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Revolution #121, February 24, 2008
“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you’ve got to make it stop.”
—Mario Savio, a leader of the 1960s Free Speech Movement, Sit-in Address on the Steps of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley, delivered December 2, 1964
“Murder, rape, torture and war, that’s what they’re recruiting for!”
—Chant in Berkeley on February 12
“We’re setting an example for the rest of the county… I’m not really a ‘Berkeley person.’ I’m a ‘we need to stop this’ person.”
—Berkeley High School student,
Two sides faced off in the streets of Berkeley on February 12.
On the one side were over 1,000 people—Berkeley residents against the Iraq War, members of political groups including Code Pink, World Can’t Wait and ANSWER, hundreds of Berkeley High School students, and others. They came into the streets to demand that a Marine recruiting station in downtown Berkeley be shut down and to support the Berkeley City Council’s stand of declaring Marine recruiters “uninvited and unwelcome intruders” in Berkeley.
On the other side were hundreds of right-wing, pro-war people. They had been organized by a group called Move America Forward, whose chairman, Melanie Morgan, is a fascist host on a local radio show. Besides a large number of U.S. and Marine flags, this group also had signs that called Code Pink terrorists and demanded “waterboard the liberals.” Patriotic music blasted while speakers demanded that the Berkeley City Council apologize, that they and all the anti-Iraq War demonstrators be jailed for treason and the key thrown away.
At the end of the day, the City Council capitulated, backing off its initial position. This was very bad, especially given that the initial good stand it took had broken through into the national and international media and that many people who supported this stand against the recruiters had set a courageous example of taking to the streets in militant mass protest to say this war has to stop. At a time when politicians and the media are trying to corral everybody into elections, trying to suffocate protest and dissatisfaction with the message that all you can do is vote—this carved out a path that can actually bring this war to a halt. In the face of the ongoing crimes of this system, in Iraq, in the U.S., and around the world, we need much more of this.
People are determined to carry this battle forward and get the recruiting station out of Berkeley. The day after the council vote, Code Pink and others were out in front of the station. On the Friday after the vote, activists called a “No Business As Usual Day” to shut down the station. Further actions are planned.
Berkeley High Students on the Front Lines
At 5 am the pro-Iraq War side began arriving at a park in front of the City Council chambers to get on the morning news. They were quickly surrounded by anti-war demonstrators who had camped out the night before or arrived even earlier in the morning. The antiwar demonstrators drowned out the chants of the pro-war demonstrators and held up banners and signs with pictures of torture at Abu Ghraib prison.
The youth from Berkeley High School played a tremendous role. They changed the dynamics of the day, galvanized people, raised the level of struggle and put the reactionaries on the political defensive by getting in their face with facts and truth about the war. All day and into the night the students were engaging in debates, wearing orange bandanas, staging die-ins, and riding skateboards past the Marine supporters. Students would challenge the supporters of the war, asking: “Where are the weapons of mass destruction?” “What about the one million dead Iraqis and five million who had to flee their homes?” The main answer the pro-military side had was to personally insult the students, often in a very crude way, or, all too often, resort to physical violence against the teenagers often in the full view of police who did nothing to stop it.
A 15-year-old high school student with the Bay Area Revolution Club was punched in the face by an ex-Marine in full view of the police. He said that he wasn’t intimidated by the attack but that “it gives me more fuel to keep going to put an end to the whole system.”
The youth were on the front lines of the protest all day and subjected to violent police repression. A 13-year-old in the seventh grade was thrown on the ground and handcuffed by police and dragged off to the police station after he argued with a reactionary who got in his face. A 15-year-old was also arrested at the same time for no good reason. A large group of youth followed them to the police station and did a sit-in on the steps until they were pushed off the steps by baton-swinging cops in riot gear. The sister of the arrested 15-year-old was slammed up against the wall of the police station and arrested when she went to find out about him. The students stayed around the police station, yelling at the police and demanding that the arrested youth be freed.
A Berkeley High junior described one police attack: “Out of nowhere, for no reason at all, we weren’t moving forward, the riot police officers just started saying “Move back! Move back!” and there was nowhere for me to move. The first time I was on my friend’s shoulder and they started night-sticking me in the knees. The second time they just pushed the stick right into my chest and I fell backwards. Another time—to the American anthem, might I add, they pushed one of my friends out of the way and I looked up to see what happened, and the guy pulled me across the shoulders, pulled me back, night-sticked me in the stomach and then grabbed my throat and threw me on the ground and told me to move back more.”
A youth organizer for World Can’t Wait told the City Council, “Today hundreds, if not thousands, of Berkeley High students came out to make their voices heard. Their message was clear: shut it down! They braved police batons and violent pro-war demonstrators who punched a 15-year-old in the nose and spit in another’s face. They reminded me of those courageous students who sat down in the Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960 to stop segregation.”
Marine Recruiting Station Is “Not Welcome”
The controversy began on January 29 when the Berkeley City Council voted to tell the U.S. Marines that its Shattuck Avenue recruiting station “is not welcome in the city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders.” In addition, the council voted to explore enforcing its law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against the Marines. And it officially encouraged the women’s peace group Code Pink, which has organized against the recruiting station for many months, to impede the work of the Marines in the city by protesting in front of the station. In a separate action, the council also voted to give Code Pink a designated parking space in front of the recruiting station during its weekly protests and a free sound permit for protesting.
The Berkeley City Council resolution stated that “the U.S. has a history of launching illegal, immoral and unprovoked wars of aggression and the Bush Administration launched the most recent of those wars in Iraq and is threatening to do the same in Iran. These wars have produced catastrophic loss of human life, both civilian and military, as well as physically maiming and deforming and psychologically destroying countless numbers of civilians and military personnel.”
In an editorial attack on the Berkeley City Council’s stand, the San Francisco Chronicle said these were “remarkable statements” that“loaded the deck with insulting language that denigrates the military and embarrasses the anti-war cause.” But every single word of this statement by the City Council is true and important. And the stand the City Council took on January 29 was courageous. They decided to take a risk by confronting, rather than turning away from, the horrors that are being committed by U.S. troops and the U.S. government in Iraq.
Three days later, on February 1, activists with World Can’t Wait chained themselves in front of the door of the recruiting station, shutting it down for several hours before they were arrested.
Right-wing groups and media outlets began to viciously attack the City Council and Code Pink. Melanie Morgan denounced the action as “treasonous, hateful behavior.” U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) said he planned to introduce the Semper Fi Act which would cut off over $2 million in federal funds to the city of Berkeley (including a program that provides school lunches for children) and give the money to the Marines. A Republican State Assemblyman announced that he would introduce a bill to deny Berkeley over $3 million in state road funds.
Many people asked why were the police being so brutal, why were the reactionaries so rabid, why was even the “liberal” mainstream news so nasty, and why were national political leaders all of a sudden concerned about what was happening in Berkeley. This response from those in power comes from the recognition that what was happening did represent a different path—one of determined action on the part of the people towards exposing and stopping the war. And the powers-that-be feared that this kind of thing, if not crushed and put down, could have a wildfire effect. We saw this kind of thing happen in the ’60s—including with the role the struggle in Berkeley played in the development of a nationwide militant, mass anti-war movement.
We need much more of this kind of struggle! As the Bush regime has made clear, even with the great difficulties it has encountered in Iraq, it is determined to persevere in the war, and is even threatening to escalate things with an attack on Iran. And the Democrats are right behind this imperialist agenda—while doing everything they can to suffocate and muzzle anyone and anything that really tries to STOP the war. In the face of this, many people who are against the war and the Bush Regime’s agenda have retreated into passivity—and what amounts to complicity—on the basis that to try to stop this seems too daunting and requires too much sacrifice.
As Bob Avakian wrote: “This is the moral equivalent of coming upon a man brutalizing and raping a woman and not doing everything you can to stop it. You call out strongly ‘Stop!’ But then, when he menacingly turns and responds, ‘No—I really need to do this,’ you simply slink away muttering ‘Oh, I didn’t know he was so determined about this—and I don’t want to get hurt myself.’” [“Refusal to Resist Crimes Against Humanity Is Itself a Crime,” Revolution #109, November 18, 2007]
The Poisonous Role of “Support Our Troops”
The City Council heard public comments on the issue until after midnight. There were many impassioned and deeply thought statements from UC Berkeley students, professionals, business people, Berkeley High students, as well as political activists. Overwhelm-ingly the comments were in support of the anti-war resolution.
Although the City Council refused to “apologize” as demanded by the pro-war protesters and said that they “strongly opposed the war and the continued recruitment of young people into this war,” they also backed down from their previous position. They said that they “recognize the recruiters’ right to locate in our city.” And they said that they “deeply respect and support the men and women in our armed forces.”
The new resolution is very bad. The ruling class made it clear that the Council’s initial stand would not be tolerated, that it had exceeded the limits of what is allowed and proper in bourgeois politics. The Council’s new position substitutes relatively meaningless opposition to the war for a clear-cut stand against the recruiters which could have been part of shutting down the recruitment center and setting a national example.
To a great degree the pro-war forces were able to set the terms around supporting the troops and free speech—when the real issue is the unjust imperialist nature of the war—and this played a role in confusing and paralyzing people.
Even in its “anti-war” garb of “support the troops, but not the war,” the “Support the Troops” slogan is chauvinist, immoral, and leads to supporting the war (see box). Every day, U.S. Marines are kicking down people’s doors in Iraq, murdering people at checkpoints, dropping bombs on villages in Afghanistan, and much more. How can you “deeply respect and support the men and women in our armed forces” and at the same time support the Iraqi or Afghani people they are killing? This makes about as much sense as saying you “support the rapist and not the rape.” In this case it led the City Council and others to back down from their position that the Marine recruiters are unwelcome intruders and should leave Berkeley.
As for the Marines’ “free speech,” how can you support the “right” of the Marines to recruit people to fight an unjust, immoral war for empire in Iraq and support the right of the Iraqi people to be free of that oppression? The same argument was raised when people fought against segregation in the 1960s: racists argued for the “right” of the lunch counter at Woolworth’s to serve only white people. In Nazi Germany would you have said that it was wrong to interfere with the recruiting of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces)?
Reality Check: The U.S. military has millions of dollars at their disposal to lie to the youth through advertisements that make war seem like a video game. It is actually our speech—the voices that oppose this criminal war—that are being marginalized and shut out by the corporate media, monitored by government surveillance, and threatened with state repression.
Shut It Down!
In the wake of the national controversy and the City Council decision, World Can’t Wait announced plans to shut down the military recruiting station in Berkeley on February 15. Prominent activists from World Can’t Wait, Code Pink, A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, Veterans for Peace and religious communities were scheduled to engage in civil disobedience to shut down the station. However, the Marines decided not to open their office after driving by and seeing signs and banners decorating the recruitment center and about 100 people, including many Berkeley High School students, outside. Later in the afternoon, after the recruiting center had been closed almost the whole day, a squad of Berkeley cops marched up to the center in riot gear, knocking people down and pushing people and the protest signs and other material into the street.
Not being satisfied with the Berkeley City Council retracting their initial statement, Senator DeMint and other Senators announced they would continue to push the Semper Fi Act to deny federal money to Berkeley. This is something to learn from too. In the final analysis these people will demand complete and utter capitulation. Anything less will not be allowed.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) rushed to the Senate chamber to oppose cutting off funds to Berkeley. Here’s what she said: “Why on Earth would we punish good, decent citizens because some members of their local government … say something that’s highly offensive?” Boxer’s response—calling the City Council’s position “highly offensive”—shows what class interests these Democrats are coming from, that they’re for the interests of imperialism, including its army and the need for it to enforce U.S. domination around the world.
If we want the war in Iraq, or any other of the crimes of this system to stop, we—millions and millions of us—need to stand up and stop them. The actions in Berkeley—of boldly and urgently standing up and saying “THIS MUST HALT!” have shown how to burst out of the suffocating confines of politics as usual. Such actions must be defended and spread. This issue of Revolution should be taken to high schools all over and people should spread the word and join actions being planned for March 19 by World Can’t Wait (see World Can’t Wait website: www.worldcantwait.org) and others on the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War.
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.
Revolution #119, February 10, 2008
While it is possible, and correct, to hate the way in which those who become “the troops” have been systematically lied to in regard to what their mission is all about, and are cynically used by the ruling class—often ending up killed, or more often terribly maimed and wrecked, mentally as well as physically in a large number of cases—there can be no support for these troops, because what they are conditioned, shaped, and trained to do, and what they are actually doing, is carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, all in the service of imperialism. They are not “serving their country”—except insofar as “their country” refers to the imperialist state. Nor still less are they “protecting the rights” of the people of the country. They are acting as the massively destructive and murderous forces of invasion and occupation, they are serving the imperialist system and the ruling class of that system, which lures and then organizes and trains and then deploys them in the pursuit of its interests, in opposition to interests of, and to the great detriment of, the masses of people throughout the world who are the target of this imperialist system.
Revolution #121, February 24, 2008
Revolution #121, February 24, 2008
Revolution #121, February 24, 2008
From A World to Win News Service
February 11, 2008. A World to Win News Service. The twelfth anniversary of the launching of the people’s war by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) on February 13, 1996 will see the country involved in intense preparations for countrywide elections to elect a constituent assembly, which is to implement the end of the monarchy and establish a new regime.
These elections had been scheduled and then delayed several times before. The question of a constituent assembly to decide a new form of government came onto the agenda in 2006, when in the wake of weeks of enormous anti-monarchy street protests, the CPN(M) and the parliamentary parties signed an agreement that led to a cease-fire in the revolutionary war and an interim government, which the Maoist party joined in April 2007. The country’s political institutions fell into a deadlock when the party left that government last September. It rejoined that government at the end of 2007, with five junior ministers, clearing the way for the elections to be reset for April 10.
The basic question at stake now is what kind of state power will be consolidated and what socio-economic system will prevail. Will Nepal be ruled by a radically different kind of state, where the people are led by the working class and a genuine vanguard communist party to break out of the world imperialist system and build a completely different type of society? Or will it be ruled by a state controlled by the reactionary classes and dominated by India and the imperialist powers? Concerned friends and supporters of the revolution in Nepal throughout the world have been watching these developments and seeking to understand them in light of the whole revolutionary process begun in 1996.
A background review
When CPN(M) members and supporters among the youth carried out simultaneous military attacks across the whole country and began the people’s war, it was a daring expression of the party’s intention to liberate the people of Nepal as part of the worldwide struggle against the imperialist system and for the ultimate achievement of communism.
The original fighters had only a few weapons. They had little military experience and were not yet organized into an army. Nevertheless they dared to call on the people of the whole country to fight for a new regime that would do away with the semi-feudal system in the country headed by a centuries-old monarchy, and break Nepal’s dependence and subordination to the world imperialist powers and neighboring India. Although the initial actions were small, the reactionary state hit back with a fury, pursuing party members in the cities and sending the militarized police to carry out widespread murder and terror in the countryside. Despite these savage attacks, the insurgency quickly took root in the hilly region in the western part of the country, in between the fertile plains to the south along the Indian border and the inhospitable Himalayan mountain range to the north along the Chinese border. The backward rural districts of Rokum and Rolpa, each with a population of a few hundred thousand overwhelmingly poor peasants mainly belonging to one of Nepal’s many minority nationalities, became a stronghold of resistance and a symbol of revolution throughout the country and increasingly the world.
Soon the programme of the CPN(M) to transform Nepal began to take living shape. In the areas of the countryside cleansed of the old government’s police apparatus, new forms of people’s rule began to appear. The hopes of the formerly oppressed turned into their active mobilization. Organizations blossomed among different sections of the people—peasants, women, workers, students and teachers. Almost from the beginning important social transformations began to take place in the countryside.
For centuries, Nepal, like neighboring India, has suffered from the caste system that condemns whole sections of the society to a life of oppression and humiliation from the moment they are born. This was an early target and was heavily battered by the revolution. In this cruel system sanctified by the Hindu religion, the misery of the oppressed is deemed a punishment for misbehavior in a previous life and the privileges of the upper castes a god-given right. On top of this cruel system sat the king, conveniently considered a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu by the Hindu religion. In addition, over half the population of Nepal were stigmatized as tribals, whose languages were unrecognized and whose culture was beaten down.
When the sparks of the people’s war began to light up a way out of this intolerable life, huge numbers of the downtrodden welcomed the revolution and increasingly streamed into its organized ranks. Peasant women, who, like men, suffered extreme hardship in western Nepal, also had the full weight of reactionary traditions on their back. For example, young girls were often married off by age 12. Soon women were flooding into the revolution, becoming fighters and learning to read and write. Many blossomed as commanders and political leaders. Real liberation of women was being achieved through revolution.
The revolution brought about dramatic changes among the oppressed nationalities in a few short years. Equality of languages and culture was promoted. The CPN(M) gave great weight to setting up new local and regional governing bodies where the formerly oppressed would play a leading role.
Feudal oppression by landowners is intense in the fertile flat areas of southern Nepal. In fact, when the war began in 1996 a kind of legal slavery still existed in some corners of the country. Some peasants did not even have the formal right to leave their masters’ fields. The revolution raised the slogan “Land to the tiller,” and the poor peasants in the flat areas also began to support the revolution in increasing numbers. Many joined the guerrilla forces based in the hills. At the beginning it was difficult for the revolutionary side to fight in these agricultural areas where enemy forces were strong and could take advantage of the network of roads and flat terrain to move quickly and bring superior armaments to bear. But bit-by-bit these areas also became strongholds of the revolution. The government forces increasingly could only stay holed up in heavily fortified camps.
New organs of power grew up. For example, people’s courts involving the villagers were established to settle disputes and enforce the revolutionary order. Child marriage was made illegal and more and more young people began to choose their own partners without reference to caste. Discrimination against the so-called lower castes was banned and real changes took place in the way people related to each other. Alcoholism, a big problem in the country, was the target of education campaigns. The production and sale of alcohol was restricted. No one who visited the liberated Nepalese countryside failed to remark on the enthusiasm the revolution had unleashed among the poor.
These developments could not have taken place without the creation of the People’s Liberation Army in 2001. Quickly the PLA grew in strength, experience and organization. Thousands of revolutionary soldiers fought lengthy battles against fortified enemy positions protected by airpower and heavy artillery. By winning battles like these as well as countless small ones, the PLA seized modern weapons given to the Nepalese reactionary state by India, the U.S. and Europe. Increasingly the enemy could only move by using airborne troops or marching in columns hundreds of soldiers strong. Even in the fertile plains where the royal armed forces had major installations, the authority of the revolution gradually achieved the upper hand.
From the beginning the CPN(M) struggled to not allow the revolution to be isolated in the rural areas, even though the enemy’s ruthless terror made it very dangerous for any known Maoist to venture into the urban areas. Nepal is a relatively small country and word of how the revolution was transforming the countryside was filtering into all the ranks of society.
Like other third world countries, the cities in Nepal have swollen over recent decades. This process became even more pronounced during the people’s war. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of people inhabiting the slums of the capital, Kathmandu, the middle class grew as well. The tourism industry, for example, is one of the main economic activities in the country, involving many thousands of people directly and indirectly. NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) have grown like mushrooms as the imperialists have funded many projects in hopes of fostering an alternative to the people’s war.
In Nepal the ruling class forces have been divided into several camps. The forces grouped around the monarchy and the army have long been at the center of the reactionary state power. The two main political parties in the urban areas are the Nepal Congress Party, particularly characterized by its long subservience to India and, to a lesser degree, the United States and other foreign powers, and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) usually just referred to as UML. The UML is a party of phony communists who actively opposed the people’s war from the beginning. They were part of several reactionary governments that carried out bloody suppression of the revolution in the countryside. The UML has a strong following in the capital among the middle class and intellectuals who, like such forces in many other countries, are unhappy with the present order but also have illusions about the nature of the “Western democracies” and the possibility of radical change through elections. From the beginning of the people’s war onward, the Maoists have tried hard to influence this section of the people and win them to the side of the revolution.
As the people’s war grew in strength, the central Nepalese state, with the monarchy and the Royal Nepal Army at its core, adopted heavy-handed measures that pushed even more of the population in the urban areas into active opposition. In addition, important cracks appeared among Nepal’s ruling classes as first one government then another failed to come up with a strategy that could stem the insurgency. In June 2001, the reigning king and most of the royal family were mysteriously gunned down. That king’s brother, Gyanendra, widely considered responsible for the massacre, took over the throne. After a short period of cease-fire and negotiations with the CPN(M), Gyanendra called out the full force of the Royal Nepal Army against the revolution, which until then had mainly faced the militarized police. This, too, was unsuccessful and the revolution kept advancing.
Faced with the real possibility of losing everything, the king decided on a desperate gamble. He abolished the parliament, put the leaders of the legal political parties under house arrest and instituted direct “emergency rule.” The Western powers made a few muffled noises about democracy and human rights while giving a clear green light to the king and the RNA to try to wipe out the people’s forces.
However, the plan backfired. The PLA was able to stand up to the intensifying blows of the RNA. Furthermore, Gyanendra’s inability to come up with a decisive victory intensified the splits in the ruling classes. Disgruntlement and anger at emergency rule and the abolition of all rights increased throughout the country.
In this framework, political parties such as Congress and the UML, who had been guilty of bloody collaboration with the monarchy and the army, came out against the king. The increasing strength of the people’s war and the turmoil in the ranks of the ruling classes led to the massive April 2006 outpouring of hundreds of thousands of people throughout Nepal’s cities and towns, especially the capital. This forced the king to back down from emergency rule and restore parliament.
Under these circumstances a cease-fire was declared between the PLA and the Royal Nepal Army (whose name was changed to the Nepal Army after the weakening of the monarchy). Various rounds of negotiations took place between the legal political parties (mainly the Congress and the UML) and the CPN(M). Eventually an agreement was announced to end the people’s war and form a new regime. The agreement called for the PLA fighters to be housed in cantonments—military camps in different parts of the country, separated from the people—and put most of their weapons under UN supervision. The agreement called for the Nepal government to provide decent shelter and a food allowance for the PLA soldiers, but in reality these fighters have been living in miserable conditions to this day.
In the aftermath of the April 2006 movement it became clear that it would be very difficult for an absolute monarchy to continue to govern Nepal. Not only were the great majority of people in Nepal clear on this; the foreign powers that had previously backed the monarchy and trained the RNA feared that their own clutches on Nepal could be destroyed along with the monarchy if a new system of rule were not put in place. The reactionaries conspired to institute a constitutional monarchy, but the CPN(M) strenuously opposed this. The monarchy was widely hated and opposed by the people, and its maintenance in any form became less and less of a viable option.
The fundamental problem in Nepal is what kind of a state will replace the discredited and hated monarchy. What will be the relationship between this new state and the workers and peasants? What type of economic system will it reflect and build up, and what will be its relation to the whole world economic system and the system of states that goes along with it?
The goal of the reactionary classes in Nepal and their international backers has been very clear and open from the start. (See, for example, the reports from the imperialist-organized International Crisis Group explaining its proposed strategy, at crisisgroup.org.) The reactionaries want to dissolve the People’s Liberation Army, dismantle all of the political structures created by the revolution in the countryside, and consolidate a new government apparatus that will enforce Nepal’s subordination to the world imperialist system and prop up the reactionary system of exploitation within Nepal itself. In order to carry this out, the imperialists and reactionaries need to solve what they see as “the Maoist problem”—by incorporating them into government and “reintegrating” their fighters into the old society and/or by taking measures that would cripple the CPN(M) and prevent it from taking independent action. For example, already the reactionary state has reopened hated police stations in the rural areas where they had been driven out by the revolution.
The reactionaries want the masses of the people to crawl silently back to their farms or homes. They want to wipe away all traces of the people’s war, which they consider a horrible nightmare. This would mean dashing the hopes that the revolution had awakened among the people.
The reactionaries have several powerful weapons in order to accomplish this ugly plan. First, they have the armed forces that were organized and ideologically, politically and militarily trained by the old state to defend the old order. While the people’s war battered these armed forces, they have been reinforced by aid and training from India, the U.S. and Europe. They remain the pillar of the state today. Second, the reactionaries use the illusory promise of peaceful, democratic change through the ballot box (even as they whip up violence themselves and threaten to unleash a bloodbath). Third, the reactionaries take full advantage of the thousands of economic, political and military threads that keep Nepal thoroughly connected to and dominated by what is called euphemistically “the international community” but in reality is nothing other than the imperialist-dominated world order.
Obstacles to revolution—real but surmountable
Given the real strengths of the reactionary forces, it is not at all surprising that many in Nepal, as in other countries around the world, hate the way the people are exploited and the country is dominated, but believe that it is impossible, in today’s conditions, to do much more than make the best of a bad situation. In other words, accept a compromise in which the system remains basically intact and hope that the conditions of the people, or at least some of the people, can be improved by just reforming around the edges of the system. In Nepal, this kind of thinking has long been strong among the middle class forces who have supported the UML.
When we look at the particular conditions of Nepal, we can understand the powerful attraction of such arguments. Nepal is very poor and has very little industry. The source of foreign exchange revenue comes mainly from foreign aid, tourism, and the remittances of Nepalese workers abroad, mainly India, where they usually work under horrendous conditions of extreme exploitation.
Geographically, Nepal has no seacoast and is surrounded by two large and powerful reactionary states—India to the south and, to the north, China, whose capitalist rulers abandoned communism long ago and fear Maoism as much as rulers in other countries.
All this means that Nepal is extremely exposed to foreign pressure and control and very vulnerable militarily. In particular, India has always considered Nepal a kind of protectorate and dominates its economic life. Because of these realities, one viewpoint in the Nepali communist movement has always held that it would be impossible to liberate Nepal until revolution first took place in India. This view is associated especially with MB Singh, a leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Mashal or “Torch”) who fought hard against initiating the people’s war prior to 1996 and became a fierce enemy of it afterwards. The CPN(M) was formed mainly out of the Mashal party and its leaders had to wage a big ideological fight against what they called “the Singh school of thought,” including the repudiation of his thesis of the impossibility of revolution in Nepal.
Another obstacle often pointed to is the lack of a single genuine socialist country today. This means that any genuine revolutionary state would be very isolated internationally. Perhaps more importantly, it means that the people in Nepal and elsewhere cannot see any alternative model or state system existing in the world. Even where armed resistance to the West has grown, such as in Iraq, it is often under the control of reactionaries with a frightening programme for society. All this has an effect on the mood of the people and whether they can be won to fight and sacrifice for a complete victory—which, they are constantly told, is impossible anyway.
Coupled with the so-called “demise of communism” has come the even further intensified propagation and even worship of Western-style democracy (or bourgeois democracy). This viewpoint corresponds to the interests of the ruling classes in the West and is heavily promoted by them in a thousand ways, but it is also deeply embedded throughout the world. Capitalist dictatorship is hidden by the apparent equality of elections that in reality can never challenge that economic system and the rule based on it. These illusions of democracy and equality under an unjust system are especially strong among the urban middle classes, where they are reinforced by their own somewhat more privileged conditions of life, even in a poor country like Nepal. No revolutionary transformation of society can come about if these sections of the people are united against it, so the bourgeois democratic illusions of these sections are a real obstacle any revolution will face.
Further, despite the impressive gains the PLA made through the course of the people’s war, militarily the people’s forces are relatively weak and don’t have the same kind of modern sophisticated weapons as the enemy, especially the foreign powers. Is it really possible for an army built up from the bottom by the people of a poor and backward country and with no support from foreign countries to defeat a modern army with heavy backing and weaponry from the most powerful countries on earth? Is it any surprise that a lot of people would find such a victory impossible?
After ten years, the people are weakened by war. Although the people’s war awakened the enthusiasm of the people, it is also true that the enemy attacks brought great suffering. Even the people’s war’s most solid supporters yearn for peace. Indeed, the whole society needs a solution to the war. This pressure for peace can also turn into a big pressure to stop the revolution before achieving victory.
Why a revolutionary victory really is possible in Nepal
However daunting the obstacles, it would be tragically wrong to conclude that there is no real possibility, at least not any time in the foreseeable future, of actually achieving the goal that was set when the people’s war began: the establishment of a state of a type unique in today’s world, where the people, led by a revolutionary communist party, hold political power, where it is possible to build an economic system not based on exploitation and a country that can really get out of the clutches of the imperialists. The whole experience in Nepal shows that seeming miracles can be accomplished when the people are mobilized in a revolutionary way to fight in their own genuine interests in a country (and a world) calling out to be transformed through revolution.
When you look deeper at the situation in Nepal, it is possible to see some of the reasons why a decisive victory of the revolutionary forces in Nepal is a real, possible and necessary solution to the problems of that society. This backward country oppressed by imperialism can be transformed into an advanced outpost where new social relations not based on exploitation are in command and the beginning construction of a new type of society can serve as an example to the world.
Nepal is still a largely agricultural country and the whole society desperately needs an end to landlordism and other forms of feudal exploitation that are holding it in chains. This reality means that there is a huge reservoir of support for the revolution’s programme of “Land to the tiller.” It is possible to mobilize the support of most of the population behind a thoroughgoing revolution in agriculture. None of the reformist solutions can meet this need nor unleash the enthusiasm of the peasantry, the majority of the population.
By thoroughly eradicating landlordism, instituting “Land to the tiller” in a revolutionary way and fostering voluntary cooperation among the peasants, a new foundation for the national economy can be created. Such a revolutionary agrarian revolution would not only weaken the remaining strength of the feudal classes in Nepal, it would also strengthen the base and the support for revolutionary transformations among the whole population. With land in the hands of the producers it would be possible, through struggle and hard work, to greatly increase the yields per hectare and thus ensure that the peasantry was no longer required to send family members to India to work in miserable and degrading conditions. The basis for internal commerce and trade would also grow along with agricultural development. In this way the agrarian revolution can win the support and unite the great majority of the people.
While Nepal will no doubt remain poor for some time, important steps can be taken to quickly improve the material conditions of the people. The CPN(M) has already demonstrated that it is possible to build desperately needed roads in the hilly regions by relying mainly on the enthusiasm of the people and simple technology. Widespread small hydroelectric projects could provide power for the villages, instead of huge water projects aimed at providing electricity to India and bypassing the countryside. While the industrial base in Nepal is weak, it would be possible to build the kind of industry necessary to build generators, hosing for irrigation, sanitation pipes and so forth. A national economy can be built up where industry in the cities serves the rural and agrarian economic base, so that the country is not at the mercy of foreign economic blackmail. This would serve as the basis for genuine national liberation.
With a revolutionary regime firmly in command and fixing social priorities, the abysmal health and sanitation conditions of the masses could be very rapidly improved. While it will surely take a long time before hospitals in Nepal can reach advanced world standards, a great deal can be accomplished by relatively simple methods that rely mainly on mobilizing and educating the people.
As mentioned earlier, one of the great accomplishments of the people’s war in Nepal has been the mobilization in the ranks of the revolution of vast numbers of women who have shown a great determination to uproot the old society that had kept them so oppressed. In the same way, this revolutionary force can be even further unleashed in the struggle to build up a radically different kind of society in which women really are, in fact as well as in law, on an equal plane with men. A radical rupture with the old feudal system, and the old ideas and traditions of the oppression of women that went along with it, can unleash this force throughout the country. Women can be relied upon to fight to keep the revolution going forward.
In a similar way, the people’s war was able to show—in a living way—a solution to the conditions of the lower castes and the rampant discrimination against the oppressed nationalities. Carrying the revolution through to the end is the only way to thoroughly uproot these age-old horrors. It can bring forward huge numbers from the formerly oppressed who can be counted on to continue the revolutionary advance.
The relatively large numbers of educated young people in Nepal living in the cities can be turned into a big asset for building up the country on a completely new basis. They can help build a new culture that preserves and develops the best from among Nepal’s numerous nationalities and learns from and adopts that which is scientific and revolutionary from the world as a whole. Many can be persuaded to help transform the rural areas by bringing scientific knowledge and methods to the countryside and joining with the peasantry.
The urban middle classes are crucial to the success of the revolution. It is possible to show them through life itself that a revolutionary regime can make room for them to take a full part in transforming society, allow them space to criticize, and so forth. The state system of New Democracy, a form of state where the working class rules in alliance with the peasants, middle class forces and even some capitalists who stand for an independent country, can, if handled correctly, address and fulfil the democratic sentiments of the middle classes while combating illusions about bourgeois democracy. This kind of revolutionary dictatorship need not be an obstacle to winning these sections of the people. In fact it can become a condition and a means to win large numbers of these kinds of hesitating forces who feel caught in the middle. Already life in the CPN(M) base areas showed in embryo how this process can take place on a big scale once nationwide power is in the hands of the people led by a vanguard communist party and New Democracy is achieved.
The basis exists, once revolution opens the way, to rebuild Nepal and the whole world on a completely different basis, where the exploitation of some people by others is not the foundation of society. This is the socialist and communist future glimpsed during the people’s war that so fired up the poor peasants and so many others as well, in Nepal and beyond. And it is the spectre of socialism and communism that has so freaked out the imperialists and reactionaries the world over and why they are so bitterly determined to derail and destroy the revolution in Nepal.
There is no guarantee of victory in revolution, in Nepal or any country at a given moment. But it can be said with certainty that however difficult and daunting the road to full revolutionary victory may be, it is still the only possible, real way that Nepal can be transformed. It is necessary for communists to remain firm in this orientation and lead the people to accomplish it.
The international dimension
No revolution exists in a vacuum. In Nepal as well, the advance of the revolution is closely linked to the advance of the revolution in the neighboring countries and the world as a whole.
Nepal’s close proximity and interconnection with India is a double-edged sword. True, that increases the country’s vulnerability to pressure, interference and outright attack. It is also true that there are great advantages to the revolution as well. India has huge numbers of desperately oppressed masses, many with common cultural and linguistic links to Nepal. Already the millions of Nepalese who regularly work in India have been an important vector spreading knowledge and support for the revolution among the people of that country. Given the extreme and intensifying contradictions in Indian society, a real revolutionary regime in Nepal will have immediate and deep reverberations throughout India, especially the north and northeast. Furthermore, although it has no common border with Bangladesh, Nepal is only a few dozen kilometers from that country, most of whose 150 million people live in conditions of great hardship. Previously the CPN(M) had put forward the very revolutionary call for a Soviet Federation of South Asia which would create a new state structure in the region based on a common battle for New Democracy and the genuine equality of nations. If the revolutionary regime is established in Nepal, there is a real possibility that the people of the region may come to its rescue.
The military strength of India and the imperialist states, it is true, is an imposing and formidable obstacle. But here, too, it is necessary to understand their weaknesses as well. India has had a hard time dealing militarily with insurgencies within its own borders. Its major counterinsurgency operation in Sri Lanka in the 1980s ended in a dismal failure. It would be very difficult for India to intervene in Nepal, where hatred of Indian expansionism runs very strong and where revolution can benefit from a very favorable mountainous geography. The Indian reactionaries would have to think hard before taking on such a desperate gamble.
The U.S. is, of course, an enormously dangerous and vicious enemy. But it is also true that the American military is highly overstretched, short of manpower, and facing ever-increasing opposition to its imperialist aggression all over the world, including from its own population. Even the U.S. military knows how difficult it would be to fight Maoist revolutionaries deeply linked to the people and enjoying their active support.
It is definitely true that the revolution in Nepal cannot be separated from the revolutionary process in the world as a whole, and there are positive as well as negative factors that have to be considered. In the whole region there are extreme and intense conflicts within the ruling classes and between the masses and their oppressors. The establishment of a real revolutionary regime in Nepal would be like a thunderbolt for the whole region. Yes, the governments of the neighboring states would try to interfere and overthrow such a regime, but it is also true that the hopes of the people of these countries would be aroused in an unprecedented way. The masses of people of the region and ultimately the whole world represent a real, if presently untapped, reserve of strength for the revolution in Nepal. A clear revolutionary programme and the living example of the masses actually taking power and ruling society can unlock this potential.
Right now the people and the revolutionaries of Nepal are facing the kind of difficult choices that will confront any revolution when it is on the cusp of possible victory but also faces the real danger of being destroyed. The Maoists are up against the intrigues and opposition of the whole “international community,” the gang of thieves and cutthroats that rule the world. In Nepal, and elsewhere, another world IS possible but only if it is wrenched out of the clutches of those who now are feeding off it and keeping it in chains. This is what the ten years of people’s war were all about and this is the great task that the revolution needs to complete.
The people’s war showed the tremendous strength of ordinary people once they are unleashed in genuine revolutionary struggle. Again and again the enemies of the revolution were shocked by the determination and fighting capacity of the masses of people led by a genuine communist vanguard. Now the crucial issue is to be clear on the objectives of the revolution, and rely on and guide the revolutionary masses to finish the great task begun in 1996 and bring into being a completely different kind of state as part of the global fight for a different kind of world, a world without class exploitation, communism.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations
Revolution #121, February 24, 2008
Juno Has a Baby…
SPOILER WARNING: This review gives away the plot of Juno, so if you don’t want the plot revealed before you see the movie, see the movie before reading this review.
Sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff lives in the fictional suburban town of Dancing Elk, Minnesota. She wears boyish, punky attire and listens to folky alternative music. Juno (played by Ellen Page) gives the impression of being tough and vulnerable at the same time. In her voice-over narration she dryly recounts how her parents divorced when she was small. Her mother remarried and moved to Arizona where she has a “replacement family.” Her mother sends Juno a cactus every Valentine’s Day. Juno wisecracks with resentment: “Thanks a heap, Coyote Ugly. This cactus-gram stings even worse than your abandonment.” This back-story with its prickly symbolism is the first hint of the outmoded moral boundaries which guide the tale: Juno’s mom was not a good mother. Period.
Juno (Juno is the name of the Roman goddess of fertility, childbirth, and marriage) loves her best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). He is a likeable nerd. Having sex wasn’t his idea, it was hers. Juno and Paulie have sex without condoms. Later, when Juno returns from what will be an aborted trip to an abortion clinic, she tells a friend, “the receptionist tried to get me to take these condoms that looked like grape suckers and was just babbling away about her freaking boyfriend’s pie balls!”
Now she is pregnant and worried: she is too young to have a baby. Joking darkly about suicide with her best friend, Juno phones a clinic to “procure a hasty abortion.” Cut to the “Women Now” abortion clinic, which is a grim, sordid place. Outside the clinic Juno encounters a young classmate who is standing alone, carrying a huge sign with the face of a baby on it and the words: “No Babies Like Murdering.” The classmate tells Juno, “Your baby’s heart is probably beating. It can feel pain. It has fingernails.”
Juno pauses when she hears the “fingernails” line, but enters the clinic anyhow. Once inside of this supposedly feminist clinic she is greeted by a receptionist who drones in a monotone, “Welcome to Women Now where women are trusted friends.” The receptionist hands her a clipboard, saying “we need to know every score and every sore.” Juno, disconcerted, looks around the waiting room, which is filled with depressed women anxiously drumming their fingernails. The sound of fingernails crescendos: Clickety clickety click, drum drum DRUM. Juno flees.
From the intervention of the sincere pro-lifer to the grungy clinic, you are supposed to feel relief when Juno runs from the place. Though the movie presents abortion as a “choice,” it quickly also presents killing a lump of cells as killing a “baby,” even though a fetus at the time of Juno’s trip to the abortion clinic would be little bigger than a period on this page.
When Juno tells her dad and stepmother that she is pregnant they are at first shocked and disappointed, but almost immediately turn supportive when she announces her decision to carry the fetus to term and put it up for adoption. Juno announces she has found the perfect couple to be adoptive parents. “Thirty-odd weeks, and we can pretend it never happened.” Juno’s stepmother, Brenda (Allison Janney), reassures: “Somebody else is going to find a precious blessing from Jesus in this garbage dump of a situation.” In the wink of an eye, all discussion of abortion, of a woman’s future, has been dispensed with and the pregnancy has become a baby and a “blessing.”
Later Brenda takes Juno for an ultrasound appointment. Brenda is a Unitarian—a kind of solid, “common sense” character. Watching the image of the fetus on the ultrasound monitor, Juno says, “It’s like it’s not even real. I can’t believe there are saps who actually cry at these things.” A moment later, Brenda cries. “What? I’m not made of stone.”
The Adoptive Parents
Much of the movie revolves around Juno’s interaction with the adoptive parents she chooses to raise the baby. Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner of TV series Alias fame) is a professional woman in her thirties who passionately declares that she is “born” to be a mother. In fact, we never learn more about Vanessa, her life, likes, hopes, dreams, than this. Her intensity around motherhood is almost frightening. She obsesses on whether custard or cheesecake yellow paint will provide the best “nesting” environment.
A pivotal scene occurs when Juno, hugely pregnant, runs into Vanessa by accident at a mall. Juno encourages Vanessa to touch her belly and talk with the fetus. Vanessa puts her hand on Juno’s belly and asks, “Can you hear me, sweet angel?” And lo and behold, a miracle occurs. “Oh my God—it moved! I felt it!” Juno smiles. Vanessa beams. God has spoken. Juno and Vanessa bond in their joint mission to produce and raise a baby.
Vanessa’s husband, Mark Loring (Jason Bateman), chafes at his career writing stupid ad jingles. He wants to drop out and form a rock band. Juno and Mark hang out. They talk about horror flicks, rock music, and comic books. When Juno tells her stepmother that she spent time alone with Mark, she gets a warning: “Mark is a married stranger. You overstepped a boundary.” Juno balks. “Who cares if he’s married? I can have friends who are married.” Her stepmother replies: “It doesn’t work that way, kiddo.”
And so it doesn’t. Juno’s bonding with Mark leads to Mark hitting on her—exhibiting supposedly innate male impulses. Juno “learns a lesson.” The encounter with Mark is a cautionary tale about being in the company of men other than husband or relative for “the woman’s protection.” And Mark, as it turns out, betrays his patriarchal role altogether. He doesn’t want a baby. He runs off to the city to get a loft and start a band.
In one scene, when Juno discusses arrangements for adoption with Mark and Vanessa, she asks, “Can’t we just, like, kick this old school? Like, I have the baby, put it in a basket and send it your way, like Moses and the reeds?” Mark injects, “Technically, that would be kicking it Old Testament.”
And in that exchange, the punchline of Juno is articulated: Everything alternative in Juno is an alternative, updated version of deadly oppressive morality where having a baby is the be-all and end-all for a woman, the form through which she finds her meaning in life. And if you liked Juno, that’s what you got sold.
How Did We Get HERE and Where Do We GO?
In the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a brother figures out that he has taken his high school sister for a needed abortion. It is a very affirmative, tender, positive thing that allows her to continue to have a life. In the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing (set in the 1960s), a young woman courageously sticks out her neck to help a friend obtain an illegal abortion. In Cider House Rules (1999), a young doctor-in-training goes through profound changes as he learns about life, oppression, and the morality of abortion.
Now where are we? Joseph V. Amodio wrote in Newsday, “Pregnant bellies are everywhere. It began, more or less, with last year’s ‘Waitress,’ continued on to ‘Knocked Up’ and ‘Bella’ and, of course, the sleeper hit ‘Juno,’ which last month grabbed four Oscar nominations.” (“Topic of abortion scares Hollywood,” February 4, 2008).
Off-the-deep-end reactionaries like ex-senator Rick Santorum love Juno (and the spate of other anti-abortion movies). But more alarmingly, so does almost everyone else. David Denby gushed in the New Yorker that “Juno is a coming-of-age movie made with idiosyncratic charm and not a single false note.”
How is it that audiences who are not anti-choice are walking out of a movie like Juno without even realizing what hit them? For many years now, Christian fascists have been hammering a message that what America needs is a return to the oppressive values of 1950s (and in many ways, the 1850s), including a return to traditional woman’s role as mother. They have been setting terms very broadly, to the point that any Democrat who wants to run for president has to declare that abortion is morally wrong and tragic, while the movement to ban all abortion grows and shuts down clinics. And through all this, a morality has spread that accepts that we “all” supposedly abhor abortion as a tragedy. The fact that so many people have been taken in by Juno should serve as a wake-up call on how ominously far things have gone in that direction.
Juno packages itself as expressing an alternative to the heartless meat-market relations between people in general, and men and women in particular, in this society. The dog-eat-dog morality that flows from and serves capitalism is expressed in the domination of men over women in many forms, including the widespread commodification of women. But both “modern” commodification of women and traditional morality are two sides to the same coin.
A much better system, and a much better morality, are possible. A revolutionary society will open the door to rupturing beyond the concepts of wife and mother, and into partners and parents, and will eventually do away with the institution of marriage altogether. Revolutionary communist morality starts from, is consistent with, and serves the need to overthrow all class relations, and all the thinking that comes from and serves them. This includes the overthrow of all social relations and ideas that degrade and oppress women. And that is a truly radical alternative morality.
Revolution #121, February 24, 2008
Hook up with the revolution
9 West 19th St. (btwn 5th and 6th Aves)
Tuesdays, 7 pm
Join us for a series of sweeping and incisive discussions based on the new series “MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY” by Revolutionary Communist Party, USA Chairman Bob Avakian. The discussions are open to those who’ve been engaging the works of Bob Avakian and those who are brand new—all are welcome! Together we’ll get into some of the most essential questions confronting people who want to see a different world.
February 19, Tuesday, 7 pm
At a time when the objective need for revolutionary leadership is all the more profoundly and acutely posed, but when there continues to be considerable confusion and misunderstanding about this, Revolution Books invites you to a discussion of "Some Points on the Question of Revolutionary Leadership and Individual Leaders and Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party." With Sunsara Taylor
February 22, Friday, 9 pm
“Music is Revolution” New Orleans Rebel Rocker, MYSELF w/ his live! band. Exclusive Screening of MYSELF video shot in New Orleans post-Katrina, $10 cover—ALL AGES SHOW.
Wednesday February 27
Travis Morales (RCP)
Prof. Ted Henken (CUNY-Baruch )
A conversation on the critical questions facing immigrants in the U.S.
February 28, Thursday, 7 pm
Join Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party and special guests in a forum: In Light of Katrina & Jena: What Got Black People Into the Mess They’re In—And How Are They Going to Get Out of It.
February 29, Friday, 7 pm
Black History Month Film Series: “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow: Promises Betrayed (1865-1896)”
Saturday March 1, 8pm
Danny Lubin Sextet
International Women's Day
Call or check website for details
March 13, Thursday, 7 pm
Chris Finan – “From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act”
1103 N. Ashland Avenue
Every Sunday, 5:00 pm
Discussions of Bob Avakian’s “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity.” Call store for topics.
February 19, Tuesday, 7:30 pm
Is it right to promote individual leaders? Join Revolution correspondents Alan Goodman and Li Onesto to discuss the Revolutionary Communist Party’s 1995 Leadership Resolutions on Leaders and Leadership, Part II: Some Points on the Question of Revolutionary Leadership and Individual Leaders.
February 23, Saturday, 2 pm
Author appearance: Timuel Black
Timuel Black is an historian and author, chronicler of the Great Migration of Black people from the South to Chicago. He will speak on the dreams and expectations of Black people in their migration to Chicago, which gave way to a very different reality and the continuing struggle to bring in a better world.
February 24, Sunday, 5 pm
Discussion of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. What is democracy? What is dictatorship? And what is America—a democracy, a dictatorship, or both? If the “true ideals of the founders” could be realized—what would it look like—and why?
February 27, Wednesday, 7 pm
Set the Record Straight presents: Deconstructing popular misconceptions of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Discussion and video presentation.
February 29, Friday 7 pm
Opposing White Supremacy and Getting to a Far Better World with Clyde Young of the Revolutionary Communist Party.
March 2, Sunday, 2 pm
Ardea Skybreak’s “The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters.” Discussion 4: Anti-Evolution Creationism: An Assault On All of Science, In the Name of God.
2425 Channing Way near Telegraph Ave
February 19, Tuesday, 7 pm
Barack Obama – New Face, Same Empire
Discussion with Larry Everest
February 20, Wednesday, 7 pm
Revolution Newspaper Discussion
February 21, Thursday, 7 pm
Sylvia Sellers-Garcia discusses her novel “When the Ground Turns In Its Sleep”
February 23, Saturday, 7 pm
Discussion: “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian – What is wrong with religion? How would a new society deal with religious beliefs & institutions? Does a god exist?
February 24, Sunday, 7 pm
Discussion: Democracy, Can’t We Do Better Than That?
February 25, Monday, 7pm
Video Nite: Bulworth
February 26, Tuesday, 7pm
Israel—the worst thing to happen to the Jewish people since the holocaust: discussion with Larry Everest
February 27, Wednesday, 7 pm
The Science of Evolution: How do we know whole new species and branches of life evolved through natural selection if we weren't there to see it?
February 28, Thursday, 7 pm
Revolution Newspaper Discussion
March 8, Saturday, Call for details
International Women’s Day
312 West 8th Street 213-488-1303
February 19, Tuesday, 7 pm
“Revolución: Por qué es necesaria, por qué es posible, qué es.” – Spanish language showing and discussion of sections from Bob Avakian’s DVD.
February 20, Wednesday, 7:30 pm
“The Science of Evolution, The Myth of Creationism - Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters” Ardea Skybreak - bilingual discussion will focus on Chapter 7, “The Evolution of Human Beings.” Available in Spanish at http://revcom.us/a/v24/1181-1190/1182/evol_s.htm.
February 21, Thursday, 7:30 pm
Revolution newspaper night - Special bilingual discussion of articles on leaders and leadership in issue No. 120
February 22, Friday, 7 pm
Cinema Revolución - Black history month film series: “BURN!” - Gillo Pontecorvo’s film of a 19th century slave revolt on a Caribbean sugar plantation.
February 23, Sunday, 4:30 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity.” Bilingual discussion of Bob Avakian’s recent major talk. Focus on the “The New Synthesis” section of the excerpt in issue #112 of Revolution/Revolución newspaper.
International Women's Day
Call or check blog for details
2626 South King Street
Every Monday, 6:15 pm
Reading circle/discussion of the current installment of Bob Avakian’s series, “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity”
March 9, Sunday, 5 pm
International Women’s Day Celebration
Poetry • Testimonials • Potluck supper
2804 Mayfield Rd (at Coventry)
Cleveland Heights 216-932-2543
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 3-8 pm
February 24, Sunday, 4 pm
Film showing for Black History Month: “Home of the Brave”--documentary examining the case of the only white woman murdered in the civil rights movement; and a discussion of the Revolution DVD review in Issue #119.
February 25, Monday, 7 pm
Discussion of Bob Avakian’s "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" (Part I). Marxism As A Science in Opposition to Mechanical Materialism, Idealism and Religiosity (issue #109).
March 3, Monday, 7 pm
Discussion of "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" (Part I). The Rupture With Outmoded Thinking and Beliefs ( issue #108).
March 9, Sunday, 4 pm
Movie in commemoration of International Women's Day.
March 10, Monday 7 pm
Discussion of "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" (Part I). Historical Experience and The New Synthesis (issue #112).
March 17, Monday 7 pm
Discussion of "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" (Part II). Enriched What is To Be Done-ism (issue #113).
1833 Nagle Place
February 23, Saturday, 7pm:
Black History Month Film Showing: “The Murder of Emmett Till”
(between Cass &2nd, south of Forest)
Every Sunday, 4 pm
Discussions of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity—Part 2: Everything We’re Doing Is About Revolution” by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
Every Thursday, 6 pm
Discussion on the latest issue of Revolution newspaper, digging into articles and expanding distribution
February 19, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
Black History Month discussion: Jena and New Orleans: the Need for Resistance and Revolution.
February 24, Sunday, 1 pm
RBO goes to the movies at the Detroit Film Theatre (John R entrance of Detroit Institute of Arts, between Warren and Kirby, Detroit): “Moolade,” a film by Ousmane Sembene, great Senegalese film maker, about a rebellion against genital circumcision in an African village. Discussion afterwards.
February 24, Sunday, 4 pm
Discussion on “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity—Part 2: Everything We’re Doing Is About Revolution” (continued), Meaningful Revolutionary Work: Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution” by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (Revolution newspaper, issue #116)
International Women's Day--Call for details
1158 Mass Ave, 2nd Floor, Cambridge
Every Monday, 6:30 pm
Weekly discussion of the work of Bob Avakian
February 23, Saturday, 6:30 pm
Celebrate Black History Month! Revolution Books Presents: Rosewood (1997)
February 25, Monday, 6:30 pm
Special discussion: 1995 Leadership Resolutions on Leaders and Leadership, Part II: Some Points on the Question of Revolutionary Leadership and Individual Leaders (as published in issue # 120 of Revolution newspaper revcom.us)
March 3, Monday 6:30 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” Part 2.
This week the discussion will focus on Building the Party.
4 Corners Market of the Earth
Little 5 Points, 1087 Euclid Avenue
404-577-4656 & 770-861-3339
Open Wednesdays & Fridays 4 pm - 7 pm,
Saturdays 2 pm - 7 pm
February 24, Sunday, 3:30 pm
First in a series of weekly discussions of "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" by Bob Avakian. Focus this week: "Communism Will Not Be a Utopia - It Will Be a Radically Different and Far Better World." Based on excerpts in Revolution newspaper issues 105, 106 and 107.
International Women's Day
Call or check blog for details
Late February through Early March
Lessons of Jena, Free the Jena Six! speaking tour with Revolution correspondents Alice Woodward and Hank Brown at campuses in the Southeast. Check the blog or call/email for more info ot to schedule speakers.
Revolution #121, February 24, 2008
What kind of system takes millions of Black youth and consigns them to segregated run-down neighborhoods and prison-like schools? Offers them lower paying, demeaning jobs—if at all—when they seek employment? Treats their style of dress or way they talk as evidence of criminal behavior? Makes “behind bars” more familiar than “campus classroom”? Destroys all hopes and dreams, and leaves only desperation?
Why keep a system that does this?
The inequity is indisputable. America’s jail and prison population has soared to 2.2 million—the size of a small country, and the highest incarceration rate in the world.1 While only 12% of the U.S. population, Black people make up 40% of those incarcerated.2 By 2006, 1 out of every 9 Black men between 25 and 29 was locked up.3 Over a lifetime, one out of every three Black youth will spend time in prison.4
It’s not that crime has caused increased incarceration. According to U.S. Department of Justice studies, the overall crime rate has actually decreased over the past 30 years, with the violent crime rate dropping to its lowest overall record in 2003.5 While government reports indicate that drug use has remained relatively constant, and significantly less than when the “war on drugs” began, arrests for drug-related crimes have soared since the ’80s.6 While whites and Blacks report using and selling drugs at similar rates, a study of large population counties in the U.S. showed that Black people went to prison at 10 times the rate of white people.7
Feeding this frenzy of incarceration is the systematic targeting and criminalizing of Black people. “Fitting the profile”—aka being Black—becomes an invitation for police harassment. In just one year (2007) in New York City, police stopped and frisked nearly 470,000 people. Over half were Black, and of those, only 13% were arrested or given a summons.8 Similar stories of abuse and harassment by police are commonplace in this nation’s cities, where simply being Black gets you treated as a criminal, brutalized and even killed.
The terror visited upon millions of Black people in America for generations past still stalks the night, as sheets and nooses have now become police uniforms and semi-automatics. The 3,450 Black people killed by KKK and lynch mobs between 1882 and 1968 have become the 3,500 Black “felons”—as the FBI described them—killed by police between 1976 and 1998—a figure that only includes what police departments have reported.9
Why keep a system that does all this?
The criminalization of Black people is no accident nor a mystery. A change in how capitalists accumulate their capital and decades of a constant chase for higher profit has deindustrialized cities, altered the economy, and destroyed lives. Beginning as far back as the late ’50s and early ’60s, the capitalists began to withdraw their industries from the cities and relocate—either to suburbs or to foreign countries. In just the last 6 years, over 3.5 million factory jobs have been lost—to bankruptcy, technological changes, or outsourcing to the global labor market in the search for the best return and lowest wage.10
Instead of a chance to earn a living, there is now increased competition for who gets to be exploited at the bottom end of the U.S. workforce for low-paying, high turnover jobs with little or no prospect of any advancement. In many cases companies reject unskilled Black workers and hire immigrants who, because of their desperate and precarious situation, more readily accept extremely low wages and horrendous work conditions.
For millions of Black workers, this has meant drastically diminishing job opportunities—so bad that the situation for Black youth seeking employment is worse than it was two generations ago. For many, the doors to any kind of job and any kind of decent future have been simply slammed shut, and people find themselves in a situation where, as one economist pointed out, “crime is a rational choice.”
The system considers millions of Black youth expendable because it can’t profitably exploit them. And a big part of the system’s answer to this is to criminalize and imprison increasing numbers of Black youth. The system rationalizes this by vilifying and dehumanizing Black youth—in effect painting the system’s victims as the criminals. And you have people like Bill Cosby blaming the oppressed for the horrible conditions the system itself has imposed on the people.
After centuries growing fat off the slave labor of Black people. After many decades stealing the last pennies from Black sharecroppers in the segregated South. After extracting millions more from Black folk slaving in factories and slaughter-houses. The development of capitalism in the U.S. and around the world has created a situation where millions of Black people—particularly millions of Black youth—are considered extraneous to the needs of the accumulation of capital. It is the workings of the capitalist system that is behind the fact that so many Black youth today are destined for the slave chains of prison—their lives, their future, their potential crushed.
There IS another way!
What if the people made revolution, took power, stripped control from the class of capitalist-imperialists and built an economy no longer based on extracting profit from human sweat and tears?
What if we used that power to distribute housing, food, healthcare and all the many qualities of life based on humanity’s needs and not whether it brings a profitable return on investment?
What if we were in a position to uproot the centuries of oppression that weigh Black people down, along with all the other degrading ways people must live and the ideas used to justify it?
What if we created a society where dissent, a questioning spirit, and the search for truth is really valued, where the people throughout society came together to debate, struggle out and figure out how to revolutionize every aspect of society?
What if we transformed the world, ourselves, and emancipated all humanity in a real communist society?
Wouldn’t that be worth making a revolution for?
1 Facts About Prisons and Prisoners, The Sentencing Project. 12/07 [http://www.sentencingproject.org/Admin%5CDocuments%5Cpublications%5Cinc_factsaboutprisons.pdf][back]
4 ibid [back]
5 U.S. Department of Justice, BJS, 2003. “Violent crime rates have decreased to the lowest level ever recorded in 2003.”[back]
6 A 25-Year Quagmire: The "War on Drugs" and its impact on American society, The Sentencing Project, September 2007
7 The Vortex: The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties, A Justice Policy Institute Report, December 2007 [http://www.justicepolicy.org/content.php?hmID=1811&smID=1581&ssmID=69][back]
8 Reporter Victim of Racial Profiling is Cleared, Hundreds of Thousands of Innocent Black New Yorkers Stopped by NYPD in 2007, New York Civil Liberties Union, February 13, 2008 [http://www.nyclu.org/node/1631][back]
9 Lynching statistics from the Archives at the Tuskegee Institute [http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/shipp/lynchingsstate.html] Department of Justice statistics from "Policing and Homicide, 1976-98: Justifiable Homicide by Police, Police Officers Murdered by Felons"
10. “Manufacturing Job Losses Continue, Hit Black Workers Hardest,” by James Parks, AFL-CIONOWBLOG, Mar 2, 2007[http://blog.aflcio.org/2007/03/02/manufacturing-job-losses-continue-hit-black-workers-hardest/]“U.S. manufacturing jobs fading away fast,” by Barbara Hagenbaugh, USA TODAY, 12/12/2002 [http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/2002-12-12-manufacture_x.htm][back]
Revolution #121, February 24, 2008
Editors’ Response: Our recent editorials on the election, including “Election ’08: Bamboozling You Into the Empire” (issue #120) and “Andrew Sullivan on Obama: The ‘Best Face’ for Imperialism” (issue #118) were, as expected, controversial – and are being debated both through correspondence to Revolution and in online discussion groups and web sites. Here we are sharing a sampling of that, and we encourage readers to get our coverage of the election into all kinds of forums. Send us your own response to our coverage, and your experiences engaging with others.
There is a question that, while not explicitly posed by, runs through all these letters: Will we accommodate our aspirations, and what we accept, within the limits of choosing a candidate who—as one of our correspondents says, arguing for Obama, doesn’t have blood on his hands…yet? Will “relevance” end up being defined, whatever one’s intentions, as relevant to a process of shoring up and strengthening imperialist exploitation and oppression in one form or another? Will our energies be sucked into speculating on which candidate might kill a few thousand less people—as one of our readers describes the choice that he feels himself agonizing over? Will we accept the “choice” of choosing which candidate might avoid “legal” torture while relying on the kind of “unofficial” torture that has always been a part of imperialist domination? Channeling one’s energy into electing a Democrat will, despite one’s intentions, result in political paralysis or worse than paralysis. The framework of politics of the “possible” means accommodating ourselves to the politics of horrors. Instead, we need to bring forward a movement outside of the “acceptable” framework, and continue to wrestle with what kind of better world is possible.
I Don’t See How Voting for Obama and Saying Stop Torture Are Divergent
I don’t see how voting for Obama and saying stop torture are divergent. They are both actions, they are different and unique. By saying yes to one, you are not saying no to the other.
What is happening is that people are stopping paying attention to your organization and you are sad, so you attack the candidate who has captured the interest of your former sponsors.
That is fine, the guy certainly has some questionable things to talk about. But relatively speaking—his hands are clean so far—no blood on them yet.
So why not give the guy a chance, and continue to work on the side for the issues? You don’t have to stop asking that torture ends just because Obama got in to office.
Your paper is beginning to bore me by talking more about individuals than social objectives. You used to get to the heart of what social change would look like—instead you get in to character smears as if they mean anything relevant to achieving social change.
Why Wasn’t Anyone Screaming Conspiracy?
Why? In the world would any support a Republican, a Democrat (with conservative) views. These people have shown us what their principles are....war, war, more war by any means necessary. They are the ones who have hood-winked all Americans for far too long. They have their own agendas, always have, and always will. We do need change, a positive change is good, far better than the foolishness we were forced to put up with for approximately eight years. Only a few people have benefited from this government. Over the past 200 years. It’s funny how we have become overwhelmed with garbage that when we finally get someone who has fresh, spiritual ideas—we scream conspiracy. Why weren’t anyone screaming conspiracy when Bush forced his way in office, not once but twice. Declared war on a country who had nothing to do with his 9/11. The votes were not counted fairly, where were you and the rest of the revolutionary camp?
The Consequences Are Enormous
Editor’s Note: The following is from an online discussion list. It was posted in response to another posting on that list criticizing the article “Andrew Sullivan on Obama: The ‘Best Face’ for Imperialism”(Revolution #118, February 3, 2008) as factually inaccurate and an “ad hominem” (personal) attack on Obama:
...I hadn’t read the article from the Maoist newspaper posted until it was bad-mouthed. Wanting to see how bad it was, I read it for myself. And, beyond some discussion of the journalist’s background (certainly relevant within the context of that article) and Obama’s background (again, certainly relevant), I couldn’t find any ad-hominem attacks, as was claimed. Certainly it had nothing to do with endorsing Obama; in fact it was a critique of a particular article which endorsed Obama, and more generally it was a structural analysis of Obama and the Democratic party.
Nor could I find any factual inaccuracies; I did find many factual *accuracies* however—and factual accuracies which are usually written of of the corporate media, such as discussion of Ronald Reagan—accurately—as an arch-terrorist. Reagan’s record of war, terrorism, and subverting democracy is certainly relevant to those who seek to change U.S. foreign policy.
Actually, I found the article quite interesting and insightful. I am not a Maoist by any means, and some of us may have difficulties reading articles with Marxist jargon in them, but if you make some mental substitutions as you read (“imperialism”—“foreign policy in breach of international law and subverting the independence of other nations”, “ruling class”—“pundits, mainstream media, corporate interests”, etc.), I thought it made a lot of sense, certainly a perspective worth listening to, not to be blown off in one sentence. I encourage people to read it. In fact, the response was very similar to how the corporate media deals with U.S. foreign policy insofar as it is terrorist and subversive of democracy—and other important, almost illicit, information. And that history of anti-democratic foreign policy, and its portrayal in the media, is a long story, but one that everybody needs to know.
Actually, one of the most sordid chapters in this story closed just a few days ago, when Suharto, former U.S.-supported dictator of Indonesia, died. He came to power in 1965, the culmination of a decade of U.S. efforts to overthrow the independent policies of president Sukarno. This happened under the Democrat Lyndon Johnson. After the coup, political opponents were massacred, estimates of the dead range from the hundreds of thousands into the millions; lists of political opponents were provided by American diplomats, shortly to be butchered by a very efficient death machine. The U.S. government provided vast military aid to Suharto; the U.S. press reported gleefully that Indonesia was open for business. Multinational corporations poured in and were dutifully handed control of the strategically important natural resources of the country, destroying any possibility of economic independence. Suharto invaded East Timor in 1975, and in the ensuing massacres about one third of East Timor’s population—about 200,000 souls—were killed. Ford and Kissinger were *in Indonesia* the day before the invasion, giving it the green light; the invasion was delayed until the day after they left. In response to the invasion, the U.S. increased aid. Even Jimmy Carter, the supposed human rights saint, continued military aid to the butchers. (My home country of Australia has done its bit training Kopassus soldiers.) As the killing proceeded, mainstream U.S. media coverage was inversely proportional to the scale of the slaughter. Indeed, through a several month period in 1978 of the very worst atrocities, U.S. mainstream media coverage was exactly zero. In the 1980s, Reagan visited Indonesia as part of his Orwellian-named “wings of freedom” tour. Clinton called Suharto his kind of guy. In 1991, there was a massacre in Dili of hundreds of East Timorese; two U.S. independent journalists were beaten. In response, the U.S. sold Indonesia a batch of fighter planes.
This is relevant today, because Suharto died a few days ago. Check how much of the above was mentioned in mainstream media accounts of Suharto’s life and crimes. The U.S. policy here speaks for itself, and it was largely bipartisan. It is relevant to the current discussion, not only as an instance of the barbarity of U.S. foreign policy, but also as an instance of the barbarity of U.S. foreign policy as applied by Democratic presidents—and today, there is no difference between the parties, nor between the candidates, on many of the outrages that constitute U.S. foreign policy. Everybody will continue to support Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, bomb Somalia, bomb Afghanistan, and so on—quite apart from the ongoing catastrophes in Iraq and Palestine.
Since foreign policy is so rarely mentioned in these presidential debates, but is so important, perhaps the best measure of the prospective foreign policy positions of the candidates is to look at their advisors. Well Hillary has her husband as an advisor, and his record as war criminal speaks for itself: Haiti, Sudan, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Serbia, and so on.
But who are Obama’s foreign policy advisors? Well, first, there is none other than Zbigniew Brzezinski, architect of much of the above-mentioned horror—in particular, training jihadis in Afghanistan. And then, there are those fighter planes that were shipped to Indonesia in 1991. The man who oversaw that deal, General Merrill McPeak, is another one of Obama’s principal foreign policy advisors.
So, the decisions made for Democratic candidate, and then for president, are not only important to Americans—they are also important to those who will be on the receiving end of foreign policy. And for those recipients, it may well be a matter of life or death. Even if all the candidates are probable or certain prospective war criminals, if there is a slight difference, well that difference may amount to thousands of lives. So that is the sort of decision that Americans are confronted with, not a civilized decision, and not a pleasant one, not a decision that people in a democratic nation should have to tolerate. But a system in which these sorts of policies are the norm and are expected is one which is an unspeakable outrage, but one we must confront, and try to change as best we can. The consequences are enormous.
Revolution #119, February 10, 2008
From the New York Times Magazine, February 10, 2008:
“[Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates] recalled watching one of the early Democratic presidential debates. The moderator asked the candidates if they would promise to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by 2013, the end of the first term. The three candidates with the highest poll ratings all declined to make that pledge. Gates remembered saying to himself, ‘My work here is done.’”
Revolution #121, February 24, 2008
We received this correspondence from Revolution newspaper distributors and writers in New York:
I was part of a crew of revolutionaries and supporters of Revolution newspaper who jumped into the fray of the latest major rally of BattleCry, a Christian fascist youth movement that holds massive gatherings in major cities. Their main rally was at the Izod Center, a 20,000-seat indoor stadium where the New Jersey Nets basketball team plays.
We went to struggle with these kids to ditch the mental shackles that prevent them from dealing with reality as it really is. We made a plan to take out militant atheism – to struggle over how truth is arrived at, what constitutes truth, what is actually in the Bible, and what it means for there to be a morality and a society based on consciously changing people and their circumstances. We also wanted to learn as much as we could about what drives young people into the arms of someone like BattleCry founder Ron Luce, who preaches that the Bible is “God’s Instruction Manual” and promotes oppressive traditional morality like “holy courtship” in preparation for marriage rather than dating, and the banning of abortion and birth control.
So we rolled up and parked our sound truck in front of the arena. Between our 50-foot sign spelling out “AWAY WITH ALL GODS” on the fence across from the entrance, and our sound system echoing with a canyon-effect, there was no missing the challenge: “Hey folks! Lots of people come to these events from all over, feeling and hoping they can hook up with the way things will be better. But there’s a problem... god does not exist. We do, though, and can make this world better ourselves.”
Knots of 10-50 young people started gathering around and there was shouting back and forth with people in the lines going in. Debate raged on everything from evolution, to what happens when a person dies, to whether people should just “believe what they want to believe” or if in fact religion does a lot of harm.
Some people came out to pray over us. One woman tried to exorcize us. Some people tore up our flyers while others considered this “unchristian” behavior. Most of the youth were earnestly shocked and disturbed at what we were saying and wanted to “save our souls.” Many wanted to engage with us, and seemed interested in getting at the truth. Some of the adult “shepherds” tried to keep the youth away from us, telling people we were demons, but some of the youth slipped back to listen and debate. One disgusted kid snuck out for a smoke, bought a copy of Revolution newspaper and told us that he isn’t sure that there’s no god, but that we were making a lot more sense than the shit inside the stadium.
I asked people I talked to whether they would want to live in a world with the Bible as the law of the land, and even the parts of it that said slavery was okay, or that women who commit adultery should be stoned to death, and almost no one said yes. Some insisted the Bible didn’t say those things, and we pulled out the verses to show them. Then I would ask if they would want to live in a world where people didn’t believe in god, but worked together to make life on earth a beautiful and exciting thing, that emancipates all of humanity. I told them that this is communism, and it’s what the revolution we’re about is aiming for.
A lot of the proletarian youth said they were former gang bangers. One of them angrily asked, “Why do you want me to go back to living like an animal?” They saw this as taking away the “anchor” (Jesus) that keeps them from going back to the life they’ve broken with. We learned that there is a powerful support network through the churches and other missionary/social welfare organizations that holds these kids in this religious vice.
When talking with one group of youth from the inner city, I said it’s really liberating to cast off belief in a god or gods who have a plan figured out for us. One of the youth was trying to figure out why that would be liberating, and I said that rather than feeling like everything is out of your control, you know that it’s knowable and that you and other people can find a solution to whatever needs changing if you work at it. These kids countered that it’s liberating to not take that kind of responsibility.
Inside, thousands of young people held their hands up in the air in a jubilant religious trance as Christian bands—all kinds of music: rock, salsa, rap and hip-hop, bands like Kirk Franklin, David Crowder, Cross Movement, El Trio de Hoy, Unhindered, Truce, Nubian Gents—belted out lyrics praising “our lord,” about how each person is important to god.
Unlike previous BattleCry gatherings in recent years, there were no Navy Seals busting in, kicking down doors; no American flags adorning the stage; no calls to join “God’s Army,” or any praise for (or messages from) President Bush. The organizers of BattleCry took special efforts to reach Black and Latino youth, and they made up about a third of the crowd.
Most of the time when we talked to groups of youth, an adult would swoop in and tell the kids to go away for a minute while they tried to scold us for talking to the kids. One such time, a young Black church worker came by to talk to us. He said, “Why are you trying to take these kids’ faith away? They have it, and they’re happy.” We responded that a slave could feel happier as a result of religion, but still be a slave, and I challenged him to tell me how his ancestors first took up Christianity. A crowd started to gather around, which included youth who had been told to stay away from the debate but later came back. I asked one of the people arguing with us if he ever looks up at the stars, or at the complexity of human societies, and tries to figure out how it all works. He said, “No, god knows how it all works, I just need to live my life.”
That was when it hit me: religious and superstitious belief actually stands in the way of our sense of awe and wonder at the world and nature, rather than contributing to it. It answers that there’s a plan to all of reality and you shouldn’t even think about why things are the way they are. They just are. This not only obstructs and distorts people’s sense of what’s wrong with the world and how to change it, but it also stifles curiosity about some of the most interesting and exciting questions about physics, the universe, life on the planet... you could go on and on. I recently started to learn about the relationship between space and time, how they form a continuum and there’s not a hard-and-fast distinction between the two; the one can become the other to different degrees and under certain circumstances. That shit is fascinating! Would a view that tells you not to worry about it, we’re here for a reason and that reason has to do with serving something whose existence can never be proven, or something like karma, where you’re supposed to accept that “life is suffering,” and that if you happen to be suffering in this life, you won’t have to in another life—would those kind of views encompass my sense of fascination at space and time? Would they encourage people to search for the truth about the way the universe works, let alone why society is the way it is and how it could be different? And what bearing would that have on whether new discoveries are ever even made about the world, including things like cures for terrible diseases?
A friend made the point on the bus ride back to Manhattan that the youth who come to BattleCry are profoundly alienated from contemporary U.S. society with all its crass commercialism and its whole “me first” ethos. We both noted the large number of youth who had experienced some of the more horrific things that go on under this system: rape, drug addiction, abusive relationships, life on the street. These are the very ingredients that can drive people toward religion as a means to cope; even without being wild about the ruling class’s agenda, these youth could easily be manipulated to go after the forces identified as “anti-christs”—communists, “liberals,” the “’60s radicals,” pro-choice forces—that is, the secularists who “get between them and Jesus.”
BattleCry is recruiting these youth to take religion into their schools, their workplaces, everywhere, and around the world—and to make this set the terms throughout society. There’s a much better, revolutionary direction for these youth: to become emancipators of humanity, to become communists. And there’s a huge need for society-wide debate and rejection of this dark-ages anti-scientific method of thinking that locks people into oppressive and intolerable circumstances. I don’t think we unhinged the faith of any of these kids right on the spot, but we planted seeds of that process, getting many of them to question how they’re seeing things for the first time, and revealing the potential for much more at a time when busting out of mental shackles and getting real about what it’s going to take to free humanity is more needed than ever.
Revolution #121, February 24, 2008
Check it out
From a reader:
The Great Debaters, directed by Denzel Washington, is a movie not to be missed! Especially at a time when nooses are being hung on a “whites-only tree” in Jena, Louisiana and on the door of a professor’s office in New York City, and appearing in many other places around the country.
The Great Debaters takes place in the 1930s at Wiley College in Texas and is based on a true story. It is a time of Jim Crow and sharecropping. It is a time when Black people constantly faced the threat of being lynched or burned to death, at any moment and for nothing at all. We see the ugly, racist “southern lifestyle” of white supremacy and segregation where Black men were called “boys” and Black people were routinely dehumanized and degraded. This story shows us the ugly history of America but also poses some very real questions for today.
In an early scene in the film, Professor Tolson, played by Denzel Washington, challenges his students to never allow their mind to be chained and to constantly sharpen their intellect—to set their sights high and to engage the debate on the deepest level possible. One reviewer said that “the movie was worth just hearing Washington quoting poetry of Langston Hughes and other powerful voices from the Harlem Renaissance, then in its fullest bloom.”
You see the energy and the developing intellectual rigor of four young Black college students in the midst of Jim Crow. Through Professor Tolson’s tenacious struggle, they learn to debate, blowing away racist stereotypes and ending up in a nationally broadcast debate with Harvard (in real life this debate took place at USC). Did any of us know this story?
In one powerful scene Professor Tolson tells a story of where the word lynching comes from. He says Virginia slave owners were having trouble keeping slaves in line and brought in a West Indies slave owner. The man was named Lynch and was known for his utter brutality—especially how he would literally “draw and quarter” slaves that stepped out of line. Lynch was known not just for these horrific crimes to the body but, even more, he wanted to break the minds of the slaves and brutalize people into fearful submission. This one scene speaks a lot about the history of this country and the foundation this whole system of U.S. capitalism rests on.
And then there is the unforgettable scene where Tolson and his students come face-to-face with the gruesome reality of lynching, while driving down a Texas country road at night.
Denzel Washington, Forrest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey (producer,) and a cast of talented young Black actors have created a deeply moving, heartfelt, and thought-provoking movie.
In the theater for a Sunday night showing I went to was an interesting mix of young and old people of all nationalities. And at the end of the movie, people clapped, cheered, and hung around for the credits.