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Revolution #108, November 11, 2007
The massive wildfires that swept through Southern California at the end of October were big news in the mainstream media. But what went largely untold were the outrages that were happening to immigrants and the cold-hearted way the system treated
all the victims of this disaster. In this issue, Revolution is publishing two correspondences we received from Southern California, along with an excerpt from a statement by an immigrant rights group, shedding light on these hidden outrages.
Over 10,000 people sought refuge in San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium. The mainstream media claimed the scene was “like a massive tailgate party.” On one level, it’s true that thousands of people who were allowed into Qualcomm for a short time, were not subjected to the same forms of degradation that the overwhelmingly Black and poor people in the Superdome were subjected to after Hurricane Katrina. But the correspondence in this issue reveals that many people in dire need were not allowed even blankets, food, or shelter. Farm workers were forced to stay in the fields as fires approached. African-Americans were singled out for suspicion. The authorities and the media made a big deal about some of the people getting help being so-called “freeloaders,” as if people going to the stadium for a free meal and some pampers and a blanket—which is NOT what was happening—would have been some kind of crime. As desperate people came to Qualcomm Stadium for food, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that six undocumented immigrants were accused of stealing relief supplies and arrested by Border Patrol agents. Police announced that “They were stealing from the people in need.” The newspaper article claimed that one of the people arrested confessed to being paid to take things of value from the stadium. The next day, an article in the Union-Tribune revealed that the people apprehended and deported were two couples, one with three children. A Union-Tribune reporter who spoke with some of the deportees over the phone from Tijuana reported that the people said they did not confess to stealing anything. They said that they were taking items donated to them as they prepared to return home, and this was confirmed by eyewitnesses. This highly publicized demonization and deportation of immigrants seeking help was, in effect, a death sentence for immigrants in the form of a message to not seek life-saving help next time there is a natural disaster. Four charred bodies are suspected to be the remains of immigrants caught in the flames.
No one was allowed to stay at Qualcomm without a “proper” ID, barring undocumented immigrants, the homeless, or people who lost all their papers in the fires.
And then, on Friday, October 26, those who were able to produce all the required papers were kicked out of Qualcomm so that the San Diego Chargers could play the Houston Texans in the stadium. People were sent back to neighborhoods blanketed with toxic smoke and without running water. There, government “assistance centers” offered help with insurance and mental health counseling.
Even while the media reported that tons of supplies were donated to people in need, the system could only bring itself to mete out limited survival rations to some people—and even then with the message “don’t get used to it” stamped all over the operation. Police even threatened to taser a volunteer, a Filipino-American, for making two trips to supply victims with supplies. And in case anyone was confused about this system’s priorities, a football game was considered more important than the thousands of people staying in Qualcomm. For the middle class: a few days of “charity,” then beat it.
For people on the bottom of society, an even colder message: you have no right to the basic necessities of life, no matter what, and if you try to get a meal or a blanket, you’ll be branded “looters” and deported.
The crops that immigrant farm workers were picking as the fires approached the fields were not being grown so that people could eat. They were commodities for capitalists to appropriate for sale. The farm workers in those fields were chained to their jobs, forced to risk their lives to pick those crops by that same capitalist system and its enforcers—knowing that if they fled, instead of shelter and food, there would be only arrest and deportation.
The San Diego fires were a terrible disaster. Hundreds of thousands of people of all strata were, and still are, in dire need. This is a society that can produce huge amounts of the things people need. But whatever miserly assistance was doled out to the victims of this disaster was done in a way that reinforced the operation of, and the values and morality of, a system built on exploitation.
Revolution #108, November 11, 2007
We received the following correspondence from a reader in Southern California. It has been excerpted and edited by Revolution:
Every year between October and December, the hot, dry, erratic Santa Anas pay us a visit. The Santa Ana winds are caused by a cool high-pressure system in the Great Basin above Nevada and Utah and a warmer low-pressure system along the Southern California coast. They flow like a river picking up speed, heating up and drying out as they sink and flow across the desert. Then, like rapids they swirl, eddy and accelerate as they push through the narrow Southern California canyons and passes, sometimes gusting to hurricane strength—70, 80, 100 miles per hour.
This is fire season. When the hillsides are dried out from rainless summers and the Santa Anas come through, any spark can become a raging wildfire in a few minutes’ time.
Fires are a fact of life this time of year. But this year, in a single week 15 fires exploded in Southern California and across the border into Mexico to become the largest wildfire and one of the most destructive in the history of California. Seven people killed. Over half a million acres burned. Almost 2,000 homes destroyed. What happened?
The Daily Green website points out that in a scientific paper published a year ago, co-authored by Tom Swetnam of the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, and Anthony Westerling, of the University of California-San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the scientists concluded that the changing climate was a greater influence on wildfire activity and intensity than forest management.
There were four times as many major wildfires between 1986 and 2004 than there were from 1970 to 1986, and a six-fold increase in the area of forest burned in the western United States. The active wildfire season has increased by more than two months, and individual fires are burning longer—up from barely a week on average to more than five weeks.
As spring and summer temperatures have increased, snowpacks in the mountains have melted earlier—between one week and one month earlier, on average, than 50 years ago. Since snow melt is responsible for 75 percent of annual stream flow, the decrease in snowpack drains regional streams and rivers, leading in turn to a drop in humidity.
The website concludes that “while no one event can be attributed to climate change—no one can say that global warming caused these fires in California—we can say that fires like these may well become more likely as global warming changes conditions on the ground.”
Ignoring the Fire Dangers
The destructive reach of the fire in terms of homes and structures was made possible by the building of whole subdivisions in high-risk zones. Time magazine said that 50% of the new homes built in California since 1982 have been built in severe-fire zones. Land speculators, developers, and city councils encourage development and these subdivisions push deep into the canyons and to the edge of the forests.
Four years after the single most destructive fire in California history—the Cedar fire in San Diego that burned 300,000 acres and destroyed 2,000-plus homes—what do you call it when the federal, state, and county governments ignore the fire danger that threatens life and property?
The San Diego County fire chief at the time resigned in protest when the powers-that-be launched a campaign to defeat his call for an increase in taxes to expand the fire department. San Diego County has 975 firefighters and 1 firefighting helicopter for 330 square miles and 1.3 million residents. In comparison, San Francisco has 1,600 firefighters for 60 square miles and 850,000 residents. San Diego County has no county-wide system and relies on volunteer firefighters in small cities and towns.
This scattered and under-equipped force was no match for the three massive fires that broke out. Not enough firefighters, not enough equipment, not enough aircraft. Firefighters were spread so thin that whole neighborhoods were left to burn without a fire truck in sight. Two-thirds of the land burned, three-quarters of the homes lost, and all the deaths were in San Diego.
After 2003 Schwartzenegger appointed a blue ribbon panel to recommend what California had to do to meet the next inevitable fire threat. They recommended getting 150 new fire engines, replacing the Vietnam-era helicopters and increasing the number of firefighters staffing each truck from three to four. Only 18 new fire engines have been ordered and none have arrived. The helicopters have not been replaced.
Bush has been decimating the Forest Service budget and outsourcing firefighting. The service has become disorganized and bureaucratic, incapable of responding quickly to forest fires. The number of National Guard available for natural disaster has been drastically cut due to guard duty on the U.S.-Mexican border and deployment to Iraq.
One lesson we could draw: the people who run this system don’t care much about middle class white people either. There are classes in this country, and there is racism and national oppression. People from different classes and nationalities are treated differently. But this system let the neighborhoods of some very wealthy people (along with the less wealthy and the poor) burn down. They enticed people to buy land and build homes in high fire-risk areas. They refused to protect people from a fire danger that they have studied and restudied. In the aftermath of the fires, even those middle class folks with insurance will find it difficult to recover the real value of what they lost.
But not to worry: businesses are gleefully drooling over the prospect of hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance money, up to $1.25 billion, pouring into the area. Says insurancenewsnet.com: “The California economy is about to receive a much needed injection of insurer capital that will help revive its construction and homebuilding industries, boost the retail, service, hotel and restaurant sectors and in turn increase tax revenues for local, state and federal governments.”
Let’s see: first they let a place burn down, then build it up again and wait for the next fire. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories (these fires were not planned), but industries know there’s profit to be made in this disaster, and they are stepping up to the food trough to feast.
Untold Story: Undocumented Immigrants
In San Diego County it is estimated that 1,600 agricultural laborers live in camps with no running water, electricity or sanitation systems spread throughout the hillsides and canyons, sometimes just a stone’s throw from neighborhoods of million-dollar homes. Agriculture is a $1.5 billion industry in San Diego County, which has the second highest number of farms in the country. These farms run on immigrant labor.
On top of the terror of the rapidly advancing fires, soldiers with loaded M-16s were reported to be patrolling the shelters in Hummers, and 300 Border Patrol agents were called on for help in “watching for looters, monitoring affected neighborhoods and safety control,” together with police and sheriffs. In this situation, the immigrant population was subjected to a repressive encirclement that in many cases forced them to stay in the fire areas and punished them with the threat of deportation if they tried to use the services that were supposed to be set up for relief.
Of the seven people killed by the fires, four were immigrants—two men and two women—who burned to death in a canyon near the border town of Tecate. Eleven Mexican immigrants, also found near Tecate, are in the University of California-San Diego Medical Center burn unit; four of them are in critical condition. Even as they lie suffering with the excruciating pain of severe burns, they were kept in the cross-hairs of the anti-immigrant crusaders. The San Diego Union newspaper quoted Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, saying that these fire victims should be sent back to Mexico for medical care: “I think there is a plausible cause to make for people who were sneaking across the border at the time of the injury, and clearly don’t have any business to be there. We should tap the Mexican government to say, ‘we need to share the burden here.’” That’s just a half breath away from saying that the immigrants have no right to medical care.
Capitalism didn’t cause the searing wildfires that charred hundreds of thousands of acres and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings throughout Southern California. But it did intensify the destruction and cost in human life, revealing in very stark ways the ugly relations it promotes among people. The dominant property relations of capitalism were protected. Those on the bottom—the immigrant laborers, the unemployed and impoverished, people of color—continued to be the objects of repression and coercion through this whole thing; indeed, the machinery of capitalist dictatorship took special care to keep these masses “in their place” through harassment, arrests, deportation, etc. all backed up by their monopoly on the use of force.
Imagine the same climate and topography—the Santa Ana and wildfires—but a totally different society. One where the whole orientation of society was not toward protecting and extending the private accumulation of wealth in a few hands, but toward the masses and their needs. One where the machinery of state—including the monopoly on the use of force—was protecting and extending social relations that were attempting to eliminate exploitation, and were only to be used against those who were trying to restore that exploitation. In short, a socialist rather than a capitalist society; a dictatorship of the proletariat, moving toward the elimination of classes and class distinctions, rather than a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, which reinforces those distinctions, and the oppression that goes with them, at every turn. What if the government, aware of the fire danger each year, enlisted and trained thousands of volunteers who could be called on to fight the fires if they got out of control? What if profit was no longer the motive force of society and it was not allowed to be the deciding factor in decisions about land use—but instead we could actually decide to set these high fire risk areas aside for conservation or recreation or farming or some other less risky use? What if we actually paid attention to scientists, or the Indians who used to live on these lands, who understood the importance of controlled burning of the underbrush so fuel doesn’t accumulate and lay the basis for the next cataclysmic firestorm? What if we were struggling to break down differences between people, so that in times of crises no one is treated as an outcast and the heroism of the masses can be fully unleashed? (Along with all the other stories of heroism in the face of danger during the current fires, I heard a story about four immigrants who stayed behind in the wealthy San Diego area of Rancho Bernardo and saved several houses.)
That would be a state power, and a society, worth fighting for. As the outrages of the San Diego fires bring home yet again: WE NEED A REVOLUTION.
Revolution #108, November 11, 2007
This correspondence is from José Fusté, a graduate student in the Ethnic Studies Department at UC San Diego:
It is important that people know that the government’s response to San Diego fires has not been as benevolent as the news media has made it out to be. For immigrant families, this is in no way an “anti-Katrina.” Immigrants in San Diego County are being neglected by emergency evacuators, put in danger by their employers, treated rudely by authorities and volunteers, refused aid at evacuation sites, and racially profiled by police and deported by the Border Patrol.
There are two important sides to this story that show this has been a recurrent pattern for the past week:
Immigrants are being neglected by authorities and forced to work in farms adjacent to fires.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported today [October 25] that many immigrants living in remote canyons and fields near the fires are not evacuating. In some cases, authorities have not informed them of mandatory evacuations in their areas of residence. Others don’t want to leave their homes either because they are afraid of losing their jobs or are scared of getting caught by the Border Patrol.
Today, Border Patrol agents found the charred bodies of four people—three men and a woman—in a canyon in Potrero. Authorities presume them to be immigrants and are trying to determine how they died. Some are saying they might have been border crossers but some are speculating they may have been canyon dwellers who failed to evacuate. Up until today, these amount to roughly one quarter of all deaths directly and indirectly caused by the fires.
This afternoon, I spoke with Enrique Morones, founder and director of Border Angels. He and other volunteers have been touring rural areas trying to convince immigrant families to evacuate. He reports that there have been numerous instances in which immigrant laborers are being told to stay working in farms inside mandatorily evacuated areas, with not even breathing masks to protect their health. This poses a great risk for them primarily because of the polluted air they are breathing.
I also spoke to Greg Morales from Border Angels and the Mexican American Poets Association. He is the person in charge of receiving food and water donations for immigrants at the historic Chicano Park in the community of Barrio Logan. He reports that authorities are neglecting and in some instances impeding their efforts to bring critical supplies to immigrants in the affected areas. In the past three days, they have loaded about two hundred vehicles full of supplies. Volunteers have been trying to transport these goods to the immigrant communities that need them most. Several of them attempted to take these supplies to Potrero, a rural community in the fire zone near the Tecate crossing of the U.S.-Mexico border. California Highway Patrol officials tried to prevent them from entering and reportedly said to them: “Why do you want to go into Potrero? Most people have gone. There’s nothing but drug dealers there now.”
This morning, volunteers gathering donations at Chicano Park received an unwelcome visit from seven members of the Minutemen. They have also received visits from people accusing them of distributing supplies stolen from other evacuee shelters, something that everybody working there emphatically denied. Volunteers have also been intimidated by police officers who have scrutinized their operation all day. When I asked Mr. Morales what help, if any, they had received from authorities, he responded: “the only thing we’ve gotten from the government is police harassment this morning, giving us grief for being here.”
Immigrant evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium are threatened with deportation and mistreated by authorities and volunteers.
Yesterday, the Union-Tribune reported that six illegal immigrants who were suspected of stealing relief supplies from Qualcomm Stadium—the largest of all evacuation sites—were arrested by Border Patrol agents. According to the article, a woman who saw them loading supplies unto a pickup truck reported them to police Sgt. Jesse Cesena. “They were stealing a lot of stuff,” Cesena said. The article claims that when officers intervened, one of the suspects confessed they were being paid to take things of value from the stadium.
Cesena said, “We took the stuff back and we escorted them out. They were stealing from the people in need.” The article then states that “because some members of the group spoke Spanish, officers called Border Patrol agents who were at the stadium for relief efforts. They determined the people were in the country illegally and arrested them.”
Today, the Union-Tribune wrote a new article clarifying what actually transpired (they have yet to make a formal correction). The article reveals that the people the Border Patrol apprehended and deported on Wednesday were two couples, one with three children. Originally they tried to deport a third family that was with them but because they produced documentation, they were released.
According to a Union-Tribune reporter who spoke with some of the deportees over the phone from Tijuana, they claim that contrary to initial reports by authorities, they did not confess to stealing anything. They said that they were taking items donated to them as they prepared to return home. This was also confirmed by eyewitnesses I spoke to today.
This incident caused a great deal of anxiety for immigrant families staying at Qualcomm. It prompted immigrant rights activists to go to the site and serve as legal observers and translators. Today, I spent half a day today working as a legal observer and a volunteer translator for the San Diego Coalition for Immigrant Rights. I spoke to Andrea Guerrero, an ACLU immigration rights lawyer and one of the people in charge of legal observers at the evacuation sites. Guerrero claims that the apprehensions and deportations of these immigrants are potentially illegal since San Diego Police Officers are not supposed to report undocumented immigrants to Border Patrol agents unless they are formally arrested and charged with a crime. I should note that none of the individuals deported were charged with robbery by San Diego police. She and other ACLU lawyers consulted this issue with the local police chief at the stadium. He admitted that the ordeal was poorly handled.
All of the ACLU lawyers and Immigrant Rights Consortium volunteers I spoke to are convinced that the arrest and deportation of these six immigrants was prompted by racial profiling. Today, I was able to observe how one African-American family was accused of stealing supplies as they loaded their belongings into their SUV. They assured officers and witnesses that they were taking supplies donated to them just like everybody else. This did not stop several overzealous European-American onlookers from writing down their license plate, taking digital camera pictures of their car, and commenting on their “audacity” for taking so many things.
Wednesday’s arrests and deportations together with what I witnessed at Qualcomm today reminded me of Katrina. We all know how in the aftermath of the hurricane, the media portrayed white residents of New Orleans who were taking supplies from destroyed shops as “scavengers” while simultaneously criminalizing African Americans doing the same as “looters.” That same type of racial profiling and criminalization is clearly occurring in San Diego during this catastrophe.
The deportation of these six immigrants was followed by a security crackdown at Qualcomm. Authorities set up ID verification checkpoints at all gates. They began to patrol the stadium asking people for proper identification. The city of San Diego claims this was done to prevent those who were not supposed to be staying there from taking donations, food, and drink. According to many people I spoke to, this scared a lot of immigrants staying at the site. Guerrero estimates that about 25 immigrant families left in fear of being apprehended. Many others were also forced out of the stadium last night for not showing proper identification. It is hard to tell how many but Guerrero estimates that up to a thousand were told to leave. We are assuming that this disproportionately affected immigrant families who were hesitant to show their ID. It also affected people who did not have a chance to bring their identification with them when they were being evacuated.
At Qualcomm, I spoke to about six immigrant families (approximately 30 people), most of whom confessed to me they were undocumented. All of them said that after the arrest of the six immigrants suspected of stealing supplies, they all felt extremely frightened they too would be deported. Most of them also complained of being treated rudely and unfairly by authorities and volunteers. One undocumented Mexican evacuee from Ramona I spoke to said that volunteers refused to give her a 12-pack of juice boxes as they gave the same pack to white evacuees. The Union-Tribune reports another similar incident: a woman said that “she asked a volunteer for diapers for her 2-year-old son, who had diarrhea, and was handed three individual diapers. Then when I was leaving, they gave an American woman a whole box, she said.” Legal observers/translators I spoke to today confirmed that they intervened in similar incidents. Another undocumented Mexican evacuee I spoke to said she has been staying in Qualcomm but after Wednesday’s arrest, she is too afraid to ask for food and supplies. Her husband—who is Guatemalan and also undocumented—reported that on Wednesday night, authorities threatened to evict his father-in-law from the stadium for not having proper identification. It was only after he intervened and showed them his driver’s license that they allowed him to stay.
People need to know that the same way that the government doesn’t care about working-class black people in New Orleans; it also doesn’t care about working-class Latino immigrant families in California.
For a detailed report on the numerous civil and human rights violations committed during the San Diego Wildfires, go to: http://www.immigrantsandiego.org.
Revolution #108, November 11, 2007
From the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium
The following is an excerpt from an Oct. 26 press release from the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium (SDIRC) about the treatment of immigrants and others at the Qualcomm stadium:
This morning, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis congratulated law enforcement for eradicating freeloaders from the stadium and stated that no evacuees would be allowed into the stadium without identification. Pursuant to an agreement…the SDIRC was allowed to set up a table inside the stadium between FEMA and Border Patrol. Half a dozen families approached the table stating that they had slept in the parking lot during the night as they had for several nights and when they attempted to enter, they were asked for their IDs. At least one family member in each family was undocumented and were intimidated. One evacuee, after failing to produce an ID, was asked what his immigration status was by a volunteer, then threatened that he might be arrested if immigration officials approached. The undocumented members were let in only because they had other family members who could show a license, a “green card,” a consular ID card, or an address. All homeless persons were turned away. No address, no service. All persons who failed to show any of the above and did not have a documented family member were turned away.
Another half dozen individuals informed us that they had been detained and questioned by police in the parking lot or while exiting the stadium for allegedly looting or taking more than their fair share of free donated items. Families were asked to count heads for all the blankets in their possession. Some families were taking items back to family members who were too scared to come in. In one instance, police put orange cones around a car until it was “cleared.” Towards the end of the day, families with undocumented members were afraid to leave or afraid to take any food or blankets with them for fear of being detained and deported, since they were doing no different than the family deported yesterday. We escorted some of them out.
It should be noted that it was not just immigrants, but other persons of color who were harassed and suspected of looting. An African American woman was harassed for making two trips with a baby stroller filled with items (I witnessed this one). She attempted to register a complaint with the police officer in charge who treated her poorly and refused to process a complaint. We took a written statement. She was so upset by the end of the day and afraid to leave with anything else, that she told me she was headed back to Oklahoma (she had only recently moved). A Filipino volunteer who had been helping people day and night was thrown out for making two trips out to cars, both times to assist people to their cars. The officer threatened to tazer him and charge him with trespassing. When the volunteer coordinator tried to intervene on behalf of the star volunteer, he was pushed out of the way. After the incident he was told not to talk to anyone. We filmed the incident and tried to talk to the volunteer coordinator, but he had recently survived deportation proceedings and was so scared (in part because he did not have his green card on him) that he considered walking away from his job right then and there. Another Latina woman was denied diapers for her baby because she was told there were none. She stepped aside and then watched as a white woman asked for the same size of diapers and was given them. The woman was upset and only successfully acquired diapers when Pedro from American Friends Service Committee went with her to ask. When I left today, there was a mountain (possibly 1,000 bags) of diapers. There was also a mountain of donated items that could have served 10 times the number of people left in the stadium. The whole afternoon, we watched white evacuees take cases of water and other large loads to their cars without being questioned.
Revolution #107, November 4, 2007
MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY
PART 1: BEYOND THE NARROW HORIZON OF BOURGEOIS RIGHT (CONTINUED)
Editors’ Note: The following is the fourth 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.
The Rupture with Outmoded Thinking and Beliefs
Bound up with all this are important questions of epistemology (theory of knowledge). There is the urgent need for people to take up a thoroughly scientific, materialist and dialectical outlook and method. There’s a need, even on the part of communists—and obviously more broadly in society—for further ruptures with, and for winning people away from, idealism and metaphysics, which gets expressed in innumerable and seemingly very creative, and actually sometimes very creative, ways and variations. People are constantly regenerating various forms of philosophical idealism and metaphysics, which posit the existence of—and give a pivotal place and determining role to—beings, or “forces” and “causes,” that are said to be beyond the realm of the material universe—things which, in reality, do not exist.
Obviously, there is religion. We run into this all the time: You’ll be having a discussion with somebody and they’ll be agreeing with you about many things that are terribly wrong in the world, and then at a certain point they will say: “But, you know, it’s all in God’s hands”; or, “God’s gonna take care of things and deal with those people, pretty soon now.” Yeah, God’s been doing a great job with that so far! Still, this is constantly regenerated. These religious notions don’t appear out of, or arise out of, the mist or out of nowhere, but of course have their roots, historically, in the ignorance, the lack of knowledge, of human beings in early society; but they have been carried forward, codified and institutionalized by ruling classes throughout the ages as part of enforcing their rule. Clearly, this is something that the ruling classes throughout history, and down to today, have recognized as important for the maintenance of their rule (whether or not individual members of those ruling classes actually believed in the religions they promoted among the masses).
In a general sense, this kind of thinking is very widespread among people, in a number of different forms. Some people will say, “I agree with you, this is bad, that is bad, the way people are treated is terrible…but I’m a Buddhist—you know, karma, all that.” And among many such people, there is a real ignorance of what the doctrine of karma really means—what its most profound effect has been—conveying to masses of people that they are in the position they’re in because of karma, and there really isn’t anything they can do about it other than to go along and be a good person, within the established order, and maybe in the next life they will have a better fate. This is what it really means for people—the notions of Buddhism or Hinduism. I mean, for God’s sake, if you’ll pardon the expression, look at the world. You watch scenes from India and you say, “for Christ sake”—well, you can’t really say for Christ’s sake [laughter], but in any case, you want to scream: “Get out of that Ganges and get rid of those religious ceremonies that are polluting that river and getting you into that polluted river and spreading disease all over the place.” Or the Islamic religious authorities, in parts of Africa and elsewhere, who tell people not to get treatment for AIDS and other diseases because the treatment is a plot and it’s against the will of Allah. This does concrete harm, great harm, to masses of people throughout the world, billions of people. Now, again, fundamentally it is the production and social relations and the rule of the exploiting classes—and above all, on a world scale, it is the domination by imperialism—that is responsible, but they couldn’t rule without these ideologies, and in particular these religions and religious traditions, and the ignorance and superstition they embody and reinforce.
Changes in Society, Changes in “Human Nature”
And then you have other theories that are not necessarily dressed in religious garb but still have the same effect and represent the same fundamental outlook—notions of “human nature,” for example: “You can’t really change human nature; that’s just the way people are; everybody wants to get more for themselves, and to hell with everybody else.” Well, that “human nature” corresponds to what? To a certain economic structure and culture conditioned thereby. It is not innate in human beings, it is not “in their genes,” people are not “hard wired” for this. Once more, another profound point made by Marx, which is so little known about and even less understood, is that “All history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature.” (Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy) Yes, in broad terms, there are certain characteristics of human beings that distinguish them from even other mammals, let alone other forms of life. Human beings are different than a chipmunk, or a tree, that’s true—they do have a certain “nature” in that sense. But one of the defining characteristics of the “nature” of human beings is precisely the great “plasticity” that they have—the ability to respond in a variety of ways to things, and the ability to change how they see and respond to things when they change their conditions and change themselves in dialectical relation with that.
In short, “human nature,” to the degree that we can speak of such a thing, is very flexible and changes with changes in human society. But how many people understand anything approximating that? And how much harm is done by people not understanding that? How much suffering is intensified and prolonged as a result of people having a fundamental misunderstanding of this and a belief in notions that amount to idealism and metaphysics?
We need to be much more consciously and, yes, resolutely—but in a good and living way, not in a dogmatic way—struggling with people over these things. And there are plenty of good ways to do it, once you really have an understanding of how important this is. I’m sure that the more deeply we grasp this, the more we can come up with very creative ways to struggle around this in a good and living way—and, as is appropriate in most cases, a comradely and friendly way, even while struggling sharply. But it takes a grasp of the essential materialism and dialectics to do this, and do it well. You can’t do it with religion—or the “communist equivalent” of religious dogma. And you can’t do it with utopian and idealist notions of how you’d like the world to be. We have to, ourselves, leap and rupture—and bring forward more and more people to leap and rupture—beyond that.
Revolution #108, November 11, 2007
Against “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”—
During the week of October 22-26, the so-called “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” (IFAW) sponsored by David Horowitz and various Republican student organizations descended on campuses throughout the country. Horowitz put together a constellation of speakers and events with right-wing ideologues like Ann Coulter, former Senator Rick Santorum, Daniel Pipes, and Horowitz himself, along with former progressives like the feminist author Phyllis Chesler to provide cover.
Horowitz originally put out a vision that promised not only speeches and demonstrations at over 100 campuses, but sit-ins at women’s studies departments and big public events designed to coerce Muslim students to sign what amounted to loyalty oaths to the U.S. “war on terror.”
The idea was to intimidate those on campus who oppose this, accusing them of aiding and abetting “terrorism.” It was a plan to put a “with us or against us” chill much more firmly into place on the campuses all the while masquerading as victims of “fascist left-wing” suppression.
Among progressives, two questions immediately arose. First, should this be contested—or would contesting it only draw attention to Horowitz? Second, if it should be opposed, how and on what terms should this be done? This newspaper, among others, argued that this offensive had to be opposed—that it was in essence a very dangerous initiative in the larger ruling class agenda of closing off dissent and debate on campus and, at the same time, was designed to confuse people about the essence of the U.S. “war on terror.” In particular, coming as it did right when the U.S. is ratcheting up war threats against Iran, Horowitz hoped to build up pro-war sentiment and silence the antiwar left. Horowitz also hoped to puff up his right-wing student followers and give them the run of the campuses.
We also argued that this had to be opposed by taking on and exposing Horowitz’s arguments, and Horowitz himself, from many different angles. Materials were developed to expose the real history and current aims and objectives of the U.S. in the Middle East and around the world; to analyze why Islamic fundamentalism had arisen as a response to U.S. imperial oppression, why it was in essence “no worse” than Christian fundamentalism, and why and how it was a dead-end trap for those who truly wanted to oppose imperialism; to show that those who were concerned about the liberation of women—or the liberation of nations oppressed by imperialism—could not fall into the trap of siding with either the U.S. or the Islamic fundamentalist movement; to get into the actual history and views of David Horowitz, and show how this “week” was part of a broader vicious agenda; etc. We aimed to pry open the debate on these questions and get the ferment on campus around them onto a different level.
In the event, IFAW seems to have actually reached fewer than the 100 plus campuses originally listed. Nor does it seem as if Horowitz was able to pull off his intimidation tactics of sit-ins and public loyalty oath signings. But Horowitz did get his speakers onto a number of campuses and projected this whole “Islamo-fascism” discourse into things in a bigger way. In addition, “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” was an issue in the major media, being especially promoted on FOX News—but not only there. And while there were important articles exposing and digging into the purpose of IFAW in Revolution, Counterpunch, Huffington Post, The Nation and a number of campus papers and some voices of opposition were featured on radio programs, the opposition to Horowitz did not achieve the same reach into the mainstream media that he did—in large part due to the fact powerful sections of the ruling class backed his agenda, but also due to weaknesses in the effort mounted against Horowitz.
At the same time, there was opposition. On some of the major university campuses speakers came, rallies were held—for and against—and controversy swirled. At Columbia University, where Horowitz had his own opinion piece published in the Columbia Spectator newspaper, there were a number of substantive articles arguing over the use of the term “Islamo-fascism” and the objectives of this week of “awareness.” The controversy filled the pages of the UCLA Daily Bruin and the Tufts University paper as well. In most places, Horowitz and/or his speakers were met with opposition, of one kind or another. While some significant organized sections of the movement held back from confronting Horowitz, many students from antiwar groups and many Muslim and women students joined the fray. This was a step forward in mounting opposition to the clampdown on campus that Horowitz has been pushing and an important step in sparking open-throated debate, in a mass way, around the kinds of questions outlined above, as well as serious resistance to the agenda being pushed for by Horowitz.
Let’s remember: Horowitz and his people were not coming to debate. From the beginning, their vision was one of one-way indoctrination and intimidation and during the week itself they generally refused challenges to debate and attempted to tightly control questioning and attendance at their events. So the fact that this was actually met with questioning and debate in a number of places was itself a victory.
The Aggressor Poses As the Victim
Horowitz now wants to turn this reality on its head, and claims to be the victim of left-wing suppression—a theme that he ran out from the very beginning, and which he hammered at with fabricated slanders of a number of different groups and organizations, including the RCP,USA (see “Statement in Response to Lies and Slander ‘from the Desk of David Horowitz,” Revolution #106, online at revcom.us). He has seized in particular on his appearance at Emory University in Atlanta, where he claims to have been “shut down.” A report posted on the website of the National Project to Defend Dissent & Critical Thinking in the Academia (defendcriticalthinking.org) recounted that:
“When Horowitz came onto the stage, he was met with a combination of applause and loud booing. As he started his speech, several people sequentially stood up and turned their backs to the speaker. Signs pinned on their backs had the international ‘no’ symbol over the words IFAW. As he continued his speech, different people in the audience interjected questions and corrections. More people stood up and turned their backs, and this emboldened others in the audience to continue to challenge Horowitz as he spoke. Horowitz was visibly taken aback by the opposition and stopped his speech several times, having difficulty getting back on track. His retorts to the audience consisted of childish name calling, disparaging the IQ of the audience. Some people in the crowd vocally opposed the disruptions and called for silence.
“This went on for about 20 minutes, at which point there were about 25 people standing with their backs turned. The campus security then stopped the program and announced that if people didn’t sit down or move to the back of the auditorium, they would be escorted out. At that point, one person shouted ‘Everyone stand up—they can’t haul us all out!’ Others echoed the same sentiment, and several people said, ‘Don’t Taser Me, Bro.’ About 20 or 30 more people stood up and turned their backs. This created a lot of turmoil and heated discussion throughout the room. During this period, Horowitz walked off the stage. A chant broke out, ‘Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay, David Horowitz Go Away.’ After a few minutes, a College Republican came on stage and announced that David Horowitz decided that he would not continue his speech, and they ended the event.”
This kind of raucous and hurly-burly opposition comes with prying open the debate—a debate which, again, it was never the intent of Horowitz to allow. People were going to call out questions and they were going to refute, from the floor, the propagation of lies and pro-war propaganda, racist characterizations of whole peoples and allegations of treason against anyone who opposes the U.S. This shit was not going to be spewed out from the podiums with no challenge. Once Horowitz left, yes, people began chanting—what of it? He was not in fact “shut down”—he was challenged from the floor—and when he stalked out in anger, after insulting people, the audience made clear their feelings. At the same time, given that Horowitz posted his speech on-line, people should go there and find out what he is putting out, and debate and expose the substance of it.
In any event, Emory was not the whole of the political and ideological counter-offensive, or the main kind of thing that happened—and it’s not even the main focus of Horowitz’s complaints. Writing on his website, Horowitz first talks of Emory but then goes on to say that:
“Shutting down peaceful campus lectures [sic] is a fascist tactic, but in a country as committed to the principles of fairness and free speech as this one it is not the most insidious. This distinction must be reserved for the massive witch-hunt which attended our events—the pursuit of alleged ‘racists,’ ‘bigots’ and ‘Islamo-phobes’ who, once labeled, can then be discredited and even silenced if university administrators are willing.”
Horowitz centers his ire on people who wrote editorials, leaflets, and so on that exposed his pogromist, bigoted assault against Muslims and against those who dared to bring up his attack on the movement to get reparations for slavery. This anti-reparations campaign featured Horowitz’s demand for “gratitude” from African-Americans for the “blessings” of having been kidnaped (and, in the process, murdered in large numbers), enslaved in North America for nearly 250 years, and then finally emancipated when slavery began to run up against the expansion of capital—after decades of revolt and after dying in heavily disproportionate numbers in the Civil War. Now, apparently, it is fascism of the most “sinister” and “insidious” variety to dare to write an editorial in a campus paper that drags this into the light of day and exposes Horowitz—Horowitz, mind you, who has the megaphone of FOX News at his disposal and who was given 3 hours on Book TV going into this IFAW.
This is a case of a stuck pig squealing very loudly. It should tell us that the most important thing to do is to intensify the efforts to drag Horowitz’s real agenda out into the open and to expose his actual lies, with facts and substance. (Here we have to say that in this same post Horowitz has the effrontery to claim that “the main agenda of the Week was to defend Muslim women”—no, the main agenda was to cynically use the oppression of women in Islamic countries to justify war against those countries and to do so while uniting with people like Rick Santorum who has an unparalleled record of enforcing and supporting oppression of women in this country and around the world, with his continual campaigns in the Senate against the rights to abortion and birth control—another example of how Horowitz unites with and promotes the Christian fascists in this country who mirror their Islamic fundamentalist counterparts on this question. For more on this, see “The Hypocrisy of ‘Newly Minded Feminists”…And David Horowitz’ Dangerous Agenda,” by T. Redtree in Revolution #105, online at revcom.us.)
But even though he fell short of his stated objectives, and even though he encountered more opposition than he perhaps expected, Horowitz did achieve real gains through all this. The spurious term “Islamo-fascism” has gained more currency, on campus and beyond—and this conditions people to associate the U.S. wars in the Middle East, including what seems to be a looming war against Iran, with the struggle against Hitler. He projected himself even more into the media and coalesced forces around his program on the campus and, to some extent, beyond. He succeeded, to a certain extent, in limiting the opposition to his effort; there were people in academia who held back from confronting Horowitz, in part out of a mistaken view that minimized his significance and at least in part out of concern about how they might be gone after should they confront him. A similar dynamic was at work with some student organizations and academic departments. If persisted in, that kind of dynamic will be deadly. Horowitz is not going to go away: he is not going to rest with the firings of professors like Ward Churchill and Norman Finkelstein and other, lesser-known, dissident faculty members; he is not going to rest on having expanded his operation, influence and organization with IFAW; he will be back, sooner rather than later, especially if the U.S. intensifies its war preparations against Iran and certainly if they should attack that country. This is underscored by the fact that the terms of this whole effort by Horowitz are being deliberately “mainstreamed,” not only by Bush and Cheney but by leading presidential candidate Rudolf Giuliani. As one article in the Columbia Spectator put it, “Horowitz might be an extremist crank, but his crackpot ideas are percolating out into the mainstream, where their hypocrisy and blindness must be fought with a brio equal to his own.”
Where to From Here?
Which leads to the question of how the progressive side did overall. As noted, there was opposition mounted to this, and that’s important. On some campuses, there was a spirit of debate, ferment, and resistance that was quite positive (see article in last week’s issue of Revolution, “Confronting Horowitzian Fascists at Berkeley,” online at revcom.us). Different forces came together, and important exposure was gotten out. But here we would like to pose the question to you, our readers, and ask for your response on this. We’re going to raise some questions here and ask for your correspondence in order to better learn what was accomplished, where things fell short, and where they need to go. Think about your conversations during that week and go talk to people you know—and people you don’t. Then write us, in depth and detail or just a brief note. Specifically, we’d like to hear from you on:
• How much did people actually get into debate about whether the U.S. should be gearing up to launch an attack on Iran? Did people get the connection with the objectives of the IFAW and creating public opinion in favor of such a aggression? Conversely, how much ground was Horowitz able to gain for the imperial agenda?
• Horowitz attempted to frame the only choice that people had as being between Islamic fundamentalism or support for U.S. imperialism. How well did progressives and revolutionaries do in bringing forward something different—in showing that while the U.S. is the more dangerous of these two forces, they are both reactionary and mutually reinforcing, and the people have to, through their resistance, show that these are not the only alternatives? How much and in what ways did people come to change their views on the reasons behind the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and the ways in which U.S. Christian fascism carries out even more reactionary violence—though that violence is masked by virtue of (mainly) being carried out by the state?
• Did the idea get challenged that the U.S., even though it “makes mistakes,” in the final analysis represents “the good guys” in the world? How much was the counter-offensive to IFAW seized as an opportunity to get out the facts and the truth about the real history–and present reality—of this country? Did people get a sense of the crimes of this country—and, just as important, that there is a system behind those crimes?
• How much did people see through the attempts to raise up the mistreatment of women in Islam as a banner for war, while challenging the way that women are treated in all societies and not apologizing for any of it? Did people get a clear sense that there are people in those countries who are trying to oppose these regimes, but who do not welcome the U.S. as occupiers and that people in this country should side with them and against the U.S.?
• How much did the view get focused up that what is needed in academia right now is a real search for the truth and a flourishing of critical thinking—as opposed to the spurious calls for “balance” by David Horowitz? Is there greater awareness of the assault on the universities, purging them of critical thinking and trying to make them centers of indoctrination for the people in power?
• Did the goal of revolution and communism—and that this kind of contestation is part of preparing the ground for that—get brought into sharper relief through all this?
Let’s get a firm grip on what is at stake here and in that light evaluate what we accomplished, where we fell short…and how to do more and do it better.
Revolution #108, November 11, 2007
Editors’ Note: This is a selection from part 2 of MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY (edited excerpts from a talk, earlier this year, by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party) which is being published now because of its relevance to the current situation. Part 1 of MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY is currently available online at revcom.us and is being serialized in Revolution. Part 2 will be serialized in Revolution, and available in its entirety, as one document, at revcom.us, once the serialization of part 1 has been completed.
Not all, but still too many, Americans—especially within the middle strata, although not only there—are in a real sense falling into acting like children, easily distracted with toys. “Here at midnight tonight—the new i-Phone!” People will line up, and fight each other to get in line, to get the new i-Phone, but they can’t bring themselves to mobilize against the torture and the wars and everything else that is being done by their government, in their name and right before their eyes—this is not even really being hidden.
Now, it is true that, particularly in the period leading into the U.S. invasion of Iraq, very large numbers of people did mobilize in opposition to this, and to the general direction in which the Bush regime was driving things. And there have, of course, been protests, even significant ones, since then. But, the truth is that, as the Bush regime has made clear, even with the great difficulties it has encountered in Iraq, it is determined to persevere on this course, and is even threatening to escalate things, with an attack on Iran—and as the Democrats and the ruling class overall have made clear that they are going along with all this, or at least will do nothing meaningful to oppose it—while there are many people who know that this is wrong, is having horrible consequences, and holds the potential for much worse, far too many of these people have retreated into passivity—and what amounts to complicity—on the basis that to try to stop this seems too daunting and requires too much sacrifice.
This is the moral equivalent of coming upon a man brutalizing and raping a woman and not doing everything you can to stop it. You call out strongly “Stop!” But then, when he menacingly turns and responds, “No—I really need to do this,” you simply slink away muttering “Oh, I didn’t know he was so determined about this—and I don’t want to get hurt myself.”
And this complicity is taking place while, as the logo of World Can’t Wait so graphically illustrates, the world burns and the prospect of far worse looms ominously before us.
Revolution #108, November 11, 2007
We received the following correspondence from a reader.
Before I speak to the way the juvenile “justice” system is being used to persecute Mychal Bell of the Jena 6, I want to start with a personal story. My son is dark-skinned and was constantly stopped by the police for being out of place in the mainly white, suburban, middle class community where his grandparents live and near where he grew up. Once, the police were called on him at a 7-11 store because the clerk was afraid that he might not pay for some item. My son was so outraged that he wasn’t cooperative with the police who hauled him off and was charged with resisting arrest.
When he was brought to the court for a preliminary arraignment, the judge glanced at the arrest report and launched into a tirade about what a menace to society my son was, that he was obviously a repeat criminal, and how he should be locked up for at least 6 months on a good day. The judge said he was going to sentence him right then. This was the arraignment—which is supposedly when a defendant finds out what his or her charges are, not when they get convicted and sentenced! The lawyer finally got to say, “My client would like to plead not guilty.” The judge looked shocked. The lawyer went on about his client’s ties in the community and that he should be granted bail, pointing out that his mother was on hand to arrange this. The judge looked out at me—white, middle-class looking—and said, “That’s his mother?” Then, like a scene from The Exorcist, his head spun around, and he gave the speech reserved for the middle class: “Son, you are such a disappointment to your parents” and released him on bail.
Afterward, the young lawyer was beside himself—he could not believe what he had witnessed, it was just so blatant. Unfortunately, most young defendants never get to hear the second speech—they just hear the jail door slam shut. Most of my white, liberal relatives do not understand or believe how widespread this type of thing is.
I have been closely following the Revolution coverage on the Jena 6, which has been outstanding—not only reporting on the developments in the case and the protests but also going into the big questions provoked by the case: why is this happening; what does it have to do with the history of oppression of Black people in this country; why did this strike such a deep chord among Black people; why aren’t more people diving into protest around this case, especially white people?
As the public outcry about this case grew, a Louisiana appellate court vacated Mychal Bell’s conviction in September, finding that District Attorney Reed Walters and Judge J.P. Mauffrey had improperly tried Bell as an adult rather than a juvenile. On September 27, Bell was released from jail for a brief time. But as Revolution reported in issue #105 (“System Lashes Back, Mychal Bell Back in Jail,” online at revcom.us), in the wake of the historic September 20 protests in Jena, Mychal Bell was thrown back into jail—only this time to a juvenile facility by the same judge and prosecutor who originally tried and convicted him.
Given all the interest in this case—how is it possible that no one can examine what the motives or legal basis were for the judge to re-jail Mychal Bell? There was a complete blackout on information coming out of the courtroom. No media were allowed into the hearing and all the participants, Mychal Bell’s lawyers and relatives were placed under a gag order by the same judge who had already WRONGLY tried him as an adult and as a result caused him to serve 10 months in ADULT prison instead of attending his last year of high school. The same judge threw him back into juvenile jail! (Juvenile jails in Louisiana have been the focus of Human Rights Watch investigations throughout the ’90s for the horrendous treatment of children.)
Using Juvenile Court to Turn Out the Lights
The DA and the judge have shown that they are determined to get a conviction and punish Mychal Bell and the Jena 6. Walters wrote an op-ed piece in the NY Times defending his decision to charge the Jena 6 with serious felonies. He held a press conference after the Sept. 20 protest, thanking the lord for intervening to “protect” Jena from Black protesters.
After all this, the SAME judge and the SAME DA are trying Bell in juvenile court. And on top of that, they have seized on the fact that the higher court found that Bell should never have been tried as an adult, to retry him only in juvenile court and then use the juvenile court setting as the PRETEXT to put a complete blackout on the proceedings.
Juvenile courts were instituted in the first place so that society could supposedly take into account that these are children and give special attention to protecting their interests and rehabilitating them (including by protecting their privacy). This is not really how these courts operate, as millions of parents can testify. Judging Amy was a TV show.
In Louisiana, a 2004 Louisiana Supreme Court ruling held that all juvenile proceedings involving certain categories of violent crime—including aggravated second-degree battery (i.e. the charge in Bell’s case)—must be conducted in open court.
So in Mychal Bell’s case, to use the very fact that it is a juvenile court as the reason to shut the curtains and turn out the lights—while Mr. DA and Mr. Judge carry out their version of “just us”—is a violation of Louisiana’s own laws and a complete travesty. While Mychal Bell’s attorneys and parents are stifled by gag orders, details of Bell’s juvenile arrests are all over the media. How is any of this in the interests of the juvenile in this case?
The message being sent out by the gag order and barring the media is: YOU ARE NOT GOING TO PUT A SPOTLIGHT ON OUR TOWN. WE HAVE THE POWER TO TURN OUT THE LIGHTS AND YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO SEE WHAT WE DO. YOU PROTEST AND DEMAND YOUR RIGHTS—YOU’LL PAY.
A coalition of major media companies filed a legal motion in the LaSalle Parish District Court, challenging the decision by Mauffrey to close the proceedings in Mychal Bell’s case and order everyone involved not to speak about it. The Chicago Tribune is the lead plaintiff in the petition, which has been joined by the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times Co., the Associated Press, the Hearst Corp., the Belo Corp, the Gannett Corp, CNN, and ABC News.
The court motion filed by the media coalition involves a number of very important legal issues, including the First Amendment rights (supposedly the right to free speech) of the participants in the trial to be able to speak out about the case; the freedom of the press to be able to cover the story and get access to the relevant documents in the case, and the right of the public to know what is happening.
The Chicago Tribune reported, “Mauffrey’s reasons for sending Bell back to jail are unknown because the judge ordered all of Bell’s juvenile proceedings to be conducted in private.” The news organizations’ legal petition also contends that Mauffrey improperly imposed a gag order on lawyers in the case: “The underlying facts of this case have been published, broadcast, editorialized about, blogged and talked about throughout the country and across the globe,” the petition states. “There is simply no reason to refuse to allow the trial participants to comment as well.” Mauffrey has recused himself (stepped down) from hearing the media's challenge to open the courtroom he presides over. A new judge has set a hearing date of November 21.
Re-Criminalizing the Jena 6
On one side there is a gag order and a blackout and Mychal Bell sitting in jail. On the other side—a counter-offensive. The assistant editor of the Jena Times published a piece in the Christian Science Monitor on October 24 called “Media Myths about the Jena 6.” This myth piece has been picked up and spread all over the media and the Internet. While Bell’s defenders are silenced, this editor is free to talk about Bell’s four prior juvenile “violent crime arrests” and probation.
After September 20, those who want to punish the Jena 6 for standing up to racist outrages have tried to seize back the initiative, including through the courts. Throwing Mychal Bell back into jail is an attempt to sway people who do not see—or don’t want to confront—the grossly unequal treatment of Black youth by telling them: “See, he really is a serial criminal, don’t get upset about a ‘miscarriage of justice,’ in fact to let him go would be a miscarriage of justice.” And, by widely spreading the story that Bell has a record (while gagging his attorneys and conducting the hearing to jail him in secret), the authorities aim to isolate the Jena 6 from their supporters, and confuse people by taking the focus off the real reason the Jena 6 were persecuted in the first place: as retaliation for Black students at Jena High first daring to sit under a “whites only” tree, and then defiantly standing together under the tree when nooses were hung from it.
Mychal Bell already spent 10 months in jail on the adult charge for which Louisiana courts have ruled he never should have been tried in the first place!! The DA in the Duke Lacrosse rape case was disbarred and prosecuted for being too zealous in his prosecution of white students, while this DA is given a page in the NY Times to defend his persecution of the Jena 6.
I recently watched the film Mississippi Burning. Leaving aside how the FBI is portrayed as playing a positive role in the civil rights struggle (which is contrary to historical evidence), the movie is worth watching in light of the Jena 6 struggle—and especially for anyone who doesn’t know or is confused about what the noose means historically and in terms of the current-day reality for Black people. The racists in Mississippi portrayed in the film who night-ride with the Klan, lynching Black people and beating children to keep them “in their place”—these “good citizens” talk a lot about how it’s the “outsiders” like the civil rights activists who are causing all the problems, and how everyone would get along just fine otherwise. The sheriffs and the courts play a critical part—giving the whole white supremacist set-up the full protection and backing of the law.
That same white supremacist system locked up Mychal Bell to send a message that Black people better stay “in their place.” This needs to be exposed, as part of the struggle to Free the Jena 6.
Revolution newspaper correspondent Alice Woodward and her colleague Hank Brown have been reporting from Jena, Louisiana since July 2007. Having reporters on the ground following events, as well as learning from the experiences of people there, is essential to telling the full story, and strengthens all Revolution’s coverage of Jena.
You can support Revolution newspaper’s ability to send reporters to cover important developing stories all over the world, by sending contributions to the Revolution Fund Drive for the Reporters Fund. Make check or money order out to RCP Publications, and mail to: RCP Publications, PO Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654. Be sure to note on the check memo line or note in your correspondence that it is designated for the Reporters Fund (or specifically for the Jena coverage).
Contributions to RCP Pubs are not tax-deductible for purposes of Federal Income Tax.At the present time, RCP Publications cannot accept any contributions or gifts from readers who reside outside the borders of the United States.
The Global Center, a 501c3 organization in New York, is also taking donations to specifically support Alice Woodward’s reporting from Jena. Contributions to The Global Center,(aka: International Center for Global Communications Foundation, Inc. www.globalvision.org ) ARE tax-deductible. Make your check (checks only, please) to: The Global Center. In the memo line of the check put Alice Woodward Jena Reporting Project. Mail to: Alice Woodward Jena Reporting Project, c/o RCP Publications, PO Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654.
Revolution #108, November 11, 2007
Background to Confrontation:
Part 9: 2005 to Today: Surging Toward Confrontation
For over 100 years, the domination of Iran has been deeply woven into the fabric of global imperialism, enforced through covert intrigues, economic bullying, military assaults, and invasions. This history provides the backdrop for U.S. hostility toward Iran today—including the real threat of war. Part 9 concludes this series by examining why the U.S. has increasingly targeted Iran as the main obstacle to its plans to remake the Middle East.
IRAN IN THE CROSS-HAIRS
September 11, 2001, and then 2005-2007 marked unprecedented turning points in the history of U.S. imperialist aggression against Iran. First, Iran was made a prime target in the U.S. “war on terror.” Then, in 2005-2007, things took a further leap as the U.S. ratcheted up its political, military, economic, and diplomatic assault and began serious preparations for a possible military attack.
The U.S. rulers have unleashed a propaganda offensive claiming Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, deliberately supplying Iraqi militias with weapons to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and supporting “terrorism” across the region. These charges are a mixture of lies, half-truths, speculation, and spin. Iran may well be pursuing nuclear weapons, but repeated, intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have found no evidence to support this charge. Iran does have links with Shi’ite militias in Iraq, but there’s no proof that it’s arming and directing them to attack U.S. troops.
Iran’s Islamic Republic IS a big problem for the U.S., but not exactly for the reasons Bush, Cheney and company publicly claim. Their problem with Iran is that it is increasingly standing in the way of their imperialist need to, as they put it, “drain the swamp” of Islamic fundamentalism and restructure the Middle East in order to solidify and deepen U.S. hegemony.
This is why Iran was made a target in the U.S. “war on terror,” not because it had anything to do with the attacks of September 11. The U.S.’s imperial concerns about Iranian influence have only increased since then—in large part because of the unintended consequences of the Bush regime’s invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. These actions have weakened Iran’s enemies, strengthened its influence, and further fueled Islamic fundamentalism overall.
Rising Nuclear Tensions
The June 2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s new president was something of a turning point in the sharpening conflict between the U.S. and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program and regional posture. Iran had been negotiating with the U.S.’s European allies—Britain, France and Germany—for several years. But the negotiations went nowhere because the Europeans were unwilling to allow Iran to enrich uranium for energy, and were unable to provide the security guarantees (against regime change) that Iran’s rulers wanted.
Ahmadinejad’s election seemed to reflect the Iranian leadership’s view that they had little to gain by continued negotiations and that their survival depends instead on resisting U.S. demands, and strengthening their hand in the region as well as their ties with other world powers (Russia in particular)—even as they remain open to cutting a deal with the U.S.
In August 2005, two months after Ahmadinejad’s election, Iran announced it was resuming efforts to enrich uranium, and in January 2006, it restarted work at its Natanz nuclear research facility. The next month the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to report Iran to the UN Security Council for its pursuit of uranium enrichment. In April, Iran claimed it had succeeded in enriching uranium.
Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium for nuclear power, but enrichment technology is also essential to developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. has declared it won’t tolerate Iran having even the know-how to make nukes, let alone possess them. The concern of U.S. imperialism is that Iran having even one or two nuclear weapons could give it more “leverage” and perhaps enable it to be even more of a force in this strategically crucial region.
In the UN Security Council the Bush administration sought a resolution demanding that Iran end its enrichment program, which included language that could be used to justify “action” against Iran. This was opposed by Russia and China, who feared such a resolution could be used by the U.S. to justify war.
By May 31, 2006 the U.S. was forced to accept a draft resolution omitting the use of force and agreed to direct talks with Iran (along with Britain, France, and Germany) for the first time in over 25 years—if Iran first suspended its uranium enrichment efforts. This move by the U.S. was driven at least in part by the necessity to hold its anti-Iran coalition together, which the New York Times (6/4/06) reported was “at risk of falling apart.” This didn’t signal that the Bush administration had ruled out war. Rather, it was keeping an anti-Iran alliance intact to ratchet up pressure and prepare the ground for possible military action later. One BBC analyst put it (6/2/06): “The hawks in Washington have gone along with the move in the belief that an offer of direct talks now will improve their arguments for military action later.”
This was an offer Iran’s rulers felt they had to refuse. It didn’t address their main concern—halting U.S. threats of war. Second, as Seymour Hersh noted, “Iran...was being asked to concede the main point of the negotiations [its right to enrich uranium] before they started...” Iran’s rulers apparently calculated that accepting U.S. terms would be a fatal show of weakness. “Bush might as well have offered the Iranian regime a chance to lick his boots in public and commit political suicide,” the A World to Win News Service pointed out.
Global Rivalries in the Mix
The U.S. confrontation with Iran is mainly being driven by the ways in which Iran concentrates—and fuels—the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. But global rivalries—particularly between the U.S. and Russia, are also part of the mix. While Russia and China aren’t able to directly challenge the U.S. for regional, much less global, pre-eminence, both are moving in various ways to build their strength and extend their reach. And U.S. efforts to gain a firmer grip on the Middle East and Central Asia are aimed, in part, at preventing them (or others) from doing so.
Iran has been one focal point of this contention. Flynt Leverett, a former U.S. official, writes, “few are paying attention to a broader strategic competition that has started between the United States, Russia and China. Ultimately, this competition will decide not only the direction of Iran’s nuclear activities but also its economic, political and military role in the Middle East and beyond.” (NYT 6/20/06).
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s October 2007 trip to Iran (the first by a Russian head of state in over 60 years) and his denunciation of U.S. threats against Iran, followed by President Bush’s warning of “World War III” if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, highlighted how sharp U.S.-Russian contention has become. This too has added to the Bush regime’s need to deal with Iran, one way or another.
Invading Iraq, Strengthening Iran
The U.S. “war on terror” aims to transform the entire Middle East, not just preserve the regional status quo. U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Israeli aggression in Palestine and Lebanon, have indeed shaken the region—but also strengthened the pole of Islamic fundamentalism and Jihadism, including Iranian influence in particular.
By 2005-2006, the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban were regrouping in Afghanistan. Israel’s July 2006 assault on Lebanon—designed to crush Iran’s ally Hezbollah and weaken Iran’s regional influence—instead strengthened both and unleashed a wave of support for anti-U.S. Islamism. U.S. neocons helped Israel plan the attack, and some reportedly saw it as a dry run—or even a trigger—for a bombing campaign against Iran. Islamist movements were also gaining ground in Palestine, Turkey, and Pakistan.
This dynamic has been especially problematic for the U.S. in Iraq. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s secular rule unleashed a wave of fundamentalism, both Sunni and Shi’ite. It sparked a violent Sunni-based opposition, strengthened the Shi’ite religious parties with close links to Iran, and sparked sectarian civil war. All have threatened to derail the U.S. mission, while giving Iran an unprecedented opportunity (and need) to expand its influence in Iraq. And Iran has been working to do just that.
In sum, the geopolitical “playing field” in the Middle East has been tilting in ways unfavorable to U.S. goals, with Iran standing to be the beneficiary—whether or not it’s directly involved in any particular development.
2007: Surging in Iraq, Escalating Toward Iran
By the end of 2006, a sharp debate had broken out at the top levels of the U.S. political establishment over strategy in Iraq and the region. In December, the bi-partisan Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group called the situation in Iraq “grave and deteriorating” and warned of a potential “slide towards chaos.” Baker-Hamilton called for scaling back the U.S. military mission in Iraq, and engaging in aggressive diplomacy to stabilize Iraq—with Iran and Syria in particular. While committed to maintaining U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, Baker-Hamilton represented a different approach to accomplish those aims than Bush-Cheney’s two-generation war for regional transformation.
In January 2007, Bush rejected the Baker approach and went in the opposite direction—a “surge” of over 30,000 more troops in Iraq and a multi-pronged offensive against Iran. Since then, Bush spokespeople regularly threaten Iran and blame it for attacks on U.S. forces.
In the summer of 2007, the Democrat-controlled House and Senate followed Bush’s lead, passing resolutions labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a “terrorist organization”—potentially a resolution Bush could cite as Congressional authorization for war.
In October 2007, the Bush administration announced its most sweeping sanctions on Iran since they were first put in place nearly 30 years ago.
According to Seymour Hersh, in 2006, the Pentagon was actively planning for a massive bombing campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities and military and leadership facilities. In October 2007, Hersh reported that the focus of U.S. attack plans has shifted from “a broad bombing attack” to “surgical” strikes on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, and “There has been a significant increase in the tempo of attack planning.” For much of 2007, nearly half the U.S.’s warships have been stationed near Iran.
Bush’s escalation flowed from the realization that the U.S. had staked its imperial future on victory in its “war on terror,” and to back down now could gravely weaken its regional and global positions, derail the war effort, and embolden U.S. adversaries. Iran had become the main obstacle to victory in this war for greater empire. A new National Security Strategy released in September 2006 mentioned Iran 16 times and stated: “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.”
Overall, these developments reinforced the Bush team’s view that the “swamp” of anti-U.S. states, mass anger, and Islamic fundamentalism must be “drained” and the region reordered. And they increasingly argue that overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran is key to these strategic goals.
The Democrats share the goal of preserving America’s Middle East hegemony and global power, and realize how much is now on the line for their system. This is why they cannot and will not act decisively to stop the Bush juggernaut in the Middle East, whether or not they have differences over how to best strengthen the empire.
Careening Toward Confrontation
There is still reportedly sharp debate at the top levels of the Bush administration (Secretary of State Rice and Defense Secretary Gates versus Vice President Cheney) over whether—at least for now—to continue to deal with Iran through diplomatic and economic pressure, or to more immediately use military means. According to Hersh, the order to attack Iran has not yet been given, although Britain’s Telegraph reports (9/16), “Pentagon and CIA officers say they believe that the White House has begun a carefully calibrated programme of escalation that could lead to a military showdown with Iran.”
In any case, the U.S. is stepping up a multi-pronged assault on Iran. In so doing, it’s creating a tinderbox that could be ignited by any number of “sparks.”
Their latest moves are a continuation of the sordid and reactionary history of intervention by the U.S. and its allies documented in this series. This history has included supporting one tyrant after another; plundering Iran’s oil wealth for over 70 years and exploiting it to this day; turning Iran into a battlefield in two World Wars; overthrowing a popular government and putting the fascist Shah on the throne; turning the Shah’s Iran into a military outpost and feeding ground for Western capital; and during the revolution of 1979 seeing possible advantage in the seizure of power by reactionary Islamic theocrats (who the U.S. has decided must now be crushed or subordinated to its interests). This history shows that nothing good can or will come of any new U.S. intervention or attack—no matter what pretexts it offers.
Revolution #108, November 11, 2007
From A World to WinNewsService
October 1, 2007. A World to Win News Service. There are aid agencies all over the world whose mission, they say, is “to help the poor in the poorest countries.” Public budgets and private donors in the world’s most powerful countries allocate billions of dollars to these “benevolent operations.”
There is rarely a year when some oppressed countries, especially in Africa, are not faced with a food crisis due to a natural disaster or war. Globally, between 800 million and a billion people are chronically hungry. Some 25,000 people die every day due to hunger and related causes.
When a new disaster or famine comes about, once again people in the West are bombarded by appeals, and of course good-hearted people show their kindness in order to save the hungry. This is as far as it can go in Western mainstream advertising. There is no mention of the root cause, nor of who is responsible—and still less of how people can free themselves from chronic hunger and repeated natural disasters. In fact, the situation is presented as if there were no solution and nothing for the hungry to hope for but charity from the rich countries. But how legitimate is the foreign aid given to the oppressed countries? What are the goals and results of this aid?
The Reality That CARE Could No Longer Hide
In mid-August of this year, one of the biggest and best-known American charity organizations, CARE, announced that it was turning down $45 million a year in aid from the U.S. government. The charity’s reason for this was that the way that U.S. aid is structured causes rather than reduces hunger in the countries where it is directed
The CARE announcement prompted much argument about the forms and objectives of the aid given by the U.S. and other big powers to third world countries and the role that most charity organizations are playing.
The background reasoning for this policy change was spelled out in CARE’s “White Paper on Food Aid Policy” (www.care.org) written in 2006. As the White Paper points out, U.S. and in fact almost all foreign food aid in today’s world is “tied”—in other words, the money donated must be used to purchase food in the home country. This means that food aid is driven by “the export and surplus disposal objectives of the exporting country” and not the needs of the people. Further, when this food is distributed for free in the target country, it can wipe out local farmers. In this sense, the White Paper concludes, food “aid” often works to the detriment of developing local food production.
In addition, CARE focuses its criticism on the policy known as “monetizing.” Under this system, the U.S. government buys surplus products from American agribusinesses that have already been heavily subsidized. Then these products are given to aid agencies to be sold in African or other countries to raise money for charitable projects. By law, the products must be carried by ships registered in the U.S., generating transport costs that eat up much of the $2 billion annual food aid provided by the U.S. government. As the press reported, the CARE announcement “caused a huge upset in the American charitable sectors.” That has made it difficult for other charity organizations to further ignore or hide the harm their work causes to the people and farmers in those countries. CARE previously objected to this practice in 2005, and its recent announcement came at the time when the U.S. Congress was considering a new farm bill.
“Neither the Bush administration nor members of Congress are looking to undo the practice, which has gone on for more than a decade. The farm bloc is powerful, but when you add these benevolent organizations, the totality of that has blocked change in the system,” former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said about this situation. (International Herald Tribune, August 14, 2007)
The fact that this monetizing system is a way of subsidizing American agriculture may be why it has come under criticism from European countries, which have been under pressure from the U.S. to reduce their subsidies to their own agriculture sector. As BBC reported January 16, 2006, “The EU has criticized the U.S. food aid policy, accusing the U.S. of using this way in order to evade the rules that limit agriculture subsidies.”
But the problem goes far deeper than what CARE and many other critics admit. CARE certainly knew about the destructive outcome of this policy long before they objected, and long after they did, they still went along with it. Even now, they have announced that they will not abandon it before September 2009. This charity organization says that its goal in abandoning monetization is to increase the amount of cash they can spend and make their aid more efficient. They point out that now they have to carry the expenses of handling and selling the crops, while most of the aid money is lost to the maritime companies. But more importantly, the results of this policy have been so obviously destructive that charities have lost more and more of their credibility. This has raised questions in the minds of their own workers and staff, many of whom are working voluntarily or have chosen this job out of a genuine desire to help the people. These charities are increasingly seen as an organ of imperialist functioning in the oppressed countries. For example, during a youth rebellion against the U.S. army in Kabul, Afghanistan last year, an angry crowd attacked the CARE office.
Given this situation, the charity would rather receive its share of U.S. aid in cash instead of crops. But as the White Paper admits, using aid money to buy food locally could have a variety of very different results, depending on how it is done and what overall policies this practice is part of. It could, in fact, still do more harm than good.
Whatever shape or form this aid might take, its goals and results are likely to stay mainly the same—to serve the overall economic, political and strategic goals that the U.S. and other imperialist powers are pursuing in third world countries. Even in cases of real food emergencies and famine, aid policies are not independent of these aims. Whether or not the aid programs are meant to harm the farmers, the masses and the economy of the countries they target, certainly some people have been aware of the negative effects for a long time, so it is more than reasonable to doubt their good faith. But far more importantly, the point is that the logic of capitalism and the economic, political and social interests of the imperialist powers are in contradiction to those of the masses in the oppressed countries—as they are to the interests of most of humanity. Ultimately they can only work against the people’s interests no matter what intentions lay behind them. These programs are simply an extension of other imperialist policies in the sphere of aid.
The Politics of Aid
The results of these programs are brutally obvious and widely noticed. This policy “undermines African farmers’ ability to produce food, making the most vulnerable countries of the world even more dependent on aid to avert famine.” (The Independent, August 17, 2007)
Some people might think that even if some farmers are driven out of business or off the land by such programs, at least their countries are saved from starvation. But the consequences are even more far-reaching. By wiping out farmers or holding back the development of agriculture, such aid programs become part of the process by which the countries grow more dependent on the imperialists in every sphere, politically as well as economically. The result can be more hunger, at least for some people, as their countries are tied ever more tightly to the world market.
It is not enough to criticize this policy for not being “efficient” or because it puts the interests of U.S. companies first. It actually misses the main point to conclude that the problem is the way American agribusiness and shipping companies benefit from these aid programs and use their lobbies in Congress to promote this policy and block change. There is certainly truth to this, but the more fundamental aims of such policies are rooted in something far more crucial than the interests of a few companies. Strategic goals are at stake. The fact that the U.S. ruling class and other imperialists have allocated a fairly large budget for their “benevolent” operations indicates that they see the input in aid as a long-term investment in line with their overall goals in the oppressed countries.
In a letter to the G8 leaders referring to the effect of cheap imports, former Ghana president Jerry Rawlings wrote: “In Ghana, for example, textile factories are closing down, the poultry industry is in crisis, and our farmers cannot compete with cheap imports. Thousands are losing productive jobs.” (The Guardian, July 14, 2005)
Whether these imports are in the form of aid or are just normal business doesn’t make much difference, because the results are the same: ever-tightening relations of dependency tying the economic structures of the oppressed countries to the imperialist-dominated world economy and often the interests of a specific imperialist country.
Aid and Politics
It is not hard to see that providing so-called humanitarian aid is a political act. This seems to be a widely accepted fact among many politicians, journalists and intellectuals, even though they don’t often say it very loudly. As Joan Macrae from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI-UK) put it, “Humanitarian action has always been highly political… The issue is not whether humanitarian aid is politicized, but how.” (“Politics vs aid: is coherence the answer?” Insights, January 2002, ID21 website. ID21 is “enabled” by the UK Government Department for International Development.) Another article in the same issue of this publication says, “Aid and politics have always been connected. During the Cold War, for example, investment flows, development efforts and humanitarian assistance tended to reflect the changing pattern of superpower alliance and competition. Aid agencies were caught up in the dynamics of this situation.”
The politics of aid is much too broad a topic to be thoroughly addressed here, but to summarize, they cover a wide range of short-term and long-term economic, political and social interests that differ from case to case. In other words, humanitarian aid to different countries can have different motivations. In some cases short-term political interests are primary, while in others long-term economic interests predominate. In general, during the Cold War era, the conflict between the East and West imperialist blocs (and specifically the anti-Soviet goals of the U.S.) played a big role in the orientation of aid policies.
To give an example: The American government’s foreign aid agency USAID “paid the University of Nebraska U.S. $51 million from 1984 to 1994 to develop and design these textbooks, which were mostly printed in Pakistan. Over 13 million were distributed at Afghan refugee camps and Pakistani madrasas [religious schools] ‘where students learnt basic math by counting dead Russians and Kalashnikov rifles.’... The following example shows a math textbook for 4th grade children that asks the following question:
“‘The speed of a Kalashnikov bullet is 800 meters per second. If a Russian is at a distance of 3,200 meters from a mujahid, and that mujahid aims at the Russian’s head, calculate how many seconds it will take for the bullet to strike the Russian in the forehead.’” (From “The Politicization of Development Aid to Education after September 11,” Mario Novelli and Susan Robertson, in Schooling and the Politics of Disaster, edited by K. Saltman, published by Taylor and Francis. Available at the Bristol University Web site: www.bris.ac. uk. Internal quotes from Pakistan, Madrasas, Extremism and the Military, Islamabad/Brussels: International Crisis Group-Asia, 2002.)
It is worth mentioning that the U.S. is now targeting these same madrasas as promoters of Islamic violence!
After the Cold War, there was a shift or at least a prioritization of aid policy by the Western countries towards the promotion of economic neo-liberalism and privatization—in other words, away from the short-term political goals of defeating the rival Soviet bloc and more towards pushing “aided” countries to become more deeply integrated into the globalized capitalist economy that became possible once the rival imperialist bloc fell.
The conditions that are attached to aid, including loans granted by the imperialist powers or through their brokers such as the World Bank or the IMF, were and still are damaging and destructive to the economy of oppressed countries. The big powers press for the privatization of state companies, for budget “discipline” and reducing or eliminating subsidies for consumer goods, especially those meeting basic needs such as food, for open borders, trade liberalization, free trade and the suspension of fixed exchange rate. All of these are in the interests of the imperialist powers and go directly against the interests of the masses in the “target” countries. Sometimes the immediate result is more hunger.
In any case, these policies and the inevitable working of global capitalism itself bring more dependency. For example, the continuation of this form of aid to Mali has resulted in the privatization of its cotton production, its main economic sector, while now a quarter of its national budget is directly dependent on foreign aid. The economic strings that come attached to this aid are not the only ones. There is also social and ideological blackmail, such as the restrictions on abortion and birth control that come with U.S. aid.
In recent years “humanitarian” aid has been merged with military invasion following the model of the so-called U.S.-European “humanitarian intervention” in Kosovo and Bosnia.
The signboard of “humanitarian intervention” has served as a justification that enabled the imperialist powers to fool people who should have known better, including among intellectual circles, into supporting the invasion of Afghanistan. This was even more formalized as policy after September 11, 2001 and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. As U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it in a speech January 18, 2006, “In this world it is impossible to draw neat, clear lines between our security interests, our development efforts and our democratic ideals. American diplomacy must integrate and advance all of these goals together.” (Cited in “Playing Politics with Aid: The Unholy Trinity of Defense, Diplomacy and Development in the War on Terrorism,” Anuradha Mittal, February 27, 2006, www.CommonDreams.org)
Aid from the imperialist countries, whether in the case of emergency needs or for development programs, whether in the form of monetizing, cash, loans or “humanitarian intervention” or whatever else, fits into the overall policies of the donor country meant to serve its political, economic and strategic interests. As a journalist put it, “Democrats and Republicans have increasingly viewed foreign aid as a ‘soft power’ tool that can improve America’s image.” (Newsweek, September 17, 2007) However, “interests” would be a more correct term than “image.”
The aid agencies, which are mainly financed by the governments of the imperialist powers, have very limited independence. Inevitably they are directly or indirectly under the governmental chain of command. Whether they like it or not, they serve their government’s aims. While many aid workers sacrifice and risk their lives, the intentions of those who organize and finance these agencies should be sharply questioned and exposed. “Humanitarian” aid and the role that the aid agencies are playing is losing credibility. The practice of the last few decades shows its ineffectiveness and, even more than that, the harm that it is inflicting on the people of the regions in need. So it is not surprising that today there is great concern “that aid workers and relief organizations [are beginning] to be seen as mere adjuncts to the broader military and security concerns of the most powerful nations.” (Novelli and Robertson)
What the people of Africa and other oppressed nations need is not the conditioned help of imperialists that further chains the people, but a New Democratic and then socialist revolution to liberate the nation from any sort of imperialist domination and to revolutionize the relations of production, including giving land to the tiller and freeing the farmers and peasants to work the land. An Africa that not long ago “was more than self-sufficient in food…is now a massive food importer. And in less than 40 years went from being a net exporter of basic food staples to relying on imports and food aid.” (BBC Web site, January 26, 2006) This shows that Africa has enough resources and hard-working people to feed itself and fight natural and man-made disasters and advance toward a better future. But the people need first to free themselves from imperialist domination and smash the old economic, political and social relations that make imperialist domination possible. Otherwise the games of politics with aid will continue and the worsening cycle of hunger, famine and disaster will never end.
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 #108, November 11, 2007
We received the following correspondence from Carl Dix:
September 1, 2005. Tens of thousands of people, most of them Black and poor, trapped in New Orleans, abandoned by the U.S. government. Desperate people wading through chest-high water, trying to get to safety. City authorities announce that people should walk over the Crescent City Bridge because it’s the only safe way out of the city. This bridge crosses the Mississippi River and leads from New Orleans to the mostly white Jefferson Parish and the city of Gretna. Groups of people head to that bridge. Police from Gretna, sheriff’s deputies from Jefferson Parish, and armed vigilantes are there, pointing and firing their weapons, forcing them back into New Orleans, back into Katrina’s floodwaters, and maybe to their deaths.
October 31, 2007. The system gives this CRIME a stamp of approval. The only remaining criminal investigation into the actions of police and vigilantes the night of September 1, 2005, on the Crescent City Bridge came to an end. A New Orleans grand jury decided NOT to indict a Gretna police officer on charges of illegal discharge of a firearm. The Chief of Police of Gretna gloated, “It is certainly a day of vindication for the Gretna Police Department.”
Yet another outrage on top of all the other crimes the government has perpetrated against the masses of people in New Orleans—starting with how people were abandoned, treated like animals at the Superdome, callously evacuated, then—to this day—prevented from moving back to rebuild their homes and lives in New Orleans.
It is outrageous that the courts have declared that it was fine for the police to use the force of arms to protect a mostly white community from Black people who are trying get to safety.
And it is even more outrageous that this case, to begin with, was only about one officer who fired his gun at people trying to cross the bridge into safety. What about the other officers, and the vigilantes who joined in, who carried out these murderous actions? What about the authorities who gave them their orders? Why weren’t all of them being brought up on charges for their criminal wrongdoing?
And what about the government officials, federal, state and local, who left people to die? And who have seized on the destruction caused by Katrina to advance a long-held agenda of driving poor Black people out of the city? Why weren’t they being brought up on charges too for their criminal acts?
This is like investigating an overseer for brutalizing a slave, and exonerating him, while giving the slavemasters and the whole system of slavery a pass.
Revolution #108, November 11, 2007
Hundreds of millions of people facing water and food shortages... the extinction of one-third of the species on the planet... flooding of heavily populated coastal areas... disappearing glaciers... These are some of the consequences of global warming that are predicted by scientists unless drastic changes are made—consequences which are already affecting people across the globe. Our planet faces massive destruction with devastating consequences for both humanity and for the natural environment.
Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN organization charged with assessing scientific information on global warming, released a series of reports. A final synthesis report is due to be released on November 17.
According to the IPCC, there is no longer any doubt that global warming is happening—and it is all but certain that most of the increase in temperature is due to greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. (“Greenhouse gases” such as carbon dioxide are released when fossil fuels are burned. They trap the sun’s heat, raising global temperature.) The IPCC also concluded that hotter temperatures and rises in sea level "would continue for centuries" even if greenhouse gas levels are stabilized.
In many ways the United States is at the heart of the problem. With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush regime has worked overtime to suppress a scientific understanding of global warming and to resist even minimal steps to address the problem. When the IPCC issued its recent reports, the U.S. delegation pressed for the final version to avoid concluding that human activity is the main cause of global warming. In September, Bush refused to attend a summit on global warming at the U.N. and instead convened his own summit meeting in which the U.S. argued against setting any mandatory goals for greenhouse gas reduction. In October the White House censored a report to Congress by the head of the Centers for Disease Control on the public health effects of global warming (see box, “White House Censors While the Planet Burns”).
These actions of the Bush regime are criminal, but the Democratic Party leaders haven’t actually taken any serious action to deal with the problem either. When the Kyoto Protocol (an agreement by countries around the world to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions by 2012) was proposed in 1997, the U.S. Senate voted 97-0 urging President Clinton not to submit the treaty to the Senate (which would have made it binding on the U.S.). Al Gore, the Vice-President at the time, signed the treaty “symbolically” but said he agreed with not submitting it to the Senate.* By 2003, U.S. carbon emissions had climbed 18% over 1990 levels—despite pledges made by Clinton (while Gore was vice president) in the 1990s to cut emissions.
* In a correspondence to Revolution (“Problems with the Kyoto Protocol,” issue #53, online at revcom.us), a reader pointed out: “Even if successful [the Kyoto Protocol] is nowhere near what’s really necessary to significantly alter and turn around the growing danger of global warming. According to Greenpeace, the greenhouse gases already pumped into the atmosphere mean that a 2.2–4 degree F temperature rise is already unavoidable. Gases cause effects over decades, highlighting the need for massive cuts and quickly (which Kyoto doesn’t do).
To get a basic sense of the kind of emissions cuts that are required—a statement by the Union of Concerned Scientists says, ‘To have a fighting chance to keep global warming within safe levels, countries like the U.S. must reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050—and we must begin to make those reductions right away.’”
This capitalist-imperialist system we live under today is fundamentally incapable of addressing environmental issues and solving the problem of global warming. (See the excerpt from Raymond Lotta’s article “Capitalism, the Environment, and Ecology Under Socialism.”) Global warming must be addressed globally. Imperialism has produced a wasteful and destructive pattern of economic activity and industrial development. Eighty percent of the world’s resources are absorbed by the advanced capitalist countries, which make up only 15 percent of the world’s population. There is no way that the problem of global warming can be solved without breaking out of the capitalist-imperialist framework, with its unequal concentration of wealth and absorption of resources.
Individual energy-saving initiatives, like riding a bicycle and using low-watt light bulbs, are needed, but unless these things are in the context of much bigger and far-reaching changes in society, they just won’t solve the problem. The urgency of the situation calls for a complete change in the economic, political and social relations of society through revolution.
The system of capitalism has turned people’s productive abilities against the planet and humanity itself. The situation is very serious, but it’s not hopeless. The destruction of the earth is one possibility. Another possibility is the transformation of this planet into a different kind of world—if and only if we can achieve change as radical as the challenges we face. The very earth is crying out for revolution.
A recent study found more than a 20 percent reduction in the size of glaciers in the Himalaya region from 1962 to 2001. Parbati Glacier, one of the largest in the area, retreated by 170 feet a year during the 1990s. Similar losses are being seen around the world. At the current rate of retreat, all the glaciers in Glacier National Park in Montana will be gone by 2070. The disappearance of glaciers does not just mean that future generations may never see these beautiful formations. The Himalayan glaciers provide more than half of the drinking water for over 40% of the world’s population. Within the next 50 years, these people may face a massive drinking water shortage as well as food shortages.
Melting of Polar Ice
The pace of the melting of Arctic ice has startled many climate scientists. The ice is retreating at a rate of 10 percent per decade, or 28,000 square miles per year. Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center says, “The sea ice cover is in a downward spiral and may have passed the point of no return. As the years go by, we are losing more and more ice in summer, and growing back less and less ice in winter. We may well see an ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer within our lifetimes.”
Rising Sea Levels
The melting of the glaciers and polar ice contributes to rising sea levels, which have increased by about 7 inches over the last 100 years. The IPCC reports say that “many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to rising sea levels by 2080.” The areas most affected will be the river delta areas of Asia and Africa where hundreds of millions live. Rising sea levels are already having an effect, especially in the island nations of the Pacific Ocean which are being ravaged as by floods, storms, erosions, and other coastal hazards. The government of Papua New Guinea has approved funds to relocate all 2,000 residents of the Cartaret Islands, which experts say might vanish completely by 2015. On Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific, low-lying areas are being evacuated.
According to a recent study in the journal Nature, by 2050 between 15 and 35 percent of all species—over one million species—could become extinct as a result of global warming. A commentary accompanying the study said, "The threat to life on Earth is not just a problem for the future. It is part of the here and now." Oceans are becoming more acidic because of increasing carbon dioxide in the air, and this is expected to cause extensive destruction to coral reefs and the species that depend on them. Polar bears are drowning because they have to swim longer distances to reach ice floes. The U.S. Geological Survey has predicted that two-thirds of the world's polar bear sub-populations will be extinct by mid-century due to melting of the Arctic ice cap.
Because of poverty caused by imperialist domination and its specific geographic features, Africa is one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change. According to the recent report by IPCC, by 2020 between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to water shortages. In a continent already suffering from food shortages and widespread starvation, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%.
Human Health Risks
Global warming is estimated to contribute to more than 150,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year, according to the World Health Organization, a toll that could double by 2030. The WHO data, published in Nature, indicate that climate change is driving up rates of malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea throughout the world. Heat waves, like the one in Western Europe in 2003 which killed over 30,000 people, will become more severe and last for longer periods of time.
Hurricanes and Extreme Weather
Hurricanes get their power from warm ocean water. Recent studies show that the number of most destructive hurricanes—Category 4 and 5—around the world has doubled during the last 35 years. This is linked to rising sea surface temperatures caused by global warming. Areas not in hurricane zones will also be affected. For example, northeastern U.S. can expect more brutal wintertime storms. One scenario predicts that by 2080, intense storms that now hit New York every 100 years will occur every four years. With warmer temperatures, precipitation that would normally fall as snow is more likely to fall as rain, increasing the threat of heavy flooding.
It is not possible to say whether the wildfires sweeping Southern California were or were not caused by global warming—because it is impossible to attribute any individual event to global warming and also because diverse factors, including wind patterns and housing location, contributed to the fires and the extent of destruction. But studies have shown that hot drought conditions are becoming more common and increasing the number of fires. According to one projection, conditions as dry as the Dust Bowl of the 1930s could prevail in the U.S. Southwest by the middle of this century.
Excerpt from: Capitalism, the Environment, and Ecology Under Socialism, by Raymond Lotta
Capitalism cannot deal with the environment in a sustainable and economically rational way for three basic reasons:
First, its logic is “expand-or-die”: to cheapen cost and to expand in order to wage the competitive battle and gain market share. And unplanned, large-scale, globally-interconnected production poses grave threats to the environment.
Second, the horizons of capitalism tend to be short term. They seek to maximize returns quickly. They don’t think about the consequences in 10, 20, 30 years. We see that in the U.S.—they build a nuclear power station because it looks profitable and then, ten years later, they realize, uh-oh, their investment isn’t paying off. And so then they spend more money to try to undo it, and then go in for another big short-term gain somewhere else.
Third, capitalist production is by its nature private. The economy is broken up into competing units of capitalist control and ownership over the means of production. And each unit is fundamentally concerned with itself and its expansion and its profit. The economy, the constructed and natural environment, and society cannot be dealt with as a social whole under capitalism. It’s all fragmented into private parts. And each part looks at what lies outside itself as a “free ride.” An individual capitalist can open a steel mill and be concerned with the cost of that steel mill. But what they do to the air is not “their cost,” because it’s not part of their sphere of ownership. In mainstream economic theory, this is called “externality.”
The entire article can be found online at revcom.us
The Bush White House censored testimony to Congress on the public health impact of global warming prepared by Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The original, unedited testimony to be presented to Congress on October 23 was 14 pages long, but the White House edited the final version down to six pages.
The edits essentially deleted all sections that referred to climate change as a public health concern—including the risks of increased food-borne and waterborne diseases, worsening extreme weather events, worsening air pollution and the effect of heat stress on humans.
Scientists and public health officials were outraged by the censorship of the head of the primary U.S. public health agency. “All of these [topics] are routinely mentioned in public health coursework across the nation," according to Dr. Alan Ducatman, a professor of community medicine at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. "Each can be found in the pages of leading journals, such as Science and Nature. If anything, they understate the problem."
"We talk of the politicization of science," said Dr. Linda Rosenstock, Dean of the UCLA School of Public Health. "In the politicization of this topic—the science wasn't changed, it was deleted."
Revolution #108, November 11, 2007
Check It Out: Rendition
I urge everyone to go see the movie Rendition and take a skeptical friend. Roger Ebert called it a “terrifying, intelligent thriller.”
Rendition starts when a young man, a green card holder and engineer, who goes to South Africa for a conference, returns to the U.S, but is kidnapped by U.S. agents at the airport, handcuffed and hooded, and flown to his home country of Egypt to a torture dungeon. This fictional movie is based on fact. In 2005, when George Bush spoke publicly about the practice of rendition, he said, “in the post-9/11 world, the United States must make sure we protect our people and our friends from attack. And one way to do so is to arrest people and send them back to their country of origin with the promise that they won’t be tortured. That’s the promise we receive. This country does not believe in torture. We do believe in protecting ourselves.”
As Roger Ebert explained in his review, “This is being done in our name. People who are suspected for any reason, or no good reason, of being terrorists can be snatched from their lives and transported to another country to be held without charge and tortured for information. Because the torture is conducted by professionals in those countries, our officials can blandly state that ‘America does not torture’.”
The acting is great. Many times it is luminous. The screenwriting is crisp and the background well-researched. Each character has depth and inner life. The Romeo-and-Juliet-with-a-twist subplot hits the gut when it is revealed. Kudos to director Gavin Hood (next up for him is...Wolverine). The characters in this movie: CIA agents, American Senators and their young aides, the engineer and his American wife and child, the Arab high school kids who become “martyrs” trained by Muslim Fundamentalists. All are portrayed with complexity, whirled together in the funnel of the U.S. war on terror.How we change this whole situation, and whether we dare, is up to us.