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Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
Here I want to bring up a formulation that I love, because it captures so much that is essential. Soon after September 11 someone said, or wrote somewhere, that living in the U.S. is a little bit like living in the house of Tony Soprano. You know, or you have a sense, that all the goodies that you've gotten have something to do with what the master of the house is doing out there in the world. Yet you don't want to look too deeply or too far at what that might be, because it might upset everything—not only what you have, all your possessions, but all the assumptions on which you base your life.
This is really capturing something very powerful, not only in a general sense but also more specifically in terms of what is pulling on a lot of people who should be in motion very vigorously and with real determination against the outrages that are being perpetrated in their name and by their government—by this ruling class, and by the core that's at the center of power now in the U.S.
When this analogy, or metaphor, of "living in the house of Tony Soprano" was first brought forward (or when I first heard of it, at least), in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, it was very timely and relevant. But September 11th was a rude announcement that there's a price to be paid for living in Tony Soprano's house, for continuing to go along with these profoundly unequal relations in the world and the way that your government, and this system fundamentally, bludgeons people in the world into conditions of almost unspeakable suffering in order to keep this whole thing going and in order, yes, for some "goodies" to be handed out to sections of the population in the "house"—not only "goodies" in an economic sense but also in the form of a certain amount of stability, and a certain functioning of democracy (bourgeois democracy) within the U.S. itself. All that is being shaken up now. Now, you don't just get the goodies for "living in Tony Soprano's house"—you get the "strangers" out in the backyard at night. "They're out there somewhere." It's a different world. It isn't the same equation as it was, even a decade or so ago—it's not the same now "living in Tony Soprano's house."
It is not that everything was all smooth and nice for everybody in this house—for many people in the U.S. that has been far from the case—and it is not that nobody was aware of things going on in the world, of what "Tony Soprano" was doing to people out there all over the world. In fact, one of the ironies is that a lot of people have been somewhat aware of this, but when the terms get sharpened up, some people want to pull back from what they themselves know. And so we have to get into real and sometimes sharp struggle with people.
This is a point I believe I made in one of those recent 7 Talks1—and, in any case, it is a very important point to emphasize: There is a place where epistemology and morality meet.
There is a place where you have to stand and say: It is not acceptable to refuse to look at something—or to refuse to believe something—because it makes you uncomfortable.
And: It is not acceptable to believe something just because it makes you feel comfortable.
Ultimately, especially in today's world, to do that is a form of complicity, and we should struggle with people about that.
And it also won't work to apply that kind of approach. You'll just end up in a very bad place, reinforcing both of the "historically outmodeds"2 and being on the wrong side of what needs to happen in the world, if you follow that approach out to its logical conclusion.
We need a different world than one where there are a few houses of Tony Soprano, surrounded by a seemingly endless sea of suffering and oppressed humanity, living in terrible squalor and under undisguised tyranny; where the power, wealth and privilege of the relative few depends on, and is grounded in, the exploitation and misery of the many (and where, even within "Tony Soprano's house" itself, there are many who are treated as little better than second-class members of the family, or as despised servants). This is a world that cannot, and should not, go on as it is.
Even before people are won to the communist standpoint and program, to fully deal with this, there is a struggle to be waged and they can be won to the broad position that we need a different world. We can struggle about what that world should be, and how it should be brought into being; but this dynamic we're on is going to lead to a disaster for humanity, including all of those who are trying to hide from it, in one form or another, or are thinking that if they remain passive, somehow it will pass them by.
The interests, objectives, and grand designs of the imperialists are not our interests—they are not the interests of the great majority of people in the U.S. nor of the overwhelming majority of people in the world as a whole. And the difficulties the imperialists have gotten themselves into in pursuit of these interests must be seen, and responded to, not from the point of view of the imperialists and their interests, but from the point of view of the great majority of humanity and the basic and urgent need of humanity for a different and better world, for another way…
One thing we should really understand—-and I believe this is a slogan, or formulation, that could and should be popularized: If you look at what they did in Iraq, the way they justified it and what's happened there, you can capture a lot of this in the formulation They lied to us and deceived themselves. This is a big part of what happened. They actually believed their own propaganda. The way they were seeing the world—they really thought that's the way the world is. They really thought they could do what that Bush administration functionary said to Ron Suskind—that they could just continue to create their own reality on the ground, as if no other factors, and no other people, have anything to do with what reality is and how it develops.
As I was listening to one of these imperialist spokespeople on the media recently, I couldn't help blurting out: "They don't understand how their own system works." This is important to grasp. They don't understand what the actual nature of U.S. society is and what it rests on fundamentally. They actually believe all this stuff about "free markets." Or, to a large degree, they believe this, because once again there is also a lot instrumentalism.3 But they do believe a lot of it, and they don't understand what their system and its operation around the world actually leads to and what it actually calls forth. They understand some of it—it would be wrong and way oversimplified to say that they don't understand any of it—but, in essential and fundamental terms, they don't understand how it actually functions, what the underlying dynamics are, and what it calls forth in different ways. So they believe they can go in and do this kind of thing in Iraq, and everybody's going to welcome it—you know, the flowers and all that kind of stuff. They believed that to a significant degree. And then sometimes they don't know what they believe and what they want you to believe. The two get very closely bound together and even become identical in their thinking. But, to a significant degree, they do believe their own propaganda: they actually deceive themselves, and they don't understand how their own system works.
They don't understand the lopsidedness in the world—the great disparity and acute polarization in the world, where tremendous wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a small number of people, and in a handful of countries, while in most parts of the world, and in the world as a whole, the great majority struggle, often unsuccessfully, even to secure the basic necessities of life while being subjected to life-stealing exploitation and murderous oppression. Yes, the imperialists know this lopsidedness is there, and they make calculations based on it, yet they lack the intention, and the ability, to put an end to this lopsidedness. Along with that, they don't really understand what it flows from, what are the foundations of that lopsidedness, and why it is continually recreated, often in even more extreme terms.
…A number of pundits and "analysts"—including once again right-wing squawking heads like Glenn Beck—have continued to insist: "This is World War 3, we are already in World War 3." This specter of World War 3 involves, in a real sense, both considerable distortion of reality and actual reality. And this does get to the "two historically outmodeds" and how in fact they do reinforce each other even while opposing each other. As I have formulated this:
"What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these 'outmodeds,' you end up strengthening both."
While this is a very important formulation and is crucial to understanding much of the dynamics driving things in the world in this period, at the same time we do have to be clear about which of these "historically outmodeds" has done the greater damage and poses the greater threat to humanity: It is the "historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system," and in particular the U.S. imperialists.
…It is interesting, I recently heard about a comment that someone made relating to this, which I do think is correct and getting at something important. In relation to these "two historically outmodeds," they made the point: "You could say that the Islamic fundamentalist forces in the world would be largely dormant if it weren't for what the U.S. and its allies have done and are doing in the world—but you cannot say the opposite." There is profound truth captured in that statement.
As a matter of general principle, and specifically sitting in this imperialist country, we have a particular responsibility to oppose U.S. imperialism, our "own" ruling class, and what it is doing in the world. But, at the same time, that doesn't make these Islamic fundamentalist forces not historically outmoded and not reactionary. It doesn't change the character of their opposition to imperialism and what it leads to and the dynamic that it's part of—the fact that these two "historically outmodeds" do reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. And it is very important to understand, and to struggle for others to understand, that if you end up supporting either one of these two "historically outmodeds," you contribute to strengthening both. It is crucial to break out of that dynamic—to bring forward another way.
In a speech on September 11 this year (2006), the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush said—now listen to this: "Five years ago, 19 men attacked us with a barbarity unequaled in our history." Think about that statement for a second and what they're trying to put over on people with that.
Really, "a barbarity unequaled in our history"? How about little things like slavery? How about little things like genocide of the Native Americans? How about lynching? How about wars like the war against the Philippines at the end of the 19th century, and all the atrocities committed by U.S. forces against the people of the Philippines? Or Vietnam? Or Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Note that Bush didn't say "on our territory." He said "unequaled in our history." That is not only a profound lie but a profound exposure of the monstrosity of the mentality of someone who could say something like that.
Recently in our newspaper, Revolution, we had pictures and headlines from the time of the dropping of the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War 2. There's all this talk these days about how "we" can't let others have nuclear weapons. And you have to keep reminding people in this country—or informing people, probably the majority in this country, who don't know it—about which country is the only one that has ever actually used nuclear weapons. I hate to say it—I don't want to be Jay Leno on the Tonight show, out on the street with his microphone, asking people basic questions about things and getting wrong answers, showing how all the "rubes" are really as stupid as you might think they are. But the fact is that this is a systematically uneducated and mis-educated population. Something a professor at one university said to us is actually very important. He said about the youth that he teaches now: "You should understand that they don't know anywhere near what you think they know."
The widespread ignorance that does exist, even among the relatively educated population in the U.S., is generally accompanied by an attitude that we're the "good guys" in the world, so what we do that brings suffering to other people doesn't count in the same way as if the same thing were done by others. Partly out of an attitude like that, and partly out of just plain ignorance, it is very likely that a majority of people in the U.S. do not know—or have been unable, or unwilling, to "process the information"—that the U.S. has actually used nuclear weapons, that it has dropped atomic bombs on civilian populations. Or somehow it's like the Bob Dylan lines I referred to in the Memoir (From Ike to Mao and Beyond, My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, a Memoir by Bob Avakian): When the character in a Dylan song tries to get into a fallout shelter, he is refused and threatened by the owner of this bomb shelter, and then there is the following exchange between the two of them: "I said, 'You know, they refused Jesus too'; he said, 'you're not him.'" This is the same kind of logic that many people in this country use—and a logic that is systematically used by the rulers and apologists of this system—when just some of the "unequaled barbarity" they have committed comes to light: "That's us—that doesn't count… you're not us."
In one of the recent 7 Talks (if I recall correctly, it was the one on religion4) I got into the question of logical syllogisms, and I want to return to this here.
This is related to the question of "common sense." A lot of people talk about "common sense," and this is something that is frequently invoked by right-wing politicos, talk-show hosts, etc., especially when they want to appeal to a certain philistinism in the service of their reactionary objectives. They will often say, "let's just talk common sense here." Well, it is very important, in terms of epistemology—in terms of struggling with people over how to really understand what is going on in the world, and why—it is very important to grasp the fact that "common sense" means one (or both) of two things: It means either elementary logic and/or thinking proceeding from assumptions that are so deeply embedded in the prevailing culture that people don't question them, or even are unaware of them.
You see this all the time. People proceed from certain assumptions, like "we're the good guys in the world." They don't even necessarily say "we're the good guys" every time; they just proceed from that assumption and then make arguments about what "the bad guys" (the ones who are opposed to "us" or who are "getting in our way") are doing in the world.
Well, as I have pointed out, with any of these syllogisms, or any kind of logical reasoning, there is the question of whether you are in fact reasoning logically—which is a problem for a lot of these hard-core defenders of the system and apologists for its crimes, especially the religious fundamentalist ones—they do not proceed logically much of the time. But even if you are proceeding logically, there is the question of whether your assumptions are valid to begin with, whether they actually are true. And, in addition to critically examining the logic (or lack of it) that characterizes people's thinking, there is a real importance to bringing to light the unstated, unchallenged—and often even unrealized—assumptions that go into a lot of what many people say, and think.
If you think back to the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, whenever anybody would bring up anything about what was wrong with invading Iraq, those who supported the invasion—and who, at the same time, were unwilling, or unable, to think at all critically about all this—came back with a constant refrain: "But we were attacked." This has the virtue of highlighting both bad logic and faulty assumptions. Bad logic: "We" (the U.S. and its citizens) were not attacked by Iraq, so how does the argument that "we were attacked" justify an invasion of Iraq? And faulty assumptions, which do not conform to reality: the assumptions that "we" have been completely innocent, doing no harm in the world, and then "we" were suddenly attacked out of nowhere, with no relation to anything "we" were doing in the world. Well, in reality, who are "we," what have "we" actually been doing in the world, and where did this attack come from—and why? What set of social relations are "we" out in the world enforcing? What is our Tony Soprano doing out there?
So there are epistemological points that have to be gone into as part of this—most fundamentally in terms of how we understand reality, but also how we struggle with people about all this. I mean, imagine making the statement Bush did: "Nineteen men attacked us with a barbarity unequaled in our history."…
One of the positive things on the political terrain these days—and we have to struggle for this to be brought forward a lot more fully—is a fairly widespread sentiment and consciousness, within the U.S. itself, that American lives are not worth more than other people's lives. This view is even more widespread than during the Vietnam War, I believe, although it did find expression then as a pretty mass phenomenon. Those who haven't been around as long perhaps aren't fully aware of this, but it's a relatively new thing for there to be a mass phenomenon where people in the U.S. itself are arguing that American lives are not worth more than other people's lives. This is a very important and relatively new positive thing on the political terrain. In the history of this country, there has always been the assumption—this has been promoted by the ruling class, but it's held much broader sway—that American lives are, of course, more important and worth more than other people's lives. The difference is that now there is actually a significant section of society who, when it's presented that way, will vehemently disagree. That's an important thing. And we have to win many more people to this viewpoint that American lives are not more important…
For people living in the U.S., there is a particularity that needs to be continually gone back to, in relation to the "war on terror." I have made the point that this is not entirely fabrication on the part of the Bush regime (and the imperialist ruling class generally). There are real aspects to this—or, better said, there is a reality to which these imperialists are speaking, even while they fundamentally distort reality. But, in essential terms, this "war on terror" is an imperialist program which, among other things, is aimed at blotting out and turning the attention of people, even people who should know better, away from reckoning with the profound inequalities and oppressive relations that exist within different societies but especially on a world scale, under the domination of the imperialist system and in particular U.S. imperialism, which boasts of being "the world's only superpower" and is determined to maintain all this. If you accept the terms of "war on terror"—and especially if, as part of this, you do not look more deeply at the more fundamental relations in the world, the effects and consequences of that and the ways in which it is at the root of developments in the world now—you will get increasingly caught within the logic that what is most important is that "we" (meaning the people in the U.S.—and "I" above all!) "have to be protected." You get caught up thinking and arguing about what should be "the real war on terror." This has happened even to a lot of progressive people—including those who frame their opposition to the Iraq war in terms of considering it a "diversion from the war on terror"—they become trapped within the wrong logic. If you are carried along by this logic, you can end up in a very bad place.
You cannot get to a correct understanding of things, and you cannot move toward the only possible resolution of all this that is in the interests of humanity, by proceeding from within the terms of the "war on terror." Even while "the war on terror" is not entirely a fabrication, even while there are important aspects of reality that it is reflecting—from the point of view of the imperialists—it is a fabrication in the form in which it is presented to people. That contradiction is important to understand: There are important aspects of reality that this formulation of "war on terror" (or "war against terrorism") is reflecting; but, as it is presented, it is a fabrication. Its essence is not "a war on terror." It is essentially a war for empire. And the confrontation with Islamic fundamentalist, and other, forces (even those which actually do employ tactics and methods which can legitimately be called "terrorist") takes place within, and is essentially framed by, that context and that content of war for empire.
This has to do with the point about "where epistemology meets morality." I thought the quote from Josh Wolf that was in an article in our paper recently was very much to the point. He is a video journalist who wouldn't turn over to the police and a grand jury his videotapes of an anti-globalization demonstration in the Bay Area. And they are going after him because he won't be complicit with them in this way. He said, very strongly: "People out there, quit hitting the snooze button. Wake up and hope it's not too late." And then he said very explicitly: "Quit saying you can't make a difference. That's just another form of cowardice." It is definitely another form of complicity. And as part of wrangling with people and doing what needs to be done to bring forward meaningful political action on a mass scale, this issue of complicity has to be joined with people.
It does seem that one of the big problems with World Can't Wait, and specifically in terms of its October 5th mobilization, is that far too many people still didn't know about it. But then there are others who could have helped more people know about it, and more than a few of them didn't do what they should have and could have done. Now, we shouldn't shriek at people, we shouldn't actually get strident and shrill, but we also shouldn't be liberal and avoid struggle with people, even sharp struggle where necessary, so long as it is on a lofty and principled basis. We and others who are involved in World Can't Wait are not doing this because this is "our thing." We are doing this because of what's going on in the world and the stakes that are intensifying all the time.
Of course, there have been important positive things brought forward by World Can't Wait and in connection with its efforts—and it is important to build on the positive things. But there needs to be a challenge carried out, and we shouldn't shy away from it or shrink from it. We should join this struggle—in a good way. If you just go out and try to jack people up with no substance, that's no good. But we have to get into the substance of this with people. These two "historically outmodeds" are reinforcing each other; this dynamic is very bad and will lead to far worse disaster—if we don't lead people to break out of this. World Can't Wait was, and is, a vehicle for people to do that. What mainly needs to be done, on a whole larger scale still, is to show people, in a living way, why what is represented, and called for, by World Can't Wait is necessary, and how it can make a crucial difference. But we also have to join the issue of complicity with them. There was that slogan back in the '60s, which was not fully scientific, but it was more good than bad and more correct than incorrect: "You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem." That kind of orientation was not wrong. If you drew the lines irrevocably and you didn't try to win people over when they were on the wrong side (or were trying to sit on the sidelines), well then, yes, that would be wrong. And if you didn't make any kind of materialist analysis of what are the actual driving forces underlying things, and what are actually the ruling and decision-making forces in society—then, yes, that would be wrong. But it is not wrong, and in fact it is very necessary, to pose the challenge to people: Look, there's a great earthquake here, and neither side of the way the earth is separating is going to lead to anything but disaster; we've got to forge another way, you've got to be part of that—and you've got to get out of your "comfort zone" to do it.
…[T]here are two foundational things about the history of the U.S., and the exercise of bourgeois rule in the form of bourgeois democracy in this country, which are being brought under frontal attack increasingly. One is the undermining of the rule of law. We see this in a very sharp and concentrated way with the torture law, the so-called "Military Commissions Act," not only in its codification of torture, but also in its gutting of habeas corpus and in the powers that it grants to the executive. This is an attack on the historical basis of the bourgeois Constitution and the rule of law in U.S. society. We've gone into this elsewhere and we should continue to go into it more deeply. Here I'm just going to call attention to it.5
This goes along with and interpenetrates, in a very negative "synergy," with the whole Christian fascist attack on the secular foundations of the Constitution and government of the U.S.
Someone said—I think it might have been in the movie Jesus Camp—I haven't seen that movie yet, but I believe someone who has seen it recounted this, where one of these fundamentalist preachers said: India is the most religious country in the world, and Sweden is the most secular country; and we're a nation of Indians being ruled by Swedes. Now, as a matter of fact, one of the things about India is that it probably also has the most Maoists in the world, by the way. [laughs] It is definitely true that there's too much religiosity there, but describing India as the most "religious" country in the world is not really an accurate and hardly an all-sided characterization. But this statement (about India and Sweden) gets at something nonetheless. And, of course, the significance of this is that these right-wing religious fundamentalists—these Christian fascists, as we very accurately refer to them—want to change the situation so that there is in fact religious rule: law and government based on a literalist reading of the Bible, as interpreted and enforced by religious authorities.
An important thing to keep in mind in regard to this is that, while the U.S. is a very religious country, in the sense that the great majority of people profess some religion, it is not true that this is a religious country in the sense these fundamentalist Christian fascists mean it. They mean, and they insist, that not just the people, in their large majority, are religious but that, from its founding, the government and the laws were based on religion, and in particular on Biblical principles (and, of course, their literalist interpretation of those principles). This is not true. It is—yet another—falsification of history. The United States, in its Constitution, and in the basis for its laws, was and has been all along explicitly secular. That is, the notion of basing the Constitution and laws on religious, and specifically Christian, precepts was expressly and explicitly rejected in the founding of the country. So, again, what is involved here is an attack on another foundational thing about bourgeois society and bourgeois constitutional government in the U.S.—an attack which is being openly and aggressively carried out by the fundamentalist Christian fascist movement. And it is important to keep in mind that this is not just a grouping of isolated fanatics but a powerful force which has connections and influence at the highest levels of the U.S. government…
Again, to just touch on these points quickly—but as bases and focuses for further reflection and wrangling—for the class of U.S. imperialists themselves, this situation is now impinging on them, and this necessity is making itself felt, in increasingly acute ways. They can't roll back the clock and go back to the situation before they invaded Iraq this time (in 2003) and ousted Saddam Hussein. Some of them might actually wish now that they could do that—but they can't. Some of these right-wing commentators were, for awhile, making joking remarks like: "Here's what we should do. We should get Saddam Hussein out of jail, apologize to him, put him back in power, tell him to whip this shit in shape while we ignore what he has to do to get this done." Now, clearly they can't do that. But these jokes themselves are a reflection of "the fine mess they have gotten themselves into," and the fact that, as a result, the necessity that is confronting them is greatly heightened.
And one of the ways this finds expression—and in fact this is another manifestation of, or dimension to, the point about "the pyramid of power"6 in the U.S. now—is this: Especially in these acute circumstances, as well as in an all-around and basic sense, to really take on and answer the right-wing section of the ruling class and its program and where it is driving things, it would be necessary to get down to, and to hit strongly at, the underlying assumptions and foundations upon which this rests. And that the other representatives of the ruling class—including as this is embodied in the Democratic Party leadership—can never do—and do not want to do.
If, for example, you are going to really challenge the thrust of the Iraq War, and the "let's go after Iran" logic, and so on, you have to call into question the whole assumptions of the "war on terror" and you have to bring forth what all that is really all about and is based on. Or, if you are going to take on something like the attacks on affirmative action, you have to talk about the actual history of this country—and all the atrocities, including genocide, slavery, and other horrendous forms of oppression, down to today—that this has involved. And that you cannot do from a ruling class perspective. Or to defend the right to abortion in a truly powerful way, which can answer the many-sided attacks on this—practical, political, and ideological—you have to get into the role of women in this society and the whole historical oppression of women—how that is bound up with other fundamental social and class relations. That, again, is something you cannot do while remaining within the dominant and "acceptable" framework of bourgeois politics and ideology.
This is especially acutely posed in today's circumstances. Bourgeois politicians can't even do what the Church Senate Committee (named after Senator Frank Church) did back 30 years ago. Then, as a result of a whole mass upheaval and growing mass consciousness about the real nature of what the U.S. does around the world, this Senate Committee came out and exposed some of the things the U.S. had done, like in Chile and other countries where the U.S. pulled off coups and committed other crimes. Today, if you want to represent the ruling class, you cannot do even what the Church Committee did. It's nowhere on the agenda to talk about that stuff. The current situation—and not just the freedom but the necessity of the ruling class—doesn't allow for that kind of discourse, even in watered-down terms…
Moving ahead then from that foundation, I want to talk a little bit about the "two maximizings" and the decisive role overall of the first. To very quickly paraphrase here, this ("two maximizings") refers to developing a politicized atmosphere and a revolutionary current—and in particular a growing pole of people partisan to communism and to the Party—among the proletariat and basic masses; and developing essentially the same thing among the middle strata. And then there is the need to develop the "positive synergy" between these "two maximizings"; or, to put it another way (in more "classical communist terms"), the dialectical relation—the mutual interaction and reinforcement—between the two, in a positive way.
You are not going to bring forward a revolutionary force and a communist movement among the basic masses, on anything like the scale that is necessary, and potentially realizable, without there being the development of political ferment and political resistance broadly—and, yes, the development of a revolutionary and communist current—among the middle strata. In the absence of that, the basic masses are going to say to you—and they're going to have a point—that "we'll never get anywhere, we're going to be surrounded, everybody's going to oppose us, and we're just going to be viciously crushed once again." On the other hand, you can't hinge the development of a revolutionary force and a communist movement among the basic masses, and in society in general, on developments among even the progressive section of the middle strata or among the middle strata more broadly. That's not mainly where it's going to come out of. So we have to get the dialectics of this correctly.
We saw some of the positive development (and "synergy") that I'm talking about in the 1960s, for example. Why did the '60s become "the '60s"? It's because, in addition to all the ferment that was largely centered among the middle strata—the youth counter-culture and the anti-Vietnam War movement, and so on—there were masses of people, Black people and others, at the base of society who were expressing in very powerful ways: we refuse to live this way anymore. And, largely as a result of this powerful impulse, things developed beyond the confines in which various reformists and bourgeois forces were trying to contain them; things quite broadly found a revolutionary expression, in a general sense. And this, overall and in a political and ideological sense, lit a fire under all the other different strata in society. In terms of what was going on in U.S. society itself—and in the context of the whole world situation, including the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese people to U.S. aggression as well as the Cultural Revolution in China—it was that upsurge "from the base," more than any other factor in American society, which gave the defining character to what "the '60s" became in the U.S. Not the distorted character that is attributed to it now, especially by the ruling class and mainstream media, etc., but its actual, extremely positive, radical, and revolutionary character.
I remember seeing a Peter Sellers movie in the early '70s, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (if I remember correctly, Alice B. Toklas was credited with coming up with a recipe for "grass" brownies). The movie was about this character, played by Peter Sellers, who was a typical middle class guy, a lawyer who kept getting to the altar to get married and then running away and dropping out. He had a younger brother who was a hippie who had already dropped out, and (to make a long story short) at one point this younger brother takes the Peter Sellers character to a "head shop"—they're looking around, and the hippie younger brother finds a copy of Mao's Little Red Book and says: "Oh, you've gotta have one of these. Everybody's gotta have one of these." That scene did actually characterize the times. It was not the way they portray it now. After a certain point—this was very positive, and we must not allow it to be summed up as negative—the revolutionary forces and, in a general sense, a revolutionary culture, had the initiative among very broad sections of society. And there are important lessons in that, in terms of developing the "two maximizings," and their "positive synergy" today.
Essential in this—the principal aspect of this, in an overall sense—is bringing forward increasing numbers of the proletariat and basic masses, bringing forward growing waves of people from among the proletariat and basic masses as emancipators of humanity who are viewing things from that perspective. Revolutionary masses who are taking up the communist outlook and method and are learning to view the reactions and responses and the characteristics of different classes and strata from the point of view of "how do we get to a whole different world?"—and not from the point of view of "how does that affect me, or how does that make me feel?" That's what it means to rise to the level of being emancipators of humanity. It means you see beyond the shortcomings and limitations of these different strata—speaking of the middle strata in particular—and you see the necessity and the challenge of winning them, through a whole complex process, to be on the side of, or at least to a stance of friendly neutrality toward, revolution, preparing the ground politically for, and helping to hasten the time when a revolutionary situation comes into being.
If we don't bring forward a section of the proletariat and basic masses—or growing sections, wave after wave of people-–who are consciously motivated as emancipators of humanity, we have no chance for anything good to come out of all this. This definitely does not mean that it's unimportant to work among the middle strata, even with all their limitations. Believe me, the proletariat and basic masses have all kinds of problems and limitations too. The point is that they occupy a different position in society and are propelled toward different things. But here, again, there is the essential question of where they are going to be led, what they are going to be led to do—because, on their own and even with a certain gravitation toward radical solutions, this will not take the fully positive expression it needs, it will not go where it needs to go, without leadership—communist leadership.
And this responsibility falls to us—to those of us, drawn from many different strata in society, who at any given time have taken up the standpoint that corresponds to the fundamental interests of the proletariat, as a class—the outlook and method, and the cause and program, of revolutionary communism. It falls to us to in fact be the vanguard of the proletariat in that sense. If we don't do that, if we shirk or shrink from the responsibility to do that, how are the masses going to understand their own role as the emancipators of humanity? How are they going to be able to see beyond all the difficulties and the tremendous weight on them and the ways in which they're pulled down and pulled toward other things, which do not correspond to their own fundamental interests and the larger interests of humanity? How are they going to be able to realize their potential as the emancipators of humanity if we aren't very clear and firm about this (while also, on the basis of firmness, having flexibility, on the basis of solid core having elasticity)?
…Theory and (political and ideological) line are abstractions from reality which, the more correct they are, the more they can guide us in changing the world in accordance with its actual nature and its actual motion. If you are going to wield theory and line as an instrument to change the world, you have to take it up and wrangle with it in its own right—abstracted from the reality out of which it comes, of which it is a concentration—and to which, yes, as Marx emphasized and we must emphasize, it must be returned in order to change the world. But if you leave out the step of grappling, on the level of abstraction, with theory, you are bound to go astray and land in a pit.
And everybody can deal in abstractions, by the way. It's not only a handful of people who can do this. Revolutionary theory, communist theory, has to be made accessible to masses of people, but they actually engage in abstraction all the time, with different world outlooks. I've never met any basic person, or any person from any stratum, who doesn't have all kinds of theories about all kinds of all things—most of them drawn from the bourgeoisie and ultimately reflecting its outlook—although some of them do this only indirectly and appear to be, and to some degree are, ideas and theories that people have "cooked up" on their own, more or less unconsciously reflecting the dominant bourgeois outlook in society. Of course, to make theoretical abstractions that most correctly, deeply and fully reflect reality, in its motion and development, requires taking up the communist world outlook and methodology and increasingly learning to apply this consistently and systematically. And, as Lenin emphasized (in What Is To Be Done? and elsewhere), this communist outlook and methodology will not just "come to" the masses of people on their own and spontaneously, but must be brought to them from outside the realm of their direct and immediate experience. But the fact remains that everyone engages in theoretical abstraction of one kind or another—everybody is capable of this—and, fundamentally, it is a question of how are you doing this, with what world outlook and methodology?
This is an analogy that I have found helpful: Reality is like a fire, like a burning object, and if you want to pick up that burning object and move it, you have to have an instrument with which to do it. If you try to do it bare-handed, the result is not going to be good. That's another way of getting at the role of theory in relation to the larger world that needs to be transformed, in relation to practice, and in particular revolutionary practice, to change the world…
1. The 7 Talks are a series of presentation given by Bob Avakian in 2006. The audio files of the 7 Talks, along with the Q&A and Concluding Remarks for those talks, are available for listening and downloading at bobavakian.net and revcom.us/avakian. [back]
2. This is referring to a formulation by Bob Avakian: "What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these 'outmodeds,' you end up strengthening both." [back]
3. In another section of the edited version of this talk, Bob Avakian explains that: "by 'instrumentalism' here I mean torturing reality in the attempt to make a distorted version of reality an instrument of certain aims." [back]
4. The title of this talk is "Communism and Religion: Getting Up and Getting Free—Making Revolution to Change the Real World, Not Relying on 'Things Unseen'"; this talk and others of the 7 Talks are available online at bobavakian.net and revcom.us/avakian. [back]
5. See Revolution articles on the Military Commissions Act, online at revcom.us: "The Torture Bill: Compromising Your Way to Fascism" (issue #63); "Facts About the Military Commissions Act (Torture Law)" (#64); "Interview with Bill Goodman, Center for Constitutional Rights—The New Military Commissions Act: "It is a dangerous moment for all of us" (#65). [back]
6. In a number of talks and writings, Bob Avakian analyzes the relations at the top of U.S. society—as well as the relations between various contending forces "at the top" and social bases at various levels of society—in terms of a "pyramid." This analysis can be found, for example, in the DVD of the talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About (Three Q Productions, available at threeqvideo.com). See also the articles "The Pyramid of Power and the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down" and "The Center—Can It Hold? The Pyramid as Two Ladders," available online at revcom.us. [back]
Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
In four years the Bush administration has, in our names, waged an unimaginably destructive and cruel war on Iraq that has claimed more than half a million lives, is now driving more than 100,000 people out of Iraq each month, and is pushing the whole Middle East towards balkanization.
Now, as Iraq spins out of their control--with the strategic interests of an empire at stake--Bush’s logic is to double down, escape forward, and to fight this out in a larger (regional) theater.
Preparations are under way for a massive assault on Iran. Seymour Hersh recently revealed that plans have been drawn up to begin a bombing campaign within 24 hours of Bush’s say-so and Craig Unger wrote that “Bush can count on the military to carry out [a really punishing air-force and naval attack] even without congressional authorization.”
A war on Iran would not only mean vastly expanded bloodshed, but would escalate the situation where increasingly humanity is being confronted with two intolerable choices: Bush’s crusade for empire or a reactionary Islamic fundamentalist response. The Bush regime has committed crimes on a far greater scale and is by far the greater danger to humanity--it is, after all, the dominant imperialist power on the planet--but both are complete nightmares. Both reinforce and feed off each other and as they grow they suck up the air to breath for secular and progressive forces in this country and around the world.
Anyone who whistles past the great and unprecedented dangers this poses for humanity does so at the peril of all of our futures!
People in their hundreds of millions--in this country and around the world--must be presented with a third option, an option that refuses to choose between crusading McWorld or reactionary Jihad, but instead manifests our determination to bring this to a halt!
The Democrats, including John Conyers, say that impeachment is a distraction from ending the war. But George Bush has made it abundantly and redundantly clear that this war will not end on his watch so ending the war is completely bound up with ending his watch.
The Democrats also argue that impeachment is unnecessary since Bush is only in office for two more years and that instead we should focus on getting a Democrat elected in '08. But the idea that Iran will be plunged into the same nightmare as Iraq and that innocent people around the world will continue to be rendered and tortured--chained to ceilings, beaten for days, water boarded and religiously and sexually persecuted--for two more years so that a Democrat can rise to the helm of a new Rome is unconscionable.
Besides, if the Bush regime is not driven from office before '08, then everything they have done--the doctrine of preemptive war, the legalization of torture, the stripping of habeas corpus, the abandonment of people of New Orleans, the stripping away of women's right to birth control and abortion, the construction of theocracy--is legitimated and codified no matter who becomes the next president.
If you doubt this, take a look at the Democratic front-runners: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards.
The Republicans have shamelessly thrown down over everything for six years: passing midnight laws to keep Terri Schiavo alive, threatening a “nuclear option” to force through Supreme Court Justices, even filibustering the symbolic, non-binding Senate resolution against Bush’s troop “surge.” Which of these Democratic candidates is raising a hue and cry against torture? Which of them filibustered the Military Commissions Act? Which of them shut down the Senate to prevent the troop surge? Instead of doing this, they--and their party as a whole--have spent their legislative power capitulating and conceding to fascist laws and war crimes. And all three, Edwards, Obama, and Clinton, have insisted that all options--including nuclear options--remain on the table in dealing with Iran!!
2004... 2006... 2008... it's the same shell game. By the time the elections arrive people will have to swallow all their principles and vote for the “lesser evil” that is legitimating what should be well beyond the pale. There is a lesson in this. As Bob Avakian has said, “If you try to make the Democrats be what they are not and never will be, you will end up being more like what the Democrats actually are.”
If people’s energies, resources, and time get funneled into supporting or trying to influence these Democrats--rather than breaking free of their calculations and acting independently of their limits to bring this to a halt now--they will find themselves learning or being forced to live with even greater horrors for the people of the world.
Look, here is what we really need: a massive movement that is determined to drive Bush and his regime out of office. This is not about "what will persuade Congress" to impeach; we need a massive movement from below and all over society, manifesting in the streets, determined to stop and reverse this whole terrible and disastrous program, and ready for all the upheaval that would entail. And then let the powers-that-be figure out whether the regime goes by impeachment or resignation.
On the other hand, there are those who, in the name of saying about the Democrats and the Republicans “they’re all the same,” whistle past the fascist way the Bush regime is remaking the world. There is more than one way to stay on the sidelines when history is calling. I’ve heard some who see Bush as part of a system of imperialism accuse World Can’t Wait of simply “Bush-bashing” for calling people to drive out the Bush regime.
I don’t speak for everyone represented in World Can’t Wait, but I believe Bush is part of an imperialist system. But does recognizing that mean we should ignore the unending war for empire, the remaking society in a fascist way, the dragging of women, gays, and sciences back to the stone age, and the dangerous encroachment of a hateful brand of Christianity into public and private life? Does it mean we should be indifferent to a regime that has overseen the destruction of Baghdad and Falluja and the decimation and racial cleansing of New Orleans?
Recognizing this country’s imperialism and crimes--from the enslavement of millions of Black people and genocide of the Native Americans to having sent troops, committed acts of war and carried out CIA interventions more than 150 times on foreign soil--ought to make one more capable of understanding that this system would have no restraint in transitioning to an even more devastating (and repressive) form of rule if it served their interests. Including, if it is allowed to be consolidated, closing off any space in society from which to mount any meaningful opposition--including revolutionary opposition.
On the other hand, if we succeed in reversing this program, this will open up much more room for people to go forward to create a better world--including space for those who want to get beyond imperialism by bringing into being a radically emancipated world through revolution.
There are reasons why the core around Bush, with its grand strategy for an unchallenged and unchallengeable global empire, has initiative within the ruling class right now. In a world undergoing rapid, dramatic, and destabilizing transformations driven by capitalist globalization and competition, the emergence of the U.S. as the sole superpower has provided it with tremendous opportunities but also with a great deal of necessity and a lot of risks. If they don't reconfigure the world, in particular starting with the strategic areas of the Middle East that hold 80% of the world's energy resources, then some other power will do so in ways that create big obstacles for them.
And there are reasons why--in the face of major strains on the internal cohesion of this country: the influx of immigrants, the loss of major industry, the breakdown of the traditional (read: patriarchal) family and other major shifts--the highly repressive theocratic and fascist cores around Bush have initiative domestically.
If you want to go after imperialism right now, you have to go after the program that is predominating, the program that has initiative, the program that is reshaping the whole world.
As for the fact that the Democrats are complicit in this program, that is one of the brilliant things about the Call for the World Can’t Wait. It calls out YOUR GOVERNMENT as a whole for its policies of torture, unjust wars, police-state measures, and theocracy and calls for a movement aimed at driving out the regime sledge-hammering this forward while repudiating this program as a whole.
This is something that everyone, from those who believe in the principles upon which this country was founded to those who see injustice and exploitation rooted in those very principles, can and must come together now to accomplish. In the process we should have many debates over where these problems came from and what kind of world we should bring into being; but if we don’t do so as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the struggle to drive out this regime and repudiate its program, then we are complicit in its crimes.
Right now, as the Bush administration--with the silence and complicity of Congress--readies a new and even more dangerous war, the world needs to see people in this country bursting forth in massive protests.
Right now, the world needs us united, not diminished or spread out in many small demonstrations that will not make the needed impact, in the nation's Capitol and at the Pentagon.
Right now, what we do is going to make a decisive difference one way or the other. Let's not settle for routine or puny. Lets mobilize with the intent and commitment to stop this war and prevent the next one.
Out of the huge reservoir of discontent and agonizing, let's bring forward a great wave to repudiate this President in a collective voice loud enough to be heard across this country and around the world. If we do, the possibility of turning things around and onto a much more favorable direction will take on a whole new dimension of reality. It will go from something only vaguely hoped for by millions of isolated individuals, and acted on by thousands so far, to something that has undeniable moral force and unprecedented political impact.
This is something we can achieve or it is a hope for humanity we could squander.
As my best friend’s favorite, if severely tattered, Clash T-shirt reads, “The future is unwritten.” What it will look like depends on what we do.
Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
“The Silence of the Dems”
Every day, there is more talk and mounting evidence that the United States is getting ready to launch a war against Iran.
Journalist Seymour Hersh recently revealed that the “Pentagon is continuing intensive planning for a possible bombing attack on Iran,” and that in recent months “a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours.” ("The Redirection,” New Yorker, 3/5/07)
How soon could such an attack happen? Hersh says one former top official told him “that the current contingency plans allow for an attack order this spring.”
A Deafening—and Deadly Silence
Support for the war in Iraq is at an all-time low in the United States, and many people say they can't believe Bush would do something “so crazy” as to launch another war when things are going so badly for the U.S. in Iraq. But the thinking, plans and preparations for attacking Iran are not about a “mad man in the White House.” They are driven by the real and continuing imperialist interests, necessities, and logic that drove the Bush regime to invade Iraq. Some people think the U.S. is so bogged down in Iraq it can’t open up a whole new front of war in Iran. But in reality, the U.S.’s deep difficulties in Iraq have actually increased their necessity to attack Iran.
Some people may also have been lulled by the Bush administration’s recent moves to “engage” Iran diplomatically. But such moves—as we saw with the run-up to the war on Iraq, are often designed to make the case that the U.S. has “gone the extra mile” and that it is supposedly the fault of the other country for being unwilling to settle disputes “reasonably.” Such “diplomacy” is a necessary component of war preparations, including building up public opinion in favor of military action.
For the U.S. imperialists, domination in the Middle East and Central Asian regions isn’t capricious, or optional. It has been, and continues to be, foundational to their global power and sole superpower status. And this is critical to the very functioning of their system—at home and abroad. The U.S. is an empire rooted in the exigencies of global capitalism or imperialism — a system which demands the worldwide exploitation of markets, resources, and labor and the domination of vast stretches of the globe; a system which gives rise to bitter global rivalries between major powers. Imperialism divides the world between a relative handful of oppressor states—the U.S., Japan, the main powers in Europe, etc.—and the vast majority of nations in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. The imperialist powers both dominate the economies and politics of these countries, and they also contend and collude with one another over the relative share of the “spoils.”
This is why dominating the Middle East has been a pillar of U.S. global strategy since World War 2—under Democrats and Republicans. This region is both the geopolitical nexus linking Europe, Asia and Africa, and home to 60 percent of the world’s oil and natural gas. Control of global energy is not only a profitable bonanza but also, and much more importantly, a strategic necessity for the U.S.: it means exercising leverage over those who depend on oil and in particular its imperialist rivals.
In the eyes of U.S. imperial strategists, these necessities increased following the geopolitical earthquake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. On one hand, this suddenly removed the U.S.’s main imperialist rival and biggest impediment to many of its larger ambitions, opening up new opportunities for further and deeper U.S. economic and political domination. But the shattering of the Cold War order also brought a host of new problems, including rapidly shifting global political and economic trends, rising economic competition, and new challenges to U.S. control of the oppressed countries. And in particular, in the Middle East/Central Asia, where instability was growing, the old status quo was increasingly less viable and the U.S. faced a rapidly spreading and potentially destabilizing pole of opposition to its unfettered hegemony: Islamic fundamentalism. (For more, see "The Crossroads in Iraq: Why the U.S. Went to War," Revolution #70).
These fundamentalist Islamic trends were given powerful impetus by their seizure of power in the 1979 Iranian revolution, and then later the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, followed by the Taliban ascendancy. These forces—which are reactionary representatives of the old order, both feudal and bourgeois—don’t fundamentally oppose foreign capital, but their interests clash in various ways, and often sharply, with the U.S. and its regional clients.
The U.S.'s necessity in the face of the growth of Islamic fundamentalism further intensified following the attacks of September 11, 2001. And this included what the U.S. saw as a growing need on their part to confront both Iraq and Iran. This was reflected in the decisions taken at secret, high-level meetings that took place shortly after Sept. 11, as documented by Bob Woodward in his new book State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III.
According to Woodward, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Paul Wolfowitz, then Deputy Secretary of Defense, felt that the U.S. faced a “crisis” and that it needed a deeper understanding of its adversaries—“Who are the terrorists? Where did this come from? How does it relate to Islamic history, the history of the Middle East, and contemporary Middle East tensions? What are we up against here?” Wolfowitz worried the existing bureaucracies were incapable of fully addressing these issues so he turned to the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank that had helped spearhead the neo-conservative global agenda of creating an unchallenged American empire, to pull together a secret meeting to devise a broad, aggressive U.S. response.
In late November 2001, a dozen imperialist strategists and former officials began a secret seminar to discuss these issues. The results, Woodward reports, were a “seven-page, single-spaced document, called ‘Delta of Terrorism.’ ‘Delta’ was used in the sense of the mouth of a river from which everything flowed.” The analysis and vision contained in this still-secret memo seems to have guided much of the Bush regime’s thinking ever since.
For one, the meeting concluded that September 11 wasn’t an isolated incident, but part of a much broader, deeper issue confronting the U.S. in the Middle East and globally. “It was a deep problem,” Christopher DeMuth, the president of the American Enterprise Institute and the convener of the meeting told Woodward, “and 9/11 was not an isolated action that called for policing and crime fighting." Instead, he concluded, "a war was going on within Islam—across the region,” and the U.S. imperialists faced a “two-generation battle with radical Islam ” to maintain their control of the Middle East/Central Asian regions. Neoconservatives view this war (which some call World War IV) as essential to maintaining and solidifying the U.S.’s sole superpower status, and envision both crushing radical Islam and undercutting its hold by restructuring governments and societies throughout the region. Israel is seen as a crucial weapon in carrying out this brutal agenda, and both the neocons and the Israeli rulers share the goal of crushing the Palestinian people and preventing the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. These cold-blooded calculations of how to maintain domination of entire peoples and regions of the world—calculations which, without batting an eye, not only take into account but require the deaths of the hundreds of thousands and the ruined lives of millions, in the service of those aims—are what lie behind all the talk of “freedom and safety.”
The meeting concluded that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran were the most important sources of the radical Islamic trend the U.S. confronted, but they were difficult to deal with. Iraq, however, was another matter, “weaker, more vulnerable,” Woodward summed up. DeMuth told Woodward, “We concluded that a confrontation with Saddam was inevitable. He was a gathering threat—the most menacing, active and unavoidable threat. We agreed that Saddam would have to leave the scene before the problem would be addressed."
Another participant told Woodward that the plan was to start with Iraq, and success there would lead to “Iranian overthrow.”
Woodward notes that copies of the memo “straight from the neo-conservative playbook,” were hand-delivered to Bush’s war cabinet and embraced by Cheney, Rice, and Bush, who began to “focus on the ‘malignancy’ of the Middle East."
Recently, retired General Wesley Clark told Democracy Now (3/2) that 10 days after Sept 11 he was in the Pentagon and was told by a top official, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” and that a few weeks later the same official told him a memo was circulating “that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”
Iraq Quagmire Creates More—Not Less—Need to Attack Iran
The invasion of Iraq was designed—in part—to pave the way for weakening, and perhaps toppling, Iran’s government. And as things have gone, instead, it has weakened the U.S. hand and strengthened Iran’s in important ways.
For one, it removed one of Iran’s main enemies in Saddam Hussein (after another of Iran’s adversaries, the Taliban in Afghanistan, was also driven from power by the U.S.). The U.S. has been forced to rely on Iraq’s pro-Iranian Shia parties to try to rule and stabilize the country.
Overall, the U.S.’s quagmire in Iraq has weakened U.S. influence, fueled the spread of Islamist trends, and bolstered Iran’s regional influence.
All this has made the situation in the Middle East even more unacceptable to the U.S. imperialists, and the Bush regime has resolved on a course to become even more aggressive in reversing all this—with the escalation of the war in Iraq and now the serious threats against Iran. And meanwhile, the Democrats have proved incapable and unwilling to stop Bush’s troop “surge” to Iraq and have mounted no significant opposition at all—and in some cases significant support—to the real threats to launch a U.S. attack against Iran (other than to call for Congressional approval for any military action).
The Democrats’ paralysis and the looming horror of an escalation against Iran highlight the urgency of broadening and deepening opposition to the war in Iraq and any attack on Iran. Such an attack, which would reportedly include hundreds of targets and could include tactical nuclear weapons, would lead to thousands and thousands of casualties, perhaps many more. And it could well strengthen the grip of the Islamic theocrats now in power in Iran. This would further accelerate the very negative dyanamic in which the assaults on the region fuel the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, while the reactionary program of the fundamentalists causes many in this country to either support Bush or be passive in the face of U.S. aggression and war crimes. A very different program and vision, neither McWorld/McCrusade nor Jihad, is urgently called for. And an essential element of that is driving out the Bush regime and repudiating its entire agenda and opposing now its war moves against Iran .
Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
There's a lot of talk about who does, and who doesn't, support the troops these days. It's one thing for George Bush and the leaders of the Republicans and Democrats to say they support the troops. Particularly those Democrats who say they oppose the war but support the troops are trying to corral the antiwar sentiment of people—to prevent people from confronting what is really going on over there, and beyond that the real role and character of the army and the troops who fight in it.
There are also people who genuinely oppose the war, but who also say I support the troops. Many of these people approach this from a personal point of view. They have relatives, friends, or people they know in the military. Some people feel these troops should be supported because many of them were drawn into joining the military because there is so little opportunity for employment or education for so many people in U.S. society today. But that isn't the heart of the matter. To determine whether you should or shouldn't support the troops, you have to look at what these troops are doing and decide whether that deserves your support.
These soldiers are part of the U.S. military. The war they are fighting in Iraq is aimed at maintaining and extending U.S. domination in the Middle East and around the world. This is an unjust and immoral war. Look at what it comes down to for the people of Iraq.
From the very beginning, the U.S. military has rained death and destruction on the Iraqi people. They've killed many, many people and created conditions in which many, many more have been slaughtered in violence pitting Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds against each other.
U.S. troops flattened the city of Falluja, driving virtually the entire population out in order to take the city back from the those resisting the U.S. occupation. They routinely call in air strikes on Iraqi villages and urban areas, killing innocent Iraqis. U.S. troops set up checkpoints and raid people's homes, subjecting people to harassment and brutality on a regular basis. While carrying out this occupation, some U.S. troops have raped Iraqi women and just outright murdered people. What about any of this deserves the support of anybody who opposes this unjust war?
Some who oppose the war try to deal with the contradiction involved here by saying, "I support the warrior, not the war." But how can you separate the troops from what they are doing? Bob Avakian has raised the point that if you came upon a woman who was being attacked and raped by a gang of men, would you say, 'I support the rapists, not the rape?' Or if you encountered a mob of racists lynching a Black person, would you say, 'I support the lynchers, not the lynching?' Of course not. You'd say these people are doing something heinous, and I can't support them. Well the war that U.S. troops are waging in Iraq is also heinous, and it, and the troops who are carrying it out don't deserve the support of anybody who cares about justice!
I know that these GIs are largely drawn from the working class and oppressed people. But that doesn't matter—it doesn't mean that we should support them. Nor does it matter if they think that what they're doing is defending their country. What matters is that they ARE a part of inflicting untold suffering on the Iraqi people in order to enforce U.S. imperialist domination. If you're in the U.S. military, you have to take responsibility for what it's doing, and troops who are responsible for the kinds of things the U.S. military is doing in Iraq and elsewhere don't deserve the support of anybody who is concerned about what's just and right. The fact that their fundamental interests aren't served by the plundering and raping of Iraq and other countries the U.S. rulers have them carrying out makes it doubly painful and all the more necessary to struggle with them over where their real interests lie.
When I talk about this, I'm dealing with something that I've been through. I was in the U.S. military back during the Vietnam war. The U.S. rulers put a gun in my hands, trained me how to use it and ordered me to go to Vietnam—to kill Vietnamese people and maybe be killed myself. I didn't know what the Vietnam war was about when I got drafted into the army, or when I got the orders to go to Vietnam. But I had to quickly find out what it was about because I had to decide whether it was something I should or could be a part of.
There was a huge movement against the war in Vietnam back then, and many involved in it were saying this was an imperialist war that was aimed at drowning the liberation struggle of the Vietnamese people in blood. Groups like the Black Panther Party were saying that Black people had no business fighting for the U.S. in Vietnam while Black people were having dogs sicked on them here in the U.S. while fighting for their rights.
I became convinced that this was true off of talking to a lot of GIs who had been in Vietnam fighting. They told me about atrocities committed against Vietnamese people that they had seen and some of them had even been a part of. About how they were trained to look at the Vietnamese people as a whole—men, women, and even children—as the enemy. I learned that things like the My Lai massacre, where U.S. troops destroyed a village and murdered many of its inhabitants—most of whom were women, children, and old men—because they suspected they supported the Vietnamese liberation fighters, was a routine occurrence. That the U.S. military frequently "destroyed the village in order to save the village." That U.S. troops called in air strikes on villages if they THOUGHT they were being fired at from the direction of that village. That they killed Vietnamese people indiscriminately and raped women.
I recalled that back in basic training our drill sergeants had fed us stories about the horrible things Vietnamese liberation fighters would do. They said they'd put a grenade in a baby carriage and blow up the baby to kill U.S. GIs. The drill sergeants would call Vietnamese people gooks, dinks and slopes non-stop. They were getting us ready to be part of the U.S. imperialist killing machine that could rain death and destruction indiscriminately on Vietnamese people in order to keep U.S. global domination in effect back then.
I also learned that there were U.S. GIs who were resisting this war from inside the military. Some units marched off in the opposite direction from where they thought the Vietnamese rebels were. Other units just flat out refused to fight, and some GIs even fragged officers who tried to make them fight.
This helped me to learn that the war in Vietnam was a war to suppress the struggle of an oppressed people to free their country from imperialist domination. And that it was a war that anyone who believed in justice shouldn't support and shouldn't be a part of fighting. Off of this, I was able to develop the strength to refuse to go to Vietnam. I did two years in Leavenworth Military Penitentiary for taking this stand. Faced with this situation all over again, I'd take the same stand. What was really criminal was the war, and refusing to fight in it was the right thing to do.
The war in Iraq isn't a rerun of the war in Vietnam, but just like that war, this one is a war for empire. It's an unjust, immoral war. People shouldn't want to be a part of such a war, and people shouldn't be supporting the troops who are fighting this war. What are these troops doing that deserves the support of anybody who believes in justice? Nothing—not a damn thing!
There are U.S. soldiers who deserve the support of everyone who opposes injustice. Those who have spoken out against the war, those who have refused to go to Iraq and those who have resisted the war in other ways. They are doing the right thing, and they deserve our support.
And what do all the troops really need from those of us who know this war is wrong? Again let me draw from my experience. I didn't get the understanding and inspiration to refuse to go to Vietnam because people expressed support for the troops. I was able to do that because people told the truth about the war in Vietnam. And because the people protesting the war and the GIs who rebelled against it from inside the military challenged me through their actions to do the right thing.
Today's troops need the same thing that I needed back then. They need to hear the truth about the war they're being sent off to be a part of in Iraq—that it's an unjust war, a war for empire. They need to be challenged to take off their blinders and look straight at the atrocities the U.S. is inflicting on the Iraqi people and that they are being ordered to be a part of. And they need to be challenged to do the right thing today, just like I was challenged to do the right thing back during the Vietnam War.
Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
This call can be found at the website of the organization World Can't Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime, at worldcantwait.org.
Call for Student Walkouts:
Whoever you are...
Wherever you are...
Walkout on March 20th
End the War Now
Drive out the Bush Regime
The U.S. war machine has Iran and its people in the cross hairs – and there is every reason to believe the threats on Iran are serious and U.S. military strikes would engulf the entire region in the flames of war and chaos.
If you had known about Hiroshima in advance, what would you have done to stop it? We face a cataclysmic moment on the horizon, as bodies continue to pile up on the streets of Baghdad.
March 20th marks the 4th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. 4 years of U.S. air strikes, massacres, economic standstill, military curfews and cities left in rubble. 4 years of a war that has created 4 million Iraqi refugees and a country that has been ravaged by a civil war initiated and perpetuated by the U.S. government. Whether or not Bush’s troop escalation “stabilizes” Iraq, this war has been unjust from the beginning and will only continue to be an illegal occupation.
At a time when your government is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, your silence is complicity. The war in Iraq, the government’s use of torture, and domestic spying do in fact rise to the highest levels of criminality, and failure to indict the Bush administration for carrying out these crimes will have horrible repercussions for future generations.
The Bush regime’s drive for global empire has brought about a chilling “new normalcy” of immigrant roundups, spying, fear campaigns, and a restructuring of the law that makes it difficult to distinguish our current society from a police state. While students in the U.S. are making plans for their future, the Bush regime is cementing a fascistic agenda into place that will radically alter the world our generation will inherit. Any progress society makes will be overshadowed by the fact that the government is openly torturing people. The ability for youth to engage in critical thought is being dramatically undermined by a Christian fundamentalist assault on everything from gay rights to evolution to reproductive rights.
We face an unprecedented situation that calls for unprecedented resistance. We saw the sparks of that resistance catch and begin to spread on February 15th when students on twenty seven campuses gathered in protests and strikes against the war. On March 20th, this resistance must grow. On this day we must expand and escalate resistance on campuses that goes beyond symbolic protest into stopping business as usual. We refuse to allow “the acceptable political framework” to put limits on what is possible. We refuse to wait until 2008. We refuse to hide behind the hopes that those in the halls of power are going to fix things.
As the world reflects on 4 years of war with Iraq, resistance erupting from college campuses and high schools could signal a new phase of resistance and struggle that places its energies and hopes in the kind of independent, massive resistance that could bring an end to this war, prevent the launching of future wars and change the direction of society. As the U.S. military continues to sink into a deeper crisis, a generation of youth on a mission to end the war and drive out the Bush regime from within the empire could have a profound impact on the outcome of the historic moment we face today. Resistance where we live and where we go to school, resistance that opens up space for soldiers to speak out, resistance that pulses with a culture of defiance, and resistance through finding the ways to bring these crimes to a halt.
This is what the people of the world need; this is what the rulers in the halls of power fear.
On March 20th, every student needs to ask: where do I stand and what will I do?
The whole world is watching!
Every generation has a mission—Ours is to drive out the Bush regime!
Revolution #80, March 4, 2007
Revolution newspaper obtained the following information from the website of the World Can't Wait organization, at worldcantwait.org:
Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
Let's say you could live to be 200 years old, you came in, in 1800. You are 165 years old before you even legally could do a lot of basic things. But like with a child, man, that first 65 years – whew, just think about that first 65 years… America was like: welcome, this is what we got for you. Then somebody made fun of the fact that you were that way for the next 100 years. You were like a national joke. Then you share crop, then you work, you don’t get paid nothing. Then people entertain themselves with you, you blacken up, call you nigger, you can dance and shine, show your teeth shine. Then you fought for your freedom with other people, not just a black, white issue. People fought, the civil rights movement was integrated. And you got to a certain point then what? No help. No affirmative action, “they're taking all the jobs.” Damn, I waited til I'm 185 to get a job, instead of being a job or a chair or something. Now you’re telling me I’m taking all the jobs, Now I'm in jail cause I had some weed in my pocket. Damn, can’t you see, I went from the plantation right to the penitentiary.
Blue Note interview with Wynton Marsalis about his CD,
From the Plantation to the Penitentiary
The deliberate disharmony in the title track, From the Plantation to the Penitentiary, is jarring on a first listen. The in-between notes of vocalist Jennifer Sanon match the chordal dissonance of the trumpet and saxophone. And at times the melody travels on an unexpected path, like it's temporarily lost. Some phrases land on an off-key note that makes you stop short and wonder.
Marsalis explains, “It's a strange kind of combination of something that's very sweet, but has an edge. A sweet voice makes the music more striking” (Union Tribune, March 4, 2007). And the lyrics on this cut, written by Marsalis, are striking as well:
From the field hand cry/to the ten to twenty-five
From the 'sold-off' men/To the raised by next-of kin...
From the 'no book' rules/To the raggly public schools
From the coon and shine/To the unemployment line...
From the work long days/To the dope and drinking craze
From the stock in slaves/To the booming prison trade...
In the name of freedom... insane/In the name of freedom…and shame
In the heart of freedom... in chains/In the heart of freedom…insane
The first time I listened to this song, I found myself physically wincing at the end, when drummer Ali Jackson, Jr. methodically hard slaps the tambourine to take you back in time, evoking the sting of a skin-cutting whip as jingles in the background conjure up the sound of slave chains. Only on a second listen did I realize that the very first opening bars had previewed this disturbing imagery.
Marsalis says: “Why I say from the plantation to the penitentiary is because I see a lot of similarities between the incarceration, the style of it now and the way of enslavement. Is it the same? No it is not exactly the same, but it is the same result in many ways, it generates a lot of income, and it reduces people to less than what they are.” (Blue Note interview)
A lot of musical environments are brought together on Plantation (which are noted with each song) – swing, modern Habanera, alternating 2-beat country groove, ballad, cumbia, 2nd-line swing and Motown vamp, to name a few. And Plantation targets a number of things, including homelessness, the U.S. “runnin’ all over the world,” corrupt politicians, government neglect, and misogyny in rap. On Supercapitalism, Jennifer Sanon’s frantic scat joins Marsalis’ frenetic trumpet in a tempo that has notes and lyrics almost tripping over each other. Gimme that. Gimme this. Gimme that…There’s never enough. It’s bebop on speed indicting the turbo greed of mindless consumerism. Plantation’s cover art work includes a painting of a man with a slave chain around his neck; another depicts a Black youth with gold teeth also wearing a chain around his neck.
Wynton Marsalis' roots are in New Orleans and this is the first CD he’s done since Katrina. The weight of that hurricane, along with a palpable and deep anger at the government's wanton neglect, has a heavy presence in every song.
Remembering those horrible, shocking days after Katrina hit, Marsalis reiterates the theme of Plantation: "People looked at the TV set and saw central government—and, let's not forget, local government, which was black—behaving with incompetence and inhumanity. We saw human beings suffering through bureaucratic fumbling, ignorance and stupidity. And we saw the descendants of slaves weeping in front of the cameras, saying, 'Have you seen my family? Have you seen my friend?' And that was eerie. That could have been happening in 1840, do you know what I mean? It made you realize that the legacy of slavery is very much with us. And I think that radicalized a lot of people. It's become something that's forced Americans to ask serious questions about what we are doing. I would hope that people are more receptive to these ideas than they've ever been."
Katrina was indeed a wake-up call for many, many people about the real nature of the system we live under and a reminder for many others of just how deep and current the systematic oppression of Black people is in this country. It's now been over a year and a half since Katrina. Government promises to rebuild New Orleans have proved to be a sadistic, cruel joke. And this has been a sharp slap in the face for people like Wynton Marsalis who on a very deep level believe in the promises of American (bourgeois) democracy and think, as he says, that “we have a great country and a great way of life.” Sometimes, when reality painfully and undeniably clashes with those deeply held principles, such deep belief can propel people to act--with a response that is in many ways more radical than the response from those who may consider themselves more savvy or even more “left-wing” in their understanding of the system. And such beliefs are increasingly being challenged by things like what happened in New Orleans and other crimes against the people by the Bush Regime and the imperialist system it represents, both in the U.S. and around the world. Where Y'all At? includes the lyrics: “We runnin' all over the world with a blunderbuss/And the Constitution all but forgot in the fuss.” This kind of questioning of and disenchantment with the system, which millions of people are wrestling with, is one factor creating potential for very real and fundamental change, beneath what can sometimes seem to be a locked down surface in today's situation.
Wynton Marsalis is known for his musical conservatism in keeping to traditional jazz and his condemnation of hip hop. But he says that every decade he tries to do a record that has some relationship to contemporary culture. And in Plantation he actually does a rap on Where Y’all At?—although he is adamant that “this ain’t hip hop.” He explains, “Sometimes it's important to speak in the vernacular, both lyrically and musically." And the first lines of the song go: “You got to speak the language the people are speakin'/ 'Specially when you see the havoc it's wreakin'."
Marsalis’ rap is accompanied by a bluesy New Orleans groove and a gospelly call-and-response as if in church – 2nd line swing and Motown Vamp, according to the liner notes. And the question Where Y’all At is directed at what Marsalis sees as a lack of leadership:
All you ‘60s radicals and world beaters/Righteous revolutionaries and Camus readers
Liberal students and equal rights pleaders/What’s goin’ on now that y’all are the leaders
All you patriots, compatriots and true blue believers/Brilliant thinkers and overachievers
All you when I was young we were so naïve’ers/Y’all started like Eldridge and now you’re like Beaver
Marsalis' question, “Where Y'all At?” is a reflection of the fact that there are millions of people in this country looking for real solutions and leadership that is up to today's challenges. And this underscores how many, many people, including intellectuals and artists like Wynton Marsalis, would want to know the work and leadership of Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and what he's all about. This is a leader – a leader who has had the courage to speak truthfully about the urgent dangers but real opportunities in the situation we face and to pose a revolutionary vision that's both extremely challenging and very viable, and--as part of a project for the emancipation of all humanity--has spoken in a way that no one else has to the very acute and agonizing contradictions so powerfully pointed to by Marsalis in From the Plantation to the Penitentiary.
I might disagree with some of the ways Wynton Marsalis looks at jazz and other things as well. But stepping back onto a larger stage, I find there is something very important to both unite with and learn from in how he looks at his art and its relationship to changing the world. He says: “A work of art is always some type of protest. If it affirms something than it protests something else. And an artists, a lot of time, they, the ones who are very serious carry the identity of the people so it is very serious to them. The identity of the people and the memory of the people… It's interesting, when you don't have a world view, you don't have the type of spiritual energy to develop the technique you need to express it. It's interesting how that works, that when you don't really feel strongly about a thing why you gonna practice all them hours and stay up and study all that stuff and learn from all those people, and I mean man, that's a lot of work. It's that world view. OK, this could be like this."
Check out From the Plantation to the Penitentiary. It reveals some important truth about this country with a lot of anger and heart.
From the Plantation to the Penitentiary
Wynton Marsalis – trumpet
Walter Blandding – tenor and soprano saxophone
Dan Nimmer – piano
Carlos Henriquez – bass
Ali Jackson, Jr. - Drums
Jennifer Sanon – vocals
Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
Solidarity Statement for March 8, 2007 International Women’s Day March in The Hague:
The following is a solidarity statement from Mary Lou Greenberg, Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, to the March 8, 2007 International Women's Day March in The Hague, Netherlands, sponsored by the Campaign for Abolition of All Misogynist, Gender-Based Legislation and Islamic Punitive Laws in Iran. For information on the IWD march at The Hague, see “From A World to Win News Service: Iranian Women Call for International Women's Day Actions” in Revolution #81, online at revcom.us.
* * * * *
March 8th, International Women’s Day, is the day for people around the world to stand together in common struggle and solidarity for a future free from the degradation and oppression of women—for the liberation of half of humanity. It is also a day to celebrate the role that women have played and need to play in the emancipation of all of humanity. The fate of the vast majority of both women and men everywhere is bound up with breaking the chains that cripple women’s bodies, silence their words, constrain their thoughts and crush their dreams—whether in western imperialist countries or Islamic theocracies. No people, no part of humanity can be free if one-half of the people is suppressed and enslaved.
We see all around us how the world cries out for revolutionary change. Tradition’s chains of all kinds must be broken—and the vision and means to thoroughly shatter them is to be found in a new, communist revolutionary vision and program. This is what's needed for there to be any fundamental and liberating change, in spirit and in material conditions, in imperialist countries and in countries dominated by imperialism.
One of these enslaving chains is the patriarchal domination that connects the rape, brutality, domestic servitude, and other forms of societal oppression that women face daily in every country. These horrors also are an inevitable part of imperialist war and occupation, today committed while the U.S. war-makers hypocritically preach about “liberation,” “democracy” and “women’s rights.” Let me be clear. The U.S. is the greatest perpetrator of horror and terror in the world, and liberation—including and especially the liberation of women—cannot come through U.S. imperialist war, occupation and domination!
Today as the U.S. escalates war on Iraq and prepares for what may be even greater crimes against Iran and the Iranian people, the need to unite broadly against U.S. imperialism and its crimes is urgently posed. As an internationalist, revolutionary Party working in the U.S., we have a special responsibility to stand firmly against these crimes and lead massive opposition to them. And, especially now, we are joining with many others in the U.S. working to drive the criminal Bush regime from power and oppose the whole reactionary agenda they are pursuing. At the same time, the world’s peoples must not be drawn into siding with oppressors of any stripe and must be firm both in opposing imperialist war and aggression as well as Islamic theocracy and those whose aim is to impose it. This firmness is the only way to give air to breathe and political support to those who are fighting for a revolutionary road forward that is in the interests of the vast majority of the masses of people.
As Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, has said:
“What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these ‘outmodeds,’ you end up strengthening both.”
This march today, as last year’s European march, serves as an example of people refusing to accept either reactionary pole and raising the banner of a totally different future. I send this message in solidarity with your march and the larger struggle that it is part of. I know that millions of men and women around the world share the sentiments expressed in your flyer: “We, Iranian women, will continue on the path we started last year, seeking to establish 'another world' based on the participation and authority of all human beings, those who have no interest in maintaining the power structures based on exploitation and injustice....”
Let’s hasten the struggle for that other world. Break the chains! Unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution!
Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
Recently, there has been an uproar of criticism against former President Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid—for comparing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people with the white supremacist system of apartheid that once existed in South Africa.
You'd expect Carter to be attacked by the neo-conservative architects of the policy he's criticizing. But even more significant have been the attacks by Democratic Party leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean. Each stated that Carter does not speak for the Democrats. Pelosi added more, saying "Democrats have been steadfast in their support of Israel from its birth, in part because we recognize that to do so is in the national security interests of the United States. We stand with Israel now and we stand with Israel forever." (Forward, January 3, 2007)
And in a further dramatic public attack on Carter, fourteen advisory board members of the prestigious Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia (a liberal foundation established by Carter himself) resigned on January 11 in protest of the book. The New York Times stated that the letter by the resigning members "accuses Mr. Carter of having abandoned his role as a peace broker in the Middle East, and said his statements had proven useful to white supremacists and other anti-Semites."
Israel, Apartheid and the Limits of Carter’s Critique
Carter's critics have howled at his use of the word "apartheid" to describe Israeli actions. "Apartheid" is the name for the system of racial segregation and domination in South Africa. The government was legally run by the whites there, and was an instrument of domination against the black Africans who originally lived in South Africa and who made up the vast majority of the population. The apartheid system legally denied Africans any political rights, and tightly controlled their movements; Africans who resisted, along with white South Africans who supported them, were routinely imprisoned for years and decades and otherwise oppressed, with many being assassinated or murdered in prison. This form of oppression was only ended in 1994, in the face of years of resistance and upheaval by the masses of African people there. (The oppression of the African people has persisted, in new forms, despite the victory over apartheid; but how and why that happened, and what must be done about it, is beyond the scope of this article.)
One look at Israel—at its violent dispossession of the Palestinians who originally lived in Palestine; its violent and repressive control of the West Bank and Gaza territories, including the draconian control on people’s movements and the virtual imprisonment of people in some cities; at the ways in which it insists on its character as a specifically Jewish state and that other countries recognize it as such—all these irresistibly suggest the analogy to apartheid. The fact that Israel actually supported the apartheid regime for many years—and that this support was not only economic, but extended to the police and repressive forces there and even included crucial assistance to South Africa in developing nuclear weapons (!)—only serves to underscore the aptness of the analogy.
Given that, Carter’s criticism is actually rather tame. As he himself points out, he is posing “apartheid” as a possible outcome of current Israeli policies, and not as the very fitting description of the entire Israeli system which it is. Within that framework, Carter's book does speak about some of the apartheid-like oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza: "Utilizing their [Israel's leaders] political and military dominance, they are imposing a system of partial withdrawal, encapsulation, and apartheid on the Muslim and Christian citizens of the occupied territories." (p. 189) The Israelis are in fact constructing a wall around the West Bank in order to separate and contain the Palestinians. What Palestinians commonly call "the apartheid wall" consists of concrete walls, electrified fences, electric sensors, razor wire, trenches, and watchtowers—across more than 400 miles of Palestinian land in the West Bank. This wall has further isolated many Palestinian towns, separated farmers from their fields, and stolen more land from the Palestinians. Richard Horton, the editor of the highly respected medical journal Lancet, gives a sense of the humanitarian dimension of this suffering in a recent report. Horton details instances of Israeli harassment and even threatened destruction of Palestinian clinics, the bleeding dry of resources for Palestinian health care more generally, and the ways in which Israeli-run “checkpoints and military barriers frequently obstruct women seeking care during critical periods of labor and delivery,” among other things. [“Palestinians: The Crisis in Medical Care,” Richard Horton, New York Review of Books, March 15, 2007]
Discussing Israeli actions in the early 1990s, Carter points out that aspects of the so-called Oslo peace agreements in 1993 that created the Palestinian Authority (a Palestinian administrative apparatus in the West Bank and Gaza that has no state power) led to "…complete Israeli control over every aspect of political, military and economic existence of the Palestinians within the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli settlements permeated the occupied territories, and highways connecting the settlements with one another and with Jerusalem were being rapidly built, with Palestinians prohibited from using or crossing some of the key roads. In addition, more than one hundred permanent Israeli checkpoints obstructed the routes still open to Palestinian traffic, either pedestrian or vehicular." (p. 141) And Carter states that one of the main reasons for Palestinian anger and rebellion against the state of Israel has been the efforts of every Israeli government to find ways to illegally grab more Palestinian land.
But one of Carter's basic premises for what he sees as a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the demand that Palestinians accept Israel's "right to exist within recognized borders." The insistence that the Palestinians must accept the original 1948 theft of the whole of Palestine is far from "even-handed." This puts the blame for the struggle and suffering in Palestine and the Middle East on the Palestinians and other Arab people, while scolding Israeli leaders for doing things that make it more difficult for the Arabs to deliver the submission to Israel that imperialism requires.
Israel: Acting on Behalf of U.S. Imperial Interests
Despite Carter’s pretending to the opposite, Israel is not in fact some totally independent actor in all this. It is armed to the teeth and backed up militarily and economically by the U.S. and its allies. Indeed, without U.S. backing the state of Israel could not survive. The U.S. gives Israel $2 to $3 billion a year in aid, allowing Israel to build up one of the most powerful armies in the world—which includes nuclear weapons. And the U.S. has given tacit, and sometimes open, approval to the half dozen or so Israeli military attacks on surrounding Arab countries over the past 50 years. All this is in line with the fact that the state of Israel was originally installed as a bulwark of first European and later U.S. imperial interests in that part of the world (and even more broadly).
This latter fact, of course—the unjust foundational character of Israel as a settler state enforcing the interests of neocolonial rule in the Middle East and the way in which this is at the heart of the conflict—has been forbidden from the “official discourse” in the U.S.; but it is nonetheless true, even if Jimmy Carter not only refuses to broach it but continues to justify it in his book.
In order to deny this central fact, Carter's book has to go through other glaring contortions of logic. In the beginning of the book, Carter argues that “Until recently, America's leaders were known and expected to exert maximum influence in an objective, nonbiased way to achieve peace in the Middle East.” (p. 16)
This ridiculous assertion is contradicted by reality, some of which Carter himself reports on in the book. For example, in 1982, Israel launched a vicious invasion of Lebanon with the aim of wiping out the military and political structures of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were brutally killed, and Israel subsequently occupied southern Lebanon for the next 18 years. Israel's alliance with right-wing fascist militias in Lebanon resulted in these forces carrying out a horrific massacre of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut. Carter says he was troubled by this invasion and he expressed this to some top Israeli leaders. Carter writes, "Back came a disturbing reply from an unimpeachable source in Jerusalem: 'We had a green light from Washington.'"(p. 95)
This one incident, which happened to get leaked to the press, gives a sense of the real nature of the "objective, nonbiased" role of the U.S.!
In sum, Carter is arguing that the blatant strangulation of Palestinian life in the West Bank and Gaza is creating suffering and thus bitter resentment among the Palestinians which then is a problem because it threatens Israel. And he is further arguing that the U.S. should return to an earlier posture in which they would pressure Israel to make some concessions to the Palestinians and at least appear to be working toward a separate Palestinian state—one which would be tightly controlled by Israel (and beyond that, by the U.S.) but which would at least have the outer trappings of sovereignty. This, in Carter’s view, would be a more viable way to maintain Israel’s role and protect U.S. imperial interests overall in the area.
The Logic of the Bush Approach… and the Support of the Democrats
But Carter rightly observes that the Bush regime has abandoned this traditional approach of previous administrations and has refused to provide even the appearance of taking into account Palestinian needs and demands. So one must ask: what accounts for this new approach by Bush? And what does it mean that Carter’s rather tepid criticism has been so roundly attacked by the Democratic political establishment?
First, as to the Bush approach itself and its logic. Bush refused to even speak with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and supported the Israeli army’s virtual siege of Arafat in his West Bank apartment during the last years of his life. He has supported the Israeli use of jet warplanes against Palestinian civilians, the brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, its policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders and activists, and so on down the line.
Today, Israel has become even more essential and central to U.S. plans in the Middle East—especially with Iran as a reactionary theocratic state increasingly challenging the U.S. and rallying anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalist sentiment throughout the region. In comparison with other countries in the region, Israel has a relatively stable social order. While there are social conflicts in Israel, they don't threaten the general consensus, which is based on the original expropriation of the land from the Palestinian people. The Arab regimes in the area such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are all U.S. allies but all face explosive social contradictions that make them unable to act as completely reliable policemen and hitmen for the U.S. This is why only Israel is uniquely capable of playing the role of a military fortress and a launching pad for strikes against Middle Eastern countries.
Put it this way: in a situation that is highly volatile and highly risky for U.S. imperial interests, Israel exists as a bedrock outpost of imperialism.
Given that context, the criticism in Jimmy Carter's book of Israel and the U.S. support it enjoys is not the kind of talk the Bush regime wants people to engage in at this crucial point in history. The prevailing core of the U.S. ruling class are deadly serious about their juggernaut and it is quite revealing that even a respected “member of the club” like Carter who mildly dissents or offers amendments can be cast as an anti-Jewish villain.
But it is the way in which the top Democrats have not only joined in, but in some ways “taken the lead” in this criticism of Carter that is noteworthy. This shows that in this instance the Bush regime speaks for a much broader layer of imperialists than the core now at the height of power. Any questioning of the right of Israel to act without restraint is now viewed by almost all in the U.S. ruling class as a threatening counter-rhythm to the U.S. drumbeat of continued war for empire. Any implication, whether intended or not, that there might be something unjust at the foundation of Israel—and the very use of the word “apartheid” by Carter, no matter how he might have intended to limit its relevance, couldn’t help but raise that question—well, anything like that is out of bounds and anyone who “goes there” finds that out the hard way. The fact that the object of the lesson is a former U.S. president who had been an architect of American policy in the Middle East and godfathered the 1978 Egypt/Israel peace treaty, only underscores the point.
Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
In January this year, an unprecedented resolution against the Iraq war and the Bush administration was passed at the Business Meeting during the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA). The Executive Council of the AHA decided to accept the resolution, but at the same they decided to send it to the AHA membership for ratification. The AHA conducted an email balloting on the resolution from March 1 to 9.
According to the website History News Network, “The resolution, which was backed by the radical Historians Against the War, urges a speedy end to the conflict and chides the Bush administration for repeated violations of human rights. Opponents of the resolution argued at the Business Meeting that the organization should not spend its moral capital on issues extraneous to the functions of a professional society. Advocates of the resolution retorted that the war has raised important issues vital to the practice of history.” The History News Network reported that this was the first anti-war resolution in AHA's existence.
The resolution, titled “Resolution on the United States Government Practices Inimical to the Values of the Historical Profession,” appeared in the Letters section of the March 15 issue of the New York Review of Books under the title “Historians Take a Stand,” with a signatory list of over 150 historians.
The website of the Historians Against the War said, “Most of us remain convinced that there is an intimate connection between the war in Iraq and the erosion of civil liberties at home, including attacks on scholarly travel and exchange, the teaching of Middle Eastern history, and access to materials essential to the pursuit of historical research.”
The AHA describes itself as “the largest historical society in the United States,” whose “members include K –12 teachers, academics at two- and four-year colleges and universities, graduate students, historians in museums, historical organizations, libraries and archives, government and business, as well as independent historians.”
The following is the text of the AHA resolution, which is available at the AHA website:
* * * * *
Whereas the American Historical Association’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct emphasizes the importance of open inquiry to the pursuit of historical knowledge;
Whereas the American Historical Association adopted a resolution in January 2004 re-affirming the principles of free speech, open debate of foreign policy, and open access to government records in furthering the work of the historical profession;
Whereas during the war in Iraq and the so-called war on terror, the current Administration has violated the above-mentioned standards and principles through the following practices:
Whereas a free society and the unfettered intellectual inquiry essential to the practice of historical research, writing, and teaching are imperiled by the practices described above; and
Whereas the foregoing practices are inextricably linked to the war in which the United States is presently engaged in Iraq; now, therefore, be it
Resolved, that the American Historical Association urges its members through publication of this resolution in Perspectives and other appropriate outlets:
Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
Last summer, the Colorado legislature passed a vicious package of state laws aimed at immigrant workers. The new laws denied many state social services to immigrant families who do not have legal residency papers. They required very strict documentation in order to get Colorado drivers licenses. And the laws pushed to have state and local police turn over arrested immigrants to federal immigration agents. Similar repressive laws have been proposed in a number of states across the U.S.—at the same time as federal immigration police are also escalating their raids of workplaces and arrests undocumented immigrants.
Faced with such persecution, significant numbers of immigrant workers, including many farm workers, left Colorado and stayed out of the state when the 2006 harvest time arrived. Crops rotted on farms across the state—without many of the immigrant workers who have previously picked the melons, pumpkins, onions, peppers and other cash crops.
Colorado farmers used to employ tens of thousands of undocumented migrant workers during the growing season – and many workers returned to the same farms over many years. This year, as many of half of these workers are not expected to return as usual.
Colorado officials have been working feverishly to come up with a plan to overcome this sudden “labor shortage” in their state. In February, they rolled out their new proposal: Replacing immigrants on the farms with prisoners working as slaves! Specifically, the state’s prison authorities plan to hire out work crews of prisoners to farmers. The prisoners would perform the backbreaking labor of cultivating and picking the crops under armed overseers.
Though the details have not all yet been finalized, the current plan is for farmers to pay the state about $10 an hour for each prisoner, while the prisoners themselves would get only 60 cents a day as a base pay. The rest of the money would be pocketed by the state as profit and as payment for providing the armed guards. According to the Colorado Prison Justice Reform Coalition, Colorado’s state prisons are over 50 percent Black and Latino.
Colorado prison authorities hope to have 100 prisoners working on five or six Colorado farms by May. This plan could quickly extend to many more farms this year since state authorities are worried that farmers might choose not to plant crops if they are not reassured that the state will help provide a workforce in the fields to help harvest them. "We're very excited about it," a Corrections Department spokeswoman said. "We probably have 4,300 to 4,500 inmates who would qualify for this."
These authorities treat farm workers as criminals for arriving without documents, but they clearly believe it is quite fine for themselves to offer work crews of slave laborers to those same farms! The Colorado prison authorities sound like the Southern slave owners of the past when they try to argue that this degrading and oppressive slave labor is an “opportunity” for the prisoners themselves! Ari Zavaras, director of the Colorado Department of Corrections claimed, “They won’t be paid big bucks, but we’re hoping this will help our inmates pick up significant and valuable job skills.”
Human slavery was abolished in the U.S. in 1865—when the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed right after the defeat of the Southern slave owning class in the Civil War. But the 13th Amendment inserted a carefully written exception right into the U.S. Constitution: It said slavery was not abolished for prisoners. In the deep South, this loophole was immediately used to create a system of prison chain gangs. Large numbers of Black people were railroaded into prison, often for the pettiest of crimes and forced to work as slaves in the construction of railroads, highways and river levees. Many were even “hired out” by the Southern state governments to the owners of plantations and timber companies.
As the historic struggle of Black people arose in the 1950s, this chain-gang form of slave labor was suspended for the time being. But prisoners have been routinely forced to work virtually without pay within U.S. prisons. And prison chain gangs have been brought back with a vengeance in recent years.
Now Colorado’s government proposes to bring back open slave labor outside prison walls on the state’s farms. And this is unlikely to stop in Colorado. Iowa’s Department of Corrections is preparing a similar program, and the director of Iowa's prison industries program reports he is already getting calls from farmers, including one request for 200 prisoners.
(For more on the overall attacks on immigrants, see “Mass Deportations, Vigilantes, Government Suppression: STOP the Fascist Assault on Immigrants!” in Revolution #80, online at revcom.us.)
Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
Last Friday I caught up with a friend of mine at work to show her the “This Must Halt! A Challenge” issue of Revolution newspaper (#77). While she was packing up to head out the door I quickly pulled out the WANTED T-shirt (“Wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity: The Bush Regime”) and a bunch of issues of the papers and quickly talked about how this was a critical time occurring with Bush’s escalating the war in the face of the millions who voted against it in the November election and how this newspaper also introduced people to Bob Avakian for all those who ever dreamed of having a different world. There was a need to get this issue of the paper out and call on the people to act to stop Bush. I also quickly ran down the Three Main Points about what people need to learn from reading Revolution newspaper and why she needed to get a subscription. She said she’d think about it but agreed to take a bunch of newspapers to get out and definitely wanted the T-shirt.
When I got back to work the following week she called me to come on over and collect the money for the papers which she got out to her girlfriends at the Bid Whist game they have every Friday night. When I went over to her office she ran down the story about Friday night. She told them, “Tonight before we start our game I would like you all to read this newspaper I got from a friend at work so we could talk about it.” This immediately started up controversy. One of her friends immediately said, “We came here to play cards and not think about all this.” My friend said, “Well this is my house we’re playing cards at and first we’re going to check out this newspaper.” Her friend shot back, “This doesn’t sound like a democracy, this sounds like a dictatorship.” And my friend snapped back, “That’s right—its time to start thinking about this.” So, they proceeded to flip through the paper and two of the girlfriends who were devout Catholics read the first two paragraphs of the “Three Alternative Worlds” article and said that this was against religion and they didn’t think they could deal with this. My friend said that this was about the world and we had to be open to different viewpoints about how we were going to deal with Bush and all the problems. Another friend responded that she was just an individual and an individual couldn’t change the world. My friend responded by saying that the world is full of thousands of individuals and thousands of individuals could be powerful; even a group like theirs who gets together to play cards every week should be talking about this situation—who knows, something could come out of it. She brought out that even her brother who she’s always felt was “never about nothing,” made a life change last year, moved to D.C. and wanted to be part of a movement to get rid of Bush. “If someone like him could make a change, then a lot of people could make a change.” Then her social worker friend said, “In my work every day I see these problems out here that Bush is causing and something has to be done about it. Bring the next issue and let me check this out further and I’ll decide whether or not to give this paper more attention.”
Anyway, this was not your usual Friday night. Debate opened up and a conversation got started about what to do about what’s going on in the world and whether card-playing friends can bring about any sort of change.