voice of the revolutionary communist party,usa
Please note: this page is intended for quick printing of the entire issue. Some of the links may not work when clicked, and some images may be missing. Please go to the article's permalink if you require working links and images.
Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
May 1st, 2007 -- Across the U.S.
On May 1st this year, tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies marched and rallied across the country in major cities and small towns. The principal demands were legalization for all immigrants, stop the raids, stop the deportations and stop the militarization of the border. Though much smaller than last year’s outpourings in opposition to the draconian Sensenbrenner bill which would have criminalized all undocumented immigrants and anyone who helped them in any way, these actions were very significant, nonetheless. They occurred in the face of a whole series over the last year of highly publicized raids, street sweeps and deportations, nationally, which were carried out to punish people for the massive demonstrations last spring and intimidate people from taking political action against all the attacks on immigrants. In many cases, these demonstrations had a very determined edge—as was shown in LA, where people refused to back down in the face of police attack. At the same time many people were asking why were the demonstrations so much smaller? Does marching do any good? Is the movement dying?
Before May 1st, the mainstream press especially emphasized that the demonstrations would be so much smaller and tried to demoralize people. They quoted many people who said they would not take off work this year. But many factors were involved. The last year of raids and roundups did have an effect on people. There is a real fear factor. For instance, organizers of a Cinco de Mayo festival in Virginia canceled this year’s event after receiving a call from ICE. They were afraid of the celebration being raided.
Two big factors that were interrelated last year did not play the same kind of role this year. One, the openly repressive and anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner bill was a major cause of the outpouring last year. It was a rallying cry for millions of immigrants, who are super exploited every day and scrambling to survive. They justifiably felt like their very right to live was being taken away. There was a widespread mood of anger and combativeness and a feeling that they had to stop this, that their backs were up against the wall. A certain flashpoint was reached which led to a truly mass movement among the immigrant masses very quickly and seemingly out of nowhere. This caught the bourgeoisie totally off guard.
Second, and related to this, was a view among major sections of the ruling class and their political representatives that passage of the Sensenbrenner bill into law, could lead to major social upheaval. They recognized that the U.S. economy is thoroughly dependent on super exploitable labor and that at this point economically and politically, millions of undocumented people could not be rounded up and deported. Instead, they favored laws that would keep many of the same repressive measures as Sensenbrenner, but also put forward an illusionary “path to citizenship” for immigrants to induce them out of the shadows and more easily control them. And as the movement gained rapid momentum, many among the Democrats rushed to get at the head of the movement and lead it into relying on them so as to demobilize the masses. This turmoil at the top led to the airwaves being opened up to promote last spring’s demonstrations and many Democratic politicians endorsing the demonstrations and coming out to speak at them. People were given an outlet to express themselves both because of opposition of sections of the ruling class to the Sensenbrenner bill and because much of the Spanish language media reflected the desires and demands of their audience and sympathized with them in many cases. And people felt a certain safety in coming out into the streets because of this. That was not the case this year.
Instead, with a Democratic controlled Congress, there is general consensus between Bush and the Democrats for “immigration reform” that includes some type of “guest worker program,” increased militarization of the border, more detention centers, legalization for some immigrants and the illusion of possible legalization for many more, and an overall thrust of much more repressive control of immigrants. But while this consensus is emerging, there are still important differences. It is not clear that anyone in the ruling class is really going to push for a bill to get through. So, except for Chicago, this year, sections of the ruling class did not see the need to support these demonstrations.
In addition, in the wake of the defeat of the Sensenbrenner bill, a lot of confusion among the masses developed—since many thought something good would come out of Congress after last year’s massive demonstrations, but that didn't happen. In saying this, we cannot forget that the historic massive demonstrations last spring played a major role in defeating the Sensenbrenner bill. Not only that, it showed everybody that there was a major new force in society that was not going to go away, and that demanded justice. Big political and social debate developed off that. This too is a major achievement of those demonstrations. Demonstrating in the streets can make a difference, a big difference. But while the immigrant rights movement was united in its opposition to the Sensebrenner bill, real divisions have developed over whether or not to accept some form of a “guest worker program” and legalization for some and not others with a multitude of restrictions. These were additional factors that led to much smaller demonstrations.
However, this year’s demonstrations did give voice to people’s burning demand to be treated as human beings. It did show that despite the events of the last year a strong core of people have not given up but went out in the face of the raids, roundups and deportations. The just demands of the people have not been met. The movement needs to build on this, reach out far beyond the immigrant communities, and persevere in relying on the people’s own efforts to defeat all of the anti-immigrant attacks. Revolutionaries must work within that movement, strengthening this resistance and constantly bringing forward the fundamental interests of the masses and how they can only be satisfied through revolution.
Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
"We all saw the police riot on the May 1st at McArthur Park. Battalions of armed police clubbed and shot their way through an immigrant rights rally. Hundreds of LAPD cops in full riot gear wielded batons and fired volley after volley of rubber bullets directly at children, women and men. Cops pointed their shotguns point blank at people’s faces. Parents tried to shield their children from “non-lethal” missiles that could crack a baby’s skull. Numerous people were injured."
From a statement by Travis Morales, “Denounce the LAPD Rampage on May 1st –
We Demand a Better World” (available at http://revcom.us)
On May 1st, International Worker’s Day, in the wake of massive ICE raids throughout the country, and the terrorizing of entire communities in Southern California, tens of thousands of people joined thousands more across the country as they marched in downtown L.A. to declare that they are human beings—not criminals or beasts of burden unworthy of basic human rights. But by the end of the afternoon, the LAPD gave their answer in the form of teargas and rubber bullets.
By noon a few hundred students from East L.A. had walked out of Roosevelt HS, Hollenbeck Middle School, and Garfield HS, calling on others to join them as they marched toward downtown to join the thousands already gathered there, including students from dozens of other high schools in the Los Angeles, Orange County, and Ventura areas. “People kept telling us to stay in school, but we want to be heard. Students need to get in the streets to give others strength,” said one of the student leaders at Roosevelt HS. “This is about the rights of millions of people.”
Jackie, a janitor originally from Central America told Revolution that many people were afraid of getting rounded up and deported or losing their jobs for participating in the May 1st protest, but that it was important for people to overcome that fear and pour into the streets. She said: “We’re not asking for respect, we’re demanding respect and legalization for everyone.”
At a second march that ended in an afternoon rally at McArthur Park, in Pico Union—sometimes called “Little Central America”—tens of thousands gathered to relax a little after marching all day and to listen to speeches from immigrants rights organizations and live music.
In the late afternoon the LAPD began driving their motorcycles into a crowd that had gathered to watch a group of Aztec dancers at the entrance to the park. Outraged, more people gathered to see what was going on—and denounce the actions of the police. Then in an act of brute force and complete disregard for the lives of the thousands of people who were attending the rally, battalions of armed police charged into the park—shooting more than 240 rubber bullets into the crowd. Television news crews captured images of the police swinging their batons at an arm’s length of a frightened child who cried as he stood frozen in the chaos. The people least able to move quickly—mothers with strollers, entire families, disabled people, and street vendors were pushed, hit, and humiliated as they tried to run from the police.
Radio and television journalists were viciously attacked. A camerawoman from local Fox News Channel 11 was pushed to the ground and beaten. When a news reporter tried to help her get up and they tried to get to their news van only a few feet away, the police pushed the reporter away and threatened to arrest her. Nearby, police kicked another camera man, took his camera, and threw it to the ground.
“One minute I was on live, the next minute I was running for my life. Suddenly, I had a police officer pointing one of those shot guns at my face,” said Pedro Sevcec, a news reporter for Spanish language Telemundo. “It was excessive force. They basically hit women, children, and journalists.”
Numerous people were injured as they were hit with so-called “non-lethal” missiles that can easily take out a person’s eye, or crack a baby’s skull. One man with a large and bloody bruise on the side of his stomach—who like many others had carried the U.S. flag throughout the day—threw it down in an act of indignation at the way people had been brutalized by the police, saying: “I don't care if they kill me.” As the police cleared the park and pushed people onto a business street surrounded by apartment buildings and houses (while they continued shooting), people from the neighborhood opened their doors to shelter people from the attack. Groups of youth came out and built small barricades in the street—fires were lit at street corners and hundreds gathered as the police finally dispersed.
The brutal police attack was clearly unprovoked. Police and their apologists have tried to justify this as a response to “agitators.” This is a bald lie. This rally had a permit to be in the park until 9 PM (the police raid came around 6 PM—only an hour after the rally began). The real “provocation” was that immigrants and their allies came out in the tens of thousands to rally and demand that immigrants be treated as human beings. This brutality is a critical part of U.S. imperialism’s program for immigrants: killed at the border; worked to death like slaves; Gestapo-style ICE raids with la migra dragging people out of their homes in the middle of the night; deportations and tearing families apart; terrorizing communities with street sweeps; concentration camps for captured immigrants including children; and armed vigilantes hunting down immigrants like modern day slave catchers.
In the days after the police attack there is growing outrage among different sections of people. In the neighborhood surrounding McArthur Park—which has a long history of police brutality at the hands of the Rampart Police Division—people are angry that the demonstration was attacked with such viciousness. Some people from the neighborhood have commented that they feel the police wanted to “put people in their place,” but that the opposite has happened and people are angrier than ever.
Vicious Attack Begins to Change Minds
Throughout that day, many people spoke angrily about the way immigrants are treated and about the need to put a stop to the ICE raids and deportations. And at the same time, there were many expressions of how people have a lot of illusions about the “American Dream”—or as one woman said, “have the opportunities that this great nation offers us.” But while people do have many illusions, the vicious attack on May Day compelled many to re-examine what they have been thinking about the nature of this country and its so-called “freedoms.” And there has also been curiosity about the struggle of Black people for civil rights in the '50s and '60s. Jose, a man from Central America said, “They did this to the Blacks when they stood up in the '60s and again in the '90s—now we’re standing up and they’re doing it to us.”
A clerk from El Salvador at a business near McArthur Park talked about a woman that had stopped in to buy something on May 1st. She had young children with her and he asked her if she was going to the march. “Yes,” she said. Being from El Salvador, he’s always weary of police and large demonstrations. He told her to be careful and be ready to escape at a moment’s notice. She said, “This is the United States.” She thought that things are different here than in her home country. She thought that there’s freedom here. Now she doesn't see things the same way and the next day she stopped by to thank him for warning her.
The clerk said, “With this they’re trying to scare the people. They want to tell us, ‘We’re capable of this and more!’ And we already know that. They can do what they want with us, they can beat us, they can mistreat us, they can take away the cars of humble people…and they can repress us, but the authorities should be aware that the more they mistreat the people, the people’s response will be stronger and more efficient.”
Joanna lives in the suburbs outside of L.A. She buys into the system's argument that there is an immigration problem and that the borders should be enforced. But after the May 1st police attack she’s questioning the existence of all the so-called “freedoms” that exist in this country. “I’m usually conservative on these things. I figure the police know what they’re doing and if they are aggressive it’s because they feel endangered. But what I’ve seen on the news is unbelievable. They say that there were some young people causing trouble, but what I saw was police shooting at families and journalists. It wasn’t an unlawful protest. They had a permit to be in the park!”
As Travis Morales wrote in his statement:
“Despite all the bills in Congress, all of which are bad and unacceptable, and numerous elected Latino politicians, this police attack reveals the reality of 'comprehensive immigration reform.' It reveals the heart of what the government has in store for immigrants—police raids, deportations and attempts to crush resistance. What does this say about the times we live in?
“Let’s be clear. They don’t have a solution to what they call the 'immigration problem.' The U.S. imperialists rape and pillage the world for profit. They tear up, warp and destroy the economies of whole countries, leaving millions of people to starve and die or seek work wherever and however they can in the world. The 12 to 20 million undocumented workers estimated to be in the U.S. have been driven into this country by the heartless workings of capitalism and imperialism. And when they get to the U.S. they are worked to death, dehumanized and demonized, blamed for just about every problem in the society. In reality, the U.S. economy would collapse without super exploited immigrant labor. Ruthless exploitation of immigrant workers is critical to the functioning of the American imperialist economy; it depends on the enslavement of millions of immigrants. It’s part of the DNA of their system. The truth rings out powerfully, we don’t have an immigration problem; we have a capitalist/imperialist problem.
“In the face of this police assault and all the attacks on immigrants today, it is critical that all of us who care about justice and the future do everything we can to unite all of the oppressed and exploited people together with all those who hate what this system does in revolutionary unity to defeat all the ways the system is going after immigrants. Make this part of and contribute to uniting millions in a common revolutionary cause against a common enemy and declaring, in one voice, diverse in language and accent, but fully united in its sentiment: 'We are human beings, we demand a better world, we will not accept slavery in any form.'”
Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
We all saw the police riot on the May 1st at MacArthur Park. Battalions of armed police clubbed and shot their way through an immigrant rights rally. Hundreds of LAPD cops in full riot gear wielded batons and fired volley after volley of rubber bullets directly at children, women and men. Cops pointed their shotguns point blank at people’s faces. Parents tried to shield their children from “non-lethal” missiles that could crack a baby’s skull. Numerous people were injured.
Journalists were viciously attacked. A camerawoman from local Fox News Channel 11 was beaten. When her colleague tried to help her, she too was grabbed, spun around, and threatened with arrest. Others had their cameras taken by the police and smashed. This was meant to intimidate reporters and prevent the truth from being told about the real conditions, demands and struggles of the immigrant masses. This action speaks volumes about the much touted “freedoms” in this country – including the so-called “free press”.
The brutal police attack was clearly unprovoked. Police and their apologists have tried to justify this as a response to “agitators.” This is a bald lie. This rally had a permit to be in the park until 9 PM (the police raid came around 6 PM – only an hour after the rally began). The real “provocation” was that immigrants and their allies came out in the tens of thousands to rally and demand that immigrants be treated as human beings. This brutality is a critical part of U.S. imperialism’s program for immigrants: killed at the border; worked to death like slaves; Gestapo style ICE raids with la migra dragging people out of their homes in the middle of the night; deportations and tearing families apart; terrorizing communities with street sweeps; concentration camps for captured immigrants including children; and armed vigilantes hunting down immigrants like modern day slave catchers.
A large number of people – protesters, reporters and legal observers from the rally – have come out to expose this and condemn this police attack. Police Chief Bratton and city officials have been quick to try to cover it up with more lies and excuses.
The police attack on the May 1st rally came on the heels of the 15th anniversary of the 1992 Rodney King rebellion, when immigrants joined Black people in a powerful uprising in protest against police brutality. We are repeatedly told since that the LAPD has been reformed. This IS the reformed LAPD – the meaner and more brutal machine we saw on May 1st.
Despite all the bills in Congress, all of which are bad and unacceptable, and numerous elected Latino politicians, this police attack reveals the reality of “comprehensive immigration reform.” It reveals the heart of what the government has in store for immigrants – police raids, deportations and attempts to crush resistance. What does this say about the times we live in?
Let’s be clear. They don’t have a solution to what they call the “immigration problem.” The U.S. imperialists rape and pillage the world for profit. They tear up, warp and destroy the economies of whole countries, leaving millions of people to starve and die or seek work wherever and however they can in the world. The 12 to 20 million undocumented workers estimated to be in the U.S. have been driven into this country by the heartless workings of capitalism and imperialism. And when they get to the US they are worked to death, dehumanized and demonized, blamed for just about every problem in the society. In reality, the U.S. economy would collapse without super exploited immigrant labor. Ruthless exploitation of immigrant workers is critical to the functioning of the American imperialist economy; it depends on the enslavement of millions of immigrants. It’s part of the DNA of their system. The truth rings out powerfully, we don’t have an immigration problem; we have a capitalist/imperialist problem.
In the face of this police assault and all the attacks on immigrants today, it is critical that all of us who care about justice and the future do everything we can to unite all of the oppressed and exploited people together with all those who hate what this system does in revolutionary unity to defeat all the ways the system is going after immigrants. Make this part of and contribute to uniting millions in a common revolutionary cause against a common enemy and declaring, in one voice, diverse in language and accent, but fully united in its sentiment: “We are human beings, we demand a better world, we will not accept slavery in any form.”
We all know that the world should not be this way. And more, it doesn’t have to be this way. We need a whole new world, a communist world, and a socialist revolution to get us there. And this is very, very possible. A world where people work together with equality and dignity, a world without borders to enforce the domination and looting of entire nations, in fact a world without nations, a world without men oppressing women, a world without anyone being “illegal,” a world free of every form of oppression and exploitation.
The world and everyone in it are at a crossroads where we are staring at both unprecedented danger and perhaps historic opportunity. In this kind of situation we can get to this new world; but we need a revolution to get there and we need leadership. That leadership is Bob Avakian. He has dedicated his life to mapping out the path to that revolution and how to get to a better world in which we would all want to live. And more than that, Bob Avakian has taken up the critical questions of how to build this better world once we win a revolution, building on the positive achievements in the Soviet Union and China when they were socialist, while criticizing the mistakes, sometimes very big, that were made, to re-envision a model for a vibrant, creative and thriving society. He is leading an organization, the Revolutionary Communist Party, that is dedicated to bringing about a revolution and a whole new world.
Again, we and the world are at a crossroads. The type of world we get beyond this crossroads depends on what we do. If you are serious about changing the world, about bringing a better world into being, you need to check out and get into the works of Bob Avakian, follow his leadership and support and join the Revolutionary Communist Party. The future is at stake.
Libros Revolución, 312 W. 8th St., Los Angeles, CA (213) 488-1303
Stop and reverse the militarization of the border.
Full rights and access to decent education, health care, and other social services.
No deportations, no round-ups, no detention centers/concentration camps.
We are human beings.
We demand a better world.
We will not accept slavery in any form.
Revolution #67, October 29, 2006
Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
From the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
On the Occasion of the May 1st Demonstrations for Immigration Rights
The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA issued a statement on the occasion of the May 1st demonstrations for immigrant rights, titled: We Are Human Beings, We Demand A Better World, We Will Not Accept Slavery in Any Form (available at revcom.us). Tens of thousands of copies were passed out in cities across the country. The following is an excerpt from that statement:
Imperialism drives people from their lands, persecutes and even murders them as they cross the border, and then super-exploits and demonizes them once they are in the imperialist countries. Millions of immigrants are driven to the U.S. from their home countries to be horribly exploited in restaurants, sweatshops, landscaping, and construction. They provide what is almost slave labor for the U.S. economy, an economy that has become so dependent on the super-exploitation of immigrants that it cannot function without it. And the ways in which the fears of millions of native-born people are being manipulated; the divisions that are fanned and enforced between nationalities, even among the oppressed nationalities—all of these are products of capitalism.
This is going on all over the world—over 200 million people have been driven out of the countrysides and forced to seek work in places like the U.S., Europe, and Japan. They, along with the 12 to 20 million undocumented workers estimated to be in the U.S., have been driven from their homes by the heartless workings of capitalism and imperialism. Now every capitalist would explain to you that they are not being greedy or malicious, but that they have no choice—and, in a perverted sense, they would be right. Each is driven by the fear of being wiped out by some other capitalist who is working people at still lower wages for still higher profit.
From the point of view of the people on the bottom, there is not an immigration problem, there is a capitalism problem...
The people have the potential to come together from all different nationalities and not only beat back all the ways they horribly exploit and oppress immigrants but come together as part of a revolutionary struggle for a better world. Yes, the enemy is very powerful. And one lesson we should learn from last year is that there is no good resolution, in the interests of the people, that is going to come from the system’s politicians. But last year also saw the power of the people. And people learned some things. Everyone can learn from the spirit from those protests, the display of defiance and resistance, and join and bring their strengths to bear in a united struggle against a system that is the source of our common misery and suffering.
The imperialist rulers of the U.S. are rampaging through the world, invading and occupying whole countries in the pursuit of empire, torturing and detaining people in secret prisons, and jailing people indefinitely without charges. Within the U.S. itself they are backing a movement that aims to impose a fanatical Christian fascist government in the U.S., they are eliminating a woman’s right to choose, they are stepping up the oppression and discrimination against minorities, and all the rest. There is absolutely no prospect for a better world for immigrants or anyone else in the world as long as this system stays in power. Think about it. It is just not going to happen. Their attacks on immigrants are part of a whole program, a whole package, that has to be resisted and defeated.
But even more importantly, things don’t have to be this way. The world can be changed and all this can be overcome by revolution—a socialist revolution.
Such a revolution must be led by the proletariat—the class of people who own only their ability to work and have nothing to lose but their chains—and it must unite millions and millions more who are not from the proletariat, but yearn for a better, more just world. Such a revolution must be the conscious act of millions. It must result in a whole new state power that builds on the achievements of past proletarian revolutions, and goes further in unleashing a vibrant and lively socialist society. This state power in turn must and will serve new social and economic relations aimed at getting rid of exploitation and all the oppressive institutions and ideas that exist now, between people and between countries. It must be very firm in dealing with those who would destroy it, both from without and the overthrown and new exploiters from within…while “going to the brink of being drawn and quartered” in order to ensure the fullest possible flourishing of critical thinking and democracy among the people. A whole different—and far, far better—world is possible. And not only is a better world possible but we have a leader, Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who has developed a revolutionary plan and vision for getting to that better world, one that builds on the achievements of the past while critically summing up the shortcomings, and on that basis envisioning a new “model” of socialist society and the transition to a truly communist world.
Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
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 fifth 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.
An Unequaled Barbarity
In a speech on September 11 this year (2006), the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush said—now listen to this: "Five years ago, 19 men attacked us with a barbarity unequaled in our history." Think about that statement for a second and what they're trying to put over on people with that.
Really, "a barbarity unequaled in our history"? How about little things like slavery? How about little things like genocide of the Native Americans? How about lynching? How about wars like the war against the Philippines at the end of the 19th century, and all the atrocities committed by U.S. forces against the people of the Philippines? Or Vietnam? Or Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Note that Bush didn't say "on our territory." He said "unequaled in our history." That is not only a profound lie but a profound exposure of the monstrosity of the mentality of someone who could say something like that.
Recently in our newspaper, Revolution, we had pictures and headlines from the time of the dropping of the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War 2. There's all this talk these days about how "we" can't let others have nuclear weapons. And you have to keep reminding people in this country—or informing people, probably the majority in this country, who don't know it—about which country is the only one that has ever actually used nuclear weapons. I hate to say it—I don't want to be Jay Leno on the Tonight show, out on the street with his microphone, asking people basic questions about things and getting wrong answers, showing how all the "rubes" are really as stupid as you might think they are. But the fact is that this is a systematically uneducated and mis-educated population. Something a professor at one university said to us is actually very important. He said about the youth that he teaches now: "You should understand that they don't know anywhere near what you think they know."
The widespread ignorance that does exist, even among the relatively educated population in the U.S., is generally accompanied by an attitude that we're the "good guys" in the world, so what we do that brings suffering to other people doesn't count in the same way as if the same thing were done by others. Partly out of an attitude like that, and partly out of just plain ignorance, it is very likely that a majority of people in the U.S. do not know—or have been unable, or unwilling, to "process the information"—that the U.S. has actually used nuclear weapons, that it has dropped atomic bombs on civilian populations. Or somehow it's like the Bob Dylan lines I referred to in the Memoir (From Ike to Mao and Beyond, My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, a Memoir by Bob Avakian): When the character in a Dylan song tries to get into a fallout shelter, he is refused and threatened by the owner of this bomb shelter, and then there is the following exchange between the two of them: "I said, 'You know, they refused Jesus too'; he said, 'you're not him.'" This is the same kind of logic that many people in this country use—and a logic that is systematically used by the rulers and apologists of this system—when just some of the "unequaled barbarity" they have committed comes to light: "That's us—that doesn't count… you're not us."
In one of the recent 7 Talks (if I recall correctly, it was the one on religion1) I got into the question of logical syllogisms, and I want to return to this here.
This is related to the question of "common sense." A lot of people talk about "common sense," and this is something that is frequently invoked by right-wing politicos, talk-show hosts, etc., especially when they want to appeal to a certain philistinism in the service of their reactionary objectives. They will often say, "let's just talk common sense here." Well, it is very important, in terms of epistemology—in terms of struggling with people over how to really understand what is going on in the world, and why—it is very important to grasp the fact that "common sense" means one (or both) of two things: It means either elementary logic and/or thinking proceeding from assumptions that are so deeply embedded in the prevailing culture that people don't question them, or even are unaware of them.
You see this all the time. People proceed from certain assumptions, like "we're the good guys in the world." They don't even necessarily say "we're the good guys" every time; they just proceed from that assumption and then make arguments about what "the bad guys" (the ones who are opposed to "us" or who are "getting in our way") are doing in the world.
Well, as I have pointed out, with any of these syllogisms, or any kind of logical reasoning, there is the question of whether you are in fact reasoning logically—which is a problem for a lot of these hard-core defenders of the system and apologists for its crimes, especially the religious fundamentalist ones—they do not proceed logically much of the time. But even if you are proceeding logically, there is the question of whether your assumptions are valid to begin with, whether they actually are true. And, in addition to critically examining the logic (or lack of it) that characterizes people's thinking, there is a real importance to bringing to light the unstated, unchallenged—and often even unrealized—assumptions that go into a lot of what many people say, and think.
If you think back to the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, whenever anybody would bring up anything about what was wrong with invading Iraq, those who supported the invasion—and who, at the same time, were unwilling, or unable, to think at all critically about all this—came back with a constant refrain: "But we were attacked." This has the virtue of highlighting both bad logic and faulty assumptions. Bad logic: "We" (the U.S. and its citizens) were not attacked by Iraq, so how does the argument that "we were attacked" justify an invasion of Iraq? And faulty assumptions, which do not conform to reality: the assumptions that "we" have been completely innocent, doing no harm in the world, and then "we" were suddenly attacked out of nowhere, with no relation to anything "we" were doing in the world. Well, in reality, who are "we," what have "we" actually been doing in the world, and where did this attack come from—and why? What set of social relations are "we" out in the world enforcing? What is our Tony Soprano doing out there?
So there are epistemological points that have to be gone into as part of this—most fundamentally in terms of how we understand reality, but also how we struggle with people about all this. I mean, imagine making the statement Bush did: "Nineteen men attacked us with a barbarity unequaled in our history."
And, in speaking to the American Legion on August 29 of this year (2006), referring to the U.S. airplane, the Enola Gay, that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and feeling the need to combat what he and others like him labeled the "blame America first" position, Donald Rumsfeld said:
"Not so long ago, an exhibit, Enola Gay, at the Smithsonian Museum in the 1990s seemed to try to rewrite the history of World War 2 by portraying the United States as somewhat of an aggressor. Fortunately, [Rumsfeld continued] the American Legion was there to lead the effort to set the record straight."
What is Rumsfeld doing here but, once again, justifying the unleashing of atomic bombs on Japanese cities, killing and horribly maiming hundreds of thousands of civilians? As pointed out in our newspaper, there has never yet been a prominent spokesman of U.S. imperialism who has said it was wrong to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Think about that: 60 years later, not a one. And you won't find any among the politicians who are now running, or considering running, for prominent office. You won't find any prominent representative of the government who will say this was wrong. They may not jump up and down and celebrate this nuclear slaughter the way they did at the time—and yes they did. But unleashing these atomic bombs on innocent civilians was well worth it, they continue to insist—it saved lives.
Here is another example of faulty, and often unstated, assumption, combined with bad logic. First of all, "saving lives" was not the essential reason these atomic bombs were used to devastate two Japanese cities. This was done to make a statement on the world stage, particularly to the Soviet Union, to the Chinese revolutionaries and to others, about who is the big dog running the world now—"it's us, the U.S. imperialists"—and what price will have to be paid for going up against that. But even if those bombs had been used "to save lives," the question is: whose lives? There's a big assumption "smuggled in" there. It's American lives that are being talked about. Sometimes they do try to make convoluted arguments about how they actually saved Japanese lives by using these atomic bombs. But this is like the argument of an American military officer, commenting on a Vietnamese village that was leveled by U.S. bombing—"we saved the village by destroying it." This is what was done, on a much more massive and horrific level, with the use of atomic bombs on Japanese cities. But mainly, let's face it, it's American lives these people are talking about.
They will say: "Our soldiers would have had to invade Japan otherwise, it would have been a massive invasion, the Japanese would have resisted, we might have lost a million soldiers." These are distorted and exaggerated claims to begin with. But something essential is smuggled into this. Often they don't spell this all out, they don't state explicitly the basic "equation"—which is: "American lives are more important than other people's lives; it would have saved American lives; therefore it is justified." Whether or not this is spelled out, that is the reasoning. That's the "common sense" reasoning going on with this kind of syllogism. We have to "pull out" the often unstated assumptions in all this, and make people confront what's actually being said.
American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People's Lives
One of the positive things on the political terrain these days—and we have to struggle for this to be brought forward a lot more fully—is a fairly widespread sentiment and consciousness, within the U.S. itself, that American lives are not worth more than other people's lives. This view is even more widespread than during the Vietnam War, I believe, although it did find expression then as a pretty mass phenomenon. Those who haven't been around as long perhaps aren't fully aware of this, but it's a relatively new thing for there to be a mass phenomenon where people in the U.S. itself are arguing that American lives are not worth more than other people's lives. This is a very important and relatively new positive thing on the political terrain. In the history of this country, there has always been the assumption—this has been promoted by the ruling class, but it's held much broader sway—that American lives are, of course, more important and worth more than other people's lives. The difference is that now there is actually a significant section of society who, when it's presented that way, will vehemently disagree. That's an important thing. And we have to win many more people to this viewpoint that American lives are not more important.
All this—and the whole experience that is captured with the metaphor of living in the house of Tony Soprano—does come back around to the question of complicity. Now, in this connection I want to say a few things about the mobilization on October 5 (2006) that was called by World Can't Wait, and the fact that, frankly, in terms of numbers and accordingly in terms of impact, this fell far short of what was needed. Now, as Maoists, we're not supposed to blame the masses when things don't go well. But goddamnit—I want to blame the masses a little bit! Not strategically. Ultimately it is our responsibility—it is the responsibility of those who do understand the urgent need for massive opposition and political resistance to this whole course that the Bush regime is driving things on. But in line with, and as a part of, that responsibility, terms have to be presented sharply to people.
Someone made the point that we should say to those people who knew about October 5, and who said they agreed with its basic stance and aims but did not come out that day: "Shame on you if you sat on your ass on October 5! If you knew about it or had a basis to know about it and you did not make use of this vehicle and help make this vehicle as powerful as possible—shame on you!" Now, if that's all we say, it won’t get very far—and it wouldn't be fundamentally correct. But there is an element where this has to be joined with people. It is a truth, which people do have to be confronted with, that if in the name of avoiding upheaval and chaos, and in the name of trying to stay safe—even in the sense of staying within a political process and political confines that you are more familiar and comfortable with, yet this process leads to terrible things, one after another—if on that basis you don't join in the kind of massive outpouring of resistance that is called for, and if you don't contribute to that—then yes, you are complicit. The ad that World Can't Wait put in the New York Times on October 4 was very right in its basic stance, as expressed in the headline of that ad: "Silence + Torture = Complicity." People have to be confronted with this.
Epistemology and Morality… Crimes and Complicity
This has to do with the point about "where epistemology meets morality." I thought the quote from Josh Wolf that was in an article in our paper recently was very much to the point. He is a video journalist who wouldn't turn over to the police and a grand jury his videotapes of an anti-globalization demonstration in the Bay Area. And they are going after him because he won't be complicit with them in this way. He said, very strongly: "People out there, quit hitting the snooze button. Wake up and hope it's not too late." And then he said very explicitly: "Quit saying you can't make a difference. That's just another form of cowardice." It is definitely another form of complicity. And as part of wrangling with people and doing what needs to be done to bring forward meaningful political action on a mass scale, this issue of complicity has to be joined with people.
It does seem that one of the big problems with World Can't Wait, and specifically in terms of its October 5th mobilization, is that far too many people still didn't know about it. But then there are others who could have helped more people know about it, and more than a few of them didn't do what they should have and could have done. Now, we shouldn't shriek at people, we shouldn't actually get strident and shrill, but we also shouldn't be liberal and avoid struggle with people, even sharp struggle where necessary, so long as it is on a lofty and principled basis. We and others who are involved in World Can't Wait are not doing this because this is "our thing." We are doing this because of what's going on in the world and the stakes that are intensifying all the time.
Of course, there have been important positive things brought forward by World Can't Wait and in connection with its efforts—and it is important to build on the positive things. But there needs to be a challenge carried out, and we shouldn't shy away from it or shrink from it. We should join this struggle—in a good way. If you just go out and try to jack people up with no substance, that's no good. But we have to get into the substance of this with people. These two "historically outmodeds"2) are reinforcing each other; this dynamic is very bad and will lead to far worse disaster—if we don't lead people to break out of this. World Can't Wait was, and is, a vehicle for people to do that. What mainly needs to be done, on a whole larger scale still, is to show people, in a living way, why what is represented, and called for, by World Can't Wait is necessary, and how it can make a crucial difference. But we also have to join the issue of complicity with them. There was that slogan back in the '60s, which was not fully scientific, but it was more good than bad and more correct than incorrect: "You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem." That kind of orientation was not wrong. If you drew the lines irrevocably and you didn't try to win people over when they were on the wrong side (or were trying to sit on the sidelines), well then, yes, that would be wrong. And if you didn't make any kind of materialist analysis of what are the actual driving forces underlying things, and what are actually the ruling and decision-making forces in society—then, yes, that would be wrong. But it is not wrong, and in fact it is very necessary, to pose the challenge to people: Look, there's a great earthquake here, and neither side of the way the earth is separating is going to lead to anything but disaster; we've got to forge another way, you've got to be part of that—and you've got to get out of your "comfort zone" to do it.
1. The title of this talk is "Communism and Religion: Getting Up and Getting Free—Making Revolution to Change the Real World, Not Relying on 'Things Unseen'"; this talk and others of the 7 Talks are available online at bobavakian.net and revcom.us/avakian.[back]
2. In an earlier section of this talk, Bob Avakian reiterates his formulation about the two "historically outmodeds": "What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these 'outmodeds,' you end up strengthening both."[back]
Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
This past week President Bush vetoed a $124 billion emergency war funding bill (Congress's Supplemental Appropriations Bill). He said he did this because it contains language requiring some U.S. combat troops to begin redeploying from Iraq in October 2007—although there are no mechanisms in the bill to enforce a troop withdrawal.
The substance of the bill, Bush’s veto, and the ongoing clash between Democrats and the Bush administration over Iraq once again highlight s three things.
First, Bush is making it clear that he does not support any moves to end the war. Second, while the Democrats have deep concerns about the damage Bush is doing to the U.S. empire, they are unable and unwilling to end the war. And third, this immoral and unjust war—which has already killed as many as 650,000 Iraqis (as reported by the British medical journal, Lancet) and made refugees of another 3 million—could continue indefinitely unless millions who are “troubled” about the war break out of their current “wait til 2008" paralysis, fully confront the unjust, criminal nature of the war and act courageously to stop it.
Bush also made clear with this veto that he demands unchecked authority to continue the Iraq war (and the whole “war on terror”) regardless of what Iraqis or people in this country want (poll after poll has shown that most Iraqis and Americans want a U.S. withdrawal). He demanded a “clean” bill—a blank check—without any restrictions or timetables.
Bush’s arguments for the veto are a mixture of lies, double-talk, and truth (about how the U.S. ruling class look at their necessities).
First the big lie. What the Bush Regime portrays as a noble effort to make the world safe from terrorism and bring democracy to the Middle East is actually a vicious war of empire to deepen the U.S. stranglehold on the Middle East and Central Asia —a war that is part of a broader effort to create an unchallenged and unchallengeable imperialist empire.
This goal is not viewed as capricious or incidental by those in charge—whether Democrats or Republicans—rather it flows from the deepest needs and drives of their system: U.S. hegemony in the Middle East and global dominance is crucial for U.S. capitalism’s ongoing functioning and U.S. global power.
So when Bush says, “Even if you thought it was a mistake to go into Iraq, it would be a far greater mistake to pull out now,” he’s expressing a fear -- from an imperialist viewpoint – that a U.S. pullout would leave the empire weaker. And he is saying this in opposition to other forces in the U.S. ruling class who, also coming from an imperialist viewpoint, now think it's a big mistake for the U.S. not to withdraw.
Bush also vetoed the bill because he fears that setting a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawals could signal to the region and world that the U.S. is losing momentum in Iraq and the “war on terror,” and/or that the U.S. rulers are losing their “will” to continue. Bush fears that such a trajectory could be fatal to the whole U.S. war for greater empire, so the White House labels any timeline for withdrawal as a “surrender date.”
Finally, Bush vetoed the bill in order to continue his regime’s quest for presidential power unchecked by other branches of government (Congress and Judiciary). The website Swoop.net, considered by the bourgeois press to provide reliable assessments of government thinking, wrote that a White House official told their reporter, "At the end of the day, Bush does not see Capitol Hill as a legitimate player." (Washington’s World, April 30th- May 6th, 2007)
The Democrats: A Ruling Class Party Unable and Unwilling to End the War
Despite protestations by leading Democrats like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (who claims, “make no mistake: Democrats are committed to ending this war”), the bill they sent to Bush and their response to his veto illustrate that their position on the war is a thoroughly imperialist one, making them unwilling and unable to really end the war.
First, the appropriations bill they drafted never called for a complete withdrawal from Iraq—much less the Middle East. It called for a phased withdrawal of most combat forces, but envisioned leaving thousands of soldiers in Iraq indefinitely to fight “terrorists,” protect U.S. installations, and train Iraqi forces. And U.S. forces redeployed to other countries in the region would be available to re-invade Iraq and/or be used to attack other countries in the region. It is also very exposing that the Democrats refused to include language in the bill requiring Bush to consult Congress before attacking Iran .
Second, the logic of the bill was to threaten troop withdrawals to force the Iraqi government to meet U.S. “benchmarks” such as passing an oil bill, building their armed forces, disarming militias, and curbing the civil war/sectarian violence dynamic now gripping Iraq. These are the same goals Bush spelled out in his January 10 address to the nation, aimed at creating a stable, pro-U.S. government in Iraq. The Democrats also want to cut U.S. losses, preserve the military, and regroup to defend broader U.S. regional interests.
When Bush vetoed the bill, and the Democrats failed to override it, they immediately began talking about concessions: giving Bush the money he wanted and removing any timetables for troop withdrawals. Simply refusing to fund the war (including by filibustering) wasn’t considered. (For more, see “No Good Choices in the Halls of Power: Democrats Vote $100 Billion to Continue the War,” by Larry Everest, Revolution #83, http://revcom.us/a/083-special/toolempire-en.html)
This whole dynamic of riding the anti-war vote to power, then voting to fund an ongoing war while claiming to be ending it, reflect the conflicting necessities the Democrats face. As representatives of U.S. imperialism, they are committed to maintaining U.S. global dominance. Yet they fear the U.S. is sliding toward a strategic debacle of epic proportions and may already have lost the war in Iraq. So they’re trying to find a way to extricate most U.S. forces and reposition and strengthen the U.S. in the region.
And they’re trying to carry out this “redeployment” while making clear to the world and the powers-that-be in the U.S. that they can be just as tough and ruthless as Bush. At the first Democratic Party candidates debate, both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards forcefully responded to a question about terrorist attacks with declarations that they’d act “swiftly” and “strongly.”
At this debate Sen. Mike Gravel briefly spoke some unwanted truth when he condemned the other candidates for refusing to rule out an attack on Iran, exposing that “no options off the table” is imperialist-speak for a preemptive nuclear strike. He said: "And I got to tell you, after standing up with them [the other Democratic candidates for President], some of these people frighten me—they frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there's nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that's code for using nukes, nuclear devices…
"I got to tell you, I'm president of the United States, there will be no preemptive wars with nuclear devices. To my mind, it's immoral, and it's been immoral for the last 50 years as part of American foreign policy."
Meanwhile, the Democrats also have to try to maintain the loyalty of their supporters (to both the party and the system), millions of whom have turned against the war and are furious at the Democrats. So we get all the talk of carrying out the “will of the voters” and “moving to end the war”—while horrendous crimes continue to be carried out in Iraq and they do nothing to really put an end to the war.
Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
For the U.S. rulers, dominating the Middle East and Central Asia is critical to their sole superpower status and the very functioning of their system, at home and around the world. Global capitalism is fueled and lubricated by oil. The heart of the world petroleum industry is in this region—in particular the Persian Gulf, which contains some 60 percent of the world's known oil reserves. Iran—with its large size, population, and oil reserves—is a very important country in this region. And the U.S. has a long history of domination and intervention in Iran.
1953: The CIA Coup
Britain was the main power dominating Iran until World War 2. After the end of World War 2, the U.S. moved against nationalist sentiments in Iran while maneuvering to squeeze out Britain as the main imperialist overlord. Iran was a constitutional monarchy, with an elected parliament. In 1953 Iran’s Prime Minister Mossadegh, with massive popular support, attempted to nationalize the British-owned oil company Anglo-Iranian. The CIA organized a coup that overthrew the Mossadegh government, restored the Shah Mohmmad Reza Pahlevi as a full monarch, and established the U.S. as the dominant power over Iran. For the next 25 years, the Shah ruled Iran with a bloody iron fist—making Iran's economy totally subservient to U.S. and Western imperialism and acting as an enforcer of U.S. interests in the Middle East. The Shah's hated secret police, the Savak, imprisoned, tortured and murdered huge numbers of Iranians who dared to oppose his regime.
1977-79: The Fall of the Shah and the Rise of the Islamic Republic
In December 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter called Iran under the Shah an "island of stability" in a sea of turmoil. But, in reality, the anger of the people at the brutal U.S.-backed ruled of the Shah was developing into a powerful mass movement. A year after Carter's statement, more than 10 million people—a third of Iran's entire population—took to the streets to demand an end to the Shah's tyrannical regime. The Shah responded with vicious repression. In a massacre known as "Bloody Friday," the Shah's troops killed thousands of protesters in September 1978. But in January 1979, the Shah was forced to go into exile under U.S. protection. In November 1979, Islamic students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, took hostages, and demanded that the Shah be returned to Iran to face trial.
However, the aspirations and the mass upsurge of the Iranian people were seized upon by Islamic fundamentalists led by Ayatollah Khomeini, who established the Islamic Republic which has ruled Iran since then. The thoroughly reactionary nature of this theocratic regime is concentrated in the feudal oppression and enslavement of women. While this regime opposes U.S. imperialism in certain ways, the Islamic Republic has not, and cannot, break with imperialism in any fundamental way. It does not represent anything progressive or positive for the people, in Iran and throughout the region.
With the fall of the Shah's regime, the U.S. lost control over a key country in this very strategically important region—at a time when the U.S. faced a rival imperialist superpower, the Soviet Union, in the Middle East and elsewhere. In January 1980 Carter made clear (in what came to be known as the "Carter Doctrine") that the U.S. was ready to use force, including nuclear weapons, to protect its imperialist interests: "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."
1980-87: Iran-Iraq War
In 1980, Iraq's Saddam Hussein—with U.S. encouragement—launched a war against Iran, hoping to overwhelm the new Islamic Regime and assert Iraq's regional power. The U.S. played a Machiavellian game of deception and double-dealing to prevent either side from winning decisively so that the war continued for years and bled each country. The U.S. supplied military equipment to Iraq, including the type of chemical weapons that the Hussein regime used against Kurds, while also running a covert arms supply operation to Iran. By the end of this war, there were over a million casualties on both sides.
9/11 and the "Axis of Evil"
Under the rubric of a "war against terrorism," the U.S. invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are in fact strategic thrusts in a horrific U.S. offensive. The objective: to solidify and deepen control over the Middle East and Central Asia—as a crucial step in creating an unchallenged and unchallengeable worldwide empire—and to attack those the U.S. sees as threats to that domination. Iran has been a central focus of the U.S. in this offensive. In his 2002 State of the Union speech, Bush declared that Iran was part of the so-called "Axis of Evil." Through the assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq, one of the aims of the Bush regime was to intimidate Iran and weaken the influence of the Islamic Regime in the region. But in fact, the U.S. removed two of the Iranian regime's main adversaries, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein. This has actually given the Iranian rulers a freer hand to try to expand their regional influence.
Spring 2007: Escalating U.S. War Threats Against Iran
Even as the U.S. occupation of Iraq continues—with new horrors for the Iraqi people every day—the Bush regime is on a trajectory toward more confrontation and possible war with Iran. Not a week goes by without some new revelation about U.S. preparations for a military strike on Iran, or yet another belligerent threat against Iran from the mouth of a ruling class representative, Republican or Democrat. A U.S. war on Iran, including the possible use of nuclear bombs, would cause massive death and destruction for the Iranian people. And such a war would accelerate the very negative dynamic of McWorld/McCrusade vs Jihad—two reactionary and historically outmoded poles which are opposed but also reinforce each other. All this points to the urgent necessity for people around the world, and especially within the U.S., to take massive political action to stop theU.S. from launching a war on Iran.
Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
The decision by the University of Colorado (CU) over whether to go ahead with a recommendation by the former Chancellor to fire tenured professor and former chair of the Ethnic Studies Department Ward Churchill is now before CU President Hank Brown. If Brown calls for Churchill to be fired, it will then go to the CU Board of Regents for final approval.
In recent weeks, support for Churchill and expressions of opposition to this threat of firing have grown among students and faculty at CU-Boulder as well as scholars and prominent public intellectuals around the country. But much more is urgently called for in the coming days.
Boulder Letter Calls the Investigation of Churchill’s Scholarship a “Sham”
While the university claims the reason they want to dismiss Churchill is because of “research misconduct,” it is his radical critique of U.S. history and its international role that have driven the witch-hunt against him from the start. An April 19 public letter from English Professor Margaret LeCompte, president of the CU-Boulder chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), takes the administration’s orchestration of the investigation apart. It shows how the CU administration “put together what looks like a fair process, but which, in fact, has been totally hijacked… What happened at CU has allowed the CU administration to argue that ‘the process worked’ and that faculty themselves found that Churchill should be fired. Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened.”
LeCompte shows that the special investigatory committee to examine Churchill’s scholarship included faculty that were biased against Churchill from the start, including its chair. “It didn’t include anyone from Churchill’s own specific area, and thus, he was not judged by a jury of his disciplinary peers.” And it relied on limited information from sources known to be biased toward Churchill. The entire process, she concludes, “was a sham—imitating the form, but not the intent, of due process and fair, objective, scholarly investigation.”
LeCompte further argues that the claim that the investigation turned up evidence of serious misconduct is also untrue, and describes the investigatory report itself as “fatally flawed with error and misrepresentation.” Here she draws on the findings of Professor Eric Cheyfitz of Cornell University, a distinguished scholar in both Indian studies and Indian law, who argues that the investigatory committee's report “should be rescinded as a disgrace to scholarship.”
The letter concludes that “this important case…is not limited to Colorado. In fact, it is a test case by the US right wing to emasculate faculty rights in U.S. universities. It is spearheaded by ACTA, the Association of College Trustees and Alumni and other similar organizations. Should you feel that I am exaggerating, I simply refer you to ACTA's own publications, including ‘The Colorado Model: Any State Can,’ ‘How Many More Ward Churchills?’ and most recently, ‘Friends in High Places.'* It is very important that all of us who value academic freedom and the integrity of the university stand up and support the campaign to prevent witch hunts such as have occurred with Professor Churchill from ever occurring again.”
April 28 Emergency National Forum
This sentiment was echoed by participants in the April 28 Emergency National Forum to Defend Dissent and Critical Thinking: Why Ward Churchill Must Not Be Fired held on the Boulder campus. This all-day forum included talks by students and faculty from Boulder; by professors from the University of Denver, DePaul University, and SW Minnesota State University; and by the Dean of Faculty of Pitzer College in Claremont, California.
Statements in support of Professor Churchill were sent to the Forum from scholars and distinguished public intellectuals from around the country, including Columbia University, Yale University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Texas, the University of Hawaii, and many more.
Historian Howard Zinn wrote: “The attack on Ward Churchill comes at a time in our nation's history when constitutional rights are under attack by the national government, when war threatens the lives and well-being of all, and therefore we need the marketplace of ideas to be as open as possible. If we want to live in a democracy we must protect that openness. That is why defending Ward Churchill has an importance far beyond his particular situation.” Professor of International Law Richard Falk echoed Zinn’s concerns: “Never in my lifetime have we in America more needed the sort of vigorous debate and creative controversy that Ward Churchill's distinguished career epitomizes. We all stand to lose if his principled defense fails.”
Professors Zinn and Falk were among the initiators of the Open Letter Calling on the University of Colorado to Reverse Its Decision to Dismiss Professor Ward Churchill which appeared in the April 12 edition of the New York Review of Books. Many other initiators of the Open Letter also sent statements of solidarity, including U. of Pittsburgh Law Professor Richard Delgado, Yale Professor Immanuel Wallerstein, and Professor Drucilla Cornell of Rutgers University, who wrote: “Ward Churchill has been a brave and important scholar. I have followed his work carefully and I have learned so much from him. But I am defending him because there is more than just his work involved. We are fighting for academic freedom for all of us. We cannot let Ward Churchill's case set a dangerous precedent.” A videotaped statement from distinguished Law Scholar Derrick Bell, along with statements from Huanani Trask of Hawaii and attorney Jennifer Harbury were played at the Forum.
Distinguished Professor of Education Bill Ayers of the University of Illinois at Chicago referred to Bertold Brecht’s play about the scientist Galileo, who recanted his discovery that the earth was round in the face of torture by the church. “The right to think at all, which is in dispute—this is what the Ward Churchill affair finally comes to: The right to a mind of one's own, the right to pursue an argument into uncharted spaces, the right to challenge the church and its orthodoxy in the public square. The right to think at all.”
Professor Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University referred to the famous scene in Stanley Kubrick’s film Spartacus, where to save his comrades, Spartacus stands up and says “I am Spartacus.” But one after another of his comrades immediately stands up to say “I am Spartacus!” Dabashi concludes: “Today, every single professor teaching in the remotest parts of this country with an abiding conviction in the moral duty of democratic dissent is Ward Churchill. In the company of that magnificent chorus of hope for the democratic future of this country, I too am Ward Churchill.”
Students and faculty need to close ranks and to find the ways to express and to build support for Professor Churchill and defend dissent and critical thinking at this critical hour.
* The “Friends” ACTA specifically refers to are President Hank Brown, a co-founder of ACTA, and Michael Poliakoff, recently appointed by Brown to be CU’s new Vice President for Academic Affairs and Research. They didn’t mention CU Regent Tom Lucero, another ACTA member, or former Governor Bill Owens, who originally called for Churchill to be fired for the content of his political statements, and now has joined the University of Denver faculty.[back]
Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
The Deserter’s Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq
by Joshua Key as told to Lawrence Hill
Atlantic Monthly Press
“I never thought I would lose my country and I never dreamed that it would lose me,” Joshua Key says in his prologue to The Deserter’s Tale. “I was raised as a patriotic American, taught to respect my government and to believe in my president. Just a decade ago I was playing high school football, living in a trailer with my mom and step dad, working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and hoping to raise a family one day in the only town I knew: Guthrie, Oklahoma, population ten thousand. Back then I would have laughed out loud if somebody had predicted I’d be a wanted criminal, living as a fugitive in my own country, and turn my wife and children into refugees as I fled with them across the border.”
The Deserter’s Tale is Key’s account of how he came to be part of the U.S. military, the seven months he spent in Iraq. It tells how and why he came to his decision to refuse to return to Iraq and what it was like living underground with his family, constantly fearing that he would be captured and tried for desertion, which he was told by the army was punishable by death by a firing squad.
The book’s accounts of carnage are difficult to read and Key tells, in simple yet powerful language, a story that people in this country need to hear. It is a story of courage and conscience, of how Key risked everything rather than continue to commit crimes he could no longer, as a person of conscience, carry out.
What comes through in this story is how Key came to confront his own moral responsibility for the atrocities. And those who read this powerful story will hopefully be compelled to ask the question: to what degree are those who try to ignore these crimes or do nothing to stop them, also complicit?
Key grew up poor in a small town in Oklahoma. His mother, a truck stop waitress, had a number of bad marriages to abusive alcoholic men. Key writes of his stepfather, “I can credit him with one thing. He did such awful things to my mother that I learned the hard way how not to act.”
After graduating high school, Key got married. And with two kids and a third on the way he found it hard to survive. With growing debt and tired of surviving on left over pizza he brought home from his job as a delivery driver, the army seemed to be the best option. Key writes: “I had no money, I had dreams of getting formal training as a welder, I needed to get my teeth fixed, and I wanted to have my kidney stone removed. If only I joined the army, the posters suggested, I would be on easy street… For folks like us, who were poor and getting poorer by the day, the posters suggested that getting a job with the armed forces would be like winning the lottery.” (p. 36)
A recruiter lied to Key, promising him that he would not have to go into combat, would not have to be separated from his family, that he would be building bridges in the U.S.
In basic training Key tells how he was taught that Muslim people were the enemy. He was told that Muslims were responsible for the September 11 attacks. He was taught that not only were Iraqis not civilians, they were less than human.
“One day, all three hundred of us were lined up on the bayonet range, each facing a life-sized dummy that we were told to imagine was a Muslim man,” Key writes of a day during his training. “As we stabbed the dummies with our bayonets, one of our commanders stood on a podium and shouted into a microphone: ‘Kill! Kill! Kill the sand niggers!’ We too were made to shout out ‘Kill the sand niggers’ as we stabbed the heads then the hearts then slit the throats of our imaginary victims. While we shouted and stabbed, drill sergeants walked among us to make sure we were all shouting. It seemed that the full effect of the lesson would be lost unless we shouted the words of hate as we mutilated our enemies.” (p. 49)
The bulk of the book recounts what happened during the seven months that Key was stationed in Iraq. Arriving in Ramadi in the early days of the war, Key’s squad was sent on missions to raid what they were told were houses suspected of sheltering terrorists. Any male over 5 feet tall would be brutally beaten and then taken into custody. Children were awakened from their beds at the point of machine guns. Houses were ransacked and the soldiers felt free to take any money or other valuables. Key estimates that he participated in more than 200 of these raids while in Iraq.
Key says no terrorists were ever found in these raids. And Key writes that “senior American military commanders [didn’t] make soldiers raid thousands of civilian houses because they truly believed that we would nab terrorists or find weapons of mass destruction. I think they did it to punish and intimidate the Iraqi people.” (pp. 214-215)
Key reached a turning point when his squad was called on to assist another squad that was supposedly engaged in a firefight with Iraqis. When he arrived on the scene, he saw that four unarmed Iraqi civilians had been gunned down with such firepower that their heads were separated from their bodies. Several soldiers from the other unit were kicking around the decapitated Iraqi heads in a game of soccer.
“I didn’t know much about the Geneva Conventions, but I knew one thing: what I had witnessed was wrong,” Key writes. “We were soldiers in the U.S. Army. In Iraq, we were supposed to be stomping out terrorism, bringing democracy and acting as a force for good in the world. Instead we had become monsters in a residential neighborhood… When I was back in Oklahoma, if someone had described to me the situation of the decapitated corpses, I would have had a hard time believing it. I would not have wanted to accept that American soldiers would behave this way overseas. But I was no longer in Oklahoma and I could not deny what I have seen. For the rest of my time in Iraq I was not able to forget the scene of the decapitated bodies and the heads being kicked by American soldiers. Sometimes, in my dreams, the disembodied heads plagued me with accusation. They told me what I was slowly realizing: that the American military had betrayed the values of my country. We had become a force for evil, and I could not escape the fact that I was part of the machine.” (pp. 109-110)
Key witnessed many other atrocities during his months in Iraq. A seven-year-old girl was killed while trying to scrounge for food near a U.S. base. An Iraqi car was burned and then crushed by a tank for making a turn too close to a U.S. convoy. Seven civilians were shot because some U.S. troops got trigger happy in Fallujah. A 13-year-old girl was turned over by the U.S. to the Iraqi police to be raped. Key tells of one raid where they were told it was a mission to get an important terrorist. When they got there and raided and tore up the house, they found no weapons and only women inside. They were told to guard the doors to the house while some high-ranking commissioned officers went in for an hour. Key says they heard the women screaming during this time. Then the officers came out and told them to leave. And all this was on top of the everyday beatings, abuse, and theft committed by U.S. soldiers.
When Key was allowed to return home for a two-week vacation, he made the decision to go AWOL. He writes: “I know that many Americans have their mind made up about people like me. They think we are cowards. I don't blame them. I had my own mind made up about war deserters, long before I set foot in Iraq. But I am not a coward; the easiest thing would have been to keep on doing what they were telling me to do. But ever so slowly, as the jets raced overhead and the illumination rounds burned and the houses fell during the long Iraqi nights, my conscience returned. I am not this man, I told myself. I cannot do these things any longer.”
Key was unable to locate any group providing assistance to soldiers in his situation. After a year of living underground, sleeping in cars and seedy motels, he makes contact with a group called the War Resisters Campaign in Toronto that helped him cross the border and arranged housing and support. The book ends with him not knowing if Canada will allow him to stay – his asylum claim was rejected in November 2006 and is being appealed.
Key is not the only soldier who has defied the military and the government and walked away from the U.S. war in Iraq. According to Jeffry House, an attorney who represents many of those who are seeking refugee status in Canada, about 40 former U.S. soldiers have officially filed for refugee status and about 150 more are in Canada but have not filed refugee claims. An article in the Denver Post cites U.S. Army reports revealing that 3,101 soldiers have deserted between October 2005 and October 2006 and at least 2,400 military personnel have deserted from other branches between October 2004 and October 2005. (Denver Post, 4/15/2007)
In an epilogue, Key grapples with the morality and responsibility of those serving in an army that is committing such crimes. He rejects easy justification for the troops. “If you have beaten or killed an innocent person, and if there remains a shred of conscience in your heart, you will not likely avoid anguish by saying you were only following orders… I am ashamed of what I did in Iraq, and of all the ways that innocent civilians suffered or died at our hands. The fact that I was only following orders does not lessen my discomfort or ease my nightmares.” (p. 213)
In the end Key remains absolutely certain that he did the right thing by refusing to return to Iraq and that, as he puts it, he owes "one apology, and one apology only, and that is to the people of Iraq."
Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
Cheers & Jeers
A big cheers to Zack de la Rocha of the band Rage Against the Machine for his strong and defiant statement against the Bush Regime, and the system behind it, at the Coachella Music Festival on April 29. Rage Against the Machine broke up in 2000, but they reunited to play at Coachella.
To introduce "Wake Up," one of the songs in their set, Zack said that the Nuremburg laws that were applied to the Nazis after World War 2 should be applied to all the U.S. presidents from Truman on, including the current one. Then he went on to say, “But the challenges that we face, they go way beyond administrations. Way beyond elections. Way beyond every four years of pulling levers. Way beyond that. Because this whole rotten system has become so vicious and cruel, that in order to sustain itself, it needs to destroy entire countries and profit from their reconstruction, in order to survive. And that is not a system that changes every four years; it's a system that we have to break down – generation after generation, after generation, after generation…WAKE UP!!!”
The next day, Fox News' Hannity and Colmes hosted right-wing rocker Ted Nugent and flaming reactionary commentator Ann Coulter, to attack Zack and the band. They claimed that Zack had threatened Bush, distorting what he said to hide the point that he was making--that Bush and other U.S. presidents were guilty of war crimes. Hannity called for the Secret Service to investigate and even arrest the band, calling what Zack said a "terroristic threat." So now telling a very basic and undeniable truth is deemed "terrorism" and the reactionary mouthpieces demand that the state come in! NO WAY! Zack and Rage must be supported against any attempt by reactionaries to go after them.
Revolution will have more on the Coachella festival and Rage Against the Machine's performance in a future issue.