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Revolution #99, August 26, 2007
Katrina, Jena, and the Whole Damn System
Two years ago Katrina hit New Orleans. The whole world watched as hundreds of thousands of people—mostly Black and mostly poor—were trapped in New Orleans. Katrina shined a glaring light on the fact that masses of Black people are trapped in extreme poverty, with fewer and fewer jobs and worse and worse education and health care and housing, and a future of prison or early death for the youth. The lies and the failures of this system and its leaders were on display for everyone to see; they could not be denied or suppressed as they are in “normal times.”
America’s rulers and America’s media acted as if they were shocked. When his vacation was finally over, Bush flew to New Orleans and solemnly declared that the government would come in and help everyone rebuild their lives, and make things better than before. The Democrats made noises about all kinds of new aid for the people living in the ghettos. The 47th—or was it the 48th?—“national conversation on race” was said to have begun. And then, after about a month, the promises turned to dust and reality set in.
The reality, as this issue of Revolution shows, is that for the survivors of Katrina, their troubles were only just beginning. The system didn’t just fail them; it betrayed them.
Katrina concentrates and, in a deep sense, stands for the larger reality facing Black people in the U.S. In the two years following Katrina:
One common thread in all of the above is that the targets are African-American youth. In words, the system promises these youth one thing; in actual deeds, they make their message clear: Black youth have no future under this system.
To give a sense of where things have gone, in 1954—the year the Supreme Court back then decided there should be school integration—there were 98,000 Black people locked down in prisons. 50 years later, in 2004, the figure was...910,000! Nearly ten times as many. That is the “progress” given by this system. That is the future they promise. That is the “answer” this system has to the centuries-old oppression that it created and continually reinforces.
This Is a System—A Capitalist System
America is a capitalist-imperialist system. This basic and brutal fact has set the terms for Black people’s fate in this country.
It was capitalism’s expansion into America, and the growth of a world market 400 some years ago, that created the huge demand for cotton, sugar, and other agricultural products. To produce and sell these products, at massive profit, the early capitalists kidnapped millions of Africans, put them in chains and sold them into slavery. Millions died in hellish ocean voyages before even reaching America. Those who survived suffered in unimaginable ways and over the generations produced much of the foundation of the great wealth that this country’s rulers love to brag about.
It was capitalism’s need to “grow beyond” the bounds of the slave economy, along with the rebellions of the slaves themselves, that brought on the Civil War. (And, the ex-slaves themselves fought for their own freedom in the Union Army once they had the chance—and they took casualties way out of proportion to their numbers.) It was capitalism’s need to re-establish order—and profitable accumulation—afterward that led to the exploitation of the newly freed slaves as sharecroppers and the institution of Jim Crow segregation and lynch-mob justice in the south.
It was the battle for empire that was World War 2—and capitalism’s need for workers to build up the defense industries, as well as auto, steel, rubber and the rest and then, later, the mechanization of farming in the south—that led masses of Black people into the urban proletariat. This was the “great migration”—where the masses of Black people went from being sharecroppers to being workers, pushed off the land and into the cities.
But today capitalism has moved its heavy industries to the suburbs and to other countries. And, even though Black youth in the inner cities want jobs, the capitalists judge them to be too “defiant” to employ in the few jobs that remain. They have different plans now for these youth. So over the past decades they have let the schools rot and the dope trade flourish in the inner cities. They have set up a dynamic where millions of Black youth have no real alternative but prison or death. They have stepped up their vicious portrayals of these youth in the media as “savage” and “beyond redemption.” (It is true that during this time a few doors were also opened—but only part way—to allow a small section of Black people to “make it” into the middle class. But their position is very precarious, and they too still suffer discrimination and oppression at the system’s hands, in all kinds of ways—including risking their lives for “driving while Black.”)
For Black youth, this is not the time of rising expectation—these are the days of mass incarceration, ugly demonization, and full-out criminalization.
Revolution and Resistance
Time is up and past up for this system. We have seen how this system has betrayed the masses of Black people. What it has in store is not just “turning back the clock.” It is even worse—a program with truly genocidal implications. This is what it means when the number of Black people imprisoned grows by nearly ten times in 50 years, when people like Pat Robertson talk about the prison population being a “stain on the land,” when others talk about “cracking down further” and deem these youth to be “super predators, incapable of rehabilitation,” and when the few opportunities that did exist are systematically shut down.
There can be no real and lasting change for the better under this system.
This is one big reason why we need a communist revolution and a new system. Li Onesto’s article on Katrina in this issue contrasts graphically how a socialist system would have handled the needs of the people in such a disaster with how this system did. Of course, the communist revolution is the most radical and all-encompassing revolution: its goal is to get humanity to a stage where all class divisions, all relations of exploitation on which those divisions rest, all social relations and political institutions that reinforce those relations, and all the ideas that correspond to them are abolished, and where people interact with the world and each other as freely associating human beings. And from the very beginning stages of that revolution it would mean a fundamental change for the better in every sphere—with one very key component and task of the communist revolution being wiping out the oppression of peoples and nations, and overcoming the scars of the past.
To get to a situation where this can happen, many things would have to change. And one big change is this: the people must politically fight back, in their millions. There must be a new upsurge of political resistance to all this oppression, uniting many different kinds of people with all kinds of views. Without this, there can be no fundamental change; without this, the people will be ground down and suffer even greater horrors.
Some of this is beginning to happen. The protests against the police murder of Sean Bell, as well as the recent protests in Chicago against the police murder of 18-year-old Aaron Harrison; the struggle to free the Jena 6; and some of the different protests in many different forms against the continuing outrage of Katrina—all these are significant and positive. Many teachers, writers, artists and other folk in the Black middle strata are stepping out in different ways. There are stirrings among other people of color, and some whites are beginning to take a stand as well. But these are still only the seeds of what the people really need—a new upsurge declaring this is intolerable. All this must be strengthened and expanded, to whole other levels, and the links drawn between these fights and other key battles against the system, and the overall need for revolution.
This fall must witness much greater political resistance to these outrages and, yes, horrors. This newspaper must be a vital part of such resistance. This must be true on August 29, when the second anniversary of Katrina is marked. This must be true in the case of the Jena 6, both now and when the sentencing hearing of Mychal Bell happens on September 20—people must be very broadly united to Free the Jena 6. And this must be true as well on October 22, the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation.
[To get deeper into what is covered in this article, check out the following: Cold Truth, Liberating Truth and the Black History Month series on-line at revcom.us. And check out the DVD of Bob Avakian’s speech, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About.]
Revolution #99, August 26, 2007
August 29, 2007 is the second anniversary of the day that Hurricane Katrina slammed onto the Gulf Coast. From the moment the hurricane hit, to today, the massive death, suffering, homelessness, displacement of two hundred thousand people and the virtual abandonment of huge swaths of the city of New Orleans are an indictment of the worthlessness of this system and its inability to meet the basic needs of people.
When the authorities told people to evacuate New Orleans in advance of Katrina, over 100,000 people in that city had no access to cars. The government did nothing to guarantee their ability to leave before the hurricane struck—abandoning many of them to die. After the hurricane hit and large sections of the city were flooded, people trying to flee New Orleans had gunshots fired near or at them by racist police in neighboring towns who forced them back into the city.
Tens of thousands of people were trapped, without the basic necessities of life, in the stench of human waste in the Superdome simply because the system didn’t provide the resources to evacuate them. 1800 people in the region died unnecessarily because the system didn’t evacuate everybody who lived in the path of Katrina.
News helicopters showed people stuck for days on roofs in 100-degree heat with nothing to eat or drink. People around the world watched in horror, while the richest, most powerful country in the world, that could ship hundreds of thousands of troops to invade and occupy Iraq, couldn’t rescue people or provide for their most basic human needs. And who can forget Bush, in the midst of all the incredible suffering and government neglect, with his arm around the government official in charge saying “Good job Brownie.”
And it continues, today. Desperately needed housing for poor people is not being rebuilt, people are locked out of public housing. The resources people need to rebuild homes are not being provided. Even middle class people have been denied insurance payments and government assistance to rebuild. The public school system in New Orleans is being restructured in a way that the people on the bottom are going to have even worse education than before Katrina. Even the levees that allowed the flooding that caused so much of the property damage and loss of life have not been properly repaired or built to withstand a serious hurricane. And tens and tens of thousands of people have been exiled from their homes, living in toxic trailers or still in Houston and other cities.
All this is NOT because of government incompetence. These outrages occur because they fit the interests and the corresponding plans of the capitalists who rule this society.
The Needs of the People vs. the Needs of the System
The city of New Orleans was built on the sweat and blood of Black people. Slaves were bought and sold in the markets. The cotton picked by slaves shipped through its port. The wealth of the whole United States is built to a great degree on the foundation of slavery. Then, after the Civil War, Black people worked almost like slaves on plantations, under a sharecropping system enforced by lynch mobs and KKK terror, all backed up by the government.
In the great Mississippi flood of 1927, the authorities rounded up Black people at gunpoint and threw them into concentration camps. They were worked day and night to reinforce and rebuild the levees and were forcibly prevented from leaving the flood area. The wealthy white plantation owners were determined that their labor force would not escape to the north.
With changes in the economy after World War 2, the role of New Orleans in the accumulation of wealth by the capitalist system changed. Black people were driven off the land. In New Orleans, as in cities around the country, Black people labored at the most dangerous and dirty jobs—on the docks and in other industries. In the 1960s and ’70s, New Orleans had a large Black, relatively stable, working class population. Even in poor neighborhoods like the Lower 9th, people were able to buy their own homes.
But like other major cities in the U.S., in the last few decades, New Orleans has been profoundly affected by changes in the global and U.S. economy. The deindustrialization of the city has meant the loss of thousands of jobs and over the last few decades an unemployment rate among Black people that is even higher than other cities with large Black populations. Today, New Orleans needs something like 60,000 minimum wage workers for the tourist industry. So, to the system, there were, and still are, simply tens of thousands or more who the system considers “unnecessary” people.
Poor Black people don’t fit into the ways that capital could profitably invest in the tourist, oil, and shipping industries. To the system, the poor Black people of New Orleans were not only “in their way” but are a potentially explosive section of the population for whom this system has no future. Because of what they've seen and been through as a people, including the great struggles of the ’60s, there is an edge of defiance among Black people—which is a very positive quality to anybody who wants to change the world—but is considered dangerous to the ruling class. At the time Katrina hit, in places like the Lower 9th or Central City, half of all working-age people were not in the work force, surviving by whatever desperate means they could find. These are people who couldn’t be profitably exploited—except if they end up in prison where they can work on chain gangs or in prison factories.
William Oakland, a retired economist from Tulane University in New Orleans who has studied the city’s economy for decades, put it this way: “The city’s population was thus ‘out of equilibrium…’ It’s not normal to have that level of nonparticipation in the labor force.” And addressing the fact that the population of New Orleans is now only about half of what it was before Katrina, some economists have cynically pointed out that New Orleans had more people than the economy could support anyway. Oakland put it this way: “Maybe the diaspora is a blessing.”
The people who built the city, whose sweat and blood helped lay the foundation for this country as it is today, are now branded as parasites and criminals. A horrible disaster, that kills 1800 of them, and forces the dislocation of 200,000 people is a “blessing.” The continuing suffering and dislocation of tens of thousands of people whose lives have been ruined is seen as part of “clearing the ground” in order to rebuild the city.
This is why, speaking for the whole ruling class in this country, Republican Congressman Richard Baker said, right after Katrina: “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” The ruling class in this country looked at the horrible destruction and suffering brought by Katrina, and their neglect of the people there, as a gift from god! It fit into their plans to get rid of the poor Black people.
And all the lunatic ravings of fundamentalist Christian fascists after Katrina about how god was punishing the people of New Orleans for Mardi Gras, tolerating gays and all served this whole agenda too, justifying the system’s response to New Orleans, with its genocidal implications, as “god’s will.”
This System is Worthless—We Need a Whole Other Kind of System
In the days after Katrina, there was incredible heroism among the people who had been abandoned to die. What the system called “looting” was in most cases people taking what they needed to survive. (And as Céline Dion said, if they were taking jeans, or a TV too, so what!) One woman said, “Those ‘looters’ are the only ones keeping us alive.”
But to the system, this was their worst nightmare. The people they saw as superfluous, who they hate and fear, were saving themselves and others. What kind of system hates and fears that kind of thing? To the capitalist system, the most important thing after Katrina was “social control,” i.e. repression, and the protection of private property and businesses. The sanctity of private property was more important than human lives. So when people, in desperate situations, attempted to save themselves and others by taking what they needed, they were slandered as “looters,” and Governor Blanco announced: “We are going to restore law and order… These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect that they will.”
And, later, when volunteers—many of them white and/or middle class—tried to come to New Orleans to help save people, to clean up, and to rebuild, they too were considered a problem by the system. The masses who were trying to survive had guns shoved in their face by the police. In many cases, volunteers who were trying to get into the city to help were turned around and ordered to stay out of the city. Despite any rhetoric to the contrary, in every real and fundamental way, the system got in the way of volunteers who came to help. When people wanted to fix up and reopen schools, the government did nothing to help—at best. When people wanted to fix up homes, government bureaucracy was in the way.
For the capitalist system, the people taking all kinds of great and heroic initiative in the face of a desperate and dangerous situation was something to be suppressed and repressed or kept under tight supervision. But for the revolutionary proletariat this is something to cherish, build on, and learn from.
What kind of a system abandoned, betrayed, and attacked the masses in New Orleans? It is a system that cannot and does not want to do anything that doesn’t fit the “bottom line.”
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we saw not only the need but also the possibility of revolution, and of a radically different society. The government left the masses to suffer and die, and then rounded up and subjected to horribly inhumane conditions. Yet the people kept their dignity and showed their humanity in many ways. And they put to lie the slanders that portrayed them as criminals and animals. When they took matters into their own hands in order to survive and help others, the great majority did so with right on their side. And in this they were supported and assisted by people all over the country.
Revolutionary state power, a socialist society, would welcome and back up the efforts of people to help each other. To drop everything and head for New Orleans to help. It would provide people with the materials needed to rebuild. It would not be trying to “rebuild” a lean, mean city based on tourism and minimum wage jobs. And, it would embrace, welcome, and promote the kind of chaotic mixing together of different kinds of people, the vibrant discussions and debates that would erupt on the spot, and throughout society, over how to rebuild in a way that served the interests of the people.
As a statement by the Revolutionary Communist Party put it shortly after Katrina: “In all this can be seen the potential for masses of people to be mobilized to bring into being a society in which relations among people are radically different than the daily dog-eat-dog that this capitalist system pushes people into. Yet what has also stood out very clearly is that the masses of people are not fully aware of and organized on the basis of an understanding of how the whole operation of this system is in direct and deep-going conflict with their real and fundamental interests.” (“On Hurricane Katrina: 3 Fundamental Lessons,” Revolution #14, September 18, 2005)
But it is these same masses who, on the basis of a revolution, can bring into being a new society and a new state which would put the interests of the great majority of the people at the foundation and at the center of everything it stands for and everything it does.
It Can’t Go Down Like This
The demands of the people still in, and those still exiled from, the city of New Orleans must be met! And that struggle must be part of, and contribute to, building a revolutionary movement.
Most of the people displaced from New Orleans want to return. The tens of thousands of people still displaced, neglected, abused and abandoned by the government must be allowed to return to their homes. Housing projects must be repaired and reopened. Homes must be rebuilt, now, and made available to people affordably. Basic social services must be restored and made available to people: health care, childcare, public schools, and other social services. And jobs must be provided to people in New Orleans and to those who want to return, including to rebuild the city.
This system doesn’t recognize the vitality and uniqueness of New Orleans, except as a Disneyland-type tourist attraction. But the people must demand that the rich Black history and culture of New Orleans must not be wiped out!
People are right to resist the ongoing crimes being committed by the government against the people of New Orleans—everything from fighting for basic needs, to artists and intellectuals doing work that exposes the situation to millions of people, to people all over the country finding different and creative ways to support the people in New Orleans. That resistance must be strengthened and spread. Already in the last two years, there has been a huge outpouring of musicians, artists, intellectuals, and others who have created songs, theater works, documentary films, and books that expose the crime of the system in New Orleans, give voice to the people of the city, and stand in solidarity with their struggle.
Many forces and organizations have called for protest events on August 28, the second anniversary of Katrina (see box). The theme of many of these events is that the people must have a right to return to their homes. People must take the second anniversary of Katrina as a time to join in solidarity, in different activities, to push this struggle forward.
In the aftermath of Katrina, the horrible and continuing crimes of the system against the masses of Black people of New Orleans cannot become just another outrage that goes down in history. The system’s plans that continue to cause misery and suffering for the masses of people in New Orleans must be DEFEATED.
Revolution #99, August 26, 2007
Two years after Katrina, much of New Orleans remains a wasteland.
In the Lower 9th Ward, a poor, Black section of the city, only 20% of the residents have returned to their homes and the area lies largely in ruins. The city plans to bulldoze much of the neighborhood even though a recent university-sponsored study shows that over 80% of the buildings are structurally sound.
In August 2005 New Orleans had over 450,000 people. Today only 250,000 people live there.
Tens of thousands of families throughout the Gulf Coast are living in 240-square-foot trailers, most of which house at least three adults. According to the Associated Press there are still 45,000 families living in trailers in Louisiana, 20,000 in Mississippi, 17,000 in Texas, and 400 in Alabama.
These trailers are often located in remote areas far from services that people need and any jobs that they could get to earn money to be able to return to New Orleans. For example, the Sugar Hill Trailer Park in the midst of cane fields near Convent, midway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, is 20 miles away from the nearest grocery store. There is one bus that leaves at 9 a.m. and returns at 4 p.m.
People living in these government trailer parks often face a hostility from the communities they are located in. Cities routinely pass zoning regulations that only allow the trailer parks to be located in very remote locations or ban the parks altogether. City officials may then decide to evict the residents with only a few hours notice. On top of this, there is general harassment to let the poor and Black residents of the parks know that they are not welcome. In one New Orleans suburb, a sheriff told reporters that he was going to protect his jurisdiction from "thugs" and "trash" migrating from closed public housing projects in the city. He said that every person who wore "dreadlocks or che-wee hairstyles" could expect to be stopped by law enforcement.
Recent testimony before Congress revealed that many of the trailers provided by FEMA had very high levels of formaldehyde. People living in the trailers had complained that the chemical caused frequent nosebleeds, breathing difficulties, and mysterious mouth and nasal tumors. When FEMA first got complaints about the trailers, they did nothing about it. After many months, FEMA finally tested a trailer in March 2006 and found that the level of toxic chemical formaldehyde was 75 times higher than the government-recommended level for workplaces. Despite this, FEMA issued a statement saying, “We are confident that there is no ongoing risk.”
Mary C. DeVany, an occupational health and safety engineer advising the Sierra Club, testified that FEMA’s “misapplication and skewing of scientific results is at best unethical and grossly misrepresents and attempt to minimize the adverse health effects being experienced by thousands of travel trailer residents.” The Sierra Club reported finding unsafe levels of formaldehyde in 30 out of 32 trailers it tested along the Gulf Coast.
Destruction of Public Housing
At the time of Katrina, more than 5,000 families, nearly all of them African American, were living in New Orleans public housing. A couple of thousand more units were vacant or uninhabitable. The waiting list for housing had 8,250 names. Two years later, most of this housing remains closed, surrounded by razor wire. Only about 1,400 units are occupied, according to HUD figures. The plan is to tear down the old housing projects and replace them with “mixed-income developments.” This means that public housing for the poor will not be replaced or rebuilt in anywhere near the numbers that existed before Katrina.
The demographics of New Orleans are being systematically and forcibly changed. Before Katrina the city was about 67 percent Black and 28 percent white, according to Census Bureau figures. A more recent study conducted for the Louisiana Recovery Authority estimates that the city, still well under half its pre-storm population, is 47 percent Black and 43 percent white.
According to an article in the New York Times, after two years and more than a billion dollars spent by the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild New Orleans’s hurricane protection system, if a big “100-year flood” hit the Gentilly neighborhood in New Orleans, the water level is likely to be reduced by only 6 inches. By comparison, the wealthier neighborhood to the west, Lakeview, had its flooding risk reduced by nearly 5 and a half feet.
The entire flood system still provides much less protection than New Orleans needs, and the pre-Katrina patchwork of levees, floodwalls, and gates that a Corps of Engineers investigation called “a system in name only” is still just that.
Inadequate Health Care
Only one of the city’s seven general hospitals is operating at its pre-hurricane level; two are partially open, and four remain closed. The number of hospital beds in New Orleans has dropped by two-thirds. Charity Hospital, which provided basically all the medical care—emergency, acute, and basic—for the city’s poor, is closed with no plans to reopen.
There are now 16,800 fewer medical jobs in New Orleans than before Katrina, down 27 percent. More than 4,486 doctors from three parishes in the New Orleans area have been displaced, creating a shortage that continues to be a problem at many hospitals.
Donald Smithburg, chief executive officer of the Louisiana State University Health Care Services Division, said, "If you are uninsured and have a broken bone, and it needs surgery, you could be waiting months and months, there are so few orthopedists and even fewer who will take the uninsured.”
Two-Tier Education System
Before Katrina, New Orleans had 128 public schools, 4,000 teachers, and 60,000 students. One year later, only four schools were controlled by the local school board. Today 70% of New Orleans schools are privately run charter schools.
Public schools with the best test scores and the least damage were given away to private companies to form charter schools, attended by students with better test scores whose parents have the ability to get them into those schools. Students with average test scores or learning disabilities, or from single-parent families, will have to attend deteriorating public schools.
At John McDonough—a public high school created to take the place of five pre-Katrina high schools—teachers, textbooks, and supplies remained in short order months after the school opened. The school has 39 security guards and 3 cops on staff but only 27 teachers.
Restoring the Tourist Industry
The government poured millions into restoring some property.
$116 million from FEMA was spent on restoring the New Orleans Superdome and $60 million on restoring the Morial Convention Center, and $37 million was spent on building a new parking garage for luxury cruise boats leaving the port of New Orleans.
Earlier this year J. Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “It’s almost a tale of two cities. We have some outlying post-World War 2 neighborhoods that suffered damage that is incomprehensible. But the original city areas that the tourists come to—the French Quarter, the Garden District and the Arts District—are not only intact, but look better than they did before the storm.”
Revolution #99, August 26, 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 16th 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.
"Maintaining Our Strategic Nerve"
In the context of everything going on today, everything that has to be confronted and cries out to be radically transformed in a much better direction, I want to emphasize this basic point of orientation: In the face of the difficulties, in the face of even defeats along the way, in the face of falling on our face at times, it is very important, especially at crucial junctures, that—to use a certain phrase—we not lose our strategic nerve. It's very easy in the face of tremendous necessity and great difficulties, in the face of certain setbacks and of people flying in all directions, to lose your strategic nerve—to lose your grip on what actually is underlying and driving things and to be swept away in one form or another—either carried away with positive things or quite often carried away with disappointments—and to just openly go in the direction of throwing up your hands and capitulating, or to go off into an infantile direction, which is in fact the "mirror image" of capitulation and leads to the same ultimate result.
Now I want to say, just for the record, that at times I myself have been acutely disappointed by—and, yes, have cursed in graphic terms—the people in this society who are sitting by and doing nothing in the face of atrocities and horrors committed by their government and in their name—I would bet that I have done this at least as much as anyone else who has set out to mobilize people to do what needs to be done to change the present disastrous course of things and to radically transform society in a positive way. But what do we do then?
There is a tremendous gap between what is going on—and the rapid pace at which more and greater outrages and atrocities are being committed and being prepared by those in power in the U.S.—and, on the other hand, what people are doing, or not doing, in terms of political resistance to oppose this, in the massive and determined way that is required. This is a very acute contradiction. But what do we do in the face of that—what do we do, in order to transform that in a positive direction? Do we keep our fundamental and strategic orientation, and work and struggle through the contradictions—do we persevere, but with the necessary sense of urgency that the situation demands? Or are we going to search for gimmicks, or throw up our hands and give up? Are we going to, in one way or another, lose our strategic nerve? In speaking of "strategic nerve," I mean this in the sense of our basic and strategic orientation, not in some sense of "personal courage," in the absence of and divorced from that orientation. Another way to say this, another crucial expression of this, is that we can't lose our materialism and our dialectics.
The clock is ticking down. We are not operating in a vacuum here. U.S. society is in fact being remade in a fascist direction, with implications for decades to come; the world is increasingly being subjected to the attempts of those in power in the U.S. to further bludgeon things into correspondence with their needs, aims and objectives; and there are the very real, negative effects of the continuing dynamic where McWorld/McCrusade and Jihad mutually reinforce each other even while opposing each other—with already terrible and potentially far more disastrous consequences. But, at the same time and largely as a result of all this, a lot of people are running up against what someone has described as sort of a "cusp" or "trough." They're running up against the fact that the ways they thought they could affect the political direction of U.S. society, and the role of the U.S. in the world—those ways don't work. Those doors are being increasingly slammed in their faces. But they haven't yet made the determination—haven't yet been won—to the fact that they have to make some radical ruptures in terms of their political views and actions, even short of the full rupture of going for revolution. And if we were to lose our strategic nerve—in other words, our strategic orientation and methodology and approach—that would be especially criminal in this context.
Instead, we have to be combining, in the correct way, perseverance and urgency—persevering, but not in an aimless, timeless way, persevering with the appropriate and necessary sense of urgency—learning, as we struggle, to break through on these contradictions and carrying forward that dialectical process of unity-struggle-unity with a broad and diverse range of people and political forces, not only in such major efforts as World Can't Wait but in other key arenas, too, and in an overall way. At the same time, we have to be much more vigorously and boldly taking our full revolutionary, communist line in a truly big way out to the masses—to basic masses, but to other strata as well. And, in line with the very great and urgent needs, as well as in terms of our fundamental orientation and objectives, we must make further, and increasingly greater, advances in building the Party as the revolutionary, communist vanguard the masses need—building and strengthening the Party both quantitatively and qualitatively—continually increasing its numerical strength and not only its organizational but, even more essentially and fundamentally, its ideological and political solid core, and the corresponding elasticity, initiative, and creativity grounded in and flowing from that solid core.
Strategic Repolarization—for Revolution
Now, having stressed the tremendous importance of ideology, I also want to emphasize the need to grasp the importance of political line and policy and of providing practical means for masses of people to mobilize to change the world. There's a need to apply the two "mouthful formulations." The first one, from Strategic Questions,1 has to do with how, in the development of political movements and the political struggle overall, to continuously forge (and reforge under new conditions) unity as broadly as possible so that it is objectively in line with and furthering the aims of the proletarian revolution and so that, at any given time in that process, as many people as possible are being won and influenced in their subjective consciousness toward the communist position, without however overstepping and undermining the correct unity for the given circumstances, which will be on a level different from, and short of, support for the communist position and proletarian revolution. And the second "mouthful formulation," which has been drawn from GO&GS ( Grand Objectives and Grand Strategy )2 has to do with identifying and moving around—bringing forward political resistance and mobilization on a mass scale in relation to—concentrations of major contradictions in society and the world, and how that in turn contributes to moving everything toward revolution.
The overall work of our Party is, in significant measure, an application of these "two mouthfuls." This is an application of the united front under the leadership of the proletariat, in terms of policy and program. And it is very important to see every aspect of our Party's work not as a thing unto itself but as part of an overall strategic approach. An overall strategic approach and a means for what? For revolution—for repolarizing in a way more favorable for revolution and to prepare the ground, politically, for the emergence of a revolutionary situation and, relatedly, the emergence of a revolutionary people in the millions and millions.
And, if we look at things in terms of repolarization for revolution, the following formulation is very relevant and important—not speaking to any particular immediate situation so much as with strategic and overall considerations in mind:
What's being argued for is, if we do work correctly, we can take advantage of the paralysis of significant sections of the bourgeoisie; isolate to the maximum degree possible this really hard-core section of the bourgeoisie; and, with the necessary qualitative change in the objective situation, go after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie as a whole.
1. Strategic Questions was a talk by Bob Avakian in the mid-1990s, and selections from it were published in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution ) in issues 881 and 884-893 (November 1996 through February 1997) and in issues 1176-1178 (November 24 through December 8, 2002). These selections can also be found online at revcom.us/avakian/avakian-works.html. [back]
2. Great Objectives and Grand Strategy is a talk given by Bob Avakian at the end of the 1990s; excerpts from it have been published in the Revolutionary Worker #1127-1142 (November 18, 2001 through March 10, 2002) and are available online at revcom.us/avakian/avakian-works.html#gogs. [back]
Revolution: Fall 2007
Reverse the Firings
As the school year opens on campuses around the country, an ominous chill is in the air. For years right-wing political forces have been working, largely behind the scenes and “below the radar,” to suppress dissent and critical thinking on campus. These forces include Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice-President Dick Cheney who started the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA); and David Horowitz, who founded the fascistic student group Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) and is an intimate of Karl Rove.
Their aim? Turn the university into a zone of uncontested indoctrination in the values and mind-set of empire.
The scope and scale of this dangerous and accelerating attack is not widely recognized, or understood. But just this summer two major universities purged controversial scholars highly regarded by their students, their departments, and in their fields—Native American Studies Professor Ward Churchill from the University of Colorado at Boulder; and Norman Finkelstein from DePaul University in Chicago. In addition, the trustees of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio—long known for its radical and open-minded approach to education—announced the school’s shutdown, despite fierce opposition from students, faculty and alumni groups around the country.
While the circumstances surrounding each of these decisions are different, together they mark a dangerous leap in this reactionary agenda; they must not be allowed to stand.
Why Were Churchill and Finkelstein Targeted?
What “crimes” did these two* scholars commit? In short—contributing to research and scholarship that calls into question core assumptions about this country’s history; about its role in the world; and the role of Israel, a strategic ally.
Tenured Professor Ward Churchill was fired by CU’s Board of Regents on July 24, 2 1/2 years after a controversial essay he wrote after 9/11 became the object of a nationwide witch-hunt involving two Republican governors, the reactionary TV & talk radio megaphones, and Horowitz and ACTA. The university first tried to see if Churchill could be fired for the content of his writings. Then they switched the form of attack, and now claim he’s being fired for shoddy scholarship. Claims of research misconduct against Churchill have been shown by many scholars to be either completely bogus or grossly exaggerated.
As Anthony Romero, the national Executive Director of the ACLU, said, “The investigation of Professor Churchill’s scholarship cannot be separated from the indefensible lynch-mob furor that generated the initial calls for his termination. Firing Professor Churchill in these circumstances does not send a message about academic rigor and standards of professional integrity. On the contrary, it sends a warning to the academic community that politically unpopular dissenters speak out at their peril.” In reality Churchill was fired not because of errors in his scholarship, but because of inconvenient truths his scholarship raises—the genocide of the indigenous peoples and the FBI targeting of political opposition in the 1960’s—and his dissenting views on 9/11.
On June 8, DePaul University President Dennis Holtschneider notified Professor Norman Finkelstein that he was denied tenure—and essentially fired—by the country’s largest Catholic university. This followed a year-long campaign against Finkelstein led by Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and torture advocate. Finkelstein, whose parents survived Nazi death camps, is a fierce critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, of U.S. complicity, and of Israel’s Zionist defenders in this country. Dershowitz is a zealous defender of everything Israel has done against the Palestinian people.
Holtschneider admitted Finkelstein is a “nationally known scholar and public intellectual, considered provocative, challenging and intellectually interesting.” But it accuses him of “unprofessional personal attacks” that “polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration.” His work supposedly “shifts toward advocacy and away from scholarship” and “fails to meet the most basic standards governing scholarly discourse within the academic community.” The President of the Illinois conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) wrote to DePaul that these grounds for denying promotion violate the standards of the AAUP—and those of DePaul’s own faculty handbook.
The impact of these purges, if they aren’t reversed, will be far-reaching. Tom Mayer, CU—Boulder Professor of Sociology, wrote in the midst of the witch-hunt: “The permanent or temporary expulsion of Ward Churchill would be an immense loss for CU. In one fell swoop we would become a more tepid, more timid, and more servile institution. His expulsion would deprive students of contact with a potent challenger of accepted cognitive frameworks. The social sciences desperately need the kind of challenge presented by Ward Churchill.” Raul Hilberg, pre-eminent scholar of Jewish Holocaust studies, said of DePaul’s decision, “I have a sinking feeling about the damage this will do to academic freedom.”
Who’s next? These decisions send a clear message: Stay clear of scholarly inquiry that could challenge core myths and official “truths”—or your job, and maybe even your career, will be finished. Another DePaul professor, Matthew Abraham, drew on a colleague’s comparison of the Churchill and Finkelstein cases to public executions, and said: “You don’t need to do ten or twenty of them. You just need to do four or five just to keep people in line and to have them remember what can happen if you get carried away with your speech. Ward and Norman, these are top-flight scholars, and if they can take them out, believe me they wouldn’t hesitate to take out people of much lesser stature.”
The effect is clear. Those students who come to college to learn about and change the world will find a climate of fear, the exact opposite of the spirit of critical inquiry and daring to challenge the status quo they should expect. They will run into professors who’ll think twice before sponsoring speakers or activist groups, or who decide not to bring controversial speakers to their classrooms for fear of harassment, or worse. They’ll find administrators deciding to dis-invite prominent but controversial scholars, as the Graduate Center at the City University of New York just did to University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer and Harvard Professor Stephen M. Walt, who dare in a recent book to criticize the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. Students will find fewer and fewer opportunities and avenues to explore refutations of the ‘official narrative’ on any number of controversial and vital questions—this country’s origins in slavery, genocide, and the theft of land; its current international aggression in the Middle East and around the world; the true history of revolution and socialism, etc. The stakes involved are tremendous.
Today’s campuses are a far cry from the “leftist dictatorships” claimed by those behind these attacks. But there is in academia still more space than there is in the rest of society for critical thinking to be encouraged and for dissent from the official narrative to still find air to be expressed. This is essential to the role of the university, and this academic ferment stimulates and influences the rest of society. For that very reason, these attacks aim to change not just the universities in a radically reactionary way, but to affect all of society.
The closing of Antioch College has to be seen in this context. Its Board of Trustees couched their closure decision in terms of lack of financial resources and low numbers of student admissions. But the newly appointed president of Antioch, Steve Lawry, told the New York Times that the college “became less about intellectual rigor, than a political and social experience…. The boot camp of the revolution became the model.” The trustees hired a consultant who talked of shutting down the campus to “cleanse the ghosts” of the ’60s/early ’70s spirit of questioning and rebellion. It was this, rather than financial problems, which drove the shutdown—and that inspired the right-wing columnist George Will to devote a nationally syndicated column to crowing about it. Coming on top of the firings, this is a further serious blow.
As we wrote in our supplement to Issue #81—“Warning: The Nazification of the American University”—“If this reactionary program wins out, universities will be turning out students who will have had little, if any, opportunity to think critically, into a society qualitatively more severely repressive than anything seen in this country’s history.” Cores of faculty and students at both DePaul and the University of Colorado—Boulder are fighting to oppose these faculty dismissals, and Antioch alumni are organizing opposition to its closure. Every student and every scholar committed to the search for the truth and to the importance of ferment and the clash of ideas in arriving at it, should be alarmed and searching for ways to join their efforts to reverse these decisions, and the whole direction for the campus that they reinforce.
* DePaul Professor Mehrene Larudee, who had organized support for Finkelstein as he came under attack, has also been denied tenure. Her case is also being taken up by those fighting for Finkelstein to be tenured. [back]
Revolution: Fall 2007
As you start college…think about this:
College should be a time and a place to learn about the world…to go from the galactic to the microscopic, to learn of different cultures and art forms, to get into philosophy and history and questions of meaning and of truth…to explore things that have been kept from you, to plunge into the exciting process of discovery…to meet people from different parts of the world and different perspectives…to stretch social and political boundaries and to get into different scenes.
It's supposed to be a time to stay up all night talking, making music, reading poetry…to be part of resisting and rebelling against everything that is wrong…to make a statement about who you want to be and what kind of world you want to live in…to look at the world as it really is, and to begin to forge your role in relation to it….
But you are doing this at a time when all this is being reined in, when powerful forces are trying to shut it down…precisely because discovering how the past has shaped the present, coming to grips with how your life will shape the future, and seeing how all of this is bound up with and will influence the lives of billions around the world has higher stakes now than probably ever before.
The World You Come To
You didn't carve up the earth with manmade borders, subjugate whole peoples, drive millions from their families and homelands in a desperate search for work in the leaner and meaner globalized economy—but you can't escape the fact that the clothes on your back, the food you eat, the roads you drive on, the computers you use were all made through this global system of capitalist exploitation and plunder, including of millions of children literally chained to machines working 12, 14, 16 hours a day.
You didn't rip up the earth’s beautiful landscapes and burn its fossil fuels, sending towers of filthy smoke billowing into the skies, to feed the cutthroat competition of capitalist corporations…you didn't decide that beef cattle for the cancerous spread of fast food chains around the world was worth massive deforestation and displacement of indigenous peoples…that concern about the extinction of species and the melting of the ice caps should be ridiculed by government and major media—but you are now inheriting a world teetering dangerously close to destruction.
It was not your hands that chained millions of Africans in slave ships across the murderous Middle Passage, that sold children out of their mothers’ arms on auction blocks, that saddled up with the night-riding KKK and dragged Black people from their homes, or shot them down in urban streets when they dared to rebel or even walked with a little bit of pride—but you live each day in a country whose wealth flows directly from the veins of those slaves and whose deep-rooted racism is alive and well in its murderous response to Hurricane Katrina and the racial cleansing of New Orleans since.
You weren't the ones cheering and waving the U.S. flag as nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, incinerating hundreds of thousands in slow and agonizing deaths as flesh hung from their bodies and their cities burned and burned and burned around them—but you live in the country that did this, the country that stockpiles more nukes than any other, the country that is threatening to use these weapons of mass death preemptively.
It wasn't you who first enshrined the idea that women's only value was as breeders of children, helpmeets of men, or objects of sexual plunder…you aren't the patriarchs who enshrined these ideas in the religious texts of every major religion—but you are living at a time when no woman in any corner of the globe grows up free of the fear or the reality of being raped, brutalized, mutilated, disrespected, or owned, and religious fundamentalist subjugation of women is on the rise everywhere.
And no, it wasn't you who sanctioned the Presidency of George Bush, who with his unjust and immoral wars waged for empire, his fascist remaking of U.S. society, and his Dark Ages religious fundamentalism has taken this imperialist society into even more extreme, repressive, and rapacious directions—but even as you read this, there are innocent people being chained to ceilings, stripped naked, and tortured in your name.
Let’s face it—you, like everyone else, have had your circumstance largely determined by forces beyond your control. It would be easy to hide behind this. Without a doubt, there are options and rationales being held out there for you to “do for yourself” or maybe “just do your part.” But whether you chose it or not, all of these crimes have been laid at your doorstep and what you do—or don’t do—will shape the circumstances and lives of millions and millions of people around the planet for generations to come.
You have laid out before you the promise of the possibility of achievement, of personal acquisition, of a place at the table and comforts and safety and “protection” and all the rest. You can use your education, your talents, your creativity, your ambitions to run this hamster wheel, to scarf up as much as you can from high up on the global economic “food chain,” and to do as those who enforce this whole system of global plunder are hoping you will….
Or, you can refuse to be confined by narrow horizons. You can resist . You can challenge unjust authority, you can expose the government’s lies and its crimes, you can put your body into the political fight against the war grinding up hundreds of thousands in Iraq and the new wars currently being planned. You can be about ending racism and the hatred of immigrants being whipped up with deadly consequences. You can be about shattering the oppression of women and gay people. You can dare to take on and break people out of the death grip of the hateful brand of Christian fundamentalism that enshrines this subjugation as divine. You can defy the right-wing student brownshirts trying to cleanse the campuses of subversive ideas and critical thought.
You can throw your fist in the air and get way out there—the way young people have in every heroic struggle for justice and liberation in the past—bringing hope to people around the world and challenging and inspiring others to resist throughout society. You can act urgently and set in motion political resistance and upheaval powerful enough to drive the Bush regime from power and to open up the possibility of a whole different world.
And you can learn. You can find out about the human beings and their lives being shaped and destroyed by all this. You can look deeper at the structures that have caused all this, the ideas that have reinforced all this. You can investigate solutions that have been curtained off—behind the “caution tape” of the official keepers of ideas and “solutions,” written off even by many who hate the way things are but who have themselves been misled or havesettled in—to see what has truly been accomplished through the revolutionary struggles of the oppressed and exploited throughout the world.
You can even dig beneath the simplistic and cynical refrain of “power corrupts” that serves simply as an excuse to leave things the way they are. You can—and you should—explore the truly breathtaking things that have been accomplished when the masses have held revolutionary state power in places like the Soviet Union or China, when they were really revolutionary. You can stand on the shoulders of all of this—of those who have sacrificed and struggled, who have dared to dream and to live and to fight for the emancipation of all of humanity—and you can be a part of taking all of this so much further.
If you've read this far, you're someone who wants to change the world. Don't listen to the cynics and the worldly wise who tell you you can't, who try to lower your sights. History shows that the dreamers and fighters are right. Follow your principles, work to realize your deepest and highest aspirations, and follow THAT where it leads you.
And while you do that, check out and engage with this paper every week. Take it out to and talk about it with others. Get out the truth and a whole spirit of resistance and revolution. Get into the works of Bob Avakian: his re-envisioning of the communist project; his analysis of current world events and the challenges before people who want a different world; and the answers, approaches, and questions he is putting forward about what is involved in making a revolution that can remake the whole world in a truly liberating, viable, and lasting way.
Do all this as we work together to resist and reverse the mounting horrors—including the fight sharpening up now over whether the campuses will be centers of resistance or sites of imperialist indoctrination.
Your life is either going to count for something—or it is going to count for nothing. The world is intolerable. It is crying out for justice. Don't look away from it.
Revolution: Fall 2007
A generation of kids growing up in the 1950s was routinely taught to play the game of "cowboys and Indians" with their friends. Only later did they find out that what they had been playing at was genocide.
Today on campuses around the country, right-wing students are knowingly being organized, and trained, in a much more dangerous “sport.” Like the Nazi “brownshirt” youth of 1920s and 1930s Germany, groups like Campus Watch and the deliberately misnamed Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) are organizing students to spy on, gather “evidence” against, and report faculty who encourage discussion of controversial subjects in their classes, with the aim of having them silenced, or fired. From elite universities like NYU to community colleges, they organize “games” such as “find the ‘illegal’ immigrant” day. At one school they even held a game of “catch the runaway slave,” with students (and faculty) dressed in blackface! They mock the struggle against the oppression of African-Americans and others, holding “affirmative action bake sales” and Republican “coming-out parties.”
At Columbia University these students were turned on fellow students who protested the appearance of the leader of the anti-immigrant, paramilitary Minutemen. The College Republicans at Holyoke Community College waged a month-long campaign to follow around, physically intimidate, and sexually harass the Student Senate president for her efforts to pass a resolution calling on the administration to ban military recruiting on campus.
These right-wing student groups, richly funded and nationally directed by powerful right-wing political forces closely tied to those at the seat of power, are a growing force on campuses around the country that cannot be ignored. They are providing the foot-soldiers for a broad right-wing agenda aimed at destroying academic life, ruining faculty careers, and inciting official and unofficial persecution against targeted professors and students. Those directing this assault on critical thinking and dissent are out to fundamentally change the universities as we have known them, in their internal life and functioning, and in their effect on society, making them zones of uncontested indoctrination in service of empire.
These student bullies and fascists on the campuses create an atmosphere of intimidation among faculty, while cooking up “evidence” of the so-called campus “dictatorship of the left.” They provide the crucial undergirding for the argument by Horowitz, American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), and those in power that the campuses must be “taken back” and their direction fundamentally changed. State legislatures in Colorado and Pennsylvania have had these students testify about the terrible “left-wing bias” in their states’ college and university classrooms. Their evidence is consistently specious and laughable, but the public perception grows that conservative students are being systematically persecuted by their “leftist” professors.
These right-wing students go to seminars where they are trained to take advantage of the relativism which is widely promoted in academia. They are taught to argue that they are simply trying to promote an "alternative viewpoint" (or what some call a "competing narrative"), which deserves to be heard. And all the while, they histrionically complain about their own "persecution." Historically and down to the present day, this whole method of casting themselves as “victims” while representing the views and enjoying the backing of the most powerful forces in the country is the trademark of the reactionaries in power. They are even encouraged to co-opt the language associated with the left—equality, diversity, academic freedom, fairness, etc.
Despite their poses, these forces are not about encouraging a diversity of views to contend. On the contrary, using the stalking horse of “balance,” they have launched an assault on the search for the truth and its exposition. The fact is that there are indeed some things which we can judge to be true—that is, to accurately reflect objective reality. Some of these truths are not only quite established and definite—they are very “inconvenient” for those in power. And it is these inconvenient truths that are coming under attack in the name of balance. The truth about the roots of this country in slavery and genocide, for instance; the truth about the imperialist interests behind the wars that it has fought; or even truths about the evolution of the species. These truths conflict with the agenda of those in power, and so they demand that scholarship which challenges the “official narrative” of U.S. history be “balanced” with conservative professors. For David Horowitz, who actually claims that slavery was good for Black people because they are now “better off” than Africans, the content of such “balance” is obvious. As it is for those who argue that the teaching of the scientific fact of evolution be “balanced” with the dressed-up religious creationism of intelligent design. In both cases, the call for “balance” is a step on the way to suppression of the truth.
We’ve seen this method in operation before. Take the media, where Fox News claims to be “fair and balanced.” This kind of “balance” increasingly sets the terms where even ruling-class liberals like Dan Rather are either forced out or cowed into silence, and where truly radical voices are effectively banned. The right-wing demand for “balance” is not a call for contention of ideas over what is real and what most accurately characterizes reality, be it life on Earth or the history of this country. It is, for the time being, a call for the coexistence of truths, half-truths and lies, as a transitional step to silencing the truth. And in the hands of David Horowitz and Lynne Cheney, the Christian fascists, and Fox News, it is a cover to banish critical thinking from the university, and then from society itself.
These groups are well-funded and ruthless, and they have a certain momentum. But they also have an Achilles heel: they cannot stand up to critical thinking and a genuine search for the truth. They must and can be confronted and politically defeated, exposing the truth about their methods and their real agenda.
[For more on this movement’s ruling class backers, see “The Powers Behind the Brownshirt Movement”]
Revolution: Fall 2007
The rise of the campus brownshirts is the result of a conscious campaign by ruling class organizations with literally billions of dollars at their disposal. As Time magazine noted, this "student movement" is actually “very old and powerful, run not by gangly kids but by seasoned generals of the Right.” (“The Right’s New Wing,” Time, August, 2004)
The president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), one of the largest funders of reactionary student groups, articulated this clearly, saying “We must…provide resources and guidance to…sustain a counteroffensive on that last Leftist redoubt [stronghold] the college campus…We plan to do this by greatly expanding the ISI field effort, its network of campus-based programming.” His organization alone pumps in $10 million a year into right-wing campus groups.
In Turning the Tide: Challenging the Right on Campus, Anuradha Mittal writes that “the Right has built a nationwide campus network with a highly-organized infrastructure, an extensive network of campus affiliates, and over a dozen conservative student-focused think tanks that spend over $40 million annually.”
In 2004 alone, the three largest foundations supporting brownshirts—the ISI, the Young America’s Foundation (YAF), and the Leadership Institute—spent $25 million to build a reactionary campus presence. ISI funds 80 right-wing student publications, and by itself gives conservative groups at Yale University almost double the money that the college gives all student groups. The Leadership Institute trains, supports, and does public relations for 213 conservative student groups nationwide. They provide guest speakers, seed money, and support for newspapers and training in how to win campus elections. The YAF, according to Insight magazine, “organizes so many programs on so many campuses that it's difficult to find a conservative activist” who hasn't been associated with its activities. In 2004, YAF subsidized over 150 campus lectures by Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, and other fascists.
These same institutions finance many of the fraudulent “studies” used by Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) and others to make their claims of “liberal bias” at universities. One study from April 2005 was funded by the Randolph Foundation, big supporters of Horowitz.
Students for Academic Freedom
Students for Academic Freedom are at the forefront of the university brownshirt movement. It was founded by racist demagogue David Horowitz in 2003 to promote his “Academic Bill of Rights,” which aims to purge universities of radical and progressive thought in the name of “academic freedom.” SAF reportedly has chapters on 200 campuses. Horowitz regularly visits campuses and high schools, leaving in his wake well-funded, officially sanctioned right-wing student organizations.
The David Horowitz Freedom Center, which funds SAF, receives a million dollars a year from foundations like the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (the country’s largest right-wing foundation with $706 million in assets). In the 1990s, the Bradley Foundation funded the “scholars” who wrote The Bell Curve, which claimed that whites are intellectually superior to Blacks.
SAF has close ties to many reactionary ruling class forces, such as Senators Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, and Bill Frist, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former governors Jeb Bush and Bill Owens (of Colorado), and Senator Trent Lott, among many others. At the recent SAF Conference in March, the keynote speaker was none other than Rick Santorum, the standard-bearer for fascist intolerance and anti-gay bigotry.
There is also a K-12 SAF, which brings these same methods to schools down to the kindergarten level. One example is what was done to Jay Bennish, a high school teacher in Colorado. A snitch inspired by SAF made a recording of comments by Bennish. These were then taken out of context and fed into the Republican noise machine of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, et al. There were demands for his firing, including by Horowitz on Pat Robertson's 700 Club. While his students expressed strong support, Bennish was subjected to death threats. Bennish was not fired, but he was suspended. As a result of the tremendous intimidation, when he returned, it was on the basis of a commitment to teaching “both sides,” with less discussion and more textbook assignments. One of his students lamented that, as a result, “We're not going to be learning as much.”
Campus Watch was formed by Daniel Pipes, a close ally of Horowitz and virulent supporter of Israel who has held positions at the Departments of State and Defense. Rashid Khalidi, of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University has called Campus Watch a “noxious campaign” which is “intended to silence¼true debate on campus.”
Like SAF, Campus Watch compiles “dossiers” on “unpatriotic” professors who dare to speak or write critically of Israel and U.S. policies in the Middle East. Their website has a “Keep Us Informed” section, which encourages students to inform on their professors. Nation magazine (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20021125/mcneil—November 11, 2002) reported that professors targeted by Campus Watch “have been inundated with hostile spam, rendering their e-mail accounts almost useless, and most have been victims of ‘spoofing,’ in which their identities are stolen and thousands of offensive e-mail messages sent out in their names. More than one scholar has received telephone death threats.”
Horowitz’s book Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left gave encouragement, direction, and political ammunition to Campus Watch and the pro-Israeli David Project, which launched attacks on Middle Eastern departments and scholars at Columbia University and elsewhere in late 2004.
Political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt recently wrote in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy that Campus Watch was founded by “passionately pro-Israel neoconservative Jews” with the intention of “encourag[ing] students to report comments or behavior that might be considered hostile to Israel” and that it was a “transparent attempt to blacklist and intimidate scholars.” Within the last week, Mearsheimer and Walt have had a half dozen speaking engagements promoting their new book cancelled under pressure from Zionist organizations.
Revolution: Fall 2007
The following article by Bill Martin, author and professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago, was written in response to the outrageous refusal of the DePaul administration to grant tenure to Norman Finkelstein, a prominent scholar who has taken a very strong anti-Zionist stance. We thank Bill Martin for permission to post this article.
They did the wrong thing: the denial of tenure to Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee at DePaul University must be reversed, and very quickly
Most questions having to do with ethics, politics, and university administration are both simple and complicated. Certainly there are many complex issues involved in the case of Norman Finkelstein. There are perhaps fewer complexities in the case of Mehrene Larudee, which seems to have been treated by DePaul administrators as simply an adjunct to the Finkelstein case. That would make the adjudication of her case an even greater wrong than what has been done to Prof. Finkelstein. But the complex issues should not be allowed to obscure certain simple facts. The administration at DePaul did the wrong thing in these cases. Both Finkelstein and Larudee should be granted tenure and promotion and given every encouragement to continue with their good work in the classroom and in research. These wrongs must be corrected very quickly, both for the sake of Professors Finkelstein and Larudee, and for the sake of the credibility and intellectual legitimacy of DePaul University, which is very much in question at this time. The eyes of the intellectual world are on DePaul, and the leadership of DePaul, which first of all means the president, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the senior faculty, only have a short time in which to make things right.
What I write here, as a senior faculty member at DePaul, I will write as if I am addressing the president of the university, Father Dennis Holtschneider. Fr. Holtschneider is a man whom I have very much liked and respected, and I hope to like and respect him again. What I say here I would say to Fr. Holtschneider directly, but it is clear that letters from faculty members to the president, while good and helpful, are not going to be enough to go against the larger political tide that the Larudee and Finkelstein decisions represent.
Indeed, I hope that Fr. Holtschneider and Dean Suchar (whom I have also liked and respected over the past seventeen years, the time I have been at DePaul) and others will recognize what I say here as part of an effort not only to help, but indeed even to save DePaul University, and therefore, to help them as well. The stakes of the Finkelstein and Larudee decisions are very high. DePaul has been, in my view, a politically progressive university. I have been very proud of DePaul in this respect, and have felt very happy and privileged to be a part of this university. DePaul has made an effort, far more than most universities, to stand for social justice and inclusiveness. Although there are some first-rate scholars and theorists and creative practitioners in the many departments and schools of the university (and I do not hesitate to say that I am especially proud of my own department in this regard, which also excels in diversity and inclusiveness among the philosophy departments in the United States), DePaul is also a generally plebeian sort of place. There is no overestimating the role that a certain Christian perspective, which at DePaul we associate with the vision of St. Vincent DePaul, and which we call “Vincentian values,” has played in making DePaul a beacon of justice and inclusion. I took the fact that the Political Science Department had hired Prof. Finkelstein in the first place to be exemplary of the kind of university that DePaul has been, and that, indeed, is a very good thing.
Now I feel that my politically progressive university has been destroyed in a single stroke, and this makes me sad, sick, dismayed, and angry.
Furthermore, because these wrong decisions have taken place at DePaul, the door is now opened wider for a general assault on politically progressive intellectuals at other universities. This assault is not just some amorphous thing, it is an organized effort. Indeed, this organized effort played an essential role in the decisions at DePaul.
Two things that are very simple to understand need to be said up front. First, you cannot deny tenure to a professor because she or he takes a political stand that you do not like, agree with, or that is going to incur the disapprobation and wrath of some group. Yes, frankly, I think a professor who is an outright racist or misogynist or anti-gay bigot ought to be removed from the university (though even here there have to be procedures, and judgments cannot be based on whims, innuendo, or the self-promoting agendas of powerful persons or groups), but that is not what is going on here. Second, you cannot deny tenure to a professor simply for a rhetorical style that you do not like. A person cannot be denied tenure simply because you find his or her rhetoric “inflammatory.”
Now, when I say these things cannot be done, I mean two things. First, it is morally wrong to deny tenure to a professor on such bases. Second, to deny tenure on these bases goes against anything that could be codified as a basic procedure, and it undermines the very idea of there being procedures, as opposed to the arbitrary whims of administrators or of senior faculty who are in positions of responsibility in the tenure process.
Of course, there is a level on which it does not mean anything to say that “this cannot be done,” since, at the moment, these things have been done. In the case of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Charles Suchar and of Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, the fallback position ultimately seems to be that they are the deciders. In response to questions and protest raised by one of my esteemed colleagues regarding the decisions, Fr. Holtschneider said that he was sorry for the disagreement but that he was not going to change his decision. This could either be called a complete non-response or the “response” that, in the end, there are only questions of power and no real questions of ethical or political justification. Procedures, which are meant to embody principles of such justification, are rendered meaningless. Surely it can be considered to be a part of Fr. Holtschneider’s job to be concerned about the fallout that would occur if Norman Finkelstein were to be tenured at DePaul — clearly, powerful interests were lined up against this. What is the proper way to address this concern, however? If the response is to undermine the system of principles and procedures, and therefore any basic trust that faculty — and students as well — might have for the university leadership, then it might be said that the university has destroyed itself in order (supposedly) to save itself.
The powerful outside interests that were lined up against Prof. Finkelstein either touched a nerve or found kindred spirits among certain administrators and a couple of key senior faculty; it is not outlandish to suppose that tremendous pressure was brought to bear on some of these, perhaps most of all the university president. The first two stages of the tenure procedure — namely the deliberations and decisions of the home department and the College committee — are supposed to be the most decisive stages. The votes were 9-3 and 5-0, respectively, in favor of Finkelstein’s tenure and promotion. However, the “minority report” (representing one-quarter of the voting members of the Political Science Department) and Dean Suchar’s decision (and attendant documents and conversations) have the character of an urgent intervention. Dean Suchar and the authors of the minority report (Professors Patrick Callahan, James Block, and Michael Mezey, the last being the former dean of the College and someone with a good deal of clout in the university) were within their rights to make their recommendations, from a purely procedural point of view, but only if their justifications were to be submitted to critical scrutiny at a later stage of the process. In fact, their justifications were flimsy, at best, but these justifications were accorded primary status in further deliberations, and the fact that these justifications had been carefully scrutinized and refuted in a lengthy document by two senior members of the Political Science Department, and that this document was then “ratified” by a three-quarters vote of the department, was accorded no status at all. Or, to leave the lawyer-language aside for the moment, anyone can see that a job was done on Prof. Finkelstein, there’s no mystery here or anything else that can be set aside because of other “complex” factors.
By and by, I have no doubt that all of these documents will be on the table (most of them already are), as well as the credentials and standing of the dean and the authors of the minority report, and this will further undermine the credibility of DePaul University. These decisions have created an opening to a kind of intellectual civil war. This isn’t anything I look forward to; in fact my urgent hope is that the decisions can be reversed quickly and we at DePaul can go back to being what we ought to be, on the basis of the Vincentian values of the university. However, if things drag out, then, as with the case of Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado, we will have to look very carefully at the credentials of the people who have questioned (or trashed, really) the credentials of Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee. No doubt, given the timing of the decisions (at the very end of the school year), those who did this dirty job hope that anger and protest will dissipate into the summer. But the destruction of the university will not end with the departure of Norman Finkelstein (and whatever large payoffs are necessary to ensure that departure), if and when that departure occurs. This wound cuts much more deeply, to the very heart of the university.
DePaul has had a tradition of fairness in its tenure procedures, undoubtedly inspired by Vincentian values and a more general sense that we bring people to DePaul first of all in order to support them and give them every chance to excel in their work. We may not have lived up to this lofty ideal in every case, but it meant something that we worked with this ideal in mind. Often, DePaul has been fair to a fault, bending over backwards to avoid even the appearance of unfairness. In contrast, the teaching and research credentials of Norman Finkelstein stand out dramatically, and this again points to the impression that the process was proceeding as it should have, with Finkelstein headed toward tenure and promotion, when a number was done on him. We can talk about the role of various individuals, both inside and outside of the university, and what might be called a “rolling coup” or series of interventions that were made against Prof. Finkelstein, but then the point would be that it was up to certain key individuals, most of all and especially the president, acting as a protector of Vincentian values, to put a stop to this nonsense. That instead certain individuals in positions of leadership and responsibility actually pressed forward with the intervention, facilitating it and adding to it, is shameful.
The ideal of fairness with which we have worked at DePaul is not the norm at all universities, and at some universities it is taken for granted that senior colleagues will put junior colleagues in difficult positions to see how they fight their way out of the corner, so to speak. But then, DePaul, from its founding (in 1898), never had a “Jewish quota,” something that Harvard, from which Alan Dershowitz presumes to give us lessons in ethics, had well into the 1950s. It has been claimed that, in the end, outside influences did not play a role in the decisions. I would say that, at least from the moment in 2006 (June 16th), when then-chair of Political Science Patrick Callahan wrote to Alan Dershowitz essentially to ask for the “dirt” on Norman Finkelstein (”Could you point me to the clearest and most egregious instances of dishonesty on Finkelstein’s part”), the process was poisoned. And how is that for collegial behavior and Vincentian values? In this case it is completely upside-down that the futures of Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee at DePaul are what we are discussing. If Fr. Holtschneider needed anything else to tell the president of the board of trustees of DePaul, John Simon (a supporter of both Alan Dershowitz and of the decision to fire Prof. Finkelstein), he could simply have said that the poisoning of the process by itself means that Prof. Finkelstein has to be awarded tenure, or otherwise the reputation of the university will be very seriously damaged — and so it has been. Unfortunately, the connection between Alan Dershowitz and John Simon, around fund-raising for the Jewish United Fund, is itself a part of this poisoned process.
A further element of the ideal of fairness with which we have attempted to work at DePaul is that we hire people to tenure-track positions in the hope that they will fulfill certain expectations and that we can then award them tenure. Nowhere has it previously been set out in these expectations that a professor cannot use “inflammatory language” in his or her writings or public discourse; nowhere previously has it been said that a professor has to uphold Vincentian values in order to be tenured at DePaul. Even apart from the fact that these requirements, as concocted by Dean Suchar without any discussion with faculty or procedural basis, are nothing but a smokescreen (and not even remotely an effective one) for covering the real issues, surely we would want to talk about the meaning of these new-found requirements; I know that many junior faculty at DePaul are wondering about this, or perhaps justifiably freaking out about it would be a more accurate description. It appears to me that Jesus, for instance, may have said some inflammatory things. Furthermore, to speak up for the existence and condition of the Palestinian people seems like the sort of thing St. Vincent would have done. Lastly, it cannot be a requirement for tenure at any intellectually respectable university that one cannot be a critic of the State of Israel.
But now of course I have veered toward the real issue, the issue that everyone who has followed this case knows is at the heart of the matter. Of course the administrators at DePaul, and the authors of the minority report, know this full well, hence the new-found requirements and the paper-thin justifications. Are these people living so deep inside their own heads that they actually think anyone else is buying this stuff? Seriously, if they really believe this, and I am not saying this in jest, and neither do I take any pleasure in saying this, then their basic mental competence has to be questioned. What is going on instead (for these are not stupid people) is that the crew who did this number on Professors Finkelstein and Larudee just hope that their obfuscations will deter people long enough that the cases will fade away, hopefully during the summer. (A recent response by Dean Suchar to the president of the Faculty Governance Council, Prof. Gil Gott, is a prime example; one great irony — or that’s what it would be called if it wasn’t instead just formalistic obfuscation — of Suchar’s response is that he raised procedural questions about the FGC sending its letter of protestation over his head, directly to the president, as if he himself had not shown contempt for the faculty of the College by overturning the overwhelming majority decisions of the home departments and the College tenure and promotion committee.) However, this issue will absolutely not fade away, and it is very disheartening to many, many people that such a cynical ploy would be attempted by our leaders.
That there is really only one issue in these cases is captured well by a comment that was made at the Norman Finkelstein Solidarity web site: “Keep the C. V., change the subject, and Norman Finkelstein has tenure.” If the “crew” is fooling anyone regarding this, it is only themselves; unfortunately, I can’t even believe that. What I can believe is the combination of enormous pressure that almost certainly was put on some of these people, perhaps most especially the president, combined with the ideological and personal animus that some of them may have against Prof. Finkelstein. One measure of how intense the pressure must have been, coming from powerful pro-Israel forces, is that, last year, DePaul University became the first Catholic university in the United States to have a gay studies program. I was very proud of the university for taking this step (and bravo to the faculty and administrators who organized it); it is the sort of thing for which I have been proud of DePaul for my entire time there, and there have been many such advances. Surely there were many in the Catholic community, academic and otherwise, who were not happy with the formation of DePaul’s gay studies program, but that didn’t stop us.
It would be silly to pretend to debate the question of Israel here, though perhaps not as silly as anyone thinking that Norman Finkelstein’s arguments and research are not a very important part of that debate. The crux of the problem is that there are some who don’t want a debate because, they think, on this issue there is no debate. Part of their position is that there is no such thing as the Palestinian people, though somehow the State of Israel has found it necessary to build an immense wall to contain and shut out these non-existent people. A big part of Norman Finkelstein’s research, and this goes back to his days as a graduate student at Princeton, has in essence been to challenge one of the founding myths of the State of Israel, the idea of “a land without a people for a people without a land.” Just as no thinking person in the United States today can believe that North America was “empty,” a “virgin land,” when the explorers and pilgrims showed up, no one in Israel itself actually believes that Palestine was “a land without a people” when the original Zionist settlers came. Indeed, 1948 is called a “revolution,” and it is hard to see why a revolution was needed if there were only lizards and sand there before. Thus a wall now has to be built against Norman Finkelstein in academia — and if they get away with building this wall they will feel emboldened to build others — even though his position in the debate, and the debate itself, does not exist.
The pro-Israel forces in the United States do not hesitate to fight dirty, and in this case they are even willing to destroy what has been a good university. They were quite willing to attack DePaul for having hired Prof. Finkelstein in the first place, but now Alan Dershowitz praises this “excellent Catholic university” for having fired him. Dershowitz had said that DePaul would be a laughing stock if it tenured Prof. Finkelstein, but of course the reality is that DePaul will now be a laughing stock for submitting (or even simply appearing to submit) to the dictates of Harvard’s leading torture advocate, someone who would probably even be willing to admit that he would be willing to say absolutely anything if it furthered the cause of the State of Israel. Surely part of the pressure used on some DePaul administrators is the threat to unleash the language of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. It does not help that the Catholic church and its institutions does not have a good record on these questions. But let us face the issue squarely: to use these terms loosely, when in fact there are real and really vicious anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers in the world is to trivialize these issues — and why shouldn’t this trivialization instead be called anti-Semitism? To just throw these terms around, to engage in their trivialization in order to advance a political agenda, is disgusting. It is also traumatizing to be called these things, and undoubtedly difficult to find the intellectual and political (and financial?) will to stand up to it, but this has to be done. The cost for not standing up will be enormous: DePaul will be destroyed as a place deserving of respect in the intellectual and academic worlds, and, if this happens, academic freedom will be under attack everywhere.
Without saying anything at all about the State of Israel, or its chief supporter the United States for that matter, we can readily see that, if a particular state is understood to be sui generis, the only true sovereign, and the exception to every rule (including even the law of contradiction, which would say that there is no need for a “revolution” to overthrow people who do not exist), then there are no rules — and then there is no university worthy of the name, either. It attests to the power of the defenders of sovereign absolutism that this — criticism of the State of Israel, especially if done by someone who is not only Jewish but is the child of Holocaust survivors — is the one line that cannot be crossed; no similar line exists, apparently, for the advocacy of torture at elite institutions.
The administrators and faculty at DePaul who created this terrible mess, especially the president, need to come clean. I say this to you now directly: the rest of us ought to appreciate the kind of pressure you are under (and even that people get carried away with certain ideologies and personal animosities and resentments which have no place in a legitimate tenure procedure) and we ought to do what we can to help you stand up to it, but we also have to demand that you do the right thing. Acknowledge the reality that your actions and decisions were wrong. Don’t waste any more precious time with formalistic obfuscation or opening up attacks on your critics. Reverse these terrible decisions and let us get back to the work of restoring the DePaul of which we have been justifiably proud.
For now, a great victory has been handed to people who are essentially fascists. Why is it a great victory? Because, as with Germany in 1933, a decisive role was played by people who are liberals and even progressives. Even more, because a university that should have been one of the last places where something like this could happen is instead one of the first.
Revolution: Fall 2007
Something exciting is in the air at DePaul University. After the school denied tenure for Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee, a group of students, activated and determined to reverse the denial, emerged. In the face of administrative repression, some of these students participated in the 2007 US Social Forum (USSF) and drafted a resolution which included the following:
“We, the students of DePaul University attending the U.S. Social Forum 2007, declare that DePaul University is in violation of its own mission to guarantee academic freedom, and is demonstrating disregard for the fundamental values of freedom of speech and social justice…
“We demand that the decisions to deny tenure to Dr. Norman Finkelstein and Dr. Mehrene Larudee be reversed and request an official apology to the students, the faculty, the alumni, and those involved and affected by the decision.”
Students have also organized an important conference, called "In Defense of Academic Freedom." It will take place on October 12th at Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago. The scheduled speakers are Akeel Bilgrami, Noam Chomsky, Tony Judt, and John Mearsheimer. Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee will take part in a panel discussion moderated by Tariq Ali. The conference could play an important role both in reversing the denial of tenure decision against Finkelstein and Larudee and in building a movement to defend dissent and critical thinking in academia. For this reason, people should be on the lookout for attacks on the organizers and the University of Chicago. For more information, see their website at: http://www.academicfreedomchicago.org/
Revolution: Fall 2007
Revolution: Fall 2007
Revolution: Fall 2007
Revolution: Fall 2007
Revolution #99, August 26, 2007
The weekend of Aug 3-5 saw kick-off events held for the Revolution Expansion and $500,000 Fund Drive in cities around the country. At picnics, brunches, potlucks, barbeques, events at cafés, gatherings at churches … hundreds of people came out to help launch Revolution’s fund drive! Leading up to, and at these events, funds were pledged and raised from teams who committed to raise $100, along with individual contributions. According to reports received by Revolution, the total pledged and raised was over $49,950.
In LA, a crew from Watts stepped up and pledged to raise $1,000 through car washes and other activities. The kick-off event in the Bay Area was announced as a news item on KPFA (Pacifica station) and one of the events MCs was interviewed. In Chicago, the kick-off weekend included a reception at an attorney’s office to raise funds for Alice Woodward’s reporting on the case of the Jena 6 in Jena, Louisiana. A minister, a professor, attorneys, political activists from the Green Party and others listened intently to a called-in message from Alice. Donations were collected on the spot, and a basis laid for reaching out much more broadly among different communities of professionals.
At one event, a professional pledged $1,500 and offered to also match up to $500 raised in a proletarian community in her city. A man in Watts pledged $100 a month from his disability check and committed to raise money from others. One young woman volunteered to advertise a day when she would cut and dye hair and donate all the proceeds to the paper. A friend of hers volunteered to do piercing the same day and also contribute to the drive.
At the kick-off events, people got into the basis for this fund drive. One youth posed the challenge of raising money broadly for a communist paper. At the same time, he talked about his own experiences where, as he brings out the issues the paper speaks to, people want it right away. He joined a $100 team and with others pledged to raise $200. Another woman at one of the events said she never had raised money for anything and she didn’t think she knew anyone to involve, but when she saw the suggestions in the flyer “100 Ways to Raise $100” (available at revcom.us) she started to see possibilities for doing this.
At a New York event, an immigrant proletarian read a statement: “For me the paper has been a messenger that transmits the hope for a better future, the hope for change that we crave and we see is possible. It has allowed me to have a clearer picture of what this country is doing to the world and its own citizens. The articles written by Bob Avakian, which are very insightful and detailed as well as controversial, always open a window for discussion. I know this because I’ve discussed these articles with fellow workers over the last ten years. Let’s do everything we can to support this paper. I have and will continue to do so. It needs to be read by millions and it isn’t yet. Compare it to all the papers out there that lie to us everyday and are read by millions now. That has to change. It is up to us.”
Many at the events drew from the Truth in Preparation for Revolution broadsheet at the kick-off events: “You, and people like you, can make this happen… Much is at stake. If people are going to really understand what is going on, and if something good is going to be pulled out of the current storms, a greatly expanded Revolution newspaper must be at the heart of that process.”
Lets build on these successful opening kick-off events and take them higher, broader, and more boldly into society, and bring more people forward to play a role in this unprecedented movement to raise $500,000 for Revolution newspaper.
Labor Day weekend, the 2nd Anniversary of Katrina, and Mexican Independence Day are all junctures where hundreds of thousands of people can be reached with the Revolution fundraising broadsheet and the paper. There is potential to bring forward 100’s and 100’s of $100 teams—people who commit to raise $100 for this drive. And these events will be great opportunities to involve new people in selling thousands of “Wanted T-shirts” and the new “Wanted” tote bags in English and Spanish.
Revolution #99, August 26, 2007
In December 2005, leaks to the media revealed the existence of a secret and illegal wiretapping operation by Bush's National Security Agency (NSA) that spied on telephone calls, emails, and other communications by people in the U.S. without warrants. Al Gore declared that Bush "has been breaking the law—repeatedly and insistently.” Democratic Senator Russell Feingold said Bush should be "censured" by Congress. Republican Senator Arlen Specter called for a full investigation.
Less than two years later, on August 5, Congress passed a law pushed by the Bush regime that not only legalizes NSA's warrantless wiretapping but vastly expands the scope of targets that the government can legally spy on without court approval. The new law is officially named the “Protect America Act of 2007.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which calls the new law the "Police America Act," says that it "gives the NSA a blank check to wiretap Americans without judicial oversight." (ACLU fact sheet at aclu.org)
The NSA Spying Program
The new law is an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) passed by Congress in 1978 after widespread exposure in the mid-1970s of rampant government wiretapping, break-ins, and dirty tricks. FISA gave free rein to the intelligence agencies to carry out surveillance on foreign governments and foreign "agents"—but it put some formal limits on the wiretapping of "U.S. persons" (citizens and legal residents), requiring the intelligence agencies to get a warrant from the FISA court for such surveillance.
The FISA "restrictions" on wiretapping were never about protecting the privacy and rights of the people. In 2004, for example, the government requested 1,758 wiretaps under FISA. Not a single one was denied. And FISA allows the government to begin surveillance and then get approval from the secret court later.
But the Bush regime decided in secret that even FISA and its court—which operates in secret and rubber stamps requests from law enforcement to spy on people in the U.S.—was way too restricting on how much the government could snoop into your phone calls and email. Immediately after 9/11, the Bush White House started a NSA wiretapping program that totally bypassed FISA.
Today, most international electronic communications to and from the U.S.—as well as a lot of calls and internet traffic between locations outside the U.S.—are routed through giant telecommunication switches located in the U.S. Under the NSA program, the government eavesdrops by "latching on" to these switches operated by U.S. companies like AT&T that handle a huge amount of calls and emails each day. Since a lot of the data going through those switches involves people in the U.S., NSA wiretaps also spy on people in the U.S. Until now, this had been a violation of FISA.
When the NSA program came out into the open, the Bush regime defended it by saying that warrantless surveillance was within presidential "war-time" powers and that any wiretapping involving people in the U.S. was targeted at Al Qaeda and other terrorists. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, appearing before a Congressional committee, declared, "As the President has said, if you're talking to Al Qaeda, we want to know it."
Overruling the FISA Rubber Stamp
The NSA's spying operation apparently ran into a snag earlier this year. The New York Times reported (8/6/07) that telecommunications companies "facing major lawsuits for having secretly cooperated with the warrantless wiretapping program…now wanted greater legal protections before cooperating further." In response, this January the Bush administration "subjected [the NSA program] for the first time to the scrutiny of the FISA court."
Then in May, according to a Washington Post article (8/12/07), a FISA court judge ruled that "the law's wording required the government to get a warrant" whenever the wiretapping might involve people in the U.S. The Post reported that "The decision had the immediate practical effect of forcing the NSA to laboriously ask judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court each time it wanted to capture such foreign communications from a wire or fiber [optic cable] on U.S. soil." The New York Times said that the change "swamped the court with an enormous volume of search warrant applications." The White House dispatched Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to meet directly with the FISA judges to get them to reverse the decision, but he was unsuccessful. It seems the NSA warrantless wiretapping was too much even for the pliant FISA court!
The fact that the FISA court was "swamped" with NSA wiretapping requests is itself an exposure of the broad extent of the surveillance that was being carried out. And now, with the new law, the Bush regime is moving to spy without even the limited restrictions and paper trail involved in the FISA process.
Repressive Leaps in the New Law
Steven Aftergood, an intelligence policy analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, pointed to three ways in which the new law is a leap in the government's repressive powers: "It expands the surveillance program beyond terrorism to encompass foreign intelligence. It permits the monitoring of communications of a U.S. person as long as he or she is not the primary target. And it effectively removes judicial supervision of the surveillance process." (Quoted in Los Angeles Times, 8/7/07) Let's look at each point:
1) Expanding the spying program to cover "foreign intelligence" in general: Bush officials had previously justified the NSA's warrantless wiretapping by saying that they were targeting foreign "terrorist" groups and anyone associated with them. But with the new law, the NSA can spy on anyone and any group overseas—as long as the surveillance is (under the language of the law) "directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States" for the purpose of "foreign intelligence." This is a much wider category.
2) Permitting spying without warrants on "U.S. persons": The new law enables the government to eavesdrop on international calls and emails of people in the U.S. Writing on the legal affairs blog “Balkinization,” Georgetown University law professor Marty Lederman notes that the law allows warrantless wiretapping "even if the surveillance picks up communications of U.S. persons here in the States—indeed, even if the surveillance is in part designed to intercept U.S. communications, so long as it is also 'directed at' someone overseas.” The Center for National Security Studies (CNSS), a civil liberties group, wrote in their analysis of the law that “this approach would also permit the surveillance of countless Americans traveling, working, or fighting in the armed services abroad.”
3) Removing oversight by courts: The new law has provisions for review of the NSA surveillance by the FISA court. But the court will not look at individual cases—it will only review the procedure used to determine whether the targets are "reasonably believed" to be outside the U.S. The ACLU notes that the new law "does not require the AG [Attorney General] to explain how it treats Americans’ calls or emails when they are intercepted. The court will have no information about how extensive the breach of American privacy is, nor the authority to remedy it."
The new law also gives the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence the ability to order communication service providers to cooperate with federal wiretapping operations, and the law threatens those companies with penalties if they don't comply. At the same time, the law promises those companies immunity from lawsuits for taking part in NSA spying.
A federal appellate court in San Francisco is now hearing two suits challenging NSA warrantless surveillance. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is involved in one suit. They represent AT&T customers who brought a class action suit against the telecommunications company for assisting the NSA in illegally snooping on their calls. The NSA program involved here is another program that the Bush regime hasn’t admitted exists—which reportedly collects records of all domestic phone calls from three of the biggest phone carriers in the country. Information for the suit was provided to the EFF by a former AT&T employee. The other suit says that the NSA warantless spying program illegally wiretapped calls between an Islamic charity and its lawyers. A representative of the EFF told Revolution that their position is that the new law is not retroactive and does not affect the suits which have to do with surveillance taking place over the past few years. The U.S. government is arguing that the suits should be dismissed in order to protect "state secrets.”
And the Democrats?
Many Democrats in the Congress backed Bush's new law. Others--including all the Democratic presidential candidates—voted against it. But the leaders of the Democratic Party knew the law had the votes to pass and made no extraordinary parliamentary moves (like a filibuster) to stop it, even though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the law "does violence to the Constitution."
Many people in the social base of the Democratic Party are bitter and feel betrayed. There was a flood of angry posts on pro-Democratic blogs, and Pelosi got more than 200,000 protest emails.
Breaking Out of the Road to Horror
The logic that the government needs more power to massively snoop into and spy on every detail of people’s lives to provide for their "safety" is a logic that leads to a police state. And it feeds into the logic that the way for Americans to live in “security” is more torture chambers. It leads to more banning of dissent—the same AT&T that is routing your phone calls to the government last week censored the words “George Bush, leave the world alone” out of the internet broadcast of a Pearl Jam concert. And this “security” through repression is connected to the logic that Americans’ “safety” depends on a more aggressive “war on terror” inside and outside the U.S.
Endless war and fascist repression do not make you safe. And the wars, torture, and other crimes of the U.S. rulers bring terrible suffering to the people of the world. Craig Murray, who got fired as British ambassador to Uzbekistan after speaking out against brutal torture used there by the U.S.’s “Coalition of the Willing”—declared, “I’d rather die than have someone tortured to save my life.”
As the Call from World Can't Wait (worldcantwait.org) says, "That which you do not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn—or be forced—to accept."
Revolution #99, August 26, 2007
Free the Jena 6
Tuesday, August 14, on a hot humid 95 degree evening with the sun a red ball setting in the purple sky, cars lined a dirt road leading up to a Baptist church outside Jena, Louisiana. 200 Black people from Jena and surrounding communities packed into the pews and sat on chairs outside, attended the town hall meeting on the case of the Jena 6.
The Jena 6 are on trial, facing decades in prison for events that took place in the fall of 2006 at Jena High School that were sparked by white students hanging nooses in the schoolyard. Black students responded immediately by standing together in defiant protest under the tree, with the nooses still hanging from it. A series of violent attacks on Black students, including by a shotgun-toting racist, followed, with the authorities either giving white racists a slap on the wrist or, in the cases of the shotgun incident, bringing charges against the threatened Black youth. When one white student was treated briefly at a hospital after a fight in the schoolyard, six Black students were arrested and originally charged with attempted murder. Mychal Bell was convicted already, and faces 22 years in jail. (see “Free the Jena Six! Jim Crow Injustice in Jena, Louisiana,” Revolution #96).
At the town hall meeting Reverend Al Sharpton told the packed church, "When I was here a couple weeks ago, I told (Mychal Bell) and I told the others that are part of what is now becoming known all over the country as the Jena 6, that we are going to fight until this becomes a just end."
A new legal team, which came forward to handle Mychal’s appeal, spoke at the meeting. They are filing a motion to have Bell's conviction thrown out, on the grounds that the crime he was convicted of is not within the category of those for which a juvenile can be tried as an adult. On September 4, there will be a hearing on that motion. If the court rules that Mychal, who was sixteen years old at the time he was arrested, should have been tried as a juvenile, then his adult conviction would be thrown out. Mychal Bell’s new attorneys also have filed a motion for a new trial, citing improper representation by Bell's previous attorney.
Sentencing for Mychal Bell is scheduled for September 20. In Jena and several other cities throughout the country, events are being organized for September 20.
After answering questions about the legal strategy and speaking about the upcoming court dates, Attorney Louis Scott challenged the people at the meeting to build a movement along with what he and the legal team are doing in court: “I think everybody in Jena probably already knows the facts in how this case evolved, but now we're gonna move from that point to what are we gonna do about it, or what are you gonna do about it? Because basically what I do is practice law, I file motions, I argue cases. So the question is, what are you going to do, and what needs to be done to accompany those?”
After the meeting, Martin Luther King III told Revolution that “Unfortunately many people are still not aware [of the Jena 6]. I know activists in Atlanta who still are not aware of what was going on. And when people do know, then I think people come to the table and respond and the nation begins to be outraged.”
A young woman who came with friends said she thought the charges against the Jena 6 were “ridiculous.” Another woman at the meeting told the The Town Talk newspaper that, "It could be anyone's child, so we have to fight."
A Righteous Stand
On August 17, Jena High School students had their first day of school. The superintendent, school board members, and local ministers were present along with the Jena Police Department and the LaSalle Sheriff’s department. The school is crowded, as two new buildings are still under construction to replace the main building that was burned down last fall.
Leading up to the first day, students and community members said Black students were told they were not allowed to wear their t-shirts reading “Free the Jena 6” to school. Several students told Revolution that on the first day of school, new rules in the dress code were presented, including prohibiting styles that are typically worn by Black students like long t-shirts. One student reported that police at the school were monitoring the activities of Black students in particular.
It was last September 1 that nooses were hung from the “white tree” in the Jena High schoolyard and, in response, Black students immediately gathered under the tree in protest. Students who were part of that protest told Revolution what it was like standing under the tree that morning in the schoolyard.
One young woman said that “We just went and stood under the tree because we thought it was bad that they did that, we stood under the tree to make the point that it was racist towards us.”
Another young woman described standing under the tree: “A lot of the boys, they would grab onto [the nooses] with their hands and swing from them. ‘This what you all wanna see? This is what you all wanna see?’ And they were just talking about how messed up it was and they wanted to find out who did it. Mostly though, it was really just a quiet stare most of the time.… What was going through my head was, ‘Who in the hell could have done something like that?’”
As we wrote in the last issue of Revolution, “The struggle to free the Jena 6 must be spread far and wide. And a lot more people need to learn from the Black students at Jena High School who stood beneath the ‘whites only’ tree and through their defiant action, said ‘NO MORE.’”
Revolution #99, August 26, 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 in order to restore a tyrannical client, the Shah. Parts 3 and 4 examined the impact of 25 years of U.S. domination via the Shah, and how it paved the way for the 1979 revolution. Part 5 explored the 1979 revolution and the U.S. response, including how both fueled the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Part 6 exposes the imperialist logic, cynicism—and necessities—behind Ronald Reagan’s 1985-86 “arms-for-hostages” gambit to Iran.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan sent a personally inscribed Bible and a key-shaped chocolate cake—along with offers of millions in military hardware and a new strategic relationship—as a gesture of goodwill to Iran’s Islamic Republic, then led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Some 16 years later, in 2002, President George W. Bush condemned Iran as part of an “axis-of-evil,” and has since targeted Iran, openly threatened it with a military attack, and refuses to normalize relations.
This seemingly dramatic shift is the product of dramatic global changes and therefore different opportunities and necessities confronting U.S. imperialism in the years between Reagan’s offer and Bush’s threats.
But there is also continuity here. The shift from Reagan to Bush may seem stark, but both were attempting, in different circumstances and with different tactics, to advance U.S. imperialist interests—including strengthening U.S. domination over Iran and the whole region.
The U.S. offer of military aid to Iran was in the midst of the bloody 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. This war was launched by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, with a bright green light from the Carter administration. The Islamic Republic had just taken power in Iran following the 1979 revolution overthrowing a hated American puppet—the Shah. The White House calculated that Iraq’s attack would weaken the new Republic, prevent it from threatening U.S. clients in the Persian Gulf, and force it to release the U.S. personnel that were being held at the U.S. embassy.
Reagan’s offer didn't come about because the U.S. imperialists had come to like or accept Iran’s new rulers. Far from it. The U.S. was stung by the Shah’s fall and saw the new Khomeini regime as an impediment to U.S. political, military, and economic control of Iran. And the U.S. was increasingly concerned about Iran’s efforts to promote anti-U.S. Islamist currents and play a larger role in the Middle East—such as in 1982 dispatching 1,500 Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon during its war with Israel to help found the armed group Hezbollah. In 1984, the U.S. put Iran on its list of countries supporting “terrorism.”
Fears of Soviet Coup in a “Geopolitical Pivot”
However, by 1985, the U.S. had an even bigger worry: that the Soviet Union could score a major geopolitical coup in the struggle for power in Iran after Ayatollah Khomeini (then in his 80s), died.
After the end of World War 2—and especially since the 1960s—U.S. actions in the Middle East were primarily shaped by its global rivalry with the Soviet Union, an imperialist power with a “communist” cover. This contention, including in Iran, had placed major constraints on what the U.S. could and couldn’t do. For instance, one reason the U.S. hadn’t directly or massively intervened militarily in the region was the fear that the Soviets would come to the aid of the targeted country and gain a new beachhead. And there was also the possibility that such a confrontation could spiral toward nuclear war.
As a result, during the 1980s, while the U.S. stepped up its military presence in the Persian Gulf, it was still forced to work through regional states—like Iraq—that it often despised and distrusted. Sometimes the U.S. was reduced to trying to play one side off against the other or use unreliable regional states as proxies. The Iran-Iraq War was a case in point, illustrating both the cynical depravity of America’s ruling imperialists—but also their limited options.
Domination of the Middle East—for both its vast energy resources and its strategically central location—had been a pillar of U.S. global power and the functioning of U.S. capitalism since the end of World War 2. What made the prospect of Soviet gains so threatening was that Iran is what Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski called a “geopolitical pivot”—a country whose fate can shape global geopolitics. Iran is large—four times the size of Iraq. It is strategically located—dominating the Persian Gulf geographically with 1,000 miles of coastline, bordering the energy-rich Caspian Sea, standing between the Soviet Union and the oil fields of the Middle East, and linking the Middle East and Central Asia. And it has the world’s second or third greatest oil reserves.
A June 1985 draft National Security Directive worried: “Soviet success in taking advantage of the emerging power struggle to insinuate itself in Iran would change the strategic balance in the area.” A debate ensued in the Reagan administration, and ultimately those pushing for attempting to open a strategic dialogue with Iran’s leaders prevailed. National Security Advisor Adm. John Poindexter wrote, “We have an opportunity here that we should not miss…if it doesn’t work, all we’ve lost is a little intelligence and 1,000 TOW missiles. And if it does work, then maybe we change a lot of things in the Mideast.”
The U.S. sent several high-level missions to Iran to attempt to work out a deal. Beginning in the fall of 1985, the U.S. began secretly shipping TOW anti-tank missiles, Hawk missile parts, and Hawk radars to Iran, first via Israel and, beginning in early 1986, directly to Tehran. The immediate goal was the release of U.S. personnel held by Islamists in Lebanon. But the broader objective was building links and gaining leverage with Iran’s rulers and heading off any Soviet efforts to do likewise.
What U.S. Imperialists & Iranian Theocrats Have in Common
Reagan’s offer of “arms-for-hostages” also reflected an appreciation by the U.S. rulers of what the imperialists had in common with Iran’s theocrats. For all its anti-U.S. posturing, the Islamic Republic’s program was never about breaking free of the imperialist-dominated world order. Iran’s clerics explicitly upheld capitalism and private property. Iran’s economy was still geared to producing oil for the world market (80 percent of its government revenue still comes from oil sales), and it still relied on various technological and marketing agreements with global multinationals to do so. Iran welcomed foreign investment. Iran’s clerics preserved (and in many ways strengthened) the traditional class and social relations which were the internal basis of imperialism’s dominance. And they butchered those in Iran—communists, leftists, revolutionary intellectuals, and democrats—who were part of the struggle against U.S. domination of Iran.
Of course, for Reagan and his officials, cutting a deal never meant treating Iran with mutual respect and equality. The point was to incorporate and subordinate Iran in a U.S.-dominated order—through a mix of inducements, threats, and bloody double-dealing. The goal remained, as The New York Times put it in 1984, “that both [Iran and Iraq] should lose” and that their “mutual exhaustion” would further U.S. interests in the region. So in true Mafia godfather fashion, as Reagan was dispatching envoys, gifts, and arms to Iran, his team had also set up a secret intelligence link with Iraq, giving it near real-time battlefield intelligence to use against Iran. And Reagan himself sent Saddam a secret message urging him to step up the bombing of Iran.
In the fall of 1986, the U.S.’s Iran initiative collapsed (for a number of reasons, including deep distrust between the two governments and divisions among the U.S. rulers) after the arms-for-hostages arrangement was revealed by a Lebanese magazine. This, plus growing fears that Iran might defeat Iraq, led the U.S. to tilt decisively back to Iraq. It stepped up military and intelligence aid and increased its direct naval presence in the Gulf. On July 2, 1988, the U.S. warship Vincennes shot down an unarmed Iranian passenger jet—killing all 290 onboard. The U.S. claimed it was an accident, but the Iranian leadership apparently read it as a not-so-veiled threat: “halt the war or face further American attacks.” On July 18, just 16 days later, Khomeini accepted a UN cease-fire resolution.
By that time, thanks in large part to U.S. encouragement for and direct aid in the mutual slaughter, an estimated 367,000 to 262,000 Iranians and 105,000 Iraqis had been killed, and 700,000 were injured or wounded on both sides.
Next: Part 7: 1985-2007: From Containment to Confrontation—Possibly War
Larry Everest, Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda, Chapter 4--“Arming Iraq, Double-Dealing Death in the Gulf”
Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard—American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, p. 41
Revolution #99, August 26, 2007
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
“…colleges and university faculty have been the weak link in America’s response [to September 11th]…When a nation’s intellectuals are unwilling to defend its civilization, they give comfort to its adversaries.”
American Council of Trustees and Alumni—ACTA—Report,
“…just as in the Cold War we had a very large Left that supported the Communist enemy, we now have an even larger Left— since that old Communist, 'progressive' Left has combined with Muslim radicals to create a much larger fifth column [enemy in our midst] in this country— which wants us to lose this war and the War on Terror generally… Their ‘critiques’ [referring to Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Eric Hobsbawm, and Todd Gitlin] of America have actually influenced radical Islam. The bin Ladenites, the Zarqawi-ites in the secular aspect of their indictments of the United States, follow the American Left’s party line.”
The title of this special supplement of Revolution—WARNING: The Nazification of the American University—is not chosen lightly. A deeply intertwined agenda of right-wing political forces and Christian fascists, which finds concentrated expression at this time in the Bush regime, is working to remold the institutions of higher learning and turn them into active partners of empire, repression, and theocracy (a significant degree of rule by religion).
The scope and scale of this wide-ranging and accelerating attack on dissent and critical thinking in the universities is not widely known or understood. Nor is the vision of society and of the university held by those engineering it. But it is already taking a heavy toll, and moving forward with dangerous determination.
This assault on critical thinking and dissent is spearheaded in large part by David Horowitz and his Center for the Study of Popular Culture and Frontpagemag.com, and by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a conservative academic “watch-dog” group founded by Lynne Cheney, the wife of the Vice President. They are waging a systematic attempt to transform the universities on several levels:
On one level, these right-wing forces are setting out to forge university administrations into instruments of coercive enforcement and control over faculty and students—intimidating, threatening, and “cleaning house” of dissident thinkers when called on to do so, while leaving scholars under attack to fend for themselves.
On another level, they are setting out to turn the university into a zone of uncontested indoctrination, where severe limits would be placed on permissible discourse--in terms of professors speaking out, writing, or encouraging engagement over controversial issues in the classroom, etc.; and in terms of restricting and gutting programs like African American studies, women’s studies, etc., that challenge and refute the official narratives and explanations of U.S. history and present-day inequality and global lopsidedness.
And on a very basic level, they are setting out to break the commitment of the university to rational and scientific discourse and to undercut its ability to influence society in that direction. The attempt by Christian fascist forces to insinuate “intelligent design” into the universities, to blur and overwhelm the boundary between science and religion, and to train, accredit, and mobilize a generation of “creationist science” advocates is a signal and ominous development.
The overall objective of this attack on dissent and critical thinking is to change the university as we have known it: in its internal life and functioning and in its effects on society. If this reactionary program wins out, the university will be turning out students who will have had little, if any, opportunity to think critically, into a society qualitatively more severely repressive than anything seen in this country’s history.
All this is coming at a time when critical thinking and dissent in society are more urgently needed than ever; when not only science but the scientific method, the method of thinking that people must learn to apply in order to know about the world, should be promoted.
In what is happening, including the build-up of a bullying right-wing student movement on campuses in the U.S., there are striking and disturbing parallels to the experience in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s (see “Hitler's Nazification of the Academy”). The current situation has its own features, but things are heading in a very dangerous direction. We should learn from history. We cannot let this reactionary juggernaut gather more momentum, making it much more difficult to stop. At the same time, the development of this serious situation on campus raises serious questions about the society which has generated it; and resistance to that situation can become part of, and a spark to, a larger movement taking on the whole direction of that society, with its war on the world and domestic fascist program. Those are the stakes.
Warning Signs and Dangerous Precedents
This multi-faceted assault has already exacted a heavy toll:
* Sensationalist campaigns have been mounted against dissenting and radical professors, with the attack on tenured Native American Studies Professor Ward Churchill at Colorado University-Boulder being the most extreme example. Right-wing operatives and Republican politicians worked with Bill O’Reilly and the rest of the Republican “noise machine” to whip up a nationwide frenzy that has already had a dramatic and lasting impact. Through it a message has been delivered to scholars: critical analyses of the causes of 9/11, or the role of the U.S. in the world, can be treated as heresy, punishable by loss of forum, career, and even personal safety.
* Right-wing talk shows and blogospheres name and slander progressive professors, leading to mass e-mail harassment and vigilante death threats. Inquisition lists of nationally “dangerous” radical professors are published in high-profile books like The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, and local lists circulate in campus communities. At the same time a conservative and fundamentalist social base has been alerted and aroused to a “treacherous threat” in their midst.
* Attacks on Middle East scholars, which came to a head at Columbia University in late 2004, are designed to stir up a climate where criticism of the actions of the U.S. in the Middle East or elsewhere can be equated with support for the “terrorist enemy”; and where any criticism of Israel becomes synonymous with anti-Semitism. Irish Poet Tom Paulin and NYU professor Tony Judt both had public appearances canceled because of their criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. And progressive anti-Zionist scholar Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, is facing a nationwide right-wing campaign to prevent him from gaining tenure at DePaul University, or anywhere else.
* Reactionary students are being organized and mobilized on campuses nationwide—and at UCLA were briefly offered money—by groups like the right-wing Zionist Campus Watch and Students for Academic Freedom, created by Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz. These groups hound and harass, spy on, and monitor progressive and left-leaning faculty. At Columbia they have been turned on fellow students who protested the appearance of the leader of the anti-immigrant, paramilitary Minutemen. All of this eerily presages an American version of Nazi Youth.
*Governmental authority is being used to impose restraints on critical thinking in the public universities. David Horowitz’ Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) has been introduced by Republican politicians in at least 23 state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress. It would legislate a set of rules faculty must follow in the name of providing a “fair and balanced” curriculum. The Florida version of the bill, which did not pass, would have given students the right to sue professors who introduce “inappropriate” controversial subjects, or challenge their creationist opposition to evolution (Democracy Now!—4/6/05). The bill that just passed a Senate committee in Arizona would ban professors at public colleges from advocating “one side of a social, political, or cultural issue that is a matter of partisan controversy.” (insidehighered.com, 2/19/07)
Spearheads of Attack
David Horowitz is a former 1960s leftist turned reactionary ideologue. He portrays himself as the defender of conservative students and academics “persecuted” by a “left-wing dictatorship.” This “dictatorship” has supposedly seized control of the universities and is stuffing radical ideas down students’ throats and blocking conservative scholars from academic appointments. He asserts that his ABOR legislation is merely an effort to bring “balance” and diversity to academia. (For more on balance, see “ The Right-wing Demand for ‘Balance’ in Education: A Stalking Horse for Indoctrination.”)
In reality, the claim of a “left-wing takeover” of the universities could not be further from the truth--and few faculty or students recognize this imaginary HOROWITZ U. as having any similarity to their own campus. For this reason Horowitz is too often viewed more as a crank than a threat.
But the man who describes himself as a “battering ram” for taking on the left in the academy is hardly a “victim.” Nor, unfortunately, is he irrelevant. He is a highly connected, reactionary political operative. Horowitz works closely with and has strong backing from Karl Rove and top national Republican leaders, as well as powerful figures in intelligence (James Woolsey, former CIA Director), law enforcement (former Attorney General Edwin Meese), and right-wing talk show opinion-makers (Rush Limbaugh, etc.), along with leaders of the Christian fascist movement like Pat Robertson.
The charges of a left-wing and secular “tyranny” in the universities are pitched especially to the huge and growing movement of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, which likes to portray itself as still in the coliseum facing the lions, even though theirs is the semi-official religion of the country.
The Horowitz assault is also savagely racist. He has singled out African American and other ethnic studies scholars for intellectual ridicule and political vilification. In the spring of 2001, Horowitz took out a nationwide series of ads in college newspapers denouncing the call for reparations to African Americans for the horrors of slavery. In those ads, Horowitz asks the question—“what about the debt Blacks owe to America?” Imagine what it would mean for such crude declarations of white supremacy to be restored to their previously dominant position in academia, now in the name of academic “balance”?
The other major spearhead of the attack on critical thinking is the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). In the wake of 9/11, ACTA produced a list of 117 statements by American academics and students which they deemed “morally equivocal,” anti-American, or both. Among these was the statement, “We should build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls.”
ACTA focuses its work among Republican legislators and conservative college alumni (and boasts as members the Republican governors of New York and Colorado who publicly denounced Ward Churchill in 2005 and called for his firing). ACTA claims to be the largest private source of financial support for higher education. It organizes and activates the wealthy and influential right to exert control over universities through the purse strings of private and government funding, and by filling more and more positions on university boards of regents, which in turn appoint college presidents.
It is very calculated. When the president of Colorado University made comments suggesting that a McCarthyite atmosphere was being fanned in connection with the Churchill case, she was pressured to resign and was succeeded by one Hank Brown. Brown, it turns out, is a co-founder of ACTA. He is now poised to make the final decision on whether Churchill is fired. When Jeb Bush abolished the Florida state university system’s Board of Trustees in the summer of 2001 and replaced it with individual 12-member boards at each university, he brought in ACTA’s vice president to give one of the key speeches at their orientation sessions (WorkingForChange.com, 11/19/01).
Why Would They Do This?
There is not one homogeneous “they” at work. Rather, there is an array of powerful political and social forces—in the ruling class and society--with particular but overlapping agendas. What unites these right-wing forces is their recognition that in the past few decades, people coming out of the 1960s have become professors, received tenure, and gained influence in some academic sectors, and have brought forward new scholarship that sheds light on and that refutes the official narratives about America’s history and role in the world. This progressive scholarship hardly dominates the role and overall character of universities now, but this kind of intellectual challenge is a very positive thing, and exactly the role universities should play.
But from the perspective of the reactionaries, it is unacceptable. They do not want people coming into the universities and discovering that the self-contained world they came out of doesn’t have anything to do with the real world. There is still far more space for critical thinking in academia than elsewhere in society—and the reactionaries see this as contaminating society. And so they want to stamp it out. For over three decades, the battle to remold the universities has been a key front in the right-wing cultural-intellectual war. In their eyes, the state of academia is a key cause of a “cultural and moral decline” and a source of domestic “disloyalty.”
The drive to radically transform the universities gained new momentum and ferocity after 9/11.
The Bush regime has grand ambitions to remake the world and to establish an unchallengeable empire for decades to come. It is doing this in a period of big changes and turmoil in the world as well as in U.S. society. These powerful forces in the ruling class need, and have been attempting, to hammer together social cohesion in an increasingly diverse U.S. society on a basis that is quite different from what has generally prevailed in U.S. society. They are seeking to impose new social norms grounded in a fundamentalist morality, a religio-absolutist and anti-scientific view of reality and how knowledge is gained, and an aggressive politics of “god and county.” They have ushered in an era of the Patriot Act, of unrestricted spying and surveillance, of warnings to “watch what you say” (as Bush’s press spokesman declared after 9/11), and telling the world we can torture people if we say we need to.
In this context, in a situation where this view of society has a lot of power and initiative now, there are powerful currents pushing the universities to function differently. Critical thinking, dissent, and an academic ethos that promotes freedom to pursue truth wherever it leads are in conflict with this extreme political and ideological agenda.
Bob Avakian, in analyzing the core objectives behind this organized attack on academia, has emphasized that today’s imperialist agenda cannot stand up to critical thinking and a rational pursuit of the truth. And so those behind this agenda have to change the definition of what is the truth and how the truth is arrived at. And they have to rule out of order and beyond the pale critical thinking and dissent that would call into question not only the justification of particular policies, but also the foundation on which those justifications are built. (Readers are encouraged to listen to “Balance” Is The Wrong Criterion—And a Cover for a Witch-hunt—What We Need Is the Search for the Truth: Education, Real Academic Freedom, Critical Thinking and Dissent.)
The “liberal” and “left-wing” university is a particular target—because of its role as a site of critical thinking and dissent; in order to build up a right-wing youth movement; and to stir popular anti-intellectual, anti-secular, and anti-modernist prejudices. At the same time, “intelligent design” creationism is increasingly mainstreamed, and the Bush regime puts federally funded scientific research projects and findings to religious and political tests (see the statements from “Defend Science” and the “Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policymaking” for documentation).
All this gets at why we call the attack on critical thinking and dissent the “Nazification” of the university. These are not scattered phenomena, but part of a concerted program to bring the universities into line with a project of imperial conquest and the reordering of society along fascist lines.
Historical Echoes: “McCarthyism”—And Nazi Germany
It is also why we believe the situation today is potentially more dangerous than what developed during the McCarthy years—even though we have not yet seen some of the worst abuses of that era yet. In the McCarthy years of the 1950s, thousands in academic and cultural and political life were subjected to investigation, blacklisting, and dimissal from positions. This was driven by the threat of war with the Soviet Union at that time; no questioning of that agenda could be allowed, and even though the U.S. did not end up going all the way to war, they still insisted on removing these professors.
Today, with a “war on terror to last generations” under way, and the additional factor of a challenge to the two-century-old secular foundational principles of U.S. society, along with the attack on basic rights like habeas corpus, there is grave potential for far worse than occurred 50 years ago…if we do not act. One important lesson from that McCarthyism experience is that the “safeguards” protecting academic freedom did not prevent this from happening. In fact, it was not until the rebellions and upsurges of the 1960s that the universities really saw more diversity and intellectual ferment.
Today’s program to restructure the universities has strong support and backing from a powerful section of the ruling class, while no other element within the ruling class has a coherent alternative program with which to challenge it. This situation has much in common with the Weimar period in Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s that preceded Hitler’s rise to power. Like the Social Democrats of that period in Germany, today’s top Democratic leaders are unable and unwilling to mount a challenge either to the fundamental direction that this dominant core is trying to take things in the world, or to the remolding of society that they believe it requires.
Meanwhile, the offensive against critical thinking in the universities intensifies; millions of Christian fundamentalists are being mobilized around an absolutist, apocalyptic fascist ideology; and new criminal acts of war loom.
The challenge before administrators, faculty, and especially students is to stand up to this assault. And broader segments of society must join with them. We must defend those like Ward Churchill who have been singled out for attack, and, more generally, defend the ability of professors to hold dissenting and radical views. It is vitally important that the new generation of students step forward to defend the unfettered search for the truth, intellectual ferment, and dissent. 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.
As we state in “Hitler’s Nazification of the Academy”: “The intensifying attacks on radical thinkers and critical thinking in today’s universities and colleges should be a wake-up call. WHEN is the time to act and change the course of things? In Germany, was it the early '30s, before 'Hitler was Hitler' in the fullest and most consolidated and horrific forms, or AFTER? Is it 'sober and wise' to dismiss these historical lessons, in this context—or to learn from this bitter experience and act before, not after, it's too late?”
The lesson—and the challenge—is clear.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
The search for the truth is a crucial part of knowing and changing the world. People need to and can understand how society works and how change comes about. People can learn about different spheres of knowledge, about the sciences and the scientific method. People do not have to cling to superstition, religion, and traditions that obscure the way things really are. People need to understand the world in order to change it. In short, people need to know what’s real and why it matters.
Getting at the truth has everything to do with the kind of liberating society that we as communists are aiming for. It also has to do with why we care about what is happening, or not happening, in the universities today.
The university is a place where knowledge of the world and society are deepened and where many people learn to think rigorously and critically about the world at large…and to act on that. What goes on in the “world of ideas” and in the university has immense influence on discourse and debate in society. In the 1960s, intellectual ferment and rebellion on campuses was radically eruptive, stimulating broader questioning and protest in society.
We believe that an important part of building the struggle for a new world is to defend critical thinking and to promote intellectual ferment in educational institutions today, as well as in society broadly. We also understand that this cannot be fully realized under the present order.
The University as Contested Zone
The university is part of the larger system of this society. If we look at how the universities are governed, at the awarding of contracts by the government and large corporations, at the funding and work of policy institutes, at the ways the university is linked into the web of the global economy and the U.S. military-research machine—we get a glimpse of how the university is dominated by the ruling interests of this society. And the university is the gateway through which many young people enter into the functioning not just of any society but of this society—with its values and its priorities.
But in this very same capitalist society, the university is also one of the few institutions where free inquiry and critical thinking have any kind of initiative. It is a contested arena: where intellectual currents and political movements come into opposition to the intellectual-political status quo…and where, today, powerful forces are seeking to clamp down on critical thinking.
Think about what it would mean to society if intellectual inquiry and questioning were locked down, if an atmosphere of intimidation reigned in the arts, if a regime of absolutist truths and unchallengeable certainties ruled people’s minds.
Think about what it would mean to the people of the world experiencing the rampages of Bush’s “war on terrorism” if sections of intellectuals in the “belly of the beast” were no longer speaking out with conviction (and, yes, courage) against these outrages—but instead uniformly marching in step with the program. The fact is, this conviction and courage is too rare today, including on campus; it must be greatly expanded, and fought for—not silenced.
Which is to say, the stakes are high in the battle to defend dissent and critical thinking in academia. And we see a link between this battle and bringing into being a radically different society in which critical and creative thinking and dissent flourish.
Communism Requires the Unfettered Search for Truth
We believe it is possible for humanity to get to a whole new place—where it has put an end to all forms of exploitation, overcome the division of society into classes, eliminated all oppressive institutions and social relations, and cast off all the values and ideas that reinforce oppressive institutions and relations.
Leading forward the process of getting to this kind of world is what communist leadership and a socialist state must be all about. And this must be a process of diverse thinking and action from all corners of society, and great ferment, dissent, and upheaval.
Thus far there have been two major attempts at the socialist transition to communism: the Soviet Union (from 1917 to 1956) and the People’s Republic of China (from 1949 to 1976, and the death of Mao). In both cases, “new bourgeois” forces rose to power and restored a form of capitalism—though each, at least initially, retained many of the trappings of socialism. Each of these experiences was epochal and, despite the slanders and conventional wisdom of today, accomplished unprecedented things. Each, however, also fell short in important ways. The work of summing up those experiences, more deeply analyzing the dynamics of the socialist period, and developing a new synthesis has been led—and continues to be led—by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. What follows draws on this pathbreaking work.
Socialism is the crucial first step in getting to a communist society where people consciously learn about and transform the world. Socialism makes it possible to really meet the pressing needs of people, like meaningful work, health care, decent housing, and stimulating education…to uproot racism and overcome the oppression of women…to take care of the environment. But a truly emancipatory socialism must be much more than that. It must be a society in which the great majority are thrashing out questions of world affairs, philosophy, science, and art…taking increasing responsibility for the direction and future of society…and increasingly making all spheres of society their province.
Those on the bottom of society have historically been locked out of the realm of “working with ideas.” The system of capitalism creates islands and pockets where a minority can engage in this realm, while the great majority of humanity is exploited and prevented from pursuing intellectual-creative activity. Socialism has to enable the formerly oppressed whose lives have been brutally circumscribed, or restricted, by the struggle for survival to increasingly work with ideas and to participate in society in an all-round way.
At the same time, socialist society needs to give scope and space to intellectuals, artists, and scientists. Socialism will not be a liberating society if it stifles and straitjackets intellectuals. It will not be able to move forward to a society of freely associating human beings if it is not unleashing the critical, searching, and exploratory spirit of intellectuals. Scientists, intellectuals, and artists will be continuing their work and deepening the store of knowledge, even as barriers are broken down between intellectual/artistic work and much broader sections of society.
Socialist society requires the fullest possible contesting of ideas and wrangling to get at the truth, and in order to transform society in a liberating direction. All this has important implications for issues of academic freedom under socialism.
The educational system under socialism will have a core curriculum. This will be based on what is known to be true in particular spheres of human knowledge. At the same time, there must be substantial space for inquiry and instruction that fall outside that curriculum, and for theories and intellectual currents that “go against the grain.” That is important because this is the kind of society, pulsing with new ideas and discovery, that socialism needs to be. And what is known to be true today—important as it is to stand on and learn while applying it—may be shown to be partially or wholly wrong tomorrow. As for theories proven to be wrong, like “creationism,” they will not be part of the educational system, although people will still be able to voice those theories.
Marxism will be promoted in the universities and throughout socialist society. The reason is that Marxism provides the most scientific approach to understanding the world, and for achieving the richest possible synthesis of different ideas and insights from particular disciplines and fields. Many scholars and intellectuals do not embrace Marxism and will be pursuing scholarship in different philosophical frameworks. And other philosophies will be taught and studied. In fact, they will challenge and contend with Marxism. Marxism will be taken up and applied, will further develop, and influence people in this kind of atmosphere.
Here a question poses itself. Will the university under socialism be a site of critique of society and political protest? Yes, we want a society where students and intellectuals are raising concerns and making criticisms of government policies and social institutions and throwing up challenges to the program and vision of society. People must have the right and ability to speak out freely about all aspects of society. They must have the right to organize protest on their own—and not be confined to a controlled situation of “official” politics and channels. We are talking about “wide-openness” in the framework of a society that is moving to overcome all forms of exploitation, oppression, and social inequality. Political and intellectual ferment and dissent are vital to the process of deepening the understanding of reality and transforming society.
As Bob Avakian has said, if you really understand this epistemology—the unfettered search for the truth in relation to moving humanity to a whole new stage—you want people to challenge you. And if we are true to this, things will get unruly and wild.
Dissent, Protest and Ferment in Socialist Society
This presents big challenges to the socialist state. Let’s say people organize movements and struggles protesting the socialist state’s environmental policies. What if this takes a new turn with blockades and sit-ins causing disruptions to the economy? Well, you do have to continue to run an economy to meet people’s needs and the requirements of the socialist state. But you also have to thrash out the issues driving this protest, and what this means for developing a sustainable socialist economy, and draw more people in society into debate.
It won’t be clear where such upheavals are headed, and some will be challenging major policies and issues of direction and development of society. It would be easy for the socialist state simply to impose its authority. But, again, sorting out what is right and wrong and struggling for what is correct—and putting all the complexity of this before the people; struggling politically to solve problems, as with the above example of the economy functioning: this is what the socialist state and leadership has to ultimately rely on—and not force.
What about people who express opposition to the entire socialist project and who call for the return of capitalism? Will they have the right to dissent? Yes, it is important for these views to be heard and debated. It is important that the most devoted proponents of these ideas to be able to espouse and defend them—in the media, through publication, etc. Even if such criticisms are mainly wrong, they may still shed light on problems and defects in society, and on the deeper contradictions of society. People in society need to engage with these views as part of understanding the world more fully.
And it would have a negative effect if expressions of dissent that oppose the government were not allowed. It would put a chill in the atmosphere, both in academia and in society more broadly. We don’t want a situation where people are afraid to speak out against the government for fear of repression.
There is a crucial difference between people who are advocating that socialism should be replaced by capitalism, and forces organizing and carrying out actions to sabotage or overthrow socialism. And the importance of this distinction has to be popularized throughout socialist society and will be spelled out as a matter of law in the constitution.
History has shown that socialist states will have to repel imperialist attacks and invasions, and defeat counterrevolution and attempts to restore the old order. But the socialist state must not confound those actively organizing to sabotage or overthrow socialism with people who are expressing disagreements with or opposition to socialism. This distinction was not always handled well in previous socialist societies, even though, especially in China, in Mao's time, there was important positive experience in this, including in the Cultural Revolution. Nonetheless, we have to do much better in the future.
It has proven relatively easy for the socialist state to suppress reactionary opposition—for a time. But what is difficult, and this is the great challenge, is to foster debate, experimentation, and ferment and to risk upheavals without losing power. We want a socialist state which is a powerful and necessary tool for the oppressed—as an active transition to get to a society of freely associating human beings, and a world without states and apparatuses of repression. We won’t get there without a socialist state and a communist leadership that values and fosters critical thinking and the wild contestation of ideas; without wide-ranging dissent and tumult; and without the unfettered search for the truth.
The richer this process is, the more desirable and emancipating will be the outcome.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
David Horowitz, architect of the conservative Academic Bill of Rights, demands “balance” in what he says is a “left-wing”-dominated academy. “Intelligent design” proponents call for “balance” in “secular” high school science classrooms. Fox News claims that it is restoring “fairness” in a mainstream media dominated by “liberal bias.”
Why are these right-wing forces calling for “balance”? And is balance what intellectual activity should fundamentally be about?
But first consider the real “imbalances” of the media and education in U.S. society. When the Bush administration was preparing to go to war in Iraq, were daily newspapers and the evening newscasts filled with serious, critical analyses of the Bush administration’s war aims? The answer is obvious. In the universities—are business schools and political science and government studies programs overflowing with courses and professors presenting critiques of capitalism? They are not. More generally, the great majority of young people do not come out of the modern university with a deep understanding of the true nature of U.S. society. And in society more broadly, the majority of people are not given a serious education about the theory of evolution, which is understood by all serious scientists to be true and essential to the foundations of modern science.
And let's be real for a minute: No one is seriously, credibly, charging that students are being somehow stopped from or punished by progressive teachers for arguing for a different understanding of history, for example. Horowitz and others' campaign is not to encourage conservative students to do the serious study and work to substantively challenge the ideas of these professors; it's to organize legions to spy on, "turn in," and help more powerful forces intimidate such professors, as part of a campaign to "cleanse" the university.
But what about balance as a methodological guidepost and goal for scholarship and teaching? Certainly, in the search for truth, for what does and does not correspond to reality, it is essential that there be the fullest clash of ideas. But that kind of ferment is not the same thing as balance. In fact, balance is a wrong concept and criterion to guide instruction and the search for the truth.
If we know, conclusively, that the Earth is a sphere, should we also continue to research and teach that the Earth is flat, in the name of balance? If we know, conclusively, that evolution is true, should we also continue to research and teach Biblical creation myths as science, in the name of balance? No, we should not. These truths are conclusive--even while we continue to learn more about the origins and development of life on Earth, as in any field of human endeavor and understanding.
To insist that the yardstick of balance be applied to every important question would have disastrous consequences on intellectual life and integrity. It would get in the way of truthfulness, of building on accumulated understanding that corresponds to reality, and of scientifically interrogating and deepening understanding. It would mean that huge amounts of time and resources would be allocated to studying and teaching what is manifestly untrue, and this would have devastating effects on society.
Something very dangerous is going on. Under the stalking horse of “balance,” right-wing ideologues and political operatives have launched an assault on the search for the truth and its exposition. This attack is without precedent in modern times in this country—and it serves an extreme political and ideological agenda that requires closed and uncritical minds.
Some truths, established and definite, are very inconvenient now and under attack: truths about the roots of this country in slavery and genocide, for instance; or even truths about the evolution of the species. These conflict with the agenda of those in power; and, in the face of scholarship that has grown in the last several decades which challenges the "official narrative" on U.S. history, reactionaries demand that it be “balanced” out with conservative professors, who, in David Horowitz’s own words, appreciate that “students need to be presented with an alternative view of history that is closer to reality.” Horowitz’s "alternative view of history," "closer to reality," is that slavery was good for Black people because they are now richer than Africans! Christian fascists demand that the teaching of evolution in the classrooms be “balanced out” with the teaching, as science, that God created Adam (or, in "dressed up" form, that some unidentified "intelligent designer" created life). “Balance” and equilibrium for Fox News is that George Bush tells the truth.
When it comes to the current crusade for "balance," there is another crucial point to grasp: it's a temporary and transitional program to a very bad place. We have seen this method in operation in other arenas of society. For example, look at the media: Fox News slogan is "Fair and Balanced." Right-wingers launch accusations of "liberal media bias," while their own "noise machine" increasingly dominates airwaves. The more traditionally "mainstream" media coverage (whose historic role as a voice for those in power is well documented and whose slavish docility before the extremes of lying, spying, and war-making of this President has been scandalous) adapts more and more to give "respect and voice" to extremely right-wing views. All the while, truly radical voices and critiques are largely banned—considered "beyond the pale" of what passes for "credible discourse." And the media—"traditionally mainstream" and right-wing alike—are now either effectively silent in the face of, or fanning the flames of, the current attacks on dissent and critical thinking in the universities.
Now we are seeing this same method in action in the university. The right-wing demand for “balance” is not a call for the contention of ideas over what is real and what most accurately characterizes reality, be it life on Earth or the history of this country. It is, for the time being, a call for the coexistence of truths, half-truths, and untruths. And in the hands of David Horowitz and Lynne Cheney, the Christian fascists, and Fox News, it is a cover to banish critical thinking from the university, and from society itself.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
Ward Churchill, tenured Native American studies professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, was invited to speak at Hamilton College in upstate New York in January 2005. Suddenly, right-wing forces went into action. They dragged out an essay Churchill had written three years earlier, right after 9/11, that was critical of the U.S. role in the world, and they demanded that Churchill’s speech be canceled. The governor of New York joined in. Right-wing TV and radio figures like Bill O’Reilly and numerous politicians, including the governor of Colorado, demanded Churchill’s firing.
In the course of Churchill's sharply worded post 9/11 critique of the U.S. role in the world, 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.
A lynch-mob atmosphere was incited. Churchill’s scholarship, which focuses on the genocide of Native Americans and their current-day oppression, was pilloried and ridiculed. At one point Churchill and the Ethnic Studies Department he headed were receiving a thousand threatening and racist emails a day. Powerful figures like Republican strategist Newt Gingrich issued calls to restrict or abolish tenure—which protects thinkers and researchers from being fired for what they say or write once they are attached to universities as full professors.
The University administration launched an investigation to determine if Churchill should be fired—or arrested—for any of his writings. At the same time they insisted that all of their professors prove that they had signed the loyalty oath required of them. The president of the University, herself a moderate Republican, made a speech to the faculty expressing fear of a “new McCarthyism.” Less than a week later she resigned. When the Boulder student body voted Churchill their “favorite professor” later that spring, the alumni association withheld the award. All this was beginning to raise questions among more progressive segments of society about whether it was right for people to have to "watch what they say," politically, or risk losing their jobs, particularly within academia.
In stepped David Horowitz, ex-'60s "leftist" turned reactionary, with public advice about how the administration should fine-tune its persecution of Churchill. In a speech accusing Churchill of supporting “America’s terrorist enemies,” Horowitz gave tactical advice—declaring that Churchill should not be fired for what he’d written, but should be investigated instead for academic fraud. As if on cue, the University received a flood of mostly old and already considered claims of plagiarism, misrepresentation of facts, inaccurate footnotes, etc., in Churchill’s scholarship, which were cobbled together by the chancellor as the rationale for a new investigation—into academic misconduct.
A faculty committee was convened to investigate, putting the veneer of a “jury of his peers” on the same witch-hunt. But the fact is this investigation would never have happened without the original firestorm of attacks on Churchill’s political statements, which even they admit were supposed to be protected by the first amendment, and the voicing of which are supposed to be an important part of academia and academic freedom. This means their whole investigation into Churchill’s scholarship was completely illegitimate on its face and never should have taken place. It's like the "fruit of a poisoned tree," to borrow a term from principles applied in a court of law. Headed by a law professor (a former assistant attorney general of Texas!), the faculty investigative committee in their report had to acknowledge being “troubled by the origins of, and skeptical concerning the motives for” the investigation—but they still went ahead. It must be said that conducting this investigation has done far greater harm, and constitutes a far greater danger, than any evidence of research misconduct this committee may have discovered.
In May 2006 the faculty committee issued its findings--though not before two of its members were pressured into resigning after they were accused of possible sympathy toward the merits of Professor Churchill's defense. The final committee report alleged “serious and repeated research misconduct.” A Boulder sociology professor who carefully studied the committee’s report concluded that it greatly exaggerated the seriousness of so-called misconduct, making it entirely out of whack with the sanctions imposed such luminaries as presidential historian Doris Kerns Goodwin for far more serious errors of scholarship. And 44 pages of the committee's report on Churchill were devoted to three paragraphs of Churchill’s writings. It’s an important point—to put any prolific scholar’s publications to this kind of scrutiny would likely turn up some mistakes—and how could any serious and challenging scholarship be conducted in such an atmosphere?
Four out of the five members of the investigative committee called for Churchill to be suspended; one called for his firing. But less than a month later the chancellor announced his recommendation that Churchill be fired. The Boulder chapter of the American Association of University Professors has issued a statement of protest, saying “We believe that the investigation now is widely perceived to be a pretext for firing Churchill when the real reason for dismissal is his politics.”
This witch-hunt must be defeated. An orchestrated attack is underway, by very powerful right-wing forces in society closely intertwined with those in power, in order to create an atmosphere where dissent and critical thinking itself, in relation to crucial issues in society, face intimidation and are increasingly ruled out of order. Whatever you might think of his choice of words or specific arguments, the attempt to fire Churchill is based solely on his radical critique of U.S. history and present-day policy in the wake of the events of 9/11. If it is allowed to succeed it will set a dangerous new precedent and is already sending a chilling message through academia. At stake is whether faculty, in their scholarship and public discourse, will be able to tell the truth about the “official narrative of America.” Also at stake is whether fields of inquiry such as ethnic and women’s/gender studies that often challenge and stand in the way of a resurgent patriotism and chauvinism will be able to carry on their intellectual and cultural work.
Support for Churchill is growing, but this has to be greatly magnified. Students and faculty need to close ranks and take up the defense of Ward Churchill and the cause of defending dissent and critical thinking at this urgent hour.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
There is a disturbing parallel between what is happening in academia today and the experience of Germany during the Nazi build-up and consolidation of power.
The Nazi movement organized among youth and students; and by the late 1920s, the Nazis had fortified a substantial following among students. At leading universities, these reactionaries were harassing and boycotting progressive and Jewish professors.
After Hitler came to power in 1933, he set out to restructure the governing apparatus, to reshape the institutions of civil society, and to propagate an ethos of German ethnic solidarity and racial superiority. Political resistance was crushed. Dissent was to be silenced; professions like law and institutions that might challenge the new regime were to be subdued and recast. German society was being reorganized and tightly coordinated to serve a project of social control and imperial conquest.
The educational system was a particular target of nazification. Many university professors were ousted from their posts for political and intellectual reasons, and many more simply for being Jewish. Intellectual diversity was criticized and libraries “cleansed.” Right-wing and Nazi student groups, who had abused professors in the late 1920s, were now unleashed to carry out book-burnings and thuggish attacks on unwelcome professors.
But few administrators and non-Jewish professors took a public stand, or resigned, in response to what was going on. It is a sobering fact: not one of Germany’s 23 universities, 11 academies of science, or 10 technical colleges became a center of protest or resistance.
The Hitler regime was able to forge a new academic “normalcy.” Nazi-led “research institutes” based on bogus social and medical science were established, curricula in various disciplines revamped and perverted, and a corps of intellectuals cultivated to serve and legitimize the Nazi project. For other faculties, a kind of devil’s bargain was offered: keep quiet and you can retain some semblance of academic independence. The great majority of academia complied. Higher education was effectively shackled.
In the 1920s, many dismissed the Hitler phenomenon. But this movement went “from the margins to the mainstream.”
The intensifying attacks on radical thinkers and critical thinking in today’s universities and colleges should be a wake-up call. WHEN is the time to act and change the course of things? In Germany, was it the early '30s, before "Hitler was Hitler" in the fullest and most consolidated and horrific forms, or AFTER? Is it "sober and wise" to dismiss these historical lessons, in this context—or to learn from this bitter experience and act before, not after, it's too late? We should recognize danger signs and act accordingly. The Nazis first went after the Jews and communists, and widened and widened their target. Today we must stand with those who are being singled out—and mobilize to stop a dangerous trajectory.
Revolution #81, March 11, 2007
The 1993 movie Swing Kids takes place in 1930s Germany when Nazi marches, polkas, and German folk songs were the enforced culture of the Third Reich and membership in the Hitler Youth was near mandatory. Robert Sean Leonard and Christian Bale play members of the "Swing Kids"--an underground movement of youth who listen to banned jazz. They wear pork pie hats and baggy cool clothes, dance some ferocious jitter-bugging in underground clubs, and sing the lyrics of Harlem hits while spinning vinyl recorded by Black and Jewish musicians, like Count Basie, Artie Shaw, or Bennie Goodman. They frequently get into street fights with Nazi youth and after one of them, a guitarist, gets his hand smashed by a Hitler Youth, he declares he will now play like Django Reinhardt, the extraordinary Roma jazz musician who played with two fingers of his left hand. This was at a time when Roma people (derogatorily referred to as gypsies) were being targeted for persecution by the Nazis. Later, when asked by a Nazi to play a German song, the youth refuses as a matter of principle, saying "there are no more German songs, only Nazi songs."
The Swing Kids face an extremely hostile and repressive environment where the stakes are huge and the pressure to conform is intense and deadly. Forced to join the Hitler Youth, they decide to try and compromise--to be "Swing Kids by night and Hitler Youth by day." But this compromise proves impossible. Around them, there are signs of scattered resistance, like a bookshop where fake passports to help Jews escape are hidden in a rare volume of Faust. But the main atmosphere is one of complicity, as even their parents try to preserve their own well-being and safety and stay silent in the face of increasingly fascist repression. The Swing Kids find that you can try to preserve some privilege and comforts by selling your soul to the devil, or you can stand for your convictions and do the right thing and that what you do does matter--it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing do wa do wa do wa do wa do wa do wahhhh.
The story of another group of courageous youth in Nazi Germany is told in the movies The White Rose (1982) and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005). The White Rose captures the excitement and camaraderie of youth at Munich University, boisterous and questioning up in the face of increasing Nazi repression on the campus. A professor defiantly lectures students on Spinoza (a Jewish philosopher) even as the Hitler Youth barge their way into the class to spy on and intimidate the professor and his students.
It is 1942-1943, and every citizen in Germany is expected to support the German troops in World War 2. But the White Rose youth agitate for the defeat of Germany, finding covert ways to distribute fliers all over Munich--right under the very noses of Nazi officials who are desperate to discover their source. A small group of Catholic students form a clandestine anti-Nazi group, determined to expose the real agenda and activity of the government. Leaflets appear in desks and books at the university and travel throughout Germany through the mail, exposing the truth about the death camps and Nazi agenda and challenging students and others to act. When freshman Sophie Scholl learns about the White Rose, she becomes its first female member and one of the most creative and daring people involved.
The White Rose youth and the Swing Kids suffered sharp repression. Hundreds of Swing Kids were arrested and some were sent to concentration camps. Sophie Scholl and other members of the White Rose were executed in 1943. These movies show us the courage and conviction of these rebellious youth. But there is also a cautionary tale here about the danger of complicity and silence and the tremendous price paid for resistance that is too little and too late.