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Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
On October 22, there is an urgent need for a powerful outpouring to:
STOP police brutality
STOP the criminalization of a generation
Police brutality is unchecked. In Chicago, eight young Black and Latino men—as young as 15 years old—have been gunned down by police since July 21 of this year. Over the last year, we saw the murder of Sean Bell in New York City on his wedding day—gunned down, unarmed, in a hail of bullets from the NYPD. In Oakland, Gary King Jr. was shot in the back, killed by a cop. His mother told Revolution “he had his whole life ahead of him.” In West Memphis, Arkansas, undercover pigs gunned down 12-year-old DeAunta Terrell Farrow as he walked home from getting a snack.
After Katrina, in New Orleans, National Guard and Blackwater rent-a-stormtroopers—the ones who kill with impunity in Iraq—occupied the city. While the system did (and continues to do) nothing to help the poor and Black people in, or driven from, New Orleans, a National Guard General said their mission was “a combat operation to get this city under control.” (For more information about all these stories, go to revcom.us.)
From border to border, and coast to coast, the police are doing the dirty work of the lynch mobs in the old South—executing a death sentence that hangs over the heads of millions of youth just for being Black and Latino. Why does this happen? It comes from the whole way this system works. Every capitalist competes in the dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed race for profits. At one point, that meant driving Black people off the land in the South, where they lived in semi-slavery conditions as sharecroppers, and into the hellhole mills, foundries, slaughterhouses, and factories of the big cities. In the context of all-round social upheaval which convulsed society—and which is still being fought over today—those workers waged struggles against their conditions—workers gave their lives in strikes and protests. Today, the system has intensified exploitation here and around the world. To the capitalists, the defiant spirit among Black people is an obstacle to their whole thing. Jobs are moved. Inner-city schools are abandoned. Housing is torn down or left to rot. Millions of youth have no future under this system. To the system, these precious human beings are considered “superfluous”—not needed, and too rebellious. So the system blames them, demonizes them and unleashes their police to terrorize them and gun them down.
Look at the roundups of anyone who appears to be Latino. At a Swift meatpacking plant, workers were sorted out by the color of their skin for interrogation or detention and deportation by ICE. In Nassau County, New York, the establishment newspaper the New York Times wrote: “Scores of federal immigration agents from around the country, some wearing cowboy hats and brandishing shotguns and automatic weapons, endangered residents and local police.” Parents are torn from their children the way the slave masters used to do.
Again, we must ask, why is this? And again, it comes back to the system. The capitalist-imperialist system has wrecked the economies of countries like Mexico, wiping out small farmers and driving millions off the land. People forced from their homes are sucked into the most dangerous, unhealthy, low-paying work in the U.S. Now, to the system, these millions of immigrants—with nothing to lose but their chains, and whose culture and language are seen as a threat to the “social cohesion” of the whole oppressive way things are—are seen as both a necessary source of super-profits, and a potential danger to the whole setup. So now immigrants too—like the Black youth in the inner cities—are demonized and criminalized. Last year, on May 1, police fired 150 rubber bullets into a protest for immigrants’ rights in LA, and clubbed and brutalized protesters, residents and reporters. The whole wave of roundups and attacks on immigrants is justified by the system and its fascist lackeys on TV who lie that this pol-ICE state terror is to keep America safe from criminals and terrorists.
Look at the way the Jena 6 are still facing decades in jail. The system is determined to punish the Black students at Jena High School for first daring to sit under the “white tree” in the schoolyard, and then daring to stand under the tree in protest when lynching nooses were hung from the tree. This goes way beyond a local good ol’ boy prosecutor—the U.S. Department of Justice investigated and put a stamp of approval on the whole way this went down—calling it “regular,” not “irregular.” In the case of the Jena 6, millions of people—especially Black people—have recognized that what happened here is both an outrage and typical of how the system treats Black people. Mychal Bell, one of the Jena 6, had his original conviction overturned as the movement to Free the Jena 6 grew. After the historic outpouring of protest in Jena itself, and in school walkouts in cities around the country, he was released from jail for a brief period. But as we go to press, he has been locked up again, by a system determined to deliver again the message that you cannot stand up to white supremacy. The struggle to Free the Jena 6 must continue and spread, and be taken up by people of all nationalities, until all the Jena 6 are free! And this demand should be raised by the October 22 protests.
What about the constant new revelations of government spying and repression? The government taps millions of phones, places video cameras everywhere, and spies on what books you read at the library. For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, undercover police operations around the country targeted actors, church groups, antiwar organizations, environmentalists, people opposed to the death penalty, anti-globalization activists and people opposed to Bush, including three New York City elected officials. And George W. Bush can have you or anyone else locked up for years on his say-so, with no trial, to be tortured—as he did with Jose Padilla.
Through all this you see a pattern: systematic brutality, murder, and repression to enforce a setup of exploitation. A system of modern-day slavery. A system that feeds off the plunder of the world and that cannot tolerate dissent and protest against that. We need to resist police brutality, and do everything we can to win justice for victims of police brutality and murder. And to end police brutality once and for all, we need revolution—a communist revolution. Communist revolution brings into being a whole new system and a new state power. Instead of a society based on oppression, exploitation, and inequality and everything that goes with it—including police brutality, the new state power opens the doors to the youth being able to use their creativity and energy to build a better world. To finally put an end to police brutality, the movement to stop police brutality must be built as part of a growing revolutionary movement—with its eye on the prize of revolution and communism.
Hundreds of thousands have marched against the criminalization of immigrants over the last couple of years. The historic protest in Jena marked what must be the beginning of a wave of people standing up. Civil libertarians and activists have condemned the police state-ization of America.
We must build on these beginning shoots of struggle. On October 22, people need to come together, and rise above the way people are played by the system and set against each other. There must be organized, militant protest on October 22. October 22 must, and can, represent a coming together of all who oppose police brutality, repression, and the criminalization of a generation. In past years, those demonstrating on October 22 have included Black and Latino youth, human rights activists, parents and family of those killed by police, day laborers, antiwar activists, immigrants rights activists, professionals, students, and people of all nationalities. Wearing black, and marching in the streets.
Building a powerful movement against police brutality, and getting Revolution newspaper out everywhere in society are important elements in building a revolutionary movement—a movement for communist revolution, to bring into being a world without murdering police and the whole system they enforce. This is part of what it means to Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution.
In the short time between when you read this, and October 22, get organized. Contact the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. Organize everyone you know and meet to wear black on October 22, and to be at the protest nearest you, or if there is not a protest in your area, organize one right now. Reach out to unions, neighborhood and social organizations, religious communities, teachers and students, and beyond. Get this issue of Revolution newspaper, and this editorial, out everywhere—online, in the projects, in the neighborhoods, workplaces, and on high school and college campuses.
Police brutality, repression, and the criminalization of a generation must STOP! All out on October 22!
Initial List of Assembly Points for October 22, 2007:
Los Angeles—Gather 12 noon at Los Angeles St. and 1st St in front of Parker Center (LAPD headquarters). March at 2 p.m. to MacArthur Park
New York—4 p.m. rally at Marcus Garvey Park (124th St. and 5th Ave.). March followed by rally at St. Mary’s Church.
CHICAGO—Noon rally at Federal Plaza, Adams and Dearborn
OAKLAND/SAN FRANCISCO—Gather in Oakland for march at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall (Frank Ogawa Plaza) on Clay St. between 14th and 15th Sts., followed by a rally at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall (Frank Ogawa Plaza)
For details and other locations contact: October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and Criminalization of a Generation: october22.org • email@example.com • 1-888-NOBRUTALITY
October 22nd Coalition, PO Box 2627, New York NY 10009
Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
PART 1: BEYOND THE NARROW HORIZON OF BOURGEOIS RIGHT
Editors’ Note: The following is the first in a series of excerpts from a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA earlier this year (2007). This has been edited for publication and footnotes have been added (among other things, in preparing this for publication, the author has considerably expanded the section on Karl Popper). These excerpts are being published in two parts. Part 1 is available in its entirety, as one document, online at revcom.us. Part 2 will also be available in the near future, as one document, at revcom.us; the excerpts comprising Part 2 will also be published as a series in Revolution after the conclusion of the present series of excerpts.
I want to begin by returning to a point that we continue to speak to—and for very good reasons—both because of its great importance and because it is still so little grasped and acted upon. This is the whole question of getting beyond the present narrow horizons imposed on society and on people and their thinking. Now, I am aware that in his latest CD, Modern Times, Bob Dylan has a song “Beyond the Horizon.” But what we are talking about is something entirely and radically different—it is the narrow horizon of bourgeois right, and the need for humanity to leap beyond that horizon.
“I Want to Get More”—or We Want Another World?
I was moved, or provoked, to speak to this again in reading some reports recounting the responses of different people, youth in particular, to watching the DVD of my 2003 talk Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About. I want to begin with a comment of one youth (I believe it was a high school student in Oakland) who watched this DVD, and said he really liked it—“I agree with everything in there, and I really liked the vision of the future society”—but, he went on, “if I invent something, I want to get more for it.”
Here we come right up against the question of making (or not making) a leap beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right. What do we mean by “bourgeois right”? This refers to the concept of “right” which essentially corresponds to commodity relations—relations in which people confront each other as owners (or non-owners) of things which are to be exchanged—and more specifically, relations in which the appearance of equality covers over profound inequalities, relations which are grounded in the exploitation and oppression of the many by a relative handful. In its most fundamental terms, this is grounded in a relationship where a small number of people dominate ownership not only of the wealth of society, but more fundamentally the means to produce wealth (land, raw materials, technology of various kinds, and so on), and a large number of people own little or none of these things, and so must sell their ability to work to those who do own them (and, if they are not able to sell their ability to work—if they cannot get a job—they will either starve or be forced into other means, often illegal means, in order to be able to live). Once again, this exchange—of the ability to work (or “labor power”) for a wage (or salary)—appears to be an equal exchange; but in reality it involves and embodies a profoundly unequal relation, in which those without capital are forced into a subordinate position: forced to work for—and, in the process of working, creating more wealth for—those who do own and control capital.
This fundamental relation of inequality, of domination and exploitation, is extended into and embodied in all the relations of capitalist society. Take, for example, the concept of “equality before the law.” This is supposed to mean that the same laws are applied, in the same ways, to everyone, regardless of what their “station” in life is, how much money they have, and so on. Experience shows, however, that this is not how things work out in reality. People with more money have more political influence—and those with a great deal of money have a great deal of political influence and power—while those with less money, and especially those with very little, also have no significant political influence, connections with political power, and so on. And this plays out, repeatedly, in legal proceedings, right down to the way in which those presiding over legal procedures (judges) look—very differently—at different kinds of people who become involved in legal proceedings. But what is even more decisive is the reality that the laws themselves (and the Constitution which sets the basis for the laws) reflect and reinforce the essential relations in society, and most fundamentally the economic (production) relations of capitalism. This, for example, is why it is perfectly legal for capitalists to lay off thousands of people, or to refuse to hire them in the first place, if these capitalists cannot make sufficient profit by employing (and exploiting) them—or if they can make more profit by employing, and exploiting, people in some other place—but it is illegal for people who have been denied employment in this way to take the things they need without paying for them (without giving money in exchange for these things—money which in fact they do not have, money they cannot earn, because they have been prevented from working, by means that are perfectly legal under this system). All this—and the many ways in which this finds expression in society, in the relations between groups and individuals, in the laws and institutions, and in the thinking of people—is what is meant in referring to “bourgeois right.”
To dig further into what this means, let’s return to the example of someone “wanting more” if they invent something. This is hardly an uncommon view. It is “spontaneous” thinking that is very common when living in a society like this, where everything is ultimately—and very often not so ultimately—measured in the very narrow, constricting terms of the cash nexus and gets expressed crudely in “what’s in it for me?” So this youth could see the sweep of all that is presented in that “Revolution” talk, and agree with it—but, then, there was one little sticking point: “If I do something special, I want something in exchange for it, I want the chance to get something more for me.”
Well, we have to examine: How do things actually work when and where people “get more”? And, for that matter, how do things actually work when and where people invent something in the first place? What is it that happens most of the time when someone invents something, and then someone ends up “getting more out of it”? Usually, it’s not the person who does the inventing who “gets more”—or gets most of the profit—from this, but instead the people who have control of capital and who can turn the invention into a commodity and into capital. Because that’s what has to happen in order for someone to get more out of something that is invented: there have to be the social relations, and ultimately and fundamentally the production relations, which enable that, which make it possible to turn that invention into “intellectual property”—into a commodity and into capital.
Well, in order for that to happen, there must be a whole network of capitalist relations. Otherwise, on what basis are you going to get anything—and, specifically, get more than others—if there is not a whole network of commodity relations and of capital which is undergirding and is the basis on which the whole society is functioning? And this whole network of commodity relations, and of capital, is in reality a network of exploitation. That is what has to be in operation in order for someone—and most likely not the inventor, but a class of people, a class of capitalists (and particular capitalists in particular instances)—to get more out of it. It is those who already control large amounts of capital, and who have a dominant position in the capitalist economy, who are most likely to benefit the most—to get more than others.
And what happens if we have a whole network of capitalist relations? What kind of world do we then have? We have the same world that’s being dissected and indicted in the “Revolution” talk on the DVD—the same world that drove this person to say, in the first place, “I really liked what is said in that talk.” You don’t like this world. But if you don’t want this world, then you cannot want the things that define this world and that are the underlying and driving forces in this world. You cannot want a network of commodity relations and of capital, because then you have everything that goes along with that, not only immediately around you, but throughout the world, and all the horrors that we know about and could catalog almost endlessly.
To paraphrase Lenin, capitalism puts into the hands of individuals, as individual wealth and capital, that which has been produced by all of society. Production under capitalism—and the turning of an invention into something which not only has use value but exchange value, which can summon money back and even “surplus value,” more money than at the start of the process—requires a social production process which ends up with the surplus value (the wealth that’s produced as capital) going into the hands of individuals—and a relative handful of individuals, at that. This is the point Lenin was making when he said that capitalism puts into the hands of individuals, as individual wealth and capital, that which has been produced by all of society—and today, more than ever, this takes place on a worldwide scale. After all, capital is not something neutral, and it is not wealth in some abstract sense—divorced and abstracted from the social production relations through which that wealth is produced—capital is a social relation in which some have command over the labor power (the ability to work) of others and accumulate wealth for themselves by utilizing that labor power of others.
Lenin added that capitalism forces people to calculate, with the stinginess of a miser, how much more they’re getting than somebody else. Put that—and everything that’s bound up with that, all the horrors that go along with that—up against what it would mean to move beyond all that, to get beyond these production relations, and the corresponding social relations, and all the conditions that are bound up with them and intertwined with them. And, further, in the situation where humanity had finally managed to throw off all this, and all the horrors that go along with it, the orientation of “wanting more for myself” would very quickly move things backward, in the direction of the capitalist system, with all its very real horrors. There is no other way in which ultimately and fundamentally certain individuals can “get more”—no way other than to have a whole network of relations that makes that possible, with everything that goes along with that.
Does this mean—as is often claimed by people attacking and slandering communism—that in communist society everybody will have exactly the same amount of things, regardless of their particular situation and their particular needs? No, the slogan of communism—the principle that will be applied in communist society—is precisely from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs. In other words, people will contribute what they can to society and will get back what they need to meet the requirements of a decent and fulfilling life, intellectually and culturally, as well as materially, on an ever expanding basis. This will involve and require a whole different outlook and morality, along with radically different economic, social, and political relations, in which it will no longer be the case that a relatively small group dominates and exploits masses of people and in which it is presented as “right and natural” for some people to have a superior position over others.
Look at that present reality, and the principles and morals that go along with it—where everyone is pushed into trying to “get more” than others, and where a small number “get much more” than the great majority—and contrast that with the much more lofty and liberating principle of from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs—where we move beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right—of “what’s in it for me, what do I get,” in accordance with the commodities and, in many cases, the capital that I have been able to accumulate through this process. This, once again, is not a neutral process, but a process of degrading and brutalizing exploitation and oppression—and today this involves exploitation and oppression of literally billions of people throughout the world, including huge numbers of children. This is the foundation of the present system, the capitalist-imperialist system—this is the reality of life under this system—in which it is a driving principle to “get more.”
Again let’s pose the basic question: Which is a much more liberating and lofty vision of society, and which would make a better world—this system, with its fundamental relations, and the corresponding ideas, or one in which people are receiving according to their needs while contributing according to their abilities—not on the basis of what they are going to get back out of it, in some narrow sense, but on the basis of understanding that society as a whole, including the flourishing of the individuals who make up society, is going to be on a much better foundation and reach to much greater heights if that whole orientation of “what do I get out of it” has been moved beyond, together with moving beyond the material basis for that and the necessity that is bound up with that?
This is a point we’re going to have to continually struggle with people about. What kind of world do you want to live in? Do you want all the things that now characterize the world? We can go down the list of them: the oppression of women, racism and national oppression, exploitation of little children, despoliation of the environment, the wars fought in which the people on the bottom are dragged into them as the cannon fodder (as the old saying goes)…and on and on and on. Is that the world you want, so that maybe—and very unlikely—you might be able to “get more”? Certainly most people will not “get more.” Or do you want a world free of and beyond all that, beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right?
Are All “Ideal Visions of Society” Equally Valid and Good?
Now, let’s take up another question that came up when some college students were watching the DVD of the same “Revolution” talk, and in particular the “Imagine” section of it (where people are called on to imagine what it would be like to live in a radically different society, a socialist society on the road to communism). Their response was: This is really inspiring, this vision of an ideal world (that, apparently, is how they saw it). But then they began to grapple with the question: Isn’t it unfair to impose one vision of an ideal world over others? Maybe I have one idea of what an ideal world is, but you have another idea and someone else has another idea—isn’t it unfair to impose one vision and to favor that over others?
Well, once again, we have to answer this with a scientific outlook and method, with materialism and dialectics. And there are a number of different levels on which, and angles from which, we can and should answer this. Let’s start by putting the question very bluntly: Do we really not want to oppose—and, yes, in some cases suppress—some notions of an “ideal world” that some people and some sections of society hold and try to implement? What about the Ku Klux Klan? Is their vision of an “ideal world” one we don’t want to oppose and suppress? Is it unfair to insist that the “ideal vision” they hold cannot be implemented? What about fanatical Islamic fundamentalists and their counterpart Christian Fascists? Are their visions and programs for an “ideal world” things that we don’t want to oppose—and, yes, even suppress? Should “honor killings”—where unmarried girls and women who “lose their virginity,” even if they are raped, are murdered to preserve the “honor” of their family—should that not be opposed—and, yes, prevented? Should women’s right to abortion and birth control be taken away, in accordance with the Christian Fascist vision of a good society, of an “ideal world”—and should the laws of society be based on a literalist reading of the Bible, as many powerful Christian Fascists insist (which would mean stoning to death or otherwise executing: women who are not virgins when they are married; women who are accused of being witches; homosexuals; children who are rebellious against their parents; and many others who defy “God’s will,” as insisted upon by these Christian Fascists)? Should all that really not be opposed—and, yes, suppressed—should it be allowed because it corresponds to these people’s “vision of an ideal world”?
What about the people who now rule this country and much of the world, who think that their “ideal world” is such a good thing that it’s right to impose it on the rest of the world, through massive organized violence and mechanized destruction? Do we really not want to oppose—and, yes, when we are finally able to do so, do we really not want to suppress—that “vision of an ideal world”?
How does human society actually develop?
The basic problem with this way of thinking—and the use of the word “ideal” points to the problem—is that it is fundamentally idealist, and is in fundamental conflict with reality. This is not how societies have emerged and developed, or can emerge and develop—that different people come up with ideal visions of how society ought to be and then they set about imposing them on society, or trying to convince other people that this is the way to go, without regard to what the realities of society, and the driving forces of social development, actually are. As historical materialists, applying dialectical materialism to the history of humanity and the development of human society, we can see that society does not develop this way, but develops out of the constant struggle and transformation involved in the relation between necessity and freedom. “Ideal visions” of society—and programs for changing society—can and do play a very important role in the transformation of society, if and when those “ideals” and programs correspond to ways in which it is possible to transform society at a given time, under given circumstances. But if an “ideal vision of society” has no basis in reality—if it does not reflect the way society is moving and tending, or if it does not represent a certain resolution of the actual contradictions that characterize society and impel its motion and development—then such an “ideal vision of society” cannot be realized. Human beings don’t come together in society out of an “ideal vision”; they come together to deal with the necessity with which they’re confronted. They transform that necessity in one way or another, and in so doing they bring into being new necessity. Often—as has been pointed out before1—what goes along with this is unintended consequences: People do things to deal with what’s immediately impinging upon them, and in so doing they may, and often do, set in motion a process which leads to results and consequences that had not been anticipated, or intended, by them.
Let’s look at an example I’ve used before: people in ancient Mexico who were living in hunting and gathering societies, and then their conditions changed. Partly as a result of environmental changes, but also partly because of what they themselves had done over generations, with the killing off of game through hunting, they could no longer maintain the way of life that they were previously engaged in. And so in some cases these people settled in one area, instead of living a more migratory life, and they began to carry out settled agriculture where the material conditions were at hand to do that. And that brought forth all kinds of changes which were largely unintended, and even unimagined, by them, including the emergence and development of new, oppressive social divisions among them. When something like this happens, new necessity is brought into being.
This is just one illustration of the basic reality that people come into certain relations with each other in order to deal with necessity which largely occurs “behind their backs,” and without their consciously deciding to do something—until, at a certain point, they become more conscious of this. This has gone through spirals and different stages of development, and has taken different forms, in the overall history of human beings and their societies. This is the way human societies have actually emerged, developed, and been transformed (or in some cases eliminated). And, without being linear, and determinist, in our understanding of this—without seeing this as some kind of “straight line” process, going onward, and upward, according to some predetermined plan, or some unavoidable, inexorable laws of development—this is the only basis on which human society can emerge and develop, and be transformed.
So, what is being spoken about in this “Revolution” DVD (and in particular the “Imagine” section of that talk) is the next leap that it is possible—not inevitable, but possible—to make on the basis of what has emerged through the complex and many-sided process of development that has in fact taken place in the historical development of human society up to this point. This is not something that was all laid out in someone’s mind from the beginning—neither god’s nor anyone else’s. But it is something which corresponds to the present situation humanity is confronted with, where another leap is possible to a radically different and much better world, namely communism.
We can make an analogy here to evolution in the natural world. One of the points that is repeatedly stressed in the book on evolution by Ardea Skybreak2 is that the process of evolution can only bring about changes on the basis of what already exists. First of all, there is no “intelligent design”—no “design” of any kind—in all this. And, along with that, it is not possible for something to emerge through the process of natural evolution which doesn’t have its basis in what already exists. Evolutionary changes—including qualitative changes leading to the emergence of completely new species—can and do occur on the basis of genetic variation and mutation, in interaction with the environment (where changes involving features that confer a reproductive advantage to those individuals with those features can lead to the predominance of those features within a grouping and even, in certain conditions, to the emergence of a new species). But such changes do not, and cannot, come about on the basis that something would be favorable for a species (or for individual members of a species) to have, and so it just emerges to fill a need. Evolution in the natural world comes about, and can only come about, through changes that arise on the basis of, and in relation to, the existing reality and the existing constraints (or, to put it another way, the existing necessity).
And, in fundamental terms, the same thing is true in human social development, in the history of human society. This is why socialism is, in fact, such a goddamn hard thing: As Marx emphasized in a basic way, and Lenin began to grapple with more concretely as well, and Mao grappled with on a whole other level—you’re dealing with socialism as it emerges out of capitalism, out of the previous society. That is why Lenin said we don’t get to make socialism with people as we would like them to be; we have to build socialism, to transform society under socialism, with people as they have emerged from the old society. And that is true with regard not only to people but all the old conditions, including the material conditions of production (the technology but also, and even more essentially, the production relations, and the social relations, as well as all the ideas and the political institutions). That is what you set out to transform, in a qualitative and radical way. You don’t get to go to a drawing board and say: “What would we like to have here?” This doesn’t happen through a process where different people put down their “ideal vision,” and then there is a grand debate until everybody’s convinced of what’s the best ideal (and meanwhile, everybody has starved). You don’t get to do that, that’s not the way it works.
Yes, the “ideal” of communism is a very beautiful and desirable thing; but it emerges out of—its basis and its possibility exist in relation to—the prior constraints, the prior necessity, the results of the previous transformations of society through this dialectical, back-and-forth interplay between necessity and the transformation of necessity into freedom…which brings with it—what? New necessity.
Well, this is what we have to enable people to understand. This is why it takes science to deal with the transformation of society, and particularly to deal with it in a way that actually can, at this point, bring about the abolition of oppressive and exploitative relations, antagonistic relations generally among people, and lead to a whole new and far better world for humanity. This can only be done on a scientific basis—on the basis of a materialist and dialectical analysis and synthesis of reality and a scientific understanding of where we are in that process and what that opens up in terms of the transformation of necessity into freedom at this stage.
This series will continue in the next issue of Revolution.
1. See, for example, two works by Bob Avakian: Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom (which appeared as a series in Revolution #37, #39, #40, #41, #42, and #43, complete version available online at revcom.us/bob_avakian/views) and The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution (which appeared as a series in Revolution #45, #46, #47, #48, #49, #50, complete version available online at revcom.us/Avakian/basis-goals-methods).[back]
2. Ardea Skybreak, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters, (Chicago: Insight Press, 2006.)[back]
Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
The people putting on “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”—the October 22–26 series of events at universities and colleges purporting to oppose “Islamo-Fascism” and to develop support for the “war on terror”—pose as champions of the rights of women. And so, at a time when the Supreme Court has thrown the right to abortion into question, when the operatives of the Bush regime have brought birth control increasingly under fire, when violence against women in this country continues and intensifies with vengeance, and when the culture is saturated with ritual shamings of women who “go bad”…Horowitz and his allies have proclaimed their intent to hold sit-ins at Women’s Studies Departments, “designed to protest the absence of courses that focus on Islamic gynophobia,” in order to coerce them into signing the statement “Calling on Feminists to End Their Silence on the Oppression of Women in Islam”!
The hypocrisy of these newly minted feminists is stunning. But behind the hypocrisy lies an ugly and dangerous agenda. Horowitz is seizing on the truth of the real oppression of women in countries ruled by Islamic fundamentalists in the service of a very big lie. There is a way to oppose this oppression—but it is not by enlisting in Horowitz’s crusade. Indeed, if you really do oppose the oppression of women—in Islamic fundamentalist countries and movements and on the rest of the planet as well—opposing Horowitz’s “week” is the most important thing you can do right now.
“Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”
Horowitz has manipulated and thieved language and tactics from the 1960s to make it look like campus brownshirts are the new wave of student activism—using tactics like sit-ins and protests at Women’s Studies Departments “with the goal of encouraging them to provide course offerings on the abuse of women in Islam.” The scholarship and teaching currently going on in Women’s studies is dismissed as “trivial” or “imagined” and criticized for the “numerous hours…spent…dissecting the reasons for the ‘wage gap’ in America, violence against women and the ‘privileges’ accorded Caucasian males. But courses on the plight of women in Islamic regimes are strangely absent.” (Sara Dogan—Frontpage, 10/9/07)
Phyllis Chesler and Robert Spensor have written a pamphlet for the week titled The Violent Oppression of Women in Islam, which marshals partial truths about the oppression of women in the service of a gigantic lie—one that has been told by colonial powers since the 19th century—and was trotted out most recently in service of launching the opening act in the war on terror in Afghanistan. “We’re here to save the women! We’re ready to fight the ‘war on terror’ not to extend the violence of empire but to protect the weaker sex!” And now the same war propaganda is being drummed up all over again, to reinforce this “war on terror” and to mount support and consent for attacking Iran.
Chesler and Spensor also exhibit a xenophobic worldview that includes passages that warn of the danger of allowing Islamic people to immigrate—spreading the contagion of Islamic backwardness and terrorism into European and American society. Their treatment of the whole subject conjures up the kind of fear and prejudice that creates an atmosphere where rendition, detention, and torture for “your safety” are tolerated. And their rhetoric is an echo of the war propaganda from World War 2—where stereotypes of “inscrutable” Japanese whose “minds were 2000 years behind” were created to train the public to go along with putting people into internment camps.
A Cautionary Tale—Afghanistan and Iraq
In this land of short attention spans, let’s recall the justifications for war against Afghanistan. Before that war, TV specials about the plight of women forced under the burkah were brought into millions of living rooms—people sympathized and hearts went out to the women living under the Taliban. Young men and women signed up with the U.S. military to fight. The women’s movement was actively courted and put on display to prove the political will and broad sentiment in favor of bombing and invasion.
Susan Faludi’s new book, The Terror Dream—Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America, documents the whole thing in detail. “After months of being snubbed, the Feminist Majority, which had been trying to call attention to the Taliban’s abuse of women since 1996, found itself in the astonishing position of playing belle at the capitol ball.... The White House (which had just abolished the office of women’s ‘initiatives’) began contacting women’s rights organizations and asking them to seek ‘common ground’ with the administration that had iced them since its inception.”
Faludi documents how feminist leaders were invited to brief Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and others. Congress held hearings on the status of women in Afghanistan. Bush himself pronounced to an audience of women’s rights activists that “the central goal of the terrorists is the brutal oppression of women,” and Colin Powell solemnly stated that the “rights of women will not be negotiable” as the State Department issued a “Report on the Taliban’s War against Women.” And then it stopped. Barely two weeks after the invasion, when questioned about the status of women’s rights, the State Department said it “had other priorities.”
Today Afghanistan has a parliament full of Islamic fundamentalists and warlords and the situation for women in Afghanistan has barely changed. Wearing the burkah is no longer law—but women are in danger of being beaten if they dare to appear in public without it. In September, the same journalist who made the CNN documentary “Behind the Veil” before the invasion returned to Afghanistan to report on the grim situation for women now. The new documentary interview shines a light on an epidemic of young women with serious burns—from setting themselves afire with household kerosene in acts of defiance and despair at arranged marriages.
The same lies and hypocrisy are evident in the Iraq war as well. In summer 2003, L. Paul Bremer, the top administrator of the U.S. occupation, assembled the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). Among those appointed by Bremer were Islamists who openly declared their intent to restrict women’s rights. Then, on December 29, 2003, the IGC held a quasi-secret vote to replace Iraq’s 1959 family law which was among the most progressive in the Middle East. The family law had been enacted in 1959 by the secular nationalist government of Abd Al Karim Qasim, who was later overthrown by the Ba’athists (with support from the United States). These laws came into being on the heels of mass mobilization of the Iraqi women’s movement at the end of the British colonial era. Aspects of the progressive family law persisted until the eve of the U.S. invasion. Divorce cases were to be heard only in civil courts, and women divorcees had an equal right to custody over their children. Women’s income was recognized as independent from their husbands. The law also restricted child marriage and granted women and men equal shares of inheritance.
The occupation authorities consistently undermined Iraqi women’s efforts to secure their legal rights. The U.S. threw its weight behind Iraq’s Shiite Islamists, calculating that these forces, long suppressed by Saddam Hussein, would cooperate with the occupation and deliver the stability needed for the U.S. The first battle in the drafting of Iraq’s constitution was over the family laws. The U.S.-backed forces reviled the 1959 law for being “secular” and spawning “deviant decisions that tore families apart.” They also demanded that interpretation of family law be removed from civil authority and handed back to the clerics.
Further, the new Iraqi Constitution that Bush and the media glorify as bringing democracy to Iraq, in reality finalized the establishment of an Islamic Republic. Article 2 of the final version of the constitution makes Islam the official religion of Iraq and its state and makes it clear that no law can be passed to contradict it. Article 14 of the final constitution guarantees equal rights for women—only so long as those rights do not “violate Sharia” (Islamic law). So Sharia comes first. According to Sharia, only fathers can have custody of children in case of divorce. Women are officially valued at only half the worth of men in matters such as inheritance and bearing witness in court.
Meanwhile, Shiite militias patrol the streets of Iraq’s major cities, attacking women who don’t dress or behave to their liking. In many places, they kill women who wear pants or appear in public without a headscarf. In much of Iraq, women are virtually confined to their homes because of the likelihood of being beaten, raped, or abducted in the streets. The Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani—a U.S. ally—ordered all Iraqi women to wear headscarves, and his edicts were enforced by beheadings and acid attacks. In 2006, Sistani also issued an order for the killing of gays and lesbians, which was publicized for several months on his website. And a recent UN report states that 250 women were killed in honor killings in Iraqi Kurdistan alone thus far this year—most of them burned alive.
If David Horowitz really gave a damn about the status of women under Islam, he would be denouncing and protesting at the White House.
Horowitz and Chesler make use of a surge in honor killings in Iraq and the region more generally to also make their case that there is something unique and intrinsically worse about Islam than any other ideology or religion. To be clear: honor killings are barbaric. They are a horrific manifestation of property relations and of the fact that societies have treated women first and foremost as the property of males. They are one more reason that this whole world needs to be turned right side up through communist revolution and a radical rupture with all traditional property relations and all traditional ideas.
But Horowitz, Chesler & Co. once again take some truths about honor killings to buttress a big lie. First off, incidents of honor killings in Iraq have increased as Iraqi civil society has collapsed under the occupation—strengthening tribal bonds and religious authority. Second, unfortunately the practice of honor killings is far from confined to Islamic culture. It predates Islam and today spans religions, cultures, and countries, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, Syria, Turkey, and Venezuela.
Moreover, the vestiges of these customs and the same property relations that still dominate the planet can also be found in the U.S.—they are called “crimes of passion” in U.S. legal code where sentencing is not based on the crime but the feelings of the perpetrator. And they have always worked to the advantage of men. For example, in 1999, a Texas judge sentenced a man to four months in prison for murdering his wife and wounding her lover in front of their 10-year-old child. As in an “honor killing,” adultery was viewed as a mitigating factor in the case. Both the “crime of passion” and the term “honor killing” communicate the perspective of the overwhelmingly male perpetrators, and thereby carry an implicit justification. Marital rape laws were non-existent in many states in the U.S. until the 1990s. And many of Horowitz’s strongest allies are the same people who pass laws to strengthen the “sanctity of marriage” and promote the cult of virginity—both of which provide the underpinnings of the honor killings that Horowitz so hypocritically pretends to oppose now, when it suits his purposes.
So when they hold “Islamo Fascism Awareness Week” and they tell you we need a “war on terror” to free the women of Islam, the old saying “fool me once, shame on you—fool me twice, shame on me” applies.
[sources for the section on Iraq and Honor Killings—1) A World to Win News Service and 2) Promising Democracy—Imposing Theocracy—gender based violence in the US war on Iraq” by Yifat Susskind, www.MADRE.org]
The Bizarre Political Marriage of Phyllis Chesler and Rick Santorum
Phyllis Chesler is a long-time feminist and one-time progressive who now finds herself politically and ideologically allied with the very people who not too long ago desired nothing less than having her head on a pike. Exhibit A in this is her fellow “Islamo-Fascism Awareness” comrade Rick Santorum. Apparently Chesler wants to support Christian fascism to oppose so-called “Islamo-fascism.”
Santorum, formerly the third highest ranking member of the Senate who lost his seat last November, is a featured speaker for Horowitz’s “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” Santorum came up with the novel thesis that the liberal climate in Boston gave rise to the rash of pedophile priests in the Catholic Church. He is an opponent of abortion who argues that the right to privacy does not exist in the Constitution and therefore that the Supreme Court decision that legalized contraception is not valid.
In a 2003 interview, Santorum justified his opposition to gay marriage by lumping homosexual relations in with bestiality. He tried to pass legislation to bring “intelligent design” into school science curriculum and does not believe in the separation between church and state. This is a total package—a repressive outmoded and reactionary scriptural view of women and the family that demands women’s obedience and submission.
How in the world can anyone who opposes the oppression of women enlist in a crusade with the likes of Rick Santorum? Chesler wants to condemn the horror of female mutilation in Africa (which is not just Islamic)—but now aligns herself with forces who want to block the human papilloma virus vaccinations that would save millions of women from cervical cancer. The Islamic fundamentalists and the Christian fascists use the same rationalization: both are done in the name of keeping women from engaging in pre-marital and extra-marital sex; both reflect an ugly mentality that this violence towards women is necessary to keep them from “being loose women.” The world that either would have you live in is one where women are the possessions of their husbands and where the sexual lives of all women are controlled by men.
Santorum represents a very powerful section of the U.S. ruling class aiming at bringing just such a world into being. Horowitz himself is a conscious and high-level operative of those same rulers. Anyone who comes in under that banner, no matter what caveats they may issue, will end up as vehicles for those forces and that agenda.
A worldwide snapshot of the standing of women at the dawn of the 21st century is looking dreadfully dim. You can look out over the vast technological and productive capacity achieved, the unprecedented availability of information, and the percentage of women who have now entered the global labor force and ask WHY? Why, with all this, does the status of women look socially, practically and existentially more like the Dark Ages than what many people assumed would be the step-by-step progression and advancement of more enlightened attitudes toward women? Suddenly it seems that that fragile progress is being hurtled backwards with hurricane force—threatening to drown the hopes of those who have dreamed of throwing off centuries of oppression and traditions that have squelched the life and potential of half the human race.
The sudden explosion of the globalization of prostitution, for instance, has combined the inequality of nations and the inequality of the sexes into one hideous phenomenon. Today there are 400,000 to 500,000 child prostitutes in India. Some 800,000 children and teenagers in Thailand have been forced into prostitution—an “industry,” by the way, brought into being by the use of Thailand as a “rest and recreation” area for U.S. troops during the Vietnam war. Literally hundreds of thousands of women and children are sold each year by traffickers in a “bull market” of sexual slavery that generates billions of dollars every year. A World to Win News Service points out that, while some refer to the “sex industry” as if it were just another job, “most of the women are youths and children and little more than modern slaves. Workers create commodities, but like old-fashioned slaves these women are commodities to be bought and sold as if they were things, and not human beings. Many hundreds of thousands of women are trafficked every year from the world’s poorest areas to Western Europe, Australia, Israel, Japan, the U.S., the Arab Gulf states and other countries.”
At the same time, mass culture and morality is increasingly imprisoned in a fascination with the virgin and the whore. Someone like Britney Spears is manufactured as a “star”—which includes sexually objectifying her—and then gleefully torn down, with her “fall from grace” put on lurid display and Spears herself put in a 21st-century version of the stocks in the electronic town square. The moral and lesson is driven home to hundreds of millions…and to make sure people “get it,” the same fable will be repeated with another victim next month.
What kind of world is this where the more wealth is created and the more the world is drawn into a single whole, instead of human progress the result is greater tragedy for millions? What kind of a world is it where women are ever more forcefully told that their only choice—if they even have one—is between the feudal nightmare embodied in the traditions of all the major religions, or the commodified “Sex-and-the-City” version of liberation, where you have “autonomy” to market yourself—as a commodity, in a world still premised on the everyday subordination, debasement, and brutalization of half of humanity? The answer is, a world still dominated by capitalism and imperialism.
There was a time when, in truly socialist countries, the first breathtaking steps toward women’s equality were being taken and this is what inspired the world and set the terms for everything. This was especially true in China during the era of Mao (1949-76). Women went from bound feet, domestic slavery, and female infanticide to breaking barriers in every sphere. Socialism—proletarian state power—transformed gender relations in politics, in production, in the arts, within the family and in education (including in the raising of children in a way that really began to overcome gender bias and oppression), and in every other sphere to such an extent that the formerly backward China inspired millions of women—and men—worldwide with a vision of social emancipation for women. But socialist rule in China was overturned—in fact, if not yet in name—and it is no longer a beacon for anything progressive, including for women. Nonetheless, what was accomplished there when the proletariat did hold state power sets a point of departure for a new round of revolutions and for a further, and even more deep-going, effort to break all of tradition’s chains, one that goes even further in mobilizing women, and men, to uproot the oppression of women in every sphere, to fully achieve equality and go beyond it, to a world of freely associating human beings. It is this kind of revolutionary future—and not a return to one or another suffocating and subjugating tradition of the past, or the oppressive emptiness of the imperialist present—that has to be fought for. And it is this kind of future for which the suppressed fury of women must be unleashed, as part of eradicating all oppression
There Is Another Way
As the degradation of and violence towards women are increasingly globalized, the struggle and resistance of women is also taking on an increasingly international dimension. To take one example: on International Women’s Day this year, revolutionary, progressive, and communist women from Iran raised the cry to break “the chain of violence against women [that] goes back thousands of years and is long enough to cross every border and encircle the world.” Their statement read in part:
“We Iranian women will continue on the path…seeking to build ‘another world’ based on the participation and power of the people, who have no interest in maintaining the power structures based on exploitation and injustice. We seek a world where mutilating women is considered a crime, not a tradition. We seek a world where no female child will be forced to submit to ‘matrimonial’ rape, where no woman will face ‘honour killings’, where no woman is forced to commit suicide or to set fire to herself to escape patriarchal violence, a world where no woman is punished or faces stoning by death for loving someone or for sexual relations. We seek a world that does not consider homosexuality a crime, a world where a woman’s identity is not determined by her marriage or motherhood. We are fighting for a world where no one can force women to stay in the kitchen or indoors, where no one can deprive women of the right to participate in social production and in politics. In such a world women will control their own bodies and will make their own decisions about whether they want children, a world in which men and women are truly equal in all aspects of life.”
There IS an alternative to support, if you truly care about uprooting the oppression of women AND opposing this horrific system and its “war on terror.” There ARE people who are fighting, worldwide, to do that. Let’s hear THEIR call and join them!
Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
Phyllis Chesler’s pamphlet accurately quotes the oppressive teaching of the Koran—but what about the teachings of the Bible? What’s so great about the Judeo-Christian religion?
What about the tens of thousands of women judged as heretics and witches who were burned at the stake all over Europe by the Catholic Church?
What about the fact that the modern-day Catholic church bans birth control and divorce?
The submission of women is the official teachings of Christianity—not just in the Old Testament but in the New Testament:
1 Corinthians 11:3 “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”
1 Corinthians 14:33‑35 “33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 34 Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”
1 Corinthians 11:7‑9: “For a man…is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.”
Timothy 2:11‑12: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent…”
Timothy 2:13‑15 “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”
Biblical literalists who now control the Southern Baptist Convention that adopted a covenant on the family in 2000 which a husband “has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”
Then what of the Old Testament where stoning is prescribed?
“If any man take a wife, and go unto her, and hate her, And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say I took this woman and when I came to her, I found her not a maid…if this thing be true and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die.”
The oppression of women is at the foundations of and practically synonymous with every religion. David Horowitz can claim to be a supporter of the Reformation and Enlightenment, and talk about how that makes the difference; but in actual fact, the forces he aligns himself with are precisely those who see the Enlightenment as a bad thing. To take one example: these are the people who have fought to oppose the scientific theory of evolution and to demand that the schools teach “intelligent design,” which is at bottom a dressed-up justification for biblical literalism and tears down the separation between church and state.
Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
The first thing that has to be understood is that the U.S. is an imperialist power that has brought, and continues to bring, great suffering to people throughout the world. That is the context within which to understand the so-called “war on terror” and attacks that are made against “U.S. interests” around the world.
The origins of this country, and the foundations of its wealth and power, are grounded in slavery, genocide against the Native Americans and the theft of their land. And then the expansion across the continent, in the second half of the 19th century, involved further wars of aggression and theft of land (from Mexico as well as from the Native Americans), to extend the slave system (this, for example, was the essence of the fight for Texas, with its battle of the Alamo) and then, especially after the Civil War, to spread the triumphant capitalist system.
At the close of the 19th century, as part of a worldwide scramble of competing capitalist powers to establish colonial empires and subjugate and exploit the peoples living in those colonies, the U.S. grabbed more overseas territory, most notably in the Philippines—where the U.S. betrayed and then slaughtered, in the hundreds of thousands, the Philippine people fighting for independence from Spain and turned the Philippines into a U.S. colony, along with seizing Puerto Rico and turning Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America into little more than U.S. colonies, which witnessed repeated bloody invasions and occupations by U.S. military forces in the first part of the 20th century.
Then, after World War 2, with the weakening of other colonial powers, on both the winning and losing sides in that war, the U.S. moved to bring vast amounts of territory under its domination, in the form of “neo-colonialism,” effectively controlling and robbing countries throughout the Third World, with terrible consequences for billions of people, even while those countries were nominally “independent.” Where they stood in the way of this domination and exploitation by the U.S., governments throughout the Third World, including popularly elected (and more or less secular) governments, were overthrown through bloody coups engineered and led by the CIA—for example, in Iran in 1953, and Indonesia in 1965—and brutally oppressive regimes, subservient to the U.S., were installed and kept in power for decades.
It is impossible to understand the real reasons for the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, and the deep hatred for the U.S., in the Middle East and other parts of the world, without being aware of and fully taking into account this whole bloody history of plunder and repression which the U.S. has carried out, and continues to carry out. And it is impossible to break out of the current very bad and potentially even more disastrous dynamic—where U.S. imperialism and reactionary Islamic Jihadism continue to reinforce each other even while opposing each other—without a mass movement that challenges this whole dynamic. A special responsibility in all this falls to the people of the U.S.—to mobilize active, politically meaningful and truly powerful resistance to what is being done, in their name, by the government of the U.S.
Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
Revolution received the following letter from a reader. We offer it this week as a “guest editorial” on a very urgent question.
There was (and actually continues to be) so much that went on in relation to Hurricane Katrina that can be classified as world class outrage—all the suffering and even deaths that could, and actually should, have been avoided. Suffering and deaths that happened not for lack of material wealth and resources in this nation or even manpower at the time of crisis, given that volunteers came from all over the country only to be kept out by government troops. There is one incident though that to me especially captured and concentrated the human atrocity all bound up with that natural disaster. And that is when a fairly large group of Black people from New Orleans who somehow had managed to escape the flood area, walking miles to reach higher and safe ground in Jefferson Parish were met at the parish’s border by armed local law enforcement and white vigilantes who would not allow these people escaping the catastrophe entry into “their” parish and quite literally forced these people back into the flooded, life-taking area. You would think that if you had a human bone in your body you would be welcoming people into areas that were safe from this flooding of gigantic proportions. But just the opposite was the case. As far as I have heard, no charges or even public censure were ever levied against these “fine public servants and citizens” who with the force of arms kept people from walking into safety on a town’s public streets and instead drove them back into harm’s way. What a concentrated example of the relations of inequality and oppression that persist!
Two years time has not erased from my memory in the least that particular Katrina incident—and many others I won’t go into here. These haunting memories only added to why I, and I am sure many others, were so very heartened to read the coverage of the outpouring September 20 in the October 1 issue of Revolution. Tens of thousands converging on Jena, Louisiana with various walkouts, marches and other forms of protest taking place around the country in solidarity. The essence of the Jena 6 case is that Black students at Jena High School had dared to challenge the bastions of white privilege in their school and town and the authority of the state came down on six of these students who refused to back off in the face of racist taunts, threats, and intimidation with a holy vengeance reminiscent of not only classic “Southern justice” but also the profound present-day reality of our U.S. injustice system where nationwide today Blacks, who are 12.3% of the U.S. population, make up 43.9% of the current prison population and where Black youth are more than twice as likely to be charged as adults for the same crime as white youth! (See The Covenant with Black America by Tavis Smiley, page 53.)
As word spread of this travesty going down in Louisiana, it struck a deep, deep nerve. People rallied, marched, walked out and wore black in Jena and around the country on September 20 not to beg for “more suitable or appropriate punishment” for Mychal Bell and the others (who have already collectively spent many months in jail!), but to demand FREE the JENA 6. Enough is Enough! And this had everything to do with Mychal Bell finally being released on bail. This was a righteous initial victory but we can’t let down our guard—the battle is not over and in fact it needs to broaden and actually intensify. (Shortly after I wrote the above, I found out that Mychal Bell has now been thrown back into jail—which only serves to drive home the point that this battle is not over!)
But from looking at the photos and avidly watching the national news that evening, one troubling question stood out to me in what otherwise was a most beautiful and welcome event. And that was, where were the people of other nationalities joining together with the Black people of various ages and backgrounds (including proletarians from as far away as NewYork and California!) who made history on that day? There were certainly more than a few white individuals scattered in the Jena protest crowd and other events, but it seemed that not very many of the progressive-minded whites, young people as well as veterans of the ’60s, to put it bluntly, bothered to get involved in this battle, at least not in any significant number.
Taking up this fight to free the Jena 6 is not some kind of diversion from what is really troubling the world. The whole history of the oppression of Black people goes very much to the core features of this system. Black people have stood up in relation to this case against an injustice that truly concentrates a whole history as well as present-day reality that is oppressive, unjust, systemic and needs to be ended. On one level, the issue is as simple as that and, whatever your nationality, if you know about this case, where do you stand in relation to it?
So I have been thinking and studying about this, talked to a number of people and got online to see what folks were saying too, and I want to speak to some aspects of that. From news coverage and the dialogue on the Internet, it is clear that there are more than a few stone-to-the-bone racist reactionaries whipped up against the Jena 6. But then there also seemed to be significant broader confusion and ample inane commentary, especially among some white people. I am sure some of this was fostered by distorted or incomplete news coverage, but more fundamentally, it seems to be propelled by a propensity to, consciously or not, view things like this Jena 6 case through the prism of the white supremacist society we live in. The typical logic I ran into goes something like this: “Yes, it was wrong that there was a de facto ‘whites-only’ tree at Jena High School, it was wrong when nooses were hung in the tree in response to Black students challenging this racist status quo—BUT you can’t ignore the fact that Justin Barker was beat up, Mychal Bell is ‘no choir boy,’ and all the fuss about the Jena 6 is ignoring these ‘basic facts.’” This is also the crux of the argument of Reed Walters’ (the prosecutor of the Jena 6) op-ed piece in the New York Times.
These “basic facts” leave out a lot of other extremely relevant facts: That after the nooses were hung in the tree; the Black students did not back down but instead protested by standing under that tree. In response to that protest, Reed Walters spoke at an assembly, warning students to settle down and, clearly directing his comments to the Black students, threatened, “I can make your lives go away with a stroke of my pen.” The school board reversed the expulsions of the students who put put the nooses in the “whites-only” tree. The authority of the state in this way openly backed up the racist status quo. Attacks ensued against Black students by some white students and other citizens of Jena that resulted in, at most, simple wrist slaps. It was in the wake of all this that the fight with Justin Barker took place and, true to his word, the prosecutor levied the outrageous initial charges which included attempted murder against the Jena 6—charges which were later reduced to still very serious felonies.
But the most fundamental “fact” that these arguments leave out is the bigger context that all this is taking place in and reflects and why it hit such a responsive chord among so many Black people—the reality of the grotesquely unequal oppressive social relations and institutions today that are literally quite brutally enforced. Not only is all this still alive and well in these United States but the advances that were made off of the ’60s have been under heavy attack with a concurrent fostering of a culture of extreme bigotry. What do you think it means that the major Republican candidates have out-and-out boycotted any debates sponsored by Black organizations or media? That orders are given to “shoot to kill” those seeking provisions to save lives during Katrina? Or when the Supreme Court basically has reversed itself on court-ordered desegregation, when the incarceration rate for Blacks increased ninefold from 1954 to today, and when the prosecutor states with a straight face, speaking of the September 20 rally in Jena, “I firmly believe that had it not been for the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened,” confessing to all via CNN his fear of “Negro Hordes” and faith in his white supremacist god.
While I don’t here want to divert into a philosophical or even political discussion of the overall limitations of identity politics in general (for a discussion of this, see Bob Avakian Speaks Out, Interviewed by Carl Dix: On War and Revolution, On Being a Revolutionary and Changing the World—in particular “Part 7: Who Can Understand Oppression—And What’s Necessary to Really Put an End to Oppression” and “Part 8: More on ‘Identity Politics’—And Why We Need to Bring Forward Revolutionary Politics,” available online at revcom.us/avakian/avakian-works), I would like to focus on the specific that there is no “identity” as a white person that isn’t objectively, in its essence, reactionary. Let me quote from an article by Bob Avakian that was part of a series run this year for Black History month since he describes and analyzes this in a very clear, succinct and pretty profound way:
Within the U.S. itself, one of the main and most ugly features of the capitalist-imperialist system is the great division between people of the European-American nation (white people) and peoples of color. This great division is not just a matter of racist ideas and attitudes, among white people in particular—although that is one expression of it. This division is deeply rooted in the historical development and the present-day economic and social structure of U.S. society. In imperialist America, with its whole foundation of slavery and genocide, with its whole history and continuing reality of white supremacy, the European-American nation is the oppressor nation. People of European descent, even those who are poor, powerless, and exploited—and even those who may have faced certain aspects of discrimination and prejudice, at least for a certain time, as part of immigrant “ethnic groups”—still share the status of being “white” in America, with everything that means. They enjoy certain privileges in relation to people of other nationalities who are the oppressed nationalities. To put it simply, if you are “white” in America, you may be treated badly, you may even suffer horribly at the hands of the system, particularly if you are without wealth and power, but you will not be subjected to certain kinds of discrimination and oppression that people of color cannot escape, even those who do accumulate a certain amount of wealth.
There is actually a material reason for the propensity of the “average” white person, even liberals as well as some otherwise very progressive people to easily get pulled (or whipped up) into a mindset of looking to see where some minority “got away with something” or got some unfair advantage because “they aren’t white” when the real history and current-day reality is frankly just the opposite. Conscious or not (and frankly there is a lot more consciousness to this than people are willing to admit), this represents aspirations to hold onto that position of privilege and satisfaction with the oppressor/oppressed state of affairs. And current calls for reconciliation going on right now in Jena are calls to actually settle back down into the white supremacist status quo.
Who are you standing with—those standing up against oppression, or with the oppressor? While the vast majority of white people, even those caught up in reactionary things, are not actually the same as the relative handful who actually owns, controls and runs this society and fundamentally benefit from exploitation and oppression, in a basic sense, you can be part of the solution or part of the problem.
I heard about one story in Jena where a poor white woman who had been gravitating towards supporting the prosecutor in Jena raised, in the wake of watching the John Mellencamp video on Jena, “but you don’t understand, I face oppression and abuse by the police too.” Undoubtedly, she does face oppression but that is all the more reason for her to throw in on the side of the Jena 6. Poor, oppressed and exploited whites back in the slave days were actually drawn into the horrific job of catching runaway slaves—because they, after all, were “freemen.” There is a current-day equivalent where for the benefit of, in some senses, pretty minuscule yet tangible advantage, even many very poor white proletarians identify with and join in support and sometimes militant defense of the white supremacist setup and the ruling class instead of siding with those with whom they fundamentally have much, much more in common.
All this needs to be challenged today. While it will take a revolution to truly uproot the oppression of Black people, the above terms are what you have to judge your involvement—or not—in struggles like the battle to free the Jena 6. And if you were clear on the terms here but did not get involved, why was this so? It would be good to hear from other readers on what were the factors that contributed to this passivity. Was it the pull of identity politics in the sense of seeing the protests as good and correct but that it was a “Black people thing” and didn’t concern you? Was it fear about stepping out and possible repercussions and repressions from the state? Preoccupation with your own daily pressures? Indifference out of self-satisfaction that you personally “aren’t a racist”? Or what? Whatever the answer, to be neutral or inactive is to support the racist status quo.
Ok, so acting like this case doesn’t involve you and standing aside from it is a big negative. But let’s look a moment at the positive side—of the difference it makes if people of all nationalities including many, many white people step forward actively in this fight.
The Unity We Don’t Need and the Unity We Do Need
I mentioned earlier the calls for “reconciliation” and “all coming together” that have been going on in Jena. This is definitely not the unity needed since it is a call to get people to come together on the basis of the current relations of inequality and oppression in Jena—and beyond. Instead, people of all nationalities speaking out and throwing in with the struggle to Free the Jena 6, which is a concentrated example and actual dividing line around the oppression of Black people, would be an important step in forging the capacity to actually win this battle and take the overall struggle against national oppression further. The authorities are very determined to pursue the prosecution of these youths and there have been threats made against the defendants and their families. Those who understand what is at stake need to be no less determined and in this vein draw in broader forces and spread this battle far wider.
A great step was taken by the thousands who came out on September 20 and this has already had far-reaching impact. Drawing forward far greater numbers of people of all different nationalities, would be an important further step in beginning to forge the kind of unity needed to not only win this battle, but to bring into being a world without oppression and exploitation. In particular, white people “breaking ranks” and totally refusing to side with the authorities and the supposed “white side” of the situation in Jena and instead standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Black people who have stepped on the political stage can have very, very important impact on challenging the relatively broad section of whites in this country caught up in or influenced by the essentially racist justifications of this, or just confused or complacent about the situation.
Despite the perks or crumbs of privilege (depending on your status), it actually is in the real interests of the vast majority of people, including the majority of white people, to live in a society free of white supremacy, inequality and all other oppression. But spontaneously, people tend to go with the flow—the way things are and have been and with especially the dominant “me first” mentality that flows from the structure of our society and which that structure also thrives on. The “crumbs” of white privilege are material—but the material impact of the ideological and yes, moral, stand of people of all different nationalities standing strong together demanding “no more” to national oppression can be very powerful. In short, it helps people see what is right and where their interests fundamentally lie and helps break them away from the thinking and grip of the ruling powers.
And even beyond, many more people of other nationalities, Latinos and other oppressed groups as well as many whites, wholeheartedly joining the righteous side of this battle will have a heartening impact on those who are already actually clearer on the terms here and outraged over what has happened and have even stepped out already on history’s stage. It can even serve to strengthen the resolve of those who already yearn for revolution. Unity among different nationalities, including in the proletariat but also among broader allies, based on fighting against white supremacy and inequality, is crucial and precious. It helps cut through any feelings of isolation of the advanced who have stepped out and helps combat the conservatizing and demoralizing weight that such feelings can have on people. It is added confirmation that those that have stepped out have right on their side and aids their resolve, including in the face of inevitable counter-attacks. And it helps show, in embryo, actual revolutionary possibilities and could be an inspiration of how we could bring forward a truly different world. This struggle and unity on this basis is an important element of preparing the ground for revolution.
Discrimination, lack of opportunity, abuse, brutality and lives stolen by the police have been a daily reality for Black people in this country. Even the few who “make it” often get singled out for public censure over any weakness or mistake that comes to light to the point where sometimes it feels like it’s a fucking national pastime to verbally flog Black athletes in the media. Nooses in schoolyards, and now proliferating around the country. The human potential of literally millions smothered and crushed. This and much more is the oppressive reality of what it means to be Black in the United States. We may look back and find that September 20, 2007 turned out to be a major turning point where after more than a decade of relative quiet in the face of all this, a sleeping giant began to stand up and declare “no more!”
If you missed out in participating in the events of September 20 for any reason it is time to step forward now, take up the fight to Free the Jena 6 and also get involved with October 22nd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. Attend or organize demonstrations on October 22; wear black on that day. Stand up and challenge the powers-that-be and the epidemic of state-sponsored brutality throughout the ghettos and barrios of this country. Contest for the hearts and minds of people, including those who either think this doesn’t affect them or are pulled to identify with the white supremacist status quo. What you do—or do not do—in relation to all this could very well have a bearing on how we will look back on September 20 and what potential there is for the future.
Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
Jena, Louisiana: There has been yet another great injustice and outrage in the case of the Jena 6. On October 11, Mychal Bell was returned to jail after a hearing in juvenile court, which went on all day and into the night. District Attorney Reed Walters and the judge, J.P. Mauffrey—the very same people who originally tried and convicted Mychal Bell—worked together to push through what amounts to a legal act of revenge against Mychal Bell and the tens of thousands of people who have joined the struggle to free the Jena 6. The judge ruled that the current charges (stemming from December 2006) mean Bell is in violation of his probation from previous juvenile offenses.
Mychal Bell and five other youth were unjustly arrested and still face serious charges and decades of jail—for standing up against the hanging of nooses, for standing up against racism. The District Attorney continues to spread the lie that this case is about the so-called “victim,” Justin Barker, who the Jena 6 are accused of beating up. But it has been clear from the very beginning of the events leading up to this fight—students sitting under a “whites-only tree,” nooses being hung, and racist attacks on Black students—that this prosecution is about the system enforcing white supremacy and punishing these youth for daring to stand up to racism. (See revcom.us for full coverage of the case of the Jena 6.)
Bell was tried and convicted by an all-white jury. The judge refused him bond. And then, even after a higher court overturned his conviction, Bell was still held in jail. Finally, on September 27, he was released—after being UNJUSTLY held in jail for 10 months. And then he was put on house arrest and forced to wear a tracking device on his ankle. Now he has, once again, been ripped from his family and friends and thrown back behind bars. He has been ordered to do 18 months in a juvenile facility. And he is still facing trial in juvenile court for charges stemming from December 2006.
Like millions of Black youth in this country, Mychal Bell is being systematically criminalized by the so-called “justice system” of police, courts, probation conditions, and prisons. Four previous minor juvenile offenses have been held over Mychal’s head like a vicious threat. In fact, what is happening to Mychal Bell is EXACTLY what DA Reed Walters threatened to do in a school assembly when he told Black students who protested the hanging of nooses that he could make their lives disappear with a stroke of his pen.
DA Reed Walters adamantly claims that growing protests in support of the Jena 6 have not influenced his decisions in any way. But if there had not been mass outrage and protest around this whole case, Mychal Bell and the other youth of the Jena 6 would be “quietly,” and UNJUSTLY shuttled through the “justice system” and put into the system’s dungeons—just like so many of other Black youth in this country. By sending Mychal Bell back to jail, the DA and the judge are trying to send a face-slapping message to the people—that not only will they not “listen and be influenced by your protests,” but they will come back even more viciously. It is like the slave master cutting Kunta Kinte’s foot off to punish him for running away—and to send a message to all the other slaves that it is futile to fight. But the people must REFUSE to “learn this lesson.” The real lesson here is that where there is oppression there is resistance. Such resistance shows the power and potential of the people. And it shows the need and potential for all this to become part of a revolutionary struggle to bring about a whole new world.
Through all this, the system is delivering a message that if you are Black and you take a stand against racism, if you don’t tolerate nooses, “whites-only trees,” and free rein for white supremacy—if you try to stand against all this, then full force will be brought down on you to put you in your place. None of this should be accepted and tolerated by anyone that cares about what is right and what is just. This new outrage further underscores the need for the people to double and triple our determination to continue the struggle until ALL the charges are dropped and ALL of the Jena 6 are FREE.
As we go to press, a call is being issued for Tuesday, October 16 to be a National Mobilization to Demand Free Mychal Bell! Free the Jena 6! Drop All the Charges! Tuesday morning, as a hearing is held on the Jena 6 in Washington, D.C. where Mychal Bell's parents will be fighting for their son to be released, people will demonstrate at 9 a.m. outside the Rayburn House Office Building on Independence between 1st Street and South Capitol in D.C. On October 16, all over the country, people will WEAR BLACK and RALLY IN TOWNS AND CITIES NATIONWIDE AT 12 NOON demanding Free Mychal Bell, Drop All The Charges, Free The Jena 6!
And the demand to Free the Jena 6 should be an important part of the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation on October 22nd.
Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
October 8, 2007. A World to Win News Service. The American elite killer force known as Blackwater—a kind of private SS unit—trained their heavy weapons on a traffic roundabout in Baghdad September 16 and murdered at least 11 Iraqis. Another 24 were shot and wounded.
An article in the Washington Post (October 4) traces the events of that day through the fate of five people shot down by Blackwater gunmen. “The victims were as young as 11 and as old as 55, according to hospital records. They were middle class and poor. They included college students, day labourers and professionals vital to rebuilding Iraq. There was a mother and her daughter. The daughter lived. There was a taxi driver, only 25, who was the sole provider for his parents and seven siblings. He died.”
The mercenaries wanted to clear the square of traffic so that another convoy carrying American diplomats could pass through. “As the Blackwater armoured vehicles entered the square, a heavily guarded area near Baghdad’s affluent Mansour neighbourhood, Iraqi police officers moved to stop traffic. Mehasin Muhsin Kadhum, and her son Haitham, who were in the flow of cars the officers were trying to stop, didn’t react quickly enough. A Blackwater guard fired, striking Haitham as he sat in the driver’s seat, three witnesses said.
“‘The bullet went through the windshield and split his head open,’ recalled traffic police officer Sarhan Thiab. ‘His mother was holding him, screaming for help.’ The car, which had an automatic transmission, kept rolling. Another officer, Ali Khalaf, tried to stop the vehicle as another spray of bullets killed Kadhum.
“Thiab fled first, then Khalaf, followed by bullets that struck a traffic light pole, a billboard and their police guard post. Then the Blackwater guards escalated their firepower, engulfing the sedan in flames…
“Blackwater guards said they fired upon the sedan because it was travelling at high speed and would not stop. Khalaf and other eyewitnesses said it was moving slowly and posed no threat.
“Within moments, bullets flew in every direction, said witnesses and police officials. Scores sought cover in a nearby embankment. Others abandoned their vehicles… ‘People were fleeing, but where could they go?’”
Sudarsan Raghavan’s article carefully recounts the human details of those whose deaths he describes. Other articles describe the extent and duration of the massacre. The shooters in four armored vehicles and two helicopters overhead unleashed bullets and explosives in all directions and throughout the roundabout. They cut down workers repairing a tunnel and others planting flowers in the center island. On the other side of the square was an old man riding a motor scooter, the Iraqi policeman Thiab mentioned above told another reporter, “There was a lot of traffic and he was trying to go around it and they shot him.” (Washington Post, October 8)
Was this all a mistake, an act of panic? It seems to have been standard procedure.
Why would they panic when no one was shooting at them? “There was no evidence that the Blackwater convoy came under fire directly or indirectly,” concluded an Iraqi government inquiry. “It was not hit even by a stone.”
Later, after leaving the square on the opposite side from where they had been shooting, about 150 meters away the same men opened fire again on another mass of cars, killing another person and wounding two more.
In the wake of the Nisoor Square massacre, many similar incidents have come to light. A former Blackwater employee told the Washington Post (October 3) that his 20-man team alone averaged four or five shootings a week. In 2006, at a party, an allegedly drunk Blackwater employee killed an Iraqi vice-presidential bodyguard. He was immediately flown out of the country and “punished” only by losing his job and bonuses. No official interest in Blackwater killings has ever been shown—until the company’s efforts to cover up this latest murder spree, with U.S. government complicity, thrust it into an unwelcome public spotlight.
Blackwater is the leader among dozens of similar companies working in Iraq. It is the main firm employed by the U.S. State Department to escort diplomats, visiting businessmen and other bigwigs. The U.S. decreed a law that keeps as many as 50,000 military “private contractors,” like the regular American occupation forces, safe from any possibility of prosecution by Iraqis, which reduces the Iraqi government’s current cries of indignation to a worthless gesture. These gun-toting mercenaries are mostly former U.S. soldiers, often recently retired from special operations and commando units that operate much like the private militia they belong to now. They are an important advantage for the U.S. government. In addition to keeping the number of regular troops down by a quarter to a third, their private employment makes it possible to use them in a more flexible way, and makes their actions “deniable” as far as U.S. government responsibility is concerned. They are men who have already proven their loyalty, at least to the dollar, and their willingness and ability to do very dirty work. Unlike regular troops, they are sworn to silence under the threat of crushing fines. They can’t be punished for anything they do, only for telling someone about it.
Along with similar outfits, Blackwater is also violently at work in the occupation of Afghanistan. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, its commandos were sent to police Black people in New Orleans, in the “homeland” of the empire that employs them.
The company is thoroughly connected with the government. Its executives are all former high government “counter-terrorism” officials, CIA officials, or commandos. They also train 40,000 police assault teams and law enforcement personnel a year. From this it can be safely assumed that they follow standard—if not always officially admitted—American military/intelligence/police practices.
Blackwater’s chief executive, Erik Prince, worked for the first president Bush (whom he considered too “liberal”) and is a major contributor to the present president’s party. So are several of his family members, some of whom are influential Republican operatives. He is also a religious fanatic closely connected to the Christian fundamentalist movement, a common trait among today’s U.S. military officers. (Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Jeremy Scahill, Nation Books, 2007.) That book compares Blackwater to the Praetorian Guard, the personal army of Roman emperors. An American columnist called it a symptom of an emerging “evangelical-military complex.” Prince himself compares his gunmen to the armed prophets of the Bible doing god’s work.
Although much of this has come out in the media, members of the U.S. Congress and other leading American politicians and much of the media itself have portrayed Blackwater as a rogue organization whose Iraq operations are outside of and even counter to official channels and policies.
To show that’s not true, it would be enough to cite the enormous number of similar massacres and other atrocities committed by regular forces just doing what they always do. One recent news item can stand for the rest:
A U.S. Marine unit rampaged through Haditha in northwestern Iraq’s Anbar province on November 19, 2005, killing 24 people, including seven children, three women and several elderly men. Angry about the bombing death of a U.S. soldier as their convoy sped through town, they decided to get revenge on anyone they could find. First they went up to a taxi and killed all five people inside. Then over the next few hours they broke into three houses, killing all the occupants. Five unarmed men were gunned down while they had their hands in the air.
The story would never have gotten out if a local human rights activist had not shot video footage immediately after the killings, which the American military had already justified as self-defense in the face of a “terrorist attack.” The outcry in Iraq was echoed abroad, and forced the U.S. to respond. The sergeant leading the unit, who along with another soldier had shot the five men, was charged with murder.
Almost two years later, as the “investigation” of the crime rolls lazily along, the investigating officer recommended October 5 that the charges against him be reduced to a far lesser offence, negligent homicide. The general overseeing the case had already dropped all charges against four of the eight accused Marines. Sergeant Frank Wuterich said he was sorry about the deaths but that he and his men were only following standard procedure. In his defense, his lawyer said, “There has never been any inkling that any of these Marines lost control or went on a rampage.”
In other words, like the Blackwater shooters, the Haditha Marines did what they were supposed to do—and in their case, so far, at least, the U.S. government has confirmed that.
The father of one of the Nisoor Square victims asked, “Why is the blood of Iraqis so free for everyone to spill?”
…The American troops in Iraq are all occupiers, whether on the public or private payroll, and they fight like occupiers whose enemy is a whole people...
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
We received the following correspondence.
I am writing this from Philadelphia, where something backward and wrong is about to go down, beginning October 21, that needs to be opposed.
A “Call” has been issued by a number of Black groups and individuals for 10,000 Black men to patrol and help deter crime and violence in some of the city’s poor Black neighborhoods. The plan is for these “peacekeepers” to work closely with the police.
There is no question that crime and violence are major problems in many of Philly’s Black communities, especially among Black youth. A recent Philadelphia Inquirer article said that from 1998 through 2006, 2,883 people were murdered in Philadelphia, 85% of them Blacks killed by other Blacks and almost half under the age of 34. So far this year, 315 people, overwhelmingly Black youth, have been killed. The local media have designated Philadelphia “the murder capital” of the country. And the “Call for 10,000 Black men” is being promoted as the Black community’s response to this.
This initiative is spearheaded by the Philadelphia Millions More Movement, along with Black entertainment moguls Kenny Gamble and Charles “Charlie Mack” Alston, Rodney Mohammed of the Nation of Islam, E. Steven Collins of Clear Channel One radio, Jerry Mondesire of the NAACP, Mark Burrell of Men United, plus some 100 community organizations. (Their website is www.10000menphilly.com.)
Under the initiative, the unarmed “peacekeepers” will be trained in “conflict resolution” and serve as “mentors” to the youth. The police, meanwhile, will identify the Black communities and areas to be patrolled, and the cops will accompany the patrols. Police Commissioner Johnson has praised the initiative and said that he recently attended a conference of police chiefs who expressed strong interest in Philadelphia’s 10,000-men effort. This obviously makes him happy, but it shouldn’t make any right-thinking person happy at all.
Why? Because this “Call for 10,000 Black men” is nothing but a recipe for bringing down further disaster on oppressed Black people. It is based on the notion, propagated by those like Bill Cosby (who is a Philadelphian), that Black people themselves are to blame for their oppression; that the break-up of Black families causes Black-on-Black crime; that the absence of strong Black fathers and role models has caused Black youth to become “street thugs,” killing each other over nonsense. (And the patriarchal nature of this “Call” should be noted—it’s 10,000 Black MEN.)
But this is false. The root cause of the crime and violence in these communities is the capitalist-imperialist system, which was founded and then developed on the backs of slaves and cannot survive today without the continued super-exploitation and oppression of Black people and other national minorities. It is this system that deprives the majority of Black people of decent jobs or any work at all, deprives them of decent education, health care and housing. And in order to try and keep Black people down when they grow angry and rebellious in the face of these horrible conditions, it is this system that sends in its armed occupiers, its police forces.
What does it say about this system that, since 1998, ninety people, most of them Black youth, have been killed by Philadelphia cops? Sixty-six of these killings have occurred in the past five years, and 34 in the past two years alone. And these are the police we are supposed to cooperate with and become human shields for as they do what they are supposed to do—act as the enforcers of this system that has always held Black folks down? The cops who, in 1985 (let’s not forget about this!) presided over the savage murder of 11 members of the Black MOVE group, including six children, by dropping a bomb on their house and then letting the entire neighborhood burn to the ground?
As I walked around the Black North Philly neighborhood last week, an older Black man spoke with bitterness. “Look, this is nothing more than a big snitch network. It won’t work because it doesn’t address the causes of crime and violence. You have young people out here who have nothing and fear nothing ‘cause they see no hope for the future. They see friends and family members go to school, graduate and try to make it and still get harassed or worse by the police. I used to think maybe if we just had more Black people in office things could get better. So I voted for Wilson Goode for mayor. And what did we get? Housing? Jobs? Community programs to help working families? No, we got the murder of 11 MOVE people and the burning down of a whole neighborhood.”
Philadelphia used to be the fourth-largest city in the country. But since the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, huge population shifts have occurred. This has been mostly due to the devastating loss of industries and jobs in the city, as companies have pulled out, seeking to lower costs, including labor costs. Steel and auto factories accounted for the loss of roughly 100,000 jobs when they closed down, better-paying jobs that many Black people had been able to get. This has caused people, mainly Black people, to move from Philadelphia in search of work or to take much lower-paying jobs in nearby communities. And Black youth caught in the city’s ghettos have been especially hard hit, in most cases not able to find any work at all.
A 22-year-old Black woman who opposed the “Call” told me she had spent two years in jail: “In prison I got hooked up with some education courses and when I got out last year I decided to go to school. But they are also disbanding some of these jail programs. It’s like they don’t care. They just want you to rot in there and then when you do get out there’s no hope for a job. If you tell the truth while being interviewed about being in jail, you don’t get hired. And if you lie on the job application and they find out, you get fired. It’s almost as if they want you to be a criminal.”
A number of people I spoke with in North Philly supported the “Call” because they desperately want the Black-on-Black killings and violence to stop. While the desire to bring an end to this crime and violence is understandable, people need to be struggled with to see that if you are working with the police, whose role—whatever their nationality—is to be the enforcers of this system and the conditions it has created and maintained, and to brutalize the masses regularly as part of doing this, then, whatever your intentions, objectively you are working against the interests of the people and are actually helping the oppressors and contributing to the perpetuation of the system that is the very problem in the first place.
What about the bad things the youth are doing to others and themselves? The anger that explodes in people doing things against each other under this system needs to be channeled against the real oppressor.
What is urgently needed in this situation is not things like the “Call for 10,000 Black men,” but the development of a revolutionary movement and a revolutionary movement of women and men who militantly resist all the ways this system comes down on people and who strive to bring about a much better world. A world where the creativity and energy of youth can be unleashed and given flight, rather than locked down and crushed.
A Black youth in North Philly, hanging out on a stoop with some of his buddies, was quiet for most of the back-and-forth conversation. He was reading the Jena 6 article in a recent issue of Revolution. But as I was about to leave he spoke up. “I took off school that Wednesday when the students at Temple University held their protest march down Broad Street in support of the Jena 6, and I joined the march. It was the first time I felt like there was something important to be doing. They talk about our crime, violence and murder, yet they never talk about their crime and the murder, violence and injustice that my people have faced. If your revolution will change this, then I’m with it.”
Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
“Revolution is my favorite newspaper, I look forward to information I can trust in each and every issue. It is the spirit and action of revolution. Rock on with your revolutionary self.”
—Richard Montoya of Culture Clash
“Project Censored finds some of the most thoroughly researched, well written and deeply analyzed news reportage in Revolution newspaper. ‘Mexico - Rumbling Volcano’ provided valuable insight and background on U.S. involvement in Mexico’s 2006 Presidential Election.”
—Tricia Boreta of Project Censored [The article from Revolution newspaper,
“Mexico: The Political Volcano Rumbles” has been chosen by Project Censored for inclusion in “Censored 2008:
The Top 25 Censored Stories.”]
While being shuffled around in this prison unit I so happened into a cell that had a copy of Revolution (April 2nd) lying on the floor. Being an avid reader, and curious by nature, I proceeded to read the paper keeping in mind that my culture has painted communism as the ideology of the atheistic devil-worshipers whose only goal is to oppress the common man into total submission to the state. Since I have “Enemy of the State” boldly tattooed across my breastbone, I’m obviously against any ideology that promotes further oppression. However from what I was able to read from Revolution, after several readings, it seemed that I had been misled and communism has possibly been misrepresented to me. I would be very interested in learning more about Mr. Bob Avakian and the Revolutionary Communist Party, unfortunately I’m indigent and, as such, only able to rely on the charity and good intentions of person outside willing to donate to my education. I would very much like to subscribe to Revolution, but of course I lack the funds…
—A prisoner in Texas
Revolution #105, October 21, 2007
“I’ve decided to dig deep and donate to help distribute Revolution as widely as possible”
I’ve decided to dig deep and donate to help distribute Revolution as widely as possible. People have many questions in this time of crisis in the U.S. empire, from New Orleans to Iraq. The 9-11 attacks and the official reaction begged the question: What was the U.S. doing to cause that kind of feedback? What is “Islamic” resistance really about? People who’ve been frightened and confused deserve more than the orchestrated flag-waving chauvinism spewed by the reactionary leaders of this country, and their lackey press. People deserve sharp, clear analysis of what’s really going on. Getting Revolution into as many hands as possible can help to put a fresh, new world view out there—helping to counter the constant drumbeat for war pushed by the corporate media. Because their imperialist system is under attack, the last shreds of our legal and human rights are quickly being stripped away. Torture, spying, deportations, jailing and mass murder have become the “accepted” Order throughout the U.S. “homeland” and empire today. Many older folks say this is the worst they’ve ever seen it. The agenda of Bush—and the Democrats who enable him—becomes crystal clear: Make endless war on the world, and damn the rights of the people everywhere—all to support their oil, money and empire. In that context, Revolution can serve as a powerful tool for organizing necessary, mass resistance to resurgent fascism in this country. It can also provide a basis for what we need to do in opposition to all this: bring forward fresh, new ideas for the task ahead. We can dare to build a whole new world—an alternative that brings forth human potential instead of stifling it in endless war and ruthless exploitation. This criminal system has long worn out its place on the world stage—and will be deservedly consigned to the dustbin of history
-– From a reader and University of California, Berkeley staff member (non faculty)
From Watts: “You Should Give Too!”
“I want to do something positive with my time and my life. I can help change the world. I’m going to read the Revolution newspaper, watch positive movies and write down some things that can help change the world. I’m going to get a lot of boys and girls together to help the revolution. Many of them don’t know how this system makes us slaves. They don’t know that we all should be fighting for each other, all races of people.
Most people in the projects don’t have the freedom to get together and discuss all these things going on in the world. They are being beat down and arrested by the police, locked up in jail. People in other countries have to pay to go to school. They don’t have free time, some people like immigrants don’t have family members because they get snatched from them. It shouldn’t be this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way, a better world is possible.
The Revolution newspaper and Bob Avakian helps me to understand this. We should get together and protest, we should get Bush out of the White House. We should come together and raise donations for the Revolution newspaper. I want to get kids together after school and walk around and get donations. The paper needs to be out here big. The pictures in the paper should be in frames in restaurants. I’m giving $10 to the Revolution. You should give too!“
–From a 14-year-old in Watts
Revolution #105, October 21, 2007