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Revolution #83 Online Edition
On Friday, March 23, the Democrats in the House of Representatives pushed through the “U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act” by a vote of 218-212. The bill gives the Bush administration some $100 billion to continue the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, while calling for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by September 1, 2008.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi hailed this as a vote “to bring an end to the war in Iraq.” But it is no such thing. This bill (and a similar Democratic Party bill under consideration in the Senate) is not a step towards ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq or the larger “war on terror” it is part of. This bill doesn't represent a condemnation of—or accountability for—the U.S.’s unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq. Rather the bill’s stated goal is to “help fight the war on terror.” And the bill certainly doesn’t call for U.S. forces to leave the Middle East/Central Asian region.
Instead of ending the war, this bill is an effort to pressure the Bush regime to adjust its strategy in Iraq and the region to better preserve U.S. imperialist hegemony and stamp out anti-U.S. resistance, Islamic fundamentalism in particular. It’s also designed to rein in and paralyze the millions who are increasingly angry and disillusioned with the war and the Bush regime, and channel these feelings into support for a different (Democratic Party) strategy and tactics in waging that war. So while talking of ending the war , the Democrats offer a plan to continue the war in Iraq, expand the war in Afghanistan, and give Bush a green light to attack Iran!
Retooling U.S. Strategy—Not Ending the War
The Democrats’ bill reflects the deep concern of many ruling class strategists that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and the Bush strategy must be changed to head off even greater disasters for the empire. The interests of the peoples of the Middle East don’t enter into their cold-blooded, imperial calculations. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor under Jimmy Carter who has been advising the Democrats, testified before the Senate earlier this year:
“If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large…[plunging] a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.”
So the Democrats (following in the vein of the Baker-Hamilton Study Group—see "The Baker Report on Iraq: Desperate Straits, Deep Divisions, Dwindling Options" in Revolution #73) are proposing a number of measures to try to stabilize the situation in Iraq, limit further U.S. losses (including the enormous stresses on the U.S. military), and shore up U.S. efforts across the region—while refocusing the U.S.’s “war on terror.” (This war, as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate, is in essence a war for greater empire.) The measures proposed by the Democrats include:
All these steps flow from the Democrat Party’s agreement with the Bush regime’s basic goal of maintaining and strengthening U.S. imperialist global dominance—even as they have deep disagreements over how to realize it. An insightful column in the Washington Post noted the striking similarity between the strategic visions of Democratic “neo-liberals” and Republican “neocons”:
“[T]he fact is that prevailing Democratic doctrine is not that different from the Bush-Cheney doctrine. Many Democrats, including senators who voted to authorize the war in Iraq, embraced the idea of muscular foreign policy based on American global supremacy and the presumed right to intervene to promote democracy or to defend key U.S. interests long before 9/11, and they have not changed course since. Even those who have shifted against the war have avoided doctrinal questions....without a coherent alternative to the Bush doctrine, with its confidence in America's military preeminence and the global appeal of ‘free market democracy,’ the Democrats' midterm victory may not be repeated in November 2008. Or, if the Democrats do win in 2008, they could remain staked to a vision of a Pax Americana strikingly reminiscent of Bush's.” ("It's Uphill for the Democrats," Tony Smith, Washington Post, March 11, 2007)
What is Needed to End the War
In November, millions voted for the Democrats to protest Bush and the war, and in hopes they would end it. Today, many—including people who worked energetically to elect Democrats and who’ve been lobbying them to cut off war funding—feel bitter, betrayed, and outraged.
They should be outraged.
The lesson is not that the Democrats “sold out” or are “spineless.” The lesson is that the Democrats are a ruling class party (and this is deeply institutionalized, regardless of the desires or intentions of its supporters or even some elected Democrats), acting to advance the interests of a capitalist-imperialist system they’re part of and represent. These interests are directly antagonistic to the interests and sentiments of billions of people globally and the vast majority in the U.S.
The content of the “Iraq Accountability Act” and the way it was pushed through (including by threatening and strong-arming Democrats who said they wanted to vote against war funding and refusing to allow a vote on an amendment to only fund a withdrawal of U.S. forces) show this. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans make decisions on the basis of elections or public opinion. They make decisions based on the needs and interests of the imperialist system.
How can anything good for the people possibly come from decisions based not on ending an unjust war, but “winning” it? Not on ending a neo-colonial occupation, but stabilizing and continuing it? Not on supporting real liberation and self-determination, but on controlling countries and resources half way around the globe, and ensuring that the corporate-financial rulers of a country with some three percent of the world’s population can dominate and determine the destinies of the other 97%?
For a deep analysis of the U.S. political structure, the struggle between different factions at the top of this pyramid, and their relationship to the people, readers should dig into Bob Avakian’s "The Pyramid of Power and the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down" (Revolutionary Worker #1237, April 25, 2004)
And the problem isn’t only that the Democrats are betraying people's hopes. They’re also actively and aggressively trying to channel and confine people's hopes into pro-war, pro-imperialist politics. These are the only choices offered (in elections generally, especially important ones), and the only choices deemed “realistic” by the powers-that-be. Take a “poll” conducted by Moveon.org, an activist group closely tied to the Democratic Party, right before the war funding vote. Moveon gave its members the “choice” of voting for Pelosi’s bill—or not. Voting to end funding for the war wasn’t a choice, even though the head of Moveon admitted its membership would have supported it (See "Moveon moves in with Pelosi").
This is one way millions of anti-war people end up voting for one pro-war candidate vs another. And this is already being “programmed” into the 2008 elections—and into the minds of anyone who remains confined by these choices. This will happen unless and until the entire political calculus is upended by massive upheaval from below.
But such an outpouring cannot and will not happen as long as millions are putting their hopes in the Democrats—either passively by waiting for 2008, or even actively, by focusing their energy, efforts, hopes, and yes money into pressuring the Democrats to “do the right thing” instead of putting them where they can really count for something: into mobilizing the one force that can stop the war and drive out the Bush regime– the millions, from all walks of life, who oppose them. Inspiring and organizing these millions to take independent mass political action based on the just demands of ending the war and turning back all the outrages of the Bush regime from torture to spying to theocracy, is the only realistic option and the only way these crimes will be stopped. It will never happen by hoping the Democrats become something they’re not, and never have been.
Revolution #83 Online Edition
NYPD Murder of Sean Bell
On March 19, the Queens DA unsealed the grand jury's findings on the NYPD cops who killed Sean Bell on November 25 last year and severely wounded his friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman. Two of the cops—Michael Oliver, who fired 31 times, and Gescard Isnora, who was the first to shoot and fired 11 times—were charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter, as well as assault and reckless endangerment. The third cop, Marc Cooper, was charged only with reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. If Oliver and Isnora are found guilty on all charges, they will face a maximum of 25 years in jail.
The view of the cops is that NO charges should have come down. Michael Palladino, the head of the Detectives Endowment Association, argues that those cops were placed in a situation where they had to make a split second decision to deal with what could’ve been a threat to their lives.
Others, including various DAs, have said that the manslaughter charges (which are significantly less heavy than murder) are appropriate. They say these cops didn’t set out to kill anyone that night, so Sean’s death was only a by-product of actions they took to try to deal with a potentially dangerous situation. Some of them even say that people who oppose police brutality should be glad these cops were charged with manslaughter and not murder, because it’s very unlikely that cops would be convicted of murder, but they might be convicted of manslaughter.
But the truth of the matter is: Charges should have been brought down on ALL the cops involved in the murder of Sean Bell. And the charges against the three cops are NOT AT ALL commensurate with the horrible crime they committed.
A charge of first-degree manslaughter requires intent to injure one or more persons and someone being killed in the course of that being done. The difference between that and a charge of murder is that the intent has to be not only to injure, but to kill. This intent to kill doesn’t mean that these cops had to have decided earlier that night to kill Sean. It means that their intent in carrying out the actions that led to Sean’s death had to be to kill someone, not just to injure somebody.
These cops shot 50 bullets at Bell, Benefield, and Guzman. One of them fired 31 bullets, emptying a full clip, reloading his gun, and emptying a second clip. Another fired 11 shots. Does this sound like they only wanted to injure, not kill their targets?? You shoot at somebody 31 times, or even 11 times—you're clearly trying to kill them, not injure or just disable them.
And why did two of the cops involved in the shooting get no charges at all? All five of the cops trailed Bell, Benefield, and Guzman to their car that night and blocked them in with two unmarked police vehicles. Some fired fewer bullets than others did, but they all were part of the squad that surrounded the car, blocked it in and then unleashed a rain of deadly bullets.
These actions meet the legal system’s own criteria for murder charges. And the reason these cops didn't get charged with murder is that they are cops—and the system has an entirely different “criteria” and approach when cops kill and maim than when ordinary people are suspected of criminal activity.
When the legal system deals with ordinary people, the DAs go for the most serious charges they can get, and they charge everyone who was even remotely involved with those serious charges.
What does it take under this system to get a cop indicted and convicted for murder? Many people are asking that very question. Here you have a case where unarmed people got hit with a hail of murderous gunfire, and two of the victims survived to tell how this murderous assault went down. On top of this, there were massive outpourings of people taking to the streets demanding justice in this case. And the most serious charge that results from this is manslaughter?
They are rubbing this in people’s faces right now, telling us that it's better that the cops were charged with manslaughter and not murder because it’s essentially impossible to get cops convicted of murder—of intent to kill. So we should be glad that we got any charges on these cops, and we should take what we can get. Of course following this “experts'” logic, you’d conclude you also can’t get cops convicted for first-degree manslaughter, because that too involves a question of intent, even if "only" intent to injure. The logic of this logic is that it would be better still if these cops had been given even LESS serious charges—maybe no felony charges at all, maybe just misdemeanors like reckless endangerment—so there would be an even better chance that these cops would be convicted of at least something!
This is logic that the people must reject. We should not accept that the cops’ actions that night were anything less than what they actually were—MURDER. And even the fact that these cops were indicted with anything at all is because of the massive outrage and response from the people.
These charges don’t guarantee that any of the cops will be punished for what they did that night. And if there is to be any justice delivered in this case, the masses of people are going to have to fight tooth and nail for it.
Revolution #83 Online Edition
Around the World and Across the U.S.:
Around the world and across the U.S., the past week was marked by protest and outrage at the four-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. There was mass outcry at the Bush regime's lies about WMDs, the criminal acts of war and torture, the two illegal occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the threat of attack on Iran. People across the planet called for an end to all this, and many demanded the impeachment of Bush and the entire administration.
The largest march occurred in Spain where 100,000-400,000 marched through the city of Madrid. According to A World To Win News Service, “Spain's governing Socialist Party (PSOE) played a prominent role in the demonstration in this country where the issue of allegiance to American global ambitions has been a sharply fought issue within Spanish ruling circles. Many slogans and banners angrily denounced the infamous 'Azores three'—U.S. President George Bush, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar, since removed from office, whose summit meeting in the Azores islands on the eve of the invasion was meant to demonstrate so-called international support for the war. Marchers and speakers called for all three men to be put on trial for war crimes.” (From “Worldwide protests mark 4th anniversary of Iraq invasion,” A World to Win News Service, March 19, 2007, www.aworldtowin.org/wordpress)
Protesters in Sydney and Melbourne called for the withdrawal of Australian troops from Afghanistan. Another major demand was for the return of David Hicks, who is a prisoner at the U.S. torture camp at Guantanamo. A World To Win News Service also reported: “In Seoul, South Korean demonstrators demanding the withdrawal of their country's troops from Iraq fought a pitched battle with riot police who tried to halt the march... Several thousand marched in Istanbul [Turkey] carrying signs reading 'We are all Iraqis' on March 17 as part of the global days of protest. There were also demonstrations in Athens, Nicosia [Cyprus], Copenhagen, Prague (which also opposed U.S. plans to base missiles in the Czech Republic), Rome, Bogota and other cities. A major march against the war took place in London in February.”
Around the U.S.
In the U.S., over 20,000 protesters marched on the Pentagon on March 17. According to the organization A World Can't Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime, “The crowd included many students and youth, veterans of the current Iraq war and other wars, and many others from around the country. Saturday's protest came 40 years after the 1967 March on the Pentagon, which marked a turning point in the movement against the Vietnam war. The message that we must go 'from protest to resistance' resonated from the stage and among the crowd, with many expressing disillusionment in the Democratic Party that has refused to stop the war, and an urgency to stop the bloodshed in Iraq and a new war on Iran.” (Videos and photos from the march on the Pentagon and speakers at the rally are available online at the World Can't Wait website, worldcantwait.org.)
One development to note is the increased level of organized pro-war counter-protest that was seen in DC. These reactionaries called the protesters “traitors,” and they were heavily promoted on Fox News and other media. On NBC News' Meet the Press program the next morning, former leading right-wing Republican Congressman Tom DeLay declared before a national audience that anyone calling for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was “aiding and abetting the enemy.”
The day before the march on the Pentagon, over 3,000 people gathered at the Washington National Cathedral on March 16 for a rally and march to the White House organized by Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. Outside the White House, 222 people were arrested when they sat down and held a prayer vigil.
On Monday, March 19, the Iraq Veterans Against the War performed street theater at tourist sites in DC. Wearing their uniforms, the vets—with young activists who volunteered to act as Iraqi civilians—acted out the kind of things U.S. troops do as part of the occupation of Iraq: raids on homes, mass arrests and detentions, putting hoods on people and zip-tying their hands, shouting at people, etc.
In Los Angeles, 10,000 people marched in the streets of Hollywood. A report on the World Can't Wait website said:
“Martin Sheen marched with Veterans for Peace, carrying one of many coffins representing soldier deaths in Iraq. He spoke out against the troop surge and immorality of this war on the podium. Later in the day. Ozomatli took the stage after that and performed for the crowd, calling on folks to resist and repudiate the Bush agenda. Jackson Brown took the stage after that with an inspiring version of 'Guns of War.'
“Near the end of the rally program, our World Can't Wait speaker, Reverend Meri KaRa took the podium with an invigorating and concise message. A torture victim in orange jumpsuit and hood knelt near him on the stage. He spoke of the awakening of students on campus… The crowd cheered. He spoke of the urgency of this moment, and began a chant of the '2008 IS WAY TOO LATE! THE WORLD CAN’T WAIT!' The crowd took up the chant with him.”
Tens of thousands marched in San Francisco on March 18. Our Bay Area correspondent filed a brief report:
“The march stretched over 15 blocks, filling Market Street, the main thoroughfare through downtown San Francisco. While many people had demonstrated against the war since it began, there were a large number who were protesting against the war for the first time, including many high school students, a lot of whom were coming not as individuals but organized in anti-war clubs at their schools. Daniel Ellsberg called for impeachment and criticized the leaders of the Democratic Party who say that impeachment or cutting off funds for the war are 'off the table.' On March 17, there were demonstrations in suburban cities of San Rafael (in Marin County) and Walnut Creek (east of San Francisco) which had not previously been the site of anti-war protests. There were other actions on March 20, including mass 'die-ins' at noon in the Financial District in San Francisco.”
In Portland, Oregon, as many as 15,000 rallied and marched on March 19. In Seattle, there were two days of protest: 3,000 marched on Sunday, and hundreds attended simultaneous rallies the next day, including one held by the Bring Our Troops Home Now Coalition, which includes veterans and high school and college students. The rallies merged downtown where over 1,000 marched. Hundreds gathered in Salt Lake City where Mayor Rocky Anderson (who also spoke at the March 17 rally in DC) called for Bush's impeachment, stating his administration had lied about the reasons for the invasion and had violated domestic and international law.
Some other protests during the week:
On March 19, Sunsara Taylor—a member of the World Can't Wait advisory board and writer for Revolution newspaper—appeared on The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News. (The video of Sunsara's appearance and transcripts from the show are available online at worldcantwait.org.) In what World Can't Wait described as a lightning exchange,” Sunsara Taylor brought to a national audience sharp exposures and basic truths about the Iraq War and the Bush regime's torture policy, which are rarely allowed to be heard in the mainstream media.
Revolution #83 Online Edition
March 20: Students Protest Around the Country
On March 20, the four-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, thousands of students across the country walked out, demonstrated, marched, and held die-ins and other actions in protest. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) issued the call for the day, and it was taken up by students and organizations from coast to coast. Over 80 college campuses and many high schools joined in. This day of student protests came a little over a month after thousands across the country participated in a nationwide student strike on February 15.
There was great determination in these actions. The Daily Tar Heel, the campus paper at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, reported that hundreds of students rallied and marched. The paper quoted a freshman who said: "I walked out today to show this campus and this town, and, along with the other 80 campuses that walked out today, to show this country that the youth will not be silent, and we won't stand aside as people are murdered... And we're going to end this war." A senior, noting that the Iraq war has been going on since she started college, said, "All of my worst fears for this occupation have come true. The fourth anniversary of the war must be the beginning of the end."
At the University of Florida in Gainesville, 500 students marched through the campus, ending up at the university president's office to deliver a petition demanding that the school publicly oppose the war.
At Rutgers University, 400 students rallied and a few hundred marched to a military recruiting center and then down Route 18 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, shutting down southbound traffic for 15 minutes. An associate professor of English, who dismissed her class early for the protest, said, "I made sure what we discussed in class was relevant to participating in the rally."
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, 200 students, youth and community members marched on the 17th, carrying large banners and signs—one prominent banner read “655,000 Iraqis Dead.” They marched to the house of Republican Congressman Vern Ehlers, a supporter of the Iraq war, and demanded that he sign a symbolic contract agreeing to immediate withdrawal and opposition to any further war funding. The march then continued around the city; four were arrested, including a sociology professor from Grand Valley State University.
Reports from the protest by 300 students at Iowa University, known as a conservative campus, noted a shift in the atmosphere at the school: pro-war rallies are no longer held, and students who thought they'd never be “the type of person to attend events like this” found themselves coming out against the war.
At the University of California, Santa Barbara, hundreds of students, staff, faculty, and people from the community took part in a “Critical Mass” bike ride in protest of the war.
On March 19, students from the Ivy League Brown University in Rhode Island held a die-in outside the headquarters of Textron, Inc., a weapons manufacturer.
In Chicago, Students for Social Justice and SDS organized a midday walkout. Later, about 150 students joined a feeder march that started from University Center, a large dorm for several of the schools in the downtown “Loop” area, and joined the larger citywide march down Michigan Avenue. The march was organized by students from the Committee Against the Militarization of Youth, Anarchist Students of Color, and the Columbia College chapter of World Can't Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime. Two members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War joined them.
Over 100 people, including about 50 high school students, came together on March 19 with determined outrage to shut down the Armed Forces Recruitment Center in East Los Angeles. The recruitment center decided to shut their doors early to “avoid any problems.” What started as a picket along Soto, a major thoroughfare, burst to life when dozens of students from nearby Roosevelt High School came marching to bagpipe music, chanting “Shut Them Down!” and hoisting signs against the war and torture being carried out by the U.S. government.
In Santa Rosa, California, 300 students walked out of Maria Carrillo High School. Students had organized the walkout and march in one week's time.
In New York City, after a rally of 150 in Washington Square Park led by New York University students, 60 students—mostly high schoolers—marched to a military recruiting center in Greenwich Village.
Revolution #83 Online Edition
The following was submitted by a reader in the San Francisco Bay Area:
Immigration agents swept through San Rafael's Canal neighborhood beginning at 5 a.m. on March 6 and March 7. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents fanned out in the heart of the immigrant neighborhood. They yelled “police” and then, when people opened their doors, they asked for people’s papers. Similar raids also took place north of San Rafael, in Novato. (San Rafael is in Marin County, north of San Francisco.)
A 7-year-old San Rafael boy, an American citizen, was handcuffed and taken into custody during an ICE raid, and only later released. The agents shined lights in the faces of young children. They parked their ICE vans across the street from an elementary school. The agents did not allow people to dress, and they led the people through the streets handcuffed and in their underwear. The raids have broken up families, leaving children without one or both of their parents.
ICE claims that they are only targeting those who have failed to obey a deportation order. This would be bad enough! Why should people who come here to work and survive, who are fleeing countries whose economies have been ravaged by the working of a global imperialist system, be criminalized? But it is clear that these ICE raids were aimed at terrorizing and attacking whole communities.
"For every one they picked up, 12 are not named on the warrant,” said Tom Wilson of the Canal Community Alliance (quoted in The Marin Independent Journal, 3/15/07). “That means it's more about people not named in the warrant," he said. "That's really scary—that tells me they're just using the warrant as a way to get in a door into a house."
"The historical analogy I'd make is to 1930s Nazi Germany," Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan, said at a hearing on the raids. "Xenophobia in Germany led to the death camps. We need to stop that at its earliest instance."
This raid is part of ICE's “Operation Return to Sender.” These types of raids have taken place all over the U.S since May 2006. Over 18,000 people have been arrested. The government has plans to expand these raids. At present they have 50 teams of ICE agents that carry out these raids. They plan to expand the number of these teams to 75 by September.
And this is just one part of the government’s attacks on immigrants. Other aspects include the increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the so-called “workplace enforcement,” like the March 6 raids that took place in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where over 350 immigrants who were working in very bad conditions for very low wages in a leather factory which manufactures supplies for the U.S. Army.
At Bahia Vista Elementary School, in the area where the San Rafael raids were concentrated, Principal Juan Rodriguez told local newspapers that two students were separated from their parents and 77 children did not show up on the day of the raids. Other schools reported similar rates of students not showing up for school. Those who did attend were too terrified to do much schoolwork. "How can the kids take tests?" Rodriguez asked. "All they can think right now is 'will my parents be taken?'"
School administrators accompanied the children on the school bus ride home and walked them to their doors. One administrator said these children are “lots of little Anne Franks.” Teachers called this the “underground railroad. The Canal Alliance did grocery shopping for immigrants who were unable to go out, fearing that they would be picked up.
On the Friday following the raids, scores of Marin County residents were out in the Canal district at 5 a.m., holding candles and carrying cameras, in opposition to the raids. Many were people from the religious community. No raid happened that morning and the community got a sense that people were with them. According to one account of the morning vigils, available on the Canal Alliance website (canalalliance.org), “Trucks and cars carrying an assortment of humanity, mostly Latino, pulled up to corner stop signs and, seeing the crowd, broke into wide smiles—waving, gesturing thumbs up and honking. A pick-up packed with young workers shouted 'Thank you!' A young woman burst into tears.”
That Friday afternoon, over 100 people demonstrated at a major intersection in downtown San Rafael in a show of solidarity with the immigrants. The chant “No More Raids” rang out during the two-hour rally, and the response from people driving by was overwhelmingly positive. Homemade signs at the protest read, “We Are All Immigrants,” “Is This San Rafael or Nazi Germany?” and “ICE Attacks Families.” A contingent of teachers carried signs with slogans like “Teachers Won't Stand for the Abuse of Their Students.” The local churches and religious people were among those protesting.
About 1,000 packed the community center for a meeting on March 12. That so many immigrants were present after days of raids showed both their courage and the effect of the broad show of support. There were also many non-immigrants present, including, it seemed, many from the more well-off sections of Marin County (which has some of the highest housing prices in the country).
An ex-'60s guy who said he had lived in the community for 19 years said he was ready to “lay it all on the line for the immigrants.” A 12-year-old girl said that she was afraid that ICE would pick up her mother. Whistles were passed out to be used to warn people of any raids.
At one point in the rally a young woman went to the microphone addressing the crowd. “First they came for the communists, but I was not a communist so I said nothing,” she said. “Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I said nothing. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I was not one so I said nothing. Then they came for the Catholics but I was a Protestant so I said nothing. Then they came for me, and by then there was no one to speak up for me.” The young woman then looked over the crowd and said, “This time they came for the immigrants and we were all there.”
Many people in San Rafael have taken this struggle to heart. They have felt the pain the immigrants have gone through and have put themselves on the line which in turn has given the immigrants a feeling that they are not alone in this fight. There have been many raids from one end of the U.S. to the other and people in San Rafael are setting a good example—as the young woman in the meeting said, when the Migra came, “This time we were all there.”
It is intolerable to see whole sections of the people in this country being terrorized and to see families broken up. These raids and the whole fascist attack on immigrants must be STOPPED!
Revolution #83 Online Edition
New Report from Southern Poverty Law Center
“Twelve Guatemalan guestworkers claim they were held captive by agents for Imperial Nurseries, one of the nation's largest wholesalers of plants and shrubs. The men had been recruited to plant pines in North Carolina, but after they arrived in the state, they were transported by van to Connecticut and forced to work nearly 80 hours a week in nursery fields. They were housed in a filthy apartment without beds, and instead of the $7.50 an hour they were promised, they earned what amounted to $3.75 an hour before deductions for telephone service and other costs.”
from “Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States”
a report produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center
Under the U.S. government's so-called “guest worker” programs, a controlled number of workers from other countries are permitted to enter the U.S. legally for a short period of time. These workers are not allowed to settle in the U.S.—they cannot bring their families, and they can not get documents like driver's licenses. As part of the moves to tighten control over immigration and hike up repressive measures in society overall, major voices in the ruling class are advocating the expansion of the guest worker programs while cracking down on undocumented immigrants. Last May, for example, Bush said that the guest worker programs will “meet the needs of our economy...[and] would add to our security by making certain we know who is in our country and why they are here.”
The brutal reality of these programs was exposed in a recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), titled “Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States.” (The report is available online at splcenter.org.) The title of the report speaks to the slave-like conditions faced by these workers.
Chained to Their Employers
“Close to Slavery” estimates that an estimated 121,000 guest workers were brought into the U.S. in 2005 for work that is categorized as “unskilled.” Of this number, about 32,000 worked in agriculture, and the rest—approximately 89,000—worked in forestry, seafood processing, landscaping, construction, and other non-agricultural industries.
Under the guest worker program, officially called the H-2 program (there is another type of visa, H-1, for workers categorized as “skilled”), workers are only permitted to enter the U.S. as an employee of whatever company or contractor brought them here. They face immediate deportation if they stop working for that employer for whatever reason: if they quit, are fired, or are injured and unable to work. Technically, there are two kinds of visas that guest workers can get: H-2A visas, which are for agricultural work and supposedly grant more legal rights and recourse to the workers than H-2B visas, for non-agricultural work – but these distinctions are often meaningless.
Employers are increasingly relying on recruiters and agents to supply them with guest workers, and they can actually go to sites like www.mexican-workers.com or labormex.com to “shop” for workers. One site advertises Mexican workers as "people with a strong work ethic" and "happy, agreeable people who we like a lot."
Recruiters—who are typically contracted by American companies—go all over Latin America to sign up workers with the promise of jobs in the U.S. By the time the guest workers arrive in the U.S., many have gone thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars into debt in order to pay the recruiters, for what the SPLC report describes as sometimes less than one year's worth of work. Many workers have to turn to loan sharks in order to come up with the agent's fee, and in turn they can get smacked with very high interest rates. Sometimes the families of the guest workers have had to turn over the deeds to their homes as collateral on the huge debts the workers incurred; and if the workers quit their jobs in the U.S., they have to pay an additional fee to get the deed back.
This debt and the special H-2 status effectively keep the guest workers chained to their employers. If they complain or want to find another job, the employer can “blacklist” them from work for any other H-2 employer, or simply threaten them with deportation.
Interviewed by the radio program Democracy Now! on March 15, Mary Bauer, the author of the “Close to Slavery” report, said:
“What we found is that the guestworker program leads to the abuse and exploitation of workers, not because there are a few bad-apple employers, but because the structure of the system itself leads to abuse. The fact that workers pay enormous sums of money and come to the United States with crushing debt and the fact that they are then tied to one employer—they can legally work only for the employer who filed the petition for them—the structure of that system leads to those workers being systematically exploited on the job.”
Bauer also made an important point about the U.S. government's “bracero” program from 1942 to 1964, under which millions of Mexicans were brought into the U.S. as temporary contract labor to work the fields. Bauer notes that while the bracero program is now broadly seen as a “human rights disaster,” it actually had written into it “very strong labor protection.” But, Bauer points out, “The problem was that in reality the structure of the system there led to the same kind of abuses that we’re seeing… If we think as a society that the bracero program is universally condemned as having been a failure, there is no reason to believe that our current system in practice is any different. And there’s no particular reason to believe that future programs would be any different.”
Under Constant Threat of Deportation
The SPLC report quotes Otto Rafael Boton-Gonzalez from Guatemala, a forestry worker: "When the supervisor would see that a person was ready to leave the job because the pay was so bad, he would take our papers from us. He would rip up our visa and say, 'You don't want to work? Get out of here then. You don't want to work? Right now I will call immigration to take your papers and deport you.'"
Juan, also a forestry worker, says in the report: "The boss took our passports and kept them. He took them as soon as we arrived from Mexico. We would ask for them and he would always say no. When we got paid, we would want to go cash our pay checks. The boss would say, 'Go talk to the driver and he'll change them for you.' They would not give us our passports to cash our pay checks. They would say that the higher company office ordered them to do this.”
According to “Close to Slavery,” such confiscation of passports is routine. In some cases, the employers actually destroyed the workers' passports, effectively turning them into “illegal” workers on the spot. Guest workers often find that various “fees” have been deducted from their pay checks—for telephone service, tools they used, transportation to work, and so on.
There are many more ways that workers are robbed and kept in debt. The report says that many times, workers find that the 40 or more hours a week of work they were promised suddenly became 25 hours. Or they were forced to do piece work. In forestry, for example, the workers are paid by how many seedlings they plant per day. The workers are paid $15 to $30 per 1,000-seedling bag; at the average rate of 1,500 trees per day, workers earn between $22.50 and $45 for up to 12 hours of work. Escolastico De Leon-Granados, a worker from Guatemala, told the SPLC that he typically made $25 for a 13-hour work day, or $1.92 an hour.
Trapped in Dangerous Jobs
Guest workers are concentrated in some of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S.—such as forestry, the second most dangerous job after mining, and agriculture. According to the SPLC report, fatality rates for workers in forestry and agriculture are 10 times the national average.
Guest workers who are injured on the job are supposedly entitled to workers' compensation. But often the workers are not told this. Even if they overcame their fear of being fired and immediately deported and pressed a workers' comp claim, they face all kinds of obstacles. In some states workers are only allowed to collect benefits while still in the state where the injury took place, or they have their payments cut off when they have to leave the U.S.
There's a stark similarity between what today's immigrant guest workers face and the experience of Black people as sharecroppers after the Civil War and the end of slavery in the South. Although sharecroppers were technically “free,” the landowners deliberately kept them in debt and forced them to continue working the land. The sharecroppers had to pay for the tools they used and the seeds they planted, and were regularly cheated out of the money they were due for the crops they raised. The immigrant guest workers face crippling debt, deadly work conditions, blatant theft of wages, and the constant threat of being fired.
Women: Harassed and Raped
Women guest workers also face oppression as women. The SPLC report notes: “Numerous women have reported concerns about severe sexual harassment on the job. There have been no studies that quantify this problem among guestworkers. However, in a 1993 survey of farmworker women in California, more than 90 percent reported that sexual harassment was a major problem on the job.”
The SPLC refers to a 1995 visit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to fields in Fresno, California. Farmworkers called one company's fields el fil de calzon—“the field of panties”—because so many of the women who picked the crops there were raped by their foremen in the endless rows. An EEOC attorney involved in the visit said, "We were told that hundreds, if not thousands, of women had to have sex with supervisors to get or keep jobs and/or put up with a constant barrage of grabbing and touching and propositions for sex by supervisors."
The SPLC recounts the story of one guest worker from Mexico: “She came to the United States with an H-2B visa to process crabs. She knew from past work that men always process oysters and women always process crabs. And the men are paid higher wages than the women. One year Martina was brought in to work during oyster season. When she arrived at the airport, she was met by the plant manager who made it clear that she had been hired to be his mistress.”
Hijacked and Threatened
Hernan was one of a group of six Mexican workers who came to the U.S. in September 2006 as guest workers. They had been contracted to work in the forestry industry in Arkansas. Their employer took their passports and visas to "make copies" and kept them. But they were taken to Louisiana, not Arkansas, and left to live in an abandoned two-story house with no door on the hinges and no glass, except for a few broken shards, in the windows. They were paid $70 for two weeks of work, 12 hours a day, picking sweet potatoes. When they began to complain, the contractor demanded $1,600 for the return of their passports. Since they couldn't pay, they fled without their wages or their passports. The contractor then called the workers' wives in Mexico, threatening that if they did not come up with $2,000, the men would be reported to immigration.
The SPLC report cites a lawsuit filed in North Carolina on behalf of a group of Thai workers who paid $11,000 each for a three-year contract working in the fields. When they arrived, the contractor took their passports, visas, and return plane tickets. After two months, some of the workers were taken to New Orleans to do post-Hurricane Katrina cleanup. They had to live in hotels damaged by the storm; one was filled with mold and had no electricity or hot water. They had to use the filthy (and possibly toxic) contaminated water for cooking. The report states that “the workers were guarded by a man with a gun. They also were not paid for the work, so they had no money to buy food. Some were eventually taken back to North Carolina. The men who remained in New Orleans managed to escape with the help of local people who learned of their plight.”
“We Have Been Treated Like Animals”
The horrific conditions faced by hundreds of guest workers from India, working at a shipyard in Mississippi, recently came to light because the workers decided to protest. A March 11 statement from the workers said in part:
“We are more than 300 Indian workers in Pascagoula, Mississippi. We came here from different parts of India with 'H2B visas' to work as welders and fitters… We paid $15,000 to $20,000 to come to the United States. We paid this money to a U.S. lawyer working on behalf of the company and to Indian recruiters. We have proof of this payment. For some of us, this is a lifetime of earnings in India. We all sold our property and our houses to come and work for Signal.
“We have been treated like animals here. We have been threatened with termination and salary reduction. We are living in isolation. Visitors are not allowed in the camps. We live 24 men in one container, with two bathrooms for all of us. We cannot make any complaints to the company.”
The company raided the workers' quarters and locked six of them in a room, threatening to deport them back to India immediately. One desperate worker, who had sold all his possessions to get the guest worker visa to come to the U.S., attempted suicide by slitting his wrists.
* * * *
The fact that expansion of the guest worker programs is a key part of the immigration “reforms” being pushed by the leaders of both ruling class parties, Republicans and Democrats, points to the repressive nature of those proposals. These rulers and their system needs the millions of immigrants who are forced to work for desperation wages, but they also want to bring immigrants under much tighter control. By expanding the guest worker programs, these rulers aim to keep immigrants in a caste-like status, oppressed in special ways without rights—in conditions “close to slavery.”
Revolution #83 Online Edition
Report to Readers…
Issue #81 of Revolution featured a special supplement, "WARNING: The Nazification of the American University.” The title was not chosen lightly. A deeply intertwined agenda of right-wing political forces and Christian fascists, which finds concentrated expression at this time in the Bush regime, is working to remold the institutions of higher learning and turn them into active partners of empire, repression, and theocracy (a significant degree of rule by religion).
Several thousand copies of this special supplement were distributed at 90 universities and colleges and across the country. Correspondence from distributors of this issue gives a deeper picture of the chill descending on college campuses, traditionally places where a some space has existed for critical thinking and dissent. At campus after campus, professors and students told us stories of overt as well as “extracurricular” suppression of critical thinking. And even while this is rapidly intensifying, there is dangerously low awareness on campuses about the whole range of repressive measures encircling critical thinking in academia. On nearly every campus where this issue of Revolution reached, people were jolted by hearing about these developments, and needed analysis and exposure that made the case for what some of them sensed.
Along with the distribution of this special supplement of Revolution, in many cases people got connected the talk "'Balance' Is the Wrong Criterion—And a Cover for a Witch-hunt—What We Need Is the Search for the Truth: Education, Real Academic Freedom, Critical Thinking and Dissent” and other work by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party. (This talk is part of the 7 Talks given by Bob Avakian in 2006. Audio files of this talk by and others of the 7 Talks, along with Q&A sessions and Concluding Remarks for those talks, are available for listening and dowloading at bobavakian.net and revcom.us/avakian.)
In the course of engaging with students and professors around this issue of Revolution, a picture emerged of how the Ward Churchill case (an overtly politically motivated attack at the University of Colorado to fire Prof. Churchill, stemming from an essay he wrote after 9/11) is reverberating and having a “trickle down” effect across the country. (See the article in the special supplement, "The Case of Ward Churchill: A Witch-Hunt That Must Be Defeated!") While the attempt to fire Churchill rolls toward its final stages in Colorado, other campuses have been seeing this same method employed, where one or two professors are singled out by the administration, politicians, and/or organized reactionaries for harassment, or worse, with chilling effect.
And it became even more clear that as David Horowitz tours campuses, he leaves in his wake well-funded, officially sanctioned student brownshirt organizations who make up "watch lists" of "dangerous professors," stage “immigrant hunts” and bake sales that charge non-white students more for baked goods, and organize campaigns to harass and drive off campuses or silence teachers who pose important questions in classes. Horowitz's so-called Academic Bill of Rights has been introduced into something like half the country's state legislatures as a way to suppress free speech and dissent. (See the article "The Right-wing Demand for 'Balance' in Education: A Stalking Horse for Indoctrination.")
And all this is sending a chill into classrooms very broadly. A student at DePaul University described being told in class that he shouldn't be criticizing Bush in class because of the consequences he would face for his career—and consequences for his professor. Teachers at a community college in Los Angeles told of suspecting they have “spotters” in their classrooms who will turn them in if they don't “watch what they say.” One professor described very heavy pressure put on faculty and students to not organize against anything the U.S. was doing, including preparations for and carrying out of the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.
And, in the wake of moves from very high levels in the power structure to drive Ward Churchill out of academia, and the ongoing barrage of attacks from the Horowitz machine, university administrators are “getting the message” and acting as enforcers of the status quo. A professor at a prestigious California university said that while he didn't want to underplay Horowitz, his opinion was that “even more important are attacks on critical thinking by administration officials.” He described a situation where there is pressure to not present controversial ideas or politics that oppose the status quo—or else.
Another dimension to the increasing repressive situation on campuses that some professors and students spoke about is the increasing corporatization of the universities. The Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, attacked critics of a multi-million dollar program run by the British Petroleum oil monopoly as opposing “academic freedom.” (See article this issue)
On many campuses, where one or two professors have been singled out for attack, students had mobilized to support them but didn't perceive the attacks on their professors as being part of a larger pattern. In other cases, professors expressed fear of repercussions for bringing controversial speakers to campuses, particularly those who oppose the war or who are critical of Israel. Overall, there is far too little awareness of what is going on, and far too little conscious understanding of the whole assault on critical thinking and the larger picture that fits into.
Bringing Revolution newspaper and Bob Avakian into all this helped begin to put the big picture together for people. Distributors in the San Francisco Bay Area wrote that students “often didn't know about Horowitz and/or Churchill, didn't see a connection between the two if they did know, thought the characterization of 'nazification' was exaggeration, and thought their campus was not affected by the assault on critical thinking. When we were able to get into some engagement with people and do more agitation about the substance of what has been developing, we did find some awareness of Horowitz, but not his book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. We found some people who had heard about Churchill but didn't know the whole picture. Most people on campuses were unaware of the legislation being considered. When we were able to get into this with professors, they did tend to see this as part of the overall dangerous direction society is going in, they are concerned about, but don't know what to do about it. The more we exposed what is going on, using the content of the paper when we could get that far, the more we were able to draw out examples of how this is really coming down. The question that followed the acknowledgment that the characterization of nazification was correct often was why was this happening now, which was a good way to get into Bob Avakian's talk "'Balance' Is the Wrong Criterion—And a Cover for a Witch-hunt—What We Need Is the Search for the Truth: Education, Real Academic Freedom, Critical Thinking and Dissent.”
Students checking out this talk got reflected in an item in the student newspaper at DePaul University which reported on an appearance on campus by David Horowitz. The Depaulia reported, “Before Horowitz’s speech, several grass-roots discussions occurred featuring Bob Avakian’s speech '"Balance" Is the Wrong Criterion—And a Cover For a Witch-hunt' took place around campus addressing some of the more philosophical implications of Horowitz’s speech and presence on campus.”
For many students, connecting for the first time with Revolution was desperately needed and appreciated fresh air. A student in Georgia who got the paper and Bob Avakian's “…Search for the Truth…” talk told the person who got it to him that he was listening to the talk, and that the paper “made my day.” A student in Mississippi who has been doing research project to expose Horowitz and Co. was overwhelmed to get this issue of Revolution and promised to immediately go online to read everything and to order a bundle from Chicago to spread around her campus.
Distributors of Revolution reported that some professors brought the supplement to the attention of their students to provoke discussion of this controversy in their classes.
While there was important emphasis distributing this issue of Revolution on the university campuses, the theme of nazification of campuses struck a chord on community college campuses, in housing projects, and high schools. Among the basic masses, as these readers of the paper became aware of the nazification on campuses, many people weren't really surprised. They have seen evidence of intensifying repression everywhere, even if they have not spontaneously thought about the way universities have been places where there has been relatively more freedom for critical thinking and dissent, and the profound meaning for the whole society that this is being suffocated in the universities. One distributor reported that several people commented on what is going on in public schools—teaching for the test, forcing people to drop out, and so on—and said these kids aren’t being educated for anything but drudgery or prison.
We found more widespread awareness of Horowitz among Black students, and on campuses of predominantly Black schools—mainly because of his infamous statement about Blacks being fortunate for their slavery and also his opposition to reparations. Some of these students had also heard about the persecution of Ward Churchill, but thought it was all over and hadn't connected the attempted firing of Churchill with Horowitz's whole campaign.
In Los Angeles, high school students at proletarian schools were interested in the issue. A number of the students had heard about the “catch an illegal immigrant game” at NYU because it had been on Spanish radio. Some Latino students and other Latino immigrants were very impacted by the pictures in the paper and wanted to know more about the comparison being made between the situation here and now, and the role of campuses in the rise of fascism in Germany. Many people didn’t know these attacks were happening at this level at the universities, but some began to make connections on the spot, drawing on the experience of and talking about attacks on “subversive” thought at universities in their countries.
In one housing project in the Midwest, 99 papers were distributed, $56 raised, and 27 copies of Bob Avakian's "…Search for the Truth…" talk were distributed.
In an important initiative, several proletarian high school youth, who read the paper in Berkeley, came out to be part of a selling team that took this issue of Revolution out to the UC Berkeley campus. They joined a Revolution selling team at UC Berkeley when Stephen Hawking, the world-famous theoretical physicist, spoke on campus. They were excited about being on campus and grappling with some of Hawking's ideas—and the fact that people thought this was something they would be interested in doing and that they had something important to bring to the students and professors at UC Berkeley.
The appearance of this special Revolution supplement "WARNING: The Nazification of the American University" captured an important moment of reckoning—and has begun to contribute to a conscious understanding of this moment. Much is at stake for society as a whole on whether this attack on the university as a place for dissent and critical thinking is understood, in its full meaning, and fought—or isn't. Especially in these dangerous times.
The experience of distributing this special issue of Revolution on campuses, and beyond, showed the urgent need for the exposure and analysis found only in Revolution newspaper—on this and on a whole range of subjects—to be much more broadly out there on campuses. And the urgent need for this special supplement to continue now to be distributed very broadly on campuses.
Revolution #83 Online Edition
From A World to Win News Service
The following are excerpts from an article sent out by A World to Win News Service:
March 12, 2007. A World to Win News Service. The chants “No to U.S. imperialist war, No to the Islamic Regime of Iran!” echoed through the streets of The Hague (Netherlands) as some 700 protesters who had travelled from all over Europe took part in the central demonstration organized by the “Women’s Campaign for the Abolition of all Misogynist, Gender-Based Legislation and Islamic Punitive Laws in Iran” (Karzar) on the occasion of March 8, International Women’s Day.
As the march started, Dutch women and men drummers beat harder and harder, in a build-up of excitement and also to express their solid support for the second successive year of this event. The demonstrators first marched to the U.S. embassy to convey their opposition to American imperialism that might use women’s oppression as an excuse to invade Iran. There they chanted in English “Down with U.S. imperialism, Hands off the Middle East, No to war in the name of Iranian women!” They also shouted “U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan!”, declaring their solidarity with Iraq and Afghanistan’s women and people. A slogan on a banner signed by supporters of the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan, said, “The occupation has worsened the situation of women in Afghanistan.” Then the demonstrators—Dutch, Turks, Kurds, Afghanis, Germans, Nepalese and others—headed towards the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran to protest that regime’s 28 years of oppression of Iranian women. They chanted, “Banish anti-female laws, Come and join us in our cause,” “Down with tyranny and the forced veil, Women’s freedom will prevail” and “A woman’s body, a woman’s right!” ...
As the march approached the Iranian embassy, the cries of “Down with Islamic regime of Iran!” grew louder and louder. Street theater featured women covered in black with white masks and a heavy chain on their shoulder, symbolizing women’s situation in Iran. On the podium set up in front of the embassy, the revolutionary singer and Karzar activist Gisoo Shakeri sang her song “This is the time to launch the campaign” as excitement among the demonstrators reached its highest point. Then Leila Parnian read a statement by Kazar emphasizing the need to struggle against imperialism and reaction and build a new world where not a single woman suffers gender-based discrimination. Ania Merlanberg, a well-known leader of the women’s movement in the Netherlands, gave a speech praising Iranian women for fighting on two fronts, against the Islamic Republic of Iran and against anti-immigrant laws in countries such as Holland. Women from Afghanistan, Turkey, Germany also gave solidarity messages. Mina Asadi, also a Karzar activist, read some of her powerful poems, condemning the Islamic regime of Iran. At the end Azar Shaibani from London read the resolution of the campaign.
This year’s Karzar demonstration was supported by many women’s and other political organizations in Europe and elsewhere, including 33 Dutch groups and personalities and many others in Iran, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, the UK and Sweden. Mary Lou Greenberg of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, who participated in last year’s march, sent a solidarity statement.
The fact that March 8 fell in mid-week made coming to The Hague more difficult. Immigrant women also faced visa and other restrictions. However many who couldn’t make it to The Hague had the opportunity to raise their voices and protest in their countries of residence in the 3 March activities Karzar organized in many European cities and Toronto…
After the Hague action, about 150 demonstrators who stayed in the city met to celebrate their success and advance their struggle. The evening’s highlights included a message from the “March 8 Organizing Committee in Iran,” a reading by the young poet Ziba Karbasi, Mitra Sarve’s “Dance of Freedom,” songs by Gisoo Shakeri and revolutionary music. While expressing different views, most of those who participated that evening emphasised the role that Karzar has played as the voice of the radical section of a women’s movement in Iran. The meeting finished at around 11 p.m. but the discussion went on until early morning among those who spent the night in the building.
Karzar stands out as an alternative for the women’s movement, opposed to both imperialism and the Islamic regime. This is all the more important at a time when the women’s movement is taking on increasing importance in Iran and different class forces are trying to mislead it in the direction of exactly those two reactionary poles.
As part of what was openly called an effort to prevent March 8 actions, the Islamic regime arrested 33 women, including some of Iran’s most prominent women activists, as they demonstrated in front of a Tehran courthouse March 4. Large numbers of anti-riot and plain clothes police were stationed in front of the Iranian Parliament on International Women’s Day itself, attacking some women as they attempted to gather despite the repression. This is an indication that the Islamic regime is unwilling to compromise on women’s issues, since a basic component of their ideology is what is at stake.
Yet dozens of demonstrations were held on the occasion of International Women’s Day in different parts of Tehran and other cities. There was hardly a university that did not see a demonstration on that day to protest women’s oppression, especially the compulsory veil.
Revolution #83 Online Edition
On February 1, Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, announced an agreement between BP (formerly British Petroleum) and the University of California at Berkeley to establish an Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) on the Berkeley campus. Under the agreement BP will provide the university with $500 million over 10 years. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, this is “by far the largest alliance ever between industry and academia.”
Many professors, graduate and undergraduate students, and members of the community are outraged by the deal, which is being rammed through without consultation with the faculty or public.
On March 1, students opposing EBI demonstrated outside the Chancellor’s office on the Berkeley campus. Two students were arrested for pouring what appeared to be oil on the steps of the building. The substance turned out to be organically grown molasses that the demonstrators offered to clean up.
At a March 8 meeting of the Academic Senate, which represents the faculty, speaker after speaker denounced the agreement and what it would mean for the university.
The Role of the University
The university is a place where knowledge of the world and society are deepened and where many people learn to think rigorously and critically about the world at large…and to act on that. What goes on in the "world of ideas" and in the university has immense influence on discourse and debate in society and the university is one of the few institutions where the scientific search for the truth, free inquiry and critical thinking have any kind of initiative.
At the same time, universities in the United States have a long history of contributing to immoral imperialist endeavors through links to industry and government. In 2003 over 73% of university research was funded by either the government or industry (68% from the government and 5.4% from industry). Harvard University developed napalm (a chemical weapon, used in massive quantities during the Vietnam War, which burns human flesh) for the Department of Defense and Dow Chemical. Various psychological torture techniques, now being used in Iraq and Guantanamo, were developed by research in psychology departments under contract either indirectly or directly with the CIA. And the University of California itself runs the laboratories that are responsible for developing the nuclear weapons that the U.S. government uses to threaten the world. Over the years these imperialistic projects have led to a great deal of righteous resistance by students and faculty.
The relationship between corporations and universities has increased greatly in recent years. Government funding of public universities, like the University of California, especially for non-military-related research, has been slashed while corporate-funded research has risen 350% since the early 1970s (according to former Harvard President Derrick Bok in his book Universities in the Marketplace).
The BP-Berkeley deal marks a leap in this whole process because of its size and scale. This one deal doubles the size of Berkeley’s corporate-sponsored research. Under the agreement, a new large building to house the institute would be built on campus and paid for by the state of California. The university would hire seven new faculty to work on the project. In addition, BP would bring up to 50 of its own scientists to the university who would teach classes, attend seminars, and work with graduate students, giving BP a lot of direct control over research.
At Berkeley (as well as many other colleges and universities) many professors came out of the 1960s, or have been influenced by the rebellion and questioning of that time. They see the deal with BP as part of a bad transformation of the university.
Professors and the Academic Senate are supposed to have significant input into the running of the university. However, during the university's negotiations with BP there was no discussion with the faculty as a whole, no meeting with the Academic Senate, and no public forum. Instead, any voices that were potentially hostile to the deal were shut out of the discussion.
This is happening at a time when powerful reactionary forces have mounted a direct attack on critical thinking in the university, with very highly connected people like David Horowitz and others attempting to silence radical and progressive professors – under the guise of “academic freedom.” (See "WARNING: The Nazification of the American University" in Revolution #81 and the talk by Bob Avakian, “'Balance' Is the Wrong Criterion—And a Cover for a Witch-hunt—What We Need Is the Search for the Truth: Education, Real Academic Freedom, Critical Thinking and Dissent," available at bobavakian.net and revcom.us/avakian).
What is driving both the BP-Berkeley deal and the attacks on critical thinking and dissent is that leading sections of the ruling class believe that the overall the role of the university has become too out of line with the economic and political needs of U.S. imperialism.
Solving Global Warming?
The university administration and BP say this arrangement will contribute to the problem of global warming. BP CEO/Chairman Robert A. Malone proclaimed that his company was “joining some of the world’s best science and engineering talent to meet the demand for low carbon energy.”
However, what the deal really means is that corporate priorities of BP will come to dominate the research agenda of UC Berkeley. Any discoveries that come out of the agreement will be twisted to serve, first and foremost, profit, not the needs of the people. (See accompanying article, “Biofuels: A Case Study in Why Capitalism Can’t Solve the Problem of Global Warming.”)
Associate Professor Ignacio Chapela, of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy Management (ESPM), said, “Can anyone believe that after signing the contract we would be working on alternatives that do not involve patents, immoral profit margins, economies of scale and command-and-control governance?”
Speaking at the meeting of the Academic Senate, ESPM Professor Miguel Altieri said, “The field that I study, alternative agriculture, is going to die on this campus. When I retire no more research is going to be done in the field that I represent which is actually an alternative to climate change and industrial agriculture.”
Turning reality upside down (and echoing the reactionary arguments of people like David Horowitz), Chancellor Birgeneau argues that people resisting the BP agreement and opposing the corporatization of the university are against academic freedom. He told the Academic Senate: "The idea that any person in our university would try to inhibit, prevent them, from doing their research because they don't like the source of their funding—I consider that to be abhorrent and to violate the basic principles of academic freedom."
For Birgeneau, academic freedom is the freedom for professors, and the university as a whole, to become appendages to corporate capital and to conduct research that serves its interests. And the question needs to be asked whether the agreement with BP will foster or crush dissent and critical thinking on campus and further or hinder the search for the truth.
For example, there is a long history of attempts by corporations and the government, which fund research in universities, to censor or suppress research that goes against their interests. As documented by “Defend Science,” a statement signed by thousands of scientists, “Scientists whose findings conflict with corporate interests or policies of the Bush Administration face threats of retaliation or denial of funding. There have been 'gag orders' forbidding government scientists from talking publicly about important scientific questions and, at times, even mentioning terms like 'global warming.' In studies by government scientists on global warming and its potentially devastating consequences for the planet and humanity, titles of reports have been changed and whole sections deleted by high political officials. There are repeated efforts by government officials to over-rule scientists on such things as which plant and animal species to include on the 'Endangered Species' list, which natural habitats are in critical need of preservation, how to set air and water quality standards, and so on.” (see defendscience.org)
What about the right of students to learn free of corporate influence? “I didn’t come to this university to be lectured on climate change by British Petroleum,” a graduate student and anti-BP activist said.
Other Aspects of the Deal
One aspect of the agreement that is hidden is the extent to which research at EBI will involve genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Professor Chapela said, "What would certainly come out of the BP-Berkeley facilities would be a large number of genetically altered, reproducing, living organisms to be released in the public environment.”
GMO refers to plants or other organisms whose genetic material has been modified by splicing in genetic material from another organism in order to produce a plant or animal with supposedly better qualities (such as more pest-resistant or containing better nutrition). Many scientists are critical of the way that GMO crops are being introduced into the ecosystem because no one really knows what kind of harmful effects the modified plants might have. For example, tests in the U.S. showed that 44% of caterpillars of the monarch butterfly died when fed large amounts of pollen from genetically modified (GM) corn. Also, GM crops can spread outside the area where they are supposed to be used, contaminating other crops. And GM crops can ruin peasant farmers in the third world, because they are forced to pay companies like Monsanto for the right to use the GMO seeds.
Professor Altieri and Eric Holt-Gimenez of the group Food First write: “One of the more surreptitious industrial motives of the biofuels agenda—and the reason Monsanto and company are key players—is the opportunity to irreversibly convert agriculture to genetically engineered crops (GMOs). Presently, 52 percent of corn, 89 percent of soy, and 50 percent of canola in the United States is GMO. The expansion of biofuels with ‘designer corn’ genetically tailored for special ethanol processing plants will remove all practical barriers to the permanent contamination of all non-GMO crops.”
And what about the UC administration's claim that BP is a socially conscious company that will contribute to solving the problem of global warming? In 2000, BP launched a $200 million public relations campaign with the slogan, “Beyond Petroleum.” But in reality BP is one of the world's largest oil companies. BP earned over $260 billion in revenues and $22 billion in profit in 2005, but it only invests $0.8 billion in their heavily advertised "alternative energy" project.
And politically, BP has a very ugly history. It helped in the overthrow of the Iranian government in the 1950s after that government attempted to nationalize Iranian oil. It supported the apartheid regime in South Africa—during the apartheid years. In violation of an international oil embargo against South Africa, BP sold fuel to the South African military, operated the largest refinery in the country, and violated the UN embargo against colonial Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe).
In Colombia, where BP has extensive investments, the Colombian president's human rights adviser, Attorney-General and Ombudsman said that "BP passed photographs and videos of local protesters to the army, which human rights groups say led to killings, disappearances, torture and beatings." A general hired by BP to provide security was linked by the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights to a paramilitary group responsible for 149 murders between 1987 and 1990.
In addition, two of the 24 labs planned for EBI at UC Berkeley will have nothing to do with biofuels but will be investigating how to “enhance the recovery of petroleum from underground reserves” and “the use of microbes to process coal into fuel.” Both of these projects will lead to increased use of fossil fuels and increased global warming.
A fact sheet for the group Stop BP! says, “Corporations fund research to produce goods to sell for profit. Their close involvement in research can seriously undermine scientific inquiry for the public good. When this focus on profit grows in universities, it results in research that serves corporate interest over all else. Input from other researchers on this very campus about consequences of these products is ignored in the rush to make money. Profit should never be more important than dialogue and free exchange of ideas at UC Berkeley.”
Revolution #83, Special Online Edition
About the time when capitalism was first putting humanity on the road to the global warming we face today, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like a sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”
Over 150 years later, the truth of this statement still stands out sharply when confronting the issue of global warming and the particularities of the deal between BP and UC Berkeley. The workings of the capitalist/imperialist system, with its lopsided and distorted social relations, private ownership, and its relentless drive for profit stands in the way of using scientific knowledge to address the needs of humanity.
Biofuel, the subject of the UC Berkeley/BP venture, refers to fuels derived from recently living organisms, or their metabolic byproducts. Today this is mostly in the form of ethanol that can be produced from plants such as sugar cane, soybeans, and oil palm. While there are many technical problems in the production of biofuels—specifically they often use more energy to produce than they contribute—many scientists hope that these problems can be solved and that biofuels can replace much gasoline used today. Because the carbon (the substance that causes global warming) in biofuels comes from CO2 that is taken out of the atmosphere by the living plants, some scientists argue that biofuels could contribute much less to global warming than fossil fuels. And, unlike oil, the supply of which is limited, biofuels could be grown year after year.
Other scientists question the sustainability of biofuels saying that they require the use of fertilizers, which increase CO2, replace other plant life that were also using CO2, deplete the soil, and are very water intensive.
Regardless of the debate over the sustainability of biofuels, in today’s world the use of biofuels has led to horrific consequences for the people of the world and the environment.
A key feature of imperialism is the division of the world between a handful of rich imperialist countries and the rest of the world. Eighty percent of the world’s resources are absorbed by the advanced capitalist countries, which make up 15 percent of the world’s population. Imperialism has produced a wasteful and destructive pattern of economic activity and industrial development.
This division of the world has meant, and will almost certainly continue to mean, that the growing of crops for fuel—mostly for export to Europe, Japan and the United States—is being done on large-scale plantations in the third world. In order to make room for these plantations ancient forests are being cut down, threatening extinction for many species. Reduction of greenhouse gases is lost when carbon-capturing forests are cut down to make way for biofuel crops, worsening the problem of global warming.
In Malaysia, the production of palm oil for biodiesel is a major industry. According to a recent report by Friends of the Earth, "Between 1985 and 2000 the development of oil-palm plantations was responsible for an estimated 87 per cent of deforestation in Malaysia." In Sumatra and Borneo, some 4 million hectares of forest have been converted to palm farms. Now a further 6 million hectares are scheduled for clearance in Malaysia, and 16.5 million in Indonesia.
In the Guardian newspaper George Monibot writes: “Almost all the remaining forest is at risk. Even the famous Tanjung Puting national park in Kalimantan is being ripped apart by oil planters. The orangutan is likely to become extinct in the wild. Sumatran rhinos, tigers, gibbons, tapirs, proboscis monkeys and thousands of other species could go the same way. Thousands of indigenous people have been evicted from their lands, and some 500 Indonesians have been tortured when they tried to resist. The forest fires which every so often smother the region in smog are mostly started by the palm growers. The entire region is being turned into a gigantic vegetable oil field.” (Guardian, 12/6/2005)
And in an editorial in the Berkeley Daily Planet, UC Berkeley Professor Miguel Altieri and Eric Holt-Gimenez of the group Food First wrote: “Hundreds of thousands of small-scale peasant farmers are being displaced by soybeans expansion. Many more stand to lose their land under the biofuels stampede. Already, the expanding cropland planted to yellow corn for ethanol has reduced the supply of white corn for tortillas in Mexico, sending prices up 400 percent. This led peasant leaders at the recent World Social Forum in Nairobi to demand, ‘No full tanks when there are still empty bellies!’”
These peasants, along with those displaced by other forms of imperialist domination and environmental devastation, are then forced to become virtual slaves on these large-scale plantations.
Capitalism cannot deal with the environment in a sustainable and economically rational way for three basic reasons: First, its logic is “expand-or-die”: to cheapen cost and to expand in order to wage the competitive battle and gain market share. Companies like BP are locked in fierce competition with other companies. An article in the business section of the New York Times writes, “For investors in alternatives to oil and gas, the driving force has been the belief that whoever develops the next great energy sources will enjoy the spoils that will make the gains from creating the next Amazon.com or Google seem puny by comparison.” (3/16/2007)
Second, the horizons of capitalism tend to be short term. They seek to maximize returns quickly. They don’t think about the consequences in 10, 20, 30 years. In the development of biofuels this means that they do not pay attention to long-term effects like soil depletion, water usage, and cutting down ancient forests, or even increasing global warming.
Third, capitalist production is by its nature private. The economy is broken up into competing units of capitalist control and ownership over the means of production. And each unit is fundamentally concerned with itself and its expansion and its profit. The economy, the constructed and natural environment, and society cannot be dealt with as a social whole under capitalism.
In the article “Capitalism, the Environment, and Ecology Under Socialism” in Revolution #52 (6/25/2006) Raymond Lotta wrote, “So capitalism is incapable of addressing environmental issues outside its framework of private ownership and production for profit, and its blind logic of expansion. And on a world scale, we see the effects. But socialism can address environmental issues in a sustainable, rational, and socially just way: because ownership of the means of production is socialized as expressed through the proletarian state and this makes it possible to consciously plan development; and because economic calculation is radically different.”
The debate over these issues—how the world has gotten to the point where the very survival of our species and the planet is being called into question, and what must be done to change this—is too often ruled out of order. In the name of realism, opponents of the system too often end up in debate over how to work within a system that is itself the problem. The debate over these issues needs to be pried open as a crucial part of the struggle to save the planet.
Revolution #83, March 25, 2007
Calling All Readers...and Revolutionaries
|All photos: Li Onesto, except top: Stanley Rogouski|
The April 2 issue of Revolution will be a special broadsheet, designed for distribution in huge quantities.
The point: to introduce hundreds of thousands of new people to Bob Avakian’s vision of communism, his analysis of the heavy challenges that people face today, and his program for how to deal with all this.
There is no other leader like Chairman Avakian out there. There is nothing like the body of work he’s produced, the ideas he's brought forward, and his way of going at understanding and changing the world. This is the real thing— for people to dig into, and to apply to making revolutionary change. But there are still far, far too few people who have even had a chance to hear and learn what Bob Avakian is all about and to get into his ideas and thinking. We aim to make a giant stride, in the next few weeks, in changing all that.
We’re calling on distributors and regular readers to think now about how to get this issue out very, very broadly, and to make plans and preparations accordingly. Get people together now to view the DVD Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About.
Think about teachers, clergy, and others who are positioned to get this paper out to many, many others. Then talk to them. Make an appointment to come back and talk to their classes and congregations when the special issue comes out.
Think about the stores, gyms, theaters, libraries, barber shops, galleries, laundromats, and beauty parlors that can carry scores and hundreds of these broadsheets. Then go to them, sell them a video, and set up to get them materials.
Think about key areas where people need to hear about this leader and get into his vision. Then make plans and preparations accordingly.
When the plans are done…then go out there, far and wide, with the next issue of the paper.
Quietly where you have to, but as boldly as possible wherever you can. Saturate the high schools, the neighborhoods, the college campuses with tens of thousands of copies of the special issue. Go out everywhere with this special issue… and go BIG!
Bring new people into the movement, right on the spot. And then come back together and talk about how it’s going. Spread the movement: get out hundreds of thousands of papers, create a massive political wave suddenly roaring up from below like a tsunami.
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In order to give people the most possible time to prepare the ground for this effort, we are not publishing a print edition next week. But we will be publishing an e-issue. This will be posted on our site, revcom.us, on Monday morning, March 26. We will cover the news of the next week, including the demonstrations against the war and the Bush regime taking place between March 17 and 20, the response to the grand jury decisions on Sean Bell and, no doubt, much else besides.