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Revolution #112, December 16, 2007
Revelations in U.S. Report on Iran
George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the proven liars in the Bush regime have been exposed—again—deliberately and repeatedly lying about life-and-death issues affecting millions of people. The lies this time were the Bush regime’s claim that they had proof Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons and had an active nuclear weapons program. For well over a year, Bush, Cheney, and other top officials have repeatedly and insistently asserted—with great certainty—that Iran was building or trying to build nuclear weapons. On March 31 of this year, Bush stated flatly, “Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.” On June 19, he warned the Iranian government of “consequences” if “they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon.” On July 12 he charged that the Iranian regime “is pursuing nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map.” On August 6, he asserted, “this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon.” Now, according to the US government’s own intelligence, none of this is true.
This drumbeat of lies, distortions, and half-truths was being used to push for harsher economic and political sanctions against Iran. Sanctions are not only an assault on ordinary Iranians, they can also be part of preparing for war by politically isolating and vilifying an opponent and building a coalition around U.S. objectives. These charges had been continually repeated in order to prepare public opinion for a possible military attack against Iran that could put millions of lives at risk and sharply escalate the nightmarish and reactionary clash between imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism across the Middle East/Central Asian regions.
The U.S. government’s own intelligence agencies are now saying with “high confidence” that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The “finding” that the Iran had a nuclear weapons program at all can hardly be taken at face value, given that it comes from the same “intelligence community” that produced the Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” hoax. But, according to this latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), they have suspended the weapons program and do not have their own capabilities to produce weapons grade nuclear fuel. This report also describes their capacity to produce civilian grade fuel (which is a much lower grade and a far simpler process) as still facing significant technical problems. This new assessment sharply contradicts a 2005 NIE report that claimed “with high confidence that Iran is currently determined to develop nuclear weapons” although Iran would be unable to do so until “early-to mid next decade,” a time frame that despite this pretty radical reassessment was reiterated in the new NIE report.
At his December 4 press conference, Bush was asked why he had been making war-like charges against Iran—and in particular why on October 17 he had claimed that “if you’re interested in avoiding World War 3, it seems like you ought to be interested” in ensuring that Iran not gain the capacity to develop such weapons. Bush responded by claiming, “I was made aware of the NIE last week” (i.e., in late November). Bush was then challenged about a Washington Post report (12/4) that the new intelligence estimate on Iran was in the works for 18 months, and that Bush officials had first been briefed on the latest findings in July—not late November. Bush responded, “In August, I think it was [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn’t tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.” Bush’s claim seems absurd on the face of it. Either he’s lying, or he had so little interest in the truth of the situation that he didn’t bother asking what the gist of the information was—even though it concerned the country his administration has claimed is the biggest challenge it faces! In fact, the day after Bush’s press conference, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino “clarified” Bush’s remarks (apparently to avoid the impression that Bush didn’t know or care about one of the most serious issues facing the planet), stating that McConnell did in fact tell Bush in August that Iran may have suspended its nuclear weapons program and that this new information could lead to an intelligence reassessment on Iran.
And there is much more evidence concerning the depths of Bush’s lying—at his press briefing and for months before.
For one, the Washington Post (12/3) and the New York Times (12/5) reported that the NIE was prompted by new intelligence obtained over the summer—including notes from Iranian military officials—confirming a halt in Iran’s nuclear program. Top Bush officials tried to discredit this information by claiming it was part of an Iranian deception campaign, and U.S. intelligence services reportedly spent the intervening several months investigating this, finding it was not the case. In short, this new information was the subject of fierce debate within the Bush regime for months before Bush’s “World War 3” comment.
Second, an analysis by David Fromkin of the Washington Post (12/5) showed that Bush’s rhetoric on Iran did shift in August—from claims that Iran definitely was pursuing nuclear weapons, to claims that Iran was pursuing the knowledge needed to make nuclear weapons and that this was also an unacceptable danger. For instance, on August 9, Bush stated that Iran’s rulers “have expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program.” On August 28, Bush condemned “Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons.” On October 4, Bush warned that the U.S. would work so Iran could “not have the know-how on how to make a weapon.” This rhetorical shift indicates Bush did know something was up—even as he continued to beat the drums for war.
Third, a number of journalists have reported that there has been a sharp debate within the U.S. government over the state of Iran’s nuclear program for at least six months and probably over a year—including whether Iran was even pursuing nuclear weapons. A year ago, Seymour Hersh wrote: “The Administration’s planning for a military attack on Iran was made far more complicated earlier this fall by a highly classified draft assessment by the C.I.A. challenging the White House’s assumptions about how close Iran might be to building a nuclear bomb. The C.I.A. found no conclusive evidence, as yet, of a secret Iranian nuclear-weapons program running parallel to the civilian operations that Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency.” (During this period the IAEA had repeatedly stated that there was no evidence that Iran was attempting to build nuclear weapons.)
On CNN last week (12/4), Hersh said, “At the time, I wrote that there was a tremendous fight about it, because Cheney in the White House—the vice president did not want to hear this. So that there was a fight about that intelligence. And, actually, for the last year, I think the vice president’s office pretty much has kept—you know, the vice president has kept his foot on the neck of that report. That report was bottled up for a year. The intelligence we learned about yesterday has been circulating inside this government at the highest levels for the last year—and probably longer.”
All this indicates that Bush lied—again—at his press conference and that in reality Bush and Cheney DID know that—at the very least—their own intelligence reports contradicted their claims about Iran, and that there was sharp debate within the U.S. government over the exact status of Iran’s nuclear program. And Cheney in particular reportedly actively intervened to suppress the NIE.
Bush, Cheney, Rice, and the rest have been making very serious charges—with certainty—when they do not have certain knowledge of these facts—and when there has been contrary evidence—including from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Iranians themselves—for years (as we’ve reported in Revolution). In other words, the Bush regime has been distorting, twisting, and lying about reality in order to advance its imperialist political objectives—with potentially catastrophic consequences for the people.
What’s Going On Here?
Why do Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the U.S. ruling class lie—openly, unashamedly, and repeatedly? It is not because they were born habitual liars or they’re simply “lying politicians.” They do so because they represent a system that is compelled by its very workings to commit horrendous atrocities—and by its need to enlist the people in supporting (or accepting) those atrocities, even though they are against the most fundamental interests of the vast majority.
One thing that is revealed in all this is that U.S. pressure and moves towards war on Iran have not,fundamentally, been about nuclear weapons. The U.S. has been lying about the status and capacity of Iran’s nuclear program because of these more fundamental and strategic motives.
Ever since the infamous “Axis of Evil” speech, and with increased urgency since the invasion and occupation of Iraq—and the quagmire that led to—the Bush regime has been moving to isolate, squeeze, and prepare for possible war on Iran. U.S. warships hover off the coast of Iran, a floating trip wire and provocation. The Bush regime has made a barrage of accusations that the Iranians are supplying weapons to forces attacking the U.S. forces in Iraq. And the “nuclear weapons” lie has been put out as a justification of all this. Even when Iran has signaled at various points that it was willing to come to an accommodation with the U.S. on the nuclear issue, the U.S. has either dismissed Iran’s offers or insisted on agreements it knew Iran could not accept.
Driving all this is what the U.S. imperialists consider real necessity. Those “at the wheel” of the ship of state now have assessed that one way or another they need to knock down Iran, not just effect a change in the policy of that country’s rulers. They see Iran—which has gained influence and strength in the region with the U.S. bogged down in Iraq—as a big impediment on many fronts to their most urgent foreign policy goals: defeating Islamic fundamentalism and Jihadist forces, restructuring the Middle East, and deepening the U.S. hold on this volatile region. These goals are not the whimsical or arrogant delusions of a handful of neocons. These goals are fundamental and foundational for those at the core of power in the U.S. now.
Iran is a state where Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the U.S. came to power. It supports Islamist movements and trends across the region. Its main enemies were overthrown by the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Saddam’s fall greatly increased Iran’s influence in Iraq—all of which strengthened Iran’s regional position. Iran sits on the second or third largest reserves of oil and natural gas in the world and sits astride the world’s oil lifeline—the Persian Gulf. It has benefited by skyrocketing oil prices, and is building its military and its nuclear program.
The nuclear issue is part of this picture, but it is mainly being used as a pretext by the Bush regime for aggression in service of a larger agenda. A nuclear armed Iran—or even Iran as a “virtual nuclear state” as Newsweek put it (10/27, quoting an Iranian official who said this was their strategy)—without nuclear weapons but with the know-how to quickly build them if threatened—would shift the entire regional balance of military forces, seriously impede U.S. and Israeli freedom of military action, and could accelerate the destabilizing regional arms race which is already underway.
It is U.S. aggressionthat has primarily fueled all this. The U.S. “War on Terror” has brought horrors to, and outraged the people of the Middle East, pushing sections of people into the arms of reactionary Islamic forces. And it is the U.S., with ten thousand nuclear weapons and nuclear war integrated into its war-fighting doctrine, that holds the world nuclear hostage. It was the U.S. that let the nuclear “genie” out of the bottle, built the first nuclear weapons, and remains the only country to have ever used them. (See “Who REALLY Holds the World Nuclear Hostage: Why a U.S. Attack on Iran Must Be Stopped,” Revolution #109 [11/18/07], online at revcom.us)
Dangers, Disagreements, and the Need for Mass Resistance
Many people are outraged by the revelations that Bush has been lying—again. At the same time, there is a perception that this new NIE seems to put an attack on Iran on hold, at least for now. Maybe it will, maybe not—and as things are further revealed more analysis will be forthcoming in the pages of Revolution. One thing that is already clear is that this NIE report does not mean that “reason and sanity” are prevailing, nor that anyone should breathe a sigh of relief.
There is much to learn and understand about what precisely prompted this new NIE and its sharp departure from the administration’s previous thrust regarding Iran. People representing sections of the U.S. ruling class have expressed concern that war on Iran could prove catastrophic. Their concern is not for humanity, not for the horrors that would be set off by an attack, possibly involving nuclear “bunker busters,” by the U.S. on Iran. But they are concerned about the dangers for the U.S. empire. In a rather dramatic event, the very day the new NIE was released, the New York Times carried a full-page ad signed by four former generals and one colonel calling on people to “stop President Bush from attacking Iran” because “Iraq has been a debacle on all fronts,” and an attack on Iran would “endanger our troops in Iraq and add to the conflagration and chaos in the region.”
And Senator Joseph Biden—who, while not a leading contender for the Democratic nomination for president, is a powerful senator—told a crowd in New Hampshire on November 29 that “The president has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran, and if he does, as Foreign Relations Committee chairman, I will move to impeach.”
There is also much to investigate about why, and with what motives—after reportedly blocking the release of these findings—Bush and Vice President Cheney allowed the report to be released. Quoted in the French news agency AFP, Cheney said, “[T]here was a general belief that we all shared that it was important to put it out—that it was not likely to stay classified for long, anyway.” And Cheney gave some indication that those at the top of the Bush regime might have felt a need to address a credibility gap in the wake of the Iraqi WMD hoax. He told AFP that the decision to release the report was made “especially in light of what happened with respect to Iraq and the NIE on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
The release of this report, and the generals’ ad, might be a clue as to just how close war may have been. It could also portend even sharper infighting within the ruling class. However, it would be very wrong to conclude that Bush and the neocons are finished or that war on Iran does not still loom as a very real possibility. In fact if Bush, Cheney, et al. feel that they are losing ground it could even prompt them to act decisvely against Iran to utilize a military “fait a’ccompli” to shore up the ranks of the ruling class behind their agenda. The neocons have already started counterattacking in the pages of the influential Wall Street Journal, calling into question the NIE. All the leading Republican candidates have taken extremely bellicose positions on Iran.
And all the leading officials—Democrats and Republicans—including those who have welcomed the new report, continue to call Iran a danger to the U.S., and continue to repeat inflammatory charges that Iran is responsible for killing U.S. troops in Iraq. At this point, forces in the ruling class who are sharply opposed to the approach Bush is taking to Iran are not challenging the bigger strategy that regime change in Iran is part of. For example, the Los Angeles Times editorialized after the new NIE was released that “Bush is correct to say that the revised intelligence estimate does not warrant a fundamental change in policy. A nuclear-armed Iran should be deterred. The tragedy for U.S. security and global peace is that Bush has twice squandered his chances to lead that vital effort.”
While the NIE report may have thrown a wrench into the gears, Bush, while showing signs of being shaken by the need to reveal the content of the new report, still refused to back off in any fundamental way at his December 4 press conference. He insisted that “Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” Framing things this way allows Bush to target Iran at any time, since whether or not Iran has a nuclear weapons program, developing a program to enrich uranium is part of (although far from the whole process of) the “knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” Bush denounced Iran as “a threat to peace,” and emphasized: “My opinion hasn’t changed.” And he repeated his determination to use his remaining time in office to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and emphasized “the best diplomacy” is when “all options are on the table.” The next day Bush and Secretary of State Rice tried to regain the initiative by blasting Iran for withholding evidence of its nuclear program and for suppressing democracy.
There are many possible scenarios that could unfold out of the current situation. Some 170,000 U.S. troops occupy Iraq, where Iran holds great influence. Dozens of U.S. warships, armed with nuclear weapons, remain within striking distance of Iran. On December 7, the British newspaper the Guardian reported, “Senior Israeli officials warned today they were still considering the option of a military strike against Iran, despite a fresh U.S. intelligence report that concluded Tehran was no longer developing nuclear weapons.”
The entire region remains an unpredictable powder keg, and the U.S. imperialists remain determined to maintain their stranglehold on it and if need be, to forcefully crush challenges to that imperialist stranglehold. And Bush—who has repeatedly indicated he wants the Iran challenge settled before he leaves office—might feel more compulsion to attack. With all the trip wires in place, an incident—accidental or manufactured—could serve as a pretext to go to war.
* * *
The NIE report reveals that Bush has been lying about Iran’s nuclear weapons program in order to justify aggression, and even war under false pretenses. The fact that this report saw the light of day indicates a sense among some in the ruling class that there are grave dangers for them in Bush’s push for regime change in Iran. The whole situation remains fraught with peril for the peoples of the region and the world.
All these lies are designed to cover up the deepest lie—promoted by all in the U.S. ruling class whether they opposed Bush’s Iran policy or not: that U.S imperialism is a force for good in the world, that its wars of aggression are motivated by making the world safer and freer, and that the people of the world benefit from all the carnage the U.S. leaves in its wake. These are the biggest lies of all—designed to cover up the fact that the U.S. is a predatory empire whose existence is based on global plunder and exploitation; plunder and exploitation that ruins—and ends—millions of lives every year through its “normal” operation. And this plunder and exploitation is enforced and extended by naked military force which—in the case of Iraq alone—has cost between 500,000 and 1 million Iraqis killed, and turned 4 million Iraqis into refugees (who the U.S. refuses to lift a finger to help).
In this tense and complex situation, there is potential and need for mass political resistance that breaks out of the whole terms set by the system, and challenges the whole agenda of U.S. global domination. As we have pointed out often in these pages, visible, determined, massive opposition to the whole agenda of the Bush regime is urgently needed. And such resistance will inspire those living in the Middle East—people who face death and terror at the hands of U.S. imperialism—to themselves break out of the dead end “alternatives” of U.S. imperialism or Islamic fundamentalism.
Revolution #112, December 6, 2007
MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY
PART 1: BEYOND THE NARROW HORIZON OF BOURGEOIS RIGHT (CONTINUED)
Editors’ Note: The following is the eighth 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 following concludes the series of excerpts from Part 1. The excerpts comprising Part 2 will be published as a series in Revolution starting in our next issue.
Historical Experience and the New Synthesis
The crimes of this system—and the rationalizations for these crimes
In the history of the communist movement and of socialist society, the basic orientation has been one of dealing with the material reality and the conditions of the masses of people as the priority, as the focus and as the foundation, as opposed to the bourgeois approach of ignoring—or, in fact, reinforcing—the oppressive conditions of the masses of people, the great majority of humanity. And it is very important to grasp firmly that, in the name of the individual and “individual rights,” advocates in one form or another of this bourgeois approach actually uphold the interests of a class—and the dynamics of a system in which that class, the bourgeoisie, rules—where masses of people, literally billions of individuals within the exploited and oppressed classes, are mercilessly ground down and chewed up, and where their individuality and any notion of their individual dignity is counted as nothing.
Think of the children in India, millions of them, as young as four years old sometimes, working 12 hours a day, every day of the week, in conditions that are extremely injurious to their health—and that is way understating the matter. Or think of the children in Africa living in unspeakable slums. Think of the people throughout the Third World, living in the most undescribable conditions, literally amidst shit and other filth, as their everyday environment. How does this capitalist system count their individuality? It counts it as nothing.
Sometimes, as a comrade recently said to me, even we underestimate or don’t have a full and fully living sense of the towering crimes of this system. Anywhere you look, if you look with the penetrating gaze of science—if you take a real, honest and scientific look at the history of what has gone on, and what is going on today, in the world (and what is going on in this country, for example), if you think about the first part of the talk on the “Revolution” DVD and what it brings to light about the history of this country, down to the present day, you will see that the most monstrous crimes have been carried out by this system and with the backing of those who rule it. Think about the reality that this system embodies and the reality of what that means for the people who have been subjected to this, who are bound up in this, in literal slavery sometimes even today1 (and for generations in the history of this country), but in horrific conditions no matter what the particular forms. Think of what this system actually means while they’re pontificating about “the individual” and “the rights of individuals.” For whom—for which class of people—does that apply, and for whom and for which classes does that have no application and meaning, other than the most bitter and mocking irony?
And, as we know, they’ve always got excuses. People who rule in this way have to have a lot of excuses. The ruling class and its apologists in this country will say: “We had to do certain things—pulling off a coup and putting the butcher Pinochet in power in Chile, doing the same kind of thing in Guatemala and Indonesia, Iran and other places—because of a greater evil, you see.” “We were up against a greater evil,” is a constant refrain of theirs. Today it’s Islamic fundamentalism or “Islamo fascism.” Previously it was other forms of “totalitarianism”—and, of course, communism in particular.
Well, leaving aside for the moment the distortions and slanders of what communism, the communist movement, and the experience of socialist states have actually been about, let’s speak to this argument. Okay, then, what about the Philippines? You invaded the Philippines at the end of the 19th century, betrayed your promises to the people in the Philippines fighting for independence, waged a war of aggression to colonize the Philippines, massacred Philippine people in the hundreds of thousands and carried out unspeakable atrocities in the process—not just murdering people but parading around with the body parts of those who were killed, and all the rest that is so characteristic of your armed forces. Where was the Soviet Union then? Where was the People’s Republic of China, when you did all this? They didn’t even exist yet.
Or let’s go back a little further. What about the genocide against the native peoples (the original peoples on this continent)? What about the enslavement of the African peoples, in the millions and millions, and all the consequences of that? Guess what? Karl Marx wasn’t even born when you started doing that.
Your answer that you have done these things in response to greater evils is merely covering up a fundamental truth: I don’t like to use the word evil (especially because of its religious connotations or “echoes”), but if “evil” has any meaning you are it. You and your system are the concentration in the modern world of the horrors of what humanity is put through, and the fundamental cause of the horrors that humanity is put through. And you have been carrying this out for centuries now—this has been carried out from the beginning of this country (and in the period of European settlement and conquest that led to the establishment of this country). And, yes it is true, these horrors are far greater than even we communists usually are capable of comprehending and giving voice to.
A “Ted Bundy” Country, a “Ted Bundy” System
Yet you hear people, including people with progressive sentiments, say: “Yes, I know, all that’s true, but, you see, we have our founders” (they don’t call them “founding fathers” any more, that doesn’t square with their progressive sentiments, or pretensions—it is too obviously patriarchal) “we have our founders, and they bequeathed to us this democratic system of government which has its checks and balances and all the rest.” And for many people, far too many people—whether more aggressively and grotesquely in the form of the “neo-conservatives” and the overt exponents of imperialism, or in the more muted terms of those who are, at least objectively, “progressive” apologists for this system—this notion of “American exceptionalism,” in a “positive” sense, keeps coming through: Yes, the more “liberal” and “progressive” among these people will acknowledge, there are many horrible things that this country has done and is still doing, but “there is just something about this system that’s inherently good when you get down to the real nature of it.”
Now, in this connection there is a very telling analogy that was made by a comrade in the leadership of our Party. He described this as “the Ted Bundy phenomenon.” Ted Bundy, as most of you know (and for those of you who don’t know) was a serial rapist and serial killer several decades ago. But he was college-educated and somewhat “refined.” He carried out these horrific crimes of brutalizing, raping and then murdering women over a number of years, before he was finally caught and convicted and eventually was executed. But there was just something about that Ted Bundy. He didn’t fit the stereotype of a frightening, and perhaps demented-looking, serial killer. He was very polished and smooth. Yes, he committed all these terrible crimes. He was a serial rapist in the most brutal terms. He was a serial killer. But—to continue the analogy this comrade made—“there’s just something about that Ted Bundy; if you just put what he did in perspective and you see his larger qualities, there is something still, at the core, that is good about that Ted Bundy.” Well, as this comrade pointed out, this, by analogy, is the way a lot of radical, and not-so-radical, bourgeois democrats look at this country, their country. Yes, they’ll readily agree, our government has committed and is committing all these horrible crimes, but: “There is just something about that constitutional form of government and that democratic system we have. Yes, you can chronicle the crimes from slavery here to mass slaughter around the world, but there’s just something about this America that our founders gave us that we just have to hang onto.” As though all that (the form of government, and so on) is somehow separable from “the Ted Bundy essence” of this system on a greatly magnified and international scale.
The same comrade who came up with this “Ted Bundy” analogy also made the point that the crimes of this system, once again, are even worse and even more monstrous than even we realize—until we examine them concretely and really dig more fully and deeply into the reality of this. And this comrade made a very good suggestion in this regard: We should challenge anyone, and especially anyone who tries to say that there is still something inherently good about this system, to look at any part of the world and actually examine what this system has done and confront the actual horrors this has involved for the masses of people—and then tell us why you want to preserve any part of this.
Setting the Record Straight
This brings out another dimension to the importance of the Set the Record Straight project. People’s sights have been lowered by the “verdict” on communism and the experience of socialist states led by communists—a verdict which, in fact, has been “passed” and relentlessly propagated by the rulers of this imperialist system and their “intellectual camp followers.” Many people who should know better—and even some who once did know better—have in effect been reduced down to these kind of “Ted Bundy” rationalizations, because their sights have been lowered by the notion that what they once thought was good, or what they might in other times have been attracted to as an alternative to this whole society and this whole imperialist-dominated world, is unworkable at best and a nightmare of tyranny at worst. This gives further emphasis to the importance of honestly and scientifically examining the great achievements as well as the real shortcomings of the socialist countries that have existed so far—and of comparing and contrasting this with what imperialism and bourgeois rule has actually done and has actually meant for the masses of people of the earth. For example, in the main presentation2 of the Set the Record Straight project, a comparison is made between the claims (even the most exaggerated and extravagant claims) of the lives that communism has cost vis-à-vis the reality of the deaths that were caused by the ongoing operation of the system just in the country of India during the same period—what has actually happened to the masses of people in India, in “the world’s largest democracy” (as it is repeatedly referred to in the bourgeois media and by bourgeois commentators).
It is very important—and this is one of the things that is brought out through the Set the Record Straight Project—to keep in mind what socialist states have had to go up against: the necessity they have had to deal with, including the legacy of the past societies from which they emerged—which they overthrew—the remnants of those societies in both the economic base and the political and ideological superstructure, and the continuing existence of class forces hostile to the existence of socialism and to the continuation of socialist transformation—all this intertwined and interacting with the continued presence and encirclement of hostile imperialist powers and other reactionary states.
House and the Experience of Socialist Society So Far
Here I think an analogy to the TV program House is very relevant. If you watch House, you see that a constant motif in this program, and in the unfolding of the plot in various episodes, involves the way in which the main character, Dr. House, in his own way, goes to the brink. He is a very unorthodox doctor, and when he’s faced with extreme cases, he will do things which, if they fail, may actually kill the patient. In episode after episode, there is this tremendous tension: will House discover by these means the actual cause of the disease and be able to save the patient, or is he going to kill the patient by the means he is using to try to discover the cause? This is a constant tension in House. Now, if you walked into the middle of a show and you didn’t understand what was going on and why House is doing these things, imagine how monstrous you would think House is. “My God” (if you’ll pardon the expression), “he’s actually doing things that could kill the patient.” And it’s not just that he try tries one of those dangerous and seemingly “extreme” measures once; if one doesn’t work, he tries another—and if that doesn’t work, he tries yet another. And, in the short run, many times he actually causes the suffering of the patient to increase. Why? Because he’s a demented, sadistic tyrant? Or because he’s trying to get to the essence of a disease and cure it?
Well, there’s an analogy here to socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. If you “walked into the middle” of this experience—or if you viewed it through bourgeois blinders—and you saw that certain measures were being taken that seemed “extreme,” but you didn’t know, or didn’t understand, what the “disease” was that was being dealt with; or, more fundamentally, if you didn’t even know that there was a disease to begin with—if, to speak more directly, you thought that the societies where socialism has come into being were places where everything was fine for the majority of people, and they were doing very well, instead of understanding that, on the contrary, for the great majority of people the old society was a very real horror, and that they were exploited, oppressed, degraded and demeaned in a thousand ways every day in that society—if you didn’t have any understanding of that, you could look at some measures that were being taken to overcome all that, and to prevent new and old exploiters from bringing back all that, and you could think: “What a terrible thing this socialism is. Look at what they’re doing, look what they’re putting people through.”
And not only that, you would miss the many ways in which, right then, people’s lives were being vastly improved and the nature of the relations among people, and the outlook and values of the people, were being radically changed, in a very positive direction. You would miss the ways in which this was increasingly happening through the conscious initiative of the masses of people themselves.
But even taking all that into account, including the House analogy and its very real meaning, and without ignoring the daunting necessity that socialist societies have been confronted with, it is still important to sum up that in dealing with all this, in the historical experience of socialist states so far, along with the very great achievements, which are in fact the main thing, there have also been secondary but nonetheless important ways in which things have gone off track, and in some instances seriously so, with undeniably negative consequences. There has been a definite tendency toward positivism and reductionism—toward, if you will, flattening out contradictions and applying a mechanical approach, including in the manner of treating the superstructure as too closely linked to the goal of economic transformation at any given time, linking things in the superstructure too closely to the immediate tasks at hand, particularly with regard to the economic base. And then, in turn, economic transformation, especially in the experience of the Soviet Union, even when it was socialist, was too much reduced to mere economic expansion on the basis of state ownership, without sufficient attention to the transformation of the relations among people in production, in various aspects, as well as other social relations, and the expression of all this in the superstructure.
Along with this, as spoken to earlier, there has been a tendency toward the reification of the proletariat (by this I mean the tendency, which is linked to positivism, to equate the proletariat, as a class, with individual members of that class, and in so doing to reduce, diminish, and undermine the revolutionary cause to which the interests of the proletariat, as a class, actually correspond): a tendency—which is linked to positivism—toward viewing things in such a way that whether or not someone is a proletarian is a crucial factor in determining whether or not that someone has the truth in their hands, so to speak. This tendency was very pronounced in the Soviet Union, although it also existed—even if to a lesser degree, and even if contradicted and counteracted by other, more correct approaches—in China when it was socialist, with the leadership of Mao.
And, along with this reification of the proletariat, there was, in the Soviet Union especially, a reification of socialism itself in a certain sense—viewing socialism as a static thing and more or less an end in itself, rather than its being understood as a very dynamic process and a transition to communism. This is something that, especially after a number of years of the experience of socialism in China, Mao recognized and began to combat, but it nonetheless remained a real tendency, even in socialist China.
This involved—once again, qualitatively more so in the Soviet Union than in China—a constriction, or a tendency toward constriction, of the process of socialist transformation; and, insofar as this tendency exerted itself, it led to some mishandling of the relation between the goal and the process, so that whatever was happening at a given time became, or tended to be identified with, the goal itself—rather than being understood as part of a process toward a larger goal. And, along with this, there was a constriction of the relation between the necessary main direction, in fundamental terms, and what were objectively “detours” or departures from—but were seen and treated as dangerous deviations from—that main direction. This, to a certain degree and sometimes to a considerable degree, led to a stifling of creativity, initiative, individual expression and, yes, individual rights in the overall process, especially when these appeared to conflict—or actually did conflict, in the short run—with the expressed goals of the socialist state and its leading party.
The New Synthesis
How does the “new synthesis” relate to this experience? To try to concentrate—or to present a basic synthesis—of what is represented by this new synthesis, it can be said:
This new synthesis involves a recasting and recombining of the positive aspects of the experience so far of the communist movement and of socialist society, while learning from the negative aspects of this experience, in the philosophical and ideological as well as the political dimensions, so as to have a more deeply and firmly rooted scientific orientation, method and approach with regard not only to making revolution and seizing power but then, yes, to meeting the material requirements of society and the needs of the masses of people, in an increasingly expanding way, in socialist society—overcoming the deep scars of the past and continuing the revolutionary transformation of society, while at the same time actively supporting the world revolutionary struggle and acting on the recognition that the world arena and the world struggle are most fundamental and important, in an overall sense—together with opening up qualitatively more space to give expression to the intellectual and cultural needs of the people, broadly understood, and enabling a more diverse and rich process of exploration and experimentation in the realms of science, art and culture, and intellectual life overall, with increasing scope for the contention of different ideas and schools of thought and for individual initiative and creativity and protection of individual rights, including space for individuals to interact in “civil society” independently of the state—all within an overall cooperative and collective framework and at the same time as state power is maintained and further developed as a revolutionary state power serving the interests of the proletarian revolution, in the particular country and worldwide, with this state being the leading and central element in the economy and in the overall direction of society, while the state itself is being continually transformed into something radically different from all previous states, as a crucial part of the advance toward the eventual abolition of the state with the achievement of communism on a world scale.
In a sense, it could be said that the new synthesis is a synthesis of the previous experience of socialist society and of the international communist movement more broadly, on the one hand, and of the criticisms, of various kinds and from various standpoints, of that experience, on the other hand. That does not mean that this new synthesis represents a mere “pasting together” of that experience on the one hand, and the criticisms on the other hand. It is not an eclectic combination of these things, but a sifting through, a recasting and recombining on the basis of a scientific, materialist and dialectical outlook and method, and of the need to continue advancing toward communism, a need and objective which this outlook and method continues to point to—and, the more thoroughly and deeply it is taken up and applied, the more firmly it points to this need and objective.
If you really grasp what this is about, you will understand why I continually talk about going to the brink of being drawn and quartered in terms of providing leadership to the communist movement and the future socialist society. Some sense of that was brought alive, I believe, in the article recently published in Revolution—or a letter from a reader criticizing a previous article (on elections, in capitalist and socialist society, and larger questions bound up with this) and then a response from the editors.3
Now, this is not a formulation that is being lightly thrown around—going to the brink of being drawn and quartered. Let’s remember what drawn and quartered means. Especially in feudal society, and particularly for offenses like treason, the punishment was often being drawn and quartered: this meant that your body was pulled apart in four directions. That’s what “drawn and quartered” means. And if you understand what’s being talked about here, in terms of being the core of leadership—yes, an ever broadening core, but being at the core of this whole revolutionary process and leading this in the ways I have been speaking to, not as a tightly controlled process but one where people are, as I’ve put it, “running in all kinds of directions”—then you see that there will be tremendous pressure and tension pulling on you. Why? Because you can’t let go of the reins, ultimately, but you also cannot hold the reins too tightly. You have to keep all this going toward the objective of communism, which is scientifically established as a necessity, but without keeping things tightly under your control throughout the process. And that does repeatedly—and will repeatedly if you’re doing what you should be doing—bring you to the brink of being drawn and quartered. And if we’re not willing to do that, then we don’t deserve to lead—and, more fundamentally and importantly, we’re not going to get where we need to go.
Now, this whole approach, this new synthesis, has been encapsulated in the formulation, “solid core with a lot of elasticity.” But this formulation must be understood precisely as a concentration—a concentrated expression of this whole rich process—and must not be turned into yet another meaningless phrase, or some sort of religious concept, which is repeatedly uttered without any substance. What is captured in “solid core with a lot of elasticity” must be grasped, and applied, in a living way, all throughout the process of revolution—before and then after the seizure of power and the establishment of the socialist state. And, in fact, this basic concept—“solid core with a lot of elasticity”—will apply even in communist society, although in a different way, when there is no longer a state nor an ongoing and institutionalized core of leadership.
I have spoken before about the four objectives of the solid core, in socialist society—namely: to maintain power for the proletarian revolution; to expand the solid core to the greatest extent possible at any given time; to work to constantly narrow, and work toward finally overcoming, the difference between the solid core and the rest of society (this speaks to “the withering away of the state”); and to foster the maximum elasticity on the basis of the necessary solid core at any given time. All four of these objectives form a unity and are mutually interdependent and mutually influence each other, one way or the other. And, as I’ve said, even in communist society—although in a radically different way—this same principle will still apply, because it conforms to, or is an expression of, the nature of reality and its development through contradictory motion.
In concluding on this point, I want to stress that it is very important not to underestimate the significance and potential positive force of this new synthesis: criticizing and rupturing with significant errors and shortcomings while bringing forward and recasting what has been positive from the historical experience of the international communist movements and the socialist countries that have so far existed; in a real sense reviving—on a new, more advanced basis—the viability and, yes, the desirability of a whole new and radically different world, and placing this on an even firmer foundation of materialism and dialectics. This new synthesis is bound up with and interpenetrates closely with key ruptures in the realm of epistemology—ruptures with instrumentalism and apriorism, dogmatism and religiosity, positivism, empiricism and pragmatism, as well as nationalism in the realm of how we view the whole process of advancing to communism.
So, we should not underestimate the potential of this as a source of hope and of daring on a solid scientific foundation. In the 1960s, when the Black Panther Party emerged on the scene, Eldridge Cleaver made the pungent observation that the old revisionist Communist Party had “ideologized” revolution off the scene, but the Panthers had ideologized it back on the scene. In the present period in the U.S., revolution has once more been “ideologized” off the scene. And in the world as a whole, to a very large degree, revolution aiming for communism and the vision of a communist world—this has been “ideologized” off the scene—and with it the only road that actually represents the possibility of a radically different and far better world, in the real world, one that people really would want to live in and would really thrive in. The new synthesis has objectively “ideologized” this back on the scene once more, on a higher level and in a potentially very powerful way.
But what will be done with this? Will it become a powerful political as well as ideological force? It is up to us to take this out everywhere—very, very boldly and with substance, linking it with the widespread, if still largely latent, desire for another way, for another world—and engage ever growing numbers of people with this new synthesis in a good, lively and living way.
The excerpts comprising Part 2 of this talk will begin in the next issue of Revolution.
1. The talk by Bob Avakian, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, and What It’s All About, begins with “They’re Selling Postcards of the Hanging,” vividly describing lynching and other horrendous ways in which Black people have been oppressed and terrorized throughout the history of the U.S.
For exposure of some of the horrors of modern-day slavery—including the enslavement of children—see “21st Century Slavery Under Global Capitalism,” in Revolution #102, September 23, 2007, which also provides references for further reading on this subject.[back]
2. The Set the Record Straight project provides an analysis of important aspects of the actual experience of socialism in the Soviet Union and in China—including very real mistakes and shortcomings as well as historically unprecedented achievements—and answers slanders and distortions of this experience. This can be accessed, and more information about this provided, online at thisiscommunism.org. The main presentation of this project, referred to here, is a speech by Raymond Lotta, “Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Far Better World.”[back]
3. Bob Avakian introduced this metaphor of leaders in the communist movement and socialist society facing the prospect of being “drawn and quartered” if they did not correctly handle difficult contradictions, in “Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World,” which is found in Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005). The article referred to here by Bob Avakian (letter from a reader and reply by the editors of Revolution concerning elections in capitalist and in socialist society and larger questions bound up with this) appeared in Revolution #96, July 22, 2007.[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 #112, December 16, 2007
Hugo Chavez and his project of “21st century socialism” have stirred great interest among many progressive and radical forces in the world. Chavez has also aroused the ire of U.S. imperialism.
On December 2, Venezuela held a referendum on proposals by Chavez for major changes to the country’s constitution. The proposals were narrowly defeated. Pro-U.S. forces have been emboldened. And there are indications that the political situation in Venezuela is growing more tense and volatile.
Revolution has already published a major analysis of Chavez’s economic strategy, showing why it does not offer a path to liberation (“Hugo Chavez Has an Oil Strategy…But Can This Lead to Revolution?” by Raymond Lotta in issue #94, July 1, 2007, online at revcom.us). Here we offer some provisional analysis of recent developments. There are important issues to sort through—as part of understanding the nature and limitations of Chavez’s program, and as part of grappling with the real challenges of carrying forward genuine revolutionary transformation in today’s world.
I. A FIRST SORTING OUT
Hugo Chavez was reelected president of Venezuela in December 2006, shortly after which he announced his intention to change the constitution. Among the most controversial proposals were provisions to end term limits for the president and to grant the president the ability to invoke special emergency powers.
Chavez presented these reforms, along with measures to create local governing councils, as important and necessary steps in the march towards what he calls “21st century socialism.” Liberal and reactionary opponents in Venezuela described the measures as a prelude to dictatorial rule.
U.S. imperialism has been a major player and factor in the referendum battle. The U.S. denounced Chavez throughout the campaign as an “enemy of democracy.” It openly supported anti-Chavez student groups that had taken to the streets; and it funneled money to anti-Chavez forces.
The U.S. media have given a platform to high-level opponents of Chavez—like Raúl Baduel, Chavez’s former army chief of staff and minister of defense, who recently turned against Chavez. Baduel called on military officials to “assess carefully” the changes the Chavez government had proposed “in a hasty manner and through fraudulent procedures.” Baduel was sending a message, or at least putting out feelers, about the possibilities for a coup.
The U.S. has been engaged in a smear campaign against Chavez and intrigue on the ground (the Venezuelan government released what it claimed to be a memo detailing the activity of a clandestine CIA unit in Venezuela).
Any and all attempts by U.S. imperialism to destabilize or plot against the Chavez regime and the people of Venezuela must be resolutely opposed. And we in the U.S. have a special responsibility to act on that understanding.
Chavez’s more loyal followers, especially among the poor, did not provide him with the degree of support he garnered in the past. On the other hand, the reactionary opposition, which had been discredited and fragmented for some time, was able to regain credibility and rally forces against Chavez.
The storyline in the U.S. is that the Venezuelan public rebuffed a bid by Chavez to become an absolute ruler. The summation coming from Chavez’s supporters is that his willingness to abide by the outcome of the referendum proves that he stands for democracy.
Reality is actually quite different.
Hugo Chavez has not been leading Venezuela towards socialism or some grassroots “participatory democracy” that stands above the dominant economic and social relations of society. Hugo Chavez is pursuing a nationalist-capitalist project within the existing economic order. It is a project that requires for its implementation changes in the functioning of Venezuela’s domestic political institutions—including greater capacity to fend off reactionary coup attempts.
For their part, the U.S. and its allies in Venezuela do not stand for some kind of abstract democracy. Rather, the U.S. is seeking to re-impose on Venezuela something institutionally closer to the old system of elite political rule that more directly served the interests of U.S. imperialism.*
The U.S. cannot tolerate Hugo Chavez. It regards him as a hostile and disruptive influence in Western hemispheric relations; this at a time when the U.S. is engaged in a bid for greater world empire. In 2002, the U.S. backed a coup attempt against Chavez. Whether the U.S. is actively plotting or encouraging a coup at this time, it is working to weaken and undermine Chavez.
II. CHAVEZ’S “BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION”
Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” has four major components:
A. To use oil as an engine of growth and social welfare. Chavez set out to break the hold of the corrupt leadership of the state-owned oil company, to diversify foreign markets for oil, to renegotiate terms of entry of and collaboration with foreign capital in the oil sector, and to use oil revenues to broaden the bases of capitalist economic development and to fund major social programs.
B. Forging a regional trading bloc in South America. Chavez is attempting to achieve a higher level of regional integration and to expand markets and maneuvering room within the larger hemispheric framework of U.S. political-economic dominance. It is a strategy based on a regional division of labor—in raw materials, agribusiness, finance, etc.—on exploitation of wage labor, and on continuing collaboration with imperialist capital.
C. Restructuring existing state institutions. After the 2002 coup attempt by pro-U.S. forces, Chavez moved to purge leading rightist officers and build up a loyal officer corps within the military. He sought to strengthen his position within the executive, to build majority coalitions within the existing parliamentary structures, and to pass laws enabling him to carry forward certain reforms and social programs. He has moved to put checks on the freedom of action of opposition forces.
D. Creating grassroots organization and political structures. These local assemblies and councils are designed to rally and mobilize the masses around this nationalist-populist program…and keep the masses ideologically and politically confined within this program.
In 2005, Chavez began advancing a vision of “21st century socialism.” He has been vague about its content. But the reality is that this “socialism” rests on the continuing subordination of Venezuela to the world imperialist economy—with oil playing its historical role as the key regulator of the Venezuelan economy.
Venezuela remains a society deeply polarized between rich and poor. Some 40 percent of the urban workforce is trapped in the “informal economy,” working as vendors, taxi drivers, etc. Much of the urban population lives in the “ranchos” (slums). Agriculture remains dominated by a still-powerful landed oligarchy and is unable to meet the basic food needs of the population—while poor peasants and small farmers are consigned to marginal lands. Paramilitaries financed by landlords have murdered 150 peasant organizers over the last five years.
III. CHAVEZ’S RULING COALITION
Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998. He enjoyed great popularity, especially among the working class and poor. He also drew support from many within the middle class and sections of capital stymied by the old political system. The mid-1980s through the 1990s were years in which poverty massively grew and the economy sharply contracted.
The old ruling elite and oligarchy were widely hated and discredited.
Chavez’s project for remaking Venezuelan society relies on oil, on international trade, and the infusion of foreign capital into the economy. While he has encouraged the formation of worker cooperatives, he has steered clear of attacking the entrenched positions of large domestic capital. While he has supported some peasant takeovers of idle lands, and distributed land to some 150,000 peasants, he has not fundamentally challenged the dominant position of the landed oligarchy. Where he has nationalized (or re-nationalized) sectors like telecommunications, they function according to the criteria of profit.
Chavez operates with his own united front. He seeks to cooperate with sections of large private and foreign-imperialist capital—mainly by guaranteeing an acceptable business climate. At the same time, he has acted to limit domestic capital’s freedom of political action. This was part of what lay behind recent moves to revoke the license of a private radio station linked to powerful and reactionary capitalist interests. But these capitalist elites dominate the economy through control of means of production, finance and credit, and distribution channels; through functional links to foreign capital; and through the organizational power of their federations and trade associations.
Chavez had been able to cobble together a ruling political coalition dominated by a majority of pro-Chavez forces and supported by a minority of so-called “centrist-liberal” forces. He counted on “moderate” and “professional” military figures like Raúl Baduel to act as a buffer against U.S. meddling. But while Baduel was not necessarily a representative of the old pro-U.S. oligarchy, he advocated conciliation with the old order and evidently cultivated ties with the pro-U.S. Colombian military.
Chavez supporters have written of the “unique” quality of the Venezuelan military—somehow sympathetic to the masses; others have argued that Chavez had removed pro-U.S. forces from the military. These are dangerous illusions. The old state power has not been shattered.
Chavez’s attempt to forge his coalition is an expression of his attempt to seek a “middle way” between rupture from (and confrontation with) imperialism and preservation of the status quo. A genuine revolution must seek unity with broad forces. But this unity must be in the service of creating and preserving a new proletarian power—as opposed to a “unity” aimed at avoiding the clash with the forces representing the old order. The “middle way” of Chavez not only makes it impossible to achieve the goals of revolution but actually facilitates the activities of intriguers and coup-makers.
Chavez has counted on something else to forge his ruling coalition: mass mobilization of the poor during elections, and in response to moves by sections of the old order and the imperialists against Chavez. This “pressure from below,” increasingly organized from atop, has bolstered Chavez’s “mandate.”
By the end of 2006, pro-Chavez forces effectively controlled the National Assembly and Supreme Court. Chavez’s latest moves to amend the constitution aimed to “lock in” his political position and make it possible for him to outmaneuver sections of big capital, through expanded authority to nationalize certain enterprises and sectors of the economy and to link the central bank more closely to the central government.
Hugo Chavez personifies a section of the Venezuelan capitalist class and radicalized petty-bourgeoisie. These forces bridle at the inequities caused by foreign domination, but cannot conceive of rupturing out of imperialist conditioned dominance.
IV. A CHANGING SITUATION AND THE MASSES
The Chavez coalition of class forces has been coming under growing strain. There are differences among his ministers; the major cooperating party has bolted his coalition. Reactionary, pro-U.S. forces (with U.S. encouragement) have more boldly mobilized against Chavez. The referendum proposals became their rallying point. What has been going on? Here we can point to two factors.
The Economic Situation
One, the economy is running into difficulties. Oil is the focal point of economic development under Chavez. And it is more “cost-efficient,” in capitalist terms, to use oil earnings to import food than to invest in the all-around development of agriculture. But large capital has been pursuing its own economic and political agenda. Big farmers and cattle owners have cut back production in response to price controls. Wholesalers and retailers have hoarded imported foodstuffs or re-sold them on black markets. The result has been scarcity of basic foodstuffs (and other household necessities). Inflation is running high. This has especially hurt the poor and lower middle classes. And the reactionary opposition has been seizing on discontent.
Chavez and his supporters blame economic problems on corruption, currency speculation, capital flight to Miami, and economic sabotage. His opponents pin the problem on government ineptitude. There is some truth to what both are saying. But the underlying problem is that there has been no fundamental, no genuine socialist, transformation of society and the economy.
There has been no agrarian revolution to break the power of the large landholders and cattle ranchers in the countryside, to distribute land as part of a fundamental reorganization of the economy, and to lay the basis for collective agriculture that can meet the food needs of society and contribute to its overall development.
The economic resources of Venezuelan society are not socially controlled: this is an economy in which state-capitalist and private-capitalist ownership prevails. There is no unified socialist plan to achieve balanced, integrated, and self-reliant development. Dependence on oil and the world market have put the government in a vise—caught between the need to invest in and modernize the oil sector to keep it competitive in the world capitalist market, and the need to fund social programs with oil revenues.
The old state power has not been destroyed in Venezuela. It has not been replaced by a new proletarian state power able to mobilize the great majority of society, to give backing to the formerly oppressed and exploited to take hold of and to begin to transform all of society, and to suppress those forces seeking to turn such a revolutionary process back.
The Political Situation
Second, under the conditions of Chavez’s halting and contradictory economic and social measures, and with growing meddling by the U.S., the political situation has turned more unfavorable for Chavez. His charter proposals galvanized reactionary forces who readily recognized that their prerogatives would be further limited. Tactically, these same forces saw in the growing discontent a political opening. They whipped up many in the middle classes, raising the specter that their rights and property would be taken away.
On the other hand, some of the poor who form the political-electoral base for Chavez increasingly see themselves as spectators. They had come out into the streets to defend Chavez in 2002. They had given Chavez massive support in elections in 2004 and 2006. But what these constitutional changes would actually mean was not clear. And what is the meaning of Chavez’s rhetoric about socialism: yes, there are some medical clinics in the barrios, but this is still a society…of barrios.
Many international supporters of Chavez extol the grassroots organizations. But what do “citizen assemblies” and “communal councils” amount to in a sea of imperialist-capitalist dominated production relations? Suppose these assemblies “democratically voted” to revolutionize the economy, to develop a balanced and self-reliant economy with agriculture as its foundation, and to allocate resources into irrigating agriculture and to mobilize society to overcome the social gaps between town and country. Well, in Venezuela the masses do not have the political power nor genuine socialist control as concentrated in state ownership over the economy to effect such radical and liberating change. And if, somehow, these communal assemblies did attempt such radical change, it would be out of synch with and undermine the whole oil-based project of Chavez.
Chavez’s proposed emergency powers reflect the class character and requirements of the Chavez project. The constitutional changes were aimed mainly at preventing rightist, pro-U.S. forces from undermining or toppling the regime. But a genuine revolutionary current in Venezuelan society that challenged—and mobilized the masses to move beyond—the constraints of Chavez’s “middle way” would ultimately confront and be confronted by the repressive powers of the old state apparatus, even as restructured by Chavez. And discontent and opposition short of revolution but threatening to the stability of this project would face hostile state power.
V. AND THE MIDDLE CLASSES?
A socialist revolution to overcome all classes and class distinctions has to and can unite, and ideologically struggle, with large sections of the middle strata. If you truly are remaking society and the world, if this is the direction of things, you can appeal to people’s highest aspirations to change circumstances and themselves for the emancipation of humanity. It becomes possible to reach out to and struggle with people to apply their skills and understanding, and to work with and learn from others, as part of bringing a radically different world into being.
Chavez—and this reflects the class outlook of this movement—has opted for the worst of both worlds. His is not a project to radically remake society. He has sought to bribe the middle classes through the maintenance of a consumer society fed by luxury imports, gas subsidies for cars, and upscale shopping malls. On the other hand, he has lashed out at middle-class opposition. When students took to the streets, many no doubt conservative and pro-U.S., Chavez dismissed the protests as the acts of children of privilege. And Chavez has tended to brand opposition as traitorous and CIA-influenced.
There is a particular role for youth and students in a genuine socialist society: to open up and interrogate the socialist project and in this way to contribute to the vibrancy of socialist society. A truly radical and liberatory project would foster dissent, even dissent coming from perspectives opposed to socialism. Because this is part of the struggle for deeper knowledge of society and the world; because things may be wrong in society and people must be able to protest and struggle to change things; and because you want a society where people feel they can speak out without reprisal.
In a genuine socialist society, the army can’t be used to suppress dissent and protest—again, even if that protest is directed against the new socialist system. But the proletarian state is not indifferent. It needs to lead the masses in debating and sorting out issues. It needs to lead people to discover the truth. It needs to lead in distinguishing between dissent and active attempts to overthrow the new society.
This is complicated and carries a great deal of uncertainty and risk—because, to take the case of the student protests in Venezuela, dissent is often intermingled with forces organizing and preparing the ground for coups and the like.
The point is that power has to be held on to… but that power has to be worth holding on to. And drawing the masses into these kinds of complicated situations and societal debates under socialism is a vital part of the process through which they will gain ever-greater mastery over all spheres of society and take ever-greater responsibility for the direction of society.
VI. CLASS SOCIETY AND LEADERSHIP
Hugo Chavez has been criticized from various quarters for seeking to institutionalize leadership. But the fact is that all political systems in class society are a form of dictatorship by which one class rules over another. All political systems in class society institutionalize ruling class leadership in one way or another.
In the more generally stable conditions of the imperialist societies as they have historically evolved, this usually takes the form of multi-party systems and elections (involving a certain “rotation” within the ruling class). In the oppressed countries, imperialism imposes political structures suitable to its economic needs and strategic interests. The U.S. has developed the mechanism of the neocolonial state. It has resorted to coups, invasions, and “elections backed by force” to restructure and reconstitute these client states (as the U.S. has done in Iraq and repeatedly in Latin America). And even here in the “home country,” people come up against the reality that while they can vote against the Iraq war in 2006, the political system will not express that will, but rather the interests of the ruling class.
A socialist system requires a new kind of leadership, leadership that concentrates the interests of the oppressed to bring a new mode of production, based on social ownership and cooperation, into being; to establish and protect a new political form of class rule that empowers the masses to remake society and themselves; and that can lead the struggle forward to communism, a world without classes. This too requires institutionalized leadership of a new type: to unleash the masses and to lead in suppressing counterrevolution.
The challenge, as Bob Avakian has written, is to retain leadership and at the same time give expression to the kind of society and state that socialism must be. Where people are wrangling over the biggest questions…where there is an atmosphere that fosters creativity, initiative, and the critical spirit…and where society is consciously working to overcome, step-by-step and in waves, the contradiction between the vanguard and the broad masses.
*Chavez’s state of emergency proposal would still have granted people the right to defense, to a trial, to communication, and not to be tortured—unlike the U.S. Military Commissions Act of 2006, which allows the president to arrest people without due process and to use “coerced interrogation” to obtain evidence.[back]
For an in-depth analysis of the political economy underlying Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution,” see the special supplement Hugo Chavez Has an Oil Strategy…But Can This Lead to Liberation? in Revolution #94 (July 1, 2007).
To learn what the scientific meaning and content of socialism is in contrast to other conceptions and models, see Bob Avakian, “Three Alternative Worlds” in Revolution #94 (July 1, 2007).
Revolution #112, December 16, 2007
New Development in Jena Case
On December 3, 2007 Mychal Bell of the Jena 6 accepted a plea bargain (called an “admission” in juvenile court) and was sentenced to 18 months in a juvenile prison. Bell pled guilty to second-degree battery, and the second charge of conspiracy to commit second-degree battery was thrown out. He will be forced to undergo counseling, pay court costs, and pay $935 to Justin Barker (the white student the Jena 6 are accused of beating up) and his family. The deal stipulates that Bell must “testify truthfully” if he is called as a witness in trials for any of the other Jena 6 youth. He is being given time served which means he will be held in a juvenile prison for several months more, and his parents have been ordered to pay child support to the state of Louisiana until his 18th birthday.
What this system had already done to Mychal Bell and the Jena 6 is an outrage. But this whole “deal” is a further outrage—it is nothing but a coerced admission, in which Bell must agree to say what the prosecutors want him to say. And the carrying forward of the prosecution of the other Jena 6 youth is a further and continuing outrage on top of this.
This has raised some sharp questions. What pressures were behind Mychal Bell pleading out? How should we look at these? And what does this mean for the rest of the Jena 6—and for the struggle against the racism concentrated in this case, and the “epidemic” of nooses that has arisen in its wake?
A Case That Concentrates White Supremacy
From the very beginning the arrest, imprisonment, and prosecution of the Jena 6 has been a terrible INJUSTICE. In the small town of Jena, Louisiana, where a white supremacist, southern segregationist way of life rules, nooses were hung on a “whites-only” tree at the high school. Black students rebelled and said ENOUGH. They were repressed with outrageous and discriminatory prosecution. And when word of all this got out, tens of thousands around the country also said ENOUGH.
When the District Attorney arrested the Jena 6 on December 4, 2006, it was not for a so-called schoolyard fight. The nooses hung in Jena represent the “tradition” of lynchings and KKK terror. School administrators, government officials, and the court system have essentially backed up the hanging of nooses in Jena—from calling it a “prank,” to hardly punishing those who put them up, to coming down on those protesting it. And this says a lot about the virulence of raw, unvarnished racism in today’s society.
This case struck a deep chord around the country because it so sharply concentrates not just the past, but the present-day reality for Black people all over this country. There were the threats, the arrests, and the months the Jena 6 spent in jail without being convicted of anything. There was the extremely high bail, in the tens of thousands of dollars, and the Jim Crow all-white jury trial of Mychal Bell. And there was the way they kept Bell in jail—even after his conviction in adult court had been overturned. This kind of criminalization and unjust punishment is what this system does to Black youth every day in courtrooms all over the country.
To understand Mychal Bell’s plea bargain, we have to “pull back the lens” on this whole society; we have to apply some science to it, and get at the whole context and the underlying forces at work.
When someone goes to court and stands before a judge accused of a crime, it might seem like what is happening is just about an individual being accused of breaking the law and the court deciding whether he/she is guilty or not and what the punishment should be. But the U.S. so-called “justice” system operates as part of, and reflects and enforces the basic economic and social relations of the system of capitalism.
Under capitalism, a small number of people dominate ownership of the wealth of society. And more fundamentally, this class of people dominate the means to produce wealth, like land, raw materials, technology, etc. The vast majority of people own little or none of these things, and if they want to eat (or not be forced to survive by other, often illegal means) they have to sell their ability to work to those who do own them. This exchange—of the ability to work for a wage—may look like an equal exchange. But in reality it is a profoundly unequal relation where those without capital are forced to work for—and, in the process of working, create more wealth for—those who do own and control capital. Further, in U.S. society the oppression of Black people as a people has always been inseparably tied into the functioning of capitalism, even as this has taken different forms through history.
Bob Avakian, talking about how this fundamental relation of inequality, of domination and exploitation is extended into and embodied in all the relations of capitalist society despite the surface appearance of equality, points to the concept of “equality before the law” as an example. He says:
“This is supposed to mean that the same laws are applied, in the same ways, to everyone, regardless of what their ‘station’ in life is, how much money they have, and so on. Experience shows, however, that this is not how things work out in reality. People with more money have more political influence—and those with a great deal of money have a great deal of political influence and power—while those with less money, and especially those with very little, also have no significant political influence, connections with political power, and so on. And this plays out, repeatedly, in legal proceedings, right down to the way in which those presiding over legal procedures (judges) look—very differently—at different kinds of people who become involved in legal proceedings. But what is even more decisive is the reality that the laws themselves (and the Constitution which sets the basis for the laws) reflect and reinforce the essential relations in society, and most fundamentally the economic (production) relations of capitalism.” (“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, Part 1: Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right,” available at: revcom.us)
This is the foundation and the reality of the whole system of DAs, judges, courts, and prisons that Mychal Bell (and millions of others) are up against.
The Plea Bargain Trap
In Louisiana, where Black people make up 34% of the population, 67% of those in the state’s juvenile justice system are Black (as of 2006). And plea bargains are a major way Black youth and others end up being unfairly locked up and dogged and criminalized by the authorities for even the most minor offenses.
In a typical year, more than 80% of trials in the U.S. resulted in plea bargains. The criminal justice system sweeps up people for the most minor offenses or no offenses at all. People end up in a situation where the choices are: take your chances and fight for your life, knowing the cards are stacked against you and that the system will try to punish you to the max (whether you did anything or not). Or bow down to the system and hope they might “go easier” on you. Many people know and have experienced the reality that in this country, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, the right to have a fair trial, to get an impartial jury, to even get the system to follow its own stacked deck of rules, is a cruel lie.
Today there are millions of Black youth that the system of capitalism has no way to profitably exploit, youth left without jobs or any future. The prison system has become a way to contain and suppress hundreds of thousands of Black youth. And all this is backed up and reinforced by the media and people like Bill Cosby, who—rather than putting the blame on a system which cannot and will not give people a decent life and future—blame the masses for their conditions. Such attacks are used to write off, demonize, and criminalize these youth, and rationalize and justify the way the system warehouses them in prison.
It is a great injustice that Mychal Bell has already been kept behind bars for 10 months and been criminalized by this system. He is not guilty of anything for which he should spend a single day in prison. In fact if justice were really served, the system would be forced to apologize, give concessions to, and completely free all of the Jena 6.
Mychal Bell was first tried in adult court in July 2007 with an all-white jury and a white judge. No witnesses were called by Bell’s court-appointed defense—and 16 witnesses, mostly white, were called by the state. Then, in a matter of hours, Bell was convicted and faced up to 22 years in adult prison. He was held in custody for almost a year and—even after his conviction was overturned by a higher court—he was sent to juvenile court for trial. Then, under extreme conditions of intimidation and coercion, Bell was forced to choose whether or not to accept the DA’s plea deal. We can only guess at the pressures brought to bear on Mychal Bell and his family in getting him to accept this deal—including the fact that his trial in juvenile court would have been with only a judge and no jury. This is not unlike what happens to millions of others who this system takes into back rooms to exact a “confession.” And for this reason, it needs to be said that Mychal Bell’s “admission” of guilt doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth of what really happened. And now, if any of the other Jena 6 youth go to trial the system could try to force Mychal Bell to testify for the prosecution against them.
Real Truth and Real Justice
It has been a fact from the very beginning of this case that the only way justice will really be served is if ALL the charges are dropped and ALL the Jena 6 are freed. Circumstances of history made the Jena 6 youth the symbol and the focus of a big historic struggle—a fight for justice and part of getting to a whole better world where nooses and white supremacy will be a thing of the past. The emergence of a mass movement around the country, with tens of thousands marching right in Jena, was certainly a factor in Mychal Bell’s first two convictions being reversed—and no matter how much the DA denies it, this mass movement had an effect on what he could and could not do in the courtroom.
The state needs to secure convictions in the Jena 6 cases so as to let stand and reinforce their verdict that what these youth did in opposing the racist wave in Jena was a crime and also to give racist forces in society the green light. Lawyers for the Jena 6 must wage a real battle in the courtroom, grasping the larger questions involved and utilizing every opening, in this larger societal context, to defend their client(s). But such cases are not mainly decided in the courtroom, but more fundamentally by what happens in society at large. When thousands rise up in struggle, and millions begin to awaken to political life and focus their attention on this outrage, the rulers of this system then have to calculate the political price in going forward with such prosecutions. Will it shine more of a light on the workings of their system, and bring more people into motion against them? Will people, as they rise up, begin to get a sense of their full potential power? Will more people get drawn into searching for another way out of this system? Will some of them begin turning toward revolution as a result of that?
In this context, Mychal Bell’s decision not to fight this through and to agree with the system that he is “guilty” is a big mistake with real consequences. First of all, it’s not true; he is not guilty of anything other than standing up against a whole wave of racist intimidation. But beyond that, and especially when the hopes of millions for a better future for everyone are involved, you can’t look at this kind of thing from “what’s best for me”; there are much bigger stakes involved and you have to try to view it all from the interests of humanity. The “what’s best for me” outlook keeps this whole oppressive system going. It keeps the people fighting and clawing each other like crabs in a barrel. On the other hand, when “the whole world is watching,” when people’s hopes are on the line, as is the case in Jena, you can and you have to take a strong stand and make a big positive difference for the people.
But Mychal Bell, even though he has made this deal, will now face other demands from the system; whatever their promises, they will go for their “pound of flesh” and more from him. When he faces those demands, it will be important that he “does the right thing” and that the people support him if he does.
At the same time, four of the other Jena 6 are facing trials in adult court in the coming months on charges that could bring up to 22 years in prison. Another youth is facing charges in juvenile court. None of the Jena 6 should have been arrested to begin with. None of them should be going to trial on charges. None of them should be forced into some phony confession and deal. Any punishment for any of the Jena 6 is unjust. And the battle to free these youth and have their back must continue and grow, with even more determination.
Revolution #112, December 16, 2007
We received this correspondence:
I have been a reader of Revolution and its predecessor paper for the past 10 years. Since the era of the Vietnam War, I have sought out alternative media to uncover the truth of what is going on, both domestically and internationally, in order to help organize and fight against war, exploitation, imperialism, and internal repression. I can say unequivocally, Revolution does the best job that I have seen in getting at the truth that is hidden by the layers of ideological mystification and outright lies put out by the capitalist-owned media.
If that were all Revolution did, it would be more than enough. However, we are also given discussion in almost every issue by Chairman Bob Avakian on topics in the theory and practice of authentic Marxism. As a long time student of the history and philosophy of Marxism, I find these articles to be refreshingly scientific and eye opening. I always leave a session with the Chairman feeling strengthened for the battles to come.
In order to have a chance to fight the current rapid slide into U.S. fascism, Revolution is an essential tool. The old Marxists had a saying: “Socialism or barbarism.” It is truer today than ever before.
For what this paper has done for me, I want to put my money where my mouth is: I am contributing $200 to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund which I understand will allow eight prisoners to receive it for one year, and I am going to sustain Revolution to the tune of $150 a month, because not only does this paper need a huge shot in the arm, but it must have ongoing financial support. That is what I am doing.
Now it’s your turn. To all the readers of Revolution out there, who either read it online or in hard copy, I implore you to do the same. Think of what difference it will make if this paper reaches millions.
Lawyer and legal editor from New York
Revolution #112, December 16, 2007
Interview with Columbia University Hunger Striker
Between November 7 and November 16, seven students and one professor at Columbia University in New York City went on a hunger strike, raising four demands: “a core curriculum that sufficiently covers non-Western societies and global systems of power; an administration more responsive to hate crimes on campus and student concerns; a responsible expansion into West Harlem that respects the community and its residents; more faculty and financial support for Ethnic Studies programs.” By the end of the strike, the university administration agreed to meet many of the students’ demands, including major funding for changes in the core curriculum, expansion of resources towards the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Intercultural Resource Center, and hiring new faculty for Ethnic Studies. The struggle around Columbia’s expansion into West Harlem continues.
This strike, and the movement that coalesced around it, was a breath of much-needed fresh air at a time when David Horowitz and others are moving aggressively to increasingly push critical thinking out of academia. And it came in a semester at Columbia which has seen a noose hung on a Black professor’s door, repeated appearances of racist graffiti on campus, the high-profile visit of the President of Iran to the campus—all while the University tries to finalize its plan to expand into West Harlem, which would push thousands of people, mainly Black and Latino, out of the neighborhood. In the days following the strike, Revolution sat down with Bryan Mercer, one of the strikers. Below are excerpts from that interview. To learn more about the strike and its demands, visit cu-strike.blogspot.com.
Revolution: Could you talk about what the strike was in response to?
Bryan Mercer: In an immediate sense, the strike came out of a string of racist incidents on the campus: the hanging of a noose on a Black professor’s door, the spraying of swastikas on doors, and the President of Iran was brought to the University and was basically called an “evil, petty dictator” by the President of the University. And many people found that inappropriate and found the entire atmosphere around that alienating. People really saw these recent events as not disconnected from the everyday of Columbia and previous events. Four years ago students were out protesting on the steps against racist incidents, two years ago people were out protesting on the steps about racist incidents. Twelve years ago there was a hunger strike around these things. And at every one of those turns, what students were demanding of the administration was never realized. I think that combination of things really brought about the strike. And I think there was a third factor of an urgency of not just sitting in meetings around these things anymore...
Revolution: This fall there’s been a whole spate of nooses and racist incidents around the country, including at college campuses, and this came about right after the massive protests to free the Jena 6. How were you and other people involved in the strike looking at that?
Bryan Mercer: A number of us that were involved in the strike were also part of a walkout around the Jena 6 that happened on October 1 as part of a national call. What we saw and what we learned from the growing movement around freeing the Jena 6 was that we all live in Jena. And with the string of incidents on our own campus, we saw that we really do live in Jena. And we found it necessary to take response to that. And so what happened nationally around the Jena 6, I think served as an inspiration, as something that folks saw our work as connected to. And so we could look at our own history on the campus but then also look at what’s going on around the country to identify what we’re doing and why.
Revolution: One of the things that I think was powerful about the strike was the way that Ethnic Studies and a lot of the things you talked about were things that were partial victories in the ’60s that people fought for, and that since then in a lot of cases these things have been gradually taken away. And now you have this right-wing movement on campuses with people like David Horowitz who have been fighting to get rid of Ethnic Studies professors and programs. How are you seeing that?
Bryan Mercer: Yeah, it’s 2007, and not a whole lot changed. I think a big thing has been keeping that history there, remembering what we’ve done and why we do it—and I say “we” because, you know, I identify with what folks were doing in the ’60s on this campus because I wouldn’t be here on this campus if it weren’t for their work. I think there is a right-wing movement, and I think it’s really important you bring that up. Because one thing that we’ve seen on the campus is that social justice issues get framed as a mere issue of “tolerance,” or debate gets framed as “you have to have all sides” and the “proper position” is the “moderate position”—and there’s a real eroding away of ideals, ideals that people at this very university in the ’60s really fought for, and by eroding away those ideals has said, “oh well, we need to have an ‘Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week’ because the voice of the right, which is the voice of reason, is getting lost” or something like this. And really, these are just excuses for racism and to continue exploitation and domination. And I think it’s important to remember our history because it helps draw the principles that we’re actually trying to fight around from that history.
Revolution: It seems like part of what the strike addresses is: here’s an elite campus where people are being trained to occupy certain positions in society, and are they gonna know about this whole history of white supremacy and racism or not. How do you think the strike spoke to the broader student body as far as what their relation is going to be to the world?
Bryan Mercer: I think it was really mixed. The response we got from a number of people was that they came out to the vigils and began joining support for what we were doing. And students from communities across the board—students of color, white students, students of faith—felt it was important to know this history because they felt something was missing from their education, something was missing that didn’t allow them to find direction in such a complicated and often-times messed-up world. Those were the people who really sustained what we were doing and made it what it was. On the other hand, I think there were a number of people who, as soon as they heard that we were talking about racism or as soon as they heard that we were talking about Ethnic Studies or the expansion, and that was the purpose of our hunger strike, it was dismissed. There’s a Facebook group on campus now called “I do not support the hunger strike,” and it may sound trite, but most of the people on that Facebook group are white, and I think that’s indicative of how easy it is not to know that history or how easy it is not to really deal with race in America or race internationally if you’re coming from a privileged background. And I think that also proves the need for what we were doing—so that people have this knowledge and can start from that point, rather than starting from the notion that modern civilization began with Homer.
Revolution: On the whole question of Columbia University’s expansion, gentrification is a huge thing across the country and in NYC in particular, pushing poor people and oppressed people out of their neighborhoods. Columbia’s been doing this for a while and has a whole history of this in Harlem, including bulldozing over the ground where Malcolm X was killed. And this is the latest wave of it. The hunger strike made this a huge part of its demands. Could you speak to that?
Bryan Mercer: For myself, it was the most important part of the strike. It gave the strike its meaning, because we can do a lot on this campus, but if we’re not questioning our relationship to the rest of the city, and people who aren’t in the position of being behind these gates, then I’m not really sure what we’re questioning. If we aren’t building relationships that redistribute resources and create different forms of power, like the power that can come out of students and community members working together, then I don’t know what we’re fighting for...
This is people’s neighborhoods, this is people’s homes. While the University itself doesn’t have a relationship with the community, while many students do not build this relationship with the community, one thing our struggle really clearly did was show and strengthen that relationship that’s there, with people from the Coalition to Preserve Community, with people from the Harlem Tenants’ Council, with people who run community gardens in the area, do youth programming... And I think that’s really important, because it shows that: one, our struggles are really connected and dependent on each other, and two, that we’re doing what the University as an institution can’t, which is build lasting relationships with the community and mutual interest.
Revolution: Anything else you wanted to say or think is important that people hear about?
Bryan Mercer: Yeah. We fought a very local fight, we fought a fight on our campus around particular campus issues, but I hope that it has some impact on things beyond this campus. Also, our fight on this campus, especially around this expansion, is connected to fights all across this country and across the world on what development looks like and what say communities have over how capital operates in their backyards. One thing I would like to put out there is my solidarity and love for people fighting around these things across the world, because any victories around changing the neo-liberal pattern of “destroy-and-leave” capital is a victory here too.
Revolution #112, December 16, 2007
Check It Out
From a Reader
“I am writing this only because they can’t,” Edwidge Danticat writes in her remarkable memoir, Brother, I’m Dying (Knopf, September 2007), which was nominated for a National Book Award. In the book, Danticat tells the life stories of her father and her uncle, who died several months apart in 2004 and 2005.
Many of the things that Danticat describes in her book are the common experience of millions of people who immigrate to the United States—whether from Haiti, like Danticat, or another country: being separated from your family and unable to visit them, leaving your home for a strange country that often treats you as a criminal.
Danticat’s father left Haiti when Danticat was four years old. And two years later, when her mother also left Haiti to join her husband in New York City, Danticat and her brother were taken in by their uncle, Joseph. The two kids were raised by Joseph for eight years, until they were finally able to rejoin their parents in the U.S.
In 2004, Joseph attempted to flee Haiti when UN troops were sent to that country to “restore order.” Brother I’m Dying paints a vivid picture of the murderous role of U.N. troops in Haiti, which should be thought about by anyone who considers U.N. intervention a solution to many of the problems in the world.
Joseph, 81 years old at the time, had a valid visa for entry into the U.S. But he was taken into custody by U.S. immigration at the airport when he said he could not return to Haiti and asked for political asylum. Danticat’s heart sank when she heard that Joseph was being sent to the Krome Detention Center in Miami. She had visited Krome the year before as a human rights observer. Detainees told Danticat of beatings by guards (one prisoner had his back broken by a guard and was returned to Haiti before receiving medical attention), of overcrowded conditions, of cold so harsh they shivered all night, of food that was meant to punish rather than nourish.
“I’d seen men who looked too young to be the mandatory eighteen years old for detention at Krome,” Danticat writes. “A few of them looked fourteen or even twelve. How can we be sure they’re not younger, I’d asked one of the lawyers in our delegation, if they’d come with no birth certificates, no papers? The lawyer answered that their ages were determined by examining their teeth. I couldn’t escape this agonizing reminder of slavery auction blocks, where mouths were pried open to determine worth and state of health.”
The ICE guards took away Joseph’s medicines, mocked him, and prevented him from having contact with his family. When he collapsed during a hearing, a medic accused him of faking it and refused to let Joseph’s son clean off his own father’s vomit-covered face. Joseph was finally taken to a hospital, but he was shackled by the feet to the bed. He died in ICE custody.
Joseph’s death at the hands of the ICE is not unique. At least 65 people have died in ICE custody since 2004. “I think these things happen because few people, unless your loved ones are there, know that these places even exist,” Danticat said recently at a Congressional hearing on deaths in ICE custody.
But Brother, I’m Dying is not just the story of her uncle’s death. It is also a celebration of the lives of her father and uncle and their struggle to survive with dignity and love amidst the harsh conditions in Haiti and the U.S. And it is the story of a young girl growing up in two different worlds with two different families.
Danticat recalls how the neighborhood children in Haiti gathered around the very old Ganmé Melina to hear her tell stories. She tells how Joseph became a preacher in a poor area of Haiti after his hopes for achieving change through the existing political system were destroyed following the rise to power in 1957 of the brutal U.S.-backed dictator “Papa Doc” Duvalier.
Mira, Danticat’s father, left Haiti for New York City in 1971 because he could not support his family and because Duvalier’s private army, the Tonton Macoutes, had made life very dangerous. In the letters he wrote to Danticat and her brother during their eight years of separation, he had to hold back his emotions, fearing that it would only make it harder for the children. When the day finally arrived for the reunion, Mira’s boss would not let him take time off to pick up his children at the airport—so he quit his job as a tailor, vowing that he would never work again for someone else. He became a gypsy cab driver—and Danticat writes that he continued to suffer daily indignities from his customers.
One of the most moving parts of the book is the story of Marie Michelene, another child Joseph adopted. Marie’s father had disappeared after going to the Dominican Republic, where Haitian workers harvesting sugar cane are kept in slave-like conditions. When Marie becomes pregnant, Joseph sends her to another city to finish her pregnancy and give birth because he fears her pregnancy will reflect badly on his church. Marie marries a Tonton Macoute official in order to erase her “shame.” When Joseph learns that Marie is being beaten by her husband, Joseph has to find the courage to both confront the Macoute to rescue his adopted daughter—and to admit that he had been wrong.
At his brother’s funeral, Danticat’s father—recalling the treatment his brother received at the hands of ICE, and looking back at his own life—said, “If our country were ever given a chance and allowed to be a country like any other, none of us would live or die here [in the United States].”
Revolution #110, November 25, 2007
In late October, the U.S. government, through HUD, gave the go ahead to demolish four of the largest public housing projects in New Orleans. On November 15, a federal judge refused to block the demolitions – clearing the way for the demolition of the BW Cooper, CJ Peete, Lafitte and St Bernard developments.
These projects aren’t just structures. These were people’s communities -- where 1000's of people grew up, met, fell in love and raised families. These buildings suffered less damage than other housing in the floods because of their solid brick construction and could house 4,700 families. But the government plans to demolish them and build "mixed income" housing that will include less than 750 units for people with low incomes.
Much of the Black population of this city has been dispersed throughout the country since Katrina. By March of 2007, it was estimated that 200,000 former residents had still not returned to New Orleans and that more than 150,000 of them are Black. The demolition of public housing is yet another way the government is discouraging and preventing people from coming back to New Orleans. In effect the message is: “You'll never be able to come back home because there will be nowhere you can live.”
The number of homeless people in New Orleans is double what it was before Katrina. Lafitte, which could house almost 900 families but is now almost empty, sits across the street from a homeless encampment where dozens of people live under a freeway overpass.
New Orleans desperately needs affordable housing. Yet the authorities are determined to destroy 1000's of housing units that could be made suitable for people to live in. Where's the logic in this?
To anyone concerned about the needs of the people, this is insane. But the people who run this system operate based on a cold capitalist logic. For them what matters is keeping their system in effect and as lean and mean a profit-making machine as possible. To do this, they will demolish public housing, no matter how this impacts people's lives. For this system, a disaster that killed 1,800 people and forced 200,000 out of the city is an opportunity to rebuild a New Orleans that's smaller and whiter and rid of those who the system has no need for.
What’s Behind the Drive to Demolish?
There's been a nationwide assault on public housing for more than a decade that reflects the changing needs of US imperialism. Many of the projects in the US were built after World War 2 to house Black people who were being drawn into the cities in large numbers to work in factories. These projects were a way to enforce racial segregation. In New Orleans, three of the seven projects built in this period were reserved for whites, while the others housed Black people. By the 1960's the racial composition of the projects had shifted, and the overwhelming majority of residents were Black.
In the 1970's, as part of striving to remain competitive with their imperialist rivals, US corporations began to move factories from the inner cities to the suburbs and to other countries. At the same time, immigrants from Mexico and other countries began to be hired for many of the jobs on the bottom of the work force that used to be filled by Black people.
Several factors drove these developments. Many immigrants can be forced to work for super low wages and in miserable conditions because they lack legal status. At the same time, long experience with brutal oppression, and the struggle against that oppression, has led many Black people to develop an attitude of both defiance and unwillingness to take shit jobs. This is a very positive quality to anybody who wants to change the world-but it's considered dangerous by the ruling class.
The result of all this is large numbers of Black people have been pushed out of the work force. Jobs and opportunity have been sucked out of the ghettos. And residential segregation means the places Black people live have become concentrations of poverty. So the very operations of the system has created a situation where the capitalists face the “problem” of millions of Black people they can no longer profitably exploit.
From the point of view of this system, the masses of Black people have become so much surplus population -- in the way and potentially explosive. When Katrina hit, in places where many Black lived, like the Lower 9th Ward and Central City half of all working age people were not in the work force! A key part of the way the system has been dealing with this is the warehousing of Black people in prison. Between 1984 and 2004, the number of Black people in jail in the US skyrocketed from 98,00 to 910,000! (For a full discussion of this, see Crime and Punishment … & Capitalism, Revolution # 106.)
This was the context in which government plans to demolish housing projects have been developed. Between 1996 and 2002, 80,000 units of public housing were demolished nationwide. In New Orleans the number of public housing units was reduced from 14,000 in 1988 to 6,000 in 2005. The Desire housing development was demolished in the 1990's, and St Thomas was demolished in 2001. Fisher was partly demolished before Hurricane Katrina. The mixed income developments that replaced these projects has 75%‑90% fewer low income housing units!
The authorities seized on Hurricane Katrina to empty the projects. Everyone who came to the emergency shelters was taken out of the city. Some people who lived in the projects stayed in their homes during Katrina because they knew the projects usually suffered less damage during storms. People who didn't live in the project even came there to ride out the storm.
On September 6, 2005, the city issued an order authorizing law enforcement to forcibly remove people from their homes. People who refused to leave were taken from their homes and forced to leave the city. And people weren't allowed to return to the projects. The city put a barb-wire fence around the St Bernard project and part of BW Cooper. They put metal enclosures over the doors and windows In Lafitte. They also shut down CJ Peete and partially fenced it in, even though it had suffered NO flood damage.
The authorities consider the replacement of St Thomas with the mixed income River Gardens development a success story which they promise to repeat with these demolitions. St Thomas had 1,500 units of low income housing. River Gardens has only 150 such units. Now, two years after Katrina, less than 100 former residents of St Thomas have gotten into River Gardens. Others who applied to move back in were told they didn't make enough money. As far as the ruling class is concerned, these people can just go somewhere and die!
The Need for Resistance
The authorities plan to begin the demolitions before the end of the year. Court cases, congressional legislation, appeals to reason‑‑all that is being shoved aside or bottled up. If these demolitions aren't met with determined resistance, the rulers will get away with cleansing New Orleans of much of its Black population. What's needed now is massive resistance.
Demolishing the projects won't provide people with decent housing. It will mean that 1000's more poor people will have nowhere to live. It will mean that many of those currently exiled from New Orleans will remain unable to return. These demolitions must be stopped. But the goal in this fight isn't to get back to how the projects used to be. Capitalism has made the projects places where poor Black people live, in miserable conditions with little hope for the future.
The total inability of this system to provide people with decent housing is yet another sharp example of why we need a whole new society where power is in the hands of the people and is wielded in their interests. And we need a revolution to make this possible.
If the authorities are allowed to get away with this, people's communities will be reduced to piles of rubble. And the killing program the rulers are enforcing on Black people will escalate.
But if people build a powerful political struggle against this attack. If the justice of fighting these demolitions is brought out to different kinds of people throughout society and many of them join the fight. If protest and resistance forces the system to stop their bulldozers. This can create a whole new ball game. The people must derail the rulers' plans to drive out much of the Black population of New Orleans and such resistance needs to become part of a growing revolutionary movement.
Revolution #112, December 16, 2007
The article below was originally published in 1997 in the Revolutionary Worker, the forerunner of Revolution, on the 30th anniversary of the U.S.-orchestrated assassination of Che Guevara. As the article below concludes, “There are many today, among the youth in the U.S. and Latin America, who have been attracted to Che Guevara—because they see in him a symbol of self-sacrifice, armed struggle and internationalism in the fight against U.S. imperialism.” Many take him up as a symbol of resistance at a time when the U.S. threatens countries in Latin America that do not “toe the line”—like Cuba or Venezuela. And people are also drawn to the impatience and daring associated with Che and to the idea that any revolution must have a place for poetry and must, in its foundation, be guided by love for the people.
It has to be said that all of these sentiments are correct and extremely positive, and there are many ways that, because of the way he has come to represent those ideas in the popular mind, the regard that people still hold for Che sticks like a bone in the throat of the rulers. At the same time, Guevara was not just an historical or cultural symbol, but a real human being with real thinking, who took sides in the great debates of his time. Those debates were not just arguments on paper but struggles of life-and-death importance; these were debates that leapt off the paper and took flesh-and-blood form as they guided the action of thousands and then millions during the 1960s, that great era of revolutionary upheaval and transformation. Today, not only must the brutality of the U.S. in murdering him be further brought to light, but the thinking and actions of the real historical Guevara need to be unsparingly dug into and understood—and criticized, sharply—including the fact that the side he took in those epochal debates posed itself against the most radical, revolutionary, and far-seeing vision of the time: communism, as further developed by Mao Tsetung, the leader of revolutionary China. In an irony of history, the ideas and values that are popularly associated with Che could not and cannot actually be realized by the line and strategic thinking of Che, but by those in the communist movement whom he opposed. Of course, Mao was not the “last word”—the world has undergone even more violent upheaval since the 1960s-’70s, though not mainly in a positive way, and there are both new challenges before revolutionaries and further ways that even the best of the revolutionary thinking and achievements of the past have to recast into a new synthesis that can lead humanity forward now. That is a question that is both beyond the scope of the article that follows but also irresistibly raised by it.
Thirty years ago,* on October 8, 1967, gunfire echoed through a steep ravine of the Andes Mountains in southern Bolivia. The guerrilla band led by Ernesto “Che” Guevara was pinned down and surrounded by Bolivian Army Rangers.
* This article was originally published in the Revolutionary Worker in 1997.
Less than a year earlier, Guevara and a team of cadres had secretly travelled from Cuba to Bolivia to launch a guerrilla war, hoping to topple Bolivia’s pro-U.S. military government. Guevara had gone up into the mountains with about 50 supporters. Within months they were discovered by Bolivian troops. And an intense pursuit started. Trying to escape the government forces, Guevara divided his supporters into two groups, and was never able to reunite them. His diary records that, by late August, his group was exhausted, demoralized, and down to 22 men. On August 31 the other group was ambushed and wiped out crossing a river.
On September 26, Bolivian army units ambushed Che’s remaining forces near the isolated mountain huts of La Higuera. The guerrillas found no way out of the encirclement. Several died in the shooting. Guevara himself was wounded in the leg. He and two other fighters were captured on October 8 and taken to an old one-room schoolhouse in La Higuera.
The next day, October 9, a helicopter flew in a man called “Felix Ramos” who wore the uniform of a Bolivian officer. “Ramos” took charge of the prisoner. Two hours later, Che Guevara and both other guerrillas were executed in cold blood. A look around the peasant village of La Higuera that day would have left no doubt who was responsible.
The U.S. Hand
The weapons and equipment of the killers were “Made in the U.S.A.” The Bolivian officer who took Guevara prisoner had been trained at Fort Bragg—at a U.S. school for army coups, murder and counterinsurgency. And the man in charge at the scene, “Captain Ramos,” was a veteran CIA field agent, Felix Rodriguez.
For years, the U.S. government had armed the Bolivian military and riddled it with their paid agents. As soon as Guevara’s new guerrilla force was discovered, Washington sent new teams of CIA and Green Beret killers into Bolivia—including Rodriguez and his fellow agent “Gonzalez.” U.S. transport planes arrived loaded with more arms, radio equipment, and napalm.
Rodriguez, who was masquerading as a Bolivian army captain, had previously led a CIA death squad in Vietnam. Later, this same Felix Rodriguez would be personally appointed by George Bush [the father] to be the key CIA operative at El Salvador’s Ilopango Air Force base during the 1980s, where Rodriguez oversaw the CIA’s notorious cocaine-for-arms air flights.
On October 9, 1967, it was Rodriguez who ordered that Guevara’s execution wounds should look like they were received in combat. It was Rodriguez who pocketed Che Guevara’s wristwatch as a souvenir and flew Guevara’s body to the nearby military base at Vallegrande. Early on October 11, after cutting off Guevara’s hands as evidence, the killers dumped his body in an unmarked grave near Vallegrande’s airstrip. Publicly, the Bolivian government insisted his body had been burned.
This whole operation was stamped “Made in the U.S.A.” By killing Che Guevara and his fellow guerrillas, the rulers of the United States intended to send a bloody message to the people of South America and the world.
Bullets in the Backyard
The U.S. ruling class has always viewed Latin America as its “backyard,” and they have used armed force against anyone who challenged them there.
U.S. forces labeled Mexican peasant leader Pancho Villa a bandit and murdered Sandino in Nicaragua. They overturned elected governments—including the murder of Chilean president Salvador Allende and 30,000 people in 1973. Dozens of bloody invasions and aggressions over the last century maintained U.S. control of Panama, Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Central America. And in the last decade, they have mobilized their squads of CIA agents, advisers, and “anti-drug” troops to fight against the people’s war led by the Communist Party of Peru.
While they oppressed the people of Latin America, the U.S. rulers have also threatened any foreign powers who tried to make their own inroads there—starting with their arrogant “Monroe Doctrine” of 1823. The U.S. declared its right to seize Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, they deployed troops, naval armadas and death squads to prevent Soviet social-imperialism from “getting a beachhead on the mainland of the Americas.” More recently, they imposed NAFTA to tighten their grip on the people of Mexico and to shut Japanese and European imperialists out.
In the 1960s, at the time of Che’s final campaign in Bolivia, the U.S. pursued these policies with a vengeance. These were times, as Mao Tsetung wrote, when U.S. imperialism looked like a “paper tiger…panic-stricken at the mere rustle of leaves in the wind.” A great wave of rebellion and revolution challenged the U.S. in Asia, Africa and Latin America. And the USSR had stepped out, as a new imperialist rival, to take advantage of the U.S. difficulties.
President John F. Kennedy responded with bloody means. He sent a CIA fleet to land at Bay of Pigs in 1961 to attempt to overthrow the popular revolution in Cuba. He started the flow of troops and “advisors” into southern Vietnam to fight the national liberation movement there.
New CIA-run armies were organized. The Green Berets were founded. U.S. training schools were cranking out torturers, coup-makers and counterrevolutionaries. Many places throughout the world were seeded with U.S.-trained agents and killers.
And on October 9, 1967, those forces executed Che Guevara and his followers in that tiny village of La Higuera.
The Quest for Liberation
Over the last 30 years, Che Guevara has been seen by many as a symbol of resistance to all that—to U.S. domination and military power. And today, in 1997, the fight against all that remains the burning issue—just as it was 30 years ago.
How do we fight the oppressors today in a way that can actually defeat them, overthrow them and create a new liberated society?
That is the issue that confronts this new generation. The revolutionary process needs dreams of a better world and heroes that people can look up to. But it also needs a serious evaluation of historical experience. The people need revolutionary theory and strategy that can win.
Che Guevara advocated a particular path for the struggle against U.S. domination. And today, Guevarism—and the historical experience of those who followed it—needs to be critically evaluated. As a veteran communist once said, “We have to want revolution bad enough to be scientific about it.”
The Cuban Road
When Che Guevara and the guerrilla fighters of Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement rode into Havana, Cuba, in 1959, people all over Latin America were thrilled. A popular revolution had overthrown the brutal, pro-U.S. Batista dictatorship—only 90 miles from U.S. shores.
The Cuban revolution had actually gone relatively easily: Castro, Guevara and a few supporters established guerrilla camps in the remote Sierra Madre mountains and carried out about 25 months of intermittent fighting. Powerful unrest had spread throughout the country, including in urban areas, and the Batista regime had crumbled.
After Fidel Castro’s new government nationalized U.S. holdings, hostilities broke out between Cuba and the U.S. When Castro’s forces defeated a major CIA invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, the excitement throughout Latin America grew intense. Someone had broken with the U.S. and was still standing!
The long-range survival of the new Cuban government posed even more difficult challenges: The U.S. launched an economic embargo, and then a military blockade in 1963. The CIA constantly sent teams of assassins and saboteurs to the island—trying to “destabilize” Cuba and regain their grip.
In response to such pressures, the Cuban government made a series of fateful decisions: They decided to forgo land reform. They maintained the country’s sugar plantations as the foundation of the economy. And, connected to that, they entered into a deepening alliance with the Soviet Union—which promised to buy Cuban sugar and provide the food, arms, manufactured goods and other necessities that Cuba was not producing for itself. Throughout Cuban history, the domination of the island had been tied to its sugar economy. And now, after the revolution of 1959, many things had changed about how the country was organized and run—but this central link of dependency remained unbroken. The anti-American revolution in Cuba had proven to be not consistently anti-imperialist.
Che’s Theory of Focoism
For several years after coming to power, the Cuban government encouraged people throughout Latin America to start their own armed struggles against pro-U.S. dictatorships. Several groups were given training in Cuba.
Che Guevara was closely associated with this call for continental guerrilla warfare. In a series of essays he argued that the Cuban experience could be duplicated throughout Latin America. This idea had a powerful influence within the new generation of fighters rising up in Latin America.
Che argued that small groups of determined armed fighters (called “focos”) could take to the mountains and use armed actions to rally other forces—triggering the crisis and collapse of hated governments.
At the time, many people saw this Guevarist theory of focoism as a fresh alternative to Latin America’s pro-Soviet Communist parties. These rotten parties closely followed the lead of the Soviet Union and were openly hostile to armed struggle against pro-U.S. governments. They were revisionists—phony “communists.”
Focoism had the added attraction of offering a hope of relatively easy victory. People were taught that revolution was fundamentally an act of will and daring—that they could become representatives of the people’s discontent without organizing new vanguard parties or carrying out the agrarian revolution in the countryside. And as for facing down the inevitable U.S. responses—people were taught that, like Cuba, their new movements would be able to turn to the Soviet Union for support and backing.
In the early 1960s, several attempts at armed focos were made—in Peru, Argentina, Venezuela and other countries. None of them succeeded.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was showing its hand in its dealings with Cuba. Soviet advisors were urging conservative methods in industry and throughout society. Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement was formally merged with the rotten cadre of the Popular Socialist Party (the old pro-Soviet party in Cuba which had even supported Batista in his rise to power). All kinds of pressure from Cuba’s new Soviet “ally” was pushing the country into a dependent role within the Soviet bloc.
Che Guevara was right in the middle of these developments. He made several criticisms of the Soviet Union—for not firmly backing national liberation struggles and for their trade policies with countries like Cuba. And he was reportedly working on a critique of other Soviet economic policies.
But these criticisms never fundamentally questioned the essential framework of the Cuban road. Guevara’s criticisms of the Soviet Union stayed as “quarrels within the family”—because Guevara deeply believed that the Soviets remained a socialist country and could be coaxed into playing a positive role in the world—through criticism, pressure, and the impact of successful revolutions.
Guevara also believed that his foco strategy could be made to work in Latin America by inserting a more experienced and authoritative leadership on the ground. His response to the problems of the “Cuban Road” was to go himself to Bolivia in November 1966—to personally develop a foco there in the heart of South America.
International Struggle Over the Revolutionary Road
At the same time Che Guevara was formulating his theories, intense struggle and debate was sweeping through the international communist movement.
In the early 1960s, Mao Tsetung made a startling and penetrating analysis of developments within the Soviet Union. A fundamental change of power had happened, Mao said, in 1956 when Nikita Khrushchev seized power in the Soviet Union. Capitalist-roaders within the Communist Party there had carried out a restoration of capitalism. The Soviet Union, which had been a socialist country for decades, was now a social-imperialist power (socialist in name, imperialist in essence).
Mao warned about the danger of driving the tiger out the front door while letting the wolf in the back. Relying on this new imperialist power, he said, was extremely dangerous for the masses of people. The new rulers of the Soviet Union represented a new bourgeoisie—fundamentally opposed to liberation.
Today, 30 years later, such issues may seem “a thing of the past” to a generation that lives in a world where the Soviet bloc has collapsed and the U.S. is top dog of the imperialist heap. But it is impossible to evaluate the historical experience of Che and the “Cuban Road” without understanding the nature of Soviet social-imperialism and the negative impact that alliances with the Soviet Union had on the national liberation struggles of Latin America and around the world.
The path to power advocated by Maoists was radically different from the one formulated by Che Guevara. The question was not whether or not to make revolution at the earliest possible time; it was whether such a revolution would proceed from a strategy that could develop and draw on mass popular support that took many concrete forms, and whether that revolutionary support would draw on and give further impetus to actual revolutionary transformation of the social relations as it was being fought, developing in a wave-like form from very basic expressions of this to a point where there was actually a revolutionary people that would contend for state power. This was linked to and flowed from the Maoist conception of new-democratic revolution in those countries—like Cuba and China, or what is often called the “third world”—where the bourgeois-democratic revolution had not yet been completed, and where it falls to the proletariat to lead the struggle around the social transformations associated with that revolution but where this must be done as part of getting to a socialist state: a dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Maoists argued that power won through shortcuts would not be able to resist the pressures of imperialism or lead to an all-the-way revolutionary society. For that, the masses needed to be mobilized and trained in the course of a protracted class struggle, led by the proletariat. In the Third World, Maoists argued the armed struggle needed to take the form of a protracted people’s war—that was waged by relying on the masses of people, surrounding the cities from the countryside and building up a new power within revolutionary base areas. Though this approach was based on the rich experience of the Chinese revolution, Mao warned revolutionaries around the world not to copy that experience but to creatively apply this strategic orientation to their own conditions.
In the beginning, Mao had hopes of possibly winning the Cuban leadership to a better path, and he personally met with Che during his 1960 trip to China. But Che Guevara remained convinced of his foco strategy and convinced that the Soviet Union should be embraced as a potential ally of the people’s movements.
Today, 30 years after the murder of Che, there have been many changes in the world. Major transformations have happened—including increased “shantytownization” in the Third World—and new leaps have taken place in the linkages of international production and the greenworld market. With these changes have come new questions of how people can liberate themselves from imperialism. But for several billion dispossessed, poor and uprooted people across the planet, imperialist development and technology is nothing but a nightmare. For them the future is either going to be desperation or revolution. And for those in the oppressed nations, the Maoist path of protracted people’s war remains an urgent and practical solution to the problems of today.
There are many today, among the youth in the U.S. and Latin America, who have been attracted to Che Guevara—because they see in him a symbol of self-sacrifice, armed struggle and internationalism in the fight against U.S. imperialism. For all those motivated by deep love for the people, it is extremely important to dig deep into the historical experiences, to seriously struggle to grasp the differences between different lines and roads. Today, this is a life-and-death issue. It has everything to do with whether we can turn our revolutionary dreams into reality.
Revolution #112, December 16, 2007
From A World to Win News Service
December 3, 2007. A World to Win News Service. What did the Annapolis conference on Israel and the Palestinians accomplish?
First, the U.S. publicly declared sole ownership of the issue. Until now, the Road Map—a plan for a powerless Palestinian “mini-state” under the shadow of the towering Israeli behemoth—has been associated with four “players”: the U.S., Europe, UN and Russia. The demise of the Quartet became clear a few days afterward, when the U.S. introduced—and then suddenly withdrew—a resolution in the UN Security Council endorsing the Annapolis conference and its agreements. This overnight reversal had nothing to do with the resolution’s content. Rather it reflected a shift for the U.S., which used to seek the cooperation of other powers and institutions in the pursuit of support for Israel. Now the U.S. wants to rule the Security Council, the UN and other countries—Russia in particular—out of the game.
Along with this, Bush officials considered that their most important victory was not the sketchy agreement signed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Rather it was the legitimacy conferred on this project and its entirely American sponsorship by the attendance of 44 countries.
There were two notable guests whose arrival was in doubt until the last minute. One was Syria. After a period of internal debate, the U.S. has apparently decided to work toward busting up the united front between this secular state and the U.S.’s main Islamic opponents in the region, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Lebanese Islamic party Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic organization Hamas. The other was Saudi Arabia, at least as fundamentalist as Iran, but whose fundamentalism is of the pro-U.S. variety because its king depends on U.S. backing. The high-level Saudi attendance was widely interpreted as a sign not only of giving in to U.S. demands, but of their own fears of a rivalry to their regional influence from Iran and its Islamic current.
In Bush’s speech, the brief conference’s only substantive moment, he warned, “The time is right because the battle is underway for the future of the Middle East… The extremists are trying to impose their dark vision.” In other words, the most compelling reason for holding the conference was the developing clash between the U.S. and its allies and client states, on the one hand, and on the other, anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism, including, most importantly right now, the Iranian regime, whose ideological, political and practical reach has grown with every new U.S. setback in the region, from Lebanon and Iraq to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Islamic fundamentalism is made up of disparate and often mutually antagonistic varieties, and the U.S. has often been the main supporter of reactionary Islamic forces for its own immediate interests. Yet anti-U.S. strands of this fundamentalism have put themselves at the head of opposition to American imperialism’s plans for the Greater Middle East and become the chief obstacle to the U.S.’s need to further penetrate and dominate these countries economically, socially and politically and create a more sustainable empire. After all, despite the benefits of CIA money during the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, what most bothered Saudi citizen Osama Bin Laden about his country, for religious as well as political reasons, was its subservience to the U.S.
But the Annapolis agreement was not without content, although it simply states: “In the furtherance of the goal of two states, we agree to…engage in vigorous, continuous negotiations and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008.” The point all the attendees had to endorse, at least by their very presence if not in words, was the defense and character of the Israeli state as the condition of the coming into existence of a Palestinian one. Bush emphasized the American commitment to Israel not just as one more country but as “a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people”—a state not for its inhabitants, like normal states, but for one and only one people, no matter where they live, and regardless of what other people live there (even if it were true, which it is not, that Jews everywhere constitute a single people). Once this principle is enshrined, and even more made the touchstone on which everything else depends, then what inevitably follows are measures to enforce that reactionary, arbitrary and inherently unstable character:
• No right to return for the almost 4.5 million Palestinians expelled with the establishment of that state and its subsequent wars of expansion, because that might make the Jews a minority. The distant—and religiously defined—descendents of Jews who left Palestine, for the most part, 1,500 years ago, are considered to enjoy a right to “return” to a place they’ve never been, while actual living Palestinians born there and their children are considered to have lost this right.
• Second class citizenship for the 1.5 million Palestinians remaining within that state’s borders, with legal restrictions, hardships and sometimes violence designed to make leaving their best option, and public debate in Zionist circles about the possible forcible “transfer” of Israel’s remaining Arabs to…the Palestinian mini-state? At any rate, in arguing for “two homelands,” Bush argued that the existence of Israel as “a Jewish homeland” requires a separate “homeland” for Palestinians…where Palestinians presently living in Israel and elsewhere should presumably return.
• Oppressive circumstances for other non-Jews and broad numbers of non-religious Jews, because to an increasing, and to many Israelis an alarming extent, Jewish fundamentalist religious leaders are expanding their authority over everyone’s daily existence (for instance, forbidding non-Jewish marriage, making divorce dependent on the husband’s consent and in other ways giving the force of law to religious restrictions).
• And, no less inevitably, ongoing Israeli military, economic and political control over the Palestinians beyond the self-proclaimed (but so far ever-expanding) borders of the state, in order to protect the Jewish state from those whose lives and future have been crushed.
The kind of Palestinian state the U.S. envisages could be seen in the fact that Washington has already decided who is going to be allowed to lead it, no matter what Palestinians think or vote. For years the U.S. backed Israel in refusing to even talk to Abbas’ predecessor as head of the PLO and Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. Now they’ve decided that Abbas, with the same credentials, should speak for all Palestinians. But they still treat him as their servant. He was not given a single commitment for positive motion on any of what his advisors said were the key issues: the right of return for exiled Palestinians (implicitly, the door was slammed shut), Israel’s borders (still unbound), water rights (Israel’s monopoly of water makes much of the land left to Palestinians useless) and the status of Jerusalem (most of which the Israelis have sworn never to surrender). After the conference, the Palestinian Authority president complained that the U.S. didn’t even bother to inform him about their change of heart at the Security Council, a slap in the face since Abbas had called the resolution “proof of the U.S.’s commitment” to getting Israel to make compromises. Nevertheless, at the conference itself he shuffled along with whatever he was told, because U.S. support is his main source of legitimacy and lifeblood.
While Annapolis did accomplish something for the U.S. and Israel, that success is very relative. It also underlined their weaknesses. The conference showed that Israel is the U.S.’s only reliable bastion in the Middle East; that the U.S. has no just solution to offer the Palestinians; and that its ability to get its way in the region depends on the shaky loyalty of isolated, highly antiquated and fragile regimes increasingly hated by their own people. Even American imperial strategists recognize that this situation is anything but stable, that the best they can hope for is to keep it together long enough to recast the whole region through threatening and perhaps waging further wars, especially confronting and totally reorganizing or breaking the Islamic Republic of Iran—in a gathering whirlwind whose consequences are unpredictable.
Revolution #112, December 16, 2007
From the Revolutionary Communist Party, Cleveland Branch
Debra Szemborski, 50, died in a horrible car accident on November 22, 2007. She was also known as “Karen” to many of her friends and comrades. But everyone who knew her was touched by her big heart for the people of the world. She was a distributor of Revolution newspaper and volunteered for many years at Revolution Books in Cleveland. She was very loved, and she will be sorely missed.
Mao Tsetung said, “To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai, but to work for the fascists and die for the exploiters and oppressors is lighter than a feather.” Karen was a communist, and her death is a great loss to the people. She faced great personal and physical problems, but she continued to fight for the cause of communism. Karen’s smile and her confidence that people could see the need and bring forward a better world were infectious. She approached and engaged with anyone, from any social class, of any nationality to get Revolution newspaper into their hands. Karen was persistent, and stubborn, and rebellious. Her deep love for the people of the world led her to the Revolutionary Communist Party and its Chairman, Bob Avakian. Karen dared to take responsibility for the future of humanity.
Karen died on Thanksgiving while driving to Milwaukee to visit two family members battling cancer. But she would want to be remembered in her “Wanted for Crimes Against Humanity” t-shirt, out among the people; whether at the West Side Market every Saturday or in Jena, LA, where she traveled on a bus for 20 hours each way to stand with the Jena 6.
A memorial to celebrate Karen’s life and commitment, and to share our grief in losing her, will be announced shortly.
Contributions may be made in her name to the Revolution newspaper’s expansion and fund drive by calling or stopping by Revolution Books, Cleveland: 216/932-2543.
Fight the Power, And Transform the People, For Revolution
Revolutionary Communist Party, Cleveland Branch
November 29, 2007