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Black History Month
Editors' Note: This is the third in a series of excerpts from writings and talks by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, which deal with the bitter reality—and the fundamental source—of the oppression of Black people throughout the history of the U.S., from the days of slavery down to the present time, and which point to the revolutionary road to ending this oppression, and all forms of oppression and exploitation. These excerpts have been selected for publication for Black History Month this year, but of course this has great relevance and importance not just during this month but in an ongoing way for the struggle of oppressed people, and the future of humanity as a whole, here and throughout the world. We urge our readers to not only dig into the excerpts which we will be running this month (and the specific works that are referred to in these excerpts) but to more fully engage the body of work of Bob Avakian. In particular we want to call attention to the DVD of the talk by Bob Avakian, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, which opens with a penetrating, powerful exposure of the crimes of this system against Black people throughout the history of the United States, and shows how all this—and the many other outrages and injustices that people suffer everyday in this society, and in all parts of the world—are rooted in the very nature of the capitalist-imperialist system and can only be abolished through a revolution whose ultimate aim is to sweep away capitalism-imperialism and bring into being a communist world, free of relations of master and slave, in any form. And the 7 Talks, given last year by Chairman Avakian, along with the Q&A and Closing Remarks that follow those Talks, speak in a rich diversity of ways to these and other fundamental questions, including why we're in the situation we're in today and how this relates to the historic challenge of emancipating all humanity from the chains of oppression and exploitation. (These 7 Talks and the Q&A and Closing Remarks are available online at bobavakian.net and revcom.us.)
The following are excerpts from an article written by Chairman Avakian as part of a series, "Ask the Chairman." This article itself originally appeared in the Revolutionary Worker, #941, January 25, 1998. (As this article was written nearly 10 years ago, in republishing excerpts of this article here, minor editing has been done.)
QUESTION: How would we handle it if after revolution all the races that united to make revolution still wanted to be united but also be segregated? Seeing that there's no more of one race dominating another, what if different races decide that they just want to live around other people of their race?
THE CHAIRMAN ANSWERS: The simple and basic answer is this: Once this system has been overthrown and the proletariat has seized power, some people will, and some people will not, be allowed to "just…live around other people of their race." In general, there will be allowance for people of color to do this, but not for white people. This will be nothing like the segregation and discrimination that exist under the present system--and the purpose of this policy will not be to promote separatism. It will, in fact, be a part of developing and strengthening the revolutionary unity of the masses of people, of all races and nationalities, on the basis of the fight against white supremacy and inequality. It will greatly strengthen the overall struggle to radically transform society, to abolish all oppression and exploitation, as part of the world-wide revolution. The reasons why this is so are complicated--they have to do with the whole history and nature of the capitalist-imperialist system and its development in the U.S. in particular….
First of all, it is very important to recognize the great leap in unity among the masses of people, of all races and nationalities, that will be necessary and that will take place in making revolution--that will be achieved through the whole process of preparing for and then carrying out the revolutionary overthrow of the existing capitalist order. This unity can only be built and will be built through mobilizing the masses of people of all nationalities, and including white people in particular, to take up the fight against discrimination and all other forms of oppression that people of color are subjected to….
It is also very important to grasp how crucial and how precious to the masses of people is unity that is built among people of different races and nationalities in the struggle against the capitalist-imperialist system and its continual abuses and outrages. Experience has shown over and over--for example, in the rallies and marches and other activities of the October 22nd Coalition against Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation--that the masses of people are greatly heartened and inspired whenever there are manifestations of such unity in actual struggles. And if this is true even today, it will be all the more so with the further leap in such unity as the revolutionary movement advances and then again as it actually mounts--and wins--the revolutionary war to overthrow the rule of capital which promotes and enforces inequality and the division of society into oppressor and oppressed.
At the same time, even when the proletariat has seized and consolidated power, it will be faced with the whole legacy of white supremacy and national oppression in (what has been) the USA, and there will be a great need for continuing struggle to thoroughly overcome and uproot this. The standard of the proletariat and its Party in regard to this--and specifically in regard to the question posed here, about people living with others of their race--will be to support and promote whatever strengthens the struggle of the masses of people to overcome and uproot white supremacy and to prevent a return to the old relations of inequality and oppression.
DOING AWAY WITH INEQUALITY: AN HISTORIC STRUGGLE
Capitalism means inequality--it is grounded in profound inequality between rich and poor, the haves and have-nots, and most fundamentally between the capitalist ruling class and the class of exploited proletarians who own no capital and must slave for some capitalist or face starvation. But capitalism has also been built on, and cannot do without, other great inequalities and divisions, including the oppression of whole peoples and the subjugation of whole nations. This has been true since the time when capitalism first arose several centuries ago and carried out colonial conquests throughout the world; and it is all the more so now that capitalism has entered its final stage--imperialism--a world-wide system of exploitation and oppression dominated by gigantic monopolies and financial institutions.
Within the U.S. itself, one of the main and most ugly features of the capitalist-imperialist system is the great division between people of the European-American nation (white people) and peoples of color. This great division is not just a matter of racist ideas and attitudes, among white people in particular--although that is one expression of it. This division is deeply rooted in the historical development and the present-day economic and social structure of U.S. society. In imperialist America, with its whole foundation of slavery and genocide, with its whole history and continuing reality of white supremacy, the European-American nation is the oppressor nation. People of European descent, even those who are poor, powerless, and exploited--and even those who may have faced certain aspects of discrimination and prejudice, at least for a certain time, as part of immigrant "ethnic groups"--still share the status of being "white" in America, with everything that means. They enjoy certain privileges in relation to people of other nationalities who are the oppressed nationalities. To put it simply, if you are "white" in America, you may be treated badly, you may even suffer horribly at the hands of the system, particularly if you are without wealth and power, but you will not be subjected to certain kinds of discrimination and oppression that people of color cannot escape, even those who do accumulate a certain amount of wealth.
At the same time, proletarians of all races and nationalities, who are exploited and dictated to under the rule of the capitalists, are all part of one, single, multinational proletariat. Fundamentally, they share a common fate and common interest as a class. For the class-conscious proletariat, for all those who become aware of and take up the revolutionary mission of the proletarian class, one of their most important goals is to completely abolish national oppression--to put an end to discrimination and inequality between nations and, in the U.S. in particular, to put an end to white supremacy and the domination of the European-American nation over peoples of color. This is an absolutely necessary and crucial part of the all-around revolutionary struggle to overthrow and eliminate this system and all forms of exploitation, inequality and oppression….
(The whole history and the present-day reality of the oppression of Black people in the U.S., and how the struggle to abolish this oppression relates to the overall revolutionary struggle, is obviously a very big and very important question--for a further discussion of this, see also the pamphlet Cold Truth, Liberating Truth [CTLT].)
THE REVOLUTIONARY STATE AND EQUALITY BETWEEN DIFFERENT NATIONALITIES
This new socialist state will move to achieve real equality between all its different nationalities. As an important part of this, within the overall territory of the socialist state, there will be autonomous areas in some rural regions and some urban communities where there is a predominance of Black people, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, or other nationalities that were oppressed under the old capitalist-imperialist system. This will mean that, in contrast to things like the "Indian reservations" under the present system, the real needs of oppressed peoples for some land and resources under their autonomous authority will be met; and, at the same time, the proletarian state will provide special assistance to the people of these autonomous areas in developing these areas. It will mean that, with regard to customs and culture and language, things will be decided by the people of these autonomous areas. All this will be within the framework of the larger socialist state and its guiding principles. Among the most important of these guiding principles will be that practices and customs must tend to promote equality, not inequality, unity not division between different peoples, and eliminate, not foster, exploitation….
At the same time, as we have also made clear: These land and autonomy policies of the proletarian state will not mean that the oppressed peoples will have to live in these areas--which would amount to a new form of segregation. Instead the new proletarian state, while favoring and encouraging unity and integration, will ensure these formerly oppressed peoples' right to autonomy as part of the policy of promoting real equality between nations and peoples.
It is also very important to recognize the important changes taking place in the population of the U.S. in the present period, with a major increase in the percentage of the population that is non-European. Already, judging from present trends, it has been predicted that, not too far in the future, the U.S. will no longer be a country in which European-Americans make up the majority. As I have pointed out before:
"The U.S. imperialists like to pride themselves on how they have used and absorbed millions and millions of immigrants--we have all been told about the `great melting pot.' But in the U.S. today there are millions of immigrants whom the imperialist rulers regard as troublesome and dangerous. These are immigrants from the Third World, particularly those from nations oppressed by U.S. imperialism…. The imperialists see in such immigrants a source of instability and upheaval, a force weakening the internal cohesion of the home base and potentially undermining the power of the U.S. as an international overlord…. The imperialists react by asserting more aggressively the white, European, English-speaking identity of the American Nation.
"For the revolutionary proletariat it is just the opposite. We renounce that nation, we denounce any such identity--we are proletarians, not Americans, and our identity is that of the international proletariat. We insist on the equality of nations, including equality in culture and language. And more, we recognize in such immigrants a source of great strength--a vitally important force for the revolutionary struggle to overthrow U.S. imperialism and to create over its grave a powerful, living expression of proletarian internationalism and a powerful base area for the world proletarian revolution." ( BULLETS…From the Writings, Speeches and Interviews of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, RCP Publications, 1985, pp. 164-65)
But, of course, these changes in the population and "social composition" of U.S. society, as important as they are, will not in themselves eliminate white supremacy and the domination of the European-American nation over other peoples in the U.S. Even if and when European-Americans are no longer a numerical majority of the U.S., white supremacy and the oppression of non-European peoples will still remain an essential feature built into the foundation and the structure of the capitalist-imperialist system in the U.S., on all levels. To eliminate and eradicate this will require a revolution--the most radical revolution in history--the revolution led by the class-conscious proletariat to sweep away the capitalist-imperialist system and all the economic, social and political relations, and all the ideas, that perpetuate the division of society into exploiters and exploited.
REVOLUTIONARY STANDARDS IN THE FIGHT FOR EQUALITY
The aim of the class-conscious proletariat is to achieve the unity of the masses of people, on a revolutionary basis. And, all other things being equal, the proletariat generally favors the establishment of a unified socialist state in the largest possible territory. This is our objective in carrying out the struggle to overthrow the present exploitative rule of capital and to establish the revolutionary rule of the proletariat; and this is consistent with and is guided by our final objective of achieving communism on a world-wide basis.
But the point is exactly this: The revolutionary unity of the masses of different nationalities and the new, revolutionary socialist state must embody the equality of peoples. The unification of this state must be the voluntary act of the masses of people of all different nationalities. It cannot be based on and held together by one nationality dominating others, reproducing the same old inequality--or inequality in some new forms--between different peoples and in particular the domination of the European-American nation over other peoples. And we must keep clearly in mind that the new socialist society that will be brought into being through the overthrow of the present oppressive system will have to deal with the consequences and effects of the whole historical development of the capitalist-imperialist system in the U.S., where white supremacy has been built into its fundamental structures and ruling institutions and dominant culture.
This will have to be taken into account in many different ways, including in terms of people "wanting to live around other people of their race," within the new socialist society. In correctly handling this, it will be necessary and decisive to consistently apply the basic standard of supporting and promoting those things that help to overcome the whole history and legacy of national oppression in the U.S., while opposing those things that set back the struggle against white supremacy.
Neighborhoods which have excluded or restricted people of color, including such things as "white ethnic neighborhoods," have a very definite social content in the history of the U.S.--they have been part of the discrimination and segregation that serve to maintain "enclaves" and "bastions" of white supremacy and privilege and to maintain oppressive relations overall. The proletariat must struggle against this now and, once we have seized power, we cannot allow things such as this to continue, or to be revived, because they are opposed to the basic interests of the proletariat and masses of people, of all races and nationalities, and to the revolutionary goals of our class. But, in accordance with these same basic interests and goals, the proletarian state will make it possible for people of the nationalities who have been discriminated against and oppressed in the old society and who wish to live "among other people of their own race" to do so, while also eliminating discrimination throughout society and promoting increasingly close and comradely relations among people of all different nationalities.
Why will it be correct and necessary for the proletariat in power to do this? Because of the whole history of horrendous oppression of the various non-European nationalities in the U.S. Because of the fact that, although the proletariat, once it has seized power, will move quickly and decisively to strike at the foundations of this oppression and will in fact eliminate many aspects of it right away, still it will not be possible to eliminate all aspects and vestiges of white supremacy immediately. To do this will require a longer, epoch-making struggle. And in these circumstances, among the nationalities that have suffered from this oppression and white supremacy, there will be people who--while welcoming the revolutionary unity that is continuing to develop and deepen among the masses of all nationalities, and while also welcoming the chance to take part in all spheres of society, on the basis of equality among nationalities--may still feel the need to be able to, at times, just be among people of their own nationality: to be where there is a shared history and shared culture and customs as a people; where they can provide each other mutual understanding and reinforcement and support in terms of standing up against the legacy of white supremacy and any continuing manifestations of it, subtle as well as overt. To allow for this will be necessary, and will play a positive role, especially in the early stages of the new, socialist society.
At the same time, there will not only be the general goal of developing and strengthening the unity of the proletariat and masses of people of all nationalities, on the basis of equality and the common struggle to radically transform all of society. There will also be concrete policies to make this a reality. The socialist state will encourage and promote the development of comradely relations among people of all nationalities, in every sphere of society; and, more specifically, it will foster and provide for the development of communities and neighborhoods, as well as workplaces and schools and other institutions, where people of all races and nationalities not only live and work side-by-side but actually develop close and deep relations of friendship and mutual support in the context of the overall struggle to revolutionize society, to eliminate and eradicate all inequalities and oppressive divisions among people. This struggle will be, and can only be, carried out on the basis of the increasingly conscious and voluntary unity and struggle of the masses of people of all races and nationalities. This is in accordance with and is a very important expression of the advance toward the final aim of communism, world-wide.
Mao Tsetung gave a very concentrated and powerful description of the communist future, as the era when all of humanity consciously and voluntarily transform themselves and the world. This will be a world without oppression and exploitation, without differences and barriers of class or of nation--truly a global community of freely-associating human beings, sharing a fundamental unity and giving expression to great diversity. But, in order to carry out the world-historic revolutionary transformation to achieve communism, it is necessary to keep in mind the point emphasized by Lenin: The achievement of communism can only be realized through the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the new socialist society, as a transition to the abolition of all relations of oppression and exploitation and all class distinctions (and the abolition of the state as such, as the means for one class to suppress others). So, too, Lenin added, this world-historic transition will be marked by the struggle to bring about the liberation of colonies and oppressed nations and to achieve equality between all nations, as the necessary path to the ultimate abolition of national boundaries and of separate nations altogether, and the creation of the communist world community of freely-associating human beings. This must be the guiding principle of the proletariat in handling all the complexities of the struggle to overcome every aspect of unequal relations between races and nationalities, every vestige of national oppression, in every sphere of society and everywhere in the world.
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
Mass Deportations, Vigilantes, Government Suppression:
On Thursday, February 22, the College Republicans group at New York University (NYU) organized a “game” they called “Find the Illegal Immigrant.” The Republican students had someone going around the campus with a tag saying “illegal immigrant.” The object of the “game” was to catch the “illegal immigrant” for a cash prize.
This “game” held by the NYU College Republicans is nothing less than ideological training in the mentality of slave-catchers hunting down runaway slaves, or of “good Germans” turning in Jews who were in hiding during the Nazi years. Indeed, it is training people in the outlook of the Minuteman vigilantes who right now carry out armed patrols on the Mexican border. Hundreds of students from NYU and other campuses righteously protested this outrage. And this was good, and needs to be built on.
But this event is far from an isolated incident. There is a whole fascist offensive going on that must be brought to light and acted upon. Immigrants are being hunted down and rounded up by the thousands, right now, all over this country, both by vigilantes AND by the federal government. For example:
These raids have caused tremendous suffering. The government is bringing down a climate of intense fear and terror on millions of people in immigrant communities around the U.S. (See “Gestapo Immigrant Raids in the Bay Area.”)
Murder on the Border, Abu Ghraib-Style Detention, and Fascist Vigilante-ism
Meanwhile, the federal government has stepped up its militarization of the border. They have added more troops, more walls and fences, and more surveillance equipment. This has forced immigrants to make the crossing through even more remote and dangerous desert areas. And this translates into more immigrants losing their lives. According to official statistics, 460 people died trying to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. in 2005, a 40% increase over the year before. These are murders by design, and there is blood on the hands of every senator and congressman who voted for these measures.
Bush has also embarked on a huge expansion of “detention facilities” for undocumented immigrants. These prisons are to be used for people who have already been branded as “criminals” without trials—as “aliens” who don't deserve the most basic rights. And these concentration camps are being built by the company KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton--the same people who have major military contracts from the U.S. government for occupied Iraq and at Guantánamo.
Along with these government moves targeting immigrants, "nativist” groups like the vicious and racist Ku Klux Klan have been making a comeback by attacking immigrants.(See: Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 9, 2007, "Anti-Immigrant Sentiments Fuel Ku Klux Klan Resurgence") And then there’s the armed Minutemen, and their Young Republican backers and suckups on the campuses. What makes all this even more dangerous is the way in which it blends in with other fascist trends--the Christian Fascists, like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, the students who are aggressively trying to purge their faculties of progressive professors; the anti-Black genocidal trends that came sharply into focus around Hurricane Katrina--all of which have backing, and sometimes open voicing, from the powers-that-be.
The people who run this country have an international agenda of endless war; they are attempting to be the unchallenged--and unchallengeable--dominant power on Earth. But this has run into opposition, overseas and increasingly here within the U.S. Meanwhile, every year witnesses great changes in society, economically, socially, and culturally. Global capitalism forces wages down within the U.S. and shifts jobs overseas in the click of a computer mouse. These same capitalists have increasingly penetrated and stepped up their domination of Mexico and other countries in latin America, including in agriculture. These changes have driven millions of peasants off the land and into a situation where they must risk their lives to seek work in "El Norte." The things people took for granted yesterday no longer hold today, and no one can be sure of tomorrow. So the capitalists aim to stamp things--and people--into place to “keep it together” during a period of wild transition in their global order.
This means many repressive things, and one of them has been the clampdown on undocumented immigrants. And now this is being ramped up. The capitalist rulers have huge power over the millions of undocumented workers inside the U.S. These workers lack basic rights and are liable to be deported at any time. But, at the same time, the fact that millions live “outside the law” runs up against the rulers’ need to impose a qualitatively greater level of repression over society as a whole. The U.S. imperialists are also paying close attention to things like the recent political upheavals that have rocked Mexico. They fear that such social and political turmoil—and even revolutionary upsurge—could cross the border, and react back and forth with resistance and revolutionary developments within the U.S.
Given this situation, all the forces in the top power structure believe that the millions of undocumented immigrants must be brought under much tighter control. The leaders of both ruling class parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, have been pushing for “immigration reform” that addresses the system's continuing need for millions who are forced to work for desperation wages. All of these “reforms” aim to keep the immigrant workers in a caste-like status, that is, oppressed in special ways without rights. Both parties aim to tighten up the border, and fortify measures to monitor and suppress upheaval and resistance. And while the debate over how to do this is not totally settled, all the branches of government are nevertheless moving very quickly in a very suppressive and fascistic way against the immigrants. And this whole thing is so explosive socially that the top rulers are even using threats against individual capitalist employers.
But you have to add to this another very important factor. The rulers of this society were profoundly shook by the big immigrant demonstrations last spring. They fear the potential power of millions that they exploit should they dare to rise up, a little glimmer of which was on display in those outpourings. And these rulers fear this example spreading to other sections of the people, both among the exploited and oppressed as well as among people from the middle class who are seething with anger at what is going on. So in one dimension, the raids and repression are designed to take revenge against the people for standing up and intimidate them from doing so again.
What Will YOU Do?
For immigrants and those who actively support the just struggle of immigrants, now is not the time to give in to despair and fear. A blow was struck last Spring, and now there is a counter-blow being delivered. The rulers are hitting back because in the end their fear is much greater: the fear that those they oppress and exploit, those upon whom their power and profit rests, will resist that exploitation and oppression and eventually rise against them. And while the rulers fear the rise of the immigrants, the revolutionary proletariat and the revolutionary communist movement welcomes this--for this brings strength to the revolutionary movement today and the millions of immigrants will play a big role in building the new society tomorrow. The ONLY hope in today’s situation is more struggle, more resistance, and--on that basis--more unity.
For those sitting on the sidelines, now is the time for a look in the news and a look in the mirror. Thousands of immigrants are being rounded up and “disappeared” from the cities, neighborhoods, work places, and schools of this country. They are being locked up in prisons and deported without any rights. Families are being separated. People are afraid to go to work or walk the streets, because of the danger of being swept up in raids.
Think about what it means that a whole section of people are being scapegoated and targeted like this. Think about what Martin Niemoeller, the German pastor who was imprisoned under Hitler, summed up about the rise of the Nazis: "First they came for the communists, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."
There are many parallels to the situation in the U.S. today. Whether people draw from and act politically on these lessons from history can shape the future for hundreds of millions worldwide. It was very positive that the cruel anti-immigrant “game” at NYU was immediately challenged and opposed. It is urgent that the whole chauvinist, fascist offensive against immigrants be challenged and resisted by many, many people all across this country. And it is time, and way past time, that the whole system that gives rise to such monstrosities be done away with.
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
One of the cruelest things about the whole anti-immigrant offensive has been the ways in which the system and its mouthpieces have worked to turn other sections of the working class and oppressed people against the immigrants. The ruling class is all too happy to see its words and thinking coming out of the mouths of the oppressed.
“They’re taking our jobs.” Our jobs? We don’t own any jobs. In fact, we don’t own anything more than our ability to work and the chance to sell that to some capitalist. Operations shut down and leave overnight, going south or going overseas, and you don’t have a damn thing to say about it--at least anything that makes any difference. You can either try to fight with other people in the same position, or you can fight the system that sets things up that way--but in either case, there’s no such thing as “our jobs.”
“They’re not following the laws.” Sure they’re not--because the “laws” are set up to keep them in an oppressed and super-exploited position! Should people have obeyed Jim Crow laws? NO! Today many people say they agree with that--but “back in the day,” Black people who defied Jim Crow were told by the white power structure and media -- and the Uncle Toms too -- that they were “going about it in the wrong way.” They were told to play by the rules, when the rules were rigged to exploit and oppress them. They refused to, and that was righteous. The oppressed always have to defy the law to win their freedom. When have they ever not had to do so?
“This is not the new civil rights movement.” Since when did civil rights and liberation become copyrighted brand names? Since when did the blood that people gave in struggle become something that someone owns? Since when did the inspiration and lessons that people draw from different struggles all over the world become the private property of one group or another? This is shameful and deserves no further comment.]0
“The ‘illegals’ get special treatment.” Yeah, real special. They are driven off their farms by U.S. capitalist agribusiness; they go through terrible suffering--and often die--in the desert trying to get here; they are forced into terrible jobs; they are robbed of their wages by bosses; they are abused and preyed upon because of their illegal status; and then they are put into prison-like detention centers when they are caught. Do you really want this kind of “special treatment?”
“They won’t learn English.” Even if this were true, so what? This society has white supremacy bred into its marrow. Because of that oppressed people have to fight to maintain their own cultures, customs, languages and so on. This was a big point of the Black liberation struggle in the '60s, as well as the struggles of Native American, Chicano and other oppressed peoples, and it is still valid. How is English Only any different than White Only??
These kinds of opinions--and we won’t even try to list all of them--really boil down to one slave blaming another for the conditions of their slavery...instead of fighting together to resist and overturn the system of slavery itself.
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
There is a real possibility that the U.S. may launch a military attack on Iran. Yet far, far too many people are either unaware of--or in denial about-- this very grave situation which could lead to the deaths of literally tens of thousands of Iranians and an escalation of the war across the Middle East.
The BBC recently reported that U.S. Central Command officials have already chosen an extensive list of targets for missile and bomb attacks inside Iran. The list includes nuclear plants at Natanz, Isfahan, Arak and Bushehr, but also targets most of Iran’s military infrastructure including air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centers.
The BBC also reports that two “triggers”--or pretexts--for a U.S. attack have also been chosen. One, any confirmation that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, and second, a “high-casualty” attack on U.S. forces in Iraq that could be blamed on Iran.
This report comes when a second aircraft carrier group has arrived in the Persian Gulf, along with an array of cruisers, destroyers and submarines. And there are reports that a third carrier group may soon be dispatched. U.S. and British naval minesweepers are also reportedly being deployed to the Gulf, pointing to concern that a U.S. attack could prompt Iran to retaliate by blocking oil routes.
The U.S. may also be stepping up covert operations inside Iran aimed at destabilizing the Iranian regime, an effort which Seymour Hersh reported was underway last year. Iran recently accused the U.S. of being involved in an attack in eastern Iran which killed 11 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
Vice President Cheney, while in Australia, repeated that “all options” (i.e. military force including nuclear weapons) remained on the table and that the U.S. must not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.
Lies as Pretexts
The Bush regime is creating public opinion around pretexts for launching an attack on Iran very soon. On Democracy Now, Col. Sam Gardiner explained that confirmation that Iran had a nuclear weapon could come very quickly. He says: “We have to remember that the President has said Iran can't be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” and then points out that Bush has added the phrase: “or the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons.” Gardiner then says: “That's a very important follow-on statement, consistent with what Israel has said. The way that is generally interpreted is that if Iran can put together 3,000 centrifuges for enrichment, they then will have the capability or the knowledge to produce a nuclear weapon. That event, according to the head of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] yesterday, could occur within the next six months.”
The U.S. press is also making a huge issue of a new IAEA report confirming what Iran has been telling the world openly--that it has not stopped its nuclear enrichment program (which in and of itself is not a violation of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty--only a violation of the demands of the major imperialist powers), while ignoring a suggestion from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Iran would close its nuclear facilities if the West did likewise (which the White House dismissed).
The pretext of a “high casualty” attack is equally ominous, as it comes on the heels of a U.S. briefing claiming there is evidence Iran was providing weapons that were being used to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq. And the briefing was so hyped that General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had to distance himself from the claim that these arms shipments were being directed by the highest levels of the Iranian government.
The notion that the Bush regime would engineer a deliberate lie/pretext for war is hardly far-fetched. In his book Lawless World, British lawyer Philippe Sands reported that shortly before the outbreak of the 2003 Iraq war, Bush suggested to British Prime Minister Tony Blair that they could paint the UN insignia on a U.S. U-2 spy plane, fly it over Iraq, and hope that Hussein would shoot it down, giving them an excuse to launch the war.
One reason that so many are ignorant of--or in denial about--the danger of war on Iran is silence of the Democrats and the bourgeois media. While blatant war preparations are going on in front of the whole world--and the Democrats claim to be responding to the people's anger about the Iraq war--they’re saying little if anything about Bush’s moves toward war on Iran, EXCEPT to get behind the threats on Iran. Hillary Clinton told a pro-Israel audience that Iran must not be allowed to have nukes and “no option can be taken off the table.” Presidential candidate John Edwards told a similar audience: “At the top of these threats is Iran.… To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table. Let me reiterate--all options.”
Meanwhile the media is censoring news of U.S. war preparations. The BBC report has not been covered in any national newspaper or TV news coverage. Typically, ABC News reported (2/22) on Iran’s “defiance” of the UN over its ongoing enrichment program, but reported nothing of U.S. military preparations for war. And the New York Times has been helping to drum up public opinion against Iran. Recently their top military correspondent, Michael Gordon, ran a report based on “unidentified sources,” mouthing Bush's claim that Iran is behind a new style of roadside bombs.
Imperialist Interests and Necessity
Some people think “Bush wouldn’t be 'stupid' enough to do this.” Or they see the conflict as just about oil--so why attack Iran and disrupt oil supplies or drive up prices? Or that it’s just about Bush and Israel’s hatred of Iran’s anti-semitism, and why would they risk war over that? And why bomb Iran if it’s 10 years away from obtaining nuclear weapons as even U.S. intelligence estimates admit? Others argue the U.S. is too overwhelmed in Iraq to launch an attack on Iran.
But all of these views fail to grasp the real logic and necessity--from an imperialist viewpoint--for war on Iran--and how the whole situation in the Middle East, including the war in Iraq, is increasing that necessity.
Overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran has been a U.S. strategic objective since Bush labeled Iran a member of the “axis of evil” in 2002. It’s considered a key component of the Bush post-9/11 global strategy of radically reshaping the world, beginning in the Middle East-Central Asian region, in order to solidify the U.S. as the world’s sole imperialist superpower, an unchallenged and unchallengeable empire. In particular, regime change in Iran is viewed as crucial to striking a decisive blow against anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism, which has emerged as the main obstacle to U.S. designs in the Middle East.
This is why Bush’s 2006 National Security Strategy refers to Iran 16 times and states: “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.” This is also why British military sources told the New Statesman that "the U.S. military switched its whole focus to Iran" as soon as Saddam Hussein was overthrown. This is why the Bush regime has created a State Department Office of Iranian Affairs and an Iranian Directorate inside the Pentagon in much the same way it created special “intelligence” groups to cook up pretexts for war on Iraq.
The invasion of Iraq was designed—in part—to pave the way for weakening, and perhaps toppling, Iran’s government. Instead, it removed one of Iran’s main enemies in Saddam Hussein (after another of Iran’s adversaries, the Taliban in Afghanistan, was also driven from power by the U.S.). The U.S. has been forced to rely on Iraq’s pro-Iranian Shia parties to try to rule and stabilize the country. Overall, the U.S.’s quagmire in Iraq has weakened U.S. influence, fueled the spread of Islamist trends, and bolstered Iran’s regional influence. This is an expression of what Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, identified as "a cauldron of contradictions" set off by U.S. actions in the wake of September 11, 2001 that has "a lot of potential for things to go in many different directions and even to get out of their control." (See: "The New Situation and the Great Challenges," Revolution #36, February 26, 2006, posted at revcom.us)
The situation in the Middle East is unacceptable to the U.S. imperialists and the Bush Regime has resolved on a course to become even more aggressive in reversing all this--with the escalation of the war in Iraq and now the serious threats against Iran. And meanwhile, the Democrats have offered, at most, “symbolic” opposition to the sending of more troops to Iraq and no significant opposition at all--and in some cases significant support--to the real threats to launch a U.S. military attack against Iran.
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
Revolution newspaper obtained the following information from the website of the World Can't Wait organization, at worldcantwait.org:
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
Part of Nationwide Crackdown
“To those criminal aliens who have eluded apprehension in the past, be forewarned: ICE agents will seek you out, apprehend you and remove you from the United States.”
Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
from a National Fugitive Operations Program fact sheet.
“We are experiencing a Nazi Gestapo action on our community. I feel that very strongly in my heart.”
Rev. Filiberto Barrera
of Richmond's St. Cornelius Church
Over the last two months immigrants throughout the San Francisco Bay Area have been targeted in vicious raids. Hundreds have been arrested and deported as part of a nationwide effort by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) known as “Operation Return to Sender.” The recent raids began in January in the cities of Richmond, San Pablo, and Concord, in poor neighborhoods with large Latino populations, and have spread to other areas.
People have told of agents going to a Home Depot lot where day laborers wait for work, to supermarkets, street corners, houses and apartments, and BART (rapid transit) stations, armed with weapons, grabbing anyone without an ID. Some immigrants have been taken to unknown detention centers, some out of state.
Rev. Ramiro Flores said, “These agents come to people’s doors pretending to be police, they break their windows and scare them. When agents can’t find who they’re looking for they’ll just take another individual without papers.” (SF Chronicle January 29, 2007)
ICE agents went into neighborhoods around Meadow Homes Elementary School in Concord. Children were traumatized after seeing armed agents dragging people away and were afraid their parents wouldn’t be there to pick them up after school. The principal reported that the day after large raids in Concord, 106 children were absent.
The raids have cruelly broken apart families. Women are carted away leaving young children to be taken care of by friends or neighbors. Sometimes a family member will disappear for days without being able to call family, friends, or attorneys.
Fernando, a young boy about 10 years old, testified at a City Council meeting in Richmond: “My cousin’s mom was making breakfast for my two cousins. When she went to her refrigerator she had no milk. When she left the house to go get milk the immigration came and took her away. My cousin’s dad was lucky because he escaped. My cousins were sad and my cousin’s sister was crying because who is going to take care of her?”
A climate of fear has been created throughout the Latino community. Busy 23rd Street in Richmond, usually filled with shoppers in the Latino markets, record stores, beauty shops, panaderias (bakeries), carnicerias (butcher shops), has been empty. A small businessman said he lost 60% of his business in four weeks and the street was turned into a “desert.”
Outrage and Protest
On January 28, 2007, in protest of these raids, 1,000 people filled a church gym at a community meeting called by the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization at St. Mark’s Church in Richmond. Although some feared that ICE would arrest people who came to the meeting, immigrants came out with their families and some publicly spoke out against the raids. Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said, “As mayor, I’m here to give solidarity and support to families who in recent weeks have lived in a state of terror.” City Council members, school officials, teachers, and attorneys voiced their support for the immigrants and called for a stop to these raids. Similar meetings drew hundreds in Concord, Redwood City, and Santa Cruz.
Then on February 6, 300 people, mainly immigrant families with children, but also Latino students and community organizers, religious people and others, gathered at a meeting of the Richmond City Council to protest the raids. The City Council voted unanimously to call on the Department of Homeland Security to issue a moratorium on the raids, and reaffirmed an ordinance that no city employee assist or cooperate with ICE without specific authorization.
Copies of the Revolution special issue #77 opposing Bush’s escalation of the war in Iraq with the headline “¡Esto tiene que PARAR! (This Must Halt!)"(pages: 1, 2, 3, 4) were distributed broadly and many people held them up along with other signs against the raids.
Revolution spoke with José, an older Catholic priest from Richmond, who was looking at the back of the newspaper with the poster: “Wanted for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity: The Bush Regime” and laughing. He was upset at the way these immigration raids are being justified as part of a war on terror. “We say that George Bush is the number one terrorist. Most of the terrorist schools, preparing people for terrorism are here, like the School of the Americas [The SOA is a U.S. Army combat training school--located at Ft. Benning, Georgia--for troops and officers from pro-U.S. countries in Latin America in subjects like torture, political assassinations, counter-insurgency, and covert operations against anti-government movements],” José said.
“The U.S. says ‘with justice for all,’” Jose continued. “I think there’s not justice because these people are being hit, without doing anything wrong…because they don’t have documents. I think it is very unjust. They are very rough, they come into people’s houses, using very bad language--they say ‘open the F*** door.’ Putting their weapons in people’s faces.”
One ESL teacher asked, “What kind of country is this becoming?” She had been talking to her students about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and went down the list of the Bill of Rights and most of the students felt these rights still do not exist.
Twenty-nine ESL teachers signed a statement denouncing the raids that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. The letter stated: “Even before these recent raids, our students shared stories of being separated from their children growing up with grandparents in their native countries, of people who have had their parents get sick or who die and they are unable to go back to visit or to their funerals, and many more. We have heard of people who worked for $2.00 a day in Mexico and felt they had no choice but to come here to survive. We have heard of people working in an avocado processing plant in Mexico, where the avocados were sorted out, only to be sent here for U.S. consumption. They come here to work and to support their families, sometimes working two jobs. They are human beings, not criminals. We say: Stop the raids, arrests and deportations!”
A significant element of the protests has been that a number of Black activists have spoken out against the raids. Leonard McNeal of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and a member of the San Pablo City Council denounced the roundups. Barbara Bechnel, an author, journalist, and film producer who was a close friend of and advocate for Stanley “Tookie” Williams, the prisoner and former gang leader who became an advocate for a gang truce and was executed in 2005, said, “As a Black woman I will stand shoulder to shoulder with my Brown brothers and sisters. I do so because what I have heard here, what I have seen, what I know--this is discriminatory and unjust behavior. As a Black woman--I will be 57 years old in May--I have experienced unjust and discriminatory behavior. I don’t wish that on my Brown brothers and sisters, and I will stand with them, shoulder to shoulder, until this ends.”
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
Stories from ESL Students
The following stories of raids against immigrants by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) were written by English as a Second Language students in the Bay Area:
The O. family was a victim of ICE roundups. Mrs. O. was ready to commute to her work when Immigration agents stopped her and asked about some person. The agents said that they were police officers, but they didn’t show her any ID. Mrs. O. answered, “I don’t know any person with that name.”
Then the agents asked her many other questions. She said, “I don’t speak a lot of English, let me ask my husband.” She tried to go inside her house, but the ICE agents held the door and went inside. The agents were beginning to search for more people in the home. They opened the door to every room. In the house were two children and Mr. O., who were asleep. They awoke afraid because the agents turned their lights on the children’s faces.
Mr. and Mrs. O. were arrested and the children were almost taken to Child Protective Services. Mr. O. called some relatives who came to take care of his children. Mr. and Mrs. O. were transported to Immigration Offices in San Francisco and they were put in jail. Then they were transferred to Tucson, Arizona. Mrs. O. said, “It is terrible to stay in jail. I didn’t get any good food. The officers took off all of the arrested people's clothes. We couldn’t keep our own underwear. We just wore small underpants and a top of a linen bra. This was really hopeless and disconcerting because I didn’t have any communication with anybody… I didn’t know what was happening with my children, my husband or myself.”
When Mrs. O’s family put up the bail, she was released from jail during the night. The agents just left her at the bus station in Tucson. This was terrible because she didn’t have any money. She was afraid. She sold her earrings to get some money to take a taxi and spent the night at the Arizona airport, while she wanted for her brother to drive from San Pablo [in California] to pick her up.
* * * * *
I was listening to a history of one person, who was living in Richmond for many years. He went on his bicycle early in the morning to work. He never imagined that this day would be the last day he would look at his family. I don’t remember the street it happened, but the ICE stopped and asked a lot of questions. He told them the truth about his immigration status. They took him and brought him to the ICE truck. He was sent to the jail in Martinez. He was deported to Mexico in 2 weeks. His family is too afraid and worried because their rights were violated and they do not know what to do.
* * * * *
I’m writing this story because of the panic we are living in about immigration. My friend Maria and one of her daughters of 6 years old are in trauma. On Wed. January 31 at 6 p.m., my friend was surprised by many police saying they have a warrant and because of fear, she didn’t open the door of her apartment that she was renting. They broke down the door. They entered her apartment and searched everything. They asked, “How many people live here?” and they wrote down their names. Then they said to my friend, “We give you a few weeks to empty your apartment and go.” What is your advice in these cases to the people with the same situation? How long is it going to take to disappear the psychological trauma of this 6-year-old child? Until when are we going to live without persecution?
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
The raids in the Bay Area are just a small part of a major assault on immigrant communities nationwide. More than 13,000 immigrants have been arrested in “Operation Return to Sender” which was launched on May 26, 2006. This was less than a month after millions of immigrants and their supporters took to the streets across the U.S. on May 1, 2006 to denounce unjust immigration laws.
The “Return to Sender” raids are carried out by the National Fugitive Operations Program’s (NFOP) “Absconder Apprehension Initiative.” NFOP was created after September 11, 2001 by the Patriot Act and it is part of the Department of Homeland Security. NFOP is administered by ICE’s Office of Detention and Removal.
NFOP and Operation Return to Sender are operating off a list of over 500,000 immigrants in the U.S. who they say are “fugitives.” But the vast majority of names on the list are immigrants whose only “crime” is staying in the U.S. after being ordered to leave. And the vast majority of those arrested in the raids are not even on the list--they are people without papers caught in the raids.
These raids are designed to terrorize immigrant communities. “We are going to send a message,” Robin Baker, who heads ICE’s Detention and Removal Operations for Michigan and Ohio, told a group of ICE slave-catchers in June as Operation Return to Sender began.
The U.S. government plans on expanding these raids and has greatly increased the number of ICE Fugitive Operations Teams, from 18 at the start of 2006 to 50 at the start of 2007. By September 2007, ICE intends to have roughly 75 teams deployed nationwide. And this doesn’t count local police that ICE is training in immigration enforcement in many parts of the country.
ICE also increased the prison beds it uses to house captured immigrants by 6,300 during the fiscal year 2006, bringing the current number of beds to 27,500. ICE has also approved a $385 million contract for Halliburton subsidiary KBR to build detention facilities in case of "an emergency influx of immigrants.”
Separate from the “Return to Sender” raids, worksite enforcement raids during 2006 reached a level that was more than seven times greater than in 2002, the last full year of operations for U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
All this is happening as legal rights of immigrants are being severely restricted. The New York Times recently wrote, “Laws enacted a decade ago and tightened after 9/11 distance even legal immigrants from the protection of the law. Immigrants are routinely detained without bond, denied access to lawyers, deported without appeal and punished for one-time or minor infractions with a mechanistic ferocity that precludes a judge’s discretion or mercy.” (Feb 18, 2007)
Meanwhile, the number of deaths of immigrants trying to cross into the U.S. has risen at an alarming rate. In 2005, according to official Border Patrol statistics (which underestimate the number of deaths), the number of people who died trying to enter the United States from Mexico rose more than 40% over the previous year to 460 people. (SF Chronicle, 10-1-2005).
The Binational Migration Institute (BMI) of the University of Arizona’s Mexican American Studies and Research Center found that between 1990 and 1999 there was an average of 14 immigrant bodies recovered per year in the Tucson border area. Between 2000-2005, on average, there were 160 recovered bodies each year. In other words the number of deaths increased ten-fold in this short period. In 2005, there were 201 known border crossing deaths in the area.
This is due to a conscious policy of militarization of the border, forcing immigrants to cross the border in the deadly deserts. Last year the government sent 6,000 National Guard troops to the border. Bush’s 2008 budget proposal calls for an additional $13 billion for border immigration enforcement, including another $1 billion installment for the construction of both electronic and physical fencing. In addition the Bush budget provides $3.5 billion to pay for 3,000 new Border Patrol agents.
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
UCLA Protest Against the Minutemen
On February 6, over 200 students at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) along with others gathered outside a campus lecture hall to protest the scheduled speaker--Carl Braun, executive director of the California Minutemen. The Minutemen are vigilantes who advocate and deploy armed patrols on the border to hunt down immigrants. The UCLA students were inspired by the protest against the Minutemen at Columbia University in New York City last October, when students took to the stage with a banner saying “No One Is Illegal” during a campus appearance by several Minutemen leaders.
Various student groups--including MEChA de UCLA, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and others—organized the protest when Braun was invited to speak by a right-wing group on campus called L.O.G.I.C. (Liberty, Objectivity, Greed, Individualism and Capitalism). The event was supposed to be a debate between Braun and Yaron Brook, the executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute—representing pro-business interests. When the Minutemen and UCLA administrators found out that a large protest was being planned, they asked L.O.G.I.C. to pay for extra security. L.O.G.I.C. did not, and the event was canceled. The students still held a lively rally outside of the lecture hall where the event had been scheduled, with a big banner that read “Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech.”
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
Revolution received the following correspondence from some comrades in New York:
"[I]f he was walking along minding his business, like he was that night of his bachelor party, why did he have to be followed? Why that night did he have to be circled by all those cops? Do they know why they surrounded him? Do they really know? That comes back to all these questions I have. Why?"
From Revolution interview with
William Bell, father of Sean Bell
Revolution #78, Feb.11, 2007
November 25, 2006: 23-year-old Sean Bell was shot 50 times by police as he and his two friends, Jose Guzman and Trent Benefield, were leaving Sean's bachelor party just a few hours before his wedding. Sean died. His two friends were critically injured. All of them were handcuffed on the ground, including Sean, who was already dead. When they arrived at the hospital, Jose and Trent were handcuffed to their beds.
Many Black people, pained and outraged by Sean's murder, have marched and protested, demanding justice. And some people have asked the revolutionaries and each other, where are the white people in this struggle? Why are we fighting this alone?
Some of us writing for the paper in New York City have been talking to people of different nationalities and from different walks of life about how to understand and change such an urgent and intolerable state of affairs.
Those who are coming up now from all nationalities, along with some who are forgetting what they learned in the 1960s, need to take a deeper look at the reasons for this shameful blindness and complicity among white people, as part of understanding and acting on the potential today to go much further in uprooting the oppression of Black people and all oppression. Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, once commented that there’s nothing wrong with white people that a good proletarian revolution couldn't cure.* To understand all this more deeply, we have been digging into Bob Avakian’s talks from summer 2006--especially “Why We’re in the Situation We’re in Today…And What to Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need for Revolution” and “Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy” (these talks and five others are available as audio files at bobavakian.net and revcom.us)--in addition to the current Revolution series “The Oppression of Black People and the Revolutionary Struggle to End All Oppression.” Other important sources are also cited in this letter.
We think that to get at this question requires going back to the very beginnings of this country, to the economic and ideological foundation of slavery and exploitation. Much of this has been systematically hidden and distorted by those who control the media and education in this country. People are told that the history of slavery has no impact on the situation today, that yes, there was discrimination in the past, but now there is a level playing field, that if Black people can't get ahead it is their own fault--when in fact the whole history and continuing conditions of systematic national oppression are woven into the very fabric of the economic, political, cultural life in the United States.
Especially for those wishing for a "return to the original ideals" of this country or who embrace "getting back to Jeffersonian democracy" as you look with alarm at the extreme fascist agenda of those at the core of power in the U.S. grouped around George W. Bush and his regime, we suggest a closer and more objective look at what those concepts--such as the "equality of man" and "universal freedom"--rested upon in reality, how this capitalist/imperialist system has actually evolved from that reality--and the kind of liberating world that is actually possible, and necessary, to uproot all exploitation and oppression.
People really need to know about the tremendous human cost in misery, pain and deaths in this history, starting with the slave trade and Middle Passage, looking through this history right down to today. (See the historical chronology we have included with this letter, "Slavery ... Lynching ... Prisons ... and Police.")
Sean Bell and thousands more lost over generations are the victims of armies of police, soldiers, and slave-catchers who have enforced and maintained the exploitation of tens of millions, from the plantations of early American slavery down to literally billions of impoverished and destitute people worldwide today.
What is needed is massive resistance to police murder and the genocidal direction it is part of in modern-day America. White people and others who consider themselves well-informed people of conscience who have been sitting this out have to open their eyes wide to where this comes from, where it is going, and what kind of society they want to live in--and then take steps to act accordingly.
There is deep historical precedent to the shameful ignorance and complicity of large sections of white people. And there is rich experience that shows how this can break down when white people have joined others of all nationalities in historic battles to overturn vicious subjugation and oppression. Slaves rose up again and again, and many risked death to escape to the northern states and Canada. Thousands of free Blacks and former slaves took up arms as part of the Union Army to defeat slavery in the Civil War. White abolitionists hid escaped slaves, and some took up armed rebellion against slavery. White southern women joined the anti-lynching movement, refusing to allow the "protection" of their "virtue" to be the pretext for vicious murder and mutilation of Black men. In the '60s and '70s millions of white people were among those who learned the truth about the history of American society starting with the enslavement of Africans, the theft of one-third of Mexico, and the annihilation of Native Americans. A generation put down textbook lessons of happy slaves and the “horrible tragedy” of the Civil War and went into the streets to join the struggle against the oppression of whole peoples and the imperialist war against the people of Vietnam. In an interview with Revolution newspaper, William Bell, Sean Bell's father, points to the significance of white people like Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who made great sacrifices in the fight against the oppression of Black people. (Schwerner and Goodman were killed by the KKK, along with James Chaney, when they went to Mississippi in 1964 to join the civil rights movement.) He says: “I've gotten calls from people around the world, which is good. I think maybe for a lot of others they're afraid that if they try to show support now... it's like what happened back in the '60s when white people showed support for Black people--they would kill them. Mississippi Burning--a perfect example. They killed those white kids and burned their car. Put them under the rug, like they were nothing, no one.”
The upsurge of the '60s-'70s rocked this country to its foundations--but it didn’t go far enough. It didn’t lead to a revolution that overturned the whole system founded on this genocide and misery. Now those who are coming up from all nationalities, along with those who are forgetting some of what they knew in the 1960s, need to take a deeper look at the reasons for this shameful blindness and complicity among white people, as part of understanding and acting on the potential today to go much further in uprooting all of this.
It's not only that Thomas Jefferson and many of the other "Founding Fathers" personally owned slaves--although that's certainly worth noting! But beyond that, what these "fathers" fathered was an exploitative economy and relations between people of different classes and strata, which meant that "universal" and "inalienable rights for all" were inalienable rights of white men. Even white small farmers, while not part of the master slave-owning aristocracy, were nevertheless white and therefore imbued with certain entitlements. On the other hand Black slaves, as well as Native Americans, were invisible to the early philosophizing of universal human rights by virtue of being considered less than fully human.
Today's U.S. "freedom and prosperity" comes down to the imperialists' "freedom" to prosper by exploiting the world's labor, resources, and markets--and wouldn't be possible without the exploitation of Black people under slavery, and then after slavery through the sharecropping system, through the "great migration" to jobs in the factories of the northern cities through the 1950s. While legal segregation has by and large been overturned, de facto segregation in many arenas of public life has actually increased. Unemployment for Black youth is twice that for whites. And on top of this, Black people face the worst housing, the worst health care, and the worst apartheid-like education and other social services.
Edward Ball, an author who researched his own family's slave-owning and slave-trading history for his book Slaves in the Family, discussed America's caste system with Sonya Fordham, one of the descendants of slaves owned by his own family, in a conversation featured in the publisher's book club guide:
"Fordham: Ed, suppose a person says to you, 'My family didn't own slaves. We're not responsible for slavery' or 'We came to America after the Civil War, and we were poor immigrants who suffered prejudice just like black people.' How would you answer that person?
"Ball: I would say, yes, many millions of white Americans came here poor, tired, homeless, yearning to breathe free. In fact, 40 percent of white Americans come from families that entered the United States at Ellis Island, and they were rejected peasants, poor Irish, Italians, Germans, or Jews that had fled from Russian pogroms. They did suffer and their suffering should be commemorated. But when those families set foot on Ellis Island, they entered a two-tier society that had already been established before they arrived, with white people on the upper tier and black people on the lower tier. They got better education, they got better housing, and they got better jobs before native-born black Americans. So they were soon lifted up into the middle class, while African-Americans remained destitute. They benefited, in other words, from the legacy of slavery which had created a lopsided society. And their descendants still benefit from it indirectly. I would respect the stories of family suffering, but point out that the inheritance of slavery is one that we all share."
Is a revolution to transform all of this possible? Yes it is, when the right kind of conditions emerge.
The revolutionary unity of all nationalities against this system will be an essential part of politically preparing for millions of people to seize an opening to overthrow the system when such a situation emerges. This revolution can begin to uproot the oppression of Black and other oppressed people right away--which trying to "heal" differences, or build up a Black economy--within a network of American empire--can never do.
This kind of revolution will lift the U.S. empire off the backs of the great majority of people in the world--and is in the interest of the great majority of people in the U.S. itself, including the great majority of white people who need to understand and break with living in a new Roman empire--bent on world domination, resting on modern-day slavery, and founded on the enslavement and genocide of millions of Africans and Native peoples.
Another world is possible and it's up to us to bring it into being. And one vital first step in this is for whites who want that better world – or who oppse the injustice of this one – to step forward against outrages like the murder of Sean Bell. This is the way to build revolutionary unity between people of color and white people.
* This article, 'What's Wrong with White People?' appears in Reflections, Sketches & Provocations by Bob Avakian (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1990). [back]
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
'At the end of last year, we went on an investigative reporting trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. We were part of a human rights delegation investigating and documenting the repression in this southern Mexican state, and had the opportunity to meet and talk with many different kinds of people. The first two parts of our report were written while we were in Oaxaca. (“Part 1—The Prisoners of Tepic” in issue #75, and “Part 2—Days of Fear, Joy, and Determination” in issue #76, online at revcom.us.) Part 3--“From the City to the Mixteca Mountains,” which appeared in last week's issue, was about our encounters with one of the striking teachers and with indigenous campesinos who joined the struggle against the government.
The Mixteca is a large region in the state of Oaxaca, bordering the states of Puebla and Guerrero, with a majority indigenous population. The landscape here is diverse, with rocky hills, valleys, and forested mountain regions at the high elevations. Some areas are green and fertile. Other areas are dry and arid because of the natural soil composition of the land, but also because commercial fertilizers have destroyed the productivity of the land.
The people who live in the area are also diverse. They are from different indigenous groups that speak different languages, vary in their cultural traditions and mannerisms, and wear distinct traditional clothes. There have been sharp conflicts between some of the indigenous groups, like the Mixteca and the Chatinos, resulting in violent land disputes that have left many widows and orphans in some villages.
The Mixtecas are among the most impoverished people in Oaxaca. Some are able to make a partial living through selling produce from their small crops as well as textiles, baskets, and other merchandise at local market places. However, as in many areas around Mexico, a large percentage of people in the Mixteca survive from the remesas—money earned and sent back by people who have gone to the U.S. to work. Remesas are Mexico’s second greatest source of revenue, totaling almost 24 billion dollars a year--second only to the revenue generated by the petroleum industry.
On the days that the remesas come in, lines of people—mostly women—form around the block where the bank or the money transfer place is located. On weekends there are also lines of people waiting to use public telephones to call their loved ones. Remesas from immigrants are often used by the communities for public works projects—like paving roads, building wells, and building parks and playgrounds. In towns where there are few or no doctors and little or no medicine, the remesas subsidize the costs of getting medical supplies, because the government does not provide the funds necessary for the needs of the people.
Years ago, many campesinos in this region survived from growing coffee on their land. But this became impossible after the price of coffee plummeted on the world market. The only alternative was for large numbers of campesinos to leave their villages and migrate to the cities or to the U.S.
According to a human rights organization in the Mixteca, Ñu’uji Kandi, people are migrating out of this region at an unprecedented rate. It is not uncommon to find communities throughout the Mixteca—and other rural regions in Oaxaca—that are ghost towns. There are many villages that are very sparsely populated, with only women, small children, and elderly left, because many of the men and the youth—including boys and girls as young as 14 years old—have migrated to Mexico City, Tijuana, Juarez, and other large cities or across the U.S./Mexico border. For many youth, finishing middle school, much less going to the university, is not in their plans for the future—most plan to make the journey to the U.S. at the soonest possible moment.
* * * * *
U.S. imperialist domination of Mexico is not only changing the economic and social landscape—it's also changing the natural landscape of Oaxaca.
Manuel is 60 years old, his beard long and white, and he has lived his entire life in the forest. He told us that unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to imagine how beautiful the forest is. He described how the land was once full of pine trees, rabbits, pristine water, and wild orchids and other flowers. He’s been active in defending the forests for a number of years against the lumber industry and the accelerating rate of environmental destruction as a result of Plan Puebla Panama (PPP).
PPP was inaugurated in 2001 by the presidents of Mexico and the countries of Central America who claimed it would “bring progress to forgotten people.” In reality, the plan brings a nightmare of imperialist “development” to the southeastern states of Mexico and the seven Central American countries. Financed by the U.S.-controlled Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, along with some involvement of European capital, PPP is aimed at transforming this whole region into one big sweatshop. It means leveling ancient forests to build 8-lane highways and grow industry friendly trees. It means more dams to generate electricity for the maquiladora factories that generate huge profits for the capitalists.
“They want to build highways. They want to bring in a lot of things. We don’t want them to destroy the countryside,” said Manuel. “The forests are the lungs of humanity.”
He said that he wants to leave a legacy to his grandchildren—not just his small plot of land, but a legacy of fighting back against repression. And not just resistance against what's happening to his village or the neighboring villages, but a legacy of a larger struggle, like what has been going on in Oaxaca for the past 7 months.
* * * * *
After the news reached the Mixteca about the vicious attack on the striking teachers in Oaxaca City on June 14 last year, many campesinos were at first hesitant to support the teachers for different reasons. Some, for example, were afraid that the state government headed by Ulises Ruiz Ortiz would withhold the little money they allotted to rural communities if they learned what areas were supporting the teachers’ struggle.
But the teachers' strike—and the whole movement to demand the ouster of the hated governor--touched off a lot of back-and-forth among the people in communities throughout the Mixteca. Rolando, a human rights activist with Ñu’uji Kandi, said, “You hear about [the rebellion in Oaxaca City] at bars, you hear about it at the family dinner table, and all over the place. In many ways it has awoken another kind of consciousness among the people. There’s talk about what is required to resolve this situation—that it’s not just a matter of the governor leaving, but that along with that there have to be deep changes...for other kinds of social relations.”
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
Jeers to former NBA player Tim Hardaway, who openly declared his hatred of gay people on a Miami radio show on February 13: "You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States." Then, discussing the fact that retired NBA player John Amaechi had just come out as gay, Hardaway mouthed more ignorant anti-gay paranoia and macho garbage: "First of all, I wouldn't want [Amaechi] on my team. And second of all, if he was on my team, I would, you know, really distance myself from him because, uh, I don't think that's right. And you know I don't think he should be in the locker room while we're in the locker room. I wouldn't even be a part of that.”
This anti-gay torrent from Hardaway is poisonous and should not be tolerated. It's just as prejudiced and reactionary as if a white man got on a radio show declaring that he “doesn't like to be around” Black people, and thinks Black people “shouldn't be in the world or in the United States.” Or if a man of any nationality got up and said women should be considered slaves. This kind of shit has to be answered immediately by people—including by those in the public eye—with strong and unequivocal repudiation.
Some people defend Hardaway by saying he is just “expressing his opinion.” No way. When a public figure like Hardaway says something like this, it has real, harmful effects in society. His hateful speech reflects and reinforces systematic discrimination against gays and the whole oppressive relations and outlook of patriarchy.
When Hardaway says that homosexuality “shouldn't be in the world,” he's arguing for the world of oppressive patriarchal relations that exist under capitalism--a world where women are “feminine” and subservient, and men are “manly” and dominate over women, where being a “man” means treating gay people and women as less than fully human, or not human at all. It leads to the sickest of anti-gay harassment and even murder, like the killings of Matthew Shepard and Sakia Gunn, youth who were murdered just for being gay. And let's not forget how Hitler and the Nazis targeted gay people for elimination.
Hardaway should be sharply criticized and called out for what he said, and this kind of backward thinking should be held up and exposed for criticism and struggle--including in the Black community, where this shit has unfortunately been tolerated way too much. Nobody should accept the lame “apology” Hardaway made. Instead he should take responsibility for the ugly and oppressive morality he was advocating -- and he should take responsibility for changing his thinking
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
On February 11, over 100 people gathered in Oakland, California to remember and celebrate the revolutionary communist life of Billy “Jazz” Ellis. Present were family, friends, comrades, along with others who never knew Billy, but who after hearing about him wanted to commemorate his life. Billy, who died suddenly on January 6 at the age of 72, had been a revolutionary communist for over 30 years and was a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party.
The memorial began with a long saxophone solo--an improvised medley on themes by Coltrane, Miles, Mingus and Monk: some of the jazz composers Billy loved. A clip from the video Mao: The Greatest Revolutionary of Our Time that Billy had narrated in his beautiful, deep, resonant voice was shown.
Billy Ellis was born in 1934, in Tyrell, a Jim Crow town in rural Texas. Growing up where Black people were expected to step into the street to let whites pass by, in a place of constant injustices and daily indignities suffered under Jim Crow, made Billy quick to recognize oppression wherever he encountered it.
When Billy was a teenager he and his mother moved to the Potrero Hill projects in San Francisco. He worked summers picking fruit as a day laborer, to help his mother make ends meet.
Billy served in the infantry in Korea not long after desegregation of the armed forces. He not only observed the institutional racism of the military, he also saw the horrors of war inflicted on the Korean people. As one friend of Billy put it: "he talked about being out one day, high up on a hill, and he could see North Korean people in the distance. He was watching when U.S. jet planes streaked through the sky, flying low, guns blazing. He saw people scattering, getting hit. He said that it angered him to see this raw power being used against people who were poor and probably farmers. He used to throw potatoes up at the planes when they flew over his camp area, a form of protest. When asked what he was doing, he’d say, ‘I’m just getting the bugs off these potatoes before we cook em.'"
After Billy was discharged he played minor league baseball. He was one of the first Black players to integrate American Legion Ball in San Francisco. He also played in the Baltimore Orioles program. Later, he coached semi-professional basketball in Manteca, CA. Billy had a special knack for spotting and developing promising young players.
It was during these years that his love of music blossomed. Billy spent many evenings in the 1950s and 60s stepping out to the Fillmore, the Harlem of the West and home to the Bay Area progressive jazz scene. He himself played traps and sometimes jammed with other aspiring musicians.
It was during this time that Jazz got married and had a family. “At a very young age I was exposed to critical thinking,” Billy’s son, remembered. “We would watch things on TV and he would say, ‘why do you think they’re doing that? Why are they addressing this issue?' At the time I hated it but now I look at things through a different lens.”
These were tumultuous times when Black people were standing up, students were protesting against the war, and the very foundations of society were being questioned. Billy recently wrote an article that was published in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper on the 40th anniversary of the 1966 Hunter’s Point rebellion. Billy remembered participating in the rebellion and boldly upheld it. “By rebelling, people were standing up against the whole way they were being treated and the hypocrisy of American society, which talked about civil rights but wasn’t giving us anything. Our rage was uncontainable.”
While working at MUNI, the city bus company, Billy became involved in political activism. He contributed to a militant newsletter called "Dragging the Line." It was at MUNI where Billy first learned about communism and communist revolution from a fellow driver. He more and more gravitated toward these politics.
Billy was especially inspired by the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China and by the leadership of Mao Tsetung. Billy became involved in the Revolutionary Communist Party’s predecessor, the Revolutionary Union, and through this met Bob Avakian. He soon recognized in Bob Avakian the same kind of leadership he saw in Mao. Billy made a firm commitment to dedicate his whole life to fighting for a communist future.
In 1979 Billy was selected to be part of the entourage for a speaking tour by Bob Avakian at a time when the government was leveling serious charges against Chairman Avakian and others. Years later, Billy described it this way: "I agreed to go without hesitation. I thought about why am I being asked to do this. Was it because I am a Korean war veteran and I have some special skills I learned in the service? I’m sure that didn’t hurt. But I think the main reason I was asked to go is because people knew that I had not only come from the proletarian (working) class but I had taken up and embraced its ideology, the programme of its party, the RCP, and that I would do whatever it took to insure the success and safety of Chairman Avakian’s speaking tour. So I went... you know I had this man’s back.... It was very exciting."
Billy loved taking revolution and communism out to the people. In a statement read at the memorial Joe Veale, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Branch of the RCP, remembered the days when he and Billy worked together to reclaim May Day as a revolutionary holiday of the oppressed in 1980:
“We would go to different hiring halls and worksites throughout the Bay Area--calling on the workers to leave work and go into the streets with the red flag on May 1st. It was their holiday and we wanted them to see that and take part. This was very controversial at the time. Quite often we would get into very heated discussion and debates with these proletarians. At times things would border on becoming physical with some spilling over to this--and Billy would be right in the middle of all this struggle--patiently explaining to these proletarians why this is in their interest, why they had to 'break out and break free'…what this had to do with making revolution and getting FREE.”
The memorial also brought out many personal things about Billy. He was always a sharp dresser. He had a lifelong love of sports, especially baseball. He loved jazz music. And he had a sharp sense of humor and a beautiful laugh.
In 1992 Billy experienced a debilitating stroke. Jazz, as he had come to be known, who had been a powerful speaker, a persuasive debater, an avid reader--truly an intellectual of the people--was left unable to speak or walk. His recovery was quite remarkable, but there was permanent and life-altering damage. Reading was particularly difficult. Throughout the latter years of his life, Jazz worked with his memory and his language difficulties. He learned to use a computer to read documents and access the Internet. Learning to use this technology was itself a struggle, but Jazz never gave up. At the time of his death, he was listening to an audio book of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.
Billy’s physician and friend, Dr. Tolbert Small, who was physician to the Black Panther Party back in the day and who founded the Harriet Tubman Clinic in Oakland. said, “What impressed me most about Billy was that although he had suffered a major stroke; his brain didn’t quite function correctly; his memory wasn’t the best; he had a major heart attack. But he spent the last drop of his blood fighting for the rights of all people.”
Jazz was enthusiastic about the new material being put forward by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the RCP. His roommates remembered the hours that he spent listening to the recent talks by Avakian. He returned to them again and again, so he could better understand them and to figure out how to take them to the people.
Joe Veale, in his statement, remembered the last time he saw Billy at the 40th reunion of Black Panther Party in October 2006. “At 'Lil Bobby Hutton Park' in West Oakland, as I was about to leave, Billy was full of revolutionary communist enthusiasm. He motioned me over to a table where he and some others were in discussion with some masses about why they need to buy the DVD by Bob Avakian, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About. Billy had a big grin on his face as he motioned me over to listen to and take part in the discussion. That was Billy. Even in very bad health he was out amongst the masses--enthusiastically taking the truth to them--that we have a leader that can lead us out of this hell and to a whole different kind of society and world.”
We need a lot more people like Billy "Jazz" Ellis.
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
“Your life is going to be about something--or it’s going to be about nothing,” Bob Avakian writes in his memoir. “And there is nothing greater your life can be about than contributing whatever you can to the revolutionary transformation of society and the world, to put an end to all systems and relations of oppression and exploitation and all the unnecessary suffering and destruction that goes along with them.”
That was the “something” that Billy “Jazz” Ellis’ life was about. So tonight we mourn his death, and we remember, honor, celebrate, and learn from his life.
Billions around the world are bitterly oppressed, and many resist their oppression. But what’s most precious--and most needed--is for people to find and take up the science and ideology of revolution; to leap from resisting their own oppression to fighting to eliminate all oppression. To become emancipators of humanity.
Billy Ellis began life as one of those oppressed, a Black man growing up in Jim Crow America. And he became such a precious fighter for humanity’s emancipation--a revolutionary internationalist and communist.
His journey, like all who take this path, was the product of many circumstances and influences, some of which you heard of tonight: Working in factories and fields to survive. Being energized by the Civil Rights movement and the Black liberation movement. Then meeting revolutionary intellectuals at the Muni, and through them the Revolutionary Communist Party and its Chairman, Bob Avakian.
Mao Tsetung’s revolutionary China was an inspiration and beacon for Billy. There, millions of bitterly oppressed peasants and workers--people like Billy--together with intellectuals and middle class people--had shaken off imperialism and radically changed their society. And they weren’t stopping--unleashing a Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the 1960s to prevent a return to the old society and strike even more deeply at oppression’s roots. Going where no revolution had gone before.
Billy became an ardent supporter, defender, and promoter of Bob Avakian, who led in taking up and defending Mao’s legacy, and then going further--re-invigorating and re-envisioning the whole communist project. After spending some time with Chairman Avakian, Billy said, “I cannot forget, nor will I forget, how truly and deeply revolutionary this man is.... revolution was in everything with him.”
Billy was enthusiastic about taking communism to the masses. He knew--and his life showed--that the oppressed--of all nationalities--were capable of raising their heads, changing their outlook, and taking up the revolutionary science. Billy was unapologetic about the need for a communist vanguard and revolutionary leadership. And he understood how rare and precious it is when a leader like Bob Avakian comes along.
Wherever Jazz lived, he had two posters on his wall--“Great Day in Harlem,” [a gathering of jazz musicians] and Bob Avakian.
No matter their background, all communist revolutionaries face daunting challenges. After all, we’ve taken up humanity’s most daunting--and liberating--challenge: transforming history and society. So Billy, like all of us, had to struggle to keep up with an ever-changing world, and the demands and complexities of revolutionary communist work. He had to fight the powerful pull of day-to-day life and survival, agonizing lulls in revolutionary struggle, and the rulers’ constant barrage of lies and propaganda. And at every major juncture, Billy rallied to take up and fight for the most advanced understanding of how to move the revolutionary struggle forward.
On top of this Billy faced very serious, life-threatening health issues for over a decade. Yet with collective help from the Party and friends, Billy persevered. A few years ago, he told a gathering at Revolution Books, “I’m 66 years old. I’ve had two heart attacks, two strokes, I’m at risk for seizure all the time and I don’t have any intention of retiring.” And Billy never did.
Tonight we’re saddened by Billy’s death. We miss our comrade and friend. We’ll treasure what he brought to each of us and to humanity’s struggle for emancipation.
And most of all, we’ll re-dedicate ourselves to the cause he lived for, and to bringing forward many, many more to take it up. Because what the world needs right now, more than anything else, are revolutionary communists. Revolutionary communists like Billy “Jazz” Ellis.