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Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
Police Murder of Sean Bell
Hundreds and thousands of people have been in the streets in New York, outraged and determined that the not guilty verdict on the cops who killed Sean Bell cannot stand. Beautiful outpourings of hundreds of young people from high schools and colleges near where Sean Bell lived and died have marched several times now through the busy shopping area in Jamaica, Queens, stopping traffic and drawing in passersby everywhere they go. They have faced off with riot-clad police at the hated 103rd Precinct and spoken out against the murder of Sean and the way the police harass, jack up, bust for bullshit reasons, brutalize, and even murder people all the damned time and nothing ever gets done about it. Some—but not enough—activists and others of all ages and from all over the city have joined the people protesting in Queens.
On Friday, May 2, dozens of young people drove through Jamaica, Queens, on a flatbed truck decorated with announcements of the march later that day, handing out flyers, stopping for short rallies on street corners and outside the high schools, challenging people to act now to stop this. One of the first young people who jumped into the truck that morning left his job on the spot when he saw the truck getting ready. At one point the truck stopped in front of a mosque where services were letting out and hundreds of mainly South Asian immigrants, at first hesitant, began gathering around to grab up and read the flyers and hear what the youth had to say about the police murder of Sean Bell and how the police treat them every day. By 3:00, dozens more young people, mostly young women, were marching from one of the high schools to meet the several dozen already at the gathering point.
The march grew to several hundred as it marched through the busy shopping area. A lot of people had heard about it on the radio or had gotten a text message or a flyer in the days before. Participants called relatives and friends on the spot to tell them to get their butts out there. Many more joined on the spot. Traffic stopped, drivers honked in support and jumped out of their cars to get flyers and see the march. Fists shot into the air, people joined chants from the sidelines, the sound of the honks and the chants boomed and echoed for blocks. People chanted: “NYPD go to hell, justice for Sean Bell,” and “We are all Sean Bell, NYPD go to hell.” “Fifty shots—fuck the cops.” Demonstrators counted off from one to fifty, for the fifty shots the cops fired. Many in Queens and in the demonstrations all over the city have taken up signs from the Harlem Revolution Club saying “We Are All Sean Bell—The Whole Damn System is Guilty!”
On Wednesday, May 7, hundreds of people of all ages and nationalities stopped traffic at five different entrances to bridges and tunnels around Manhattan and Brooklyn. Over 200 were arrested in civil disobedience. Reverend Al Sharpton, Sean Bell’s surviving fiancée Nicole Paultre Bell, and Sean’s friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, who were almost killed along with him that night, were arrested as part of the protest near police headquarters, on an entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. Hazel Dukes of the NAACP, City Councilperson Charles Barron, and Reverend Herbert Daughtry were also among those arrested.
Around the city, smaller groups of dozens have organized themselves to go into the street. One church group of 50 people blocked traffic outside Madison Square Garden and a few days later marched through Jamaica, Queens. Twenty artists marched from their regular meeting to the local precinct. Several dozen people marched in Washington Heights, an area with a large Dominican population. More actions are planned.
The anger among people is deep. Many, many people are not accepting that business should continue as usual when a court has given a green light to the cops to shoot any Black or Latino young person in this city, for any reason or for no reason at all. As one young West Indian woman pointed out during the demonstration outside One Police Plaza on Wednesday, the police used to plant “throw-down” guns on the people they killed to make it seem like they were threatened. Now the judge in Sean Bell’s case has said that all they have to do is say they “thought” they were in danger.
A lot of people expected some small scrap of justice from the judge after he had heard the testimony about Sean’s wedding morning. Michael Hardy, Nicole Paultre Bell’s lawyer, said, “Now it is clear what the answer is to this family about what the value of the life of an innocent person is in our community.”
A basic reality of how ages-old oppression and exploitation are enforced in America has been starkly revealed. People are talking about how to put an end to a system that murders our youth and crushes the lives out of people around the world. As a flyer from the Harlem Revolution Club put it, “Police murdering Black and Latino youth and getting away with it again and again and again must stop here. What must start here is spreading the understanding that this system is the problem, and it needs to be gotten rid of through revolution—building a revolutionary movement and forging a revolutionary people. People who know we need revolution and are determined to fight for it. We have to keep fighting for justice for Sean Bell, taking it to the streets and keeping it in the streets. More people, from different walks of life and of different races and nationalities, have to join this fight. It has to get better organized and stronger. The whole world is watching.”
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
Young Black man from Sean Bell’s neighborhood:
They come in the hood and search your car, they put you up against your bumper and they’re right up on you. They plant stuff on you and steal your money. This is how they do. I hate them with a passion. We need a revolutionary movement to put a stop to this, we need to tell the whole world.
Filipina woman at the May 2 march:
I am here to show my support, even alone, because something is wrong with the system. When I lived in the Philippines I thought there was justice in the U.S., but I came here and there is no justice. I support the family [of Sean Bell] but not just them. What will happen to our grandchildren’s future?
College freshman, who lives near Club Kalua, at May 2 march:
I got interested because I have children, and me myself as a young Black man, I’ve been racially profiled many times. At the moment I have a case pending for disorderly conduct because a police officer approached me saying I fit the description of a Black man that has a gun. And I told him I’m just coming from school, from the registrar’s office, and he still wouldn’t listen to me, he still violated my rights and searched me, and I got angry and called him a couple of profanities. So he gave me a disorderly conduct and that’s it. This is racial profiling, you know? I have to get involved because we have to put a stop to this fascist state, this police-state-type mentality. This capitalist mentality has to go, understand? It’s not working for me, it’s not working for Sean Bell’s family, it’s not working for a lot of people in Iraq. It’s not working at all, it’s got to go, it’s just not healthy. I’m not with it.
Excerpt of Statement from Elaine Brower, member of the Steering Committee of World Can’t Wait – Drive Out The Bush Regime, arrested in the civil disobedience on May 7:
What we call “justice” in this City, and all the way to Baghdad, is not just. The people are not being protected, they are being oppressed. So it is time the people respond! In fact, it is way past time. We have sat by long enough and watched the NYPD inflict pain and suffering on people in this City. They have free reign to “stop and frisk,” specifically targeting youths in communities of color. They have entered our subway systems with machine guns and attack dogs in the name of security. They have installed thousands upon thousands of video surveillance systems all around our City in the name of safety. And they are free to unleash gunfire at their will, or as NYPD regulations say “…until the threat or the perceived threat is over….” Only by all of us joining together stopping business as usual will we start changing the direction of the perpetrators of violence.
I was really upset about the verdict. I couldn’t sleep the night before and started watching the news at 5:30 am, before the verdict, and then I saw the verdict live, I saw everyone’s reaction. And if I was down there at the courthouse I would have been the same way. I marched on Wednesday and that’s the first time I had a chance to be in the streets. Someone here said it was fun. That’s right, I had a lot of fun, a lot better than having a beef because some guy steps on my sneaker. I would rather target the system. This is a wake-up call for the hip-hop generation, for our generation. Just like Iraq is the Vietnam for this generation, Sean Bell is our civil rights movement. There are fifty bullets now, what’s next? One is too many! I’m a young Black man and I want to enjoy myself but I also have to have consciousness. I’m willing, ready, and able to do whatever is needed to help.
Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party:
What has to start here is a movement that says “Justice for Sean Bell, We Are All Sean Bell, NYPD Go To Hell.” And it has to say, “We Are All Sean Bell, the Whole Damn System is Guilty!” The Harlem Revolution Club had posters saying that and people at the protest on Wednesday took every one we had.
Brothers and sisters, we need another world. A world where people’s needs are met, and where everyone mixes it up—basic people, engineers, artists, all kinds of people mix it up to figure out how to solve problems and understand the world and change it. In this kind of society, the people’s security would sooner take a bullet than kill one of the people. And this system won’t make this happen, it’s going to take a revolution, a communist revolution, to do this.
One of the sisters here is a teacher—we need educators figuring out how to take this into the classroom. We need sermons about putting a stop to this. We need this resistance coursing through society. We should be strategizing with all kinds of people about what it will take to stop this, and we have to keep taking it to the streets.
One man who was talking this over with one of the revolutionaries said, “So what you’re saying is that either we bury this system or we’ll continue to bury our children.” That’s the reality we are dealing with. I’m tired of burying our children. We are all Sean Bell, and the whole damn system is guilty. Fifty shots is murder, and it’s fifty more reasons for revolution.
Will from the Harlem Revolution Club:
People are thinking and changing as they fight, and it needs to become not just about what’s “best for me.” Someone said to some of us, “I can’t do this right now, I’m thinking about my school and job,” and another guy said, “What’s so important about that right now when they just killed somebody and got away with it?” At some point we have to make this about all of humanity. Otherwise if you are thinking just about yourself, or your block, your school, your set, you will eventually sell out. When we get a movement that’s about [liberating] all of humanity, then they have a big problem.
Young Haitian-American man:
The first thing I heard when I came to NYC from Miami nine months ago was about Sean Bell. I thought maybe the cops will go to jail for fifty shots, and when I saw the verdict I almost cried. But at the same time I wasn’t surprised. Diallo was shot 41 times, nothing happened. George Bush bombed Iraq over weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist, and he got away with it.
We fought a revolution in Haiti 200 years go. Toussaint led a revolution of the slaves, and if they could do that, we can do anything. I’m ready to do anything. Let’s talk about how to do this. We need a solution about how to bring on the revolution. Let’s go to the streets, come together, bring awareness, and get in their face. One person said to me, we kill each other and no one does anything. So I said, does that mean we should let the police shoot us and we do nothing? Another guy said, my brother got shot and no one did anything. I said, that’s more reason for you to be with us, you can’t sit back. Another person said to me that Sean Bell “must have been doing something.” This is a mentality that accepts that you can be doing anything or nothing, just be Black, and this can happen to you. We need to be in the streets. When I saw what happened in Philly, the video of the cops beating those men, I was sad. The whole world has to know about this. We can’t allow these things to happen and not do anything. They will just keep killing us. We have to fight the power.
Woman in T-shirt (teacher) that said, “NYPD – KKK – Don’t kill any innocent people today”:
I was at the Sean Bell trial every day. It was evident the fix was in. The prosecutor was very laid back. It was obvious even to some of us with no legal training that they were not objecting when they should have been. He never objected when Ricco (one of the cops’ attorneys) was tearing down Joseph Guzman [one of the men shot by the NYPD], who had every right to be angry. And then the judge has the audacity to base his verdict on Guzman’s demeanor!
My daughter, at age 17, was the victim of police brutality. They beat her in the street, and handcuffed me and made me watch. We’re in federal court now against the City of New York. It’s a joke—the judge is on the side of the police. They said the police did nothing wrong and then offered $10,000. I said, if they did nothing wrong, don’t offer any money!
We have to advance together. It’s not a color thing but it’s about human rights and civil rights. This affects us all.
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism:
The following is Part I of the text of a speech given in various locations around the country this spring. The text has been slightly edited for publication. Revolution is publishing this speech in five installments. The complete speech is available online at revcom.us.
Part I: “Humanity Needs Revolution and Communism”
We’re talking today about Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of a re-envisioned revolution and communism. To get into this, we need to talk first about why we need revolution and communism.
I want to read from an article in our newspaper, Revolution, on an ACLU survey of the behavior of the 4,600 cops in New York public schools. They reported a daily diet of harassment and verbal humiliation, and instance after instance of outright brutality. This included, among others, the case of Biko Edwards, who was walking toward his chemistry class when a vice principal stopped him. When Biko protested not being allowed to go to class, the vice principal called in a cop. The ACLU report describes what happened next:
Officer Rivera then grabbed Biko and slammed him against a brick door divider, lacerating Biko’s face and causing him to bleed. Officer Rivera then sprayed Mace at Biko’s eyes and face, causing Biko’s eyes to burn. Rather than treat the student, Officer Rivera then called for back-up on his radio, and proceeded to handcuff Biko... [Biko] was taken to a hospital where he spent approximately two hours being treated for his wounds, and spending most of his time in the hospital handcuffed to a chair... He faces five criminal charges.1
For those of you who know of Steven Biko, the South African revolutionary after whom this young man was very likely named, there is a sharp—and bitter—irony here. For Steven Biko was beaten to death in prison by South African police during the apartheid era—by a racist government whose main backer was the United States. The outrage done to Biko Edwards echoes this and goes on every day, in every ghetto school, in New York and around the country.
What kind of a system does THIS to its youth?
And let me share with you from an article that appeared just a few weeks ago in the New York Times magazine, reporting on an American counter-insurgency unit in Afghanistan. Among other horrors, it describes a night-long assault on a village and how, after the assault, to quote the article, “Lt. Matt Piosa, an earnest, 24-year-old West Point grad...radioed that the village elders were asking to bury their dead. They’d also collected wounded civilians. The tally was bad—5 killed and 11 wounded, all of them women, girls and boys.” I invite you to read the whole article to get just a small sense of what the murderers that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton call our “brave men and women in uniform” actually do.2
An army is an extension of the society it defends; what kind of a society produces an army that fights like this?
Take a spin on this globalized best-of-all-possible worlds. Talk to the families of the 150,000 peasant farmers in India who, ruined by global capitalism, have killed themselves in the past decade, usually by drinking pesticide. Travel to Angola, in Africa, where, to quote another Times article, “children stripped to their underwear dance through sewage-clogged creeks and slide down garbage dumps on sleds made of sheet metal into [shit]-fouled puddles,” while oil executives jet in and out to cut deals in luxury hotels.3 Stop off in Eastern Europe, where thousands of women each year are kidnaped and turned out as sex slaves for that same global market.4 Then go to Mexico and visit the family of any one of the 400 men and women a year who die of thirst trying to cross the Arizona desert in a desperate search for work.5 Think about these people; and tell me—tell them—tell yourself—that this world doesn’t need to be fundamentally changed, bottom to top. Tell me that this world doesn’t need revolution.
But then the question comes up: can there BE a revolution that would really change things? Didn’t people try that, and fail? And even if a revolution could change all that, how would you ever go about doing it in a country like this?
These questions have been central to Bob Avakian’s work—to what we call the new synthesis—and they are what I’m going to get into today. I obviously can’t thoroughly cover 30 years of Bob Avakian’s work in two hours. But what I hope to do is to give you a sense of a whole new way of approaching human emancipation and fundamental change, building on the best of what’s gone before but taking it to a new level.
So, let’s get into it.
Embarking on a New Stage of Revolution
160 years ago, Marx and Engels proclaimed in The Communist Manifesto that the workers of the world—the international proletariat—had nothing to lose but their chains and had a world to win. That manifesto put forward the basics of the pathbreaking theory that would guide that struggle.
25 years later, the first, brief attempt at proletarian revolution occurred with the Paris Commune; and nearly 50 years after that, the first real breakthrough—the first real consolidated socialist revolution—was made in the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Lenin and, after Lenin’s death, Stalin. This was followed in China—where the revolution came to power in 1949 and where 17 years later the leader of that revolution, Mao Tsetung, launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a revolution within the revolution to both prevent China from reverting to capitalism and to actually take it further toward communism.
This whole first stage of the communist revolution came to an end in 1976. When Mao died, there was a counter-revolutionary coup in China that imprisoned and/or executed those who had stood with him in leading the Cultural Revolution. The policies that they had fought so hard against were put into effect, and capitalism was restored. Today there are no genuine socialist countries in the world. And people all over the world feel, and struggle with, that weight every day—whether they know it or not.
So, how to go forward in the face of that? How to embark on a new stage of revolution? In this situation, Bob Avakian has led in defending, upholding and building on the monumental achievements of those revolutions and the illuminating insights of its greatest thinkers and leaders. But he has also deeply analyzed the mistakes, and the shortcomings in conception and method that led to those mistakes. And on that basis, he’s forged a coherent, comprehensive and overarching theoretical framework—that is, a synthesis. While this definitely comes out of and builds on what has gone before, this advance has also involved real ruptures with the past understanding and experience as a crucial element, which is why we call it the new synthesis.
Today I’m going to discuss this in three realms: philosophy, or how we understand the world; politics, especially but not limited to the political conceptions that guided the first attempts at building socialist societies and carrying out socialist transformation; and strategic conception, which focuses on how one would actually make revolution in a country like this.
Next: “Part II: A Philosophy to Understand—and Change—The World”
1. “Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools,” NYCLU, ACLU, March 2007 [back]
2. “Battle Company Is Out There,” Elizabeth Rubin, New York Times magazine, 2/24/2008 [back]
3. “In Oil Rich Angola, Cholera Preys Upon Poorest,” Sharon LaFraniere, New York Times, June 16, 2008 [back]
4. Anita Gradin, European Union Commissioner, Martina Vandenberg, “The Invisible Woman,” The Moscow Times, October 8, 1997 [back]
5. Latin American Working Group [back]
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
Caught on Videotape:
It happens all the time, in cities across the country—usually out of public sight and sound. But this time, like in the LAPD beating of Rodney King, it was caught on video for all to see.
Philadelphia, Monday, May 5. A Fox News camera in a helicopter got it on tape:
Several police cars are chasing a gold sedan. They force it to stop. Immediately, six to eight cops jump out and descend on the car. They yank open the doors and drag out the driver and two passengers. All three Black men are thrown to the ground. Immediately, a merciless beating begins.
More cops swarm in. Several of them pile in on each man. Some cops run from one beating to another. The three men on the ground are kicked again and again—to their heads, their bodies. They are punched and whacked with batons over and over. One cop on the scene has a dog.
At least 15 cops, all white, were involved in this brutal beating of Dewayne Dyches, Pete Hopkins, and Brian Hall.
Mainstream news reports about the incident bring up, as if it somehow justifies the beating, that Philadelphia police have been “under stress” because a cop was recently killed in a robbery. What they are actually, inadvertently, pointing out is how this beating was in fact a blatant and completely unjust act of brutal revenge.
Leomia Dyches, the mother of Dewayne Dyches, told CNN news, “I don’t believe it was stress. You see 14 white police officers beating three black males. In my area where I live at, I can see it constantly.” Leomia Dyches has not been allowed to see her son in jail. She stated: “Nobody deserves to be beat like that. If you do an animal like that, they’ll throw you in jail for treating a pit bull like that, so how can Philadelphia police call themselves officers and treat another human being like this?”
The police, the armed enforcers of this system, treat the masses like criminals. The Philly cops already assumed the three men they dragged out of the car were guilty—to be tried and punished on the spot, with no mercy whatsoever.
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
From A World to Win News Service:
May 5, 2008. A World to Win News Service. U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s recent threat to “totally obliterate” Iran was truly alarming, not just for what she said, but for what didn’t happen: for the firestorm of condemnation and repudiation that didn’t take place, either in Washington or any other Western capital. Even her rival for the Democratic Party nomination, Barack Obama, confined himself to gently chiding her for a poor choice of words—“It’s not the language we need right now.” What he didn’t say, and what no American politician likely to have a voice in the matter did not say either, is that what she is threatening is genocide, that genocide is a crime, and that even threats of genocide are unacceptable.
Clinton’s shocking threat revealed a great deal more than her own ambitions. It brought to light a certain mood in Washington as a whole, a consensus that Iran is a threat to American interests and that the U.S. should plan for and carry out whatever it takes to achieve political goals they all agree on.
So much for the idea that Bush’s impending exit from the White House might lessen the danger of an attack on Iran, before or after he leaves office.
Last November, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran was probably no longer engaging in a nuclear weapons program. The public release of that document indicated unease about the advisability of attacking Iran and contention within the ranks of those who make such decisions. But the situation has evolved somewhat since then. Ironically, as the stated end of Bush’s term in office appears on the horizon, it seems that the strategic assessment he made, in, for instance, his April 10 speech, has been broadly accepted among those who make such decisions. “Iraq is the convergence point of the two greatest threats to America in this century: Al Qaeda and Iran.”
Contrary to what he and others repeatedly imply or claim, the two are different in many basic ways. They are enemies, with no connection between them that anyone has ever provided the slightest evidence for. But you only have to rearrange these words a little to decode what Bush really meant, and what really is the truth: the Shia Islamic Republic of Iran and armed Sunni anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism are the sharpest threats to the locking in of the global “American century” the U.S. is seeking. Both reflect an Islamic fundamentalist tide, and the success of any of the diverse and mutually opposed components of this trend in confronting the U.S. emboldens and spurs on the others.
Even more ironically, if irony is appropriate when discussing calls for mass murder, Bush’s statement is far more true now than when he launched the “war on terror” and put Iran alongside Iraq on the “axis of evil.” What has made it truer is the U.S.’s whole international rampage since the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. The American-led invasion of Afghanistan brought back to life a Taliban that had made itself hated and discredited among many Afghans. American attempts to keep hold of Pakistan have pushed armed Islamic fundamentalism there out of control. Looking to the other side of the horizon, the U.S.-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon resulted in an unprecedented stalemate for the Israeli army and encouraged the growth of Hezbollah as one of Iran’s most militarily and politically potent allies, with a real army and modern weapons under its command and probably more sympathy throughout the Middle East than any of the American-dependent rulers.
In the eye of this hurricane sits Iraq. Of course Bush is lying when he blames Iran for the war against the U.S. occupation in Iraq. But there is no denying that that war is the best thing for Iran’s mullahs since they came to power. If they are overconfident that the U.S. will not dare attack or that such a war would end in an American defeat, perhaps it is because if there is a god, he has certainly been munificent to them in this regard. He gave them an American occupation in Iraq that, as concluded in a recent paper by U.S. Department of Defense analyst Joseph Collins, the U.S. can’t win and can’t afford to lose. (“Choosing War: The Decision to Invade Iraq and Its Aftermath,” Institute for Strategic Studies, National Defense University) Yet there is little hope for a political solution that would enable the U.S. to continue to rule Iraq without the help of forces tied to Islamic fundamentalism in general and especially to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the sister regime to the Islamic government the U.S. ended up installing in Iraq.
If American authorities are increasingly casting the Iraq war as about Iran, a “proxy war,” as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker recently said, it is because the invasion of Iraq was never just about the Saddam Hussein regime, or just Iraq itself, but a U.S. bid for regional control which made a collision with Iran inevitable. While the ruling mullahs in Tehran are carefully calibrating their moves (for instance, supporting Shia forces both inside and opposed to the U.S.-installed Iraqi government), and trying to avoid or postpone a direct collision with the U.S. over Iraq, they are certainly seeking to advance their interests in what is, for them, an advantageous situation.
There is another side of the picture for the Iranian regime: It is completely surrounded on all sides by the American military, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the states of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. Near the southeastern Iraq town of Kut, about 58 kilometers from the Iranian border and near a main border crossing between the two countries, American contractors are busily expanding barracks to comfortably house 6,000 U.S. troops. Until now, the installation has been a main base for spying on Iran. The U.S. sent first one and recently a second aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf, and another one to the eastern Mediterranean off Lebanon. Few times in history has so much firepower been concentrated. On several occasions now, the U.S. and the UK have provoked naval clashes close to the Iranian shoreline. The additional amount of weapons of mass destruction the U.S. could quickly deploy from the Indian Ocean, Europe and the imperialist “homeland” itself is horrendous.
Further, after long efforts, the U.S. has had some success in cajoling and bullying the other imperialist powers to impose a business blockade. Much of the financing for Iranian imports and exports has been cut off in the last few months. In May, Yahoo and Microsoft enlisted in this campaign, deleting Iran from the list of countries where people who want to use their e-mail services can register. This sets a serious example for lesser companies everywhere who support the U.S. government or fear its threats to punish them. Obviously, millions of Iranians face becoming “collateral damage” of sanctions that initially were said to narrowly target the regime leadership.
Put simply, the Iranian regime is threatening to get in the way of the geopolitical goals the U.S. has set itself so it can continue to be the world’s top exploiter. The U.S. is threatening to “totally obliterate” Iran—which means not just the regime but many, maybe a very great many, of the country’s people.
How the hell can the U.S. imperialists justify this, at least to some of the people in the U.S., if not the world? (Vice President Dick Cheney is on record as saying that the support of a third of the U.S. population would be enough to make a war politically feasible.) In his April speech, Bush, like his generals and ambassadors speaking since then, accused Iran of killing Americans in Iraq. There has been a crescendo of this kind of talk in the last month. Among Americans who don’t ask themselves what those soldiers were doing in Iraq in the first place, that may be a gripping argument.
There is another moral justification being deployed, and it, too, is potentially very serious: the “defense” of the U.S.’s only truly reliable outpost in the Middle East, Israel.
The threats by Clinton (and Obama) echoed Bush’s April speech, where he covered genocidal threats with saving Israeli lives: “They’ve [Iran] declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people—some in the Middle East. And that’s unacceptable to the United States, and it’s unacceptable to the world,” he told U.S.-funded radio Farda, broadcasting into Iran in Farsi.
This is how the consensus among the U.S. ruling class is put: Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.
Once again, Bush’s statement needs decoding, but it has real meaning. The IRI has said that they do not seek nuclear weapons, and that Islam prohibits the use of nuclear weapons by anyone. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not, in fact, call for wiping out Israel, as is so often claimed. But if the Islamic Republic were to build a few nuclear weapons, their most logical use would be to deter an Israeli nuclear attack through the same kind of “balance of terror” the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in. This could shift the balance of power—or better said, the lack of any balance of power or terror—in the Middle East.
At the same time, it seems, as far as we know, at least until now, that there is an opposite consensus among the Iranian ruling class: that they will not give up their nuclear program. Instead, they have tremendously accelerated it. In real life, and not just in anyone’s rhetoric, Iraq, Iran, Israel and nuclear weapons are all part of a single package.
Defending an illegal settler state would be illegitimate in itself, but the “defense” of Israel is not the real question. As a U.S. regional garrison and gendarme, Israel would almost certainly play a key role in the actual war fighting. It could serve as the trigger for a war in which the U.S. would intervene. There is a mood among a significant section of the Israeli masses, as well as the ruling circles, for a desperate, final solution to an unsustainable status quo. During a five-day civil defense drill in April, a senior Israeli cabinet official warned that Iran is “provoking us” by backing Hezbollah and blustered, “An Iranian attack will lead to a harsh retaliation by Israel, which will lead to the destruction of the Iranian nation.” (CNN, April 7) The implication is that even supplying weapons to Hezbollah, as Iran is already doing, could be considered an attack. Note, as with Clinton, the threat is not “proportional retaliation” but genocide. He also warned that Israelis should get prepared—which was the point of the drill—for rockets raining down on every corner of the country.
In Israel, as in Iran and most certainly in the White House of today and tomorrow, there are people who do have a very clear idea of what war could mean, and, trusting in their god and their mission in his name, are not about to turn back at the prospect of seas of blood.
The Bush government’s decision to release video footage and other information about the mysterious Israeli air strike on a building in Syria late last year has added another disturbing element of concrete preparations in this regard. For some civilian nuclear experts, the “evidence” purporting to show that what the Israel air force hit was an uncompleted nuclear weapons facility seemed to show exactly the opposite. A Syrian government spokesman made a plausible argument when he asked why they would build a strategic weapons site out in the open, in plain view of U.S. spy satellites, with no anti-aircraft or any other military protection. Further, since Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the International Atomic Energy Agency could have demanded that it submit to a snap inspection.
The timing and approach behind these charges suggest that Washington has decided to step up pressure against Iran’s only state ally, in an attempt to further isolate Tehran. But their specious character also gives more weight to the widely held idea that Israel sent its warplanes into Syria to locate Syria’s radar facilities and test its ability to react. Any Israeli air attack on Iran is considered likely to fly over Syrian airspace. This makes even more ominous the deployment to the eastern Mediterranean of U.S. warships specializing in aerial support. An Israeli attack, an Iranian response, an American president, Republican or Democrat, who announces on television that as much as it wants peace the U.S. has no choice but to “protect” Israeli lives—isn’t that very easy to imagine?
That, of course, is far from the only possible scenario. But others are no better.
Some people hope that war can be avoided by the Islamic Republic flinching. That could happen, but it might not, and no one can count on it. Just like the U.S. imperialists, the Iranian regime is facing its own powerful necessity. An article in the November 2007 issue of Haghighat, the organ of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist), analyzes that “Like the U.S. imperialists, these reactionaries don’t have any ‘good’ choices available to them. As a result of confrontation with the U.S., the internal contradictions in Iran have intensified: the contradiction between the regime and the people of Iran, and the internal contradictions within the Islamic republic ruling class. But if the Islamic Republic regime retreats in the face of U.S. demands, it would be committing suicide.” (sarbedaran.org) Despite deadly infighting among the regime’s factions, at this time all of them seem bent on preserving the Islamic Republic.
Many in the Islamic regime hope that the U.S. will not dare attack Iran because Russia would not tolerate it. It is true that an American attack on Iran would be aimed, among other things, at bringing Middle Eastern oil more firmly under its direct control and cutting down Russia’s ability to use its own oil and gas to project political power. (Another purpose would be to further rein in China and India, two countries Iran has looked to for economic ties to replace those with the West.) But in the face of an American nuclear threat, Russia’s role is very difficult to predict. Again, it would be madness to count on Russia, because of its attempts to reclaim a leading role on the imperialist stage, to play a positive role in the unfolding of this situation.
Also, while there are forces within the Islamic Republic who would want to strike a “big compromise” with the U.S., “this does not exclude a ‘big attack’ to make sure the compromise happens on American terms,” as the Haghighat article says. “Another faction of the IRI,” it continues, “believes that a war with the U.S. is the only chance this regime has for survival, because as a result of war the IRI can delay or put a lid on boiling internal contractions that threaten to overthrow it.”
This was dramatically demonstrated at the Islamic Republic’s annual Army Day parade April 17. Ahmadinejad boasted that no power would dare attack Iran as tanks and missile launchers rolled behind him and almost 200 aircraft flew overhead in what regime officials said was the largest ever show of aerial strength.
There has been a progression in the debate among the American ruling class that should be noted. More than two years ago, journalist Seymour Hersh revealed the outline of U.S. plans for “surgical strikes,” commando operations and other means to attack Iran and provoke the downfall of the Islamic Republic. At that time many commentators questioned whether the U.S. could accomplish its goals short of more fully unleashing its military power. Some warned that the U.S. might find itself with more war than it could handle. Now, in a more “by any means necessary” mode, we are hearing threats to “totally obliterate” Iran.
The point here is not to predict what cannot be predicted by ordinary people, and probably not even by those who make the decisions in the countries involved, including the U.S. The contradictions at work are complex and can interact in an unexpected manner. But one thing is as clear as day, and not really disputed by anyone in the know: one way or another, the U.S. is out to seize political and economic control of Iran. In fact, it has little choice but to do so. Otherwise, its whole drive to achieve uncontested and unprecedented control over the Middle East, and on that basis the globe, could unravel. Its success would be a very bad thing for humanity, whether it comes by war or the threat of war—and the decision as to whether threats of war turn into real war, and what kind of war, may not be in anybody’s hands to make.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. has been on a reactionary, imperialist crusade to crush Islamic Fundamentalism, overthrow governments not under its thumb, and forcibly restructure the entire Middle East-Central Asian regions. Today the U.S. is targeting Iran, saying it is one of the biggest problems it faces globally. And in recent weeks U.S. threats against Iran have sharply escalated on many fronts. This points, at the very least, to an intensification of U.S. efforts to bully and isolate Iran—but may also portend preparations for an attack on Iran, perhaps coupled with possible Israeli attacks against Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, even Syria.
Top Bush administration officials have ratcheted up the breadth, vehemence, and strategic character of their charges and threats against Iran.
Defense Secretary Gates claims Iran is “hell bent” on getting nuclear weapons, adding to Israeli claims that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons and could use them in a preemptive attack. General Petreaus charges that Iran is the main source of instability in Iraq, and on April 30, CIA Director Michael Hayden declared that Iranian policy, at the highest government level, is to help kill Americans in Iraq. A few days later, the New York Times (May 5) added another dimension to these charges by reporting that U.S. interrogators had elicited testimony from captured Shi’a fighters that “Militants from the Lebanese group Hezbollah have been training Iraqi militia fighters at a camp near Tehran.” The State Department recently labeled Iran the world’s leading sponsor of “terrorism.” Secretary of State Rice says Iran is waging a “proxy war” with Israel via Hamas in Gaza, Pentagon officials recently claimed Iran is arming Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, and on May 9, the Bush administration blamed Iran and Syria for the outbreak of street fighting in Lebanon between pro-U.S. government forces and Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran.
The Bush regime is trying to build a case for possible war on Iran—like what they did with the claims that Saddam Hussein’s regime supported “terrorism” and had WMDs leading up to the invasion of Iraq.
U.S. charges against the Islamic Republic are a mixture of lies, distortions, and exaggerations, along with reflections of the real necessity U.S. imperialism faces. The Iranian government is acting to counter U.S. moves and further its own reactionary interests and ambitions on many fronts. Iran’s influence has grown in the region, and this is intolerable to the U.S. rulers who are bent on unchallenged hegemony. This move-countermove dynamic is intensifying with many potentially explosive “trigger points.”
On April 25, for the first time, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen stated that the Pentagon was actively considering military options against Iran and warned “it would be a mistake to think we’re out of combat capacity.”
On April 29, CBS news reported, “A second American aircraft carrier steamed into the Persian Gulf on Tuesday as the Pentagon ordered military commanders to develop new options for attacking Iran.” (In March the U.S. had dispatched a nuclear submarine.) According to CBS, “Targets would include everything from the plants where weapons are made to the headquarters of the organization known as the Quds Force which directs operations in Iraq.” As the U.S. demands Iran halt its alleged interference in Iraq (this from the country that invaded Iraq in the first place!), the State Department has also, according to CBS, “begun drafting an ultimatum that would tell the Iranians to knock it off—or else.”
On May 2, Andrew Cockburn reported, “Six weeks ago President Bush signed a secret finding authorizing a covert offensive against the Iranian regime that, according to those familiar with its contents, [is] ‘unprecedented in its scope.’ Bush’s secret directive covers actions across a huge geographic area—from Lebanon to Afghanistan—but is also far more sweeping in the type of actions permitted under its guidelines—up to and including the assassination of targeted officials.” Cockburn also reported, “A Marine amphibious force, originally due to leave San Diego for the Persian Gulf in mid June, has had its sailing date abruptly moved up to May 4.”
The Sunday Times of London (May 4) reports, “The U.S. military is drawing up plans for a ‘surgical strike’ against an insurgent training camp inside Iran if Republican Guards continue with attempts to destabilize Iraq.”
The recent U.S.-Iraqi assault on Basra, its current campaign against Shi’ite forces in Sadr City, the renewed fighting in Lebanon (reportedly provoked by the U.S.-backed government’s attempt to remove Hezbollah personnel from their airport positions and close down a Hezbollah-run phone system), as well as the September Israeli strike against a site in Syria may also be linked to military preparations for war on Iran.
These U.S. moves to confront Iran and position itself for possible war are themselves acts of imperialist bullying and aggression. Any U.S. attack on Iran—no matter the scale and scope, no matter the pretext or justification—would constitute criminal aggression and a war crime. The potential consequences for the people of Iran and the region are horrific. It’s urgent that people condemn and protest these U.S. threats and war preparations, and sound the alarm—now!
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
May 1ST 2008:
PDF of centerfold available at http://revcom.us/a/129/129p08-9MaydaySunWeb.pdf
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
At a time when the government is conducting a vicious anti-immigrant campaign of massive raids and roundups, tens of thousands of immigrants and supporters marched in cities around the U.S. on May Day. Last year alone, more than 275,000 immigrants were deported from the U.S. by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). On the border with Mexico, new walls and other “security” measures are being set up, where already hundreds of immigrants die each year trying to make the crossing. Extremist vigilantes like the Minutemen are stepping up anti-immigrant activity.
The immigrants who took the streets this May 1 were going up against all that and more. Many of the marchers have seen family members and friends snatched away by armed immigration police. A 20-year-old Latina marching in Reno, who said her family is struggling after her father was deported, said, “They’re separating families, and they don’t realize how bad that is. We’re all human beings. We should be treated equal.”
In Los Angeles, 10,000 people marched to demand rights for all immigrants and an end to the ICE raids. Two marches converged downtown—one starting near the district where garment factories are concentrated, and the other starting from MacArthur Park, where on May Day last year the LAPD violently attacked the march for immigrant rights and brutalized many protesters. Latino immigrants—including a group of workers from a Van Nuys factory that was recently raided by ICE—marched alongside immigrants from South Korea, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Students at several L.A. area high schools walked out in support of the march—some of the students have family members who have been deported by ICE. A young Salvadoran at MacArthur Park said, “Last year the police beat people up for demanding to be treated like any human being should be treated—with dignity. I heard a lot of rumors that ICE might show up to the marches and I think people are scared and maybe that’s why many people aren’t here now. But we need to face what’s happening and act to stop this. We are not in the wrong, the authorities are.”
In the San Francisco Bay Area, more than 10,000 people protested in various actions. Over 2,000 marched from Dolores Park in San Francisco’s Mission District to City Hall. Over 600 students at San Francisco State University walked out of their classes and blocked traffic to protest education cuts and then joined the immigration march. In San Jose about 5,000 rallied and marched to the Civic Center. In Oakland several thousand marched along International Boulevard for a rally downtown. In Santa Rosa in Marin County, north of San Francisco, an estimated 2,500 marched, including hundreds of students from Piner High School who walked out of school. There were also rallies in support of immigrant rights at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz.
In Chicago, some 15,000 people (according to an Associated Press report), including immigrant workers from the surrounding suburbs and many high school students, marched and then rallied at the downtown Federal Plaza. May Day immigrant rights protests also took place in Milwaukee, St. Paul, Detroit, New York City, Washington (DC), Charlotte (North Carolina), Miami, Tucson, Albuquerque, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Seattle, Salem (Oregon), Reno, Fresno, San Diego, and other cities.
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
On May 1, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shut down all 29 West Coast ports. More than 25,000 ILWU members refused to report for work, demanding an immediate end to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jack Heyman, a member of the ILWU executive board and an Oakland Port worker, told Democracy Now! that this was the first work stoppage where workers were “witholding their labor…and demanding an end to the war and immediate withdrawal of troops.” The workers went up against the shipping companies and port owners who tried to have the strike declared illegal and an arbitrator who sided with the owners. Heyman said that to carry out the strike, the ILWU members also had to defy their own union officials.
Marches and rallies in solidarity with the ILWU were held up and down the Pacific Coast. One thousand people rallied and marched in Seattle. In San Francisco, where 1000 marched, speakers at the rally included actor and activist Danny Glover, Cindy Sheehan, and former Congressperson Cynthia McKinney.
In solidarity with the ILWU, the General Union of Port Workers in Iraq stopped work for one hour on May Day in the ports of Umm Qasr and Khor Al Zubair. In a statement to “Brothers and Sisters of ILWU,” the group said, “The courageous decision you made to carry out a strike on May Day to protest against the war and occupation of Iraq advances our struggle against occupation to bring a better future for us and for the rest of the world as well.” The statement from the Iraqi dock workers spoke to the meaning of the U.S. occupation of that country: “Five years of invasion, war, and occupation have brought nothing but death, destruction, misery, and suffering to our people.”
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
Revolutionary communists were out among immigrant rights marchers, striking dock workers, and more broadly in society, widely distributing the May 1 issue of Revolution newspaper and the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, which had just hit the streets that day. This was a great way to mark the revolutionary new beginning symbolized by May 1st! The pamphlet speaks powerfully to why communist revolution is not only necessary but possible—and how it could be made. A team that sold several dozen pamphlets at the support rally for the striking longshore workers in San Francisco reported: “There was a lot of debate and wrangling. Many wanted to see a revolution but had questions about whether communism was possible when the revolutions in the Soviet Union and China had been reversed. A Black worker said he was angry but thought that the system wasn’t working the way it was supposed to. Off of this there was discussion about whether our goal should be to make the system work the way it is supposed to or to overthrow the system.” Another correspondent, who went out to an immigrant rights march in the San Francisco Bay Area, wrote, “Some Chicano youth bought copies of the pamphlet. They said that they hate the way that society is always treating them like the enemy. They wanted revolution and to understand more what it is all about and what a strategic and scientific approach to revolution was all about. Two students from a Catholic university, one of whom had a red star on his cap, said that they had always been attracted to communism. One question they asked was how the new synthesis was different than what Stalin did in the Soviet Union.” A comrade who took papers and pamphlets out to the march in Chicago wrote, “A retired immigrant worker told us what is needed is a revolution because the problem is U.S. capitalism, and spoke of the need to help people break with religion. ‘We need a change for people all over the world,’ he said.”
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
According to a May 5 report from A World to Win News Service,“Many sharply contested battles occurred around the world on May Day this year. In Hamburg and Nuremberg, Germany, there were counter-demonstrations against neo-Nazi National Democratic Party rallies, which ended in cars being set ablaze and stones and bottles hurled as the police attacked with water cannons and pepper spray. Some 7,000 and 1,000 people took part, respectively.” And in Berlin, several hundred people rallied and marched through the working class and immigrant neighborhood of Kreuzberg to celebrate revolutionary May 1. In the days leading up to the march, there was “a political campaign to promote revolutionary consciousness among secondary school and university students and the lower strata of society living in the immigrant and working class neighborhoods. Around 30,000 leaflets of the call for the May 1 demonstration were distributed among these sections of the people.” At the May 1 rally, “The multinational participants chanted slogans for the overthrow of the worldwide imperialist system through revolution. They declared their international solidarity with the people of Palestine, and condemned in particular the U.S., UK, Germany and France for their imperialist collaboration and aggression. They also clearly stated that there is ‘No Liberation without Revolution.’”
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
Four days after many students in Berkeley and Oakland walked out of school for the May 1 immigrant rights marches and one day after Cinco de Mayo celebrations, ICE agents spread fear and panic at Berkeley High School and Stonehurst Elementary in East Oakland. On May 6, ICE vans were seen driving around these schools. At Berkeley High, teachers hid students, parents frantically rushed to the school to pick up their kids, and many tears were shed. The Berkeley and Oakland school districts sent out directives to not let ICE agents cross onto school grounds. Berkeley High reportedly arranged for rides home for some students. Although ICE agents did not enter school grounds, they arrested a family of four close to Berkeley High and a woman in East Oakland near the elementary school.
On May 7, 50 Berkeley High students protested the ICE threats. The next day, 100 students from Oakland High took to the streets in protest against ICE. Black and Latino students joined together in these protests. A statement against the ICE raids by an Oakland High student said in part, “I believe this is all similar to World War 2, in the way that these immigrants are in the same situation as the Jews where they sit in fear, just waiting out every day until the Nazis come for them.”
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
Editors’ note: The following letters are selected from reader comments and correspondence to Revolution. We’re printing them (and will continue to print more correspondence) to give readers a sense of the letters sent to Revolution, and to spark more interactivity between this paper and readers, and among readers. Selecting and printing letters does not imply that we agree, or disagree, with them.
You Have No Sense of Strategy
One of the problems I had and have with revolutionaries of past days and today is that sometimes in fact most times, your vision is myopic and stubbornly rigid (as much as any conservative I’ve ever observed) and your own passion and zeal becomes your own worst enemy.
If Barack Obama had used your tactics of, in your face, I’m gonna nail you white man, rhetoric, he would be further from the presidency than Dennis Kucinich. Oh yeah, you so called progressives would be in love with him if he did what you wanted him to but he and no one else like him would be within 20 light years of the presidency. I know this, he may not be what you want him to be but his positions as stated in The Audacity of Hope, may not be as to the left, or inflammatory, or race baiting as you would like, but it is infinitely more progressive than anyone we’ve had in office EVER.
Now with the Republicans attacking him, the faux democrats attacking him, the so called progressive and conservative media pundits attacking him, white racists from around the country attacking him (many of which are faux progressives), you feel they need your assistance.
Thanks for nothing.
Have you ever read The Spook Who Sat by The Door, or seen the movie. You need to.
It was because of so called progressives like you that the civil rights movement is now an afterthought. You are the reason that your progressive movement has not been able to gain any traction for the last 40 years. It’s because you have no sense of strategy.
You should be spending your time on Hillary Clinton, who’s determined to deliver the campaign (with your help) into the hands of McCain. I’m sure you would be happy with that result or getting Hillary in office with her husband who were responsible for putting more black men and more people behind bars in his two terms than any president in American history, sending more jobs overseas than any president except perhaps Ronald Reagan, contributing to greater unemployment, underemployment than I can remember and you are saying that Obama should be screaming that this country is racist at the top of his lungs. I will not comment on what I believe are your motives or on your intelligence, or your true feelings about race, but I will leave you with this, no even remotely progressive candidate has come within a million miles of even winning more than two or three primaries. We have an opportunity to get a man in office who has true progressive credentials, who walked the streets of the southside of Chicago organizing people of color when he could have been a high priced corporate lawyer.
When I was a young revolutionary in the 60s I was accused of being an oreo, a sellout, an uncle tom because my rhetoric was not inflammatory enough, because I did not concur entirely with the inflammatory rhetoric of Malcolm X, and because I wore a tie. Well guess what, it was Malcolm who recognized the error of his earlier rhetoric and began to sound more like me than he did early in his Islamic life. …
I was first identified by the government’s intelligence organizations when I was 15 because of that inflammatory rhetoric at conference at Stony Brook, NY, where young progressives, revolutionaries, moderates, and conservatives. I was able to expose a mysterious participant who was asking many of us about our contact info but unfortunately not until after I had given him my info.
That’s when I first began to learn about how the game was played.
… Your obliviousness to this concept and others like you caused the progressive movement to become so marginalized that today the progressive movement politically is less than an afterthought, even in the bastion of so-called liberal politics, San Francisco.
Get a clue. If you really want to be a factor in changing the way this country is run, wake up and grow up. This is not a baseball game, it’s politics as a matter of life and death. I’d rather see a borderline progressive get in office than anything else on the political horizon. You should too and act accordingly like a true progressive. They say politics makes strange bedfellows, well I can assure you Obama is not nearly as strange as the ones you are tacitly supporting through your hit pieces on Obama.
If you can find me a candidate that’s perfect, I won’t vote for them, I’ll build a church and worship them.
Who Are You To Say Obama Can’t Bring About Change?
Who are you to say Obama can’t bring about change. To not have any faith in some form of democracy is ignorant. There have been leaders that personify the goodness of people such as JFK, Franklin Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. What is so much better in the world. Even Canada has its flaws, it relies on the U.S. for defense. So they can never speak out against U.S. military involvement. I do agree America is an imperialistic nation and must be changed. But this change must be gradual, maybe it will start with the election of Barack Obama. Don’t put a damper on the hopes of the American people through your anti-Obama rant. Who are you to say he can’t energize social change. It will certainly be a start.
This Time Blacks Will Be Included
no matter who gets in the white house it will take years to clean this mess up (bush and bush), this is of course politics at its best , u know any 100% honest ones, (sugar coat) its call doing what u need to do to get where u need to be, obama will do what he can for all the people but this time blacks will be included, my fear is because of all this hillary drama we will end up with another bush, because i know black people will give up, not go vote and be somewhere having a pity party.
Looking for Hope
As a 67 yr. old white woman, retired school teacher, I think that people are just looking for HOPE. This period in our country reminds me of late ’50s, early ’60s when the economy was so terrible. Right out of the Army, my husband had lost his job, with none in sight. The industry jobs were all down. With everything we owned, packed in our car, me pregnant, we headed west. With an older brother there, he said. “you may find a little something.” It was Grapes of Wrath all over again. Along comes John F. and like Obama offers hope. People were in such despair they latched on to that hope and him.
We arrived in New Mexico, Kennedy won, put money in parks, roads, etc. My husband got a job at $1.26 hr. We found a nice little apt. two bedroom, fully furnished, utilities furnished for $35.00 a mo. We did ok. We had the baby in 1960, no insurance, but we paid $5.00 a month on our total $97.00 hospital bill and $5.00 on our $75.00 dr. bill. We did not have all these petty wal-mart and other jobs, but we could live on what we made.
Presently, having just left the school system, there are working people suffering. There is no money in this country to put into anything for people to work. But we have been putting 6 billion in to Iraq. I hear on the news this a.m. that has gone up to 12 billion. This mostly going to contractors, congress has estimated 70% of it is pure corrupt gain. The Iraqi people aren’t being helped, the American soldier, isn’t getting it. The soldiers are really suffering, and I know because 2 of them are mine. After talking to many soldiers and I don’t mean young soldiers, these 15 to 22 year vets, will tell you “ITS ALL ABOUT MONEY, THE SOLDIERS AREN’T GETTING RICH, THE IRAQIS AREN’T, THE AMERICAN TAX PAYERS AREN’T, BUT THE CONTRACTORS ARE.” Americans feel HOPE and soldiers feel Obama will do something. Our soldiers are exhausted, they need help. Where are these christians in this country that went along with this crap and still supporting it. Why AREN’T THEY HELPING!
Why hasn’t this president froze gas prices, others did. Still gain and greed. It’s about Total DESIRE, looking for HOPE. Thanks.
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
As indicated by the selected letters from readers in this issue, our argument—that supporting and buying into the logic of the Barack Obama candidacy is harmful—is rubbing some raw nerves. But the question is not “who are we” to say this. If we are to be honest, and not self-delusional, the question that must be asked is: is this true?
To answer this, seriously and objectively, we have to look at what Obama is saying and doing. Not what we wish he were saying. Or how we choose to interpret what he is saying. Or this or that campaign promise he made somewhere. We have to look at the basic framework he is coming from, and operating within, what that represents, and where it leads.
The Foundations of Obama’s Agenda
To get to the bottom of what the Obama campaign is about, Revolution newspaper has focused in part on analyzing Obama’s March 18 “Speech on Race.” Mainstream commentators compared this speech to the Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and it was clearly a defining statement of what he is about.
In that speech, Obama—from beginning to end—argues that the U.S. Constitution “is where the perfection begins.” And he states his own mission: “to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.”
But if the U.S. Constitution is, in reality, a perfect vehicle for capitalist exploitation and oppression; if from the day it was signed up to today it has served to institutionalize and enforce the subjugation of African Americans; if the history of Black people in America is not a “long march” for equality and freedom, but a succession of different forms of the oppression; and if Obama’s candidacy is based on and is promoting dangerous lies about all this, then that matters.
To take three examples:
• Obama claimed that when the U.S. was founded, “the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution—a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law.” In fact, that Constitution enshrined slavery. It was only generations later that a Civil War ended overt chattel slavery. And that Civil War was driven not by constitutional principles, but by a complex mix of economic, political, and military factors arising from the heightening conflict between the class of capitalists in the North, and the slave system in the South (see “Slavery, Capitalism, and the ‘Perfect Union,’” Revolution #125, April 6, 2008, available at revcom.us).
• Obama’s “Speech on Race” skips over or trivializes the whole era of sharecropping, Jim Crow, and never mentions lynching. This whitewashes an era that lasted for several generations after the Civil War. The Supreme Court sanctioned all that, under the U.S. Constitution,in the “separate but (so-called) equal” ruling in 1896—Plessy v. Ferguson.
• Obama’s speech equates the “resentment” of whites who have been brainwashed and bamboozled into seeing Black people as a threat and an enemy—on the one hand—with the justifiable anger of Black people at the legacy and current reality of systemic subjugation as a people. In our coverage, we exposed how the basis for racist prejudice lies in the workings of the capitalist system and conscious government policies—like Roosevelt’s New Deal, which included institutionalizing segregated housing. And how really necessary it is to not pander to, but challenge white supremacy (see “‘Separate But Equal’…and the Myth of ‘We the People,’” Revolution #127, April 20, 2008, available at revcom.us).
Obama argues in his speech that overcoming racism is the “true genius of this nation.” But the real “genius” behind the “we the people” charade has been to promote an identification among many white people with the interests of the system, based on the systematic exclusion of Black people, Native Americans, and others. This exclusion has taken different forms—slavery, sharecropping, super-exploitation in the urban ghettos, and mass incarceration. Throughout the history of this country, the “we the people” mythology has had a poisonous role in justifying the subjugation of whole peoples and promoting toxic illusions among people broadly in this society about its real nature.
We strongly encourage readers to seriously engage with our analysis of Obama’s “Speech on Race,” and discuss and debate that.
A Stealth Candidate?
Some people argue, or hope, that Obama is actually on a “stealth” mission to get into the White House by doing whatever it takes to do that, and then when he gets in, he will bring about fundamental changes in people’s lives. We haven’t seen evidence that this is the case, but let’s say this was the case. It wouldn’t work, and it couldn’t work.
Take one stark example: In the year 2000, a Human Rights Watch report documented that Black people and Latinos accounted for 62.6 percent of all state or federal prisoners even though they represent only 24 percent of total U.S. residents, and that almost 10 percent of Black men aged from twenty-five to twenty-nine were in prison, compared to 1.1 percent of white men in the same age group. What if Obama was elected, and immediately declared (and tried to enforce) an end to the systemic criminalization of Black youth; an immediate end to their imprisonment in massive numbers; and an immediate end to the police-state conditions they live under in their communities and schools.
Changing this situation in any real way isn’t possible under this system because the causes behind the mass criminalization of Black people lie deep in the structural nature and workings of capitalism. Today, this system has no jobs or future for millions of Black people. Up to, and through, the first and second world wars, millions of African Americans were forced from the South by poverty and racist terror into the cities of the North. For generations, they worked in the most dangerous, low-paying, unstable factory jobs. But after World War 2, the de-industrialization of inner cities threw large numbers of Black people out of work.
And, with the emergence of powerful Black liberation struggles in the 1960s, the government came to see African Americans as an increasingly dangerous political threat. In 1969, President Nixon’s top assistant wrote in his diary that: “[Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
What followed were decades of increasingly repressive laws and draconian racist sentencing policies—including drastically more punitive sentencing for crack cocaine that dominated urban ghettos, as opposed to much lighter sentences for powder cocaine more prevalent among white people. These sentencing laws were implemented in the same period that a combination of widespread unemployment along with government policies flooded the Black community in the U.S. with crack cocaine.
Today, the ghettos and barrios of the inner cities are decimated—stripped of jobs that people can live on, social services, or a chance for a decent life. And a result of all these factors—the workings of capitalism and conscious government policies that serve that— is that today millions of Black and Latino youth have no future except jail, being shot by police or each other, or maybe joining the military to kill and die for the same system that created all this.
If somehow, for some reason, Obama got into the White House and tried to uproot all the factors that created and enforce the criminalization of Black youth, he would have to unravel the whole chain of underlying economic and political relations that produced this outrage. And the system would move to stop that long before it even got onto the drawing board.
Auditioning for Liar-in-Chief
Before dismissing (or before substituting silly caricatures for) our argument that the problem is the system, and that white supremacy is foundational to this system, you have a responsibility to make an argument that this is not true. In our responses to Barack Obama’s “Speech on Race” and beyond that, week in and week out in this newspaper we make a compelling argument that in fact the subjugation of Black people is embedded in the roots of this system.
But set that aside for a moment. It’s not just that you can’t tell fundamental truths about the nature of this system and be a candidate for president. You can’t even state, or be associated with anyone who states, basic facts about the history of this country.
For example, speaking of the situation for African Americans, Reverend Jeremiah Wright said, “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and wants us to sing God Bless America.” And, speaking about the history of the U.S., he said, “We bombed Hiroshima. We bombed Nagasaki. And we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye.”
Obama denounced such statements in his March 18 “Speech on Race” and has now completely disowned him.
And, remember what happened when Obama himself, speaking about white working class people who have seen their jobs and way of life falling apart, said that they cling, among other things, to “religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” The mainstream media quickly ruled this outside the limits of what you can say when you’re running for president. A New York Times columnist reminded Obama that it’s one thing to study Karl Marx’s statement “that ‘religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature.’ It’s another thing for an American presidential candidate to claim that we ‘cling to ... religion’ out of economic frustration.”
In other words, on just about any substantial subject or issue, it’s not just that you can’t expose this system from a revolutionary perspective if you’re running for president. You can’t even acknowledge or discuss basic, obvious truths about the most basic things in this society!
What kind of a system has a process for selecting a president, where a basic requirement for being a “credible” candidate is that he or she has to be able to systematically lie with a straight face about basic facts and truths? This is not just a matter of “corruption” or “special interests.” Nor is it a matter, fundamentally, of just pandering to backwardness and prejudice to get elected. You have to be an accomplished and systematic liar to be a credible candidate for president of the United States because you are auditioning to oversee a system based on oppression and exploitation that is not in the interests of the vast majority of people in this country, or the world.
A Best Face for Empire…
The fact that Barack Obama, an African American, has made it this far in the presidential auditioning process is not a reflection of “how far we’ve come” as a nation in overcoming prejudice, or a reflection of the power of a grassroots movement. No candidate gets this far without being vetted by the U.S. ruling class.
Obama’s candidacy is an indication that the rulers of this country are confronting sharp polarization in U.S. society, and sharp challenges to being the planet’s dominating superpower. In the face of that, one ruling class commentator said that Obama’s face would be “the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. Such a re-branding is not trivial—it’s central to an effective war strategy.” (“Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters,” by Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic, December 2007)
Where Obama takes positions that seem to be somewhat at odds with what Bush, McCain, or Clinton are calling for, there are three things to keep in mind: His differences all fall well within the logic of U.S. empire; they are overwhelmingly in the realm of how to get over with U.S. domination of the world; and in any case he has repeatedly made clear he would carry out the consensus decisions of the U.S. ruling class. Examine, for instance, the “debate” between Obama and Hillary Clinton over Clinton’s outrageous threat to “obliterate Iran.” Obama’s response was that this was “not the language we need right now.” But read on: he went on to say, “I think the Iranians can be confident that I will respond forcefully, and it will be completely unacceptable if they attack Israel or any other of our allies in the region, with conventional weapons or nuclear weapons.”
Through this so-called “debate,” terms are being defined here that it is a given that it would be right for the U.S. to launch a military strike on Iran. Obama is making clear he would be just as willing to attack Iran as Clinton is. And a whole upside-down story is being established of who is the aggressor in the Middle East, and the role of Israel as the U.S. attack dog in the region.
Paralysis and Hoping for Crumbs?
Or Bringing Forward Another Way?
In the course of engaging with our analysis, some have raised that building a revolutionary movement is not realistic, and instead the best we can hope for, and what we should focus our energy on, is working to get Obama elected so that at least there is a possibility of some relief for people.
Writing earlier in the campaign, commentator Andrew Sullivan made an argument to the ruling class and those who identify with them that, in the face of potentially destabilizing challenges, Obama could play an unique role channeling discontent into parameters acceptable to the system: “If you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead, and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes. Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution. Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary. At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.” (“Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters,” by Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic, December, 2007)
Left to current trajectories, the polarization Sullivan is pointing to will lead to nothing good. But these great divisions Sullivan is pointing to do present critical challenges and opportunities to those who dream of, and demand, a better world.
This system does not have things all sewn up. Intense contradictions are simmering beneath the surface, and threatening to come to the surface. The rulers of this country are sitting on top of a potentially volatile situation, and a big part of Obama’s role is to rope people into working within the way things are, to bring people under the wing of the rulers—including people who are very dissatisfied with the direction of things.
Instead of chaining ourselves within the terms of this election, what is needed is a powerful movement of opposition to the whole direction this country is headed, standing with and starting from the interests of humanity and the need for revolution. That’s the only way real change can come about. And that requires breaking out of the whole logic and agenda of the Obama candidacy.
“If you try to make the Democrats be what they are not and never will be, you will end up being more like what the Democrats actually are.”
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
Interview with a revolutionary communist woman from Iran:
Earlier this year Michael Slate interviewed S., an Iranian woman who traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the International Women’s Day action there this past March 8. Her experience as a revolutionary began as a student in Los Angeles during the days when the Shah was in power in Iran; as the Iranian Revolution drove the Shah from power, she joined thousands of Iranian students who returned to Iran to carry forward the aims of the revolution—a revolution which through twists and turns ended up being consolidated as the reactionary Islamic Republic of Iran. Through the years of revolutionary struggle, imprisonment, and finally finding revolutionary communist organization again today, her story is one of courage, vision, and determination to fight for a different world. The interview has been edited for publication and will be published in two parts in the print edition of Revolution. The full interview appears here.
M.S.: Let's start by you telling me a little about your background, where you're from, what your family was, what you did when you were in Iran.
S.: My life story is one of the stories of many women who have lived under the woman-hating Islamic regime. Despite my awareness of the essence of the fundamentalist system, which is united with the imperialist world, I have been under oppression, and gone through what one experiences under such regimes, and I have experienced this oppression along with other women who also have experienced oppression such as this.
About 32 years ago, I—with my family who have been a political family and have fought against the Shah's regime, which was an ally with the U.S.—came to the U.S. and continued my education.
I was a high school student when I came and I started in Santa Monica High School. And after that I went to the major of aerospace, and I applied at college for aerospace. But because of my political activism and the amount of time I was able to put into it, I wasn't able to continue college.
M.S.: How did you become politically active?
S.: In 1976 when I came here, we enrolled in language classes, English language classes. It was called 'ISC,' I believe. And there, a lot of representatives from the student confederation came into these classes and talked about their views, and that's how we were introduced to them and to what they were doing, and that's how we got involved with them.
M.S.: That's very good. That's very cool, actually. So, what happened when you got involved with them? What did you start doing?
S.: The first meeting I attended, the topic was what to think, how to think about Tudeh Party of Iran, and the Fedayi Party of Iran [other left Iranian organizations], and also opinions and views about armed fighting, armed struggle. I was interested in these topics and I attended the meeting and I was very for the views that were represented at this meeting, and that's how I became interested in the whole group.
M.S.: The Iranian Students Association, the Confederation of Iranian Students, was a very powerful group, in terms of what it brought to people, the way it organized Iranians, but also the impact that it had on people in the United States. It helped bring a revolutionary edge to the movement. It really meant something to see students and people from Iran out in the streets demonstrating against the Shah and bringing out what was going on, but also taking up the struggle here. Tell people what it was like to be doing that in the streets here.
S.: The first thing that really got me interested in the group, in the confederation, was the revolutionary ethics, and how they carried themselves as revolutionaries. Also, the first formal course that I attended that was conducted by the confederation, the topic was 'Materialism and Dialectics,' which got me very interested in the whole group and the ideas.
M.S.: So your family was here, and you had this revolutionary activity, and for all intents and purposes you were living in the U.S. Then there was a point when you decided to go back to Iran. Why? What did you expect to find when you went back?
S.: The first thing that got me wanting to go back was that I felt responsible toward this change that was happening in Iran and I felt responsible toward the people who were in Iran and who initiated the whole process of bringing about the change. That's one of the main reasons that I thought I should go back. Another thing is that I believed in the leadership of the proletariat, and I believed that if we do go back we could participate in directing or guiding the masses there, and somehow contribute to the change that was happening.
M.S.: What did you find when you went back? What was it like in Iran in those days? It was right after the Shah was overthrown. When you left Iran, it was SAVAK and the Shah and just horrible. What did you find? What was it like?
S.: When I went back, I faced a very open environment. Politically, it was very progressive. People were having discussions all over the city. There were debates going on. It was a very lively and open atmosphere at the time when I returned.
M.S.: Was that in Tehran or all through the country?
S.: The progress that was going on was very prevalent in Tehran, but there were families all around the country who were involved in political activism, and had debates going on, whether it was in the houses or out on the street. The debates were usually going on between a group of religious people who were against the Shah's regime and who had helped get the revolution going and the leftist people, the communists, who always had arguments with the religious people, to try to persuade them that the way they were going wasn't the right way.
M.S.: And where did you fit in? What did you do when you were there?
S.: From what I had learned here in the fields of philosophy, politics, and economy, when I went back, I tried to relate my knowledge to the people. I tried to get lively discussions, and with those going on in the universities to talk about what I had learned and try to teach others as much as I knew.
M.S.: How long did that go on, and when did it start to change?
S.: Within ten days after the revolution there was an uprising of women against the idea of the hijab. And then afterwards there was the oppression started against the Kurds in Kurdistan, north of Iran. But the whole atmosphere, the more open atmosphere, was prevalent and did go on for almost two years after the revolution. During those years we had a book table in one of the workers' neighborhoods, and I was the person in charge of one of the tables to get people into discussions and debates, and show them the materials that we had, our books and anything we had to show them and to talk about.
We had daily contact with the Hezbollah, the religious people at the time—it's the Hezbollah people in Iran—whether it was physical contact or verbal contact.
They would either beat us or grab our newspapers and materials that we had, our tables, and would get into a fight, a physical fight.
What we saw was that they didn't have any uniforms. They were normal people but it was known to everyone that they were organized groups from the government.
M.S.: How long did that go on, that you had these kinds of confrontations? When did it become clear to you that Khomeini was beginning to consolidate his regime?
S.: First there was a huge protest by everyone who had started to see the things that were going to happen, and mostly the groups that had contributed to the revolution, they had a huge protest that turned into a confrontation. There were even shootings going on by the military, who shot some people from the protest. And it turned into a very gloomy protest. It wasn't a peaceful protest because of the confrontations that happened during the protest. That was in mid-June. And right after that protest there was repression of all the groups that had all the discussions going on, and the debates going on from different neighborhoods. They shut everything down and the atmosphere just got very closed afterwards.
M.S.: So what did you do then?
S.: We tried to organize ourselves as an underground group, an underground organization, and we weren't public anymore. We always had to hide when we had discussions or any kind of activity we had, we couldn't do it out in the public anymore.
The organization divided into two groups. One group was in charge of organizing the struggle that went on in Amol. The group was called Sarbedaran. That's the group that organized that and actually made it happen. I was one of the people sort of helping out with the whole thing, as someone helping out in the background.
M.S.: Can you explain the impact of the Amol uprising?
S.: The people in that region where the uprising occurred were influenced a lot by what happened in the way that they saw. They were familiar with the revolutionary ethics and the revolutionary way that they took on. It made people more aware of Maoist theories and the way that they took on this struggle. The North was isolated from other parts and there wasn’t much going on. But when that happened it got people very interested in such political activism. It made them more connected to what was going on in other parts of the country.
M.S.: So the regime defeated the uprising. What did they do afterwards to the revolutionaries and the people?
S.: The organization had failed deeply in their plan and everyone who took part in the uprising was executed. But then the impact that it had on the people was that people always remembered them as heroes. It was something that was one of its kind. They'd never seen such courage, and they just remembered them and the whole uprising always remained in the people's memories. They always remembered the revolutionaries who took part in it as heroes.
M.S.: Did the repression increase? What happened to you?
S.: The repression did increase as you said. People tried to stay underground and tried to do any kind of political activity underground, to hide and not be open to the public. At that time, I had a baby two months old. There wasn't much that I could actually get involved with. All I could do was sit at home and wait for news, wait to know what had happened.
M.S.: Your husband survived the Amol uprising?
M.S.: After the uprising, you were at home. Did you have more than one kid?
S.: Yes, after the Amol uprising, my daughter was one and a half years, and my son was two months old.
M.S.: How did you get arrested? How long after the Amol uprising did you get arrested?
S.: Eight months after. I was at home. They broke into the house and took the kids from me, took them away from me and just yelled at me and told me that I had to go for an investigation.
M.S.: And your husband was arrested too?
S.: He was arrested four months before I was.
M.S.: What did they charge him with?
S.: Because he was a theoretician, and he was very educated in the theories that led to the uprising. And they said that because he had all the theories and he did the educational part of it, he was charged with more, with a bigger of a crime than the people who took part in it were. And his sentence was death.
M.S.: Then four months later they came into your house. Tell me again what happened.
S.: I was taken to the jail where my husband was being kept, and as I was taken there, I just heard the voice of my husband for a minute and at that moment I was just so happy to hear him, to find out that he's alive, and right after that I was taken into a cell and kept there for eight months. It was solitary, the cell.
M.S.: What did they charge you with?
S.: They assumed that, because my husband was one of the leaders of the organization, I must have also had a very high position in the organization, and had contributed in many ways. They told me that because of that, there was going to be a death sentence for me, too. They had charts at the time, to figure out the hierarchy of each organization, who was the leader, and which people were operating under which group, under which leader. And in their charts, because I had been staying at home with my kids for about eight months before I was arrested, they couldn't find any actual documentation as to my status, and that's why I didn't get the death sentence that they told me about.
M.S.: What sentence did you get?
S.: The main sentence that they first gave me, they asked if I had a religion, and I said I had none, and they gave me 10 years imprisonment for that.
M.S.: What was done to you in prison by the regime?
S.: When I was in solitary confinement, there was no sanitation, there was no nutrition that we could actually live off of, and we were constantly hearing the pleas of the people who were being tortured.
Every morning they would take us for interrogation with our eyes closed up and as we went into the offices of interrogation, they would kick us and hit us and beat us to get us to say what they wanted to hear. And as we were there they would make people who had gone through tortures crawl by our feet to make us fear what was going to happen to us.
Because I refused to do the prayers, and I had told them that I didn't have a religion, I was kept in solitary as the others were taken into the public cells. I was kept in solitary, but because I had no new information to give them, I wasn't interrogated anymore. I wasn't tortured, because really they knew I didn't have anything new to tell them. I was just kept in solitary, though. Yet they would constantly put me in a situation where I would hear my dad's pleas as he was getting whipped. My father was kept in the same place. He had contributed to the Amol uprising. He had helped them a lot in many different ways. He was kept there also, and he was being whipped every day. He was going under a lot of torture. And I was constantly put in a situation as to make me hear him. And how they treated my mother, they would shout at her and curse her every day from somewhere nearby where I was kept so that I would hear and be mentally tortured in that way.
M.S.: What happened to your mother and father? Did they survive?
S.: Because all the people with whom my parents had been working and all the leaders with whom they had been cooperating, because none of them had given in to the torture, and had not said anything about anyone who was within those groups, the government did not have anything against them, did not have anything solid in their hands against my parents and so after three years they were both released.
M.S.: You said you heard your husband's voice when you first came in. How long did your husband live in jail, and did you ever see him again?
S.: Eight months after I was taken into jail, they gave us an appointment for me to meet my husband before he was going to be executed. That's the last time I saw him.
M.S.: How long did you spend in jail?
S.: Three years.
M.S.: Eight months, and then your husband was executed, and then they put you in the public cell. Did they keep coming at you to get you to capitulate? Did they keep trying to make you say prayers?
S.: There were many women who refused to do the prayers. When we refused to do the prayers, we were taken into an isolated room. It was room number 6, that was an isolated room from the rest of the whole prison. It was sort of like a quarantine, and we were kept there. We were treated as non-humans. It was like we were some sort of other animal like a dog because even like when we wanted to wash our hands, there is a concept in Islam, that when you are an atheist, when you don't have their religion, you are considered filthy.
M.S.: You were released from jail after 3 years.
Where did you go when you were freed from prison?
S.: My mother- and father-in-law, who were taking care of the kids at that time, they were waiting for me outside the prison. Because of cultural issues and atmosphere that was prevalent at the time, what really happened to me was I was released from the prison of the Islamic regime, to only go to another metaphorical prison of where I was living with my mother- and father-in-law.
M.S.: Explain to people what that was like. How did the country change between the time you were arrested and when you were released? What was that like?
S.: After repressing all revolutionary forces, Khomeini's regime had infused people with such fear, and such contempt against any revolutionary force, that we weren't even welcome in society anymore. We didn't feel welcomed by the people, because there was just so much fear going on that they feared any group that had anything to do with revolutionaries or any revolutionary ideas. People showed much contempt for them.
And as I was faced with so much contempt and this repressed atmosphere, I constantly kept trying to bring about a more lively atmosphere at home for my kids as I continuously tried to sing revolutionary songs to them and just show the joy of such struggle. But unfortunately because of patriarchal culture that people had at the time, I was repressed even at home by my husband's family. And I couldn't do much to bring about another change even in that little society that I was living in.
M.S.: When you talk about it being a patriarchal atmosphere, what did that look like? What did it mean for a woman like you to be living in this patriarchal society?
S.: An example of what I mean was, because I was a widow, I was condemned to wear black for 10 years. I was condemned to not express any opinions of myself, and I was condemned not to have any friends around, anyone to talk to, anyone who would sympathize with me. I was condemned to stay at home, and help out with housework.
I did not even have the right to take care of my children. I could not have any kind of relationship with them that was independent of my husband's family. Within the ten years that I was living there, what I thought I should do was to read books about psychology, to figure out what I could do with myself, my mental situation, my mental state at the time, how I could gain back my autonomy, my self-confidence. I tried to work on these ideas to rebuild my strength, to rebuild my character. After I successfully did that, I left their house, after ten years.
M.S.: Where did you go after you left their house?
S.: My father had a property that wasn't really inhabitable. There was a cellar at the place, and I went to the place and I was living in the cellar, and one of our family friends helped to find me a job, that was a very, very low-paying job, that paid very low at the time.
M.S.: How long did you live like that?
S.: I met a comrade who wasn't politically active any more but he helped me take some psychology classes, and some self-realization groups. I became involved with them and a woman in one of these groups was very sympathetic with me and she helped me get a job that did not require a background check, because if they did there was no way I could get a job. But she helped me get that job, and that's how I could move out of the cellar.
M.S.: How long did you stay in Iran until you left? When you got that better job, did you work at it for a while, or did you leave Iran soon afterward?
S.: For almost a year I worked at that job, because I was not allowed to leave the country for about 10 to 11 years after I was released from prison. I had no passport and I just couldn't leave the country. I kept working there. After a while I applied for a passport and they gave me a one-time passport. I could only use it one time to leave the country, and when I came back I was supposed to turn it in to them. And that's how I actually left after 12 years after I was released.
The only thing that made it possible for me to get a visa to leave the country was that I had a job, I had documentation that I could provide for them, and I had two children that were living in Iran, and that provided for some background based on which I could get the visa. I got the visa for a month only.
When I went to Germany, I still had not found the right organization for me, somewhere that I would fit in with my ideas, my Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideas. But everywhere I went, I would still have debate and discussions about my own ideas, about what I had learned with the confederation here, or during the revolution in Iran. I would always promote these ideas although I had not found an organization that had such sympathies.
My only belief that always gave me hope was that I always knew, and I always was sure that such ideology was the only way to emancipation. And now it's been five years that I have found the right group again, the Communist Party of Iran [MLM] and have been involved with them, have been politically active again.
M.S.: You left Iran in 1995. Tell me about the situation in Iran today, what's the oppression like?
S.: I think that, in the first place, I have to say that there is a characteristic that all Iranian women share, be it religious women, or political women, and I think it applies to all Iranian women. They have some sort of resentment toward oppression and toward anything that puts them down. They deeply have this resentment, even the women who are religious, who have religious sympathies. The main problems that they're facing is one, that the laws of society are against women, are anti-women laws that are enforced by the government, and second is that a lot of women do not see an alternative to the way they are living now. They don't have an alternative to their current situation.
M.S.: What are the laws you're talking about?
S.: Laws such as women not being allowed the custody of their children. They cannot go on vacation without the permission of their husbands. They cannot leave the country without the permission of their husbands. The whole system is designed in a way to treat women as means to patriarchism.
M.S.: What about things like 'honor killings'? Are they common in Iran?
S.: In the more modern cities it is not seen as much but of course in small villages it is very common, and it's even broadcast on the news. And on the news they either call it honor killings or they say that a woman has committed suicide.
M.S.: Would honor killings include things like punishing women for having affairs, or being in sexual relations when they aren't married? What happens to women in situations like this? Are they killed?
S.: For someone to commit these killings, it suffices for them being a father or a brother to be suspicious of either their sisters or their wives or their mothers. It suffices for them just to be suspicious. And it might be on no grounds, but as long as they are suspicious, they can go ahead and commit the murder, and there is no lawful process that this thing goes through. They just do it themselves and it's done. It doesn’t go through a process.
M.S.: Does the state play a role in any of this?
S.: Indirectly, the state encourages such behavior by promoting concepts from Islam that they preach about, or laws that make it possible for the men to commit such murders.
M.S.: Is this what's meant by Sharia law?
S.: What that amounts to, the Sharia law, is how women should consider the Islamic leadership of Iran, or the laws that they pass, as the holy laws of god, and also the promotion of the idea that, if women are not abiding by the restrictions set for them by their husbands, but most women do fight, even on a personal level, with such restrictions of such laws, from within their families, within the scope of the private life, or in the society in a broader picture. But there's a very, very small group of women who are submissive to such laws, and those are women who share the same fundamentalist ideas that the government promotes. And those women, because they have the full hijab and do abide with such Sharia laws, have no reason to get punished.
M.S.: You describe the regime as a woman-hating regime. What do you mean when you say that?
S.: What I mean is that the laws that they have passed and the ones that they're enforcing in the country right now are those that are to the advantage of men in the society, and the laws make it absolutely the case that women have to abide by all restrictions set for them by men in this society. They have to abide, and be obedient to men at their work or in their private lives, at their home or society in general, wherever they are, whatever they're doing, these laws make it the case that they have to abide by what is told to them by the men in society.
M.S.: Are many women still arrested and thrown in jail?
S.: Yes. it happens daily and for any kind of accusation, they keep them 24 hours, 48 hours, which usually ends up in the women being raped or somehow wounded or whipped, and also some of them are just kept for longer, without their families knowing anything about where they are or how they're doing.
M.S.: You said that women resist, sometimes in small ways at home, sometimes in big. Tell us what the resistance looks like.
S.: The main group who resist in a more active way are the groups of students who go to the main parts of cities, and organize protests along with the male students at universities. They also plan many peaceful protests, as well as protests that end up in confrontations. And many of those students are arrested and put into jail without any kind of sentence or news for their families about when they're going to get released, or why they're even being kept in jail.
An example of resistance by the students is just about a week ago, before the beginning of the Persian New Year, students were passing out, in the main part of the city, they were passing out—there's a tradition that for the new year, people set up a table filled with different symbols, different plants or seeds that symbolize something about their lives, or life in general. And one of the symbols is fish. They purchase little fish and they put it in a jar and they put it on the table. And one thing the students were doing, they were passing out black fish throughout the city, along with a very revolutionary poem to bypassers. There is a story called “Little Black Fish” by a revolutionary writer in Iran, Samad Bihrangi, which is a story about a little black fish. The fish goes on a journey. He symbolizes a revolutionary young student who never stops and always resists, always keeps on fighting, and although the fish was living in a very little river, he goes on with his journey and he finds the ocean and he joins the other fish and he never gives up in this whole process.
M.S.: You're involved in this campaign around the oppression of women, opposing both the regime in Iran and U.S. imperialism. Can you tell us about this campaign?
S.: Over the years after the revolution, women have come to know that change is not going to happen without them directly intervening and taking initiative to directly cooperate with any kind of change that is promised or that they see coming. And we have come to know that even socialism will not happen without women playing a very important role in the process of bringing about this change. We believe that socialism and the women's movement are complements of each other.
M.S.: People are told there are only two ways to go here—do you want to be part of the Islamic fundamentalist revolution or the U.S. imperialist fight for democracy. What are you saying about this, and what are people in Iran thinking about this? Can you talk about this other way, and how people in Iran are responding?
S.: We try to show the real face of both of these outmoded regimes and we try to convey the picture of a third pole, and alternative that is available to people, and alternative that does not take the side of either of these outmoded regimes and it determines its own—a third pole that is against war, that is anti-war and that no matter how small it is we have to promote it among people and we have to develop it into a bigger alternative that includes more people and we have to show that this is the only way—we have to promote our anti-war belief before a war happens against Iran. We want to show this alternative to the people of Iran and to women in general. But the organizations that get into our way by trying to get people to somehow go for reform of the Islamic regime, it is our responsibility not only to show the real face of these two regimes, but also show these reformist groups, what their ideologies will lead to and to show that, as happened to the revolution in Iran, such ways will go astray also.
I just want to say that in the past month when I have been here, and I have gone to many universities, many high schools, I have really enjoyed what I have witnessed, the passion that young people have shown—how many young people I have met have shown passion for learning about revolution—for bringing about change, how to make a new world—and it has encouraged me so much to continue this way. I have gained so much strength and I have learned so many lessons that I know I will return to Germany much more stronger than when I came, with much hope of a better world.
M.S.: Tell us some stories about your experiences here, going to the high school classes, and what happened.
S.: These are some examples of questions that high school students in Watts had for 'us, about Iran and revolution. About the situation of women and young girls in Iran.
M.S.: [reading] What does the typical family consist of? What are the duties of the house? What level of education are girls allowed to have?
Did people ask you questions about what it's like to be a revolutionary woman in Iran?
S.: There were three students at this high school in Watts whom I have pictures with. They were really interested in the issue of the tree that was cut down. Because of that they were very passionate. They kept asking questions about how one could be a revolutionary, how one could form an organization to get involved with and to do the kinds of things that revolutionaries would do.
M.S.: When you told your story to the students, how did they respond? Because you have a very powerful story, and I'm sure it's something they haven't heard before.
S.: They really sympathized with me and had a belief in what I was telling them, especially the African American students, because of their own struggle and what they have witnessed in their own society and the way they've been treated in their own society. They really sympathized with me, just wanted to know more and showed a lot of interest and sympathy.
M.S.: Give me an example of the experiences you'll remember the most.
S.: The march itself on the 8th of March, was great to see the combination of so many different people, and the diversity of the group that was present there. So many native-born Americans, so many African Americans and just many different people who were present and who showed support and who took the initiative to come to this event, although it wasn't a huge crowd, it was of great quality and I really enjoyed that day. What I concluded from that day, from what I saw, is that we cannot achieve our goal if we do not unite with each other, stand side by side, next to each other.
Revolution #129, May 18, 2008
Hook Up With the Revolution:
Watch for the opening later in May of the new Revolution Books
146 W. 26th Street, between 6th + 7th Ave. We welcome volunteers to help finish the renovation and go out with “Revolution Books Mobile” – Call 212-691-3345.
May 13, Tuesday, 7pm
Discussion on Bob Avakian’s talk: “Making Revolution, Emancipating Humanity”
7 pm @ Think Coffee, 248 Mercer, between 3rd + 4th St., NYU campus Please join us for these regular Tuesday discussions, always lively.
Check website for more information and events.
May 14, Wednesday, 7 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. One glance at the terrain and you can see all kinds of negative contradictions including extreme individualism, heightened parasitism and relentless consumerism. But, as Avakian writes, "while it causes real problems and embodies real obstacles from the perspective of our revolutionary objectives, [it] also poses significant problems for the ruling class, much as they're promoting it." How should we understand and act in relation to the complicated political and ideological terrain today? Can all this be re-polarized for revolution?
312 West 8th Street 213-488-1303
May 14, Wednesday, 7 pm
Cinema Revolución – Jesus Camp documents the shocking mobilization of a Christian fascist movement in the U.S. (See Revolution newspaper review in Issue No. 66, 10/22/06).
May 15, Thursday, 7 pm
Bilingual discussion of the current issue of Revolution/Revolución newspaper. Check our blog for recommended articles. Bring your questions and suggestions for articles you want to discuss.
May 18, Sunday, 3 pm
Beginning a new series of Sunday discussions of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. First discussion: Is Marxism a science or religion? Does it matter? What is the importance of a fearless attitude towards the truth?
May 25, Sunday, 3 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. Discussion: 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 would be possible to rise up? Bob Avakian says, “Everything we’re doing is about revolution.” Can that really apply to today?
2425 Channing Way near Telegraph Ave
Every Thursday at 7 pm (unless another event is
Discussion of articles in current Revolution newspaper
May 13, Tuesday, 7 pm
Is the U.S. Preparing to Attack Iran? What Can Be Done? Emergency Meeting with Larry Everest
May 20, Tuesday, 7 pm
Presentation & Discussion of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian: What really happened in socialist societies? What would “doing better” mean and look like, and can you really do better? (part 1)
May 27, Tuesday, 7 pm
Presentation & Discussion of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian: What really happened in socialist societies? What would “doing better” mean and look like, and can you really do better? (part 2)
June 3, Tuesday, 7 pm
Presentation & Discussion of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity”by Bob Avakian: “We need a revolution. Anything else, in the final analysis, is bullshit.” What is meaningful revolutionary work today when there is not yet a revolutionary situation? Is spreading revolution and communism a part of that meaningful revolutionary work?
June 5, Thursday, 7 pm
Khalil Bendib, author of Mission Accomplished: Wicked Cartoons by America’s Most Wanted Political Cartoonist
June 10, Tuesday, 7 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian: “Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution”
2626 South King Street
Every Monday, 6:15 pm
Revolution newspaper reading and discussion group
May 17-18, Saturday & Sunday
Visit the Revolution Books booth at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival, Honolulu Hale, 10am-4pm
2804 Mayfield Rd (at Coventry)
Cleveland Heights 216-932-2543
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 3-8 pm
Every Wednesday, 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
May 17-18, Saturday & Sunday, noon - 8 pm
Visit and volunteer at the Revolution Books booth at the Hessler Street Fair, one block west of Euclid & Mayfield in University Circle
June 1, Secular Sunday, 4 pm
Book discussion series: Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian
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.
May 17, Saturday, 7 pm
Revolution Books Book Group discusses Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian. This week: More on Christianity, Judaism, And Islam—Rooted in the Past, Standing in the Way of the Future
May 18, Sunday, 3 pm
Reading & discussion of this week’s Revolution newspaper
May 24, Saturday, 7 pm
Revolution Books Book Group discusses Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian. This week: Religion—A Heavy, Heavy Chain.
May 25, Sunday, 3 pm
Reading & discussion of this week’s Revolution newspaper
(between Cass &2nd, south of Forest)
May 14, Wednesday, 6: 30 pm.
Discussion of Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian. Part II: Christianity, Judaism & Islam - Rooted in the Past, Standing in the Way of the Future. Bengal Masala Cafe, 9335 Conant Avenue, Hamtramck (1 block north of Holbrook).
May 17, Saturday, 7 pm
An evening of readings from Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian, followed by discussion. 555 Art Gallery, 4884 Grand River Ave.
Bob Avakian will not be present at this event.
1158 Mass Ave, 2nd Floor, Cambridge
Discussion series on Away With All Gods!
Revolution Books hosts weekly focused discussions on the new book Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. For those of you who are reading this important new work by Bob Avakian, these discussions will offer a way to engage more deeply into the current discourse about god, atheism and morality, the need to fully rupture with all forms of superstition, and to take up instead a truly scientific approach to understanding and transforming reality.
May 19, Monday, 6:30 pm
Part 2: CHRISTIANITY, JUDAISM, AND ISLAM—ROOTED IN THE PAST, STANDING IN THE WAY OF THE FUTURE
• The Historical Development and Role of Christianity: Doctrines and Power Politics
• Demystifying Jesus and Christianity
• Islam Is No Better (and No Worse) Than Christianity
• Religious Fundamentalism, Imperialism, and the “War on Terror”
• Why Is Religious Fundamentalism Growing in Today’s World?
May 27, Tuesday
Part 3 RELIGION—A HEAVY, HEAVY CHAIN
• Religion, Patriarchy, Male Supremacy and Sexual Repression
• The Bible Belt Is the Lynching Belt: Slavery, White Supremacy and Religion in America
• Christian Fascism and Genocide
• Religion, Fundamentalism, and the Slave Mentality
June 2, Monday
Part 4 GOD DOES NOT EXIST—WE NEED LIBERATION WITHOUT GODS
• The “Left Hand of God”—And the Right Way to Go About Winning Liberation
• Reason Has Not “Failed Us”—Reason Is Absolutely Necessary— Though, In Itself, It Is Not Enough
• Religious “Faith”—Let’s Call It What It Is: Irrational
• God Does Not Exist—And There Is No Good Reason to Believe In God
• Religion as an Opiate of the People—And an Obstacle to Emancipation
• 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
May 14, Wednesday, 8 pm
Revolution Books and others present
50 Artists, 50 Shots
We Are All Sean Bell
Artists Respond to the Sean Bell Verdict
@ Eyedrum (www.eyedrum.org), 290 MLK Jr. Drive SE, Atlanta, GA 30312
Sundays, 4-6 pm
Discussion of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. Check blog or call for location.