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Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
The New Normal?
TIME TO ACT!
On December 7, the New York Times reported that in 2005, the CIA had destroyed videotapes of two captives in its secret detention program who were being subjected to “severe interrogation techniques”—in other words, torture. The tapes were hundreds of hours long.
After the story first broke, it came out that the “techniques” used in the taped interrogations included “waterboarding”—where a prisoner is strapped down, feet elevated, with a piece of cloth or cellophane over their face. Water is then poured over the cloth or cellophane, making the victim feel that he or she is about to drown—and at times actually killing the victim.
The torture reportedly took place in 2002 at one of the CIA’s secret prisons—known as “black sites”—located around the world, including Afghanistan, Thailand, and Eastern European countries. The two detainees whose interrogation videos were destroyed are Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi alleged by the U.S. to be a “close associate” of Osama bin Laden, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi originally from Yemen who is accused of involvement in the 2000 bombing of the U.S. warship Cole in Yemen. Both are now among several hundred prisoners at the U.S. torture camp in Guantánamo.
The day before the New York Times story came out, CIA Director Michael Hayden issued a letter to CIA employees claiming that the reason the tapes were destroyed was that they no longer had “intelligence value” yet posed a “serious security risk,” because if they were leaked they would have exposed CIA agents “and their families to retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.”
The director of Human Rights Watch, Tom Malinowski, pointed out the bogus nature of Hayden’s claim about protecting the identity of CIA operatives: “Millions of documents in CIA archives, if leaked, would identify CIA officers. The only difference here is that these tapes portray potentially criminal activity. They must have understood that if people saw these tapes, they would consider them to show acts of torture.”
As the news of the CIA tapes broke, the system’s “spin” machine went into operation. There are the usual Senate and House “investigations” to supposedly get to the bottom of the matter. But meanwhile, the Bush regime continues to barrel ahead, not backing down any from its policies of torture and secret detentions.
Part of the “spin” has been the PR tour of network TV shows by John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent involved in the torture of Zubaydah. With his “boy next door” demeanor, he earnestly lied about how “friendly” and “polite” the process was—while revealing at the same time that the “enhanced techniques” used on the prisoner included waterboarding. Kiriakou depicts the interrogations as a series of “interesting” conversations, with a few moments of “enhanced” techniques used against the prisoner. He says that the waterboarding—which he claims he was not present at—lasted 35 seconds, enough to “break” the prisoner. But why did the CIA feel it necessary to destroy hundreds of hours of videotape—unless those tapes showed a lot more than a few seconds of torture? This media blitz was designed to put a “human face” on American torturers and to sell people on the notion that torture may be morally “uncomfortable”…but is necessary if it stops “terrorist” actions. It was an insidious effort to condition people into accepting torture.
Question: what kind of society tortures people for hundreds of hours…puts this torture on videotape for who-knows-what reason…destroys the tapes for fear of being found out.…then has a four-day scandal over it…and then “moves on” to focus on…the latest development in Britney Spears’ child custody case?!?
New Leaps in Fascistic Legitimating Norms
This chilling spectacle unfolding around the CIA torture tapes is a further big stride in the whole fascist direction in which society is being remade.
Over the last six years, the Bush regime has moved to legitimize the use of torture through executive fiat—with “legal opinions” and presidential orders that went around, rejected, or changed existing laws and court decisions. In January 2002 White House counsel Alberto Gonzales (later to become Attorney General) wrote that the “war on terrorism” had rendered the Geneva Conventions against torture of prisoners “obsolete.” The infamous “torture memo” by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo in the same year declared that interrogation isn’t torture unless it inflicts pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” This memo also declared that U.S. laws banning torture could not be constitutionally applied to the president.
In 2005, as Congress moved toward approving a bill (the Detainee Treatment Act) outlawing “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of prisoners, Bush’s Justice Department issued a secret legal opinion that none of the CIA interrogation methods (including waterboarding) was illegal. This secret memo remains in effect today.
In September 2006, after the existence of the secret CIA prisons came to light, Bush announced—with a bragging tone and body language—that yes, the U.S. had been holding people in secret. And he demanded that Congress now ratify his policies that allow torture. The following month Congress passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA), legitimizing and legalizing the global CIA program of torture. The MCA purported to ban certain forms of torture—while leaving others (like waterboarding) unmentioned and therefore un-banned. The MCA also rewrote existing laws to create a loophole for torture that had already been carried out, protecting U.S. officials and agents from war crimes prosecution. And it created a new system of military courts for U.S. captives who have been labeled “alien unlawful enemy combatants” on the say-so of the president. Under this system, the government, after torturing the prisoners, could drag them in front of a military commission for a kangaroo trial where they basically have no rights to legal defense.
In July of this year, Bush issued an executive order allowing the CIA to officially resume its secret torture program which had been temporarily suspended. The order claimed that the interrogations would comply with the Geneva Conventions’ ban on “humiliating and degrading treatment.” But the order didn’t spell out what specific “methods” are supposedly approved or banned. Bush was basically saying: Everything we’re doing now to detainees behind closed doors is legal—take our word for it.
Now, even as the CIA torture videotapes (and their cover-up) have come to light, Bush’s threat of a veto has sunk a Congressional bill banning waterboarding, which had been passed by the House and was in the Senate. And Bush’s Attorney General Mukasey rejected a House committee’s request that the Justice Department provide information about the shredding of the CIA tapes.
The Culpability of the Democratic Party
As the Bush regime has aggressively pushed and implemented the policy on torture, the Democrats in Congress knew what was happening and went along with it. In September 2002, the CIA gave four members of Congress—including Democrat Nancy Pelosi, now the House Speaker—a “virtual tour” of its secret prisons and described to them the use of waterboarding on detainees. And Democrat Jane Harman (who replaced Pelosi on the House Intelligence Committee) now says she wrote a letter to the CIA in 2003, warning them not to destroy the videotapes of the interrogations. So Harman knew about the tapes and probably about what they showed—but did not disclose this publicly until now, four years later.
When Mukasey refused to hand over information about the destruction of the CIA tapes to Congress, there were no outraged demands from Democrats that the Bush regime comply with the requests, let alone calls to impeach Bush for blatant “obstruction of justice.” Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy merely “expressed disappointment,” according to news reports.
What the Bush regime has done through all this is to lock into law and as accepted “norms” the illegal practices of his administration—permanently changing what had been certain “core” principles of American society. Some of these—like the right of the accused to see the evidence being used to convict them, and to defend themselves against that evidence—have been around since before the U.S. was even founded. The U.S. Constitution itself forbids “cruel and unusual punishment”—or torture. In reality, the U.S. rulers have often construed these rights very narrowly and have flagrantly violated them, including the ban on torture. U.S. troops invading the Philippines in 1898 used waterboarding against insurgents, as did the American troops during the Vietnam war. During the 1980s and ’90s, the Chicago police tortured “suspects” to make them “confess” to crimes they did not commit.
But it is something new and very dangerous when things like torture that were once formal violations of the law become legitimized by presidential decrees. Think about what it means that the executive branch has declared that what they decide and act on trumps whatever the Congress or the courts may do—that what they say is law. The core of the U.S. ruling class is going to new extremes—and has been moving to rip up the old norms of society and remake the legitimating norms of society in line with this.
Paralysis…and the Need and Potential for Resistance to Break Out of This
The actions of the Bush regime—the bloody war in Iraq based on lies, the tearing up of what had been considered basic rights, the blatant carrying out of torture, etc.—have given rise to a deep and broad undercurrent of anger among the people. But at the same time, there is fear and paralysis among the people, as the ground they thought they could stand on—the rights and principles they had assumed could be counted on—is getting pulled out from under them as the rulers move with accelerating speed to tear up the old norms and establish new, ever more repressive norms.
Bush’s all-but-open advocacy of torture is aimed at spreading terror of U.S. power around the world—but also to instill fear and politically immobilize the people here in the “homeland,” as the rulers pursue their war for unchallenged empire under the banner of the “war on terror.” People see, for example, what was done to Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was switching planes in New York in 2002 when U.S. agents grabbed him and “rendered” him to Syria, where he was held for 10 months in a tiny cell and regularly tortured. Such outrages send out a deliberate message: Anyone can suddenly get caught up in the frightening web spun by the U.S. of secret prisons, torture, “renditions,” and other fascistic repression.
Author Naomi Wolf recently wrote that, in traveling around the U.S., she has met many people who are very aware of and upset at the moves toward fascism in this country but are, at the same time, very scared. She recalled a 30-something mother of two in Boulder, Colorado, who “started to tear up” as she told Wolf, “I want to take action but I am so scared. I look at my kids and I am scared.… Is it safer for them if I act or stay quiet? I don’t want to get on a list.”
What makes things even more frightening for people like this is that there is no resistance from the Democrats to the whole Bush agenda. The essential reason for this is not that the Democrats are “spineless.” The Democrats have some differences with Bush about torture, the Iraq war, and other policies, and some concern about the breadth and speed of the fascistic moves of the current regime. But they have gone along with this whole trajectory—with at most a few “pious doubts and petty amendments”—because, like Bush and the Republicans, their fundamental point of departure is the interests of the U.S. capitalist-imperialists ruling class, and they basically agree on the need for the “war on terror.” This whole so-called “war on terror” is in reality a war for empire; all these politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, firmly agree that the U.S. should be top dog, free to trample over anyone and anything that gets in their way.
And the Democrats fear that if they actually mobilized those whom they consider their social base against Bush, there could be a tremendous groundswell of serious resistance that could get way out of their control. The prospect of millions of people actually taking serious political action against this whole horrible direction of society is anathema to the Democratic politicians. They fear that prospect far more than any of Bush’s crimes. And that shows once again the fundamentally ruling class nature of these politicians and why, to quote the Call from The World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime!, “there is not going to be some savior from the Democratic Party.”
More needs to be learned about why the revelations of the CIA torture tapes have come out now, two years after they were actually destroyed, and how this might relate to infighting and contradictions at the top of the ruling class. But one thing is clear: the story about the tapes and the waterboarding was not pushed into the light of day by anyone within the power structure wanting to “do the right thing” and bring these atrocities to a halt.
If torture and other crimes of the Bush regime are going to be stopped, it will take mass political resistance from below. It is going to take you, and many others, acting with conviction and determination. And yes, this is going to require moral courage, and it is going to require risks and sacrifice. There is great and urgent necessity for such resistance, before it becomes too late—before the fascistic legitimating norms become even more firmly locked into place.
But along with that necessity is the potential for the resistance to snowball, if significant numbers of people step out now. The fascistic remaking of the legitimating norms that contributes to people’s political paralysis also contains within it the potential for people to act against these radically reactionary changes. And that, in turn, can also throw into the air big questions about those norms themselves. This is contradictory—leading people at times back into illusions of “the real America” on the one hand, but at the same time calling into question fundamental things about this system, about its history and its role in the world, and opening up doors for people to consider radical and revolutionary solutions. In this situation, protest that breaks out of the deadly confines of official politics can have a huge societal effect and act as a clarion call for even broader numbers to act—which could intensify cracks and fissures at the top of the power structure, in turn creating further openings for greater mass resistance from below.
As World Can’t Wait (worldcantwait.org) says in its call to “Declare It Now: Wear Orange!”: “If ever there was a time to step outside the boundaries of what ‘common wisdom’ accepts as possible, this is it. We need—the whole world needs—a movement of massive and powerful RESISTANCE, a movement that begins to wrench the future of humanity out of the blood-drenched hands of the likes of Bush and Cheney and puts it in the hands of the people.”
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
Six years ago, on January 11, 2002, the U.S. opened its torture camp at Guantánamo. Amnesty International, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, World Can’t Wait, and others are calling for an International Day of Action to Shut Down Guantánamo for Friday, January 11, 2008. There will be a protest at the White House followed by a “Guantánamo Prisoner Procession” to the Supreme Court. Solidarity protests are being called for cities around the U.S. and internationally. The ACLU is distributing orange armbands for the day saying “close down Guantánamo.” The call for the Day of Action says: “Wherever you are on January 11, we encourage you to wear orange to raise public awareness and strengthen the movement to demand an end to torture and indefinite detention.” Info about the Day of Action is online at WitnessTorture.org.
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY
PART 2: EVERYTHING WE’RE DOING IS ABOUT REVOLUTION
Editors’ Note: The following is the first in Part 2 of a series of excerpts from a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, earlier this year (2007). This has been edited for publication and footnotes have been added. These excerpts are being published in two parts. Part 1 is available in its entirety, as one document, online at revcom.us, and has been serialized in (the print version of) Revolution (see issues #105, Oct. 21; #106, Oct. 28; #107, Nov. 4; #108, Nov. 11; #109, Nov. 18; #110, Nov. 25; #111, Dec. 9; and #112, Dec. 16, 2007). Part 2 is also available, as one document, at revcom.us.
“Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism”
Hastening while awaiting—not bowing down to necessity
Next I want to talk about “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism” and its role in building a revolutionary and communist movement. I want to begin by reviewing some important points relating to the whole orientation and strategic approach of “hastening while awaiting” the development of a revolutionary situation in a country like the U.S.
I spoke earlier about the outlook and approach of revisionist “determinist realism”1 which, among other things, involves a passive approach to objective reality (or necessity), which sees the objective factor as purely objective—and purely “external,” if you will—and doesn’t grasp the living dialectical relation between the objective and subjective factors and the ability of the latter (the subjective factor—the conscious actions of people) to react back on and to transform the former (the objective factor—the objective conditions). In other words, this “determinist realism” doesn’t grasp the essential orientation, and possibility, of transforming necessity into freedom. It doesn’t really, or fully, grasp the contradictoriness of all of reality, including the necessity that one is confronted with at any given time. So, one of the essential features of “determinist realism” is that it dismisses as “voluntarism” any dialectical grasp of the relation between the subjective and objective factors, and sees things in very linear, undifferentiated ways, as essentially uniform and without contradiction, rather than in a living and dynamic and moving and changing way.
Of course, it is necessary not to fall into voluntarism. There are many different ways in which such voluntarism can be expressed, leading to various kinds of (usually “ultra-left”) errors and deviations, if you will—including in the form of giving in to infantilist or adventurist impulses—all of which is also extremely harmful. But—particularly in a protracted or prolonged situation in which the objective conditions for revolution (that is, for the all-out struggle to seize power) have not yet emerged—by far the much greater danger, and one that is reinforced by this objective situation, is this kind of determinist realism which doesn’t grasp correctly the dialectical relation between the objective and subjective factors, and sees them in static, undialectical, and unchanging terms.
It is true that we cannot, by our mere will, or even merely by our actions themselves, transform the objective conditions in a qualitative sense—into a revolutionary situation. This cannot be done merely by our operating on, or reacting back on, the objective conditions through our conscious initiative. On the other hand, once again a phrase from Lenin has important application here. With regard to the labor aristocracy—the sections of the working class in imperialist countries which are, to no small extent, bribed from the spoils of imperialist exploitation and plunder throughout the world, and particularly in the colonies—Lenin made the point that nobody can say with certainty where these more “bourgeoisified” sections of the working class are going to line up in the event of the revolution—which parts of them are going to be with the revolution when the ultimate showdown comes, and which are going to go with the counter-revolution—nobody can say exactly how that is going to fall out, Lenin insisted. And applying this same principle, we can say that nobody can say exactly what the conscious initiative of the revolutionaries might be capable of producing, in reacting upon the objective situation at any given time—in part because nobody can predict all the other things that all the different forces in the world will be doing. Nobody’s understanding can encompass all that at a given time. We can identify trends and patterns, but there is the role of accident as well as the role of causality. And there is the fact that, although changes in what’s objective for us won’t come entirely, or perhaps not even mainly, through our “working on” the objective conditions (in some direct, one-to-one sense), nevertheless our “working on” them can bring about certain changes within a given framework of objective conditions and—in conjunction with and as part of a “mix,” together with many other elements, including other forces acting on the objective situation from their own viewpoints—this can, under certain circumstances, be part of the coming together of factors which does result in a qualitative change. And, again, it is important to emphasize that nobody can know exactly how all that will work out.
Revolution is not made by “formulas,” or by acting in accordance with stereotypical notions and preconceptions—it is a much more living, rich, and complex process than that. But it is an essential characteristic of revisionism (phony communism which has replaced a revolutionary orientation with a gradualist, and ultimately reformist one) to decide and declare that until some deus ex machina—some god-like EXTERNAL FACTOR—intervenes, there can be no essential change in the objective conditions and the most we can do, at any point, is to accept the given framework and work within it, rather than (as we have very correctly formulated it) constantly straining against the limits of the objective framework and seeking to transform the objective conditions to the maximum degree possible at any given time, always being tense to the possibility of different things coming together which bring about (or make possible the bringing about of) an actual qualitative rupture and leap in the objective situation.
So that is a point of basic orientation in terms of applying materialism, and dialectics, in hastening while awaiting the emergence of a revolutionary situation. It’s not just that, in some abstract moral sense, it’s better to hasten than just await—though, of course, it is—but this has to do with a dynamic understanding of the motion and development of material reality and the interpenetration of different contradictions, and the truth that, as Lenin emphasized, all boundaries in nature and society, while real, are conditional and relative, not absolute. (Mao also emphasized this same basic principle in pointing out that, since the range of things is vast and things are interconnected, what’s universal in one context is particular in another.) The application of this principle to what is being discussed here underlines that it is only relatively, and not absolutely, that the objective conditions are “objective” for us—they are, but not in absolute terms. And, along with this, what is external to a given situation can become internal, as a result of the motion—and changes that are brought about through the motion—of contradictions. So, if you are looking at things only in a linear way, then you only see the possibilities that are straight ahead—you have a kind of blinders on. On the other hand, if you have a correct, dialectical materialist approach, you recognize that many things can happen that are unanticipated, and you have to be constantly tense to that possibility while consistently working to transform necessity into freedom. So, again, that is a basic point of orientation.
The Pivotal Revolutionary Role of the Communist Newspaper
In that framework, I want to speak to the questions: how do we hasten, or what are some of the key elements of hastening while awaiting; and how does “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism” apply to that? First of all, what do we mean by “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism”—what are we referring to in speaking of “What Is To Be Done-ism,” and what do we mean when we speak of this being “enriched”? “What Is To Be Done-ism” refers to the fundamental orientation set forth by Lenin, in his famous work by that name (What Is To Be Done?), where he emphasized that the essential role of a communist is to be, not a “trade union secretary” (in other words, not a leader of struggles for reforms and improvements in the situation of the working class within the confines of the capitalist system) but a “tribune of the people”: someone who shines a penetrating light on the outrages and abuses perpetrated by the capitalist system, the ways in which all this affects different strata among the people, and how different strata respond to major events in society and the world; who brings to light, in compelling ways, the underlying causes and relations at the root of all these outrages and injustices—pointing through all this to the need for revolution and the establishment of a new, socialist and ultimately communist society, and the decisive role of the exploited class in the present (capitalist) society, the proletariat, in bringing about such a revolutionary transformation, as part of the overall world proletarian revolution. In this connection, the following from a different work by Lenin provides another profoundly important but—in today’s world especially—little known about or understood insight of scientific communist theory:
“People always were and always will be the foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realize that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes.” (Lenin, “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism,” in Marx, Engels, Marxism, Peking: Foreign Languages Press, p. 73, emphasis in original—cited in Bob Avakian, Phony Communism is Dead…Long Live Real Communism, second edition, Chicago: RCP Publications, 2004, p. 122)
And, of course, a central and pivotal point in Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? is his analysis of why and how communist consciousness—which involves a scientific outlook and approach—cannot be developed “spontaneously” but must be brought to the proletariat and masses of people from outside the realm of their own more direct and immediate experience; and that, for this as well as other reasons, the communist revolution must have the leadership of an organized vanguard party, which is made up of people, drawn from all sections of society, who have taken up the communist viewpoint.
In speaking of an “enrichment” of “What Is To Be Done-ism” we are referring to what more has been learned since the time of Lenin—including in terms of the dialectical relation between consciousness and the transformation of material reality, or between the subjective and objective factors—and an even more heightened emphasis not only on enabling increasing numbers of the masses to engage with what’s going on in all the different spheres of society and how that relates to the fundamental nature of society and the fundamental question of transforming society and the world, but also an emphasis on breaking down, to the maximum degree possible at any given time, the barriers to their engaging in the sphere of “working with ideas” and the struggle and contention in the realm of ideas (in the spheres of art and culture, science and philosophy, and so on) as well as putting before these masses the problems of the revolution—drawing them, as much and as fully as possible, at every point, into grappling with crucial questions relating to the need for communist revolution and the means for making that revolution. The point of all this is not simply to create a situation in which growing numbers of the masses will “feel involved” in the revolutionary process, but to actually help find the solutions to these problems and to enable the Party, as well as the masses, to learn in this way.
Very much at the heart of “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism”—and at the heart of Lenin’s original discussion of “What Is To Be Done?”—is the role of the communist newspaper, as a “collective propagandist” and “collective organizer” of the revolutionary movement. Many people ask: “How can you make a revolution, how can you build a revolutionary movement, with a newspaper as your main weapon?” Often the implication of questions of this kind is that proceeding in this way, with a newspaper as your main weapon in building the revolutionary movement, is inevitably going to lead you into reinforcing notions of “patient education” or some kind of “each one teach one” approach, through which, supposedly, everybody will somehow learn what they need to know and then everybody will be prepared to move in a revolutionary way at some point in the far off, indefinite future. But, of course, that will not happen, and that cannot lead to a revolution. Life—and in particular human society and its transformation—is much too dynamic and contradictory for an approach like that to ever succeed in leading to revolution (if, indeed, the goal of revolution could even be maintained by proceeding with such an approach).
But there is an essential reality and truth to Lenin’s point when he insisted that the wielding of a newspaper is the better part of preparation—ideologically, politically, and organizationally—for the eventual struggle for the seizure of power. How is the wielding of a newspaper the better part of such preparation? This has to do with the role of consciousness and the relationship between consciousness and people taking initiative in struggle. Lenin’s point in What Is To Be Done? is not that communists don’t need to organize the masses in various forms of struggle to resist the abuses and outrages of the system; and not that we should never issue “calls to action” to enable the masses to wage such political struggle and resistance. But, Lenin rightly insisted, the most important thing we need to do is bring to light and bring alive for people who are oppressed and exploited, and who are dissatisfied in various ways with this system—to bring to light and bring alive for them the actual nature of this system, and how the things which are weighing down on them, or which outrage them, interrelate to each other, and how they are all rooted in the very nature and functioning of the capitalist-imperialist system; how to understand correctly, scientifically, not only what is exposed in this way but also how all the different class forces in society (and the world as a whole) figure into this larger picture of the functioning of the system, and (without falling into mechanical materialism) how, and why, different classes and strata tend to respond to different events in society and the world.
And, as Lenin put it, if this is really done in a powerful way, in a way which—metaphorically speaking—draws blood, sharply penetrates beneath the surface of things and gets to the core and essence of things, this will fill people with (in Lenin’s phrase) “an irresistible urge to act” politically. It will call this forth far more powerfully than all the direct calls to action that we might make—as important as that is on many occasions—and in a greater way than our directly organizing masses of people to carry out various forms of political struggle and resistance, as important as that is as well. And an important extension of Lenin’s basic point is that what people see as tolerable, or intolerable, is dialectically related to what they see is possible or necessary (or, on the other hand, what they come to see as un-necessary—or no longer necessary—no longer something they just have to put up with and endure).
Fairly frequently, in talks and writings, I have referred to masses of people suffering unnecessarily. What this is speaking to is that, when people come to see that what they are going through—what, in reality, this system is putting them through—is not “ordained by god,” or is not “just the way things are” or the result of the workings of some impenetrable power—societal or supernatural—but instead stems from the very workings of a system and, moreover, that things could be radically different once this system is swept aside, then the recognition of the possibility of acting to change things—and the impulse to act in this way—becomes much more powerful. One of the biggest things weighing on the masses is their belief that no radical change is possible because the forces they are up against are too powerful. But also weighing very heavily on them—and closely interconnected with the sense that real and radical change is not possible—is the notion there is no real alternative to the way things are, so the most you can do is try to get the best you can within this situation, or just suffer silently through it and seek the refuge and solace of religion or something else which represents, objectively, an illusory “escape.” But the more the actual nature and workings of this system are laid bare and brought to light in many different ways—graphically and compellingly—and the more that people grasp that this is not the way things have to be, but only the way things are because of the workings of a system—a system which is full of contradiction—the more they can feel, and will feel, impelled to act. Lacking that, even our best efforts at mobilizing them to act are going to eventually run into their limitations and be sidetracked or turned around into their opposite, into something which actually reinforces the present system and the sense that nothing can be done to radically change things.
Addressing all this, through applying the basic orientation and approach that Lenin argues for in What Is To Be Done?—and as this is further “enriched,” in the ways I have referred to here—is the role of the communist newspaper in building the revolutionary movement. Our Party’s newspaper, Revolution, has to continue to sharpen its ability to play this role, at the same time as comrades in the Party—and growing numbers of people who, at any given time, are not yet in the Party but are, in a basic sense, partisan to or supportive of the Party’s aims and actions—have to wield the newspaper with this kind of orientation. This must be done with a continually deepening understanding that it is actually preparing the ground—and in an overall sense is the single most important part of preparing the ground—politically, ideologically, and organizationally, for the future struggle for power, when there is a major, qualitative change in the objective situation and the emergence of a revolutionary people, in the millions and millions, owing to the unfolding of the contradictions of the system itself and—in dialectical relation with that—the work of the conscious revolutionary forces, with the Party at the core. This is (to invoke again Lenin’s phrasing) “the better part of preparation”—even though it is, in a sense, indirect preparation—for the future struggle for power. It is not activity in the sphere of military struggle, obviously. But it is the better part of preparation for when the objective situation does undergo a qualitative change, in the way and on the basis spoken to here. Wielding the newspaper in this way is, in the conditions that obtain in countries like the U.S., the most important means of hastening while awaiting.
This relates back to—and establishes an overall framework for—the role of the newspaper as a “collective propagandist and collective organizer” for the Party as well as for a broader revolutionary movement, and for the growing core within that movement which is partisan to the Party and its strategic objectives. The newspaper provides a concentrated means of “laying down a guideline” to enable people to move in unison around major political questions and events in society and the world—not in the sense of people being “automatons,” all marching together in a mindless way, but in the sense of their understanding more consciously how to respond to world events—to respond in a way that represents meaningful activity toward an objective which they can more and more clearly identify as a radical alternative which is, in fact, possible, as well as desirable, and which has to be, and can be, brought into being through their conscious initiative and struggle.
Combating “the spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie”
The newspaper also plays a key role in what Lenin described as diverting masses and movements of mass opposition from their spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie. I have to say that my sense of what Lenin meant by this used to be more that there was a spontaneous tendency in these struggles, and among the masses involved in them, to come under the wing of one or another section of the bourgeoisie (as personified not only by direct and literal representatives of the ruling class, but often by people whose positions and outlooks ultimately represent the interests of the ruling class, even if the particular individuals are not themselves members of that ruling class). But, in going back to What Is To Be Done? more recently, it struck me that Lenin actually refers to the striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie. (His precise formulation, speaking specifically of movements of the working class, is “this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie.”)
We see this all the time, among various strata of the people. For example, recently someone told me that they came across a car with two bumper stickers: one of them said “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”; and the other one was supporting Obama for president. I thought if I were to come upon this I would barely be able to resist the temptation to stick a piece of paper on this car with the message: “If you’re supporting Obama, you’re still not paying attention.” [Laughter] Here is another example of “striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie”: the owner of this car is, through the one bumper sticker, putting forward a very good sentiment: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” But, on the other hand, where, spontaneously, does this person want to go with that? Into the camp—under the wing—of the bourgeoisie, in the person of Obama, with some stupid quote of his about how “there’s not a liberal America, there’s not a conservative America, there’s just the United States of America.” How profound, and how liberating.
And along with—or as part of—this “striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie,” there is the repeated phenomenon of people who insist that they can’t stand the cult of the personality nevertheless continually reinventing “saviors” from among the representatives of the ruling class. “Al Gore—please run for president.” This is based on a certain “oppositional” posture that Gore is assuming, not only around the environment and global climate change but, to a certain degree at least, around things like the war in Iraq. But this reflects a lack of understanding that (as I pointed out previously, in the context of the 2004 elections2) the reason that Al Gore is saying and doing these things, as limited as they are—and as much as they remain within the dominant, ruling class political framework—is because Al Gore is not running, at least not right now—and if he were running he would increasingly be saying different kinds of things—as he did in 2000—in order to demonstrate to those who actually shape and control the decision-making process that he is capable of directing the ship of state of U.S. imperialism, through the very dangerous waters into which it has gotten itself.
These examples—and many others that could be cited—demonstrate the tremendous struggle that must be waged in order to enable people to break out of this orientation of “striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie,” to enable them to rupture, in their thinking and orientation, beyond the narrow confines of how the ruling class shapes and dominates political life, along with every other aspect of society; to grasp what has been repeatedly shown in reality—that meaningful political change (even short of revolution, let alone the radical transformation of society that is possible only through revolution) can come about solely through taking political action that is independent of and, in an essential way, in opposition to that whole dominant framework.
When you look at the various mass movements that have occured, even just in recent years—whether it’s the massive outpouring of immigrants, or the anti-war movements that have developed, or other manifestations of political opposition and resistance—it is clear that there is, time and again, not just a “pull” but a striving to find a section of the bourgeoisie under whose wing they can seek support and protection—and, as many see it, can become “effective” in doing so (while the question of “effective” at what and on what terms, toward which ends, is begged). This is a continually recurring phenomenon. To paraphrase an observation by Lenin in another context (in which he was speaking about the regeneration of the bourgeoisie, out of small production and trade, under socialism), this “striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie” is regenerated daily, hourly, continuously, spontaneously and on a mass scale: “I know, I know, they’re not any good, they’re all bad,” many people will say, speaking of bourgeois politicians; but then they turn around and insist that it is nonetheless necessary to get behind one or another of them, in order to “do something realistic.” Well, my answer to that is: Yes, let’s do something realistic—but let’s not do something bad. And coming under the wing of a section of the bourgeoisie, and the Democrats in particular, is something very bad indeed—it will lead, and can only lead, to political paralysis, and worse, in the face of very real, and continually mounting and intensifying, crimes carried out by the system, and the ruling class, of which these Democrats, no less than the Republicans, are representatives. As I have pointed out before: If you try to get the Democrats to be what they are not, and never will be, you will end up becoming more like what the Democrats actually are.
Waging a determined struggle against this “spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie” is a crucial part of our all-around work, and the newspaper has a particular and a concentrated role in the struggle to divert masses and movements of mass opposition from this path and onto a path of truly meaningful political activity.
This series will continue in the next issue of Revolution.
1. The subject of “determinist realism” is spoken to in part 1: “Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right”—available at revcom.us—and, in the serialization of part 1, is found in “Marxism as a Science—In Opposition to Mechanical Materialism, Idealism and Religiosity,” in Revolution #109, Nov. 18, 2007.[back]
2. This refers to a talk by Bob Avakian in 2004, Elections, Democracy and Dictatorship, Resistance and Revolution, available at bobavakian.net.[back]
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
Six Weeks Left in $500,000 Fund Drive
At the beginning of August, tens of thousands of a special fund drive broadsheet went out across the country: Truth…in Preparation for Revolution! That broadsheet announced a six month, $500,000 expansion and fundraising drive for Revolution newspaper.
The broadsheet begins:
At a moment when much of humanity finds itself in a living hell, when the horror of the U.S. occupation of Iraq threatens to escalate into a war against Iran, and when the future of the planet itself is threatened, Revolution newspaper must be out there much more boldly and much more broadly—exposing what is going on, revealing why, and pointing to a revolutionary solution in the interests of the vast majority of humanity.
With six weeks to go in this fund drive we confront this situation: Important new things have been accomplished and learned. If we build on them, then our goal of $500,000 is a hell of a stretch, but possible! Yes, there has been a “learning curve” among those taking up this fund drive. But the main thing we’ve learned is that making this fund drive a success requires taking out the politics of the fund drive broadsheet with boldness, struggle, hard work, creativity, and systematic and serious follow-up with people who are interested in this fund drive. And we’ve learned that we need to break with timidity, fear of “alienating” people, “playing it safe” (and guaranteeing failure) in the form of only approaching the “usual suspects,” and acting as if the stakes of this are not great.
This fund drive, along with other transformations in this paper, is necessary for Revolution newspaper to rise to really playing the role of what Lenin identified as the role of a newspaper like this: The better part of preparation—ideologically, politically, and organizationally—for revolution. Those are the stakes.
As of December 10, $253,315 has been raised in donations and pledges—just over half of our goal. In addition to donations to Revolution newspaper, this includes contributions to discrete projects that contribute to this newspaper’s reach and quality: The Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund which subsidizes subscriptions to Revolution for prisoners, and The Global Center/Woodward Jena Project which funds reporting that Revolution correspondents are doing from Jena, Louisiana on the case of the Jena 6.
Important things have been accomplished and learned in this fund drive that lay the basis for taking it to a whole other level. Individuals and “$100 Teams” have committed to raise money and gone out to the people to do that—spreading the reach of Revolution in the process. People with resources and influence have hosted fundraising events that have both raised money and turned on new people in the middle class to Revolution—in some cases agreeing to match funds raised by crews of proletarians for this fund drive. Gatherings to organize and strategize for this fund drive have brought together unique mixes of artists, intellectuals, high school students who have been going up against the war, proletarians of all nationalities, activists, college students, and others. Coming from different perspectives, they have all been engaging with each other over the importance of raising $500,000 for a newspaper that is the core of a revolutionary movement, and then in many cases going out and doing that.
The advances in this fund drive have been made by tapping in to profound discontent and outrage at the direction of things in this society, and connecting that with the revolutionary communist project. At the same time, to be blunt, too often this profound discontent, and the potential to connect that with this project, has not been correctly recognized and seized on in the form of not following up in a serious way with people who come forward. But if these relationships are developed and deepened, and if we build on these relationships to unleash new waves of outreach, this fund drive can kick into another level in the remaining six weeks.
When people seriously engage and struggle over this fund drive, heart-to-heart conversations over why donate to this cause have been an opportunity to dig into the special fundraising broadsheet—“TRUTH… in Preparation for REVOLUTION!”—and get deeply into what’s wrong with the world, what needs to change; and how this newspaper must be at the center of a growing revolutionary movement if any of the fundamental problems facing humanity are to be addressed in any really meaningful way.
Struggling with people to donate to Revolution compels revolutionaries to engage around the most important historic questions of the future of humanity. And this is a very good thing on all kinds of levels! Communism has been maligned and distorted by the powers-that-be, and their verdict is “accepted wisdom” these days. But a society based on the needs of humanity, not the drive of capital for profit and all the horrors that come with that, is in the interests of the vast majority of people, and ultimately of humanity as a whole. Every opportunity that presents itself to dig into this with people and unleash a movement for revolution and communism must be seized, not shied away from.
At the heart of opening up and plunging into the controversy over communism is the work of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party. The series “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” currently running in Revolution and available in its entirety online at revcom.us is an eye-opening, inspiring exposition of the most developed understanding on what communism is, and how to get there.
Of course the spectrum of people who support this fund drive, and Revolution newspaper, ranges far and wide—and includes many people who do not agree with communist revolution. They can and do develop their own perspectives in the course of bouncing off of what they get from Revolution. The fundraising broadsheet has important examples of the breadth of such support in the section, “What People Are Saying About Revolution Newspaper.”
A question has come up, both in organized fundraising events and in candid conversations, about the risks involved in supporting a revolutionary communist newspaper in the era of Guantánamo and “watch lists.” To be clear, donating to this newspaper is legal. On the other hand, this system is vicious towards dissent, and has a long history of trying to censor, shut down, and crush revolutionary politics. Because of the nature of this system, supporting this fund drive involves an element of risk and sacrifice. That risk and sacrifice are very much worthwhile. And this movement has to work to support people if they do come up against unjust repression for this.
Following Up…and Fighting Through
To succeed with this fund drive, the thousands of people who responded positively to it need to be followed up with. Fund drive broadsheets need to be gotten out widely and discussed. Pledges need to be collected. And new waves of people need to be drawn into the process and unleashed. All this will be a further opportunity to forge a still deeper relationship between the paper and the broader numbers of people who read and support it.
Selling subscriptions is a very important part of this process. The networks of regular readers of Revolution is uniquely equipped to respond to events, and is strategic to building a revolutionary movement. This is an element of Lenin’s point that a newspaper like this is the better part of preparation for revolution. And as part of this, subscribers are the most reliable base for fundraising.
If we build on what has been learned and accomplished, and find ways to both deepen the commitment of those who are already plugged in, and unleash everyone possible to continue to expand our outreach, we can fulfill our goal, and take a critical step in expanding the quality and reach of this paper. Making this happen, fighting through on it, has been and will be a matter of struggle. It must be fought through in practice.
The following projects are not part of Revolution newspaper/RCP Publications, but their missions contribute to expanding the distribution of, and improving the quality of Revolution.
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
December 11, 2007 a special fundraiser for Revolution newspaper was held in New York titled, “JENA, Louisiana Goddamn, a conversation with Revolution reporters fresh from Jena.”
The event was held at Rush Arts Gallery, located in Chelsea, the heart of the art world in New York City. It is a small non-profit space, considered by some to be one of the cutting edge galleries in the city. Its audience includes an important cross section of the arts—young and old, mostly Black but still very multinational and quite hip.
About 35 people gathered to hear Revolution reporters Alice Woodward, Hank Brown, and Li Onesto discuss their experience in Jena, developments in and the significance of the Jena 6 case, the importance of revolutionary journalism and Revolution’s $500,000 fund drive. The audience for the evening was a hot mix and in some ways reflected the unique array of people that read Revolution. It included nationally known artists, independent filmmakers, stand-up comics, a fundraiser and strategic planner for a national arts foundation, art historians and proletarians from the Harlem Revolution Club.
The evening was organized by Dread Scott and grew out of a conversation he had with Danny Simmons. Simmons is a painter, writer, philanthropist, activist, and founder of two galleries in New York, including Rush. He knows his scenes attract an interesting combination of artists and intellectuals, many who are very concerned about the many important questions confronting humanity. He wanted this scene to connect with and contribute to Revolution.
A statement from Simmons welcoming people said in part: “Rush Arts has been since its inception a center for those whose voice and vision is different from those in power, whether it’s art or politics. Our mission has been to empower artists and the public to bring to the forefront issues of social justice, inclusion, and social change. It’s long past due that the arts community raised its voice to bring about necessary change in all areas of society. It is no longer sufficient that we remain the silent creative community when our collective voices can stand for so much more… Please take what’s going to be said here today seriously. And then begin to commit yourself as an agent of social change.”
People listened intently as Hank and Alice talked about their experiences in Jena -- from having people show them recent photos on their cell phone of nooses to hearing Black residents talk about how a Black man was stomped to death for bumping into a white woman. They talked of segregation in a small town and how the federal government is backing up the local racists in their efforts to punish the Jena 6 for standing up to “a southern way of life” which means white supremacy, segregation and KKK-type terror.
Li Onesto talked about the role of Revolution newspaper in bringing “truth in preparation for revolution” to the people—and how this newspaper connects people, engaging its broad and diverse audience in an ongoing conversation about how to understand and change the world.
During the Q&A, the audience asked many questions, wanting to know more about what it is like in Jena and expressing shock at the blatant conditions of white supremacy and segregation. A woman from the Harlem Revolution Club talked about her experience going to Jena for the September 20 protest. She recounted how she had been shocked at the impoverished conditions of Black people in Jena and told how she had come upon a tree with “No Trespassing” carved into it along with a racist caricature of a Black person.
After the presentation, people stayed around for wine, cheese and conversation. The mix of people from different strata was electric, giving impetus to the artists to think more deeply about the situation, to contribute to the drive, and become more involved. The Harlem Revolution Club felt empowered and left determined to bust a move for the program the next night at Sista’s Uptown.
The inspiration and challenge of the evening had people digging into questions of why didn’t white people step forward in greater numbers and how can we change that situation, people wrestled with questions of revolution and communism. Some made donations on the spot, others agreed to meet soon, including making plans for fund raising parties.
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
Revolution received the following correspondence from the Harlem Revolution Club:
On Wednesday, December 12 nearly 40 people gathered at Sister's Uptown Bookstore in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan to hear Revolution newspaper journalists Alice Woodward and Hank Brown, who have reported on the Jena 6 case from Jena, Louisiana since July of this year. Sister’s hosted the event and the Harlem Revolution Club organized it as a fundraiser for the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund. Our goal is to raise $3,750 to sponsor 150 subsidized subscriptions for prisoners requesting Revolution newspaper.
The program began with members of the Harlem Revolution Club reading a powerful collection of excerpts from the pages of Revolution. The voices from Revolution included an interview with Black youth in Jena with their mix of innocence, defiance, excitement, worry, and hope; a Folsom, California prisoner whose single weekly copy of Revolution flows under cell doors and into many open hands stirring debate, spreading the science of revolution, and strengthening resolve; and the 50-year-old prisoner who says Revolution and the writings of Bob Avakian are for him “like a cold drink of water in the middle of the desert.” As the emcee for the evening pointed out, no publication brings to center stage the voices of these people this system has demonized, criminalized, and written off the way the pages of Revolution does.
Alice Woodward started by noting that the youth in Jena would be thrilled to know that people in New York were reading and listening to their words.
As Alice and Hank described the daily degradation forced on the Black people in Jena, a place where Blacks can’t even go to the town barbershop, the audience was filled with indignation and some were nearly moved to tears. We were reminded of the detailed history of the Jena 6 case. Hearing it provoked outrage no matter how many times it had been heard before. People shook their heads in anger as the reporters discussed Mychal Bell’s recent “forced admission” and the capitalist “just us” nature of the courts and how this system has dealt with the Jena 6 in particular and Black youth more generally. The fact that nooses are not a prank, that white supremacy is not an aberration, was driven home in example after example. The two reporters ended their presentation by talking passionately about the role and importance of Revolution newspaper.
When we opened things up for comments and questions, many in the audience were on the edge of their seats barely able to contain themselves. The stories from Jena and the discussion of this white supremacist imperialist system had stirred something deep in people and set loose a wave of speaking bitterness. First to speak was a 79-year-old Black man who was 18 years old and in the U.S. military in 1949. He was isolated and punished for challenging a white officer who used “n*gg*r” to refer to Black people. He compared his experience then to what is being done to the Jena 6 now. “Racism is alive and well in this country,” he declared, “and all this time since 1949 and these young people still have to deal with this.” He donated $25 to the PRLF.
A woman from East Harlem who had gone to Jena on the Harlem bus continued the comparisons by talking about how the police “up south” in places like East Harlem and Harlem sweep up, humiliate, and brutalize Latino and Black youth. “This has to stop all this,” she said as other agreed aloud.
The owner of the store spoke toward the end of the evening. She said she had opened Sister’s years ago to make available to others the history, culture, and politics of Black people that was not available to her growing up in south Georgia. She said, “There is a lot of positive energy in this room tonight and we are happy to be part of this.” She went on, “There are not only Black people here but different races and ages. Maybe it can’t be about race anymore. Maybe it has to be about consciousness.”
Readers of Revolution knew about how white supremacists are threatening to march in Jena on January 21, MLK’s birthday. The consensus at the event was that this has to be met with massive resistance all over the country and from many segments of the people—not just Black people!!! Some, especially those who had gone to Jena for the September 20 demonstration, talked about getting back on the bus and going back to Jena even stronger this time.
People hung around the store talking to Alice and Hank long after the program ended. In fact we had to ask people to leave. But, the evening was not over. Some of the Club people invited the reporters to join us at a friend’s house for more discussion. Eleven or twelve people showed up and we went on for another two hours asking questions about the kind of jobs people in Jena have and to what degree are Black people still tied to the land in any meaningful way. We wanted to know what the mood among Black people there is after the Mychal Bell’s plea bargain, and how do white people respond to the newspaper, and how Black people respond to communism, and how the reporters deal with the deep religious traditions among southern Blacks. Then someone said something in support of Martin Luther King’s program and approach versus Malcolm X’s and versus Bob Avakian’s—and we were off to the wrangling place.
We raised a little over $300 in donations and pledges. That brings our total in donations, pledges and matches to just over $2,000. That includes two $500 matches, one from a doctor and another from a legal professional. Now that we’ve raised $1,000 to meet those matches we are looking to challenge others to match our next $1,000.
We finally ended the evening deciding to do some kind of New Years fund raising party. And figuring out how to do more readings of “Voices from Revolution” as a way to raise funds for the newspaper’s $500,000 Fund Drive. The Club is raising $1,000 for the Spanish edition newspaper and we talked about doing a reading that focuses on the voices of immigrants. We can do this at schools, churches (Black, Latino, white), organizations, and maybe even on the street. We will let you know how it goes.
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
On December 12, government authorities began the planned demolition of four public housing developments in New Orleans. Bulldozers began rolling in the BW Cooper development. But this outrageous and heartless destruction of housing has been met with protest and resistance.
In September 2005, people around the world watched in horror at how the U.S. government abandoned tens of thousands of Black people in the flood waters after Katrina, subjected them to the most inhumane conditions, then callously evacuated them. Now, two years later, on December 14, headlines and photographs about New Orleans hit the national and international news again: The U.S. government heartlessly RAZING low-income housing people AND people RESISTING, going up against the bulldozers, determined to stop this crime. This had a big impact—the eyes of the world turned toward New Orleans once again. And as we go to press, a state court has halted the demolitions at three of the four developments, saying that the city council never voted to authorize the demolitions.
The city council could vote right away to put all of the demolitions back on track. And the court decision leaves one development, BW Cooper, facing demolition because it was slated for demolition before Hurricane Katrina.
If the authorities get away with their plans, four of the five remaining major public housing developments in the city will be demolished. More than 4,600 units will be reduced to rubble and replaced by “mixed income housing” which will have less than 800 affordable units.
These demolitions will destroy the neighborhoods that thousands of people called home. Many of the people who used to live in the sections of Cooper that are being demolished have been forced to move in with relatives or friends. Others have been forced to live on the streets. Now their homes are being destroyed.
It’s also clear that most of the people who used to live in public housing will be unable to afford to live in the new developments built to replace those being demolished. New Orleans has already been through this with the destruction of the St. Thomas development before Katrina. Fifteen hundred affordable units were lost in that demolition and only 150 affordable units were built in the River Gardens development that replaced St. Thomas.
The destruction of public housing is happening in cities across the country, and it’s an outrage. But it’s even MORE outrageous that this is going down in New Orleans. It was criminal enough what this system did to people right after Hurricane Katrina. But the system’s criminal and massive abuse has continued up to the present day. Black communities like the 9th Ward remain especially neglected. Two hundred thousand people who used to live here remain exiled across the country since Katrina. One hundred fifty thousand of these people are Black. Destroying public housing will mean many people will never be able to return. On top of this, thousands of New Orleans residents living in FEMA emergency trailers here and in cities across the country will be evicted over the next six months. Where are they going to find housing? What about the large and growing homeless population in New Orleans? Officials say 12,000 people live on the streets in New Orleans, double the official count before Katrina. Many people say there are thousands more homeless here. These demolitions will only make that number grow.
These demolitions must be brought to a halt. They are part of a plan to rebuild a New Orleans that is smaller and whiter with much of its Black population driven out of the city. They are part of a nationwide drive to destroy public housing and part of the Bush regime’s program for Black people—poverty, prisons and punishment. New Orleans itself has become a national and international symbol—people point to what happened after Hurricane Katrina as a blatant and concentrated example of the living legacy of slavery and how the U.S. capitalist system continues to oppress Black people. And whether or not people fight back and resist these outrageous demolitions holds special significance to people around the world. This underscores the larger importance of and stakes in this struggle. And the rulers of the U.S. also know the national and international impact of what happens in New Orleans and must put this in their calculations over what to do.
The authorities are very determined to go ahead with these eveictions. Residents and former residents of public housing have been threatened with being kicked out of public housing forever or losing their housing vouchers if they speak out against the demolitions. Alphonso Jackson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), warned city officials that HUD will revoke $137 million in federal assistance and that 900 former public housing residents living in different parts of the country will be stripped of their housing vouchers if the demolitions are halted.
Resistance has begun to grow. A hundred people packed into a city hall office to demand that the demolitions be halted on Monday, December 10. On December 12, 50 people formed a human wall to block a bulldozer from entering BW Cooper, the first development they began to take down. The bulldozer was moved in overnight. The next day people who had occupied one of the buildings unfurled a banner protesting the demolition as the bulldozer demolished another building. After a several hour stand off, the protesters were arrested by cops and charged with trespassing.
Earlier that day, more than 100 people marched to the New Orleans HUD office to demand a stop to the demolitions. And other protest actions were held at two other developments slated for demolition. This resistance has been mounted by public housing residents, dozens of volunteers who came to New Orleans to help stop the demolitions, and a growing array of supporters.
Many people in New Orleans have been electrified by this resistance. They see that the demolitions are bad for poor people and especially for Black people. Some say they feel this is aimed at driving Black people out of New Orleans. People remember how after Katrina, ten-term Congressman from Baton Rouge Richard Baker said, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it. But God did.”
At the same time, many people have sharp questions. Some say the projects were breeding grounds for poverty and crime and that it’s better to get rid of them and build something new. Others raise that losing public housing’s low rent and utility bills would motivate people to get jobs and better themselves.
These views echo what the authorities say to justify getting rid of public housing, and they mistake cause for effect. Many public housing residents work, but at low paying, dead end jobs. Many others can’t find work. The capitalist system is responsible for this. It sucked the jobs out of Black and other oppressed neighborhoods in New Orleans and across the country. It offers millions of Black youth with futures of low paying dead-end jobs, if they can find any jobs. It has criminalized many of these youth and warehouses hundreds of thousands of them in prisons. Getting rid of public housing isn’t going to ease this situation. In fact, it will only intensify it.
And beyond the immediate repercussions of the destruction of public housing in New Orleans, there is the larger impact and significance of whether or not there is resistance to such an assault on poor people in New Orleans.
All this underscores the need to fight these demolitions, not go along with them. And it underscores the need to build this fight as part of getting ready for revolution. The poverty and crime that people want to escape is caused by capitalism. It’ll take nothing short of revolution to deal with this and the exploitation and oppression that capitalism enforces on the world.
Building public housing doesn’t fit into the plans to profitably rebuild New Orleans. And a basic absurdity of free market capitalism is on display with the destruction of public housing here. There are thousands of people in this city with no jobs who could be trained and put to work. There are thousands of people in this city living on the street who need homes. There are people from all over the country and world who could be mobilized to volunteer their skills and abilities to help rebuild this city. But this SYSTEM, where profit determines what is and isn’t done, STANDS IN THE WAY of bringing all these different factors together to provide decent housing.
A revolutionary society, one where power was in the hands of the people, could deal with the need for affordable housing completely different than this setup. People who needed work could be unleashed to build the housing so many needed. In the face of a natural disaster like Katrina, a revolutionary society wouldn’t leave people to die and then seize on it as an opportunity to drive the masses out of town and not allow them to come back like this system did. The enthusiasm and energy of the people could be tapped into and unleashed to rebuild, not suppressed and subjected to repression like what has happened right after and since Katrina. This won’t be easy, but it will be possible under socialism, where the masses of people are fully mobilized to struggle out, figure out and work together to transform society and emancipate the people.
The holiday demolition of public housing is an outrage on top of all the other outrages this system has already perpetrated on the people of New Orleans. People are fighting for the right to return to the city, to rebuild their homes and their lives—and there is a critical need for affordable housing in New Orleans. People need to fight to see to it that none of it is destroyed.
Whatever twists and turns this struggle goes through, a real fight to stop these demolitions is what’s needed and possible. It’s not a done deal—that the authorities can destroy these developments and the people can’t do anything about it. Already the power of the people’s resistance has caused them to back off temporarily. Now this resistance must get stronger, and it must draw support from all over the country. There are no “outsiders” in the fight for justice—New Orleans is everyone’s battle. And if that’s done, it will create new ground to advance the struggle to defend public housing in New Orleans and around the country. And it would raise people’s consciousness and help politically prepare them for revolution.
Revolution is calling on its readers to send messages of support to the people in New Orleans, which we will forward.
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
Interview with San Francisco 8 Defendant Richard Brown
The Revolution Interview is a special feature to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music, literature, science, sports, and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own, and they are not responsible for the views expressed elsewhere in Revolution.
Eight former Black Panthers were arrested January 23, 2007 and charged with murder and conspiracy related to the killing 35 years ago of a San Francisco police officer. This is not the first time these same charges have been brought against some of these defendants. Similar charges were thrown out in the 1970s after it was revealed that police used torture to extract confessions in New Orleans in 1973. It appears that the government plans to introduce the same torture-tainted evidence in 2007.
This case comes at a time when the government is openly justifying the use of torture and attacking fundamental rights. Bill Goodman, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “The case against these men was built on torture and serves to remind us that the U.S. government, which recently has engaged in such horrific forms of torture and abuse at places like Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, has a history of torture and abuse in this country as well, particularly against African Americans.”
The Black Panther Party was a powerful revolutionary force in the 1960s and early 1970s. They stood up to police terror, they popularized the Red Book of Mao Tsetung, they put revolution on the political map in the U.S. in a way that had never really been done before. They drew support from millions, both among the basic masses and from more privileged sections of society. For this the government viciously attacked them, and they have never forgiven or forgotten this, attacking former Panthers as well as trying to erase their revolutionary legacy. And this is especially true in the current situation with the many crimes of the system intensifying, including importantly the oppression of Black people, and with many people of all nationalities looking to resist and seeking answers to big questions.
The case has begun to generate significant support, although much more is needed. Rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli have appeared at programs for the SF8 that have drawn hundreds of people from the community, including many youth. Ozomatli had SF8 members introduce their four San Francisco concerts and their L.A. dates as well. Hearings for the 8 have been packed with supporters. Recently the City of Berkeley passed a resolution calling for all charges to be dropped. Two Nobel Laureates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, have initiated a petition signed by human rights and religious groups demanding that the charges be dropped on the SF8, that the government launch an investigation of the allegations of torture, and that Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim be freed immediately.
The San Francisco 8 are Richard Brown, Richard O’Neal, Ray Boudreaux, Hank Jones, Francisco Torres, Harold Taylor, Herman Bell, and Jalil Muntaqim. Bell and Muntaqim have been held as political prisoners for over 30 years in New York State prisons.
Revolution sat down with Richard Brown, one of the San Francisco 8, to talk about the case and its importance. Richard Brown has worked for the last 25 years as a community organizer with the Ella Hill Hutch Center in the Western Addition in San Francisco.
Revolution: Could you tell me about the charges against you and the other defendants who make up the San Francisco 8?
Richard Brown: We’re being charged with the 1971 Ingleside Station attack where a police sergeant by the name of John Young was murdered. Because we were Panthers we are being charged with that murder and conspiracy to murder police officers and commit certain crimes. This was brought up for the first time in the 1970s. When the case was taken to court, the three people charged, John Bowman, Ruben Scott, and Harold Taylor all stated that they were tortured and forced to confess. Because of that and the fact that they were questioned without any attorney being present in New Orleans, the court threw the so-called “admission of guilt” and the case out. In January of this year, 2007, they rearrested eight of us for the same crime and the same charges and as far as we can tell from what we’ve heard in court they plan to use the same “confessions” that were ruled illegal in the first place. If you go according to what they said in court, what they’ve presented so far, they don’t even have any new evidence. We are being recharged with the same thing again which was already stated as illegal back in the 1970s.
Since then I might add that a lot of things have changed because of the Patriot Act and Homeland Security and the environment of the country period where they feel that they can come back and use what they couldn’t use before because it’s not so clear whether [the torture] is illegal or not.
Revolution: Could you give people a picture of the torture that took place in New Orleans?
Richard Brown: Three members of the Black Panther Party—John Bowman, who was a San Francisco Panther; Ruben Scott, who was a San Francisco Panther; and Harold Taylor, who was a Panther from Los Angeles—were arrested in New Orleans in 1973. Actually they arrested 13 Panthers. They were separated and for days they were tortured. They were stripped naked, handcuffed, isolated, repeatedly beaten, denied sleep, food, and all that type of stuff. They were beaten around the stomach and back. They used slapjacks on their shins and legs, where torturers are trained to beat people so the wounds don’t show. They used what is called waterboarding now. Technically what they were using were hot and wet blankets. Also plastic bags were placed over their heads until the point where they would pass out. They used electrical cattle prods to their private parts and to their anus. Their treatment was so inhumane it’s hard to even describe, let alone endure. And my friends who had to endure this, I see how this has affected them. How they look when they describe it. It’s horrifying and it’s hard for me to even talk about it, honestly and truly. It’s horrible for human beings to treat someone else like that for days.
They tortured them like that for three or four days.
Revolution: There were two San Francisco police who participated in the torture in New Orleans. What’s their role?
Richard Brown: Ed Erdelatz and Frank McCoy were San Francisco homicide detectives and had run-ins with the Panthers long before the Ingleside case. In 1973, they were in New Orleans. Their part was that they never actually touched them. They would come into the room along with the detectives from New York, Los Angeles, and the FBI. They would come in and ask questions and if the questions weren’t answered to their satisfaction they would leave the room and the New Orleans Police Department would come in and they would start the torture. Actually the torture started before the questioning even started. They arrested them, took them in, stripped them, isolated them and just started beating them. They just enjoyed torture. They would do a job on them and then leave and tell them ‘we’ll be back.’ Then the detectives would come in and start asking questions. First they would try and tell the detectives that they were being tortured and then the detectives would get up and walk out of the room and the New Orleans police would come in. This went on for days. They would keep them up at night, not allow them to sleep. Wake them up every hour or so. Throw water-soaked blankets on them, scalding hot water so they couldn’t breathe. This is the treatment that they had to endure for days.
Ed Erdelatz and Frank McCoy were the ones who in 2005 came knocking on people’s doors during the grand jury investigation asking, ‘Do you remember me?’ and giving us subpoenas to appear before a grand jury. They were brought out of retirement and deputized by Homeland Security in order to do these cold case things [opening previously closed cases involving the Black Panther Party—Revolution] that were going on nationwide.
Revolution: What happened with the grand jury investigation?
Richard Brown: When they first came and wanted to talk to us we were told that they wanted to question us about white people that we knew. But once they started asking questions it was clear that they were interested in Black people’s role in the Ingleside attack. They had made up their minds already that the Panthers had to be responsible for this. It was a situation where they were trying to make the evidence fit the theory, and they’ve been trying to do that ever since then.
In 2005 we all refused to testify before the grand jury. Five of us were held in contempt of court: Hank Jones, Ray Boudreaux, Harold Taylor, John Bowman (now deceased) and myself. We were held in contempt of court and locked up until the Grand Jury expired. We were released on October 31, 2005.
Revolution: How long were you locked up for?
Richard Brown: I was locked up for about a month. People were locked up at different times depending on when we were called in front of the grand jury for questioning. I think Hank Jones was first and he was in the longest. John Bowman was the last and he was only locked up for eight or nine days. I think Hank did something like two and a half months. We weren’t guilty of any crime. We were just standing on the fifth amendment and because of that I was taken away from my family, locked up. I was transferred all around. Nobody actually knew where I was, including my attorney. It would take days for them to find me and then when they did find me, I’d be transferred to another place. They just messed with us as usual to put pressure on us or to just be vindictive, whatever motive people like that have, that’s what they were doing. I’m sure they always have some motive in their twisted mind about why they torture people or why they lie about people or why they kill people, why they lock people up for life knowing that they are innocent. They can obviously justify that shit in their mind because they do it and they’re still here and they continue to do it. I find it difficult to see and understand though.
Revolution: Could you speak a little more about why you decided not to cooperate with the grand jury?
Richard Brown: First of all because they’re trying to convict me of something that I am innocent of. The grand jury is trying to go along with this story that was concocted in New Orleans by the conglomerate of agencies that were there, putting together a case involving torture that was targeting me and saying that I was a part of it. And now you ask me to go before a grand jury and participate and say something so that it can be used against me. I know that as a Black man in America and as a Panther I have not been treated fairly by the judicial system in the courts. Every time I have gone to court I have never seen justice, so why would I? And we’re talking about a murder, a homicide, and they want me to cooperate with them? And I know from the facts that all this is bullshit; they are trying to convict me of something that I am not guilty of.
Even if you could get past all that, these same people, Ed Erdelatz and Frank McCoy, the police departments, and the FBI and the rest of them tortured my friends. It’s pitiful. I truly will never get over that, what they’ve done to my friends. I will never, ever cooperate with people like that. I will have no respect for them. I don’t like them. I think they should be arrested and held accountable for the crimes that they committed back then. Until that happens they can forget about me even having a decent word to say to them. I don’t want to have nothing to do with them and I’m sure the rest of the people share that. I will never cooperate with them, I didn’t then and I never will.
The things that were done to the Black Panther Party by the Cointelpro and by the local police departments all across the country and the way I was treated every time I went to court, I have nothing but disdain for them. Even if there was something to cooperate about they couldn’t get it from me.
Revolution: You started talking about Cointelpro and we were talking about it a little earlier. A big part of the background to this case is Cointelpro, the Counterintelligence Program by the FBI that targeted the Black Panther Party. Could you speak to what Cointelpro was and what it did, both any personal experience you have as well as its overall role?
Richard Brown: What they did overall was destroy the Black Panther Party as it was. Their job as the Counterintelligence Program was to destroy the movement period, all of the progressive political movements that were going on at that time. If I’m not mistaken at that time [FBI Director J. Edgar] Hoover declared the Black Panther Party the greatest threat to the nation’s internal security. And we in the Panthers, even at the time he was saying that, had no idea, I actually don’t even remember him saying that. I was too busy as a Panther trying to do something to serve my community. I was a young Black man in a community of Black people. And Black people at that time were in a world of trouble—actually today we still are. We had nothing in the world going for us. The government didn’t represent us at all. They weren’t doing anything for us. The only thing we saw every day was repression from the police department as an occupying force in our community, trying to keep us in line or intimidate us from doing anything against the other parts of society. We were the lowest on the totem pole. We didn’t have decent housing, we didn’t have decent food, we didn’t have decent schools, we didn’t have decent jobs—we had no jobs. So when the Black Panther Party came along and said we can do all this stuff for ourselves, people like me and hundreds of other young people joined the Party in order to serve the Black community and to help the people. We were interested in feeding children, getting people to organize, to unify, to bring about the vote so that we could control the politicians in our community, to putting together schools for our children, clinics—all of the things that the government had failed to do for us we were willing to do for ourselves and we were beginning to do that.
For this the counterintelligence program deemed us the number one threat in the United States and focused on us with an intensity that I to this very day find astonishing. I didn’t believe it at all back then. None of us believed that the FBI and the Counterintelligence Program and all of these agencies were spending all this money, going through all these tricks, doing everything they could to undermine our efforts to help our people—framing us, using up all our resources by taking us to jail every other day, falsifying documents and evidence to send people to jail for life to get rid of them and destroy our leadership, torture and even murder. It has been proven that they were guilty of all of that. We honestly did not know that they would do something like this, that they were doing it. I’m still finding out things that the Cointelpro did today.
In the 1970s the Senate’s Church Committee investigation found that the Counterintelligence Program was illegal and unconstitutional. A couple of agents were even found guilty of some charge but they never did any time because their sentence was commuted by the president. He decided that we should forgive and forget. But here I am, almost 40 years later, not forgiven and forgotten—and I’m not even guilty! These people were guilty of those crimes.
Revolution: This case goes back more than 35 years. Why do you think they are bringing it back now?
Richard Brown: Number one, they want to legalize torture. They felt this would work for them because we are all Black people and it’s easier to find Black people guilty than it is to find white people or anyone else guilty. It’s a ready-made case for them. They thought they would be able to turn the public against us because a police officer lost his life, especially with eight Black men accused. They want to see if this case will fly because of the new laws and the doing away with of certain constitutional rights that we used to have. They call it ‘relaxation,’ that they’ve temporarily taken them, but we don’t have them any more. They feel that if they can do it with us and get away with it then they can push it forward and take it nationwide to anyone and everyone who is opposing and will oppose them because of the direction that this country is going in. They are alienating all of the masses and they have to find some way to keep them in line and intimidate people so that they know that “if you go against us we ain’t going to never let it go. We’ll come back at you time and time again. You will suffer. So you better think twice.”
Revolution: Two of your co-defendant,s Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim, have been in jail for the last 30 years. I know you wanted to speak about their situation.
Richard Brown: Them and all political prisoners who are still suffering behind the Counterintelligence Program or Cointelpro. It has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that people were framed, that evidence was manufactured, that people were paid to lie, they withheld evidence that could prove people was innocent. The case of Geronimo ji Jaga who was framed and did 27 years before the government was forced to admit that they knew he didn’t do it. They withheld the evidence that could prove that he was somewhere else when the crime was committed. These types of things are what I would really like America to understand and take a good hard look at. Not only does it affect us, Black people at this particular time—and most of the political prisoners though not all are Black. But I would like all of the political prisoners’ cases to be reopened. I would like everyone who was touched by the counterintelligence program in any way, for their cases to be revisited and for something to be done in order to remedy the situation.
You have people still to this day like Herman and Jalil who are locked up only because of the participation of the Counterintelligence Program and how they went about conducting their business over the years.
I was framed, just blatantly framed, given a case. At the time I was raising nine children in the same house. And they took me away from my family for over two and one half years behind that crap. I still say I was fortunate because I didn’t have to stay in for 27 years or 35 years like some of my other comrades who are still locked up today. And I could have been in prison much longer if it hadn’t been for the attorneys who were able to legally get me out and prove that I was innocent.
This has to change. We have to do something. We have hundreds and hundreds of people all over this nation who are locked up in prison and who it appears have no chance of ever coming home because of the Counterintelligence Program and what it did to them. The masses are not in charge of when they come home or don’t come home. This fascist government is still saying we deem these people a threat just like they deemed me a threat for trying to feed children in the Black community. And they’re not going to release them and that is one of the biggest crimes being committed by this government.
Revolution: What gives you the strength to carry on the struggle?
Richard Brown: The love for my great-grandchildren, my grandchildren and my children, my love for the people. The fact that I’m just not the type of person who’s just going to lie down and take anything. You hit me, I hit back. I believe in people. That’s another thing that the Party taught me, that true power comes from the people. I love the masses. I actually love America and I love the American people. There’s a difference now. I’m not talking about the American so-called government. The so-called President and his administration, if you go by the definition of what a president is, he doesn’t fit that. He fits more of the definition of a dictator and therefore he’s in charge of a regime. It has nothing to do with the American people. I believe that the majority of the American people are decent people who believe in freedom, justice and equality for all, who truly want this to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It is not that but it can be that, and I have faith that it will be if we continue to try and bring forth the contradiction, which is what I’m doing and educate people to get them to understand the true picture of what’s going on so that things will be better not just for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren but for everybody’s children.
I can’t stop. If the people understand and take control like they can, they can turn this around and they will. As long as I can be effective and as long as I can try to continue to do that, I’m going to be working toward that. I guess I’m doing this out of love for the people and love for peace and freedom. And until we get it I’m going to continue to fight.
Revolution: Anything else that you want to add?
Richard Brown: Again, political prisoners and prisoners of war. Honestly and truly I want people to understand and take a good look at that. We started the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, that’s what the SF8 has started. And out of this we want to reopen an investigation of the Counterintelligence Program. It’s kind of silly to think that the government is taking freedom and constitutional rights away from us and we’re talking about investigating an agency that did the same thing that the government is doing now. It’s in order to get the people of the United States to understand what’s truly going on and until we paint a clear picture of what happened and what is happening now political prisoners don’t have a chance of coming home. We not only want them to come home, we want people who are guilty of these crimes against them and against all of us to be held accountable.
Honestly and truly when I think of Jalil and Herman and other political prisoners I feel real, real, real bad. I feel like I’m not doing enough. You asked me what keeps me going. The love that I have for those brothers, who gave so much because of their love of the people, and who’re suffering like they are. And I want to stop that.
To follow developments in the case of the San Francisco 8 see their website: www.freethesf8.org
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
A Holiday Story
Rang looked down the slope, but dusk was already lowering down. She could taste the December storm coming up in the air. Tok and Sarny, the two youngest, had fallen behind and now it had been almost half an hour. If they didn’t show up soon, she’d have to get a few of the others to go with her to find them.
Rang was 14. They’d been up in the mountain lake region for four weeks restoring one of the lakes poisoned in the back-then. They were also getting set for the round of meetings to “wruggle out,” as they’d say, what to do about the cities – break them down further, or build them up as special centers in a different kind of way, and all kinds of things in between. The debate promised to be sharp, very sharp. It would be her first time, and she was desperately trying to study up. But she had been equally determined to get a hike in that day, even though on some level she knew that it had been too dark too early for it to be really safe. And if she had time after her reading, part of her was thinking maybe she could squeeze in some work on a song she’d been tinkering with, because there would be parties during the winter holiday coming up.
But then Sarny came bursting up the back path, with Tok strolling behind her. Rang exhaled. The kid was spilling out words in a torrent.
“Tok told me a lie! Tok told me a lie!” The eight-year-old was indignant. “You did!” Sarny said, pointing to Tok while she looked at Rang. “And you’re not supposed to lie.”
Tok shrugged. He had an easy way about him, and a sly kind of humor for someone who had just turned ten. “Not a lie,” he said. “Hard to believe doesn’t make something a lie.”
“It’s a lie!” she shouted. “What you said couldn’t be true.”
“Hey, don’t believe me. Ask them. They’ll tell you.” Tok took a step to the fire and gestured to the rest of the crew.
Sarny turned to the others. “Tok said that they used to scare the kids, scare ’em when they were little, from when they were really little, and make ’em believe in things that weren’t true. He said that winter holiday used to be a day when they told kids that it was the birthday of this cruel powerful guy who was really a god, and that if they didn’t love him and celebrate his birthday, he’d burn them and jeer at them and and and torker” –
“Torture,” corrected Tok –
“. . .torture them forever. . . and that’s why they had to celebrate it. That can’t be true, can it?”
Rang looked over at Beta, who kept rigging the tents; then to Zeph, who was the only old one in the group. Zeph just looked at her nails while she suppressed a grin. “Well, what else did you get into?” Rang asked.
“Tok said that they used to tell the kids that this guy could do everything and that he knew everything, and that he could even see inside your mind and know what you were gonna do before you knew. That he had all these rules for people and never ’splained them, and that if anyone broke them they wouldn’t talk about it with ’em but instead they’d keep ’em alive after they were dead and burn them forever in a fire – like in a lake but one they hadn’t restored yet, with all the caustic and poisons still in it. But that if they followed his rules then the grown ones would give ’em toys and stuff. And that winter holiday used to be to celebrate the cruel guy’s birth.” Sarny was beside herself, but Rang wanted to hear more, and let things unfold.
“Tok said that the cruel guy told people – and they told this to kids on winter holiday, but the grownups all believed it too – that he was gonna live forever, and that even if they followed all the rules, he would still torture them forever unless they loved him. And they couldn’t just say they loved him, they had to really love him.”
“‘Above all else,’” Beta muttered.
“And then when he died they had put nails in him, and his crew went around and told people that all that was their fault, and that he was gonna come back, but they wouldn’t say when – they said it could be any time – and that if people didn’t spend all their time thinking about how much they loved him, well then he was gonna torker, I mean torture, them when he got back and then kill them and then make them come back to life so he could torture them some more.”
Zeph was grinning. “Sounds pretty grim.”
Rang cut a glance at Zeph.
“That’s what they told ’em back-then,” said Tok, casual like.
Sarny whirled and almost jumped at him. “No, they didn’t. Or if they told ’em, nobody believed it! I wouldn’t have believed it, see? I know that.”
Rang looked at the fire for a minute and then spoke, quietly. “It’s true, Sarny. That’s how it was back-then. They’d make up stuff like that and tell it to people starting when they were little, and they’d tell ’em other scary stuff too. And that one was about the worst. At least from what I’ve looked into.” The crew knew that Rang would read the old myths from back-then a lot. She was fascinated with the stories, but more she would try to imagine how people would be thinking.
“But. . . but. . . is there a guy like that? I mean, who can do all that? Who can know what you’re thinking, and torture you?”
“Well, there was a guy. But no, he couldn’t do all that. You know that, right? We’ve talked about how we can listen to people and think about how they think. . . but we can’t really know what they think before they do, can we? That’s part of why we have to listen carefully to people.” Sarny nodded, a little uncertainly. Rang thought for a minute. “Okay, remember that show we saw last spring? Where the guy made it seem like he was reading people’s minds, and that he could make things appear out of nowhere and then disappear? And then remember how he showed us how he did it all at the end?” Sarny brightened at the memory. “Well, during back-then, some people would do the tricks, but they wouldn’t explain them, and they would use the tricks to fool and confuse people.”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“I know you wouldn’t. But remember, back-then people were still keeping one another down. And the ones who knew things didn’t want to share their knowledge.” Sarny looked confused again; maybe come back to that later.
“But what about dying? Can people be brought back to life?” Turns out that Tok the worldly-wise also had a question.
Beta looked up from the tents. “I don’t think so – I mean unless you mean like when they get you into med when you’re unconscious. Remember when Kar died? Zeph helped us examine his body and learn about why it wouldn’t work anymore. And we talked about how for a while he had been with us, and now he wasn’t, but all the things he had done and all the things we had done together and the things that we would remember about him. But we couldn’t make him keep living, and even though we missed him we wouldn’t want to.” Sarny and Tok were rapt, thinking about Kar – the way that they had all nursed him, how he smiled right before he died, and then how Zeph had so slowly, for once, explained things.
“Were they scared of their deaths, back-then?” asked Tok.
Rang nodded, thinking that for all her reading, she still couldn’t quite get her mind around the way they’d obsess about death back-then, the way they’d think they were gonna go on living once they died, the way they wanted to keep living. Life was so grim back-then, but they were so scared to give it up. They told themselves somehow it’d be better after they died, and they scared themselves shitless about getting tortured forever if they didn’t obey the god, and it was all Rang could do to keep from crying when she’d read the testimony on it.
“I think they were scared because of their lives, Sarny,” Rang said. “Thinking there was some powerful guy – that there was a god – gave people a way to make some sense out of it, let ’em think there was some reason for it all, that it’d get redeemed” – Sarny looked puzzled at the word – “you know, evened out, like, made good, in the end. Like when you work hard for months on the lake, but when you’re done you see where you’ve done some good from it.”
“Yeah, but why’d they scare the kids then?” Beta said, his voice a little tense. “Why the torture? That didn’t make sense out of anything.”
Blue had been listening while he was preparing the dinner. He had joined the crew just six weeks ago from a group a few days away, saying he wanted to be with new people and hear new thoughts. Blue was a strong hiker, quiet but could sing like a river rushing down the mountain. And he could cook like crazy. He gave people their plates, and spoke. “I think the people made up the stories to make sense out of things, but they were trying to make sense out of a life that was really crazy. A life where a few people lived off the many, and could make their lives miserable. I mean back-then most people could get tortured themselves if they stepped wrong, thought different. But not by some made-up god. By other people.” Blue glanced at Rang.
Zeph chimed in, serious now. “Served the ones who could torture to tell the ones they were holding down those tales, ’s what I think.” Tok took it in. But Sarny seemed more bewildered than ever.
“What are you talking about? Why would people do that to each other? We don’t.” There were tears in her voice.
“It’s hard, Sarny. But people used to do that, back-then. It took people fighting and fighting for centuries to get us here, where we all work together and just treat each other like . . .I don’t know. . . like people.” Rang was talking in a very quiet voice.
“Did they – I mean the people who fought in the back-then, for us – did they believe in the torture guy?”
“Well, some had trouble shaking it, at least at first. To me? From what I’ve read? Seems like it was one of the biggest chains of all on ’em. See, when people believe in things that aren’t real – well, it’s like a blinder on a horse, or those distorting glasses at the park. It keeps people from getting to and seeing the whole truth, it kept them from really looking at what they had to do, seeing what there was to things, and then that there was no one else but them to do it – you know, do it all the way.”
“So how’d they stop believing?”
“I’m not sure altogether. Still studying it, trying to work it all out. It was kind of complex. Some people who believed in the torture god thought that he was on their side, and so it gave them courage. But even though it was a kind of courage based on lies” – uh oh, the kids were looking puzzled again – “some of the people who saw through it said to let the others go on believing in the lie, that somehow it would help them fight against the people who made up the lie. But some people could see that even if people believed in the lie but fought against the way things were, sooner or later this lie was gonna hold ’em back and hurt ’em. See, if you believed a lie just ’cuz it was familiar or made you feel better, then you wouldn’t know the real picture and you’d think you couldn’t know the real picture. And that would hurt everybody, because they needed everybody to be figuring out what’s real and what isn’t. Just like we need everyone.” The kids both nodded at that. “So the ones who could see that the torture-god didn’t really exist and that there was no god fought hard for the others to see the truth. It was a huge wruggle, from what I’ve read – comrades arguing about what was real and what wasn’t, and then sometimes after they argued they weren’t comrades – sometimes for a while, and sometimes for good.”
Beta spoke again. “But people made the revolutions, Sarny, right? People began to see that they didn’t need this stuff, and what with the revolutions and then the wruggle over what’s real and the whole thing, at least as I understand it. . . well, they got to where we are now.” Rang dug into the plate Blue had prepared.
Sarny looked at the fire, and then up to the stars. “But will we always have to wruggle?”
Rang savored Blue’s dinner. She thought about the state of the lake that morning, how challenging the work had been these weeks both physically and mentally, and felt the caustic burn on her foot. She thought of the clashing ideas about how to rework the cities that had been churning in her mind for the past month. She caught a glance of her guitaratron, in the corner of the tent. Rang loosened a boot and stretched and took out her flashlight. “Think so, Sarny, think so.”
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
On November 16, 1,000 students in the Seattle area walked out against the Iraq war in connection with nationwide actions on that day. One of the largest walkouts took place at Foster High School in Tukwila, south of Seattle. One hundred fifty Foster students walked out and marched to the Tukwila city hall.
Seventy-one percent of the kids at Foster are from poor families and eligible for free or reduced-cost school meals. Students at Foster come from all over the world. According to one student who spoke with Revolution, there are 52 different languages spoken at Foster, with kids from 35 different countries.
An adult who works with the students told Revolution that many immigrant kids “who’ve experienced these things [war] in their own home countries” had been part of organizing the walkout. One Somali student had told her that she didn’t “want to live in a country that did these sorts of things.”
Students at proletarian schools like Foster are preyed on by the military in attempts to coerce them into joining, and sending them off to kill and die for U.S. empire. One former student at Foster said that he had “opted out” four times from being called by recruiters, but the Army and Marines are still after him.
In retaliation for the walkout, the school administration and district put teacher Brett Rogers, who supported the walkout, on “administrative leave.” They also placed him and five others under “investigation.” Rogers walked out along with students and was quoted saying, “It’s an illegal war and my cousin is deploying December 4 and I’m not happy about it.” Teachers received a memo from the Tukwila School district saying they were being investigated for “possible misconduct” in connection with the walkout and warned them that if they spoke about this with anyone besides their union representatives, they could be fired. According to students, this has created a chill in the classroom where teachers can’t speak about the walkout or the attacks on them and are concerned that they better “watch what they say” regarding political discussions in class.
The teachers targeted are teachers that are known to be ones that encourage their students to find out about things and think for themselves. As one student said, “the teachers that are open to their students are being silent.” One of the teachers who is under investigation is the wife of an Iraq war vet. Her husband spoke about his experiences at the school on the 16th. She had developed a lesson plan on how students could stand up around issues they believed in that mentioned the walkout. Despite this lesson plan being approved by the school administration, she too is being investigated. Her husband said in a taped interview, “She’s a victim of her own success in inspiring students.”
In response to the attacks on teachers, students at Foster have mobilized protests to speak out at two school board meetings and to gather petitions at the school in support of the teachers. Three hundred students and people from the community signed the petition. One hundred people showed up at the first school board meeting and after this, Brett Rogers was reinstated. When students from the Foster Student Action Club that is organizing the opposition held a meeting in the commons area of the school, the principal arrived with eight Tukwila police and shut the meeting down. An organizer from outside the school was taken off campus and threatened with arrest even when he sought to meet with students at a public library. One student who has been part of the petition drive was suspended for nine days by the school for allegedly wearing an iPod in class—something that is commonly done. Students have also been threatened with punishment for walking out.
One of the students who helped lead the walkout told Revolution of these attacks. “It’s kind of like McCarthyism and the whole Salem witch hunt. You speak out and then you’re a witch, you’re a communist.”
The Foster students have been calling for people to call the principal and school board president to demand the investigations against teachers be stopped, that no teachers be fired, that the suspension against the student be ended and that no disciplinary actions be taken against any teachers or students in connection with the walkout.
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
IVAW has called for veterans of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to come together with Iraqi and Afghani people to testify about what they have experienced in a “Winter Soldier Investigation” this spring. Winter Soldier will be held in Washington, D.C. March 13-15, 2008 and is billed as the largest gathering of vets from these wars yet held.
Winter Soldier is patterned after a similar event called together by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in Detroit in 1971. At this event, soldiers delivered powerful testimony about war crimes they had seen and carried out against the Vietnamese people, exposing the nature of that war from the inside as a completely unjust war of aggression.
Liam Madden of IVAW says in an article,“We Support the Troops Who Oppose the War” posted on antiwar.com/blog, “In 1969, the My Lai massacre helped fuel popular opposition to the Vietnam War. U.S. political and military leaders insisted that such crimes were isolated exceptions. Members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War knew differently.”
The call for IVAW Winter Soldier (ivaw.org/wintersoldier) says, “Over thirty years later, we find ourselves faced with a new war. But the lies are the same. Once again, American troops are sinking into an increasingly bloody occupation. Once again, war crimes in places like Haditha, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib have turned the public against the war. Once again, politicians and generals are blaming ‘a few bad apples’ instead of examining the military policies that have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan.”
IVAW’s Winter Soldier Investigation has much importance, especially given the covering up and sanitizing of U.S. crimes in the Iraq war by the mass media. Pushing out the reality of the war and what it is doing to the people in Iraq has the potential to compel people to confront these questions and fuel more massive resistance that is so urgently required.
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
From a reader
Two recent newspaper articles caught my attention. Each demonstrated the extent to which the entire population of this country is now subjected to electronic surveillance.
The first was a column in the Examiner newspapers on the Congressional testimony of a retired technician for AT&T. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee how the National Security Agency has 10 or 15 secret installations across the country where they have spliced into the optical fiber trunk cables for all U.S. telephone and internet communications. This massive data collection is aimed at identifying networks of people who call each other.
The second article, in the Washington Post, describes how federal and police agencies routinely ask the big telecom companies for the location of people by tracking their cell phones.
I think this compulsion the rulers feel to have the entire population under some degree of surveillance is based in the massive crimes they commit at home and abroad, and what they have in mind for the future. For them, everyone in society now becomes a potential enemy. They feel compelled to keep tabs on everyone, sift everyone’s e-mail, and check up on where we go and whom we are associating with.
By contrast, I also think of what it would mean to get past class society with all its government repression and fear of dissent. The ability to debate out ideas and get to the truth of things is critical to any society of truly free and voluntarily associating people. A crucial part of that revolutionary society would be the ease of mind that comes from being able to network with others, and listen to and exchange dissenting ideas, without having to look over your shoulder at whom might be watching or listening.
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
From Berkeley, CA:
Submitted by readers
In the United States, as many as 3.5 million people experience homelessness in a given year (1% of the entire U.S. population or 10% of its poor), and about 842,000 people in any given week. Approximately half are families with children, the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population. According to an article in the American Journal of Public Health, over 7% of persons living in the United States have been homeless (defined as sleeping in shelters, the street, abandoned buildings, cars, or bus and train stations) at some point in their lives.
Several supporters and staff of Revolution Books decided to go out one evening and talk with people who are living on the streets, some of the 1,400 homeless people in Berkeley. We didn’t have to walk far to find people who wanted to talk. Though only the tip of the iceberg, we learned a lot in this initial foray.
From Putting Together Ads to Living on the Street
Shattuck is the main street in Berkeley’s downtown, with many movie theaters, shops, cafes and restaurants. We saw a thin, bearded man who was spending the evening near a busy corner. Standing by his shopping cart, he was doing a newspaper crossword puzzle. A paperback novel was open nearby and some of his belongings were spread out. “Rob,” quiet and thoughtful, agreed to talk with us. Later, a friend of his came closer to hear his story as well.
Rob told us he had had a skilled job putting ads together for a newspaper in Illinois. He lost that job and his apartment in the same week. “They downsized the department I was in. The newspaper had been going through a lot of different owners. It started out as a Cap Cities paper, then they were bought by ABC, then Disney bought ABC. The last one to buy the paper was Knight Ridder and they downsized everyone who was working there a long time.”
“I looked for work and couldn’t find any so I just became homeless. It didn’t take me long to go through my severance package,” he explained. In 2000 he decided to move to the Bay Area where he had lived during the 1960s. He has been homeless the entire time since then.
Rob survives by selling his paintings and drawings. But he’s had a hard time recently producing his art because of various health problems. “I’m 60 years old and can’t do this [live on the streets] much longer.” He is trying to get help so he can get off the streets but it is taking a long time. “They drag their feet and you have to go through all these committees.”
“You’re supposed to be invisible”
Up the street, we met a Black couple, “Mary” and “Charles,” who were talking with other people at the end of a long day of recycling. They're in their 40s and have been sleeping on the street for eight years. He is from Bakersfield and she is originally from Detroit. They make about $450 a month recycling cans and bottles and selling Street Spirit, a non–profit newspaper that homeless people get for free and can sell and keep the money. This third-world level of exploitation doesn’t pay enough for them to rent even a "low-income" studio apartment because of Berkeley's high rents. They described how they're on their feet all day long, working their asses off, with constant harassment from the police. As we talk, Charles greets friends passing by. He knows a lot of people. He shows us a bag of spices tethered to his cart and describes how he cooks for a lot of people on a portable stove he carries with him. He says that this is a way he can help people get some healthy food, and he enjoys it.
They used to have an informal business selling jewelry and crocheted hats on the sidewalk in front of a department store, but say that since the war started they went from making $100 a day to $20 a day because people weren't spending money. They don't qualify for SSI and have been waiting for Section 8 subsidized housing for eight years.
They said that when it comes to being homeless, you're supposed to be invisible. If sleeping on the street is trespassing, then that's just what you have to do to survive.
“A regimen of harassment”
“Carruthers” was sitting on the sidewalk against a flower box in front of what used to be Cody’s book store on Telegraph Avenue, close to UC Berkeley, a short walk from Shattuck. We sat down on the ground too. You can’t sit on the flower boxes because they have metal bars welded over them to prevent this. He had a cane and bedroll beside him; his friend, a man with long white hair, wrapped a blanket around his legs to keep warm and leaned closer to listen. Later a young guy, maybe a student, stopped to listen. Carruthers didn’t mind the audience and spun his tale, starting with his childhood growing up as a very light-skinned Black in Louisiana: “I don’t have fond memories of Louisiana. I wasn’t allowed to go into stores that others went in. I had to stay out in the truck with the dog. That’s why I live in California.”
He was in the Navy and then came to Berkeley in the ’70s and went to Methodist Seminary. He “dropped out” and became a hippie. He said he became homeless when he was a victim of a robbery and he lost everything. He gets a Social Security check that isn’t enough for him to rent a room so he sleeps outside.
“I sleep in a doorway less than a half a block from here. It’s not safe, but it’s either that or turn myself in for trespassing warrants I’ve gotten. But Santa Rita [county jail] could be a death sentence for a 55-year-old man. Last time I was in a holding cell there for 4 days without so much as a blanket. I was wearing sweat pants and a t-shirt and grabbed the toilet paper roll to use as a pillow.”
He says Berkeley has lots of services for the homeless and he ticks them off on one hand, but says the programs are a dead end and not the answer. “Curing homelessness is the bloody answer.” He told us, “This whole country could be so fine compared to what it is. We’ve killed our planet. It ain’t dead yet but it is dying.”
Criminalizing Poverty and People
In the past months there has been sharp debate around a law many people see as further criminalizing homelessness in Berkeley. The so-called “Public Commons For Everyone Initiative” means the opposite from what it sounds like. It is a series of ordinances designed to get tough on and jail homeless people for the “crime” of simply hanging out or smoking and sleeping outdoors in business districts.
This law tries to define the terms of the debate as to whether homeless people are “bad for business.” TV and print media (especially the San Francisco Chronicle) have run a slew of articles which speak of homelessness as if it is a problem of bad behavior The whole thrust is to push homelessness and homeless people out of sight, render them invisible, so they won’t interfere with a pro-shopping ambiance. Some small business people have fallen for this heartless bullshit, sucked in because they are going through difficult times, feel vulnerable and it is easier to see and blame the homeless people they see on the street than to take stock of and resist what is really driving people down -- the system. It is the normal workings of capitalism—not homelessness—that is squeezing them: the same system responsible for throwing people into the streets in this country and in huge numbers in countries all over the world.
All over the world, and even in the rich countries, there is a whole part of society that is being more or less permanently cast out and forced to live on what others throw away. Then they are treated like criminals. The growing homeless population in this country is a grotesque feature of U.S. capitalism in the 21st century. Social spending has been slashed, welfare benefits drastically cut, and factories have been moved to the suburbs, or to countries where workers are paid a fraction of what they make in the United States. Meanwhile, the average rent in San Francisco for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,800 a month—more than the total paycheck of someone making $10/hour, and more than an entire monthly public assistance check ($723 for family of three).
Currently, there are 29,000 people on the wait list for SF public housing, and the average wait is two years. The wait list for Section 8 was last open for a single month in 2001. There are 28,000 people on that wait list.
This criminalization of people and the calculated waste of human potential is a completely unnecessary crime against humanity. Rob, Carruthers, Mary and Charles are all thinking, potentially productive people who have the desire and ability to contribute to society. And as for housing itself, there are many people living on the streets who have the skills to build and renovate shelter, to organize collective housing. But this system has literally thrown them away, and without official employment they are prevented from contributing what they can and are forced to live on the margins, struggling to just survive. Count the many buildings in the Bay Area that stand empty.
It is not hyperbole to say that a revolution could change the situation for homeless people overnight. If the “free market” did not reign supreme, if society’s resources were allocated in a way that served people’s needs instead of maximizing profit, none of the people we talked to, none of their friends, and certainly no families, elderly or children, would be forced to spend their nights on the streets or in their cars, and their days trying to be “invisible.”
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