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Revolution #76, January 14, 2006
The triumph of the new Democratic Congress on their first day and their promises of a “new direction” offered all the refreshment of Lysol dressing up the stench of rotting homes of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, of human waste and blood in the secret C.I.A. torture dungeons, and of the mangled bodies that are being chewed by dogs in the streets of Baghdad.
Nancy Pelosi’s much touted agenda for the first 100 hours of the new Congress made no mention of ending the war on Iraq, repealing the Military Commissions Act which legalizes torture and rips up habeas corpus, rebuilding New Orleans, or—for all the talk of her chairmanship as a “great advance” for women—taking on the assault on women’s reproductive rights and basic equality.
Throughout their painstakingly choreographed first day in Congress, the horrors that the Democrats are working with the Bush Regime to push out of the public eye and the deep and widespread disgust of millions with these horrors kept bubbling up.
On January 4, millions of readers woke up to articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, New York Post and elsewhere with the exhilarating news of Cindy Sheehan seizing the microphone after Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel fled the disruption of his press conference by anti-war protesters. Emmanuel’s smug arrogance about his “success” in turning the Democratic Party into one that is even less distinguishable from the Republicans—by recruiting pro-war, anti-abortion, anti-gay candidates—was challenged before his new Congress was even sworn in.
At noon, just as Nancy “impeachment-off-the-table” Pelosi was being sworn in, hundreds gathered near the Capital beneath a banner that read: “Impeach George Bush for War Crimes.” Several dozen people crouched in the bright orange jumpsuits that are the signature of Guantánamo detainees with black hoods over their heads. They were a living portrayal of some of the Bush Regime’s crimes against humanity: the illegal detention and torture that this regime has institutionalized and that this Congress won’t even speak about.
People of all ages had traveled from Illinois, Georgia, Michigan, New York and elsewhere, some abandoning at the last minute their plans to see their congresspeople get sworn in—choosing instead to protest for impeachment. An active duty Marine blended into the crowd in his street clothes. While most people had come out of opposition to the war, it was striking how strongly the crowd responded when people from the stage spoke against the Bush regime’s handling of Hurricane Katrina as well as the brutal killing of Sean Bell by the New York Police Department’s 50 shots, particularly the fists of anger and defiance that shot up from among the Black folks in the crowd.
Military mother Elaine Brower, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, Green Party co-chair Steve Cramer, Paul Magno of the Torture Abolition Coalition, Kevin Zeese of Democracy Rising and others took turns at the mic. Some expressed their hope that the new Congress will listen and respond to the demands of the people to get out of the brutal war in Iraq.
Cindy Sheehan was greeted with enthusiasm as she spoke movingly about the cost of the Iraq war in the lives of Iraqi people and the need for people to hold the new Congress’ feet to the fire to impeach Bush and end the war in Iraq. Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus delivered a stirring challenge to the audience to cross traditional color lines and bring together the streams of outrage around U.S. immigration policy, against the treatment of people in New Orleans, and against the war into a unified movement against a regime that is endangering us all. I spoke for World Can’t Wait, focusing on the complicity of the Democrats in accepting and promoting the whole logic of Bush’s so-called “War on Terror” and the need for people to rise up in massive political upheaval to bring this whole direction to a halt.
As the rally came to a close, a recording of Pink’s scathing “Dear Mr. President” filled the air. And protesters in Guantánamo orange jumpsuits lined up on the street, each with a four-foot-tall letter spelling out “The World Can’t Wait - Drive Out the Bush Regime!” and then marched towards the capital, drawing support from many people on the street who raised concerns ranging from stem cell research to the discarding of the Geneva Conventions.
Meanwhile, the Senate building was being redecorated with immense, truth-telling banners. One that hung 30 by 10 feet and proclaimed: “War, Lies, Torture—We Will Not Be Silent,” was flashed on several major news programs. Senators came out with their eyes wide and jaws open while federal workers gathered to admire and appreciate this message.
That evening, 300 people crowded in to the National Press Club to listen to Michael Ratner, Cindy Sheehan, John Nichols, Daniel Ellsberg, myself and a video message from Gore Vidal in a program emceed by David Swanson of After Downing Street. Together we laid out the crimes of the Bush regime, from the war of aggression against Iraq and legalization of torture which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, to the frontal assault on women’s reproductive rights and the rights of gay people, the danger to the environment, the suppression of science and critical thought, the official promotion of Christian fundamentalism, and the criminal response to Hurricane Katrina. (See article: "World Can't Wait Program at National Press Club: Against 'Laying Back and Letting It Happen'")
An Historical Challenge
As the Call for the World Can’t Wait states, “The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come.”
This was not changed or even challenged in the 2006 elections. A sobering sign of the political climate is that even with a Democratic majority, even John Conyers—one of the most liberal members of Congress who has done as much to expose the impeachable offenses of George Bush as almost anyone and who has worked with World Can’t Wait-Drive Out the Bush Regime—has come out and argued against impeachment, insisting it is unrealistic because it would require bipartisan support.
What this is really saying is that the only people who can set political terms in this country are George Bush’s neo-cons and Christian fascists and that everyone else has to find their place within these terms. But this must not be accepted.
Just as it did during Nixon’s day, it will take political struggle breaking free of these terms and coming up from below to create a situation where those in power are compelled to change their position and impeachment is put back on the table and carried out or some other means is found to politically drive out this regime. If we fail, everything that Bush has done will have the force of unchallenged precedence, no matter who becomes the next president—and the people of the world and future generations will judge us harshly.
O'Reilly's Threats...and Their Fear of Mass Action
That night, The O’Reilly Factor aired an exchange between me and O’Reilly where he repeatedly called me a lunatic and actually threatened me, while I stayed focused on how George Bush has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity and must be stopped. (Video of the exchange can be seen on Youtube at http://youtube.com/watch?v=l-F-zmTNuk4)
One very interesting thing about this program was the discussion that followed my appearance. O’Reilly’s next guest, Dick Morris, a high-level bourgeois political operative, challenged how O’Reilly dismissed me and the protesters as just a small group. “It’s huge, it’s not 50 or 60, its tens of millions,” Morris said, “just as in the 1960s the Vietnam movement was critical of its own Democratic Party for supporting the war and for not opposing it vigorously enough, you’re going to see the Howard Dean element of the Democratic Party increasingly breaking away from the Pelosi mainstream of the Party… The Democrats are determined to stay away from the two issues that got them elected: opposing the tax cuts and the Iraq war… There’s a fissure happening… and that lunatic, as you called her… is not alone.”
O’Reilly tried again insisting that we are merely “a pressure group.” He said, “They’re not wide, they can’t mobilize a lot of people because people understand that the United States would be much better off if we did win in Iraq.” And Morris replied, “I’ll bet they could put two million people in the streets of Washington.”
The truth of widespread opposition to the Bush program was apparent in the response our protest got all day long. It was even apparent when I stepped into the car that Fox News had provided for me. The driver, after hearing about my appearance, blurted out, “Bill O’Reilly is the lunatic! And George Bush doesn’t need to be impeached. He needs to be thrown in jail!”
Will the resisters who sprung up all over D.C. and who represent the will and the interests of millions of people in this country and more around the world persevere and step up their challenge to this regime—and also challenge all those who would sit back and be complicit in the tremendous crimes being committed? Will all this gain in momentum and determination to create a situation where the refusal of those in power to reverse this direction is responded to by greater outbreaks of political struggle rather than passive acceptance and demoralization? Or will the people be lulled by the false sense of victory that comes from this reactionary Democratic Congress? Will people’s hopes, energies, resources and principles be sucked into the killing confines of the 2008 elections which have already kicked into gear and are not challenging in any fundamental way the whole direction and package of the Bush regime? There is a huge choice and challenge before us – and what we do, and win others to do, will matter immensely.
As it says in the last words of the Call from World Can’t Wait, “The future is unwritten. Which one we get is up to us.”
Revolution #76, January 14, 2006
World Can't Wait Program at National Press Club
On the evening of January 4, 300 people crowded in to the National Press Club to listen to Michael Ratner, Cindy Sheehan, John Nichols, Daniel Ellsberg, Sunsara Taylor, and a video message from Gore Vidal in a program emceed by David Swanson of After Downing Street. The program was sponsored by the World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime.
John Nichols, of The Nation Institute, drew from the themes of his latest book, The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism. After drawing the similarities between Bush and the monarchs that the founders of the U.S. had broken with, he laid out how in 1787 the authors of the Constitution “set out to do a couple of very simple things. One, to insure that no one man could ever lead this country into war on his own. They wanted to chain the dogs of war. And two, to insure that if a president did that, then the people and their Congress would have the tools to remove him. Not at the next election. But at the next possible moment.”
As opposed to taking impeachment off the table because of the big trouble the U.S. is having with the war in Iraq, Nichols argued forcefully that these are the circumstances when it is needed most!
Cindy Sheehan cut through a lot of the recent hype surrounding the death of Gerald Ford, saying, “We all know Gerald Ford was a crappy president… People say he’s a healer, he healed the country after Watergate. Well, I want to tell you that if he healed the country after Watergate my son would still be alive. Almost a million Iraqis would still be alive. Three thousand and four other Americans would still be alive. And thousands would still have their arms, legs, and eyes… If Richard Nixon had been truly prosecuted and imprisoned, George Bush wouldn’t think he was above the law.”
Daniel Ellsberg, who risked imprisonment to leak the Pentagon Papers that helped bring the Vietnam War to an end, urged whistle-blowers of today to not wait as long as he had, to not wait until the blood has been spilled, the troop level escalated and the next war, probably Iran, is launched. Ellsberg compared the undermining of the rule of law, the sharpening of the repressive edge of the state, and the wars of aggression by the U.S. under Bush to those of Nazi Germany. He spoke with historical clarity and moral authority, saying, “I’m not talking about the Holocaust. I’m not even talking about the aggression which by the way, we have had in Iraq. Iraq is not legally or in any way distinguishable from the invasion of Poland or France or any of those others… But let me go earlier than all that and talk not about the German dictatorship but about the German liberal, fairly liberal, constitutional democracy, under Weimar.” He recounted how Hitler came to power in January of 1933, how he took advantage of the burning of the Reichstag government building in February to unleash his brownshirts to round up, detain, torture, and kill thousands of communists and other members of the political opposition. He concluded by saying, “Bush and Cheney have to go for a number of reasons. One of them is that frankly if there’s [another] 9/11 while they’re in power, then I think you will not distinguish this country very much from the police state in Germany the summer of 1933. There was detention camps and everything else.”
Then Ellsberg recommended the book, Defying Hitler, saying, “You cannot read that without feeling that you’re reading what’s going on now. The essence of it being not so much the ferocity and determination of the Nazis but the lack of opposition. The fact that everybody laid back and let it happen.”
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, laid out the slam-dunk case for impeachment on counts related to the Iraq war, warrantless wiretapping, the policy of torture and illegal detentions, and signing statements. He stressed that “All of us want to push for very good hearings in Congress that actually expose things and bring the American people along. But let me say, Congress will not do this without a push from the American people and the public and the people in this room.” After praising those who had dressed in the orange jumpsuits, Ratner called on people to protest again in D.C. on January 11 to stop the torture and indefinite detentions.
Sunsara Taylor, who spoke on behalf of World Can’t Wait, expanded on the crimes of the Bush Regime, which include the frontal assault on women’s reproductive rights and the rights of gay people, the danger to the environment, the suppression of science and critical thought, the promotion of Christian fundamentalism, and the criminal negligence against Black people and others through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. And she put a challenge to everyone, especially the students, saying:
“Nixon won the presidency in a landslide election but just two years later he resigned in shame. The U.S. war in Vietnam was going terribly. The military was disintegrating. The whole of society was in political upheaval—campuses were being shut down and taken over, soldiers were in political rebellion, hundreds of thousands were out in the streets, the music of the time pulsed with disaffection and dreams of a better world, revolution was on the lips of many among the most oppressed—and millions more were on the verge of losing their faith in the whole political system. It was in the face of all this that some Republicans changed their position and voted for impeachment, that John Dean, a member of Nixon’s own cabinet, refused to lie for him, where his subordinates refused to carry out Nixon’s request to fire the special prosecutor investigating Watergate and where the whole dynamic in society was radically reversed.
“Today all this is being rewritten as if this was an unfortunate and painful period and the pardon of Nixon by Gerald Ford is being upheld as a model for national unity and healing.
“But this is a moment when the real lessons of that period are more relevant than ever. When Nixon said he’d end the war by escalating it to Cambodia, campuses across the nation were shut down in the largest student strike in the history of this country. This is something the purveyors of war for empire fear—but this is something that people who have no interest in today’s war should be working urgently with every resource they can command to achieve. As part of this, World Can’t Wait is calling on all of you to help organize teach-ins at 100 campuses this spring to bring the full truth about the crimes being committed in our names.”
Revolution #76, January 14, 2006
The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution
And this relates to the very real and often acute contradiction between applying the united front under the leadership of the proletariat—the leadership of the proletariat, and not of the petty bourgeoisie, or some other class—all the way through the transition to communism on the one hand, and on the other hand, actually forging ahead through that transition and advancing to communism. So “solid core with a lot of elasticity” relates to this very real and often acute contradiction, which in turn relates to the point that Lenin made when he said that the first and, in a certain historical sense the easier, step is to overthrow and to appropriate the bourgeoisie (to expropriate the holdings of the bourgeoisie). And if this is, in a certain historical sense, an easier step, the more difficult process is one of, as Lenin put it, living with and transforming the middle strata in the transition to communism. This is a very profound point, and both aspects of this are important; this is once again a unity of opposites—living with and transforming the middle strata. If you set out only to live with them, you will end up surrendering power back, not to the petty bourgeoisie but in fact to the bourgeoisie; things will increasingly be on their terms. On the other hand, if you seek only to transform the petty bourgeoisie (speaking broadly, to refer to the intermediate strata of various kinds), you will end up treating them like the bourgeoisie and driving them into the camp of the bourgeoisie, seriously undermining the dictatorship of the proletariat, and you will end up losing power that way, also.
So there is, as Lenin emphasized, the need to live with and transform these middle strata, these intermediate strata, both in their material conditions as well as in their world outlook—and in the dialectical relation between the two. This goes back to my comment earlier, speaking to three basic class forces, the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, and the proletariat: the transition to communism aims to and must eliminate the basis for and the existence of all three of these groups, or classes, but the proletariat is the only one that doesn’t mind. The petty bourgeoisie definitely minds; it will continually strive to re-create its existence as a petty bourgeoisie and, indeed, will strive toward becoming the bourgeoisie, spontaneously. But you have to draw a clear distinction between the petty bourgeoisie (the intermediate strata) and the bourgeoisie, and not seek to exercise dictatorship over the petty bourgeoisie, which would drive them into the arms of the enemy—and, in that and in other ways, would work against our most fundamental objectives. (I will speak to that more fully in discussing the “parachute” point a little later.) On the other hand, you can’t simply allow these intermediate strata to follow the spontaneity of their own outlook and their own interests at any given time, or you will lose the whole thing that way.
As you move to uproot the soil that gives rise to capitalism and move beyond the sphere of commodity production and exchange—the law of value, the great difference between mental and manual labor, and all the production and social relations and the rest of the “4 Alls” (1) characteristic of capitalism—you are going to run into conflict with the interests of intermediate strata. And how to handle that, through the whole long transition from socialism to communism (which, again, can only happen on a world scale), is going to be a very, very tricky question and one that’s going to require a consistent application of materialist dialectics, in order to be able to win over, or at least politically neutralize, at any given time, the great majority of these intermediate strata—and prevent the counter-revolutionaries from mobilizing them, playing on grievances they may have, or playing on and preying on the ways in which things that you objectively and legitimately need to do may alienate sections of the petty bourgeoisie at a given time. And here again there is a real contradiction—which can become quite acute at times—between the necessity that you are, in fact and correctly, imposing on the petty bourgeoisie, while not exercising dictatorship over it, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the countervailing spontaneity and influence of the larger social and production relations which exist and which you have not thoroughly transformed—and, along with that, there is the larger world, which at any given time may be mainly characterized by reactionary production and social relations and the corresponding superstructure. You are not going to be able to deal with all this in such a way as to not only maintain the rule of the proletariat but to continue the advance toward communism, unless you can correctly handle the principle and strategic approach of solid core with a lot of elasticity.
In this regard we can say that there is a kind of application, under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of an important formulation in Strategic Questions (2) —which I won’t try to fully elaborate here, but it has to do with drawing dividing lines so that, at any given point, you unite the greatest number of people around positions which are, to the greatest degree possible, in the objective interests of the proletarian revolution, while at the same time winning as many as possible subjectively to that—or, in other words, winning as many as you can to be partisan toward the goal of proletarian revolution—without undermining the necessary unity at any given time. You can see that’s another “moving target”—it’s a living dynamic and a contradictory thing, sometimes in acute ways. And, in socialist society itself, particularly with regard to the middle strata, but more broadly and even among the proletarians, there is an application of that principle spoken to in Strategic Questions. But if you let go of the solid core, none of this would be possible. In terms of the four objectives I referred to earlier, in relation to the solid core in socialist society—including the importance of having the maximum elasticity possible at every given point—if you let go of the first point, holding onto power, none of the rest of it has any meaning. (3) So we can see how there is tremendous tension—or, another way to say it, there is very acute contradiction—involved in all this.
And, as I have spoken to, this involves a whole epistemological dimension as well as the political dimension. It involves the question of how not only the communists but the masses of people broadly actually come to a deeper and richer synthesis of the understanding of reality in any phase of things, through any process, and in turn have a stronger basis for transforming the world—without giving up what you’ve got at any given time, without letting go of the core of everything. This is what causes me to continually invoke the metaphor of being drawn and quartered. (4) If you think about this—if you actually try to think about this image of standing there at the core of all this, unleashing all this intellectual and political ferment in society, while at the same time you are seeking to bring into being certain material and ideological transformations that move toward communism and which run up against spontaneous inclinations, even of proletarians, and run up against certain vested interests of intermediate strata, and, of course, run fundamentally up against the bourgeoisie and the imperialists and other reactionary forces—you’re trying to do all that and (continuing the image) you’re holding on to the reins with each hand while people are running in all kinds of directions. If you really think about all that, you can see why I continue to invoke the metaphor of being drawn and quartered, if we don’t handle this correctly. But I am equally convinced that, if we don’t proceed in this way, we are not going to get, within the socialist country itself, the kind of process we need in order to get to communism (leaving aside for a minute the whole international dimension, which I will come back to).
Now, this principle of solid core with a lot of elasticity—and elasticity on the basis of the solid core, let me emphasize that once again—has to do with, is closely bound up with, another principle which is discussed in the talk on the dictatorship of the proletariat (5): namely, the great importance of distinguishing between those times and circumstances when it is necessary to pay finely calibrated attention to things and to insist that they be done “just this way,” and, on the other hand, those times and circumstances when it is not only not necessary to do that, but it would be harmful to do that. In the experience of our Party, for example, there have been various times and circumstances when it was necessary to pay very finely calibrated attention and insist on things being done exactly this way and not that way—and, along with that, to insist on things being very tightly in formation, so to speak. But then there have been many other circumstances where that has not been the case, and where to insist on this would be wrong and harmful. For example, relatively recently we have had debate about the Party Programme, inside as well as outside the Party, and we have had other processes in the Party where there have been debate and struggle over questions of line. This is not, and should not be, just a one-time or infrequent aspect of things—it is something that should find expression repeatedly, in the appropriate times and circumstances, in the ongoing political and ideological life of the Party.
As I pointed out in that talk on the dictatorship of the proletariat, this relationship between “opening up” and “closing ranks” and between elasticity and solid core, is also a dialectical process, a unity of opposites. What is solid core in one aspect also has elasticity within it as well. There is no such thing as a solid core that doesn’t have some elasticity within it. At any given time (as well as in an overall sense), there are always those things to which you are paying finely calibrated attention, but other aspects of the same thing to which you are not paying the same systematic attention.
In that talk on the dictatorship of the proletariat, one of the examples I used was writing an article. It’s not that you don’t care about certain things you say, but some of them you have to get exactly right, because they bear on the whole character of what you’re saying, while with other things, you say them as best you can but you do not—and actually should not—pay the same amount of attention, or you’d never finish writing, for one thing. And in anything you do—in a meeting, for example, and more generally in everything you do—this principle applies: solid core with elasticity and paying finely calibrated attention to some things that are at the core and give definition to everything you’re doing, while not trying to pay the same kind of attention, and allowing a lot more elasticity, with regard to other things.
And with regard to the aspect of solid core itself, you can’t say, “well, we have to have an absolute, perfect solid core before we can allow for any elasticity and initiative.” On the other hand, there is a real problem if the elasticity is not, in a fundamental sense, on the basis of the solid core—if, in effect, the elasticity and the initiative that is taken amounts to, or results in, substituting some other solid core for the one that is actually, objectively needed. But, again, you can’t get metaphysical and “absolutist” about this: You can’t say, “only when we have some ‘absolute’ solid core, and everybody has exactly the same level of understanding and agreement with regard to that solid core, can we then have any elasticity.” First of all, you’ll never achieve that kind of absolute certainty and absolute unity, you’re never going to overcome all unevenness; and second of all, your solid core will dry up and turn into its opposite, into dogma. It will become lifeless and turn into its opposite, and it won’t even be a solid core any more, in fact. There has to be space and life, even within a solid core; there are certain solid core things within any solid core, around which other things, within that solid core, are less solid and have more elasticity, if you will. (This is another expression of the very important point made by Mao, which I have emphasized a number of times: what is universal in one context is particular in another, and vice versa.) But if you don’t have sufficient adhering power, so to speak, at the core, so that (to use this metaphor) the electrons are flying off in every direction, then you have a serious problem.
Once again, we can see that crucially involved in all this is that fundamental dividing line between materialism and idealism, and between dialectics and metaphysics. You can’t have a metaphysical view of what a solid core is, and somehow it has to be absolutely solid; at the same time, you can’t have an idealist view of the whole process which corresponds to people going off in all directions because there’s no material grounding in terms of what the solid core is and has to be in any given set of circumstances, and in terms of what are the things where you have to insist on their being done in a certain way, with everyone “marching in tight formation,” so to speak, and on the other hand what are those things where you not only should not do that but where it would do real harm to try to insist on that.
And, speaking frankly, among the ranks of the communists—this applies to our Party but also more generally to the communist movement—there is a need for a further leap and rupture beyond utopianism and idealism and, frankly, beyond social-democracy or even outright bourgeois democracy and, ironic as it may sound, even plain old, straight-up anti-communism within the communist movement itself, which takes expression particularly in what amounts to a bourgeois-democratic view of such crucial things as the nature and role of the state and a bourgeois-democratic critique of the historical experience of the proletarian state. We need to leap and rupture beyond and out of those confines, even while we also need to rupture more thoroughly with the “mirror opposite” of this: the tendency to dogmatism and essentially a religious view of the principles and of the experience of communism and the communist movement, which amounts basically to “all solid core” with no real elasticity—and, correspondingly, to a “solid core” that in the final analysis is not all that solid, is in fact brittle, because it is grounded in apriorism and instrumentalism (seeking to impose dogmatic conceptions on reality and to “bend” and torture reality to make it serve certain preconceived notions and certain aims—not to engage reality and transform the actual necessity that has to be confronted, in accordance with its fundamental and driving contradictions, but to apply one variation or another of what Lenin criticized as the approach of “truth as an organizing principle,” which amounts to a subjective and idealist notion of truth rather than a recognition of truth as something that is objective and that is characterized by its being a correct reflection of objective reality). Still, while we must reject an orientation and approach that amounts to “all solid core,” at the same time we cannot have a utopian and idealist view of what elasticity means—treating it as something unmoored from the actual underlying material relations of society, and the world, in which all this is embedded, a material reality which we are seeking to transform, but can’t simply transcend in our minds.
The correct application of this principle—solid core with a lot of elasticity—is elasticity on the basis of the necessary solid core at every given point. And I say the necessary solid core because, again, dialectics enters in: it is not a matter of some absolute solid core, because that would be metaphysics—conceiving of and aiming to achieve some perfect state of solid core, which in fact you never will achieve—but it is a matter of the necessary solid core: enough of a solid core so that it acts as a powerful cohering center and basis on which you can then proceed to move forward and unleash the elasticity and the initiative, without losing the whole thing. And there’s no “magic formula”—or, in a basic sense, no formula of any kind—for that. There’s no formula. You can’t get out a “sliding calculus” and say: at this stage of socialism, we need 28% solid core, and you can have 72% elasticity; but at this stage, once there is an imperialist intervention and invasion, we can only have 4% elasticity and 96% solid core. That’s not how it works. [laughter] These are living, moving things that we have to be scientifically engaging and dealing with and determining concretely on the basis of actually grasping the motion and development of the defining and driving contradictions.
1. This refers to a statement by Marx, in The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850, that the dictatorship of the proletariat represents the necessary transit to the abolition of all class distinctions (or class distinctions generally); of all the production relations on which these class distinctions rest; of all the social relations that correspond to these production relations; and to the revolutionizing of all ideas that correspond to those social relations. [back]
2. Strategic Questions was a talk by Bob Avakian in the mid-1990s, and selections from it were published in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) in issues 881 and 884-893 (November 1996 through February 1997) and in issues 1176-1178 (November 24 through December 8, 2002). These selections can also be found online at revcom.us. [back]
3. As spoken to by Bob Avakian in another part of this talk, these four objectives are: (1) holding on to power; (2) making sure that the solid core is not a static thing but is expanding to the greatest degree possible at any given point; (3) working consistently toward the point where that solid core will no longer be necessary, where there will no longer be a distinction between that solid core and the rest of society; and (4) giving expression to the greatest amount of elasticity at any given time on the basis of that solid core. The section of the talk that addresses this was published as “Views on Socialism and Communism: A RADICALLY NEW KIND OF STATE, A RADICALLY DIFFERENT AND FAR GREATER VISION OF FREEDOM,” particularly the part titled “A Materialist Understanding of the State and Its Relation to the Underlying Economic Base,” which appeared in Revolution #42 (April 9, 2006) and is available online at revcom.us. [back]
4. This metaphor of being drawn and quartered is spoken to by Bob Avakian in “Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World” (Revolutionary Worker #1262 [December 19, 2004]). It was also published as part of the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005). [back]
5. "Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism" appeared in the Revolutionary Worker newspaper (now Revolution) between August 2004 and January 2005 and is available online at revcom.us. [back]
Revolution #76, January 14, 2006
Police Brutality is Intolerable and Must Be Stopped!
These police murders happened in New York City just in the three weeks between November 25 and December 16 of 2006.
In city after city, day after day, the police harass, humiliate, beat down and gun down people, and especially young Black and Latino men. The name of Amadou Diallo is a bitter reminder. He was the 23-year-old African immigrant who was shot 41 times in his own doorway in 1999 as he reached for his wallet when the police demanded his ID.
But what a lot of people don’t know is that in New York City alone, 140 people have been killed by police between Amadou in 1999 and Sean Bell’s death on November 25, 2006. The Stolen Lives Project, which documents police killings in the U.S., estimates that 2000 people were killed by the police in the U.S. just in the 1990s.
ENOUGH! Bitter righteous anger has erupted in the streets of New York, and heart-felt debate rages in barber shops and beauty parlors, schools, churches and clubs about what it will take to end this murderous terror.
Why does this keep happening? Why does a generation of beautiful children have no future but gangs and jail, and then they are told it’s their fault? Why do even some crime experts and economists say that for the youth, “crime is a rational choice”? What should all this tell us about what kind of system this is and what to do to stop this?
Here is what the NYC Branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party said in its statement about Sean Bell’s death:
“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…
“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.”
(The full statement is online at revcom.us/a/072/RCP-Seanbell-en.html)
During the years when ancestors lived under the constant death sentence of KKK lynchings, families knew to go look in the river when their father or brother didn’t come home. Where do people go now? To the hospitals and precincts.
Every day, in today’s world, the majority of the people live on less than $2 and thousands of children die of starvation, dehydration and other totally and cheaply preventable causes. Whole countries and continents are left to rot according to the dictates of profit.
All this is TOTALLY UNNECESSARY. The billions of people who have nothing, produce enough wealth and resources so everyone on the planet could be fed and all their basic needs met—but these resources are locked under the control of a small handful of capitalist imperialists. Their police forces and armies exist to perpetuate, defend and expand this brutal global nightmare and for no other reason.
There IS a Way To Stop This
As we look at the murder of Sean Bell and the chain of tears that extends back to slavery and reaches across the globe—it’s hard to contain the fury and impatience. All of this can be stopped in one way: through revolution. Such a revolution is possible, including in the U.S., 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. At that time, whether there is a vanguard that can seize that opportunity—whether it has been built up, beginning way before that time, and whether it has developed the influence and organization and knowledge that it needs—will be decisive.
A great and liberating truth has been stolen from the people here and around the world: where the masses of people have seized power and held it, in revolutions led by vanguard communist parties, new societies have been born and amazing things have been accomplished. This happened in China under Mao Tsetung’s leadership and in the Soviet Union, before power was seized back by oppressors who brought back capitalism and exploitation.
This is the real modern-day history of slaves liberating themselves and changing the world that has been hidden and ripped away from us. This history is part of the science we need to be studying and applying: the science of revolution.
We Need A Whole Different World—Not Just Payback
Some who are bitterly angry about Sean Bell, and all those who have been lost before him and since, argue for vengeance, for payback. Sometimes this is Biblical or Koranic: an eye for an eye, or even two eyes for an eye. Many are ready to make real sacrifices to try to exact justice in this way.
Let’s tell the truth: without righteous, uncompromising anger at outrages that no human being should have to endure, no good change can come about. It is a basic truth that slaves have always risen up, and it’s right to rebel against oppression. But now this anger has to be honed with cold science about why this keeps happening, how to stop it and what kind of world can be brought about.
These days, this system locks a lot of people into a dog-eat-dog, “fuck everybody else before they fuck you,” “me and mine first” way of surviving and thinking. This can keep people thinking only about small-time payback within a small game—when far more, and a far more liberating society, could be brought about.
Let’s talk 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. Let’s just take one example: The people’s police would handle any of these situations that resulted in people being blown away, totally differently from the enforcers in this society. Our party’s 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.” (“Putting Forward Our Line—In a Bold, Moving, Compelling Way, Part 1” online at revcom.us/a/v24/1171-1180/1177/ba-line1.htm)
A revolution like this would bring forward millions of people of all nationalities, those on the bottom along with millions from among the middle classes who would be won to support this kind of change, to increasingly run every sphere of society. Our party’s Chairman, Bob Avakian, has been developing the idea of what a state where the masses of people hold power would be like. He’s looked at the experiences when the people held power and analyzed the great strengths and accomplishments, as well as the shortcomings and how things should go further: how there should be diversity and wrangling going on among all the sections of the people about how to solve all the problems of society and the world in the interests of the great majority, with people encouraged to raise their questions and disagreements, including those who don’t yet agree with the goals of the revolution. All this would be essential to people learning more deeply how to understand and change the world in the direction of bringing forward relations among people based on running society in common, doing away with whites lording it over non-whites, men over women, and all kinds of exploitation and oppression. This is what communism is—it’s about getting to emancipating all of humanity.
People who want to see things changed fundamentally so bad they can taste it need to get busy now. They need to take up this revolutionary theory—study it deeply—as a guide to understanding and changing the world. They need to spread this to others. And they need to join in building powerful mass resistance to police brutality and the other attacks this system brings down on people.
All that is about doing the greatest thing that you can do with your time on this planet: becoming an emancipator of humanity.
People need to get busy doing this now. Many, many people are lifting their heads, taking to the streets in protest of the police murder of Sean Bell and debating how they can carry this resistance forward to make things fundamentally better for the people. It is important to connect with them now—to join together in struggle and resistance, to bring forward Bob Avakian’s vision of communist revolution and the understanding we need for making this vision real, and to get out this paper far and wide as part of that. This can have a real impact in the weeks and months to come, and it can help bring closer the time when we can bring this whole new world into being through revolution.
Revolution #76, January 14, 2006
A team of reporters and translators from Revolution recently traveled through North Carolina to talk with workers and activists involved in the November 16, 2006 wildcat strike at Smithfield Foods' Tar Heel plant. This is the first of a series of reports from that trip.
Winter seems to strip the countryside of secrets. Driving along the two-lane, you can see deep into the gray stretches of dry pine forest and far across bare, open cotton fields.
But as night fell, as our contact took us farther and farther from the main road, it became obvious that many things about this corner of North Carolina have been carefully hidden.
"Roll down your window," A. said. "Smell that." The nose twitches. It almost burns. "The plant kills 32,000 hogs a day, many of them raised right around here." A. gestures at the dark woods around us.
Modern industrial hog farming concentrates the swine and pours their untreated excrement into countless "lagoons" that fill acre after acre across North Carolina. The farms are tucked back away from any roads, but there is no hiding the pungent mist of manure that hangs across the land.
We turn left, then right. Dirt roads lead off on every side. People too are hidden here. Suddenly we are in a huge trailer park carved out of the pines. Rows of doublewides, with muscle trucks parked out front. "Michoacan" is spraypainted across a fender. "La Hacienda" is across a trunk lid.
Most of the plantation South has not seen immigration like this before. A white worker quipped to us, "That last wave of immigrants came on slaveships, and they were ordered to 'speak English' too!"
But that has now changed. Over the last two decades, North Carolina's immigrant population has grown to at least half a million, overwhelmingly from Mexico and Central America. About 65% of the new immigrants are estimated to be undocumented. Called "illegal" and "alien," living like an outlaw population, these workers have kept out of sight--often in half-hidden trailer parks like this in remote clearings that dot the countryside.
Worked Mercilessly and Thrown Away
We have come to meet José and María, who both work at the Smithfield Tar Heel plant--the largest pig slaughtering and pork processing plant in the world. José, a slim man, is sitting on the sofa, restlessly, as his nephew lets us in. He is in pain. Two weeks before, at the Smithfield plant, he was wrestling with a tray, big as a table top, loaded with 70 pounds of fat and excess meat. Something gave out in his back.
José tells us in Spanish: "When I got hurt, the supervisor told me ‘pick up that tray.’ I told her I can't. 'Pick it up and throw it away.' So I picked it up and I continued working. But I couldn't hold the tray. She snapped her fingers, 'Then you just go home.' I was fired--for one day. If you get hurt you are fired. Then they told me, 'Work is waiting for you.' I am afraid that work will hurt me more. But now they can say I've quit."
José and María's five kids sit in a circle and listen intently as their parents describe their lives and troubles. One son is severely disabled--getting him care was one reason José first came here illegally, 12 years ago, from Guerrero.
Many hundreds of workers are injured like José each year at the Smithfield plant and are routinely fired. As we were in Robeson County, everyone was talking about a young Guatemalan woman who was accidentally stabbed in the eye with her own knife.
José tells us: "They don't just butcher hogs at that plant. They butcher people."
Smithfield had worked to keep all that secret too. The plant used to send screaming ambulances 2 or 3 times a day to the hospital in nearby Elizabethtown. But that became too obvious and too scandalous. So they built a clinic near the plant gates. Now the rate of injuries is hidden and the injury records are kept close.
And it's not just Smithfield. Everyone remembers when 25 workers were burned to death in 1991 behind the locked doors of the Imperial Food chicken plant when it exploded near here.
What happens if María now gets fired for not having legal paperwork? In October, under pressure from the Department of Homeland Security, Smithfield announced it would fire hundreds of immigrant workers whose social security numbers don't match their names.
José spits out his words: "The company has sucked the very air out our lungs and now they want to replace us."
María talks about finding a new job, perhaps in a chicken plant, and then her eyes lock onto ours: "This is the way they treat us. We are not going to tolerate that forever."
Yes--push has come to shove.
A thousand Latino workers walked out of the Smithfield plant on November 16. In a churning rally over two days, they climbed upon cars and spoke their bitterness over the firing of the undocumented, over the brutal treatment in the plant--in the face of the company guards and gathering sheriffs.
That's how our Revolution team of reporters and translators knew to come here to Robeson County. The Smithfield strike had been like a brilliant flare launched over dark waters. A thousand workers risking not only their jobs--they knowingly risked arrest and deportation, they risked not seeing their kids that night. They spoke for themselves, and literally for millions more.
When we met immigrant workers like "María" and "José," many of them did not want their real names or voices recorded. But they had a sense that, for them, there is no going back. The hiding is over, and they want their stories, their suffering, their dreams and their questions to reach the world. They want some justice.
"Things I’ve seen and that I've lived"
We took over a small storage room in a local office, so workers could hook up with Revolution to give interviews.
CC walked in--a lean, hard Black man, dignified, very tight-lipped at first. He told of growing up in a sharecropper family with six kids in South Carolina. He talked about picking cotton at seven years old. About how, after the army, he had worked construction until decent pay and benefits just disappeared. And now he was here at the Tar Heel plant.
"They work you hard out there, steady gettin it," CC said, and described how he stands braced on that slimy floor, "chiseling jawbone" in one hard repetitive downward jerk, forcing the hog jowls from the bone on one carcass after another. "It's not something I want for my four kids."
The speed and intensity of the killing is startling. Truckloads bring hundreds of hogs an hour to the pens of the plant. They are raced to the killing floor--stunned, tattooed, and then stabbed once square in the throat. The lifeblood spurts warm, splattering the workers, over and over, one after another. Within seconds the pigs are hanging from hooks--gutted, draining, and moving toward the long lines of workers with razor-sharp knives. It is work that breaks down your joints at the shoulder, the wrist, and the knees. The heavy mixed smell of death and bleach is often overwhelming. Thousands of workers quit every year, or get injured or fired. And just as many arrive.
Smithfield directly employs between 5,000 and 6,000 workers. But their turnover is so huge that they also hire around 5,000 new workers each year.
When the plant first opened in 1992, it employed mainly Black workers (plus about 30% that were either white or Lumbee Indian). Smithfield brought convict labor onto the line. And alongside them came numbers of Black "ex-cons" who have trouble getting hired anywhere else.
Smithfield quickly went through a lot of the Black workers from the surrounding areas--and the company was obviously worried that the ongoing organizing might bring in a union. And so by the mid-1990s, Smithfield, like many other capitalists, was actively recruiting immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America. They dreamed of a workforce that was more desperate, grateful, intimidated and divided. No one knows for sure if Smithfield directly contracted with coyotes--but certainly they put out the word that anyone who made it here to their plant was guaranteed a job, no questions asked.
When I asked José how he ended up in Tar Heel 12 years ago, he said simply, "That's where the van was heading."
CC says, "It's not just Black and white anymore." What's true for the plant is true for the South. Smithfield's operation is about 65% Latino and 30% Black--at least for now.
Workers are tightly segregated from each other by work crew and language. CC talks about how the system based on petty favoritism inflames the hostilities: "They are working to keep Mexican and Black at each other. They do something to satisfy the Mexican, and Blacks get angry. Do something to please the Blacks to get Mexicans angry." Workers talked of "stare-downs" in the hall between Black and Mexican workers armed with knives, who have no way to speak to each other.
Raphael came to Tar Heel early in this immigration wave. He had been arrested as a trade union militant in Mexico, and is active in trying to bring the United Food and Commercial Workers into the Tar Heel plant. He tells us of "things I’ve seen and that I've lived."
“I've been working here for nine years," Raphael started, "and they treat us very badly, worse than if we were slaves. There is so much pressure and aggression. They shout at us, ‘You, fucking wetback, get moving.’ They call us ‘motherfuckers’ and more. The supervisors speak to us through crew leaders who translate their orders and insults, and are, unfortunately, Latino like us. Supervisors always want us to work better than we are really doing. If you do it better they want more and more. The line doesn't come like this: dum… dum… dum… it comes like this ta-ta-ta-ta-ta. And there we stand on that line, shoulder to shoulder. So close that we touch, swinging that knife. And there they stand, the supervisors, each with a calculator, always taking the count--and trying to meet their quota for that day--they just get hysterical, just running around screaming, if they think it is falling behind... I knew I was coming here to work. But I didn’t expect the abnormality, and the abuse. I expected something far better than this. Because, many times you’ve seen stuff like this in your own country--but you don’t expect something like this in a country like the U.S.--an advanced country."
In Part 2: A new force announces itself in the sleepy streets of Lumberton, and outrages build toward explosion.
Revolution #76, January 14, 2006
Part 2: Days of Fear, Joy, and Determination
by Luciente Zamora and Nina Armand
December 22--For days we’ve been hearing the stories of repression. Over and over and over again the same story repeats itself: We were kidnapped, beaten, hands tied and thrown face-down in a truck with a kick to the head for trying to look up. We were taken to a helicopter and they said “let’s see if you can fly”…we thought we were going to die. People have disappeared and others are in hiding—the police are still looking for people and still threatening everyone…people are scared.
Then today came a wave of joy…thousands of people marching through the city of Oaxaca (along with people in other towns in Oaxaca, throughout Mexico, in the U.S. and Canada, in Europe, and in Latin America marching in solidarity on the same day), their chants and songs filling the air for miles. All along the way dozens of youth decorated the walls that the city has been trying so hard to “normalize.” Spray-painted slogans and posters were soon covering the route of the march. Most of the march was made up of adults of all ages, but a contingent of youth joined in gleefully singing a barrage of insults of the governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.
Today, people didn’t want to talk about fear, but instead about the anger the repression has filled them with. They denounced the government and proudly upheld their struggle. The last six months has changed people. They have stood up—or as many describe it, finally the people have said “enough”—and the changes that thousands are going through are not so easily crushed.
Concepción’s son was arrested on November 25, when the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) attacked the protest encampment at the zócalo, the central town square, of Oaxaca City. She got involved in the struggle to free her son from prison. But as she talked to the other women, family members, students, and her son in prison, she realized that this wasn’t just about her son. There is something much greater at stake.
Now she’s working to free all the political prisoners. She was part of the encampment in front of the prison in the state of Nayarit, about 800 miles north of Oaxaca, where many of those arrested were taken. She said that when she arrived in Nayarit along with other family members, many people were scared because for days the media warned the people of Nayarit that people from Oaxaca are violent troublemakers. Concepción, along with other people from the encampment, went knocking door to door in the neighborhoods around the prison and told people about the struggle in Oaxaca and that their loved ones had been unjustly imprisoned—for standing up or for nothing at all.
It didn’t take long for many people in Nayarit to support those from Oaxaca in the struggle. They offered many people a place to sleep, food, and friendship during a very difficult time.
Concepción said that she’s not the same woman she was before all this happened. This struggle has opened her eyes and made her think about things outside of her family and home. She wants to raise people’s consciousness not just about the release of all the prisoners—which she is fiercely fighting for—but also to look around and see all the hunger, malnutrition, and other problems and ask why things are the way they are and do something about it.
* * * * *
December 23--A group of teachers stand at a fold-up table cutting pieces of crepe paper and bunching them into colorful paper flowers. They string the flowers across branches and between trees. They are at the plazuela of the church, where the APPO’s (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, which has been leading the struggle in Oaxaca) alternative Noche de Rabanos has been relocated after 300 municipal police filled the zócalo. The police are lining the entrances to the plazuela, with more camped a block away—riot gear ready.
The traditional brass instrument banda music in the air is accompanied by dancing on the stage. A few tourists and others walk past elaborate radish sculptures—scenes from the struggle of the last six months were carved from huge radishes. There is a figure of the PFP, with club and shield out. There's a helicopter hanging from a branch to simulate flying—with a body hanging out of it. Our favorite was the rabanos carved into a scene from the barricades: car-and-rock barricades manned by little figurines—both men and women—holding sticks with piles of rabanito rocks nearby.
Then the crowd in la plazuela stood still as a group of a couple dozen youth and residents arrived in a “posada.” Red and yellow light glowed from atop the tall wooden sticks holding candles in cellophane-wrapped frames. This time people weren’t singing Christmas songs or carrying pictures of nativity scenes or baby Jesus—they carried a big bright banner demanding freedom for all the political prisoners.
* * * * *
Lucia, Margarita, Eva, and Inez are teachers who were involved in the teachers' strike and planton—encampment—since May. They said that it was a back-and-forth in the early days with many people in Oaxaca. Lucia said that at first many people were supportive, but that some started to grow tired of the planton. However after the June 14 repression, things changed completely. The people were outraged at the way that the state had shot tear gas into the encampment and viciously brutalized the people. Margarita added that this struggle has been in the making for a long time and that it was a matter of time before it erupted into the open.
The women talked about the inequality that forms the base of this struggle, in particular the tremendous poverty and hunger throughout society. They then went on to describe another kind of inequality—the use of violent force by the state. They pointed out that the state has the power to kill and repress with weapons and brute force and the people have had to confront that with resistance, defending their neighborhoods by building barricades made of cars, rocks, wood, bags filled with sand, etc.
The state has come down hard on those who rose up and participated and continue to participate in the struggle—exhibiting the armed power of the state, including government forces dragging teachers out of their classrooms in front of crying children. One of the teachers described the PFP entering her school, some dressed as civilians and posing as parents while others were in uniform, detaining teachers in the middle of class. She said that one child who was hugging and trying to protect his teacher from the authorities was held down and then only released after the authorities left the school. These arrests happened at many schools in neighborhoods in Oaxaca City. Sometimes word got out that the authorities were coming and the teachers got away. Other times the parents and other residents surrounded the school to protect the teachers, but several times teachers were still arrested.
In these past days many different people have told us that the struggle continues despite all the repression, mass arrests, disappearances, and intimidation. There are no longer barricades around the city, and much of the graffiti on the walls is painted over daily, but the events of the past six months have changed people profoundly. In many different ways people are talking about how their own thinking is opening up and also of the need to deepen and raise the consciousness of many more people. As the teachers talked, their comments shifted back and forth from the current struggle to societal questions of wealth and poverty to the war in Iraq. People are thinking of Oaxaca, but not only Oaxaca.
Revolution #76, January 14, 2006
U.S. Imperialism's Latest Crime in Iraq:
Saddam Hussein was hanged by a U.S.-controlled court on December 30. The Bush regime and its Iraqi allies claim Hussein’s trial and execution are a triumph--a “milestone” as Bush put it--proof of progress in establishing a new, just Iraqi government.
Instead, this execution illustrated the U.S. imperialist’s blood lust, as well as their rush to murder Hussein before evidence of their own complicity in his worst crimes could be brought to light. And it showed what kind of “democracy” the Bush regime has brought to Iraq: the new U.S.-backed government is dominated by a collection of reactionary Shia religious fanatics and death squads. The trial and execution weren’t part of a process of liberating all Iraqis, searching for the full truth about Hussein’s crimes against the Iraqi people and others in the region, or creating a just society. They were exercises in imperialist reaction and sectarian religious vengeance, tantamount to an open declaration of ethnic cleansing and religious war against the whole Sunni population.
This whole scene--coming on top of all the other U.S. crimes in Iraq, including the deaths of an estimated 650,000 Iraqis--shows once again that NOTHING good can come from U.S. imperialist aggression.
A U.S.-Run Kangaroo Court from Day One
President Bush claimed Hussein had received a “fair trial.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The U.S.-orchestrated trial and execution were a mockery of due process and justice from day one.
The court itself was set up illegitimately by the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority, under conditions of an illegal war and occupation. It was funded with $138 million in U.S. aid. Every aspect of the case, including courtroom procedures, the prosecution’s case, even the layout of the courtroom were determined by the U.S. American advisors effectively controlled the process every step of the way--directly and repeatedly intervening throughout the trial to control the evidence and shape the outcome.
During the course of the trial, three defense attorneys were murdered and another abducted and wounded. One presiding judge was forced to resign because he was allegedly too sympathetic to the defense; his replacement had family members killed in one of the massacres Saddam is being tried for. Prosecutors often delayed giving evidence to the defense or didn’t provide it at all. According to Human Rights Watch, microphones were sometimes shut off and translators stopped by the Iraqis and Americans in charge if defense testimony didn’t suit them.
A prime U.S. objective was covering up its own complicity in Saddam Hussein’s crimes against the Iraqi people, and making sure none of this came to light. The only charges against Hussein heard before his execution concerned the 1982 Dujail massacre (where 148 were killed after an assassination attempt on Hussein)--not Hussein’s massacres against the Kurds, his invasion of Iran, his use of poison gas, or his slaughter of communists after the 1963 Ba’ath coup--because all could have gotten into U.S. involvement.
Another Bloody U.S. Milestone in Iraq
The verdict and then the sentencing and execution were carried out in a rush to try and bolster the shaky government in Baghdad --including by trampling on Iraqi law itself (that the President be given 30 days to sign an order for the execution and that it not take place at the start of a religious holiday). Then carrying it out on the first day that the religious holiday of Eid was to be celebrated by the Sunnis (the Shia celebration began the next day), was a deliberate and sectarian slap at the Sunni population--in reality an open declaration that Iraq is now a Shia religious state, and that other religions will be suppressed.
The U.S. has tried to distance itself from the ugly mob scene at the hanging, where Shia militiamen hurled religious taunts and reveled in Hussein's killing. Whether the U.S. had total control of the hanging, or even totally agreed with exactly what the militiamen present did, the fact remains that the Bush regime went along with the rushed verdict and trial for its own political reasons. (There’s no reason Bush could not have refused to turn Hussein over--it was after all the U.S. who had control of Hussein, who flew him to his execution, and then transported his body to be buried afterward--because the execution violated Iraqi law.)
In the face of growing criticism of the war--and the coming announcement of sending more troops--Bush desperately needed some “good news” to bolster his case that this cruel and criminal war were somehow worth fighting. Hussein’s execution was designed to give it to him.
The U.S. has consistently used such blood-soaked “milestones” in an attempt to show “progress” and build support for the war. Recall the murder of Hussein’s sons, the capture of Saddam, and the execution of al Qaeda leader Zarqawi.
Bloodshed & Backfires
Two of the key threads of the entire Iraq war stood out following Hussein’s lynching. First, that nothing good can come of U.S. imperialism’s criminal, immoral, and unjust wars of empire. Second, that its savagery and arrogance often backfire, as it already threatens to in this instance: it has shocked millions (if not billions) around the world with its unjustness and cruelty; and in Iraq it has further fanned the flames of the anti-U.S. resistance and the sectarian civil war that are ripping Iraq apart and threatening to turn the entire U.S. war into a giant debacle and defeat.
Revolution #76, January 14, 2006
Saddam Hussein’s U.S.-controlled trial and execution were a crude effort to bury the long history of American collaboration with Hussein, dating back to his rise to power in the 1960s. This included some of his worst crimes and atrocities: the massacre of communists and leftists in the 1960s, the betrayal of the Kurds in the 1970s, and the invasion of Iran and gassing of the Kurds and Iranians in the 1980s.
When the Hussein regime proved useful to the U.S. imperialist interests and policy of the moment, it was supported; when its actions or agenda got in the way, it was ruthlessly vilified and assaulted.
What follows is a brief history, taken from the book Oil, Power & Empire (by Larry Everest, Common Courage Press, 2003), of some of these twists, turns, and criminal complicity. (It is not, to be clear, a recounting of either all instances of U.S.-Ba’ath complicity, nor all U.S. imperialism’s towering and direct crimes against the Iraqi people, such as the killing of over 100,000 Iraqis in the 1991 Desert Storm war, of 500,000 to 1 million plus by 13 years of U.S.-backed sanctions, and of an estimated 655,000 as a result of the 2003 invasion and occupation.)
The U.S. Assists Hussein’s Rise to Power
The Ba’ath Party that Saddam Hussein would eventually head in Iraq was founded in Damascus, Syria in 1944. Its ideology was pan-Arabism, a variant of secular Arab nationalism which held that all Arabs constituted one nation. In social terms, it represented the interests and outlook of newly emerging bourgeois forces based in the military and state sectors. Iraq’s Ba’ath Party put forward vague promises of socialism and sharing the wealth under the slogan “unity, freedom, socialism.” It was also virulently anti-communist and upheld private property and inherited wealth as “natural rights.” It pursued a state-sponsored, oil-funded form of capitalist industrial development.
In 1958, the British- and U.S.-backed monarchy in Iraq was overthrown by a revolution headed by nationalist officers in the Iraqi army. The Ba’ath Party participated, but opposed the new government’s openness to ties with the Soviet Union and the somewhat egalitarian nature of its program. So did the U.S. imperialists.
On February 8, 1963, a combination of Ba’athists, Nasserists, and right-wing nationalists staged another military coup and seized power. The U.S. CIA directly provided the Ba’ath Party with lists of suspected communists, left-leaning intellectuals, progressives, and radical nationalists. On the night of the coup, the new Ba’ath regime used these lists to massacre between 3,000 and 5,000 people. Washington immediately offered diplomatic recognition. One Ba’ath Party cadre later admitted, “we came to power on an American train.”
By 1968, after a series of coups, the Ba’ath Party consolidated power and ruled Iraq until it was overthrown by the U.S. invasion in 2003. It purged the military and civil service, placed party loyalists in all key government positions, forcibly suppressed its opponents, and extended its reach into all corners of society, taking control of labor unions, student federations, women’s groups, and most especially the military.
Saddam Hussein was deeply involved in these intrigues. In 1966 Hussein was appointed Deputy Secretary General of the Ba’ath and soon he became head of the dreaded Mukhabarat or National Security Bureau. By the early 1970s, he was the most powerful figure in Iraqi politics, and in 1979 he became Iraq’s President.
Betraying the Kurds in the 1970s:
“Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.”
By the early 1970s, tensions were rising between the U.S. and Iraq’s Ba’ath government because of its nationalization of Iraq’s oil industry, its new ties with the Soviet Union, and its hostility to Israel. So in 1972, Nixon, Kissinger and Iran’s Shah came up with a cynical plan: encourage an insurgency by Iraq’s Kurds in order to weaken Baghdad.
The Kissinger-Shah plan went into effect in 1972. Iran and the U.S. encouraged the Kurds to rise against Baghdad and provided them millions of dollars in weapons, logistical support, and funds.
The U.S. goal, however, was neither victory nor self-determination for Iraqi Kurds. The CIA feared such a strategy “would have the effect of prolonging the insurgency, thereby encouraging separatist aspirations and possibly providing to the Soviet Union an opportunity to create difficulties” for U.S. allies Turkey and Iran. Instead, the U.S. and the Shah sought to weaken Iraq and deplete its energies; the CIA viewed the Kurds as “a card to play” in this intrigue.
By 1975, the Kurdish insurgency posed the gravest threat the Ba’ath regime had yet faced, but Kissinger and the Shah wanted neither all-out war, nor the collapse of the Iraqi regime. As soon as Iraq agreed to U.S.-Iranian terms, the Shah and the U.S. cut off all aid to the Kurds —including food—and closed Iran’s border, cutting off Kurdish lines of retreat. The Kurds had no idea that they were about to be abandoned. But Iraq knew, and the next day it launched an all-out, “search-and-destroy” attack. The Kurds were taken by complete surprise, and deprived of Iranian support, their forces were quickly decimated. Between 150,000 and 300,000 Kurds were forced to flee into Iran. Kissinger dismissed criticism of U.S. actions: “Covert action,” he said, “should not be confused with missionary work.”
The Iran-Iraq War: U.S. Complicity in Hussein’s Biggest Crimes
In 1979, the Shah of Iran was overthrown, an Islamic government headed by Ayatollah Khomeini took power, and the U.S. imperialists faced a new and major challenge to their hegemony in the Persian Gulf. Saddam Hussein was also threatened by the Iranian revolution because Iraq’s government was basically secular and because the two countries had a history of conflict over their interests in the region. So the U.S. and Hussein made common cause against the new Islamist state: after a series of secret meetings and covert “green lights,” Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in the fall of 1980.
The U.S. hoped Iraq’s invasion would weaken and perhaps destabilize the new Iranian government, as well as absorb Iraq’s energies. But when the tide of battle turned against Iraq, and the danger of an Iranian victory loomed (which could have threatened U.S. allies Kuwait and Saudi Arabia), the U.S. decided to back Hussein’s regime and prevent this. In June 1982—one month before the Dujail massacre took place (on July 8, 1982), President Ronald Reagan signed a secret directive to support Iraq with billions of dollars of credits, U.S. military intelligence and advice and access to weapons.
The U.S. program of arming Iraq was facilitated by Donald Rumsfeld, who traveled to Baghdad to meet with Hussein in December 1983 and again in March 1984, as Reagan’s special Middle East envoy. He assured Hussein of U.S. support and its readiness to restore diplomatic relations, which Iraq had broken after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Over the next eight years, the U.S. gave Iraq some $5 billion in economic aid and encouraged its allies to provide billions of dollars worth of arms. The British sold Iraq tanks, missile parts, and artillery; the French provided howitzers, Exocet missiles, and Mirage jet fighters; and the West Germans supplied technology used in Iraqi plants that reportedly produced nerve and mustard gas.
U.S. firms directly supplied Iraq with biological weapons, and the U.S. and its allies helped provide Iraq with chemical weapons. Between 1985 and 1990, U.S. corporations supplied $782 million in dual-use technology and equipment, including helicopters used in chemical attacks, computers which could be used in ballistic missile and nuclear weapon development, machine tools, graphics terminals, and lasers for designing and building ballistic missiles.
The U.S. also provided Iraq with critical military intelligence—which made its chemical attacks even more deadly. According to an August 2002 story in the New York Times, over 60 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] officers “were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.” The Washington Post reported that Iraq used U.S. intelligence to “calibrate attacks with mustard gas on Iranian ground troops.” Iranian estimates of the dead and wounded from these gas attacks range between 50,000 and 100,000, including many civilians.
One senior defense intelligence officer told the New York Times, “The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern.” The newspaper continued, “What Mr. Reagan’s aides were concerned about, he said, was that Iran not break through to the Fao Peninsula and spread the Islamic revolution to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.”
(The U.S. played both sides of the street in the war, prolonging it, weakening both Iran and Iraq, and greatly heightening the toll, an estimated one million casualties on both sides. For a complete overview, see Chapter 4 of Oil, Power and Empire.)
Gas Massacres in Kurdistan: the U.S. Role
The U.S. government not only supported the Hussein regime during its heinous gassing of Iraq’s Kurds during the Iran-Iraq War, it was directly complicit in those crimes.
Beginning in February 1988, as the war was winding down, the Hussein regime unleashed its “Al-Anfal” (spoils of war) campaign—a seven-month rampage of murder, destruction, and scorched-earth vengeance against Iraq’s Kurds. Chemical attacks were stepped up, fields were destroyed, villages bulldozed, and survivors forcibly transferred to government resettlement camps outside of Kurdistan.
Throughout the 1980s, the U.S. had supported attacks on Kurds throughout Greater Kurdistan, and steadfastly opposed recognizing their basic rights, let alone self-determination. This was done in service of overall U.S. objectives: preserving the “territorial integrity” and ruling governments of Iraq, Iran and Turkey and thus a regional balance of power that maintained U.S. dominance.
This support continued during Al-Anfal. Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter states, “Wafiq Samarai, the former head of the Iraqi intelligence service responsible for Iraq,…said that U.S. advisers were sitting there as Iraq planned the inclusion of chemical weapons in the Anfal offensive.” After the gassing at Halabja in Kurdistan, Secretary of State Schultz condemned the attack as “abhorrent and unjustifiable,” but the Reagan and Bush administrations were still committed to turning Iraq into a strategic ally so blocked any action against Baghdad. Instead, U.S. aid and trade increased.
Why and how the U.S. finally turned against Hussein is detailed in Oil, Power & Empire.
Revolution #76, January 14, 2006
I was a young teenager when I first saw James Brown and The Famous Flames live and in living color at the Oakland Auditorium. In those days his audience was almost if not exclusively Black youth.
I could not get any of my friends to go with me because they feared we would get into a rumble with cats from Oakland because we were from Berkeley and they would consider it a provocation and challenge if we showed up on “their turf.”
This was early James Brown. Before he created all those funky rhythms and grooves. This was a chance in a lifetime as I saw it, and way too important to let some petty squabble stand in the way of missing this.
I was not disappointed. The band—horn section, guitars, drums. The Famous Flames with their harmonizing backup singing and dancing. The singing, dancing, the blinding footwork of James Brown himself, skating, gliding across the stage on one leg. Moon walking before there was the moon walk, doing the splits, and all the while the band is jamming and the Flames are crooning. It was raw, full of life, full of energy and emotion—you did not want it to end.
The high point for me was the end. When James Brown did “Please, Please Please.” He grabbed the mike, fell to his knees and belted this out. This went on for 15 to 20 minutes. At different times during this, a “cape-man” would come to the front of the stage where James Brown was kneeling—he would put the cape over James Brown’s shoulders and lead James Brown off the stage, all the while the Flames are still singing and dancing, the band is still playing, and James Brown is singing, moaning, and groaning as he kinda limped off in pain over his lost love—suddenly he would throw off the cape, run back to the front of the stage, go down on his knees again and continue the song. This is how he closed his show in those days and this routine he would do repeatedly in the course of this song—he would be drenched in sweat and emotionally drained—as so was the audience.
James Brown and Motown
Berry Gordy, who was the owner of Motown, wanted James Brown to join his label. James was playing for a smaller label and could have gotten more exposure and probably made more money by signing with Motown. But he refused because, as he said, Gordy’s “…acts were a little too soft for me: too much pop, not enough soul. I was way too raw for the kind of polished music they were willing to do. For instance, they had their choreography, which was great, but it was too rehearsed, down to the last toe-step. Mine was different, spontaneous, and no two nights the same. Mine didn’t come from a rehearsal hall—it came from my heart and soul, and there was no way I was ever going to change that, for Motown or anywhere else.” Another thing that did not sit well with James was that Gordy took the bass out of all of his singles. “…To me, the bass was like the heartbeat, the essence of the rhythm, the place where the flow of any song comes from… I could never be part of what they were in to. Under Mr. Gordy’s strict, hands on direction, the Motown show and catalogue were shaped around pop, and their acts were made like minstrels. They were like the caviar of Black music, while I, on the other hand, was strictly soul food.” (Quotes from James Brown in this article are from I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul, by James Brown with an introduction by Marc Eliot.)
This is what he was aiming for. To make everybody to take it as it really is…funky.
The Civil Rights Movement and Soul Music
The Civil Rights movement developed—with Black people rising up against all that racist Jim Crow terror, segregation and humiliation, and instead demanding to be treated with equality—and it was moving north, into the ghetto. The music of James Brown became like a sound track of the time.
In his words: “…soul became the perfect marching music for the civil rights era, a way to choreograph the burgeoning pride that could be found everywhere. It was, to me, like the jump beat that we always saw in the films from Africa, when the Blacks were organizing against apartheid. We’d always see them jumping in place, with the sound of the drum beneath them, giving them weight, lending them focus, providing them unity.
“What had always bothered me most about the early days of the civil rights movement was that there was still no organized, external way for Black people to get together and express their anger and frustration as a unit after four centuries of being the white man’s punching bag. Saying, ‘Stop hitting me’ was the most difficult thing to get Black people to do, especially in the South, where I came from. That was one of the things I most wanted to do through my music—to teach Black people how to very nicely say, ‘I’m sorry but you’re not going to do that to me anymore, I’m too strong, I’m too young, I’m too tough, and most of all I’m too proud.’ “
Say It Loud. I’m Black and I’m Proud!
In his search to say: “funk it!” he began to dabble with and develop the “One.” It’s the downbeat. ONE two THREE four, not the upbeat—one TWO three FOUR—that most blues is written in. It was not just a beat as he saw it, but a statement of a culture, of force, of stature and stride.
He first put this out there when he released “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” in ’65. He developed it further with “I Feel Good.” Like anything that is new it had to fight to be born. People in the band could not understand it. Some of them and his manager at the time were against making this change. He ended up changing managers and brought in some new band members. The One, the funk was fully developed by the time he did “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud!”
This change in music came during a time when the youth in the Civil Rights movement were beginning to openly refer to themselves as Black people—taking pride in their “nappy hair” with the wearing of Afros, in their African features and their dark skin complexion. In their culture and music. Things that before were looked at, enforced and institutionalized by the system as proof of the inferiority, sub-human status of Black people. Blacks could not drink from same water faucet as whites. Could not be served in same restaurants and stay in same hotels as whites. Could not go to the same schools. Death was the penalty for violating these laws. And now all that was being resisted. Hard.
The whole society was being shaken up and made to shimmy and the struggle of Black people was at the center of it. Now when you went to a James Brown concert or some other soul or funk performer you would see every race of people in attendance.
All this was influencing James Brown. In 1966 he did a benefit at the March Against Fear in Mississippi in support of James Meredith who was the first Black to integrate the University of Mississippi—and who was leading other marches for integration when he was shot down by those trying to hold onto the old order of things.
He gave money to the civil rights organizations and even gave money to the H. Rap Brown Defense Committee. Even though he sharply disagreed with the militancy and radicalism of Rap—he thought Rap should have the right to express his views.
It was after the assassination of Martin Luther King in ’68 that James Brown came out with “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Black people had risen up in rebellion in over 100 cities—shaking U.S. society of white supremacy, capitalism and imperialism to its very foundations. There were fires of rebellion only blocks from the White House. People took a lot of pride in this! Pride in having risen up in a mighty storm that was not going to take it anymore, pride in being identified with others in this society who were standing up and fighting against oppression, pride in being identified with people in places like Vietnam who were fighting a revolutionary people’s war against being dominated and oppressed by U.S. society. Pride in being identified with people throughout the “Third World” who were rising up singing but doing some swinging to back that up.
He intended for the song to be a rallying cry for some kind of “peaceful” self-pride. But just the opposite was happening. The masses gave it a different meaning, one of resistance—people were taking the stronger part of his message and running with it. And he thought the fact that the song had been turned into the anthem of militancy and revolutionary sentiment negated the “peaceful and positive” message he intended to deliver with it. And he ended up working with “the man” against the people. The night Martin Luther King was assassinated, Brown was scheduled to do a live performance in Boston. The mayor there was worried that people would take to the streets and called on Brown to be a “fireman” to help “save the city” from erupting. Brown did a televised performance in which he basically cooled out people’s anger, calling on people to stay home and remain calm. And then the next day he went to DC and got on the radio to urge restraint and went into the streets and told people to stop rebelling.
James Brown and Wanting “In”
Even during this earlier period, James Brown divided into two, as Maoists say. That means that he had a strong negative side going on as well as the positive. For one thing, there was his “It’s a Man’s World” stuff, pushing sexism and male supremacy. And even then, in his better day, he criticized the more militant and revolutionary trend among Black people. In his book, he recalled that “I was more for winning a slice of that very sweet American pie called success for my people. I wanted us to be brought in, not shut out. And I figured I could do that as I always did: with my music…”
Shortly after “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” this other side began to dominate. This led him into all kinds of stuff that was backward and frankly reactionary and damaging to the people: going to Vietnam to “entertain the troops,” at a time when those troops were carrying out a genocidal war and, especially among Black troops, were themselves often rebelling. Pushing patriotism when people were getting more and more alienated from the country, learning its true nature and history. Campaigning for the Democrat Hubert Humphrey in 1968 (after Humphrey’s boss Johnson had not only sent troops to Vietnam but into the ghettos). Getting behind Richard Nixon. Promoting Black capitalism as the way out. And so on.
Singers like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield, War, the O’Jays, and Sly and the Family Stone were getting into some deeper stuff about America in their music. But James Brown was going in the opposite direction, not just in his music but in the way he was representing in society. He even crowed: “Our country is the best. No one has been able to successfully challenge our society or bring down our system of law and order…” He became known for his song, “Living in America” which he and his entourage performed on stage or in parades dressed in red, white and blue costumes. This was not about “pride” but shameless groveling.
There was an irony here. The reforms coming off the ’60s meant that a section of Black people were allowed to “move on up,” while the rest were driven into deeper poverty and despair. But even those Blacks who accumulate a little capital under this system are not secure and they become less secure as time goes on.
Like James Brown in 1988, when the police stopped him late at night on a isolated road. Shot over 20 rounds into his truck. And then reloaded—the only thing that saved James Brown was him speeding away before they could reload. They did not care how successful he was, or how much he loved this country. They gave him 2 to 5 years in the state pen. This was “our system of law and order” that he had found himself praising.
At one time James Brown and his music, the soul, and then the funk, reflected Black people’s hopes and dreams to be free. That’s the main reason so many came out in Harlem and Augusta to commemorate him.
Those hopes and dreams still wait to be fulfilled.
Think! It’s gonna take a brand new bag.
Revolution #76, January 14, 2006
Check This Out
We strongly urge our readers to see The Good German and The Good Shepherd, two current movies, which both raise important issues and questions--while also being very gripping artistically.
The Good German, which stars George Clooney and Cate Blanchett, seems to have particularly enraged the majority of critics. See it now, before they succeed in driving this out of the theaters, and spread the word. The film is done in the style of the late 1940s Hollywood “film noir.” These films were typically, though not only, crime films in which a flawed detective would get into what at first might seem a straightforward case but which--as the plot developed--would turn out to involve bigger forces than he had suspected and motives which were wrapped in deception and very hard to figure out. Steven Soderbergh, the director, “pulls it off”--he adopts the lighting, the acting styles, and even the music of the era in a way that brings this genre (or type of movie) to mind. And Clooney and especially Blanchett consistently wrap you up in their characters. And rather than only being an experiment in style, there is a way in which the form helps to deepen and add dimensions to the content.
What makes the film so valuable and different--and we suspect what has really incurred the wrath of the establishment critics, especially the critic at the New York Times--is the way in which this genre is used as the artistic frame to tell a story of big-power (and in particular U.S.) intrigue in Germany in the days right after the German surrender toward the end of World War 2. In so doing it strikes one of the tenderest nerves in American politics and ideology. The role and motivations of the U.S. in what has been almost universally deemed to have been the “good war” (World War 2) has been for many years an ideological cornerstone of the American culture--and Hollywood has abetted this to no end, including with all the “greatest generation” movies of the late 1990s. Today it forms a “base assumption” of the political discourse--the constant comparisons of the “war on terror” to World War 2. Without giving away more of the plot and the many dimensions of this movie, let’s just say this gives a little different angle on the whole thing. And--given how integral the “dominant discourse” on World War 2 is to political assumptions and activity almost across the board in this country--the movie can’t help but touch on very current concerns and provoke all kinds of thinking. Again--see it, now.
Coming out at the same time is The Good Shepherd--a movie directed by Robert De Niro and written by Eric Roth, who apparently had tried for over a decade before he finally got a studio to agree to make the film. Matt Damon stars as someone who goes from Yale to the foundation of what would become the CIA in World War 2 up to the U.S. invasion of Cuba in 1961. Working in a totally different style than The Good German, De Niro and Roth have also made a movie that forces audiences to examine basic assumptions about American “goodness” and innocence--this time in regard both to World War 2 but, more principally, to the “Cold War.” The Cold War lasted from 1945 to 1989, and two trends in particular form the backdrop of The Good Shepherd. First, the U.S. used extreme violence against the oppressed nations of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, many of which were striving for national liberation in this period. Second, the U.S. contended with the Soviet Union as its principal rival. In the late 1940s and early '50s, the Soviet Union was socialist and, as such, formed the bulwark of worldwide opposition to the U.S. for people who were striving for either socialist revolution or national liberation. In the mid-’50s, with the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, the U.S.-Soviet conflict transformed into one between two imperialist powers--even as the national liberation struggles continued to rage throughout the world. But throughout the entire postwar period the CIA was a key force in pushing forward U.S. interests in both arenas and doing so in extremely violent and ugly ways.
How they did this--and the ways in which things done then relate to things done today--interweaves with the story line of this powerful movie. And again, the root assumptions of who is “good,” of who has the “right” to do what . . . of who is moral and who is not and the relation between ends and means...of where the truth lies, after all, and how to get at it...all come in for examination.
To be clear: these movies are art, not textbooks, and they succeed as art. But as art they seriously address questions of history and morality at a time when those questions are up in society in a crucially important way--a time that in its own way is shaping up as decisive to the decades to come as the early, formative post-war period addressed in these movies.
Revolution #76, January 14, 2006
World War 2 is portrayed in history books and popular culture as “the good war,” with America waging a great battle against “tyranny.” In fact, as the following excerpt from America in Decline points out, U.S. involvement in World War 2 was driven by an imperial agenda.
"When the U.S. entered the war at the end of 1941, it did so with clearly formulated goals. As early as 1940, study groups set up by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations were laying plans for a new global order dominated by the U.S. The Council, which collaborated with the government, produced high-level memoranda examining prospects for the consolidation and integration of trade and investment within the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific. By 1942, ideas for an international monetary fund, a world bank, and a new league of nations were germinating in the State Department. U.S. war aims were perhaps best summed up by Henry Luce, owner of the Time-Life propaganda empire, who, in his 1941 book, The American Century, lamented that at the close of World War 1 the U.S. bourgeoisie had let slip a “golden opportunity, an opportunity unprecedented in all history, to assume the leadership of the world....” Such an opportunity, he and many others in the bourgeoisie argued, should not be missed again. Of course, in reality the opportunity had not yet fully developed after World War 1, but Luce's point was obvious nonetheless. Though the principal concern of U.S. leaders was the defeat of the Axis powers, they were also dedicated to the subordination of their erstwhile allies, especially after the tide of battle turned in 1943. Indeed, for the U.S., the Second World War was a multifront conflict: not just against Japan and Germany but, in a different way, against the British as well, and, in still another way, against the Soviet Union."
In arguing that the U.S. had to invade Iraq, George Bush often accused critics of wanting to “appease” (give in to the demands of) the “enemy” rather than confronting the enemy. Appeasement is associated with a 1938 agreement that allowed Hitler to take control of part of Czechoslovakia. British Prime Minister Chamberlain said that this pact would secure peace. America in Decline explains the actual imperialist maneuvering that was going on:
"In order to understand U.S. maneuvers and advances through the Second World War, it is necessary to consider the positions, goals, and strategies of the other great powers. The British strategy for dealing with Germany found initial expression in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's 'appeasement' policy. The purpose of Chamberlain's 1938 Munich agreement to give the Sudetenland to Germany was, in fact, to push the Germans to the east and into confrontation with the Soviet Union. One reason for this, of course, was the imperialists' fond dream of smashing the socialist Soviet Union, something which the British (along with the Americans, French, and other imperialists) had already attempted immediately after World War 1. But Britain's more immediate goal was to prepare better military and political ground for its own direct confrontation with Germany, hopefully by weakening it in a war with the Soviets. The U.S. imperialists went along with this as part of their own strategy of moving in later to “pick up the pieces.” There was, however, never any question, either on the part of Britain or the U.S., of letting the German imperialists swallow the Soviet Union: they wanted the Germans to choke on it. The Soviet Union, quite rightly, was determined neither to be swallowed nor to be shattered. Owing to the Soviet need to buy time and the German need to first establish a tenable western periphery before it lay siege to the Soviet Union, the two countries signed a mutual non-aggression pact in August 1939...."
Excerpted from America in Decline by Raymond Lotta,
Banner Press, 1984, pages 209-211