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Note on our schedule: Revolution will not publish next week. Issue #95 will appear in the week of July 16.
Revolution #94, July 1, 2007
New Series on Venezuela
Editor’s Note: This week Revolution is publishing this article by Raymond Lotta which is part of a fuller analysis being developed by a writing group about Hugo Chavez and what has been happening in Venezuela since Chavez came to power in 1998.
The nature of Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution” is a highly important and widely discussed issue among progressive and radical-minded people. Chavez has carried out a host of social and economic measures whose stated aim is to empower and improve the lives of the poor and politically disenfranchised in Venezuelan society; he has condemned the U.S. as an imperialist and bullying power; and in 2005 he announced that Venezuela was embarking on a project of ”21st Century Socialism.” At a time when the U.S. is waging its “war on the world” and at a time when the U.S. has been spearheading a pounding and brutalizing neoliberal economic agenda for the countries of the Third World—developments in Venezuela have attracted great interest.
But what is the actual program and outlook of Hugo Chavez, what is the character of the process unfolding in Venezuela, and where is it heading? Does Chavez’s program represent a real alternative to imperialist-led exploitation, a viable road to liberation in today’s world? And what is the meaning of socialism in today’s globalized world?
Our view is that the “Bolivarian revolution” does not represent a fundamental break with imperialism, nor embody a vision or path to truly radical societal transformation. But understanding why this is so is a complex matter requiring close analysis. In the full analysis soon to be published, we discuss the historical factors shaping Venezuela’s development, the economic model that Hugo Chavez has been bringing forward, the role of the army and new popular institutions in the “Bolivarian revolution,” the social and class forces involved in and leading this movement, and the larger debate about “21st-century socialism” and the real challenges of making revolution in today’s world.
While we offer this critique of the Chavez project , it in no way cuts against our stand with the Venezuelan people and our total opposition to any attempts by U.S. imperialism to undermine or openly commit aggression against the Chavez regime.
The article appearing in this issue focuses on Venezuela’s oil economy. We start here because oil has been so central to Venezuela’s historical domination by imperialism and to Venezuela’s economic-social development, and because oil figures centrally in Hugo Chavez’s program to reclaim sovereignty and change Venezuelan society.
Our goal is to contribute to understanding, to learn from analysis of others, and to deepen dialogue and debate about these crucial issues.
During his electoral campaign for president in 1998, Hugo Chavez took on the old elite this way:
“Oil is a geopolitical weapon, and these imbeciles who govern us don’t realize the power of an oil-producing country.”1
He expressed his strategic thinking about oil in a 2006 interview:
“We are today implementing a strategic program called the Oil Sowing Plan: using oil wealth so Venezuela can become an agricultural country, a tourist destination, an industrialized country with a diversified economy. We are investing billions of dollars in the infrastructure: power generators using thermal energy, a large railway, roads, highways, new towns, new universities, new schools, recuperating land, building tractors, and giving loans to farmers. One day we won’t have any more oil, but that will be in the twenty-second century. Venezuela has oil for another 200 years.”2
Chavez has spoken often about weaning Venezuela away from excessive dependence on the oil sector. But as the above statements and concrete policy underscore, oil will continue for some time, certainly for the medium term, to be the backbone of the economy and the keystone of Venezuela’s foreign policy.
What Kind of Resource?
There is no question that Venezuela is rich in oil. Venezuela possesses the largest conventional oil reserves in the Western hemisphere (more than three times the proven reserves in the U.S.); has trillions of cubic feet of natural gas; and has, by some estimates, untapped reserves in the Orinoco belt of the country that may exceed those of Saudi Arabia. Nor is there any question that oil revenues can grow astronomically: the price of oil is approaching near-historic highs, in the range of $65 per barrel.
But why is oil as a sphere of investment and as a “petrodollar” financial instrument “black gold”? Oil has become a source of productive and monetary wealth within a certain set of social-production relations. The growth and contemporary expansion of world capitalism has produced a profit-based agro-industrial structure that relies heavily and disproportionately on a non-renewable resource, oil, as an essential economic input whose world price has impacted production costs, profits, and competitive advantage. In the post-World War 2 period, new oil-based and oil-related industries like auto, petrochemicals, and plastics, arose. Moreover, the exploration, extraction, refining, and marketing of oil form a highly profitable sector of the world economy.3
An historical trajectory of oil-fueled development under world capitalism has been ruinous of human lives and planetary ecology. The production and consumption patterns of the advanced capitalist countries—where 25 percent of the world’s population lives but which consume 75 percent of the world’s resources—are now culminating in a global climate crisis. A just and rational world economy would neither be organized around a social structure of exploitation and inequality nor be based on this kind of non-sustainable technical-resource foundation.
Oil has also become a weapon in world politics. This too is a function of imperialism. Power relations are integral to imperialism. Control over resources yields geo-economic advantage and geo-political domination—in which some powers gain privileged and monopolistic access to resources and the ability to control other economies and states. Oil has been an object of imperialist rivalry, collusion, and conquest, including through local proxy wars. Oil has been a means of propping up and controlling neocolonial regimes awash in oil revenues and corruption, like Nigeria. The modern, imperialist global military machine runs on oil.
Oil and Venezuela
Venezuela has played a certain historical role in the imperialist international division of labor: as a strategic exporter of oil. And the economic pillar of the modern Venezuelan state system has been the extraction of rents from oil companies, the charge for allowing them to pump oil out of the ground. Over the last half century, oil income has both lubricated a certain kind of growth and development in Venezuela and locked Venezuela in to an international oil economy dominated by Western imperialism.
Oil, with its booms and busts, reshaped the economic geography of the country. Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela, more than doubled in size between 1920 and 1936, and doubled again between 1936 and 1950. Then it tripled between 1950 and 1971. The oil economy gave rise to a new middle class dependent on the state and disbursement of oil revenues, while shantytowns of the rural poor spread through and literally seeped into the muddy slopes of western Caracas. Today, almost 90 percent of Venezuela’s population lives in the cities and half of the population of Caracas lives in poverty. One measure of oil’s distorting effects on the economic and social structure of Venezuela has been the vast growth of the “informal economy” in the cities: the urban self-employed (like peddlers and street merchants) and workers who perform unregistered or “off-the-books” labor and services.4
Oil has produced and perpetuated a developmental trajectory marked by great economic and social gaps: between the productivity of the petroleum sector and the productivity of the non-petroleum sectors; between the development of the rural and urban areas; and between rich and poor, in the cities and in the countryside.
Let’s step back. From 1958 to 1998, Venezuela earned some $300 billion in oil revenues. What has this meant for the masses of people in Venezuela, and what kind of development has resulted from subordination to the dynamics of the world imperialist economy and the world oil industry within that?
The production of oil has actually stifled any significant industrial diversification. Much of the new infrastructure built between the 1960s and 1980s is decaying for lack of maintenance. Floods and mudslides, aggravated by uncontrolled urbanization, have washed away towns. Health hazards stalk the shantytowns in which 60 percent of Venezuela’s urban population lives. The number of people living in official poverty nearly doubled between 1984 and 1995; and, today, more than half of Venezuela’s working population works in the precarious informal economy.5
Hugo Chavez has decried the oligarchic oil economy with its corruption, patronage, and extremes of glittering wealth and grinding poverty. He has spoken of the need to revive the peasant economy. But can a different form of oil economy produce a just and viable alternative to the neo-liberal economic model and lead to socialism? And just how different will such an economy be if it requires the massive infusion of foreign investment capital and a gamble in a game of oil markets?
A Program That Cannot Break Out of the Status Quo; A Program Wracked with Contradictions
Chavez has pinned the success of his program of social equity and diversification of the economy on oil revenues. His main economic order of business, as he repeatedly states, is “sowing the petroleum.” This is a phrase and program that has been part of Venezuela’s populist-nationalist politics and discourse since the mid-1930s: the government is to assert greater control over oil revenues, use oil wealth to promote development, and allow more people to share in the oil bounty. Chavez is counting on high and rising oil prices to undergird vast increases in government spending, a growing state presence in the economy, and subsidized prices for certain domestic products (mainly gasoline but also imported consumer goods, including food). In 2004, $1.7 billion of the state oil company’s $15 billion budget was allocated to fund social programs; soon thereafter it went to $4 billion a year.6
Chavez, after having restructured the management of the state oil company, is moving along three tracks to maximize oil revenues to make good on his program. He is seeking to expand oil production. He is seeking to increase state ownership and the government’s share of earnings, royalties, and taxes deriving from foreign-based activity in the hydrocarbon sector (oil, natural gas, and coal). And he is seeking out new markets for oil, both to absorb expanded output and as a cushion against possible U.S. pressure and retaliation. These are not simply technical tools of economic management; they are bound up with a capitalist logic, and are fraught with the contradictions of dependent, imperialist-led development.
On the first track, the strategic twenty-five year Plan Siembra Petrolera (Oil Sowing Plan), in its first phase for 2005-2012, calls for an increase in production from current levels (2006 estimates range from 2.8-3.3 million barrels a day) to 5.8 million barrels of oil per day in 2012. In the gas industry, similar large-scale development is also planned.
The Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) estimated in 2006 that this phase of the expansion plan requires some $75 billion to finance new investment. Where is this money coming from? Most will come from the state oil company. Some 25 to 30 percent is expected from external, private sources: borrowings from banks, offset by anticipated oil earnings, and investments by the foreign oil companies operating in Venezuela.7
Chavez is counting on increased output from the so-called Orinoco Petroleum Belt, a region in the center of the country that has been the site of major investments by the state oil company and foreign operators, like Exxon-Mobil, ConocoPhillips, and France’s Total SA. Since the 1990s these imperialist transnationals have invested more than $17 billion, which may have grown in value to $30 billion. The extraction and processing of this extra-heavy crude oil requires expensive investment in heavy machinery, treatment, and storage complexes. Partial processing of this oil on the spot, to make it liquid enough to flow in pipes, produces enormous amounts of waste material.
There is a sharp contradiction. On the one hand, the state must extract financial resources from the oil industry to underwrite its development and social spending plans (and, increasingly, to meet rising popular expectations and shore up the political base of the Chavez regime). On the other hand, the state must invest to maintain the competitiveness of the oil industry as a capitalist enterprise in the international capitalist market.8
Again, there is great tension here. In the last two years, social programs have absorbed a larger share of the state oil company’s budget than has spending on maintenance and new oil capacity. This social spending by the government puts strains on needed investments in the oil sector. To say investments are “needed” is not to make some pure technical statement; rather, investments are “needed” from the standpoint of an oil-exporting economy and the dictates of the world market—improving efficiency and compensating for possible price declines with expanded output. Because Venezuela’s wells are so old, output declines 23 percent a year—and so it is necessary to drill new wells just to maintain capacity.9 There is a pull exerted by competition on the world market, intensified by low levels of investment in Venezuela’s oil sector relative to other oil-producing countries, to upgrade and expand the industry, and maintain profitability.
If foreign investment comes forth to finance a major share of Plan Siembra, this investment carries with it real control and puts real leverage in the hands of those foreign investors. This is important to bear in mind. Venezuela is not unusual in having formal sovereignty over its oil. Some three-quarters of the world’s oil and gas reserves and half of global output are controlled by national state oil companies like Saudi Aramco, Kuwait Petroleum, and the Algerian state company. But the national-state oil companies rely on international finance, work through international trade and marketing channels, and collaborate with the large, Western-based transnational oil companies, like Exxon-Mobil. These transnational corporations and their service company networks have strong competitive advantage: in scale, reach, and core managerial and technological competences, financial capabilities, support by the Western imperialist governments, and the ability to pull up stakes in a country like Venezuela.
In terms of the second track: higher tax and royalty payments. In April 2006, Chavez announced his intention to increase PDVSA’s share in major projects to 60 percent from 40 percent. The Chavez government is creating new forms of joint ventures (what are now called “mixed companies”) with Shell, Chevron, British Petroleum, and others. Oil resources and oil profits are jointly owned in the form of single new enterprises—only now, the Venezuelan government obtains a higher proportion of profits than it had previously, while the foreign oil companies, with heavy investments, benefit from current high oil prices and prospect of profitable new oil fields. At the same time, the government has negotiated with the 22 foreign companies operating in Venezuela to agree to a new tax law that is being enforced retroactively.
On May 1, 2007, Chavez made good on his ultimatum to the foreign companies that they accept a larger share of ownership by the Venezuelan government or cease operations. Chavez may be a tough negotiator (and did succeed in getting a larger slice of rising oil revenues from companies who want to stay put in order to recoup the value of their investments and make huge profits). At the same time, to keep these projects alive, to go forward with expansion plans, Chavez must reach some kind of understanding with foreign capital, as these firms are providing essential finance and technology. So the threat of takeover was sweetened with a commitment to compensate the firms.10
The third track of the oil program is to restructure Venezuela’s external trade relations away from dependence on the U.S. as a market and source of investment capital and technical expertise. Venezuela accounts for some 12 percent of the U.S.’s daily oil imports, and plays a certain strategic role in the U.S. ability to project power in the world. But the other side of the equation is more telling, illustrating an aspect of Venezuela’s structural dependency : that 12 percent share of U.S. oil imports accounted for by Venezuela represents 60 percent of Venezuela’s total production!11
In seeking to diversify markets, Chavez has opened negotiations with China and has plans to sell Venezuelan oil to China, the world’s second-largest energy consumer, and to India as well. But there are high costs of servicing these markets. Venezuela does not have a Pacific port, and large tankers cannot make it through the Panama Canal. So Venezuela would need to construct pipeline through Colombia in order to ship the oil. But shipment to Asia is costly, owing to the long distances involved. Further, China does not have adequate capacity to refine Venezuela’s sulfur-rich crude. China is investing substantial sums to increase that capacity, but China is also exploring for oil and gas closer to its shores in the South China Sea and angling as well for deals in the Caspian Sea region.
The U.S. connection is a difficult knot for Chavez to cut, especially if oil is to be the centerpiece of development. There is the close proximity of the U.S. market and low transportation costs. There are the refineries in the U.S. adapted to processing Venezuela’s oil. And the U.S. continues to be Venezuela’s most important trading partner (U.S.-Venezuela trade actually rose 36 percent in 2006). These are among the pressures operating on Chavez to maintain stable economic relations with the U.S.,12 even if the U.S. has other plans.
Part of Chavez’s strategy for diversification involves inviting foreign companies from outside the traditional circle of the big Western oil majors to invest in Venezuela’s petroleum industry and to participate in his plan for a continental gas pipeline project stretching from Venezuela down to Argentina. These form part of Chavez’s efforts to create more multilateral investment and trade links. Chavez is courting companies from India, China, Russia, and elsewhere. Chavez hails investment plans in Latin America as anti-U.S. regional integration.
But whether in Venezuela or elsewhere in Latin America, the essence of these projects is: investment by capitalist firms...according to capitalist methods of exploitation...to be measured by capitalist criteria of profitability. These projects have enormous social consequences for local populations, including dislocation of indigenous peoples. And they have enormous environmental consequences.13
Chavez must assure long-standing Western and new investors of a relatively stable business-receptive environment. It is revealing that the Chavez regime has designated the oil sector a “strategic industry.” The state-appointed management tightly controls this sector (and the oil industry is one where worker co-participation, the limits and real nature of which will be discussed in a subsequent installment of this series, is forbidden).
One critical-minded supporter of Chavez has observed, “the joint ventures provide a reality check to those used to only a diet of Chavez speeches...[B]ut in the current circumstances, paradoxically, a Faustian pact with foreign capital may be necessary to keep the forces of imperialism [U.S. pressure and intervention] off Venezuela’s back.”14
This captures much of the “best-case” thinking about Chavez’s oil-based strategy of development. But this “best-case” thinking rests on a misunderstanding of imperialism. As desirous of genuine social change as many Chavez supporters are, that cold-water splash of “reality check” is worth pursuing further.
Modern-Day Enclave Development
Imperialism manifests itself not simply through economic bullying or military threat and intervention—and U.S. military action against Venezuela is by no means “off the table.” It is also expressed through the structure and functioning of the world economy and the existing economic and social structure of Venezuela, which reflects and reinforces dependency on oil and subordination to the world market.
Chavez is perpetuating a form of export-led growth centered on the oil industry. The irrationality of an economy so geared to oil is expressed in the fact that only 20 percent of Venezuela’s total oil production enters into the domestic economy.15 It is expressed in the fact that while Venezuela’s state oil company (PDVSA) is the country’s single largest employer, with about 45,000 on its payroll, employment in the oil sector accounts for less than 1 percent of Venezuela’s total work force.16 It is expressed in the fact that, despite high oil prices and earnings, official unemployment in Venezuela has ranged from 8 to 15 percent in the Chavez years, with the poverty rate at 30 percent at the start of 2007.17
This is a profoundly distorted economy: today, the oil sector accounts, and this has been a long-standing pattern, for about one-third of Venezuela’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 50 percent of the government’s revenue, and 80 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings. As one of the world’s top oil producers, Venezuela is a top emitter of CO2 emissions in Latin America and has the region’s highest per capita rate of carbon emissions.18
The oil-export economy induces a form of “enclave” development. Such development responds to external sources of economic dynamism: the world oil market, conditions of demand in the major imperialist and regional economies, the rhythm and direction of world capital flows, etc. And such capital-intensive mono-export development is a barrier to integrated, all-around agricultural and industrial development in the exporting country.
Here it is necessary to elaborate on two related aspects of dependent development: lopsidedness and heightened exposure and vulnerability to the world market.
In the oppressed nations, the oil sector requires massive investment in advanced equipment and technology. These technology demands are met disproportionately from outside the economy—much of the advanced technology required by the oil sector is either imported, requiring that foreign exchange be generated to pay for imported capital goods, or obtained through the joint ventures (the foreign oil and oil-service companies involved, like Halliburton, provide the technology in-house or purchase it on the world market).
Moreover, much of this technology cannot be widely diffused and adopted throughout the economy to revolutionize social production. This is so for two reasons. First, much of the specialized oil-drilling and oil-engineering technology is not appropriate to overall conditions of social-economic development. Second, even where some of this technology could have useful direct and indirect spin-off applications, there does not exist a broad-based industrial structure to which the benefits could accrue—exactly because the oil focus has constrained broader development.
The oil sector is not significantly stimulating new demand for locally produced industrial products, nor is it resulting in a rising socially useful skills level of the overall work force. You do not have a process of agricultural and industrial development unfolding that strengthens local capacity to innovate and adapt technology. These are consequences of enclave-like, oil-based development.19
Under Chavez, PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company, has been seeking agreements with foreign oil companies requiring as a condition of entry that they source (obtain) more oil-service supplies locally. But as oil resources are depleted, and as the extraction and processing of Venezuela’s heavy crude and sulfur-rich oil grows more challenging, new technology requirements appear. And as these requirements are met with even more specialized and sophisticated technology, the technology gaps between the oil sector and the rest of the economy are reproduced on a new level.20
Meanwhile, the huge port, pipeline facilities, and other infrastructure investments to facilitate the exploration, extraction, and shipment of oil and coal are often out of scale to the needs of the overall economy—again, since they serve these more self-contained, outward-oriented investment projects, like the Orinoco Petroleum Belt plans.
As mentioned earlier, the oil sector overall accounts for a very small fraction of total employment. Chevron’s huge $3.8 billion investment in the Orinoco Petroleum Belt initially will have created 6,000 jobs—upon completion, the project will only need 700 permanent employees.
These are phenomena of the enclave-like character of oil-based development. But here is the rub: the overall agro-industrial structure is profoundly influenced and skewed by the oil sector. There is heightened unevenness as between the productivity and wage levels and technological dynamism of a modern oil sector and other segments of the economy; and, as will be discussed shortly, the oil industry has negative feedback effects on domestic agriculture and food production. At the same time, the build-up of the state-capitalist oil sector strengthens class interests and class forces that have a strong stake in maintaining the dominant macro-economic structure.
To develop an agricultural base that could meet the food needs of society, provide rural employment, and develop through mutually reinforcing links with an integrated and balanced industrial structure would require a) a very different allocation and prioritization of resources serving the needs of the now exploited and oppressed, and b) a break with the economic logic, structure of options, and pressures of the local and world capitalist market system (what Marxists call the law of value).
Pressures and Constraints of the World Economy
This brings us to the second aspect of oil-dependent development. The oil sector is a principal contact point with the world economy. It transmits world prices and aligns currency rates. It imposes competitive world efficiencies on the Venezuelan economy: the oil sector must operate at certain levels of productivity, which dictates investments and regimes of efficient exploitation of workers. And fluctuations in the international oil market are transmitted to the Venezuelan economy.
What are some of the implications and effects of this?
Oil exports have generated a high exchange rate that makes local products, agrarian or industrial, uncompetitive on international and domestic markets. Windfall oil export prices weaken the incentives to develop peasant-based agriculture. A strong currency, with strong purchasing power, makes it “cost-efficient” to import goods, like food, that can be more cheaply produced overseas than domestically. This has contributed to a shift of labor out of agricultural production and local manufacturing into service and commercial sectors and, most especially, into the “informal economy” (of street merchants and irregularly employed workers with few social protections).
Agriculture’s share of Venezuela’s GDP declined from 50 percent in 1960 to about 6 percent when Chavez took office in 1998. Venezuela has traditionally imported about 75 to 80 percent of its food from abroad, despite its rich soil and water sources.21
This is the logic of world capitalism, and it continues to impede sustainable agricultural development and food security in Venezuela. These are the workings of market forces, acting through the medium of an internationally traded and strategic commodity, oil, and its effect on exchange rates.
The Chavez administration has benefited from a five-fold increase of oil prices in the years since he came to power. These prices have held fast for some time and have enabled the regime to expand and underwrite social programs. There is no question that these programs have brought certain benefits to the poor: some improvements, though limited, in health care, access to food, some public works, expanded social security, and cheaper electricity, etc. And the Venezuelan economy, stimulated by oil demand, has enjoyed very high rates of growth over the last three years.
But two things must be emphasized.
First, Chavez is gambling on continued high oil prices and demand. Oil has to sell above $30 a barrel to make the expanded investments in the extra-heavy oil that Chavez has embarked upon profitable. A plunge in oil’s price would have devastating consequences for foreign investors, PDVSA, and the state treasury. Chavez is trying to stabilize production and prices at profitable levels.
Despite the surging oil revenues, the government has had to borrow heavily from Venezuelan banks to cover a large and growing deficit (the government deficit is expected to reach 5 percent of gross domestic product in 2007).22 Some of this government borrowing is driven by the decision to compensate foreign oil companies for a larger government share of their operations. (Chavez is not expropriating the oil companies but rather working out deals with them in order to ride the oil markets.) Middle-class and luxury consumption patterns have gone along with an imperialist-dependent oil economy; consumer spending is skyrocketing and consumer debt growing as oil revenues have grown. In the “oil windfall” atmosphere, domestic and foreign banks have enjoyed an incredible earnings boom, a rate of return of 33 percent in 2006 that was described by an international banking journal as “the envy of the banking world.”23
Much is made of Chavez’s attempt to solidify a stronger price front in OPEC. But the oil market is subject to all kinds of economic uncertainties and geopolitical developments. Importantly, OPEC is not a unitary, self-determining price setter.24 “Spot” markets and the speculative “futures” markets based in New York, London, and Singapore now play a key role in determining oil prices. There are oil-producing countries outside of OPEC, like Russia, whose oil production and marketing influence world prices. There is global competition among the existing oil regions of the world. Oil is a cyclical industry subject to world economic conditions. Just nine years ago, Venezuelan oil was selling for about $10 to $12 a barrel (compared to today's price of $60 plus).
In terms of geopolitics, the U.S. would not welcome any shift in OPEC power away from Saudi Arabia to Venezuela. (The imperial bargain with the Saudi princes and Gulf sheikdoms: they ensure a stable oil supply, and the U.S. provides the “neighborhood” with military protection.) Further, through “regime change” and closer working relations with producers in the Caspian Basin and in Africa, the U.S. and Great Britain have been seeking greater control over supply conditions.
Second, the Chavez regime has done little to lessen the economy’s dependence on oil, to diversify Venezuela’s industrial base, or to significantly expand agricultural production. “Sowing the petroleum” has mainly involved the financing and expansion of the social programs.
Indeed, if we take something like food, the constraints and contradictions become more apparent. One of the most celebrated of Chavez’s “missions” (the social campaigns and funding that address health, education, housing, food, etc.) is Mission Mercal. Its stated strategic objective is national food security. This program is providing low-cost food to sections of the poor (and to broader urban strata) through a network of markets, supply depots, and distribution-nutrition centers. This would be an important emergency and back-up measure in a genuine revolutionary society.
But this is not a real food security program; rather it is redistributive, a form of rationing and price subsidy. It is not part of a larger project to radically reorient the economy away from external dependence: on oil and food imports. It is not part of a socialist project to forge a whole new structural foundation of balanced and integrated agricultural-industrial development that can provide for the livelihood and food needs of society. In fact, Mission Mercal relies on imports and purchases from the same transnational firms that have traditionally dominated Venezuela’s food sector.25 This is a continuing expression of Venezuela’s lack of internal economic integration.
Here, as with other initiatives, a major downturn or collapse in world oil prices would ramify widely and destructively through the economy¼and seriously endanger this kind of social program. From the perspective of making a genuine socialist revolution in an oppressed nation, there is a pressing task to move quickly and decisively to free society from food dependency and the colossal distortion by imperialism of agricultural and food systems. The imperialists will attack, they will boycott, and they will try, literally…to starve you.
A sympathetic treatment of the “Bolivarian revolution” summarized that “international oil markets continue to be the single most influential factor in determining the prospects for Venezuela’s political economy.”26 Chavez may rail against the IMF, but how does this represent an alternative to neoliberalism, which prescribes in part that a country specialize in its “comparative advantage” in the international division of labor, maximize export earnings, import cheap food, and harness revenues for development?
Conclusion: Oil’s Social Price Under Imperialism; Another Way Is Possible
Oil is not a “treasure” to grab hold of. Oil-rich countries, from Venezuela to Iran to Algeria to Indonesia, have seen export booms produce inequality and social misery. Government budgets bulging with petrodollars have come crashing down (as Venezuela’s did in the late 1980s and early 1990s). In Nigeria, there is the “technological achievement” of foreign capital building an infrastructure that can extract oil from a waterlogged equatorial forest—while adjoining villages are without power or clean water. When more nationalist regimes have replaced old elites that functioned as local client-watchdogs for imperialism, as happened in Iran in the 1950s, the U.S. has not hesitated to move against them. The flow of “black gold” must not be disrupted for long.
The extraction of oil and more oil, based on exploitation of labor power and the realization of value through the international circuits of capital, historically enmeshed and continues to enmesh the population of Venezuela in a global network of commodity relations in which social and human development hangs in the balance of an unequal structure of world production and trade…and the movement of prices on the world market.
A genuine socialist revolution is not about striving for a more equitable distribution of oil revenues, or trying to strengthen regional trade and oil blocs that only further exploitation of people and despoliation of nature, or demanding that the major oil companies “recognize their ethical and social responsibilities” (yes, you can go to ChevronTexaco’s website and learn about the educational and health programs they are setting up in Venezuela).
The point is this: the modern oil economy is not a neutral set of production and technical coefficients. Export-oriented oil production is a relation to the world imperialist economy, a rope of control and dependence, a rope tightly constricting the creative capacities of the masses of people. And that rope must be cut through a revolution that overthrows the old order and state power.
When the proletariat and the masses of people seize power in the oppressed societies, the goal cannot be to take over and reprogram a lopsided oil-based economy that warps development and that subjects society and economy to the destructive imperatives of the world system. Rather, a revolution must do away with the very foundations of such an economy in order to break the grip of imperialist control and to overcome the distortions of imperialist-led development.
In place of the old economy, a liberating new one must be built: an economy whose foundation must be agriculture, an economy with a diversified and decentralized industry serving agriculture and broad developmental needs. Only by constructing this kind of economy can basic social needs be met and relative self-sufficiency achieved in a world dominated by imperialism.
What would be the role of oil in a country like Venezuela, with extensive petroleum reserves, if a genuine socialist revolution took place? There would need to be a radical reorientation away from oil’s historically dominant position in the structure and functioning of the economy. This calls for a decisive break with export-oriented, oil-based development. Oil would still play some role in the economy, but this would be quantitatively and qualitatively different. Concerted and coordinated society-wide efforts would be made to greatly reduce dependency on oil as an energy source. Society would move towards more ecologically sound alternatives, especially as oil is currently extracted, refined, transported, etc., but fundamentally in developing a renewable energy foundation of growth. The social-economic calculus would no longer be one of maximizing production or maximizing returns but rather developing a just, rational, and ecologically sustainable economy based on the conscious activism of the masses and serving the liberation of society and humanity as a whole.
Socialist economic development must serve the goal of overcoming the great differences between town and country, between agriculture and industry, and between mental and manual labor. Socialist economic development must enable a revolutionary society to stand up to imperialism and aid the advance of revolution elsewhere in the world. None of this is possible without a new revolutionary state power that can lead this process forward and mobilize the masses to remake all of society.27
Developing this kind of economy is a complicated task, and the elimination of huge inflows of petroleum income, along with the economic, political, and military pressures of imperialism, will further complicate this task. But the elimination of petro-dependency and the petro-state, and the adoption of other revolutionary economic and social measures, will open whole new possibilities for creating a truly liberating economy.
In addition, socialist state power above all is state power exercised by a class—the proletariat—that aims to eliminate all classes, all exploitative systems of production, all oppressive social relations and institutions; and all the ideas and values that reflect and reinforce the division of society into classes. The socialist state’s program at any given time must embody the communist project of moving humanity, through ever-more conscious struggle and transformation, in this direction.28
Under Hugo Chavez, Venezuela remains locked tightly into the global economy, and Chavez’s program turns on the market value of the oil resource. Even if this program provides some short-term improvement in the conditions of the masses, it cannot be sustained and cannot lead to a world beyond imperialism. And rather than represent the proletariat, Hugo Chavez personifies a section of the Venezuelan capitalist class and radicalized petty-bourgeoisie that bridles at the inequities caused by foreign domination but that cannot conceive of rupturing out of the imperialist-conditioned dominance of oil in the motion and development of the Venezuelan economy.
1. Cited in Nicholas Kozloff, Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 7. No original Spanish-language source available. [back]
3. See Larry Everest, Oil, Empire, and Power: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Monroe, Me.: Common Courage Press, 2004). [back]
4. On the growth of Caracas, see Allen Gilbert, The Latin American City (London: Latin America Bureau, 1998), pp. 7-11. [back]
8. These kinds of contradictions are pointed to in Fernando Coronil, “Magical Illusions or Revolutionary Magic? Chavez in Historical Context,” NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. XXXIII, No 6, 2000. See this article and also the highly important analysis of the historical development of the rentier oil economy and modern Venezuelan state and various incarnations of plans to “sow the petroleum” in Fernando Coronil, The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). [back]
9. See David Luhnow and Peter Millard, “As Global Demand Tightens, Oil Producer Has Agenda,” The Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2006. [back]
10. See Simon Romero and Clifford Krauss, “Deadline Nears in Chavez Fight Against Big Oil,” The New York Times, April 10, 2007; Simon Romero, “Chavez Takes Over Foreign Controlled Oil Projects in Venezuela,” The New York Times, May 2, 2007. In his July 2006 interview with Greg Palast (see zmag.org), Chavez says about the foreign oil companies, “[W]e don’t want them to go, and I don’t think they want to leave the country, either. We need each other.” [back]
11. Claude Larsimont, “Hugo Chavez, the Bolivarian Use of Petrodollars and the Oil Market,” ESISC Background Analysis 10/05/2006. [back]
12. See James Surowiecki, “The Financial Page: Synergy With The Devil,” The New Yorker, January 8, 2007, p. 26. [back]
13. On the environmental and human rights issues posed by Chavez’s petroleum and natural gas regional initiatives, see David Hallowes and Victor Munnik Poisoned Spaces: Manufacturing Wealth, Producing Poverty, www.groundwork.org.za, October 2006; “Open Letter to President Hugo Chavez,” Sociedad Homo et Natura, posted at www.nadir.org in April 2006. [back]
15. Year-end data for 2006 from U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration. [back]
19. The question of appropriate technology and whether raw materials investments spur linkages to other parts of the economy has been a long-standing topic of research and analysis on the part of radical, dependency, and Marxist theorists. The 2003 report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Foreign Investment in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2003 examines patterns of foreign investment in Latin America and questions supposed benefits and spillover effects resulting from natural resources investments. [back]
20. On new oil seismic technology and highly sophisticated secondary and tertiary recovery methods, some of which are now being used in Venezuela, see Jad Mouawad, “Oil Innovations Pump New Life into Old Wells, The New York Times, March 5, 2007. [back]
21. Food and Agricultural Organization, United Nations, “Feature: FAO in Venezuela,” 2002, www.fao.org/english/newsroom/news/2002/9788-en.html. [back]
22. Simon Romero, “Chavez Rattles Takeover Saber at Steel Company and Banks,” The New York Times, May 7, 2007. [back]
24. On OPEC, see Cyrus Bina, “Limits of OPEC Pricing: OPEC Profits and the Nature of Global Oil Accumulation,” OPEC Review, Vol. 14 (1), Spring 1990. [back]
26. Chesa Boudin, Gabriel Gonzalez, Wilmer Rumbos, The Venezuelan Revolution: 100 Questions—100 Answers (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006), p. 141. [back]
27. For Mao’s approach to self-reliant socialist development and the agriculture-industry relationship, see Raymond Lotta, ed., Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism (New York: Banner Press, 1994), especially chapter 7. [back]
28. See Bob Avakian, Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom, revcom.us. [back]
Revolution #94, July 1, 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 11th 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.
The Necessity That Is Being Confronted
Now, having spoken to some questions of basic analysis and of outlook and methodology, and with that as a foundation, I want to return again to the situation, to the necessity, that has to be confronted now. From what has been discussed so far, it is possible to see that the necessity facing the U.S. imperialists and in particular the core at the center of power now in the U.S.—and what they have done and are doing in the world in responding to that necessity, as well as how they are moving in relation to the freedom they have perceived that they have in the current situation, particularly since the "end of the Cold War" and the demise of the Soviet Union and its bloc—all this is in turn imposing necessity on all different strata and groups throughout the world, including within the U.S. itself.
Again, to just touch on these points quickly—but as bases and focuses for further reflection and wrangling—for the class of U.S. imperialists themselves, this situation is now impinging on them, and this necessity is making itself felt, in increasingly acute ways. They can't roll back the clock and go back to the situation before they invaded Iraq this time (in 2003) and ousted Saddam Hussein. Some of them might actually wish now that they could do that—but they can't. Some of these right-wing commentators were, for awhile, making joking remarks like: "Here's what we should do. We should get Saddam Hussein out of jail, apologize to him, put him back in power, tell him to whip this shit in shape while we ignore what he has to do to get this done." Now, clearly they can't do that. But these jokes themselves are a reflection of "the fine mess they have gotten themselves into," and the fact that, as a result, the necessity that is confronting them is greatly heightened.
And one of the ways this finds expression—and in fact this is another manifestation of, or dimension to, the point about "the pyramid of power"1 in the U.S. now—is this: Especially in these acute circumstances, as well as in an all-around and basic sense, to really take on and answer the right-wing section of the ruling class and its program and where it is driving things, it would be necessary to get down to, and to hit strongly at, the underlying assumptions and foundations upon which this rests. And that the other representatives of the ruling class—including as this is embodied in the Democratic Party leadership—can never do—and do not want to do.
If, for example, you are going to really challenge the thrust of the Iraq War, and the "let's go after Iran" logic, and so on, you have to call into question the whole assumptions of the "war on terror" and you have to bring forth what all that is really all about and is based on. Or, if you are going to take on something like the attacks on affirmative action, you have to talk about the actual history of this country—and all the atrocities, including genocide, slavery, and other horrendous forms of oppression, down to today—that this has involved. And that you cannot do from a ruling class perspective. Or to defend the right to abortion in a truly powerful way, which can answer the many-sided attacks on this—practical, political, and ideological—you have to get into the role of women in this society and the whole historical oppression of women—how that is bound up with other fundamental social and class relations. That, again, is something you cannot do while remaining within the dominant and "acceptable" framework of bourgeois politics and ideology.
This is especially acutely posed in today's circumstances. Bourgeois politicians can't even do what the Church Senate Committee (named after Senator Frank Church) did back 30 years ago. Then, as a result of a whole mass upheaval and growing mass consciousness about the real nature of what the U.S. does around the world, this Senate Committee came out and exposed some of the things the U.S. had done, like in Chile and other countries where the U.S. pulled off coups and committed other crimes. Today, if you want to represent the ruling class, you cannot do even what the Church Committee did. It's nowhere on the agenda to talk about that stuff. The current situation—and not just the freedom but the necessity of the ruling class—doesn't allow for that kind of discourse, even in watered-down terms.
I was watching this guy Jeff Cohen on Amy Goodman. He was the founder of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). He's got this book out: Adventures in Cable News Media.2 It's an interesting book. It provides exposure of how the mainstream media operate. This is coming from a certain standpoint, different from our own, but it's not without its insights.
Cohen makes an observation that objectively has to do with the "pyramid point." He recalled how, during a break when he was on one of these CNN Crossfire shows, he turned to the right-winger, Robert Novak, and said, "Do you really think Pat Buchanan is a liberal?" And, Cohen recounts, Novak went into a whole tirade about how Buchanan is an economic "New Dealer" and a populist and all that. And then Novak said: I was an Eisenhower Republican in the '50s, and everyday since then I've gone further to the right. In commenting on this, Cohen makes the very true and very telling point that you could not get somebody on TV, as a regular and mainstream commentator, who said: "I was a Kennedy Democrat in the '60s, and every day since then I've gone further to the left." No way such a person could ever have any place in the mainstream media—except as some sort of object of ridicule. I mean, Noam Chomsky has been declared to be "from the planet Saturn"—he's way beyond the pale of respectable and acceptable discourse in the mainstream media.
Cohen, who was a producer for the Phil Donahue show before it got kicked off of MSNBC, talks about how, if they wanted to have even a relatively mild left-winger on that show, they were told they had to have at least two or three right-wingers to "balance" that left-winger. And the Donahue show was supposed to be the liberal answer to the right-wing talk shows. But when it got to the question of someone like Chomsky, the "joke"—or, really, more-than-half-serious point—was that if they were going to have Chomsky on, they'd have to have 38 right-wingers for "balance." [laughs]
Again, this is not just owing to the organized strength of right-wingers, nor is it merely a matter of corporate dominance in the mainstream media. More essentially, it is a reflection of the necessity that the U.S. ruling class faces–-not just the freedom they are seeking to seize on, but also the necessity and the way in which how they have responded to that necessity has created further necessity impinging, yes, even on them.
But this is also impinging on and confronting all different strata throughout the world—other imperialists in other countries, other ruling classes, for example, like in China and India, or Pakistan. Remember, there was that whole thing about Richard Armitage, the friend of Colin Powell and assistant secretary of state in the first Bush administration—how, right after September 11th, Armitage went to the head of state of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, and basically gave him the "offer he couldn't refuse" routine—insisting that he allow Pakistan to be used as a base for the attack on Afghanistan, and for the "war on terror" more generally. Recently, when Armitage was asked about this, he said—continuing the Godfather routine, or at least his role as the henchman of the big Don—"I never make a threat I'm not in a position to carry out, and I couldn't personally carry that out." Well, that was never the point. [laughs] The threat was coming from U.S. imperialism—you were just the one delivering the threat.
But, beyond the particularities (and peculiarities) of that, in one way or another what the U.S. is doing impinges on all kinds of ruling elites, and other forces—and not just through direct Mafia-type threats. Every ruling class--in India, China, Russia, France, Germany, and so on—and even lesser ruling classes in various parts of the world, which are fundamentally dependent on and beholden to imperialism—all of them are forced to respond to this. They are all being confronted with this necessity.
And so are all the "popular strata" throughout the world. All the non-ruling class strata, all the different groupings among the people in the U.S. and in countries all over the world, are being confronted with necessity which is stemming mainly at this point from what the U.S. ruling class, and its core at the center of power now, is doing. On a deeper, more fundamental level, all this is stemming from the underlying dynamics of the imperialist system, but in more immediate and proximate terms—in terms of what's directly affecting people right now—it is proceeding to a significant degree out of how the core at the center of power of U.S. imperialism now is perceiving things, including its necessity as well as its freedom, and how it is acting in relation to that. But, again, it is very important to stress that this is not a matter of "all freedom" for them—as powerful as they are, it is far from the case that they can just "do whatever they want." And what they are doing not only involves necessity as well as freedom for them ; it presents necessity but also—at least potential—freedom for those forces, of various kinds, who are opposed to them. Here, once again, I am using "freedom" not in a more "conventional" sense, but in the sense of confronting and transforming necessity—material reality—in ways that are favorable, are in line with one's objectives.
So there is not a single group in society—and, for that matter, ultimately not a single individual, but in any case not a single stratum or group in society anywhere in the world, from ruling classes down to the most basic masses—which is not being impinged upon and being confronted by these dynamics. Of course, most people are unaware of this, or only vaguely conscious of it—or, even if aware of it in varying degrees, they do not yet have a scientific understanding of it and therefore are not able yet to consciously act to change all this in their own interests, and most fundamentally in the interests of humanity. So the challenge this poses for us, as communists—as those who have the responsibility of acting as the vanguard of the proletarian revolution and moving humanity to a whole new stage and a whole new world—this challenge once again revolves around Mao's "amendment" to Engels: that freedom does not lie just in the recognition of necessity, but in the transformation of necessity, through struggle. And, especially in these acute circumstances, the orientation, the perspective, and the approach has to be one of wrenching freedom out of all this.
This is being more and more acutely posed. It is true, as I pointed out not long ago: If there are a few more major changes in the world—particularly in this dynamic where Jihad and McWorld/McCrusade mutually reinforce each other while opposing each other—it is going to be qualitatively harder to break out of this dynamic. And this is one of the things we have to join more fully, and struggle over more deeply, with people. You know, sitting on top of a rumbling volcano might somehow seem more comfortable than trying to move, but it's actually not a very good position to be in. [laughs] This is what we have to get people to understand.
1 In a number of talks and writings, Bob Avakian analyzes the relations at the top of U.S. society—as well as the relations between various contending forces "at the top" and social bases at various levels of society—in terms of a "pyramid." This analysis can be found, for example, in the DVD of the talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About (Three Q Productions, available at threeqvideo.com). See also the articles "The Pyramid of Power and the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down" and "The Center—Can It Hold? The Pyramid as Two Ladders," available online at revcom.us. [back]
2 Jeff Cohen, Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media (Sausalito, CA: PoliPoint Press, 2006) [back]
Revolution #94, July 1, 2007
This essay is taken from the book Bob Avakian: Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Insight Press, Chicago, 2005).
As the world exists today and as people seek to change it, and particularly in terms of the socialist transformation of society, as I see it there are basically three alternatives that are possible. One is the world as it is. Enough said about that. [laughter]
The second one is in a certain sense, almost literally and mechanically, turning the world upside down. In other words, people who are now exploited will no longer be exploited in the same way, people who now rule this society will be prevented from ruling or influencing society in a significant way. The basic economic structure of society will change, some of the social relations will change, and some of the forms of political rule will change, and some of the forms of culture and ideology will change, but fundamentally the masses of people will not be increasingly and in one leap after another drawn into the process of really transforming society. This is really a vision of a revisionist society. If you think back to the days of the Soviet Union, when it had become a revisionist society, capitalist and imperialist in essence, but still socialist in name, when they would be chided for their alleged or real violations of people’s rights, they would often answer “Who are you in the West to be talking about the violation of human rights—look at all the people in your society who are unemployed, what more basic human right is there than to have a job?”
Well, did they have a point? Yes, up to a point. But fundamentally what they were putting forward, the vision of society that they were projecting, was a social welfare kind of society in which fundamentally the role of the masses of people is no different than it is under the classical form of capitalism. The answer about the rights of the people cannot be reduced to the right to have a job and earn an income, as basic as that is. There is the question of are we really going to transform society so that in every respect, not only economically but socially, politically, ideologically, and culturally, it really is superior to capitalist society. A society that not only meets the needs of the masses of people, but really is characterized increasingly by the conscious expression and initiative of the masses of people.
This is a more fundamental transformation than simply a kind of social welfare, socialist in name but really capitalist in essence society, where the role of the masses of people is still largely reduced to being producers of wealth, but not people who thrash out all the larger questions of affairs of state, the direction of society, culture, philosophy, science, the arts, and so on. The revisionist model is a narrow, economist view of socialism. It reduces the people, in their activity, to simply the economic sphere of society, and in a limited way at that—simply their social welfare with regard to the economy. It doesn’t even think about transforming the world outlook of the people as they in turn change the world around them.
And you cannot have a new society and a new world with the same outlook that people are indoctrinated and inculcated with in this society. You cannot have a real revolutionary transformation of society and abolition of unequal social as well as economic relations and political relations if people still approach the world in the way in which they’re conditioned and limited and constrained to approach it now. How can the masses of people really take up the task of consciously changing the world if their outlook and their approach to the world remains what it is under this system? It’s impossible, and this situation will simply reproduce the great inequalities in every sphere of society that I’ve been talking about.
The third alternative is a real radical rupture. Marx and Engels said in the Communist Manifesto that the communist revolution represents a radical rupture with traditional property relations and with traditional ideas. And the one is not possible without the other. They are mutually reinforcing, one way or the other.
If you have a society in which the fundamental role of women is to be breeders of children, how can you have a society in which there is equality between men and women? You cannot. And if you don’t attack and uproot the traditions, the morals, and so on, that reinforce that role, how can you transform the relations between men and women and abolish the deep-seated inequalities that are bound up with the whole division of society into oppressors and oppressed, exploiters and exploited? You cannot.
So the third alternative is a real radical rupture in every sphere, a radically different synthesis, to put it that way. Or to put it another way, it’s a society and a world that the great majority of people would actually want to live in. One in which not only do they not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, or if they get sick whether they’re going to be told that they can’t have health care because they can’t pay for it, as important as that is; but one in which they are actually taking up, wrangling with, and increasingly making their own province all the different spheres of society.
Achieving that kind of a society, and that kind of a world, is a very profound challenge. It’s much more profound than simply changing a few forms of ownership of the economy and making sure that, on that basis, people’s social welfare is taken care of, but you still have people who are taking care of that for the masses of people; and all the spheres of science, the arts, philosophy, and all the rest are basically the province of a few. And the political decision-making process remains the province of a few.
To really leap beyond that is a tremendous and world-historic struggle that we’ve been embarked on since the Russian revolution (not counting the very short-lived and limited experience of the Paris Commune)—and in which we reached the high point with the Chinese revolution and in particular the Cultural Revolution—but from which we’ve been thrown back temporarily.
So we need to make a further leap on the basis of summing up very deeply all that experience. There are some very real and vexing problems that we have to confront and advance through in order to draw from the best of the past, but go further and do even better in the future.
Now I want to say a few things in this context about totalitarianism. Just as an aside here, I find it very interesting that you can read innumerable books delving deeply into the psyche of Stalin or Lenin or Mao—“What went on in the deranged minds of these people [laughter] that led them to think they could remake the world in their maddened image [laughter] and led them, in the name of some greater moral good, to bring great catastrophe on the humanity that they were affecting?” I don’t know how many books I’ve seen like that. I have never yet seen—maybe there are some, but I have never seen—a study of the deranged psyche of Thomas Jefferson [laughter] or George Washington: “How is it that a person could come to believe in their own mind [laughter] that they were benefiting not only humanity in general, but other human beings whom they owned? [laughter] What depth of psychological derangement must be involved in that? [laughter] What is more totalitarian than actually owning other human beings?”
Or what about the study of the depths of the depraved minds of Lyndon Johnson or Ronald Reagan [laughter], who murdered millions of people, including vast numbers of children? “What must have gone wrong, somewhere in their childhood or somewhere else in their lives? [laughter] What demented ideas must they somehow have internalized that led them to believe that in the name of the shining city on the hill, or whatever [laughter], they had the right and the obligation to slaughter thousands and millions of innocent people?”
I have never seen those studies. Certainly I haven’t read about them in the New York Times Book Review section. [laughter]
Still, there are some real questions that are raised about totalitarianism by the ideologues and the “intellectual camp followers” of the imperialists that do need to be taken on. In particular, they make the charge that in a society which they call totalitarian, but which is in reality the dictatorship of the proletariat, there is first of all an official ideology that everyone has to profess belief in, in order to get along in that society. And there is an official politics that everyone has to be involved in, in order to get along in that society and not get in trouble. Well, what about this?
Fundamentally, this is a distortion of what has gone on in socialist societies: why these revolutions were necessary in the first place and what they were seeking to accomplish and to overcome, and how they were going about doing that. The reality is that, for the great masses of people in capitalist (and certainly in feudal) society, they are barred from really being involved in any significant way in official politics and the politics that actually affect the affairs of state and the direction of society. And they are indoctrinated with an outlook and methodology and ideology that prevents them—discourages them and actively obstructs them—from really understanding the world as it is and changing it consciously. And that is what socialist revolutions seek to change, as well as bringing about fundamental changes in the economy and the social relations.
But what about this question of official ideology that everyone has to profess? Well, I think we have more to sum up about that from the history of socialist society and the dictatorship of the proletariat so far.
With regard to the question of the party, I think two things are definitely true. One, you need a vanguard party to lead this revolution and to lead the new state. Two, that party has to have an ideology that unifies it, an ideology that correctly reflects and enables people to consciously change reality, which is communist ideology.
But, more broadly, should everyone in society have to profess this ideology in order to get along? No. Those who are won over to this ideology should proclaim it and struggle for it. Those who are not convinced of it should say so. Those who disagree with it should say that. And there should be struggle. Something has to lead—the correct ideology that really enables people to get at the truth, and to do something with it in their interests, has to lead; but that doesn’t mean everyone should have to profess it, in my opinion. And this is just my opinion. But it’s worth digging into this a bit, it’s worth exploring and wrangling with the question.
Revolution #94, July 1, 2007
There is a growing danger of a U.S. war on Iran. This is true in spite of, and in many ways because of, the quagmire in Iraq, the growing strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and a whole range of destabilizing outbreaks in the region, including the routing of Fatah troops by Hamas in Gaza, and the fighting between Islamic forces and the Lebanese government.
In this context, powerful figures in the U.S. government are arguing that the only way to prevent further threats to U.S. interests, and to push forward on the Bush agenda of radically transforming the Middle East, is to knock down their most powerful adversary in the region.
In mid-May, Vice President Dick Cheney stood in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS John Stennis, 150 miles off the Iranian coast, and declared he wanted to “send a clear message to our friends and adversaries alike” that the U.S. would “prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.”
On CBS News Face the Nation, June 10, Senator Joseph Lieberman said, “ I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq. And to me, that would include a strike over the border into Iran…”
Norman Podhoretz, a leading neo-conservative propagandist, wrote in a major article in the June issue of Commentary magazine titled “The Case for Bombing Iran”: “I hope and pray that President Bush will do it.” At the Republican Party debates, presidential candidates have competed over who is the most war-like towards Iran, and tactical nuclear strikes have been explicitly not ruled off the table.
And the Democrats? All the leading Democratic presidential candidates—Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards—have joined in the confront-Iran chorus, declaring that all options should remain on the table. Former Senator Mike Gravel pointed out at the Democratic candidates' April 26 debate, “that’s code for using nukes…”
U.S. Aggression Is… Aggression—And Must Be Opposed
Much of the tension between the U.S. and Iran has been over Iran's nuclear program. The atmosphere is so heated that United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei told the BBC that in the current tense climate, “I wake every morning and see 100 Iraqis, innocent civilians, are dying,” and that, “You do not want to give additional argument to new crazies who say ‘let’s go and bomb Iran.’”
Meanwhile, the Bush regime and the mainstream media have run nonstop “briefings” by the U.S. military claiming that Iran is arming and training anti-U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is directly responsible for killing U.S. soldiers. Philip Giraldi, a former officer of the CIA, wrote, “One thing that all the stories about Iranian involvement have in common is their lack of substantiating detail. There are no names, dates, places, or corroborating information, and most rely on anonymous government sources or bald assertions that are presented as fact. Photos of alleged captured ordnance have been unconvincing. Further, the presence of the weapons, even if true, cannot be traced back to any official Iranian government body or policy through documentary or other evidence.” (http://antiwar.com/orig/giraldi.php)
All of the charges by the U.S. are potential pretexts to justify attacking Iran, and the United States and its allies in the region are also involved in all kinds of potentially provocative actions, which could serve as a tripwire for an attack.
On the other side of the equation, Iran’s theocrats have worked to preserve their hold on power in Iran and to extend their influence in the region. And it is entirely possible that Iran is taking steps—including developing ties with a variety of anti-U.S. forces in the region—to be able to respond to any U.S. attack. But again, the same people who lied about “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq are lying now about why they have Iran in their crosshairs. Even if some of what the U.S. is saying about Iran is true, this would still IN NO WAY justify any kind of aggressive action by the U.S. against Iran, especially a military nuclear strike which the U.S. has NOT ruled out as an option on the table.
Powerful neocon strategists who are calling the shots on Bush's foreign policy had made an assessment that the Middle East was a breeding ground for anti-U.S. terrorists that had to be dried up. And that strengthening U.S. domination in the region was critical to their global agenda. But in invading Afghanistan and then Iraq, the U.S. created even more problems for themselves.
There has been much speculation that Bush officials grouped around Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice favor stepping up diplomatic, economic, political, and military pressure against Iran in concert with other world powers, while holding back from a military assault, at least for the time being. If that's true, it may reflect concerns that an attack on Iran might backfire and create an even worse situation for the United States. At the same time, those grouped around Vice President Cheney reportedly argue that negotiations with Iran’s leadership are bound to fail and that the U.S. will ultimately have to use military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and more fundamentally to crush the Islamic Republic’s influence and ambitions in the region and protect U.S. hegemony.
These reported differences in the ruling class should not be cause for passivity on the part of those opposed to a war against Iran. Just the opposite. Both sides in this debate in the ruling class are starting from U.S. imperialist interests in the region, and agree that U.S. domination of the region is not “optional.” And none of them are starting from what is in the interests of the people—in the Middle East or in the U.S.
This is why none of the top Democrats—whose party also represents imperialist interests—has publicly opposed war with Iran, and why language forbidding such a war without congressional consent was removed from the recent war appropriations bill.
And sanctions and diplomacy are hardly incompatible with preparation for war. The buildup to the invasion of Iraq was preceded by sanctions and intense diplomatic activity.
Playing the Israel Card
There is a possibility that the U.S. would use its Israeli enforcer in the region to attack Iran. Israel’s Channel 2 News reported that Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s former defense minister, told Rice “that Israel would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities by year’s end if diplomacy and sanctions fail to persuade Tehran to suspend its enrichment activities.” ( New York Times, 6/16)
Steve Clemmons' internet blog ("The Washington Note") of May 24 warned that Cheney’s office may be planning an end-run around opponents of military actions against Iran in the Bush administration by utilizing Israel: “The thinking on Cheney's team is to collude with Israel, nudging Israel at some key moment in the ongoing standoff between Iran’s nuclear activities and international frustration over this to mount a small-scale conventional strike against Natanz [a major Iranian nuclear facility] using cruise missiles (i.e., not ballistic missiles).
“This strategy would sidestep controversies over bomber aircraft and overflight rights over other Middle East nations and could be expected to trigger a sufficient Iranian counter-strike against U.S. forces in the Gulf—which just became significantly larger—as to compel Bush to forgo the diplomatic track that the administration realists are advocating and engage in another war.” (http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/002145.php)
Such an attack by Israel would be an expression of U.S. imperialist interests and aggression.
The People Must Prevent Another U.S. War
We in the U.S.—the country that has launched an unbounded war of conquest in the Middle East—have a special responsibility to act with boldness and determination to prevent a war on Iran. It is urgent that disaffection, loss of allegiance, and anger be translated into action and resistance—not passivity and despair. This will take tenacious struggle—including among the people themselves—but such action could spread and greatly impact the rulers' freedom to carry out their savage and reactionary plans.
As Revolution pointed out in its editorial in issue 92: “The people can not impact the direction of things within the political confines and terms set by the imperialist ruling class; that is one lesson of the May 25 vote [by Congress to fund the Iraq war]. But this does NOT mean that the people can not have a profound impact on politics. In fact, it is only by acting outside those terms that real change can come about. Mass disaffection transformed into mass political action from below can become contagious. It would be criminal, at a time when the carnage continues and the plans for worse—including attacks on Iran—are in the works, to give up now. And it would be foolish as well, at a time when the rulers have no answer to the anger and disillusion of millions, to fail to seize what could be a moment, an opening, that—in a very real and positive way—could change everything.”
Revolution #94, July 1, 2007
Background to Confrontation:
For over 100 years, the domination of Iran has been deeply woven into the fabric of global imperialism, enforced through covert intrigues, economic bullying, military assaults, and invasions. This history provides the backdrop for U.S. hostility toward Iran today—including the real threat of war. Part 1 of this series explored the rivalry between European imperialists up through World War 1 over which one would control Iran and its oil. Part 2 exposed the U.S.’s 1953 overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh’s secular, nationalist government and its restoration of its brutal client the Shah to power. Parts 3 and 4 examine what 25 years of U.S. domination under the Shah’s reign meant for Iran, and how it paved the way for the 1979 revolution.
During the 1970s, the agrarian reforms of the White Revolution (see part 3), skyrocketing oil revenues, and Iran’s new role as the U.S.’s Persian Gulf gendarme combined to bring rapid—and destabilizing—social, political, and economic change. Oil income shot up from $22.5 million in 1954 to over $19 billion in 1975-76. By mid-decade, nearly half of Iran’s people lived in urban areas (up from 30 percent a decade earlier). Tehran’s population soared by 2.5 million people between 1961 and 1978. Industry and manufacturing tripled in size compared to the 1950s, and Iran’s middle class was growing quickly.1
The Shah bragged that Iran would soon have one of the world’s five biggest economies. The U.S. imperialists saw Iran as a model of development, an island of stability, and a crucial Middle East outpost.
Yet billions in oil revenues didn’t lead to balanced, self-reliant economic growth or a better life for most Iranians. Oil revenues propped up the Shah’s repressive tyranny. Iran’s oil sector and a few other more technologically developed industries remained islands linked to foreign capital, technology, and markets, but disconnected from most of the rest of Iran’s economy.
Iran’s oil industry was very capital intensive (machine and technology heavy), employing only 42,000 Iranians out of a 1972 labor force of nearly 10 million.2 Oil technology and equipment were imported, so its development didn’t lead to either technological development of the economy as a whole or less dependence on selling oil. Instead, by 1977, over three-quarters of Iran’s government revenues came from petroleum.3
Most manufacturing was still done in very small, labor intensive workshops. Traditional goods—like carpets, handicrafts and agricultural goods—continued to make up more than 80 percent of Iran’s non-oil exports. Fewer worked in rural areas and on the land, but feudal and semi-feudal relations remained widespread and per capita agricultural output stagnated. Newer urban industries were often concentrated in “import substitution” manufacturing. There, high-end consumer goods—like cars—were assembled using imported parts and technology.4
This kind of imperialist-driven economic growth made Iran even more addicted to imports of technology, up-scale consumer goods, military hardware, and food. Iran’s imports jumped from $400 million in 1958-59 to a staggering $18.45 billion in 1975-76, including some $2.6 billion in food. This giant tab sucked up most of Iran’s oil income, wiped out many small Iranian businesses, and reinforced foreign capital’s overall stranglehold.5
These changes also sharpened social divisions. Foreign companies made huge profits in Iran, ranging from 30% to 200% rate of return on investments, while the Shah and capitalists and landowners closest to his regime made immense fortunes. Iran’s small upper strata and growing professional and technical middle class enjoyed rising incomes, some becoming quite wealthy.
At the same time, millions were being driven off the land and pulled into sprawling urban shantytowns without water, sewage, or electricity. Sixty percent of Iranians remained illiterate, life expectancy was 50 years, and 139 of every 1,000 children died in their first year.6 When I visited Iran in 1979, a construction worker told me about working on a new palace for the Shah’s mother. He made $3 a day, barely enough to pay cab fare to and from work, and buy a lunch of bread and cheese. He couldn’t afford Tehran’s skyrocketing rents, and had to live with his brother’s family to survive.7 Uprooted from the countryside and set adrift in the cities, many shanty dwellers became a key base of support for Ayatollah Khomeini and Islamic fundamentalism. Khomeini, a reactionary theocrat, would emerge as the leader of Iran’s 1979 revolution.
A British magazine captured Iran’s crazy-quilt, lopsided growth: “Iran is being Westernized in all the wrong places. Modern bottling plants for Pepsi, Coke, and Canada Dry have sprung up all over the place, while in the filthy poor quarters of the cities people still drink from the jubes—open water courses that run down the sides of the streets, collecting all manner of rubbish. Teheran airport is one of the finest in the Middle East, yet there is still no adequate road and rail system. A tall Hilton hotel is being built, while hundreds of people sleep in the streets.”8
Iran: America's Persian Gulf Gendarme
The Shah’s role heading up a U.S. military outpost in the Persian Gulf and on the Soviet Union’s southern border also skewed Iran’s economy and society, and amplified other problems.
U.S. military advisors had been operating in Iran since the early 1940s. But U.S. direct involvement in Iran's military greatly increased after the 1953 coup. By 1954, three different U.S. military groups were operating in Iran, directing the expansion of Iran’s Shah’s army, forming a modern air force and navy, training Iranian officers, and overseeing weapons purchases.9 Iran was a key member of a sequence of U.S. regional military alliances.
In the early 1970s, Iran’s importance as a U.S. military ally took a leap. U.S. President Nixon, then in the throes of the Vietnam War, announced the U.S. was going to rely more heavily on allies and clients to police key regions. Iran, along with Saudi Arabia and Israel, would be one of U.S. imperialism’s “pillars” in the Middle East.
To fulfill this role, Iran embarked on a massive military buildup and spending spree. Huge bases were built in the north to monitor the Soviets and along the southern coast to police the Persian Gulf. Between 1972 and 1975 alone, Iran spent $35 billion of its $62 billion in oil revenues on the military—mainly on purchases from the U.S. and other Western powers. By the late 1970s, nearly 8,000 U.S. military advisers and technicians were stationed in Iran.
In the wake of Israel’s 1967 and 1973 wars seizing Palestinian and Arab lands, anger and resistance rose across the region. The Shah stepped in and supplied Israel with 90 percent of its oil. The Iranian military helped crush an anti-imperialist guerrilla movement in the Dhofar province of Oman. The Shah conspired with the Nixon administration to manipulate and then betray Iraq’s Kurds in order to weaken the Saddam Hussein regime. (In 1975 the unsuspecting Kurds were decimated by Iraqi forces, with thousands killed and some 200,000 driven into Iran.)
SAVAK: U.S.-Trained Torturers
A decade of breakneck development, fueled by imperialism and oil revenues, effected rapid economic, political, social, and cultural changes—in a highly unstable way. The U.S. and the Shah built up elements of a modern economy and infrastructure, but in a narrow, lopsided manner. Feudal relations weren’t fully uprooted, and in many ways were reinforced and incorporated into these imperialist-driven transformations. Millions of rural labors and peasants were still locked in poverty, and those driven into the cities remained largely left out of the more modern segments of society. These changes also alienated powerful segments of society whose authority was rooted in regressive, feudal relations and ideas. These included some merchants and landlords, as well as significant segments of the Islamic clergy.
The newer middle and upper classes did grow and prosper, but were denied a political voice. Tens of thousands of students went abroad as part of the Shah’s modernization. They were radicalized by both the situation in Iran and the anti-imperialist and revolutionary movements sweeping the world. They, in turn, brought an open, seething hatred of the Shah’s regime to countries where they studied, and often militant anti-imperialism and internationalism.
The Iranian students had a powerful impact on the countries where they studied. This included the United States, where they made millions aware of the role the U.S. government played in propping up the Shah’s tyranny--and what this meant for the Iranian people. And their revolutionary sentiments and solidarity with people struggling inside the U.S. brought an internationalist consciousness against a common enemy. Few who encountered anti-Shah students will ever forget their marches of unabashed defiance and seemingly boundless energy, going for miles. Or their booming chants: "The Shah Is a Fascist Butcher, Down with the Shah!" "The Shah Is a U.S. Puppet, Down with the Shah!" The Shah dispatched his secret police abroad. But their efforts to intimidate and suppress the students failed. All this reverberated profoundly back in Iran, where such open contempt and opposition was suppressed. And these students would play a crucial role in the downfall of the Shah in 1979.
Both the more traditionally-minded as well as the newer, more secular classes were humiliated and outraged by the Shah’s subservience to the U.S. In the face of widespread deprivation, he insisted on pursuing America’s imperial objectives, ostentatious consumption, and grandiose royal displays.
So the Shah’s U.S.-driven politics and economics ended up turning both traditional and new segments of society against his rule.
To keep the lid on, the Shah increasingly turned to his dreaded secret police—SAVAK. Founded in 1957 under the CIA’s direction (and later with assistance from Israel’s intelligence police, Mossad), SAVAK’s mission was finding and stamping out any and all opposition. It had the authority to arrest and detain suspects indefinitely and ran its own prisons. Torture was routine: “electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.”10 In 1975, the London Times reported that prisoners were forced to watch their children “savagely mistreated.” One man reported, “I found it so unbearable, that that I wished I had a knife so that I could kill my son myself, rather than see him suffer like that.”
SAVAK dispatched its agents all over the world to monitor and punish dissidents, anti-Shah students in particular. Communist, radical, and secular forces were SAVAK’s main targets. Some clerics were also jailed, exiled, or suppressed, even as the Shah continued to reinforce Islam and the clergy. In 1976, Amnesty International reported that Iran had the “highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture which is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran.”11
The U.S. was directly and deeply involved in SAVAK’s operations. By the 1970s, an average of 400 SAVAK agents were trained in the U.S. every year. A former CIA analyst on Iran admitted the agency instructed SAVAK in torture techniques. “We’re keeping the Shah in power through our agents,” one intelligence officer stated, “who are training their agents in Iran.”12
But this too would soon backfire. Underneath a facade of stability, Iran was heading toward a revolutionary eruption, and the founding of a reactionary Islamic theocracy.
Next: The 1979 revolution and the Islamic Republic.
1. Fred Halliday, Iran: Dictatorship and Development, pp. 10, 15, 138-9; S.D., “Iran: The Forging of a Weak Link,” A World To Win (AWTW), 1985/2, p. 38 [back]
2. Halliday, pp. 176, 179 [back]
3. Halliday, pp. 138-39; Nikkie R. Keddie, Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution, p. 162 [back]
4. Halliday, pp. 176, 10, 182; Ali Reza Nobari, Iran Erupts, p. 32; Keddie, p. 160-161 [back]
5. Per capita agricultural output was the same in 1973 as in 1961. Halliday, pp. 160, 126-128 [back]
6. Halliday, p. 13 [back]
7. Rents in Tehran had risen 15 times over between 1960 and 1975 (and another 100 percent the next year), Halliday, p. 190 [back]
8. Ali M. Ansari, Confronting Iran, p. 45 [back]
9. Amin Saikal, The Rise and Fall of the Shah, p. 54 [back]
11. William Blum, Killing Hope, excerpt at http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Blum/Iran_KH.html [back]
12. Nobari, p. 144 [back]
Revolution #94, July 1, 2007
I bought this book because I’d had the great fortune of reading it in the RW [the newspaper currently known as Revolution] as a series a few years ago. I was absolutely fascinated by Ardea Skybreak’s presentation of evolution scientifically and exposé of the myth of creationism. It was and is very beautiful and enlightening.
What I enjoyed most about the series and now the book is that it has caused me to think and look at life and the world differently, scientifically! And not in a way that causes me to feel that I’ve lost the sense of purpose and destiny and amazement religion is supposed to provide. Rather, with new found purpose! Let me quote from one of my favorite parts of the book: Since there’s really no particular special purpose to our existence… “Does that mean we don’t matter? Does it mean that we might as well kill each other off because there’s no god out there to care what we do one way or the other? Does it mean that are lives have absolutely no purpose? Of course not! Our lives are precious and we do matter a great deal…to each other!
“We should decide to ‘do the right thing’—and act with each other with some integrity and in ways that are ‘moral and ethical’—not because we’re afraid we’ll get written up by some warden-like god if we don’t, but because what we do directly affects the quality of human life. And, of course, our lives can and do have purpose (though different people will define that in different ways in accordance with their world outlooks), because we humans can choose to imbue our lives with purpose!
“So here we are: a bunch of wonderfully complex living creatures, who have been at one and the same time highly destructive and highly creative, with an unprecedented capacity to consciously transform the natural world around us and the societies in which we live. There’s nothing else ‘out there’…but isn’t this plenty enough?”
I love that part. It kind of throws the last shovel full of dirt on God’s grave. It gives expression to the fact that all we’ve got is each other and whether we matter ultimately depends on what we do with our capacities as a species and how we use them to be better humans or go extinct.
I’m not the only one who read this book since I got it. A few captives have been intrigued by my enthusiastic promotion of it and put down the Mario Puzo and Jackie Collins novels for long enough to give it a try. It’s amazing how much has been kept from us! How much knowledge about ourselves as human beings and how we came into existence has been withheld and for why! Not to mention the rest of the world around us. A couple of the captives who read the book (as best as our limited educations permit us to reach much higher than a seventh or eighth grade level) had never been exposed to the theory of evolution before or had gross misunderstandings or misconceptions (furnished by the ruling class, reactionaries, and various brands of religious fundamentalists) of what evolution is and how it works. One captive thought “evolution” was a religion, like Christianity or Islam!
One of the most fundamental things we all learned is that all life underwent and continues to undergo evolution. Before realizing this essential point, many of us assumed that only humans evolved, or that evolution only applied to the human species. And then there was the linear evolutionary model we’ve all seen of the chimp slowly losing hair and walking erect to conquer in our conception of how human beings actually evolved from our closest living relative, the chimpanzee. It was very easy to understand and imagine the whole evolutionary process in all its complexity, from the formation of the earth and single celled bacteria to how speciation and other natural factors contributed to evolutionary dead ends and countless “branching” of life. Very amazing.
I particularly enjoyed Ardea Skybreak's critique of creationism and how she turned the various brands of creationists—from Old Earth to Young Earth, from Evolutionary Creationists to Intelligent Design Creationists—on their heads. Most captives grew up in this society poor and oppressed and steeped and indoctrinated in religious fundamentalism, so evolution is pretty uncomfortable to lend credence to, especially in the beginning when it’s hard for us to really “trade” our relatively comfortable dependence on a Creator for ideas and theories and such alot of us haven’t been given the opportunity to develop intellects for and use knowledge gained through education to support and sustain. The whole “scientific method” and process is foreign to so many people who have been figuratively and literally “locked out” of using it and working within it. So it was real refreshing to read how Ardea Skybreak not only articulated the science of evolution but also explained why evolution and the scientific method generally is so important for all human beings to know and be benefitted by and why so many around the world do not have very much—if any—familiarity with the theory of evolution and how we’ve all been more or less kept from liberating ourselves from enslavement to religious dogma and superstition and mysticism and spirituality and enforced ignorance!
There is so much more for me to learn about and explore in this wonderful book. I have nothing but time to do what I can to immerse myself in this work and propagate a understanding of evolution and science more broadly and use my knowledge, however great or small at the moment, to encourage and motivate and inspire captives here to reconsider their purpose and power! Captives in prison are among those who need to grasp science and the theory of evolution most of all, for every aspect of our oppressive and brutal confinement SCREAMS for a liberator! Come to find out, there’s not just a Liberator but Liberators—US! OURSELVES! We can free and make each other’s lives better!
Revolution #94, July 1, 2007
Back in March of 2006, South Dakota State Senator Bill Napoli described the rare circumstances in which he felt an abortion might be permissible: “A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it.”
Earlier this month, Senator Sam Brownback, a prominent and “legitimate” contender for the Republican presidential nomination went even further, saying, "Rape is terrible. Rape is awful. Is it made any better by killing an innocent child? Does it solve the problem for the woman that's been raped?... We need to protect innocent life. Period."
Not That Exceptional
As shocking as these statements sound, the reality is that Brownback and Napoli’s comments are not that exceptional. Despite the fact that enough women in this country have been the victims of rape or attempted rape to more than fill the entire cities of New York and Los Angeles as well as the states of Minnesota, Alabama, Wyoming, and Utah, to this “pro-life” movement, a look at dozens of websites of the leading “pro-life” organizations, including the National Right to Life Coalition, Feminists for Life, Pro-Life America, Focus on the Family, and others, reveals that they all oppose abortion even for victims of rape.
At its core and from its inception, the “pro-life” movement has been driven forward by biblical values that insist on the domination of women by men and that women’s essential role is as breeders of children. This has been true from the days of major clinic blockades where Christian fascist groups like Operation Rescue would lead crowds to pray for god to “break the curse of independence” on women to the most recent Supreme Court ruling restricting late-term abortion that claims to be “protecting” the interests of women by forcing them to have children they may not want. These forces have been brought into the ruling structures of society on all levels--and have much initiative in implementing their program.
People need to ask themselves: what have things come to when a “legitimate” candidate for President of the US can seriously put forward such a program and it is not met with resounding outrage and opposition? And what does it mean when the debate over abortion can be framed by whether or not women who become pregnant through rape should be allowed to have an abortion? How did we get to this?
The real question in the battle around abortion is this: Will women be forced to bear children against their will? Without control over their own reproduction--without abortion on demand and without apology--women cannot be free. The movement that wants to ban abortion is not motivated by any concern for life. The fact that there is not a single “pro-life” organization in the country that upholds the right to birth control for women shows that what this movement is really all about is taking away a woman’s right to control her own reproduction.
The Deadly Path of Compromise and Ceding the Moral High Ground
This assault on women’s lives has been assisted at every point along the way by some in the “opposition” who have conceded to the moral and political terms advanced by those seeking to subjugate women and who have refused to take on the barbaric biblical literalist lunacy of the “pro-life” movement.
For years, the Democrats and way too much of the pro-choice movement have accepted the lie that there is something morally wrong with abortion. Bill Clinton implied this when he brought forward the slogan “safe, legal and rare” and Hillary Clinton took this even further when she said that abortion is a “tragic” choice. In a similar vein, many, like Planned Parenthood, have increasingly taken to defending birth control against growing attacks by arguing that it is the most effective way to prevent abortions.
Two things about this must be said. First, fetuses are NOT people. A fetus is a subordinate part of a woman’s body and has the potential to become a human being only by developing over the course of months as a subordinate part of her biological processes. Aborting a fetus is NOT murder and it is not something that should be apologized for. Abortion and birth control are absolutely necessary to women’s ability to control their own lives and destinies and as such they are liberating and very good things!
Second, too many abortions taking place is not the problem we face! 87% of counties in this country do not have any abortion access. Several states only have one abortion clinic and most of these isolated clinics are under constant siege, repeatedly bogged down in politically motivated legal reviews and restrictions. The women who seek their services confront countless legislative and financial obstacles. Due to the physical and legal threats against doctors who provide abortions and the lack of abortion training in most medical school curricula, the number of doctors trained and willing to provide abortions is shrinking. Far from needing to reduce the number of abortions, what is needed is a robust fight to dramatically extend safe and unstigmatized abortion access!
The conciliation by many in leadership of the pro-choice movement with the notion that there is something undesirable about terminating a pregnancy, and that abortion should be reduced, has had a disarming effect on this country’s pro-choice majority. It has had a devastating impact on the thinking of millions that pro-choice organizations have failed to wage an unrelenting and unapologetic battle against this ideological assault, and instead have continued to funnel their energies and resources into supporting what they insist is “the best we can hope for”—Democrats who refuse to stand up against this Christian fascist juggernaut.
For example, a new documentary, Unborn in America, details many of the tactics of the anti-abortion movement (beginning, significantly, with a Focus on the Family training session discussing why abortion is wrong even in cases of rape). What was striking, and heartbreakingly frustrating, in watching this film was both the level of widespread rage among the people against the assaults on women’s reproductive freedom and the lack of any coherent ideological or political opposition to these assaults. Over and over again, pro-choice people were shown confronting the anti-abortion activists with tremendous anger and disgust, but over and over again they themselves acknowledged they think abortion is something that should be avoided and reduced.
The nightmarish impact of this conciliatory trajectory on people’s lives can be seen starkly in the Democrats’ refusal to filibuster the appointments of either Justices Roberts or Alito last year. The result has been a recent draconian ruling by the Supreme Court upholding a ban on a procedure dishonestly called “Partial Birth Abortion,” criminalizing a procedure that reduces pain, risk of complications, and even death for women having abortions. Justice Kennedy enshrined much of the logic that views women primarily as breeders into legal precedent when he wrote, for the majority, that the state has an interest in fostering a “respect for life,” and that “Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond the mother has for her child.” This decision will certainly cause some women to die for lack of the necessary medical procedure and lay the basis for sending the doctors who try to help them to jail. Even more ominously, it has laid the basis for further moves to elevate the “rights of the fetus” as equal to or above those of women. In a very real way, this decision is a big step towards bringing into being the kind of Bible-inspired future Brownback and Napoli are advocating.
What About What the Bible Says?
The Bible (and the Koran, the Torah, and other major religious works) present creation myths that reflect both people’s ignorance at the time of how humans evolved, and the interests of a rising exploitive class that embedded patriarchy (the domination of women and the family by men) into the structures and culture of society. In other words, what the Bible says is reactionary and oppressive, and it’s not true. The moral code in the Bible (and other major religious texts) reflects (and enforces) the way that society was organized at the time, with widespread slavery and extreme oppression of women.
The Bible blames women for the “fall of man,” claiming Eve lured Adam into biting the forbidden fruit and thus getting cast out of the mythical Garden of Eden. As punishment for this alleged wickedness, “god” decides to make child-birth excruciatingly painful and to insist that a woman’s “husband…will rule over her." (Genesis 3:16) Later, in 1 Timothy 2:14-15 the Bible explains the way for a woman to be redeemed for having committed the original sin is “through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.” In this way, the Bible insists that women’s particularly sinful nature necessitates their tight domination by men and enshrines child-bearing as the most essential and god-ordained role for women. Flowing from this, anything a woman does to control her own body, her own sexuality, or her own reproduction is a violation of god’s will.
On the other hand, all kinds of things done by men--including brutal and violent things--to control the lives, sexuality, and reproduction of women are not only upheld but insisted on in the Bible. (See Numbers 31:7-18 or Deuteronomy 20:10-14, for instance, for examples of rape being commanded as a tool of war.)
This view of women is at the core of the anti-abortion movement and this is why, for all their many faces and all their shifting angles of attack, the movement to end abortion has increasingly brought people like Brownback and Napoli into the mainstream.
Two Fundamentally Opposed Views on Women
There is absolutely no reason to seek any kind of compromise with anti-abortion forces or to accommodate in any way with their exaltation of traditional values. Instead, what is needed is an uncompromising and unapologetic repudiation and rejection of this framework
Either we will live in a society centered on the idea, and corresponding laws, that women’s fundamental role is that of breeders of children and the property of men, together with all the attendant brutality, degradation, shame and rape--OR--we will fight to create a society in which women are recognized as full and equal human beings in every regard, free to play a full role in engaging in all realms of life, and revolutionizing society--not being “mommies first.” This kind of society requires that women have complete control over their own reproduction and lays the basis for putting an end to the oppression of women, including the epidemic of rape.
Having children, when it is planned and wanted, can bring a lot of joy. But being forced, pressured or shamed into having a child is a form of forcible control over a woman’s body and life that is no less oppressive than rape.
In today’s situation, it is not enough to profess opposition to the most extreme wing of the anti-abortion movement. One must go on the political, ideological and practical offensive against the whole package of biblical-literalist and traditional values--together with waging an uncompromising struggle for abortion and birth control on demand.
And a whole different, liberating vision of a society where the chains that bind women are shattered, where women and men relate with equality and mutual respect, and where together we set out to put an end to all forms of injustice and exploitation must be brought forward and fought for.
Revolution #94, July 1, 2007
This ad was published in the New York Times, Friday, June 22, 2007
Revolution #94, July 1, 2007
20 Months After Katrina...
“Tonight I also offer this pledge of the American people: we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again.”
George W. Bush
“Our people are dying, because they can’t come home.”
Sharon Jasper, June 6, 2007, former resident of the St. Bernard Development
On January 31, 2007, the New Orleans Police Department’s SWAT Team raided the New Day Community Center located in the St. Bernard Development, a housing project the city shut down after Hurricane Katrina. Kicking in doors and breaking through barriers, the heavily armed police arrested people inside.
For over a year, people had been fighting to reopen St. Bernard, one of the largest housing projects in New Orleans. This was part of a fight to repair and reopen public housing throughout the city. There were demonstrations, often in the face of New Orleans and Housing Authority police. Former St. Bernard residents, now living in Houston or other far-off locations, somehow made it back to their hometown to demonstrate.
Before Hurricane Katrina, there were families living in almost 5,000 public housing units in New Orleans. But rather than work to reopen pubic housing, the federal government and the Housing Authority of New Orleans have been steadily moving to demolish St. Bernard, C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, and Lafitte, the largest projects in the city. A few weeks after the raid on the New Day Community Center, the City and the Housing Authority of New Orleans tore down the remaining panels and beams of Resurrection City—an encampment next to St. Bernard that had become a center and symbol of resistance to the government trying to prevent people from returning and rebuilding their lives.
New Orleans: An Exposed Wound
Almost two years after Katrina, much of New Orleans remains a wasteland. After the flood, poor and Black people were packed into the Superdome, living in their own feces, without food or water, in a scene that evoked the slave ships that brought African-American people to this country and that reminded people how fundamentally unchanged things are for Black people. As people all over the world watched in horror, while people died, Bush and his cohorts did nothing. And finally, when he did something, it was to put his arm around Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Brown, the official in charge, and uttered his famous endorsement, “Good job Brownie.”
Since Hurricane Katrina tracked its course across the Gulf and drew a bead on New Orleans, government agencies, starting at the top of the Bush administration, have clearly decided not to muster every resource available to help the city and its people. Rather, they have worked to control, suppress, and degrade the masses of people, especially Black people, in New Orleans.
For decades, even centuries, New Orleans has given rise to rich cultural expressions that have touched the hearts of people throughout the world. It is an historic city where a legacy of deep oppression of first African and then African American people—and the resistance to that oppression, dating back to the days of enslavement—have been a big part of shaping the consciousness and culture of the people who lived there. Ties of community, neighborhood, and history run deep in New Orleans. Now the people of those neighborhoods—Treme, Gentilly, New Orleans East, Uptown, 7th Ward, the world-famous Lower 9th Ward, and many others—have been scattered throughout the country.
Of this human tragedy, Bush’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson said: "New Orleans is not going to be as Black as it was for a long time, if ever again." Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker put it more baldly: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did."
Approximately one million people were forced to flee New Orleans and southern Louisiana by Katrina, many of them driven to cities such as Houston, Dallas, and Jackson Mississippi. The federal government estimates that now 150,000 people displaced from New Orleans live just in Houston. Mayor Nagin and other political leaders claim that people are able to come back, and will be welcomed back. People want to come back. But the whole system is working to make it impossible for them to return to their homes. As of March 2007, the population of New Orleans was about 225,000—less than half what it was before Katrina.
Evacuation, Then Neglect
During the evacuation of New Orleans, countless families were torn apart, with different people sent to shelters in far-flung parts of the country, usually with little or no sense of where their loved ones were, or even if they were alive. Many people couldn’t help but think about how slave families were torn apart when family members were sold to other plantations. People spent months exhausting themselves and their resources simply trying to reunite.
Two years after Katrina, a system that can ship hundreds of thousands of troops to Iraq in weeks hasn’t been able to rebuild homes for people in New Orleans. What little housing remains or has been fixed up is unaffordable. Many of those who have struggled to return to the Gulf Coast are not able to live in New Orleans because of skyrocketing rental prices, which went up as much as 300%.
Twelve thousand households from New Orleans now live in trailer parks operated by FEMA, overwhelmingly in isolated rural areas. The trailers are often old and run down, sometimes near dump sites, and almost always far from bus routes to urban areas where there may be at least the hope of getting a job and going to school. Most of the people now living in FEMA trailers had been renting homes in New Orleans—which means they couldn't even receive the pittance of rebuilding assistance which has been promised to some home owners.
Local and county governments in places like Pascagoula, Mississippi, St. Bernard Parish, St. John the Baptist Parish, and St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana have passed laws and ordinances that either block the construction of the trailer parks or set deadlines on when they must be shut down. To this system, people driven from their homes are just a drain on local government resources. Many people forced to live in them are continually shunted around from one park to another, their kids forced to go to several schools in a single year, the parents never able to get on their feet and get a job.
A typical example of this occurred in March when FEMA agents descended on a park near Hammond, Louisiana. With absolutely no warning, they told everyone they had 48 hours to pack up and go. FEMA agents wouldn’t tell people where they were being sent. One man told the Leesville Daily Leader, “It was like shock and awe. We called it Hurricane FEMA.” A woman who was swept up and put into a different park along with her two kids said, “They took us from bad to worse. But when you have no other place to go, you have no choice.”
Even with the huge population loss suffered by New Orleans and Louisiana, the amount of uninsured people in the state has risen to over 1.2 million, according to Dr. Michael Ellis, a former president of the Louisiana State Medical Society. Charity Hospital, the oldest public hospital in the country, has been shut down since Katrina, and earlier this year Governor Blanco announced it would never reopen.
Countless people, including many thousands of children, have suffered emotionally and psychologically from the traumas of seeing bodies floating down the streets, and many witnessed their relatives die agonizing deaths. But there are few if any mental health services for people.
The school system is being systematically dismantled and privatized. Before Katrina, the New Orleans Parish school district operated 117 schools and had 78,000 students. In the fall of 2006 there were only 36,000 students in schools operated by the school district. Thirty-one of the 58 schools opened since the storm are privately run charter schools, and the rest are run by the newly created “Recovery School District,” a state of Louisiana entity intended to direct and control “under performing” New Orleans schools.
Criminalizing the People—And Treating Them as Subhuman
“When I watched the scenes of white cops confronting at gunpoint groups of mostly black residents, I flashed back to startlingly similar scenes of apartheid South Africa, where I grew up and went to school.”
From “The Storm,” by Ivor van Heerden, Deputy Director of the LSU Hurricane Center
From the very first moments after the floods swept through the city down to today, systematic and brutal repression against the people has been justified by the authorities and the media portraying New Orleans as a city in the grip of endless violence and infested by criminals and thugs.
Just two days after the flooding began, in the River Center of Baton Rouge, an early evacuation center, dozens of people expressed their anger and bitterness to a Revolution reporter at the stories then beginning to blare through the media that murderers and rapists were on the loose in the city, and that people were shooting at those who were trying to rescue them, and burning the city down. They told how heavily armed military caravans were going through the desperate city, driving by people literally fighting for their lives, ignoring and often mocking them.
Brigadier General Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, said at that time, “This place is going to look like Little Somalia, we’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.”
An incident on a bridge over the 17th St. Canal on September 4, 2005 concentrates what the police and military were doing in those early, desperate days. Several people were shot and killed by police, and their deaths were openly celebrated by New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass and other cops. The New Orleans Times Picayune reported that “a cheer erupted among commanders who were huddled away at ‘headquarters,’ the valet parking apron at Harrah’s Casino. When asked what the celebration was about, one captain answered, ‘We got six of them. None of our guys hurt.’”
In December 2006, a man now living in Dallas came forward to testify about what he had seen from the vantage point of a nearby rooftop. He said a van load of unmarked, un-uniformed police shot at two unarmed brothers, Lance and Ronald Madison, who were trying to cross the bridge and at another group of people also trying to get across. Ronald Madison died from seven shots in the back. Susan Bartholomew’s arm was severed from a shot gun blast. James Brissette died from multiple gun shot wounds. Nineteen-year-old Jose Holmes was shot repeatedly, including at point blank range when he lay on the bridge bleeding.
New Orleans was a poor city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country before Katrina. Now, with the situation much worse, how can anyone be shocked that some people have been driven to desperate means to survive? But who is to blame? Who neglected the levies? Who moved the jobs? Who abandoned the housing? Who shut down the schools? The same system that now paints the victims of all this as thugs and criminals.
Restoring the Tourist Industry
During a period of intense crisis in the lives of thousands and thousands of people, when much of the city remained without power or drinkable water, when schools and hospitals remained closed, the government poured millions into protecting some property.
According to a report in the Daily Reveille of Louisiana State University, 185 million dollars, 116 million of which was paid by FEMA, was spent on restoring the New Orleans Superdome alone while much of the city still lay in ruins.
A lot of money and attention has gone into multi-billion-dollar tourist industry areas like the French Quarter and the business district—for example, 60 million into restoring the Morial Convention Center, 37 million into a new parking garage for luxury cruise boats leaving the Port of New Orleans. New Orleans was once the center of the slave trade in the South, boasting over two dozen slave auction houses. Today, vacation rentals in the French Quarter blatantly advertise rooms in the “slave quarters” of their establishments!
Earlier this year, J. Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “It’s almost a tale of two cities. We have some outlying post-World War 2 neighborhoods that suffered damage that is incomprehensible. But the original city areas that the tourists come to—the French Quarter, the Garden District and the Arts District—are not only intact, but look better than they did before the storm.”
It Doesn’t Have to Be This Kind of a World
While the government turned its back on the people, ordinary people were heroes. In the days, weeks, and months after Katrina, people all over the world sought ways to help. Entertainers raised money. People took in strangers. Grade schoolers around the country took up collections and sent money to New Orleans. People plunged into dangerous waters to rescue people. People broke into abandoned stores to get food, clothing and water to share so they could survive when the government didn’t give a damn about their survival. College students gave up Spring break to help clean up schools and homes.
And yet, in the richest country in the world, everything about the way the system “works,” worked against all that. One of those who went down to New Orleans after Katrina to help clean up schools and homes, wrote in the pages of this paper: “Living in the 9th Ward of New Orleans at the Common Ground volunteer center for five days was profoundly different than anything I've known. Third world conditions. War zone like destruction. Blocks and blocks of homes in ruins. From the 9th ward to upscale homes, the French Quarter to the projects. Everything is at a standstill. The government isn't doing anything and each attempt to rebuild becomes a battle.” (Thoughts on New Orleans: Seeds of a Radically Different Future, Revolution #43, by Alice Woodward).
And reflecting on her experiences, of working together with people from all around the country, from all walks of life and all kinds of perspectives, and also how the government was useless and worse, she wrote: “There in New Orleans was the seeds of a radically different future, which cannot truly come to fruition without a revolution and a radically different kind of state power. Imagine a state that would mobilize the tens of thousands of people who were angered and saddened by the hurricane and want to help. Instead of a state that murders, represses, and neglects people when disaster hits. Imagine a state that unleashes people to meet the basic needs of society without exploitation and oppression. Imagine people coming together and creating a spirit and a culture around that. Not unlike the way in which the people have managed to apply their creativity and cultivate an atmosphere down here, around struggling to rebuild the city, and help the masses of people who have been affected.”
Revolution #94, July 1, 2007
Workshop at United States Social Forum:
An exciting workshop, “Revolutionary Journalism: Truth in a Time of Lies and Censorship,” will be presented at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta on June 28 by Revolution newspaper. This workshop will be a chance to meet, hear from, and talk with a panel of extraordinary journalists from Revolution newspaper. Find out what it is like to spend your life writing about the struggles, events, and lives of people around the world from a uniquely communist perspective and a relentless pursuit of the truth. These journalists have traveled the world to bring back stories from and voices of the oppressed people. This panel has covered many of the struggles and events that have shaped the global political map over the last two decades.
An exciting workshop, “Revolutionary Journalism: Truth in a Time of Lies and Censorship,” will be presented at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta on June 28 by Revolution newspaper. This workshop will be a chance to meet, hear from, and talk with a panel of extraordinary journalists from Revolution newspaper. Find out what it is like to spend your life writing about the struggles, events, and lives of people around the world from a uniquely communist perspective and a relentless pursuit of the truth. These journalists have traveled the world to bring back stories from and voices of the oppressed people. This panel has covered many of the struggles and events that have shaped the global political map over the last two decades.
Li Onesto was the first foreign journalist to travel deep into the war zones in Nepal and tell the story behind the launching of the people’s war. Li spent months in the territories controlled by the Maoists, interviewing guerilla fighters and villagers living in liberated areas. Li is also a photojournalist and documented this experience in a series of extraordinarily beautiful and powerful photos, which have been exhibited to wide acclaim. She is the author of the book Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal, and her writing has been translated into many languages around the world. Li has written extensively about post-Katrina New Orleans and produced a gripping photo essay on the destruction of the city and the abandonment of the people there by the government. Photos from that photo-essay, Still Winter in New Orleans, will be on display at the workshop. Li writes regularly on film, books, and music.
Michael Slate is the host of the popular KPFK weekly radio show “Beneath the Surface.” In 2005, he reported from the tsunami-struck coast of Sri Lanka. In the 1980s, Slate covered the uprisings in South Africa, living with revolutionary youth in the townships and squatter camps and talking with the youth whose fight and dreams set the world on fire. Slate traveled extensively through the rural areas, where he interviewed peasants and farm workers whose voices and stories are never heard. The late South African journalist Donald Woods described Slate’s series on South Africa—“War Stories”—as “a monumental feat of reportage from the world’s hottest cauldron of contention.” In 1992 Slate went to Los Angeles to cover the LA Rebellion and spent the next six months walking through the streets and projects of Watts and South Central LA engaged in intimate conversations with those who made the rebellion and those deeply impacted by it. This work was published in Revolution as a 13-part series, “Shockwaves.” In 1994 Slate spent four months hiking through the jungles and up the mountains of Chiapas to bring back the story of the Chiapas rebellion in a series titled “Campesinos with Guns.”
Luciente Zamora became inspired to work as a revolutionary journalist while in her last year of high school when she helped cover the massive high school walkouts in protest of the anti-immigrant law in California, Proposition 187. In 2002 Luciente took off to Mexico to tell the story of the people in Atenco, a small town outside Mexico City, whose struggle rocked the continent. She published a series in Revolution, “Reporter’s Notebook from Atenco,” which included the powerful portrayal of Mexican women in the struggle, “Real Women Have Machetes.” In 2003 Luciente was part of a team that traveled to Cancun to cover the protests against the WTO. And more recently, in late 2006, Luciente provided on-site coverage of the Oaxacan rebellion. Her work was published in Revolution as well as in Noticias de Oaxaca, the most widely read newspaper in Oaxaca. Her coverage included the piece “The Changing Landscape of Mixteca. ”
Revolution #94, July 1, 2007
In issue #92, Revolution reported that the immigration bill that was being considered in the Senate hit a major roadblock when its backers failed to close off debate and move to a final vote. It was unclear at the time whether the bill had been stopped for good. (See “Senate Immigration Bill: The Clash in the Halls of Power…and the Real Interests of the People” in issue #92, online at revcom.us.)
Since then, George Bush and the Senate backers of the bill have been pushing hard to “revive” the bill. Immediately after coming back from his European trip (which included attending the G8 summit in Germany of top imperialist powers), Bush met with Republican senators to “lobby” for the bill. Two days later, Senate leaders announced that the bill would come up for consideration again soon.
The Bush White House and the bill’s backers announced a number of changes in the bill that make it even more clear, as we analyzed in our article last issue, that there is nothing good in this bill for the people. A key change is the promise of immediate authorization of $4.4 billion for “border security”—in other words, for increased militarization of the border with more walls, surveillance equipment, armed agents and troops, etc. Read this article at revcom.us.
In the latest outrageous attack on academic freedom, political scientist Norman Finkelstein of DePaul University has been denied tenure. On Friday, June 8, University President Dennis Holtschneider announced that he would uphold the university's tenure and promotion board's ruling against tenure for Finkelstein, even though Finkelstein's department and a college-level personnel committee both voted in favor of tenure.
Finkelstein is an internationally regarded scholar and popular teacher whose criticism of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, and of its supporters in this country, has made him a constant target of U.S. and Israeli apologists such as Harvard law professor and torture advocate Alan Dershowitz.
…The Finkelstein case has attracted considerable national attention and academics and others are discussing it. At one point, the article on CNN's website on the tenure denial was its most emailed. More importantly, there has been a strong and determined response in defense of Finkelstein and academic freedom. Read this article at revcom.us.
The title of this special supplement of Revolution — WARNING: The Nazification of the American University— is not chosen lightly. A deeply intertwined agenda of right-wing political forces and Christian fascists, which finds concentrated expression at this time in the Bush regime, is working to remold the institutions of higher learning and turn them into active partners of empire, repression, and theocracy (a significant degree of rule by religion).
The scope and scale of this wide-ranging and accelerating attack on dissent and critical thinking in the universities is not widely known or understood. Nor is the vision of society and of the university held by those engineering it. But it is already taking a heavy toll, and moving forward with dangerous determination. Read this special supplement at revcom.us.
Stay tuned for news of Revolution's $500,000 fund drive, coming in July!
Revolution #94, July 1, 2007
From A World To Win News Service
The following is from the A World to Win News Service (April 16, 2007):
This article by Shahrzad Mojab is taken from issue no. 16 of Eight March, the magazine of the Eight March Organisation of Iranian and Afghanistan Women. It is based on a speech she gave in Stockholm, Sweden, June 21, 2006 regarding her research into NGOs in some Middle Eastern countries and in particular Iraqi Kurdistan. We have translated only the second part of a two-part article. The explanations in parentheses are ours. Mojab is a researcher, author and activist on women’s issues. She is currently the director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute and an Associate Professor in the Department of Adult Education and Psychology at University of Toronto, Canada.
I travelled to the Kurdish area of Iraq to study and observe women’s activities there at close range for the first time in 2000. Then last summer I travelled to this region again to visit the non-governmental organizations of Iraq. When I arrived and came across the activities of Kurdish women, it was a very familiar environment for me, since I had done thorough research on Kurdish women in the recent decades, and also due to my familiarity with the NGO activities of Kurdish women in Turkey. In the Sulaymaniyah region of Iraqi Kurdistan I investigated eight women’s NGOs in detail.
Before summing up my studies and research, I would like to point out the achievements of these NGOs. I think that those women who work in these NGOs are very courageous and fearless. They work in very difficult conditions and take very dangerous risks. So any small achievement is very important and I would not say that these organizations are completely useless. But despite their importance we should not avoid criticizing them, because we want them to advance, and also because we want the situation for women in the region and in particular in Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish Kurdistan to improve.
I want to talk particularly about the nature of these kinds of NGOs. I would say that they are active around civil services and the aid they provide is more of an individual character. In fact these NGOs are shouldering the kind of services that governments should be providing for their citizens.
But these all are the appearance of the issue; a more thorough examination will reveal greater complexity. At present most of these organizations work toward a specific stated goal. For example, they seek to fight violence against women. But this fight takes place in very limited forms and does not achieve the desired results. Because what they mean by this violence is limited to the most brutal forms carried out against women by the patriarchal, feudal and tribal system and in particular honour killings, and because the kind of solution they present to fight that violence, such as finding or building shelters for the women involved, and emphasising mainly that, actually contributes to directing this struggle away from its main targets.
These organisations carry out very short-term and limited projects in areas such as literacy. They make an effort to establish a kind of small and limited household economy (women working in their homes), such as handicrafts and sewing, in order to obtain some limited income for the women. They also conduct programs to aid refugees who have moved from other parts of Kurdistan, and to support Anfal widows (the estimated 6,000-7,000 women widowed during Saddam’s campaign against the Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s). Also they carry out short and limited educational courses--in the form of limited political training--with the aim of enabling women to manage a service-provider organization, and not with the aim of launching a social movement. However some NGOs have published papers on major women’s issues, reflecting women-related issues that are discussed in the official news and also interviewed authors, experts on women’s issues, poets and researchers.
In terms of organizational form, it can briefly be said that these organizations are controlled and run in the same way any classical administrative office is run or controlled. One person is responsible for the organization, another person is the secretary and others take the different jobs available to that organization. The boards of directors responsible for oversight consist of well-known personalities of the town or city, who usually belong to one of the two main Kurdish parties (the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, and the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, KDP, which together run the U.S.-established government in Iraqi Kurdistan and play a fundamental role in the U.S.-backed alliance governing occupied Iraq). These connections facilitate access to more financial aid.
These NGOs claim and emphasize that they are politically independent. When I examined the relationships between them and the two parties more carefully, I noted that by independence they mean not relying organizationally or financially on any particular political party. But as was mentioned earlier, the influence of the various political parties through representatives on the executive boards of these NGOs, family ties between board members and important party members, and the special relations often established between such people, is what tends to give these NGOs access to the resources they need. Therefore it is necessary to consider more carefully what they mean by the term “independent.”
Another point I would like to raise is related to the dominant ideology in the U.S. and the importance the American government gives to these NGOs as a means for the promotion of this ideology. According to this ideology, the free market economy is equivalent to civil society and that is equivalent to democracy. According to a report from UNIFEM (the United Nations women’s organisation), there were 175,000 NGOs in the Arab world in 1995. After the occupation of Iraq in 2003, that number increased to 225,000. The report also points out that despite the varying political environment in different regions of the Arab world, and despite different political systems, NGOs in that region have not been able to play an influential and constructive role in determining the future of those countries or in their economic and political reconstruction. The existing NGOs in Iraqi Kurdistan are no exception to this general rule. We cannot claim that the women’s NGOs in Iraqi Kurdistan are able to play a fundamental role in the political environment there.
One of my conclusions is that these organizations lack a feminist consciousness. By feminism I mean science, knowledge, theory and social movement. The NGOs activities are more inclined to provide aid on the level of civil services to individuals, and they do not take as their political and economic target the patriarchal, feudal and tribal, nationalist and religious capitalist system of Iraqi Kurdistan. At best they are demanding a series of legal reforms and even that in limited forms. Regarding change and development in Iraqi Kurdistan, available documents show that since 1992 (when the U.S. effectively set up the PUK-KDP government there), the only legal reform carried out concerns honor killing. Even that very limited legal reform was due to increasing pressure from Kurdish women inside and outside the region, and also international pressure, in the face of honor killings committed outside the region. (For instance, the notorious case of a young Kurdish woman killed by her father and brother in Sweden.) These officially authorized reforms have not influenced the situation, since there is neither the executive power nor the political will to implement the law.
In other words, at best these organizations will promote the liberal feminism favoring a series of officially authorized reforms, and even these have been very limited so far.
The second problem concerning the NGOs is their organizational structure. If we examine them thoroughly, we see that these organizations are a mixture of classic charity organizations and classic administration offices with all the bureaucratic elements of governmental offices. So however they may deny it, this is the reality of their relations and hierarchy, their formation and management. All the NGOs, even the progressive ones in the Western world, share this same form of hierarchy to some extent… In fact, these NGOs have become the basis for an intellectual and professional section of Kurdish women to improve their social position and financial situation.
Another problem is the kind of programmes that these organizations put forward. In all cases the programs are short-term and are carried out project by project, and not part of a long-term all-around effort towards eliminating patriarchy. In fact, these programs tend to simply provide social services in the form of short-term projects. In feminist literature, it is said that the leaders of the women’s NGOs have become “femeaucrats” (like bureaucrat). The women who work in the framework of these bureaucratic relations and the organizations themselves do not have a feminist outlook, and as result lack any perspective of contributing to the fight against patriarchy and male domination.
At the same time the same phenomena that have emerged in other parts of the Middle East, from Palestine to Jordan, Turkey and Syria, can be seen here… For example, when it is asked “What are your goals?”, they answer “gender mainstreaming” or “women’s empowerment.” It is worth mentioning that there are thousands of “women’s empowerment” schemes all over the Middle East that include literacy promotion and small-scale economic projects like the production and selling of handicraft items. This setting up of workshops for the production of these goods for export is a particularly common example of what is meant by “women’s empowerment.” When I carefully examined this phenomenon in Iraqi Kurdistan, I found that many women are fed up with these workshops and refer to them as unworkable and useless.
I was in Iraqi Kurdistan at the time when the draft constitution was written (under U.S. supervision), and according to the NGO women, they complained that they were kept especially busy in certain workshops. When I asked why, they replied that the USAID (the American government agency responsible for non-military foreign “aid”) had handed 10,000 U.S. dollars in cash to some of these organizations to produce and distribute advertising in favor of the new constitution and get people to vote to approve it in the referendum. These women also complained that no one wanted to listen to what they had to say concerning results of the meetings to discuss the constitution and the referendum they held with people in the villages and various towns and cities. They were also unhappy that Islam had been made the basis of the constitution, and feared that as a consequence they could be robbed of their social involvement.
In short, the circumstances of the NGOs in today’s Iraqi Kurdistan are the same as are dominant in other regions of the world, including Asia, Africa and Latin America. All of them have been engaged in three processes:
1) The bureaucratization of the women’s movement.
2) The professionalization of the women’s movement, i.e. the provision of civil services for women by another section of women, who take up this activity as their profession, with the corresponding “professional” skills and methods.
3) The institutionalization of the women’s movement, i.e. turning the women’s movement into a private and petty institution instead of a social movement.
Sara Roy, who has worked on Palestinian questions, raises a point on NGOs that can be extended to Iraqi Kurdistan. She says that NGOs choose a social problem and then compete with each other over whose issue is most important. In effect, what they are trying to do is pour water on the particular social problem. That is why I say that NGOs have no established program to struggle against patriarchy. They take some of the social phenomena such as honor killings and the circumcision of women as their chosen acute social problem and then try to organize some projects on these issues to pour water on the fire of religious and feudal patriarchy. However, these fires will not die out so easily.
In order to go deeper into the discussion, I will refer to new research by Sabina Lang on NGOs in Germany. Lang says that the existence of numerous women’s organizations does not at all mean building a feminist platform, neither at the basic level in society nor at a national level. While the activities of these organisations may improve the life of individual women, they remain silent--and can only remain silent--about the violence of patriarchy as a whole. Thus the individual decisions of a small group of professionalized women replace a powerful women’s movement. These observations may be about Germany, but Lang says that this is an international phenomenon today.
Haifa Zangana, who has done some of the best research on NGOs in Iraq and in particular women’s NGOs, writes that as opposed to the male chauvinist violence of U.S. military attacks and the war in Iraq, which she calls hardware, the NGOs and in particular the women’s NGOs have been acting as social software. She says this software, which is also destroying the entire social structure of the society, can be considered another kind of violence against women. There has not been much discussion about this. But in my study of the impact of the war on women, I have concentrated on this aspect. I have not concentrated solely on the military aspect and how women have been the victims of militarism and the war, but more on the consequences of the war and violence, which have more impact on women…
The last point I want to raise is that in the last three decades, U.S. imperialism, in order to counter revolution in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the former Soviet bloc countries, has resorted to NGOs in an attempt to replace social movements--such as those of student, women, workers, peasants and youth--by developing and extending these NGOs, not only to control these movements but even to prevent them from taking shape in the first place. In fact when the top officials of the Bush regime and the imperialist financial and banking institutions and United Nations emphasize civil society, by which they mean a collection of NGOs, they have two aims: On the one hand to crush social movements which have an anti-imperialist and anti-reactionary character, and on the other to establish a social and political base for advancing their ideological goals in these societies. This last point is very important.
How does this happen? I can give an example of how this is happening in Kurdistan. After the overthrow of Saddam, the Bush regime invited Iraqi women, including Arab and Kurdish women, to the U.S. for “Democracy Training.” One of the institutions that provide “Democracy Training” is the American Enterprise Institute, an extremely conservative, anti-woman, anti-feminist and racist organization (in fact, the Bush neo-cons' current main think tank). The U.S. State Department allocated $10 million for controlling the women’s movement in Iraq. This money was given to the Independent Women’s Forum, an organization that like the American Enterprise Institute is extremely anti-woman and anti-feminist. This organization opposes the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women--CEDAW, the most important UN document on discrimination against women. If we have a look at this organization’s Web site, we see their 10-point answer to the question of why they consider the Convention “an enemy of women.” For example, they claim that this Convention intends to spread “socialist ideas.” The Independent Women’s Forum is an anti-abortion Christian fundamentalist group in the U.S. One of its leaders is Lynne Cheney, the wife of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. And this is the kind of organization that is training Kurdish and Arab women in Iraq in democracy.
In criticising the NGOs and U.S. imperialist programs, I do not mean to say that every single NGO or every NGO activist is dependent on that imperialist power. There is no doubt that NGOs can turn into a battleground of struggle between social movements, oppressed classes and sections of the people on the one side and regional states and the imperialist powers on the other. Some of them have already turned into such battlegrounds. We have seen, for example in India, NGOs that fight for the rights of 40 million Indian widows. And we see that there are organizations that have won important achievements. But what is important in Kurdistan is how Kurdish nationalism will react to these imperialist programs and to what extent these nationalists will rely on them. It is also important to note that at present many Kurdish nationalists are happy about and satisfied with the U.S.’s attention to them.
In such a situation, the new section of women intellectuals and women professionals can turn into a social base for U.S. imperialist domination, i.e. a force that works as an indirect instrument of the conservative, anti-feminist and anti-woman U.S. in the current situation in Kurdistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. For this reason we should not underestimate these projects and take them lightly. Kurdish women who have been trained in “democracy” by the enemies of democracy, i.e. the U.S. conservatives, have been appointed to high posts in the Iraqi national and Kurdistan governments and have taken the path of the modernization of patriarchy and the male chauvinist system. We must dare to raise these points. I emphasize again that my criticism of NGOs doesn’t mean that they all are taking this path consciously. If we don’t criticise they will not notice what path they have taken and that is my aim.