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Revolution #111, December 9, 2007
Review of Lords of the Land
Editor’s Introduction: During the week of November 28, George Bush convened a Mid-East summit in Annapolis, Maryland that brought together Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The rhetoric was of a “peace process” and a “democratic Palestinian state.” The reality behind the rhetoric is the state of Israel, which claims a mandate from “god” to occupy Palestine, and that serves as a nuclear-armed enforcer for U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. The following article and "We—Israeli soldiers—were put there to punish the Palestinians" were drawn from exposures produced by critical supporters of Israel, shed light on the nature of that state.
On the morning of February 25, 1994, an orthodox Jew named Baruch Goldstein barged into the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, on the West Bank in Palestine. At the height of the Islamic observance of Ramadan, the mosque was crowded with over 800 Muslim worshippers. Goldstein forced his way past mosque security guards, pulled out his Uzi submachine gun, and began to fire into the dense crowd. Goldstein emptied four magazines of bullets and as he was loading his fifth clip, he was subdued and killed. By then he had murdered 29 people and wounded another 125.
Goldstein was a doctor who had chosen to move from his home in Brooklyn, New York to be part of a growing movement of fundamentalist Jews in Israel who for many years have been penetrating deeper and deeper into Palestinian-owned land. Goldstein’s adopted residence was the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, next to Hebron.
This particular act of terror was condemned by the Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin. Yet the mass murderer was hailed by mourners at his funeral as a hero, a martyr in the cause of creating “Greater Israel.” Beyond Rabin’s statement, Israel’s government took no actions to suppress or even restrain the settler movement, the soil from which Goldstein had grown. To this day, Jewish “settlements” that sometimes consist only of a trailer or a pre-fabricated shelter, continue to be established across the West Bank and the land they occupy continues to in effect be annexed by the state of Israel.
A new book that has just been published in the U.S. (it first came out in Israel, written in Hebrew, in 2005) provides a detailed study of the development of the settler movement in Israel and how it is closely tied to government policy and Zionist ideology, as well as to fanatical Jewish religious cults. Lords of the Land: the War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 (New York, Nation Books, 2007) is authored by Professor Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, the chief political columnist and editorial writer for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz. As supporters of the state of Israel, their exposure cannot be dismissed as being motivated by anti-Israel bias.
The West Bank and Gaza were seized by Israel in the June 1967 war against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel then accepted—in words—that it had the status of being an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza. As a signatory to the Geneva Convention, an occupying power such as Israel is prohibited from transferring its civilian population into occupied territory.
The story of how this basic prohibition has been systematically shredded by Israel, how bit by bit the West Bank is being swallowed by Israel, is in large part the story of Lords of the Land.
“The Wild Wild West”
Approximately 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank. But by the end of 2006, there were some 270,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and another 220,000 in neighborhoods surrounding Jerusalem. Since the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005, nearly 20,000 new settlers have been added to the West Bank.
Lords of the Land reports that over 40% of Jewish settlement in the West Bank has been on private land owned by Palestinians “and that 130 settlements were established wholly or in part on lands that the state itself had determined to be ‘private.’ The settlers took control of these lands, but it was the state that had confiscated them and enabled the settlement of its citizens in contravention of international law, of some government decisions and in many cases of court orders.” (p. xiii) The authors cite a November 2006 report by the Israeli group Peace Now which used records from the Israeli government to present the above figures.
The violent, viciously anti-Arab fanaticism of Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre in Hebron was a concentrated example of how the Israelis first occupied and then proceeded to outright steal the West Bank. Today, Jewish settlers in the West Bank regularly carry submachine guns and act as vigilantes, often firing at Palestinian demonstrators and even at civilians who are not even confronting them.
From its inception, the settler movement has elevated its mystical vision of an expanded Israel where the “messiah” returns, above the value of human lives, especially Arab lives. When the first Palestinian Intifada (Arabic for “the shaking off”) rebellion against Israeli occupation and oppression broke out in December 1987, the settler publication Nekudah called it the “harshest test since the settlement project began.” Settler leader Hannan Porat called for “massive expulsions” of Palestinians from their own land. Rabbi Yitzhak Shilat of the large settlement of Maaleh Adumin declared that “anything we do as a result of distress and anger, even killing, is good, is acceptable and will help. Killing is just a matter for the Kingdom.”
Lords of the Land quotes a settler in 1988 who invoked a comparison to the conquest of Indian land by U.S. settlers: “Everyone can do whatever he wants. It’s a different planet. You are the law...they used to say ‘the Wild West’ as a joke. Today, this is no longer a joke. We go out at night, cover the license plates, go into the nearby Arab village and the fun begins.” (pp. 105-106)
In April 1988, a group of Israeli teenaged hikers, with armed settlers as guards, were confronted by some young Palestinians near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Elon Moreh. One of the armed settlers began firing his gun.
Two teenaged Palestinians were killed and one of the Israeli teens, Tirtza Porat, the daughter of one
of the founders of the settlement, was also killed.
The story was spread that she was killed by a rock that had been thrown by a Palestinian. In response, the settlers and the Israeli government blamed the Palestinians from the village of Beita. Collective punishment was carried out by demolishing thirteen Palestinian homes in Beita. Tirtza Porat’s funeral was an occasion for the unleashing of fanatic fundamentalist Jewish religious wrath. “At moments, the funeral turned into a near-lynching. In the presence of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, his deputy David Levy, and Minister Ariel Sharon...Rabbi Haim Druckman called for wiping Beita off the face of the earth. Minister of Religious Affairs Zevulun Hammer followed suit and also demanded that Beita be destroyed and that a settlement named after Tirtza be established immediately in Samaria [the ancient Hebrew name for the region]. ‘Lord of Vengeance our God, Lord of Vengeance appear,’ cried Benny Katzover [a leader of the settler movement].” The prime minister said that “every act of murder strengthens the Jewish people, unites it, and connects it to this land, deepening its roots here.” (p. 109)
The truth is that Tirtza had not been killed by a stone thrown by an Arab, but in fact by a bullet fired by the settler-vigilante Romem Aldovi who had shot wildly at the Palestinian teenagers. This was the conclusion of the official government investigation into the incident.
Again, the vigilante atmosphere was not an aberration. Soon after the Intifada began, in January 1988, Yitzhak Rabin, then defense minister and a few years later prime minister, declared that the way to crush the Intifada was with “force, might, and beatings.” (p. 112)
“Facts on the Ground”
In one of many case studies in the book, Lords of the Land describes what would become a template for carving up and seizing Palestinian land. In 1968, within one year of the occupation of the West Bank by the Israeli military, one of the first of many Jewish settlements was created, this time in Hebron.
The land grab took place like this: A group of fanatic orthodox Jews, led by a certain Rabbi Levinger, declared that it was god’s will for the state of Israel to annex the West Bank. They proposed to the Labor Party-led government that they be allowed to temporarily reside in Hebron in order to observe a major Jewish religious event. They went to Hebron for the religious observance and never left.
When Palestinians became angered at this affront, the Israeli army was called in to protect the settlers. The military encampment and the collection of settlers grew larger until the government “realized” it had to provide for more permanent settlement. In later years, a variation of this scheme would label the initial colonizing settlers as “workers” for a military construction project (since Israel held the West Bank under military occupation) so that no pretext was required for military intrusion into civilian Palestinian areas.
The leaders in the Israeli government who had responsibility for ruling on the settlers’ initial request to briefly stay in Hebron were non-committal. The fanatics, some secular Zionist organizations, and other government leaders who supported them, took government refusal to outright prohibit the settlers as a green light to go ahead. In January 1968, Menachem Begin, a leader of the Likud Bloc party (and who had led an underground Zionist militia in the years before the founding of Israel) was a minister without portfolio. Begin proposed to the government to “plan and build townships with Jewish inhabitants in Jericho, Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus, Tul Karm, Jenin and Qalqilya.” All of these were major Palestinian towns in the West Bank. In September 1968, a special committee appointed by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan recommended establishing a Jewish settlement in Hebron.
Government labor minister Yigal Allon (who had also commanded another Zionist militia before 1948) along with other government leaders, “...not only became the advocates for the settlers inside the government but also helped them with advice, material, weapons, and, most important, the seal of approval of the pioneering Labor movement. Their militant, constructive sense of vocation combined with the settlers’ godly sense of mission.” (p. 15) In December 1968, Allon proposed that the government support a major settlement outside of the city limits of Hebron. Lords of the Land recalls Allon declared “that Israel had accustomed itself ‘and the entire world to relate to the act of settlement as facts that carry unique weight. This has become one of the weapons of our national revival movement. Presumably, therefore, they will make no mistake in understanding the importance of this act.’” (p. 23)
By early 1970, the settlement of Kiryat Arba was formally established just outside of Hebron, beginning with the construction of a military camp. The original settlement inside Hebron remained as well.
Methods the Zionist Movement Sanctified from its Inception
While the authors of Lords of the Land do not oppose Zionism, they shed revealing light on how the pattern of settlement in the West Bank is consistent with the Zionist project in Palestine as a whole.“The process of the settlement of Jewish civilians in the territories in breach of the Geneva Convention, which does not permit the transfer of inhabitants from the occupier’s territory to the occupied territory, was gradual and systematic, and was accomplished in ways that the Zionist movement had nurtured and sanctified from its inception. The methods that characterized the struggle before 1948 to obtain a Jewish state, a combination of overt and clandestine acts carried out by underground or semiunderground organizations, were resurrected in the territories occupied in 1967. In their capacity as the custodians of the law, and as the dominant organized system on the ground, the army and its commanders were the settlers’ main support in their illegal activities.” (pp. 345-346)
Referring to the Hebron example, the authors point out “This tried-and-true Zionist outlook, which was now copied into the context of Hebron, dated back to the days of the ‘tower and stockade’ settlements of the 1930s—the establishment overnight of controlling Jewish settlements like elevated observation points surrounded by fences and walls in the heart of an Arab population.” (p. 23) The “stockade and tower” method is explained later in more detail: “The method was the establishment of a tiny settlement within a single day, surrounded by a stockade of wood and gravel, and in its center a wooden tower topped by a searchlight. Dozens of Jewish settlements were thus established especially along the contours of Arab population centers and integrated into the improvised defense system.” (p. 278)
Today, Palestinian land in the West Bank is being chopped up left and right. There are the expanding settlements that seize Palestinian land. There is the construction of a system of highways in the West Bank that connects Jewish settlements and that Palestinians are forbidden to use. On top of this, there is the physical “security wall” being built around the West Bank which already actually intrudes well into Palestinian land, cutting off many Palestinian villages from their cultivated land and effectively annexing more Palestinian land into Israel. For example, on October 9, 2007, Israel expropriated 110 hectares (272 acres) of land near the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, a suburb of Jerusalem. This area is near a section of the separation wall near the Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim that alone already extends 60 sq. kilometers (23 sq. miles) into Palestinian land.
This is all on top of the continual Israeli military assaults against Palestinian towns and villages, the constant arbitrary searches and arrests, the assassination of Palestinian activists and militants. Israeli troops also continue their practice of demolishing the houses of families with the justification that a member of the family has been accused of resistance against Israel. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions says that 18,147 homes have been demolished since 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza (see http://www.icahd.org).
And in the wake of the conference on the “Israeli-Palestinian peace process” staged by Bush this week in Annapolis, Maryland, it is worth keeping in mind that none of the negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership, all sponsored by the United States government, have ever resulted in serious action by the Israelis to curtail or reverse the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank. The so-called document of “joint understanding” released by the participants at Annapolis did not even mention the settlements.
Revolution #111, December 9, 2007
From A World to Win News Service
November 19, 2007. A World to Win News Service. Following are excerpts from an article that appeared in the Hebrew edition of the Israeli daily Haaretz (October 21, 2007) entitled “New Israeli study confirms our worst fears.” The title reflects a viewpoint often found in Haaretz, which believes that the Zionist state has lost its idealist impulse and can and should operate humanely toward the Palestinians. The opposition to that state’s countless and continuing atrocities can only be welcomed, but the “can” part of that idea goes not only against logic, since that state was built by the forcible exclusion of the Palestinians, but also the experience recounted by this and similar valuable exposures.
The article is about a research paper by psychologists Nofer Ishai-Karen and Joel Elitzur, based on Ishai-Karen’s interviews with soldiers in a platoon she had served with 20 years earlier. The soldiers described their experiences when they were sent to the Gaza town of Rafah to put down the Palestinian uprising of 1990. That first Intifada—the word means “the revolt of the stones”—was unarmed.
With one exception, these soldiers spoke anonymously. The Israeli army stopped Elitzer, Ishai-Karen’s professor, from conducting similar research.
Soldier “A” testimony: “We decided to turn an old shower in our base to a make-shift detention cell. A Palestinian was brought there, handcuffed and mouth-banded so he couldn’t talk, or move. We ‘forgot’ him there for three days.”
Soldier “B” testimony: “I was on my first patrol. Others simply shot like mad. I started to shoot as they did. (They set his weapon on full automatic.) I took my weapon and shot. Nobody was there to tell me otherwise.”
Psychologist Ishai-Karen was shocked to find that the soldiers enjoyed the “intoxication of power,” and had pleasure from using violence. She said, “Most of my interviewees enjoyed their own instigated violence during their occupation service.”
Soldier “C” testimony: “The truth is that I love this mess—I enjoy it. It is like being on drugs. If I didn’t enter Rafah to put down some rebellion at least once a week, I’d go berserk.”
Soldier “D” testimony: “What is great is that you don’t have to follow any law or rule. You feel that you are the law; you decide. Once you go into the Occupied Territories you are god.”
Soldier “E” testimony: “We drove an APC (armored personnel carrier) through Rafah. A man of 25 walked nearby. He didn’t hurl a stone at us or anything. Then without any reason ‘X’ shot him in the stomach. We left him lying on the sidewalk.” ...
Nofer Ishai-Karen: “Some NCOs (junior officers) encouraged the soldiers to behave brutally, and provided their own example.”
Soldier “H” testimony: “After two months in Rafah a new NCO commander arrived. The first patrol, which he commanded, was at 06 hours. Rafah was under curfew. Not a soul was on the street. Then he saw a young boy, of about four, playing in the sand in the courtyard of his home. The kid was building a castle in the sand. Suddenly the NCO, a guy from the Engineers Corps, ran to chase the kid. We followed. He captured the kid and broke his elbow. Broke the kid’s elbow! Damn me if I’m not telling the truth! Then the NCO treaded on the kid’s stomach three times, before he moved on. We couldn’t believe our eyes. But the next day we went on patrol with that guy and the soldiers started to imitate him.”
What happened then?
“Some guys couldn’t stomach it. The case of severe abuse of three young adolescents, who were bound hand and foot by a staff sergeant, got them to alert a senior officer. When the medic arrived the boys were bleeding all over, their clothes were soaked with blood, and they were shivering from fear. They were made to kneel like dogs and were afraid to move. The NCO was punished by three months detention. But the platoon commander backed the NCO and reprimanded the conscientious soldiers for ‘defaming the platoon.’” (The soldier who reported the incident ended up ostracized by the rest of the unit.)
Finally back to Ilan Vilenda, the only soldier who allowed Nofer to use his full name and even be photographed. Vilenda was a staff sergeant in charge of “operations”. (He was quoted in this article’s title.)
Who is responsible?
General Matan Vilna’i (now serving under Prime Minister Ehud Barak as Vice Minister of Defense) was at the time Chief of the IDF (Israeli Army) Southern Command. He often visited our platoon and discussed with soldiers, says Nofer.
General Matan Vilna’i must have known what happened. High-ranking officers who served in the Occupied West Bank had voiced similar warnings against Israeli Army behavior. “The orders left a wide gap, a margin…of an intentionally unspecified ‘grey zone’, which encouraged violent behavior of soldiers,” said Reserve Colonel Elisha Shapira, who served in the Nablus Area at the same time. Soldiers were told “don’t hit Palestinians—but bring them to interrogation ‘swell-headed’—blown-up.”
The events Nofer Ishai-Karen researched happened some 17 years ago. The situation has further deteriorated since that time. Now Israeli Army and Air Force generals openly take pride in acts of revenge against Palestinian civilians.
To my best knowledge, the Israeli Army hasn’t charged a single case of abuse or murder by soldiers of Palestinians in a proper court.
Revolution #111, December 9, 2007
MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY
PART 1: BEYOND THE NARROW HORIZON OF BOURGEOIS RIGHT (CONTINUED)
Editors’ Note: The following is the seventh 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. Both Part 1 and Part 2 are now available in their entirety, as two documents, at revcom.us; the excerpts comprising Part 2 will also be published as a series in Revolution after the conclusion of the present series of excerpts. The following is the second part of Bob Avakian’s discussion of Karl Popper. The first part, which appeared in our last issue, examined Popper’s use of the concept of scientific falsifiability and applied it to Marxism. This week’s excerpt turns more directly to Popper’s attempts to discredit Marxism.
If we turn more directly now to Karl Popper’s attempt to discredit Marxism, this can shed further light on what has been discussed so far, in terms of Marxism as a scientific theory, and it will bring to light some of the main ways in which Popper’s attack on Marxism is in reality not only a distortion of communism but also a distortion of, and in reality an apology for, capitalism-imperialism.
Popper includes Marx and Marxism, along with Hegel and others, in what he characterizes as “historicism,” by which he means a certain kind of determinism, akin or equivalent to teleology: the notion that there is some design or purpose in nature, and/or history, and that things are all being directed, in accordance with this design or purpose, toward some predetermined end. And Popper attempts to show that such theories, including Marxism, lead in reality to totalitarianism. This is linked to Popper’s claim that Marxism cannot meet, and in fact fails, the test of falsifiability. Here, I will not attempt to speak to and refute everything that is wrong with not only Popper’s conclusions but his basic approach and method—to do that might well require more volumes than Popper’s original material—but I will focus on a few elements which are central to Popper’s thesis and which, upon scientific examination, reveal at least some of the basic flaws not only in Popper’s conclusions but in his method and approach as well.
Let’s begin with the question of capitalism’s development into imperialism and, along with that, the fact that the class contradictions in the imperialist countries themselves, rather than being intensified, as Marx and Engels had originally predicted, became mitigated and modified. Already, toward the end of the 19th century, Engels in particular had begun to analyze how the widespread British colonial empire—and the exploitation and depredation that British imperialism carried out in its colonies—had led to changes in the condition of sections of the British working class.
But here is what Popper says about Engels’ analysis:
“Forced to admit that in Britain the prevailing tendency was not towards an increase in misery [among the working class] but rather towards a considerable improvement, he hints that this may be due to the fact that Britain ‘is exploiting the whole world’; and he scornfully assails ‘the British working class’ which, instead of suffering as he expected them to do, ‘is actually becoming more and more bourgeois’.” (Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2, Hegel and Marx, p.187)
Here it is Popper who has insinuated into the discussion a certain method, and certain motives, which he attributes to Engels. Engels is angry, according to Popper, because the British working class did not suffer as he expected—and, the implication is, wanted—them to suffer; and this, says Popper, is the reason Engels is speaking about this British working class in the “scornful” terms he does. Note that here Popper in effect ignores, or sidesteps, the question of whether Engels is right (and, as we shall see presently, when Popper does try to show that Engels is not right, Popper falls into assertions that are not only false but fatuous). Popper is out to show that Engels (along with Marx) was proceeding according to an apriorist and instrumentalist theory, and when reality (in this case in the persons of the British workers) did not conform to this apriorist and instrumentalist theory, then the conclusion was that there was something wrong with reality (with the reality of the British working class) rather than with the theory.
So argues Popper. And he further elaborates on this with the comment that
“Marx blamed capitalism for ‘proletarianizing the middle class and the lower bourgeoisie’, and for reducing the workers to pauperism. Engels now blames the system—it is still blamed—for making bourgeois out of workers. But the nicest touch in Engels’ complaint is the indignation that makes him call the British who behave so inconsiderately as to falsify Marxist prophecies ‘this most bourgeois of all nations’.” (Popper, p. 188)
Note that here Popper smuggles in the concept of “prophecies”—attributing this religious orientation to Engels, and Marx—and paints them as fanatics who are bent on forcing reality to conform to their essentially religious-teleological convictions. This is a canard common to the “anti-totalitarian” theorists, such as Popper. And Popper extends this as well to Lenin and his analysis of capitalism’s development into the stage of imperialism and its effects on the working class in countries like England. Speaking of Lenin’s description of how imperialism has led to the bourgeoisification of a part of the British proletariat, Popper remarks: “Having given such a pretty Marxist name, ‘the bourgeoisification of the proletariat’, to a hateful tendency—hateful mainly because it did not fit in with the way the world should go according to Marx—Lenin apparently believes that it has become a Marxist tendency.” (Popper, p. 188, emphasis added here)
But the truth is that Engels, as well as Lenin, was applying Marxism—the scientific theory of communism—to analyze what had actually happened in objective reality, while it is Popper himself who is proceeding according to an apriorist and instrumentalist theory (namely, the theory that Marxism is not a science but a “historicist” approach which attempts to shape reality to its teleological conceptions…and becomes infuriated when reality refuses to oblige). Popper’s own apriorism and instrumentalism in this regard becomes strikingly clear when he attempts to refute the analysis of Engels—which was carried further and generalized by Lenin with the further development of reality, in the first part of the 20th century—concerning the effects of imperialism in the imperialist countries themselves, as well as in the colonized world. Listen to what Popper is not embarrassed to argue:
“There are countries, for instance the Scandinavian democracies, Czechoslovakia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, to say nothing of the United States, in which a democratic interventionism secured to the workers a high standard of living, in spite of the fact that colonial exploitation had no influence there, or was at any rate far too unimportant to support the hypothesis…. Furthermore, although the misery imposed upon the natives through colonization is one of the darkest chapters in the history of civilization, it cannot be asserted that their misery has tended to increase since the days of Marx. The exact opposite is the case; things have greatly improved. And yet, increasing misery would have to be very noticeable there if the auxiliary hypothesis [about the effects of colonialism and imperialism] and the original theory [of Marx] were both correct.” (Popper, p. 189, emphasis added here)
It is hard to know which is more astounding: the fact that someone who claims to be making a serious argument, by way of critiquing Marxism, can actually state things such as this, which are so flagrantly and demonstrably in conflict with reality (and this was clearly the case at the time that Popper wrote this); or that such a person, authoring such statements, can apparently be taken seriously by people who think of themselves as seriously engaging reality, and many of whom consider themselves “progressive” opponents of the injustices in the world.
Here, I don’t believe it is necessary to cite much of the great abundance of facts and analysis which give the lie to Popper’s claims (and in particular the ones highlighted in the passages above), since the stinging refutation that reality itself provides is there for anyone willing to see, or to do even minimal investigation into the matter. But let me just introduce a few basic facts into the picture. In Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That?, at the beginning of chapter 5 (“Imperialism, Democracy, and Dictatorship”) I cited a few statistics which point to the profound disparities in the world, particularly between the imperialist countries, on the one hand, and the colonies (or neo-colonies) of the Third World, on the other hand. For example: the gross national product, per capita (in relation to each person) was then (the early 1980s) more than 35 times greater in Great Britain than in India; more than 25 times greater in France than in Senegal; and more than 40 times greater in the U.S. than in Haiti; and so on. In the 20 or so years since that was written, with the effects of things like IMF-imposed Structural Adjustment Programs in many Third World countries, and the opening up of these countries and their peoples to even more unfettered exploitation and plunder by imperialism, the situation for great numbers of people in the Third World has only grown worse. (And it has been estimated, for example, that with regard to things like nutritional standards, the people in Latin America are worse off than their ancestors were at the time of the invasion by the Spanish and other European colonialists, 500 or so years ago.) The recent book by Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, provides a compelling picture of the desperate situation and extreme misery of literally billions of people throughout the Third World, whose lot today is hardly better than it was in “the days of Marx.”
In short, the words of Marx, in characterizing the results of the capitalist accumulation process—words which Popper cites in order to mock Marx—stand out as all the more profoundly true today, and the reality that these words capture (even while they cannot do so fully) stands as a stinging rebuttal to Popper, especially as this is viewed not simply within the narrow circle of a handful of imperialist countries but rather on a world scale: “The accumulation of wealth at the one pole of society involves at the same time an accumulation of misery, of the agony of toil, of slavery, ignorance, brutalization, and of moral degradation, at the opposite pole.” (Marx, as cited in Popper, p. 186) For anyone with a willingness to look honestly at the situation in the world, there can be no doubt that the kind of thing that is cited above from Popper, in his attempt to discredit the Marxist and Leninist analysis of imperialism and its effects, should be dismissed as monumental foolishness if it were not for the very sinister intent and effect of Popper’s denial and distortion of reality.1
The state, bourgeois democracyand dictatorship
Popper does not fare any better when it comes to his attempt to refute the basic Marxist analysis of the state. Consistent with his overall approach, Popper argues that in the Marxist view of the state—which recognizes that the state is an instrument of class dictatorship—there is a strong element of “essentialism.” This is another way of saying that Marxism attempts to impose “categories” on reality, rather than examining what actually happens in reality. So, Popper asserts: “Instead of making his demands or proposals concerning the functions which he wants the state, the legal institutions or the government to perform, he [Marx] asks, ‘What is the state?’; that is to say, he tries to discover the essential function of legal institutions.” (Popper, p. 119, emphasis in original)
This is like criticizing a man as an “essentialist” because, when seeing a gun pointed at his head, he focuses on the danger it poses (the “essential nature” of the gun and the bullets it can fire), rather than “making his demands or proposals concerning the functions which he wants…[the gun] to perform”! Here it has to be said that this concept of “essentialism” is completely erroneous, and harmful, if it is applied to mean that one should not try to determine what the essence of something actually is. While taking into account that all things, all forms of matter in motion, themselves involve internal contradiction and are constantly moving and changing (and interacting with other forms of matter in motion), and that particular forms of matter in motion have a beginning and an end (come into existence and eventually go out of existence), it is not wrong, and in fact it is very important, to recognize that these particular forms of matter in motion have a certain identity, or essential character, in any given circumstances, and to identify what exactly that identity or essential character is. (As Mao Tsetung pointed out, the essence of a thing is defined by its principal aspect. That essential character is not something unchangeable—it may change, and will change if the principal aspect changes, as a result of struggle; but the particular nature of that change, what it gives rise to, will be influenced and largely shaped by the nature of the thing itself, and of its contradictory aspects—this change and what it gives rise to cannot result from, and be determined by, the subjective wishes or desires of anyone—here we see another parallel with evolutionary changes in the natural world and the role of constraints in relation to that, as spoken to earlier.2)
Here, as we will see again, Popper is actually proceeding according to an apriorist and instrumentalist approach: he wants to argue that reform, not revolution, is what is called for, in order to deal with certain ills of capitalism that he does not feel inclined to deny, and in accordance with that he fashions attempts to refute the validity of the Marxist analysis of the state—attempts which, upon examination, do not really even address, let alone refute, that analysis. In short, instead of making wrong-headed accusations about “essentialism” with regard to the Marxist analysis of the (essence of the) state, what is required, in order to refute this analysis, is to show that it is wrong. And when Popper attempts to do this, the flaws in his method and approach once again forcefully assert themselves.
Popper’s essential argument on this (so to say) is that where a people can remove their political leaders, there cannot be a dictatorship but there is rather a democracy (as is common, Popper suggests that where there is democracy there cannot be a dictatorship, and vice versa, rather than recognizing the reality that a certain kind of democracy—bourgeois democracy—can be, and often is, a useful form for the exercise of dictatorship by the bourgeoisie). Here is the crux of Popper’s attempted refutation of the Marxist theory that the state is an instrument of class dictatorship:
“Moreover, from the point of view we have reached, what Marxists describe despairingly as ‘mere formal freedom’ becomes the basis of everything else. This ‘mere formal freedom’, i.e. democracy, the right of the people to judge and to dismiss their government, is the only known device by which we can try to protect ourselves against the misuse of political power; it is the control of the rulers by the ruled.” (Popper, p. 127, emphasis added here)
Although it was not written as a response to Popper, in a real sense the whole of my book Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? constitutes, objectively, a refutation of this statement by Popper and the whole line of thinking of which it is a typical expression. Particularly in the third chapter of that book—very appropriately titled “The Illusions of Democracy”—I demonstrated how, in a bourgeois dictatorship in the democratic form (which Popper, along with many others, simply refers to as “democracy,” without regard to, or in denial of, its actual class content and character), while it may be true that the people can “dismiss” (vote out of office) particular politicians, they cannot by this means—or any means, other than revolution—“dismiss” the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) which in reality rules society, which exerts control over the electoral process itself, and which in any case dominates the political decision-making process, and, most essentially, exercises a monopoly of “legitimate” armed force. As I have emphasized, in Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? and elsewhere, no serious—and certainly no genuinely scientific—analysis of the dynamics of political power and of the political decision-making process in “democratic” countries, such as the U.S., can lead to any other conclusion than that all this is, in reality, completely monopolized and dominated by the ruling class of capitalist-imperialists, and that others, besides this ruling class, are effectively excluded from the exercise of political power and meaningful political decision-making, notwithstanding the participation of the populace in elections. And, with no apologies to Popper, it can, and must, be said that this is owing to the essential nature of the capitalist system and the state which arises on the basis of and serves to maintain this system.
Thus, Popper is profoundly wrong—he turns things precisely upside down—when he argues that the followers of Marx (and, as Popper sees it, of Plato and Hegel as well) “will never see that the old question ‘Who shall be the rulers?’ must be superseded by the more real one ‘How can we tame them?’” (Popper, p. 133) In reality, who—that is, which class—rules, and more specifically in today’s world, whether there is rule by the bourgeoisie or by the proletariat, makes all the difference, in terms of what kind of society, and world, there is going to be. Under the rule, the dictatorship, of the bourgeoisie, the masses of people can never in any meaningful sense “tame” those who rule over them, nor more fundamentally can they change the basic character of society. But, with the overthrow of the capitalist dictatorship, and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the door is finally opened to putting an end to all relations of domination, oppression, and exploitation—and, in fact, to finally abolishing the state (dictatorship) in any form, with the achievement of communism throughout the world. Of course, as experience has clearly demonstrated, to maintain rule by the proletariat, once it has been achieved—and, moreover, to continue, with this rule, to transform society, overcoming step by step the division between mental and manual labor, and other major social contradictions characteristic of class-divided society, drawing the masses of people increasingly into the process of decision-making and administration of society, and continuing the advance toward communism as part of the overall world revolutionary struggle—all this requires a profound, protracted and epochal struggle. Later in this talk, I will return to some of the most important lessons, positive and negative, that can and must be drawn from the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat so far. But what needs to be emphasized here is that a decisive, qualitative change in the nature of the state, in who rules society, and how it is ruled—the overthrow of bourgeois dictatorship and the establishment and exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat—is the necessary, and first great, leap that must be made in order to enable the masses of people to truly become masters of society, and then finally to reach the point where there are no longer class divisions, no more exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed, and therefore no need, and no basis, for the existence and role of an institution—the state—whereby one class rules over and suppresses the classes whose interests are antagonistic to its own.
Next, let’s turn to how Popper attempts to refute Marx’s theory of exploitation (of the creation of surplus value through the exploitation by the capitalists of the wage-labor of the proletarians) and to show how this theory, too, is “essentialist or metaphysical” and is insufficient without, less important than, and dependent upon the mechanism of supply and demand (see Popper, p. 174). It is not really possible here to discuss everything that is wrong with Popper’s argument in this case. Suffice it to say that here, as elsewhere, Popper does not understand, and/or deliberately misrepresents, Marx’s analysis. To cite just one aspect of this, Marx amply shows how the mechanism of supply and demand, while it can explain the “ups and downs” in the prices of things, does not, and cannot, determine the value of things. This is why, for example, supply and demand may influence the price of a candy bar, on the one hand, and an airplane on the other hand, but no variation in supply and demand is likely to make the prices of a candy bar and an airplane the same, for the basic reason that the actual value of each is, as Marx demonstrates, determined by something other than supply and demand—it is determined by the total amount of socially necessary labor time that goes into the production of each. Thus, Popper has stood reality on its head: the mechanism of supply and demand is subordinate to and less important than the theory of value and surplus value developed by Marx, which explains how particular items have the value that they do, and also explains how capitalists accumulate profit (surplus value) through the exploitation of the wage-labor of the proletarians—through paying the workers an amount equal to the socially necessary labor time that is involved in producing the requirements of life of the workers, while in fact the workers, in the course of their working hours, produce value beyond that which is equivalent to the value embodied in their requirements of life, extra value which goes to the capitalist. And, as Marx also demonstrated, commodities and commodity exchange existed well before and independently of capitalism, and it is not merely the production and exchange of things as commodities that is the distinguishing feature of capitalism, and the secret of its accumulation process, but rather the conversion of labor power itself (the ability to work in general) into a commodity, a commodity with the particular quality of being able to produce more wealth through its use (its employment, in one form or another, in the production process under capitalism). As explained in the book America in Decline, in a discussion of the basic principles of Marxist political economy:
“Capital is value which generates surplus value. Capital is both a social relation and a process whose essence is the domination of labor power by alien, antagonistic interests, a social relation and a process whose inner dynamic is to constantly reproduce and extend itself.” (Raymond Lotta, with Frank Shannon, America in Decline, An Analysis of the Developments Toward War and Revolution, in the U.S. and Worldwide in the 1980s [Chicago: Banner Press, 1984], p. 44, emphasis in original)
Philosophy and method
In his pathbreaking dissection and analysis of capitalism and its inner tendencies—and of the development of human society overall—Marx examines, in a living way, the real mainsprings and dynamics involved and, yes, points to the direction in which the underlying contradictions are driving things. The method of Marx, and of Marxism as it has developed since the time of Marx, is anything but a metaphysical approach that proceeds from abstract principles and categories and seeks to superimpose them on reality. On the contrary, Marx—who, after all, spent more than 10 years in the library of the British Museum, sifting through voluminous studies of different economies and societies and subjecting to critical analysis different theories with regard to political economy, as well as philosophy and other subjects—this actual Marx (as opposed to the distortions of Marx concocted by his enemies, including Popper) investigated reality, in a deep and all-sided way, and drew theoretical conclusions from that investigation and study, through the application of scientific principles and methods. And, in the time since Marx, while certain of his conclusions, or predictions, have not been borne out, overwhelmingly the decisive things that he brought to life have been shown, in reality, to be true; and Marxism has continued to develop, as all genuinely scientific theories do, by applying and testing in practice its basic principles and methods, drawing conclusions through that process and, yes, discarding or modifying—or, on the other hand, amplifying and further developing—particular aspects of this theory.
Although Marx and Engels were inspired by and learned a great deal from Hegel and his dialectical method, they also moved beyond Hegel and his philosophical system in qualitative ways; as they made very clear, they cast aside the idealist and metaphysical core of Hegel’s philosophical system, with its teleological constructs, but they carried forward, further developed and, in a real sense, reconstructed his dialectical method, on a materialist foundation.3
Marxism, scientific communism, does not embody, but in fact rejects, any teleological (or, as Popper would have it, “historicist”) notion that there is some kind of will or purpose with which nature, or history, is endowed. As I put it more than 20 years ago now:
“Neither the emergence of the human species nor the development of human society to the present was predetermined or followed predetermined pathways. There is no transcendent will or agent which has conceived and shaped all such development, and nature and history should not be treated as such—as Nature and History. Rather, such development occurs through the dialectical interplay between necessity and accident and in the case of human history between underlying material forces and the conscious activity and struggle of people.” (First cited in Ardea Skybreak, Of Primeval Steps & Future Leaps, An Essay on the Emergence of Human Beings, The Source of Women’s Oppression, and the Road to Emancipation [Chicago: Banner Press, 1984]).4
But this does not mean that history is all accident—or, as Popper essentially argues—that history is whatever we make of it. To return again to another crucially important insight of Marx’s: People make history, but not in any way they wish—they do so on a definite material foundation, which is independent of their will, not in the sense that they cannot act to change this material reality, but that they can do so on the basis, and only on the basis, of correctly understanding what that material reality is, and how it is moving and changing, and the possibility this opens for radical change of one kind or another. While there is no will or purpose—and no predetermined end—to human history, there is, as Marx also pointed out, a certain coherence to it. As Marx explained:
“Because of the simple fact that every succeeding generation finds itself in possession of the productive forces acquired by the previous generation, and that they serve it as the raw material for new production, a coherence arises in human history, a history of humanity takes shape which becomes all the more a history of humanity the more the productive forces of men and therefore their social relations develop.” (Marx, Letter to P.V. Annenkov, December 28, 1846.)
And, as Engels expanded on this point, elucidating further the dialectical—as opposed to mechanical and determinist—materialism of Marxism:
“According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Neither Marx nor I have ever asserted more than this. Therefore if somebody twists this into saying that the economic factor is the only determining one, he is transforming that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, absurd phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various components of the superstructure…also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases determine their form in particular.” (Engels, Letter to J. Bloch, September 21-22, 1890, as cited in For a Harvest of Dragons, p. 29, emphasis in original)
From all this, it can be seen that Popper’s attack on Marxism constitutes a distortion of Marxism and a rather crude and clumsy apology for the system of capitalism-imperialism, and that the best refutation of this is…Marxism itself—the real Marxism, a living science which, like all real scientific theories, is constantly developing, including through interrogation of itself.
Science and scientific truths
Popper’s distortions of Marxism are in fact closely linked with his misunderstanding and mischaracterization of what science in general is, and what science enables human beings to know. In the “Addenda” to the second volume of The Open Society and Its Enemies—ironically, in the course of a polemic against relativism (“Facts, Standards, and Truth: A Further Criticism of Relativism,” 1961), Popper reveals the significant elements of relativism in his own outlook and approach. Popper insists that “though we may seek for truth, and though we may even find truth (as I believe we do in very many cases), we can never be quite certain that we have found it.” And: “we cannot establish or justify anything as certain, or even as probable, but have to content ourselves with theories which withstand criticism.” (Popper, pp. 375, 379)
But this is clearly wrong. Some things can be known with certainty, and some theories can be determined, with a high degree of certainty, to be true, as is the case, for example, with the theory of evolution. The fact that I have used here the phrase “with a high degree of certainty” is a reflection of the fact that, as Lenin emphasized in his philosophical writings (most notably “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism”), Marxism rejects relativism philosophically, but it recognizes that even within absolute truth there is an element of the relative. As Mao wrote, in “On Practice”:
“Marxists recognize that in the absolute and general process of the development of the universe, the development of each particular process is relative, and that hence, in the endless flow of absolute truth, man’s knowledge of a particular process at any given stage of development is only relative truth.”
It is relative truth, but it is truth—such are the (again, no apologies to the likes of Popper) dialectics of the matter.
The way in which Marxism differs with, and is in opposition to Popper’s theory of knowledge, including its relativist elements, also stands out in the emphasis Marxism places on the centrality of practice, precisely within the acquisition of knowledge—its insistence that, while theoretical abstraction, and engagement and grappling in the realm of theoretical abstraction, is extremely important and indeed indispensable in the development of knowledge, practice is the ultimate point of origin and point of verification of theoretical knowledge. In the “Theses on Feuerbach,” Marx put it this way: “The question whether objective truth can be attained by human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question.” And:
“In practice man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness, of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.” (Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” emphasis in original)
In opposition to this, to what is in fact the correct understanding and approach, while Popper recognizes a role for practice in the pursuit of knowledge—and he writes that “In the realm of facts, we do not merely criticize our theories, we criticize them by an appeal to experimental and observational experience” (Popper, p. 388, emphasis in original)—he does not place practice in the central and determining role in regard to the development of human knowledge. Rather, he assigns this role to criticism. That is the meaning of his statement that “we cannot establish or justify anything as certain, or even as probable, but have to content ourselves with theories which withstand criticism.” (Popper, p. 379, emphasis added) And he goes on to assert that
“we learn from our mistakes, rather than by the accumulation of data…. the role of thought is to carry out revolutions by means of critical debates rather than by means of violence and warfare; that is the great tradition of Western rationalism to fight our battles with words rather than with swords. This is why our Western civilization is an essentially pluralistic one, and why monolithic social ends would mean the death of freedom: of the freedom of thought, of the free search for truth, and with it, of the rationality and dignity of man.” (Popper, p. 396)
Here, in a sense, we have the “good fortune” of seeing Popper’s relativist aspects, his rather rank “Western chauvinism” and his prettifying of the nature of “Western civilization” and its relation with the rest of the world (his ignoring, or covering over, the fact that “Western rationalism” has quite often been used to rationalize wars of aggression as well as colonial conquest and plunder, and exploitation at home and abroad), together with his bourgeois “pluralism.” Just as in the political sphere—and specifically with regard to the nature and role of the state—Popper ignores, or refuses to recognize, the way in which class relations—relations of class domination—influence everything in the capitalist society he idealizes. As applied to the field of science, for example, while such things as “peer review” of scientific discoveries, theories, etc.—subjecting them to the criticism of others with specialized knowledge and experience in the particular field—can play an important positive role, it can by no means guarantee that the truth will win out, in any given circumstance. It has, unfortunately, been demonstrated repeatedly that when something touches on the essential interests of the ruling class in such a society, those considerations (of interest) will often overrule matters of objective truth, in various disciplines and even in academia overall. If, as with Popper, we were to place “criticism,” in place of practice, in the central role in our evaluation of theories and ideas in general, we would rob ourselves of the most solid objective basis for determining what is true.
But for Popper that is not important, since he denies that it is possible to determine what is true, or even more probable: we must, he insists, content ourselves with what best withstands criticism. Here again, the relativism of Popper stands out. For, if it is impossible even to determine what is most probable—and if, as Popper argues, the development of human theories and knowledge consists only in the replacement of one theory by what seems, at the time, to be a better one—then, even though Popper allows that there is truth, and even that humanity can advance in its knowledge of the truth, in reality and objectively he is saying that there is no truth, or in any case that we cannot really advance in our approximation of the truth, because after all if it is only a matter of a “better” theory replacing one that has proved to be less good, then really there is no way of knowing whether either of them is—or even whether either one of them stands in any way closer to—the truth.
Again, this is fine with Popper because, with his bourgeois “pluralist” outlook, what is important is the—illusory—ideal that all ideas and theories have “equal opportunity” (my phrase) to be expressed. Like all bourgeois “pluralist” ways of thinking, this ignores the fact that, in reality, and particularly in a society ruled by an exploiting class, including the “Western democracies,” all ideas will not have an equal opportunity to be expressed and considered, and certain ideas, which are considered subversive of the established order—and particularly when this subversive nature is regarded as posing a significant threat to that order—will be actively suppressed by the ruling class and its state. As I pointed out in Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That?, in reality, the workings of the “free market place of ideas” within capitalist society work out in the same way as the literal market, in the context of the underlying dynamics of capitalist accumulation: not in equality, even in the form of equal right to compete, but in domination by those who have achieved, and are determined to maintain, a monopolizing and controlling position.
As for communists and the scientific theory of communism, we recognize and insist upon the possibility of arriving at the truth—even with the relative element within objective truth, as spoken to here—and the importance of the search for the truth. We recognize that the way in which it is possible to continually acquire more knowledge, and to be able to determine that this knowledge in fact corresponds to objective reality, is to proceed on the basis of the store of knowledge that has been acquired—and that has been shown to be true through the application of the scientific method and its handling of the dialectical relation between practice and theory—and in this way to further engage reality, to accumulate further “raw materials” of knowledge through this process, then to synthesize this, raising it to the level of theory, and then again returning this to practice, in order to test, and to learn more about, the reality that this theory aims to concentrate. And we recognize the importance of the clash of ideas, of the struggle in the realm of ideas—and all the more so as this is unfettered from relations of class domination. The communist method and approach is to apply, as consistently and systematically as possible, scientific principles in engaging—in learning about and transforming—reality; and, as I have emphasized, this involves and requires acting on what is understood (through the application of this scientific approach) to be true, at any given time, while “being open to the understanding that you may not be right about this or that particular, or even about big questions.” (See “The Struggle in the Realm of Ideas,” in Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, p. 6)5
This series will continue in the next issue of Revolution.
1. Footnote by the author: As for Popper’s references to “the Scandinavian democracies,” etc., Lenin, in his analysis of imperialism, spoke to how even small and “neutral” countries like Switzerland took part in and benefited from the overall imperialist domination and plunder of the colonies.[back]
2. The discussion of changes in society and their analogy to natural evolutionary changes is earlier in the talk, in the first segment of this series which appeared in Revolution #105, October 21, 2007.[back]
3. Footnote by the author: Even though it is not my focus here, I cannot help but register a protest, or rebuke, to the shoddy and smugly philistine way in which Popper discusses Hegel. Dealing to a large extent in ad hominem attacks, Popper treats Hegel as little more than a “charlatan” (this is the word he repeatedly uses to describe Hegel) and as a tool of the German monarchal state, as someone whose philosophical theories were in essence little more than a conscious crafting of a rationalization and apology for that state. For example, Popper writes: “There is nothing in Hegel’s writing that has not been said better before him. There is nothing in his apologetic method that is not borrowed from his apologetic forerunners. But he devoted these borrowed thoughts and methods with singleness of purpose, though without a trace of brilliancy, to one aim: to fight against the open society, and thus to serve his employer, Frederick William [the absolute monarch] of Prussia.” (Popper, p. 32) And Popper asserts not only that Hegelianism can be reduced to merely “an apology for Prussianism” (p. 35), but even that “the reason why he [Hegel] wishes to admit contradictions is that he wants to stop rational argument, and with it scientific and intellectual progress.” (p. 40) Perhaps sensing that this treatment of Hegel—as in effect a babbling mercenary of the Prussian autocratic state—may not sit well with some readers, Popper feels obliged to observe that “some may contend, all this, even if it is true, does not prove anything against the excellence of Hegel’s dialectic philosophy, or against his greatness as a philosopher.” But then Popper’s immediate rejoinder is to refer again to a characterization of Hegel and his philosophy by Schopenhauer, which does not really speak to the objection Popper has just cited. (See Popper, p. 46)
Where he does attempt to treat Hegel’s philosophy, and in particular his dialectical method, Popper betrays a glaring lack of appreciation of what Hegel’s dialectical method consisted in and what it actually liberated in the field of philosophy. Especially in light of this, it is worth reading Engels’ discussion of this, in works such as Anti-Duhring and Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, where Engels provides a much more—dare we say it?—dialectical evaluation of Hegel’s philosophy and its impact. Consider, for example, the following from Engels—and contrast it with Popper’s narrow-minded, shallow, and instrumentalist treatment of Hegel and his philosophy.
“No philosophical proposition has earned more gratitude from narrow-minded governments and [note well—BA] wrath from equally narrow-minded liberals than Hegel’s famous statement: ‘All that is real is rational; and all that is rational is real.’ That was tangibly a sanctification of things that be, a philosophical benediction bestowed upon despotism, police government, Star Chamber proceedings and censorship. That is how Frederick William III and how his subjects understood it….
“Now, according to Hegel, reality is, however, in no way an attribute predictable of any given state of affairs, social or political, in all circumstances and at all times. On the contrary, the Roman Republic was real, but so was the Roman Empire, which superseded it. In 1789, the French monarchy had become so unreal, that is to say, so robbed of all necessity, so irrational, that it had to be destroyed by the Great Revolution, of which Hegel always speaks with the greatest enthusiasm….In accordance with all the rules of the Hegelian method of thought, the proposition of the rationality of everything which is real resolves itself into the other proposition: All that exists deserves to perish.
“But precisely therein lay the true significance and the revolutionary character of the Hegelian philosophy…that it once and for all dealt the death blow to the finality of all product of human thought and action. Truth, the cognition of which is the business of philosophy, was in the hands of Hegel no longer an aggregate of finished dogmatic statements, which, once discovered, had merely to be learned by heart. Truth lay now in the process of cognition itself, in the long historical development of science, which mounts from lower to ever higher levels of knowledge without ever reaching, by discovering so-called absolute truth, a point at which it can proceed no further, where it would have nothing more to do than fold its hands and gaze with wonder at the absolute truth to which it had attained….
“But at the end of the whole philosophy, a similar return to the beginning is possible only in one way. Namely, by conceiving of the end of history as follows: mankind arrives at the cognition of the self-same absolute idea, and declares that this cognition of the absolute idea is reached in Hegelian philosophy. In this way, however, the whole dogmatic content of the Hegelian system is declared to be absolute truth, in contradiction to his dialectical method, which dissolves all dogmatism. Thus the revolutionary side is smothered beneath the overgrowth of the conservative side….
“The inner necessities of the system are, therefore, of themselves sufficient to explain why a thoroughly revolutionary method of thinking produced an extremely tame political conclusion….
“But all this did not prevent the Hegelian system from covering an incomparably greater domain than any earlier system, nor from developing in this domain a wealth of thought, which is astounding even today.” (Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, part 1 “Hegel”)[back]
4. Footnote by the author: I have myself raised certain criticisms of what I view as elements of metaphysics within the way Marx, and in particular Engels, presented the dialectical method—elements which, in fact, were carried forward from concepts found in Hegel, in particular the notion of the “negation of the negation.” But to the degree that such tendencies existed in Engels, and even in Marx, they were very definitely of a secondary character, and did not define their view and application of the dialectical method, of dialectical materialism. And, as Marxism has continued to develop, it has increasingly moved away from these metaphysical tendencies; this can be seen in the works of Lenin and Mao, and is reflected in the criticisms I have referred to here.[back]
5. Footnote by the author: What has been said here, by way of refutation of Popper, and his claims that Marxism is not a science and fails the test of science, also stands more broadly as an answer to the claim, which is not infrequently made, that there is, and there can be, no such thing as social science, and in particular no science of human society and its historical development. As I have spoken to at length here, Marxism is in fact a science. Often people distort and narrow and constrict what Marxism is. Marxism is not merely a social science. Dialectical materialism is a concentration of reality in the largest sense, and it embraces “natural reality,” that is, the processes in nature, as well as social reality. But Marxism is also a social science—and it is a social science. The matter in motion that constitutes human beings and their social interrelations is also capable of being subjected to scientific analysis and synthesis, no less than other forms of matter in motion.
Once you rupture with idealism and metaphysics, and specifically with Cartesian ideas of the duality of existence—the notion, identified with the 17th-century French philosopher Ren´e Descartes, that there is material reality, and then there’s the human mind, which is somehow something else—once you rupture with notions of that kind (that human beings and their society are something other than particular forms of matter in motion), then why wouldn’t you understand that this sphere of matter in motion would be amenable, or susceptible (whatever word you want to use), to scientific analysis and synthesis, just as much as any other particular form of matter in motion?[back]
Part 2 of
MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY
Now on Web
Revolution is excited to announce that Part 2 of Bob Avakian’s new talk, MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY, is now available at revcom.us. The second part is entitled EVERYTHING WE’RE DOING IS ABOUT REVOLUTION, and goes into essential thinking on the actual content of building a revolutionary and communist movement. The talk will be serialized in Revolution at the conclusion of the serialization of part 1.
In an important sense this second part of MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY sets out an essential scaffolding for building such a revolutionary movement. There is surely work to be done in construction, and further thinking to do as we carry out and sum up that work, and as the world develops—but this talk sets out a coherent framework and approach for doing that work. It also applies—and exemplifies—a method that everyone can learn from and utilize: it gives a living sense of the multilayered and multilevel and dynamically changing character of reality and a way to comprehend reality in its motion and development and to transform it. In doing this, it builds off the first part of the talk, now being serialized, with its discussion not only of the overarching goal of the struggle, but also of the scientific method.
Every revolutionary and every person intent on, and grappling with, how to make, fundamental social change should get into this talk. We look forward to your comments and response on this work.
Revolution #111, December 9, 2007
Kluckers Threaten Jena March
A white supremacist group recently announced plans to march and rally in Jena, Louisiana on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 21, 2008. These white racists, who call themselves the “Nationalist Movement,” are billing the event as “Jena Justice Day—No to Jena 6, No to King.” And they are very clear about what this means. In what was basically a free advertisement disguised as an article in the Jena Times, these cavemen kluckers were quoted encouraging people to bring homemade signs calling for jailing the Jena 6, opposing the Martin Luther King holiday, and “down with communism.” They suggested that people come in U.S. military or Confederate Civil War uniforms, and they even encouraged people to DISPLAY NOOSES!!
As for these racists and their march, we have one thing to say: THE DAY IS LONG SINCE PAST WHEN VIGILANTE RACISTS RUNNING AMOK AND TERRORIZING BLACK PEOPLE IS TOLERABLE. Go crawl back under your miserable rocks, and get out of the way.
But for those who argue that the Jena 6 case is about six Black youth who need to be punished for beating up a white student...and NOT about nooses being hung on a “whites-only” tree...this alone should make it very clear that this case is truly all about the fact that the nooses hung at Jena High School stood for a whole history and present-day reality of racism, oppression and discrimination…AND the fact that Black students resisted this.
The system came down HARD on six Black youth to make the point—that they will not allow defiant rebellion against the status quo of racist unequal justice, segregation and KKK terror. From the very beginning, high school administrators, city officials, the DA and judges AND officials from the U.S. Justice Department worked together to push forward the outrageous prosecution of the Jena 6. But as word spread throughout the country a real grassroots movement grew. On September 20, tens of thousands of Black people from all over the country demonstrated in Jena, and many more protested in other cities and towns.
But KKK-types then jumped out in a reactionary counter-attack. Families of the Jena 6 got death threats and a white supremacist website encouraged vigilante action against them by posting their names and addresses. As a result of the struggle of the people, the courts were forced to release one of the Jena 6, Mychal Bell, who had been unjustly imprisoned for 10 months. But no sooner was he out than they threw him right back in, supposedly for probation violation from “previous offenses.” Then the DA, the Jena Times newspaper, and the mayor went on a mission in the media to strike back, saying the real “victim” in all this is the white student, Justin Barker, who the Jena 6 are accused of beating up. And the media has also been a launching pad for vilifying the Jena 6 as gangsters and thugs. But support for the Jena 6 has continued to grow, especially among students, and in November thousands of people marched in DC against racist hate crimes, demanding that the Jena 6 be free.
But the DA is going forward with the prosecution of the Jena 6 (see “Update: The Battle to Free the Jena 6,” online at revcom.us). And now white supremacists are saying they will march with their nooses in Jena.
There is a real battle, a profound political struggle, going on that must take off to higher levels, with two sides fighting over a question that, right now, concentrates the oppression of Black people: WHAT WILL BE THE OUTCOME OF THE JENA 6 CASE?
And What Is Your “Southern Way of Life”?
The case of the Jena 6 shines a spotlight on the unequal oppressive social relations and institutions that exist today and are brutally enforced. This is why this case has struck such a nerve among so many Black people.
AND it is also why it has struck such a nerve among the most despicable and hateful proponents of white supremacy. And it is also why these white supremacists have come out swinging in defense of what they call their way of life.
But let’s look at Jena as an example of that “way of life.” Jena is segregated—where people live, where people hang out. The Black neighborhoods are mostly poor and neglected. You walk down the streets of the small downtown—you don’t see a lot of Black people, especially none working in any of the offices or stores. People in some Black neighborhoods will tell you the city doesn’t even come in to pick up the garbage, that they have to go dump their own garbage somewhere.
Caseptla Bailey, the mother of Robert Bailey (one of the Jena 6), is 56 years old and a former Air Force officer. She has a degree in business management, but says she cannot get a job as a bank teller. She lives in an area in Jena called Ward 10 where the majority of Black people live in trailers or wooden shacks. She says whites don’t live here at all. She says, “We want to live better, we want better housing.”
Talk to other Black people who live in Jena. They’ll tell you about how a Black man was stomped to death by a gang of white guys because he bumped into a white woman. You’ll hear other accounts of Black people being attacked, beaten up, killed. Maybe it was a Black man who dated a white woman. Maybe it was a Black youth with an attitude a white cop didn’t like. Or maybe it was someone attacked just for being Black.
It’s not that surprising there was a “whites-only” tree at Jena High School.
On the road leading right out of Jena, you pass a big mansion on a hill, standing all by itself. There’s a big iron fence around it, with a huge gate blocking the driveway. The whole thing is adorned with American AND Confederate flags. Stop at a gas station on the way to Jena and go into the gift shop and see trinkets for sale—ceramic figures of degrading caricatures of Black people. You see t-shirts for sale with Confederate flags and slogans openly promoting white supremacy.
In a place like Jena, you feel the echoes of slavery. You can’t help but be reminded that on this very ground, in these very places, kidnapped Africans were bought and sold, shackled and worked to death. Children ripped from their parents’ hands at the auction block. Plantations where Black people created tremendous wealth for their owners. And white slave-catchers hunted down runaway slaves. THIS economic system of slavery is at the very foundation of the whole way the capitalist system developed and grew in this country.
It took nothing less than the Civil War to end slavery in this country. But even this did not end the systemic oppression and super-exploitation of Black people. Instead, capitalism “re-integrated” millions of Black people in the South into new forms of oppression. Now they were to be exploited as sharecroppers, sometimes working on the same plantation land they, or their parents and grandparents, had worked on as slaves. And coming out of this and in turn propping up all this was the persistent “Southern culture” of KKK cross burnings, lynchings, and Jim Crow laws that required “white only” and “Black only” public schools, drinking fountains, trains, buses and all kinds of other public places.
And this continues right down to today. White racists—admitted and otherwise—will argue that they are just upholding “proud traditions,” “Southern culture,” and “the way of life our parents and grandparents have all enjoyed.” And down in Jena some who loudly say that they are not racist will, in the same conversation, tell you that Black people are dangerous, lazy, criminals with a lower innate intelligence than white people. This is the kind of culture and thinking that in turn bolsters and justifies all the ways that capitalism profits off of the exploitation and oppression of the masses of Black people—subjecting them to the lowest-paid jobs, the worst working conditions, the worst neighborhoods with little or no social services, and the highest unemployment rates.
These unequal and oppressive relations have been and continue to be brutally enforced. And while Black people no longer mainly face widespread lynching and cross-burnings—though the KKK would like to bring them back and there was a cross-burning just recently “up south” in Peekskill, New York—they do face the widespread terror of police brutality and murder.
Now these KKKers have come way out there, and no doubt some of the “good whites” will distance themselves. But these kluckers have been produced by a very specific society, with very specific economic relations and a specific history. In this country the exploitation and oppression of Black people have been built into the whole process of the accumulation of wealth by the capitalist class, from its very beginnings, and first the slaveholders and now these capitalists have built up a whole superstructure of ideas to justify it. At first, it was the Bible; now they still use the Bible, but add onto it pseudo-scientific bullshit about “inherited IQs” and vicious non-stop television shows like Cops, etc.
The division in this country between white people and Black people—and expressions this takes in lynchings and police murder, in “everyday” discrimination and the pervasive racist ideas and attitudes—is deeply rooted in this economic structure and the social relations that go along with this, and it is pushed forward and supported by conscious policies of the big capitalist-imperialists who run this society. Here’s what Bob Avakian, the leader of the RCP, said about this in an article reprinted in Revolution earlier this year:
“Within the U.S. itself, one of the main and most ugly features of the capitalist-imperialist system is the great division between people of the European-American nation (white people) and peoples of color. This great division is not just a matter of racist ideas and attitudes, among white people in particular—although that is one expression of it. This division is deeply rooted in the historical development and the present-day economic and social structure of U.S. society. In imperialist America, with its whole foundation of slavery and genocide, with its whole history and continuing reality of white supremacy, the European-American nation is the oppressor nation. People of European descent, even those who are poor, powerless, and exploited—and even those who may have faced certain aspects of discrimination and prejudice, at least for a certain time, as part of immigrant ‘ethnic groups’—still share the status of being ‘white’ in America, with everything that means. They enjoy certain privileges in relation to people of other nationalities who are the oppressed nationalities. To put it simply, if you are ‘white’ in America, you may be treated badly, you may even suffer horribly at the hands of the system, particularly if you are without wealth and power, but you will not be subjected to certain kinds of discrimination and oppression that people of color cannot escape, even those who do accumulate a certain amount of wealth.
“At the same time, proletarians of all races and nationalities, who are exploited and dictated to under the rule of the capitalists, are all part of one, single, multinational proletariat. Fundamentally, they share a common fate and common interest as a class. For the class-conscious proletariat, for all those who become aware of and take up the revolutionary mission of the proletarian class, one of their most important goals is to completely abolish national oppression—to put an end to discrimination and inequality between nations and, in the U.S. in particular, to put an end to white supremacy and the domination of the European-American nation over peoples of color. This is an absolutely necessary and crucial part of the all-around revolutionary struggle to overthrow and eliminate this system and all forms of exploitation, inequality and oppression.” (from “After the Revolution: Dealing with ‘Racial Divisions,’” reprinted as Part III of the Black History Month series available online at revcom.us/blackhistorymonth)
A Better World Is Possible—
Get with the Revolution!
Human society has come to a place in its historical development where THERE IS NO NEED FOR THINGS TO BE THIS WAY. There is the basis for humanity to get beyond all this. Many people want and dream of a better world, where nooses will only exist on display in historical museums. The necessity and possibility exists to build a whole new economic and social system, a socialist society, in which the masses of people are mobilized and supported in getting rid of all oppressive and exploitative relations, including the oppression of Black people.
But that is only possible through revolution. This new system would get rid of the old capitalist economy that has fed on and reinforced white supremacy, and exploitation of all kinds, all over the world. It will bring in new political forms in which the masses can move to uproot the institutions and transform the thinking that has gone along with, and reinforced that exploitation. In regard to the struggle against white supremacy, that will be an extremely critical front—and the new state would both promote equality and integration throughout society, while it also brought into being areas of autonomy for Black people and other oppressed nationalities (as well as upholding the right of self-determination for Black people).
The article from Chairman Avakian which we cited earlier discusses in some depth what this would look like, including the relationship between integration in the society overall and the right to autonomous areas. He then goes on say:
“At the same time, as we have also made clear: These land and autonomy policies of the proletarian state will not mean that the oppressed peoples will have to live in these areas—which would amount to a new form of segregation. Instead the new proletarian state, while favoring and encouraging unity and integration, will ensure these formerly oppressed peoples’ right to autonomy as part of the policy of promoting real equality between nations and peoples.”
And, somewhat later in this same important article, he relates this crucial struggle against national oppression and inequality to the goal of transforming all of society:
“At the same time, there will not only be the general goal of developing and strengthening the unity of the proletariat and masses of people of all nationalities, on the basis of equality and the common struggle to radically transform all of society. There will also be concrete policies to make this a reality. The socialist state will encourage and promote the development of comradely relations among people of all nationalities, in every sphere of society; and, more specifically, it will foster and provide for the development of communities and neighborhoods, as well as workplaces and schools and other institutions, where people of all races and nationalities not only live and work side-by-side but actually develop close and deep relations of friendship and mutual support in the context of the overall struggle to revolutionize society, to eliminate and eradicate all inequalities and oppressive divisions among people. This struggle will be, and can only be, carried out on the basis of the increasingly conscious and voluntary unity and struggle of the masses of people of all races and nationalities. This is in accordance with and is a very important expression of the advance toward the final aim of communism, world-wide.
“Mao Tsetung gave a very concentrated and powerful description of the communist future, as the era when all of humanity consciously and voluntarily transform themselves and the world. This will be a world without oppression and exploitation, without differences and barriers of class or of nation—truly a global community of freely-associating human beings, sharing a fundamental unity and giving expression to great diversity. But, in order to carry out the world-historic revolutionary transformation to achieve communism, it is necessary to keep in mind the point emphasized by Lenin: The achievement of communism can only be realized through the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the new socialist society, as a transition to the abolition of all relations of oppression and exploitation and all class distinctions (and the abolition of the state as such, as the means for one class to suppress others). So, too, Lenin added, this world-historic transition will be marked by the struggle to bring about the liberation of colonies and oppressed nations and to achieve equality between all nations, as the necessary path to the ultimate abolition of national boundaries and of separate nations altogether, and the creation of the communist world community of freely-associating human beings. This must be the guiding principle of the proletariat in handling all the complexities of the struggle to overcome every aspect of unequal relations between races and nationalities, every vestige of national oppression, in every sphere of society and everywhere in the world.”
When you think about all this, it is truly inspiring. And it is also no wonder that these Klan types encourage their followers to bring signs saying “down with communism.” But from a historical standpoint, their day is past. Humanity needs revolution and communism!
Revolution #111, December 9, 2007
At the November 16 march around the so-called “Department of Justice” in D.C., CNN anchor Don Lemon interviewed Marcus Jones, who is the father of Mychal Bell -- one of the Jena 6. Lemon attacked Marcus Jones with the charge that his son was “no angel,” and Marcus Jones corrected him on who put the Jena 6 in jail, and for what.
LEMON: I’ve got to ask you this because people say you know what, Mychal and—the start of the march, people saying, you know, we can’t condone what’s wrong. Obviously, Mychal did something wrong. And are you saying—how are you saying he should be treated in the justice system? He’s done something wrong. Obviously, the Justice Department you feel has not treated him properly. But then, he’s no angel in all of that. That’s what folks are saying.
JONES: It’s the illegal prosecution and the charges that have been brung up on Mychal. I mean, people have their own judgment, they can read what they want to read on the Internet or whatever, it is illegal prosecution, illegal judgment that is going on with my son now. My son don’t have his self locked up. Jim Crow got him locked up. And that’s what I’m here for, the march against the Justice Department for them to end Jim Crow.
LEMON: All right, let’s talk about—more about your son. He’s a young man, obviously, you’re a young father. People talk about cleaning up their own backyard. How much—we’re going to keep walking slowly when they go. How much do you think men should be involved, especially African-American men, in their own sons’ lives. Don’t you think that would make a huge difference?
JONES: No, I mean, just being involved like I am now, I haven’t failed my son in no kind of way in the present or in the past.
LEMON: Yes, that’s it?
JONES: That’s it.
Revolution #111, December 9, 2007
As we go to press, the second trial of Mychal Bell—one of the Jena 6—is scheduled for December 6. Mychal Bell faces charges of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. His first conviction was thrown out by an appeals court, which ruled that he should not have been tried as an adult. Judge J.P. Mauffrey then imposed a gag order preventing people involved in the case from speaking out, and refused to let the media cover the trial or see court documents. On November 21, in response to a legal challenge by a coalition of news media, another judge ruled that the proceedings in the juvenile court trial must be open to the media and overturned the gag order. Judge Mauffrey is attempting to appeal that decision. At this writing, the December 6 trial date is on, and will mark a critical nodal point in the battle to Free the Jena 6.
The case of the Jena 6 goes back to September 2006, when Black students sat under the “whites-only tree” in the schoolyard of Jena High School, in rural Louisiana. The next morning when students came to school, nooses hung from the tree. In defiant protest, dozens of Black students courageously stood under the tree that morning. This protest was followed by a visit to the school by District Attorney Reed Walters and local police officers. Walters warned Black students at an all-school assembly against further protests against the nooses: “With one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear.”
After a series of incidents where Black students were threatened with a gun and jumped by white racists, a white student at Jena High, who reportedly was taunting Black students with racist insults, was jumped by Black students. He was treated at a hospital and attended a school ceremony that night. The next day, December 4, 2006, DA Walters made good on his threat. Six Black students were arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. They were held on tens of thousands of dollars in jail—most for many months, with charges that could bring decades in jail.
On June 28, 2007, Mychal Bell was convicted after a three-day trial, by an all-white jury. The prosecutor called 16 witnesses, mostly white students. The court-appointed defense attorney called no witnesses. Mychal Bell was convicted of two felonies: aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery. On September 14, in response to an appeal by a new set of defense lawyers and in the face of a growing nationwide movement to free the Jena 6, Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Mychal Bell’s conviction of second-degree battery on the grounds that he should not have been tried as an adult. Bell was released from Jail briefly in the wake of the massive march on Jena, on September 20, but then sent back to jail by the juvenile court judge. He remains in jail, while the remainder of the Jena 6 are on bail facing charges in adult or juvenile court.
Revolution #111, December 9, 2007
We received the following from a reader:
I wrote this review a few days after the film Redacted opened in the city where I live. After its first week it was gone from the city. By the time you read this it may be totally gone from theaters, killed through lack of promotion, vitriolic attacks, and the sometimes open, sometimes veiled and more refined, but always Machiavellian workings of the American cultural/propaganda machine. Redacted will likely continue to be available on HDNet cable TV and surely on DVD. Look for the film though—it might still be showing in a theater where you live.
Redacted from director Brian De Palma is a must see. This film is a work of conviction which boldly and angrily exposes the carnage and misery that has been the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq—the reality behind the mass media lies, talking points, and sanitizing of the U.S. destruction of Iraq and its people. Concentrating on the actions of one unit of soldiers, it gives a focused glimpse of what the U.S. military machine has brought down on the people of Iraq, the indescribable crimes it continues to commit, and the mentality that the troops are inculcated with and that many become steeped in. It presents a devastating portrait that stands as a much larger metaphor—a challenge to those who want to turn away and hide their eyes from these atrocities.
Redacted. I cannot recall a movie that is so aptly named. Fascists like Bill O’Reilly and Michael Medved, along with a number of mainstream critics and opinion makers (employing somewhat more subtle tactics), have sought to redact the film and its message and delete its images from the American psyche before they can even be seen. The film opened in very few theaters in a handful of cities despite a great deal of furor and controversy and despite the fact that it is the work of a major director.
Redacted is centered around a true story. In March 2006, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi, was raped, shot in the face, and burned along with other members of her family by U.S. soldiers. Speaking after the film won the Silver Lion award for best director at the Venice Film Festival, De Palma said, “The movie is an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in Iraq to the American people. The pictures are what will stop the war… In Vietnam we saw the images and the sorrow of the people we were traumatizing and killing, we saw soldiers wounded and brought back in body bags. We see none of that in this war. It’s all out there on the internet, you can find it if you look for it, but it’s not in the major media.”
The Struggle to Get the Film Made
It was a big struggle to get this film made. Through his efforts and fortunate coincidence, De Palma was able to find a company to finance it and make it on a shoestring budget of $5 million. He had to fight and maneuver throughout the making of the film in order that important parts of its content not be redacted. Because the film’s backers (HDNet/Magnolia Pictures) supposedly feared legal problems, De Palma was forced to change the names and many other details about actual events and had to make a “fictional” film done as a documentary about actual events. An interviewer from Sky News asked him, “We know all the details, so how does putting the existing true story into a factual narrative form make it any worse?” De Palma answered, “Sometimes capitalism does not enable free creativity, or speech for that matter, my dear.” He told Reuters, “Everything that is in the movie is based on something I found that actually happened. But once I had put it in the script I would get a note from a lawyer saying you can’t use that because it’s real and we may get sued. So I was forced to fictionalize things that were actually real.”
The film consists entirely of ostensibly “found” footage, which was scripted and shot by the filmmakers. It’s a collage of clips made to simulate soldiers’ personal videos (using the device that one of the soldiers in the fictional unit is making a video to help him get into film school), helmet and surveillance cam footage, a French documentary film, an Al Jazeera-like TV station, internet sites, webcams, etc. Through this method, events leading up to, during, and after the rape in Mahmoudiya are portrayed and the film’s story told.
This construction and the way De Palma, the actors, and the other filmmakers have executed it have drawn both praise and a great deal of “artistic” criticism from a number of critics who have either been enraged or made queasy and uncomfortable by the content of the film and the directness of its presentation. There has been more than a little dishonest and disingenuous film criticism leveled at the way De Palma tells his story, often accompanied with hollow nods of seeming approval for his intentions and message. We’ve seen THIS movie before. With the agenda of discouraging anyone from actually seeing the film for themselves, the knowing critic dismisses it on the ostensible basis that it is bad art. Redacted, like any work of art, has strengths and weaknesses and is open to honest artistic criticism. But tawdry hatchet jobs need to be seen for what they are. And in my opinion this film IS good art. This is a creatively done film, and some of the critics seem to have completely missed what De Palma was trying to do. (Or have they?) Film critic Roger Ebert, among others, has favorably reviewed the film, including its style and method.
What De Palma did in the situation he was faced with in making this film was actually genius. Instead of giving in to obstacles, he took that very adversity and turned it to an advantage by weaving in the theme of redaction—the attempts at erasure of officially sanctioned savagery—as an intrinsic part of the story. Hand in hand with the commission of war crimes are the cover-ups, the lies, the destruction and suppression of evidence. The truth of horrors such as the rape of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi and the larger truth it is part of MUST be kept from the masses of people in order to lay the basis for further and greater crimes.
The end of the film is its most powerful moment. (If you don’t like spoilers, skip the next sentence. I hate spoilers too, but I knew all about the end of the film before I saw it and it still had a very powerful effect.) The film ends with graphic pictures of Iraqi people of all ages slaughtered by American troops, with the caption “Collateral Damage.” This moment, too, has been partially redacted. The last shot was supposed to be a photo of the corpse of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi, but De Palma was forced to substitute a staged version. And shortly before the film was released, the film’s financial backers, Magnolia Pictures, had black bars put over the faces of the people. A furious De Palma denounced the last-minute redactions at a stormy press conference during the New York Film Festival.
Attacks from the Fascist Noise Machine
Right before the film opened the fascist noise machine went ballistic, attacking the film, De Palma, and the film’s backers. Calling for a boycott of the film, Bill O’Reilly said, “[Redacted] will incite young Muslim men…to act on their hatred. If just one of those men straps on a bomb vest and murders people, that is on Brian De Palma.” Michael Medved was beside himself: “It could be the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I mean, the out and out worst, most disgusting, most hateful, most incompetent, most revolting, most loathsome, most reprehensible cinematic work I’ve ever encountered… It is a slander on the United States of America. It is a slander on the Marine Corps. It is a slander on our troops… Will it inspire future terrorists? Of course it will!”
These comments are essentially fascist fatwas meant to rally the storm troops to go after the film and those behind it, to intimidate people from seeing the film, and to broadly threaten opposition to what the regime is doing with charges of “aiding the terrorists” and in essence crying “treason.” Mark Cuban, the main financial backer of the film, who has also been targeted by O’Reilly and others, addressed O’Reilly in his Blog Maverick internet blog: “The people who take you literally took it upon themselves to call my businesses with bomb threats, threaten employees, myself and others with physical harm and wish every manor of death, injury and illness on us all.”
In an interview before the film’s release De Palma said, “I feel like one of the characters in my film, who goes along with the rape in spite of his moral objection to it. In real life, I feel helpless to stop these horrible things that are happening, this horrible war that I am financing as an American citizen. I couldn’t stop G.W. Bush from dropping all those bombs on Iraq. I can’t physically stop him from doing so again, all I can do is work within my genre and its limitations.” Redacted is a call and a challenge to those who need to get off the fence, stare the truth in the face, and stop being complicit. It’s high time and way past time to put a stop to the wars, the torture, everything this government is doing right in front of our faces, with much more and much worse up ahead if we do not act.
Revolution #111, December 9, 2007
While U.S. atrocities in Iraq are generally covered up by the government, military, and mainstream media, there have been a few major incidents that have been impossible to keep completely hidden. In such cases, we may hear calls for an investigation or talk that some troops may get charged. But we rarely hear about what happens after that. Here is a look at three horrific war crimes committed by U.S. forces in Iraq, and what happened afterward to the troops involved.
The War Crime: Haditha
On November 19, 2005, U.S. soldiers went on a rampage in the village of Haditha after an IED (improvised explosive device) exploded and killed a Marine. Aws Fahmi saw Marines going house to house, killing members of three families. He heard his neighbor plead in English for his life and the lives of his family. “But they killed him, and his wife and daughters,” Fahmi said. The girls were ages 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1.
Nine-year-old Eman Walid Abdul-Hameed said that the Marines burst into her house at 7 a.m. “The Americans came into the room where my father was praying and shot him. They went to my grandmother and killed her too. I heard an explosion. They threw a grenade under my grandfather’s bed.” Eman suffered a shrapnel wound. Her parents, grandparents, two uncles, and a cousin were killed.
By the time Marines were done five hours later, they had killed 24 people, all civilians.
What Happened: The Marines first claimed that the IED had killed 15 civilians and that the rest of the dead were “insurgents” killed by the Marines in a firefight. It was immediately clear this was a lie: The victims were shot at close range, and their bodies had no shrapnel wounds. The Marines’ own photos, and a video taken the next day, show that the houses were riddled with bullet holes on the inside—not the outside—disproving the Marines’ claim to have engaged in a firefight.
A worldwide outcry erupted after Time magazine published video evidence of the massacre and survivors’ stories. But it wasn’t until more than a year after the massacre that charges were brought against 8 Marines: 4 officers for failing to investigate or accurately report on the killings; and 4 enlisted men for “unpremeditated” murder. Charges were dismissed against 2 of the enlisted soldiers and reduced against the other 2. Charges against 2 of the officers were also dropped.
Lt. General James Mattis, head of the Marines Central Command, was responsible for the decision to drop and reduce the charges. Mattis said during a public forum in San Diego in 2005: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”
The War Crime: Ramadi
On November 13, 2006, U.S. tanks opened fire on homes in the Al-Dhubat area of Ramadi, killing at least 35 people. The dead were civilians, according to Iraqi doctors and witnesses. 60-year-old Haji Jassim told Inter Press Service, “We weren’t allowed by the Americans to reach the destroyed houses to try to rescue those who were buried, so certainly many of them bled to death.”
On November 18, 2007, Marine Corp Times made available a recording that a sergeant did of a briefing by his commanding officer after another incident in Ramadi (August 23, 2006) which left women and children dead. Capt. Shane Cote told the troops during the briefing, “Earlier up on the roof, there was like five women and little girls, OK? We fucked that area up. If we did any collateral damage, there will be people here asking. Your answer, for the sake of yourselves—and me—better be you were fucking shooting at muzzle flashes.”
What Happened: No charges were filed in the November 2006 killings. Nor were any criminal charges brought in the August 2006 incident, which was treated by the Marines as an administrative “personnel issue.”
The War Crime: Fallujah
In November 2004, the U.S. unleashed Operation Phantom Fury on the city of Fallujah. For 10 days the U.S. rained destruction down on the people, killing thousands and leveling much of the city. The operation included the use of white phosphorus, a skin-burning chemical weapon which has been banned from use in combat by international treaty. Of the roughly 50,000 buildings in Fallujah, 7,000 to 10,000 were destroyed, and from half to two-thirds of the remaining buildings were significantly damaged. 200,000 Iraqis who lived in the city were forced to flee and become refugees. Under the Nuremberg Charter, which was used to prosecute Nazis after World War 2, the “wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages” is a war crime.
A video taken by NBC newsman Kevin Sites during the Fallujah operation shows several wounded Iraqi men in a mosque with heavily armed U.S. Marines standing over them. The captives had already been searched for weapons the previous day and had been left on the floor overnight. One Marine can be heard on the video footage saying, “He’s fucking faking he’s dead.” This soldier then raises his rifle and fires right into the man’s head. Blood splatters onto the wall. A second Marine says, “Well, he’s dead now.” The execution of a wounded captive is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
What Happened: The military ruled that the soldier in the Sites video acted “consistent with the established rules of engagement, the law of armed conflict and the Marine’s inherent right of self-defense.” No charges were filed.
The only charge stemming from the brutal assault on Fallujah has been against Marine sergeant Jose Luis Nazario, accused of murdering two Iraqi men. Nazario made a call on his radio after his squad captured four men in a house. An officer asked Nazario over the radio, “Are they dead yet?” When Nazario responded that the captives were still alive, he was allegedly told to “make it happen.” Nazario was charged only with voluntary manslaughter and allowed to remain free on $50,000 bail in Riverside, California, where he had become a cop after leaving the Marines. Another soldier is being investigated for executing the other two Iraqis in the same incident but has not been charged. The officer who gave the order to execute the captured men has not been identified or charged.
What does it show about the utterly reactionary nature of what the U.S. is doing in Iraq, that such savage war crimes go essentially unpunished—giving a green light for more? There is great moral and political responsibility for the people in the U.S. to refuse to be complicit with these crimes—to act politically to stop this bloody war and to drive out the criminal regime behind it, through a mass movement of millions.
Revolution Online: Revolutionary Gifts
"At a moment when much of humanity finds itself in a living hell, when the horror of the U.S. occupation of Iraq threatens to escalate into a war against Iran, and when the future of the planet itself is threatened, Revolution newspaper must be out there much more boldly and much more broadly—exposing what is going on, revealing why, and pointing to a revolutionary solution in the interests of the vast majority of humanity." —From "Truth...in Preparation for Revolution"
Color Photographs by Li Onesto: framed, posters, postcards, notecards.
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Revolution #111, December 9, 2007
Selling Revolution Newspaper Subscriptions—
From a distributor:
Some of us who distribute Revolution in the Bay Area went to the October 27 demonstration against the war in San Francisco. We wanted to share our experience selling twenty-five subscriptions to Revolution that day.
The people at the demonstration felt a strong compulsion to ACT! And people come to these demonstration link up with like-minded people and in search of answer to some deep questions about just exactly what is behind these dark times of endless war and a culture of Dark-Ages mentality that suppresses any questioning of the status quo.
We were looking forward to connecting up with all kinds of people of all ages and walks of life. Many people didn’t understand the extent of U.S. war moves against Iran, what is driving the U.S. rulers to put the world’s people in such great danger and possible devastation, For that week, there was a very timely issue of the paper with the lead article “Bush the Liar Escalates War Threats Against Iran” that just hit the spot in terms of telling the truth about what the U.S. is up to and fulfilling people’s need to know WHY are the rulers SO determined to go it on with Iran and just WHAT can people do about it.
Our orientation was that we had exactly what people needed – the truth in preparation for revolution. We knew that people would be attracted to the uniquely scientific analysis that this paper has that also serves as a guide to action. We set out with a plan: To zero in on selling subscriptions and raising funds for the paper. Part of the reason that it is important for people to get subscriptions is that the paper is like a tapestry with all these intertwining designs and when you step back from the various designs, what gets revealed is a deeper perspective of the whole tapestry. We were constantly thinking about what a world of difference it would make in people’s lives and how they think and act as conscious human beings if they read this paper every week and went out to change the world based on that understanding.
We were guided in our mission that day by the vision laid out in the “Revolution… Truth in Preparation” fundraising broadsheet and linked that to the various articles in that paper that week. Then we got clipboards with subscription forms, sign-up sheets and stacks of the newspaper and went into the crowd at the Civic Center where the demonstration started. Right away, there were throngs of people entering into the area and we situated ourselves at a good place with displays of enlargements of various front pages and back pages. The enlarged poster from the newspaper on the Jena Six was especially eye catching to many of the youth. One youth walked right up to the poster and studied everything on it. He asked us, “Where do you news like this? It’s so rare to see.” He pulled out $5 right away to get a 10-week subscription.
We found that youth were particularly eager, but there were also older people who had more political experience who came up to us. One guy came up and said, “Yeah, revolution. That’s what I’m looking for.” As we talked briefly, he said that he was down for a radical upending of this system, but didn’t know how to go about doing it. We said that we had just the thing for him and referenced the “Three Main Points” that’s on the back of the front page of every issue of the paper and also introduced him to the Revolution DVD by Bob Avakian. He said, “Hmm… I’d like to read this all the time,” He bought a one-year subscription and the DVD. Another youth said, “ I came here to rile things up.” Well we had just to thing for him! It’s good to not be complacent and want to rile things up. Let’s do it in a conscious way by reading this paper regularly and getting multiple copies to get out to others.
Some of us went on the march and sold subscriptions along the route. You can do that, but you have to move quickly. The best advertisement for the paper is the paper itself. Hold up the front page or the eye-catching back page poster and be on the lookout for people who are drawn to it. Approach those that are interested right away and give them a short snapshot of the front page. Several subscriptions were sold in the midst of this situation. People would come up to the front page of that issue and point at the picture (showing U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf and ask, “Is that happening NOW?!” Yes, it’s happening now, and the article by Larry Everest on the desperate reasoning behind it is right in here. By the end of the day, we summed up what we learned and tallied up the number of subscriptions sold. Most of the 25 subscriptions we sold were 10-week subscriptions for $5. These short subscriptions are just great for people who are wanting to check out this point of view and, after this they can get a full year subscription. But don’t get us wrong, getting a one-year subscription would also be great—but some don’t want to make that kind of commitment right at first.
We really encourage all those who want to go out there and change the world for the better in a big or small ways to get with Revolution newspaper—buy a subscription and make arrangements to get a whole stack of this paper and become a spreader of REVOLUTION.
Get a stack of subscription forms from the paper and go out and sign up friends, family, co-workers. This is a great gift for the holidays.
Revolution #111, December 9, 2007
From A World to Win News Service
November 26, 2007. A World to Win News Service. Pakistan, never a calm country even in ordinary times, has been in even more intense turmoil since General Pervez Musharraf, the country’s president and head of its army, declared a state of emergency.
The only reason Musharraf’s emergency rule is not more commonly labeled military dictatorship is that he took all authority into his own hands in his person as civilian president, not as head of the armed forces, although it was a military coup that made him president in 1999.
Emergency rule meant the suspension of the constitution, including the right of an arrested person to be informed of the charges against them and to have a lawyer, freedom of movement and other individual rights. Although most people in Pakistan have never enjoyed any rights at all, in fact, if not in words, this gave Musharraf the power to act arbitrarily against anyone. Most importantly, it allowed him to dismiss all the Supreme Court judges and detain its chief judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry. Then he launched a clampdown on opposition political forces, human rights activists and lawyers. Privately owned TV stations were forced off the air for a time, and when they began broadcasting again they faced severe restrictions on what they were allowed to show and say. Nearly 6,000 people were arrested and detained; despite the announcement of the release of 3,000 people on November 21, several thousand more are still in jail and the arrests of journalists and students are continuing.
Musharraf justified emergency rule in the name of fighting Islamic terrorism, but as many observers have pointed out, he has actually focused the repression on non-fundamentalist forces that have dared oppose his regime, including a section of the masses, while also using his powers to maneuver against and extract deals from his two main political rivals, the ex-prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, both as much identified as Musharraf himself with the Islamicization of Pakistan.The Purpose of This Coup
Within hours of his declaration of emergency rule, General Musharraf went on state TV to justify it. He said, “Pakistan stands at a dangerous crossroads and the union of Pakistan is in danger.” Terrorism and extremism, he continued, have reached “extreme levels” and the “functioning of the government is paralyzed at the moment”. The most important problem, he concluded, was this: “The law enforcement agencies are demoralized especially in Islamabad and have given up hope because their officers are being punished. We have a demoralized force with low morale.”
Most people would agree with the general’s assessment of the situation, given the humiliations and setbacks his regime has faced over the last few months. The demoralization of his armed forces became all too obvious recently when 300 soldiers voluntarily surrendered to the Islamic fundamentalists they had been sent to fight in the country’s North-West region.
Musharraf blamed this situation on the Supreme Court and its head Chaudhry. The government was paralyzed and the armed forces demoralized, he said, because “All of the senior representatives of the government are constantly going to the courts—especially to the Supreme Court.” And, “They are being giving sentences.” Musharraf also blamed the court for raising obstacles to the fight against the fundamentalists by ordering their release. Further, he said, “The media—–certain channels and certain programs on certain channels—has also contributed to this downslide, this negative thinking, this negative projection. And I am saddened by this too.”
The general did not hide his bitterness over the events of last spring, which turned out disastrously for him. He sacked Chaudhry once before, in March, accusing the Supreme Court head of corruption. This move sparked a protest by lawyers and human rights activists that turned into a movement and gained momentum. At the movement’s peak in May, when the judge was to appear at a rally in Karachi, Musharraf unleashed the thugs of the MQM (Mutahida Qaumi Movement, one of the rare groups to support him) to disrupt the event and assault the crowd, killing 49 people. Chaudhry was unable to even leave the Karachi airport and the rally was cancelled.
In May shops and markets in all major cities closed to protest the attack in Karachi. Further demonstrations against Musharraf continued all over Pakistan. Finally the Supreme Court came to a decision that the sacking of Chaudhry was illegal, and reinstated him as its chief justice. While the anti-Musharraf movement in general and in particular the determined struggle of the lawyers in the streets was not the only factor in this reversal, it certainly gave heart to some of the judges and especially Chaudhry to stand more firmly against Musharraf’s arbitrary actions. For example, the high court ruled against Musharraf’s deportation of Sharif a few hours after his return from exile in Saudi Arabia. The last straw came when the Supreme Court threatened a deal between Musharraf and Bhutto, openly brokered by the U.S., by refusing to drop the corruption charges facing Bhutto when she returned home from exile in Dubai.
Yet in his emergency rule speech, Musharraf’s main accusation against the court was that it had become an obstacle to the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. “Terrorists which had been declared ‘Black’ by the Intelligence agencies, which means ‘confirmed terrorists’, were released by the Court,” he said. Here it is not possible to fully examine Musharraf’s contradictory relations with various Pakistani Islamic fundamentalist forces and the ways he has both allied with and fought various groups of them at different times. The point to be noted is that he is openly arguing that anyone his intelligence agencies label “black” is automatically a “confirmed terrorist” and there is no need for any further legal proceedings.
Since September 11, 2001 and especially in the last couple of years Pakistan has been the scene of many “disappearances”. The paths of many who have gone missing have been traced back to the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and other intelligence agencies. Often people are picked up on the road, at bus stops, workplaces and other locations. Their families are never informed; they simply go without news of their loved ones for months. Some of the “disappeared” do have Islamic fundamentalist backgrounds. But many do not; in fact, they have not been involved in any religious activity. Many are opposition political activists. Many more of these cases are related to insurgency aiming for local autonomy in the eastern province of Baluchistan. Some are lawyers or human rights activists or just political opponents. Under pressure from families, in January 2007 the Supreme Court took the extremely lukewarm step of ordering the agencies to try harder to “find” 41 people listed as missing. Subsequently half of them were quietly released. These are some of the people Musharraf is referring to when he complains about the court’s release of “confirmed terrorists”.The Unfolding of Crises in Pakistan
In the course of the last few years Pakistan has leapt from one crisis to another, and this is one of the most serious. What are the dynamics and features of this instability?
One factor is geopolitical: Pakistan is situated in a very intense part of the world, and this is a very intense moment in world affairs. Pakistan is the gate to three critical regions of the world. To the north is Central Asia, to the east India and South Asia, and, most importantly, to the west is the Middle East. Another is the role this country has played in its 60 years of existence, including its contentious relations with India (which the UK and U.S. wanted it to counterbalance) and its history as a U.S. client state during the Cold War, including the forging of a special interrelationship with Afghanistan. These factors alone would make the country very volatile and vulnerable to events in neighboring states.
Now there is a new element in this: the deepening crisis in the Middle East and especially the shockwaves of a threatened war against Iran. We have already seen how developments in Turkey, Kurdistan and Iraq are being conditioned by the U.S.’s drive to restructure the Middle East. This is certainly at least as true for Pakistan, a major U.S. “non-NATO” ally, as American policy-makers call it, assigned an indispensable role in carrying out its plans in the region.
This has led the U.S. to back particular social and political forces within the country, and to play a would-be decisive role in its politics. This is far from the only reason for the country’s woes—imperialist domination acts through the country’s own reactionary ruling classes—but it is a major reason why Pakistan has gone from crisis to crisis since its inception 60 years ago, and why these crises, in different forms, have become increasingly intense in the last few years.
The government has faced an ethnic insurgency in Baluchistan, a western province with massive oil and gas reserves, for more than two years. The army’s war against the people of this area is still going on. The vast majority of the abductions registered by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan are from Baluchistan.
The North-West Frontier Province has been a main theatre of the activities of the Islamic fundamentalists. Nearby Waziristan, allegedly a safe heaven for Taliban fighters from adjoining Afghanistan and some Al-Qaida activists, is out of government control. Recently the Islamic fundamentalists have extended their armed movement further away from the border, to Swat, where previously they had no bases and little activity. The Pakistan government has officially been involved in fight to curb the Islamic fundamentalists in the North-West Frontier area. However, there was a 10-month ceasefire between the government and the armed tribes of Waziristan.
Despite Musharraf’s efforts, this cease-fire came to an end in July, not long after Army commandos stormed the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) mosque complex in Islamabad, killing hundreds of people. The mosque had been occupied by a group of Islamic fundamentalists. General Musharraf was determined to use this crisis to re-establish the authority he had lost in the conflict with the Supreme Court during the previous months. But instead of restoring the general’s authority and resolving his problems, this bloody operation only plunged his regime into deeper crisis, giving rise to a string of unprecedented suicide bombings and other acts of retaliation by Islamic fundamentalists forces. Such activities have been going on sporadically in Pakistan since 2001, especially in relation to the religious strife between Shia and Sunni forces, but the level has been tolerable for Musharraf’s government. Since the Red Mosque massacre, suicide bombings have increased dramatically. The situation became even worse when not long afterward tribal fighters in north Waziristan unilaterally scrapped their ceasefire agreement with the government and began to directly attack the armed forces sent there. So far, the army has completely failed to bring this area under control.Musharraf’s Latest Showdown
These separate but intertwined political crises and the underlying social fault lines have brought the regime to the brink of collapse. This poses unprecedented problems and even dangers for the U.S. and its regional interests and aims. If the Bush regime has not acted more decisively, however, it may be because there is no clear solution. Until now, they seem to have focused on trying to patch up the situation as best as possible under the circumstances.
Their main patch, so far, at least, has been Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister in the late 1980s and 1990s. Although she is currently being promoted as a secular figure, at least for Western audiences, when she ran the government she did nothing to reverse the growing Islamicization of the country (including the infamous Hudood anti-women Islamic laws) and the military-fundamentalist alliance; in fact, she presided over the bringing of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan—at the behest of the U.S. Until recently, as long as the Musharraf regime seemed stable, the U.S. ignored her efforts to curry American favor. Then suddenly Condoleezza Rice took Bhutto under her wing and announced that the U.S. wanted an arrangement where Musharraf would take off his army uniform and be magically transformed into a civilian president (while retaining his post as commander-in-chief, like civilian presidents in many countries). Bhutto would be his Prime Minister and by putting an end to “one-man rule” thus magically transform the widely hated and isolated regime into something more stable. The UK also backed this scheme.
Some Bhutto apologists argue that she had to accept such a deal because she could not govern without the support of the army. A more truthful way of putting it is that she would help give a basically military regime a civilian face. The future of this deal is still unclear, but it’s reasonable to think that Musharraf came to doubt whether Bhutto could really rescue him, and therefore whether such a power-sharing arrangement had much to offer him. American policy-makers may well have despaired about whether such an arrangement would “save” the situation in terms of their interests, and even whether or not the regime would be strengthened or weakened by it. There can be no doubt that a strong regime—under the U.S. baton, of course—is the apple of the U.S.’s eye.
This power-sharing agreement came under tremendous pressure from different corners of Pakistan reality. These pressures led to Musharraf’s second coup. Whether it was launched with the approval of the imperialists, and especially which imperialists, is not clear. There is reason to think that the UK may have been more enthusiastic than the U.S. about bringing back Bhutto and far less forgiving than the U.S. about Musharraf’s coup. (Britain’s “interests” and influence in Pakistan run a close second to the U.S.) But what is certain is that it was another attempt and maybe a desperate final attempt by Musharraf and the army to restore and consolidate the authority they have seen leak away over the last few years, and put him in a stronger position before any further compromise or power-sharing—which might work out just fine once Musharraf’s supremacy was assured.
From the beginning the coup has been a big risk. It could strengthen Musharraf’s position and allow him to go forward with the Bhutto deal, or it could terminate the whole power-sharing deal, and more than that, make the situation for the regime even worse. Even if the coup was not pre-approved by Bush and his administration, Musharraf probably calculated that at this moment the U.S. would not go against him and that they had no better alternative. Not launching a coup and leaving things as they were might make the situation worse for him and them.
This orientation was expressed by Tariq Azim, minister of state for information: “They would rather have a stable Pakistan—albeit with some restrictive norms—than have more democracy prone to fall in the hands of extremists… Given the choice, I know what our friends would choose.” (This and following quotes from International Herald Tribune, November 4, “U.S. likely to continue Pakistan aid,” by David Sanger and David Rohde)The U.S. and the Coup
The Bush administration insisted they had no role in the coup and even that they had discouraged and warned him against such a move. The strongest criticism of Musharraf came from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who called the coup “disturbing” during a news conference. But he failed to condemn the declaration of emergency rule and noted that “Pakistan is a country of great strategic importance to the United States and a key partner in the war on terror…We are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counter-terrorism efforts.”
Secretary of State Rice of the U.S. also refused to condemn or criticize the state of emergency. Her biggest threat was that the U.S. would review its aid to Pakistan, but she made it clear that the military assistance allocated to the so-called war on terrorism was not going to be affected. She said Bush’s first concern was “to protect America and protect American citizens by continuing to fight against terrorists.”
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte visited Pakistan and held talks with Musharraf, Bhutto and Asfaq Kiani, Musharraf’s designated successor as army chief when the general resigns. (Identified by Western media as pro-American and a “moderate”, Kiani is the head of military intelligence and has been called the “architect” of Pakistan’s U.S.-supported bringing of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan.) Before going to Pakistan, Negroponte told an American Congressional Committee, “The bottom line is, there’s no question that we Americans have a stake in Pakistan.” (IHT, November 7)
The man couldn’t put it more bluntly. His actions were no less blunt: according to reports that Negroponte himself later verified, he spent the most time talking with Kiani. The U.S. may not be betting its whole stake on Musharraf’s political survival, but it is determined that whatever happens it will still have the Pakistani army, which can be assured of continuing to receive the lion’s share of the nearly $1 billion the U.S. sends Pakistan yearly.
But while holding back in criticizing Musharraf’s acts of repression (until the last week or so when the coup seemed to be producing bad results), in their remarks on Pakistan U.S. and UK officials emphasized that he must hold elections. That would satisfy U.S. concerns about democracy and they wouldn’t have to worry about anything else. It doesn’t matter if the constitution is suspended and the army and Musharraf do whatever they want to. It doesn’t matter if they arrest and harass and bully millions of masses and tens of thousands of opponents and protesters. In his public remarks about the situation in Pakistan, Bush failed to condemn Musharraf’s emergency rule and did not express the slightest displeasure about the reign of terror. He said that his message to Musharraf was, “We believe strongly in elections, and that you ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform…You can’t be the president and the head of the military at the same time.” (IHT, November 7) Rice, in reiterating this position, said, “We have a very clear view that the elections need to take place on time, which would mean the beginning of the year.”
This is, in fact, what Musharraf has said will happen. In his speech justifying emergency rule, Musharraf concluded with this argument: “In my view, these three pillars of state—the judiciary, executive and legislative—must be harmonious. That is the only way to get the government back on track. Before we completely fall apart.” All of his actions, Musharraf “assured” the people of Pakistan, have but one aim: to remove the “hurdles on the path to democracy.” (All the quotations from Musharraf were translated by Barnett Rubin and posted on the Informed Comment Global Affairs blog—www.icga.blogspot.com.)
The insistence on elections is so that the U.S. can claim that promoting democracy is the essence of their plan for the Middle East and cover up all the atrocities that have been going on in Pakistan, especially in the last few years, with the help of the U.S. But the irony is that even if we were to accept the American rulers’ claim that holding elections means the people can exert their will—a particularly ridiculous notion in a country where foreign powers have always had the last word—the results of this election they have been so eager to see were never supposed to be determined by the ballot boxes. Elections were planned to legitimize decisions that had already been made in advance by the U.S. and UK imperialists. Musharraf’s explanation that his coup was aimed at getting rid of “hurdles” to a successful election—conflicts within the state and ruling classes, and inconvenient opposition from sections of the people—is true if understood in that light.
Up until now, no informed observer has doubted that this has meant Musharraf as president, Bhutto as prime minister and Kiani as army chief of staff. Whether this arrangement will have to be modified or even abandoned is not clear right now, but that changes nothing about how the imperialists seek to settle the matter.
It’s no surprise that the masses of people in Pakistan hate the U.S. imperialists so much. That is another factor in this mix, one that so far, unfortunately, has been channeled mainly through parties run by various factions of the ruling classes or Islamic fundamentalists. Independent of what the U.S. and General Musharraf might wish, events developing after the imposition of emergency rule have the potential to endanger their whole plan, and maybe more. Every attempt by the ruling powers and their American backers to pull the country out of crisis has brought deeper crisis. And the world situation that makes a stable, U.S.-dominated regime in Pakistan so important to the U.S.—including the threat of an American military attack on Iran—makes more shockwaves very likely.
Revolution #111, December 9, 2007
Check it Out
The film Giuliani Time, now available on DVD, is a must see for people around the country. As mayor, Giuliani gave the police a green light to commit atrocities and murders—including the killings of Amadou Diallo (an unarmed man shot by police who fired 41 bullets, 19 of them hitting Amadou) and Patrick Dorismond (shot to death when he denounced men who turned out to be undercover police for trying to buy drugs). Giuliani claims credit for making New York “safe” through his war on “squeegee men,” panhandlers, and the homeless. He reinforced the segregation of the school system. He tried to shut down an art exhibit he didn’t like, and regularly opposed permits for demonstrations. Some of the most damning testimony in this documentary comes from former members of Rudy Giuliani’s own administration.