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Black History Month
Editors' Note: This is the fourth, and last, 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.)
This final installment in this series begins with the article “Communism is Not a 'European' Ideology--It Is the Ideology of the International Proletariat,” which was originally published in the Revolutionary Worker #593, February 17, 1991.
It is followed by excerpts from another article by Bob Avakian, “Hatred for Oppression--It's Not Just a Personal Thing,” which originally appeared in the Revolutionary Worker #583, December 2, 1990.
(Some minor editing has been done in republishing this here, including the addition of some phrases, in brackets within the text, for clarity, and a footnote has been added by the author.)
(originally published in the Revolutionary Worker #593, February 17, 1991)
It is sometimes claimed, particularly by nationalists of various kinds, that communism is "a European ideology." In fact, recently I was reading a report about a discussion some of our people had with some Black college students who raised this and went on to insist that "Black people cannot follow a European ideology, we have to follow an ideology we create ourselves."
First of all, to get down to basics, communism is not the ideology of any one part of the world, any one people, any one nation (or race). It is the ideology of the proletariat, which includes people of all regions and all nations. In the U.S. itself the proletariat is made up of people of many different nationalities--including Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native peoples, as well as whites. And more than that, the proletariat is an international class--it is made up of people of every country, in every part of the world, of every race--and communism is the ideology of this international proletariat.
But let's get into this whole question more fully.
Historical Development of Communist Ideology
It is true that communist ideology was first developed in Europe, by Karl Marx (together with Frederick Engels), in the middle of the 1800s. Why was this the case?
This was a time when the industrial revolution associated with the rapid development of capitalist society was in full swing in parts of Europe. Massive technological changes were taking place and major scientific developments were being made and harnessed to this capitalist enterprise. Together with this rapid development of capitalist industrialization, the social relations of capitalism were also becoming more and more obvious. In particular, it was becoming more and more clear that the interests of the two main classes in capitalist society--the bourgeoisie (the capitalist exploiters) and the proletariat (the working class exploited by the capitalists)--were in fundamental conflict with each other. It was on the basis of all this that Marx founded the ideology of communism. But Marx did not do this in some narrow sense. He drew from a broad range of human experience and knowledge, including philosophy and science as well as economics and politics. He looked back through the history of development of human society and he surveyed the broad field of human experience internationally.
Marx not only exposed that capitalism meant the ruthless exploitation of the workers by the capitalists in Europe itself. He also exposed that from the very beginning capitalism had been founded in the enslavement and even the outright extermination of peoples from Africa to the Americas. He exposed and opposed the colonial powers of that time in their oppression of peoples all over the world, from Ireland to Egypt to India and China. It is true that Marx expected the communist revolution would take place first in Europe, where capitalism was most highly developed, and that this would show the way to the rest of the world. But later in his life, as he saw that this revolution had still not come in Europe, Marx changed some of his particular views accordingly. For example, as he himself said, he had taken the position that a revolution by the workers to overthrow capitalism in England would lead to the liberation of Ireland from English domination, but he had come to see that things were really the other way around--that unless the English workers fought for the liberation of British colonies like Ireland, these workers could never carry out a communist revolution. And he took the same kind of position toward slavery in the United States: not only did Marx actively support the struggle to abolish slavery, but he pointed out that the working people in the U.S. could never emancipate themselves from capitalist wage-slavery if half of their number were chained in outright slavery.
The Russian Revolution--A Bridge to the East
Yet, despite Marx's expectations--and his active work, both theoretical and practical--a communist-led revolution did not come first in Europe. It came instead in Russia. Or, rather, it took place in what had been the Russian empire, which covered a huge area, including not only Russia itself but many other nations as well. Most of this area was not in Europe but in Asia. In fact, this Russian empire was a kind of bridge between West and East, and so was the proletarian revolution that occurred there, beginning in October 1917. This revolution not only brought about the emancipation of the workers from capitalist exploitation. It also brought about the liberation of more than a hundred nations and national minorities who had been cruelly oppressed under the Russian empire. Before the proletarian revolution this empire had been known as "the prison-house of nations." But as a result of the October Revolution this "prison-house of nations" was replaced by the Soviet Union. For several decades, first under the leadership of Lenin and then of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union was a genuine, revolutionary union of the peoples of the country, on the basis of equality and with the proletariat holding political power.
Marxism teaches us that theory develops in relation to, and ultimately on the basis of, practice. The experience of this October Revolution and of the overall situation in which it occurred led to the further development of communist theory. This revolution took place toward the end of the first world war--and this war in turn grew out of the further development of capitalism into a worldwide system of exploitation and oppression, imperialism. It was Lenin, more than anyone else, who led the way in analyzing these new developments and in seizing on the situation to break through the chain of imperialism and carry out the proletarian revolution. Lenin didn't just lead the revolution in the Russian empire--he did everything possible to further this same revolutionary struggle in other countries, not just in Europe but throughout the world. It was on the basis of all this that Lenin developed Marxism to a new and higher stage--Marxism became Marxism-Leninism. Although attempts at proletarian revolution in other countries at that time were defeated--either led astray or crushed outright--still the revolution led by Lenin changed the face of the entire world. One of the most important things it did was to spread communism to the East, linking it with the struggles of the colonized peoples for their emancipation from imperialism. As Mao Tsetung so powerfully put it, the salvos of the October Revolution brought Marxism-Leninism to China, and once the Chinese revolutionaries discovered and took up this ideology they were finally able to take the road leading to complete liberation.
Since that time communism has become even more fully an international movement. More particularly, it has increasingly been linked with and stood at the forefront of the liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples of (what today is often called) the Third World. When these struggles are led by revolutionary communists, it is possible not only to carry out the first great step--overthrowing the domination of imperialism and the local reactionary forces aligned with imperialism. Beyond that, it is possible to take the next, and even greater step--to carry forward the revolutionary struggle to the stage of socialism. Socialism is itself a political-economic system ruled by the proletariat and a transition to communism, which will mean the elimination of classes altogether and with them the end of all oppression and exploitation.
It was in China, a Third World country with 1/4 of the world's population, that this revolution reached its highest peak, under the leadership of the Communist Party headed by Mao Tsetung. In fact, under Mao's leadership the masses of Chinese people not only liberated their country in 1949 and advanced into the socialist stage; they then carried out a further revolution under socialism, The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
This revolution was aimed at making further radical changes in the relations between people and in people's thinking. At the same time it was aimed at preventing the rise to power of new capitalist forces, disguising themselves as communists but seeking to bring about capitalist restoration--to bring back the old system of exploitation and oppression. Such a restoration of capitalism had taken place in the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s. It was on the basis of deeply summing up this negative experience in the Soviet Union, as well as carefully analyzing the world situation, that Mao unleashed and led the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, beginning in the mid-1960s. For 10 years this great revolutionary struggle beat back the attempts of the counterfeit communists to take China back down the road of capitalism. But after Mao's death in 1976, these "capitalist-roaders," led by Deng Xiaoping, finally succeeded in seizing power from the proletariat and reversing the revolution in China.
Despite this setback, it remains true that the revolution in China and in particular the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is the highest pinnacle that the proletariat--and indeed humanity as a whole--has yet achieved in the advance toward classless communist society. In the course of leading this revolutionary struggle, through many different stages, while at the same time paying close attention to and making great contributions to the revolutionary struggle worldwide, Mao Tsetung raised communist ideology to a new and still higher stage: Marxism-Leninism has been developed into Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
The Peoples of the World Are Bound Together
From all this it should be very clear that today, more than ever, it is absurd to consider communism some kind of "European ideology." Today communist ideology, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, is more than ever an international and internationalist ideology--it is the ideology of the international proletariat in its world-historic struggle to free itself, and all humanity, from the bonds of exploitation, oppression and the very division of society into different classes.
But more than that, it would be impossible for Marxism to be some kind of "European ideology" in any kind of "pure" sense. By this I mean that Europe and peoples of European descent are themselves the product of different mixtures and influences, both biologically and culturally. In fact, peoples from Africa have played a significant role in this development, as many Black intellectuals have helped to make clear, showing how civilizations and empires from the ancient Egyptian to the more recent Moorish have influenced, interacted with, and at times dominated Europe, or parts of it. It would be very difficult, if not simply impossible, to identify any "European" ideas which did not in some way share in these influences from Africa, as well as from other parts of the world. At the same time, there is not, and there cannot be, any "pure African ideology." Africa, too, has been influenced, directly and indirectly, by many different peoples and cultures. Much of this, of course, has come through conquest and domination--by the Islamic empire as well as various European colonizers and others. Both the Christian and the Islamic religions were imposed on African peoples at swordpoint (and gunpoint). Or, to take another example: some of the foods which make up an important part of the diet of African peoples today (such as peanuts, maize corn, and cassava) were actually brought to Africa from the Americas--the European conquerors and colonizers took many foods from the peoples they found in the Americas and carried them not only to Europe but to many other parts of the world, including Asia and Africa. (In turn it seems that those "native" peoples of the Americas are actually peoples originally from Asia who migrated to the Americas thousands of years ago across a stretch of land that has since been covered by ocean.)
What is the Source of Ideas?
Even if, in isolated areas of Africa (or some other part of the world), peoples could be found who had never encountered outsiders, parts of their way of thinking would be common to all human beings--reflecting human experience in general--and parts would reflect only their local and particular experience. But these local and particular parts, by definition, could not be the basis for some kind of universal ideology--an ideology reflecting the experience of all the people of Africa (or the world) as a whole. The source of all knowledge is experience, direct or indirect--that is, experience a person (or group of people) has themselves or the experience of others they learn about. The more narrow the experience, the more limited the knowledge; and on the other hand, the broader the experience, the richer the source of knowledge. In today's world especially, any ideology that exerts an influence on large groups of people cannot be "purely" that of any one nation (or race). And if an ideology is meant to reflect the particular experience of a nation (or race) of people, then the fundamental question is: how does it reflect that experience-- how accurately and fully does it reflect that experience and how correctly does it relate that experience to the experience of human beings and their society overall, historically and internationally?
In Today's World, All Ideologies Are Class Ideologies
Today, overwhelmingly, the societies African people live in are societies divided into different classes. (And certainly this was also true of the great civilizations in Africa in the past, such as the ancient Egyptian civilization, which existed on a foundation of slavery.** ) As Mao Tsetung clearly summarized it, "In class society everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class." (The "Red Book," Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung, p. 8) And Mao also made clear that, because the proletariat is the only class in history that can free itself only by emancipating all mankind--because the historic goal of the proletariat is to put an end to the division of society into different classes--for this reason the ideology of the proletariat is the only ideology that both has a definite class stand and at the same time is scientifically truthful. *
Let's go back to this idea that Black people "have to follow an ideology we create ourselves." This way of thinking is clearly "stamped with the brand of class," but it is not that of the proletariat. It bears the stamp of the middle class (or petty bourgeoisie), and it also bears the stamp of the Black bourgeoisie--which is the bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation. The middle class precisely stands in the middle between the two major contending classes in today's society--the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The petty bourgeoisie wants to avoid coming under the sway of either of these classes--it tries to carve out an "independent" position between the two. But in reality it ends up swinging back and forth between the bourgeois and the proletarian camp, and it tends to split, with some parts of it ending up in one camp while others end up in the other camp. And, especially in times of the revolutionary rising of the basic masses, some among the petty bourgeoisie actually come over to the side of the proletariat, firmly and wholeheartedly, and are transformed into proletarian revolutionaries.
As a class, the petty bourgeoisie is incapable of ruling society and making its ideas the dominant ideas in society. But it is a common tendency of this class to confuse its own, limited, class position and interests with the general interests of society. Thus, intellectuals from this class repeatedly come up with attempts at creating some kind of "original" or "independent" ideology--which, however, only reflects the same-old, same-old ideology of the petty bourgeoisie, or in some cases the big-time bourgeoisie. This takes different forms among different peoples, depending on their actual situation and role in society.
Among oppressed peoples, such as African-Americans, it often takes the form of some kind of nationalism which is militantly opposed to the ruling structures and ideas but which resists taking up the stand and viewpoint of the group in society that is most fundamentally opposed to these ruling structures and ideas--the proletariat. The notion of creating some kind of "Black" or "African" ideology that is different from and opposed to the ideology of the proletariat--this is an example of such nationalism reflecting the position and outlook of the petty bourgeoisie among Black people.
But, as noted before, this kind of thinking also reflects the position and outlook of the Black bourgeoisie. One of the main concerns of any bourgeoisie is that it have control over the affairs of "its" nation. Fundamentally this means control of economics but it also means control of politics, culture and ideology. When the bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation raises the demand for the independence of its nation, it means independence under the leadership of the bourgeoisie and serving its class interests. The idea of creating a kind of "independent national ideology"--including the idea that "Black people have to follow an ideology that we create ourselves"--this is in line with the interests and viewpoint of the Black bourgeoisie as the bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation.
Of course, thinking such as this, which bears the stamp of the petty bourgeoisie and of the Black bourgeoisie, can and does exert an influence on people of other classes, including among the proletarians. Nationalism of this kind exerts an influence on African-American proletarians, especially because they are subjected to oppression as Black people and are up against the rampant reactionary nationalism of the dominating European-American nation in the U.S. This reactionary white chauvinism (racism) exerts a significant influence on white people, including white proletarians, in the U.S., and it is by far the greater problem that must be struggled against. And it is necessary to unite with the Black petty bourgeoisie and as far as possible with the Black bourgeoisie in the fight against the common oppressor--the imperialist ruling class. But at the same time it is necessary to struggle against all forms of nationalist ideology and firmly uphold proletarian internationalist ideology.
This is an important part of the all-around ideological struggle that must be waged at the same time as waging the struggle against the ruling class in the practical sphere. It is crucial to win the masses to the ideology of the proletariat, in opposition to the ideology of the ruling class and in opposition to the ideology of all other classes as well. It is only in this way that the proletariat and the masses of people can wage a revolutionary struggle in their own highest interests and finally win their own emancipation. The conclusion is this: The most basic thing to ask about any way of thinking, any ideology, is which class does it represent? There is only one ideology that can lead to all-the-way liberation. Only one ideology that is both partisan --openly standing for one side in the struggle--and true --capable of correctly reflecting reality and summing up experience in the broadest and deepest way. It is the ideology that represents the most revolutionary class in the world--the class whose interests lie in radically remaking society to get rid of all forms of exploitation and oppression, and all backward ways of thinking, worldwide. That class is the international proletariat, and its ideology is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
Recently I have been reading reports about building for the speaking tour by Carl Dix, and something that really hit me was the comments by a couple of basic youth about why they joined up with the [Revolutionary Communist Youth] Brigade. In slightly different words but to the same effect they talked about the question of revenge, particularly revenge for what the police do, because they themselves have been brutalized by the police, they have seen family or friends murdered by police, have seen the police rampage through their neighborhoods with no respect for the people. And these youth themselves have been grappling with the question of how this desire for revenge relates to revolution.
Well, first of all, hatred for the oppressor is not only righteous, it is absolutely necessary, and without it you can't even think about getting out from under oppression. Besides that, the way you are treated by the system and how the system's enforcers do you--this is not just a personal thing. How you are treated by the police, by the welfare agencies, by the judges, by the school administrators…and on and on…all this is a product of how the system operates. This is a system that exploits, oppresses, and degrades whole groups of people. In fact, such exploitation, oppression, and degradation is what this system is all about and how this system keeps itself in effect. Hatred for how this comes down on you can be and should be a basis, a starting point, for moving to revolution to get rid of this whole system. But moving to such a revolutionary position also means moving beyond just the desire for revenge, beyond just thinking about how you yourself can get out from under oppression--it means making a leap to where you are out for nothing less than to wipe out and tear up the roots of oppression not just in one place, one country or region, and not just for one group or nation, but worldwide and for humanity overall. This is the stand of the international proletariat and its ideology, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
In reading a report describing how one young brother talked about the cold-blooded murder of a friend by the police, a lot of images came to my mind--images of other vicious murders by police I had known about or heard about but also images of horrendous brutality carried out by enforcers of the same system in many different parts of the world. One image in particular that stuck in my mind was something I have written about before, at the beginning of the book Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? :
"In…Guatemala, numerous accounts in recent years have described scene after scene where government troops enter a village and, after executing everyone of fighting age, proceed to brutally murder old people, rape and kill women, and then take the small children and infants and bash their heads open."
Think about it: the government troops in Guatemala carrying out these sick and beast-like acts are not just the "cousins" of the police in the USA. In fact they are run by the same powers-that-be, by the rulers of the imperialistic USA who are responsible not only for scenes like this in Guatemala but for the same kinds of monstrous things all over the world. And, on the other side, the people who are the victims of such atrocities, all over the world, are our people: we share the same condition of exploitation and oppression and the same mission of rising up to put an end to all this.
If people could sit down and talk with other people from all the different places in the country they're in--and if they could sit down and talk with people from all over the world--they would come to see that the masses of people share the same basic conditions everywhere. And, in fact, there is a way in which people can do that: It is the role of the vanguard forces of the proletarian revolution--which in the USA means the RCP,USA--to be the means through which oppressed people "sit down and talk with each other," in effect. That is, it is through the work of their vanguard (and in this the Party's newspaper and other publications are crucial) that the masses of people come to know the situation of people like themselves not just in a particular country but worldwide. They come to see that they have a common problem--the imperialist system and all relations of exploitation and oppression--and a common solution: proletarian revolution to uproot all such systems and all such relations, worldwide. In conclusion, let me go back to the point I started with: the question of revenge and its relations to revolution. I believe the following can serve as a basic summary of the viewpoint of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism on this question:
"What we need is not simply to strike back against the oppressor, not simply to get some revenge, but much more than that to rise up all the way, carry through and make revolution." [ BULLETS, From the Writings, Speeches, and Interviews of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA , RCP Publications, 1985, p. 23.]
"If we didn't have the burning desire to get rid of all this and bury it once and for all, then we would have no right to call ourselves revolutionaries, and we would never be able to lead anybody in making revolution. But that spirit will never make a revolution by itself. It has to be tempered with revolutionary theory and a scientific method to be able to deal with the complexities of what a revolution is about and to be able to bring forward the force that can actually make a revolution, and that is the masses of people in their millions."[Bullets, p. 191]
"It is only the international proletariat that needs no excuses or apologies, in some form or other, for exploitation, the oppression of women and of nations and national minorities, war, and a thousand other monstrosities; it is only the class-conscious revolutionary proletariat that insists that all these things can and will be eliminated from the earth. When this outlook and this leadership is combined with the anger and burning desire of the masses of oppressed to put an end to all this--then an unconquerable force is forged." [ Reflections, Sketches, and Provocations, by Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 1990, p. 133.]
* FOOTNOTE ADDED BY THE AUTHOR FOR THE RE-PUBLICATION OF THIS ARTICLE IN FEBRUARY 2007: As to the question of slavery in ancient Egypt (the Egypt of the Pharaohs), there are in fact conflicting views, and further research and analysis remains to be done to determine more fully the precise role that slavery played in that ancient Egyptian society. But it is already clear that slavery, including the enslavement of people conquered and subjugated by the Egyptian state, such as the Nubians to the south of Egypt itself, was a significant phenomenon (even while, at other times, Nubians conquered and became the ruling group within Egypt); and it is clear that more generally (and along with outright enslavement of some), ancient Egyptian society, and its state, rested on a foundation of exploitation and oppression of the masses of people, in various forms, by the ruling elites, headed by and concentrated in the Pharaohs.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
“…colleges and university faculty have been the weak link in America’s response [to September 11th]…When a nation’s intellectuals are unwilling to defend its civilization, they give comfort to its adversaries.”
American Council of Trustees and Alumni—ACTA—Report,
“…just as in the Cold War we had a very large Left that supported the Communist enemy, we now have an even larger Left— since that old Communist, 'progressive' Left has combined with Muslim radicals to create a much larger fifth column [enemy in our midst] in this country— which wants us to lose this war and the War on Terror generally… Their ‘critiques’ [referring to Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Eric Hobsbawm, and Todd Gitlin] of America have actually influenced radical Islam. The bin Ladenites, the Zarqawi-ites in the secular aspect of their indictments of the United States, follow the American Left’s party line.”
The title of this special supplement of Revolution—WARNING: The Nazification of the American University—is not chosen lightly. A deeply intertwined agenda of right-wing political forces and Christian fascists, which finds concentrated expression at this time in the Bush regime, is working to remold the institutions of higher learning and turn them into active partners of empire, repression, and theocracy (a significant degree of rule by religion).
The scope and scale of this wide-ranging and accelerating attack on dissent and critical thinking in the universities is not widely known or understood. Nor is the vision of society and of the university held by those engineering it. But it is already taking a heavy toll, and moving forward with dangerous determination.
This assault on critical thinking and dissent is spearheaded in large part by David Horowitz and his Center for the Study of Popular Culture and Frontpagemag.com, and by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a conservative academic “watch-dog” group founded by Lynne Cheney, the wife of the Vice President. They are waging a systematic attempt to transform the universities on several levels:
On one level, these right-wing forces are setting out to forge university administrations into instruments of coercive enforcement and control over faculty and students—intimidating, threatening, and “cleaning house” of dissident thinkers when called on to do so, while leaving scholars under attack to fend for themselves.
On another level, they are setting out to turn the university into a zone of uncontested indoctrination, where severe limits would be placed on permissible discourse--in terms of professors speaking out, writing, or encouraging engagement over controversial issues in the classroom, etc.; and in terms of restricting and gutting programs like African American studies, women’s studies, etc., that challenge and refute the official narratives and explanations of U.S. history and present-day inequality and global lopsidedness.
And on a very basic level, they are setting out to break the commitment of the university to rational and scientific discourse and to undercut its ability to influence society in that direction. The attempt by Christian fascist forces to insinuate “intelligent design” into the universities, to blur and overwhelm the boundary between science and religion, and to train, accredit, and mobilize a generation of “creationist science” advocates is a signal and ominous development.
The overall objective of this attack on dissent and critical thinking is to change the university as we have known it: in its internal life and functioning and in its effects on society. If this reactionary program wins out, the university will be turning out students who will have had little, if any, opportunity to think critically, into a society qualitatively more severely repressive than anything seen in this country’s history.
All this is coming at a time when critical thinking and dissent in society are more urgently needed than ever; when not only science but the scientific method, the method of thinking that people must learn to apply in order to know about the world, should be promoted.
In what is happening, including the build-up of a bullying right-wing student movement on campuses in the U.S., there are striking and disturbing parallels to the experience in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s (see “Hitler's Nazification of the Academy”). The current situation has its own features, but things are heading in a very dangerous direction. We should learn from history. We cannot let this reactionary juggernaut gather more momentum, making it much more difficult to stop. At the same time, the development of this serious situation on campus raises serious questions about the society which has generated it; and resistance to that situation can become part of, and a spark to, a larger movement taking on the whole direction of that society, with its war on the world and domestic fascist program. Those are the stakes.
Warning Signs and Dangerous Precedents
This multi-faceted assault has already exacted a heavy toll:
* Sensationalist campaigns have been mounted against dissenting and radical professors, with the attack on tenured Native American Studies Professor Ward Churchill at Colorado University-Boulder being the most extreme example. Right-wing operatives and Republican politicians worked with Bill O’Reilly and the rest of the Republican “noise machine” to whip up a nationwide frenzy that has already had a dramatic and lasting impact. Through it a message has been delivered to scholars: critical analyses of the causes of 9/11, or the role of the U.S. in the world, can be treated as heresy, punishable by loss of forum, career, and even personal safety.
* Right-wing talk shows and blogospheres name and slander progressive professors, leading to mass e-mail harassment and vigilante death threats. Inquisition lists of nationally “dangerous” radical professors are published in high-profile books like The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, and local lists circulate in campus communities. At the same time a conservative and fundamentalist social base has been alerted and aroused to a “treacherous threat” in their midst.
* Attacks on Middle East scholars, which came to a head at Columbia University in late 2004, are designed to stir up a climate where criticism of the actions of the U.S. in the Middle East or elsewhere can be equated with support for the “terrorist enemy”; and where any criticism of Israel becomes synonymous with anti-Semitism. Irish Poet Tom Paulin and NYU professor Tony Judt both had public appearances canceled because of their criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. And progressive anti-Zionist scholar Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, is facing a nationwide right-wing campaign to prevent him from gaining tenure at DePaul University, or anywhere else.
* Reactionary students are being organized and mobilized on campuses nationwide—and at UCLA were briefly offered money—by groups like the right-wing Zionist Campus Watch and Students for Academic Freedom, created by Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz. These groups hound and harass, spy on, and monitor progressive and left-leaning faculty. At Columbia they have been turned on fellow students who protested the appearance of the leader of the anti-immigrant, paramilitary Minutemen. All of this eerily presages an American version of Nazi Youth.
*Governmental authority is being used to impose restraints on critical thinking in the public universities. David Horowitz’ Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) has been introduced by Republican politicians in at least 23 state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress. It would legislate a set of rules faculty must follow in the name of providing a “fair and balanced” curriculum. The Florida version of the bill, which did not pass, would have given students the right to sue professors who introduce “inappropriate” controversial subjects, or challenge their creationist opposition to evolution (Democracy Now!—4/6/05). The bill that just passed a Senate committee in Arizona would ban professors at public colleges from advocating “one side of a social, political, or cultural issue that is a matter of partisan controversy.” (insidehighered.com, 2/19/07)
Spearheads of Attack
David Horowitz is a former 1960s leftist turned reactionary ideologue. He portrays himself as the defender of conservative students and academics “persecuted” by a “left-wing dictatorship.” This “dictatorship” has supposedly seized control of the universities and is stuffing radical ideas down students’ throats and blocking conservative scholars from academic appointments. He asserts that his ABOR legislation is merely an effort to bring “balance” and diversity to academia. (For more on balance, see “ The Right-wing Demand for ‘Balance’ in Education: A Stalking Horse for Indoctrination.”)
In reality, the claim of a “left-wing takeover” of the universities could not be further from the truth--and few faculty or students recognize this imaginary HOROWITZ U. as having any similarity to their own campus. For this reason Horowitz is too often viewed more as a crank than a threat.
But the man who describes himself as a “battering ram” for taking on the left in the academy is hardly a “victim.” Nor, unfortunately, is he irrelevant. He is a highly connected, reactionary political operative. Horowitz works closely with and has strong backing from Karl Rove and top national Republican leaders, as well as powerful figures in intelligence (James Woolsey, former CIA Director), law enforcement (former Attorney General Edwin Meese), and right-wing talk show opinion-makers (Rush Limbaugh, etc.), along with leaders of the Christian fascist movement like Pat Robertson.
The charges of a left-wing and secular “tyranny” in the universities are pitched especially to the huge and growing movement of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, which likes to portray itself as still in the coliseum facing the lions, even though theirs is the semi-official religion of the country.
The Horowitz assault is also savagely racist. He has singled out African American and other ethnic studies scholars for intellectual ridicule and political vilification. In the spring of 2001, Horowitz took out a nationwide series of ads in college newspapers denouncing the call for reparations to African Americans for the horrors of slavery. In those ads, Horowitz asks the question—“what about the debt Blacks owe to America?” Imagine what it would mean for such crude declarations of white supremacy to be restored to their previously dominant position in academia, now in the name of academic “balance”?
The other major spearhead of the attack on critical thinking is the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). In the wake of 9/11, ACTA produced a list of 117 statements by American academics and students which they deemed “morally equivocal,” anti-American, or both. Among these was the statement, “We should build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls.”
ACTA focuses its work among Republican legislators and conservative college alumni (and boasts as members the Republican governors of New York and Colorado who publicly denounced Ward Churchill in 2005 and called for his firing). ACTA claims to be the largest private source of financial support for higher education. It organizes and activates the wealthy and influential right to exert control over universities through the purse strings of private and government funding, and by filling more and more positions on university boards of regents, which in turn appoint college presidents.
It is very calculated. When the president of Colorado University made comments suggesting that a McCarthyite atmosphere was being fanned in connection with the Churchill case, she was pressured to resign and was succeeded by one Hank Brown. Brown, it turns out, is a co-founder of ACTA. He is now poised to make the final decision on whether Churchill is fired. When Jeb Bush abolished the Florida state university system’s Board of Trustees in the summer of 2001 and replaced it with individual 12-member boards at each university, he brought in ACTA’s vice president to give one of the key speeches at their orientation sessions (WorkingForChange.com, 11/19/01).
Why Would They Do This?
There is not one homogeneous “they” at work. Rather, there is an array of powerful political and social forces—in the ruling class and society--with particular but overlapping agendas. What unites these right-wing forces is their recognition that in the past few decades, people coming out of the 1960s have become professors, received tenure, and gained influence in some academic sectors, and have brought forward new scholarship that sheds light on and that refutes the official narratives about America’s history and role in the world. This progressive scholarship hardly dominates the role and overall character of universities now, but this kind of intellectual challenge is a very positive thing, and exactly the role universities should play.
But from the perspective of the reactionaries, it is unacceptable. They do not want people coming into the universities and discovering that the self-contained world they came out of doesn’t have anything to do with the real world. There is still far more space for critical thinking in academia than elsewhere in society—and the reactionaries see this as contaminating society. And so they want to stamp it out. For over three decades, the battle to remold the universities has been a key front in the right-wing cultural-intellectual war. In their eyes, the state of academia is a key cause of a “cultural and moral decline” and a source of domestic “disloyalty.”
The drive to radically transform the universities gained new momentum and ferocity after 9/11.
The Bush regime has grand ambitions to remake the world and to establish an unchallengeable empire for decades to come. It is doing this in a period of big changes and turmoil in the world as well as in U.S. society. These powerful forces in the ruling class need, and have been attempting, to hammer together social cohesion in an increasingly diverse U.S. society on a basis that is quite different from what has generally prevailed in U.S. society. They are seeking to impose new social norms grounded in a fundamentalist morality, a religio-absolutist and anti-scientific view of reality and how knowledge is gained, and an aggressive politics of “god and county.” They have ushered in an era of the Patriot Act, of unrestricted spying and surveillance, of warnings to “watch what you say” (as Bush’s press spokesman declared after 9/11), and telling the world we can torture people if we say we need to.
In this context, in a situation where this view of society has a lot of power and initiative now, there are powerful currents pushing the universities to function differently. Critical thinking, dissent, and an academic ethos that promotes freedom to pursue truth wherever it leads are in conflict with this extreme political and ideological agenda.
Bob Avakian, in analyzing the core objectives behind this organized attack on academia, has emphasized that today’s imperialist agenda cannot stand up to critical thinking and a rational pursuit of the truth. And so those behind this agenda have to change the definition of what is the truth and how the truth is arrived at. And they have to rule out of order and beyond the pale critical thinking and dissent that would call into question not only the justification of particular policies, but also the foundation on which those justifications are built. (Readers are encouraged to listen to “Balance” Is The Wrong Criterion—And a Cover for a Witch-hunt—What We Need Is the Search for the Truth: Education, Real Academic Freedom, Critical Thinking and Dissent.)
The “liberal” and “left-wing” university is a particular target—because of its role as a site of critical thinking and dissent; in order to build up a right-wing youth movement; and to stir popular anti-intellectual, anti-secular, and anti-modernist prejudices. At the same time, “intelligent design” creationism is increasingly mainstreamed, and the Bush regime puts federally funded scientific research projects and findings to religious and political tests (see the statements from “Defend Science” and the “Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policymaking” for documentation).
All this gets at why we call the attack on critical thinking and dissent the “Nazification” of the university. These are not scattered phenomena, but part of a concerted program to bring the universities into line with a project of imperial conquest and the reordering of society along fascist lines.
Historical Echoes: “McCarthyism”—And Nazi Germany
It is also why we believe the situation today is potentially more dangerous than what developed during the McCarthy years—even though we have not yet seen some of the worst abuses of that era yet. The McCarthy years of the 1950s witnessed the purging of thousands of professors from academia and public life more generally. This was driven by the threat of war with the Soviet Union at that time; no questioning of that agenda could be allowed, and even though the U.S. did not end up going all the way to war, they still insisted on removing these professors.
Today, with a “war on terror to last generations” under way, and the additional factor of a challenge to the two-century-old secular foundational principles of U.S. society, along with the attack on basic rights like habeas corpus, there is grave potential for far worse than occurred 50 years ago…if we do not act. One important lesson from that McCarthyism experience is that the “safeguards” protecting academic freedom did not prevent this from happening. In fact, it was not until the rebellions and upsurges of the 1960s that the universities really saw more diversity and intellectual ferment.
Today’s program to restructure the universities has strong support and backing from a powerful section of the ruling class, while no other element within the ruling class has a coherent alternative program with which to challenge it. This situation has much in common with the Weimar period in Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s that preceded Hitler’s rise to power. Like the Social Democrats of that period in Germany, today’s top Democratic leaders are unable and unwilling to mount a challenge either to the fundamental direction that this dominant core is trying to take things in the world, or to the remolding of society that they believe it requires.
Meanwhile, the offensive against critical thinking in the universities intensifies; millions of Christian fundamentalists are being mobilized around an absolutist, apocalyptic fascist ideology; and new criminal acts of war loom.
The challenge before administrators, faculty, and especially students is to stand up to this assault. And broader segments of society must join with them. We must defend those like Ward Churchill who have been singled out for attack, and, more generally, defend the ability of professors to hold dissenting and radical views. It is vitally important that the new generation of students step forward to defend the unfettered search for the truth, intellectual ferment, and dissent. One way or another, this struggle over the university and intellectual life will have profound repercussions on what U.S. society will be like, and on the prospects for bringing a whole new society into being.
As we state in “Hitler’s Nazification of the Academy”: “The intensifying attacks on radical thinkers and critical thinking in today’s universities and colleges should be a wake-up call. WHEN is the time to act and change the course of things? In Germany, was it the early '30s, before 'Hitler was Hitler' in the fullest and most consolidated and horrific forms, or AFTER? Is it 'sober and wise' to dismiss these historical lessons, in this context—or to learn from this bitter experience and act before, not after, it's too late?”
The lesson—and the challenge—is clear.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
The search for the truth is a crucial part of knowing and changing the world. People need to and can understand how society works and how change comes about. People can learn about different spheres of knowledge, about the sciences and the scientific method. People do not have to cling to superstition, religion, and traditions that obscure the way things really are. People need to understand the world in order to change it. In short, people need to know what’s real and why it matters.
Getting at the truth has everything to do with the kind of liberating society that we as communists are aiming for. It also has to do with why we care about what is happening, or not happening, in the universities today.
The university is a place where knowledge of the world and society are deepened and where many people learn to think rigorously and critically about the world at large…and to act on that. What goes on in the “world of ideas” and in the university has immense influence on discourse and debate in society. In the 1960s, intellectual ferment and rebellion on campuses was radically eruptive, stimulating broader questioning and protest in society.
We believe that an important part of building the struggle for a new world is to defend critical thinking and to promote intellectual ferment in educational institutions today, as well as in society broadly. We also understand that this cannot be fully realized under the present order.
The University as Contested Zone
The university is part of the larger system of this society. If we look at how the universities are governed, at the awarding of contracts by the government and large corporations, at the funding and work of policy institutes, at the ways the university is linked into the web of the global economy and the U.S. military-research machine—we get a glimpse of how the university is dominated by the ruling interests of this society. And the university is the gateway through which many young people enter into the functioning not just of any society but of this society—with its values and its priorities.
But in this very same capitalist society, the university is also one of the few institutions where free inquiry and critical thinking have any kind of initiative. It is a contested arena: where intellectual currents and political movements come into opposition to the intellectual-political status quo…and where, today, powerful forces are seeking to clamp down on critical thinking.
Think about what it would mean to society if intellectual inquiry and questioning were locked down, if an atmosphere of intimidation reigned in the arts, if a regime of absolutist truths and unchallengeable certainties ruled people’s minds.
Think about what it would mean to the people of the world experiencing the rampages of Bush’s “war on terrorism” if sections of intellectuals in the “belly of the beast” were no longer speaking out with conviction (and, yes, courage) against these outrages—but instead uniformly marching in step with the program. The fact is, this conviction and courage is too rare today, including on campus; it must be greatly expanded, and fought for—not silenced.
Which is to say, the stakes are high in the battle to defend dissent and critical thinking in academia. And we see a link between this battle and bringing into being a radically different society in which critical and creative thinking and dissent flourish.
Communism Requires the Unfettered Search for Truth
We believe it is possible for humanity to get to a whole new place—where it has put an end to all forms of exploitation, overcome the division of society into classes, eliminated all oppressive institutions and social relations, and cast off all the values and ideas that reinforce oppressive institutions and relations.
Leading forward the process of getting to this kind of world is what communist leadership and a socialist state must be all about. And this must be a process of diverse thinking and action from all corners of society, and great ferment, dissent, and upheaval.
Thus far there have been two major attempts at the socialist transition to communism: the Soviet Union (from 1917 to 1956) and the People’s Republic of China (from 1949 to 1976, and the death of Mao). In both cases, “new bourgeois” forces rose to power and restored a form of capitalism—though each, at least initially, retained many of the trappings of socialism. Each of these experiences was epochal and, despite the slanders and conventional wisdom of today, accomplished unprecedented things. Each, however, also fell short in important ways. The work of summing up those experiences, more deeply analyzing the dynamics of the socialist period, and developing a new synthesis has been led—and continues to be led—by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. What follows draws on this pathbreaking work.
Socialism is the crucial first step in getting to a communist society where people consciously learn about and transform the world. Socialism makes it possible to really meet the pressing needs of people, like meaningful work, health care, decent housing, and stimulating education…to uproot racism and overcome the oppression of women…to take care of the environment. But a truly emancipatory socialism must be much more than that. It must be a society in which the great majority are thrashing out questions of world affairs, philosophy, science, and art…taking increasing responsibility for the direction and future of society…and increasingly making all spheres of society their province.
Those on the bottom of society have historically been locked out of the realm of “working with ideas.” The system of capitalism creates islands and pockets where a minority can engage in this realm, while the great majority of humanity is exploited and prevented from pursuing intellectual-creative activity. Socialism has to enable the formerly oppressed whose lives have been brutally circumscribed, or restricted, by the struggle for survival to increasingly work with ideas and to participate in society in an all-round way.
At the same time, socialist society needs to give scope and space to intellectuals, artists, and scientists. Socialism will not be a liberating society if it stifles and straitjackets intellectuals. It will not be able to move forward to a society of freely associating human beings if it is not unleashing the critical, searching, and exploratory spirit of intellectuals. Scientists, intellectuals, and artists will be continuing their work and deepening the store of knowledge, even as barriers are broken down between intellectual/artistic work and much broader sections of society.
Socialist society requires the fullest possible contesting of ideas and wrangling to get at the truth, and in order to transform society in a liberating direction. All this has important implications for issues of academic freedom under socialism.
The educational system under socialism will have a core curriculum. This will be based on what is known to be true in particular spheres of human knowledge. At the same time, there must be substantial space for inquiry and instruction that fall outside that curriculum, and for theories and intellectual currents that “go against the grain.” That is important because this is the kind of society, pulsing with new ideas and discovery, that socialism needs to be. And what is known to be true today—important as it is to stand on and learn while applying it—may be shown to be partially or wholly wrong tomorrow. As for theories proven to be wrong, like “creationism,” they will not be part of the educational system, although people will still be able to voice those theories.
Marxism will be promoted in the universities and throughout socialist society. The reason is that Marxism provides the most scientific approach to understanding the world, and for achieving the richest possible synthesis of different ideas and insights from particular disciplines and fields. Many scholars and intellectuals do not embrace Marxism and will be pursuing scholarship in different philosophical frameworks. And other philosophies will be taught and studied. In fact, they will challenge and contend with Marxism. Marxism will be taken up and applied, will further develop, and influence people in this kind of atmosphere.
Here a question poses itself. Will the university under socialism be a site of critique of society and political protest? Yes, we want a society where students and intellectuals are raising concerns and making criticisms of government policies and social institutions and throwing up challenges to the program and vision of society. People must have the right and ability to speak out freely about all aspects of society. They must have the right to organize protest on their own—and not be confined to a controlled situation of “official” politics and channels. We are talking about “wide-openness” in the framework of a society that is moving to overcome all forms of exploitation, oppression, and social inequality. Political and intellectual ferment and dissent are vital to the process of deepening the understanding of reality and transforming society.
As Bob Avakian has said, if you really understand this epistemology—the unfettered search for the truth in relation to moving humanity to a whole new stage—you want people to challenge you. And if we are true to this, things will get unruly and wild.
Dissent, Protest and Ferment in Socialist Society
This presents big challenges to the socialist state. Let’s say people organize movements and struggles protesting the socialist state’s environmental policies. What if this takes a new turn with blockades and sit-ins causing disruptions to the economy? Well, you do have to continue to run an economy to meet people’s needs and the requirements of the socialist state. But you also have to thrash out the issues driving this protest, and what this means for developing a sustainable socialist economy, and draw more people in society into debate.
It won’t be clear where such upheavals are headed, and some will be challenging major policies and issues of direction and development of society. It would be easy for the socialist state simply to impose its authority. But, again, sorting out what is right and wrong and struggling for what is correct—and putting all the complexity of this before the people; struggling politically to solve problems, as with the above example of the economy functioning: this is what the socialist state and leadership has to ultimately rely on—and not force.
What about people who express opposition to the entire socialist project and who call for the return of capitalism? Will they have the right to dissent? Yes, it is important for these views to be heard and debated. It is important that the most devoted proponents of these ideas to be able to espouse and defend them—in the media, through publication, etc. Even if such criticisms are mainly wrong, they may still shed light on problems and defects in society, and on the deeper contradictions of society. People in society need to engage with these views as part of understanding the world more fully.
And it would have a negative effect if expressions of dissent that oppose the government were not allowed. It would put a chill in the atmosphere, both in academia and in society more broadly. We don’t want a situation where people are afraid to speak out against the government for fear of repression.
There is a crucial difference between people who are advocating that socialism should be replaced by capitalism, and forces organizing and carrying out actions to sabotage or overthrow socialism. And the importance of this distinction has to be popularized throughout socialist society and will be spelled out as a matter of law in the constitution.
History has shown that socialist states will have to repel imperialist attacks and invasions, and defeat counterrevolution and attempts to restore the old order. But the socialist state must not confound those actively organizing to sabotage or overthrow socialism with people who are expressing disagreements with or opposition to socialism. This distinction was not always handled well in previous socialist societies, even though, especially in China, in Mao's time, there was important positive experience in this, including in the Cultural Revolution. Nonetheless, we have to do much better in the future.
It has proven relatively easy for the socialist state to suppress reactionary opposition—for a time. But what is difficult, and this is the great challenge, is to foster debate, experimentation, and ferment and to risk upheavals without losing power. We want a socialist state which is a powerful and necessary tool for the oppressed—as an active transition to get to a society of freely associating human beings, and a world without states and apparatuses of repression. We won’t get there without a socialist state and a communist leadership that values and fosters critical thinking and the wild contestation of ideas; without wide-ranging dissent and tumult; and without the unfettered search for the truth.
The richer this process is, the more desirable and emancipating will be the outcome.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
David Horowitz, architect of the conservative Academic Bill of Rights, demands “balance” in what he says is a “left-wing”-dominated academy. “Intelligent design” proponents call for “balance” in “secular” high school science classrooms. Fox News claims that it is restoring “fairness” in a mainstream media dominated by “liberal bias.”
Why are these right-wing forces calling for “balance”? And is balance what intellectual activity should fundamentally be about?
But first consider the real “imbalances” of the media and education in U.S. society. When the Bush administration was preparing to go to war in Iraq, were daily newspapers and the evening newscasts filled with serious, critical analyses of the Bush administration’s war aims? The answer is obvious. In the universities—are business schools and political science and government studies programs overflowing with courses and professors presenting critiques of capitalism? They are not. More generally, the great majority of young people do not come out of the modern university with a deep understanding of the true nature of U.S. society. And in society more broadly, the majority of people are not given a serious education about the theory of evolution, which is understood by all serious scientists to be true and essential to the foundations of modern science.
And let's be real for a minute: No one is seriously, credibly, charging that students are being somehow stopped from or punished by progressive teachers for arguing for a different understanding of history, for example. Horowitz and others' campaign is not to encourage conservative students to do the serious study and work to substantively challenge the ideas of these professors; it's to organize legions to spy on, "turn in," and help more powerful forces intimidate such professors, as part of a campaign to "cleanse" the university.
But what about balance as a methodological guidepost and goal for scholarship and teaching? Certainly, in the search for truth, for what does and does not correspond to reality, it is essential that there be the fullest clash of ideas. But that kind of ferment is not the same thing as balance. In fact, balance is a wrong concept and criterion to guide instruction and the search for the truth.
If we know, conclusively, that the Earth is a sphere, should we also continue to research and teach that the Earth is flat, in the name of balance? If we know, conclusively, that evolution is true, should we also continue to research and teach Biblical creation myths as science, in the name of balance? No, we should not. These truths are conclusive--even while we continue to learn more about the origins and development of life on Earth, as in any field of human endeavor and understanding.
To insist that the yardstick of balance be applied to every important question would have disastrous consequences on intellectual life and integrity. It would get in the way of truthfulness, of building on accumulated understanding that corresponds to reality, and of scientifically interrogating and deepening understanding. It would mean that huge amounts of time and resources would be allocated to studying and teaching what is manifestly untrue, and this would have devastating effects on society.
Something very dangerous is going on. Under the stalking horse of “balance,” right-wing ideologues and political operatives have launched an assault on the search for the truth and its exposition. This attack is without precedent in modern times in this country—and it serves an extreme political and ideological agenda that requires closed and uncritical minds.
Some truths, established and definite, are very inconvenient now and under attack: truths about the roots of this country in slavery and genocide, for instance; or even truths about the evolution of the species. These conflict with the agenda of those in power; and, in the face of scholarship that has grown in the last several decades which challenges the "official narrative" on U.S. history, reactionaries demand that it be “balanced” out with conservative professors, who, in David Horowitz’s own words, appreciate that “students need to be presented with an alternative view of history that is closer to reality.” Horowitz’s "alternative view of history," "closer to reality," is that slavery was good for Black people because they are now richer than Africans! Christian fascists demand that the teaching of evolution in the classrooms be “balanced out” with the teaching, as science, that God created Adam (or, in "dressed up" form, that some unidentified "intelligent designer" created life). “Balance” and equilibrium for Fox News is that George Bush tells the truth.
When it comes to the current crusade for "balance," there is another crucial point to grasp: it's a temporary and transitional program to a very bad place. We have seen this method in operation in other arenas of society. For example, look at the media: Fox News slogan is "Fair and Balanced." Right-wingers launch accusations of "liberal media bias," while their own "noise machine" increasingly dominates airwaves. The more traditionally "mainstream" media coverage (whose historic role as a voice for those in power is well documented and whose slavish docility before the extremes of lying, spying, and war-making of this President has been scandalous) adapts more and more to give "respect and voice" to extremely right-wing views. All the while, truly radical voices and critiques are largely banned—considered "beyond the pale" of what passes for "credible discourse." And the media—"traditionally mainstream" and right-wing alike—are now either effectively silent in the face of, or fanning the flames of, the current attacks on dissent and critical thinking in the universities.
Now we are seeing this same method in action in the university. The right-wing demand for “balance” is not a call for the contention of ideas over what is real and what most accurately characterizes reality, be it life on Earth or the history of this country. It is, for the time being, a call for the coexistence of truths, half-truths, and untruths. And in the hands of David Horowitz and Lynne Cheney, the Christian fascists, and Fox News, it is a cover to banish critical thinking from the university, and from society itself.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
Ward Churchill, tenured Native American studies professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, was invited to speak at Hamilton College in upstate New York in January 2005. Suddenly, right-wing forces went into action. They dragged out an essay Churchill had written three years earlier, right after 9/11, that was critical of the U.S. role in the world, and they demanded that Churchill’s speech be canceled. The governor of New York joined in. Right-wing TV and radio figures like Bill O’Reilly and numerous politicians, including the governor of Colorado, demanded Churchill’s firing.
In the course of Churchill's sharply worded post 9/11 critique of the U.S. role in the world, he included a very provocative formulation about how not all the people, but those people who worked particularly as functionaries for the large corporations with offices in the World Trade Center were “Little Eichmanns,”—comparing them to the functionaries of the Nazi regime.
A lynch-mob atmosphere was incited. Churchill’s scholarship, which focuses on the genocide of Native Americans and their current-day oppression, was pilloried and ridiculed. At one point Churchill and the Ethnic Studies Department he headed were receiving a thousand threatening and racist emails a day. Powerful figures like Republican strategist Newt Gingrich issued calls to restrict or abolish tenure—which protects thinkers and researchers from being fired for what they say or write once they are attached to universities as full professors.
The University administration launched an investigation to determine if Churchill should be fired—or arrested—for any of his writings. At the same time they insisted that all of their professors prove that they had signed the loyalty oath required of them. The president of the University, herself a moderate Republican, made a speech to the faculty expressing fear of a “new McCarthyism.” Less than a week later she resigned. When the Boulder student body voted Churchill their “favorite professor” later that spring, the alumni association withheld the award. All this was beginning to raise questions among more progressive segments of society about whether it was right for people to have to "watch what they say," politically, or risk losing their jobs, particularly within academia.
In stepped David Horowitz, ex-'60s "leftist" turned reactionary, with public advice about how the administration should fine-tune its persecution of Churchill. In a speech accusing Churchill of supporting “America’s terrorist enemies,” Horowitz gave tactical advice—declaring that Churchill should not be fired for what he’d written, but should be investigated instead for academic fraud. As if on cue, the University received a flood of mostly old and already considered claims of plagiarism, misrepresentation of facts, inaccurate footnotes, etc., in Churchill’s scholarship, which were cobbled together by the chancellor as the rationale for a new investigation—into academic misconduct.
A faculty committee was convened to investigate, putting the veneer of a “jury of his peers” on the same witch-hunt. But the fact is this investigation would never have happened without the original firestorm of attacks on Churchill’s political statements, which even they admit were supposed to be protected by the first amendment, and the voicing of which are supposed to be an important part of academia and academic freedom. This means their whole investigation into Churchill’s scholarship was completely illegitimate on its face and never should have taken place. It's like the "fruit of a poisoned tree," to borrow a term from principles applied in a court of law. Headed by a law professor (a former assistant attorney general of Texas!), the faculty investigative committee in their report had to acknowledge being “troubled by the origins of, and skeptical concerning the motives for” the investigation—but they still went ahead. It must be said that conducting this investigation has done far greater harm, and constitutes a far greater danger, than any evidence of research misconduct this committee may have discovered.
In May 2006 the faculty committee issued its findings--though not before two of its members were pressured into resigning after they were accused of possible sympathy toward the merits of Professor Churchill's defense. The final committee report alleged “serious and repeated research misconduct.” A Boulder sociology professor who carefully studied the committee’s report concluded that it greatly exaggerated the seriousness of so-called misconduct, making it entirely out of whack with the sanctions imposed such luminaries as presidential historian Doris Kerns Goodwin for far more serious errors of scholarship. And 44 pages of the committee's report on Churchill were devoted to three paragraphs of Churchill’s writings. It’s an important point—to put any prolific scholar’s publications to this kind of scrutiny would likely turn up some mistakes—and how could any serious and challenging scholarship be conducted in such an atmosphere?
Four out of the five members of the investigative committee called for Churchill to be suspended; one called for his firing. But less than a month later the chancellor announced his recommendation that Churchill be fired. The Boulder chapter of the American Association of University Professors has issued a statement of protest, saying “We believe that the investigation now is widely perceived to be a pretext for firing Churchill when the real reason for dismissal is his politics.”
This witch-hunt must be defeated. An orchestrated attack is underway, by very powerful right-wing forces in society closely intertwined with those in power, in order to create an atmosphere where dissent and critical thinking itself, in relation to crucial issues in society, face intimidation and are increasingly ruled out of order. Whatever you might think of his choice of words or specific arguments, the attempt to fire Churchill is based solely on his radical critique of U.S. history and present-day policy in the wake of the events of 9/11. If it is allowed to succeed it will set a dangerous new precedent and is already sending a chilling message through academia. At stake is whether faculty, in their scholarship and public discourse, will be able to tell the truth about the “official narrative of America.” Also at stake is whether fields of inquiry such as ethnic and women’s/gender studies that often challenge and stand in the way of a resurgent patriotism and chauvinism will be able to carry on their intellectual and cultural work.
Support for Churchill is growing, but this has to be greatly magnified. Students and faculty need to close ranks and take up the defense of Ward Churchill and the cause of defending dissent and critical thinking at this urgent hour.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
There is a disturbing parallel between what is happening in academia today and the experience of Germany during the Nazi build-up and consolidation of power.
The Nazi movement organized among youth and students; and by the late 1920s, the Nazis had fortified a substantial following among students. At leading universities, these reactionaries were harassing and boycotting progressive and Jewish professors.
After Hitler came to power in 1933, he set out to restructure the governing apparatus, to reshape the institutions of civil society, and to propagate an ethos of German ethnic solidarity and racial superiority. Political resistance was crushed. Dissent was to be silenced; professions like law and institutions that might challenge the new regime were to be subdued and recast. German society was being reorganized and tightly coordinated to serve a project of social control and imperial conquest.
The educational system was a particular target of nazification. Many university professors were ousted from their posts for political and intellectual reasons, and many more simply for being Jewish. Intellectual diversity was criticized and libraries “cleansed.” Right-wing and Nazi student groups, who had abused professors in the late 1920s, were now unleashed to carry out book-burnings and thuggish attacks on unwelcome professors.
But few administrators and non-Jewish professors took a public stand, or resigned, in response to what was going on. It is a sobering fact: not one of Germany’s 23 universities, 11 academies of science, or 10 technical colleges became a center of protest or resistance.
The Hitler regime was able to forge a new academic “normalcy.” Nazi-led “research institutes” based on bogus social and medical science were established, curricula in various disciplines revamped and perverted, and a corps of intellectuals cultivated to serve and legitimize the Nazi project. For other faculties, a kind of devil’s bargain was offered: keep quiet and you can retain some semblance of academic independence. The great majority of academia complied. Higher education was effectively shackled.
In the 1920s, many dismissed the Hitler phenomenon. But this movement went “from the margins to the mainstream.”
The intensifying attacks on radical thinkers and critical thinking in today’s universities and colleges should be a wake-up call. WHEN is the time to act and change the course of things? In Germany, was it the early '30s, before "Hitler was Hitler" in the fullest and most consolidated and horrific forms, or AFTER? Is it "sober and wise" to dismiss these historical lessons, in this context—or to learn from this bitter experience and act before, not after, it's too late? We should recognize danger signs and act accordingly. The Nazis first went after the Jews and communists, and widened and widened their target. Today we must stand with those who are being singled out—and mobilize to stop a dangerous trajectory.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
The 1993 movie Swing Kids takes place in 1930s Germany when Nazi marches, polkas, and German folk songs were the enforced culture of the Third Reich and membership in the Hitler Youth was near mandatory. Robert Sean Leonard and Christian Bale play members of the "Swing Kids"--an underground movement of youth who listen to banned jazz. They wear pork pie hats and baggy cool clothes, dance some ferocious jitter-bugging in underground clubs, and sing the lyrics of Harlem hits while spinning vinyl recorded by Black and Jewish musicians, like Count Basie, Artie Shaw, or Bennie Goodman. They frequently get into street fights with Nazi youth and after one of them, a guitarist, gets his hand smashed by a Hitler Youth, he declares he will now play like Django Reinhardt, the extraordinary Roma jazz musician who played with two fingers of his left hand. This was at a time when Roma people (derogatorily referred to as gypsies) were being targeted for persecution by the Nazis. Later, when asked by a Nazi to play a German song, the youth refuses as a matter of principle, saying "there are no more German songs, only Nazi songs."
The Swing Kids face an extremely hostile and repressive environment where the stakes are huge and the pressure to conform is intense and deadly. Forced to join the Hitler Youth, they decide to try and compromise--to be "Swing Kids by night and Hitler Youth by day." But this compromise proves impossible. Around them, there are signs of scattered resistance, like a bookshop where fake passports to help Jews escape are hidden in a rare volume of Faust. But the main atmosphere is one of complicity, as even their parents try to preserve their own well-being and safety and stay silent in the face of increasingly fascist repression. The Swing Kids find that you can try to preserve some privilege and comforts by selling your soul to the devil, or you can stand for your convictions and do the right thing and that what you do does matter--it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing do wa do wa do wa do wa do wa do wahhhh.
The story of another group of courageous youth in Nazi Germany is told in the movies The White Rose (1982) and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005). The White Rose captures the excitement and camaraderie of youth at Munich University, boisterous and questioning up in the face of increasing Nazi repression on the campus. A professor defiantly lectures students on Spinoza (a Jewish philosopher) even as the Hitler Youth barge their way into the class to spy on and intimidate the professor and his students.
It is 1942-1943, and every citizen in Germany is expected to support the German troops in World War 2. But the White Rose youth agitate for the defeat of Germany, finding covert ways to distribute fliers all over Munich--right under the very noses of Nazi officials who are desperate to discover their source. A small group of Catholic students form a clandestine anti-Nazi group, determined to expose the real agenda and activity of the government. Leaflets appear in desks and books at the university and travel throughout Germany through the mail, exposing the truth about the death camps and Nazi agenda and challenging students and others to act. When freshman Sophie Scholl learns about the White Rose, she becomes its first female member and one of the most creative and daring people involved.
The White Rose youth and the Swing Kids suffered sharp repression. Hundreds of Swing Kids were arrested and some were sent to concentration camps. Sophie Scholl and other members of the White Rose were executed in 1943. These movies show us the courage and conviction of these rebellious youth. But there is also a cautionary tale here about the danger of complicity and silence and the tremendous price paid for resistance that is too little and too late.
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
From A World to Win News Service:
February 12, 2007. A World to Win News Service.
The Women’s Campaign for the Abolition of all Misogynist,
Gender-Based Legislation and Islamic Punitive Laws in Iran is preparing
for actions on March 3 and 8 on the occasion of International
The Campaign, known by its Farsi name Karzar, in 2006 organised a successful series of marches over five days from Frankfurt, Germany to The Hague in the Netherlands. Approximately 1,000 people took part on the last day, mostly Iranian women but also women and men from Europe and around the world, some travelling long distances to give their solemn support to women in Iran whose oppression is legitimised by the legal system set up by that country’s rulers.
The Women’s Campaign plans a programme on two levels this year. They are organising local days of action on March 3 in many major European cities, including London; Paris; Frankfurt, Bremen and Gutingen in Germany; Stockholm; Helsinki; as well as Toronto, Canada. But the main and central demonstration of this year’s Women’s Campaign will be held in The Hague on March 8, International Women’s Day itself. People from all over Europe will join the march that passes through the city centre, then goes on to the US embassy and from there the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“The Women’s Campaign march past the two embassies is symbolic,” Leila Parnian, one of the Campaign’s coordinators, told AWTWNS. “We will march first to the US embassy to express our opposition to the US threat of war against Iran, and all that the US has done against women in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq. We are aware that the US has no intention of bring democracy to Iran, and that it has no intention of liberating Iranian women. The situation of our sisters in Afghanistan and Iraq speaks volumes in terms of how women are suffering under US-established fundamentalist regimes on both countries. We are also aware of how Bush is treating women in US itself, where he is doing everything he can to deprive the women of their right to abortion. We have no illusions about US intentions and goals in invading Iran.” Explaining why the protest will also be taken to the Iranian embassy, she continued, “Our main slogan this year is: ‘No to reaction, No to imperialism, Advance toward a new world’, so we do not want to lean toward either side, neither relying on the US imperialists for ending women’s oppression nor supporting the reactionary Islamic regime that has been a major oppressor of women in Iran since its birth and has made the discrimination against women legal and a religious duty.”
The Women’s Campaign has defined itself by its clear position against both the Iranian Islamic regime and US imperialism. Another important aspect has been its efforts and some degree of success in uniting a broad section of women’s organizations and individuals around that position.
This is a necessity in a situation where, on the one side, the US imperialists are increasingly beating the drums for a war against Iran. The US will not hesitate to take women’s oppression in Iran as one of its excuses to invade that country, in the same way it did with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Bush has already demanded approval of more than $75 million in his budget to be allocated to promoting “democracy in Iran,” in other words stepping up funding for the American Farsi language propaganda apparatus. On the other side, the Iranian regime, despite its desperation and attempts to exploit the national pride of the people through deceit and rally as many people as possible in order to save its own skin, has shown no sign of concessions on democratic rights and especially women’s rights. This is the nature of a reactionary regime whose interests are in sharp conflict with the liberation of women.
Nevertheless, there has been some erroneous thinking that would require the people to at least temporarily stop fighting against their oppressors and immediate exploiters in the face of the threat of a war launched by the US. Some people, Parnian says, “have made this a precondition for supporting the Campaign. This is especially strong within the left movement in the Western countries among people who are disgusted by the bullying of the oppressed countries by the US and other Western imperialists. This line has been a concrete obstacle to stronger support for the women’s struggle. But we are also facing another trend, particularly within the Iranian movement, that tends to lean towards the US against the Islamic regime.”
She emphasized the importance of the Women’s Campaign maintaining an independent line as the only way to build a stronger resistance movement and the dangers that erroneous lines pose for that movement. “Such (erroneous) views oblige the people to take sides either with the brutal Islamic rulers or deadly US military aggression. These lines do not give a chance to the people’s independent struggle, a struggle that relies on the power of the people alone. The only way to fully unleash the oppressed against reaction and imperialism, the only way that can make it possible to really stand up against US aggression, is the independent struggle of the people united against both the imperialists and the reactionary Iranian ruling power, not only in Iran but with active support from around the world, a movement that has a vision of a new world where all discrimination against women has been brought to an end and the democratic rights of the people ensured.”
Finally, in reply to a question about how much support for this year’s march the Women’s Campaign foresees winning from progressive forces, Parnian said, “The situation is more polarised this year, but the success of the Women’s Campaign last year certainly effected and influenced those forces we were in contact with. Many of the groups that supported the Women’s Campaign march last year have already given their support this year too, and messages of support are still coming in. Now we have become a recognised force that is willing to unite the women’s movement around a revolutionary slogan – No to imperialism, No to reaction, Advance towards a new world. In addition, Iran’s women have experienced another year of the regime’s oppression of women. At the moment there are many women awaiting execution, most of them very young, such as Kobra Rahmanpour and Delara Darabi, whose death sentence has generated much protest. From the other side, the huge crimes of the US invaders and their puppet regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially against women, have made many people think twice about the possibility of uniting with one kind of reaction against another. We feel that this has weakened these erroneous ideas, especially among individuals. Every day more people are coming to conclusion that an independent movement is necessary and are supporting such a movement.”
For more information: Web site – www.karzar-zanan.com. E mail – Karzar2005@yahoo.com
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
From A World to Win News Service:
2007. A World to Win News Service. Following is the call for a
demonstration in The Hague 8 March by the Campaign for the Abolition of
all Misogynist, Gender-Based Legislation and Islamic Punitive Laws in
Do you hear the screams of Iraqi women, crying out against honour killings by Islamic groups or against being raped by American and British troops?
Do you hear the protests of Afghan women whose bodies and souls are the battleground in the rivalry between the Taleban, other Islamic forces and the Western occupiers and their protégés?
Do you hear the screams of an Iranian woman who has been sentenced to be whipped and forced to wear a veil, and now faces death by stoning?
Do you hear the protests of American women who face the rape of one of their sisters every six seconds?
Are you a witness to the rise in patriarchal violence against women in the European countries?
The perpetrators of repression against women are on the one hand the
patriarchal imperialist powers who try and justify their aggressive
wars by claiming to defend “women’s
rights” and “human rights” in the region,
and on the other the reactionary Islamic fundamentalists who have
The murder of thousands of women and children with napalm, phosphorous and cluster bombs, the rape of Iraqi women by US soldiers and the imposition of misogynist Islamic constitutions by fundamentalist forces helped by US and Western advisors in Iraq and Afghanistan are only part of the “women’s liberation” heralded by imperialist forces. At the same time, the political programme of reactionary Islamic forces steps up the repression and destitution of women. Legislation confirming inequality as well as Islamic punishments against women and the forced veil are all manifestations of the male supremacist Islamic power structure. The rape and execution of women and young girls in Afghanistan is a sign of the militarist, reactionary Islamic power in that country.
All these events teach us, women of the Middle East, that it would be as wrong to seek emancipation and liberation within the framework of the current international order as it would be to seek women’s liberation within the framework of Islamic ideology.
We Iranian women will continue on the path we started last year, seeking to build “another world” based on the participation and power of the people, who have no interest in maintaining the power structures based on exploitation and injustice. We seek a world where mutilating women is considered a crime, not a tradition. We seek a world where no female child will be forced to submit to “matrimonial” rape, where no woman will face “honour killings”, where no woman is forced to commit suicide or to set fire to herself to escape patriarchal violence, a world where no woman is punished or faces stoning by death for loving someone or for sexual relations. We seek a world that does not consider homosexuality a crime, a world where a woman’s identity is not determined by her marriage or motherhood. We are fighting for a world where no one can force women to stay in the kitchen or indoors, where no one can deprive women of the right to participate in social production and in politics. In such a world women will control their own bodies and will make their own decisions about whether they want children, a world in which men and women are truly equal in all aspects of life.
These are some aspects of the horizon for our liberation, a horizon that must be within the reach of millions of oppressed women, a horizon that gives us hope, a hope that gives us courage and the strength to continue our struggles for emancipation from all forms of sexual and class oppression.
On March 8, 2007 we will raise the slogan “No to reaction, No to Imperialism, Advance toward another world” to unite and widen our ranks. In the current world situation, women’s emancipation sets a clear demarcation line between the world’s oppressed and all the assorted imperialist and Islamic fundamentalist reactionaries.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
Revolution newspaper obtained the following information from the website of the World Can't Wait organization, at worldcantwait.org: