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Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
“It didn’t start there and it definitely wasn’t going to stop there until somebody said something. That wasn’t the first thing he said out of character. He insulted Black women, women in general. Because it just wasn’t only Black women. He also insulted their team mates, the coach, their mothers. It went way beyond that, and then what about his audience. He insulted them as well. It went way beyond that.”
Black hairdresser on the Southside of Chicago
“How should he be able to say something like that when it’s degrading to someone else? That’s unacceptable, there’s no tolerance for that. None at all. No. Absolutely not.”
Woman getting her hair done in a hair salon, Southside Chicago
“I was proud of the world for the first time in a long time. People are outraged, and they should be. We cannot accept this hateful stereotyping, legitimized by Imus' position as a public commentator, as part of the social discourse. The very thought that someone would find such words humorous is upsetting and outrageous, and the Rutgers team and the public, are right to stand up and reject it.”
Member of the women's volleyball team at Cornell University
* * * * *
After Don Imus, on his April 4 radio show, called women on the Rutgers University basketball team “Nappy headed hos,” people all over the country responded with outrage. In the neighborhoods, high schools and universities, as well as the work places, Imus' racist comments sparked widespread discussion and controversy—and widespread public anger and disgust about racism and sexism in this society that do not often come to the surface like this.
By April 11, MSNBC, in the face of such growing outrage, announced it would no longer simultaneously air Imus' radio show. And the next day, April 12, CBS finally fired Imus.
How did this happen? Why was Imus allowed to run his racist and sexist poison for so long? And what does all this mean?
Black journalists, including some very top-level and high-profile figures, played a key role in all this. Right away, the National Association of Black Journalists issued a press release condemning Imus, calling for a boycott of his show and demanding he be fired. NABJ President Bryan Monroe, vice president and editorial director for Ebony and Jet magazines in Chicago, said, “Those comments were beyond offensive. Imus needs to be fired. Today.”
When Imus was put on the Today show to give “his side” of the story with Matt Lauer, Al Roker—the Today show’s well-known weatherman—immediately went on the Today show blog to call for Imus’ firing. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote, "Powerful statements were made during in-house meetings by women at NBC and MSNBC—about how black women are devalued in this country, how they are demeaned by white men and black men. White and black women spoke emotionally about the way black women are frequently trashed in the popular culture, especially in music, and about the way news outlets give far more attention to stories about white women in trouble."
These journalists may have “made it” to a degree in America—but they are still subject to American racism and discrimination, both in their professions and in their lives. They acted as voices of conscience, taking the platform they have to say “no more!” and condemn this outrage. This helped change the terms of national debate. And Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson also joined the fray.
MSNBC and CBS Radio, the companies that air Imus' show, first tried to deal with the growing controversy by announcing that Imus would be suspended for two weeks. But this slap on the wrist only made many people even more angry and more determined in their demand that Imus be fired.
And many people were inspired by the way the Rutgers University women's basketball team stood strong in the face of Imus' ugly attack. At a press conference, team captain Essence Carson said, "We're happy—we're glad to finally have the opportunity to stand up for what we know is right… We can speak up for women, not just African-American women, but all women.” And on MSNBC's Keith Olbermann show, the team's coach, Vivian Stringer, commented, "I really think that this was reduced to the very human element of decency, you know, to make sure that these kinds of things are stopped. I hope that it doesn‘t stop with Mr. Imus, because he‘s not the only culprit. I think that some of us as adults, as parents, are responsible for some extent, because we haven't stepped up, you know, that the corporate executives have dealt with the color of all of this being green, and it's OK. We see these things over time, you know, a kid that steals something with a plastic cap pistol, to spend 10 years in jail, and yet you see, you know, the white-collar workers, you know, thieves that steal millions of dollars. "
Protest rallies occurred on the Rutgers University campus declaring that a two-week suspension was not enough and calling for Imus' firing. Hundreds of thousands of emails were sent by organizations like the Feminist Majority and the National Organization for Women, either calling for Imus' firing, or to show support for the Rutgers University women's basketball team. The NAACP issued a petition calling for Imus to be fired.
There was very broad sentiment that this time, anyone who hates racism and sexism and is sick and tired of the way this is part of the mainstream media, cannot just let this blow over. That this cannot be tolerated. That Imus had to go down.
All this—the outrage, the debate, the refusal to take it anymore—began to bring a lot of things about the way this society functions into the light. This outrage began to dominate the “public debate” in a way that was not so easily controlled or diverted. These are issues at the very heart of what America is all about and how it works socially day-to-day. And the way this was being debated—with the people who are oppressed by America having raised their voices and seized initiative in the discussion—was something that those who make the decisions in this society do not want. These “decision-makers”—that is, the ruling class—decided at a certain point to cool this out and send Imus packing…for now.
This was a victory. As a hip hop artist on the Southside of Chicago told Revolution: “I thought it was inhuman, insensitive and I thought the guy should be fired. That’s great [the firing], that’s a triumph. It was so insulting and I just thought if that’s what happened, if he got removed, justice was served. Cause, you know, in a position of power and authority, people look up to you, certain comments are just inexcusable. So I think that was a just decision.”
Imus and His Backers and Promoters
“That reflects slaves, that brings back slavery. Things like that bring back slavery from back in the day. Like it’s not over with, like it’s still going on.”
Student at Harold Washington College in Chicago,
talking about Don Imus' racist comment about
the Rutger's women's basketball team
Don Imus referred to his description of the Rutgers women's basketball team as a “joking remark.” But we've heard this kind of racist and sexist “joking around” before.
It sounds quite literally like the kind of “joking conversations” that must have taken place between plantation owners and overseers about their slaves. And just like in the days of slavery, the point of Imus' “joke” was to demean and dehumanize Black women and to also cement the bond between his white male listeners on the basis of white supremacy and male domination. This is the kind of “humor” that has gone along with, justified and helped promote the most horrible crimes in the history of the U.S.—from the selling of slaves, lynchings and Jim Crow Laws to today's modern-day plantation system of discrimination, inequality and police brutality and murder. This is the kind of “joking” and thinking that flows out of and reinforces the horrendous and oppressive social relations—between whites and Black people, between men and women—that have been at the root of this country since its founding, and continue to be at its roots.
And Don Imus is not just anybody—he has been a highly placed and highly backed major media mouthpiece.
Imus has been a major figure in the whole phenomenon of “shock jocks,” who routinely promote and uphold the oppression of women and white supremacy and who whip up and promote ugliness, mean-spiritedness, and ignorance among their base of listeners. And this was not, by any means, the first time that Don Imus made such blatantly racist and sexist remarks on his show. In fact, he has a long and ugly history of making blatantly racist and sexist comments on his show.
We won’t repeat here the whole litany of on-air reactionary bigoted attacks made by Imus over the course of two decades that have been documented these past two weeks in other media.
The most telling exposure of all came from Imus himself, in 1998, when he bragged to 60 Minutes producer Tom Anderson that he'd hired his sidekick, Bernard McGuirk, on his show specifically to tell “nigger jokes.”
So it is no surprise to anyone that listens to or knows anything about Don Imus that he makes racist and sexist attacks on people a central part of his show And in fact, all this has not only been tolerated, but supported and promoted by not only the companies and sponsors of his show, but by various public figures, including major politicians who have appeared on his show and who don't denounce Imus for his ugly racism and sexism. For example, two Republican presidential candidates—former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Senator John McCain (who have both been on Imus' show)—spoke out after the Rutgers “joke,” defending Imus and making it clear that they would continue to be on his show. Imus’ “guest list” also included Democrats like John Kerry and Joe Biden, and even Barack Obama—who weakly got on the bandwagon late in the game to criticize Imus.
And again, what about the fact that Imus was fired over a week after he made his ugly comments? After the station first tried to just give Imus a two-week suspension and only after it was clear that the mass anger and demand was not dying. In other words, Imus’ “joke” was just fine with most of his corporate sponsors and with MSNBC and CBS Radio for a full week. And his whole history of similar jokes had been fine with them for decades. None of the forces that have supported and backed Imus and have now been forced to fire him have been motivated by anything other than cooling this down and defending their larger interests and agenda.
Many corporations eventually pulled their sponsorship of Imus, including Staples, General Motors, Sprint Nextel, GlaxoSmithKline, Procter & Gamble, PetMed Express, American Express and Bigelow Tea. But why do corporations sponsor this and other racist and sexist talk shows in the first place? Why are open promoters of racism and sexism made into stars at the highest levels of TV and radio and given such a huge public forum to spout their poison—with key ruling class figures, Republicans and Democrats, going on his show and lending him credibility? It is not “just about the money”—it is the fact that Imus fits into a larger agenda.
As we noted above, Imus fits into the whole range of “shock jocks” like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and so on down the line. This whole thing was brought forward to cement a reactionary, white supremacist and male supremacist outlook as the most aggressive and widespread outlook in society. All this “white male bonding” was done in particular in an attempt to erase or demean all the lessons that had been learned through the great struggles of the 1960s about the real character of this society; and to ridicule and then reverse the change in values that had begun to come about in response to that knowledge. The values of the '60s morality—for equality, for questioning authority, against racism and imperialism and sexism, and against in particular the unquestioning patriotism and proud ignorance that had been hammered into people—were a bone in the throat of this ruling class. This system did NOT and CANNOT eradicate the ills that people fought against during those days, and anything that would send people in the direction of continuing to fight against them and going further to actually put an end to them poses a mortal threat to the powers-that-be. These so-called shock jocks like Limbaugh and Imus were a big part of a whole campaign of “reversing the verdicts.”
Imus played his own role in all this. Apparently, he was the “thinking man’s bigot” and drew all kinds of liberal authors and commentators onto his show who never challenged him. Apparently, they told themselves it was harmless—harmless to lend legitimacy and a (fairly thin) patina, or surface gloss, of intellectualism to this racist ignoramus. This role of Imus was particularly insidious—but, again, it was a role in a larger agenda.
The fact that some of those who have backed Imus for years are now criticizing him and have been forced to fire him, doesn't change any of this.
Where the “Conversation” Must Go
Even as all this was going on—and particularly with greater intensity now—some ruling class forces, and others, were trying to justify Imus on grounds that rappers use the same ugly and hurtful words. To those who argue that Imus is being “victimized,” that he shouldn't be blamed and that the real problem is hip hop and rap because they are full of the N word and sexist and degrading portrayals of women—it should be pointed out that this racist and sexist shit predates gangster rap by several centuries. The insult “ho”—which is simply a short version of the very, very old word whore—emerged a very long time before hip-hop, and is bound up with the oppression of women, and the controlling of their sexuality by men. And the insult “nappy”—that Black people's hair is ugly because it does not conform to white beauty standards—is hundreds of years old and bound up with the continual and pervasive oppression of Black people in this society.
It is very harmful when artists from among the oppressed themselves take up and promote this outlook by demeaning women in songs and videos and other forms of popular culture, and this has a very demoralizing effect very broadly in society. But that is a reflection of the oppression of Black people and of women, and it mainly shows that some among the oppressed have taken up the thinking of their oppressor (and that those who have, it should be noted, get promoted in opposition to those who won’t). This is bad, and hurtful to the people, and yet another reason why only the bottom-to-top change of revolution can even begin to get at this deeply woven fabric of oppression. And yes, it should be opposed—and it should be stopped, now.
But such backward expressions among the people are in no way equal to what Imus represents—a ruling class mouthpiece spouting venom to a huge audience and given approval and support from all kinds of powerful and highly placed forces in society. And to equate the two takes the fire off where it needs to be directed.
“Where the conversation needs to go from here” is NOT to censoring hip-hop, nor still less—as the reactionary Republican ex-Congressman Tom Delay would have it—to firing someone like Rosie O’Donnell, who speaks out courageously against the reactionary ignorance and fascist obedience promoted by the Christian fascists. “Where the conversation must go” is to digging still more deeply into what kind of a society produces and promotes and defends people like Don Imus. And what must be done to change it.
Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
• More on the Aims of the Bush Regime—and on the Consequences
Editors' Note: The following are excerpts from an edited version of a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, to a group of Party supporters, in the fall of last year (2006). This is the second in a series of excerpts we will be running in Revolution. Subheads and footnotes have been added for publication here. The entire talk is available online at revcom.us/avakian/anotherway.
Returning to the objectives of the Bush regime, and to the actions they have undertaken in pursuit of those objectives (objectives which, once again, are shared by the ruling class as a whole, in fundamental terms), the fact is that, through their invasions of first Afghanistan and then Iraq, they have heightened the mess that they perceived in the first place. As they saw it, they were going to go in with military force, they were going to set up a regime on the basis of their military victory, and they were going to call it democracy—and their plans and objectives did envision combining certain outward forms of bourgeois democracy with a "free market economy." And then they were going to basically "run the table" with that—move on from Iraq to other parts of the Middle East, to impose the same "model" of society. Well, it hasn't turned out that way, and now they are confronting the ramifications and implications of that reality.
During the course of the Iraq war, and increasingly as the U.S. has run into trouble and become "stuck" there, the example, or analogy, of Vietnam has been invoked. So let's look at a crucial aspect of how the U.S. eventually got out of Vietnam. To be honest and blunt, they got out of it partly by arrangements they made with China, after Nixon began moving to "normalize relations" with China. And Nixon got some heat for that, too, within U.S. ruling class circles, because a lot of them didn't understand what he was doing. But what Nixon did was basically to enter into a different set of relationships with China than what had existed previously. Not different in the most fundamental sense, because China and the U.S. at that time still represented two fundamentally different and ultimately antagonistic social systems, one socialist and one imperialist; but each government, proceeding from its sense of how to further the interests it represented, moved to conclude certain agreements involving areas of mutual interest, particularly with regard to the Soviet Union, which had itself become capitalist-imperialist (although then in a state-capitalist form and with the continuing camouflage of "socialism") and was, at one and the same time, the most militarily powerful imperialist rival to the U.S. and the main danger to China, threatening it with military attack, possibly even with nuclear weapons.
As part of this agreement with China, Nixon was able to, metaphorically speaking, "stanch some of the geostrategic bleeding" that U.S. imperialism suffered as a result of having to admit defeat and pull out of Vietnam. And, as I have referred to, the Chinese had their own objectives, which had to do especially with working to stave off an attack by the Soviet Union. Again, the threat of such an attack was a very real thing. The Soviet Union, a nuclear superpower, had troops massed on the Chinese border and, it seems, was seriously considering an attack on China, including possibly with nuclear weapons. Now, from the standpoint of our Party, and our communist outlook and objectives, even understanding the very great necessity, the very real threat, the Chinese faced, we can still criticize and must criticize how they dealt with all that, in particular the way in which they allied with and covered up the reactionary and bloodthirsty nature of a number of regimes that were installed and/or kept in power by the U.S., and were key cogs in the imperialist alliance headed by the U.S.—regimes headed by such brutal tyrants as the Shah of Iran and Marcos in the Philippines.
But, once more, in scientifically analyzing, and yes criticizing, these moves by the Chinese government at that time, we cannot do what so many are inclined to do so frequently—to ignore the necessity that different forces have and act like they can do whatever they want. We can't do that. And we should struggle with everybody else that they shouldn't approach things that way either. We should struggle with other people about how to understand the world, but first of all we have to understand it correctly ourselves.
I have heard that some people don't like my statement: "After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel." But this does capture something very important, and there is something very important to understand about the "special role" of Israel—not only in relation to U.S. imperialism in general, but also particularly in relation to the neo-con/Bush regime strategy.
Why is this Bush regime the most unrelenting and unqualified in its backing of Israel? Now, a lot of people—even some well-intentioned but confused people, as well as some people whose intentions and objectives are not good—argue that the reason the U.S. government is generally so one-sided, and the Bush regime in particular is so absolutist, in its support of Israel, is because of the Israeli lobby, or because of Zionist influence, in the U.S. Now there might, superficially, seem to be some support for that theory by looking at the neo-cons. It is true that in a significant sense this is a phenomenon of Jewish intellectuals who were once sort of Cold War liberals and have become hard-core right-wing ideologues. That, however, is not the essence of the matter. I do not know how different individuals among the neo-cons actually view the interests of Israel vis-à-vis the larger interests of U.S. imperialism. Whatever the case is with individuals in that regard, the fact is that, as a general phenomenon, these neo-cons are ardent advocates of both Israel and of the particular strategy for U.S. imperial domination in the Middle East (and on a world scale) with which the neo-cons are identified. And more fundamentally, this position, which the neo-cons urge, of unqualified hard-core support for Israel fits into and serves the larger imperialist strategy for the Middle East and ultimately for the world—and that is why this neo-con position has such influence. If their position did not serve the larger interests of U.S. imperialism, or if it ran counter to how those now at the core of the ruling class perceive those interests, then whatever the motivations and inclinations of particular individual neo-cons, they wouldn't have the influence they do.
To put it in basic terms, Israel is a colonial-settler state which was imposed on the region of the Middle East, at the cost of great suffering for the Palestinian people (and the people of the region more broadly). Israel could not have come into being without the backing of imperialism, and it acts not only in its own interests but as an armed garrison and instrument of enforcement for U.S. imperialism, which supplies the Israeli state with aid, and in particular military aid, to the tune of billions of dollars every year. But, along with this general nature and role of Israel and its relation to U.S. imperialism, if we take into account the strategic orientation that has guided the Bush regime—based on an assessment that for U.S. imperialism there is now not only a certain freedom but very urgent necessity to recast the whole nature of the regimes and of the societies across a wide arc centered in the Middle East—then you can see even more clearly how absolute support for Israel is crucial in all this. There can't be any wavering or even the appearance, or suggestion, of more "even-handedness" in dealing with Israel, on the one hand, and the Palestinians (and others in the region) on the other hand. You have to have your ducks in a row. You have to have your priorities very clear. You have to have a regime there, at the center of your policy for that region, which is completely reliable for U.S. imperialism.
If you look at any other regimes in the region, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are big allies of the U.S. But in Saudi Arabia and in Egypt, the situation is very unstable and potentially very volatile: there are serious tremors beneath the throne, so to speak—there is the growing danger of "social earthquakes" that could threaten to topple, or actually topple, those regimes. You don't have that in Israel. Hopefully, as things develop overall, there will not be just a "loyal opposition peace movement" among Israelis but the development of a much more powerful progressive movement with a much more radical view in Israel—and this is something that progressive people in Israel, or with ties to people in Israel, should work to foster and develop. But right now a positive and truly radical movement of that kind does not exist in Israel, and the dynamics with regard to Israel are not now such that the more that the regime in Israel is hard-core, the more it is going to run into antagonism with the bulk of its population. In the short term, the dynamic is essentially the opposite, unfortunately.
You can look at the recent Lebanon war—and in particular the massive Israeli assault on Lebanon—as an illustration of what the dynamic actually is now: the more massive and murderous the Israeli attacks were on Lebanon, the more that the people of Israel, in their great majority, rallied to the government of Israel. In part this was influenced by the fact that Hezbollah was launching missile attacks which caused some destruction and death in parts of Israel; but this was really on a very minor scale relative to the widespread death and devastation that Israel, with its arsenal of powerful and precision weapons, very deliberately and as a matter of policy, brought down on the civilian population of Lebanon, devastating whole sections of the country, killing many, many times the number who died in Israel, and forcing huge parts of the Lebanese population to flee out of the country. Where was any real outpouring of opposition to this among the Israeli population?
And, on a larger scale, as Seymour Hersh has pointed out, this Israeli assault on Lebanon was viewed by at least some powerful people in the core of the U.S. ruling class, including Dick Cheney, as a dress rehearsal for an attack on Iran. It didn't go as well as they wanted, but that won't stop them from attacking Iran. They'll just try to sum up the lessons and—from their murderous point of view—aim to "do better."
Once again, in all this, the regime in power now in the U.S. is acting not only out of perceived freedom, but also out of real and perceived necessity. And the more their actions, proceeding on this basis, have failed to achieve their objectives, the greater the necessity has become—for themselves as well as for others: different strata and sections of society all over the world have now had this necessity imposed on them and find it impinging on them. And where is it all heading?
To return again to the situation in Iraq and the implications of this, whatever the U.S. does in regard to Iraq—whether, to use that now diminished phrase, it "stays the course" or tries to find some way out of the current occupation and tries to pursue its objectives in somewhat altered form—there is no easy way out of this for them. All this has already intensified the contradictions in the whole region—intensified them greatly in the whole region and even beyond that. And this will continue to be true and to assert itself and to further intensify, even though it won't necessarily, or likely, be a linear development, increasing in a straight upward line, but will more likely go through twists and turns and a kind of wave-like motion (with relative peaks and troughs), even as it continues to intensify overall.
And what is the response of significant sections of the ruling class, including some prominent leaders of the Democratic Party as well as a number of neo-cons, grouped mainly in the Republican Party—what is their response to this situation, to this mess that's been created in Iraq for them and for others? Well, as many of them see it, all this is further evidence of the need not only to persevere in this course but to spread the whole approach, and to go after Iran in particular. That's why you see people like this right-wing talk show guy Glenn Beck doing what he's doing—saying that the whole thing in the Middle East, including the Iraq War, is really about Iran, that war with Iran can't and shouldn't be avoided, and on and on. The ground is being prepared for war with Iran. Public opinion is being created. And so now we have the reinterpretation of things. Now, the whole problem is Iran.
Now, there is a section of the ruling class saying, no we've got to negotiate with Iran. They are arguing, in essence, that with regard to Iraq and the Middle East overall, it is necessary to do with Iran and Syria and others in that region what Nixon did with China in regard to Vietnam: find a way out of a war that has become a "quagmire" by negotiating with other forces in the region to bring about some kind of settlement that won't be a complete debacle and disaster, from the point of view of the imperialists. They're not posing it exactly that way, but that is, in effect, what one section of the ruling class is arguing for. But that's not going to be very easy to do, because there are a lot of other "wild cards" in the mix—including that there are other Islamic fundamentalists, Sunni fundamentalists, and so on, who are not beholden to Iran by any means and who in fact have acute contradictions with what's represented by Iran.
At the same time, there's a whole push now, from other sections of the ruling class, and in particular many of the neo-cons—people like right-wing commentator and strategist William Kristol—who are basically calling "W" a wimp. "W" now stands for wimp, because he hasn't taken things to Iran already—what's he waiting for? And, along with people like Kristol, there are other neo-cons who have insisted: "Look, the problem here is that we don't play well on the defense—we're good at the offense. We can't fight this battle in the Middle East by keeping it limited to Iraq, because that pushes us on the defense. We have to go on the offense and take it to Iran and other places."
And then there are Democratic Party politicians, like Barack Obama, who are joining in the chorus insisting that Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons and, as bad as war with Iran might be, it would be worse to let Iran develop nuclear weapons. This, among other things, is why we have started calling him "Barack Obamination" or "Barack Go-Bomb-a-Nation." And then there's Hillary Clinton, who is also insisting that "we cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weapons." And there was recently a cover story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine1 which purported to discuss the question of Islamic views on violence but, after it wound around through all sorts of seeming theoretical expositions on this question—seeming theological discourse on Islamic views of justified and unjustified violence—ended by expressing the conclusion that one could guess was coming all along: "we" cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon—this must be prevented, whether that can be done through negotiations or whether it will take war.
Now, this is not to say that war with Iran is, at this point, inevitable. We should avoid tendencies to be simplistic in our understanding of all this—we should not repeat the erroneous tendencies that have existed in the communist movement, including in our Party at times, to fall into mechanistic and determinist thinking, as if the fact that there are dynamics and tendencies in a certain direction and toward certain developments means that those developments are bound to take place. We have made mistakes of that kind before, and it is very important not to repeat them.2 There are a lot of contradictions at play, and nothing is set in stone. But there is a certain logic and a certain driving dynamic that is pushing things toward this position of spreading the war and going after Iran.
Now, once again we can't be simplistic in our own understanding and we shouldn't oversimplify things for people. There is a difference between boiling things down to their essence and oversimplifying them. It would cause problems for the U.S. imperialists if Iran were to get one or two nuclear weapons. It would not be the case that Iran would thereby be able to somehow bomb New York City or Chicago or whatever. But it would change some of the equation in the Middle East—or it could—in a way that would work against the interests of U.S. imperialism. As one key aspect of this, even though Israel itself has hundreds of nuclear weapons, if Iran produced just a couple of nuclear weapons itself, even though Iran would still be far from on a par with Israel in this regard, Iran might then be able to offset some of the ways in which Israel threatens the other states and peoples in the region, and this itself could mean a significant change in the "power equation" in the region, in a way that would be unacceptable not only to Israel but also to the imperialist power behind Israel, the U.S. Again, it is not that, with one or a few nuclear weapons, Iran would pose a threat to Israel (or the U.S.) which the latter could not counter—the balance of power, and the "balance of annihilation threat," so to speak, would still be greatly in favor of Israel (and the U.S.)—but this might give Iran more "leverage" and perhaps enable it to be more of a force in that crucial region. And that is unacceptable not only to Israel but, more decisively, to the U.S. imperialist ruling class as a whole.3
This is another illustration of the reality that, from the point of view of these imperialists, there is real necessity impinging on them; and we should not present to people, or think in our own minds, that all this has some sort of easy resolution. Again, we should learn from our former methodological errors and not fall into simplistic and linear analyses; but we can say that all this is not going to get resolved in some kind of simple and easy way.
1. "Islam, Terror and the Second Nuclear Age" by Noah Feldman, in the Oct. 29, 2006 issue of the New York Times Magazine. [back]
2. Here, along with—and as an illustration of—the basic methodological point he is emphasizing, Bob Avakian is referring to the analysis put forward by the RCP during the 1980s, and particularly in the early part of that decade, that the intensifying contradictions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would erupt into all-out warfare between them (and their respective blocs and allies) unless this war were prevented by revolution in large and/or strategic enough parts of the world. For a discussion of this by the RCP, including a criticism of the methodological errors involved, see Notes on Political Economy (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2000), available online at revcom.us/a/special_postings/poleco_e.htm. [back]
3. For further discussion of these questions—Iran, Israel, and the U.S. and the role of nuclear weapons—see recent articles in Revolution newspaper (revcom.us). For example, "Bald-Faced Lies and Bogus Pretexts: Bush Threatens War Against Iran" in issue #79; "Hidden U.S. Plans for War on Iran: Imminent Danger… And Strategic Stakes," #59; "Bush Regime in the Middle East: Global Ambitions, Murderous Logic & the Danger of Regional War," #56. [back]
Revolution April 12 Online
There has been a lot learned and a lot accomplished in the first week of this drive. We have to build on all this now and take it to another level to achieve our goals, as part of the first phase of really making this leader known to millions of people.
What’s been revealed:
In other words, what’s been even more deeply revealed is the potential for this leader and what he represents to take root much more broadly and deeply in society.
What’s been accomplished:
As of Sunday night, April 8, we had achieved over 1/4 of our goal. The paper had gotten out from New York City to Los Angeles; from Chicago to Salt Lake City, Utah; from Atlanta to Berkeley, California. It’s gotten out among, and been engaged by, immigrant construction workers and people in the projects, among prisoners and their families, and professors and their students, among people in movements for social change, and thousands of everyday people. The special issue has been spread by all kinds of people – teachers and clergy and librarians and bands and tax preparers. There’s been ads in newspapers and slots on the radio. In sum:
All this is very important and a good beginning. It provides a basis to reach our goals – if we learn from what we’ve done so far, build on it, and take things to a higher level.
What we have to do now:
Issued by the editors of Revolution
Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
Eight men in an unmarked white suburban pull up to a home in Vista, San Diego. They knock on the door, looking for a Mexican woman who has been ordered deported. The men are armed Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. They search each room in the house and round up the family who lives there and question them in their living room. The woman ICE is looking for doesn’t live there, but they detain two men, including the father of a 3-month-old and an 8-year-old daughter in the house. It’s 5 a.m. and the men, still in their pajamas, are handcuffed and driven away in a van.
Similar scenes have taken place in residential neighborhoods at homes and apartment complexes throughout the San Diego area, in Mar Vista, Vista, Barrio Logan, Escondido, and Imperial County, among other outlying areas. In the past two weeks, 359 people have been detained in San Diego County. Raids at supermarkets, bus stops, and work places and checkpoints in areas where many Mexican immigrants (and also Central American, Vietnamese, and other immigrants) live have caused widespread fear among entire communities. Few people can be seen at shopping centers, laundromats, and parks as many are not leaving their homes out of fear of the ICE.
This situation has emboldened anti-immigrant fascist vigilantes like the Minutemen. They have been harassing day laborers and walking up to people asking them to show papers. And in a blatant and outrageous act of intimidation, these reactionaries recently videotaped students and parents at a Cesar Chavez Day march at Vista High School.
At an elementary school in Escondido, teachers couldn’t figure out at first why many parents hadn’t picked up their children well after school was over. Then they learned that ICE had been spotted in the area and word had spread throughout the neighborhood, causing fear and panic. A local weekly Spanish newspaper, El Latino, reported that they have received numerous messages reporting the whereabouts of the ICE agents. One voice message from a reader said, “They’re outside of Cesar Chavez school. I’ve never seen anything like this.” The danger of separation is so real that some families have developed emergency plans with friends and relatives to care for their children in case the parents are taken away.
ICE And the Fascist Crackdown
ICE was established in 2003 and is the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. The San Diego raids are part of a larger nationwide operation called “Operation Return to Sender,” which began in May 2006 and has led to the arrests of more than 18,000 immigrants—many of whom were arrested in their homes. La Opinion reported that more than a third of these nationwide ICE arrests have been “collateral.” This means that if the so-called “fugitive”—many of whom have committed no violent crime and are only wanted for being in the country without papers—was not present at the targeted home or workplace, everyone else present was ordered to present papers and questioned, and then detained if they were identified as “illegal.”
What is happening in San Diego—and in many other areas around the country—is that modern-day slave catchers are hunting down human beings. They are going after people who are being forced to make a dangerous and often deadly journey across the border because of the ransacking and domination of their home countries by U.S. imperialism. In the process, they are heartlessly breaking up families. A field officer director for ICE's “detention and removal” operations in San Diego said, “Our message is—if you are ordered deported you should obey the immigration court's order. Otherwise, ICE is going to track you down and send you home.”
This whole offensive has come in the wake of the major upsurge of immigrant protest last spring, and the reactionary counter-offensive that followed. It forms a major part of the ruling class maneuvers to force immigrants into deeper servitude through a combination of repressive new laws, fascist mobilization of non-immigrants, and stepped-up police repression like this.
“Look at What the U.S. Has Done to Our Country...”
We talked to people in the areas affected by these raids in San Diego. Jesus and Abel, originally from Oaxaca in south Mexico, have lived in Escondido for 20 years. Jesus asked, “Why are they doing this?”
Abel said, “Look at what the U.S. has done to our country. They steal the natural resources and then say that they give Mexico all this aid. Why don’t they provide the people who work the land in the countryside with the technology and machinery necessary for people in Mexico to be independent and succeed? That’s why people have to come here [the U.S.].”
Jesus added, “The situation in Mexico is desperate. The people are starving. If the U.S. government continues with these raids and reinforces the border and makes it more difficult or impossible for people to come here illegally, then they’re feeding a situation where they’ll take away the only alternative people have to survive, and it will make things even more desperate in Mexico. That’s a really big problem for the U.S. because we’re neighbors.”
Fear... and Anger
Many people expressed fear and anguish at the situation, but there was also anger at being used as beasts of burden and treated like criminals. Jorge is from Veracruz, Mexico. He arrived in San Diego last summer after defying death to cross the Arizona desert. His wife is back in Veracruz with their baby son, and she depends on the money he sends home to get treatment for leukemia. “I work like an animal, very hard. That’s my life. Before I used to go to the park for a little while on my day off, but now I can’t even do that. I go from home to work and from work to home. I go out at night a couple of times a week to buy food to cook, but other than that I never go out—my wife’s life depends on it.”
Ricardo has lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years. He said that for that entire time he’s felt imprisoned: “I haven’t seen my family in Mexico for over 10 years. I communicate with them like a criminal in a prison, by letters and phone calls. But we, the undocumented, are no criminals, we are human beings.”
These intensified raids across the country and Gestapo-like round-ups of people at workplaces, in neighborhoods, near schools, in shopping centers, and at busy intersections need to be met by massive and determined resistance—by the immigrants who are being targeted, and by all those who stand against injustice.
In an important development in that direction, on Saturday, April 7, an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 people marched in Los Angeles in the largest immigrant rights protest since the outpourings of millions last spring. The marchers demanded an end to the ICE raids and other attacks on immigrants. Many in the march had a defiant message to deliver: “It's not just one of us... it's not a hundred... there's a lot of us now... count us carefully.”
This, together with recent resistance in San Rafael, California (see “Resistance to ICE Raids in San Rafael, CA: 'They came for the immigrants, and we were all there'" in Revolution #83 Online Edition, revcom.us), and the ferment now building toward demonstrations on May 1, is a good sign, and something that must urgently be built on.
Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
On March 23, 15 British military personnel were seized by Iranian forces in the narrow waterway separating Iran and Iraq at the head of the Persian Gulf. The 15 were on small craft dispatched from the British warship Cornwall. The British government claimed its forces were in Iraqi—not Iranian—waters, legally inspecting vessels bound for Iraq. They said Iran’s action was totally illegal and demanded its sailors and marines be released immediately. Bush called the Iranian action “inexcusable," and raised the tension level by labeling the British personnel “hostages”—demanding "Iran must give back the hostages” and saying: “They're innocent. They did nothing wrong."
Iran claimed the British were in Iranian waters (which some of the British personnel seemed to admit on Iranian TV). Then, on April 4, after 12 days of political threats and diplomatic sparring between the two sides, Iran released the British personnel in what it called an “Easter gift” to the British people.
While this incident ended without a military clash, it hardly showed that the Bush regime has abandoned its multi-pronged offensive or preparations for military attacks against Iran. Quite the opposite. It showed just how aggressive U.S. and British actions toward Iran are, the high state of tensions in the region, and the potential for any incident—whether planned or not—to escalate into a military confrontation.
The U.S. “full-court press” and military buildup against Iran are continuing. And the the U.S. and its ally Britain used the incident to further vilify Iran’s Islamic Republic. No sooner were the British personnel released than Prime Minister Tony Blair accused Iran of “backing, financing, arming, supporting terrorism in Iraq,” and urged stepped-up international pressure against Tehran.
The Bush regime dismissed the notion that Iran’s release of the British soldiers showed the potential for diplomacy, arguing instead that it showed Iran was unwilling to work with “the international community.” The White House continues to hold five Iranian officials it seized in Erbil, Iraq on January 11. Rightwing publications including the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard called Iran’s detention an "act of war" and agitated for more aggressive U.S. action. Within days of the end of the standoff, U.S. military officials in Iraq were holding briefings claiming Iran was arming both Shiite and Sunni militias, and was responsible for killing Coalition soldiers.
The Wall Street Journal (4/5) summed up, “Despite its peaceful resolution, the incident seems certain to add more fuel to the regional power struggle unfolding across the Middle East between Tehran and Washington.”
What Were British Warships Doing 10 Miles from Iran?
The March 23-April 4 incident illustrates just how aggressively the U.S. and British are acting toward Iran and how quickly they can fabricate pretexts for further aggression. Take the maps the British produce as evidence to try and prove their personnel were in Iraqi waters. Even U.S. military experts admitted that neither side could prove conclusively where the confrontation happened given that it took place in a very narrow body of water with contested and in some cases uncharted borders. The World to Win News Service (AWTW) pointed out (April 2):
“The maps the UK government trotted out to prove that its commando boats were in Iraqi waters were drawn up by the British themselves and have no legal validity. Former Sea Lord (Royal Navy head) Admiral Sir Alan West implicitly admitted as much in a BBC interview (29 March). When asked how one could determine where the maritime border is, he answered, ‘It is highly complex. A commission is meant [in the future] to lay down the median line between the Shatt al-Arab and agree where the various lines are. So we have the line we believe is the correct one.’ Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan [who was previously in charge of monitoring maritime issues in this part of the Persian Gulf], who called the British maps ‘a fake with no legal force,’ concluded in his blog, ‘The UK was plainly wrong to be ultra-provocative in disputed waters.’” (craigmurray.co.uk)
And what exactly were these British forces doing less than 10 miles from Iran’s coast? If they were simply inspecting boats for contraband, as claimed, why did they board an Indian-flagged vessel after it had dropped off its load of automobiles in Iraq? The British government hasn’t answered this question.
It turns out they were doing much more. Britain’s Sky News (4/5) reported that the captain in charge of “Interaction Patrol” admitted they were gathering intelligence on Iranian activity in the area: “Basically we speak to the crew [of any vessel they encounter]....If they do have any information, because they’re here for days at a time, they can share it with us. Whether it’s about piracy or any sort of Iranian activity in the area.” This report was withheld by Sky News until after the British personnel were released.
Britain’s Cornwall is the flagship of an anti-submarine and minesweeping battle group which includes several other British warships. Its intelligence-gathering is done in concert with the massive deployment of U.S. forces in the region, which now include two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups comprised of dozens of heavily armed warships with attack aircraft and missiles.
As AWTW News Service notes, “Under the command of the USS Stennis, all of these ships are currently carrying out war maneuvers in the Gulf.... The role of the Cornwall and other British ships would be to help protect the American strike force and prevent the Iranian government from retaliating against other countries’ shipping in the Gulf once Iranian-bound vessels came under attack. These so-called ‘war games’ are a rehearsal for a naval embargo and possible combined naval and air attack on Iran.”
Given the fact that the British knew that its forces were operating close to (or inside) Iranian waters and could be seized (as happened in 2004), it’s quite possible the British deliberately risked confrontation in order to either unnerve Iran and/or test its response. (And Iran, in turn, may have seized the British forces to demonstrate its own determination to respond to any attack.) The Guardian UK (4/5) reports that Iranian officials state this was the fourth such intrusion into Iranian waters in the last three months.
Full-Court Imperialist Press Against Iran
The actions of the Cornwall and U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf are part of a broad, multi-faceted full-court press against Iran being orchestrated by the U.S. across the Middle East. This has included U.S. efforts to militarily encircle Iran, to provoke instability internally, and to cripple it economically.
ABC News reports (4/3) that since 2005, U.S. officials have secretly been encouraging and advising guerrilla fighters from the Baluchi tribe in Pakistan to launch attacks inside Iran, and their attacks have resulted in the killing or kidnapping of more than a dozen Iranian officials and soldiers. A Democracy Now segment (3/27) exposed U.S. support for anti-government Iranian Kurdish forces. There are reports that U.S. intelligence operatives are working inside Iran to gather information in preparation for attacks on Iran’s nuclear sites.
The U.S. pushed through sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council in December and again in March, and is engaged in an aggressive campaign to force international corporations and financial institutions to cut off capital to Iran to cripple its oil and industrial sectors. Across the region, the U.S. is targeting groups with ties to Iran. The U.S. is also stepping up its arms shipments to allies in the region, and has dispatched another carrier group—the USS Nimitz—to the region, ostensibly to relieve the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, but raising the possibility that the U.S. could soon have three carrier groups off Iran’s coast.
None of these actions are in the interests of the people—in the Middle East or in the U.S. And none—whether diplomatic, economic, political, or military—are about liberating the Iranian people, ending the crushing oppression weighing on the region, or preventing the use of nuclear weapons. Rather, all are in the service of the U.S.’s imperialist agenda of tightening its killer grip on the Middle East and smashing all who stand in its way. And at the same time, Iran’s Islamic Republic, for its part, is responding to the U.S. onslaught in order to preserve its reactionary power—in Iran and to extend it in the region.
These actions are not “optional” or capricious, but are driven by the real and continuing imperialist interests, necessities, and logic that drove the Bush regime to invade Iraq. For the U.S. rulers, domination in the Middle East and Central Asian regions has been, and continues to be, foundational to their global power and sole superpower status. This is critical to the very functioning of their system—at home and abroad. And in the Middle East/Central Asia, the U.S. faces a host of problems, in particular a rapidly spreading and potentially destabilizing pole of opposition to its hegemony: Islamic fundamentalism.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was intended to deal with these impediments to U.S. interests. Instead, the U.S. quagmire in Iraq has weakened U.S. influence, fueled the spread of Islamist trends, and bolstered Iran’s regional influence. This has made the situation in the Middle East even more unacceptable to the U.S. rulers, so the Bush regime is aggressively attempting to reverse these trends, by escalating in Iraq and now threatening Iran.
The Urgent—and Continuing—Need to Reverse theTrajectory Toward Confrontation and War
The Bush administration did not push for a military escalation in this standoff between Iran and Britain. But again, this does not mean war is off the table. The U.S. is aware of the enormous difficulties it faces in Iraq, and the dangers inherent in war with Iran. But it is continuing to proceed step-by-step to try to build an international consensus against Iran, to isolate it politically, and to prepare public opinion for whatever actions it deems necessary.
And while there are divisions within the U.S. ruling class over how to deal with the roiling contradictions it faces in the Middle East, all sides are approaching this from the standpoint of protecting U.S. imperialist interests in the region. Significantly, no leading Democrat has spoken out against war with Iran and language forbidding such a war without Congressional consent was removed from the recent war appropriations bill. (And divisions within the ruling class have never meant that those in charge will not go forward regardless—including to cut through or preempt paralysis, or to prevent losing the political initiative.)
This is why the overall trajectory—while many different contradictions are at play and war is not inevitable—remains toward confrontation and war.
For instance, tensions are continuing to mount over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran recently told the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), charged with monitoring its nuclear sites, that it would withhold information because the agency had repeatedly allowed confident information crucial to the country’s security to be leaked, and that in the current climate such information could be used to further a U.S. or Israeli military attack. Iran has also announced—in defiance of the U.S. and UN demands—an acceleration of its efforts to enrich uranium, and Iranian officials warn they will abandon the whole non-proliferation framework if international powers continue to pressure them to give up their rights under existing treaties to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The Los Angeles Times (4/3) concluded: “Months of hard-nosed U.S. political and military pressure on Iran may have further radicalized and emboldened the regime, undermining Washington’s stated aim of neutralizing the Iranian threat without resorting to war.”
One National Security Council official commented: “There is one certainty about U.S. policy toward Iran. Unless Tehran abandons its weapons program, it is headed for confrontation with the U.S., whether under President Bush or his successor.” (theswoop.net, 4/13) Two Iran analysts in a New York Times opinion piece, noted that the “U.S. and Iran seem to be moving inexorably toward conflict.”
Not a week goes by without new rumors of a U.S. attack on Iran: several weeks ago the Jerusalem Post reported that Russian intelligence services were predicting a U.S. surprise attack on Good Friday (April 6). Kuwait’s Arab Times has reported (4/4) the U.S. is planning an attack at the end of April. Iranian officials have stated they fear an attack this summer. The bourgeois website Swoop (4/7) writes: “Following the May 24th expiry of the deadline for Iranian compliance with UN demands, we will enter a more volatile period with increasing potential for an accident...to grow into a regional confrontation.”
All this underscores the need to build mass opposition—now—to any attack on Iran, and to step up efforts to drive out the Bush regime and repudiate its entire agenda of aggressive and unending war.
Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
The recent “hostage” face-off between Britain and Iran stinks of enormous hypocrisy on the part of the U.S. and Britain. While Bush and Blair denounce Iran for “illegally” seizing British personnel and Bush cries “hostage”—the U.S. is routinely taking Iranian officials hostage in Iraq. Since the beginning of 2007, the U.S. has seized Iranians inside Iraq three times, once with the cooperation of Iraqi government forces. All were Iranian officials in Iraq legally, and all but one are still being held without any formal charges, without any means of redress. The Iranian government is not even being allowed to see its personnel, and the U.S. only recently allowed a Red Cross visit.
One Iranian captive—Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at Iran’s embassy in Baghdad, seized by Iraqi Ministry of Defense forces—was released just prior to Iran’s release of the British military personnel. The U.S. denied any involvement in his seizure, but the U.S. oversees the operation of the Iraqi Defense Ministry and works closely with it. When Sharafi returned to Tehran he said he’d been brutally interrogated and tortured with a U.S. official present (which the U.S. denies). According to the BBC (4/12), Jalal Sharafi appeared at a Tehran news conference and gave a detailed account of beatings and harsh interrogations, including being whipped on his feet with cables and tortured with an electric drill. A Red Cross official has confirmed that he saw marks on Sharafi's feet, legs, back and nose, and an Iranian psychiatrist said that Sharafi was suffering from sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, and a mock execution.
All of this is treated by the U.S. government and media as if it is perfectly normal and routine—barely worth mention—and certainly not worthy of condemnation and exposure. This is a chilling illustration of the degree to which the Bush program of institutionalizing illegal detentions and torture, and stripping people of legal rights, has been institutionalized and normalized.
The government and the media—in both the U.S. and Britain—kicked up a fuss about the sole British female captured being forced to wear a veil. And forcing Seaman Faye Turney (or any woman) to wear a veil is reactionary and reflects the repressive, anti-woman politics and ideology of Iran's Islamic Republic. But it paled in comparison to U.S. treatment of its prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and elsewhere. As British novelist Ronan Bennett noted in the Guardian (3/30):
“Turney may have been ‘forced to wear the hijab’, as the Daily Mail noted with fury, but so far as we know she has not been forced into an orange jumpsuit. Her comrades have not been shackled, blindfolded, forced into excruciating physical contortions for long periods, or denied liquids and food. As far as we know they have not had the Bible spat on, torn up or urinated on in front of their faces. They have not had electrodes attached to their genitals or been set on by attack dogs.”
“They have not been hung from a forklift truck and photographed for the amusement of their captors. They have not been pictured naked and smeared in their own excrement. They have not been bundled into a CIA-chartered plane and secretly ‘rendered’ to a basement prison in a country where torturers are experienced and free to do their worst.”
And on the most basic level—what right do the U.S. and Britain have to cry “hostage” and denounce “illegal” Iranian actions, or even utter the words “international law,” after they illegally invaded and conquered the entire nation of Iraq—killing over 600,000 people in the process? When they now hold 25 MILLION Iraqis hostage to their imperialist occupation? And when they’re engaged in unjust aggression—on many fronts—and may well be preparing for yet another bloody, horrific, and utterly criminal war against Iran?
Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
On May 1 immigrants will be taking to the streets in many U.S. cities, protesting the repression now going on against immigrants and demanding change.
This is a very positive and important development. Immigrants who come out that day will be announcing to the world their refusal to be treated as slaves and criminals. They will be taking great risks to build these demonstrations and go to them. And they will be going straight up against the whole ideological and political offensive, and the wave of brutal repression, that has been visited on them in the past year.
We call on all our readers to begin making plans now to come out that day. Think what power it could add to these demonstrations if, marching side by side with immigrants, were many students and youth of all nationalities; contingents of Black people; different movements struggling for justice; prominent people from the arts and sciences; and all kinds of other native-born people. Think about the way that would throw this whole year of anti-immigrant offensive back in the face of the rulers and the fascist vigilantes. Think about the heart that would give to the immigrants themselves. Think about the way that could raise everybody’s sights above the muck and mire of the daily hustle, and past the divisions and apathy instilled by this system. And think about how it could help get a different dynamic going in society. A day like that could become a big part of hastening things in a revolutionary direction.
May 1 is the international holiday of the proletariat. It is a day in particular when the revolutionary aims of the proletariat—for a world without classes and class divisions and all that goes with that, and for a revolution to get to that world—are renewed and declared. On that day, distributors and regular readers of Revolution should not only march, but boldly get out this newspaper by the tens of thousands and more. This should include last week’s special issue on Bob Avakian, along with other revolutionary materials.
Make plans now! Get in touch with us and order your papers and other materials for May 1. And stay tuned to these pages and our website for more information.
Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
In the past month, an attempt by the administration of DePaul University in Chicago to deny academic tenure to Norman Finkelstein, an assistant professor in the Political Science Department, has been made public. The administration aims to do this despite the fact that the two campus committees normally concerned voted to grant Finkelstein tenure.
But the DePaul administration's move was immediately met with outrage and resistance. This is a struggle with very broad and serious implications for dissent and critical thinking on campuses in this country.
Academic tenure is very important for a professor. It is a formal status that gives professors protection from being fired for their research, writing, and speech—it's designed to ensure that thinkers and researchers on campuses who come under political attack are not threatened with losing their positions.
Norman Finkelstein's academic work, writing, and public speaking—focusing on Israel, Palestine, and U.S. policies regarding those areas—have made him the target of right-wing political forces. These same forces are carrying out an accelerating and wide-ranging assault on dissent and critical thinking in the universities. Last year, David Horowitz—a highly connected political operative who describes himself as a "battering ram" for taking on the left in academia—included Finkelstein in his book The Professors: 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.
Around the same time, there began a ferocious political campaign, spearheaded by Harvard law professor and media celebrity Alan Dershowitz, to prevent Finkelstein from even getting tenure and being promoted to the position of associate professor.
Highly Regarded by Students and Colleagues—and Reviled by the Right
Finkelstein is a highly regarded teacher at DePaul, one of the largest private universities in the U.S. His effectiveness as a teacher is one key reason given by the Department of Political Science for recommending that he be granted tenure. A report from the department notes that student evaluations of his teaching “are truly outstanding, and among the most impressive” of all the professors in the department.
As for his academic work and contributions, the Political Science Department's report sums up: “[T]here is clearly a substantial and serious record of scholarly production and achievement. He exceeds our department's stated standards for scholarly production, and both the department and the outside experts we consulted recognize the intellectual merits of his work.” John Mearsheimer, a prominent University of Chicago political science professor, describes Finkelstein as “a major scholar who is known all around the world.”
Finkelstein, moreover, is an influential public intellectual who speaks out widely and in a sharply polemical way against the state of Israel for its brutal subjugation of Palestinian people, against U.S. backing of Israel, and against intellectuals who act as defenders of and apologists for Israel. And he is doing this at a time when any criticism of U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East can be quickly branded as "support for terrorism," and any opposition to Israel is equated with anti-Semitism.
Other Middle East scholars have also come under vicious attack for not following the “official line.” Joseph Massad and other professors in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University have been under fire since 2004, accused of things like anti-Semitimism and “intimidating” students. NYU professor and prominent historian Tony Judt has had public appearances canceled because of his criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. (See, e.g., "In N.Y., Sparks Fly Over Israel Criticism," Washington Post, 10/9/06.)
Finkelstein's views and his visibility have made him a top target of the hateful venom of those like Dershowitz. In a recent radio interview with Revolution contributor Michael Slate, Matthew Abraham, professor of English at DePaul, said that Finkelstein is “reaching wider audiences much beyond the academy, and he's forcing a public reckoning with the real costs Israeli and U.S. militarism have wreaked in the Middle East." (From the KPFK program "Beneath the Surface" with Michael Slate, April 10, 2007, www.kpfk.org)
In his first book, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (Verso, 1995), Finkelstein, among other issues, took on the claims of the Zionists that Jews have a “historical right” to Palestine and that the land was “unoccupied” before Zionist settlers arrived. He wrote, for example: "One can imagine an argument for the right of a persecuted minority to find refuge in a another country able to accommodate it; one is hard-pressed, however, to imagine an argument for the right of a persecuted minority to politically and perhaps physically displace the indigenous population of another country. Yet…the latter was the actual intention of the Zionist movement."
In his fourth book, titled The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (Verso, 2000), Finkelstein—whose parents were survivors of Hitler's concentration camps—argued that the legacy of the Nazi Holocaust was being misused as a way to shield the state of Israel from criticism: “I sometimes think that American Jewry 'discovering' the Nazi Holocaust was worse than its having been forgotten. True, my parents brooded in private; the suffering they endured was not publicly validated. But wasn't that better than the current crass exploitation of Jewish martyrdom?... The Holocaust has proven to be an indispensable ideological weapon. Through its deployment, one of the world's most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, has cast itself as a 'victim' state, and the most successful ethnic group in the U.S. has likewise acquired victim status. Considerable dividends accrue from this specious victimhood—in particular, immunity to criticism, however justified. The time is long past to open our hearts to the rest of humanity's sufferings. This was the main lesson my mother imparted. I never once heard her say: 'Do not compare.' My mother always compared. In the face of the sufferings of African-Americans, Vietnamese and Palestinians, my mother's credo always was: 'We are all holocaust victims.'”
In 2003 Dershowitz—who, by the way, has campaigned loudly for the legalization of torture by the government in "extreme circumstances"—came out with the best-selling book The Case for Israel. When Finkelstein was preparing his book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitimism and the Abuse of History (Univ. of California Press, 2005) as a direct and sharp response to The Case for Israel, Dershowitz mounted an intense and outrageous effort to try to squash its publication. Dershowitz threatened to sue the publisher for defamation if Finkelstein's book came out. He even wrote to California Governor Arnold Scharwzenegger, asking him to intervene with the University of California Press. Many in the publishing business said that this was the first time they'd heard of someone trying to get a governor to stop publication of a book. (See "Giving Chutzpah a New Meaning" by Jon Wiener in The Nation, 6/23/05.)
Dershowitz Attacks… and the Dean Capitulates
Dershowitz was unsuccessful in his attempts to stop Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah. But in 2006, when the tenure review process for Finkelstein began at DePaul, Dershowitz immediately cranked up his attack machine. He sent a document of over 50 pages to the members of the DePaul Political Science Department and other faculty, accusing Finkelstein of "academic misconduct."
This attempt to cloak a political attack on a radical professor by charging "academic misconduct" is very similar to the witch-hunt, led by David Horowitz, against University of Colorado Professor of Native American Studies Ward Churchill, a tenured professor now threatened with losing his position. (See "The Case of Ward Churchill: A Witch-Hunt That Must Be Defeated," in the special supplement "WARNING: The Nazification of the American University" in Revolution #81.) Dershowitz, in fact, is quoted by the online journal Inside Higher Education as saying that Finkelstein is "worse than Ward Churchill."
The department's Personnel Committee, which examined Dershowitz's key charges against Finkelstein, concluded last November: "None of the individual allegations we examined seem to be examples of academic misconduct or dishonesty, and we found no evidence of a pattern of such in the record we examined."
The Department of Political Science, by a vote of 9 to 3, supported Finkelstein's application for tenure and promotion. By a 5 to 0 vote, the College Personnel Committee also supported Finkelstein's bid for tenure.
But then, in an extraordinary move, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Chuck Suchar, came out in opposition to tenure for Finkelstein. In a March 22 memo to the University Board on Tenure and Promotion, Suchar said that he agreed that Finkelstein is a well-regarded teacher, but that he disagrees that Finkelstein's scholarly work merits his receiving tenure. Suchar's supposed reason was that the “tone and substance” of Finkelstein's scholarship “is inconsistent with DePaul's Vincentian values, most particularly our institutional commitment to respect the dignity of the individual and to respect the rights of others to hold and express different intellectual positions—what I take to be one significant meaning of what we term Vincentian 'personalism'..."
In contrast to how the Political Science Department and the College Personnel Committee based their assessment of Finkelstein's work on objective, scientific criteria, Suchar suddenly brought in the idea that professors should be assessed according to "Vincentian," or religious, values! Finkelstein told the New York Times, “That’s just inventing a new standard.” Finkelstein said that in the annual reviews he has gone through, like any other professor, “no one ever warned me that I wasn’t meeting the Vincentian standard of personalism." He added, “I would not have stayed at a university if it told me upfront that a condition for me getting tenure [was that] my views have to be filtered through Catholic values." ("A Bitter Spat Over Ideas, Israel and Tenure," 4/12/07)
Zachary Lockman, the president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), wrote a letter to the DePaul president saying that Suchar's memo "seems to conflate the tone of Professor Finkelstein’s work with the substance of his scholarship." Lockman also pointed out that "the American Association of University Professors clearly stipulates that scholars are to be evaluated strictly on the basis of their scholarship’s academic merit and their teaching—not on their collegiality, nor on whether some may deem their scholarly work too controversial."
In the name of supposedly "respect[ing] the rights of others to hold and express different intellectual positions," Suchar has taken a very harmful position against a scholar who is under political fire, precisely for expressing "different intellectual positions" that have been ruled out of order by powerful forces in this society. Whatever his intentions, Suchar is cravenly capitulating to (if not collaborating with) reactionaries like Horowitz and Dershowitz who are out to silence dissenting voices in academia.
As Revolution analyzed in "WARNING: The Nazification of the American University," the right-wing forces headed by David Horowitz and others "are setting out to forge university administrations into instruments of coercive enforcement and control over faculty and students—intimidating, threatening, and 'cleaning house' of dissident thinkers when called on to do so, while leaving scholars under attack to fend for themselves." And this is precisely what Suchar's action against Finkelstein's tenure represents.
A Dangerous Situation and Need for Wider Resistance
The attempt to deny Finkelstein tenure has not gone unopposed. Students on the DePaul campus have been organizing in support of Prof. Finkelstein. The Norman G. Finkelstein Solidarity Campaign has gathered signatures from scholars and teachers in various institutions in the U.S. and around the world on a letter sent to the DePaul administration. According to university spokespeople, a decision on Finkelstein's tenure will be announced in June.
The situation is urgent, and the opposition to the political attack on Finkelstein needs to be taken up even more broadly around the country, as part of the larger resistance to the nazification of the American university. As the letter from the Finkelstein Solidarity Committee says, "Dean Suchar’s letter sets a dangerous precedent, and also sends the signal that arts and sciences are now endangered at DePaul University and in the American academy in general."
If those who are attempting to stop Norman Finkelstein from getting tenure have their way, this will have very serious consequences on campuses and academia broadly, at a time when dissent and critical thinking in society overall is more urgently needed than ever.
(Further information, updates, and relevant documents on the fight to defend Norman Finkelstein are available online at normanfinkelstein.wordpress.com.)
Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
TO ALL DREAMERS… AND REVOLUTIONARIES
Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
On April 11, the faculty committee hearing Ward Churchill’s appeal of the effort by the University of Colorado (CU) to fire him passed their report on to the administration. Three members of the committee voted for a one-year suspension of Churchill and his demotion to Associate Professor; two voted for dismissal. The CU administration claims Churchill should be fired for “research misconduct.” But the investigation they launched of his scholarship came as a direct result of an orchestrated, nationwide political witch-hunt by two powerful Republican governors and other politicians and right-wing forces over two years ago. It was because of a provocative essay he wrote right after 9/11, and his radical critique of U.S. actions internationally and its history of genocide against the Native Americans, that Churchill became the target of attack and prompted this illegitimate investigation into his scholarship.
The decision by the appeals committee is unacceptable! It gives credence to the whole campaign to drag Churchill's name through the mud, by saying there is something wrong with his scholarship deserving of disciplinary measures.
Churchill and the administration now have 10 working days to respond the committee's report. Then University President Hank Brown will have another 15 working days to make a decision. If he recommends firing in spite of the recommendation of the committee's majority for suspension, the decision will go to the Board of Regents for final approval. (For more on Churchill's case, see the supplement in Revolution #81, “Warning: The Nazification of the American University,” online at revcom.us.)
Also on April 12, Boulder’s Colorado Daily News reported, in an article entitled “Don’t Dismiss Him,” that “powerful scholars from across the nation are speaking out to reverse Churchill's discharge. Law Professor Derrick Bell of New York University's School of Law, Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other prominent professors are involved in this effort and published a letter in the recent [April 12] edition of the New York Review of Books.”
The article quotes from the letter:
“The relentless pursuit of and punitive approach of the University of Colorado at Boulder to Professor Ward Churchill is a revealing instance of the ethos that is currently threatening academic freedom. The voice of the university and intellectual community needs to be heard strongly and unequivocally in defense of dissent and critical thinking. And one concrete expression of such a resolve is to oppose the recommended dismissal of Ward Churchill from his position as a senior tenured faculty member.” (The complete text of the letter is available online at teachersfordemocracy.org and wardchurchill.net, and the letter can be signed at defendcriticalthinking.org.)
The Boulder Daily Camera also reported on the same day that a group of students and faculty members unofficially made this week the Ward Churchill Week. The students marched on the administration with petitions demanding that Churchill not be fired, and that the Alumni Association give Churchill the award for “favorite professor” that students had voted him for two years ago. The next evening the students hosted an event featuring Professor Eric Cheyfitz, Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters at Cornell University, an American Indian Studies scholar who is highly critical of the approach and findings of the CU investigation of Churchill, believing that they have turned a debate over U.S. history into an indictment.
Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
We want to call our readers’ attention to the current edition of A World To Win [2006/32] and the article “On Empire: Revolutionary Communism or ‘Communism’ Without Revolution?” (The article is available online at aworldtowin.org/current_issues.)
The article takes up the work of the radical political theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, as well as some of the criticisms of their work. Hardt and Negri made a stir with their book Empire, published in 2000, and their follow-up Multitude, which came out four years later. As the article lays out, Hardt and Negri argue that with the globalization of the past several decades, the world has entered a phase of a “fundamentally new form of rule”—which they refer to as “Empire.” Hardt and Negri write that this new form of rule has caused the role of the nation-state to decline tremendously in importance.
Further, they say that many of the new forms of production connected to computerization have made Marxist analysis of political economy outdated. Hardt and Negri envision a communist future growing out of this phase—one without nation-states, in which humanity “will be self-organizing and self-administrating.” And they argue that this future can come about through a variety of different forms of mass action from below—but NOT through a revolution aimed at destroying the power of the old state and creating a new state power fitted to actually making a transition to communism.
The article in A World to Win is a polemic—that is, a comprehensive criticism—of Hardt and Negri. The polemic does not deny the many changes in the world that Hardt and Negri point to. Instead, it goes deeply into their key arguments to examine what those changes do—and do not—mean. It shows the real contradictions and contradictory phenomena that Hardt and Negri attempt to address—and where they get it wrong, and why. In the course of this article, the author addresses:
These are all critical questions. And they are all questions that find expression in the sharpest debates among radicals today. Hardt and Negri, for example, have systematically put forward a theory that justifies and upholds the political stance of forces like EZLN, or the Zapatistas, in Mexico—forces which attract a great many people looking to make fundamental change. The approach of the author of the polemic in A World To Win is NOT to show how Hardt and Negri depart from the “received wisdom” of Marxism—but to go deeply into the changes in reality that they are pointing to and their analysis of those changes, grappling with those changes, and giving a deepened materialist answer to them.
Again, we strongly recommend this polemic to our readers.
Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
The organization World Can't Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime! (WCW) is calling on people all over to distribute a million copies of its call by April 30. (See text of the Call on worldcantwait.org) Every person who supports WCW and everyone who is a new visitor to their website, worldcantwait.org, is being called on to pledge to distribute 100-500 or more copies and to get others to sign the Call. Worldcantwait.org lists various ideas to spread the Call far and wide: get it into your local and campus papers; print it as a poster and ask stores to post it; get the word out to everyone on your email lists and ask friends to distribute and sign the Call; go to your church, union, or professional association and have them endorse and sign it and send it out to their elists.
WCW is aiming to spark widespread discussion, debate, and action off of the broad distribution of the Call, to create “a situation in which millions of people bounce off this Call to determine how they should think and act.” From worldcantwait.org: “The world faces a grave emergency. The very nature of U.S. society and its relationship to other countries are being reshaped in a horrific ways before our eyes, including now escalating the war in Iraq and threatening Iran with nuclear weapons. Yet the full implications of these sweeping changes are not widely understood, even among those who oppose the Bush administration. This must change and resistance must grow.”
To pledge to distribute the Call and to download the PDF, go to worldcantwait.org.
Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
Check It Out
Last week, I attended a preview performance of “Inherit the Wind” with Christopher Plummer and Brian Dennehy in the main roles. The play is set some time ago in a small town described by a character in the play as the “buckle in the Bible belt,” and it is loosely based on the famous Scopes Trial which resulted in a high school science teacher being convicted for teaching evolution to students in Tennessee (where the law mandated that creationism be taught and not evolution). This was a thoroughly enjoyable experience! Full of humor, even as it speaks to burning questions of our time. There is a powerful back-and-forth in the play between the Bible-thumping literalists who uphold the “revealed truth” that the world was created in seven days by God and cry that those who reject creationism should be struck down and eternally damned and those who are fighting for the truth—for the right and importance of people to think critically—and for the scientific theory of evolution.
Consider the following exchange between the lawyer for the state, Brady, and the lawyer Drummond who is defending the high school science teacher:
Brady: ...Is it possible that something is holy to the celebrated agnostic?
Drummond: Yes! The individual human mind. In a child’s power to master the multiplication table there is more sanctity than in all your shouted “Amens!”, “Holy, Holies!”, and “Hosannahs!” An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is more of a miracle than any sticks turned into snakes, or the parting of the waters! But are we now to halt the march of progress because Mr. Brady frightens us with a fable? . . . Darwin moved us forward to a hilltop, where we could look back and see the way from which we came. But for this view, this insight, this knowledge, we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis.
Two nights ago, the play opened, and the next morning, the New York Times prominently featured an unfavorable review of the play. While the Times acknowledged that the question of teaching evolution in the schools is more “topical” than ever—and called this an “abidingly important debate”—the article went on to review the current staging of the play as “wooden” and to pretty much trash the performance of many of the key actors (while favorably reviewing Christopher Plummer’s performance), effectively (and knowingly, given the impact a New York Times review can have on the success of a play) discouraging people from attending and in many ways supporting this effort. This objectively gives weight to those who are aggressively working to suppress the established fact of the theory of evolution and critical thinking and the search for the truth—who seek to replace it with subservient Biblical ignorance. At the same time, other critics disagreed and gave favorable reviews to the play.
It is very good and important that this play is being brought to Broadway at this time—and in such a moving, thought-provoking performance—when the very battles being fought out in the play are also being fought out in society... when there is an onslaught against science and truth—and when this is focused up sharply around the teaching of evolution in the schools, with attempts to actually change the laws in many places to force teachers to teach creationism alongside of evolution. The performance brings to the audience a sense of what is at stake today in the struggles to defend the theory of evolution and the scientific method and critical thinking more generally—and the importance of people courageously standing up, of going against the tide and fighting for what is true and correct. And to produce this play makes that statement broadly to society. Many, many people—whoever can—should see this play!