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Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
Battle Over Abortion Rights In U.S. and Mexico…
"Honor" Killings of Women in Iraqi Kurdistan…
From the United States to Iraqi Kurdistan to Mexico, last month was marked by events that starkly illuminated the conditions women face – conditions of forced childbirth and brutal enslavement to patriarchy.
On April 18, a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court effectively banned an abortion procedure used after the first trimester of pregnancy. That ruling will force some women to bear children that they do not want and will force others to risk their lives and even die. And it dangerously undercuts remaining legal foundations for any right to abortion in the U.S.
One week later, on April 24, a law went into effect that legalized abortion in the first three months of pregnancy in Mexico City. As our article in this issue points out, this law—which for the first time provides any opportunity for a legal abortion anywhere in Mexico—was denounced by the Pope himself on his recent high-profile Latin America trip as a “grave moral disorder.” Powerful reactionary forces, including key U.S. puppets, have gone on the counter-attack throughout Mexico.
A day before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and a week before the Mexico City abortion law went into effect, a young woman named Doa Khalil Aswad was stoned to death in U.S.-occupied Iraqi Kurdistan for the “crime” of marrying a man outside her religion. Kurdistan is portrayed by the powers-that-be in this country as a model of the stability and “enlightened democracy” the U.S. can bring to the Middle East. Doa Khalil Aswad was stoned to death in public on April 17 by religious fundamentalists protected by public security forces. Her body was left in the street for days as a message to other women. And this was just one of a wave of so-called “honor killings” by forces of reactionary religious patriarchy that the U.S. has enlisted as part of its local enforcers in Iraq.
Wherever you go on this planet, you see historically outmoded forces dehumanizing, degrading, oppressing and killing women – whether in the McWorld/McCrusade of the United States or in the Jihadist Muslim fundamentalist world. What is needed, urgently, is a whole other way for humanity! A force coming forward around the world that has, as a bedrock element, complete liberation from every form of slavery and oppression, including the oppression of women.
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
From A World to Win News Service
The following article is from A World To Win News Service, May 14, 2007. It has been lightly edited for publication here.
On or around April 7, Doa Khalil Aswad, a 17-year-old from the village of Behzan in Iraqi Kurdistan, was stoned to death in public by her family and clan in a most distressing way in the town of Bashiqa near Mosul in Neyneveh province of northern Iraq. Doa was from the Yezidi religion, which is practiced in some parts of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, Turkey and Syria. She was murdered in this horrific way because of her “crime” of falling in love with a Moslem Arab. She ran away from her family and reportedly converted to Islam to marry him. The “crime” of choosing her own mate proved to be unforgivable to her family and tribe.
Doa was tricked back home when her father sent a message telling her that the family had forgiven her and she could return home. But everything had been readied to murder the young woman in the most dreadful way. As she arrived near the town, reportedly she was dragged from behind a car. While covered in blood but still alive and crying for help, stones and concrete were thrown at her until she died when a large block was dropped on her.
Clips of the scene recorded by cell phones were circulated on the Internet. Those who saw these clips watched the final painful moments of her life. While Doa was surrounded by a hostile crowd, including her uncles, brothers, and cousins, it is clear that she still hoped for deliverance--but in vain. The clips show around a hundred or more people witnessing the scene, while the security forces make sure that the stoning of Doa takes place without interference. In another clip, the police are blocking off the scene and preventing some people from entering. Doa’s lifeless body lay untouched for several days until she was buried in a grave in the area.
However the story did not end there. Around two weeks later, it was reported by the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times that in retaliation on April 23, an armed group (according to some Kurdish sources, an armed Islamic group) stopped a bus near Bashiqa, separated 24 Yezidi workers from other passengers who were returning home from work, and shot and killed them all. Die Standard, an Austrian paper, reported on April 27 that after the death of Doa, the mosques of Mosul had issued a fatwa calling for the death of Yezidis. The killings struck terror among the Yezidis, who feared more attacks.
Following the massacre, a big demonstration by the Yezidi community erupted in protest against the threats in Erbil, Dhuk and Zakho and also against the Kurdish clerics' fatwa targeting the Yezidis. Some protestors stormed the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the towns of Khana Sor and Jazira, west of Mosul. It was also reported by the International Campaign Against Honour Killings that on April 29 in Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish regional government, “women and men came together to protest the public murder of Do'a Khalil Aswad… The demonstration was organised by 90 NGOs and attracted protesters from across the whole Kurdish region.” (website of the International Campaign Against Honour Killings)
Honor Killings in Kurdistan and the Regional Government
Although the brutal killing of 24 Yezidi workers might have been in retaliation for Doa’s murder, it cannot by any means be considered as support for Doa. If Doa had been a Muslim Kurd or an Arab and had fallen in love with a Yezidi or even another Muslim man and run away from her family, she hardly would have been treated any better. The evidence is what is happening to women all over Iraq, whether Kurd, Arab or Yezidi. Was Doa the first woman to be treated so savagely in Kurdistan or other regions? Is she going to be the last one? Why is such inhuman behavior going on and on? Who is responsible? And how can things be changed? In particular, what has been the impact of the U.S. war and occupation?
Kurdistan in the last several years has seen the murder of Pela many young women by their family, with the Kurdish government repeatedly taking a lenient approach towards the perpetrators. Doa was murdered simply because she was a woman who had dared to cross a red line drawn by the dominant classes in the society, a red line that is enforced by many in the name of tradition or religion. It is a red line that, if not enforced, leads to social isolation and other consequences for failure to protect the “honor” of the family.
Doa, like many other young women in our male-dominated world, was a victim of what is called, in terminology that turns reality upside down, an “honor killing.” It was considered that she had brought “shame” to her family, especially the men. She was considered to be a “stain” on the family that could be washed out only by her brutal killing. This was agreed by her family and her tribe, her neighborhood and community, and even the security forces that assisted. Honor killings have a long history in the region. They represent not only a system of violent suppression of women that violates their right to life and security and degrades and humiliates them, but also the tribalism and feudalism that control the women and enforce the power of men over women as a whole. Honor killing has been practiced for a long time in a context where backward relations have served as the basis for such practice, and Islam has served as the dominant religion of the region, reflecting and reinforcing those backward relations of production. This practice thus became part of tradition in Kurdistan and many similar regions.
UNAMI, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, in its 10th report on the human rights situation there, states that: "Between January and March 2007, UNAMI received information on some forty cases of alleged honor crimes in Arbil, Dohuk, Sulaimaniyah, and Salaheddin where young women reportedly died from accidental burns at their homes or were killed by family members for suspected immoral conduct." The organization of Kurdish Women against Honor Killings (KWAHK) reported that between 1991 and 1998 hundreds of women had died in so-called "honor killings" in northern Iraq. The report listed more than 100 individual cases of women killed during the 1990s by their husbands, brothers, cousins and other family members in northern Iraq. Among reasons given for the killings were that the women had committed adultery, refused to marry against their will, or left home in order to marry a man of their own choice.
The Kurdish government has been particularly lenient towards these sorts of crimes and has dismissed or reduced the statutes of these crimes under the justification of “honorable motivation.” The case of Pela, for example, won international attention. Pela, who was unmarried and living in Sweden, was shot by her uncle Rezgar Atroshi in Dohuk while visiting Kurdistan in 1999. She was still alive as her mother and sister were trying to help her, but Rezgar reappeared and shot her in the head, after which she died. The court in Kurdistan convicted Pela’s father and her uncle Rezgar of killing. But following an autopsy report that she had lost her virginity, the court invoked the justification of “honorable motivation” and gave the the father and uncle each a suspended one-year prison sentence. Another famous case was Kajal Khidr. She was 24 and pregnant when she was accused of adultery by her husband’s family near the town of Rania, Sulaimaniya in Iraqi Kurdistan. She was tortured, part of her nose was cut off, and then she was told she was going to be killed after the birth of her child. She managed to run away. With the help of local human rights activists, she fled to Syria in 1999 and then in 2000 to a third country. Two men were arrested by PUK authorities in relation to this torture but were released without any charge within 24 hours on the basis of the family’s “honor.”
Under international pressure and faced with negative publicity in Europe, first the PUK and then the KDP amended the law to criminalize “honor killing,” but human rights observers agree that these changed laws have remained merely on paper, and the Kurdish authorities have little desire to enforce them. In many cases they turn a blind eye rather than get involved.
Arguments Around Doa’s Murder
The spread of the news of Doa’s murder gave rise to a variety of arguments about what caused it. While some have tried to relate it to the backward mentality of the people and the perpetrators, others have related it to the backward culture of Kurdistan and the region, and others have blamed certain religions. The reality is that this type of behavior and these traditions have emerged in a specific historical situation, and it cannot be said that the people of these regions have always acted like this and are doomed to carry on forever.
All oppressive class societies have based themselves on patriarchy. Religion and tradition in this region and every other region of the world have always been in the service of the dominant class interests and production relations. Backward and semi-feudal societies have their own form of enforcing male supremacy. They enforce it in particular ways to protect their particular types of society. Religion and tradition cannot be separated from that.
The Role of Islam and Some Background
There is no doubt that Islam, like many other religions, has been an important factor in strengthening women’s oppression in the region. What is especially important is that due to years of struggle by the Kurds against national oppression, women started to play a role, however limited, in that struggle generally and also against their own oppression. But their role has been even more restricted due to subsequent developments in the region. The seizure of power by the Islamic Regime in Iran, along with the promotion of Islam by the Western imperialists in the years of the Cold War, especially around the time of the Soviet social imperialist invasion of Afghanistan, exerted more pressure to push the Kurdish nationalist movement in Iraq towards Islam. Shahrzad Mojab, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, Canada, who has extensively researched the situation of women in Kurdistan, also describes the impact of Islam in Kurdistan as follows:
“The KDP and the PUK have persistently ignored the demand for gender equality and for the criminalization of honor killing, both bowing to the demands of a handful of mullahs and their Iranian overlords. Kurdish clerics (mullahs and sheikhs), who never pushed for theocratic governance before the introduction of an Islamic regime in Iran, now demand the Islamization of gender relations, and the subordination of Kurdish women according to their own breed of Islam. Financed and organized by Iran and the Taliban (before their fall), some Kurdish Islamist groups have aimed at establishing a theocracy. Not surprisingly, Kurdish leaders who were secular before 1979 now entertain Islamists and espouse Islamic ideas. The two Kurdish governments have opened more mosques than women’s shelters. In fact, they have not initiated the opening of any women’s shelters. Even worse, the PUK government launched an armed attack on a women’s shelter operated by an opposition political party (the shelter operated by the Independent Women’s Organization in Sulemani).” ( MEWS Review, Spring/Summer 2002 ,“'Honor Killing': Culture, Politics and Theory”)
In the years between the first and second Gulf wars in Iraq, the U.S. and its allies (UK and also Kurdish forces in the north of the country) relied on the Shia clergy and fundamentalist forces to bang together a new regime for Iraq after Saddam. At the same time, the Saddam Hussein regime also attempted to consolidate its power through alliances with conservative religious leaders and powerful tribal chiefs. It made use of a process of Islamisation in Iraqi society as well as Kurdistan to achieve this. As a result, women lost many of their rights and the pressure on them increased. The number of women wearing hejabs (head scarves) increased, the number of honor killings increased, polygamy was allowed, and so on. As far as the Kurdistan region is concerned, in the draft of the Kurdish constitution, Article 7 states that the law of Kurdistan should observe the Sharia (Islamic laws). Kurdish women are currently waging a campaign against that article.
The Role of Culture
Some blame the backwardness of the people and the culture of the region for the brutal murder of Doa. The fact that family members were the main perpetrators and that around a hundred or more observers were supporting the stoning or remained silent may have led some people to this conclusion. In fact, such conclusions had already been formulated in the academic sphere and by some bourgeois theoreticians, as they divorce this backwardness from the dominant production relations in the region and portray it as an integral part of the culture of these societies. They connect the people of these regions to a culture without connecting that to the relations of production that constantly produce and reproduce male chauvinism in the form of covering up women and treating them as the property of men. The viewpoint of “cultural relativism,” while treating the backward forms of enforcing male chauvinism as culture, at the same time treats this culture as eternal and as part of the character of that society.
However, Shahrzad Mojab rejects this idea and argues instead that the violence against women is a universal culture and that only its form of enforcing it is different: “This (honor killing) culture is similar to, if not the same as, the Western, Christian, patriarchal culture which has allowed men and women to blow up abortion clinics and assassinate doctors who conduct abortion in the United States and Canada. One may argue that the culture of honor killing is traditional, tribal, feudal or rural. But what is the significance of this traditionalism if we consider the fact that in the United States men kill 10 women every day? While these murders are not necessarily motivated by ‘honor,’ the motivations are hardly more humane: the decision of a woman to end a relationship prompts the male partner to kill her. Seventy-four percent of these killings 'occur after the woman has left the relationship, filed for divorce or sought a restraining order against her partner'…” (same source as above)
In fact, those proud of regaining their “honor” by brutally killing a woman whose only “sin” was to fall in love with a man of her choice are also in another way victims of society--victims who themselves play an important and crucial role in the functioning of the backward relation. They practice patriarchy to protect the system of tribalism and feudalism and other backward relations. They might not know what they are in fact protecting. But they know that, under the name of protecting their honor, they are protecting the advantages this system has presented to them as men to dominate the women in their family and in the society, and they represent the dominant relations in the family. So it is not only the whole system and the relations that this system is based on that are responsible for the death of Doa and many other young women victim of “honor killings” but also those who act so fiercely to protect those relations. Smashing backward relations without a revolutionary transformation of society is not possible. However, changing the system is impossible without changing the people’s consciousness through struggle in the domain of ideas and behavior so that they despise protecting this so-called “honor.” This means that the struggle for revolutionary change goes hand in hand with the struggle against male supremacy whenever it takes place and in whatever form it occurs.
The invasion of Iraq by U.S. imperialism and its allies, their reliance on the most backward forces in the country, and the increasing pressures on women in that country all provide a vivid example of the role that the imperialists play in protecting these relations.
A World to Win News Service is published by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
Pope & PAN Lash Back
On April 24, in the midst of fierce controversy, a law was passed in Mexico City decriminalizing abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. Even with its limitations, the passage of this law in the face of a reactionary campaign led by the Catholic Church attempting to stop it--including direct intervention by the Pope himself--signals a real change in the lives of millions of women in Mexico and has potential implications for Mexican society and Latin America as a whole. And legalizing abortion in Mexico City further unleashed religious reactionaries in Mexico behind a program of pushing women back into being completely dominated by men.
In the weeks leading up to the passage of the law by the Mexico City government, the Catholic Church and the right-wing ruling party, PAN (National Action Party), which is allied with the church, unleashed a campaign of threats and intimidation in a concerted effort to prevent the law from being passed. Ugly anti-women death threats were sent by e-mail to organizations such as Catholic Women for the Right to Choose who advocated for the law. There was the spectacle of the church hierarchy threatening the legislators who voted for the measure with excommunication, an emissary from the Vatican coming to Mexico to coordinate the campaign against abortion, and the Pope personally entering into the debate to declare that abortion is a “grave moral disorder.”
Reality for Women in Mexico: Forced Childbirth or Risking Their Lives with Illegal Abortions
The reality for millions of women in Mexico who face unwanted pregnancy has been the choice of forced childbirth or risking their lives to seek a clandestine abortion. While figures vary, it has been estimated that the number of illegal abortions in Mexico is as high as 500,000 per year, and the National Council on Population (CONAPO) estimated that illegal abortions are the fourth leading cause of death of women of reproductive age. (Cited in La Jornada, September 26, 2004) The director of Mexico City's Women's Institute says that about1,500 women a year die from illegal abortions. (“Mexico City Officials Legalize Abortion,” Associated Press, April 24, 2007)
This death toll, and the widespread forcing of women to have children against their will, is the product of patriarchal tradition and medieval morality that have been enforced by church and government in Mexico (and most countries of Latin America). These anti-abortion laws keep women from even having the fundamental right to control their own reproduction. In the face of this horror, for the Pope—whose church enforces this oppression—to declare that abortion is a “grave moral disorder” is completely and deeply criminal!!
Now, women in Mexico City--and those from other parts of the country who have the means to travel to the capital--will be able to obtain a legal abortion. And the controversy that has swirled over the passage of the law is opening up a spirit of rebellion against the church’s blatant efforts to impose their dictates on women and society in general. All this is bringing to the fore struggle overthe role and position of women, about the role of the church in Mexican society, and about science vs. religious obscurantism.
The Importance of Abortion Rights for the Emancipation of ALL Humanity
Many of the advocates for the law within the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District, the legislative body for Mexico City, cast the law as a public health issue--the need for the thousands of abortions that are going on to be regulated and safe. This is one very important dimension. But on an even deeper level, the controversy tapped into and gave voice to a growing sense that women should have the right to decide what to do with their own lives and bodies. In a society which has traditionally enforced on women their role as the bearers of children, this is a just and defiant stand.
In the weeks and days leading up to the vote, women and men poured into the streets in lively demonstrations demanding the right to choose. On the day of the vote in the Legislative Assembly, young women got out into the streets in a car caravan, declaring, “We are not machines for reproduction, we are women with rights and choice” and “We are not one, we are not ten, look Norberto, count us well” (referring to Cardinal Norberto Rivera, the head of the church hierarchy in Mexico).
One of the pro-choice organizations ran a TV ad in which a young woman, Paulina del Carmen Ramírez Jacinto, defiantly spoke out. In a case that received much notoriety in 1999, Paulina was raped when she was 13 years old--and then, in just as brutal an act, she was prevented by the authorities in Baja California from getting an abortion and was forced to bear the child. She said: “Each is free to think as they please, but it is the woman who must decide, because it's her opinion and her body. I didn't decide; other people decided for me." She was referring to the priests and state officials who forced her to carry the baby to term.
Big changes have been taking place in Mexican society with the opening up of the country to much greater imperialist penetration. One result of this is that women have been driven in large numbers into the workforce, in factories and maquiladoras, where they face brutally exploitative conditions. And these women have been preyed upon and murdered, particularly in the border region of the country. Though these changes in the economic base of society have brought new forms of oppression, they have also undermined and called into question the traditional views of women’s role that arose on the foundation of feudal and semi-feudal relations. This has opened up the question of women participating in society as full human beings with full rights--including the right to determine whether and when to have children--which is an absolute necessity for the emancipation of humanity. And any talk of revolution, liberation, or emancipation that leaves out one half of humanity is empty--and worse.
Soledad Loaeza, researcher at the College of Mexico, spoke to some of how all this is being posed for millions of women:
“In the past, they referred to us as: daughters, mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters, cousins, nieces, goddaughters. We were understood only in relation to a man--father, husband, boyfriend, brother, cousin… As an individual, a woman didn't exist. So much so that in many cases when that man left our lives, his departure generated a severe crisis of identity.”
She went on to link the right of women to control of their own reproduction to the changing role that they are able to play in society:
“[B]ut I believe that the determining factor of the sense of liberty that we have gained has been the possibility to choose how many children we want to have. This is a vital point that each of us must resolve in the realm of her own private conscience. When this decision is in the hands of others, we hand over our liberty.” (“Por el Derecho a Decidir,” La Jornada, March 22, 2007)
The debate over the passage of the law has heightened the polarization in society and become a lightning rod for right-wing forces trying to reassert the church’s oppressive views on the role of women. The church hierarchy openly called upon doctors to refuse to carry out the law, and the Association of Catholic Attorneys appealed to the Attorney General to declare the law unconstitutional on the basis of violation of the rights of the fetus. They are raising up the so-called “murder” of a clump of cells--which have no independent life outside the woman’s uterus--in order to restore a murderous policy of forcing women into unsafe illegal abortions that cost the lives of thousands of women every year. This campaign of guilt and shame is an attempt to maintain women in the role of incubators for children.
Again, from the point of view of emancipating humanity, the freedom for women to make these basic decisions about their own lives and bodies--without any guilt or shame attached--is an absolute requirement for women being able to participate fully and equally in society, to plan their own futures, to take charge of their lives and, even more, to dream and strive and make the fullest contributions in all spheres toward the advancement of humankind.
Clash Over the Role of the Church
The debate over decriminalizing abortion has also become the occasion for a major clash between those who advocate a secular society and those who are seeking to increase the role of the church in society and the government. The Mexican Constitution strictly mandates formal separation of church and state, prohibiting the church from entering into the affairs of state and prohibiting government officials from mixing religious belief with their government functions. Even as the hold of the church’s traditional morality and values on the population has been eroded in response to profound changes going on in the economic and social structure and in the thinking of the people, the ruling PAN has been enacting laws designed to increase the ability of agents of the church to interfere directly and openly in the political life of the country. One glaring manifestation of this took place last year in states controlled by the PAN where science textbooks were yanked from schools because the Catholic Church objected to their treatment of human sexuality. And at the recent congress of ProVida, the reactionary anti-abortion organization, there was an official honor guard from the Mexican army.
The tradition of separation of church and state has been associated with significant sections of the ruling class in Mexico, now centered around the PRD, as well as being something supported by major sections of the population there. The church’s blatant attempt to forcibly reassert their authority in society and to interfere directly in the enactment of the law decriminalizing abortion was an ominous sign of efforts to erode the secular character of the state and impose religious dictates around important social issues. One columnist in La Jornada sounded the alarm over the encroachment of the church into the affairs of state:
“According to polls, 55% of the Mexican population is in agreement with the decriminalization of abortion. Despite this, the church and its party [referring to the PAN] ignore reality. They want a society which conforms to their dogmas. Anything outside of that is hell. Led exclusively by men, the Vatican recently asserted that abortion, euthanasia, the 'day after pill,' in vitro laboratories, and parliaments that approve laws that are counter to the 'human being' (that is to say, to the teachings of the church) are 'terrorists.' Here, the PAN and its fascist groups, the cardinal accused of protecting pederasty, are the truth and the life. I personally don’t want this truth nor this life.” (Ivan Restrepo, “Aborto y Esado Laico,” La Jornada, April 30, 2000)
Closely connected with the resistance to the church’s interference in the realm of law were the refutations of the grossly unscientific claims being made by both the church and the PAN about how abortion is murder and life begins at conception. Another columnist wrote in La Jornada : “It is enough to clear up the confusion between life and a biological individual, such as in the lesson in basic facts which was written with crystal clarity in these pages last Saturday by Julio Muñoz Rubio: neither the zygote nor the embryo nor the fetus are biological individuals. Instead, they are living cells, the same as those of all living organisms… If the anti-abortionists believe that ending the life of a clump of cells is murder, then the obscurantist Cardinal Lopez Trujillo [the emissary sent by the Vatican to lead the church’s fight against the decriminalization of abortion] commits murder when he eats a carrot or polishes off a chicken.” (Jose Blanco, “Todos Ganan, La Iglesia Pierde,” La Jornada, March 27, 2007)
The battle to establish a scientific understanding of these basic facts in opposition to the church’s lies and distortions is an important front of the battle around abortion and of breaking the chains of obscurantism and unscientific thinking that the church is trying to enforce on society.
The struggle continues, even as the law has gone into effect and women are now able to receive safe, legal abortions. The ferment over these questions, the profound shifts that are taking place in the mood and thinking of women, as well as their actual ability to control their lives can contribute to the process of people beginning to recognize and reach for a whole different way that society can be and to dig into what it will take to get there.
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
On April 18, a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal ban on an abortion procedure known as “intact dilation and extraction.” This rare procedure is generally done when something goes very wrong with the pregnancy, or when a doctor decides this is the safest method of abortion for a woman with health risks. For the 2,200 women a year who need it, the availability of this procedure could be literally a life-saver. Taking this crucial option away was very bad in its own right. But the Supreme Court decision went further and, in deciding the case, changed how the law is understood in an ominous way.
The following is reprinted from“Christian Fascists Gain Ground, Supreme Court Decision: Huge Attack on Women,” Revolution 86, April 29, 2007 (the entire article is available at revcom.us):
Previous Court decisions have emphasized the woman’s right to make decisions concerning her own life and health. Now the Court has put much more emphasis on protecting the life of the fetus. It took out provisions for the woman’s health and provided exceptions only in very extreme cases, to save the pregnant woman’s life. (And decisions about this will, of course, be contested by anti-abortionist district attorneys.)
But while the Court seriously eroded the protection of a woman’s health, the very same ruling implied that abortion causes women emotional harm. While conceding that there is no “reliable data” on this, Justice Kennedy, in writing for the majority, immediately went on to say that it was nonetheless “self-evident” and “unexceptional to conclude” that “some women” who choose to terminate a pregnancy suffer “regret, severe depression and loss of self-esteem.” Consequently, he said, the government has a legitimate interest in banning this procedure to prevent women from casually or ill-advisedly making “ so grave a choice.” In other words, the state now has the right to prevent women doing what the state thinks might be emotionally harmful to them! Going further, Justice Kennedy wrote that if the regulation “encourages some women to carry the infant to full term,” this will advance “the state’s interest in respect for life.”
First off, this law will not “encourage” women to do anything—it will force them, under penalty of law, to bear children that they do not want. Second, Kennedy blatantly puts aside real evidence proving that this is a vital procedure to protect a women’s health for the fictitious and cruel pseudo-science that claims a woman who has an abortion might—and, in Kennedy’s thinking, should—“come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.”
And where did the majority of the highest court in the land get this “evidence"? From a relative handful of affidavits filed by the Justice Foundation—a right-wing Christian group. This group runs a 24 hour “help” line to counsel women that any emotional problems they have come from suppressed feelings from having committed the “sin of abortion” earlier in their lives. This outfit is backed and funded by several Christian Fascist organizations, including Focus on the Family, which openly trumpet the subordination of women to men, and which bombard women with guilt and shame for the “sin” of wanting to control their own destiny.
The radical leap involved in this decision and, even more so, in the logic used to justify it, was reflected in the sharpness of dissent on the Court itself. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described the hostility to women’s right to abortion on the Court as “not concealed” and “alarming.” She pointed out that in the logic of this decision, Congress could pass a law equating abortions with “infanticide” (the killing of a child) and the Court could rule in its favor.
The patriarchal underpinnings of the decision’s logic are further revealed when Kennedy, writing for the majority, states that, “Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond the mother has for her child.” [our emphasis] Leaving aside for here the fact that a fetus is NOT a child, we must understand how radical and open a departure this is. Again, even the dissenting opinion by Ginsburg argues that before now the Court “recognized the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State. The…Court described the centrality of the decision whether to bear a child to a woman’s dignity and autonomy, her personhood and destiny, her conception of her place in society.” Now, Ginsburg writes, the Court adopts a “way of thinking [that] reflects ancient notions of women’s place in the family and under the Constitution - ideas that have long since been discredited.”
In fact, the previous decisions of the Court, including ones that Ginsburg bases herself on, did NOT—and could not—fully uphold the centrality of a “woman’s dignity and autonomy.” But this new decision marks a leap to something much worse, a decision to deal with the contradictions posed by the oppressed position of women under capitalism in a qualitatively more repressive way.
Revolution #90, May 27, 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 seventh 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.
To the Bourgeoisie, Fascism—and Slavery—Are "A Matter of Taste"
How often do you hear it discussed that, for several years in the mid-1930s, the Soviet Union was attempting to build united fronts with Britain and France around things like what Germany was doing in Czechoslovakia, and that the Soviets were repeatedly rebuffed, essentially (even while there were some half-assed agreements to oppose Nazi aggression, they were basically not acted on by the imperialists who entered into these agreements)? Now, from our standpoint, and with our historical analysis of World War 2, and what led up to it, we have some serious criticisms of the policy of the Soviet Union in seeking these alliances with imperialist states. But the important point here—in analyzing questions like what "appeasement" was really all about, and what necessity the Soviet Union was facing in the build-up to World War 2—is that, in their attempts to build a united front against Nazi Germany and its initial military moves, the Soviets were essentially, and repeatedly, rebuffed by the imperialists. And it was in response to that, that the Soviets then turned around and signed an agreement with Nazi Germany (the "Hitler-Stalin Pact"), in order to gain some time, and yes some territory, to prepare for the very real possibility—which became a reality within two years—of a massive attack by Nazi Germany on the Soviet Union.
To go just a little bit afield here (I believe I have recounted this story before but it bears repeating here), Molotov, who was one of the top officials in the Soviet party and government at the time, was actually the one who signed the agreement with Nazi Germany in 1939—with Ribbentrop signing for Germany, if I remember correctly. When Molotov was asked at the time, "How can you sign an agreement with Nazi Germany?" Molotov replied, somewhat flippantly: "Well, we have agreements with all kinds of bourgeois states." And this brought the reply: "Yes, but these are fascists." To which Molotov is reported to have answered: "To the bourgeoisie, fascism is a matter of taste."
Now, again, that was too flippant and facile an answer, but I do have to say that there is some essential truth to this. When you look at the history of the U.S. bourgeoisie, for example, things like slavery are "a matter of taste." It was nearly a hundred years after the War of Independence from England before slavery was ended. During that whole period, slavery was an integral part of the U.S. economy and social system, and slave owners were an integral and powerful part of the governing system in the country as a whole. Slave owners, and defenders and champions of the interests of slave owners, such as Thomas Jefferson, are still upheld and celebrated as founders of the country and architects of liberty, serving as models for all mankind. So it reflects an important aspect of reality to say that slavery, like fascism, is—for the bourgeoisie—a "matter of taste."
To return to the dynamics at the time of World War 2 (and in the period immediately preceding and leading into that war), this was a situation where the Soviet Union was faced with the growing danger of attack by Nazi Germany and was repeatedly rebuffed in its efforts to build meaningful and effective united fronts to put a stop to what Germany was doing in that period. Again, we can have and do have substantive and important criticisms of all that. But first of all, it is necessary to assess this, and to make criticism that should be made, on the basis of understanding the actual dynamics and the actual necessity faced by the Soviet Union and its leadership. And, second of all, the criticism that we do need to make should be done from the point of view of trying to determine what should have been done in the face of those dynamics and that necessity. As communists, we have to evaluate all this, and sum up what was done, and what should have been done, from the point of view of how to advance through all the difficulty and complexity that will have to be confronted in moving to abolish and surpass the era of the bourgeoisie and imperialism and advance to the radically new era of communism. But all this talk about "appeasement," as it is commonly put forward, is just more distortion and "mis-direction"—just as the imperialists, and their media and mouthpieces, cover up which country it was that actually did the main fighting against Nazi Germany in World War 2, while the U.S. basically sat back for several years—yes, they sent some "lend-lease" equipment to the Soviet Union, but essentially they sat back and let the Soviet Union and its people do the bulk of the fighting and dying, even as the Soviet Union kept saying to them: "Open a second front in Europe, will you please!" But the U.S. imperialists' response was, in essence: "Nope, not in our interests. Keep it up boys! You're doing a good job fighting and dying there."
This history is hidden from people, so when World War 2 analogies are invoked and in particular when "appeasement" is invoked, it's all through a distorted prism and with a tremendous amount of misinformation, and dis-information, being deliberately purveyed, on top of the widespread state of ignorance that is fostered in the U.S., particularly about world affairs and world history. This relates to Lenin's statement that it takes ten pages of truth to answer one sentence of opportunism.
Now, there are real problems with post-modernism and deconstructionism, and related philosophical relativism, as we know—very serious problems. But you do have to, in a sense, deconstruct some of this stuff, this distortion of history, and we have to do this in a systematically and consistently scientific way, from the standpoint and with the method of dialectical materialism, in order to get the underlying assumptions that are built into and largely hidden in this. I know this has been the experience with the Setting the Record Straight project1 (and other efforts of ours): Every time you venture out in the world to talk and struggle with people about the way the world is, why and how it got to be that way, and, by contrast, the way it could be and the way it needs to be—you run into a whole set of assumptions, spoken or unspoken, conscious or unconscious, that you have to get to before you can enable people to begin seeing the world the way it actually is, and could be.
So, in order to speak to people about all this, in a way that leads to a real understanding of things, and is convincing and compelling, we have to get into some of the underlying assumptions and sort out what is true from what is not true, in regard to major historical events as well as present-day reality. Not that every time we sit down for a cup of coffee with someone, we have to get into the whole history of World War 2. [ laughs] But in the course of the work we do, we have to struggle with people over an understanding of important parts of reality and history that are still casting long shadows and are still being invoked in a distorted way (even while it's true that the imperialists, and those who follow in their wake and adopt their outlook, actually do, to a significant degree, perceive reality the way they're portraying it, at the same time as they employ a lot of instrumentalism and demagoguery in their distortion of reality).
"Spreading Democracy" and the "War on Terror"—Distortions of History, Distortions of Reality
All this distortion serves the purpose now of putting the current "war on terror" in the context of—or portraying it as a part of—a continuum of "the great battles of the 20th century against totalitarianism." It is very important to the U.S. imperialists to do this, as part of continuing to propagate their cardboard and comic book version of history where "We've always been the good guys fighting the great battle for democracy—we've had to take on various totalitarianisms, and now we have a new one to deal with." Now, the rather obvious instrumentalism and demagoguery comes in, for example, when they portrayed someone like Saddam Hussein as a Hitler: "Okay, Saddam Hussein doesn't really fit neatly into this framework—but never mind, he can be Hitler for a day. And then we can go on to something and someone else." So, now it's the turn of Islamic fundamentalist Jihadists to be the equivalent of Hitler—to be labeled "Islamic extremists" or "Islamo-fascists." Once again, we see that there is both hypocrisy and self-deception. It's both reality and instrumentalism. It's both somewhat what they believe and in any case what they want other people to believe.
This also applies to the whole thing of "spreading democracy": There is both reality and instrumentalism, there is both hypocrisy and self -deception. And it is important to understand what they mean when they talk about democracy and "spreading democracy." Again, one of my main themes here is that we have to really be thoroughly scientific and actually enable people to understand the world in its essence. And here the point I have made before about simplicity and complexity—about how there is both the basic essence of things and the complexity bound up with them—has important application. We have to enable people to get the basic, and in a sense simple, terms of something—the essence of it, in other words—but also to increasingly grapple with and grasp the complexity. And this applies to the talk, by Bush and his regime, about democracy and "spreading democracy." One of the main reasons I am emphasizing the need to not only get to the basic essence but also to really go into the complexity of things, is that it won't do to repeat mantras, like: "You have to understand—democracy is nothing but bourgeois democracy, which means it's actually a bourgeois dictatorship carried out over the masses of people by a handful of ruling class exploiters and oppressors." All true, but not very compelling to those who are not already convinced of it. We have to be able to actually make this come alive and be compelling for people. But there is not only that general truth, there are also particularities of how this is being shaped and thrust out into the world today.
Bourgeois Democracy… and Fascism
It is often the case that other people, who are coming from other points of view, can have insights that we should learn from and recast with a dialectical materialist, a thoroughly scientific understanding. For example, I was reading some observations by one of our comrades, drawing from some insights in statements by Arundhati Roy. What I want to focus on here is the observation: "There's a crisis of democracy—it looks like Iraq, and in the 'democratic countries' it's being '1984-ed.' " There is something important there which captures important aspects of what is going on with the Bush regime's crusade to "spread democracy," while at the same time they are moving to change U.S. society in a fascist direction and for generations to come (to borrow from the Call of World Can't Wait).
What does this "spreading of democracy" mean? What are they actually doing? When Bush and others say things like "People in Iraq (or Afghanistan) came out and voted and there were elections, this is a great step forward"—is this all just tricks and lies? No, these are trappings of bourgeois democracy that they are talking about, but this is part of the kind of society they want to construct in Iraq, and in that region more generally.
Now, what's the other part? Well, let's go back to "Elementary Logic 101": If you have an election under the military occupation of a foreign power it is not a free election, okay? Whatever that term "free election" means, whatever meaning there is to that, that's not it.
But this occupation is also part of the democracy they mean to impose. It comes with, and through, bludgeoning—things will be hammered into place according to certain definite aims and interests of U.S. imperialism. And things will be structured and ordered in that way. And then, according to their vision and plans, you will have the development of "free markets," the growth of a middle class, more stability, a Western-oriented society—like Lebanon.
Recently, Israel—and the U.S. through the vehicle of Israel—went and did what they did in Lebanon, massively pounding and devastating the country and its people; but Lebanon has been a model of what they are trying to do in the region. I remember seeing Anderson Cooper on CNN, when things were going on in Lebanon, with the Israeli assault and the massive outrage among the people in Lebanon over this—with many, even secular forces, rallying around Hezbollah—and there was Anderson Cooper pulling out his hair: "What happened?! We were doing so well in Lebanon, you know? Jesus Christ, what's going wrong here? We got everybody mad at the Syrians and everybody loved us and everything was going so well—and now what's happening?!"
Well, some of the underlying and driving dynamics of imperialism are what's happening there, buddy. And this is all the more upsetting for them, because Lebanon was basically a model of how they want to remake the region—how they want to bludgeon the Middle East into being. And, once again, on their part there is both reality and instrumentalism in all this. The "democracy" they are "spreading" does look like Iraq: What they are aiming for in Iraq does include some of the forms and trappings of bourgeois democracy, and they actually do want to develop more of a "Westernized middle class" there—although it is a great irony that there was, to a significant degree and in significant ways, such a middle class under Saddam Hussein, and as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation and all the devastation and madness that has been part of that, and has been unleashed by it, much of that middle class has moved to get out of Iraq. But the U.S. imperialists, and strategists in the Bush regime in particular, actually have theories about this, they actually believe that their "free market" stuff will—someday—benefit everybody. Maybe not in your lifetime or mine, or for several generations, but someday it will benefit everybody. That's how they see it. And in the meantime, they believe, it will create enough of a middle class and other strata that will be inclined toward the U.S. and not want to have upheaval—and that's good enough for now. That, again, is how they see it—even as reality is working out in a very different way.
So, if you understand that, you can understand how this involves the appearance, and in some ways the reality, of a very acute contradiction: On the one hand, they have this crusade to "spread democracy," and there is an aspect of reality as well as of instrumentalism and demagoguery to it, at the same time as it can legitimately be said—and needs to be said—that they are moving to change U.S. society in a fascist way and for generations to come. It is not necessarily the case that the trappings of democracy will be eliminated as they move to change U.S. society in a fascist way and for generations to come—nor will they necessarily or likely give up the banner of democracy while doing this. The meaning of the words can change. Remember that recent exchange between a right-wing radio guy and Dick Cheney: "Don't you think, Mr. Vice President, that dunking somebody in the water, if it would save some lives, is a no-brainer?" "It's a no-brainer for me," replied Cheney. But then, in the same breath, they insist: "We don't torture!" Now, how can you put those two things together? This has to do with their insistence that, because they have tremendous power, they can define reality any way they want. Or, as a Bush administration official was quoted in that Ron Suskind article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine: We create our reality on the ground, and while you're studying that oh so judiciously, we will go on and create further reality.2
If we say water-boarding is not torture, then it's not torture (and, oh yes, as Cheney "clarified," he wasn't talking about water-boarding but just a little dunking in the water to make somebody talk!). Water-boarding is not torture, because we do not torture—here is another of their self-serving tautologies (similar to: we're the "good guys" in the world, so whatever we do is… good).
1. The Set the Record Straight project is aimed at combating the widespread lies and slanders about the experience of socialism in the Soviet Union and China and at critically examining that experience from a scientific standpoint—to help draw important lessons from both the mainly positive aspect of that experience but also the very real shortcomings and errors, and to popularize this among as broad an audience as possible, including through forums and debates with people putting forward different and opposing viewpoints. An important speech by Raymond Lotta—"Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Far Better World"—and other material from the Set the Record Straight project are available at the project's website, thisiscommunism.org. The project can be contacted at SettheRecordStraight@hotmail.com. [back]
2. The article by Ron Suskind, titled "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush," appeared in the Oct. 17, 2004 issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Suskind quotes a senior Bush aide who tells him, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." [back]
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
Taking Out the Special Issue on Bob Avakian
The “conventional wisdom” says that fundamental change is unrealistic, even impossible. But in reality, the most “unrealistic” thing in the world is to hope to touch things up around the edges, to put your trust in official channels and established authority, while things continually get worse. If a different--a better--world is possible, you’ve got to struggle to understand how and fight to bring it into being.
That demands leadership. And that is where Bob Avakian comes in. (Revolution #84).
In the last weeks of April, several thousand people, coming from many different perspectives, stepped forward to distribute more than a half million copies of a special issue of Revolution introducing Bob Avakian to people across the country. In major metropolitan areas to cities and towns in Nevada, North Carolina, and a dozen other states, the paper went out all over. It was read, discussed, and passed hand to hand by basic people of all nationalities in the ghettos, barrios, and workplaces; by professors and students at universities like Columbia, Berkeley, and UCLA to small colleges and junior colleges in many different cities; by professionals, artists, writers, and intellectuals; by prisoners, and by many more people from all walks of life.
These are dark times, compelling people to confront hard questions--including what kind of world they want to live in and how to get there. In such times, revolutionaries need to be urgently taking Bob Avakian’s leadership to the masses of people on the bottom of society as they struggle to move beyond this madness, so that there is a real buzz about this and a growing connection. And more broadly in society, for the academics, intellectuals, artists, and others who are deeply concerned about the course history is taking, what that means for humanity, and what to do about it--Avakian’s analysis of the situation, his vision of the future society and his very method and approach must be seriously engaged and wrestled with. Getting to this kind of situation--where many, many more people in these different sections know about Bob Avakian, where there is a real following building up, and where what he’s all about is much more part of the “societal conversation”--can change the whole equation of what people think is worth living and dying for, what people think is even possible. It can contribute to--indeed, it is an essential element of--re polarizing the current lineup of society into one where many more positive things could find expression and where revolution could come onto the agenda. And making a big, even qualitative, step in this was the central aim of this effort.
To be clear: there are many important things that go into a revolution, all kinds of struggles and mass outpourings and debates which require effort and attention from those who want to make fundamental radical change. But visionary communist leadership is the crucial element in the whole mix--and this leader is a rare and unique one. The special issue, which drew on and publicized comments from a whole range of people, as well as quotes from Avakian himself, and which summed up some of the key elements of his contributions, let people see that.
Spreading the Word
Taking out this special issue of Revolution newspaper could not be done on either the scale or the scope needed without bringing forward scores of people and unleashing and relying on them to take this paper into all corners of society. And indeed, thousands did take up this call!
Revolutionary minded youth aiming to build a communist movement took them into their schools and neighborhoods. Professors and high school teachers took papers for their classes, some because they want their students to be exposed to different and controversial ideas and to think critically. Store owners from Harlem to Little Village (Chicago) to Watts stuffed them into the bags of their customers. In NY, a man who works in a cultural center/café took thousands and not only distributed them to all those who came into the café, but got out thousands in that barrio to residents. Two young Black women in South Central L.A. took 50 English papers and took them out in a mall, telling people, “We gotta change the world.”
Circles of proletarians discussed the article in the paper, made plans and went into their neighborhoods, getting them out broadly to people on the streets, asking stores to distribute them, and joining with others to get them out on college campuses. Spanish-speaking immigrants went out to African Americans to get them the paper--and African Americans took stacks in Spanish to distribute. A Black man in his forties who said “we’re blaming ourselves and it really is the system” took 70 papers (half in Spanish) to distribute and gave $5. His son, a “kid who had done everything right,” had been shot in the back. He said, “People die every day over bullshit and we need revolution.”
Participants in Earth Day protests, people attending a rally for Obama in Georgia, and members of church and community organizations took stacks of papers to distribute. The effort culminated with 20,000 copies of “The Crossroads We Face, the Leadership We Need” going out at the music festival at Coachella--and thus finding their way into communities across Southern California and around the country and to Mexico, Canada, and Europe. Everywhere, the extreme conditions in society are challenging people to think about things in a new and different way, and to give some things they took for granted another look. As one student told someone who was selling the paper: “I’ve been hearing about communism in my class, but the communism you’re talking about doesn’t sound anything like that.”
Widespread Discussion, Welcome Debates and Sharp Challenges
On the streets, in classrooms and living rooms, debate swirled around this leader and the question of leadership. Do we need leadership and what kind? Who is he and why don't we know about him? What kind of change do we need, and how do we make it? Does the emphasis on one person stifle the initiative of others? Do the leaders of the people always go bad--or inevitably get murdered by the powers-that-be? Religion, the sharp and killing conflicts among the masses themselves, women's liberation, the character of democracy--they all came out and they all got taken up. In the course of all, many people stepped forward who want revolution and revolutionary leadership, and are finding in Bob Avakian a leader who has not sold out and who continues to challenge people to take up the cause of revolution and communism and to give them the understanding, the method and approach to do that. Others see some fundamental problems with this society and have different analyses of the world and how to change it, but feel it is important now to open up the debate and get into what Avakian is bringing forward. And this is exactly the kind of conversation and debate that needs to broaden and deepen.
And many people--of all nationalities, ages and strata--who are beginning to engage with Bob Avakian and know well the nature of this system, raised that the state will try to silence this leader and take him from the people. They grappled with what it will take to defend and protect him, beginning with the challenge to spread the word about this leader to those who want a different, better world. And this too is a question to be seriously taken up by many, many more people.
A Big Step to a Different World
What has begun with the introduction of Bob Avakian to hundreds of thousands is a step towards bringing a different world into being. In key areas of major cities and on some college campuses, there is recognition of and talk about this leader--and this reverberates, not only through these areas, but much more broadly in society. People across the country have stepped up to spread the word of what he is saying and doing. This is the beginning of a movement which must take shape and form and which must spread much more broadly in society.
Now the engagement needs to go broader and deeper. Those who took out this special issue of Revolution need to get down with the ideas this leader is bringing forward and bring others into wrangling with what BA is saying in an organized way. The key way right now is to take up and go to others with the special offer of Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About (a DVD of a talk by BA) and 10 issues of Revolution for $25. By doing this, we enable thousands of people who got interested by the special issue to get more deeply into the wide-ranging presentation of the big questions and main points of revolution and communism that is on the DVD. And we get them relating to the newspaper every week, where they can see how all this applies to the events of the day and can also continue to engage with new work by Avakian. This kind of crucial followup means that people will draw closer over time, on a mass scale.
At the same time, we need in this next month to launch a “mass movement” of DVD showings. This requires getting out postcards and flyers and posters about it to hundreds of thousands, and finding the ways to sell it very, very broadly. It means people getting together in classrooms, rec centers and libraries, barbershops, cafes and clubs. Living rooms and laundromats. In groups that come together to discuss it, or informally when people drop in or hang around. The many places that became outlets for the special issue must now become centers of distribution of the DVD (and other works of Bob Avakian), as well as Revolution newspaper. And the revolutionaries, radicals, and critical thinkers who took the special issue to these outlets need to get back with these folks and sum up how it went, learning from their experience and working with them to do better.
This good beginning now has to go much further. As one Chicano youth who organized at his school to distribute the special issue put it, we need to “set a revolutionary mood in society and…be more creative and go to people who do music and art, people who are looked up to in our neighborhoods and try to win these people over. We need to reach out broader and make this real…. It’s not hard, we’re just lagging it.”
This big push with the DVD can broaden out and intensify the ferment that was begun with the special issue. It can strengthen the trend where the possibility of the revolutionary communism that Bob Avakian is talking about is not ruled out of order, but is seen as a necessary part of the debate. And it can strengthen what must be an essential component of preparing the ground for revolution: a growing core of revolutionary forces who have been taking up the path being pointed to by Bob Avakian; a core that is looking at all the events in society and the world from the point of revolution and how to get to a different and better world; a core that is bringing this viewpoint and outlook to others and winning them to that position through all the twists and turns of events and struggle in society, spreading the revolutionary movement and working to bring a revolutionary people into being.
And for those who got the special issue and who really “got it”--it is time to draw closer…to get more deeply into it. To get organized, and to organize others. There is nothing more important to do right now than digging into this and wrestling with it, and getting it into the hands of others.
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
In 2003 Chairman Bob Avakian delivered an historic talk in the United States, now available in video. This talk is a wide-ranging revolutionary journey. It breaks down the very nature of the society we live in and how humanity has come to a time where a radically different society is possible. Full of heart and soul, humor and seriousness, it will challenge you and set your heart and mind to flight.
BOB AVAKIAN is a creative and wide-ranging thinker who maintains a profound sense of the actual struggles, trends and sentiments among the masses, the movements of opposition, and society broadly. And, he is the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, which is seriously setting its sight on the seizure of power right within the U.S. itself, and the revolutionary transformation of society as part of the world proletarian revolution. He will take you on a journey that can change your life.
“In times like these, this clear voice for social change is a welcome relief from all the confusion and lies. Listen, and you will truly hear a voice of reason, with sharp analysis and deep understanding, going up against the tide of injustice and oppression. Of crucial importance is the fearless opposition to the rise of the Christian right and its pernicious effect on the political and cultural life in this country. While you might not agree with everything he says, he will challenge you with his insights and a clarion call to what must be done. ”
[Reverend Earl Kooperkamp, Pastor, St. Mary’s Church, Harlem, NYC]
Visit our website &
$34.95 + $4 shipping. Check/MO to Three Q Productions.
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
Background to Confrontation:
Part 2: The U.S. Seizes Control in Iran: The CIA’S 1953 Coup D’etat
For over 100 years imperialist domination of Iran has been enforced by the U.S. and other powers through covert intrigues, economic bullying, and outright military assaults, even invasions. This history is crucial to understanding the real motives for U.S. threats today—including the real threat of war, even nuclear war. Part I of this series explored the rivalry between European imperialists over who would rob Iran of its oil and viciously exploit the people of the country up to and after World War 1. Part II exposes how in the aftermath of World War II, based on emerging as the dominant power in the world, the U.S. overthrew the nationalist secular government of Mohammed Mossadegh, and installed the brutal and oppressive rule of a loyal administrator— the Shah in Iran.
The U.S. Seizes Control In Iran: The 1953 CIA Coup
Based on its position as the number one global power coming out of World War 2, the U.S. moved throughout the world to rip colonies away from its rivals and institute oppressive relations with much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Iran was a key prize. In 1953 the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) orchestrated a coup d’etat that returned Iran’s monarch, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, to power. This was a turning point in Iranian — and Middle East — history. The coup put a brutal tyrant and U.S. client on the throne, crushed his opponents, and turned Iran into a key client of U.S. imperialism. It signaled the U.S. ascent to regional dominance, taking over from Britain. And it planted the seeds for Iran’s 1979 revolution, which brought Islamic fundamentalist clerics to power — ushering in the new, tense and dangerous chapter in U.S.-Iranian relations we’re in today.
Oil, The Middle East & The Rise Of U.S. Imperialism
Petroleum’s military and economic importance grew enormously after World War 1. New oil-based industries, such as auto, rubber, petro-chemicals, and plastics, had arisen and expanded. The economies and militaries of the U.S., Europe, and Japan were more and more dependent on petroleum. A 1944 U.S. State Department memo called oil “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.”
During World War 2, the U.S. rulers focused increasing attention on the Middle East because of its strategic location at the intersection of Africa, Asia and Europe, and because most of the world’s oil reserves are located there. U.S. strategists realized that controlling this region was crucial not only to winning the war, but to emerging as the globe’s dominant imperialist power afterward as well.
Seizing Middle East dominance meant first, edging out the British and French as the region’s dominant power. Second, containing or suppressing the post-war nationalist and anti-imperialist movements rising across the region. Third, preventing the then-socialist Soviet Union from gaining influence or power.
All three of these challenges came together — very sharply — in Iran after the war’s end.
In 1946, the first post-war confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union took place over Iran. At the time Britain still occupied southern Iran and the Soviet Union occupied the north (where it had helped set up Soviet Republics, really mini-states, in Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan). The wartime alliance between the U.S. and the Soviets was breaking down and turning into all-out hostility and the Cold War. President Harry Truman wrote: “[I]f the Russians were to control Iran’s oil, either directly or indirectly, the raw material balance of the world would undergo serious damage and it would be a serious loss for the economy of the western world.” ** Amin Saikal, The Rise and Fall of the Shah, p. 33. [For an important discussion of the real nature of World War 2, and the role of the U.S. in that war, see “Bringing Forward Another Way,” by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA— in particular Part 6 — available at revcom.us]
Truman considered Iran so strategically crucial that he threatened to drop a “super-bomb” — a nuclear weapon — if Soviet forces didn’t withdraw. This was no idle threat; the year before the U.S. had dropped not one, but two atomic bombs on Japan. Soviet forces soon withdrew.
Iran: Mass Anger & Oil Nationalization
Iranians had suffered enormously as a result of what one historian called “social disorder, political disarray, and economic hardship,” during World War 2. (Saikal, p. 26) When the war ended, Iran’s political instability continued, along with a rising tide of anger against British imperialism.
This anger focused on the enormous gap between the riches Britain reaped from Iran’s vast oil wealth (which the British still exclusively controlled) on the one side, and the paltry sums paid Iran and the crippling poverty which was the lot of most Iranians on the other. For instance, in 1947, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company reported an after-tax profit of £40 million ($112 million in U.S. dollars), while paying Iran only £7 million. (Stephen Kinzer, “All The Shah’s Men,” p. 67)
Conditions for oil workers were so bad that riots broke out in Abadan (where most oil production took place) in 1946 after striking workers were attacked by criminal gangs organized by the British. On May First, International Workers Day, 1946, tens of thousands of people marched in Tehran and Abadan under the leadership of Iran’s Tudeh Party (a non-revolutionary, pro-Soviet communist party). (Kinzer pp. 52, 65)
By the late 1940s, a broad movement to take control of the country’s oil wealth was gaining momentum. It coalesced in the National Front, a diverse alliance under the leadership of a bourgeois nationalist politician, Mohammed Mossadegh. By April 1951, Mossadegh had enough support to pass a bill in Iran’s parliament (Majlis) nationalizing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), which the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi felt compelled to sign. A week later, Mossadegh was named Prime Minister. Iran’s nationalization was a defiant and unprecedented act in the Middle East, where oil production was controlled and run by foreign imperialist monopolies.
Britain & The U.S. Lash Back
Iran’s oil nationalization struck at key British imperialist interests: AIOC was the largest single overseas commercial asset of the British empire and a crucial source of oil. The British worried that the nationalization could ripple through the region and prove a telling blow to their empire, already reeling in the aftermath of World War 2.
The British struck back by organizing an international boycott of Iranian oil, going to international courts, and by covertly organizing to overthrow Mossadegh. After initially standing aside, by 1953 the U.S. joined the British in plotting a coup. The U.S.-Soviet confrontation was growing very sharp and U.S. officials were concerned that Iran was in danger of falling under Soviet control, and that only a "regime change" would cure the problem.
The CIA put Kermit Roosevelt (President Teddy Roosevelt’s grandson) in charge of the operation inside Iran and on April 4, 1953 allocated $1 million to “bring about the fall of Mossadegh,” and “bring to power a government which would reach an equitable oil settlement, enabling Iran to become economically sound and financially solvent, and which would vigorously prosecute the dangerously strong Communist Party." (Declassified CIA history at: http://www.nytimes.com/library/world/mideast/041600iran-cia-index.html)
Mossadegh and the oil nationalization were widely popular — in 1951 the nationalization was unanimously approved by the Majlis and in 1953 Mossadegh won a national plebescite by a landslide — and the British were widely hated. (Kinzer, pp. 82, 165) So the CIA moved methodically to forge an anti-Mossadegh alliance, which included monarchists, military leaders, and other propertied Iranians, while dividing and weakening Mossadegh’s National Front.
The National Front was a loose coalition of diverse political forces, including the Tudeh Party, Iranian nationalists and ultra-nationalists, and Islamic fundamentalists. The U.S. and British paid particular attention to winning over the Islamic fundamentalist forces grouped around Ayatollah Seyyed Abolqassem Kashani (a mentor of Ayatollah Khomeini, who would take power in the 1979 revolution). These clerics had been hostile to the Shah’s father Reza for undercutting Islamic institutions and tradition. They initially joined the anti-Shah alliance, bringing their considerable influence among the impoverished urban masses. But the clerics feared the growing influence of the Tudeh Party, which Mossadegh tolerated for his own purposes, much more. This concern, plus hefty bribes by the U.S. and British, led them to turn against Mossadegh and support the CIA-led coup.
The British-led boycott of Iran’s oil was wearing on Iran’s propertied strata. Using Iranian operatives, the CIA also organized incidents and spread propaganda aimed at confusing and paralyzing the population, and turning them against Mossadegh.
August 19, 1953 — A Day Of Infamy In Iran
On August 15, 1953, after months of organizing, the Shah signed orders to arrest Mossadegh and appointed the pro-U.S. General Zahedi as Prime Minister. CIA operatives in Tehran broadly publicized the Shah’s order to oust Mossadegh. Bribes were paid to military officers and $50,000 was handed out to organize criminal gangs to rampage through Tehran's streets, while shouting pro-Mossadegh slogans. Then pro-coup police units were sent to break up the "mobs" and to restore order.
On August 19, CIA-paid gangs began taking over public squares and shouting, "Long live the Shah! Death to Mossadegh!" A military assault began against Mossadegh's residence, and after many attackers were killed, an army unit with tanks broke through to capture the house. Mossadegh escaped, but surrendered after it was clear all was lost. General Zahedi rode to Radio Tehran atop a tank to proclaim his victory. The Shah told Roosevelt, ”I owe my throne to God, my people, my army — and to you.” (Kermit Roosevelt, "Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran," p. 199-202).
The Coup’s Bitter Aftermath
After the coup, the name of Iran’s new nationalized oil company — National Iranian Oil Company — was kept, but full control of production and sale of Iran’s oil was returned to a consortium of international oil corporations, which now included five American oil giants. They were given 40 percent of Iran’s oil, Anglo-Iranian Oil’s (later renamed British Petroleum) share was reduced to 40 percent, and French and Dutch companies were given the other 20 percent. Rising nationalism in Iran and across the region had forced the oil giants to raise Iran’s cut of oil profits to 50 percent, but Iranians were not allowed to inspect the books, and one oil historian called the deal “one of the most attractive contracts of the oil industry in the Middle East, as far as terms of payment are concerned.” (Kinzer, p. 196; Larry Everest, Oil, Power & Empire, p. 44; Rashid Khalid, “Resurrecting Empire,” p. 91.)
The Shah was, for the first time, firmly in power, thanks to the U.S., and his opponents were dispersed, demoralized, or suppressed. He reigned for the next 25 years, a loyal instrument of American imperialism in Iran and the region, his rule enforced by brutality and terror.
The 1953 coup profoundly impacted Iranian politics and consciousness — a day of infamy to millions — for decades afterward, and planted seeds that would grow into the 1979 revolution.
Next : The Shah’s reign: What U.S. imperialist domination meant for Iranians.
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
Sixteen days after the brutal LAPD assault on May Day immigrant rights protesters in Los Angeles, new assaults against immigrants were launched in Washington, DC. Liberal Democratic senators (including some with a reputation of being for immigrant rights), conservative Republican senators and the Bush administration came to an agreement that represents, if passed into law, a major leap in repression against immigrants.
At this point the government is not seeking, as advocated by some in the ruling class, the roundup and mass deportation of the estimated 12 to 20 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. 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. Instead, at the heart of this Senate proposal are: (1) a significant escalation in the militarization of the border; (2) a slave-like “guest worker” program; and (3) a “legalization” scheme to force undocumented immigrants to register with the government in exchange for a probationary permit to work, with the possibility of permanent residency a dozen years in the future; (4) a revamping of the ability of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to legally bring family members into the U.S. which will result in splitting families apart.
Militarization of the Border, Concentration Camps, and Living With No Rights
The proposal calls for whole new levels in the deployment of Migra agents (border patrol), hi-tech surveillance equipment, and detention of immigrants at the border (see "Major Provisions of the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007"). Since the stepped-up militarization of the border began during the Clinton presidency in the mid-1990s, an estimated 4,000 immigrants have died trying to cross according to figures compiled by Coalición de Derechos Humanos based in Tucson, Ariziona. On top of the already militarized border, the proposal would add 370 miles of fencing and 18,000 Migra agents. These new measures will force greater numbers of desperate and hungry people to cross through the more remote and dangerous areas of deserts, mountains and rivers, resulting in even more people dying.
The proposal will implement a 32% increase in the number of immigrants that can be held in detention centers (concentration camps in reality) – from 20,750 per day (last year) to 27,500 per day -- by constructing new detention camps. According to a 2006 New York Times article, “By the fall of 2007, the administration expects that about 27,500 immigrants will be in detention each night, an increase of 6,700 over the current number in custody.” Numerous reports have cited the inhumane and torturous conditions under which men, women and children are being held, some indefinitely, for the “crime” of crossing the border in order to survive.
It is estimated that 10 to 20 million immigrants must live outside the law in the U.S., lacking any basic rights and liable to be arrested and deported at any moment. And there is a way that this comes into conflict with the efforts by the system to implement a qualitatively greater level of repression in society as a whole. In this light, a key element of finding a way to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows legally, while still keeping them in a highly vulnerable and exploited position, is this scheme for “legalization.”
The Cruel and Dangerous Illusion of Legalization
In looking over some of the provisions in this Senate proposal, several elements jump out.
One, the process for actually becoming a legal permanent resident will take years, up to a dozen by some estimates. In the meantime, people will either have a probationary permit or a “Z” visa, neither of which guarantees the right to stay in the U.S. indefinitely.
Two, while holding out the prospect of legalization, this would amount to a cruel illusion for the great majority -- with long waiting periods, onerous fines and penalties, and the requirement that heads of household go back to their home country to apply for permanent residency. And any slip-up in this period, or a change in law could result in immediate deportation.
Three, the proposal stipulates?? that none of the legalization process will begin until the “border is secure.”
These points underscore that as a whole, this proposal is aimed at registering and controlling immigrants while keeping them highly vulnerable and exploitable.
Guest Workers: "Close to Slavery"
A recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center on immigrant workers, “Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States,” estimates that 121,000 guest workers were brought into the U.S. in 2005 for work that is categorized as “unskilled.” Such workers are only permitted to enter the U.S. as an employee of whatever company or contractor brought them here. They face immediate deportation if they stop working for that employer for whatever reason: if they quit, are fired, or are injured and unable to work. These slave-like conditions would be greatly intensified if the Senate proposal becomes law. (see Revolution #83 Online Edition--Immigrant Workers: “Close to Slavery”)
Think about this. How different is this guest worker proposal from what existed under apartheid South Africa? Yes, after slaving away all day, “guest workers” will not be required to return to Bantustans (segregated areas set up like Indian reservations in the U.S.). But won't this set up similar economic and social relations and living conditions? No right to change jobs or quit work, subject to firing and deportation at any time, low wages and dangerous and horrible working conditions?
A particularly hypocritical and cruel provision of the proposal is the one that will reduce the number of foreign-born family members that U.S. citizens and permanent residents may legally sponsor to immigrate to the U.S. The Bush regime never tires of emphasizing the importance of family and “family values.” But the hypocrisy is seen in this proposal that will tear apart families.
Beginning shortly after the massive outpourings of immigrants last spring against the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill, the government began a whole series of raids and deportations as punishment and to crush resistance. As I said in a statement after the LAPD attack on May Day, “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 essence the government is holding a gun to people’s heads. With it, they will try, in part, to force people out of the shadows to register with the government for some illusionary legalization. They are attempting to present immigrants with a deal they cannot refuse.
This entire proposal is no good. It is not “a great starting point for (comprehensive immigration) reform getting done this year.” It is not a “step in the right direction” that through lobbying and negotiation can be made better. From beginning until end, it is a trap and a program for control, increased repression, and legalized slavery. We cannot and must not accept it. This proposal underscores the importance of mobilizing even greater levels of outrage and resistance among immigrants, together with many other people, to stop this entire anti-immigrant onslaught.
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
Hire 18,000 new border patrol agents.
Build 200 miles of vehicle barriers and 370 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Erect 70 ground-based radar and camera towers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Deploy four unmanned aerial vehicles and supporting systems.
End the program in which undocumented immigrants are released upon apprehension. (This means greatly increased detentions of immigrants.)
Provide for detaining up to 27,500 immigrants per day on an annual basis.
Use secure and effective identification tools to prevent unauthorized work (the beginning of a national identification system).
UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS CURRENTLY IN THE U.S.:
Undocumented immigrant workers present within the U.S. before January 1, 2007 could come forward immediately and receive a probationary (temporary) permit to remain in the U.S. and work after submitting a completed application, fingerprints, and being cleared by one-day background checks. This probationary permit can eventually (see stipulations below) be converted to a "Z" nonimmigrant visa providing legal status. To qualify for the “Z” visa, they must be currently employed and pay fees and penalties totaling $5,000 . This would allow them to work and cross the border. For their spouses, minor children and elderly parents, a variant of the “Z” visa would be issued with lesser fees.
“Z” visa holders may later obtain lawful permanent residence (a “green card,” this is not citizenship) once they pay an additional $4,000 in penalties and their head of household returns to their home country to apply for lawful permanent residence . Processing of “green cards” for holders of "Z" visas would begin after clearing an existing backlog, which is expected to take eight years.
No one with a probationary permit may be processed to obtain the “Z” visa until "triggers" (see border militarization provisions above) for border security and workplace enforcement (see below) have been met (estimated by the Department of Homeland Security to take 18 months but in reality could take much longer).
Require employers to electronically verify new employees to prove identity and work eligibility.
Increase penalties for unlawful hiring, employment and record-keeping violations.
GUEST WORKERS (requires border security measures to be in place first):
Create a new temporary guest worker program with two-year "Y visas," initially capped at 400,000 per year with annual adjustments.
Workers could renew the Y visa up to three times, but would be required to return home for a year in between each time . Those bringing dependents could obtain only one, nonrenewable two-year visa.
Families could accompany guest workers only if they could show proof of medical insurance and demonstrate that their wages were 150 percent above the poverty level.
Spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents would be eligible for permanent residency based purely on their status as family members, but other relatives such as adult children and siblings would not.
380,000 visas a year would be awarded based on a point system, with about 50 percent based on employment criteria, 25 percent based on education, 15 percent on English proficiency and 10 percent on family connections. (This is instead of basing visas on someone being a family member.)
Apply new limits to U.S. citizens seeking to bring foreign-born parents into the country.
Visas for parents of U.S. citizens would be capped annually at 40,000 and those for spouses and children at 87,000.
(Much of this information came from a summary of the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 written by the American Immigration Lawyers Association)
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
May 17, 2007. Thousands of protesters marched into MacArthur Park--returning to where the LAPD, on May 1st, attacked an immigration rights rally with rubber bullets and batons.
Angela Sanbrano from the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) told the crowd, "No more! Today we’re here to reassert our right to freely assemble that was violated on May 1st."
The march began outside of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in a Latino and Korean neighborhood. The church's pastor, Frank Alton, said that for days the church had received angry and harassing phone calls, but that he was still proudly opening the doors of his church to immigrants.
The mood of the protest celebrated the courage of the thousands of immigrants who, in the face of attacks and threats, continue to fight for their rights. And new allies marched side by side with immigrants, including people from different nationalities, various interfaith religious forces and members of church congregations from throughout Los Angeles, and students from as far away as Ventura, Riverside, and Orange County.
“I’m happy to see people here from all over,” said Manuel, an immigrant from Mexico. “There are African Americans and Japanese and Americans supporting us in this cause. We come here to work and all we’re asking for is to be treated justly. These are beautiful words on this banner. [“We are Human Beings, We Demand a Better World, We Will Not Accept Slavery in any Form”] It’s true that we’re human beings, that deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”
Maritza helped her union friends distribute candles among the crowd. Her friends are a group of Black women who work together with her in the service industry. They laughed as they struggled to pronounce "Si se puede!" in their best Spanish accent. The women made comparisons between the May Day brutality and the brutality against Black people during the Civil Rights movement. One of the women said, “We’re here to give support to our Latino brothers and sisters. We feel like our people, Black people, have been through this situation before and that’s why we should come forth and support these people here.”
On May 1st the LAPD attacked news journalists and many news crews and reporters returned to MacArthur Park to cover this protest, as well as to support the demonstration. A news anchor from Telemundo announced on his news show the evening before the demonstration that he was attending the protest as a journalist, but that more than that, he felt he needed to attend as a human being.
In the days after the May Day attack there was a lot of talk from local authorities and the police, about how now is a time for “healing” and working toward restoring the severed relationship between the people and the LAPD. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has promised a full investigation (while not mentioning prosecuting any of the officers involved.) All this is aimed at cooling things. But the anger and outrage among people have not subsided.
LAPD Chief William Bratton was on the scene, and dozens of protesters shouted him down as he talked to the media about the LAPD’s new approach to the protest. Throughout the protest people carried placards demanding that Chief William Bratton be fired and that all the brutal cops involved in the May Day beatings be prosecuted and jailed. One woman who was at MacArthur Park on May Day said, “If they think they can hide behind a badge after what they did to people, they’re wrong! We want justice!”
What the LAPD did on May 1st is what they are trained to do and will continue to do. In the days leading up to the demonstration and on the day itself the police were openly discussing their plans to infiltrate the march with undercover police agents. The newly promoted Commander Sergio Diaz, announced that there would be an undetermined number of undercover agents with the goal of identifying any “provocateurs” among the crowd. “Anyone who causes problems will be arrested,” said Diaz.
Some at the demonstration had heard about the proposals the Senate had made earlier that day for a guest worker program, temporary visas, and further militarization of the border. And some people said they felt that these measures only reinforce immigrants’ position as exploited workers. Some people also said that that giving immigrants temporary visas is like stripping the humanity away from people -- only to be seen as a class of people that will do backbreaking work without full rights in this country.
A woman from Central America said, “I’ve spent 35 years getting fucked over in garment! Do you think that’s right? We want legalization!”
There is also continued outrage at the ICE raids and the separation of families that the deportations of hundreds of people have caused across the country. A young woman from the Youth Justice Coalition said, “We’re demanding an end to the raids. I say that we’re all human beings—[it doesn’t matter] if we’re illegal or citizens.”
Many people in the demonstration spoke about the eye-opening nature of the naked brutality of the LAPD and the new proposals for immigration reform, including all the talk of immigrants being allowed to share in the “American Dream” which has really been more like the American Nightmare for the millions of exploited immigrants in this country. “We’re not criminals, we’re human beings and we want legalization and justice for the way that the police treated us [on May 1],” said a young man from Mexico.
A student from Mexico said that legalization is a just demand, but added that the problem extends beyond immigration reform. He traveled from a small town in southern Mexico’s countryside to the U.S. about five years ago. He said that for a long time he felt guilty about leaving his parents and his home. In the Spring of last year, he listened to an excerpt of Bob Avakian’s Revolution DVD, titled, “Why do people come here from all over the world?” and it made him reflect on his “choice” to leave his home. Listening to the excerpt made him think about the larger forces at work that pulled him out his hometown, across the border, and into the kitchens and factories in L.A. He was inspired to investigate this more: “We need to think about the reasons why people come here and find a solution for that. Now I know that people leave their countries because of NAFTA and Plan Puebla Panama. The government of Mexico and the interests that they represent [the United States] are causing the destruction of humanity. They’re causing irreparable damage to the Earth. We all have to think about that and find a solution for that.”
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
Philadelphia, May 17--A three-judge panel of the federal Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the case of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Over 250 people, overwhelmingly Mumia supporters, filled the courtroom, and hundreds more were outside. Also in the courtroom in support of Mumia were former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and a delegation from Europe.
Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on Pennsylvania’s death row since he was railroaded for murder in 1982. Shortly before dawn, on December 9, 1981, Mumia was driving his cab on a downtown Philadelphia street. He saw a cop viciously beating his brother, William Cook, with a metal flashlight. Mumia rushed to help his brother, and there was a confrontation. When the smoke cleared, Mumia had been shot in the chest—and was lying on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood. A cop lay on the street nearby, dying from bullet wounds. The police charged Mumia, who was well known to them as a revolutionary journalist and a former Black Panther, with the murder of the cop.
At his 1982 trial, Mumia was denied the right to serve as his own attorney and was barred from the courtroom for half his trial. The prosecution claimed that Mumia had confessed--a confession that cops only “remembered” months after the incident. Witnesses were coerced into giving false testimony. Key evidence was never seen by the jury. A court reporter overheard the trial judge saying that he was going to help the cops “fry the n****r.” Mumia was convicted and sentenced to death.
A surging mass movement prevented Mumia’s execution in 1995, but he was still denied justice and remained on death row. By 2000, Mumia's case had become an international issue. The European Parliament, Amnesty International, and others called for a new trial. In 2001 a federal district court judge upheld Mumia’s conviction but overturned his death sentence on technical grounds.
It was on this 2001 decision that the federal appeals court heard arguments on May 17. Mumia's defense is asking for a new trial, and the prosecutors are asking that the death sentence be reinstated. The principal legal issues were whether the prosecution in the 1982 trial had deliberately excluded Black jurors and whether the verdict form given to the jurors misled them on how to decide on a possible death sentence. The answers to these questions are clear. During that period, the Philadelphia DA's office produced a training tape for new assistant DAs on how to exclude Black jurors. A federal district judge has already found that the jury form was biased and illegal. And there is a long list of Philadelphia convictions which have been overturned by federal courts because of blatant racist bias.
Mumia has held firm through 25 years in solitary confinement and repeated threats of execution. His books, weekly columns, and radio commentaries inspire people across the globe. People everywhere need to continue to demand the freedom of this revolutionary political prisoner. Revolution will report on the Circuit Court of Appeals decision when it is announced.
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
There is something very unique about being immersed in music and live performance for three days in a row. It has a different cumulative effect than just going to a concert or even several in a week. There is a different pace and tempo in this kind of setting and a different appreciation for live performances and the community forged between the crowd and the bands.
Coachella was a three-day music festival with 60,000 people a day and over 120 bands out in the desert, two hours east of Los Angeles. Tens of thousands of concertgoers camped out in official campsites, making this a three-day non-stop, filthy, dusty, loud ruckus and rocking affair.
Bands spanned the gauntlet of styles--from pop alternative, to headliners like Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Roots, a LOT of rock, to world music like Manu Chao (Spain and France) and Konono No. 1 (from Kinshasa, Congo-Zaire in Africa), to alt-country/folk and hip hop--the highlight, of course, being the reunion of RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE!
I noticed several people with anti-religious messages on them. One punk kid I stopped to talk to had a t-shirt that read, "Lord, Protect me from your Followers." A lot of RATM shirts. Mostly the crowd was white and young with a very small spattering of Black people, more Asians, and Chicanos. Many more Chicanos and Mexicanos showed up on the last day for Rage, quite a few folks traveling up from Mexico City to catch this reunion.
There was a spirit of revulsion at the way things are, a spirit of not wanting to be associated with the dominant culture--the war, the president, the torture, the whole of it –that pulsed through the bulk of the sets and the festival as a whole.
The main thing by far at Coachella was this great spirit of rebellion. But with too few exceptions this did not extend to challenging the suffocating attitudes towards and oppression of women. It's not so much that there was gross objectification but that, if we really are going to forge a new and liberating culture, shattering the notion that women are defined through their sexuality and instead unleashing their fury is going to have to be a key part of it.
Going to sleep after the first day of music, I felt compelled to comment to a friend about how lacking the culture is today--there is a strain of music that is very popular now, some of it musically interesting and fun, that is just very self-absorbed, oblivious to the larger world, and really terrible towards women. So that really highlighted how important this festival was--with the amount of rebelliousness and vocal opposition and straining against this in the music and from the stage, especially among many of the major and established artists.
There were many highlights, and I couldn’t catch all of them. The Roots did a powerful rendition of "Masters of War"! Manu Chao spoke near the end of his set and said something to the effect of: "I am very saddened to have to dedicate this song tonight, the way I do every night, to the biggest terrorist on the planet. The president of the United States, George Bush.... You can’t fight terrorism with terrorism! You can’t fight terrorism with Guantánamos…" I don’t remember the exact words and ending--but the crowd was jumping and cheering and then dancing wildly for the rest of the set.
Tom Morello, as the Nightwatchman, brought Boots, of The Coup, up on stage to rhyme during this finale--as well as Perry Ferrell (formerly of Jane’s Addiction, now of Satellite Party). Perry said he was proud to be on stage with other revolutionaries and then the three of them elated the crowd with a beautiful and charged rendition of "This Land Is Your Land" that included its often-censored verses. For the Coup’s set, Boots was backed by a deeply funky band, and got a remarkable response from the crowd--dozens in the front sang along with every rebellious word.
Musically another band that stood out to me was Arcade Fire. A musician I spoke to observed that they have a couple of songs ("Wake Up" is one of them) that reach as high a crescendo and experience as rock can get. Their latest album makes use of whole orchestras and they utilize the wall of sound effect. Their new album, Neon Bible, has much in it about the current situation--in particular the marriage of church and state as well as the heightened surveillance and repression. Lines like, "I don’t want to fight in your holy war."
Rage Against the Machine!
I thought I was ready for this, and I had been looking forward to it in a BIG way, but there is nothing like the actual experience--and my god, I forgot how fucking radical this band is! They don’t give this system and this country and its history and its present day an inch--but not only are they fiercely indicting, they give a sense of identity to their fans that no one else does in this way. After seven years without them, my memory of them must’ve softened--plus the times have changed intensely for the worse--but they seemed to rip open the sky for people. Hearing them it became all the more clear how suffocating the culture has been without them and how many people--including the coming of age of a whole new generation--have been shaped by their absence.
To hear today 50,000 "mainstream" kids moshing and screaming the lyrics out from "Sleep Now in the Fire": "the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria, the noose and the rapist, the fields’ overseer, the agents of orange, the priests of Hiroshima…." gave me a sense of potential big trouble for those who want a cowed population and great hope for a new generation being forged as fighters. They are so uncompromising--and they are more loved because of it. Plus, they really can rock. Morello was more alive than I have ever seen him, tearing up the stage. Zack swung from intense calm to detonating his lyrics like the salvos of an army racing into battle. At times he just went silent (not even holding the mic out) with utter confidence in his fans that they would keep the song alive and not miss a single line.
During the set a bunch of kids climbed up on the huge sound system in the middle of the field--several stories up--and started moshing on the roof of it. They must’ve felt like they were on top of the rebel universe.
About halfway through Rage’s set, me and 10 others were standing on a picnic table (I was afraid this thing would break with 10 people jumping and dancing and rocking back and forth for so long, but I couldn’t bring myself to get down--the view was fantastic of the band, the big screens and the huge crowd, the whole thing was breathtaking). A young Chicano guy on the table turns to me and says, "I feel like I could die now and I would be satisfied." The whole thing was like that--an experience that probably most people knew would never be matched again in their lifetimes. At such a dangerous and dark time for humanity, to have these guys retake the stage and anchor a sentiment that has been ingrown beneath the surface in so many, even unrecognized by most--the whole thing was electric with a sense of the historic.
Listening, I couldn’t help but take a long-view, thinking about how perfectly this captures a moment in human history--a new globalized high-tech Rome, lashing out and striking out, escalating its threat to the whole of humanity, while rotting from the inside and being pummeled by the loudest, rockingest, planetary-force of a band as a soundtrack. What side will win? Not yet determined, but the impact of Rage’s reemergence will certainly play in favor of humanity.
At one point in the show, Zack began chanting "rise up" to the crowd. While everyone looks forward to the moment in a Rage show when the crowd starts chanting, "Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me,"--and this was a highlight--the "rise up" chant surpassed it. Over and over again: "Rise Up!" I am getting jittery just writing about it. Again, I forgot how radical this band is. Rage gives the crowd a sense of identity, challenges them to act, provides uncompromising indictment and great rock and roll and rap. What’s still missing though, to me, is a vision of another world, of how humanity can relate to each other differently.
At the end all the members stepped away from their instruments and stood shoulder to shoulder on the stage. Zach had his hands clasped together, saying thank you, bowing to the audience. They all seemed to be smiling and they stood there--visibly united--for a minute to two, a long time for a concert, taking in the energy and presenting themselves to the audience.
Revolution #90, May 27, 2007
The Chicano Struggle and Proletarian Revolution in the U.S.
Revolution is running a series of excerpts from “The Chicano Struggle and Proletarian Revolution in the U.S.” This position paper, which originally appeared in June 2001, is by a writing group of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. The research and investigation that is reflected in this paper was part of producing the new Draft Programme of the RCP. (The Draft Programme and the full text of the position paper are available online at revcom.us/s/programme_e.htm.)
There are three sections to the paper: “The History and Present Conditions of the Chicano People”; “The Source of—and Solution to—the Oppression of Chicano People”; and “A Look at Other Viewpoints and Approaches—Where We Have Unity and Where We Have Differences Over What Will Bring True Liberation.”
Part 1 of this series appeared in issue #88, and part 2 in #89. We continue with another excerpt from the section “The History and Present Conditions of the Chicano People.”
Mexican Revolution of 1910
Revolution broke out in Mexico in 1910 as peasants rose up demanding "Tierra y Libertad--Land and Liberty." Ninety-five percent of the Mexican people were landless peasants and tenant farmers and they fought for the land to be redistributed. Peasant leaders like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata led the Mexican people in resistance. Organizations in the U.S. like the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM), led by Ricardo Flores Magon, actively built support for the revolution among Chicano and Mexicano workers. Magon was later imprisoned by the U.S. government and murdered in prison.
This period saw the first large-scale migration of Mexican workers into the U.S. The political and economic upheaval that accompanied the Mexican Revolution led to hundreds of thousands coming to the U.S.--nearly 10% of Mexico's population. The rapid development of U.S. capitalist agricultural production and its hunt for cheap farm labor greatly encouraged this migration as Mexican laborers poured into the country to work the cotton fields of Texas and Arizona, harvest sugar beets in Colorado, Michigan and the Great Lakes, and to pick California's fruits and vegetables. At the same time, the expansion of U.S. capitalist industry in the first decades of the 20th century sent recruiters to Texas and Mexico to fill jobs in the mines and railroads in the Southwest, in the Detroit auto plants, the Chicago steel mills, the slaughterhouses of Chicago, Omaha, Kansas City, and other growing industries in the Midwest.
The capitalists saw in these workers a source of cheap labor and a force that could be used to divide the working class. But working under dangerous conditions, performing backbreaking work, facing wage discrimination and treated as second-class citizens with no rights, Chicano and Mexicano workers united with the upsurge in the working class movement and fought together with workers of all nationalities in militant strikes in the fields and factories throughout this period. In Ludlow, Colorado in April 1914, one of the most famous strikes in this country's history took place as 9,000 miners, mainly Chicano, Italian, and Slavic, struck for union recognition, wage increases and better working and living conditions. J.D. Rockefeller called in troops to "protect his property" and they machine-gunned workers and then set fire to their homes, killing two women and eleven children in what has been known ever since as the Ludlow massacre.
World War I and the Depression
The stepped-up war economy and the recruitment of workers into the military during WW I (1914-1918) created a labor shortage that further encouraged the influx of Chicanos and Mexicanos into heavy industry. The war also cut off the flow of European immigrants to the U.S., and Mexican workers were turned to as one of the main sources of replacement for these European immigrants. Soon the Midwestern cities had growing Chicano communities. There were 4,000 Chicanos in Chicago in 1917; by 1930 this had increased to 20,000. But, following the Stock Market crash of 1929, and the economic crisis that followed, the 1930s saw tens of millions of workers laid off and wages cut by 50%.
The immigrants were used as scapegoats to take the blame for the economic hard times. Chicanos were cut off relief and were not allowed to work on government public works projects. It's estimated that there were 3 million people of Mexican descent living in the U.S. at the beginning of the depression. Of this number over 500,000--both Chicanos and Mexicanos --were forced to return to Mexico. In Detroit at least 12,000 of the 15,000 Chicanos and Mexicanos were repatriated. Families were split up. Sometimes the parents ended up on one side of the border, the children on the other, or with some of the children in the U.S. while the others were deported. There were many cases of people born in the U.S. being deported. In some cases those who had been born in Mexico but had spent almost no time there were sent back to live in a country they knew little about.
Next: World War 2 and the Bracero Program