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Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World
With the publication of Bob Avakian’s Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, a highly fraught political and ideological moment meets an author who can powerfully speak to the questions posed by that moment. At a time of broad controversy and debate over religion—on a scale unprecedented in recent times—and over ideology more generally, Avakian’s book fills a unique need with power. . . and poetry.
Avakian goes deeply into the content of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as the more general religious impulse. He demystifies religion, demonstrating the historical basis for its rise, and continued dominance, in the material roots of society. He lays bare the ways in which all these religions buttress patriarchy and the oppression of women, and convincingly exposes the killing nature of the forms of “consolation” that they provide to the enslaved and oppressed. He thoroughly analyzes and demolishes the philosophical underpinnings of a whole range of religious apologists, and shows as well their political limitations (even while laying out areas of unity in some cases). And all this is marshaled to even more clearly bring forward the vision of a truly emancipated society—and to more sharply lay out and convey the truly emancipatory method people absolutely need to get to that society.
There are many critiques of religion now out there; and there are many replies to those critiques. But there is nothing like this book out there.
The challenge that now falls to us, the readers of this paper, is to take up and engage with this book; to get it out there, now, very broadly into society; and in so doing, to be part of recasting the ideological polarization in society.
The Battle(s) Over Religion
Perhaps the most salient feature of the political and ideological life of our times is the recrudescence—a new outbreak—of religion. Like a disease that you think you may be getting over but then comes back in an even more vicious way, religion has over the past 30 years permeated every sphere of life, including but not limited to the political. And this has taken the form of organized ignorance. Throughout vast reaches of the oppressed nations—in particular the Middle East, Asia, and parts of Africa—Islamic fundamentalism exerts a magnetic force on those seeking a way out. In other oppressed regions, like Latin America, different brands of Christianity, especially Pentecostalism, have emerged to speak to those same desires. In the imperialist U.S., Christian fundamentalism has arisen in the past 25 years to become a dominant force with a great deal of initiative up to the White House itself—and every presidential candidate takes great pains to profess their religion and often to cast their program in religious terms.
These forces all aim to speak to the widespread “crisis of meaning” that has accompanied the massive changes in society that have created conditions where fundamentalisms could adapt to contradictions and grow—not without conscious backing of the ruling class, but also because they reflected some of the underlying dynamics in the base of society. These include the ways in which feudal forms of production and relations, and even things that people in capitalist countries have previously taken for granted (secure jobs, etc.), have been radically transformed. It also includes the generally heightened parasitism of society in the imperialist countries, and the profound feelings of dislocation, social alienation, uncertainty, and emptiness that accompany all these changes.
The radical changes in the position of women—and the resistance to those changes, especially as it takes the form of the reassertion of traditional religion—have been one extremely sharp expression of this. Marx said that capitalism creates a society of constant change, where “all that is solid melts into air.” This has been especially so in these past decades, and this too can aggravate a crisis in epistemology and morality. When you add to this the defeats of the communist project in the Soviet Union and China and the failure of secular nationalism in the oppressed nations, there is tremendous uncertainty that provides soil for this religious “revival.”
There is very important work to be done in exposing the backward political programs of these forces—and that is one important, even very important, facet of Away With All Gods! But there is an even larger importance to this book in the battle over epistemology—the battle over not just what people think, but HOW they think. In taking on—and taking seriously—the key forms of religious thought, from fundamentalism to the “soft” upholding of religion by Karen Armstrong—Avakian provides people with the tools to analyze the problems in method and approach at the base of all these varied forms of religion and religious thinking. (Anyone wanting a basic course in critical thinking could do far worse than to start with Away With All Gods!)
Communism, as the Communist Manifesto put it, is the most radical rupture not only in the realm of production relations but also in the realm of ideas. However, this foundational insight has been, and continues to be, downplayed and even negated by people who are, or claim to be, communist.
Away With All Gods!, in a highly ideological time, provides people with one hugely important and potent tool to carry out that second radical rupture—a necessary and essential part of getting to revolution, and of bringing forward a revolutionary people as the key to that (which will in turn provide the basis to emancipate the mind and, yes, the spirit on a far greater scale!).
Forging Emancipators of Humanity
There is no denying that, in the wake of the 1960s rebellions and the relative ebb that followed, religion has radically increased its grip on the oppressed. And there is no shortage of people in the various social movements—and again, even some claiming to be communists—who either want to adapt to that or at minimum shy away from challenging that grip.
One of the most powerful and passionate strands in Avakian’s book is his refusal to go along with that—and, more than that, his undeniable case on the damage done by religion. Avakian makes clear the importance of taking on this poison among the oppressed and, as part of that, penetratingly criticizes as well the “smug arrogance of the enlightened”—people who both look down on those who are caught up in religion and then refuse to struggle with the masses over these beliefs that enslave them.
As a key part of challenging this grip, Avakian himself goes deeply into the historic, and current-day, relation between religion and the oppression of Black people in the U.S. He refuses the “contempt” of those who think that the masses “can’t be challenged with the truth and can’t come to embrace the truth and wield it to emancipate themselves and to emancipate all humanity.” The truth, as he powerfully states at one point, is that “Oppressed people who are unable or unwilling to confront reality as it actually is, are condemned to remain enslaved or oppressed.”
Clearly this book must find a wide audience in the communities of the oppressed—challenging many and giving heart to those who right now feel suffocated by the weight of this deadly chain.
Reversing the Polarization Among Intellectuals
The situation among the more “enlightened” strata is somewhat different. While there are way too many concessions to religious thought among these strata—including no small number who have turned away from rational thinking and enthusiastically taken up religious thinking—there has also arisen a very active atheist current. This is overall a very positive thing.
But too many in this current have tried to cast this as a battle between an imperialist enlightenment and an obscurantism arising in the oppressed parts of the world—and, in particular, have focused most of their anti-religious fire against Islam. With someone like Christopher Hitchens, this has gone along with a very openly pro-imperialist program and stance.
Among others who are commenting and writing on the dangers of Christian fundamentalism, there are people like Christopher Hedges; he takes very progressive stances against imperialism, but then casts religion as the only thing protecting the individual conscience, insists on the concept of sin, and opposes atheism on that basis.
Those who want neither imperialism nor obscurantism—and more than that, those who hunger for a truly liberating vision of society, based on collective liberation but valuing individuality—have nowhere to turn in the current lineup of the controversy, if these are seen as the only alternatives. Away With All Gods! stands out in that way; note the question that is posed, and answered, at the very end: “As opposed to being enslaved to things seen, and ‘things unseen,’ what would it really feel like, and what would it mean, to be free?” It is very rare that this question is even posed in these days of lowered expectations; that Away With All Gods! dares to pose it, and to point to the answer, demands a certain sort of courage on the part of those who would engage, and spread, its message. That it does so as powerfully as it does points to a great potential to radically change the terms of things.
Help Make This Book a Major Social Question
There are many people who need this book, and many sectors of society which it must penetrate. In the communities of the oppressed and in the truly hellish prisons, where people are force-fed religion...in the high schools and universities, where atheist and agnostic clubs are beginning to emerge...among the educated and progressive, and among those hungering for enlightenment...this book must reach.
April should be a time when this book emerges onto the scene with great impact. Several important programs and debates have already been scheduled around its content; these can help highlight the urgency of the themes in this book and should be built for maximum impact.
Of great importance is a special effort being mounted on Sunday, April 20, to get word of this book out everywhere. Every communist, every radical, and every progressive-minded person should find the ways to be part of this. The weeks going into this should be witnessing talks in classrooms, salons, serious study groups, and contingents of people going out into the community and challenging people to detox from the most damaging, slavish narcotic of all—religion...challenging them to unchain their minds and radically change the world. Bring your annotated Bibles and Qu’rans, take out plenty of copies of Away With All Gods!, and take on all comers. And the weeks following this effort should be weeks where new openings are seized and all this gets carried further.
Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
“Bob Avakian has written the first book in years that makes me actually want to re-read the Bible, but this time as freaky horror show, weirded out fiction and gothic nightmare.
“Everyone should read Away With All Gods because it is necessary, critical and timely, but also because it is a book written with joy and humor. Avakian has a whole lot of fun mocking the absurdities of those who should be called ‘god-botherin fools’—never better than when he retells old Richard Pryor routines about Cleveland or reminds us of the hypocrisy of Ronald Reagan as Christian leader while wife Nancy reads the tarot. The trouble is that the people who go in for this religious-fantasy foolishness are serious, and they must be stopped. Avakian shows how and why.
“Pointing out that the myth that Zapata had not been killed and would return to fight again some day was flawed because it overlooked the fact that he was just as dead as was the resurrected Jesus; showing that Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion of the Christ’ movie perpetuates an anti-Jewish slander that the mob killed the son of God; equally critical of contortions such as the one where the Quran is as fair to women thieves as it is to men (‘cut off their hands’ if they do not repent); and skewering Christopher Hitchens’ whose critique of religion is just as much an anti-Muslim tirade (‘God is not great’) as is the US War on Terror; Avakian eviscerates all manner of soft thinking on issues that have a mysterious afterlife in popular thought today.
“Avakian has answers as to why religious fundamentalism (Christian or Islamic) is on the rise, and he does this not with candles and mirrors, dark robes and incense, but rather a philosophico-political analysis and a program for change. These are things we really need to hear.”
—Professor John Hutnyk, Academic Director, Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London. Author of Bad Marxism: Capitalism and Cultural Studies
“Forceful, scathing, and timely. While I did not personally agree with everything Bob Avakian has to say in this book, I found his arguments cogently articulated and provocatively put forth. Angry, humorous, provocative, and hopeful in equal measure, this was an enjoyable and engaging read.”
—Phil Zuckerman, Associate Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College and the author of Society Without God (NYU Press, 2008)
“‘God’ has been used to justify every kind of atrocity for thousands of years. Bob Avakian says, ‘god does not exist and here’s why.’ This proposition is so radically different from what people around here are told. It makes me want to get a deeper understanding of communism and how everything could be different for humanity.”
—22 year old Black man from Harlem
“Bold, wide-ranging, down-to-earth, provocative. One needn’t be a Marxist to learn a lot from this work. I especially like the forthright critique of the obfuscating epistemology of religion, and of religion’s appalling consequences for women.”
—Laura Purdy, McCullough Distinguished Visiting Professor of Philosophy, Hamilton College, 2007-08; Ruth and Albert Koch Professor of Humanities, and Professor of Philosophy, Wells College
“When I joined the Black Panther Party we had mandatory readings. This book needs to be mandatory reading for everybody, especially young people, and definitely not put away somewhere in a left-wing literature section. This world is upside down—topsy turvy—and lots of people haven’t actually studied what that Bible says. Bob Avakian has. He exposes the hypocritical bullshit. He brings it down hard and plain, cold and simple. He goes into history and morality. This book is serious reading.”
—Eric G., former Black Panther member
“Whether readers enthusiastically embrace or reject its claims and arguments, Away With All Gods! is a book that cannot be ignored. This is especially so at a time when religion continues to negotiate a sweetheart deal with leviathan capital, when the Christian Reconstructionist/Dominionist movement tries to seize the helm of the corporate-state-military-media complex, when the apocalypticism of the American empire lurches perilously forward and when religion and capitalism/imperialism become more tightly woven together than ever before.”
—Peter McLaren, Professor, Graduate School of Education and
Information Studies, University of California; and author of
Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the Pedagogy of Revolution
“Bob Avakian’s Away With All Gods is more than an apologia for humanism. Well and engagingly written, Mr. Avakian succeeds once again in confronting his reader with authoritative, fact-based challenges to our most basic beliefs. With this kind of thinking and writing, Avakian may just spearhead a return to the Age of Reason.”
—Harry Lennix, actor, instructor
“Given the powerful and destructive influence that fundamentalist religion has had on our society in the past generation, the recent books engaging in anti-religious polemic are entirely understandable. What most distinguishes Avakian’s Away With All Gods from other much publicized books of this kind, such as those by Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, is the direct connection Avakian makes between combating religious fundamentalism and promoting a radical political agenda. Avakian is also to be commended not only for combining his religious freethinking with an endorsement of the modern Enlightenment tradition, but also for providing a sober warning against “the smug arrogance of the enlightened.” Anyone who has read any of the other books mentioned above should also take the time to read this one.”
author of Karl Marx and
Ask for it at your local bookstore or online retailer
Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
From a correspondent
A packed courtroom listened last week to Joseph Guzman describe what happened the night of November 25, 2006, when he, Sean Bell, and Trent Benefield were shot in a 50-bullet barrage by undercover New York City cops minutes after Sean’s bachelor party had ended. Guzman thought they all were going to die. He survived, badly wounded, as did Trent Benefield. Sean Bell did not.
In his testimony, Joseph Guzman took the courtroom with him back to the horror of that moment. He said he tried to escape the shots coming into the passenger side of their car by climbing through the window on the driver’s side where Sean was, cutting his hand on the broken glass. Joseph ended up slouched over Sean, thinking they were both dying. Joseph told Sean Bell, “I love you, S.” “‘I love you, too,’” he said Sean whispered. “Then he stopped moving.”
Guzman testified that the three friends left the Club Kalua as it was closing. Sean was getting married in just a few hours, and they joked about whether Sean should go home to his fiancée Nicole. They were feeling good, planning to drive to a diner for breakfast.
They had some friction with a guy outside the club who they thought might have a gun because of the way he was keeping his hand in his jacket pocket. Joseph said to Sean, “You’re getting married later today, we don’t need this, let’s go,” and they kept walking around the corner to Sean’s car.
Moments after they climbed into the car and began to pull out, a minivan—which turned out to be a police van—blocked their way and there was a collision. At the same time, Joseph saw a man—who turned out to be an undercover cop—very close to their car with a gun pointed at them. Joseph told the court: “I’m looking in his eyes, man, he shot me. Everything slowed down. But I’m looking at him shooting me. He’s continuing, he’s continuing to shoot.… We in the car, I’m like ‘S, let’s do it, let’s do it, this is not a robbery, this is—they trying to kill us, this is not a robbery.… Let’s do it, we gotta go. We gotta get out of here. They trying to kill us, they shooting.’”
Sean first tried to reverse, crashing into a gate after mounting the sidewalk, and then lurched forward again, colliding again with the minivan. By then, shots were flying everywhere.
As they have tried to do throughout the trial, the lawyers for the three cops indicted for killing Sean Bell and wounding Guzman and Benefield proceeded to insinuate that the two young Black men and one young Latino man were responsible for what happened because they were part of the “criminal element.” The cops’ lawyers brought up Guzman’s felony record and how he was involved with a rap group called Young Thugs. After answering dozens of questions about his criminal record, Joseph said, “My record wasn’t on my forehead that night!” When one of the lawyers pressed Joseph (who is engaged) about whether he was flirting with one of the Club Kalua bartenders during the party, he angrily replied, “What does this got to do with you all shooting Sean Bell?” One of the lawyers for the cops accused Guzman of saying to one of his friends, “Yo, go get my gun.” Joseph retorted, “No, I did not say that. Where I’m from, that’s not a good bluff.” As is well known by now, there was no gun in Sean’s car.
One of the police lawyers implied that Guzman’s outrage on the stand showed that it was Guzman who had provoked the police shooting. He claimed that Guzman’s anger was “exactly what was going on in front of that club… You was doing what you wanted to do, which is what you’re doing right now.”
All of this was too much for the supporters of the Bell family in the audience, and the judge warned people twice to remain quiet or he might have to clear the courtroom.
In the last three weeks the trial has included graphic medical testimony about the shots that killed Sean Bell and left Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield seriously wounded. Sometimes Sean’s parents have had to leave the courtroom.
The cops’ testimony has shown that they didn’t expect any of the three to survive. Michael Oliver fired 31 times, emptying his gun, reloading and emptying it again. Oliver’s grand jury testimony was read into the trial record. When asked in the grand jury if he was shooting to kill, he said the police are trained to aim for “center mass,” meaning vital organs, and “to keep shooting until you eliminate the threat.” Michael Carey, one of the cops on the scene who was not charged, testified that he only stopped shooting when another cop stepped into his line of fire.
The police are not lying when they testify that what happened that night is exactly what they are trained and supposed to do. Sean’s murder at Club Kalua, and the shooting of Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, have nothing to do with “poorly trained police” or “poorly managed operations.” Millions of young Blacks and Latinos who can’t be profitably exploited by a globalized imperialist system are criminalized and incarcerated. One in nine Black men in his twenties is now in prison or jail, and thousands have been killed by the police. The Stolen Lives Project (stolenlives.org) has documented the deaths of over 2,000 people—mostly young, mostly Black and Latino—at the hands of the police in the 1990s. The project is working to document the many more killed since then.
As a special ed teacher who has been attending the trial told Revolution: “These kids, even at a very young age, like six or seven, look out at the world and feel helpless and hopeless. They don’t see any future for themselves. So then some of them end up doing things maybe they shouldn’t do, but how can you blame them? Ultimately, they’re not the ones to blame.”
The only reason there is a trial at all of the police who killed Sean Bell and almost killed Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, the only reason Sean and his friends aren’t just three more hidden or forgotten victims, is because thousands of outraged people took to the streets after the murder. This case must not be allowed to end with acquittals or just a wrist slap for the cops. If that happens, it would be a profound and intolerable injustice carried out by this vicious system. Enough is enough.
Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
From A World to Win News Service
March 31, 2008. A World to Win News Service. Worse and worse—these are the words that come to mind about what the U.S. has accomplished in Iraq as its occupation heads into its sixth year. The offensive against the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, resulting, so far, in a humiliating defeat for the American-backed government, is another sign of increasing U.S. desperation—and dangerousness.
U.S. domination of Iraq has rested on two political pillars, in addition to the currently 160,000 American soldiers: the Kurdish parties and the Shia clerical and political establishment. Over the last year, since this set-up hasn’t been working, and faced with other necessities, the U.S. has begun to shake those two pillars. Turkey’s incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan, with unequivocal U.S. military and political support, undermined and intimidated the two clan-based Kurdish nationalist parties that have been the U.S.’s most reliable allies. At the same time, the U.S. has often simply ignored the government of Prime Minister Maliki, which is held up by both these two pillars. It has organized the so-called “Awakening” movement, under which Sunni tribal leaders (once a core support for Saddam Hussein) and former Saddam officers have been bought and directly brought into the U.S. command structure, as if the Maliki government and Iraqi army didn’t even exist. Some 80,000 such men were put on the U.S. payroll in 2007. Now these moves have been followed by the assault on Sadr’s forces.
That the attack was backed by the U.S. is not really in doubt. U.S. President Bush endorsed it right away, calling Maliki’s offensive “bold,” “a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq,” and “a necessary part of the development of a free society.” (New York Times, March 29) U.S. Vice President Cheney visited Iraq less than a week before the offensive, about the time when preparations began. He must have discussed the matter with Maliki, since the relationship between the Sadr movement and the government was considered the question of the day in Baghdad. Further, despite some attempts to make it look otherwise, it seems that American air and ground forces did much of the fighting against the Mahdi Army. Although government troops helped surround Sadr City, the Shia slum area in the capital named for Moqtada al-Sadr’s famous cleric father, on-the-spot reporting by Sudarsan Raghavan for The Observer (March 30) describes the street-by-street fighting as being almost exclusively between Mahdi Army members and American soldiers, with frequent helicopter gunship support.
In Basra, where Maliki went to personally oversee the invasion of Sadr-friendly neighborhoods, the combat quickly became a stalemate. American aircraft and British artillery killed many, if not most, of the civilians and fighters reported to have died. Washington confirmed that its special forces operated on the ground in Basra. (Reuters, March 30) Fighting took place in many other cities in the south, where thousands of Mahdi Army members from Baghdad fled or were redeployed in the face of American military pressure there.
Maliki put his prestige and future on the line for this battle. Squeezed from both sides (U.S. moves to at least make him less relevant, on the one hand, and the growing isolation of the government and strength of the Mahdi Army on the other), such a gamble may very well have been his most rational move. In the second day of the offensive, he declared the Mahdi Army “worse than al-Qaeda,” and vowed he would never compromise with Sadr or leave Basra until the Mahdi forces were crushed. (Al Jazeera, March 30) He demanded that the Mahdi fighters surrender their weapons within 72 hours. There was no surrender from the Sadr forces. Instead, some government police offered their arms to the Mahdi Army and at least one unit joined up with them rather than fight them. First Maliki changed his mind and extended the deadline another ten days, offering a bounty to Mahdi men who turned in their weapons. Then his government sent emissaries to Iran to cry for help.
An Iranian Revolutionary Guards general—in charge of the same Pasdaran Qods brigade that Bush and his top commander David Petraeus accused of aiding attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq—brokered a political settlement, according to a March 30 McClatchy newswire dispatch. Sadr, currently living and pursuing theological studies in the Iranian holy city of Qom, agreed that his armed men would be withdrawn from the streets. In return, according to that report, Maliki’s representatives—a member of the Dawa Party and the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Supreme Council—agreed to call off their offensive and release the hundreds of Mahdi commanders and soldiers arrested over the past months. Since then, Iranian radio has carried complaints that the government has not lived up to this accord and instead continued to arrest Mahdi members. Nevertheless, for now, there is a clear winner, although the story is probably far from over. The Sadr forces refused to disarm, which had been the central demand on which Maliki had staked his future.
Worse, for the U.S., an escapade aimed at weakening what American authorities called a pro-Iranian militia ended with an acknowledgement of the Islamic Republic’s authority and power in Iraq. If, as many observers have pointed out, the U.S.’s actions since September 11, 2001, both the increasingly bogged down occupation of Afghanistan and the even more disastrous occupation of Iraq, have strengthened the Islamic Republic of Iran, this latest failed American-invested adventure both reveals the extent to which the U.S. is coming up against Iran politically as well as militarily, and further weakens the empire’s hand.
One obvious question is why the U.S. made this move, despite the warnings and obvious dangers.
Attacking Sadr was not an obvious choice. In 2006, the International Crisis Group, an international advisory group to imperialist governments made up of former top policy makers and leaders, issued a report whose title asked, “Iraq’s Maqtada Al-Sadr: Spoiler or Stabiliser?” (crisisgroup.org) Its point was that the occupation very much needed Sadr’s movement to help stabilize the American-backed government, which would have trouble surviving without it, and that the U.S. and Maliki should work carefully to make this happen and not make any rash moves against Sadr. In a series of reports since then, the ICG tried to lay out a detailed road map for U.S.-Sadr cooperation. It is as if Bush and his cronies, and the Maliki government dependent on them, read that map backwards and did exactly the opposite. Instead of drawing the Sadr forces more deeply in to the government established in 2005, they acted with unrelenting hostility toward them. (Also see the ICG’s “Where Is Iraq Heading? Lessons from Basra,” June 2007; “Shiite Politics in Iraq: the Role of the Supreme Council,” November 2007; and “Iraq’s Civil War, the Sadrists and the Surge,” February 2008.)
Here some background analysis of the political forces involved in Iraq is needed. Ironically, all of the Iraqi organizations the U.S. depends on have deep ties with the Islamic Republic—except for those associated with Saddam’s Baath Party, which, in U.S. eyes, may be one of their two great merits. (The other is that they were able to rule Iraq, a trick the U.S. and its Iraqi allies haven’t achieved yet.) The Kurdish parties and especially Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani, despite their much-proclaimed secularism, have long been friendly to the Iranian mullah regime. Prime Minister Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party, Iraq’s oldest Islamist political organisation, was headquartered in Iran. It worked with Iranian security agencies and is said to have been directly involved in bombing attacks on American soldiers, a fact that the Bush government never fails to overlook. But the Dawa Party is very small and weak; it seems that he was chosen prime minister as a compromise between the two main Shia players, Sadr and the party now called the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
When the Supreme Council was founded in Iran in 1982, Ayatollah Khomeini sent his successor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to attend as his representative. It grew under the protection of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, recruiting from among captured Iraqi soldiers held in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war and fighting alongside the Iranian military against Saddam’s army. Yet the Supreme Council, according to the ICG’s analysis, has since moved away from its ideological commitment to Khomeini’s concept of clerical rule and the religious authority of Khomeini and later Khamenei. It has tried to distance itself politically from the Iranian regime, becoming quite pro-American (its leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim was “courted and feted by the Bush White House,” to quote the ICG), even while hesitating to completely cut its ties with Iran.
The Sadr movement and its Mahdi Army, formed in the name of protecting Shia interests in the wake of the U.S. invasion, just as ironically, has been critical of the Persian Iranian regime on an Arab chauvinist and nationalist basis and has not, at least in the past, shared all of its ideas or recognized its religious authority. Yet it seems to have moved closer to the Islamic Republic out of a combination of ideological reasons and the closing up of the political space it had carved out of the Iraqi status quo. Its relationship with the U.S. has been ambiguous and far from uncompromising. When its men rose in arms in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf in 2004, their demands involved recognition and rights for the Sadr movement, not the overthrow of the government or the end of the occupation. Although they ended up fighting two rounds of battles with the U.S. armed forces that year, they tried to avoid frontal confrontation and mainly fought defensively against attempts to detain and disarm them.
The Sadr movement is widely defined as the only real mass-based movement in Iraq (aside from Kurdistan), especially compared to the supremely unpopular Supreme Council, seen as a stooge first for Iran and then the U.S. While the Supreme Council draws its support and legitimacy from the merchants in Baghdad and the Shia holy cities and the mainstream religious establishment, the Sadr movement is based among youth from the Shia “urban underclass” in Baghdad, as well as in Basra and other cities of the south from where these families came. (It would be wrong to conclude, however, that what class a party or movement draws its members from means that it necessarily represents the interests of that class, or its “natural” worldview. The Shia intelligentsia was the mainstay of the Baathist Party early on, when, long before Saddam, it was a secular nationalist movement, and the Shia “urban underclass” the main social base of the Iraqi Communist Party.)
The ICG’s main argument has been that one of Sadr’s proclaimed goals—a Sharia (Islamic law-based) government—was achieved by the Iraqi constitution written in 2005 under U.S. supervision, and that his party would be vital to the continued survival of the government established at that time. Indeed, that was the case for several years. Sadr’s people served as parliamentarians and ministers and gave that government much of the little legitimacy it has enjoyed. He pulled his ministers out in September 2007, at the height of the U.S. escalation euphemistically called the “surge,” apparently believing that it was aimed primarily against him. It seems that at least much of the friction between the U.S. armed forces and the Mahdi Army has come from American intolerance of and pressure on Sadr’s forces, including repeated raids and arrests. When Mahdi members fought with Supreme Council men in the streets of Najaf last year over control of the Shia shrines, Sadr used the occasion to call for something more than a truce—an end to all “armed appearances” by his men, whether in conflict with the government and Supreme Council or the Americans. In February of this year, not long before Maliki launched his offensive, Sadr renewed that order.
Sadr’s opposition to the Maliki plan to divide Iraq into three autonomous regions (and perhaps eventually three countries) does have political content.But beyond that, many commentators, including the ICG, judge hisnationalist and occasionally anti-American stance as more flexible than the rhetoric might make it seem. Sadr’s call for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal has been coupled with a tacit acceptance of the occupation for now, in what could be a strategy of trying to avoid conflict with the U.S., to build up power and await a different situation. Even at the height of the U.S.-backed offensive against them, a senior Sadr aide, said, the “Mahdi Army is fighting for recognition and not for useless purposes” (in other words, trying to topple the government or confront the occupation). (The Observer, March 30)
In the past two years, especially, the Mahdi Army’s direct clashes with the U.S. Army, and, if the American authorities are to be believed, use of explosives against U.S. vehicles, have occurred in the context of a Sadrist campaign to take over large parts of Baghdad, on both banks of the Tigris river, beyond its original eastern suburban slum base.
This largely successful effort has meant a neighborhood-by-neighborhood process of “defending” Shias against (real) attempts by Sunni groups to intimidate them or drive them out, in turn driving out the Sunnis, and through this process establishing their own military, political, and considerable economic power. Despite Sadr’s claims to stand above religious conflicts and for the nation, including sending food and supplies to Sunni Falluja during the American siege, and most recently, during the offensive against him, calling for Iraqis to unite against “the armies of darkness,” his movement has been inextricably tied in with gangster “protection” of Shias, ethnic cleansing against Sunnis, and religious rule with all of its ugly features, including a suppression of the free movement of women that visitors say makes Iran look almost secular by comparison.
From his residence in Iran, Sadr still takes pains to distinguish Iranian and Iraqi political interests, a stance which, whatever its motivation, goes well with his claims to represent all Moslems, Shia and Sunni, and the Iraqi nation. (Al Jazeera, March 30) Yet there are elements that put him close to the Iranian ruling mullahs ideologically, including the family background that enabled him to quickly rise to prominence, a well-known clerical lineage known for its advocacy of political Islam, unlike the predominant Iraqi Shia establishment that kept an uneasy peace with the Saddam regime; his current religious studies meant to combine his political authority with a religious authority that as a junior Islamic scholar he now lacks (and which the other two main Shia parties, with no clerical leadership of their own, lack entirely); and his advocacy not just of Sharia law as the basis for government but the highest worldly authority invested in the Islamic scholar (wilayat al faqih, or supreme rule of the jurisprudent), a doctrine associated with Khomeini and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Sadrists are not a nationality-based movement like the Kurdish parties or simply yet another manifestation of “identity politics”: the importance and power of Islamic ideology in defining and driving this movement should not be underestimated.
All this does not mean that there is any truth to Maliki and Bush’s assertions that their war against the Mahdi Army has been directed against sectarian gangsterism. The Supreme Council has done exactly the same kinds of things. The only difference is that its sectarian massacres, torture on an industrial scale, extortion, and other filthy acts were committed through the official institutions they control, especially the Ministry of the Interior. As the ICG starkly puts it, “Iraq is in the midst of a civil war. But before and beyond that, Iraq has become a failed state—a country whose institutions, and with them, any semblance of national cohesion—have been obliterated.” The U.S. shattered Iraq militarily, but the system of class alliances and government that will rule in the future is far from settled. Eventually it must be settled, since the occupation cannot stay at the same level forever, if only because the U.S. has other wars to fight. Because of this, and because the U.S., in order to stay on top, prizes and constantly encourages religious sectarianism and ethnic strife, the country is being torn apart by religious and ethnically-based armed organizations looking out for the interests of the power elite of their particular “identity.” Even the government is a shifting coalition of interest groups, and its security forces and even to some extent the army are just one more narrowly-based militia in uniform, run by Supreme Council head Hakim.
Each of these groups is based on real, if narrow, interests. Most of them cannot be considered puppets, even when they are taken in hand by and serve the occupiers, but the same narrowness of interests and outlook makes them all highly susceptible to manipulation by the U.S. and others. Even the most consistently anti-American Sunni fundamentalist forces, including the so-called al-Qaeda in Iraq, are part of this self-feeding dynamic of rivalry and mutually reinforcing reactionary interests and thus help shore up the occupation even as they seek to overthrow it.
One thing that has confused many observers is the fighting between parties backed by Iran. Wouldn’t Iran oppose this armed rivalry? The Iranian authorities themselves have denied claims that they would do anything to weaken the Maliki government, to which, they complain, the U.S. is giving less than enthusiastic and full support. “Why should we undermine a government in Iraq that we support more than anybody else?” an Iranian diplomat asked. (“The Victor?,” Peter Galbraith, New York Review of Books, October 11, 2007)The same could be said from the angle of the U.S, which certainly has need, if not affection, for both Shia parties if its government is to stand on anything but naked American bayonets.
From the point of view of the Iranian regime, their large hand helping to prop up an American-dependent regime is a form of both collusion and contention with the U.S. The Iranian and U.S. ruling classes have some common interests in stable reactionary rule in Iraq, and even in the use of Shia religious fundamentalism as a prop for that rule. If the resulting government is friendly to Iran, as Maliki’s government has been, all the better; at any rate, it relieves Iran of the pressure it was under during Saddam’s rule (and the U.S. has conveniently removed the hostile Taliban regime on the other side of Iran). This situation allows the Islamic Republic to make the U.S. recognize, at least de facto, that it needs the Iranian regime, and that it can’t afford to push Iran too far. This may be part of why the Supreme Council has been able to enlist under the American flag while not cutting its ties with Iran completely, and why the U.S. has tolerated that. (According to the ICG, the Supreme Council has occasionally served as a middleman in U.S.-Iranian negotiations.) This is also one reason for the Sadr forces’ long-standing and continuing impatience with Iran.
At the same time, Iran does not shy away from using military force. The U.S. has made much of the advanced explosive devices Iran has allegedly supplied to the Mahdi Army. U.S. General Petraeus blamed Iran for the accurate and therefore presumably advanced mortars and rockets that began raining down from the east (from the direction of Sadr City) on the Green Zone, the former Saddam palace that is the heart of the American occupation and seat of its Iraqi government, on the eve of the planned assault on the Mahdi Army. After more than a week of barrages “qualitatively different” from those of the past, the mood in the most heavily fortified compound on the planet was described as “a sense of hunkering down for a sustained period of time.” (BBC, March 24; Associated Press, March 27) American military and political authorities have said that even while the Iranian regime supports Maliki, it also supplies weapons to groups like the Mahdi Army and its spin-offs because it wants to see the U.S. tied up and weakened militarily. Although imperialist spokespeople never admit it, this is an implicit admission that Iran has good reason to fear that it will be the U.S.’s next target. A number of observers have pointed out that in the event of a U.S. frontal attack on Iran, the Mahdi Army might feel the time has come for an all-out confrontation with the occupiers.
If the U.S. were not preparing for a confrontation with Iran, then it would see the Mahdi Army differently. Many of the things the U.S. is doing in the region, from Israel and Lebanon to Turkey and Iraq, make little sense except in that light. This includes the various alliances it enters into in occupied Iraq itself. It is probably not just stupidity that made the Bush regime drive the Sadr movement into ever-increasing hostility rather than trying to draw them in with the rest of its very junior partners in crime. The more the U.S. finds itself thwarted politically in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, to the profit of Iran, the more it might feel compelled to shoot its way out of an impossible situation by moving militarily on the Islamic Republic.
Revolution #125, April 6, 2008
Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
Over the past weeks, there have been many ominous signs that the U.S. is, at the very least, escalating its full-court press against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and may be preparing a military attack.
During much of 2007, there were numerous reports that the U.S. was weighing options for striking Iran and was actively preparing and positioning its military for doing so. This trajectory seemed to temporarily slow with the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in early December, which reversed the 2005 NIE by stating that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Whatever the precise state of current U.S. military plans and preparations, Iran remains “public enemy number one” for the U.S. rulers in the Middle East—the main obstacle to their agenda of defeating Islamic fundamentalist forces that pose obstacles to unfettered American dominance and the restructuring of the entire region more tightly under imperialist control.
Within weeks of the NIE’s release, the U.S. spun a routine encounter between U.S. warships and Iranian patrol boats in the Persian Gulf into what was portrayed as a provocative “incident” supposedly demonstrating Iran’s belligerence. Bush traveled to the Middle East to rally opinion and allies against Iran, declaring “Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” The U.S. rammed through a new set of UN sanctions against Iran. Bush and Cheney have claimed that Iran says it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, even though the Iranian regime denies it has a nuclear weapons program.
More recent developments include:
• During a February 5 testimony before Congress, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (who oversaw the drafting of the new NIE) said that he felt the NIE should have highlighted that Iran continues to press ahead on the key part of building a nuclear weapon—enriching uranium.
• On March 11, Adm. William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, who had publicly spoken out against war with Iran, was forced to resign. (See “The Fallon Resignation and the New Dangers of U.S. War on Iran” in Revolution #124, online at revcom.us.)
• In mid-March, Cheney traveled to talk to U.S. allies in the Middle East. While his exact agenda was shrouded in secrecy, discussion of Iran was reportedly a high priority. In 2002, Cheney traveled to the region to lay groundwork for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And there have been recent press reports that Israel and Saudi Arabia are stepping up their civil defense preparations.
• In a March 30 national TV appearance on Meet the Press, CIA head Gen. Hayden declared that he personally felt Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons.
• Republican presidential candidate John McCain charged that Iran is supporting al-Qaeda in Iraq—a charge for which there is no evidence and which is most likely a deliberate lie.
All this is taking place against the backdrop of heightened tensions across the region. The political situation in Lebanon is deadlocked, and elections for a new government have repeatedly been postponed. There have been recent reports that three U.S. warships now sit off the coast of Lebanon. Gaza remains under murderous siege by Israel. Meanwhile, the U.S. grip on Iraq remains precarious. (See “The failed offensive against Sadr’s Mahdi Army: the U.S., Iraq, and Iran” on page 6.)
The U.S. imperialists blame Iran for all these difficulties. Indeed, whether Iran is directly involved in any particular incident, its influence is growing across the region, largely as a result of how the Bush regime’s “war on terror” is—in many ways—backfiring in Iraq and Afghanistan.
No one should be lulled into a false sense of security because things aren’t unfolding in the same way as in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. war on Iraq when there was obvious military buildup and preparations for a massive ground invasion. Any U.S. attack on Iran would be quite different. The Bush regime could be planning a blitzkrieg-type air assault, launched with little or no warning (perhaps after some “incident” with Iran). The Israeli military may carry out the initial attack. War could be triggered accidentally, or by miscalculation on either side. Or conflict in Lebanon, Gaza, or elsewhere could be a tripwire that touches off a U.S.-Iranian confrontation.
The U.S. imperialists have staked the future of their empire on victory in the Middle East. But things are not going as planned for them. More and more, the U.S. rulers see Iran gaining—which is intolerable for them. Given all this, people need to be very alert—and to step up resistance to the U.S. “war on terror” aggression, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon—or Iran.
Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
Hook up with the revolution
9 West 19th St. (btwn 5th and 6th Aves)
A new store! A new world! Revolution Books is moving…
(Details to be announced)
Volunteers urgently needed to help move and renovate the store. Stay in touch and check our website for more information and announcement of future events. During this period our regular events will be held at other locations (see below).
April 8, Tuesday, 7 pm
"Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" by Bob Avakian. This week: Overcoming Obstacles and Limitations, “Mobilizing All Positive Factors”
The Church of the Village, 201 West 13th Street at northwest corner of 13th St. & 7th Avenue. Enter on 13th Street and go to the Russell Chapel.
April 11, Friday, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
A Talk with Dread Scott at MoCADA (Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art), 80 Hanson Place: the corner of South Portland and Hanson in downtown Brooklyn. Trains: 2 3 4 5 B Q at Atlantic Avenue / D M N R at Pacific Avenue / C at Lafayette / G at Fulton. Dread will take us thru his current exhibit "Welcome to America" at MoCADA. Please RSVP to email@example.com or 718-230-0492
April 21, Monday, 7 pm
"Resistance Through Ridicule": An Evening with Political Cartoonists Ted Rall and Stephanie Mcmillan
@ IDLEWILD BOOKS, 12 W. 19th, 2nd floor
April 23, Wednesday, 7 pm
Atheism, God and Morality in a Time of Imperialism and Rising Fundamentalism - An Exchange."
w/Chris Hedges & Sunsara Taylor at Cooper Union's Wollman Auditorium (Engineering Bldg), 7 E.7th St. @ Third Ave. Chris Hedges will speak about his new book I Don't Believe In Atheists, and Sunsara Taylor will speak on behalf of Bob Avakian's new book Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World.
April 9, Wednesday, 7 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. Hastening while awaiting—not bowing down to necessity: We're not in a revolutionary situation. So what do we do? Wait for things to get really bad and for people to get really desperate? Or are we “hastening while awaiting”– actually working to accelerate things and preparing the ground for when it will be possible to rise up? Bob Avakian says, “Everything we're doing is about revolution.” Can that really apply to today?
April 10, Thursday, 7 pm
Bimonthly movie showing: Rendition
April 12, Saturday, 2 pm
Book release celebration and discussion-Away with All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, by Bob Avakian
April 16, Wednesday, 7 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. How can you make a revolution, how can you build a revolutionary movement, with a newspaper as your main political weapon?
Thursday, April 17, 7:30 PM
Jam Session: An experiment in directive musical improvisation. Everyone is welcome to join in or just enjoy the music and explore Revolution Books.
April 22, Tuesday, 7 pm
Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body. Slide Show, discussion, book signing.
April 24, Thursday, 7 pm
Bimonthly movie showing: Moolaade
April 26, Saturday, 2 pm
Discussion "There is not an immigrant problem-There is a capitalism problem"
2425 Channing Way near Telegraph Ave
April 8, Tuesday, 7-9 pm
Celebrate the release of Away With All Gods: Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, a book by Bob Avakian.
April 13 (and every Sunday), Secular Sunday, 10 am
Organizing for Away With All Gods outing
April 16 (and every week), Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian.
312 West 8th Street 213-488-1303
April 8 - Tuesday - 7:00 pm
Spanish language roundtable discussion of Bob Avakian's “Liberación Sin Dioses.” We will dig into this insightful work, and then make plans to mobilize people for the Thursday April 10th book release celebration of Away With All Gods!
April 10, Thursday
Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World - Book release celebration at the Downtown Central Library in the Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. 5th Street, L.A. Readings from the new book by Bob Avakian featuring Clyde Young of the Revolutionary Communist Party and special guests. Discussion and reception to follow. Sponsored by: Libros Revolucion; cosponsored by: The Los Angeles Public Library, Department of Social Sciences, Philosophy and Religion. See our blog for more details and updates.
April 11, Friday, 7 pm
Discussion of revolutionary philosophy - What is dialectical materialism (Marxism)? vs. determinism, apriorism, positivism, empiricism, and pragmatism? Suggested readings: “Marxism as a Science—In Opposition to Mechanical Materialism, Idealism and Religiosity,” in Revolution #109; also Bob Avakian's Revolution DVD, Disk 3, "Dialectical materialism, historical materialism."
April 13, Sunday, 4 pm
"Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity." Resuming bilingual discussion of Bob Avakian's recent talk. Focus will be on Part 2, "Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism," excerpt in issue #113 of Revolution/Revolución newspaper.
April 16, Wednesday, 7 pm
Cinema Revolución - Remember the Titans, the true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit.
April 26 - Saturday - 3 pm
Milnitz Theatre, UCLA - "Religion, Atheism and Black People" - a panel discussion featuring Clyde Young of the Revolutionary Communist Party, writer/LA Times op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan and Dr. Obery Hendricks of the New York Theological Seminary and author of The Politics of Jesus. The panel will be moderated by actor/instructor Harry J. Lennix.
April 26-27, Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm
L.A. Times Festival of Books at UCLA - Libros Revolución will be in Booth No. 429, Dickson Plaza all weekend, featuring the works of Bob Avakian, and highlighting his new book, Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. Volunteers needed throughout the weekend to connect with the over one hundred thousand people drawn to this major book festival.
2626 South King Street
Every Monday, 6:15 pm
Revolution newspaper Reading and Discussion group
April 20, Sunday, 3 pm
Book Launching/Reading, followed by a reception.
AWAY WITH ALL GODS! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World—A newly released book by Bob Avakian
May 1, Thursday, 6 pm
May 1st Celebration with poetry, readings and testimonials. Supper at 6pm ($8 minimum donation). Program from 7-8pm
2804 Mayfield Rd (at Coventry)
Cleveland Heights 216-932-2543
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 3-8 pm
Every Wednesday at 7 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
Thursday, March 17 at 7 pm
Book discussion: Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian.
Sunday. March 20 11 am
Gather at Revolution Books to fan out across the city and make this Away With All Gods Sunday!
Call or email for further info.
1833 Nagle Place
Announcing a New Revolution Books in Seattle!
Join us in making plans for a major revitalization and expansion in our new location. Contact us to get involved.
April 11, Friday, 7pm
Film Showing: Rendition
April 12, Saturday, 7pm at Revolution Books
Book Release Party for Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian. Readings, wine and cheese.
April 13, Sunday, 2:30pm
Reading & Discussion of this week's Revolution newspaper
Dates to be announced
Book Group to discuss Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian.
Dates to be announced
Group outings to Bring Revolution to the Movies! Hook up with people from Revolution Books to see and discuss great and controversial movies and get out Revolution newspaper, orange ribbons, flyers, etc to other movie-goers. Upcoming movies to see are Taxi to the Dark Side and Battle in Seattle.
(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
April 10, Thursday. 6:30 pm
Movie, Yesterday, powerful story of a young South African woman struggling with AIDS.t
April 20, Sunday, 12: 30 pm
Secular Sunday, a Roundtable Discussion on Away With All Gods, held at Atoms Java & Juice, 15104 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Park.
Upcoming Films at RBO:
"Yesterday", a young South African woman struggling with HIV; "Nothing But a Man," a rebellious young man and the conservative role of the Black church.
1158 Mass Ave, 2nd Floor, Cambridge
Every Monday Night
Revolution Books hosts an on going discussion series on the works of Bob Avakian.
April 12, Saturday, 6:30-8 pm
Special event! As part of the tour of Harvard Square book stores (from 3-7pm), Revolution Books is hosting a special book release party of AWAY WITH ALL GODS! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian at 6:30 at the store. Refreshments will be provided. Join us for as much of the day as you can. Join the staff for a day of spreading communism in the square and beyond.
April 14, Monday, 6:30 pm
Discussion on new book Away With All Gods! by Bob Avakian
Part Four: God Does Not Exist—We Need Liberation Without Gods.
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
April 19, Saturday, 2-6 pm
Revolution Books/Libros Revolución presents:
Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: WHAT IS BOB AVAKIAN’S NEW SYNTHESIS?
Presentation followed by discussion
Little Five Points Community Center, 1083 Austin Avenue. Entrance faces Euclid.
Suggested donation $5
April 13, Sunday, 3:30 pm
Join us for an informal discussion of Bob Avakian's new book Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World.
April 27, Sunday, 3:30 pm
Join us as we continue our discussion of Bob Avakian's "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity."
Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
Testimony from Veterans
March 13-16, Winter Soldier Investigation: Iraq and Afghanistan was held in Washington D.C. At these hearings, organized by the Iraq Veterans Against the War, almost 50 American veterans testified about what they had done to the people and land of Iraq and Afghanistan. The audience, about 350 people at any time, were mostly American veterans, military families, and parents whose children were killed in the war.
The four-day event brought together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan—and present video and photographic evidence. In addition, panels of scholars, veterans, journalists, and other specialists gave context to the testimony. These panels covered everything from the history of the GI resistance movement to the fight for veterans’ health benefits and support.
The following excerpts are from the testimony of two veterans who spoke at the second panel on “Rules of Engagement.” Readers can listen to testimony at ivaw.org/wintersoldier/testimony
My name is Jason Wayne Lemieux and I’m a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. I served four years and ten months in the United States Marine Corps infantry and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant. During my time in the Marine Corps, I served three deployments to Iraq including the invasion, and in case any inquiring minds want to know, I served four years and ten months because I voluntarily extended my enlistment contract by ten months to redeploy with my unit for the third tour.
My first tour started in January 2003 and ended in September of that year. My second tour was from February to September of 2004, and my last tour was from September of 2005 to March 30, 2006.
Proper rules of engagement serve an important strategic purpose, which is to legitimize military force. By projecting an image of restraint and professionalism, militaries seek to reinforce the idea that they’re protecting local residents rather than oppressing them. Not only do these rules undermine support for any local opposition, they also deflect accusations of occupation and oppression from foreign countries and, in some cases, the people of the country the military is supposedly serving....
During the invasion of Iraq, during the push north to Baghdad, the rules of engagement given to me were gradually reduced to the point of non-existence. Similar to the cases that you’ve already heard. When we first crossed the Kuwait-Iraq border at Azubad in March 2003, we were operating under Geneva Convention guidelines and were authorized to shoot anyone wearing a military uniform except for medical and religious personnel, unless they had surrendered.
By the time we got to Baghdad, however, I was explicitly told by my chain of command that I could shoot anyone who came closer to me than I felt comfortable with if that person did not immediately move when I ordered them to do so, keeping in mind I don’t speak Arabic. The general attitude that I got from my chain of command was “better them than us,” and the guidance that we were given reinforced that attitude across the ranks. It was an attitude that I watched intensify greatly throughout the course of my three tours. I remember in January of 2004 attending the formation where we were given what was going to be our mission for the second deployment. And I was sitting there, like a good Marine, with my pen and paper ready to write down those carefully chosen, thoughtful words that would justify my existence in Iraq for the next seven months, and my commander told me that our mission was, and I quote, “to kill those who need to be killed and save those who need to be saved,” and that was it. And with those words he pretty much set the tone for the deployment.
At the start of that second deployment, our standing rules of engagement were that someone had to be displaying hostile intent and committing a hostile act before deadly force could be used. I won’t get into the absurdity of asking one to discern what is going on in the mind of another individual except to say that it was the individual Marine’s job to determine what is hostile intent and a hostile action.
However, during the April offensive of 2004 in which attacks erupted all over Anbar province, my unit was involved in a two-day firefight. Shortly after the firefight was under way, the same commander who had given us the mission issued an order that everyone wearing a black distasha [long garment] and a red headscarf was automatically displaying hostile intent and a hostile action, and was to be shot.
An hour or two later he gave another order, this time that everyone on the streets was considered an enemy combatant.
I can remember one instance, after the order was given that afternoon, when we came around a corner and an unarmed Iraqi man stepped out of a doorway. I remember the Marine directly in front of me raising his rifle and aiming at the unarmed man; and then I think, just for some psychological reason, my brain blocked out the actual shots, because the next thing I remember is stepping over the dead man’s body to clear the room that he came out of. I remember that it was a storage room and it was full of some Arabic brand of cheesy puffs, like Cheetos. There weren’t any weapons in the area except for ours.
The commander told us a couple of weeks later that “over 100 enemy” had been killed, and to the best of my knowledge that number includes all of the people who were shot for simply walking down the street in their own city. After the firefight was over, the standing rules of engagement for my unit were changed so that Marines didn’t need to identify a hostile action anymore in order to use deadly force. They just had to identify hostile intent.
The rules also explicitly stated that carrying a shovel, standing on a rooftop while speaking on a cell phone, or holding binoculars, or being out after curfew were automatically considered hostile intent and we were authorized to use deadly force, and I can only guess how many innocent people died during my tour because of those orders.
On my third tour, the rules of engagement were stricter, but they really only existed so that the command could say there were rules of engagement that were being followed. In reality, my officers explicitly told me and my fellow Marines that if we felt threatened by an Iraqi’s presence, we should just shoot them and the officers would “take care of us.”
By this time, many of the Marines who were on their second or third tour had suffered such serious psychological trauma, having watched friends die and lose limbs, that because of these experiences, they were moved to shoot people who, in my opinion, were clearly non-combatants.
There was one incident when a roadside bomb exploded and a few minutes later I watched a Marine start shooting at cars that were driving down the street hundreds of meters away and in the opposite direction from where the IED had exploded. We were too far away to identify who was in the cars and they didn’t pose any threat to us and, for all I could tell, as I was standing about 20 meters away from the Marine and about 300 meters from the cars, they were just passing motorists. It was long enough after and far enough away from the explosion that the people in the cars might not have even known that anything was going on or that anything had even happened, but the Marine was shooting at them anyway.
This Marine had had his best friend get killed on our last deployment, and had also related to me a story about the two-day firefight that I had mentioned earlier, when he watched the commander, who had given us the order to shoot anyone on the street, shoot two old ladies that were walking and carrying vegetables. He said that the commander had told him to shoot the women and when he refused because they were carrying vegetables, the commander shot them. So when this Marine started shooting at people in cars that nobody else felt were threatening, he was only following the example that his commander had already set...
My name is Jason Washburn. I was a corporal in the United States Marine Corps in which I served four years. I did three tours in Iraq. My first two tours were with the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, Charlie Company, and my third tour was with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, Weapon Company. I was in the initial invasion and, eventually after the invasion was done, we settled down in Ohillah; this was in ’03. From ’04 to ’05 I was in Najaf, and from ’05 to ’06 I was in Haditha.
During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot. It seemed like every time we turned around we had different rules of engagement, and they told us the reasons they were changing them was because it depended on the climate of the area at the time, what the threat level was deemed to be, and the higher the threat level was, the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond. And for example during the invasion, we were told to use target identification before engaging with anyone, but if the town or the city that we were approaching was a known threat, if the unit that went through the area before we did took a high number of casualties, we were basically allowed to shoot whatever we wanted—it was deemed to be a free-fire zone. We would roll through the town and anything we saw, everything that we saw, we engaged it and opened fire on everything.
There was really no rule governing the amount of force we were allowed to use on targets during the invasion. I remember one woman was walking by, and she was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading towards us, so we lit her up with a Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher, and when the dust settled we realized that the bag was only full of groceries. She had been trying to bring us food and we blew her to pieces for it.
After the invasion ended and Bush declared “mission accomplished,” the rules changed pretty drastically. Instead of actually firing, we used a lot of close combat, just hand-to-hand type stuff, just simple hand-to-hand violence to subdue people.
There were a lot of times where we would be out on foot patrols and we were ordered to not allow people to pass through our patrol formation. And unsuspecting villagers would try to pass through or cut through the formation. We would butt stroke them, jab them with a muzzle, you know, kick them or whatever, just get them out of the formation. One time there was a guy on a bicycle with a basket full of groceries, and he tried to just roll through, and we clothes-lined him, and we smashed up his bicycle. For what? Passing through the formation. But this is what we were expected to do.
In another instance we were ordered to guard a fuel station. At the end of the day, nothing had happened and we had mounted up into our trucks; and right when we were about to take off, a bunch of people—Iraqi people—rushed to the fuel pumps to try to take some fuel, and our squad leader called it in and the response over the radio was, “What do you think we want you to do? Go f… them up.” Obviously in more colorful language. So we jumped off the trucks and charged at the Iraqis and we really beat the hell out of them with rifles, fists, feet, and everything else that we had available. So once they had either fled or were broken and bleeding unconscious on the ground, we mounted back up on our trucks and left. We were never told to detain anyone there or question anyone, just mess them up, you know.
Most of the innocents that I actually saw get killed were behind the wheel of a vehicle, usually a taxi driver. I’ve been present for almost a dozen of those types of people that got killed, just driving. Through my third deployment, there was a rule in place where all Iraqi traffic had to pull off of the road to let military convoys pass by. If they didn’t comply or somebody got back on the road too early, they would get shot up. If they approached a checkpoint too fast or too recklessly, they would get shot up. Also we were often told to be on the lookout for vehicle-borne IEDs, improvised explosive devices, matching the description of every taxi in Iraq, you know, “Be on the lookout for a car that has orange panel doors and a front that’s white or vice versa.” And it’s like every taxi in Iraq, that’s exactly what it looks like. And those are the cars we’re supposed to be looking out for that could be VB IEDs. So quite a few of those guys got shot up just because their car looked like what we were told to look out for.
In another instance it was actually a mayor of a town in our AO [area of operation] near Haditha that got shot. Our command showed us pictures from the incident; they had gathered the whole company together and they were showing pictures of all of this, what everything looked like, and pointed out that the reason that they did this was because there was a “really nice tight shot group” in the windshield, and he announced to the company that “this is what good Marine shooting looks like.” And that was the mayor of the town. It was actually my squad that was, after that, tasked with going to apologize to the family and pay reparations, but it was kind of like basically all we did was go there and give them some money and then leave. You know, “oh well,” is the way it seemed they wanted us to apologize to them. It was really a joke.
Something else we were actually encouraged to do, almost with a wink and a nudge, was to carry “drop weapons,” or by my third tour, “drop shovels.” What that basically is, we would carry these weapons or shovels with us because in case we accidentally did shoot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body and make it look like they were an insurgent, or, like my friend here was saying, we were told by my third tour that if they were carrying a shovel or a heavy bag, if they were digging anywhere, especially near roads, that we could shoot them. So we actually carried these tools and weapons in our vehicles in case we accidentally shot an innocent civilian, we could just toss it on them and be like “well he was digging, I was within the rules of engagement.” This was commonly encouraged, but only behind closed doors; it wasn’t obviously a public announcement that they would make. But it was pretty common.
Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
Ozell and J.W. McBee, a retired Black couple, had lived with their three grandchildren in their South Side Chicago home since 1999. In 2006, they received a call from a “mortgage consulting” company offering to re-finance them into a mortgage with a monthly payment $100 lower than the $700 a month they were paying. But to get that lower rate, the McBees were told, they would first have to be refinanced into a mortgage with payments of $1,400 for two months. Ozell and J.W. signed up, and they borrowed money on their credit cards to make the two $1,400 payments.
But then the mortgage company refused to refinance them into the lower monthly payments. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, “Ozell, 86, a retired nurse’s assistant, and J.W., 67, a retired janitor, couldn’t meet the increased payments, fell behind, the house was foreclosed and they were evicted.” They, along with two of the grandkids and a 21-month-old great-grandchild, had to move into an apartment, paying $975 a month in rent that they can hardly afford. “I can’t sleep at night,” Ozell said. “I’ve just been so worried it’s making me sick.”
Heartbreaking stories like this are being repeated across the U.S. because of the subprime mortgage crisis that could lead to an estimated 2.2 million homeowners in the U.S. losing their homes to foreclosures in the next couple of years. In 2007 alone, “almost 1.3 million properties, or one for every 97 households in the U.S….had some type of foreclosure action taken against them.”1 And this crisis is hitting Black and Latino people with particularly devastating force.
A recent report titled “State of the Dream 2008: FORECLOSED” by United for a Fair Economy2 situates the subprime crisis within “a long tradition of economic, and more specifically, housing discrimination in the U.S.” The report documents how mortgage companies and banks targeted people of oppressed nationalities with predatory subprime loans, and how foreclosures have severely affected Black and Latino communities in the last ten years. The report summarizes that “the subprime lending debacle has caused the greatest loss of wealth to people of color in modern U.S. history…between $164 billion and $213 billion for loans taken during the past eight years.”
Subprime mortgages are a relatively recent development that began in the early 1990s and then expanded greatly during the past few years. These loans have much higher interest rates as well as higher fees and penalties than conventional mortgages. Because people who don’t qualify for traditional mortgages (due to their income or credit history) could get subprime loans, these loans were billed as enabling many more people to buy into the “American Dream” of homeownership. But the higher interest rates and other costs have driven many families who got subprime mortgages into situations where they were forced to give up their houses.
By 2006 more than one-fifth of all mortgages in the U.S. were subprime. The banks and mortgage companies went after middle-class families who had accumulated too much debt to qualify for a conventional mortgage, as well as low-income families who wanted to buy a home in the inflated housing market. In 2007, 11 percent of all subprime loans went to first-time buyers. The rest of subprime loans, 89 percent, went to borrowers who were talked into refinancing their homes, for anything from paying off credit card debt, to dealing with devastating health care costs, to surviving a period of unemployment.
The mortgage industry developed a number of methods to make these subprime loans squeeze the most out of the families who were the most vulnerable economically. These include:
• Prepayment penalties against paying the loan off early, so borrowers were stuck with high-interest loans once they were lured into them (70 percent of subprime loans have prepayment penalties).
• “Exploding” adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), which come with a relatively low “teaser” rate for the first two or three years. After that initial period, the interest rate increases substantially, by a third or more. Through mid-2006, such ARMs made up 81 percent of subprime loans. Between now and 2009, when 1.8 million ARMs are due to be reset at a higher interest rate, many more people will be unable to make the payments and be forced to give up their houses.
While the subprime crisis affects people of all nationalities, the predatory loans were deliberately targeted at Black and Latino people in particular. More than half of all loans made to Black people in 2005-2007 were subprime.3 The figure for Latino people is two out of five.4 This has to do with the fact that because of the history of systematic national oppression in this country, Black and Latino people on average are poorer than white people. In 2005, the per capita income for whites in the U.S. was $28,946 compared to $16,874 for Blacks. The United for a Fair Economy report points out, “Thus, if subprime loans were meant to target households whose income was not high enough to qualify for conventional loans, this meant a majority of households of color.”
The current crisis also highlights a related aspect of the tremendous economic gap that exists between whites and Black people in the U.S.—the fact that the net worth of an average white family is 14 times greater than that of an average Black family.5 When you consider that homeownership and home equity is the primary, even sole, asset of many Black and Latino families, this focuses up even more sharply the devastating effect of the subprime crisis on Black and Latino communities.
It is not just low-income Blacks and Latinos who have been victimized. In a practice known as “steering,” mortgage brokers push higher-cost subprime loans on middle-income families that qualify for conventional loans. In 2005, Black homeowners earning more than $100,000 a year were more likely to get high-cost loans than white homeowners earning less than $35,000.
The subprime crisis is hitting Black and Latino communities that were already hard-hit by the recession of 2000-2001, when Blacks and Latinos lost 27% of their net worth.6 And there is a “spillover effect” from the increasing number of foreclosures: whole communities where houses stand vacant, stores and businesses close, the value of the remaining houses goes down, and the tax base that pays for schools and city services shrinks. The mayor of Cleveland recently said that the city can’t afford to board up all the houses that have been foreclosed. Baltimore is suing Wells Fargo Bank, “contending that the bank’s lending practices discriminated against black borrowers and led to a wave of foreclosures that has reduced city tax revenues and increased its costs.” The mayor of Trenton, New Jersey, called the subprime crisis “an economic tsunami that is hitting our cities.”7
For decades, the financial institutions of U.S. capitalism carried out “redlining”—systematically denying mortgages, business loans, and other services to people living in minority neighborhoods. This was a conscious discriminatory policy as well as part of the deindustrialization and other aspects of the profit-driven workings of capitalism that have devastated the inner-city communities of oppressed people.
The exponential growth of subprime mortgages in recent years has been a perverse sort of redlining in reverse. Instead of being denied loans, certain sections of Black and Latino people have been flooded with predatory loans and promises of a piece of the “American Dream”—even as the poorest strata of those communities have been hit hard with the gutting of public housing and other government social programs. Now, as the subprime crisis hits, a nightmarish “economic tsunami” is further devastating the oppressed communities of America.
1. “Paying More for the Dream: The Subprime Shakeout and Its Impact on Lower-Income and Minority Communities.” Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, March 2008. (nedap.org)[back]
2. “State of the Dream 2008: Foreclosed.” United for a Fair Economy, January 15, 2008. (faireconomy.org/dream)[back]
4. “Hemorrhaging Housing Market Threatens Latino Wealth.” Houston Chronicle, March 8, 2008.[back]
5. According to The Black Commentator, “The median net worth of an African American household is about $6,000, while white households wield 14 times as much wealth: more than $88,000.” One-third of Black families have no assets or have a negative net worth. “Wealth of a White Nation; Blacks Sink Deeper in Hole.” The Black Commentator, October 21, 2004. (blackcommentator.com/110/110_cover_white_wealth_pf.html)[back]
6. According to The Black Commentator, Black people’s losses from the 2000-2001 recession “appear near-permanent, the result of the deindustrialization of the United States.” Latinos, more heavily concentrated in the service sector, were slightly less affected by the recession, and the national homeownership rate among Latinos increased to 50% by 2007. But 88% of the net worth of Latino families is in equity in their homes, so they are being very hard-hit by foreclosures. The housing crisis also directly affects Latino employment because one in three construction workers is Latino.[back]
Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
Check It Out
We received the following “Check It Out” from a reader:
“Pigs don’t just vanish, thought George as he stood staring into the depths of the very obviously empty pigsty. He tried closing his eyes and then opening them again, to see if it was all some kind of horrible optical illusion. But when he looked again, the pig was still gone, his vast muddy pink bulk nowhere to be seen. In fact, when George examined the situation for a second time, it had gotten worse, not better. The side door of the pigsty, he noticed, was hanging open, which meant someone hadn’t shut it properly. And that someone was probably him.”
This is how George’s Secret Key to the Universe starts. Then we’re off for an out-of-this-world “roller-coaster ride through the vastness of space,” where in the midst of an exciting adventure you’ll discover the awe, wonder, and scientific laws of the universe. This book can be found in the children’s section of bookstores. But woven into this story are scientific facts and theories that most adults, along with kids, will find deeply amazing, challenging, and fun.
People may be familiar with Stephen Hawking from his multi-million copy best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, or his more recent book, still topping the charts all over the world, The Universe in a Nutshell. Now he and his daughter, Lucy Hawking, have written this fantastical tale that starts when George meets his new neighbor Annie. Annie’s father Eric, who is a scientist, invites George to join the “Order of Scientific Inquiry for the Good of Humanity.” George meets Cosmos, a super intelligent computer that can open portals in time and space to anywhere in the charted galaxy. Annie and George hitch a ride on a comet and take off for a hair-raising adventure across the universe. They are hit by an asteroid storm and dodge black holes and barely escape to get back to earth. Cosmos’ amazing abilities to travel through space and time lead George and Eric into a dangerous situation when an old ex-colleague steals the computer and George is faced with tracking Eric deep into the universe.
For those who might shy away from complicated questions of science, you will find this accessible and scientifically engaging. For those who are more deeply attuned to cosmology, this is a story where all the adventures are based on real science. It is a journey across space to learn more about the universe in which we live and a journey through physics and the laws that govern the universe. You’ll learn more than you might think! Just go to the website georgessecretkey.com. Take the quiz and see how you do. (Click on Cosmos and then Quiz.)
Did you ever wonder about the latest ideas on black holes? Or what would happen if you fell into one of them? Or how one is made? Have questions about how the universe came into being? What is mass and matter? A neutron star? Or have you ever just looked up at the sky and wondered about the stars—how they got there and how long it takes for their light to get to earth? How they are born and how they die? Each chapter gives explanations and details about all the scientific facts that this adventure takes you on.
A big plus of this book are the breathtaking pictures of Saturn, its moons, Jupiter, and photos of a panorama of Mars that was taken in 2005 by the exploration rover Spirit and the many galaxies that comprise our universe—and much more.
What’s so striking about this book is that it immerses the reader in a real understanding of the laws that govern the universe—it’s not a fairy tale and it doesn’t water down the basics of physics and cosmology. It speaks to the real origins of this world without some religious myth that obscures the truth of how we got here. Stephen and Lucy Hawking were recently on Charlie Rose talking about their new book and Stephen said: “Physicists believe that the universe is governed by scientific laws, these laws must hold without exception or they wouldn’t be laws. That doesn’t leave much room for miracles or god. I regard the afterlife to be a fairy tale for people that are afraid of the dark.”
For readers with imagination and curiosity, who are intrigued by the idea of the “Order of Scientific Inquiry for the Good of Humanity,” check out George’s Secret Key to the Universe.
Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
Check It Out
We received the following “Check It Out” from a reader:
The new feature film Chicago 10 from director Brett Morgen is a must see and is an extremely entertaining and uplifting movie. The movie chronicles the Chicago Conspiracy Trial that followed the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
At the 1968 Democratic Convention, protesters, denied permits for demonstration, repeatedly clashed with the Chicago Police Department, who waged a week-long terror campaign that resulted in police riots witnessed live by a television audience of over 50 million. It was true, as the protesters chanted, “the whole world’s watching” and these events had a polarizing effect on the whole the country.
The film is an animated docudrama and uses archival footage from the actual events, interweaving this with an animated retelling of the courtroom transcriptions.
In the wake of debate over a “surge” of U.S. forces in Iraq, director Brett Morgen’s film feels particularly timely: it begins with Lyndon Johnson announcing troop escalation in Vietnam. From there, the film tells the story of the Chicago 8, the group of radical activists that included Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale. They were tried on a number of charges, including inciting a riot, in the wake of the protests that surrounded the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The animation is vibrantly colorful, while the old footage of the Chicago riots is horrifyingly bleak. It’s clear excessive force was used against anti-war protesters, and that the Chicago 8 were railroaded.
I read an interview with the director Brett Morgen in New York Entertainment (Chat Room). When he was asked, “What inspired you to focus on this particular moment in history?” he said:
“The idea for the film came out of a conversation I had with Graydon Carter in 2001 or 2002. The U.S. had already invaded Afghanistan and was talking about going into Iraq, and Graydon was like, ‘What’s wrong with your generation? When I was a kid, we had the Chicago 7—they were like rock stars, they were our heroes! What do you think about making a film looking back on all that?’ As we went into it, I said, ‘Look, this is one of the most heavily documented periods in contemporary American history, so if we’re gonna do it, what can we add to the canon of work?’ To me it was about doing something that would capture the experience and energy of Chicago something uniquely cinematic. A sublime, visceral attack on the senses.”
Then the interviewer said, “Everything about the movie feels very young—particularly the soundtrack. Was that your goal?” and Morgan said: “The movie is not about 1968. There’s no context. There’s a war going on, there’s opposition to the war, and there’s a government trying to silence that opposition.”
Morgen noted that the audience he wanted to tell the story to wasn’t around at the time, so he chose a youthful style, with animation, without narration or interviews. He wanted a soundtrack reflecting today and his cross-media technique, whose soundtrack includes Eminem and Rage Against the Machine, begins to feel like a natural extension of the archival footage. The audience is also treated to the voices of Mark Ruffalo, Roy Scheider, Jeffrey Wright, and Hank Azaria in dialogue taken straight from the court transcripts. The sputtering, enraged prosecutor might be voiced by Nick Nolte, but the animation design is clearly intended to resemble Dubya.
In this season of elections, the film has gotten panned by many critics. It’s been criticized for providing insufficient historical context, especially in that “anti-war” presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy is barely mentioned and “good guy” Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey is not mentioned at all. What many of these critics have hated is that it straight up doesn’t promote relying on elections as a path forward. In interviews Morgen has said that he feels most social change is brought about by people. And what comes out in the movie is that the brave and determined street actions of the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention did infinitely more to end the war in Vietnam than all the attempts to promote “peace candidates” within a rigged electoral system. Abbie Hoffman, who is the central figure in the film, felt very strongly that no matter how left-leaning a Democrat, they were still part of the establishment and that change was not going to come from within.
This is no musty museum piece. As one critic said: “This is a funny, fiendishly entertaining salute to dissent in all its forms.” Another war is raging and another hotly contested convention is on the horizon—go see this film quickly before they yank it out of the theaters.
Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
The future of Antioch College is again in serious danger. Earlier this year, the Antioch University Board of Trustees (AUBoT) rejected a proposal by the Antioch College Continuation Corporation (AC3), a group of alumni, ex-trustees, and donors, to buy the college. After that offer was rejected, the AC3 offered to contribute $10 million directly to the University in return for ten seats on the 19-member University board. This offer was not accepted.
Antioch is a small private college in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Despite its smallness in physical size and enrollment, Antioch has stood for over 150 years as an outstanding center of progressive higher education. From the beginning of its founding by abolitionists, it has combined academics with work experience and community service. The College motto has been “Be afraid to die until you have won some small victory for humanity.”
In the 1960s and early 1970s, Antioch College was a hotbed of activism and radical thought. The radical movements of those days ebbed, but Antioch maintained a culture of resistance as well as a tradition of critical thought in its academic programs, along with its commitment to involve students in learning from hands-on experience in society.
The rejection by the Antioch University Board of Trustees of the alumni offer is viewed by many who had struggled and hoped for a new life for Antioch as a colossal act of betrayal. It increases the chances that Antioch College will be shut down.
Last June, the Antioch Board of Trustees made a surprise announcement that the College would close in June 2008. The Board cited falling enrollment, lack of financial endowments, and growing debts as the reason for its decision to close.
Since then, Antioch alumni have initiated a vigorous fundraising campaign that gathered at least $18 million in donations and pledges. The principal goal of the activity to keep Antioch alive has been to achieve complete independence in governance, financial control, and academic program from Antioch University. Ellen Borgersen, the vice president of the Antioch Alumni Association, said just before the AUBoT’s rejection that if negotiators succeed in winning independence for the College, “we’ll be ready to run the College on this campus without interruption. If they don’t, we’ll find someplace else in Yellow Springs to operate, and we’ll fight to reclaim the campus and the College’s other assets from a University administration that seems bent on destroying everything Antioch has ever stood for.” [antiochians.org/
The refusal of the Antioch Board of Trustees to accept the alumni offer to bail out the college poses the question more sharply of what is behind the move to close Antioch.
In recent years, Antioch University administrators have been blatantly hostile to the spirit of the Antioch community. One even accused the student body of fostering a “toxic culture.” But the attitudinal opposition and the financial neglect imposed on Antioch College by the AUBoT did not emerge in a vacuum. Until the as-yet-undisclosed conversations, documents, and consultations among the Trustees and their advisors are revealed, a more complete understanding cannot be had, but there are two related processes that have certainly influenced the AUBoT’s decisions. One is the current compulsions of capital that make soliciting endowments and funding for a small, liberal arts college very difficult. Intertwined with this is the current climate of suppression of critical thought and dissent on campuses.
And joined to this is the specific position of Antioch College. In the past decade, a powerful force for economic development in the Yellow Springs area has been the marriage of real estate and military industry and research. The “Base Realignment and Closure” (BRAC) procedures were initiated in 2005 by the Pentagon to streamline military expenses and to draw local industries into accelerating military research and development. Antioch is near the huge Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and also near the economically depressed city of Dayton. In 1994 the Dayton Development Corporation (DDC) was formed to figure out how to attract new capitalist investment and was recently given a shot in the arm by the BRAC. Congress last year voted to give $50 million in loans and startup money to over a dozen military research and industrial enterprises in the Wright-Patterson/Dayton/Yellow Springs corridor.
Antioch University (the corporate entity that owns, but is distinct from the College) has a separate branch in Yellow Springs called McGregor, which until recently has operated using College buildings. But late in 2007, McGregor opened a new $30 million building off campus, which has been described by its proponents as “the educational component” of a business and research park planned for that location. The rise of McGregor and its connection with the BRAC is seen by many as closely linked to the hostility toward Antioch College’s values and physical existence. [see blazenews.org/30/closing-antioch-college-cui-bono for further detailed investigation into the Antioch/BRAC connection]
Two current and one former member of the Antioch University Board of Trustees head up significant military research and industrial companies. How people like that ended up as board members at Antioch, of all places, is still a mystery. But this raises further questions about the relationship between the Antioch University board and BRAC. In any case, it is known that BRAC and the DDC have lobbied the Yellow Springs Village Council to join the military-industrial development plans. Yellow Springs businesses formed a group to attract such investment and to find ways for Yellow Springs to get in on the action.
These economic factors are creating pressure for the integration of Antioch and Yellow Springs into military research and development.
As we go to press, Antioch College students, faculty, staff, alumni, and residents of the small town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, are brainstorming and planning for “NonStop Antioch”—a slogan that has arisen with the movement to stop Antioch’s closure. According to a press release from the College Revival Fund, Inc. (one of the Antioch College alumni-directed fundraising efforts), “NonStop Antioch is what alumni, students, staff and faculty dubbed the movement to keep Antioch College alive and operating in Yellow Springs…It includes support for students, faculty and staff who have committed to staying in Yellow Springs to teach, learn, and keep the Antioch spirit alive. NonStop Antioch also includes plans for fundraising, direct action, and litigation.”
Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
Soon to be available at revcom.us:
A Response to Mike Ely’s Nine Letters
As some of our readers may be aware, our Party and our Chairman Bob Avakian have recently been the target of opportunist and unprincipled attacks by Mike Ely, someone who was closely associated with our Party for many years. His “Nine Letters,” while purporting to offer “a critique of Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis,” proceed from gross distortion and mis-characterization of our Party’s line and practice in service of a political package which amounts to giving up on the goals of revolution and communism and has nothing positive to offer in terms of achieving a radical alternative to the monstrous system we live under.
As previously stated, we will not allow this or any other such unprincipled attacks to deter us or divert us from our fundamental purposes and aims, to lead the masses of people in realizing their highest and most fundamental interests, to make revolution and to contribute to the cause of communism throughout the world—to be emancipators of humanity.
However, these “Nine Letters” do constitute a “teacher by negative example.” And in keeping with our basic principles and methods, we seek to draw whatever lessons can be learned from even the most unprincipled opportunist attacks. For this reason, a writing group in the RCP has prepared a refutation of the “Nine Letters” which will be available at revcom.us on Friday, April 11 along with the “Nine Letters” themselves.
We encourage our readers to study this response in conjunction with digging deeply into the body of work of Bob Avakian and other publications of our Party, including Revolution.