly, and violently torment a person, even to death. It is fine to be cruel—even a source of civic pride if you do it for the homeland. (And I have to add, as horrifying as the footage was, Fox’s “it’s-not-so-bad” reporter never experienced torture for-real—unlike actual prisoners who know at any moment their lives can be snuffed out.)
We are becoming a nation of torturers—indeed, efficient torturers. With the passage of the Military Commissions Act in October, it is official. The pictures from Abu Ghraib we could barely look at a few years ago? All legal now.
Even normal. Fox’s instructional video goes right along with a society-wide acclimation process that includes discussion of the ethics/efficacy of water boarding by U.S. Senators, the Vice President dubbing it a “no-brainer” (part of a “robust interrogation program” ), and network TV force-feeding the whole torture topic to the nation. From Harpers Index:
This is not even counting reality shows like Cops where Black people are routinely humiliated and hog-tied like animals, or Fear Factor, a “fun” show where ordinary people force each other to lie with snakes and eat maggots—all part of inuring people to the use of extreme coercion to maintain a fraying public order, or just to “show grit.”
It is apparently not enough to pass the laws and hire the mercenaries (or soldiers) to terrorize other people into compliance with the needs of this superpower. It’s also necessary to win the “hearts and minds” of a section of the U.S. populace to cheer on the formal establishment of medieval practices, and join in—or at the very least maintain an indifferent silence.
This is having an effect. A few weeks ago, millions witnessed the seven-minute cell phone videotape of UCLA security guards taser-gunning an Iranian-American student in a crowded university library.
He shrieks in pain, then yells, “This is your Patriot Act!” only to interrupt himself with a chilling, almost primeval, howl when he is tasered again—and again. You see people rise from their laptops. But as the screams and minutes tick by, the students—with a few exceptions—just stand there, in horror but inert, watching their first public torturing.
It will likely not be the last. Are you asking yourself yet—what would I do?
Then there’s Alyssa Peterson. She was a 27-year-old U.S. soldier from a Mormon family in Salt Lake City. She found herself at Abu Ghraib in August 2003, assigned to a prison interrogation team. Three weeks later, she was dead by non-combat bullet wound. Recently, it’s come to light that after taking part in two of these interrogations, she refused to carry out any more. Sergeant James D. Hamilton told army investigators, “It was hard for her to be aggressive to prisoners/detainees, as she felt that we were being cruel to them.” Records of the interrogations Peterson was part of have been destroyed.
If Alyssa was not killed by army personnel, a disquieting thought itself, she may have committed suicide. It is certain she said no to becoming a torturer. But she was isolated. It was not until seven months after her death that the Abu Ghraib pictures showed up on the Internet.
1. From an Open Letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, signed by over 100 U.S. law professors http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/04/06/usdom13130.htm [back]
2. From ABC News, Nov. 18, 2005, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito Report:
“Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt. According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda’s toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess. ‘The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,’ said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.” http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/print?id=1322866 [back]
3. From the office of the Vice President, October 24, 2006:
Scott Hennen, WDAY: Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’s a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the Vice President “for torture.” We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we’re party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/10/20061024-7.html [back]
Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
At one minute past midnight on November 30, Felipe Calderon was inaugurated as the new president of Mexico. According to the Mexican Constitution, the inauguration should have taken place in front of the legislature, the Chamber of Deputies. But because of the possibility that opposition legislators might prevent the inauguration from taking place, the transfer of power from outgoing president Vicente Fox to Calderon was carried out in a secret, night-time ceremony held in Los Pinos, the presidential residence, before cabinet members and members of the military. The ceremony was filmed and broadcast nationally. The Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada called it “a terrifying demonstration of weakness, but constituting an unmistakable threat of force.”
The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who millions consider to be the real winner of the presidential election in July, had vowed to prevent Calderon from being sworn in as president. After the secret ceremony at Los Pinos, Fox and Calderon, together with 200 presidential guards, burst through the back door of the Chamber of Deputies building and carried out a 4-minute swearing-in ceremony.
The Chamber of Deputies had been occupied by both the PRD and Calderon’s party, the National Action Party (PAN) since Tuesday, November 28 — when senators from both parties rushed the podium, afraid that the other would get control of the chamber. They punched it out, threw chairs and bottles at each other, and remained in the chamber for three days, fighting over who would be in charge at the podium during the time of the inauguration. On the day of the inauguration, the balcony of the chamber was filled with foreign dignitaries, including George Bush senior, California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, the U.S. Torturer General Antonio Gonzales, and the Prince of Asturias of Spain. Many Latin American countries did not send representatives. At the end of the ritual, Bush the Elder stated: “I’m not at all worried. Everything will be alright.”
Later in the day AMLO led thousands of people in a march through Mexico City and vowed to continue mobilizing people against the Calderon government.
In the southern state of Oaxaca, the authorities have been unleashing a reign of terror against the people in preparation for Calderon’s inauguration. On Saturday, Nov. 25, the Federal Preventive Police (PFP), which has been occupying the central city square of Oaxaca since the end of October, opened fire on thousands of protesters demanding the ouster of the Oaxaca’s governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO). Five people were killed and dozens were wounded.
Several government buildings, including the Superior Court, were set on fire, and hooded, heavily armed men attacked businesses. The Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) has denounced these actions as police moves to the justify the repression that has followed. URO’s men have also directly attacked APPO offices.
Convoys of federal police and paramilitaries with high-powered rifles travel the streets of occupied Oaxaca. Since July more than 300 people have been arrested. At least 200 people have been indiscriminately snatched off the streets and held incommunicado in prisons. Many of the arrested are being hustled onto helicopters guarded by the army and shipped to maximum security federal prisons in northern states. Police with lists of names of activists are carrying out house-to-house searches and storming into elementary schools all over the state and arresting the teachers in front of terrified children. Parents have formed human shields around the schools. The pro-government radio has called for mobs to attack and burn down houses of protest leaders. Police have attacked and “disappeared” students, and shot into the university grounds. Several human rights observers were “disappeared” by hooded, heavily armed men a few hours after arriving in Oaxaca to document abuses. The government officials who were caught on camera fatally shooting Indymedia journalist Brad Will on Oct. 27 have been released from police custody. And URO has returned to Oaxaca declaring that “normality has been restored.”
Despite the clampdown in Oacaca, thousands marched in protest against Calderon on December 1. The march was led by relatives of the prisoners and disappeared. At the rally plans were announced for another march on December 10.
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Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
In the U.S. military's torture camp at Guantanamo, prisoners are shackled, locked in cages, forced to wear orange jumpsuits, and sometimes hooded. These brutal practices—and other torture carried out by the U.S. around the world—were legalized with the Military Commission Act of 2006, passed by Congress and signed into law by Bush this fall.
The organization World Can't Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime is calling on people to take a stand against the legalization of torture on December 10th and 11th, in honor of International Human Rights Day.
World Can't Wait is also encouraging people to participate in town hall meetings on impeachment on Dec. 10 across the country. A coalition of organizations have declared Dec. 10 “Human Rights and Impeachment Day.”
Revolution newspaper gathered the following from the website of the World Can't Wait organization (worldcantwait.org):
“Spend the whole day wearing what Guantanamo detainees have to wear everyday. Dress in the orange jumpsuit, hood, shackles, etc. Wear it to school. Wear it to work. Wear it to church or religious services…
“On Dec. 10th and 11th, make the torture that is being carried out by our government in our names a reality that people have to confront in their daily lives. Distribute the World Can’t Wait Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime and 'Silence + Torture = Complicity' statement. Challenge people to join you by putting on an orange armband and collect their email address for the movement to drive out the Bush regime.
“Already 14,000 people are being detained by the U.S. without charges. In September, Congress approved Bush’s Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) that:
“This is part of a package coming from the Bush regime that includes an atrocious, nightmarish occupation of Iraq, the threat of war against Iran, an assault on critical thinking and serious motion toward a theocracy. It includes the criminal response to Hurricane Katrina, a systematic attack on women’s reproductive rights, and the demonization of gay people. It includes the scape-goating of immigrants and severely repressive new legislation aimed at them. And it gets worse with every passing week. As the call for The World Can’t Wait–Drive Out the Bush Regime states: 'The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come.' ”
Further information on the Dec. 10-11 actions and to order orange jumpsuits and to download flyers and other organizing material, go to the World Can't Wait website at worldcantwait.org.