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- U.S. Supreme Court Fortifies The Savage Inequalities
- Roberts Court Tears Up Foundational Norms in the U.S. Legal System
- Free The Jena 6! Jena, Louisiana: Nooses and White Supremacy, by Alice Woodward
- The Murder of Cheryl Green...And the Real Cause of It, by Joe Veale
Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
On June 28, by a 5-4 majority, the Supreme Court—headed by the Bush-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts—struck down school admission policies in Seattle and Louisville that used students’ race as a factor to maintain diversity in individual schools.
Make no mistake about it: this ruling is a savage attack on the rights of Black people in this country. It signals an official turning back from even a pretense of a commitment to end white supremacy in the public schools, and it virtually removes the ability of people to use the courts to do that. And it will lend strength to every racist and reactionary in this country, sending a signal of approval from the highest court of the land.
What They Are Reversing
To understand why and how this is so, we need to look at the ruling that was overturned in all but name: Brown vs. Board of Education. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown that overtly, openly segregated school districts were illegal. Prior to that point, American schools were, especially but not only in the South, segregated by law and by lynch mobs. Black people were forced by law into substandard and dehumanizing schools. And this kind of state-enforced segregation, the Supreme Court had declared in an earlier 1896 decision, was consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
Brown reversed all this. By a 9-0 margin the Supreme Court now held that attempts to label segregated education as “separate but equal” were fraudulent and violated the Constitution. And it called for the schools to be integrated “with all deliberate speed.” This decision was a result of pressure from below, especially the anger of increasingly urbanized Black people in the cities of the North and South. And it was an attempt to improve the image of the United States around the world at a time when U.S. imperialism was sinking its claws into Asia, Africa, and Latin America and trying to sell itself as the beacon of freedom and democracy.
Brown vs. Board of Education set off massive changes in the United States. People around the country (and around the world) watched as courageous Black students defied howling mobs, racist politicians, and vicious police who sought to bar their entry into schools. But it quickly became clear that simply ending the “separate but equal” standard in education would not bring about any real changes. White supremacy was too deeply embedded in every aspect of American society. So struggle continued to rage, and in some places the courts ordered plans that would take into account and attempt to overcome segregated housing patterns, unequal taxation, etc. Even though these concessions always fell far short of what was needed, they still had significance. The movie Remember the Titans gives a sense both of how fiercely such plans were resisted—and how, once the schools were desegregated, it both opened up opportunities for Black students and also enabled some of the whites to begin to overcome the racist and white supremacist attitudes they had been brought up with.
But all this ran up smack up against just how deeply white supremacy is embedded in society. Despite two decades of courageous struggle, where many gave their lives, only a dent was made in the societal patterns of school segregation. By the 1970s, the system had unleashed the “backlash.” Politicians and media fanned and promoted deep-seated views among white people that their economic and social problems were the fault not of the system and those who control society, but of people even more oppressed and exploited than themselves.
For the past 30 years or so, what gains were made in the struggle to integrate schools, and society as a whole, have been under attack—often in the form of claims that whatever small progress was made in remedying still-overwhelming and pervasive segregation constitutes “reverse discrimination.” But through all that, it was still accepted law that the courts had to attempt to remedy discrimination, segregation, and inequality.
Now, in its June 28 ruling, this Supreme Court has slammed and all but locked the door on any efforts to challenge school segregation through the courts.
Think about it. What does that decision, and the whole history that underlies it, say about the depths of the white supremacy that permeates every fiber of America? And what does it say about the determination of the highest court in the land, and the government more generally, to now fortify all that?
What kind of a statement is this about the kind of future this system has for Black people and other oppressed peoples? What does it say about the kind of society this is, and is becoming more starkly every day?
The Supreme Court Ruling
The Louisville plan overturned by the Supreme Court required each school to have a minimum Black student enrollment of 15 percent and a maximum of 50 percent. In Seattle, the plan used the students’ nationality as a “tie breaker” for admissions into schools where more students applied than there were slots, in order to keep the schools from deviating more than 10 percent from the overall balance of whites and nonwhite students in the school district.
Both the Seattle and Louisville programs had been upheld by lower federal courts. And they are similar to plans in place in school districts around the country—which are now deemed unlawful under the Supreme Court ruling. An attorney for the right-wing Pacific Legal Foundation--which was involved in the suit against the Seattle program and has similar suits against school districts in Los Angeles and Berkeley—crowed that the Court decision could affect 1,000 school districts.
By declaring that school districts now cannot use race as a factor in desegregation plans (when any such plan by definition would have to rely on “racial criteria” to have any meaning), this Supreme Court ruling is slamming the door on even the most modest integration plans.
As for the little ray of hope supposedly held out because one justice, Anthony Kennedy, wrote a separate opinion holding the door open for some even more limited desegregation plans, that was little more than a fig-leaf to cover over the real nature of what is going down. As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote, “Let's not grasp at straws here. While Kennedy kept the court from definitively shutting the door on school integration, it's clear what direction we're headed.”
The Hypocrisy and Cynicism of Invoking the “Colorblind” Standard
In an act of obscene hypocrisy and heartless cynicism, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race" and school desegregation went against a “colorblind” Constitution.
This invocation of “colorblind” is hypocritical because race affects everything in this society, cutting across economic lines, and impacting everything from what happens when your car is pulled over by the police to what kind of medical care you get, to where you can live. If you “don’t take race into account” in assigning schools, kids will go to school where they live. And where they live is very much dependent on their nationality.
Postwar America was profoundly stamped by government policies that subsidized loans for whites to move to the suburbs, and prohibited loans for people to move into integrated communities. An article in the New York Times noted that “The initial leases in Levittown [New York], America's pioneering post-World War II suburb, announced in bold capital letters that its homes were not to be ‘used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.’” (“Study Calls L.I. Most Segregated Suburb,” NYT, 6/5/07).
And these conditions continue today, even if in slightly (slightly!) covered-over forms. In the same New York Times article, commenting on discrimination in housing on Long Island, New York, today, Andrew Beveridge, a Queens College sociologist, told the New York Times that ''It's almost like a township in the South African sense.”
So “colorblind” schools are, in reality, profoundly segregated schools. You can say that white and Black students all must meet the same criteria to get into an elite magnet high school. But when one student comes from an inner city prison-like “school” without computers, a library, a debate club or a cadre of parent activists with time and money to donate materials and volunteer resources, then the application of “equal” criteria reproduces and re-enforces segregation.
African-American constitutional scholar and NYU law professor Derrick Bell told Revolution, “It is quite easy to design policies that discriminate without mentioning race, such as standardized SAT and LSAT tests and legacy admission policies.”
Bell added, “Most black and Latino children reside in large, urban districts where the assignment procedures struck down in the Seattle-Louisville case would have little meaning.” But now even the limited relevance of plans like those of Louisville and Seattle are too much! Again, what do both those things—that such plans would not even apply in most cities because there are so few whites and that even those plans are to be struck down—tell you about where things are headed?
Segregated Schools in a Segregated Society
All kinds of factors have created this situation—both the relentless and destructive impact of the capitalist system, and also the conscious work of those who run that system to promote segregation and white supremacy. The beginning steps to integrate school systems that followed the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education hastened the overall trend of post-WW 2 “white flight” from the cities to the suburbs. In the cities, tax bases dried up and slumlords cashed in.
Meanwhile, global expansion of U.S. capitalism-imperialism moved jobs from the steel mills of Pittsburgh, the auto plants of Detroit, and rubber factories of Akron to Asia and Latin America. Exploiting a desperately unemployed inner-city workforce, in the ’80s the dope trade was allowed to explode and even encouraged by the CIA, as crack cocaine flooded the streets. And in line with all this, the system built jails, not schools, and criminalized a whole generation.
And as the workings of the system laid waste to the communities with concentrations of Black people, white supremacist politicians and ideologues, echoed by Bill Cosby, blamed the shocking and cruel conditions in the inner cities on the victims.
Savage Inequalities in Education
Meanwhile, for millions of African Americans and other oppressed people in the U.S., “school” is a rotting shell of a building with metal detectors, non-working restrooms, and “teaching” that prepares a few of them to do nothing but pass a test.
Jonathan Kozol has dedicated his life to studying, writing about, and fighting what he calls “savage inequalities” in U.S. education. Kozol wrote an article in 2005 called “Overcoming Apartheid” (The Nation, 12/19/05) where he characterized the state of school segregation: “Hypersegregated inner-city schools—in which one finds no more than five or ten white children, at the very most, within a student population of as many as 3,000—are the norm, not the exception, in most northern urban areas today.”
Kozol cited statistics showing that schools are more segregated now than they were in 1968. The four states with the most segregated schools are New York, Michigan, Illinois, and California. In New York, far from the “deep South,” only one Black student in seven goes to a non-segregated school.
And this inequality is amplified inside segregated schools. In another article, “Still Separate, Still Unequal: America's Educational Apartheid,” in Harpers magazine (9/05), Kozol wrote, “The present per-pupil spending level in the New York City schools is $11,700, which may be compared with a per-pupil spending level in excess of $22,000 in the well-to-do suburban district of Manhasset, Long Island.” That huge gap—almost twice is spent on suburban students than on those in New York City—is compounded by the vastly greater needs of inner-city students for resources like computers and books.
What Country Are You Living In?…And What Are You Going to Do About It?
In 2007, if you were going to implement a school desegregation plan to overcome inequality, even on the level of the initial attempts at school desegregation, you would need a much more drastic desegregation plan than those that were implemented in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. You would have to have a plan that addressed the profoundly more intense segregation in society, with its division between the suburbs, exurbs, and gentrified urban enclaves on the one hand, and the teeming inner cities devoid of jobs, social services, and schools on the other.
In the face of this, the Supreme Court—speaking for the powers-that-be—has given an answer. Forget it! There isn’t going to be any desegregation.
On one level, this is a vicious declaration that the lives of millions of Black children have little value, that these children are to be penned in and locked down in schools that, as we’ve documented previously, are like prisons. On another level, it’s an admission that this system has no answer for the oppression of Black people. The same conclusion that so many drew in the ’60s, but then in many cases lost their grip on, now asserts itself with even more force: there is no solution for this short of revolution.
In an editorial on the court’s ruling, the Toledo Blade wrote, “Americans who believe in a diverse society, racial tolerance, and equal opportunity may be wondering what country they live in, now that the U.S. Supreme Court seems to have repudiated half a century of social change.” (July 7, 2007)
Well then… “Americans who believe in a diverse society, racial tolerance, and equal opportunity” now need to wake up and take a deep and searching look at the country they live in and the system they live under. And as they do, they need to do everything they can to stop the current direction of things.
Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
Speaking of the first term of the John Roberts’ Supreme Court, liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said: “It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.”
While Bush’s legislative agenda is stalled, and the quagmire deepens in Iraq, the new Supreme Court--stacked with Bush’s reactionaries--is tearing up long established and fundamental things about how U.S. society has been run.
Abortion (Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood)
In this ruling, the Supreme Court upheld a federal ban on an abortion procedure known as “intact dilation and extraction.” This rare procedure is generally done when something goes very wrong with the pregnancy, or when a doctor decides this is the safest method of abortion for a woman with health risks. For the 2,200 women a year who need it, the availability of this procedure could be literally a life-saver. Taking this crucial option away was very bad in its own right. But the Supreme Court decision went further and, in deciding the case, changed how the law is understood in an ominous way.
Previous Court decisions have emphasized the woman’s right to make decisions concerning her own life and health. Now the Court has put much more emphasis on protecting the life of the fetus. It took out provisions for the woman’s health and provided exceptions only in very extreme cases, to save the pregnant woman’s life.
The ruling also implied that abortion causes women emotional harm, substituting cruel pseudo-science that claims a woman who has an abortion might “come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.” The majority of the highest court in the land accepted this “evidence" from affidavits filed by the so-called “Justice Foundation”--a right-wing Christian group.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described the hostility to women’s right to abortion on the Court as “not concealed” and “alarming.” She pointed out that in the logic of this decision, Congress could pass a law equating abortions with “infanticide” (the killing of a child) and the Court could rule in its favor (See “The Deadly--and Patriarchal--Logic of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision,” Revolution #90, May 27, 2007).
Restricting a Person’s Ability to File For Pay Discrimination (Ledbetter v. Goodyear)
Lilly M. Ledbetter worked for 19 years as a manager at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Gadsden, Ala. For years, Ms. Ledbetter was paid less than men at the same level, and by 1997, as the only female manager, she was earning less than the lowest-paid man in the department. Despite years of obvious pay discrimination the Court held she had no right to sue Goodyear. According to the court a person must sue within 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination. This will make it impossible for many people to sue their employers for discrimination because such issues are often not discovered until years later.
Restricting Free Speech for High School Students (Morse v. Frederick)
Joseph Frederick, a high school student with a sense of humor in Juneau, Alaska, held a banner reading “Bong Hits for Jesus” as the Olympic Torch went by his school on the way to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The court held that the school principal had the right to suspend Frederick. This case gutted a precedent set in the famous case of Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) which held that high school students had a right to free speech and could wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.
The decision declared that part of a school's educational mission is "to educate students about the dangers of illegal drugs and to discourage their use" and based on these concerns, the opinion concluded that the principal's actions were motivated by a "serious and palpable" danger of drug abuse. Although the Court’s ruling justified restricting free speech specifically in relation to advocating drug use, the logic of the court could be used to restrict the right of youth to free speech in other areas deemed part of a school’s mission.
Breaking Down the Separation of Church and State (Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation)
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a non-profit group, sued the government to oppose the Faith-Based Initiative program, since that program violates the first amendment’s prohibition on government support for religious institutions. The Court decided that group didn’t have standing to sue the government. Previously the Court had held in the case of Flast v. Cohen (1968) that the issue of church/state separation was so important that any citizen could sue on this issue. The Court sidestepped directly overturning Flast v. Cohen by arguing that since the Faith-Based Initiative was not a law created by Congress but an Executive Act, Flast didn’t apply. Justices Scalia and Thomas wrote a separate opinion where they argued for overturning the Flast decision, saying that it was “an inkblot on our jurisprudence.”
Death Penalty and Right to Appeal
This case upheld a judge’s decision dismissing a juror in a death penalty case merely because he voiced some ambivalence in how the death penalty is applied. The juror in question said six times under questioning that he believed in the death penalty and would apply it as instructed by the court. But, because he expressed a belief that the death penalty shouldn’t be used “ten times a week,” the judge in the case ruled that the juror was “substantially impaired” and could not serve on the jury. The Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling, which had overruled the judge’s decision. This decision gives prosecutors the ability to pack juries with only those who express enthusiastic support, without any reservations, for application of the death penalty.
In another outrageous ruling, the Court threw out an appeal by a man serving a 15-year-to-life sentence who had been misinformed by the judge in the case that he had 18 days to file an appeal, instead of the 14 days in the federal statute. Even though the man filed his appeal within the time limit set by the judge, the Court ruled that he had no right to challenge anything in his trial. In other words, even when the defendant did exactly what the judge told him to do, the Court said that he had no right to appeal any injustices in his case.
Protecting Business Interests
This Supreme Court term was so pro–big business that Robin Conrad of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce remarked, "It's our best Supreme Court term ever." In Philip Morris v. Williams, the Supreme Court overturned a jury’s award of $97 million in punitive damages to the family of a man who died of lung cancer. In another case, Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, it ruled that corporate “soft-money” advertisements could air close to elections overturning a key provision of a federal campaign finance bill. It overturned a rule dating back to 1911 that prevented companies from conspiring with retailers to set prices. It also made it more difficult for shareholders to sue companies and executives suspected of fraud.
Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
Free The Jena 6!
By Alice Woodward
On a late summer day in 2006, in Jena, Louisiana, a Black high school student asked permission to sit beneath the “white tree” in front of the town’s high school. It was unspoken law that this shady area was for whites only during school breaks. But a student asked, and the vice principal said nothing was stopping them. So Black students sat underneath the tree, challenging the established authority of segregation and racism. The next day, hanging from the tree, were three ropes, in school colors, each tied to make a noose.
The events set in motion by those nooses led to a schoolyard fight. And that fight led to the conviction, on June 28, 2007, of a Black student at Jena High School for charges that can bring up to 22 years in prison. Mychal Bell, a 16-year-old sophomore football star at the time he was arrested, was convicted by an all-white jury, without a single witness being called on his behalf. And five more Black students in Jena still face serious charges stemming from the fight.
* * *
Caseptla Bailey, a Black community leader and mother of one of the Black students, told the London Observer, “To us those nooses meant the KKK, they meant, ‘Niggers, we're going to kill you, we're going to hang you till you die.’" The attack was brushed off as a “youthful stunt.” The three white students responsible, given only three days of in-school suspension.
In response to the incident, several Black students, among them star players on the football team, staged a sit-in under the tree. The principal reacted by bringing in the white district attorney, Reed Walters, and 10 local police officers to an all-school assembly. Marcus Jones, Mychal Bell’s father, described the assembly to Revolution:
"Now remember, with everything that goes on at Jena High School, everybody's separated. The only time when Black and white kids are together is in the classroom and when they playing sports together. During lunch time, Blacks sit on one side, whites sit on the other side of the cafeteria. During canteen time, Blacks sit on one side of the campus, whites sit on the other side of the campus.
“At any activity done in the auditorium—anything—Blacks sit on one side, whites on the other side, okay? The DA tells the principal to call the students in the auditorium. They get in there. The DA tells the Black students, he's looking directly at the Black students—remember, whites on one side, Blacks on the other side—he's looking directly at the Black students. He told them to keep their mouths shut about the boys hanging their nooses up. If he hears anything else about it, he can make their lives go away with the stroke of his pen."
DA Walters concluded that the students should “work it out on their own.” Police officers roamed the halls of the school that week, and tensions simmered throughout the fall semester.
In November, as football season came to a close, the main school building was mysteriously burned to the ground. This traumatic event seemed to bring to the surface the boiling racial tensions in Jena.
On a Friday night, Robert Bailey, a 17-year-old Black student and football player, was invited to a dance at a hall considered to be “white.” When he walked in, without warning he was punched in the face, knocked on the ground and attacked by a group of white youth. Only one of the white youth was arrested—he was ultimately given probation and asked to apologize.
The night after that, a 22-year-old white man, along with two friends, pulled a gun on Bailey and two of his friends at a local gas station. The Black youths wrestled the gun from him to prevent him from using it. They were arrested and charged with theft, and the white man went free.
The following Monday students returned to school. In the midst of a confrontation between a white student, Justin Barker, and a Black student, Robert Bailey—where Bailey was taunted for having been beaten up that weekend—a chaotic fray ensued. Barker was allegedly knocked down, punched, and kicked by a number of Black students. He was taken to the hospital for a few hours and was seen out socializing later that evening.
Six Black students—Robert Bailey Junior, Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Mychal Bell, and a still unidentified minor, allegedly the attackers of Justin Barker—were arrested, charged with attempted second degree manslaughter, and expelled from school.
White Supremacy Then and Now
This did not all happen in the “Red Summer” of 1919 when Jim Crow segregation thrived, and Blacks in major cities faced race riots that raged throughout the country. This did not occur in the 1950s after Brown vs. Board of Education was decided in 1954 and young children faced angry white mobs to make history in desegregating public schools. This did not happen in the summer of 1955 when, in Money, Mississippi, a vibrant Black youth by the name of Emmett Till was brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman. This did not occur in 1960, when on February 1 four Black college students sat in at a “white only” lunch counter, demanding service and launching the civil rights movement to another level. This did not happen during the period 1865 to 1965 during which 3,446 Black people were lynched in the United States.
This is now. When three white students in Jena committed this hate crime, hanging three nooses from the “white tree,” they evoked the ugly history of slavery, segregation, lynching, and police brutality to threaten the lives of Black students at their school. The “white tree” stands in Jena, Louisiana. The Jena 6, as the Black students have come to be called, are in prison and on trial for defending themselves against white supremacist attacks.
The Jena 6 were arrested in December 2006. The outrageously high bail ranged from $70,000-$138,000, leaving most of them stuck in jail for months.
The first student to go to trial this June was Mychal Bell, who waited behind bars, unable to post bail. Like a scene from the Jim Crow South, he was judged by an all-white jury, in a courtroom run by a white judge. Whites sat with Justin Barker and his white lawyer on one side. Blacks sat with defendant Mychal Bell, who was represented by a court-appointed attorney.
The prosecutor called 16 witnesses, mostly white students. The court-appointed defense attorney called none. Accounts of the incident, who was involved, and who did what, vary highly, including whether Mychal Bell was the one who first punched Justin Barker. Barker’s attorney argued that Bell’s tennis shoes on his feet were a “dangerous weapon.” The trial was so outrageous that when a Louisiana TV station polled viewers, 62% said that Mychal Bell was not getting a fair trial.
Mychal Bell was convicted of two felonies: aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery. He faces up to 22 years in prison. The remaining five defendants await their trials.
Standing Up to Racism
Few people in the United States have heard of the case of the Jena 6. But the trial was covered by the French newspaper Le Monde, and the BBC aired a documentary on the case. The London Observer reported on the Jena 6 story.
Family, friends, and supporters of the young men are protesting and struggling to free the Jena 6. The Black community in Jena and people from across Louisiana and Texas have come together to support the Jena 6 and fight the injustice of their trials. People have put their lives on hold, and churches have opened their doors. The Jena 6 and their supporters are defiant and continue to be under attack. Marcus Jones told Revolution about the most recent event: "Thursday night we had an NAACP meeting here at the church. The next day, in the morning, the pastor goes to his church and somebody just clean ran through his church yard, knocked his sign down, ran over back and forth on it with they truck, and just took off, you know. People report it to the police (laughs). What good they gonna do here, I don't know."
The majority of Jena’s estimated 385 Black people live in an area of town known as Ward 10. Many homes there are trailers or wooden shacks. Rubbish lies in the streets. Only two Black families live in the all white middle class suburban area of Jena. An article in the Observer recounts how one of them bought a house: “A teacher from Jena High had enough money to buy his way in. But when he arrived local estate agents refused to show him a ‘white’ property even though several were advertised in the local paper (‘they're all under contract,’ the agents lied). The teacher eventually went to see one white owner and offered him cash. ‘The guy preferred green [dollars] to Black, so I got the property,’ laughed the teacher, ‘but since we moved in three years ago we haven't been invited by a single neighbor.’”
The “white tree” stands in Jena, Louisiana today while entire neighborhoods and precious lives in the 9th ward of New Orleans are left wasting away, even as the more profitable and less Black areas of the city are rebuilt. It stands while a father, a mother, a fiancée, a child, and many friends are still feeling the devastating loss of Sean Bell who was murdered by the NYPD. It stands while the Rutgers University basketball team gets subjected to racist and sexist verbal assault from a national talk show host. While the N word is spouted with rage by a comedian.
In a world such as this, there's nothing left to do but pull this tree up by its roots and get rid of it for good.
Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
Not long ago a young friend, Jamal (not his real name), and I were discussing the murder of 14-year-old Cheryl Green. Cheryl was Black and her alleged killers are two Latino gang members.
She was in the 8th grade. Not long before she was killed, she’d written a poem that began, “I am Black and beautiful. I wonder how I will be living in the future.” She was standing on the sidewalk near her home when she was shot dead because she was Black and an “easy” target that day.
Cheryl was murdered in December 2006 in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles--a small, predominantly proletarian community southwest of Watts.
Harbor Gateway sits next to the L.A. ports and shipyards, which at one time employed a lot of people in this community. People settled here and bought homes. At the same time, though, there were no parks or schools built in the immediate area. City services like street sweepers were infrequent at best, and there weren’t any street lights until the late 1980s.
Big Changes in Harbor Gateway
Harbor Gateway has undergone some significant changes over the last 20 years or so.
From the late ’80s to early ’90s, the U.S. was intensely “downsizing”--making its imperialist economy “leaner and meaner” to better compete on a global scale. It was during this time that the port and shipyard jobs that had anchored people to this neighborhood and were considered “permanent” began to disappear. Many people began experiencing long-term or permanent unemployment. The building of and investments in new homes began to slow down, and then came to a stop. Those who were able or inclined to began moving out of the area.
These changes interacted with other changes in this same time period. There was a big increase in immigrants coming to the U.S. to escape the murderous horror of the U.S.-backed death squads in Central America and the brutal poverty imposed on countries like Mexico by the U.S.
Also during this same general time frame, there were moves from the top levels of the U.S. government to “end welfare as we know it.” This started with Reagan and was brought into full effect with Clinton. The government no longer subsidized a large portion of the rent for public housing residents. In some cases, the rent doubled and tripled. This made people’s situation even more desperate and precarious than before. Many, many people were pushed even deeper into poverty--some ending up homeless.
All of these contradictions have been unfolding, interacting, and clashing against each other in different parts of L.A., including Harbor Gateway, for some time now.
Harbor Gateway almost doubled its population between 1980 and 2000. A poorer section of the proletariat moved in: cashiers, gardeners, health care workers, people with government Section 8 vouchers for subsidized “private” housing, semi-proletarians like street or swap-meet vendors, and others.
The demographics (the racial or national composition) also changed. Harbor Gateway was mainly white and Latino in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of Blacks, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and others living in this area.
People are finding themselves in a new situation--and the dog-eat-dog rules that make this capitalist system what it is force people to compete with each other to survive in a situation of growing poverty.
At one time those who run this system found it profitable and desirable to sustain people at a little higher grade or level of wage slavery in areas like Harbor Gateway. Now these same forces find it a “waste of money and resources” to sustain people at that level because that cramps and undercuts their ability to be competitive against other capitalists in this country and internationally. It’s more profitable to “pull up stakes” and leave areas like Harbor Gateway to rot--and leave the people living there to scramble and fight each other over the deteriorating impoverished conditions they find themselves in.
Lies of the System
Along with these changes, Blacks are told lies about Latinos and Latinos are told lies about Blacks. Everybody is told lies about Asians. Everybody is also told lies about whites, and whites are told lies about everybody else.
The everyday workings of the system, and the lies spread by the rulers, prevent people from seeing that their fundamental interests are in antagonistic conflict with everything this system is about. Instead, people are diverted into competing with each other and into seeing themselves in antagonistic conflict with others.
In addition, the system treats different sections of the people differently—doing some things (like homeowner loans) for this group but not that group, often as official policy. Whatever the rulers do is about strengthening their profit system and keeping those on the bottom in a fucked-up situation—and it makes it very difficult for people to get beyond all the different ways they got to keep us divided.
And when you get caught up in thinking, “I’m going to be the small-time regulator of this neighborhood and put the Blacks in check,”as apparently the killers of Cheryl Green thought…or, from the other side, get caught up thinking, “I’ll run this turf and put the immigrants in check”--then you are being played like a pawn in the game by those who really are regulating things and putting oppressed people here and all over the world in check.
Some people on their own struggle to not be played like that--to not allow the barriers and divisions to hold them down. Like Cheryl Green--she had friends among the Latinos, Samoans, and Blacks living in Harbor Gateway.
Going Up Against—and Getting Beyond—This Stuff
Jamal, who is revolutionary-minded, drew different conclusions from all this than I did. In our discussion, which became very sharp and heated at times, he said Cheryl Green’s murder shows that wherever Black people go these days they will be in adversarial conflict with Latinos and others. He said, “We can’t even go to prison anymore without being pushed up on by Mexicans.”
Jamal still has a lot of the slave mentality mixed up in his thinking. When he argues that Blacks “can’t even go to prison…,” the logic of this will lead him to saying: “What up! We got to stop these Latinos from taking over our prison!” The same logic will lead Latinos to say, “Que paso! We got to stop these Blacks from taking over our prison!”
You’re being played in this way--competing, to the death, for the “right” to victimhood, the “right” to slavery. “I suffered more than you, so I deserve better treatment by the slave master.”
One of the beautiful things about the 1992 L.A. Rebellion was that Latinos and others joined with Blacks, showing the potential for people to get out of the trap of fighting and killing each other--by uniting against the real enemy. Graffiti appeared on the walls in South Central saying, “Bloods, Crips, Mexicans united tonight 4-29-92!”
Charlene Lovett, Cheryl Green’s mom, has been calling for unity and standing against seeking revenge for her daughter’s death. She has been speaking out about how people in Harbor Gateway do get along with each other, and how she and others reach out to people of different nationalities. The mass media gives her message no coverage.
What Jamal said to me reminded me of something another friend, Hector (not his real name), told me some years ago, with some embarrassment. He had got caught up in prison and was squared off with a Black prisoner. They’d pulled out their shanks, ready to fight to the death. Then Mao’s Red Book fell out of one of their pockets--I can’t remember which. They both recognized it because they were both studying it--and this common recognition made them stop and realize that what they were getting ready to do to each other went against their revolutionary interests.
This relates to the debate I had with Jamal--and to the difficulty Hector was having in putting both feet down with proletarian revolution, instead of having one foot dangling in that other stuff. (This is why he was embarrassed telling me the story—because he knew on a certain level that revolution is what the people need.)
In different ways, to different degrees, Jamal and Hector still had some of this kind of thinking that approaches and views revolution within the framework of the capitalist system. A system where people are made to live in cut-throat competition with each other, the goal being to rise to the top where you and “your people” have domination, the power of life and death, over others and can make them work and make profits for you.
We do not need competition for the “rights” to victimhood. We need revolution and we need communism.
The Future We Need
Here’s the deeper truth in all this: All these people--the Jamals and Hectors, the Cheryl Greens, the Charlene Lovetts, the different people in Harbor Gateway, in South Central L.A., in places across the country and around the world--are part of the international proletarian class. On the one hand, the proletariat’s labor activity—picking, processing, packaging, and serving the food we eat; repairing, maintaining, and cleaning the buildings and homes; and so on--makes possible human existence in society and the world today. Even those with no work form part of this class—they have nothing but the ability to sell their labor power, and they are available for the capitalists to exploit when these parasites need more. This is the foundation from which everything comes. On the other hand, this class of people represents the potential for a better, more sensible, revolutionary way of organizing society, where things are anchored around and increasingly geared towards meeting the needs of the people—and where the people themselves increasingly control all spheres of society, and use this power to root out the dog-eat-dog social relations and ways of thinking of this hellish capitalist society.
This is communism. This is revolution. This is the future that the Cheryl Greens of the world dream of, deserve, and demand from us.
Revolution #95, July 15, 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 12th 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.
Attacks on Foundational Things in the History of the U.S.
Along with the whole international dimension of what these imperialists, headed now by the Bush regime, are doing, there is an attack on foundational things in the history of the U.S., with regard to the rule of law and the secular nature of law and government. And it is important to note that the attacks on, and undermining of, these foundational things is causing restlessness and, yes, some movement among people, but this is in contradictory directions. Here we see once again the profound truth of that statement—one of the most important points in the Call of World Can't Wait: "That which you do not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn—or be forced—to accept."
Mao observed that where there is oppression there will be resistance; but this should not be understood in some sort of linear sense. People can capitulate. People can learn or be forced to accept that which they do not resist and mobilize to stop. And you already see this happening. A number of people have commented along these lines:
"I thought that when they showed the pictures of torture at Abu Ghraib, that would be enough—that there would be a mass outpouring of outrage. I thought that when they had the exposure about Fallujah and how the U.S. military basically destroyed that city; I thought when, even after Abu Ghraib, they started openly talking about torture again and legitimizing it; I thought when they began openly talking not only about outlawing abortion, but birth control as well—I thought there would be a mass outpouring."
Well, it isn't going to happen spontaneously. There will be spontaneous outpourings, but the level and the character of massive outpouring of political resistance that is needed—here I'm talking about something short of revolution—this is not going to happen spontaneously. Because that dynamic is at play, where far too many people are learning to accept all this. And an important dimension of this—an important aspect of the problem—is that, when foundational things are brought under attack, this cuts the ground out from under people in terms of resisting. These foundational elements, even as illusory as they are—even with all the illusory elements that they involve—these are the things, or important parts of the things, that people have felt they could stand on, as solid ground from which to engage the world politically, so to speak. And when the ground moves underneath you like that, it's very hard if you're not moving with it—or you're not moving to counter it—it's very hard to find firm ground to stand on. What you could stand on yesterday, you can no longer stand on tomorrow.
As I touched on a minute ago, there are two foundational things about the history of the U.S., and the exercise of bourgeois rule in the form of bourgeois democracy in this country, which are being brought under frontal attack increasingly. One is the undermining of the rule of law. We see this in a very sharp and concentrated way with the torture law, the so-called "Military Commissions Act," not only in its codification of torture, but also in its gutting of habeas corpus and in the powers that it grants to the executive. This is an attack on the historical basis of the bourgeois Constitution and the rule of law in U.S. society. We've gone into this elsewhere and we should continue to go into it more deeply. Here I'm just going to call attention to it.1
This goes along with and interpenetrates, in a very negative "synergy," with the whole Christian fascist attack on the secular foundations of the Constitution and government of the U.S.
Someone said—I think it might have been in the movie Jesus Camp —I haven't seen that movie yet, but I believe someone who has seen it recounted this, where one of these fundamentalist preachers said: India is the most religious country in the world, and Sweden is the most secular country; and we're a nation of Indians being ruled by Swedes. Now, as a matter of fact, one of the things about India is that it probably also has the most Maoists in the world, by the way. [ laughs] It is definitely true that there's too much religiosity there, but describing India as the most "religious" country in the world is not really an accurate and hardly an all-sided characterization. But this statement (about India and Sweden) gets at something nonetheless. And, of course, the significance of this is that these right-wing religious fundamentalists—these Christian fascists, as we very accurately refer to them—want to change the situation so that there is in fact religious rule: law and government based on a literalist reading of the Bible, as interpreted and enforced by religious authorities.
An important thing to keep in mind in regard to this is that, while the U.S. is a very religious country, in the sense that the great majority of people profess some religion, it is not true that this is a religious country in the sense these fundamentalist Christian fascists mean it. They mean, and they insist, that not just the people, in their large majority, are religious but that, from its founding, the government and the laws were based on religion, and in particular on Biblical principles (and, of course, their literalist interpretation of those principles). This is not true. It is—yet another—falsification of history. The United States, in its Constitution, and in the basis for its laws, was and has been all along explicitly secular. That is, the notion of basing the Constitution and laws on religious, and specifically Christian, precepts was expressly and explicitly rejected in the founding of the country. So, again, what is involved here is an attack on another foundational thing about bourgeois society and bourgeois constitutional government in the U.S.—an attack which is being openly and aggressively carried out by the fundamentalist Christian fascist movement. And it is important to keep in mind that this is not just a grouping of isolated fanatics but a powerful force which has connections and influence at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
And then there is the whole way in which the fundamentalist Christian fascist outlook and program interconnects with and serves the grand scale imperial designs of the Bush regime and provides a certain additional element of rationalization for it. I spoke to this in the recent 7 Talks, including "Why We're in the Situation We're in Today… and What to Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need for Revolution" as well as the talk on religion itself ("Communism and Religion: Getting Up and Getting Free—Making Revolution to Change the Real World, Not Relying on 'Things Unseen'"). I am not going to get into this point further here, but I did want to mention a couple of relatively new books that are interesting in this regard: One is The Theocons—Secular America Under Siege by Damon Linker, who used to be involved with the Catholic Christian fascists whom he calls theocons. The other one, interestingly enough—I finally broke down and got this book—is Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg. (Yes, that Michelle Goldberg—the one who attacked us in such an unprincipled way in connection with the original "Not In Our Name" statement2 and the development of a movement of opposition to the juggernaut of the Bush regime in the aftermath of September 11—but there are some insights in this book and it is worth reading.)
These frontal attacks on foundational things about constitutional bourgeois democracy in the U.S., interconnecting with the whole international drive to which I've spoken throughout this talk, are raising a lot of profound questions and unsettling people in a lot of ways. But, again, the effect of this is very contradictory—acutely so. This underscores once more the need to break out of linear thinking—the notion that the more that things people really cherish are brought under attack, the more they will resist. No—it's much more contradictory than that. There is an aspect of truth to that, and that is an aspect of the situation, but there are things pushing in the other direction, which I was speaking to earlier in terms of ground to stand on, and that ground being cut away. And the synthesis people need is not going to come from inside the logic with which they've been proceeding with their beliefs and illusions about these foundational things.
This relates to an important point in the Democracy book ( Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? ), where it speaks to the contradiction between the profession of the imperialists about democracy, on the one hand, and what this amounts to in reality, and how—this is very, very important—at one and the same time this is a continual source of exposure of the system and a constant source of regenerating illusions about the "perfectibility" of this democracy and this system which goes by the name of democracy. So we're going to have to learn even better how to handle correctly that contradiction in a way that moves things and moves people in a positive direction off of that contradiction—in a fundamental sense towards revolution but also, in more immediate terms, towards the kind of massive outpouring of resistance that is urgently needed, involving large and growing numbers of people with a diversity of political and ideological views.
Now, clearly, these attacks on foundational things, which I've been pointing to, are not attacks on the dictatorship of the proletariat—since, unfortunately, that does not exist, anywhere in the world, at this time. No, they are attacks on the form in which historically the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie has been exercised in the U.S., in the form of bourgeois democracy. And if we can't correctly understand and handle the contradictions involved in all this, then we're not going to get where we need to go. And it's going to require a lot of work and a lot of struggle, including some acute struggle with people, in order to, at one and the same time, enable increasing numbers of people to shed their illusions while, at any given time, we will be—and will need to be—uniting with large numbers of people who are acting out of motivations that to a significant degree stem from their illusions. This is a contradiction that it is extremely important to handle well.
What was said on the website of World Can't Wait, right after its October 5th (2006) mobilization, is quite correct and has application in terms of the objectives of that organization as well as in an overall sense: There is still time, but there's not a lot of time. There is still time, but not a lot of time, to race to catch up to where we need to be before the dynamic is one that's very hard to reverse, or to transform into something more favorable. Speaking for our Party (and I am sure that, coming from their own perspective, this is also the stand of many other people, including in World Can't Wait), we are never going to quit, we're never going to give up, as long as we're able to do anything. But the question of where are we going to be fighting from—from what position, with what political and social forces, with what popular consciousness gaining initiative, and so on—that's very acutely posed now. All this will have ramifications and implications in terms of everything, down to the most fundamental things concerning the direction of society and the world; the impact is going to be felt for decades—what's going on right now, and what the outcome of this is.
There are all kinds of things—including the prospect of legitimacy crisis and, yes, even the possibility of revolutionary crisis—that could possibly emerge out of all this, without putting a specific time frame or attempting to identify particular dynamics that could lead to this. And, in sort of a back-handed way, you can actually see the question of legitimacy crisis looming in more profound terms than just talk about elections being rigged and stolen, and so on. From what I have heard, there is actually some talk going on in liberal and progressive circles about how maybe a military coup wouldn't be so bad after all! You know, look to the Wesley Clarks, even the Colin Powells—somebody up there who's got some power, within the power structure itself. Partly, this is because some people are becoming convinced—somewhat through work we, and others, have done but more fundamentally reality is working to convince some people—that these Democrats aren't going to do anything, nothing essential to change the whole direction of things. But if you're still stuck within—if your thinking is still confined within and you haven't yet broken out of—the established and dominant political framework, where do you go next? Revolution? No. At least not immediately. Some of these people think, “Well, then, how about a military coup?!”
Particularly in the middle strata, but not only there, people are looking for some resolution of all this that's going to restore their illusions—and restore what their illusions are based on—without everything getting completely out of hand. And a lot of people in the middle strata—look, let's be honest and confront reality as it is—they fear the Bush regime, they fear upheaval, and they fear the basic masses. Okay, we're being scientists, not emotional people or people who are out for revenge. We have to work our way through those contradictions.
This is the whole point about emancipators of humanity —bringing forward a section of the proletariat, and others taking up the proletarian standpoint, who are not coming at it from a petty standpoint. Yes, it's insulting and maddening, what goes on all the time—including the outlook of a lot of people in the middle strata and what is often their attitude toward the basic masses—but, in a fundamental sense, this is the workings of the system. All this stuff is the workings of this system, and that's what we have to enable people to understand. For that matter, the things the masses are pushed into doing, in which they fuck each other up; the way in which these middle strata look at that, the way they look at the basic masses in general—all that is fundamentally the workings of the system. And we have to get to where we're bringing forward a section of people which is aiming to get totally through and beyond this whole stage of history, to bring about the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist-imperialist rule, by millions and millions of the masses, leading broader sections of the people, to actually sweep this system aside and bring something better into being in a profound sense.
But to really work toward and contribute to that, we have to understand the terrain, the political terrain. We have to understand—this is Lenin’s point in What Is To Be Done? —we have to understand the characteristics of different classes and strata while not looking at this in static, undialectical, linear terms but grasping the contradictory ways in which they respond to things. Without being vulgar materialists, determinists, and pragmatists, and while recognizing that this is not some kind of uniform phenomenon, we can say that the proletarians and other basic masses respond to major social and world events in ways that are significantly different from how, in general, people within the middle strata respond to such events. And, of course, within the middle strata, broadly speaking, there are different kinds of responses. The intellectuals and educated strata generally do tend to react to events differently than the shopkeepers, for example, even though Marx is right about the fundamental unity between them, when he speaks about how the democratic intellectuals do not get further in their thinking than the shopkeepers get in their everyday practical dealings—both remain within what Marx called "the narrow horizon of bourgeois right."
We have to understand all this complexity, if we're going to lead this all where it needs to go. And big things are "up." When you hear about people buzzing, or whispering, about military coups, this is a reflection of the fact that questions of legitimacy crisis are "brewing." Once again, all this will not develop in, and must not be approached in, a linear way. It's going to be much more complex and contradictory, and we have to work and struggle our way through this, dealing with all these different contradictions, and all the different levels of expression of these contradictions, while keeping it all going toward where it needs to go.
This is once again an expression of the "drawn and quartered" point.3 If you think you're just going to go out here and raise a banner and march forward and overcome one obstacle after another with more and more and more people, well then you're going to be in for a big demoralization and disorientation—if you haven't already encountered that many times over. So, to repeat a metaphor I have used before, you have to have a lofty and sweeping vision and big arms to encompass all this—and, through all the acutely contradictory back and forth, twists and turns, and ebbs and flows of it, keep going where it needs to go, and get to where there is ultimately a revolutionary situation, at whatever point that comes. This whole process will perhaps involve situations where legitimacy crises arise that don't develop all the way to a revolutionary situation but get resolved short of that, in one way or another, and then you have to struggle for the best resolution of that in line with your fundamental, overall, and ultimate revolutionary objectives.
These are basic points of methodology, and they are extremely important in terms of everything we engage and everything we wrangle with.
1. See Revolution articles on the Military Commissions Act, online at revcom.us: "The Torture Bill: Compromising Your Way to Fascism" (issue #63); "Facts About the Military Commissions Act (Torture Law)" (#64); "Interview with Bill Goodman, Center for Constitutional Rights—The New Military Commissions Act: ‘It is a dangerous moment for all of us’" (#65). [back]
2. The "Not In Our Name" Statement of Conscience, signed by a large number of prominent people in various fields, as well as thousands of others, was originally published as a paid ad in the New York Times on September 19, 2002. This statement, and the new Statement of Conscience opposing the Bush government's domestic and international agenda, is available online at nion.us. [back]
3. In a number of works, including the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Insight Press, 2005), Bob Avakian speaks to this concept of being--or going to the brink of being--"drawn and quartered," in developing and leading a revolutionary movement and the new socialist society that will be brought into being through revolution. This is linked to the concept of "solid core, with a lot of elasticity," which Bob Avakian puts forward as a basic guiding principle for the revolutionary struggle and for socialist society, and for those who lead in this process. See, for example, in the Observations book, "Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World," pp. 43-64, especially p. 64; and "Intoxicated with the Truth," pp. 68-73, including footnote 2 on p. 68. [back]
Revolution #95, July 15, 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. Parts 3 and 4 examined 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. Part 5 examines how both the 1979 revolution and the U.S. response fueled the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
In December 1977, then-President Jimmy Carter toasted the Shah, calling Iran an “island of stability” in a sea of turmoil. A few weeks later, a small anti-Shah demonstration of religious students took place in Qum. It was violently repressed by the regime’s forces. This wasn’t unusual, but what ensued was. A cycle began, unleashing deep wells of dissatisfaction and anger. The Shah’s repression spurred more protests. When those were repressed, even more protests followed. Within a year of Carter’s toast, a wave of revolution was sweeping Iran. On one day alone more than 10 million people--one of every three Iranians--took to the streets demanding the end of the monarchy. In January 1979, the hated Shah was forced to flee, and in February Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers took power.
Iran’s revolution, the consolidation of an Islamic theocracy, and the actions the U.S. imperialists took in response would have a profound impact. They would help undermine the U.S. grip on the Middle East and fuel the rise of anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism. The revolution and its aftermath turned Iran from a pillar of U.S. dominance to one of its main obstacles in the region. Over these decades, imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism ended up reinforcing each other--even as they clashed.
The U.S.--Dazed & Confused
Iran’s revolution blind-sided the U.S. rulers. Even in August 1978, when the tidal wave of upheaval was about to crest, a CIA report concluded that “Iran is not in a revolutionary or even a ‘pre-revolutionary’ situation.”
In fall 1978, after the Shah’s “bloody Friday” massacre of thousands of demonstrators failed to stem the tide, the imperialists were forced to confront the magnitude of Iran’s upheaval. Yet they remained paralyzed by infighting over how to respond. Some in the U.S. ruling class argued for a last-ditch military coup. Others worried that this would provoke an even more profoundly revolutionary upheaval, and possibly push the masses toward Iran’s secular revolutionary left.
At the time, contention with Soviet imperialism was the U.S.’s chief driving necessity, and many ruling class strategists felt that Khomeini and the clergy in Iran could be a force against the left and the Soviets. They also assumed that the clerics would cede power to their pro-U.S., technocratic allies. One senior U.S. official wrote in February 1979, Khomeini’s movement “is far better organized, enlightened, able to resist communism than its detractors would lead us to believe.”
Neither option was a good one for the U.S. ruling class, and its freedom to impact events in Iran dwindled quickly as the revolution surged. In the end, the Carter administration decided to try to deal with the new Islamic Republic. The U.S. maintained diplomatic relations with Iran, and attempted to build ties with forces in the new government.
Khomeini had long advocated a rule of Islamic "jurists" (scholars and clerics), which would reimpose Islamic ideology and social relations within the confines of Iran’s existing social and economic structures. This represented the interests of sections of Iran’s feudal and bourgeois strata and entailed reconfiguring Iran’s role in the region and its relationship to U.S. imperialism. But it did not entail rupturing from imperialism’s overall domination of Iran, much less uprooting feudalism. Khomeini and his followers viewed their new state as a model for the entire Islamic world. Meanwhile, the U.S.’s huge CIA presence in Iran was focused on the Soviet Union -- one former official told author Robert Dreyfuss that "virtually no one in the Carter administration had any idea of who Khomeini was until it was too late."
The Seizure of the U.S. Embassy
On November 4, 1979, the U.S. received another rude awakening. Islamic students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran with Khomeini’s blessing, took its personnel hostage, and demanded the exiled Shah be returned to face trial.
The triggers for the takeover were, first, the U.S. decision to admit the Shah (then dying of cancer) into the U.S. for medical care. And second, a meeting in Algiers between Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Iran’s Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Foreign Minister, all of whom were allied with Khomeini but were pro-U.S. and basically secular in their orientation.
The Khomeini forces, who organized and led the takeover, seized on popular anger at the Shah and the widespread fear that the U.S. might be conspiring to return him to power as it had in 1953. However, Khomeini and the clerics’ primary objective was to discredit and oust secular forces, consolidate a monopoly of power in their hands, and establish an Islamic theocracy.
The Middle East “Arc of Crisis”
Shortly after the embassy takeover, in December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
The Soviet invasion gave Moscow control of a key buffer state between Iran and Pakistan and put its forces closer to the Persian Gulf. It came in the wake of what one former Reagan official called stepped-up “competition for influence with the United States throughout the Middle East, Indian Ocean, Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula and Southwest Asia regions.” U.S. officials also worried that their client regimes in the Persian Gulf were vulnerable to Iranian-inspired Islamist agitation. In sum, they felt the U.S. was facing an “arc of crisis” stretching from Afghanistan through Iran to Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. Counters--Arming and Organizing Islamic Fundamentalists
The U.S. imperialists launched a multi-dimensioned and aggressive response focused on buttressing pro-U.S. oil sheikdoms in the Gulf and defeating the Soviets’ moves. They were framed by Carter’s January 23, 1980 State of the Union declaration that “Any attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Advisor, called this “Carter Doctrine” a “strategic revolution in America’s global position.” Controlling the Gulf was now as important to the empire as its alliances with Europe and Japan. It was backed by a major expansion of the U.S. military presence in the region.
One key component of this strategy, which would come back to haunt the U.S., was mobilizing Islamic forces against the Soviets, particularly in Afghanistan (something done previously in Algeria, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel). “The theory was, there was an arc of crisis, and so an arc of Islam could be mobilized to contain the Soviets,” one former Carter official explained.
Ironically, this was now taking place after the region’s first Islamist seizure of state power.
In July 1979, some five months before the Soviet invasion, the U.S. had begun a covert campaign to destabilize Afghanistan’s pro-Soviet government by arming and funding the Islamist opposition. The goal, according to Brzezinski, was “to induce a Soviet military intervention.” After the Soviets invaded, Brzezinski wrote Carter: “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.” Over the next decade, the U.S. government funneled more than $3 billion in arms and aid to the Islamic mujahadeen, helping create a global network of Islamist fighters, some of whom would form the core of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda.
Giving the Green Light to Iraq’s 1980 Invasion of Iran
Another major prong of the U.S. counter-attack was punishing Iran in order to force it to release the U.S. embassy personnel and curb its Islamist agitation in the region. The strategy here was to try and put pressure on and contain the Islamic Republic--not overthrow it. Khomeini’s government was brutally clamping down on Iranian leftists, keeping its distance from the Soviet Union, and maintaining the flow of Iranian oil to the West--all of which coincided with key U.S. interests. The U.S.’s overarching concern, as Brzezinski put it, was forging “an anti-Soviet Islamic coalition.”
The U.S. had limited military resources in the region and feared that any major military move against Iran could provoke a U.S.-Soviet confrontation that could slide into nuclear conflagration. During the Iranian revolution and in its immediate aftermath, the U.S. and the Soviets engaged in a series of veiled high-stakes threats backed by military maneuvers and nuclear alerts, as each warned the other to stay out of Iran.
Given these constraints, the U.S. opted to work through Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, whose secular nationalist regime was ideologically and politically threatened by Iran’s Islamic revolution (including because 60 percent of Iraq’s population were Shi’ites who were oppressed under Saddam's rule). In the spring and summer of 1980, the U.S. encouraged an Iraqi attack on Iran (possibly including via a direct meeting between Hussein and either Brzezinski or high-level CIA agents in Jordan). On September 22, 1980 Iraq invaded southwest Iran.
Reagan’s “October Surprise”
The Carter administration viewed Iraq’s invasion as useful to U.S. interests, but when Iraqi forces drove deep into southern Iran it became apparent that Hussein had greater ambitions. So the U.S. declared that it was against “any dismemberment of Iran,” and promised to airlift $300-$500 million worth of arms to Iran if the hostages were released.
Nothing came of this offer because of a secret behind-the-scenes conspiracy between Iran’s clerics and powerful right-wing forces in the U.S.
The U.S. rulers viewed the seizure and holding of the Tehran embassy and 52 of its personnel for 444 days as a global humiliation. The media labeled it “America held hostage,” and establishment commentators complained that the U.S. had been turned into a “pitiful giant,” incapable of imposing its will even on a Third World country. The utter failure of Carter’s April 24, 1980 attempt at a helicopter rescue of the hostages added insult to injury. Ronald Reagan’s backers were deeply frustrated by the constraints on U.S. power generally and felt a Reagan victory in the 1980 presidential election was crucial to strengthening U.S. imperialism’s global dominance and aggressively taking on their Soviet rivals.
These Reagan backers (including many who would be leading neocon hawks in George W. Bush’s administration) feared that if Carter won the hostages’ release he would win re-election. So they worked to make sure this didn’t happen. Over the summer of 1980, Reagan’s top advisors made a secret agreement with the Islamic Republic: if Iran continued to hold the hostages through November’s election and Reagan won, he would lift the economic sanctions imposed by Carter and allow Israel to ship arms to Iran. Former Carter official Gary Sick called it “nothing less than a political coup.”
Iran’s Ayatollahs agreed because they wished to prolong the Embassy crisis and the Iran-Iraq war in order to pose as anti-imperialist fighters, outflank and crush their opponents, and firmly consolidate their theocracy. Reagan did win, and on January 21, 1981, the day he was inaugurated, Iran sent the U.S. embassy personnel home.
Gulf Stalemate, Soviet Defeat, and the Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism
In the short run, this U.S. offensive worked. The Iran-Iraq war dragged on for 8 years with neither side winning a clear victory. The Islamic Republic’s energies were absorbed in the war and domestic political struggles, and the U.S.’s regional clients survived. In Afghanistan, the Soviets were forced to withdraw their forces in 1989, suffering a major defeat which contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the U.S. victory in the “Cold War.”
Yet in many ways, these U.S. measures--indeed even its victory over the Soviets--unleashed new contradictions and sowed the seeds of the enormous difficulties the U.S. is now facing in the Middle East-Central Asian region.
For one, the U.S.-backed proxy wars in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan exacted an enormous toll. Conservative estimates place the death toll in the Iran-Iraq War at 367,000--262,000 Iranians and 105,000 Iraqis. An estimated 700,000 were injured or wounded on both sides, bringing the total casualty figure to over one million. The 1979-1989 Afghan war took the lives of more than a million Afghans (along with 15,000 Soviet soldiers) and a third of the population was driven into refugee camps. This contributed greatly to the overall suffering and dislocation in the region, which became a primary source of anti-U.S. Islamism.
The Iran-Iraq war helped the Khomeini regime firmly consolidate power, and it would use that power to promote Islamist movements across the region. Dreyfuss points out, “The religious revolution in Iran did more than kick the props out from underneath America’s most important outpost in the region. It crystallized a fundamental change in the character of the Islamic right, one that had been taking shape since the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood decades earlier. As it gained strength in the ’70s the Islamic right grew more assertive, and parts of it were radicalized…..and took on a more pronounced political character.”
Arming and training of the Afghan and Islamic Mujahadeen created a fighting force that would soon turn on its U.S. and Saudi sponsors and become a huge problem for them. The U.S.-Mujahadeen victory over the Soviets emboldened the Islamists--believing they’d defeated one superpower, they now felt they could defeat the other. The collapse of the Soviet Union also strengthened Islamic fundamentalism ideologically (secularism and Marxism had supposedly failed) and politically (a major backer of secular and nationalist forces had fallen).
Over the course of the 1990s and into the new millennium, the Islamist trend became a bigger and bigger problem for the U.S. empire.
Next: The U.S. Iran Strategy 1980-2003: From Containment to Regime Change
Bob Avakian, “Why We're in the Situation We're in Today…And What to Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need for Revolution,” available at http://www.bobavakian.net/audio.html
Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game--How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, pp. 217-230.
Larry Everest, Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda, Chapter 4--“Arming Iraq, Double-Dealing Death in the Gulf”
Larry Everest, “Islamic Revivalism and the Experience of Iran,” Revolution magazine, Fall/Winter 1989
Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
New Campaign Launched by World Can't Wait
Revolution received the following from World Can't Wait:
Over the past 7 years the Bush Presidency has given itself the right to invade countries that pose no threat to us, to carry out indefinite detentions and abrogate habeas corpus, to torture people, to spy on tens of millions of Americans without warrant, and when caught, brazenly declare that they will continue to do so, to use hundreds of signing statements, to declare themselves above the law and above scrutiny, to trample civil rights, to deny the dire threat of global warming, to suppress science.
But what is even worse, the "watchdog" media and the "loyal opposition" have allowed Bush and Cheney to get away with it! This must not be allowed to stand. We cannot allow ourselves to go down in history as looking the other way while tyranny, torture and war crimes were being committed in our names and in front of the whole world.
It is up to the people to stop this.
If you can’t bear to hear the phrases "WAR ON TERROR" or "9-11" invoked one more time to justify more unjust war, more lying, more spying and more torture, Declare yourself.
If you are someone that cannot get over bloated black bodies floating through New Orleans, Declare yourself.
If you can no longer live a normal life knowing that people are being disappeared into secret torture chambers, Declare yourself.
If you are repulsed by the scapegoating, intolerance & bigotry being unleashed and propagated by the powerful to persecute the most vulnerable, Declare yourself.
If you cherish the ideal of men and women being equal & refuse to return to the days where a woman can be forced to have a baby she does not want, Declare yourself.
If you believe in the separation of Church and State, Declare yourself.
If you are someone who is exhilarated by humanity’s capacity to discover and understand the wonders of the natural universe, Declare yourself.
If you believe that truth matters, Declare yourself.
If you have simply had enough of waiting for politicians to do right, or hoping that someone else would act first then… Declare yourself.
Your time has come to make a statement reverberating every place you go and with every person you meet.
Your time has come to be the symbol of a conscience that will not back down and will not go away.
A single person stepping forward can make a huge difference. Then picture hundreds…turning to thousands… then millions, refusing to turn their heads, to sell their souls, to accept endless war in a world without hope.
With each new burst of orange our current will grow, with every person drawn into its wake we gain momentum. What is now latent must be made manifest until we cannot be ignored, until the world and the war criminals in Washington read the writing on the wall:
We are not waiting. WE ARE DRIVING OUT THE BUSH REGIME!
"Wear orange. Put orange everywhere. Those who have been clad in orange, tortured, and detained without recourse will not be alone."
For more information contact World Can't Wait at:
305 W. Broadway, #185
New York, NY 10013
Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
The following information is from the World Can't Wait website: worldcantwait.org:
Los Angeles, CA
July 12, 2007, 7 p.m.
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
3300 Wilshire Blvd. at Berendo, just west of Vermont Ave.
* Elaine Brower, WCW National Steering Committee member, outspoken anti-war mother of U.S. Marine in Fallujah
* Prof. Dennis Loo, co-editor of "Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush & Cheney"
* Stephen Rohde, constitutional lawyer, former president of the ACLU-SoCal, co-founder of Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace
* Sunsara Taylor, WCW National Advisory Board member, writer for Revolution newspaper. (Sparred with Bill O'Reilly.)
For more information call: 323-462-4771.
San Francisco, CA
July 15, 2007, 2:30-4:30pm
100 Larkin Street (at Grove)
For more information call: 415-864 5153
World Can't Wait 2nd Annual Youth Conference
San Francisco/Bay Area
The conference will be a gathering of youth from across the country for a week of workshops, panels, outreach, wide-ranging discussions and film screenings. The conference will also serve as an opportunity to discuss how to build a student movement on campuses and map out our plans (materials, outreach, mass mobilizations, teach-ins, concerts, etc.) for the rest of the summer and the fall semester.
What students do--or fail to do--in the next few months, will cast a very long shadow into the future. Driving out the Bush regime before 2008 must be the mission of this generation.
To register or ask any questions please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
Wild Scene at Leimert Park
On June 23, Ted Hayes, "homeless activist" and founder of the anti-immigrant organizations Choose Black America and The New Buffalo Soldiers, led an anti-immigrant march down Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles, a thoroughfare through a primarily Black neighborhood where Black people from many areas come on the weekend to shop and hang out. Hayes was joined by members of the notorious vigilante Minuteman Project and the equally fascist and nativist group Save Our State (SOS), as well as others who carried signs demanding "Reparations Now" and "Go Home Illegal Aliens."
On an internet forum run by SOS, an announcement for the march included a heads-up to potential SOS attendees to keep their anti-Black racism in the closet for the day: "Please note if you are bothered by Malcolm X hats and Reparations, this is not the event for you to attend."
Seeing this bizarre mix of white racists and Black Reparations advocates marching together down Crenshaw was almost unbelievable to many on the street who stopped and stared in amazement and confusion. Hundreds of counter-protesters of all nationalities confronted the Hayes march. People walking down Crenshaw learned what this was about and decided on the spot to join in on the side of opposing the attack on immigrants and standing for unity between Blacks and Latinos.
Separated by lines of police, the two marches made their way toward Leimert Park in heated contention, with more and more people from the area becoming part of the mix. In the days leading into the confrontation, rumors had spread that the Klan would be marching down Crenshaw, and as the Hayes/Minutemen march made its way toward Leimert Park--an historic center of African-American culture--dozens of people from the neighborhood began to come into the street prepared to prevent the KKK from marching.
Although they did not see white-hooded robes and swastika signs, many people made the connection on seeing bigots marching arrogantly through the streets to assert their reactionary power and terrorize a section of oppressed people. In explaining who the Minutemen were (and why so many people there referred to them as the “Minuteklan”), one youth explained to his friend, “They’re not the KKK, but they got the same ideas.”
Others joined the protest because they wanted to oppose this whole thing of getting different sections of oppressed people to fight each other. "They're making us fight for crumbs," was overheard various times from different people. One young brother from Inglewood yelled out, "I live with the Mexicans. You're dissing me if you're dissing the Mexicans." The swelling crowd, which at its height outnumbered the Hayes/Minutemen march five to one, amassed at the entrance to the park and the police started to get nervous. Several Black youth yelled passionately across the police car barricade, defending immigrants and taunting both the other side and the police. The police decided to pull the permit from the anti-immigrant marchers and refuse them entrance to the park. But still the counter-protesters didn't back off. The stand-off at Crenshaw and 43rd lasted for hours, with the police at times putting on riot gear to the response of some people yelling, "The whole world is watching! We remember MacArthur Park!" (referring to a police attack on an immigrants rights protest in MacArthur Park on May 1st).
Real Debate, Real Contradictions
The coming together of all kinds of people to stop Ted Hayes and the Minutemen was beautiful. During and after the stand-off at the park, lively debate took place among Black people and others all along Crenshaw. For Black people whose families have been struggling to escape generations of poverty, the question of whether immigrants were taking away jobs and draining the health-care and public education systems and other resources felt very real to them. Some spoke bitterly about going to school for years to learn a trade only to--as they mistakenly saw it--lose jobs to immigrants. Some complained that Latinos were taking over “their” communities. These and other arguments were met head on by many of the people there, especially older people from the ’60s generation who are aware of the divide-and-conquer games this system likes to play on people in order to pit people against each other.
One woman responded that Black people have NEVER had jobs and good housing, so this didn’t start with immigrants. Others talked more in-depth about the history of oppression Black and Latino people have faced. One older Black woman said that this land was taken from Mexico and Black people were put on it. When a youth objected to being given what he considered a history lesson, she quickly reminded him that Latinos were not responsible for the lynching of Black people and many of the other injustices they faced.
Many people debated and tried to win over others on the basis that what Hayes and the Minutemen were trying to do would bring nothing good to the majority of people. Some argued that minorities should not be fighting each other because Blacks and Latinos are both being oppressed by the system. Others said that promoting conflicts between Blacks and Latinos plays exactly into the hands of the system. “That's what they want us to do,” yelled out a man as two Black men arguing with each other almost got into a fight yelling into each other’s faces.
“If they ever came together…”
Days after the protest people around Leimert Park were still talking about what had gone down. People that live and frequent the area were interviewed and asked what they thought about the contradictions and tensions between Black people and immigrants.
A young Black college student was against immigration but changed her mind when she began to see that the struggle that Latino people go through is similar to what Black people have faced. She told us, “At first I didn’t like it [immigration], but then as I observed and understood, my ancestors went through the same thing. Even though the border, they come over here, even though we were taken, we still going through the same thing, trying to work, trying to survive, trying to build up our communities, our families….”
A young Black high school teacher talked about the recent police attack on immigrants during the May Day rally at MacArthur Park. He said, “The way the police treated Latinos after the march, our ancestors and some of our grandparents and great grandparents went through that, but I heard a guy say, ‘That’s what they get.’ It pissed me off--our families and our community went through the same thing they’re going through--so how do you say, ‘That’s what they get?’ I was pretty pissed off at him and I had to escort myself out the building because I had to catch myself. That’s part of the mis-education. He knew about our heritage, that our families and community went through that. We got hoses put on us, they got rubber bullets. That extreme harshness has been brought upon both of us. I feel what they’re going through. If I had a chance to sue the LAPD for what they did at the rally, I would because it’s unfair--it was a peaceful march. What we need to do is have a march together and get our families and communities together. That would be perfect.”
An older Black guy who works for the post office talked about all the different ways that this system tries to divide people. He said, “When you keep the underclass, the poor, and now even the middle class, when you keeping everybody in separate groups--it’s a fact that where there’s unity, there’s strength--but when you got everything separated, ‘I’m gonna keep him in this group, keep him in this group, keep him in this group, I’m going to make him think that this one’s better than that one…’ Nobody wants to get put down… the whole thing there now is with the Blacks and Hispanics you got him thinking, ‘you think you better than me,’ and then you got Hispanics thinking, ‘you think you better than me.’”
He pointed out the potential for people of different nationalities to come together and added, “If they ever came together and unified--and that’s their biggest fear: Their biggest fear is, ‘if they do, we would have to pay for what we’ve done.’”
Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
On June 8, Norman Finkelstein, a highly respected scholar and a critic of U.S. policies in the Middle East, and of Israel, was denied tenure (and essentially fired) by DePaul University. This came after a ferocious political campaign against him, spearheaded by Harvard law professor and torture advocate Alan Dershowitz. Dr. Mehrene Larudee, another DePaul professor who had organized support for Finkelstein as he came under attack, was also denied tenure. This has provoked outrage from academics, who have rightly seen the case as an egregious violation of academic procedures and a serious blow to academic freedom.
It has also provoked considerable anguish and deep questioning among students and scholars, at DePaul and nationwide. Finkelstein is highly regarded by his students. He published five books while at DePaul, including one at the University of California Press after a rigorous peer-review process. He had been recommended for tenure by his department and his college, as had Dr. Larudee. How could such a scholar possibly be denied tenure?
Particularly disturbing and disorienting to many is that this happened at DePaul, a university with a reputation for being open to diversity and tolerant of dissent. And it was done by the President of DePaul, Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, who is known as a "nice guy," someone willing to sit down with students and listen to their concerns.
It is very important to understand how outrageous the Finkelstein case is and its dangerous implications. The attack on Norman Finkelstein is an ominous threat to critical thinking and to any critical examination of the real agenda behind the so-called “war on terror.” It represents a major step forward in the nazification of the universities, a concerted program to bring the universities into line with a project of imperial conquest and the reordering of society along fascist lines. [For more on Norman Finkelstein’s contributions to critiquing the role of Israel, and more background on the attacks on him, see "Escalation in the Attacks on Dissent and Critical Thinking: DePaul University Denies Tenure to Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee," Revolution #93, June 24, 2007, and “The Clash Over Prof. Finkelstein's Tenure…and the Assault on Critical Thinking on Campuses,” Revolution #85, April 22, 2007.]
Throwing Out Academic Standards
The granting of tenure is traditionally based upon three criteria. The most important is scholarship--the number of academic works published and where they were published. The other criteria are teaching (determined mainly by student evaluations) and service (meaning serving on department committees and the like).
At every step of the tenure process, Finkelstein was judged to have met these standards. His department's report stated that Finkelstein "clearly [has] a substantial and serious record of scholarly production and achievement. He exceeds our department's stated standards for scholarly production, and both the department and the outside experts we consulted recognize the intellectual merits of his work.” Even the President of DePaul, in his letter to Finkelstein denying tenure, made it clear that he found no fault in Finkelstein's scholarship. There is no record of questions being raised about his teaching or his service. Instead, the ONLY criteria cited by Holtschneider to deny Finkelstein tenure was "collegiality," in the particular form of "Vincentian personalism" (values attributed to St. Vincent de Paul).
As Finkelstein told the New York Times, “That’s just inventing a new standard.” He added that in the annual reviews he has gone through, like any other professor, “no one ever warned me that I wasn’t meeting the Vincentian standard of personalism." He added, “I would not have stayed at a university if it told me upfront that a condition for me getting tenure [was that] my views have to be filtered through Catholic values." ("A Bitter Spat Over Ideas, Israel and Tenure," 4/12/07)
In 1999, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) adopted a resolution entitled "On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation." It said the use of collegiality as a criterion was "inconsistent with the long-term vigor and health of academic institutions and dangerous to academic freedom." It expressed concern that a focus on collegiality "holds the potential of chilling faculty debate and discussion," and would result in "practices that exclude persons on the basis of their difference from a perceived norm," as well as pressures which "are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom." Importantly, the resolution concluded that "[c]ertainly an absence of collegiality ought never, by itself, to constitute a basis for nonreappointment, denial of tenure, or dismissal for cause." [full text at: http://www.sfsu.edu/%7Esenate/documents/attachments/collegiali.pdf]
In sum, established academic criteria have been thrown out and replaced with a standard explicitly repudiated by the AAUP, all in order to deny tenure to a radical, and very popular, scholar.
An Established Pattern...and Something New
In one sense, what has happened to Finkelstein is nothing new. Professors who challenge established orthodoxies and the myths of U.S. imperialism have always been attacked and subjected to unfair criteria. Many of the hundreds of scholars who have written in support of Finkelstein have related their own similar experiences.
But there are important differences. This has been done not behind closed doors in anonymous department meetings, but on the national, even international, stage. And it has been done in the face of large-scale opposition from academics and other intellectuals, both in the U.S. and worldwide. The process was widely seen, even by those who are not in agreement with Finkelstein's scholarship, as violating the established procedures of tenure review.
In this context, the denial of tenure to Finkelstein is not just an outrage against an important scholar cherished by his students. It is that, and all efforts must be undertaken to demand that this decision be reversed. But more importantly, it is a significant attempt to legitimize and institutionalize the use of political and religious criteria in determining whether someone can be a professor at a university. This is particularly the case given that it has been done in a "liberal" university by a "liberal" president.
Finkelstein, like Ward Churchill, represents the aspect of academia which the Bush regime wants to suppress. Churchill, a tenured professor at the University of Colorado, originally became the target of a nationwide witch-hunt in January 2005, when his invitation to speak at Hamilton College in upstate New York was cancelled because of an essay he’d written shortly after 9/11 entitled “Chickens Coming Home to Roost.” In that essay he included a very provocative formulation about how not all the people, but those people who worked particularly as functionaries for the large corporations with offices in the World Trade Center, were “Little Eichmanns”—comparing them to the functionaries of the Nazi regime.
The last thing they want is to have a new generation of students engaged in the unfettered search for the truth, in an atmosphere of intellectual ferment, critical thinking, and dissent. Finkelstein's scholarship had already been ruled out of bounds--his books were systematically ignored by the major media, for example. Now, he will find it increasingly difficult if not impossible to be allowed in a university. And a threatening message has been sent, loud and clear, to academics all over the country– keep your heads down, or else.
Outrage and Resistance
Students at DePaul, particularly Finkelstein's, met the President's decision forcefully by staging a sit-in, a fast, and protests at graduation. Many graduating students turned their back on the President when he gave his address. And one student unzipped his robe to show a picture of Finkelstein when he went on stage to receive his diploma from the President.
Finkelstein has posted on his website many hundreds of messages of support, from students, academics, progressive Christians, and others from all over the world. Many have expressed profound disgust at the actions of Rev. Holtschneider. One who described himself as "an anti-fascist Jewish son of Holocaust survivors" wrote to Finkelstein that "Who our enemies are reflect on us as much as our friends; yours are certainly a credit to you." A student at Harvard Law School (where Dershowitz teaches), wrote to Rev. Holtschneider that his actions represented "a disservice to your university, a mark of shame upon your office, and a troubling sign of the state of freedom of speech and thought on campus in America today," and that "the import of your recently utterly misguided decisions will follow you for the remainder of your own tenure, and beyond."
This is a remarkable expression of international outrage and solidarity and must be built upon. The outrage against Finkelstein cannot be allowed to stand, as it would establish a new and dangerous precedent for the nazification of the American university. This resistance needs to be taken up even more deeply by administrators, faculty, students and broader segments of society.
As we said in Revolution #81, a special issue titled "WARNING: The Nazification of the American University": "One way or another, this struggle over the university and intellectual life will have profound repercussions on what U.S. society will be like, and on the prospects for bringing a whole new society into being."
Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
We reported in issue #93 (“The Rulers’ Push for an Immigration Bill—A Program of Increased Repression and Legalized Slavery”) about the push to “revive” the immigration bill by George Bush and Senate backers of the bill. On June 28, the bill’s proponents failed to close debate in the Senate and bring the bill to a vote. This meant that the opponents of the bill could talk endlessly (filibuster) in opposition to the bill and prevent the bill from ever coming to a decisive vote; the bill was withdrawn.
This bill was put together by high-level ruling class “wise men”—a small group of Democratic and Republican senators, working with Bush. If it had become law, the bill would not have meant anything good for immigrants. At the heart of the bill were: (1) more militarization of the border and immigrant detention camps; (2) a “guest worker” program to keep immigrant workers in slave-like conditions; (3) a “legalization” scheme to force undocumented immigrants to register with the government in return for a temporary visa; (4) major restrictions in the ability of citizens and permanent residents to bring family members legally into the U.S. The bill’s proponents called their plan “comprehensive immigration reform”--in reality, the bill was aimed at comprehensive repression against immigrants.
But the Senate bill met furious opposition from within Bush’s own party, right-wing mouthpieces like CNN’s Lou Dobbs, and forces like the vigilante Minutemen who declared that the bill was not harsh enough because it did not call for even more extreme measures like making people without documents into felons. The terms of public debate around immigration became even more reactionary—on one side, the backers of the bill arguing that this was the best way to “control” immigration and “secure” the border; and on the other side, those pushing an openly fascistic clampdown on immigrants. And the defeat of the bill is further emboldening these fascist forces and is part of the accelerating moves toward greater repression overall.
As a key part of trying to get the bill through the Senate, its backers announced changes in the proposal in order to further promote the repressive measures in the bill. In particular, Bush promised an immediate authorization of $4.4 billion for “border security” if the bill became law—for increased militarization of the border with more walls, surveillance equipment, armed agents and troops, etc. And Bush said that this money will come out of the “fines” that undocumented immigrants would have to pay in order to get a temporary visa.
Conservative Republicans opposing the bill called it “amnesty for lawbreakers.” Some Democrats opposed some of the provisions of the “guest worker” program and the awarding of visas based on job skills as opposed to the current system based on connections to family members that are already in the U.S. legally. In the media coverage, the debate over the bill has been portrayed as a clash between anti-immigrant, “pro-enforcement” forces against more “moderate,” “pragmatic,” and “pro-immigrant” forces. But as Revolution has analyzed, this is a debate among the rulers over who has the best plan for much more severely controlling and repressing the 12 to 20 million undocumented people in the U.S. and future “guest workers,” while exploiting them as a critical source of super-profits. (For further background and analysis, 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.)
The stopping of this Senate immigration bill reportedly means that it is unlikely there will be any attempt to pass another “comprehensive” bill this year or next year. There may be some attempt to pass more limited immigration measures, especially to further increase repression. Republican Senator Jim DeMint, one of the leading opponents of the Senate bill, said after its defeat, "We'll proceed with the security and enforcement aspects of this bill.”
Meanwhile, the fascist offensive against immigrants continues, with the defeat of the bill further spurring this on—and this must be opposed. The ACLU reports that “In dozens of cities across the country, local government officials are attempting to drive undocumented workers out of their towns by punishing those who employ or rent to them.” Racist vigilantes like the Minutemen are stepping up their activity. Walls and other border measures continue to increase, driving more immigrants to cross through deserts and mountains, and leading to hundreds of deaths a year. And increasing Gestapo raids by armed agents of Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) are spreading terror in immigrant communities across the country.
Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
In the article “Hugo Chavez Has an Oil Strategy…But Can This Lead to Liberation?”, Revolution #94, dated July 1, 2007:
* On page 9, left column, first paragraph after the intro—the first sentence should read: “In 1997, the year before he was elected president, Hugo Chavez took on the old elite this way:”
* On page 9, first paragraph of the article, the fourth sentence should read: “Today, almost 90 percent of Venezuela’s population lives in the cities and half of the population of Caracas lives in slums.”
* On page 10, middle column, third full paragraph—the third sentence should read: “But the other side of the equation is more telling, illustrating an aspect of structural dependency : that 12 percent share of U.S. oil imports accounted for by Venezuela represents 60 percent of Venezuela’s total oil exports!11”
These errors were corrected on the web version of the article on July 6.