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Watch revcom.us for News on the Sept. 20 Jena 6 Protests
This issue of Revolution is a 2-week issue. Our next issue, #103, will appear in the week of October 1. Revolution’s print edition will not publish next week, but check online at revcom.us for up-to-date news on the Sept. 20 protests in Jena and around the country to demand “Free the Jena 6.” Revcom.us will have an initial report by noon Friday, Sept. 21. A fuller report will appear at revcom.us by Monday morning, Sept. 24.
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
On Friday, September 14, Louisiana's Third Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Mychal Bell's conviction of second-degree battery. In response to an emergency appeal by Bell’s lawyers, the court ruled that Bell had been tried improperly as an adult.
At the same time, as we go to press, Mychal Bell is still in jail and STILL under the threat of continuing prosecution. And, the other five Black youth of the Jena 6 are still facing charges that could put them behind bars for years. AP reports that, according to attorney George Tucker, the reversal of Bell’s conviction will not affect the four other teenagers also charged as adults, because they were 17 years old at the time of the fight and no longer considered juveniles. PEOPLE STILL NEED TO COME TO JENA ON SEPTEMBER 20 TO DEMAND THAT THE JENA 6 MUST ALL BE FREE!
The overturning of Bell’s conviction is an important victory for the people. It would not have come about without the courageous stand of people in Jena and the growing mass political movement across the country to free the Jena 6. THIS SHOWS THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE. BUT THE STRUGGLE TO FREE THE JENA 6 IS FAR FROM OVER.
An article in The Jena Times quoted District Attorney Reed Walters saying, “I will ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the decision of the court of appeals.” And reported: “Bell will remain in jail until the issue is clarified by the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court agrees with the appeals court, Walters can choose to try Bell in adult court for attempted second-degree murder as originally charged or try him for a multitude of charges in juvenile court including the second-degree battery charge.”
Bell's legal team plans to go before the 28th District Court on Monday, September 17. Bell’s attorney Louis Scott stated, "We don't know what approach the prosecution is going to take — whether they will re-charge him, where he would have to be subjected to bail all over again or not."
People have been making plans to come to Jena on September 20 for a mass rally to support the Jena Six. And now it is even more important that thousands, from all over the country, GET ON THE BUS AND GET DOWN TO JENA ON SEPTEMBER 20 TO DELIVER A POWERFUL AND EVEN MORE DETERMINED MESSAGE THAT: WE WILL NOT BE SATISFIED AND WILL NOT STOP FIGHTING UNTIL the charges against ALL OF THE JENA SIX are dropped and THEY ARE ALL FREE!
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
There’s something about Jena, Louisiana that tells you loud and clear what time it is in America right now and where things are going.
Think about it: Nooses hanging from a tree. A “whites only” tree in a southern schoolyard. In 2006?!
After dozens of Black students courageously stand under the tree in protest, the district attorney at a school-wide assembly tells them he can take their lives away “with the stroke of a pen.”
After months of conflict between Black and white students, with whites initiating most of it—it is six Black youth who face decades in prison.
The federal government steps in to declare that all this is “regular.”
But think about the response to all this as well: A groundswell of anger from people all over the country. Thousands of people already acting on this outrage—getting the word out on the radio and websites, organizing campus rallies and downtown protests, raising legal-defense money, and buses heading to Jena from all over the country.
This points to how the great injustice in Jena could be stopped and a whole different dynamic in society could be set in motion.
What Time Is It in America?
Step back and look at the bigger picture.
Masses of Black people are trapped in extreme poverty, working at minimum wage jobs, if that, with worsening education, health care and housing. And for far too many of the youth, a future of prison or early death.
Step back and look at what’s been happening just over the past couple of years.
Two years ago the system abandoned tens of thousands of poor and Black people who were left in New Orleans when Katrina hit. The whole world watched in shock and horror as people were trapped without food or water, many of them penned up like prisoners in the Superdome, then callously evacuated with no way to return home. We saw the repression of people, of all nationalities and strata, who tried to help and demanded the system help the people of New Orleans. We see with the system’s “rebuilding” of New Orleans its disdain for a place that is the source of a treasure of African-American music and culture. We see the continuing abandonment of the people of New Orleans.
All this shines a glaring light on the agenda this system has for Black people.
Look at the epidemic of police brutality and murder. In New York City, police killed Sean Bell on his wedding day. This shocking murder and the protests that followed broke the silence about widespread police murder since 9/11 and brought to light many similar cases. But where is the justice, still?
Fifty years ago the Supreme Court supposedly overturned segregated schools—which turned out to be a “dream deferred.” This year, the Supreme Court effectively reversed that—the current court has made it illegal for the government to enforce any attempt to overcome the confinement of African-American children in segregated, inferior, prison-like schools. Yet another promise betrayed.
A report from the New York Civil Liberties Union exposed widespread police brutality within New York high schools, including routine police assaults, insults, and unjustified arrests of students, and even attacks on teachers and principals who dared to verbally defend their students.
To give a sense of where things have gone and are going: In 1954, there were 98,000 Black people in prison. Fifty 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 it created and continually reinforces.
No Future Under this System
America is a capitalist-imperialist system. This basic and brutal fact sets the terms for the lives of Black people in this country. For a basic understanding of how and why this has been so, down to the present day, see excerpts in this issue from the series by Bob Avakian, The Oppression of Black People and the Revolutionary Struggle to End All Oppression (pages 17-21).
Today capitalism has moved its heavy industries to the suburbs and to other countries. Black youth in the inner cities want jobs—3,000 people, mainly Black people, recently showed up on the first day of a job fair in Newark, to apply for jobs working in concessions, cleaning, food service, and security.
But the capitalists consider Black youth “too defiant.” 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.” And yes, 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.
And this is exactly what has been on display so sharply in Jena, Louisiana. What does it say that Mychal Bell, one of the Jena 6, has been in jail for over nine months—the DA denying bail and citing Bell’s so-called “criminal record” of minor offenses? What does it mean when the judge uses a racist and perverse metaphor, telling family members and others speaking on Bell’s behalf, that they are like a “fence erected around the cattle”—and chiding them for not erecting this fence earlier? What does it mean when Black students at Jena High are told they will be punished if they wear “Free the Jena 6” t-shirts? Like millions of Black youth all over this county, these youth are being told they have no future under this system and that they better put up and shut up about racism and all the other injustices they face.
The Need for Resistance
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 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.
All this sheds light on the importance now of the struggle to Free the Jena 6. From North Carolina to Texas, from Detroit to small towns in rural Louisiana, on campuses, breaking into the radio airwaves, at hair stylists and in front yards people are spreading the word, organizing grassroots protests, and chartering busses—challenging everyone to speak out, to step out, and to BE THERE in Jena. There is a growing feeling among all strata of Black people, and many other people too, that these young Black men must go free. And that whatever is behind all this must be exposed and gotten rid of.
There is something potentially very important emerging around the battle to Free the Jena 6. This kind of national groundswell of outrage and action, something we haven’t seen in years, must be spread, drawing links between this struggle and other key battles against the system and the overall need for revolution.
There are real stakes in this struggle. There is a real battle to WIN. The people cannot allow this injustice to go down. The people must stop, through mass political action, this violent enforcement of white supremacy and prevent yet another case of Black youth disappearing into the system’s dungeons. The Jena 6 must be freed. And all this must become part of a growing revolutionary movement.
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
It is a late summer day in September 2006, the beginning of the school year, in the small town of Jena, Louisiana. A Black student ASKS FOR PERMISSION to sit beneath the shade tree in front of the high school. A tree known as a “WHITES-ONLY TREE.”
The principal says they can sit wherever they want, so they do.
The next morning when students come to school, three NOOSES are hanging from the tree.
Tina Jones, the mother of Bryant Purvis, one of the Jena 6, told Revolution:
“To Black people that is offensive because you know over the years Black people were hung in trees. So I mean we felt like the white people were saying, ‘Well if you sit under this tree, we’re going to hang you.’ That’s how us, as Black people felt, even though the white people said it was a prank. How could it be a prank when something like that was done to Black people over the years?”
After dozens of Black students courageously stand under the tree in a defiant act of protest, the principal and superintendent bring in District Attorney Reed Walters and local police officers to an all-school assembly. The DA threatens Black students, telling them that if they do anything else about the nooses: “I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen.” Police officers are stationed in the halls of the school that week.
Meanwhile, no real punishment for the students who HUNG THE NOOSES. The school board steps in to prevent them from getting expelled and they only get a three-day suspension.
On November 30, 2006, the main school building is mysteriously burned to the ground. That weekend when Robert Bailey, a 17-year-old Black student, tries to attend a school dance, he is punched in the face, knocked on the ground and attacked by a group of white youth. Only one of the white students is arrested—and then only given probation and asked to apologize.
The night after that, a white youth pulls a gun on a group of Black youth. A Black youth wrestles the gun away to prevent the white youth from using it. And for this he is arrested and charged with theft.
The following Monday a fight breaks out at school. A white student, Justin Barker, goes to the hospital for a few hours and then attends a school ring ceremony that night.
The next day, December 4, six Black students—Robert Bailey Junior, Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Mychal Bell, and an unidentified minor—are arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit attempted second degree murder. Outrageously high bail is set for each of them, ranging from $70,000-$138,000, and most of them end up in jail for months. Mychal Bell is still in jail.
Like a scene from the Jim Crow South, Mychal Bell is tried on June 25-28 by an all-white jury, in a courtroom run by a white judge. The prosecutor calls 16 witnesses, mostly white students. The court-appointed defense attorney calls NO WITNESSES ON BELL’S BEHALF. The DA argues that the tennis shoes on Bell’s feet were a “dangerous weapon.” Mychal Bell is convicted of two felonies: aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery.
On July 26, the U.S. Department of Justice hosts a “community forum” in Jena, run by Lewis Chapman, assistant special agent in charge of the New Orleans FBI office and U.S. Attorney Donald Washington from the U.S. Justice Department. Discussing how all this has been handled by the authorities, Washington states that “all of their procedures were ‘regular’ and not ‘irregular.’” In effect, he says six Black youth should go to prison for standing up to racism, that white supremacy is the REGULAR workings of this system.
AT EVERY TURN, city and federal officials, the police and courts have stepped in to officially enforce white supremacy and insure the prosecution and persecution of these Black youth.
The Struggle to Free the Jena 6
On July 31, 300 people come from all over the country to rally in support of the Jena 6 when Mychal Bell is scheduled to be sentenced. The weekend before, the school administration removes the “whites-only” tree.
In August, a new legal team from Monroe, Louisiana, steps forward to represent Mychal Bell and handle his appeal, pro bono. Bell’s sentencing is postponed and the team files a number of motions—that Bell did not receive a fair trial, that his constitutional rights were violated, that the convictions should be thrown out, and that a new trial be held or the charges dropped.
At an August 24 court hearing, family members and others step forward to testify that they will ensure Bell will be in the care of the community if he is released on bail. But the judge summarily dismisses this and denies bond. He declares Bell a “danger” to the community, citing a so-called “criminal record” of minor offenses. And then in a blatant racist insult, he compares the Black community to a “fence erected around the cattle” and criticizes them for not erecting this fence around Mychal Bell earlier.
Students at Jena High continue to resist. On August 28, eight or nine students go to school wearing t-shirts that read, “Free the Jena 6.” Again the hammer comes down: The principal gets on the loudspeakers and announces that the t-shirts cannot be worn because they “offend” some people. The t-shirts are officially banned.
All that set the stage for this month. On September 4, Mychal Bell's lawyers presented arguments before the 28th Judicial Court showing numerous violations of constitutional rights during Bell's original trial. Judge J.P. Mauffray, Jr. denied every appeal by Bell's lawyers except for one. He did however throw out the conspiracy conviction, on the grounds that Mychal Bell should not have been prosecuted as an adult on that charge. But he did NOT overturn Bell's conviction, as an adult, on second-degree battery charges. At that point, Bell still faced the possibility of 15 years in prison.
Then, on September 14, in response to an emergency appeal by Bell's lawyers and in the face of a mushrooming nationwide movement to free the Jena 6, Louisiana's Third Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Mychal Bell's conviction of second-degree battery, on the grounds that he should not have been tried as an adult on this charge either. This marked an important victory, but it is still very partial and initial. As we go to press, the D.A. has vowed to appeal to higher courts to re-instate the adult charges, Bell remains in jail, and the rest of the 6 still face very serious charges. And even this initial victory only came about due to the courageous stand of people in Jena and the growing nationwide political movement to free the Jena 6. The struggle to completely free the Jena 6 and force the system to drop ALL charges is far from over and must continue to grow, by leaps and bounds.
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
Talking About Freeing the Jena 6 and Revolution Newspaper
There’s a lot of anticipation here in Jena about what's going to happen on September 20, when people from all around the south and beyond are coming to march and demand “Free the Jena 6.” There's a real desire from people to know what's going on. The media that people are getting here mainly is either negative or “neutral,” people want to find out what's happening in their communities and out in the world. People are hearing different things, and Revolution newspaper feeds this need.
I talked with some people who were out in their yard last weekend in Jena. Everyone was looking forward to the 20th, and feeling it was about time. I got people copies of Revolution, and they pulled together $40 in ones, fives, and a twenty, and they started talking about their plans to distribute the paper. One person said he'd leave some at a gas station, another said a neighborhood. Then, a friend took us around to introduce some of his family to the revolutionary who had come down to Jena.
I stopped in a bar in Jonesville, about twenty miles outside of Jena. People came up and just started buying the copies I had of Revolution, and recommended different places to go to take the paper. Mostly I stopped where people were sitting on their porches. One place people were hanging out, getting their hair done. People said they were planning to come over to Jena and started talking about who's coming on the 20th from around the country. We talked about getting organized here and acting on September 12 and 20. They asked where they could get t-shirts and buttons -- there's not a lot of materials and they really wanted to get them. Then I went over to the church and then over to a hall where a kid’s birthday party was going on. One woman took a stack of papers and started distributing them around the parking lot to people coming in and out. We all started talking about the Jena 6 case and the need to be out on the 12th and 20th.
One person I was talking to wanted to know what Revolution newspaper is about. I read him the three main points in the paper [see page 2]. After he read this and we had some discussion, he got on the phone with a friend of his who is a preacher and said, “You need to get down here, there's someone here who you ought to talk to.” A little later the preacher came down and got some papers. He wanted to know whether or not people were really going to come out on the 20th or if it was all talk. I shared some of what's happening around the country and locally, and he tended to become less and less cynical as we talked.
At one point I went by a friend’s house who we spent Labor Day weekend barbecuing with, and who made a donation for us to produce flyers of the editorial in Revolution calling on people to support the Free the Jena 6 protests on Sept 12 and 20. He took papers to church to get out, and received $75 to pay for them. All told, we got out 180 copies of Revolution this weekend and $180 raised.
Some of the bigger questions about the struggle to Free the Jena 6 came out in the course of all this. One was, what do we do? When people wanted to act I gave them the editorial in Revolution, “All Out! Support National Days of Protest To Free the Jena 6.” People said they wanted to put the “Free the Jena 6,” back page poster up in their windows.
And people are trying to put this together with other things going on. At the bar in Jonesville one person was commenting that the trial for Mychal Bell was unconstitutional. In response, one guy who was from Detroit remembered a Black man being beat with a flashlight and killed by the pigs. He was comparing the Jena 6 story to these kinds of things that happen all over the country. One person really grasped how this situation is not only a reflection of the history of the oppression of Black people but part of something that is still happening today, and he talked about the youth being criminalized and the role that the police play.
Everybody was talking about coming over to Jena on September 20. It’s on the top of everybody's mind. It’s not something that's “simmering beneath the surface” but actually things are boiling. Even the preacher’s sermons are talking about this. One preacher was full of exuberance as he exclaimed, “If you’re sitting down, it’s time for you to stand up!” He demonstrated that by taking a seat in the pews and then rising up. A very broad sentiment is, “It’s about time.” People were saying that not just for Jena but from the standpoint of it’s about time for Black people to stand up, it’s about time for something like this to happen. From there people are coming together to stand up against this whole thing, and with certain exuberance.
There's a gravitation towards Revolution, and a real need for it to be in this area, for people to step forward to become distributors. And potential for people to actually gather up funds. Even though we're in the Bible Belt, people are open to the paper and we need to explore that more. And even on a broader level, what about small town America and Revolution newspaper. We are learning that while we came here on a specific issue there could be something like a group or a team to tour different areas of the country with the paper to set up distribution in areas like this. What we're finding is a tremendous reception to the paper. It has a lot to do with what's going on here, but I also think it has to do with what's going on in the world too.
We are developing relationships with people through uniting to Free the Jena 6. Then people come to us wanting to discuss our views on abortion, on religion. We get into struggle over these things, while at the same time people recognize that we're here to support and build a movement around the Jena 6, talking with them on the ground, learning from them. It’s not like we don't have differences, but people are really getting to know what we stand for and what a communist morality is. People appreciate it. They support the paper. They read the paper, and not just the Jena coverage. When you’re getting the paper to people they start reading it right on the spot. You'll be talking to a couple people and two other people will be off into the articles.
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
A Criminal War of Lies
These past weeks have witnessed a new government propaganda offensive on Iraq. Bush has given a series of headline-grabbing speeches and this past week U.S. Commander Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s report to Congress on the state of Iraq dominated the news. The Democrats offered their meek objections and amendments. And the net result seems to be that the U.S. military occupation of Iraq will continue, with well over 100,000 troops, for the foreseeable future.
The official terms of the so-called “debate” have been whether or not the Bush administration’s “surge”—i.e., its escalation since January of this year—is “working.” But the limits of this “debate” have served to conceal a fundamental truth: this war, the occupation and the “surge” are thoroughly unjust—“working” or not.
An Unjust And Horrific War—Based on Lies
From the beginning, Bush has used one lie after another to sell this war. “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, even nuclear weapons.” Lie. “Iraq was connected to 9/11.” Lie. “Iraqis will welcome American soldiers as ‘liberators.’” Lie. Deliberate, conscious lies.
Not bad intelligence. Not good intentions gone wrong. Lies. In just one of many examples, Sidney Blumenthal recently revealed in Salon.com that, “On September 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers.” Bush went to war anyway.
This revelation makes clear, yet again, that the war wasn’t a “mistake”—it was a crime. The U.S. government knew full well that Iraq posed no direct military threat to the U.S. or its neighbors, so the invasion constituted a war of aggression, the “supreme” crime according to the Nuremburg war crimes tribunal that judged the Nazis.
Now Bush claims, in part, that the U.S. is staying in Iraq to prevent “mass killings on a horrific scale,” while condemning Iran for “the murder of innocent Iraqis.” But it is the U.S. invasion itself, and the continuing direct actions of the U.S. military, that have led to “mass killings on a horrific scale” and the “murder of innocent Iraqis.”
A study by Johns Hopkins University published in the British medical journal Lancet estimated that some 655,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. That was two years ago, and the death toll continues. About 4.4 million Iraqis—out of a prewar population of 26 million—have fled to escape violence, half fleeing Iraq totally, with another 60,000 fleeing each month.
And the U.S. escalation—aka “surge”—has made things even worse:The Associated Press reports the death toll for Iraqi civilians is double what it was a year ago. In August, civilian deaths rose to their second highest level this year—at least 1,809.The number of prisoners in U.S.-run jails in Iraq has also increased by fifty-percent under the so-called surge. The U.S. military is now holding some 24,500 prisoners—up from 16,000 earlier this year.
Bush’s true colors came out when he bragged on a recent trip to Australia that “we’re kicking ass.” Bush and the other U.S. politicians could not care less about the hundreds of thousands of human beings who have already died on account of their actions, or of the millions made homeless and destitute.
The Real Causes of the War
Bush told the American Legion on August 28: “It's a noble cause. It is a just cause. It is a necessary cause.” And he declared: “America has enduring and vital interests in the [Middle East] region...It remains a strategic crossroads for the world...”
What is this “noble cause”? And more to the point what are the “enduring and vital interests” Bush is talking about? For starters, the Middle East contains some 60 percent of world oil reserves. For the imperialists, oil is both a critical source of profit and a strategic weapon to control the global economy and other countries which depend on oil. Control of this region is essential to global domination. This is why the U.S. has 170,000 troops and an armada of ships and military bases in the region, why it spends so much to build up the settler-colonial state of Israel and reactionary Arab tyrannies like Saudi Arabia, and why it is today threatening war on Iran.
This U.S. control has meant decades of terrible oppression for hundreds of millions of people. But every major candidate of both parties subscribes to the basic assumption that the U.S. must and should dominate this region and its people. This is at the heart of why the Democrats’ opposition is so half-hearted and “around the edges.” They are imperialist politicians representing imperialist interests.
After claiming for years that oil had nothing to do with the Iraq war, Bush now argues that if the U.S. wasn’t in the Middle East, “Extremists would control a key part of the world's energy supply, could blackmail and sabotage the global economy. They could use billions of dollars of oil revenues to buy weapons and pursue their deadly ambitions.”
Here Bush lets out a little bit of the truth—in the service of an even more profound lie. These “extremists” Bush attacks are the Islamic fundamentalists—those who claim that the key to liberation for these oppressed societies would be Islamic states under the control of religious law. Now this movement does NOT pose a real way out for the masses. Indeed it is itself reactionary. Where it has achieved power (e.g., Iran, or Afghanistan under the Taliban) it has enforced a suffocating control of political life, and the suppression of science and critical thinking, by religious authorities; the even deeper subjugation and oppression of women, and the feudal and capitalist economic and social relations in which peasants are subject to landowners and workers to capitalists. Its program represents the interests and position of outmoded class forces—feudal landowners, small-time capitalists dependent on but also strangled by imperialist penetration of the economy, etc. It has not led, and cannot lead, to liberation from imperialist domination of these economies but, at most, to a different form of rule and bigger cut of the plunder for a different group of exploiters.
Now these forces do at this point pose an obstacle to the needs of the U.S. to more deeply penetrate the region and to forcibly restructure the societies there to ensure U.S. domination. But that is the problem Bush and the rest of the U.S. ruling class have with them. The U.S. rulers do not care one bit about the oppression of women -- the U.S. supports governments that engage in similar oppression and is itself on a “mission” to deny women the right to abortion and birth control! And who is Bush to complain about “spending oil money on weapons”? Who gave the rulers of the U.S. the right to control world energy, spend billions on a monstrous military machine, and then use it to violently pursue its global ambitions? The class forces represented by Bush—imperialist monopoly capital—are no less outmoded than these “extremists” and are responsible by far for the greatest part of the untold suffering on a daily scale, along with horrendous aggression like the war in Iraq, that mark our world.
Knocking down these Islamic fundamentalist forces was in fact a big part of why the U.S. invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime. To be clear, Saddam Hussein’s regime was not Islamic fundamentalist. But the thinking behind the invasion was to begin by overrunning and occupying Iraq (which seemed at the time like it would be easy), and then to use Iraq as both an example and a jumping off point to forcibly restructure the whole region in the interests of U.S. imperialism, and smash any opposition whatsoever.
They Lied About the War… They’re Lying About the Occupation
The U.S. put together a regime of reactionary forces and calls them the democratic government of Iraq. The U.S. occupation has unleashed factional death squads which have ravaged the country with ethnic cleansing. They’ve tried to rewrite Iraqi laws to open its economy and oil wealth to U.S. capital. The U.S. has built massive military bases, some of which could be permanent and used to attack other countries. This is the reality behind Bush’s declaration that a “central objective” of U.S. strategy is to turn Iraq into “an ally in this war on terror,” and that “the future course of the Middle East will turn heavily on the outcome of the fight in Iraq,” and why he promises to stay for a “long term relationship.”
None of this is to say things would be fine in Iraq—or the region—the day U.S. forces left. Many forces—mostly reactionary at this point—have been uncorked by the imperialists’ very actions in Iraq. But the alternative—a continued U.S. occupation of Iraq with all the death and destruction that that entails, and a continued “war on terror” against other countries—is much, much worse. It would mean that the most oppressive power on earth would be even more dominant and in a much better position to proceed with still greater horrors carried out against others.
As September comes to a close, the picture is as sharp as the autumn air. The U.S. will continue to carry out its crimes in Iraq. The groundwork for a possible attack on Iran will be further laid (and such an attack could happen at any time). The Democrats will continue to channel people’s outrage into the dead end of the 2008 elections (and in the event of war against Iran, they have already pledged their support).
The time for massive political resistance is long overdue.
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
Letter From a Reader…and Response
Revolution recently received the following correspondence from a reader.
I read with great interest the special issue of your paper, “The Crossroads We Face, The Leadership We Need” (Revolution #84, April 8, 2007). I found it very refreshing and thought-provoking, especially the fact that the question of revolution, the nature of the revolution, and the necessary leadership for that revolution were seriously discussed in a way that is very rare these days. One part in particular stood out to me, and it is this that I am writing about—the section dealing with “Hard Questions” relating to revolution. More specifically, I am referring to where it addresses the fact that “Conventional wisdom says that revolution is impossible in a country like the U.S.,” and then it goes on to say:
“There is no sense in denying that it can certainly seem that way. But if revolution is necessary—and it is—then you have to figure out, no matter the seeming odds, how it could come about.” (p. 2)
But then, in this special issue, this question of “how it could come about” is not spoken to further, beyond stressing the crucial principle that “Such a revolution—to be a real revolution—must be the conscious and determined act of millions”; and that “It can only be undertaken when the system is in deep crisis and masses are convinced there is no other way.” (p. 2)
I realize that the purpose of this special issue was not to get into this question in depth; and in unity with the orientation stressed in that special issue, that this is a question that has to be approached very seriously, I have looked into other writings and talks where your thinking on this question is addressed. On this basis, I believe an accurate summary of the basic position you have put forward, on how revolution could be made in a country like the U.S., would be the following:
In broad terms, there are two different types of countries in the world—a small number of imperialist countries, such as the U.S., and a large number of oppressed countries in the Third World—and there are two corresponding roads for revolution:
Protracted people's war in the Third World countries, in which warfare is the main form of struggle more or less from the beginning and throughout the revolutionary process, and in which this warfare, on the revolutionary side, starts out on a small scale and gradually accumulates forces, building up its strength centered in the rural areas, increasingly surrounding the stronghold of power of the old system, in the cities, and then, when the necessary conditions have been brought into being, fighting the final battles, centered in the urban areas, to fully defeat the old regime; and
What has been called the “October Road,” in imperialist countries. (This, as I understand it, is based on the fact that the first successful revolution that led to a lasting socialist state took place in October, 1917, in Russia, with the leadership of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and gave rise to the Soviet Union.) This “October Road” model involves a relatively long period of political (essentially non-military) struggle, in which the aim is to, as Lenin put it, prepare minds and organize forces for revolution; and only when there has been a major, qualitative change in the objective situation, such that all of society is gripped in a deep-going crisis and large numbers of people have come to the point of being ready to fight and die for radical change—only then could an armed struggle be launched on a correct basis and with any prospect of winning. Further, when this armed struggle would be launched, under those revolutionary circumstances, it would take the form of, first, mass insurrections, occurring at the same time, in a number of major urban areas, with the emerging revolutionary forces seizing and remaining on the offensive with the objective of quickly defeating the forces of the old order and establishing a new, revolutionary regime over as much territory as possible. Then, faced with the very likely prospect that the overthrown ruling class, and other reactionary forces, would regroup and unleash an armed onslaught against the new revolutionary regime, that regime would have to wage a further war, a civil war, to finally and fully defeat those overthrown and reactionary forces.
From what I have seen, in this model for revolution that has been theorized in regard to imperialist countries, the actual struggle for the seizure of power—which would follow a whole period characterized by ideological, political, and organizational work—has been described with the formulation ai/cw (or armed insurrection, followed by civil war).
I strongly agree with the emphasis given in this model to the fact that, for any real revolution to succeed in an imperialist country, and especially a major imperialist power, there would need to be a revolutionary situation—not just problems, or even just serious problems, for the ruling class but a profound crisis, affecting all of society, reaching into all of the ruling institutions, including the machinery of repression of the ruling class, and leading to militant resistance on the part of large numbers of people on the bottom of society and in other strata as well. It would very definitely be wrong and even suicidal to try to wage a revolutionary struggle for power, or even to initiate some kind of lower-level military actions, in the absence of those conditions.
But the problem I see is that, even with those conditions, this ai/cw model doesn't seem realistic. In particular, it doesn't seem likely at all that urban insurrections, even if they involved huge numbers of people and occurred simultaneously in a number of cities, could succeed in going up against even a relatively small part of the military forces of the old order, which would almost certainly remain very powerful, well organized, trained, and equipped. By their very nature, the revolutionary insurrections would need to defeat and disintegrate those powerful forces of the old order in a very short period of time, which would require entering into decisive, large-scale engagements more or less from the beginning. Yet by definition the revolutionary forces would, in effect, be trying to do this “from a standing start” and without any time and experience to build up the kind of forces that would have any chance of winning such engagements. And what is more, even if somehow the revolutionary forces could succeed in these initial insurrections, it would seem that any regime that they would establish would be highly vulnerable to the massed power of the remaining, and regrouped, forces of reactionary violence. Under these circumstances, how would it be possible to maintain the new revolutionary regime, defend its territory, and provide for the needs of its people as well as the requirements of the newly formed defense forces of the revolutionary state? Once again, it would seem very unlikely that it would be possible to do this, and that instead this new revolutionary regime would be defeated and its forces pulverized in very short order.
These, it seems to me, are very real problems, in terms of what I understand to be the “October Road” model for revolution in imperialist countries. I am raising this in line with, and in appreciation of, the fact that indeed revolution is a very serious matter and must be approached very seriously—in the same spirit in which the special issue of Revolution (#84, April 8, 2007) argues that “if revolution is necessary—and it is—then you have to figure out, no matter the seeming odds, how it could come about.” So the question remains: even in the best of circumstances, in a powerful imperialist country like the U.S., would revolution really be possible—and, if so, how?
The questions raised in this letter are obviously extremely important. The kinds of problems it points to are things that would, in fact, pose themselves very prominently at the time when a revolutionary struggle for the seizure of power were being waged in an imperialist country. They are problems that do touch on the fundamental question of whether the kind of revolutionary struggle spoken about in this letter could really succeed. They are problems that highlight the need for strategic conception—or in some important aspects reconception—as part of developing the basic orientation that, in the realm of theory and strategic approach, could illuminate the road to a successful revolution.
In a talk last year, “Bringing Forward Another Way” (which has just been run as a series in Revolution and is posted, in its entirety, online at revcom.us), Bob Avakian calls attention to the fact that there are “‘two things we don't know how to do’—namely, meeting repression and actually winning when the time comes. Now the point of saying these are two things we don't know how to do…is to call attention to the fact that we'd better work on these things—in the appropriate way and not in inappropriate ways.”
He goes on to say, with regard to the question of winning when the time comes:
“We have to take up the question and approach the question of winning in a very serious and not in an infantile way, and not in a way which makes it even easier for this kind of concentrated power of reaction [embodied in the imperialist ruling class] to crush any attempt to bring a new world into being.”
To give further emphasis to this orientation, Avakian then includes in “Bringing Forward Another Way” a statement which was published in Revolution, “Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—in Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution.” This statement begins:
“Revolution is a very serious matter and must be approached in a serious and scientific way, and not through subjective and individualistic expressions of frustration, posturing and acts which run counter to the development of a mass revolutionary movement which is aimed at—and which must be characterized by means that are fundamentally consistent with and serve to bring into being—a radically different and far better world. Revolution, and in particular communist revolution, is and can only be the act of masses of people, organized and led to carry out increasingly conscious struggle to abolish, and advance humanity beyond, all systems and relations of exploitation and oppression.” (“Some Crucial Points” is reproduced in this issue of Revolution.)
In line with this orientation, in “Bringing Forward Another Way,” proceeding on the basis of what is said in “Some Crucial Points,” Avakian calls for study, and wrangling in the realm of theory and conception, in regard to the problem of winning when the time comes. As he puts it:
“Now, in previous talks I've spoken about two tracks in relation to winning, in relation to the seizure of power when there is the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people of millions. In light of what I've just read (which was the whole of ‘Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—in Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution’), and with that as a template, if you will, or a foundation—and from a strategic, not immediate, standpoint—we should understand the role and the dialectical relation of these two tracks. These are separate tracks, and only with a qualitative change in the situation (as spoken to in what I just read from ‘Some Crucial Points’) can there be a merging of the two tracks. Until that point, they can only correctly be developed, and have to be developed, separately.
“The first track, which is the main focus and content of things now, is political, ideological, and organizational work, guided by the strategic orientation of united front under the leadership of the proletariat, having in view and politically preparing for the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people on a mass scale. This is what it means to ‘hasten while awaiting’ the development of a revolutionary situation.
“The second track refers to and is in essence developing the theory and strategic orientation to be able to deal with the situation and be able to win when the two tracks can and should be merged—with a qualitative change in the objective political terrain, with the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people (as I have spoken to that here and as is set forth in a concentrated way in ‘Some Crucial Points’). What is appropriate now in this regard is attention to the realm of theory and strategic thinking and understanding, learning in a deep and all-sided way from experience of different kinds. There is a need to study all these different kinds of experience and for it to be synthesized from a correct strategic perspective—all in order to accumulate knowledge to deepen theoretical understanding and strategic conception.”
And, elaborating on a point made by Mao Tsetung, Avakian has emphasized the fundamental orientation that it is extremely important not to be bound by superstition and convention—and by what has, up to this point, been held to be true—but instead to approach all problems with critical and creative thinking, grounded in scientific principles and methods.
Upholding Some Basic Principles
In this light, the following are some essential points of orientation that have been underscored by further study and theoretical conceptualization.
* The analysis of, and the distinction between, the two types of countries and the two corresponding strategic approaches (roads) to revolution, which are referred to in this letter from a reader, remain essentially valid and important. At the same time, major changes in the world, and in Third World countries in particular—including especially the massive and continuing migration of (former) peasants from the rural areas to the urban areas, and the swelling of urban shantytown slums, in many of these countries—indicate the need for further theoretical work to gain a deeper understanding of these important developments, the larger process and dynamics they are part of, and the implications of this for the revolutionary struggle, even where, in Third World countries, the basic strategic conception and approach (road) would remain fundamentally the same—that is, protracted people's war, to surround the cities from the countryside and then finally to defeat the power of the reactionary ruling classes, centered in the cities.
* With regard to the imperialist countries (and the questions raised in this letter from a reader focus on this type of country) it remains true, and a decisive point of orientation, that in order for there to be the basis to wage a serious struggle for revolutionary power, and the possibility of winning such a struggle, there must be a major, qualitative change in the objective situation, including in the political sentiments, mood, and actions of masses of people. As it is put in “Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—in Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution”:
“The whole system we now live under is based on exploitation—here and all over the world. It is completely worthless and no basic change for the better can come about until this system is overthrown….
“In a country like the U.S., the revolutionary overthrow of this system can only be achieved once there is a major, qualitative change in the nature of the objective situation, such that society as a whole is in the grip of a profound crisis, owing fundamentally to the nature and workings of the system itself, and along with that there is the emergence of a revolutionary people, numbering in the millions and millions, conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it. In this struggle for revolutionary change, the revolutionary people and those who lead them will be confronted by the violent repressive force of the machinery of the state which embodies and enforces the existing system of exploitation and oppression; and in order for the revolutionary struggle to succeed, it will need to meet and defeat that violent repressive force of the old, exploitative and oppressive order.
“Before the development of a revolutionary situation—and as the key to working toward the development of a revolutionary people, in a country like the U.S.—those who see the need for and wish to contribute to a revolution must focus their efforts on raising the political and ideological consciousness of masses of people and building massive political resistance to the main ways in which, at any given time, the exploitative and oppressive nature of this system is concentrated in the policies and actions of the ruling class and its institutions and agencies—striving through all this to enable growing numbers of people to grasp both the need and the possibility for revolution when the necessary conditions have been brought into being, as a result of the unfolding of the contradictions of the system itself as well as the political, and ideological, work of revolutionaries.”
New and Important Conclusions
At the same time, study and theoretical conceptualization has also pointed in some new and important directions:
* Even with a revolutionary situation and the emergence of a revolutionary people, problems of the kind that this letter raises, and emphasizes, could almost certainly not be solved by the strategy of simultaneous urban insurrections, leading quickly to the establishment of a revolutionary regime and then, very likely, the waging of a civil war to finally defeat the remaining forces of the overthrown ruling class and other reactionary forces. A different strategic approach would almost certainly be required, once the necessary conditions had come into being, as embodied in a revolutionary crisis in society and the emergence of a revolutionary people (once again, see “Some Crucial Points”).
One possible exception to this conclusion would be the development of a situation along lines that were essentially the same as what happened in the original “October Revolution” in Russia. In that situation, the basic factors that led to the successful insurrection included:
the reality that Russia, while an imperialist power with an extensive empire, was at the same time a very backward country, with much lower levels of industrial development than other imperialist countries and with widespread feudal relations still remaining, especially in the vast countryside, where the majority of society still lived, and greatly suffered;
conditions of intense exploitation and immiseration of the great majority of people in that country, along with the highly repressive nature of the ruling autocratic regime (headed by an absolute monarch, the Tsar);
in addition, the heightening of all this, and the even more extreme misery and desperation of the masses of people, as a result of the involvement of Russia for several years in the first world war, and the terrible toll this exacted on the people in Russia and the rank and file of the Russian army;
the fact that the Tsarist regime was toppled as a result of mass upheaval, as well as bourgeois and imperialist intrigue, in the first part of 1917 (the February revolution) and that the new bourgeois government that came to power as a result of this February revolution would not, and in essence could not, pull out of the war, even though there was great and continually rising discontent with the war and a growing mass demand to get Russia out of it.
In these circumstances, on the basis of having strengthened their ties and roots among the exploited workers (proletarians) in the major urban areas in Russia—and with the new bourgeois regime increasingly vulnerable (for reasons pointed to here) and sections of its army coming over to the revolutionary side—Lenin and the Bolsheviks (Russian communists) were able to lead mass insurrections which, rather quickly and with a relatively minor amount of actual warfare, overthrew the bourgeois government and established in its place a proletarian state (Soviet rule). While this was a real revolution, involving masses in an insurrectionary rising—and it was not merely a coup pulled off by a small number of conspirators—in the circumstances that obtained in Russia at that time (briefly summarized here, in some essential aspects) the bourgeois government, resting on a weak and increasingly rotting foundation, was essentially unable to muster any significant force to suppress the insurrectionary rising at its beginning, and the old regime fell relatively easily and quickly.
In sum, it was a very rare combination of circumstances that led to the success of this October Revolution, in the form of mass, and more or less simultaneous, urban insurrections.
Of course, if a revolutionary people and their leadership were to find themselves in a situation very similar to that which existed in Russia in 1917, then it would seem foolish, and indeed criminal, for them to fail to seize on such a situation to knock over the rotting old order quickly and establish a new revolutionary power, quite possibly through mass urban insurrections, as happened in Russia. But it is important to keep in mind that it would be extremely unlikely for circumstances very similar to that to emerge again in an imperialist country, and particularly a highly developed and powerful imperialist country. It is also important to keep in mind that, although these events in October 1917 in Russia led to the quick victory of the socialist revolution, in its very initial stage, the new revolutionary regime then had to fight a several years' civil war, against regrouped reactionary forces, including officers and troops from the old, reactionary army, which had support from a number of imperialist countries, some of which actually invaded the territory of the new Soviet republic in the course of this civil war.
So, in short, all this points to the conclusion that, in the future, revolutions in imperialist countries would very, very likely not be able to succeed, once the struggle for power became the order of the day, by attempting to follow the course taken in the insurrectionary uprisings of the October Revolution in Russia.
* With regard, then, to the “October Road” as a whole, there are some essential aspects that do still apply, while there are other important aspects that almost certainly would not, and could not, be applied to successfully wage the struggle for power.
What continues to apply, in basic terms, is that the road of revolution in imperialist countries requires a whole period of political, ideological, and organizational work to prepare for the eventual emergence of a profound revolutionary crisis and the emergence of a revolutionary people (preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution, as Lenin put it).
No one can predict, in advance, exactly how long such a period would last (and, of course, that would vary from country to country). But, as emphasized in “Bringing Forward Another Way” (and elsewhere), the role of revolutionaries is not simply to wait, passively, for a revolutionary situation to somehow magically arise, but to “hasten while awaiting” the development of this situation, to carry out all-around ideological and political work to repolarize society, as much as possible, in a direction that, from a strategic standpoint, is more favorable to revolution and to prepare growing ranks of the people, at the base of society and among other strata, as well as preparing the vanguard party itself, for the emergence of a revolutionary situation.
At the same time, such a revolutionary situation is not something that can simply be “called into existence” through the will, or even through the efforts, of the revolutionaries alone. As “Some Crucial Points” makes clear, this comes about “as a result of the unfolding of the contradictions of the system itself as well as the political, and ideological, work of revolutionaries.” On the one hand, and very importantly, it would be wrong, and actually work against revolution, to have, and to impose on reality, some stereotyped “formula” for how a revolutionary situation develops, and what it looks like as it emerges. On the other hand, it is a fact that such a revolutionary situation will be marked by certain very definite features and characteristics which are not simply the subjective impressions of the revolutionary vanguard, but are the objective expressions of the profound intensification of contradictions in society, and in the world as a whole.
This relates to the fact that, in basic terms, the criteria that were formulated by Lenin, at the time of the Russian Revolution, for what characterizes a revolutionary situation and what are the necessary and essential conditions for waging the struggle for the seizure of power in countries like Russia (that is, generally speaking, imperialist countries) also remain valid and would still apply. Lenin said that in a revolutionary situation:
the ruling class is enmeshed in a profound crisis, which among other things is marked by acute conflicts within the ranks of the ruling class itself, so that it is increasingly unable to rule in the old way;
these cracks and fissures within the ruling class provide further openings for the suppressed anger of the masses of people to burst through and, for this as well as other reasons, the masses are unwilling to live in the old way, but are determined to bring about a radical change in society;
and, along with this, there is a revolutionary party which is continually developing extensive influence and broad and deep ties among growing numbers of the exploited and oppressed in society, and among all strata in society, so that it is capable of giving more conscious expression, as well as organized form and direction, to the determination of truly massive numbers of people to bring about such a radical change.
Speaking about imperialist countries, Lenin also identified three basic conditions that were necessary for a successful struggle for power:
1) This struggle, and in particular one that embodies communist objectives, depends not on the actions of a vanguard party alone but on an advanced class, representing the basis and potential for remaking society in a way that resolves society's fundamental contradictions in the interests of the exploited and oppressed, and ultimately in the interests of the great majority of the people. In today's world, that advanced class is the proletariat. As a class, the proletariat represents the collective means through which the basic economic life and functioning of society is carried out; and it embodies the potential to take hold of the means of production—the technology, the land and raw materials, and so on—which are themselves the product of collective labor, and to transform them step by step into the collective resource of society. (Land and raw materials as such are “provided by nature,” but to become part of the process of producing wealth, in one form or another, they must be integrated into some system of human production and social relations and be worked on by human beings—cultivated, mined, etc.—and they are transformed in this way and through the process of production overall. In capitalist society, above all, this is done through fundamentally collective labor.) And, along with this, the interests of the proletariat, as a class, lie in transforming and revolutionizing all the economic and social relations, the political structures and institutions, and the ways of thinking which correspond, under capitalism, to the private appropriation of socially-produced wealth and the division of society into exploiters and exploited. Lenin also analyzed how, with the development of capitalism into a world-wide system of imperialism—and with imperialism's extreme exploitation and plunder of the Third World—there is a section of the working class in the imperialist countries that is, to no small extent, bribed from the spoils of imperialism, and it is necessary for revolution in the imperialist countries to rely on what Lenin referred to as the “lower and deeper” sections of the proletariat, whose conditions of life correspond to that of a class which has nothing to lose but its chains of exploitation and oppression. It is the role of the communist vanguard party of the proletariat to enable these proletarians, and people from other strata who are seeking a radical change in society, to become conscious of the revolutionary interests of the proletariat as a class and the role of especially its “lower and deeper” sections as the bedrock on which the communist revolution rests.
2) The revolutionary struggle for power must rely on a revolutionary people—masses of people, coming forward not only from among the proletariat but also from other sections of oppressed people and broad strata of society, who are (in the words of “Some Crucial Points”) conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it.
3) This revolutionary struggle for power must be launched in conditions where not only is the ruling class unable to rule in the old way, and the masses of people unwilling to live in the old way, but also the forces and programs representing weak, vacillating, and half-hearted opposition to the old order have increasingly been shown to be incapable of meeting the needs of the situation and the demands of the politically aroused and revolutionary-minded masses, in their millions.
The fulfillment of these three conditions, Lenin emphasized, represent a basic dividing line between, on the one hand, a genuine revolutionary struggle for power, on the part of masses of people, led by a communist vanguard, and, on the other hand, various forms of what today is generally called “terrorism.” And in an overall sense Lenin's characterization of the conditions and criteria for a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary struggle for power not only remain valid but continue to have decisive importance, particularly as applied to imperialist countries, not only in distinguishing genuine revolution from “terrorism,” but also in establishing the basic foundation for recognizing, and being able to successfully seize on, a revolutionary opportunity, when it appears.
On the other hand, even with a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people—even in circumstances where the basic criteria and conditions spoken to by Lenin (as summarized just above) would apply—what would be required, on the part of the revolutionaries in an imperialist country, in order to have a chance of winning, would be to wage a more protracted struggle than the kind of mass insurrections that Lenin himself led in Russia in 1917. It would require a struggle that would very likely not involve decades but would very likely involve years—and one in which it would almost certainly be necessary for the organized forces of the revolution to avoid confronting not only the full power of the reactionary forces and their organized machinery of violence but also to avoid, for some time, direct and more conventional encounters with anything like major, well organized and still powerful formations of this reactionary force as well.
This marks a basic and very important difference from the October, 1917 revolution in Russia and from that aspect of the “October Road.”
* Along with this, it would most likely be the case that, in the early stages of this protracted struggle, and for some time, the revolutionary forces would not be setting up a formal regime (which, if it existed, would have to fulfill the objectives spoken to in the letter from a reader, such as defending and administering a defined territory on an ongoing basis). In fact, establishing such a revolutionary state would be the goal of this protracted struggle, and would become possible at the time of, or with the more or less immediate approach of, the final and complete defeat of the reactionary forces and the final and complete victory of the revolution.
During this more protracted revolutionary struggle, the organized core forces of the revolution would be “intertwined among,” and in a fundamental sense sheltered and protected by, the larger revolutionary people—the tens and tens of millions who were won to support the revolution in various ways even while, at any given point, many of them might not be part of the main organized forces of the revolutionary struggle. In this way, the core revolutionary forces would, as Mao Tsetung put it, be like fish swimming in the sea made up of the masses of revolutionary people.
Here, there is something important to learn from an insight of an imperialist strategist, British General Rupert Smith, author of the book The Utility of Force. As is common among those with the outlook of the imperialists, Smith mixes up what would be genuine revolutionary forces with various “terrorist” groups, but nonetheless this observation by Smith is highly relevant and pregnant with meaning in relation to a genuine revolutionary struggle for power, in conditions where such a struggle could be waged on a correct foundation: an insurrectionary force that is “defining the parameters of the conflict” (Smith writes) has “by default presented an alternative force and power.” (Smith, The Utility of Force, p. 385)
* Previously, the kind of strategic conception spoken to here, in terms of protracted revolutionary struggle, was discounted because it was believed it was not possible to engage in and sustain such a protracted struggle, in technologically highly developed and highly urbanized imperialist countries, even when there was a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people. So, it is important to further examine various key factors relating to this.
It is very clear that, in such technologically developed imperialist countries, attempting such a struggle—or any kind of warfare—without and before the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people would lead to a terrible defeat for the revolution and the demoralization of the masses of people who yearn for a radically different and better world. It is one thing—it is something that anyone with a sense of justice would uphold—when masses of people defend themselves against outrageous acts of oppression and violent suppression. But it is quite another thing—it is wrong and very harmful—to attempt to wage an actual armed struggle, including offensive actions, in the form of “urban guerrilla warfare,” or according to some other conception of warfare, in conditions where there is not yet a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people—once again, this is bound to lead to defeat for those attempting to implement such a “strategy” and to make it more difficult to build a revolutionary movement in a way that could eventually lead to winning when the time came.
Why would such attempts be bound to fail, and lead to disaster? Among the essential reasons for this are:
In the absence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people—in the absence of the basic conditions and criteria summarized above, drawing from Lenin, in terms of a struggle for power in an imperialist country—attempts to wage a revolutionary war of some kind in an imperialist country could not rely on the masses of oppressed and exploited people. It could not set in motion a dynamic where more and more of the masses, from various strata in society, could and would be motivated and mobilized not only to support but to become actively involved in such a struggle. Instead, the dynamic would be one where the forces attempting such a struggle would be more and more isolated from the masses, forced into a passive position, exposed to the concentrated power of the repressive state—and defeated, probably rather quickly and definitely in decisive terms.
Particularly in imperialist countries where the most exploited and oppressed masses of people represent a significant section of society but still not a majority; and where there are large middle strata whose conditions are, “in normal times,” not marked by the kind of desperation and outrage that characterize the lives of those on the bottom of society; in such circumstances, attempting to launch a revolutionary struggle for power when there is not yet an acute revolutionary crisis in society, and the right as well as the ability of the ruling class to rule have not yet been called fundamentally into question among very large sections of the population, of many different strata—this would lead, in those conditions, to a situation in which the ruling class would be able to further polarize society in a way more favorable to it, while the revolutionary forces would, at best, find support among sections of society that would, in effect, be encircled and suppressed—and, even among those sections of the people, the revolutionary struggle would lose support, as those masses suffered increasingly terrible repression and destructive violence, directed at them by the ruling class, while the revolutionary struggle would increasingly be losing momentum and initiative and the revolutionary forces would be increasingly confined, fixed, and pulverized.
In an imperialist country, only with the development of an acute revolutionary crisis, profoundly affecting all of society, and with the emergence of a revolutionary people—a force of people conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it, a force numbering in the millions, with its bedrock among the most exploited and oppressed, but drawing from all strata of the people—only in those conditions could there be the possibility of achieving, through the waging of a protracted struggle for power, a dynamic that would overall favor the revolutionary side and a polarization in society as a whole that would also be increasingly favorable for the revolution.
It is for these reasons that “Some Crucial Points” emphasizes that, in a country like the U.S.:
“In the absence of a revolutionary situation—and in opposition to the revolutionary orientation and revolutionary political and ideological work that is actually needed—the initiation of, or the advocacy of, isolated acts of violence, by individuals or small groups, divorced from masses of people and attempting to substitute for a revolutionary movement of masses of people, is very wrong and extremely harmful. Even—or especially—if this is done in the name of ‘revolution,’ it will work against, and in fact do serious damage to, the development of an actual revolutionary movement of masses of people, as well as to the building of political resistance against the outrages and injustices of this system even before there is a revolutionary situation. It will aid the extremely repressive forces of the existing system in their moves to isolate, attack and crush those, both revolutionary forces and broader forces of political opposition, who are working to build mass political resistance and to achieve significant, and even profound, social change through the politically-conscious activity and initiative of masses of people.”
The re-examination of things with new theoretical perspectives and insights has further confirmed the fact that it would lead to defeat and disaster to attempt the kind of protracted struggle spoken about here, before there is the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people. But, on the other hand, it has pointed to the conclusion that with such a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people, it would very likely be necessary, and could be possible, to wage such a protracted struggle—and in fact this would almost certainly be the only means through which it would be possible for the revolutionary people to actually win.
* A particular and distinguishing feature of the situation in which it would be possible, and correct, for the revolutionary forces to launch such a protracted struggle, would be that the repressive and reactionary violence of the existing state and its institutions would have lost its legitimacy—would have come to be seen as unjust and illegitimate violence—in the eyes of very broad sections of society. This is one of the key indicators of a revolutionary situation and key bases for the emergence of a revolutionary people. The response of the revolutionary forces to this reactionary repressive violence in this situation—at the start of the protracted revolutionary struggle—would be of such a nature and would have particular features that would make clear that a different authority—revolutionary authority, which would be recognized, by large and growing numbers of people, as legitimate and as having right on its side—was now contending in a serious and strategically all-out way against the old, reactionary authority; and that, while not presenting itself to the reactionary forces in such a way that would make it possible for them to pulverize and destroy it, this revolutionary authority was fighting with the strategic aim of establishing a new form of political power in society that would open the door to creating new economic, social, and political relations—relations free of exploitation and oppression.
The fact that the strategic aims of such communist-led revolutionary forces—the goal of finally putting an end to all exploitative and oppressive relations—would find expression in the doctrine and principles, the methods and means of fighting of these revolutionary forces, including the active and increasingly unleashed role of women in the fight and at all levels of the organized revolutionary forces—this would, over the course of this protracted struggle, more and more shine a light on the fundamental difference between such revolutionary forces and the various reactionaries who would oppose and seek to crush the revolution.
* In this overall approach, while the old ruling class and the forces of the old order would seek to terrorize the people away from supporting the revolution and would try to isolate and crush the core organized forces of the revolution, those revolutionary forces would once again be like fish in the sea, amidst the vast and growing ranks of the revolutionary people. The brutish actions and wanton destruction carried out by the imperialists, and by reactionaries allied with them, would serve, through the course of the struggle, to expose more deeply their true nature and to propel greater masses of people to the revolutionary cause, especially as the revolutionaries were able to conduct their operations in such a way as to (invoking once again the phrase of Rupert Smith) “define the parameters” of the conflict and frustrate the attempts of the imperialists and reactionaries to draw the revolutionary forces into situations where they could be pulverized and destroyed.
To borrow another formulation from Rupert Smith, this would involve the revolutionary forces acting in such a way as to remain, at least for most of this protracted struggle, “below the threshold of the utility of force” of the imperialists. Smith points out that in warfare, of whatever kind, it is not the force of the contending sides, in absolute terms, that matters but rather the force each side is actually able to utilize to its advantage in its contest with its adversary—this is what Smith means in speaking of “utility of force.” (For example, one side in a conflict may have nuclear weapons, but if it is not able to use them in that conflict, then those weapons do not have utility of force.) It is not that the imperialists would hold back from bringing down terrible destructive force against the revolutionaries and the masses of people who supported them—given their reactionary nature, it would be necessary to reckon with the fact that the imperialists would do this—but the decisive question would be whether, through doing this, the imperialists would be able to isolate and destroy the organized forces of the revolution; or whether, on the contrary, these barbaric actions of the imperialists would deepen the hatred of growing numbers of people for the imperialists, stiffen the resolve of those already supporting the revolutionary side, and win more of the people to sympathize with, and to actively support, the revolutionary cause.
It must also be anticipated that, as a crucial element in their strategic approach, the imperialists would seek to target and eliminate those they identified as the leadership of the revolution, in accordance with the “decapitation” doctrine generally applied by imperialist and reactionary forces. Faced with this, the revolutionary side would need to correctly and skillfully combine centralization, ideologically and in terms of strategic approach, with a great deal of decentralization, organizationally and tactically, and initiative on the local and basic levels. And it would be necessary to combine a determined struggle to defend and protect leadership, and defeat attempts at “decapitation,” with a doctrinal orientation and practical efforts to continually develop, train, and give initiative to new leaders. In all this, on the revolutionary side, there would be an important application of the principle of “solid core, with a lot of elasticity.”
Smith's characterization of insurgent forces that fight “below the threshold of the utility of force” of their adversary, represents a reformulation, from the standpoint of the imperialists, of some basic principles of warfare developed by Mao Tsetung during the course of the protracted people's wars in China—and in particular the principle, which Mao stressed, that the revolutionary forces must avoid strategic encounters, which would have a decisive bearing on the outcome of the war as a whole, until such time as these encounters can be waged to the advantage of the revolutionary forces, and can hasten their final victory. This is a basic principle that revolutionary forces would need to keep clearly in mind and correctly apply to the particular circumstances; it is something they could ignore only at great cost to the revolutionary cause.
* The main objectives of the revolutionaries, in waging the kind of protracted struggle spoken of here, in the conditions which would make such a struggle possible, would be: to win over even greater numbers of people, through the confrontation and the living contrast between the two radically different authorities, while at the same time frustrating, disintegrating and demoralizing the imperialist and reactionary forces—which would be seeking to violently re-impose and reinforce the old order and the old relations of exploitation, oppression, and domination—and then finally to defeat those reactionary forces. In the course of this, the revolutionary forces would conduct a determined and strategically conceived course of action, marked by calibrated struggles against the reactionary forces, in which the revolutionaries would strive to gain more and more initiative without prematurely entering into encounters that posed the strategic risk of decisive defeat and decimation. And, with regard to those who made up the ranks of the reactionary forces, especially those who were actually drawn from the oppressed and exploited in society, and whose objective interests would fundamentally lie with the revolution, the revolutionaries would continue to make political appeals to them to come over to the side of the revolution.
* Finally, when the necessary conditions had been created through this whole intense but also protracted struggle, the revolutionary forces would then be faced with the challenge, and the prospect, of finally defeating the remaining violent forces of imperialism and counter-revolution. But even at that point, the revolutionary forces would very likely need to avoid confronting particularly “hard core” reactionary elements too early on, especially in situations and on terms that would still be favorable to them, such as the type of engagements between massed forces that has been common in wars between technology-heavy armed forces (for example, in the two world wars in the 20th century) or the kind of very one-sided battles the U.S. conducted against the regular forces of Saddam Hussein's regime in the wars in Iraq, in 1991 and again in 2003. Instead, even during the final stage, and particularly at the early points in this stage, the revolutionary forces might well need to combine various stratagems, so as to further isolate and disintegrate these “hard core” reactionary elements, and lay the basis for engaging and thoroughly and decisively defeating what is left of the reactionary forces, once they had been weakened sufficiently.
All this would be radically different, in its guiding philosophy, its objectives and methods, from what can generally be considered “terrorist” strategies—which involve actions isolated from masses of people, and/or aiming their fire at non-combatant forces and utilizing means and methods that seek to forcibly terrorize the people, or sections of them, into accepting the aims of those practicing this kind of violence—and in general it would be radically different from the reactionary aims, approaches, and methods of historically outmoded forces, not the least of which are the imperialists themselves.
The above are basic elements of conceptualization—and, in significant aspects, reconceptualization—in regard to the question of revolutionary possibility. And of course, for a whole period of time, before there is a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people, there remains the continuing need to develop a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of revolution overall and of the revolutionary struggle for power once the necessary conditions had come into being.
In conclusion, to respond to the fundamental question being posed by this letter from a reader: Yes, revolution is possible. Yes, even in the most powerful of imperialist countries, in the bastions of reactionary, oppressive rule throughout the world, revolution could prevail, could bring into being a radically different and far better society, and make a great contribution to achieving a radically different and far better world—if it were guided by a serious and scientific orientation, approach and methods—if the work of revolution were undertaken correctly, in the period before there is a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people, and if the revolutionary struggle for power were guided by the correct theory and strategic conception once there were the leap to a revolutionary situation and the emergence of a revolutionary people, in the millions and millions, conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it.
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
Revolution is a very serious matter and must be approached in a serious and scientific way, and not through subjective and individualistic expressions of frustration, posturing and acts which run counter to the development of a mass revolutionary movement which is aimed at—and which must be characterized by means that are fundamentally consistent with and serve to bring into being—a radically different and far better world. Revolution, and in particular communist revolution, is and can only be the act of masses of people, organized and led to carry out increasingly conscious struggle to abolish, and advance humanity beyond, all systems and relations of exploitation and oppression.
A bedrock, scientific understanding which must underlie the development of such a revolutionary movement is that:
The whole system we now live under is based on exploitation—here and all over the world. It is completely worthless and no basic change for the better can come about until this system is overthrown.
In a country like the U.S., the revolutionary overthrow of this system can only be achieved once there is a major, qualitative change in the nature of the objective situation, such that society as a whole is in the grip of a profound crisis, owing fundamentally to the nature and workings of the system itself, and along with that there is the emergence of a revolutionary people, numbering in the millions and millions, conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it. In this struggle for revolutionary change, the revolutionary people and those who lead them will be confronted by the violent repressive force of the machinery of the state which embodies and enforces the existing system of exploitation and oppression; and in order for the revolutionary struggle to succeed, it will need to meet and defeat that violent repressive force of the old, exploitative and oppressive order.
Before the development of a revolutionary situation—and as the key to working toward the development of a revolutionary people, in a country like the U.S.—those who see the need for and wish to contribute to a revolution must focus their efforts on raising the political and ideological consciousness of masses of people and building massive political resistance to the main ways in which, at any given time, the exploitative and oppressive nature of this system is concentrated in the policies and actions of the ruling class and its institutions and agencies—striving through all this to enable growing numbers of people to grasp both the need and the possibility for revolution when the necessary conditions have been brought into being, as a result of the unfolding of the contradictions of the system itself as well as the political, and ideological, work of revolutionaries.
In the absence of a revolutionary situation—and in opposition to the revolutionary orientation and revolutionary political and ideological work that is actually needed—the initiation of, or the advocacy of, isolated acts of violence, by individuals or small groups, divorced from masses of people and attempting to substitute for a revolutionary movement of masses of people, is very wrong and extremely harmful. Even—or especially—if this is done in the name of “revolution,” it will work against, and in fact do serious damage to, the development of an actual revolutionary movement of masses of people, as well as to the building of political resistance against the outrages and injustices of this system even before there is a revolutionary situation. It will aid the extremely repressive forces of the existing system in their moves to isolate, attack and crush those, both revolutionary forces and broader forces of political opposition, who are working to build mass political resistance and to achieve significant, and even profound, social change through the politically-conscious activity and initiative of masses of people.
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
Resist “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”
There is an ice sheet spreading across the campuses of America. Well-known professors have lost their jobs due to their political views. Scores, perhaps hundreds, of other professors, less well-known, have been fired, denied tenure, harassed and silenced. Critical thinking is under assault; the universities are being transformed into uncontested centers of indoctrination.
This October 22-26, America’s fascists will attempt to make a further major step in this repressive process. They have declared an “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” They are planning programs and protests at over 100 campuses, supposedly against the oppression of women under Islam and “the threat posed by the Islamic crusade against the West.” In fact, their aim is to rally people behind the U.S. “crusade” against the people of the world and to shut down dissent against this crusade on the campus and, by extension, more broadly throughout society. Coming as it does at the time of continued escalation of the Iraq war and the distinct possibility of war against Iran, the danger of this cannot be underestimated. A particular objective of “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” is to whip up reactionary sentiment and hysteria on campuses, and to provide a rallying point to further organize a fascist student movement – spreading racism, chauvinism, and intellectual conformity to reaction; hounding progressive professors and student organizations; and creating a more repressive climate on campus.
This must be confronted and opposed on every campus where it rears its head. Indeed, all people who care anything about critical thinking and academic freedom and about the issues of war, repression, racism and the oppression of women must rally together, and seek out, confront and put this whole effort on the political defensive. Horowitz’s project has to be opposed and taken as an opportunity to raise awareness of the growing danger of U.S. fascism and the reality of the fascist direction and measures being taken by those in the highest reaches of power.
What Is “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”?
The very term “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” is an attempt to frame discussion and debate in a way that forces people to choose between U.S. imperialism’s bloody crusade on the one hand, or Islamic fundamentalism on the other. Posing these as the only choices traps people in a deadly framework and logic. It ends up strengthening both of these reactionary forces, when neither represents liberation for the people.
Islamic fundamentalism is a reactionary force. Like other brands of religious literalism, it is a program full of oppressive and outmoded content: patriarchy, bigotry, religious warfare and the all-round promotion of superstition and ignorance.
But the U.S. is the far, far more aggressive, and dangerous reactionary force in the world. And those who live inside the U.S. have the particular responsibility to oppose this power. What is needed right now, on campuses and around the country (and the world) is to bring forward a movement, and critical thinking that opposes the crimes of U.S. imperialism, and, in the process, brings forward a whole different alternative—both in the imperialist countries and in the nations oppressed by imperialism.
Horowitz is threatening sit-ins against Women’s Studies departments “to protest their silence about the oppression of women in Islam.” Coming from someone who does not only support, but helps strategize with the Bush regime, this is grotesque, galling and shameless hypocrisy. This regime has taken major steps to ban not just abortion but birth control as well. And the Bush regime, and Horowitz himself, is deeply connected to their own brand of reactionary, theocratic religion: the Christian Fascist movement, which commands women to subordinate themselves to their husbands and to see their main role as breeders of children, and which has committed violence and murder against abortion providers.
Horowitz is threatening to go after “the anti-American curriculum of the tenured left” and to “teach an alternative curriculum that will arm America against the radical Jihad.” In fact, Horowitz has already led attacks on professors like Ward Churchill, known mainly for his work on exposing the U.S. genocide against Native Americans, and Norman Finkelstein, known mainly for his exposure of Israel’s crimes and its hypocritical use of the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews to justify those crimes. He has published a book listing 101 “dangerous professors”—almost all of whom research and teach about the real nature of American society and whose work and views don’t “fit into” the crusade now being carried out by the U.S. government.
He is branding the Muslim Student Associations as “the enemy,” and is aiming to stir up hatred and suppression against these students. He is going after the environmentalists for supposedly raising too much concern over global warming in a way that Horowitz feels detracts from the so-called “war on terror.”
If this goes down unopposed, it will be very bad—it will mark a major new degree of chill on the ice age now descending on the universities. Instead, something different must emerge. This “week” must be confronted and opposed, and out of that must emerge a greatly heightened understanding of, and resistance to, the real fascist danger in this society.
People need to prepare to plunge into the coming controversy, seeking out these fascists and confronting them with the real facts and the truth, and in the process winning over many others. Students must step forward now, on every campus, and organize to politically confront and expose Horowitz’ campus fascists—and to change the tone and tenor on these campuses, unleashing ferment and activism, and organized resistance.
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
TODAY, IT IS ESTIMATED THAT 27 MILLION people in Africa, Asia and Latin America work WITHOUT PAY—AS MODERN-DAY SLAVES.
Women are bought and sold in the trafficking of sex slaves. Bonded laborers are forced to work without pay and with no rights, to pay off debts. Children work with no pay and are sold into sexual slavery.
If things could talk…much of your clothes, your car, your food, your rugs…could tell you they were made with the use of modern-day slave labor.
The fishing industry in Lake Volta, Ghana. Children, as young as three, mend, set and pull nets, and clean fish. Weights are tied on them so that when they dive into the lake to retrieve snagged nets, they will descend more quickly. A lot of this goes on at night, and in the dark depths these children get tangled and trapped in the nets and drown. Their bodies wash up on the shore. The ones who survive get little food. Two boys said when they ate some of the fish they netted, their master beat them with a cane.
Brick kilns in Pakistan. Whole families are lured into the work with promises of good pay. But then end up trapped in bondage – the whole family working for free in order to pay off their debts. Armed guards severely punish any worker who disobeys. A 30-year-old man has old and new scars from such treatment. Once he was beaten unconscious, then locked in a small shed. After three days he was brought out in front of the other workers, hung upside down by a rope and beaten.
A mining town on the Amazon River. Gold from here goes to the biggest banks in the world. Wilma Huamani Sacsi cries when she thinks about her son, Luis Alberto, who never saw his second birthday. With all the workers, he lived in the most unsanitary conditions and had little to eat. When his belly swelled up from a kidney infection, Wilma asked the boss for money to go to a health clinic. But he just told her to go back to work. Holding her son, Wilma set off on foot to the nearest clinic—14 miles away. A doctor there said Luis needed to go to a hospital. Wilma begged in the streets to pay for the trip. But by the time she got enough, Luis was dead.
WHAT KIND OF SYSTEM PRODUCES SUCH HORRORS?
A CAPITALIST-IMPERIALIST SYSTEM WHERE COMMODITY PRODUCERS WILL ALWAYS STRIVE TO FIND THE MOST PROFITABLE WAY TO MAKE THEIR PRODUCTS. And slave labor—not paying workers -- is VERY PROFITABLE.
Along the Amazon River in Brazil, thousands of bonded laborers produce charcoal by burning pieces of hardwood. Recruiters target desperate people in impoverished cities with the promise of jobs with pay. But people end up thousands of miles away into the jungle, working with no pay and no rights because of an endless debt for things bought from the company store – like food, clothing and supplies, even tools, boots and gloves they need for the job.
These slaves work in 95-degree heat and suffer from malaria and chronic coughs. They live in shacks made from plastic sheeting. They are fed rancid meat. Drinking water is contaminated. Latrines are just holes in the ground. Deep in the jungle, they can’t leave even if they want to. They don’t have money to make the trip home and armed guards threaten them if they try to escape.
Charcoal from these camps is used to make pig iron, a basic ingredient of steel. Brokers from steelmakers and foundries buy this pig iron. Then it’s purchased by some of the world’s largest companies to produce things like cars, tractors, sinks, and refrigerators. Companies like Nucor Corp., the second-largest U.S. steel company. Carmakers like Ford, General Motors, Nissan, and Toyota. Producers of appliances like Whirlpool and Kohler.
THE MOST PRIMITIVE AND BARBARIC FORMS OF LABOR SERVE THE INTERESTS OF THE LARGEST AND MOST MODERN CAPITALIST CORPORATIONS IN THE U.S. AND AROUND THE WORLD—which are driven by the need to maximize profit and to come out on top in the cut-throat competition with other capitalists.
The Brazilian government raids slave labor camps and frees people. But as long as Brazil is subordinate to imperialism, it can’t escape the logic of capital. And no matter how many slave labor camps are shut down, they will keep re-emerging—because this system will continue to produce desperate people with no way to survive and capitalist vultures looking to maximize their profits by maximizing exploitation.
Ideologues of globalization extol subcontracting and outsourcing. But in fact what this provides are two valuable things for the capitalists: 1) it cheapens production immeasurably and 2) it provides them with PLAUSIBLE DENIAL that distances them from the brutal, inhuman and murderous production process in which the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings are violently crushed.
And all this is happening under the dominance of U.S. imperialism, the direct and indirect involvement of major global corporations, and the enforcement of IMF and World Bank policies.
What does it say about this system that here in the 21st century you have the most high-tech knowledge and industrial capacity existing alongside the most barbaric, primitive and inhuman slave-like conditions of labor? It may seem like these two things are worlds and centuries apart. But in fact they are part of the integrated system of contemporary global capitalism. A system completely outmoded and unnecessary.
Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Kevin Bales, University of California Press, 2004.
Understanding Global Slavery: A Reader, Kevin Bales, University of California Press, 2005.
“The Secret World of Modern Slavery,” Michael Smith and David Voreacos, Bloomberg Markets, December 2006.
“Slavery Exists Out of Sight in Brazil,” Kevin G. Hall, Knight Ridder Newspapers, Sept. 5, 2004.
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA:
Earlier this year, Revolution published a series of excerpts from writings and talks by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, dealing with the bitter reality—and the fundamental source—of the oppression of Black people throughout the history of the U.S., from the days of slavery down to the present time, and pointing to the revolutionary road to ending this oppression, and all forms of oppression and exploitation. Those excerpts were selected for publication for Black History Month, but of course they have great relevance and importance in an ongoing way for the struggle of oppressed people, and the future of humanity as a whole, here and throughout the world.
In this issue of Revolution, we are running two of the excerpts from that series. (The entire series is available online at http//revcom.us/blackhistorymonth)
We urge our readers to not only dig into the excerpts (and the specific works that are referred to in these excerpts) but to more fully engage the body of work of Bob Avakian. In particular we want to call attention to the DVD of the talk by Bob Avakian, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, which opens with a penetrating, powerful exposure of the crimes of this system against Black people throughout the history of the United States, and shows how all this—and the many other outrages and injustices that people suffer everyday in this society, and in all parts of the world—are rooted in the very nature of the capitalist-imperialist system and can only be abolished through a revolution whose ultimate aim is to sweep away capitalism-imperialism and bring into being a communist world, free of relations of master and slave, in any form. And the 7 Talks, given last year by Chairman Avakian, along with the Q&A and Closing Remarks that follow those Talks, speak in a rich diversity of ways to these and other fundamental questions, including why we're in the situation we're in today and how this relates to the historic challenge of emancipating all humanity from the chains of oppression and exploitation.
The following is an excerpt from comments by Bob Avakian in response to a question that was part of the Question and Answer Session following the 7 Talks. (In a few places things have been added, in brackets within the text, for clarity.)
Question: In your talks one of the threads among many is about the oppression of Black people being a foundational part of the way this society formed, the economic base, and the whole way this country developed: the things you have written and talked about—slavery and democracy and the New Deal and the Great Society programs, the conscious policies and the southern politicians.
Your talk on Minstrelsy and how the NBA is an extension of that was very heavy. [Editors' note: The talk referred to here is titled "The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters." The audio file of the talk is available online at bobavakian.net or revcom.us.] I am trying to understand this more because it is so intertwined with the society. Related to this is the point about the struggle of Black people being an Achilles heel for the system. Can you comment further.
Bob Avakian: Well, you know, de Tocqueville [19th century French historian and writer, Alexis de Tocqueville], when he came to the U.S. and wrote his book based on his journeys in the U.S. a couple of centuries ago, talked about all the great attributes of democracy in this country, the "enterprise" of the people both in the general sense and in the particular sense of money-making—a lot of the sort of peculiar, but in his view largely positive, characteristics of people in this society. But one thing he said, speaking of the Achilles heel: there is one big fly in the ointment—the whole phenomenon of slavery which could yet be the undoing of this whole thing.
Things have changed a lot over the past two centuries in terms of the composition of the population, in terms of the composition of the proletariat, in terms of the character and "anatomy" of the proletariat—who's in it and where they are working and what their situation is, different strata and stratification within the proletariat, differentiation within the proletariat… The rolling on of the capitalist accumulation process and conscious policy leads to where a lot of Black people are forced out of these positions: the de-industrialization of the urban areas that is now such a marked phenomenon. There is a book by this guy Thomas Sugrue called The Origins of the Urban Crisis where he actually focuses on Detroit, which is a big industrial center where a lot of Black people worked in these big auto plants, like River Rouge and these other big plants. He talks about how the de-industrialization of the inner cities, especially for Black people, began as early as the late 1950s.
But then, you know, capitalism still has its needs internationally and within the U.S., so it brings in these waves of immigrants and exploits them and rewrites or blots out history and turns people against each other. It doesn't tell these immigrants, who see a lot of Black people who've been pushed out of these jobs and are hanging on the corner, "By the way, those people went through this whole process a couple of generations ago; now we've got them in a different position and we're bringing you in so we can exploit you because the dynamics have gone that kind of way and we've developed policy in relation to that." No, they don't tell them that.
Look, let's face it. There are certain things about Black people that a lot of employers don't like these days. There's a lot of defiance. Even though people are desperate economically there's also a certain defiance that's developed historically. It doesn't mean people don't want to work. Someone referred to how you go for a job and there are 500 people applying for the job and you have to try to sell yourself better than the other 499. Every time in a major city when they build a new hotel and announce jobs, thousands of people line up including a lot of Black people, so let's put this in its proper perspective. But there is a certain attitude among the [Black] youth a lot, having watched, for example, older generations going to work and doing all this stuff for "chump change," and getting nowhere with it, and then being flushed out of it…there is a certain "fuck that, I'm not doing that." That doesn't make them so pliant necessarily for capitalist exploitation. So that enters into the picture too. They've had a longer experience here. That doesn't mean they "don't want to work" but there is a certain attitude there, not taking a certain amount of shit. That's still there. Some of it's been beaten down temporarily, but there's still a lot of it there…
And let's face it, you go several generations where a majority of people in some inner city neighborhoods have never had a job, it has an effect. Not because they "didn't want to work" but because this is the workings of capitalism, working on them.
So all these things play into it too.
This is the complexity—we have to understand the complexity of even the proletariat today. That's why I always talk about mobilizing all positive factors. That defiance is a positive factor, even though it comes along with some things that are not so positive, some lack of discipline and other things—even people's conditions are so chaotic it's hard for them to get organized sometimes. These are the realities. The bourgeoisie imposes shit on people, then they attribute the effects of the conditions they have imposed on people—they say that's the result of inherent faults in the people…
So a lot of these questions are very tricky, we have to be very scientific about this. But it's a very complex thing where there are a lot of positive qualities mixed in with negative qualities and we have to learn how to mobilize and synthesize all the positive qualities and use those to overcome the negative ones that exist.
When you work regularly and you're caught up in this "work ethic" and you work hard all the time, even though you are viciously exploited, that has a conservatizing influence also. Everybody who's been in this, who's had any experience with that, knows and is familiar with that.
So you can just look at that negative aspect—or you can look at the positive aspect and try to figure out how to mobilize it toward our objectives.
With all that, with all this system has subjected Black people to, and yes, with the growth of a Black middle class more extensively and its [the system's] attempts to use sections of that Black middle class for not only conservative [purposes] but even to mobilize it even as a reactionary social base, especially through the instrument of religion and Christian fascism, it does remain a fact that this system is fundamentally in conflict with the basic interests even of the Black middle class strata and certainly of the masses of proletarians and other impoverished and exploited and oppressed millions of Black people in the inner cities. It cannot do away with the oppression of these masses of people—and even of the middle strata.
You know it's still true what Malcolm X said 40 years ago: "What do they call a Black man with a PhD? A nigger." This is still America. That's why the phenomenon of "Driving While Black" doesn't just apply to people who are poor. In fact, in some ways, in the eyes of white supremacist police and enforcers of the system, having a better car, if you're in the middle class, is a provocation: "Look at that uppity nigger, driving that BMW in here." That's an invitation to be pulled over and minimally harassed.
This is built into this system and they do not have any answer to this other than to mislead people, to subject them to conditions of insult and oppression and to brutalize them as necessary to enforce all that. Even programs that have genocidal implications. When you're already imprisoning a huge section of Black people in the country, there's a logic and it's being formulated now in beginning ways consciously as policy that's being articulated; there's a logic that, "Why should we spend all this money housing all these people who are harmful to society in a prison?" Pat Robertson openly talked about the implications: "Let's get a different penal system and kill off a lot of these people. Let's publicly flog people who commit minor crimes"—this is literally what he said—"and let's kill the ones who put a 'stain' on society."
So there are genocidal implications to this too. They don't have an answer to this, they have a people [Black people], of tens of millions now—they don't have an answer, even for the middle class, that can get rid of all this oppression and all this daily insult. And that's part of a bigger mix, within the proletariat and more broadly in society, but it is an explosive contradiction for them [the ruling class]. That's why it keeps exploding, it's dry timber lying around—whenever a match hits it, it goes up. Or not whenever, but often.
Because there is accumulation of these daily outrages and insults, and finally—it's interesting—you take the 1992 rebellion. I've spoken to this before. Why did that break out the way it did? Not just because of a cumulative, day after day adding up of insult and injury but—here's an interesting thing to understand, an important thing to understand–-it's because expectations were raised and then smashed. There's nothing particularly unique about the Rodney King phenomenon, nothing at all—except it got caught on videotape. And then the masses of people, Black people and others, but particularly Black people, felt, "Now we're finally gonna see something happen here, because finally we caught these motherfuckers! Somebody was there with a videotape! This goes on all the time and they always excuse it or just deny that it happened—but here it is, and they can't deny it and can't excuse it."
I remember hearing stories about how the youth would go up to Westwood by the UCLA campus and go out in the street and taunt the police: "What are you gonna do now, motherfucker, we got you on tape now." [ Laughter]
And then they had the trial and what happened? They said, "Well, who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes? Yes, there's that beating on the tape, but don't you see how Rodney King is `controlling the situation?' All he has to do is lie there and they'll stop beating him." Of course, when he did lie there, they didn't stop beating him.
[Then] they went to Ronald Reagan land, Simi Valley, and got a jury out of a neighborhood that a lot of cops live in.
By the way, one of the reasons that OJ Simpson did get acquitted, whether he actually committed this crime or not, is because of the rebellion, just to show the interconnection of things. Because they didn't dare do in that trial what they did in the Rodney King trial and move it out of the inner city to a suburban area where they could get a more favorable jury. They ended up with a jury from the inner city. And here's what infuriated a lot of people, by the way, just as long as we're going at it. I know I'm not supposed to talk so long [ laughter]—I'll try to be brief on this point and bring it to a conclusion. They got a jury that infuriated a lot of people by doing what jurors are supposed to do: They listened to the evidence and said, "Well, there's reasonable doubt here—clearly the prosecution has fabricated evidence and we have perjury on the part of some of its key witnesses, so there is reasonable doubt." What an outrage! But they wouldn't have had a jury that even did that—it's not, by the way, for good or for ill, that Black juries won't convict Black people of crimes, they do it all the time—but in this case they did what they were supposed to do, according to the legal procedures, and that became a big outrage.
But that would have never happened had it not been for the rebellion. They would have had the trial somewhere else. So sometimes the masses lose sight of even their own accomplishments. It's not that OJ Simpson is such a great guy or that I know he's innocent—or guilty for that matter. But it was a verdict that did correspond to what the verdict should have been, and it never would have happened had it not been for the rebellion.
But why did the rebellion happen? Because expectations were raised and then dashed and smashed. That became just too much. "Even when we've caught you motherfuckers on tape, you still gonna go ahead and do what you do. Well, fuck you."
This is after years of accumulation of outrage and insult… Not that we want to just tail behind all these things—even while we uphold them firmly. I meant everything I said in the statement I issued at the time about what a beautiful thing this [rebellion] was. But it's not what we need to get rid of the daily insults and outrages. We need a revolutionary movement.
And it's not that this movement could be or should be limited to Black people. But there will never be a revolutionary movement in this country that doesn't fully unleash and give expression to the sometimes openly expressed, sometimes expressed in partial ways, sometimes expressed in wrong ways, but deeply, deeply felt desire to be rid of these long centuries of oppression. There's never gonna be a revolution in this country, and there never should be, that doesn't make that one key foundation of what it's all about. Even while it's not limited to that and we can't think this is the same as the 1960s, even in terms of the position of Black people and what spontaneously that leads them to do, or just romanticize something like the [1992 Los Angeles] rebellion and think that's enough. We have to build a revolutionary movement and take it where it needs to go.
And when the time is right and we can bring a revolutionary people of millions onto the stage, we have to go for power—state power—so we can change all these things and get rid of all this and move beyond all this: not just the oppression of Black people but that [as one of] the key things.
We have an answer for this that the bourgeoisie does not and cannot. And this has to be brought home to people—not just to Black people but to all oppressed and exploited people and to the broad people of all strata as a crucial part of our revolution.
First of all, we have to recognize the material reality of this. And then act on it. [ Applause]
(originally published in the Revolutionary Worker [now Revolution] #894, February 16, 1997)
This system has decisively and fundamentally failed—betrayed—Black people at crucial turning points in its history. And in particular we can identify two crucial turning points after slavery was defeated in the Civil War.
In the period after the Civil War, during the very short-lived experience of Reconstruction—this was a period that lasted really for only about ten years, more or less from 1867 to 1877—the federal army, the Union army, remained in the South after the war as the enforcers of very real and significant reforms that were carried out, both in the economic base and in the political superstructure.
Today you see the Spike Lee films, and they have a reference to "forty acres and a mule"—this was the promise of land (and the basic means to work the land) that was made to Black people during the Civil War. Land ownership was at that time crucial for Black people to have as some kind of economic "anchor" and basis for them to resist being forced back into conditions of virtual if not literal slavery, of serf-like oppression, on the southern plantations.
Along with "forty acres and a mule," other economic and political rights were promised to Black people. And in fact during the brief period of Reconstruction, while the full promise of these rights was never realized, there were significant changes and improvements in the lives of Black people in the South. The right to vote and to hold office, and some of the other Constitutional rights that are supposed to apply to the citizens of the U.S., were partly, if not fully, realized by former slaves during Reconstruction. And in fact some Black people were elected to high office, though never the highest office of governor, in a number of southern states.
This was very sharply contradictory. The armed force of the state, as embodied in the federal army, was never consistently applied to guarantee these rights, and in fact it was often used to suppress popular struggles aimed at realizing these rights. But there was a kind of a bourgeois-democratic upsurge in the South during this period, and it not only involved the masses of Black people but also many poor white people and even some middle class white people in the South. During these ten years of Reconstruction, with all the sharp contradictions involved, there was a real upsurge and sort of flowering of bourgeois-democratic reforms. This was not the proletarian revolution, but at that time it was very significant.
In 1877, all this was reversed and betrayed. The bourgeoisie had gotten what it needed out of this situation: it had consolidated its hold over the country as a whole; it had consolidated its dominant position economically and politically within the South as well as the North and West.
Many of the old plantation owners were now beginning to move back in and take control of their own plantations, now involving exploitation in basically a feudal (or semi-feudal) form, and millions of Black people in particular were forced into sharecropping and similar relations of exploitation and were reduced to a serf-like condition, which was enforced by a whole system of legal and extra-legal terror. At the same time, banking and other capital from the North had bought into much of the southern economy and was intermingled with the plantation system, as well as other facets of the southern economy, on many different levels. So this whole bourgeois-democratic upsurge that marked Reconstruction was beginning to be a serious threat to the bourgeoisie, as well as to the southern planters. The northern-based capitalists had less and less interest in protecting, or even tolerating, this upsurge. They certainly didn't want to see it continue to grow and perhaps get out of their control more fully.
So in 1877 something very dramatic happened. The federal army was withdrawn from the South and the masses of Black people were stripped of even the partial economic and political gains they had made and were subjugated in the most brutal ways and once again chained to the plantations, only now essentially in peonage instead of outright slavery. And the federal troops that were withdrawn from the South were immediately used in two ways: one, to crush major strikes of what at that time was essentially a white labor movement; and two, to carry further the genocide against the Indians and to finish the job of driving those who survived into these concentration camps of poverty called "reservations" and force them to stay there. Here, once again, we see a very dramatic example of how the ruling class divided and conquered different groups of people it oppressed. And one of the sharpest examples, and real tragedies, of this is how some Black people became Buffalo soldiers fighting the Indians at the very time that Reconstruction was being betrayed.
But the larger point I am emphasizing is that here was a situation involving a major turning point in U.S. history where the question was posed very decisively: Can Black people and will Black people actually be "absorbed," or integrated, or assimilated into this society on a basis of equality? Will not only slavery, but the after-effects of slavery, be systematically addressed, attacked and uprooted…or not? And the answer came thunderously through—NO!—this will not be done. And there was a material reason for that: it could not be done by the bourgeoisie without tearing to shreds their whole system.
Instead they re-chained Black people—not in literal chains, but in economic chains of debt and other forms of economic exploitation and chains of both legal and extra-legal oppression and terror. So this was one major turning point where the system fundamentally failed and betrayed Black people. And everyone, not only Black people, but proletarians of all nationalities and the masses of people broadly, should understand this very clearly—with a dialectical and historical materialist stand, method and viewpoint.
Sharecroppers' Blues and Affirmative Action
The other crucial turning point in which the system once again failed and betrayed Black people was in the period after World War 2, with the upsurge of the Civil Rights Movement. Here was a situation where changes in the world economy and world "geopolitics," as well as changes within the U.S. economy, brought about a very dramatic and rapid upheaval in the situation of millions of Black people.
Everybody knows about the mass migrations of Black people from the southern plantations, particularly during and especially after World War 2. During the 1950s and 1960s, millions of Black people moved from southern plantations to the urban areas, particularly of the North but also in the South. And as we pointed out in Cold Truth Liberating Truth, the very system which first held Black people in literal enslavement, and then held them in serf-like exploitation in sharecropping and other forms—the same ruling class for whom this was profitable because of the particularities of the bourgeois mode of production in the U.S.—this same system and ruling class turned around after World War 2 and drove them off the land, with no consideration for all the labor that they'd put into this land, and everything they'd produced out of it.
Now today you hear all this shit attacking affirmative action—"Well, it's not fair, my child went and took an SAT and got a high score but then they lost out in getting admitted to the college of their choice, because some Black person with a lower SAT score got admitted, blah, blah, blah." When I hear this kind of ignorant railing and whining I am reminded of something I saw on a videotape of the PBS series "The Promised Land," which focused on the migration of Black people from Mississippi to Chicago and their experiences in both the North and the South.
This series told the story in general historical terms—examining the social phenomenon I'm talking about, the mass migration of Black people to the North after World War 2. It focused on people who migrated from Mississippi to Chicago—this mass migration also led people to Detroit, to Cleveland, and so on. But it also portrayed this history in personal terms. Several people were interviewed and recounted stories that showed how and why they left the South and what they encountered in the North. And the story one Black man told really struck me, particularly in light of all this nonsense being whipped up against affirmative action.
This man talked about the way the sharecropping system worked. Not only was there the "normal" and ongoing exploitation of the sharecroppers, but they were swindled on top of that. Under the sharecropping system, the land would be owned by The Man, and he would advance you the seed and the other things you need to plant and harvest for that year. Everything was basically owned by him, including the land the sharecropper lived on and farmed—and at the end of the year there'd be an accounting. You would turn over the harvest to him, and then you'd get back a certain amount. In this case it was sort of modified sharecropping, where you wouldn't get your payment "in kind," that is, in the very things you had grown and produced, but you'd get it back in the form of money. That's the way the sharecropping system worked in the southern U.S. at the time, and from this you can see why you just couldn't get up and leave if you were dissatisfied and felt exploited and cheated—you were in debt from the beginning to the end of the year. You were always in debt.
So, not only was there this ongoing exploitation that was built into, institutionalized and legitimized in the sharecropping system as such, but there was also outright swindling. After all, the same Man who owned everything, also kept the books—and he also owned the store when you had to buy everything and so on. And he was always cheating the sharecroppers, on top of exploiting them viciously in the first place.
Now one year later, the father of the man telling this story, after having worked all year, went in on the day of accounting and asked for his money for the year. And the plantation Man cheated him. He inflated the cost of everything—all the farm supplies and the food and clothes for the family he had forced the family to buy from him. And then he said, "Here's what you're owed now." It was a ridiculously miserable little sum. The Black sharecropper had been swindled on top of exploited. But, that wasn't all. The Man then told him, "Yes, this is how much you're owed, but I can't pay you this year, because I'm using it to send my son to college." Now if that ain't affirmative action for white supremacy, I don't know what it is! And the sharecropper who had been cheated, on top of swindled, on top of exploited, said, "You mean to tell me I worked all this time trying to feed my children and put shoes on their feet, and now you tell me I can't even do that because you're going to send your son to college with the money that I'm supposed to have earned out of doing all this."
So, I don't want to hear any more of this shit about affirmative action being an unfair advantage for the oppressed.
Betrayal in the Promised Land
But getting back to the period of the Civil Rights upsurge, beginning in the mid-'50s and on into the '60s. Once more there is a crucial turning point. We had slavery and we had Reconstruction and that was betrayed. Then there was the whole serf-like, sharecropping plantation system that followed after slavery, with the KKK and all the rest of that terror. But in the '50s and '60s something new was coming on the agenda—the question of real equality and equal rights for everybody, and abolishing this segregation and Jim Crow and all this discrimination.
That's the demand that was being raised at that time—that's the question that was "up" at that time. And what happened? Well, certain formal aspects of Jim Crow laws and outright legal segregation, certain overt "apartheid" principles that denied Black people even formal equality under the law, where the word of a Black person was not equal to that of a white person in legal proceedings, and so on—these things were abolished.
But the question only has to be asked, in order to answer itself: Was anything approximating full equality realized by Black people—did the system open up and make this a reality?
NO! Despite all the tremendous and heroic struggle and sacrifice by masses of Black people (and others who supported them) in this period, the answer was still NO!
Once more the system that for centuries had chained them to the southern plantations, now kicked them off the land because of the changes in southern farming and the U.S. economy overall, together with changes in world economics and geopolitics.
For this system, this massive Black farm labor was no longer necessary, as such, but had become superfluous. So millions of Black people went into the cities, where they were segregated and super-exploited in the lowest sections of the proletariat.
Another dimension of this situation was brought out very powerfully in a speech by Carl Dix, where he talks about his own experience working in a steel mill in the Baltimore area. When he got hired on there, he was immediately shunted right into the shit job in the foundry where all the Black workers were concentrated. And he was talking to this older Black worker—here's another story that shines some light on this affirmative action question and so-called "reverse discrimination!"—and this older Black worker told Carl about how he'd been there 25 years and was still stuck in this same miserable department, with the hardest work and the lowest wages and the least security, even though he had his 25 years seniority. And he further went on to tell Carl about how he had trained all these white people that came in, who then on the basis of the training he gave them were promoted and got these higher paying and more skilled jobs; yet he never got out of that lousy department. Now, if that ain't affirmative action for white supremacy, what is it?! So, I don't want to hear, once again, any more of this reactionary assault on affirmative action, because we're the longest way from having equality, to say nothing of unfair advantage for the oppressed, whatever that would mean.
The fact is, as Cold Truth Liberating Truth puts it, discrimination is not working "in reverse"; it is working in the same direction, the same ways it has always worked throughout the history of the U.S.: to promote and enforce white supremacy and male supremacy.
Now, looking at this in broad historical terms. Here were these major turning points—after the Civil War and then again after World War 2, with Reconstruction and then with the Civil Rights Movement—where the question was sharply, directly, and decisively posed: will the system give everybody equal rights? And the system answered NO! It was not simply a matter that the ruling class would not do this, but more profoundly it was the fact that they could not. They could not because it would have torn up their whole system, it would have undermined their whole economic base and their whole superstructure to do this.
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
The stakes in the battle around abortion are very, very high. These right-wingers will not stop at banning abortion—the end of Roe v. Wade would not only be a horror in itself, but would set the stage for even worse. Theocrats like James Dobson and Paul Weyrich have built up a fascist movement by whipping people up against abortion and gay marriage. They won votes for Bush and Senate and House seats for other theocrats in the 2004 elections, and they collected signatures for ballot initiatives to ban gay adoption in the 2006 elections. These victories in banning abortion and gay marriage are only whetting the appetite of religious fanatics who have taken over the Republican Party and been appointed to the highest offices in the land.
Is the Forceful Assertion of Male Domination "Moral"?
There is not a single "pro-life" organization that supports birth control. The mission statement of the largest right-to-life educational organization—The American Life League—reads, "A.L.L. denies the moral acceptability of artificial birth control and encourages each individual to trust in God, to surrender to His will, and be pre-disposed to welcoming children."
The "Pro-Life Activists Encyclopedia" explains the justification for efforts to ban contraception:
"Contraception cannot be separated from abortion. In fact, anyone who debates on the topic of abortion will inevitably be drawn to the topic of artificial contraception over and over again, especially in the post-Roe era of pro-life activism… How does contraception lead to abortion? Quite simply, they are virtually indistinguishable in a psychological, physical, and legal sense…those individuals use artificial contraception take the critical step of separating sex from procreation. Contraception not abortion was the first step down the slippery slope."1
Banning birth control is the next target of these Christian Fascists. They are already in full swing on this, passing laws in South Dakota, Arkansas, and Mississippi that legally allow pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions on moral and religious grounds. And this is becoming the new Christian Fascist litmus test for running for office—in some states, like Kentucky, candidates who want the endorsement of Kentucky’s Right to Life must now oppose the use of standard birth control (not just the morning after pill).2 This lunacy, where contraception is now being equated with genocide, where sex that is not for procreation is evil, and where abstinence is government policy enforced not just here but all over the world, are the ground that politics is now being conducted on.
This is a matter of reactionary religious doctrine in service of a morality that wants to take society backwards. Bill Napoli, a state legislator speaking on behalf of the South Dakota ban on abortion, put it this way: "When I was growing up here in the Wild West, if a young man got a girl pregnant out of wedlock, they got married, and the whole damned neighborhood was involved in the wedding. I mean, they wanted that child to be brought up in a home with two parents, you know the whole story. And so it can happen again… I don’t think we’re so far beyond that, that we can’t go back to that."3
Napoli’s "whole story" is one where young people are forced —through the notorious "shotgun marriages"—to get married and where young women in particular are coerced into having children that they do not want. The "whole story" is one of reasserting and reinforcing the traditional order of things where a woman’s role is to be subordinate to her husband and the procreator of his children, where women are openly the property of men to be controlled by their husbands. It means going back to a morality that cuts women off from acting in the larger society, contributing all they can to that, and living full lives as productive human beings in every sphere and independent from men. This is the traditional biblical morality that says wives must "submit yourself unto your own husbands as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church" (Ephesians 5:22-23)—and these people want to return society to a place where THAT standard sets the law of the land. That would be a horror for women and a terrible thing for society as a whole.
The mass access to birth control and abortion has undermined religious doctrine and traditional morality that subordinated women for centuries. Though they are still held down by the underlying social relations of capitalism, this step enabled women to participate much more in every sphere of society—something that after 30 years we may take for granted but is actually a relatively fragile and new idea in this history of human society. And now these people want to rip this away!
Abortion on Demand and Without Apology
The movement for women’s liberation that arose in the 1960s and ’70s made widely known and accepted the whole idea of abortion on demand. This unapologetic position of women’s liberation changed the culture—it changed the ways people thought and changed the quality of human emotions. It shifted the way millions of people viewed reproductive rights and sexual equality, which paved the way for Roe v. Wade and the legalization of abortion in 1973. And this was overwhelmingly positive in emancipating the full potential of women and in benefitting all of society in doing so.
There is nothing immoral about terminating an unwanted pregnancy or removing a clump of cells that have not yet developed into a viable human being from a woman’s body. A fetus is not a baby. If a woman doesn’t want to continue a pregnancy all the way (for whatever reason), she should have the freedom to end it, safely and easily. There is nothing tragic about it—indeed, the real tragedy lies in the lives of women that are foreclosed and disfigured and even ended by being compelled to have children that they do not want, a tragedy that happens millions of times a day on this planet, with the connivance and support of the U.S. government.
The life of a woman who is forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy is endangered. From the dangers of illegal abortions to the disrespect for her own life, she is harmed and demeaned as a human being. Being forced by society to have a baby when a woman either does not want or cannot care for one is one of the age-old tragedies that are no longer necessary for anyone to have to suffer. But if a woman is not allowed to control her own body, her own reproduction, not allowed to decide whether or not or when to become a mother, she has no more freedom than a slave. This is for the greater good for the health and overall well-being of that woman, whose life we should value and cherish more than that of a partially formed fetus. And for the greater good of humanity—for don’t we want a society where all forms of slavery are ended?
The morality that should be supported and fought for is one that values the rights of women to lead full social lives. It supports social and intimate relations where people respect each other’s humanity and flourish together—and not where women are supposedly commanded by "God" to "submit themselves" to men. This morality sees children as a joy to society, and as ultimately the responsibility of all society, while not compelling anyone in any way to have children against their will. It does NOT, as these theocrats do, sanctimoniously shout hosannas to a clump of cells that might someday become a child—while feverishly upholding the murder of real live children in the war being waged by the U.S. in Iraq, and self-righteously dooming literally millions of other real live children, right in the U.S., to lives of deprivation and punishment—in the name of those same traditional values.
In fact, overturning the ban on abortion—a ban which consigned thousands of women a year to death or horrible mutilation, and millions more to humiliation and oppression—was a profoundly moral thing to do! It was and is part of a morality that corresponds to the fundamental interests of the vast majority of people in this society and worldwide. These values are also consistent with communist morality, which in addition to the emancipation of women aims at the elimination of all oppressive and exploitative relations among people and the establishment of a freely associating community of human beings. And at the same time, there are many, many people beyond communists who actually yearn for and even strive to live by values that promote and celebrate equality between women and men, and between peoples and nations; that appreciate both diversity and community; that put cooperation over cut-throat competition and the needs of the people over the accumulation of wealth, that oppose imperialist domination, and that cherish and foster critical thinking.
1. American Life League, "Introduction: The Abortion-Contraception Connection," Chapter 97 of Pro-Life Activists Encyclopedia. [back]
2. "Right to Life adds Pill to List" (Cincinnati Enquirer, April 2002). Original research from Cristina Page, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics, and the War on Sex (New York: Basic Books, 2002), p. 19. [back]
3. Jim Lehrer NewsHour—"South Dakota Bans Abortion" March 3, 2006. [back]
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
In early August, at a forum on gay issues, Barack Obama tried to explain his refusal to support gay marriage on the following basis:
According to August 10 Chicago Tribune, Obama noted “that his parents' interracial marriage would have been ‘illegal’ in many Southern states at the time of his birth in 1961.” In fact, interracial couples not only faced outlawing, but harassment and beating; and Black men often faced lynching. The legal banning of interracial marriage sanctioned and gave legitimacy and force to a larger social relation of white supremacy, enforced both by law and rope. And this particular legal ban rested on and reinforced the basic ideological foundation of white supremacy—that Black people were inferior and were to be considered and treated as less than human beings, and that their most intimate relations and choices could be and must be controlled by whites.
But Obama, according to the Tribune, still “said that he would have advised the civil rights movement at the time not to focus on miscegenation laws, an inflammatory issue then. ‘I would have probably said it's less important that we focus on an anti-miscegenation law than we focus on a voting rights law and a non-discrimination and employment law and all the legal rights that are conferred by the state,’ Obama said.”
Well, that WAS what the politicians and capitulationists of those days said. But, fortunately, the masses of people didn’t listen back then.
And the masses shouldn’t listen today, either.
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
New Series on Venezuela
Hugo Chavez Has an Oil Strategy…
But Can This Lead to Liberation?
This article by Raymond Lotta is part of a fuller analysis being developed by a writing group about Hugo Chavez and what has been happening in Venezuela since Chavez came to power in 1998.
The nature of Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution” is a highly important and widely discussed issue among progressive and radical-minded people… But what is the actual program and outlook of Hugo Chavez, what is the character of the process unfolding in Venezuela, and where is it heading? Does Chavez’s program represent a real alternative to imperialist-led exploitation, a viable road to liberation in today’s world? And what is the meaning of socialism in today’s globalized world?…
Read the article online at revcom.us/a/094/chavez-en.html
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA:
The Oppression of Black People & The Revolutionary Struggle To End All Oppression
This series of excerpts from writings and talks by Bob Avakian deals with the bitter reality—and the fundamental source—of the oppression of Black people throughout the history of the U.S., from the days of slavery down to the present time, and points to the revolutionary road to ending this oppression, and all forms of oppression and exploitation.
Excerpts included in this series are:
Read the series online at revcom.us/blackhistorymonth
Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism and Communism Will Be a Far Better World
Growing numbers of people are concerned about the state of the world and the fate of the planet. Do things have to be this way? No, there is a real world alternative: socialism and communism. But people are constantly bombarded with the message that socialism has failed and that capitalism is the best of all possible worlds. A whole generation of young people has basically heard nothing else about socialism other than it is a nightmare. This "rewriting of history" has also influenced many progressive intellectuals. The Set the Record Straight Project aims to turn the ideological assault against communism into a two-sided debate on college campuses about communism’s past and communism’s future.
Revolution serialized an important speech by Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta, from a speaking tour as part of the Set the Record Straight project. The speech, “Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be A Far Better World," confronts the lies about communism, analyzes the real experience and breakthroughs of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917-56, and the Chinese revolution of 1949-76, and brings forth Bob Avakian’s vibrant reenvisioning of the communist project.
Read the entire serialized version of Lotta’s speech at revcom.us/strs/set-the-record-straight
The Science of Evolution and The Myth of Creationism
Knowing What’s Real—and Why It Matters
Originally a series in Revolution (formerly known as Revolutionary Worker ) newspaper, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters by Ardea Skybreak was published as a book in Fall 2006. The book has received increasing recognition from renowned scientists and educators…as well as from many people who are ordinarily denied access to science. Earlier this year, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism was named as one of three finalists for the 2007 Benjamin Franklin award in the category of Science/Environment. Sponsored by the independent publishers association PMA (Publishers Marketing Association), this award recognizes excellence in independent publishing.
Read about this book online at revcom.us/s/evolution_e.htm
From the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, On the Occasion of the May 1st Demonstrations for Immigrant Rights
We Are Human Beings
We Demand a Better World
We Will Not Accept Slavery in Any Form
Today, on May 1, all over the world people are celebrating International Workers Day in struggle against the oppression and degradation this capitalist/imperialist system brings down on the people of the world. Here in the U.S., people are stepping out into the streets. They are going up in the face of vicious attacks on immigrants in this country, and refusing to be treated as modern-day slaves.
On this day we raise the call:
We are human beings, we demand a better world, we will not accept slavery in any form…
Read the statement online at revcom.us/a/087/may1st-en.html
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
As we go to press, there are reports that the Dutch police released Philippine revolutionary, Professor Jose Maria Sison, on September 13—after detaining him for 17 days. Philippine news services report that, “In a statement posted at the website of the Dutch Justice Ministry, the court said that there are no ‘sufficient indications that the accused [Sison], while living in the Netherlands, committed the offenses he is charged with, in deliberate and close cooperation with the perpetrators in the Philippines.’ It added, ‘Neither do they [charges] contain sufficient concrete indications that the accused incited others to commit these serious offenses.’” At the same time, news reports indicate that Dutch prosecutors continue to threaten to bring charges against Sison.
Jose Maria Sison is quoted in news reports as saying he was held in solitary confinement and that “During my confinement, I remembered those five years that I was placed in solitary confinement under military custody” during the martial law era in the Philippines.
The decades-long persecution of Jose Maria Sison, and his recent arrest in The Netherlands, have been orchestrated by U.S. imperialism and their Philippine puppets. For the story of the long and ongoing persecution of Jose Maria Sison in the Philippines and in Europe, see “Philippine Revolutionary Arrested in The Netherlands: Free Jose Maria Sison!” at revcom.us
Revolution #102, September 23, 2007