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Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
In his infamous “Axis of Evil” 2002 State of the Union address, Bush put Iraq and Iran in the bullseye of the next phase of the “war on terror.” He outlined what were to become the whole set of concocted lies about Iraq’s “WMDs”—lies used to justify a war that has brought about—according to documented estimates—over a million deaths and created four million internal and external refugees.
And now, Iran is in the crosshairs. In one possible scenario, Dick Cheney is reported to be cooking up plans for Israel to attack Iran, and then for the U.S. to dive into the war when Iran counter-attacks. Massive U.S. naval power off the coast of Iran puts the U.S. in position to attack at any time. The White House is demanding $88 million to modify B-2 Stealth bombers to carry a newly developed 30,000-pound bunker-buster bomb—very possibly for use in a war on Iran.
Central to the “case for war,” on October 17, Bush said, “I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War 3, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.”
In the face of all this, there is far too little resistance to the danger of a U.S. attack on Iran. Perhaps, even among people who are appalled by the death, destruction, and torture the U.S. has brought to Iraq and Afghanistan, there is confusion about the danger posed by Iran’s reactionary rulers acquiring nuclear weapons, and threatening the world with nuclear war.
In this article, we will examine why in fact, if you are concerned about the danger of nuclear war, right now the most urgent and essential thing you need to be doing is joining with others to politically, and massively oppose a U.S. military attack on Iran in any form.
Who Holds the People of the World as Nuclear Hostages?
Iran has a nuclear development program, which has the potential to, at some point, provide them with the technology to make nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons proliferating in a highly unstable region are indeed a threat to the entire planet, and nuclear weapons in the hands of reactionary mullahs—are not in the interests of the people of Iran, just as nukes in Pakistan and India are not in the interests of the people there or anywhere.
But by far the greatest and most imminent danger of the use of nuclear weapons, including in the Middle East, is coming from the United States.
The U.S. is the only country in the world that has ever used nukes. The post-war era of U.S. imperialist domination, based on the outcome of World War 2, was “ushered in” and announced in part by the U.S. annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs. That massacre of 200,000 people defined the role of “the bomb” in U.S. global power.
Today, the United States has 10,000 nuclear weapons. Greenpeace points out, “While the prospect of an all out exchange of arsenals between Russia and the U.S. has receded, the 15 kilotons of destruction that obliterated Hiroshima could today be accomplished with a lunch-box sized bomb. George Bush talks openly of developing new ‘more useable’ nuclear weapons. Even more alarmingly, the administration continues to seek approval for a programme geared toward designing more robust, more ‘usable’ nuclear weapons.”
The United States deploys 480 nuclear weapons in Europe. These weapons are not rotting remnants of the “cold war.” They are up-to-date, ready-to-fire weapons of horrific mass destruction that are built into U.S. war planning doctrine—including neutralizing Russia’s nuclear strike capacity. So not only does the U.S. have 10,000 nukes—they’ve also given themselves the right to use them in a “pre-emptive” attack.
Regime Change Disguised as Disarmament
In his book Target Iran, former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter writes that the WMD hoax that justified the Iraq war is “being replayed, with American policy objectives once again being hidden behind a veil of deceit, with regime change disguised as disarmament.” (page xix)
Iran has repeatedly sought deals to develop a nuclear program that would be acceptable to the world’s imperialist powers. Former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith wrote: “In May 2003, the Iranian authorities sent a proposal through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, Tim Guldimann, for negotiations on a package deal in which Iran would freeze its nuclear program in exchange for an end to U.S. hostility. The Iranian paper offered ‘full transparency for security that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD [and] full cooperation with the IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments.’ The Iranians also offered support for ‘the establishment of democratic institutions and a non-religious government’ in Iraq; full cooperation against terrorists (including ‘above all, al-Qaeda’); and an end to material support to Palestinian groups like Hamas. In return, the Iranians asked that their country not be on the terrorism list or designated part of the ‘axis of evil’; that all sanctions end; that the U.S. support Iran’s claims for reparations for the Iran-Iraq War as part of the overall settlement of the Iraqi debt; that they have access to peaceful nuclear technology; and that the U.S. pursue anti-Iranian terrorists...” (“The Victor?” by Peter Galbraith, New York Review of Books, October 11, 2007)
The response to Iran’s proposal? According to Flynt L. Leverett, who served in senior posts at the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency, “[T]he formal response of the administration to this was to complain to the Swiss foreign ministry that the Swiss ambassador in Tehran was exceeding his brief by talking with Iranians about a paper like this and passing it on.”
U.S. accusations of Iranian violations of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) cover for and justify a strategic drive for regime change in Iran, with war an “option on the table.” The rulers of this country perceive a need to radically re-configure the Middle East, to crush or bring under their control Islamic fundamentalist forces. In the pages of Revolution, we have addressed and analyzed the factors behind that (for a comprehensive overview, see Bringing Forward Another Way by Bob Avakian at revcom.us/avakian/anotherway). The “debacle” in Iraq—as the U.S. rulers see it—has upped the ante for the U.S. in the Middle East. It is this agenda of radical transformation of the Middle East in the service of U.S. empire that is driving the U.S., not some concern over the danger of nuclear war.
Getting to a World Without Nukes
Nuclear weapons enforce a world dominated by imperialism. And imperialist powers use their nuclear arsenals to contend over “their share” of world domination.
Imperialism is a system where huge monopolies and financial institutions control the economy and political system—not just in one country but all over the world. Imperialism means that capitalist exploiters oppress billions of people all over the earth. And it means war. War that puts down resistance and rebellion of the oppressed. War between rival imperialist states.
In an article titled, “If You Want to Understand the Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and the ‘War on Terror,’ You Need to Know:” we wrote:
“[A]fter World War 2, with the weakening of other colonial powers, on both the winning and losing sides in that war, the U.S. moved to bring vast amounts of territory under its domination, in the form of ‘neo-colonialism,’ effectively controlling and robbing countries throughout the Third World, with terrible consequences for billions of people, even while those countries were nominally ‘independent.’ Where they stood in the way of this domination and exploitation by the U.S., governments throughout the Third World, including popularly elected (and more or less secular) governments, were overthrown through bloody coups engineered and led by the CIA—for example, in Iran in 1953, and Indonesia in 1965—and brutally oppressive regimes, subservient to the U.S., were installed and kept in power for decades.” (Revolution #105, October 21, 2007)
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has targeted and attacked reactionary regimes that are not sufficiently compliant to the imperialists, or who present a challenge to the domination of U.S. imperialism. This is guided not by any altruistic concern that these regimes “oppress their own people” (countless U.S. client states viciously oppress their own people), but by the same drive to dominate the world.
Iran’s nuclear program is both a response to U.S. threats and a vehicle to advance Iran’s regional ambitions. The development of Iran’s nuclear program has the potential to tip the regional balance of forces in the Middle East in Iran’s favor, against unpopular U.S. client regimes. And, to challenge the regional monopoly of nukes in the hands of the U.S. and Israel—which sits in the middle of all this with 400 nuclear weapons and advanced delivery systems. In response to Iran’s program, several U.S.-backed regimes in the Middle East are reported to be developing their own nuclear programs. As the U.S. empire aggressively pursues its agenda, this strengthens reactionary Islamic forces and their race to bolster their aspirations.
From both sides of this clash between McWorld vs. Jihad, there is nothing positive for the people. If you do support one side in this clash, you end up supporting the whole reactionary dynamic. And it is up to us to bring forward something completely different.
The vast and highly sophisticated technology and production capacity that exists today is a result of the collective labor of millions of people around the world. And all that could be, and should be used to feed, clothe, and house people, educate them, and unleash them to consciously transform the world in the interests of humanity. The obscenity of a huge amount of the world’s resources going to producing massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons is an extreme expression of the prevailing social relations dominating the world today.
When you confront what imperialism does to people around the world—including the threat of nuclear war—then you need to resist that. And, beyond that, you confront the need for fundamental change to the whole oppressive world order. That fundamental change requires revolution, which can only be made at a time of major societal crisis and can only be the conscious act of millions. Such a revolution in the United States would deal a major blow to the world imperialist system, and lift a huge weight from the backs of the people of the world.
A socialist society would immediately and radically transform the relationship of the United States to the world, from global vampire to a base area for the world revolution. A fundamental goal of that revolution would be to attack what Bob Avakian has called the “lopsidedness” in the world, “In the world today the advanced productive forces are concentrated in a handful of the advanced—that is, imperialist—countries while the economies of most of the countries in the world are not simply backward but distorted, disarticulated in their development because of imperialist domination and plunder.” (See “We Have A World to Win: Bob Avakian on Imperialism and Internationalism,” Revolutionary Worker #1032, November 28, 1999, available at revcom.us)
Bringing Forward a Whole Different Dynamic
Part of the paralyzing dynamic in the world today is that it is in the interests of both sides of the McWorld/Crusade vs. Jihad conflict to tell people that their only choices are one or the other of these oppressive and reactionary poles. But to support one side against the other actually strengthens both.
The president of the United States told Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, “God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam.” (“‘Road map is a life saver for us,’ PM Abbas tells Hamas,” Haaretz, by Arnon Regular 06/24/2003) The Islamic Republic of Iran is ruled by obscurantist clerics. This is a very dangerous situation. And U.S. imperialism and Islamic Jihad both oppose and reinforce each other. When the U.S. invades Afghanistan and Iraq, and threatens (and possibly attacks) Iran, this not only strengthens their military hand in the world, but their monstrous ability to exploit and oppress billions. At the same time, in the absence of a powerful real alternative—the Islamic fundamentalists are able to rally people to their banner of obscurantism, oppression, and forms of opposing the U.S. that do not serve a real liberation struggle. When these forces rule, they do not change the feudal oppression people are suffering under or the subordination of their economies into the imperialist division of labor.
What we need is a completely different dynamic worldwide, a dynamic of revolutionary struggle giving the people of the world another way out of this madness. Imperialism is the common enemy of the people of the world. While revolution in every country is a distinct process, communist revolution can only succeed if it aims for a world free of all oppression. Everywhere, people need revolution and state power to be able to change any of this in any fundamental way and to even begin bringing the dream of a world without nuclear weapons into being.
STOPPING a U.S. War on Iran
Yes, the rulers of this country are determined to terrorize the world with their “War on Terror.” We must be more determined to wage political struggle to stop them. The Call from The World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime, written in summer 2005, includes the following prescient point: “That which you will not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn—or be forced—to accept. There is no escaping it: the whole disastrous course of this Bush regime must be STOPPED. And we must take the responsibility to do it.”
That Call says: “And there is a way. We are talking about something on a scale that can really make a huge change in this country and in the world. We need more than fighting Bush’s outrages one at a time, constantly losing ground to the whole onslaught. We must, and can, aim to create a political situation where the Bush regime’s program is repudiated, where Bush himself is driven from office, and where the whole direction he has been taking society is reversed. We, in our millions, must and can take responsibility to change the course of history.”
This challenge remains urgent and critical. Bush is not acting like a “lame duck.” His lies about Iranian nukes are not in service of disarmament. He is turning up heat on Iran, in the service of U.S. imperial interests. And he is greatly increasing the danger of a profoundly unjust U.S. war on Iran.
Now is no time to sit back and wait to see what will happen in a year or 14 months. Now is a time to act! We in our millions must, and can, take responsibility to change the course of history.
During the Vietnam War, in 1969, Richard Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger seriously considered using nuclear weapons against Vietnam (an option they called “Duck Hook”). An article at the National Security Archive reveals that: “Nixon pulled the plug on the prospective operation sometime between October 2 and October 6 . …Nixon began to doubt whether he could maintain public support for the three- to six-month period that Duck Hook might require. Another concern was that the three major antiwar demonstrations previously scheduled for October 15 and November 13-15—dates coincidentally bracketing the launch of Duck Hook—might additionally erode public confidence in his leadership, [and] expand into larger demonstrations...” (“Nixon White House Considered Nuclear Options Against North Vietnam...,” edited by William Burr and Jeffrey Kimball.)
Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
On November 7, Bush told a German interviewer that his “World War 3” statement was justified “[B]ecause this is a country that has defied the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].”
Bush meant Iran. Since secret elements of Iran’s nuclear program were revealed in 2002, Iran has had a contentious relationship with the IAEA. Recently, Iran appears to be cooperating with the IAEA. In late October, the agency’s deputy director, Olli Heinonen, told reporters that Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA was “good.” Iran has not ratified all components of the IAEA that would restrict its nuclear energy program. Iran’s nuclear program could provide the basis to develop nuclear weapons at some point. And the Islamic Republic of Iran does have aspirations to regional power, and with such ambitions come the compulsion to develop nuclear weapons.
But no country comes close to the United States in defying international agreements against the spread and use of nuclear weapons—agreements administered by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). The IAEA enforces the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), supposedly an agreement of the world’s governments to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. The NPT does not ban nuclear weapons, or their use. In large part, the point of the NPT is to maintain the monopoly of nuclear weapons in the hands of a handful of world powers—mainly the United States and Russia. Nuclear powers supposedly agree not to spread nuclear weapons to other countries, and non-nuclear states promise not to acquire or develop them. The incentive for this is supposed to be that countries with nuclear technology share that technology with non-nuclear countries for peaceful purposes. (The NPT is available at fas.org/nuke/control/npt/text/npt2.htm.)
Even while the NPT is a stacked deck to maintain the current U.S. monopoly on global nuclear terror (with Russia as its only competition), the U.S. is by far the greatest violator of rules in the NPT against the spreading of nuclear weapons technology.
Many of the U.S./NATO nukes in Europe, for example, are set to be deployed in, and under the control of, non-nuclear NATO countries. As a 2005 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) points out, this is a “violation of Non-Proliferation Treaty’s (NPT) main objective.” (“U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe: A Review of Post-Cold War Policy, Force Levels, and War Planning,” by Hans M. Kristensen, Natural Resources Defense Council, February 2005)
One of the fundamental goals of the NPT is supposed to be “the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.” The U.S. has developed “bunker buster” nuclear bombs—again in violation of the NPT and other treaties that prohibit the development of new nuclear weapons. By upgrading its nukes, modernizing them, and integrating a nuclear war component into its warfighting strategy, the U.S. eclipses anything any so-called “rogue nation” could even dream of in undermining the stated intent of the NPT.
For years, the U.S. has targeted non-nuclear nations (including Iran) with nukes. A recent article in Scientific American, based on documents obtained by scientists using the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that “The [U.S.] nuclear warheads resting on ballistic missiles in silos, circling the globe in submarines or carried—sometimes mistakenly—by aircraft” are targeted at “so-called ‘regional proliferators,’ smaller states seeking to acquire such weapons of mass destruction.” The latest list of targeted countries made available to the authors of the article, for 2002, included North Korea, Libya, Iran, and Syria (“‘Axis of Evil’ Targeted by U.S. Nuclear Weapons” by David Biello, November 5, 2007). Targeting nations without nuclear weapons for nuclear attack is in violation of NPT agreements.
And then there’s Israel—the only country in the Middle East armed with nuclear weapons. Israel has never signed the NPT, and its nuclear weapons program is unsupervised and uninspected by the IAEA. Israel has an estimated 400 nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, and is developing the capacity to launch them from submarines (“U.S. Air Force: Israel has 400 nukes, building naval force,” World Tribune, July 4, 2002). Israel’s current missile capacity can fire nuclear warheads into Iran and every other nation in the Middle East.
In January 2005, Dick Cheney made a not-very-veiled threat that Israel could attack Iran: “One of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked... Given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards.” (MSNBC interview, January 2005)
The U.S., right now, holds nuclear weapons over the heads of the people of the world. A U.S. attack on Iran, under the pretext of stopping nuclear weapons proliferation, could very likely involve the use of nuclear weapons. In an article in The New Yorker that outlines highly developed plans for a U.S. attack on Iran, Seymour Hersh writes, “One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites.” (“The Iran Plans: Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb?” by Seymour M. Hersh, April 17, 2006).
Imagine the Pandora’s box that would be opened by the first actual use of a nuclear bomb in the Middle East by the U.S. That would set a precedent for all kinds of new development and potential for use of nuclear weapons. And it would escalate the whole MacWorld vs. Jihad clash with terrible consequences.
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.
Marxism as a Science—In Opposition to Mechanical Materialism, Idealism and Religiosity
Along with breaking with all expressions of religious tendencies, within the communist movement itself as well as more generally, there is a need to leap beyond and rupture with a definite legacy of the communist movement in terms of tendencies (which still exist and exert a significant influence) toward pragmatism and empiricism, reification of the proletariat, and reification of socialism (or the process of the socialist transformation of society and the advance to communism), as though this is some sort of religious-tending process, some teleological process that’s all working out toward some predetermined end (what Bill Martin refers to as “inevitable-ism”1). These kinds of viewpoints and approaches, along with reductionism and positivism—and the tendency to mechanical materialism and determinism in general—lead to reducing everything to the more immediate and narrow dimensions and to acting as if things that happened were bound to happen, and/or were determined by a linear progression of causes (or seeming causes), without leaps and qualitative changes from one state of matter to another, and without the interaction of different levels of matter in motion.
A while ago there was a program on TV—it didn’t last very long, only a few episodes, but I don’t think it was because of its bad philosophy and bad science—this was a program where Stanley Tucci played a neurosurgeon/brain surgeon and at one point (in one of the few episodes that made it on TV before the show was canceled) he said to another doctor: “The brain is just a box with wires.” Well, this is an example of what I mean by reductionism and positivism. The brain is a great deal more than that, and human thinking involves a great deal more than a box with wires. It involves a great deal more than what goes on with a computer, for example—a much more complex process is involved, within the brain itself, and in the interactions between the brain and the rest of the body, and between the body (or, better said, the person) as a whole and the “outside world.” All that is involved in the functioning of the human brain and in human thought.
These kinds of tendencies toward positivism and reductionism are, of course, in evidence not just in bad TV programs, or even just in some approaches to medical science. You see this all the time in the outlook and method of people—including communists—reducing things to the most narrow terms, looking for the causes of things just in the most immediate thing that suggests itself, not looking to the deeper dynamics and the larger picture—along with a lot of apriorism and instrumentalism (trying to make reality fit preconceived notions and predetermined aims).
Well, there are, among communists, those tendencies, which go along with religiosity—and this has no place in what we’re doing. Ours is not, and must not be, a religious, but rather a scientific, approach to things, to everything. We are not out to do something because we cooked up a nice vision, to us, of an “ideal world” and now—as the “anti-totalitarians” are always claiming—we’re setting out to impose with as much force as proves necessary, this utopian ideal vision on everyone. This is one of the classical charges against communists in the “anti-totalitarian” arsenal—that we have these utopian dreams and schemes that may sound good but have no grounding or basis in reality, so we’re forced to increasingly use coercion against the very people in whose name we proclaim such a utopia, and we end up utilizing the most horrific means to try to impose this utopian ideal. That is not what this is about.
What we are setting out to do, and the principles and methods involved in this, are not a matter of apriorism and instrumentalism—we know the answers to everything going in, and it’s simply a matter of reconfiguring things so that everybody we’re working with gives us the right answers when we pose the right questions. To the degree that there are tendencies in this direction, it is something we have to thoroughly rupture with and root out. We must be engaging reality, on as scientific a basis as we possibly can, at any given time. And, in this process, we are interacting with other people who are applying different outlooks and different approaches with different objectives. Their thinking, their objectives, their inclinations and their ideas—some of which may actually better reflect reality than our understanding at times and with regard to certain phenomena, lest we forget—this is also part of the larger objective reality that we need to engage. It is necessary to have a scientific approach to that as well. We need to have a systematically, consistently, and comprehensively scientific approach, to everything—and the communist outlook and method provides the means to do that, if we actually take up and apply it, and don’t corrupt it with religious or other philosophically idealist and metaphysical notions and approaches.
This is why I like the image, or metaphor, of our being a team of scientists—scientists setting out to transform the world in the most profound way. What we’re about is not anything different than that. So we have to be consistently and thoroughly scientific ourselves, even when we’re interacting with many people who are anything but that—or are that at certain times and to a certain degree, but then again are not scientific in the most consistent, systematic, and comprehensive sense.
Running through everything I have been speaking to so far is the whole emphasis on the fact that Marxism/communism is a science, a scientific outlook and method for understanding and, yes, for changing the world. It’s a science as opposed to dogma and religiosity—including dogma and religiosity in the guise of science. As I have pointed out before, we are not dealing with nature and history in capital letters—Nature and History endowed with will and purpose—and all this is not some grand process of the working out of Nature and History toward the inevitable goal of communism. We’re dealing with material reality in its various forms, including human social relations. There is no will operating through this, other than human beings with their “wills” and their understanding. There is no teleology unfolding, there is no predetermined end toward which everything is bound to proceed. And the fact is that, besides everything else that is wrong with this, it is also true that replacing science and the continual struggle to more and more consistently and systematically grasp and apply a scientific method and approach—replacing that with what amounts to religiosity will sooner or later, and often sooner, lead to “losing your faith”—the “god that failed” phenomenon that we have seen before. Religious viewpoints, in whatever guise and whatever form, are not going to stand up to the real world and to all the many, truly daunting challenges and profound contradictions that have to be struggled with and transformed. Religiosity, especially when you are setting out to radically change the world and are up against all the difficult challenges posed in this process, will lead to disorientation and to clinging (at least for a time) to a set of beliefs that is very brittle—and to being lifeless and uninspiring, for yourself or anyone else.
So we communists really need to rupture thoroughly with dogma and religiosity, and be consistently and systematically scientific. Let me keep emphasizing that fundamental point. And let me also emphasize that what we need, and must base ourselves on, is the scientific outlook and method of communism that is also opposed to what I call revisionist “determinist realism.” Lenin made that very insightful observation (or captured something very insightfully in the formulation) that one of the main expressions of revisionism is this: what is desirable is what’s possible, and what’s possible is what is already being done. Now, that is one of the main expressions of “determinist realism.” But this “determinist realism” also expresses itself in the form of not seeing the possibility of sudden, dramatic change and radical ruptures—only dealing with the surface appearance of things, not penetrating to the underlying contradictions and the dynamics that are bound up with those contradictions; not casting your gaze broadly enough at what’s going on in the world that might impinge upon and interpenetrate with things happening in one part of the world; not looking with a fresh and creative enough approach to reality, seeing only the existing patterns of things, but not the possibility of something emerging, yes, out of the existing contradictions—not out of nowhere—but perhaps in unexpected and unanticipated ways, being unprepared in your orientation for that.
The failure to do all that leads to this “determinist realism.” You look at the world as it is, you see what appears on the surface to be possible in the world the way it is, and you assume it will indefinitely continue the way it is—and therefore your options become more and more narrowed, your vision more and more constricted. Now it’s not that we can be voluntarist and think we can do whatever we want, regardless of material reality. But this is where dialectics comes in, together with materialism—this is why materialism, in the fullest and most consistent sense, dialectical materialism, does not lead to “determinist realism.” It involves an engagement with material reality, and key concentrations of material reality at any given time, in their contradictoriness—in their living, moving and changing character, and in their interconnection with other aspects of matter in motion—and not approaching things statically and as if things will continue on indefinitely the way they are. It looks beneath the surface to see the more profound undergirdings and dynamics that are driving things, and grapples with the ways in which this may bring forward radical ruptures and leaps, while also being oriented to expect the unexpected—to be alert and tense to the possibility of unanticipated events arising, or erupting, out of the motion and development of things that are already apparent, in interconnection with things that may not yet be apparent.
This series will continue in the next issue of Revolution.
1. Bill Martin, a radical professor of philosophy and maverick social theorist, is the author of a number of works, including, with Bob Avakian, the book Marxism and the Call of the Future, Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics (Chicago: Open Court Publishing/Carus Publishing, 2005).[back]
Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
Demonstration in Front of Justice Dept. Shows:
At 10th & Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of the Justice Department on the day before Senate Democrats Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein sealed the nomination of Judge Mukasey who would not say that water boarding is torture, activists from the World Can’t Wait, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Catholic Worker, Code Pink, Montgomery Peace Action, and the Democracy Cell Project gathered to dramatically demonstrate that in fact it is.
Clark Kissinger introduced the scene for the gathered media by pointing out that those publications that describe waterboarding as “simulated drowning” are practicing “simulated journalism.” Waterboarding IS drowning. Water is forced up the nose and mouth of the blindfolded victim in a controlled manner. Any attempt to breathe only leads to inhaling more water. The sensation of asphyxiation induces excruciating pain and terror.
Waterboarding is, of course, part of an arsenal of U.S. torture methods euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation.” To provide “plausible deniability” for the military, the U.S. government regularly employs “private contractors” or CIA personnel to torture. The government also employs “special rendition,” where individuals are shipped to other countries to be tortured in secret at the request of the Bush regime.
The anti-torture activists, dressed as “civilian contractors,” drag the victim forward. Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, a 26-year-old Iranian-American actor, had bravely agreed to be the victim. He is dressed in an orange jump suit, his hands tightly bound with duct tape.
“Give us the names!” screams Marietta, a local university drama teacher.
“I don’t have any names. I was in Syria at a conference,” Maboud pleads.
“We can do this the easy way; we can do it the hard way.”
Maboud is grabbed from where he is sitting and forced onto an inclined board, head down, with the towel thrown over his face. “Give us the names!” the interrogator screams as water is poured onto the towel. Although Maboud is protected from the full force of the water by the piece of plastic behind the towel, some water still gets past and runs up his nose. It begins getting very real.
After the first gallon, Maboud is pulled up. “You like that? You like that? That was the hard way. You want to breathe? Give us the names!” the interrogator again demands. Maboud can only cough and gasp for air. He is pushed back down on the board and given another gallon of water in the face.
At the end of the demonstration, Maboud is coughing and shaken. “It’s only the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had,” Maboud tells reporters. “Although it was a ‘controlled environment,’ when water goes into your lungs, you want to scream and you can’t because you know as soon as you do you’re going to choke. It’s forced drowning. That’s what it is.”
Waterboarding is illegal under both international and domestic law. The U.S. is a signatory of the International Convention Against Torture, and there is a domestic anti-torture law. Schumer and Feinstein excuse the line they have just crossed over to once again sanction and legitimize war crimes by saying that Judge Mukasey has assured them he will uphold a law prohibiting torture if Congress would pass one. Aside from the fact that the Bush regime would most surely abrogate this with a signing statement or a veto—this is also like saying, if Congress will only pass a new law, then I will deign to enforce the existing laws.
The demonstration of waterboarding was covered by the Associated Press which put out a story with video, and on web pages from the Washington Post to the Los Angeles Times, as well as by daily papers. A few nights later it was shown on the PBS’s News Hour with Jim Lehrer. For just a few minutes Maboud shared the experience of people who are still being tortured in U.S. military prisons and black sites around the world. It was both terrifying and emotional—a reminder that allowing this to go on in our names makes us culpable and that it’s high time we acted to stop this by actually driving the war criminals running this country from power through massive political repudiation and resistance to their whole reactionary program. TORTURE ALONE IS REASON ENOUGH!
Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
West Chicago Suburb:
On Thursday, November 1, students at Morton West High School in Berwyn, Illinois protested the Iraq war and the presence of U.S. military recruiters on campus. Berwyn is a mainly lower middle class and proletarian city just west of Chicago. 80% of students at Morton West are Latino.
The students sat in at the cafeteria, near where on most days, recruiters are given space to lure students into the U.S. military. The students agreed to move their protest to another location on the campus after school officials asked them to. But at the end of the day, over 30 student protesters were given notices of 5- to 10-day suspensions. Even more outrageously, the school sent out notices to parents accusing the students of “mob activity”—and the school board is threatening to expel around two dozen students.
School officials also have been calling in students who participated in the protest to talk about their cases and then reportedly asking—practically demanding—that they snitch on the protest leaders.
Over 7,300 people so far have signed an online petition written by the Columbia College Chicago Students for a Democratic Society (“In Defense of the Morton West Antiwar Students,” at petitiononline.com/mortonw/petition.html). The students’ action—and the school’s retaliation—has been widely covered by the Associated Press, BBC, the New York Times and many other media and Internet blogs. A November 8 editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times said in part: “It’s too easy today for kids to be apathetic and self-centered, so we applaud those who express any interest in our government’s foreign policy. That is why we think the reported five- and 10-day suspensions and possible expulsions of up to 25 students at Morton West High School are extreme punishment for students who staged a sit-in protest… The students are certainly getting a lesson about the personal costs of civil disobedience. First they were protesting the war in Iraq—a position we happen to support—and then other students protested their suspensions.”
Over 150 people packed a raucous and emotional school board meeting on November 7. For over two and a half hours, students, parents, and others took their allotted three minutes on the mike to support the protesters and condemn the actions of school officials as well as the war and military recruiters. The father of one of the students facing expulsion told the school board, “The soldiers [in Iraq] have been there too long, and they need to be replaced, and they will be replaced with the kids of today. And these kids have the right to stand up and voice their opinions.”
Revolution talked to two of the Morton West protesters—Matt, a junior, and David, a freshman, at the school board meeting.
Revolution:Why did you decide to protest that day?
Matt: We chose November 1 because it was All Saints Day and we thought it would be a good day to protest for peace. The war has been going on for five years now, and you know, we just wanted to do something about it. Me and others, we felt that there’s not enough being done to raise awareness about the war, and we just wanted to show people that peace is possible.
David: The students don’t realize that this war is affecting the U.S.A. and how it’s changed, how life has changed... We wanted to show them that we shouldn’t even be in this war right now… We shouldn’t invade their country like we are right now.
Revolution:Have you been active against the war before this?
Matt: Actually, this is probably my first. I’ve spoken out against the war many times and I’ve said other things but…this was my first basically real big protest. Just a week before that there was a protest in Chicago and in the Capital… I saw that, and it was an idea that came to us, so we just felt compelled to do it and that was it.
Revolution:Was the protest a challenge to other people?
Matt: I don’t want to pass judgment on anyone else, really. But if people have an opinion about something that they strongly believe in, like the war, they should voice it.
Revolution #109, November 18, 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 #109, November 18, 2007
Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
This quiz is available on the World Can’t Wait website, worldcantwait.org. We encourage readers to take the quiz—and get it out broadly.
What country in the Middle East refuses to confirm or deny that it has a nuclear weapons program and refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?
What country agreed to be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and opened up its country to IAEA inspectors?
What country has the IAEA severely criticized for falsifying information on Iran’s nuclear program?
What country(ies) has/have ever used nuclear weapons on civilian populations?
1. Israel (Sources: Arms Control Association Fact Sheet, “The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at a Glance”; “144-Nation Atomic Energy Conference Criticizes Israel,” AP, 9/20/07)
2. Iran (Sources: “Iran President Vows to Ignore UN Measures,” NY Times, 9/26/07; “UN Find No Nuclear Bomb Program in Iran,” Washington Post, 11/16/04; “Report Showing Rise in Iran’s Nuclear Activity Exposes Split between the U.S. and UN,”
NY Times, 8/31/07)
3. U.S. (Source: “IAEA Blasts U.S. Intelligence Report on Iran,” cnn.com, 9/24/06)
4. U.S. (Source: “Hiroshima!” video on youtube.com)
Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
Taking the Iran Quiz to the Campuses:
The following correspondence is from Allen Lang, Student Organizer, World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime:
“While I don’t think war on Iran is inevitable, there are many real signs that show it’s a growing danger and a real possibility. A U.S. attack on Iran would have catastrophic consequences not just for the people of Iran, but possibly for a large part of the Middle East.” I jotted down those notes this past summer at a presentation given by Larry Everest at workshop called “Iraq, Iran and the Need for Resistance,” for the national World Can’t Wait Mission of a Generation Conference. Later that week we screened Normon Solomon’s documentary War Made Easy. The film’s examination of the role of the media in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq exposes the repetitive lies, distortions, and nauseating displays of patriotic bravado that dominated television screens across America NON-STOP. The film reminded me of how intensely the population was systematically lied to before the invasion, but also underscored how important it is when a large section of the population knows they are being lied to by their leaders and resist with that understanding.
After discussing the problem that many people in the U.S. don’t even know some basic facts that should inform their opinion on a possible war with Iran—and that there has been a very limited amount of resistance aimed at preventing a strike on Iran, or even people discussing it—World Can’t Wait developed a quiz on Iran and the Middle East. We debuted the quiz this summer at the Coachella Music Fest and since than have taken it out to campuses, concerts, e-lists, classrooms, workplaces, cafeterias, and anywhere else people gather.
Cutting Through the “USA=Good Guys” Assumption
On one level the quiz is a genuine attempt to test what people understand about an area of the world that their government is planning to bomb. But the questions were also consciously designed, yes designed, to cut through the faulty assumptions and popular consensus of “USA=Good Guys”—”Iran=Evil, Bad Guys” by forcing the quiz taker to think, participate, find out the truth, and see how their understanding matches up to it.
Important Initial Experience
World Can’t Wait has gained some important, initial experience with taking out the quiz that needs to be built on and taken to a whole different level throughout society. The first thing many of us noticed is that the international students we polled consistently did far better than students from the U.S. As some of us were building opposition to the October 22-26 “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”* among students in college dorms, we used the quiz at every opportunity, whether it was during a commercial break in the TV lounge or a room full of guys playing video games.
Very few people breeze through the quiz. Most students take a significant amount of time to read through the questions and think about the answers. Part of doing it in a group setting is to get a conversation going after everyone is finished and you tally up the results. On one occasion in a school cafeteria, a group of students told us that they didn’t know what each of them thought about a war with Iran and they had never discussed it together until taking the quiz.
Midway through the quiz many people ask, “Is this supposed to make me feel stupid?” When we went door-to-door in the dorms, some students took a shot at the first two questions and decided to hand it back because they “don’t know anything of this.” The purpose of the quiz is not to make people feel stupid, but to sharply point out: YOU have been systematically lied to and kept in the dark about the most important issues of the day. What does it say that a majority of students at American universities are not getting these questions right, particularly question number 2: What country in the Middle East agreed to be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and opened up its country to IAEA inspectors? People did best on question 4 (What country(ies) has/have ever used nuclear weapons on civilian populations?), but there is still just a staggering amount of students who do not know that the U.S. is the only country to have dropped atomic bombs on civilian populations. If this government can lie to you about this¼what else are they lying to you about?
Some universities like Columbia and NYU did relatively well, with most people getting at least the second and fourth question correct. However, that was not the majority of the cases. Here are a few samples with the (#) indicating the question number, followed by the percentage of correct answers:
U of Michigan (1) 12% (2) 24% (3) 28% (4) 48%
John Jay in New York (1) 26% (2) 31% (3) 39% (4) 28%
Texas Southern (1) 11% (2) 17% (3) 57% (4) 81%
While the quizzes have not yet been taken out in a thoroughly systematic and scientific way, the results point to a major problem throughout the country and one that needs to be transformed in order to prevent a war or strike on Iran. Seriously, for a generation who has more access to information than any other previous generation due to the unprecedented growth of technology, we really don’t get bombarded by the media when it comes to the things that matter. The simple fact that people are better able to talk about American Idol contestants than a possible war that will shape the future of the planet is reason in itself to be outraged.
After people finish the quiz, two questions need to be posed and discussed: (1) Do you think it is okay to not know this information as your government is preparing to go to war with Iran? (2) Now that you know…what you going to do to STOP IT? And for people who get most of the questions correct (and we have run into quite a few people who do get them correct): if you know this, why haven’t you done anything to stop it? Why have you remained complicit as the U.S. builds up its military forces around Iran?
How Can We Actually Stop the Bush Regime from Attacking Iran?
The quiz itself can’t, but the millions of people it could potentially reach CAN. On November 16, World Can’t Wait is uniting with anti-war/progressive forces to mobilize a mass outpouring of people in the streets for a “No War on Iran Orange Friday,” which will be the same day of the Iraq Moratorium protests. The Iran Quiz needs to be a key component in reaching out to and mobilizing the large number of students who are deeply opposed to U.S. war in the Middle East and want to do something about it. The quiz needs to be used at every classroom we speak in, every meeting we attend, every dorm we visit, every concert we table at, and everywhere people are resisting as we spread the color orange and call people into the streets for November 16.
Right now there are millions of people saying there is nothing they can do because there are not millions of people doing anything. This must end now. Anyone who has seriously looked at the potential presidential candidates and has a shred of honesty knows that there is no viable option among them that will do any fundamental good on anything, whether it’s the war or torture or spying. No one has included preventing a war with Iran on the platform—in fact it has been the complete opposite. It cannot be said enough that Obama, Edwards, and Clinton refuse to take the nuclear option off the table when it comes to how to deal with Iran.
You can do something. Right Now. There will be no real fundamental change until the people stop looking up to the powers-that-be and start manifesting their power in the streets. How can you go along with business-as-usual when your government is threatening another country with nukes? Think about how the rest of the world will look at us if we don’t stop a U.S. war on Iran¼but also stop to think about how they will look at us if they do see a people who have been paralyzed find their senses and take powerful action to stop this. As President Bush backs up threats of war on Iran with a massive build-up of the U.S. military along the Iranian border and Democratic leaders like Clinton and Obama scramble to outbid each other in who can perpetrate war crimes in the Middle East more effectively—a determined movement of people breaking with the paralyzing conventions of official politics can dramatically re-shift the entire equation and alter the disastrous course the current administration is taking society.
Student Organizer, World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime
* “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” was a week on college campuses spearheaded by right-wing battering ram David Horowitz to put a chill on dissent and whip up a social base of students to support the “war on terror.”
Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
October 8, 2007. A World to Win News Service. The following review is translated from the Iranian student publication Bazr (no. 20, www.bazr1384.com). The postscript is by AWTW.
Sometimes we forget that history is not a book or an article, that it is life. That we ourselves are part of history, that we live it and make it. And then it is art that reminds us of life beyond everyday drudgeries.
Persepolis, an animated film by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, is based on the four volumes of Satrapi’s widely read autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. It tells the story of contemporary Iran through the life of a girl with grand ambitions: to be the galaxy’s last prophet and to shave her legs. Contradictory concepts in one existence that throughout the film knit together the turbulent history of Iran and Marjane’s turbulent life. She is nine years old when the waves of revolution rise to engulf the country. Waves that send her parents to the demonstrations, bring politics into her childhood games, free prisoners from the dungeons of the Shah Pahlavi regime, and finally lead to the overthrow of the monarchy. In the first part of the film, through a look at the life and struggle of three generations of Marjane’s family, we are introduced to a history of dictatorship, oil and dependency, rebellion and revolution, suppression and more rebellion.
Marjane’s childhood is marked by the figures of family members who struggled against the ruling system. Her mother’s father, born a prince in a vanquished dynasty, became a communist. Her uncle joined the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, a party that supported the bordering then-socialist USSR and tried to create an autonomous region before it was crushed by the central government. Besides providing an outline of a certain historical period, this points to another truth: The fundamental contradictions in society constantly push some privileged intellectuals into rebellion against the system. They come to realize the outmoded nature of the dominant relations, and this understanding of the need to change the world and build another one on a whole new basis puts them in the ranks of the oppressed and even, at times, at the head of their struggles. More often than not, in Iran, we have seen such intellectuals lose their lives on this path.
Simple dialogues and pictures recount the bitter truth while ridiculing the tyrants and their cronies. This keeps an overly “educational” dust from settling on the film while at the same time engaging the spectator in history. Marjane is clearly not an average Iranian girl. She is from an intellectual family with a comfortable existence. But Persepolis is able to portray a universal reality (the history of a country) through the narrative of a particular and uncommon life. The history that is part of Marjane’s family heritage and shapes her life is part of the collective heritage that shapes the existence, hopes and dreams of all of us.
Pre-Marjane history is background for understanding her life, historical events that shaped our fate and played a not so insignificant role in shaping the world we are living in now: the Iranian revolution of 1979 and what came after. The overthrow of the monarchy leads to the rise to power of the Islamic Republic. Voice-over narration by the film’s main characters accompanies Satrapi’s drawings, pictures of waves of suppression, women being forced to cover their hair, arrests, escapes from the country and executions. The Islamic Republic attacks the revolutionary tide that brought down the Shah. Anoush, Marjane’s uncle, who was freed from the Shah’s prisons by the revolution, is arrested again. Marjane visits him in prison the night before his execution. He tells her of his belief in the final victory of the proletariat.
Earlier we saw the head-spinning and hopeful joy of the Iranian people in the first days of revolution when the anti-monarchy demonstrations had just started. We saw it reflected in little Marjane’s laughter while playing with her father. Now all that comes to an abrupt end. The execution of Anoush becomes a symbol of the defeat of the revolution. In a heartbreaking scene she rages against the god she imagines.
Here we are introduced to another of Marjane’s mental conflicts. Whenever she faces a problem that is not easily solved, or that she cannot even properly understand, Marjane turns to her god—an old white-bearded man who sits on clouds. He does not necessarily represent any particular religion. Since Marjane’s god, like other people’s, exists only in her mind, he is never really helpful. He just represents the wrangling between the known and unknown in her brain.
Early on, just after the revolution, on a neighborhood street, Marjane and other children chase a boy whose father is a member of the Savak, the Shah’s torturing secret police. But when she confronts him, she finds herself unable to hit him. Afterward, Marjane’s god tells her not to worry and to leave justice to him. In other words, the hope that the revolution will make things right is still in the air. Later, after Anoush’s execution, god appears again, but this time pleads weakness and says he is unable to do anything. Now the revolution has been defeated. Marjane rejects him, but this rejection is not permanent, as consciousness is not permanent and no decision is immune to wavering. The realities outside our mind interact constantly with our beliefs and our knowledge and lead to ups and downs in the developmental process of our life and thought.
This god makes another appearance much later in the film when, after failing in her attempt to find a new life abroad, Marjane is tired of life and wants to die. But now she is more experienced and aware of her role in change. And so Marx accompanies god in this scene. Marjane’s god, with his comic-book looks and voice, is one of the film’s many humorous touches, but at the same time reflects the wrangling of the human mind in the process of grasping reality.
The reality of the establishment of the Islamic Republic following the 1981 coup is brought to the screen through the faces of little girls wearing black veils. But this, however bitter, is only part of the reality. We also see the difference in the personalities of these little girls, portrayed with simple but lively lines that contrast sharply with the black cloth encircling their dynamic faces. A new force is rising from the depths of society. The rebellion of women and girls in the face of the Islamic Republic and its rotten old ideology is part of the fabric of the story, and the storyteller herself a symbol of this vibrant force.
Rebel in Vienna
Marjane’s conflict with various representatives of the regime in the context of continuous repression brings her parents to send her abroad. Here we enter another episode of the movie: Marjane’s introduction to the West. She is sent to Austria and ends up living in a dormitory run by nuns. The nuns look – and act – like the Hezbollah Islamic thugs in Iran. Their faces are made ugly by the same sort of Khomeini frown habitually worn by the regime’s Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) and Basij (Islamic morality police). In Vienna, she experiences solitude, homesickness, racism, and at the same time, adolescence, the joy of first love and disappointment. A rebellious girl from Iran, Marjane finds herself most at home with the school outcasts, self-proclaimed anarchist, nihilist and other rebel classmates. Because they feel themselves in conflict with the authorities in a different form, they are fascinated by her stories of war and revolution. Some basic dividing lines in society are presented as different reactions in relation to this dark foreign girl—racism, misogyny and church on the one hand, and rebellion against the powers-that-be on the other.
It is worth mentioning that the film itself is a product of rebels from both the global “South” and “North.” Among those who encouraged Satrapi to publish her graphic novels (which have become very popular among comic fans) and her collaborators in making the movie (which despite fidelity to the novels has a life of its own) are European artists whose work is guided by criteria other than money and fame. Vincent Paronnaud, who worked closely with Satrapi in making the film, is a well-known graphic novelist himself, under the pen name Winshluz. He considers himself an “underground” artist and believes in trying to maintain an independence that means working with limited means but keeping freedom of thought and action. In an interview available on the Persepolis Web page, Satrapi says, “In many ways we are very different and even opposite, but we completed each other in making this film and showed that all the crap about East and West and cultural shock we are bombarded with is nonsense.” Considering the effect that Persepolis has had in the West, one can confidently say that the coming together of these two rebellious talents from East and West has put a dent in the walls the ruling order raises between people.
Marjane first experiences love in Austria—and ends up betrayed. Her broken heart, loneliness and homesickness make life so hard for her that she decides to return to Iran—the Iran of 1988, after the regime’s massacre of political prisoners, after the war with Iraq. Nearly a million people have been killed or crippled. Endless streets have been renamed after the dead, and a walk in the city is “a walk in a cemetery.” Marjane’s failure in Austria, combined with the grayness and the weight of death in Tehran, takes the force out of her. She starts thinking about death. It is here that god (and Marx) come to her and tell her to be brave. Marx cheerfully emphasizes that the struggle continues. Marjane decides not to give up hope. She gets up and puts her decision to practice. She takes exams, goes to university and starts yet another episode of her life.
If god represents Marjane’s struggle to understand reality, Grandma plays the role of experience and consciousness. She is a colorful major presence throughout the movie, full of experience, yet cheerful and good-humored in her scathing ridicule of everything she feels is wrong. She curses freely and every morning picks jasmine to put in her bra “to smell good.” She teaches Marjane to preserve her integrity. Wherever Marjane turns her back on her values out of weakness or fear (whether in the face of racism in Austria or the Pasdaran in Iran), Grandma emphasizes the importance of perseverance in one’s principles, since she has seen and knows that human beings, even in the hardest of situations, have choices.
Posing Important Questions
This film poses important questions in relation to revolution. Questions that it does not necessarily answer, but which, when posed, trigger thinking and demand analysis. In one scene, a member of Marjane’s family is ill and needs heart bypass surgery, an operation not possible in Iran. In order to stay alive he needs permission to leave the country. His wife goes to the administrative head of the hospital to ask for permission. The new boss used to be the janitor in her building before the revolution. He has become a strict Moslem, grown a beard, doesn’t look women in the eye… and of course refuses permission to leave. The patient’s fate, he sighs, “is up to the will of god.” The scene makes us deeply feel the impotence of people in the face of the new reactionaries in power, and the rule of ignorance and superstition against science, logic and the interests of the people.
This character points to one of the political and ideological questions every revolution faces. Revolution upsets the old relations and opens the way for creating new relations. But when the leadership is in the hand of forces whose interest is in preserving the old order in a new form, as was the case in 1979 Iran, backward tendencies among the people can be reinforced and turned into a tool in the hands of the new ruling class. One of these tendencies is to use the opportunities provided by the situation to pull oneself up and try to grab posts that were not previously reachable. At times such a tendency among the lower strata is linked with a feeling of revenge against those who had privileged positions in the past; and such violence often targets not the ruling classes, but the educated middle strata. It is clear that without a fundamental change in the existing relations, only a handful (who usually happen to have sharp opportunistic noses) get anywhere, and the great majority continue to be looted and suppressed. The Islamic Republic, which has used every reactionary ideological resource, most importantly religion, to stupefy the people and establish and preserve its rule, took advantage of this backward tendency to keep a populist facade and maintain its base among a section of the masses. The result was vicious suppression of intellectuals and the masses.
Persepolis, in its own way, thoroughly exposes the crimes of the Islamic Republic. But despite what some choose to assume, it does not overlook the role of the West in bringing puppet tyrants to power and suppressing the people. Viewers become aware of the role of Britain in the coup that brought the father of the Shah to power, the pillage of the country’s oil, the training of Savak torturers by the CIA, and the sale of arms by Western countries to both sides in the Iran-Iraq war. These are all reminders that Iran does not exist in a vacuum but is a part of a system that has spread its tentacles throughout the globe and that the struggle there is part of the struggle against that global system.
Lines Drawn by Hand
This film is a valuable work of art. Its minimalist form seems to be the best way to tell a story so full of events and major issues. The brevity of words, simplicity in drawings, and economy in color, tell a compact story full of humor and subtlety in an hour and a half. What in another context could be considered artistic weaknesses, like the simplicity or at times even crudity of the lines, the lack of color and the plain straightforwardness of text, are all strengths in Persepolis. Explaining why the film was made with traditional hand-drawn cells (individual animated picture drawings) instead of computer-generated graphics, Satrapi says, “Lines in computer-generated graphics are flawless. This takes the personalities out of the characters, human beings are not perfect, and the lines drawn by hand better reflect their souls.” But anyone familiar with traditional animation methods knows what a gigantic effort it takes to produce a one-and-a-half-hour film with 12 pictures a second. This film is the product of many artists working over the course of three years, from Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darieux and Simon Abkarian, whose voices gave further life to the characters, to all those behind the scene who were busy drawing, adding music, editing, etc.
Satrapi and Paronnaud have taken the contradiction- ridden life of a girl from a country shaken by revolution and mired in war, a world full of love and walls, and turned it into a fine work of art. And thus they have brought the people of both sides of the divide (between the oppressed and oppressor countries) closer. In an interview Satrapi says, “If we don’t look at people as humans, we can bombard them and nothing happens. Every day hundreds of people are killed in Iraq and we have not even observed a minute of silence.” For years the imperialist ruling classes—with the witting or unwitting help of the Islamic Republic of Iran of course—have been portraying the people of Iran and the Middle East as nothing but Moslem fanatics, an unreal picture that prepares Western minds for murder on a mass scale. Today this black and white animation portrays the Iranian people more realistically than many articles and discourses. Viewers see that despite the rule of death over the country, people celebrate life in its many forms, even if it means they will get in trouble for putting on lipstick or lose their life for partying. Nothing brings people closer together than real knowledge of each other’s situation, problems and dreams. Satrapi, in her interview, adds, “If people come to the film and say these people are humans like us, the film is successful.” The extraordinary enthusiasm of people in France for the film (which will soon be available in English) is a sign of its success.
The power of Satrapi’s art has won support from influential people, including two of France’s most internationally famous women actors, and that in turn has helped get the film into mainstream channels. It has brought in over a million viewers since it opened there in late June, with an equally wide impact on French-speaking audiences in Belgium and Switzerland. Spanish and Portuguese-subtitled versions are attracting a following in Europe and some Latin American countries. It will play in German theatres beginning in November.
An English version is planned for North American release December 25. Several women in Hollywood waged a personal crusade to get it made, including a producer of Steven Spielberg films and the daughter of a top executive at Sony Pictures, which recently bought distribution rights. An English-language version is considered key for broad national distribution beyond the art houses where subtitled films are often confined in the U.S. Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni, who also lent their voices for the French version, are to be joined by Sean Penn, Gena Rowlands and Iggy Pop. A French film industry commission picked this black and white animated film as its representative in the Hollywood Oscar competition for the “best foreign film” award.
Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
Project Censored Conference
On October 26th, Project Censored’s Media Accountability Conference opened with a panel of journalists describing the step-by-step moves that have been made toward martial law (rule by the military) in the U.S. Mike Whitney said he thought a police-state could be sprung into place with an attack on Iran. Jeremy Scahill described how Blackwater Worldwide, the private army notorious for murdering innocent people in Iraq, was on the streets of New Orleans armed with M-16s in the days after Katrina. Someone from the audience asked what it takes to bring the people into action to stop this, and Frank Morales of St. Mark’s Church in New York responded that we need to sacrifice, a lot is at stake, and it is time for us to step up.
This opening panel reflected the theme of Project Censored’s new volume, Censored 2008, The Top 25 Censored Stories of 2006-07. Project Censored, an investigative media analysis project at Sonoma State University, has released the top censored stories every year for over thirty years—involving thousands of hours each year researching what it calls “the news that didn’t make the news.” This year’s book is focused on “the systemic erosion of human rights and civil liberties, in both the U.S. and the world” (from Censored 2008). Revolution’s September 10, 2006 (#60) article, “Mexico: The Political Volcano Rumbles,” was chosen for the #18 most censored story, Mexico’s Stolen Election.
The theme of this year’s book is weighing heavily on the minds of many of the journalists and conference participants. One of the questions that repeatedly came up from the audience at the different panels was: What can we do to stop this? There was also an atmosphere at the conference of open discussion about a wide range of topics, with students and others gathering to talk to each other and the journalists at every break. We had conversations with participants about everything from communism, to the Southern California fires, to the attacks on science and academia, to women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. and Latin America, and the attacks on immigrants.
As contributing writers for Revolution, we were invited to the Media Accountability Conference to accept the award for Revolution’s “Outstanding Investigative Journalism” and speak on a panel called “Hidden Agendas Regarding Mexico.” We gave a presentation about our December 2006 trip to Oaxaca, highlighting the voices and stories of the people we met there who were part of the massive struggle last year to drive out Oaxaca’s widely-hated governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. We also talked about the underlying contradictions that gave rise to this struggle, including the relationship of domination and exploitation between the U.S. and Mexico. People asked big and deep questions, including how do we get the American people to stand up in the way the people of Oaxaca did. We replied that this is the challenge urgently placed before us, that the people in this country are going to have to break out of politics-as-usual, to get out into the streets in mass political protest, and to risk something if we’re going to have a chance to move society in a different direction.
After hearing our presentation, one of the students commented that hearing the stories about the people in Oaxaca and what has compelled them to act really made her think about the urgency of the situation we’re living in now. She was very upset after hearing about the conditions that drive young people, like 14-year-old youth in the Mixteca, to leave their homes and travel to the cities in Mexico or risk their lives crossing the border to come to the U.S., only then to be rounded up by ICE like criminals along with thousands of other immigrants.
When it came time to accept the award for “Mexico: The Political Volcano Rumbles,” we told the audience: for those of us who want to see an end to the horrors the U.S. is unleashing on the world, we welcome the “rumblings” to the south, and the mass political eruptions, both there and here.
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Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
Crisis in Pakistan:
On November 6, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf used his power as Army Chief of Staff to declare a state of emergency and suspend the nation’s constitution. All non-government TV channels were taken off the air. Mobile phone networks were jammed. The Supreme Court was surrounded by paramilitary units and all of the judges were dismissed. New hand-picked judges, who pledged loyalty to Musharraf, were installed. The President of the Bar Association and the civil rights activists of the Human Right Commission of Pakistan were all arrested. In the following days, thousands of people have been beaten in the streets, rounded up and arrested.
The U.S. issued statements criticizing these moves and Bush called on Musharraf to hold elections and remove his military uniform. But officials in the Bush administration have made it clear that they are not about to take “tough action” against Musharraf—such as a reduction in U.S. aid to Pakistan. In fact, on November 6, the U.S. announced it will continue military aid to Pakistan, in spite of Musharraf’s suspension of the constitution. (Pakistan has received over $10 billion in aid since it signed on to the U.S. “war on terror.” In 2007 Pakistan received $300 million from U.S. Foreign Military Financing [FMF], which stipulates that the funds must be spent on U.S. equipment under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. And this same amount has been allocated for 2008.)
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense said that the state of emergency would not affect the military funding: “At this point, the declaration does not impact on our military support for Pakistan’s efforts in the war on terror... Obviously, the stakes are high there. Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terror.”
“The declaration does not impact on our military support for Pakistan’s efforts in the war on terror... “
In other words: The U.S. is not going to let dictatorial powers, military rule, the roundup of lawyers, banning of protests, beatings and mass arrests, suspension of the constitution—get in the way of carrying out the “war on terror.” This tells you something about what the “war on terror” is about.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN, argued that Bush is being naïve to demand that Musharraf hold elections. Bolton said elections in Pakistan would risk instability—perhaps even an Islamic government with a nuclear arsenal. “While Pervez Musharraf might not be a Jeffersonian democrat,” Bolton said, “he is the best bet to secure the nuclear arsenal.”
With a population of 164 million, Pakistan is the sixth most populous nation in the world and the second largest Muslim-majority country after Indonesia. And if you look at a map of Pakistan, you can see why the U.S. considers control of this country as crucial to U.S. imperialist interests in the whole region. Pakistan is located in the middle of central Asia, India and the Persian Gulf. It shares a 1,400-mile border with Afghanistan on the northwest. On its western border is Iran. China is to the northeast, India to the east, and the Arabian Sea on the south. This means that control of Pakistan is extremely important to the U.S. in terms of access to shipping lanes and trade routes, military airspace and control of borders in politically volatile areas. When the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s cooperation was crucial. Pakistan’s subordination to the U.S. remains extremely vital to the continuing U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and efforts to crush the Taliban. And most importantly, the U.S. does not want the currently pro-U.S. government of Pakistan—which has nuclear weapons—to be overthrown by Islamic fundamentalist forces.
The U.S. faces tremendous objective necessity in its relationship with Musharraf—a situation in which there are many different contradictions and constraints. Control of Pakistan is pivotal to the U.S. “war on terror”—and U.S. domination in the region overall. A relatively stable pro-U.S. government in Pakistan is critical to the U.S. strategy in the Middle East. But there are a lot of wild cards in this extremely precarious situation—where Islamic fundamentalist forces, with a lot of ties in the government and military—have been escalating attacks on the Pakistan military. And meanwhile the Taliban is making a significant comeback in Afghanistan. It is in this context that the U.S. is supporting various oppositional forces—in order to keep the opposition to Musharraf strictly within a pro-U.S. framework. The U.S. has been trying to broker a power-sharing deal between Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto—who has a long history of corruption and craven subservience to the United States—and Musharraf. The hope has been that this would put a democratic face on the government, give it a broader base of support and help Musharraf stay in power. But the current crisis threatens to upend this fragile strategy.
Pakistan and the U.S. “War on Terror”
The U.S. has been relying on Musharraf to fight the Taliban—those coming over the border from Afghanistan as well as Pakistani Taliban forces. But Musharraf has had and continues to have close ties with Islamic fundamentalist forces—even as he has had to confront them in the service of U.S. imperialism.
When Musharraf seized power in an army coup in 1999, he had links to Islamic fundamentalists. After 9/11 Musharraf followed orders from Bush to sign on to the U.S. “war on terror” and made a big show of breaking off his alliance with the Taliban in Afghanistan. But his government maintained close relations with what are often called Pakistani Taliban, various groups and political parties in the Pashtun tribal areas along the Afghan border in Waziristan and the Northwest.
A World to Win News Service has pointed out:
“Musharraf’s strategy has been to hold domestic fundamentalists as closely as possible in a powerful embrace, while cooperating as closely as possible with the U.S. military in public and even more in private. For instance, the CIA has been permitted to set up secret bases in Pakistan, kidnap people and even use cruise missiles against suspected Al-Qaeda leaders there, but American troops haven’t been allowed to storm through the country in uniform. That would provoke too much uproar, and the regime might fall apart. As for the fundamentalists, the military dictatorship needs the legitimacy of Islamic credentials and the social and material support of the Islamic forces to maintain its rule. Further, it is often said that since the British created Pakistan on the arbitrary (and reactionary) basis of religion when they divided India into two at the moment of its independence, the Islamic clergy and the military are the only things holding it together as a country. The political power of each has depended to a large extent on the other. Both are deeply rooted in the country’s more or less feudal rural economy. The military also owns much of the country’s more modern side, its industry and other businesses.”
The Taliban and the CIA
The long history of ties between Pakistan’s government, military (and Musharraf)—and the Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists is a major contradiction for the United States.
These ties, which make Pakistan’s role in the U.S. “war on terrorism” both useful and unstable for the U.S., stem from how the U.S. used Pakistan to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
In 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. offered aid to General Zia-ul-Haq’s brutal military regime and Pakistan was enlisted to train Afghan fighters. The U.S. supplied them with modern weapons and provided logistical and diplomatic support. In return, from 1982 to 1990, the U.S. gave Pakistan $5.4 billion, most of which was military aid.
During the 1980s, the CIA used Pakistan’s military and intelligence agency, the ISI, to build and support Islamic forces in fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan—including Osama bin Laden. This was instrumental in the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan. After the Soviet Union was driven out of Afghanistan in 1989, thousands of the fighters who had been trained by the CIA and ISI remained in Afghanistan. The U.S. stopped funding and backing these forces—since they were no longer needed to fight the Soviet Union. But these Islamic forces were still backed by the ISI, and Pakistan looked to them as a base of support to counter India and secure its power in the region.
Musharraf has been committed to subordinating Pakistan to the needs of the U.S. global empire. And as A World to Win News Service points out: “That is something that some Islamists cannot tolerate, and not only or even mainly because of the suffering of the people and national humiliation under American domination. Imperialist capital cannot just leave them alone, but must continually transform economic and social relations and culture in the countries it dominates, undermining their power and their very existence and fuelling their anger at ‘the West’ and their determination to revive and defend a medieval outlook. More immediately, their ideology demands unrestricted and expansive Islamic rule. They are not nationalists in religious clothing or even ‘objective’ representatives of the people’s desire for national liberation, but representatives of the same feudal and other backward relations that have made it possible for imperialism to subjugate the country economically and politically. While the U.S. must and is more than willing to rely on local backward forces and reactionaries to impose its domination, it considers Islamic fundamentalism a long-term obstacle, and, especially, now a serious immediate threat. It is determined to crush these forces and dig up their breeding grounds—even if this means temporary alliances with some of them.”
For decades the U.S. has built up and relied on Pakistan’s powerful military. And the U.S. has backed military rule in Pakistan because this has kept the country under the control of and subservient to the interests and needs of U.S. imperialism. All this has been and continues to be a dicey and precarious situation for the region, the world and the continuing U.S. war for empire.
Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
“Now We Know Too Much”…Or Do We?
The New Yorker magazine influences intellectual and cultural opinion among many progressive people who themselves influence public opinion. So when The New Yorker makes mention of Mao, it’s worth taking careful notice.
The October 15, 2007 issue featured a commentary about a 1967 film by Jean-Luc Godard, La Chinoise. A new print of the film was being shown in New York City. The film is a fictional account of the activities of a small group of self-styled Maoist students in Paris. The critic, Anthony Lane, mentions that the film came out on the eve of the upheavals of 1968, in heady times when revolution was in the air and even enjoyed pop-art expressiveness. But, he goes on to note…
“Now we know too much. According to one estimate, twenty-seven million people died in labor camps and prisons under Mao Zedong.”1
Since no source for this statistic is cited, the reader assumes, or is expected to assume, that this “estimate” of 27 million deaths is amply documented and well corroborated. All the more so, given The New Yorker’s fabled reputation for fact checking. It is the kind of statistical statement-of-fact that lands with a calculated shock of revelation and an all-knowing thud of authority.
Now there is a traceable source for this statistic, but there is not an established fact here. Rather, what we have is an utterly unreliable and politically biased estimate. You see, when it comes to Mao and the Chinese revolution, you can accuse him of mass murder and toss off a number in the millions and tens of millions (safer to couch it as an “estimate”). These inflated numbers get repeatedly published and referenced in a circular and self-reinforcing way, and voila, say good-bye to intellectual accountability.
The New Yorker comment is a case in point, and it is illuminating to find the trailhead of this statistic.
Behind the Claim That 27 Million Died in Prisons and “Labor Camps”*
1) What is the source of The New Yorker film critic’s uncredited estimate? It comes from Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). The book is a vicious tirade against Mao and the Chinese revolution and is full of sensationalistic claims. The very first sentence sets out its agenda in accusing Mao of being responsible for more deaths in peacetime than any other leader of the 20th century.
2) How do Chang and Halliday calculate 27 million deaths in prisons and labor camps during the Mao era? They estimate an average prison and labor camp population of 10 million per year. They further estimate an average annual death rate of 10 percent. That works out to one million deaths per year. Mao ruled for twenty-seven years (1949-76), which yields a total of 27 million deaths.
3) What data are Chang and Halliday working with?2 They provide the reader with a footnote (p. 325) explaining that their “estimates” derive from R.J. Rummel, China’s Bloody Century: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900 (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1991).
Let’s start with prisoner population figures. Rummel surveys various estimates of the population of prisons and what he calls the “forced labor camps” during the early 1950s. He cites what he calls a low estimate of 1 million prisoners and high estimates of 18 and 20 million. He settles on a mid-range estimate that Maoist China averaged some 10 million prisoners a year. The source of the high estimate of 20 million happens to be the U.S. government—which was telling the world at the time that Mao’s China was a brutal, regimented society of human drones and ants.
Two things must be immediately pointed out. First, Western scholars, governments, and journalists had little direct access to Chinese society in the 1950s and 1960s. And the Chinese government, under intense imperialist pressure and encirclement in this period, was not releasing great amounts of data, especially about its security system. So the range of estimations that Rummel works from is an uneven patchwork: from seriously undertaken but objectively limited extrapolations (a useful 1984 work by Stephen Shalom falls into this category), to wildly exaggerated estimates, to ideologically inspired statistical concoctions.
Second, in coming up with his own estimates, Rummel’s methodology is highly questionable. He searches out the lowest estimate for the incarcerated population and the highest and then takes the mean—but offers scarcely any assessment of the reliability of the two estimates. And, needless to say, working with unsubstantiated high estimates will yield gross overestimation.
4) Let’s move on to prison-death estimates. Chang and Halliday estimate that, on average, 10 percent of prisoners died each year in China’s prisons and labor camps. This is a staggering mortality rate among prisoners. What is the source of this figure? Again, Chang and Halliday’s source for prison-death “estimates” is the same study by Rummel. In the section of Rummel’s book (pp. 228-233) that they cite, he discusses various estimates of death rates in China’s prisons and labor camps, including this figure of 10 percent.
This 10 percent figure is the handiwork of Richard L. Walker, and first appeared in a 1971 study that the U.S. Senate commissioned him to write entitled The Human Cost of Communism in China. Walker was a “cold war” academic and diplomat; this does not in itself rule out that there may be some important truth in his scholarship about communism.
But here’s the rub: Walker’s estimation of an average annual death rate of 10 percent in China’s prisons and labor camps in the Mao years is not based on any investigation or empirical research—or even evaluation of research by others—about policies and practices under Mao. This number, as Rummel points out, is an estimated death rate for prison camps in the Soviet Union in the 1930s! It is astonishing: Walker simply takes that mortality rate and applies it to China under Mao. Leaving aside the accuracy of this number for the Soviet Union, Walker assumes there were no differences in policies and conditions in China’s prisons, even with regard to climate.
Rummel rejects this 10 percent figure, and comes up with his own estimate of total prison and labor camp deaths during the Mao years. Using the same methodology described above, he takes a low-end estimate of 625,000 deaths and a high-end estimate of 48.7 million (see Table II-A, Line 519, China’s Bloody Century)—and settles on an intermediate range figure of 15 million deaths in prisons and labor camps under Mao. But, again, this is a highly questionable methodology, with its 80-fold spread between low and high estimates, and with no real evaluation of the quality and reliability of the upper-end estimates. Chang and Halliday up the ante and pile on 12 million more deaths for a total of 27 million deaths.
The New Yorker, What We Need to Know, and the Real Challenges of Revolution
There is something very instructive in unpacking this “estimate” of 27 million deaths in prisons and “labor camps” in Mao’s China. For one thing, it shows how the anti-Mao numbers game is played. Poorly substantiated data and statistically questionable methods are combined to produce sweeping historical claims about socialism. For another, it shows how wildly exaggerated estimates seep into the popular intellectual culture as near certainties, and then get spread within it. And this is in the larger context of the bourgeoisie’s relentless ideological attack on communism as a nightmare and failure.
The New Yorker film reviewer invokes Chang and Halliday’s menacing, inflated number to drive home a point: Mao and communism may have seduced intellectuals, artists, and youth in the 1960s and 1970s, but…“now we know better.” Well, you don’t know better.
The fact is that the Maoist revolution saved lives. It dramatically reduced the mortality rate in society. Life expectancy more than doubled, from 32 years to 65 years, between 1949 and 1976; by the early 1970s, Shanghai, China’s largest city, had a lower infant mortality rate than New York City’s.3
As for prisons and punishment: The danger of counterrevolution has been a real one that socialist societies have had to deal with. And it will be a major danger in future socialist societies. Dealing with counterrevolution, sabotage, and so forth will involve suppression, punishment, and curtailment of rights to those engaged in this activity. But in the name of combating counterrevolution, socialist society cannot be a society of arbitrary arrest, capricious denial of rights, and vindictive punishment.4
With respect to crime, the economic and social conditions that force many of the oppressed to turn to crime in capitalist society, and the sort of criminal justice system that exists in the United States—where there is no genuine rehabilitation and where prisons are dehumanizing warehouses for young Blacks and Latinos—all of this will be transformed in socialist society. But criminal activity will not immediately vanish in the new society, and it will have to be dealt with in a variety of ways. Socialist society will create a humane penal system. Incarceration will not be a cruel form of punishment but part of a process of enabling those who have committed crimes to change and to productively re-enter the larger society.
*The term “labor camp” is intentionally misleading. It is invoked to establish an association with Hitler’s barbarous labor camps, which were driven by naked economic exploitation and a subsequent genocidal program. The philosophy and organization of the Chinese system was totally different. The approach was that people who have committed crimes should engage in productive labor as part of the process of rehabilitation and remolding their thinking. An evaluation of this is beyond the scope of this article.[back]
1. Anthony Lane, “Critic’s Notebook,” The New Yorker, October 15, 2007.[back]
2. In the discussion that follows, I have drawn on the valuable research into Chang and Halliday’s death toll estimates by Tom Worger at the University of California, San Diego.[back]
3. See Penny Kane, The Second Billion: Population and Family Planning in China (New York: Penguin, 1987), p. 172 and chapter 5; Ruth and Victor Sidel, Serve the People: Observations on Medicine in the People’s Republic of China (New York: Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, 1973), pp. 255-56.[back]
4. Bob Avakian has opened an important discussion about the still-existing contradiction between the individual and state under socialism, and the relevance of the “rule of law” and a Constitution in socialist society. See, for example, “Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom,” Revolution, No. 42 (April 9, 2006).[back]
Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
On November 7, Bryant Purvis, one of the Jena 6, was arraigned. District Attorney Reed Walters charged Purvis with second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit second-degree battery—the same charges all the Jena 6 face. Bryant Purvis pled not guilty on both counts and a jury trial was set for March 24, 2008. Robert Bailey’s court date is still set for November 26. Theo Shaw and Carwin Jones have trials set for January 2008. They were all 17 and 18 years old at the time of arrest and can be tried in adult court.
All this makes clear, once again, that the system, through its enforcers, is determined to press ahead with the unjust prosecution of the Jena 6. The system is determined to use this case to enforce white supremacy. And the only way this railroad can be stopped is by building a mass nationwide struggle that is determined to NOT STOP until all the Jena 6 are free.
Going into the hearing, Purvis faced charges of second-degree attempted murder. When asked about the charges being reduced, his mother, Tina Jones, said, “He’s still facing 22 years—that’s nothin’ to smile about.”
The September 20 protest in Jena, when tens of thousands of people demonstrated in support of the Jena 6, brought this case to the attention of people around the country and the world. And national and international reporters were present at the November 7 hearing. Many wanted to know what Purvis wants people across the country and the world to learn from this case. Bryant said, “There’s racism still out there in the world, you might not see it every day but it’s devastating to know it’s still out there.”
Bryant’s lead attorney, Dale Hickman, said that Purvis has maintained from the beginning that he had nothing to do with the fight on December 6, 2006 (in which a white student, Justin Barker, was hurt) that led to the Jena 6 being charged with attempted murder.
Mychal Bell, the only member of the Jena 6 who has gone to trial, had his conviction from adult court overturned in September 2007. After nine months in jail he was finally released—only to be put back in custody after 14 days when the court ruled that he had violated probation from a previous case. At a court hearing on November 8, Bell’s lawyers argued that to try Bell in juvenile court for the same charges he was tried for in adult court is a case of double jeopardy. But the judge rejected this motion to have the charges dismissed. Bell is now being tried in juvenile court and there is a media blackout and gag order on the lawyers and family, giving the judge and District Attorney the freedom to go forward with the prosecution of Mychal Bell out of the eyes of the media and public. A court hearing is scheduled for November 21 to consider a petition filed by a group of major media organizations that argues that according to a Louisiana statute the trial should be opened to the public.
District Attorney Reed Walters continues to spread the lie that this case has nothing to do with racism and the hanging of nooses. But the truth is: The Jena 6 are being prosecuted for standing up against the status quo of a racist town in a racist society. In September 2006 a student asked to sit beneath a “whites-only tree,” the principal said students could sit where they wanted, and so Black students sat under the tree. Nooses were hung by white racist students, and in response to this Black students protested. Then District Attorney Reed Walters threatened Black students at a school assembly, saying, “With the stroke of my pen, I can take your lives away.” Two months later he made good on this threat, arresting and charging the Jena 6, making the point that the system will not tolerate rebellion against segregation and racism.
The Jena 6 case both reveals and concentrates the fact that Jena is a racist and segregated town. And things are extremely polarized right now in Jena, with white racists jumping out and defending the status quo of white supremacy. Case in point: Revolution correspondent Hank Brown recently went to a local printer in Jena to have copies made of an editorial piece we wrote in response to the latest court rulings to move ahead with the unjust prosecution of the Jena 6. It commented, “The District Attorney Reed Walters now along with a reporter from the Jena Times have been spreading lies and half truths in the media to justify the outrageous persecution of the Jena Six and confuse those who have stood up for what is right.”
After Brown paid and waited for over an hour, the manager emerged to say he would not print the flier. He said: “I don’t know who you are, but I know the District Attorney and the Jena Times writer, and they aren’t liars.” To this Brown replied, “Is this another case of Jena not being racist? A Black person comes in and you refuse to serve them?” The store manager still refused to print the statement. And as for his defense of the DA and Jena Times: there are many, but take just this one example of how they distort and outright lie about the Jena 6 case. They don’t even mention the fact that Black students protested nooses being hung on a “whites-only tree.” In fact they deny that there even was a “whites-only tree”!
Talk to the students at Jena High, both Black and white. Talk to the Jena 6 and their families. And they will all recount stories that show how the school is segregated, in the schoolyard, in the classroom, at basketball games, etc. When we interviewed Marcus Jones, Mychal Bell’s father, about the school assembly where the DA threatened Black students, he said: “At any activity done in the auditorium—anything—Blacks sit on one side, whites on the other side, okay? The DA tells the principal to call the students in the auditorium. They get in there. The DA tells the Black students, he’s looking directly at the Black students—remember, whites on one side, Blacks on the other side—he’s looking directly at the Black students.”
The case of the Jena 6 has touched a raw nerve and outraged people around the country who see this as a concentrated example of the unequal and racist justice system that criminalizes Black youth today. At the courthouse a Black student from Jena High was waiting to find out whether or not he would be sent to a juvenile facility. He showed us the long list of alleged offenses for which he was written up—things like taping a piece of paper to his desk and drawing on it and waking up another student who was sleeping. He said that at a certain point the “write ups” lead to legal prosecution, that this was a new policy at Jena High. And now he had been accused of stealing a wallet he found on the ground. He said he wished that there could be a camera inside Jena High School so people could see what goes on.
Many more people need to join the struggle to free the Jena 6. At the courthouse Bryant Purvis told reporters it was “amazing” to see tens of thousands of people in Jena on September 20. This was a great day for the people and this must be built on, taken higher and wider—and must not stop until all the Jena 6 are free.
Revolution #109, November 18, 2007
In a Democracy Now interview in September 2007, two of the Jena 6 exposed the degrading and life-endangering treatment they endured behind bars. (The interview can be found at Democracynow.org and on Youtube.com.)
Robert Bailey and Theo Shaw describe how they were repeatedly maced—and the authorities knew Shaw had asthma. Bailey talks about trying to get someone to do something when Shaw was maced and couldn’t breathe. Bailey says, “It took them forever to come back there. I had to holler like 30 times. You know, you bang on the wall if they’re spraying, so I’m banging on walls. ‘He can’t breathe! He can’t breathe!’ So I’m like kicking, I’m kicking. I’m kicking the wall and jumping in front of the camera. ‘Hey, what you want?’ They gonna spray me, so I’m running like, you know (covering his face). ‘He’s having an asthma attack, he’s got an asthma attack.’ ”
Theo Shaw was taken to the emergency room and two other times had to see a doctor after being maced by prison guards—who would mace inmates for being noisy or for no reason at all. Bailey and Shaw also said that authorities tried to separate them, that they didn’t want them together.
The Jena 6 were unjustly arrested. They were unjustly thrown into jail. According to the system’s own rules, you are supposed to be innocent until found guilty. But they were punished and brutalized in prison. This is yet another outrage in the case of the Jena 6.
This kind of criminalization and brutalization is the norm for Black youth in this country—millions who are abused, attacked, and even outright murdered by the police and the so-called “justice” system. None of the Jena 6 had ever been to prison prior to their arrest in December 2006. Even though they hadn’t been found guilty of anything, they were kept behind bars, abused, and treated as less than human. This must be exposed and opposed as part of continuing to bring to light the truth about the case of the Jena 6 and why the people must demand that ALL the charges be dropped and that the Jena 6 be FREE.