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Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
This article originally appeared on the website of The World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime (worldcantwait.org) and is reprinted here with permission.
In opening his 2003 speech Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, Bob Avakian—the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)—traced the rivers of Black blood that feed the ocean of American history. After angrily recounting some of the most horrific instances of lynching that occurred on U.S. soil, Avakian quoted an author who had written a book about the subject as saying: “It is doubtful that any Black male growing up in the rural South, in the period from 1900-1940, was not traumatized by a fear of being lynched.”
A few minutes later in this talk, Avakian updated the author’s observation to reflect modern U.S. society. “Today it is mostly the police—who openly, as the police—carry out brutality and terror against Black youth and Black people in general,” Avakian said. “Applying that author’s statement on lynching to the present, we could put it this way: ‘It is doubtful that there is a young Black male growing up in the US today—in the south or the north—who does not have a very real fear of being brutalized or even murdered by the police.’”
It is has been very difficult not to hear the echo of Avakian’s words in the days since April 25. That was the date, of course, when the American “criminal justice” system reminded us that police execution of Black people is legal in the United States of America.
Is this too extreme a characterization of the acquittal of NYPD Officers Marc Cooper, Gescard F. Isnora, and Michael Oliver in the killing of Sean Bell, a 23-year-old Black male? If it seems that way at first, perhaps this is because the major media, and large sections of the American public—even those sincerely outraged by the verdict—would be highly reluctant to frame Bell’s killing in those terms. “That’s going too far,” would come the refrain.
Murder—Plain And Simple
But really, imagine you are Sean Bell. You are out with friends celebrating, before getting married the next day. You get into your vehicle, preparing to leave a party, when suddenly several men draw their guns on you. Neither you nor anybody in your vehicle has a weapon, or is even breaking the law. And yet the men fire 50 shots. 50! For a moment, imagine what it would sound like, feel like, and look like if 50 bullets were fired at you. Imagine the sensation of 11 of those bullets striking you in the face, shoulders, and legs (Bell’s friend Joseph Guzman), or four fatal shots entering your arms, lungs, and liver (Bell himself).
Now imagine you are the parents of Sean Bell. You frantically arrive at the hospital, aware that something horrible has just happened to your loved one. But doctors will not let you see your own son, or even tell you what is going on. Then, when finally you do see him, he is lifeless. And—like his bullet-riddled friend—he is handcuffed. To a gurney.
What would you possibly call this, if not an execution? And when—after a two-month legal proceeding in which Bell’s friends were put on trial rather than the officers who shot at them—a judge declares that the killers are guilty of literally nothing wrong, what conclusion can you possibly draw other than that the American legal system finds no fault in the execution of Black people?
To arrive at a different summation than that, you would basically have to argue one of two things: Either (1) that Sean Bell and his friends did something that gave police justification to shoot them 50 times, or (2) that while the killing of Sean Bell and the acquittal of the three officers indeed represents an outrage, this travesty is an exception to the rule of what usually happens to African-Americans in the “criminal justice” system.
Well, on the first of those two points, let’s start by considering the NYPD’s version of what happened outside the Club Kalua on November 25, 2006: Officers on the scene hear Guzman say, “Yo, get my gun!” during the course of an altercation with a group of men at the club. These officers proceed to follow Guzman, Bell, and their friends to their car, allowing the vehicle to leave the establishment before blocking its further advance on a nearby street. Officers then draw their guns and clearly identify themselves as police. Bell and his friends try to drive away, therefore their car lurches forward towards police. Police begin firing.
Now, before we continue, several things need to be pointed out or asked: 1) Guzman has emphatically denied telling friends, “Yo, get my gun.” He stated in court, “That’s not a good bluff where I come from.” 2) If officers really thought Guzman or someone in his party had a gun and were concerned he was about to use it, why would they allow him to get in a vehicle and drive away from the Kalua Club? 3) Bell’s friends and other witnesses dispute that the undercover officers identified themselves as cops. 4) If Bell’s friends are telling the truth that the police did not identify themselves as such, who wouldn’t drive away when guns are drawn on their car? 5) A stripper from the Kalua club testified during the trial that, in actuality, Officer Oliver fired on Bell and his friends as soon as his vehicle crashed into Bell’s car, as Oliver moved to block off its exit route.
But, in spite of all that, for the sake of argument, let’s assume the police are telling the truth. Yes, for a second, let’s pretend there is no history of cops systematically lying to justify abuse or murder against people of color. Let’s pretend that those nail holes inside Fred Hampton’s apartment really were bullet holes; that former LAPD detective and current Fox News commentator Mark Fuhrman never bragged on tape about planting evidence on people of color; that the Rampart scandal—proving the existence of many more Mark Fuhrmans in the LAPD—never happened; that the Chicago PD was not found to have repeatedly tortured African-Americans from the 1970s to the 1990s in an effort to get confessions. Let’s say, in other words, that there were no reason to doubt the NYPD version of what happened to Sean Bell, and let us temporarily take the police account of events as unquestioned fact.
Even according to their rendition of events, police officers fired 50 shots—enough gunfire that they had to stop to reload—at men who had no weapons and were not even breaking the law.
In what universe, then, was the shooting of Sean Bell justified?
Hardly the First…or Second… or Third Time
But is Bell’s fate really emblematic of how Black Americans are treated in U.S. law and society? Or is his death merely a testament to a few rogue cops and one corrupt judge?
Ask that question to the families of Nicholas Heyward, a 13-year-old boy killed by the NYPD while playing with a toy gun in 1994…or Michael Ellerbe, a 12-year-old boy killed by Pennsylvania state police in 2002…or Paul Childs III, a developmentally-disabled 15-year-old boy killed by Denver police in 2003…or Timothy Stansbury Jr., a 19-year-old Black child killed by the NYPD in 2004…or Devin Brown, a 13-year-old boy killed by the LAPD in 2005…or DeAunta Farrow, a 12-year-old child killed by West Memphis police in 2007, again while playing with a toy gun. In all of these cases, the children killed were Black. In none of these cases were the officers involved even tried, much less convicted.
If you want to gain an even deeper sense of how often this happens, here’s a quick experiment: Simply Google the words “Police shoot unarmed boy.” Take note of how many results surface; of how many of these murdered children were not persons of color; and of how often the police officers in these instances were charged. And remember that these are only the incidents that are known about, that are retrieved by Google, and that involve children.
And, as the quote from Avakian at the beginning of this article speaks to, just as lynchings terrorized Black Americans as whole—and not merely the thousands who were actually hung from trees—so too does the impact of police murder extend far beyond those whose lives are literally taken by law enforcement. Millions of Black and Latino youth wake up each morning with the knowledge that there is nothing to protect them from being gunned down just like Sean Bell was.
And those who are able to escape this fate are faced with the constant threat of physical and psychological harassment at the hands of police, even while performing simple rituals of everyday life such as walking in a park or traveling to the corner bodega for a soda. The NYPD stops-and-frisks hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino males each year, and the vast majority of them are committing no crime: In 2006, of more than 500,000 stops made by the NYPD on the streets of New York City, 90 percent resulted in no summons or arrest. The vast majority of those stopped were Black or Latino. This is another reality that no person of color can escape, whether they themselves have been stopped 20 times, ten times, or zero times by the police.
In the Immediate Aftermath of the Verdict...
In the two weeks immediately following the acquittal of the officers who killed Sean Bell, two incidents occurred that serve as particularly powerful reminders of how non-isolated an incident his murder truly is.
First, on May 2, Douglas Zeigler—the highest-ranking Black officer in the NYPD—was sitting in his car in Queens when two white officers confronted him and attempted to force open his car door; even after he identified himself as the head of the NYPD Community Affairs Bureau. Zeigler may have been a superior to the two cops, but that apparently was of far less importance to the officers than the fact that he is Black. The NYPD has admitted that the officers were “discourteous” towards Ziegler.
State Senator Eric Adams said of the incident, “The only difference between Sean Bell and Chief Zeigler, I believe, is that Chief Ziegler didn’t make a move towards his glove compartment. If he would have done that, he would have gone to the same destination and went to the morgue instead of going home.”
Then, on the night of May 6, Philadelphia witnessed what could fairly be dubbed Rodney King II: A gang of 10-15 police officers were caught on video tape pulling three Black men out of their car and relentlessly kicking and beating them with their batons, as the men lay utterly defenseless on the ground. The tape is unbelievably sickening, and you really have to see it (http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/wireStory?id=4801701) to fully appreciate how heinous it is. Had the beating victims been dogs instead of African-Americans, there would no doubt be a deafening national uproar.
Currently, the three men who were beaten are in jail on attempted murder charges. The cops who beat them are walking free.
What more proof do you need that police violence and cruelty against Black people is woven tight into the American fabric?
A Vengeful Rise in
Old-Fashioned, Violent White Supremacy
But the larger picture framing Sean Bell’s murder is bigger even than systematic police brutality against people of color. Rather, his death is part of a social, cultural, and political landscape in which violence against Black Americans—both physical and psychological—is becoming increasingly commonplace and legitimized.
Consider the case of Megan Williams, a name that is still foreign to the average American—even within progressive circles.
Last fall, Williams—a 23-year-old Black woman in West Virginia—was kidnapped by a mob of whites and subjected to a week-long nightmare. During her imprisonment, she was raped and beaten repeatedly; forced to eat rat feces; scalded with hot water; choked with a cable; and stabbed in the leg while her captors called her “nigger.” When she was found by police, she cried, “Help me.”
Prosecutors offered the defendants a plea bargain, instead of seeking the maximum sentence. Two of the defendants in the case were sentenced to ten years, while two others were given longer sentences but have the possibility of getting out on parole within ten years. Megan Williams and her family have expressed outrage with the sentences as well as the fact that prosecutors offered her torturers a plea deal; Williams and her family have called for protest.
But, astoundingly, there has been no significant public outpouring of anger, nor sustained major media coverage of Megan Williams’ story. In fact, most people in this country have probably never heard of her.
Roughly two months after Williams was kidnapped and tortured, African-American NFL quarterback Michael Vick (who is Black) was sentenced to 23 months in jail for killing and torturing dogs. Guess which case generated more media coverage and public outrage?
Think of everything else we have seen in the past three years. In August 2005, thousands of Black Americans are left to drown or starve in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, their desperate rooftop screams for help ignored for days. Thousands of residents who try to cross the Mississippi River Bridge to the mostly white town of Gretna—in order to escape the flood-ravaged city— are turned away at gunpoint by law enforcement. Those who break into stores to acquire the food and water the government will not provide them—or who have been driven to temporary insanity by the horror of what surrounds them—are identified as “looters,” and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco gives the National Guard “shoot to kill” orders. Blackwater—yes that Blackwater—patrols the streets of New Orleans with machine guns. To add further insult to incredible injury, Barbara Bush assesses the masses of evacuees at Houston’s Astrodome by saying: “So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.” Representative Richard H. Baker sizes up the hurricane by saying: “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Last winter, the city of New Orleans begins demolishing four public housing units that provide roughly 4500 affordable housing units, predominantly for people of color.
One year later, in the fall of 2006 and in this same state of Louisiana, a Black student at Jena High School dares to sit underneath a “whites-only tree”; yes, “whites only.” The next day, nooses are hung from the tree. Yes, nooses. A group of Black students then sit underneath the tree in protest. Instead of commending their bravery in the face of a hate crime, District Attorney Reed Walters threatens the students in a school assembly, warning them, “I can take away your lives with the stroke of a pen.” White students ambush a Black student at a party, but the stiffest penalty meted out is that one of the students is placed on probation. Then, white students pull a gun on a Black student in a parking lot. Charges are filed—against the Black students, for snatching the gun away. Ultimately, a fistfight breaks out during which a white student is briefly hospitalized. Six Black students are charged with attempted murder....
Soon, nooses begin appearing in cities and towns throughout the country, including on the door of Black professor Constantine Madonna’s office at Teachers College in New York City, in October of 2007. Action has been taken—against Madonna; she is currently under investigation for plagiarism. No one has been arrested for hanging the noose outside her door.
In January of this year, on Martin Luther King day, white supremacists marched in Jena. With guns. Enough said.
During the last past three years, we have also seen “comedian” Michael Richards repeatedly scream “nigger” at a Black heckler, while telling him: “Fifty years ago, we’d have had you upside down with a fucking fork up your ass.”
And we have heard beloved radio personality Don Imus refer to the predominantly-Black Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos”; yep, he’s back on the air.
A “Culture of Greed, Bigotry, Intolerance,
I could go on and on, but the point is this: It is often pointed out that if fascism comes to America, it will not appear in the literal form of swastika-sporting, goose-stepping brownshirts. Similarly, if the gains of the Black Power movement are undone and the United States again becomes the openly white-supremacist state that it was during the days of slavery and Jim Crow, this will not take the form of the plantation, the whip, the “colored” water fountain, or the hanging tree.
No, violent racism against Black Americans did not begin with the regime of George W. Bush; this phenomenon was a part of American life for centuries before Bush was even born, right up to the moment of his first inauguration. And yes, even following the gains of the 1960s, America has lived in a state of “de-facto segregation”; i.e., severe institutionalized discrimination in the realms of housing, employment, education, and all facets of society. In addition, during the past few decades the Black prison population has mushroomed, with millions of African-Americans forced to rot in confinement, very often for non-violent crimes of poverty.
However, a passage in the Call—the mission statement of The World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime—does point to the very significant connection between the Bush Regime and instances of blatantly murderous racism such as the shooting of Sean Bell: “Your government is enforcing a culture of greed, bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance.”
The result of the Bush Regime’s program of systematic murder, torture, and dehumanization, and of the lack of massive societal resistance thus far to this program, has been that forces wishing to take the United States back to the days of lynching and the Ku Klux Klan have felt an emboldened sense of initiative.
Is the success of these white supremacist forces inevitable? Absolutely not. The tens of thousands who traveled to Jena last winter to demand the freedom of the Jena 6, and the thousands who have bravely and defiantly stepped out to condemn the acquittal of the officers who killed Sean Bell, are examples of real “hope” for real “change.”
But resistance to the Re-Klanification of America—as with resistance to the Bush agenda in general—must sustain and expand relentlessly. Because the forces on other side will do anything but relent.
It seems appropriate to close with words spoken twelve years ago by the rapper NAS:
“I thought I’d never see,
but reality struck.
Better find out, before your time’s out,
what the fuck.”
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
NEW YORK CITY
THURSDAY MAY 29
GATHER 4:00 PM - UNION SQUARE
[4, 5, 6, R, N, Q trains to 14th Street/Union Square]
MARCH to CITY HALL
RALLY at CITY HALL at 6:00 PM
[R, 4, 5, 6, J, Z trains to City Hall/ Brooklyn Bridge;
2, 3 trains to Park Place; A, C trains to Chambers Street]
Harlem Revolution Club
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism:
The following is Part 3 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.
Here I’m going to focus on two things: internationalism; and democracy and dictatorship in the transition to communism.
Now again, I need to give a little background. Marx and Engels called on the workers of the world to unite. The material basis for that call was that capitalism had not only ushered in the epoch of modern nations and nation-states but the existence of the world market; and that the proletariat was a single international class and had to transcend the division into nations, as well as classes, in order to reach a world without any antagonisms between peoples.
By the late 1800s monopoly had come to dominate the advanced capitalist countries, and banking and industrial capital had merged into huge financial blocs; these nations had begun exporting not just goods, but capital itself to the less developed nations. They were building factories and railroads in those countries and drawing them into “modern life” in a new way—but on an oppressed, subordinate basis. Competition among the great powers for spheres of influence intensified, as did militarism and war to back that up; and all this has continued and intensified down to today, through the two world wars—which together took over 60 million lives!—and then the triumph of the U.S. in the so-called Cold War against the Soviet Union. Production today is more than ever international in character; but ownership, control, and organization of capital is still rooted in separate, and contending, nations—and these nations are still basically divided into oppressed and oppressor.
Oppressor nations like the U.S. don’t just plunder oppressed nations like Mexico. Instead, the entire economy of an oppressed nation is tightly integrated into the imperialist accumulation process on a subordinate basis—warped and disarticulated to serve that process. Crises now find expression as intense geopolitical conflicts over redivision of the world between the imperialist powers, conflicts that can erupt and have at times erupted into horrible firestorms—as they did in the two world wars. These wars posed heightened opportunities for revolution...though if you were empiricist or positivist, it appeared to be the opposite, and at the outset of World War 1, for instance, virtually the whole international socialist movement with the notable exception of the Bolsheviks led by Lenin, and a few other forces, collapsed into betrayal.
At the same time, these wars performed the function of “classical crises” under capitalism: the destruction of the old framework of capitalist accumulation, which had become too fettering, and the forging of a new one. Avakian led in deepening Lenin’s analysis of imperialism, and the model that I just laid out also ruptured with what had become the dominant line in the communist movement—a view that imperialism was in a general crisis and was headed straight to collapse.
Based on all this, Avakian developed the principle that the class struggle in any particular country was more determined on the international plane than by the unfolding of contradictions within a given country somehow outside of, or divorced from, that context. The revolutionary situation that enabled Lenin to lead the Bolsheviks to seize power arose out of an international conjuncture of world war that radically affected the situation in Russia and enabled a breakthrough to be made; Lenin’s internationalism and his qualitatively deeper grasp of materialism and dialectics enabled him to see this possibility when, initially at least, everyone else in the leadership opposed the idea of going for revolution. Similarly, the Chinese Revolution occurred in a specific international context of World War 2 and invasion from Japan.
Now you can pervert this to mean that you can’t do anything if the international “balance of forces is unfavorable.” That’s not true—and revolution, or even revolutionary attempts, within specific countries can radically affect that balance of forces. But you are playing in an international arena, and you have to understand the dynamics on that level; the “whole” of the imperialist system is greater than the sum of the separate nations that make up its individual parts.
So you can’t understand it from “my country out”—and doing it that way is another example of positivism, by the way. And you can’t see internationalism as something that you “extend” to other countries; the whole world has to be your point of departure. You have to come at revolution in “your” country as your share of the world revolution. Communists do NOT represent this or that nation; we’re (supposed to be) about eliminating all nations, even as we know we’re going to have to “work through” a world where there will be nations for a long time yet to come, even socialist nations, and where there will have to be a whole period of first achieving equality between nations in order to transcend them. But through that whole period, the communist movement has to keep its “eyes on the prize” of a world community of humanity, and relate everything it does to that.
Ironically, if you do come at it from “my country out” you will miss the real possibilities of revolution in the particular country in which you happen to be located. You won’t see how unexpected upheaval in this or that part of the world, or this or that aspect of the system, can afford openings that can be seized upon. You’ll be mentally landlocked, so to speak, in nationalism, and you won’t even see the basis to wage a successful struggle for national liberation. And that landlock has been part of what’s led to conservatism and, even worse, capitulation in what were times of great danger...but, yes, also times of great potential for revolutionary advance.
This whole wrong approach was consolidated in the context of a situation in which the Soviet Union came into being encircled by antagonistic imperialist powers attempting to strangle it, climaxing in the Nazi attack which took over 25 million Soviet lives. Defending the first socialist state was a real necessity. But this defense existed in contradiction with—in relation to—the necessity to advance revolution in other countries at the same time. In failing to recognize or denying the existence of this contradiction, the Soviet Union all too often sacrificed, or tried to sacrifice, the revolutionary struggle in these countries to its own defense. And this same blind spot persisted, frankly, in Mao. If you don’t recognize this as a contradiction, and if you don’t come from the foundational fact that imperialism has integrated the entire world into one and that the revolutionary process is an integrated, worldwide process—even as different countries have their own discrete, if inter-related, revolutions—you won’t have a chance of solving this.
Avakian was far from facile or scholastic in his criticism; he insisted on a full appreciation of what the socialist states actually faced. But on that basis he delved into what they thought they were doing and why, and made a searching criticism of their theoretical understanding.
As part of that, Bob Avakian developed the principle that the proletariat in power must “put the advance of the world revolution above everything, even above the advance of the revolution in the particular country—build the socialist state as above all a base area for the world revolution.” He also very importantly formulated the principle that revolutionaries have to at one and the same time seek to make the greatest advances possible in building the revolutionary movement and preparing for a revolutionary situation in all countries, while also being alert “to particular situations which at any given point become concentration points of world contradictions and potential weak links...and where therefore the attention and the energy of the proletariat internationally should be especially concentrated.” Here I will refer people to two works in which this is deeply gone into—Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will and Advancing the World Revolutionary Movement: Questions of Strategic Orientation.1
Beyond that, Avakian upheld and deepened Lenin’s understanding that the division of the world between imperialist powers and oppressed nations had given rise within the imperialist powers to a section of the working class, and an even bigger section of the middle class, that not only benefitted materially from the parasitism and plunder of imperialism, but came to politically identify with their imperialist masters. He followed out Lenin’s point on the need to therefore base yourself among those sections of the masses that did not benefit so much or were, in any case, more inclined to oppose imperialism. And this means that communists have to be willing to be unpopular and to go against the tides of national chauvinism within the imperialist countries—whether it take the form of really nasty outbreaks of ugly American chauvinism, or the equally murderous form of passive complicity.
Next: “Part IV: The New Synthesis: Political Implications—Dictatorship and Democracy
1. Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will, published as Issue No. 50 of Revolution magazine (December 1981), available online at revcom.us/bob_avakian/conquerworld and Advancing the World Revolutionary Movement: Questions of Strategic Orientation, in Revolution magazine (Spring 1984), available online at revcom.us [back]
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
An urgent call by scientists to:
This important call from scientists is available online at defendscience.org
IN THE UNITED STATES TODAY SCIENCE, AS SCIENCE, IS UNDER ATTACK AS NEVER BEFORE.
The signs of this are everywhere. The attacks are coming at an accelerating pace, and include frequent interventions by powerful forces, in and out of the Bush Administration, who seem all too willing to deny scientific truths, disrupt scientific investigations, block scientific progress, undermine scientific education, and sacrifice the very integrity of the scientific process itself—all in the pursuit of implementing their particular political agenda. And today this dominant political agenda is profoundly allied and intertwined with an extremist (and extremely anti-science) ideological agenda put forward by powerful fundamentalist religious forces commonly known as the Religious Right. These fundamentalists now have extensive influence and representatives in major institutions of the U.S. government, including Congress and the White House. This itself goes a long way towards explaining why science itself is under such unprecedented attack.
It is commonplace under the current Administration for the government to deny funding, censor scientific reports, or in other ways undermine scientific research which might turn up facts which they don’t want to hear; to manipulate, distort, or outright suppress scientific findings they find objectionable; to attempt to reshape government scientific panels to obtain policy recommendations on issues ranging from health to the environment, based less on actual scientific findings than on the requirements of the Administration’s agenda.
The situation is so serious that more than 6,000 scientists have already signed the “Restoring Scientific Integrity” statement of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which denounces the Bush Administration for “abuse of science”; and Scientific American published an editorial under the title: “Bush-League Lysenkoism: The White House Seeks to Bend Science To Its Will.”
And that is not all: Here we are in the 21st century, and the head of the government himself, George W. Bush, refuses to acknowledge that evolution is a scientific fact! THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.
The President claims: “On the issue of evolution, the verdict is still out on how God created the earth,” and then sits smugly by while Creationists carry out an assault against evolution in classrooms, museums, libraries, government bookstores, and even IMAX movies and science theaters.
No, Mr. President, the verdict is NOT out on evolution. EVOLUTION IS A FACT—IT IS ONE OF THE MOST WELL-ESTABLISHED AND WELL-DOCUMENTED FACTS IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE. TO DENY AND ATTACK EVOLUTION IS TO DENY AND ATTACK ONE OF THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL FACTS ABOUT ALL OF NATURE AND REALITY AND ONE OF THE MOST CRUCIAL FOUNDATION STONES OF ALL OF MODERN SCIENCE.
Evolution is not a matter of “controversy” in the scientific community: It is recognized as a fact by the overwhelming majority of scientists in the U.S. and throughout the world. Evolution is just as well-established as the fact that the earth goes around the sun—a scientifically-demonstrated truth which, several centuries ago and for some time, was also opposed and even viciously suppressed because of a religious inquisition, resulting in great harm to science and to humanity. We cannot, and will not, allow the same kind of thing to happen with the scientific fact of evolution.
Therefore, we, the undersigned scientists and members of the scientific community, are issuing this urgent call to everyone in society to take up the challenge to DEFEND SCIENCE.
To be clear: Many who continue to hold religious beliefs can and should rally to this call to DEFEND SCIENCE. This is not about science trying to destroy religion. It is about defending science from a specific right-wing political agenda which, coupled with a fundamentalist, Biblical-literalist religious ideology, is setting out to implement a program that will fundamentally pervert and undermine science and the scientific process itself.
Individual scientists may be atheists or agnostics, or may hold various religious beliefs; and their politics range over the full spectrum of political views. But one thing the overwhelming majority of scientists have in common is their understanding that, when conducting scientific investigation and applying the scientific method, it is essential to use as a starting point previously accumulated scientific knowledge—the storehouse of well-established scientific evidence about reality which has previously been arrived at through concrete and systematic scientific observation and experiment and has been subjected to rigorous scientific review and testing. This is what we scientists stand on as our foundation when we set out to further investigate reality and make new discoveries. This is how science has been done and how it has advanced for hundreds of years now, and this has allowed science to benefit humanity in countless ways.
Genuine science never proceeds from, or uses as its starting point, any set of subjective “beliefs,” “opinions” or “faith-based edicts” handed down by religious or secular authorities and proclaimed to be beyond human questioning, testing and investigation. To bring into the scientific process assumptions, religious or otherwise, which were not arrived at by scientific methods, and which by definition cannot be tested by scientific methods, would destroy science as science.
In conclusion: We must refuse to accept a situation where scientific inquiry is blocked or its findings ruled out of order unless they conform to the goals of the government, to corporate interests and to the ideology of religious fundamentalists; where dogma enforced by governmental and religious authority takes the place of science; where the scientific approach of seeking natural explanations for natural phenomena is suppressed. We must insist on an atmosphere where scientists are allowed to seek the truth, even when the truth conflicts with the views and policies of those in power, and where the scientific spirit is fostered, where science education and the popularization of the scientific method are valued, where people are encouraged to pursue an understanding of how and why things are the way they are; where all that has been learned by humanity so far, all that has repeatedly been tested and found to be true, serves as the starting point for further investigation of reality.
IT IS UP TO US. IT IS TIME TO TAKE A CLEAR AND DECISIVE STAND IN DEFENSE OF SCIENCE. THIS IS OF CRUCIAL AND URGENT IMPORTANCE NOT ONLY FOR SCIENTISTS BUT FOR PEOPLE THROUGHOUT SOCIETY, FOR HUMANITY AS A WHOLE AND FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Scientists and Members of the Scientific Community:
Sign and Circulate This Statement. Help Raise Funds to Have it Printed in Newspapers Across the Country, and Internationally. Get This Statement Adopted by Scientific, Educational and Other Associations and Institutions. Urge Others to Become Involved.
Members of the General Public:
Reprint and Circulate This Statement, Help Spread the Word, Contribute Your Ideas About How to Wage This Crucial Battle & Join With People in the Scientific Community and Others to Wage This Battle.
Partial list of signatories to the Defend Science statement:
Gerardus 't Hooft, Professor Theoretical Physics, Utrecht University, the Netherlands, Nobel Prize Physics 1999
Philip W. Anderson, Professor of Physics (Emeritus), Princeton, Nobel Laureate (1977), member National Academy of Science
Michael Atiyah, Hon. Professor of Mathematics, University of Edinburgh, Field Medalist, Abel Prize Winner, Member National Academy of Science
Prof. Robert Curl, Chemist, Nobel Laureate, Research Professor, University Professor Emeritus, Rice University
Richard Dawkins, Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford
Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University
Donald A. Glaser, PhD., Nobel Laureate in Physics, Prof. of Physics & of Neurobiology, UC Berkeley
Roger Guillemin, MD,PhD, Nobel laureate in Medicine & Physiology 1977, Member National Academy of Sciences
Michael G. Hadfield, Professor of Zoology, University of Hawaii
Carl Heiles, Astronomy Department, UC Berkeley
Prof. Dudley Herschbach, Dept. of Chemistry & Chemical Biology, Harvard, Nobel Laureate (1986)
Gerald T. Keusch M.D., Assoc. Dean for Global Health, Boston University Medical Center
Prof. James L. Kinsey, Department of Chemistry, Rice University, Member, National Academy of Sciences (1991)
Prof. Herbert Kroemer, Nobel Laureate Physics (2000)
Harold Kroto, Professor of Chemistry, Florida State University, Nobel Laureate (1996)
Paul C. Lauterbur, Professor of Chemistry & of Medical Information Sciences, Univ. of Illinois, Nobel Laureate (2003)
Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn, Strasbourg, France, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1987
Geoff Marcy, Professor of Astronomy, UC Berkeley
Christopher F. McKee, Physics & Astronomy Depts, UC Berkeley, member National Academy of Sciences
Douglas Osheroff, Professor of Physics, Stanford University, Nobel Laureate 1996
Kevin Padian, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley
Stephen R. Palumbi, Professor of Biological Sciences, Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University
David Politzer, Caltech, Nobel Laureate in Physics 2004
Theodore A. Postol, Prof. of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy, MIT
Irwin Rose, Prof. Physiology & Biophysics UC Irvine, Nobel laureate in Chemistry (2004)
Edwin E. Salpeter, Prof. Emeritus, Physical Sciences, Cornell University, member National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society (UK)
Randy Schekman, Prof of Molecular & Cell Biology, director campus stem cell center, UC Berkeley, member NAS
Andrew Sessler, Former President of the American Physical Society, member of the National Academy of Sciences
Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University
Ardea Skybreak, author of Science of Evolution
E. Donnall Thomas, Nobel laureate, 1990, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Dr. Charles Yanofsky, Prof. emeritus, Dept. of Biological Sciences Stanford Univ. National Medal of Science recipient, member of National Academy of Sciences
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
Monday, May 12, 2:28 pm. A huge earthquake, registering 8.0 on the Richter scale, struck Sichuan Province in southwest China. The violent shaking lasted more than a minute, leaving towns and small cities flattened. On Sunday, May 25, a powerful aftershock struck, causing thousands more buildings to collapse.
The death toll now stands at over 62,000 people. 160,000 have been injured. Five million left homeless. More than 200,000 homes completely collapsed and four million were damaged.
The quake hit in the middle of the day when schools were in session—children were napping, sitting at their desks, and playing in schoolyards. Some reports say 30-40 percent of the dead were schoolchildren. In the town of Mianzhu alone, seven schools, including two nursery schools, collapsed—burying more than 1,700 students.
What happens when such a natural disaster occurs is profoundly affected by how a society is organized. And many things about the nature of China have been revealed by this catastrophe. Most people around the world watching this heartbreaking tragedy think China is a socialist country, run by a communist government. But in fact, since the reactionary coup led by Deng Xiaoping after Mao Tsetung’s death in 1976, China has been a capitalist country, dependent on and subordinate to global imperialism. And some stark things about the exploitative and oppressive nature of capitalist China have been revealed in the aftermath of this devastating earthquake.
“Tofu” Schools Became Death Traps
Close to 7,000 schools, a disproportionately high number of buildings, were destroyed. In some towns, an entire generation has virtually been wiped out.
Town after town, grief has turned to anger as parents accuse the government of shoddy construction to save money. Pu Changxue, whose son died, crushed in a classroom, said: “This was a tofu dregs project and the government should assume responsibility. We all know that earthquakes are natural disasters. But what happened to our children also has human causes, and they’re even more frightening.”
In Juyuan, a middle school collapsed. As many as 900 children were buried in the rubble, while nearby buildings remained standing. One resident said: “Look at the building materials they used. The cement wasn’t mixed with water in the right proportion. There are not enough steel beams. The sand isn’t clean.”
There are supposed to be seismic regulations and requirements for different types of buildings. But lack of money for education has meant old buildings have not been replaced. And many times, even when new schools are built, shoddy material is used and building codes are ignored in order to save money.
The bodies of kids pulled from the rubble have revealed an ugly truth about class society in China: That schools for kids from the bottom layers of society are very different than schools for students from well-off families. Children from the upper strata get a better education. They also get safer schools. And when the earthquake hit, this became a question of life or death.
According to a New York Times article, in Dujiangyan, the Xinjian Primary School had been poorly built and “never got its share of government funds for reconstruction because of its low ranking in the local education bureaucracy and the low social status of its students.” The parents who sent their children to Xinjian are poor. Many had lost their jobs when a local cement plant shut down—some collect small welfare payments and hold down odd jobs to support their families, others had left their children behind to look for work somewhere else. Hundreds of children died at Xinjian when the earthquake hit. Meanwhile, another local primary school, Beijie, suffered hardly any damage and students survived. Beijie was set up for the elite with the best facilities and finest teachers. (NY Times, “Chinese Are Left to Ask Why Schools Crumbled,” May 25, 2008)
Western media, as well as news reports in China, have suggested that developers tried to maximize profits by using inferior materials, cutting back on necessary work and paying off corrupt officials. The Chinese government has announced there will be investigations into whether sloppy work linked to corruption is to blame. And there will, no doubt, now be official accusations of bribery, scapegoats, and a campaign to “clean up corruption.”
But the fundamental problem here is NOT corruption, inept administrators, or bribery in the building of schools. Yes, that is truly horrible and resulted in the deaths of thousands of children. But targeting this doesn’t get to the root of the problem. The real problem here is the dynamics of capitalism—how the drive for profit trumps everything else, how economic growth is driven by intensifying exploitation, short-term gain, and cost minimization. And how these capitalist economic relations get reflected in and played out in the social and political relations in society and the thinking of people. Corruption is very real, but it is an outgrowth of capitalist development.
Some people say the problem is that there is not enough transparency in China. They pose the problem as: China being open or shut; listening or not; censoring the Internet or leaving it alone, etc., etc. But all this begs the fundamental question: What kind of society is China? What is its relationship to global capitalism? What does it mean that China has become a vast sweatshop for the world; that the gap between rich and poor in China is growing; that peasants in the countryside are desperate and impoverished—and that the lives of millions who were already desperately poor because China is subordinate to imperialism have been suddenly thrown into an even greater hell by this earthquake?
Widening Inequality Gap
Sichuan is one of China’s poorest areas and does not have a lot of manufacturing. But this province is an important grain and pork producer and has China’s largest reserves of natural gas.
Over the last decade there has been a burst of construction in rural, inland areas like Sichuan. But the huge inequality gap between urban and rural areas remains. And this gap has been further imprinted in the whole way that these smaller towns and cities are being developed.
Many in the areas most affected by the earthquake are poor peasants. In Wenchuan, at the epicenter of the quake, the average annual income was around 1,600 yuan in 2002 (latest available statistics), which is less than a fifth of the average income in the province’s capital city of Chengdu. The death, damage and suffering from the earthquake reflect this income gap. Living in more impoverished conditions to begin with resulted in greater devastation and now more ongoing hardship. And inequality between the city and countryside also impacts things. For example, people in rural areas have access to much less health care than those who live in the cities. This means they are less healthy to begin with and now have less access to desperately needed medical attention.
When China was truly a socialist country, a conscious goal of the government and society was to continually narrow (and eventually get rid of) inequalities in society—between different classes, between men and women, between different nationalities, and between the cities and countryside. But now, through the workings of capitalism, such differences are being widened.
Time magazine has written about how “economic reforms” have chipped away at the medical treatment available when China was socialist—health care that was often rudimentary but widely available to all citizens: “China’s famed ‘barefoot doctors,’ usually middle school graduates trained in first aid, hiked through hamlets offering prenatal examinations and setting broken limbs. The service, essentially free, helped to almost eradicate sexually transmitted diseases in China and nearly doubled the country’s life expectancy from 35 to 65 between 1949 to the mid-1970s. But in the early 1980s, the mainland began shifting from communism to capitalism, and peasants had to dig into their own tattered pockets to pay for health care. At the same time, cash-strapped local governments cut subsidies to rural hospitals and clinics, essentially privatizing them... City dwellers remain better-off, mostly because six in 10 of them have some form of health insurance. Only 10% of rural residents do, and most of them are government employees or live in wealthy coastal areas, where many work in factories.” (China’s Failing Health System, Time, May 12, 2003)
This kind of deepening economic and social inequality now exists in many different aspects of Chinese society—which can mean the difference between life and death when an earthquake hits.
Over the last several decades China has become more integrated into and subordinate to the world capitalist system. Foreign investments have poured into China. Fortune 500 companies with investments in Sichuan include Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, United Technologies, McDonalds, Lufthansa, Sony, Intel, Cisco Systems, and Archer Daniels Midland.
There has been all kinds of fast-paced “get rich quick” economic development. This has mainly been concentrated in the country’s eastern coastal areas where there are concentrated pools of cheap labor and access to shipping. But in recent years, this kind of rapid economic growth has branched out into interior areas, including into the cities and towns hit by the May 12 earthquake.
In many cases, such expansion has meant people being forcibly relocated. This push for rapid growth forces builders to move fast. And this has led companies and the government to trample on the rights of residents and ignoring building safety requirements. Policemen have been sent in to enforce evictions. And there have been several reports of people protesting demolitions and evictions by setting themselves on fire and committing suicide.
Five years ago, these massive renovations were mainly happening in large cities. Now they are going on in more medium and smaller cities—like Sichuan’s capital of Chengdu, about 145 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. City officials there had announced plans to spend 10 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) to build a new town in its northern suburbs.
Thousands of smaller cities are sprouting up on formerly uninhabited pastureland. This rapid urbanization has transformed Sichuan into one of China’s biggest provinces with a population of 82 million. It is this kind of demolition and quick construction that has created conditions for rampant corruption, leading to the kind of slipshod building that people are now pointing to in the wake of the earthquake. It is these rural areas and smaller towns that suffered the greatest destruction from the earthquake.
This kind of economic development—driven by short-term gains, rapid growth, and cost minimization—has also factored into the building of dams in China. And now, in the wake of the earthquake, there is an extremely dangerous situation where shoddily-built dams are damaged, putting millions in harm’s way of potential flood waters—especially given continuing aftershocks.
There have been reports that hundreds of dams have been damaged by the earthquake. For example, the Zipingpu Dam, completed in 2006, was built over the objections of seismologists who were concerned about its proximity to major geological faults. After the earthquake, soldiers rushed to the dam after reports that it was developing cracks.
Crocodile Tears Covering Up a Criminal System
Some news commentators have said this earthquake is a “godsend” for the Chinese government—pointing to the fact that world political opinion has not been going well for China. Its brutal repression in Tibet captured headlines for weeks, just as China was getting ready for its mega-PR campaign around the Olympics. There were numerous protests as the Olympic torch made its way around the world.
Now the earthquake has given China an opportunity to turn public opinion more favorable to China’s reactionary regime. Top government officials quickly flew to the devastated areas, crying crocodile tears and putting on a show of concern for TV cameras—knowing this would be beamed not only throughout China but around the world. The Chinese government is highly aware that, especially in the wake of the cyclone in Myanmar, its handling of this disaster is being closely watched, throughout the country and internationally. The storyline has been how competent, compassionate, and in control the rescue and relief efforts have been.
The rulers of China face a lot of necessity here—both domestically and internationally. They need to keep social control in the face of growing disparity and discontent. And they face a complex and changing economic and political polarization in the world as they try to press forward with their international ambitions. From the very beginning, the Chinese government has seen the Olympics as a way to create more favorable political conditions, both domestically and internationally.
The crocodile tears being shed by government officials after the earthquake only serve to cover up the real truth: The Chinese economy is deeply integrated into and subordinated to the global capitalist system. The development of capitalism in China has been and continues to be a living nightmare for hundreds of millions of people. And what China really needs is another revolution aimed at overthrowing the new capitalist ruling class, re-achieving national independence, and creating a genuine and truly liberating socialist society.
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
A special feature of Revolution to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.
Neil Shubin is one of the world’s leading paleontologists—scientists who study fossils to learn about the evolution of life on our planet. He is also a professor and associate dean of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago and provost at the Field Museum. In 2004, Shubin and his team discovered a fossil in the Canadian Arctic that made headlines around the world when it was publicly announced two years later. This was Tiktaalik roseae—a 375-million-year-old fossil of a creature that was an intermediate between fish and land-living animals.
Earlier this year, Neil Shubin came out with his book Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Pantheon Books)—a lively and accessible work that is full of fascinating science…and downright fun!
Revolution interviewed Neil Shubin at his lab at the University of Chicago, where his research involves the study of genes and the development of embryos along with fossils.
Revolution: Would you give a brief general overview for our readers of the significance of the Tiktaalik fossil you discovered, and what your book, Your Inner Fish, is about?
Neil Shubin: Tiktaalik, along with other fossils of lobe-finned fish and amphibians, reveals a critical time in evolution. What we see is how the descendants of fish with fins evolved to inhabit land. This is a big event in the history of the earth and also is a big event in our own history. Many of the features that originally evolved in fish like Tiktaalik are parts of our own bodies and our own history. The neck that is first seen in Tiktaalik is something that became our own neck. The functional wrist in Tiktaalik is something that became our own wrist. This is the general theme of Your Inner Fish. Each of us carries over 3.5 billion years of history inside of us. In every organ, cell, and gene in our bodies is a deep connection to the rest of life on our planet. And the story of our bodies is written in the fossils, bodies, and DNA in creatures as different as worms, fish, and sponges. That is the story of the book.
Revolution: You’re preparing for this summer’s field season in the Canadian Arctic. Are you going to the same area where the Tiktaalik fossil was found? And are there specific types of fossils that you are looking for?
Neil Shubin: We have two goals this summer. The first goal is to return to the Tiktaalik site, which is a site about 20 feet long that we've opened up a bit, with fish skeletons one on top of another. So we know there are more Tiktaalik to find at that site. So we're going to go there for about two weeks. The whole field season is about five weeks long. So for the remainder of the time—there will be six of us going—we'll divide into two camps of three. Small camps, very mobile, like sort of reconnaissance teams. And our goal will be to identify new sites.
Revolution: You said you hope to find more Tiktaalik. What other kinds of fossils do you expect to find?
Neil Shubin: What is really great about the Tiktaalik site itself is that there are all kinds of fish there, it's not just Tiktaalik. So we have a chance by working the Tiktaalik site in more detail, and by studying the geology of that site in more detail, as well as the rocks above and below it, we'll have a sense of what the environment that the Tiktaalik lived in was like. Was it swampy? What other fish lived with it? What was the ecosystem like? Really what we want to do, in several years' time, is to be able to state with a degree of confidence, what the ecosystem that Tiktaalik lived in looked like. And the only way we're going to do that is by really working the site in some great detail, bringing in people who have different expertise than mine, which might be more geological, things like that. So we'll spend a few weeks there.
And then, we're always itching for new things. So the idea will be, we'll divide up into these two camps, two teams of three, very mobile—and we'll go up in time, into younger rocks. Tiktaalik is about 375 million years old. The rocks we're going to go into are about 370 to 365, five million years younger, more recent. The idea is to find something that was more tetrapod-like than Tiktaalik. [Editors' note: Tetrapods are animals with four limbs.] So it's a never-ending quest to some extent. Each time we find answers we get new questions. And that's what makes it fun. And there's so much to still discover up in the Arctic. To some extent, we've been victims of our own success. When you find a place, that's the one place you work, the Tiktaalik site. But there's this vast Arctic that we still haven't looked at, much of it, in great detail. And so we're going to get back to that a bit this summer.
Revolution: In Your Inner Fish, you point out that our world is so “highly ordered” that it’s possible to predict the kind of fossils that lie in different layers of rock around the world, and that those predictions can bring about discoveries that tell us about ancient events in the history of life. At the same time, you talk about the role of chance and serendipity in your work. How did those two aspects relate to the discovery of the fossil of Tiktaalik?
Neil Shubin: It took us all kinds of planning to get to Tiktaalik sites. First of all, we needed to figure out that we wanted to work in the Arctic. Then where in the Arctic we wanted to work. Finding a fossil in the Arctic is like finding a needle in a haystack. The Arctic is a pretty big place, and fossils are pretty small. So how do you do that? It took a lot of planning. It took learning about the geology of the area. There are two essentials, obviously. Learning from the work that preceded us, the geologists who worked there in the '70s, Ashton Embry and his teams from Canada, did a great job mapping those sites. But there's no getting around the experience of actually seeing the rocks for yourself. And so it took us a long time actually of learning the local geology, from our own viewpoints, that we were able to narrow down the particular patch of the Arctic that would be the most productive for us. We knew that because the best places up there are places that were in ancient streams. And so we were basically looking for rocks that had the characteristics of ancient streams. So that was planning. We planned like crazy to get there. And it takes a lot of planning in terms of permits, working with local governments, trying to raise money—these expeditions are not cheap, and we live in a time where funding for science, particularly basic science, is very challenged. So it took a lot of planning.
But then the actual moment of discovery is usually some dumb, bizarre luck-chance thing that happens, it really is. You're walking one day, and you see a little glimmer of something that doesn't look like it should be there on the ground. You pick it up and there's a bone. Well, what if that day was cloudy instead of sunny? What if the light was coming at a different angle? Or what if your head wasn't in it, and you're thinking about home or something, you know what I mean? There's all this serendipity that happens at that final moment. For us, in fact, the moment when the site for Tiktaalik was discovered, there was a degree of serendipity. Jason Downs was the one who discovered it. Jason was a college undergraduate who joined us. He happened on the site, and golly-gee, had he walked 10 feet in another direction, he wouldn't have seen the site. So you plan like crazy to get to some place. But then usually the act of discovery, that moment, is usually kind of random [laughs]. And funny—sometimes they're hilarious.
Revolution: How so?
Neil Shubin: For instance, when I was a graduate, back in the ’80s, I was working in Nova Scotia. And we had planned like crazy. At that time I was really interested in the origin of mammals—an evolutionary event that happened around 200 million years ago. So we had made all kinds of plans to go to the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. And it was great for fossils, but we weren't finding exactly what we were after. It turns out this place has super-high tides. If you didn't plan your trip to the beach right, you would get stuck. It wouldn't be terribly life-threatening, but you'd be sitting on a pinnacle of rock for a couple of hours, skipping stones or whatever. So one night we were called to judge a local beauty contest for this town we were staying in. And we stayed up way too late and woke up the next morning too late because of that, and missed the tide. So we got stuck on this one pinnacle. And here, all this planning it had taken to get us to this site which was on the other end of this pinnacle of rock, but here we're stuck on this place for two hours. So we got bored and started looking at the rocks there. And the rocks there are not the kind that you'd ever look for fossils in, they look like they're volcanic. But it turned out there were fossils in them. And boom—if we'd never judged that beauty contest, we'd never have been stuck, we would never have found these really cool fossils that came out of that pinnacle of rock.
Revolution: You write in Your Inner Fish of a biological "law of everything"—"that every living thing on the planet had parents"—and how this law is "so profound that most of us take it completely for granted." Why is the fact that every living thing had parents so important?
Neil Shubin: What it means is that each of us as individuals can trace a biological lineage. We have biological families. And you can make a biological family tree. Now my children are adopted. They're part of my family, but they have a biological lineage that's separate from their social one. Regardless, we have a biological lineage that we can trace, from my parents to grandparents, my biological great-grandparents, all the way on. And that's true because I'm a modified descendant of my father and mother. My parents are modified descendants of their parents. Well, it turns out we can use the same techniques that we use as biologists to decipher our own family trees—like the DNA mapping projects that you read about, or the forensics that put people in jail, things like that. We can use them to find a broader family tree, the family tree that's the family tree of our species, to show that we as a species are modified descendants of another species, and so forth. So this tree of life concept, which we're so familiar with in our own personal lives, actually has a deeper meaning for us, because it means there's a deeper tree of life that relates us to everything from apes that are walking the earth today to jellyfish to squid…you name it. And it's interesting that oftentimes the techniques that do these things are very identical. The beauty of this is that we're intimately connected to the rest of life. Not only that, we're part of a family tree with the rest of life. We're relatives. That family tree is knowable—that's the fun thing. We can decipher it. We can do it by looking at molecules, the DNA. Or we can look at bones or fossils.
Revolution: Some animals have only one parent instead of two.
Neil Shubin: Yeah, some are clones. But you can still trace their genetic history. So let's remove the parent concept for a second and think genetic lineage, that you can trace the genetic continuity. And you can even do that to things that are not living, all the way back in time. That is, the DNA molecules, the RNA molecules—the molecules themselves have a lineage from a simpler molecule. So lineage is the very important thing, genetic lineage if you will. That doesn't mean that nurture, the way we're raised, is not important. But we have an internal lineage inside of us, a family tree.
Revolution: In the 1800s, the anatomist Richard Owen made, as you describe it, a "remarkable discovery"—that the limbs of creatures as different as frogs and humans are very similar, essentially "variations of a theme." To Owen, these similarities showed the plan of a Creator. Then came Darwin a short while later with an "elegant explanation" for these similarities. What was the leap in understanding that Darwin brought forward? Why do you describe it as “elegant”?
Neil Shubin: The leap is, essentially, that Owen's plan—one bone, two bones, little bones, and limbs, which is the arm of a bat, wing of a bird, arm of a human—that pattern to Darwin was evidence of common descent. That the reason why creatures had that similar pattern is not because of a highly organized creator, but it's material evidence of the fact that these creatures share a common ancestor in the distant past, that they're related. Now the reason why that's elegant is because it not only explained Owen's pattern, but it made predictions, which then you can go out and test. That's the beauty of it. With Owen's plan, it's just there. Oh, the Creator made it, good, let's move on, find the next plan. This one's different. This one says: here's the material reason. And now knowing that, well, you know what—you should be able to find how that plan was assembled in fish, or before that, in creatures that we call worms today, and so forth. It should have a history. And that history you should be able to find. That's what led to Tiktaalik.
Revolution: Your book goes into many fascinating examples of how various structures of the human body can be traced back through evolutionary history in often unexpected ways. For instance, you point out that one might think that our skeletons began with features like the backbones or body armor of earlier creatures, but that is not actually the case. Can you go into how the skeleton actually evolved?
Neil Shubin: Our skeleton is hard, right? I knock on this table, and it's really hard. And it's good, because if we didn't have a skeleton that was hard, we'd be just like a mass of goo, and we wouldn't be able to live on land, it'd be lots of blobs moving around. There are a lot of theories about why hard parts developed. Did they evolve to protect animals—like bony armor? Did they evolve to support the skeleton, or for mineral balance? But it turns out that the first things we find that are hard in our lineage (there are other things that are hard—clams are hard, and things like that), but our kind of hardness, which is brought by a particular kind of molecule which we have called hydroxyapatite, that kind of hardness originally appeared in a tooth-like structure. So the first things that were hard were not there to protect creatures—they were there to chew them up [laughs]. Teeth are really important.
Revolution: Related to the tooth question, there were these common fossils in ancient oceans, called conodonts, that, for a long while, were a mystery to scientists.
Neil Shubin: Yeah, they didn't know what they were. If you go to certain places in the world and you crack rocks, say over 250 millions years old, like go to the era of oceans when Tiktaalik was around, you'll find places where there are these conodonts. You crack the rocks, you'll find these really tiny…put them under the microscope and they look like tiny little teeth for all the world. For a long time people didn't know what they were, because they never found an animal that had these things. Turns out that what we call conodonts are actually the teeth of a larger creature which we now call the conodont animal. The mystery was solved when people discovered whole animals, and it turns out they're teeth, the earliest known.
Revolution: You note that "One of the joys of being a scientist is that the natural world has the power to amaze and surprise." Would you give us a particular example of this—what has really amazed and surprised you?
Neil Shubin: When I was in graduate school in the early ’80s, people were beginning to work on flies. People were looking at development—embryology—by looking at frogs, flies, and mice. I remember at the time thinking, what is the development of a fly going to teach us about how our own bodies are made? Well, here's the power of surprises. Many of the versions of the same genes that build our bodies from front to back, that define the body axis, are present in flies, doing versions of the same thing. So what surprised me, as well as a lot of other people, was the discovery in the mid- to late-'80s of the common genetic tool kit to build bodies—bodies as different as flies, humans, and worms. I would not have predicted that. And there's a beauty to that when it's more elegant than just the surprise—it's the order of it. Our world is not put together piecemeal. When you start to learn more and more, we start to discover that the more we know of the history, the more things become ordered to some extent—you can make sense of stuff. Just like you can make sense of your own pre-disposition to diseases if you know your genetic lineage, or the environments you were raised in. It tells a lot about yourself.
Revolution: As a part of the title of your book notes, the human body has a 3.5-billion-year-history. Now, three and a half billions years ago, the only living things on earth were microbes with just a single cell. By contrast, there are trillions of cells that compose the human body. In what sense can we speak of our "inner microbe"?
Neil Shubin: Oh yeah, the choice of the title was completely arbitrary. Well, not arbitrary. As a scientist, I could have called it "Your Inner Worm," "Your Inner Microbe," a lot of things. But I work with fish. Fish are a wonderful way to think of our own bodies. That's why I called it "Your Inner Fish." But I could have chosen many different points of our evolutionary past and given the title there. It's just for me, personally, the entry point has been fish. So that's my fishy bias. But the thing is, if you want to understand yourselves, you have to understand different parts of our tree to explain different parts of ourselves. If you want to understand what makes us unique relative to other primates, well then you have to understand our humanity. If you want to understand why our head is shaped the way it is, well you have to understand the history we share with primates, but you also have to understand the history we share with other mammals, with reptiles, with fish. So it's these deep layers upon layers of history that make us.
Revolution: But how can we trace our history back to single-cell microbes?
Neil Shubin: It's beautiful because if you look at the structure of our DNA, if you look at how our DNA works, if you look at how our cells work, how we metabolize oxygen, if you look at the molecular machinery that guides the workings of our cells, and how our cells interact with one another, that's the microbe bit. So again it's layers after layers of our history buried inside of us. So the fish-like bits of us, you see in our skeletons. You see in our nerves, and so forth. But the microbial bit, you actually find in the machinery of our cells, of our genes. So that's an example of our three-and-a-half-billion year history. Well, there's stuff from a billion years ago. How our cells make energy—we breathe oxygen and eat food, we work our muscles, we're using energy. Well, the whole machinery to do that is a microbial feature. In fact my ability to talk to you right now, and your ability to hear me, and our ability to move—thank you, microbes [laughs].
Revolution: You write that life in your research lab can be very "schizophrenic," because it is split directly into two, half devoted to fossils and the other to embryos and DNA. You've talked about this some, but how are these different areas of study linked?
Neil Shubin: To decipher a family tree, what you need are many different lines of evidence. Think of solving a mystery. There's a murder. How does a good detective solve a murder mystery? Well, they're going to pull in as many lines of evidence as possible. Hopefully they have some eyewitnesses. But short of that, they're going to need a ton of independent lines of evidence. Well, it's the same thing with us. We pull in as many lines of evidence to understand our history as possible. Fossils are one line of evidence. The DNA records are another line of evidence. But the fact of the matter is that it's strongest when both those lines of evidence point to the same thing. When the DNA inside the cells of living creatures gives us the same story as the fossils that we find up in the Arctic, then we know that we're on to something very powerful. That's the idea.
Revolution: There is a very poetic passage in your book: “If you know how to look, our body becomes a time capsule that, when opened, tells of critical moments in the history of our planet and of a distant past in ancient oceans, streams, and forests. Changes in the ancient atmosphere are reflected in the molecules that allow our cells to cooperate to make bodies. The environment of ancient streams shaped the basic anatomy of our limbs. Our color vision and sense of smell has been molded by life in ancient forests and plains. And the list goes on. This history is our inheritance, one that affects our lives today and will do so in the future.” How does this inheritance affect our lives now and in the future?
Neil Shubin: I was born with a hernia which had to be corrected [laughs]—that's a good example. We evolved in many different environments. Our common ancestors that we share with the rest of life on the planet lived in starkly different environments than today, which sometimes leads to problems. Fish don't walk on two legs, we do. Yet we use some of the same structures that originally evolved in fish. So what you have is a body that can be seen as sort of a jerry-rigged device. Every piece of us has been modified or re-purposed in different ways through evolutionary time. And what that means, when you re-purpose things, it's not the ideal solution. We're not very intelligently designed. We're very unintelligently designed in a lot of different ways—we're historically designed. Our bodies are a testament to the power of history. Nowhere is it more clear than in the bizarre loops and turns some of the vessels and nerves in our bodies take. And one of those loops is in males, unfortunately, the spermatic cord, which gives males, as compared to females, a greater tendency to develop a certain kind of hernia in the lower part of the abdominal wall. So that history is our inheritance, and oftentimes that inheritance causes us a little bit of grief [laughs], because we live in a different world. I'm sitting in a very soft chair for eight hours a day. I can guarantee you the common ancestor we share with other mammals did not sit in a soft chair for eight hours a day [laughs].
Revolution: What about your point about that inheritance affecting the future?
Neil Shubin: Think of what we humans are as creatures. We're so different in some ways with our cognitive abilities. We're able to devise gizmos and technologies to sort of overcome our inheritance, to some extent. I had that hernia I was born with. OK, that was my past, but guess what, our technological present led to technologies that fixed that hernia. I have nearsightedness, pretty severe nearsightedness. Which would mean, if left to my own devices, natural selection would have weeded me out. But we have this wonderful technology [pointing to his glasses] which has helped us—that kind of thing.
And so what that means is, if you think about our future, it's increasingly going to be driven by the choices we make with our social structures, our technologies, how we're going to deploy them, how we're going to use them, what they are. Frankly, the more we understand about our bodies, the more we can change them. It's not inconceivable that in the future we can have technologies which affect our ability to think, to recall things, to run, to jump, to leap, to hit home runs [laughs]. We're already seeing that—human performance can change based on our technology. So frankly, our own evolution, to some extent, in terms of our performance, is going to be very much affected in the future by our ability to change ourselves—consciously. And those decisions are going to have all kinds of ramifications. We're going to have to make choices in how to deploy those, or whether we want to deploy them. More likely than not, they're just going to happen, and then we'll look back and think, we should have done something about that. Come back in 150 years and I guarantee you, humans will be running faster, thinking more—like, you want to learn French, here's a chip, put it right here in your brain, that kind of thing.
Revolution: At the end of your book you speak to “the power of science to explain and make our universe knowable,” and that “the unknown should not be a source of suspicion, fear, or retreat to superstition, but motivation to continue asking questions and seeking answers.” Could you expand on this?
Neil Shubin: For me, I was always raised in a tradition that the unknown should become known. A dark room is scary for a kid, but when you turn on the light it's not scary. And that's how knowledge is. It's like turning on a light in a room. You think about how the moon was thought to be, for years—there was all kinds of mythology about the moon. But once humankind made the trip to the moon and back, it became part of our world. You can go on the Internet and see pictures of the moon. You can see people walking on the moon. You can see moon rocks in the Museum of Science and Industry. The same thing is true with all branches of science. The more we learn about the DNA, the more we learn about how our bodies are built, our evolutionary history, we remove the chance for myth and superstition. The more we do that, the more we gain power over our own lives. Now, that means we face choices with things. But those shouldn't be scary—those should be informed choices. I see science as a light in a dark room. When my son is scared at night in a dark room, I'll turn on a little night light. Well, that light is knowledge in my own world.
Revolution: At the same time, there will always be more mysteries—a question is answered, then there'll be more questions.
Neil Shubin: Exactly. My world is full of questions. How do you think I'm approaching Tiktaalik? We answered some questions with Tiktaalik, but there are more questions that are opened up. Science is never-ending questions. We humans are never going to understand 100 percent of everything, obviously. It's always a battle to learn the truth. And scientific truth is different from most other kinds of truth in that it's a truth that we strive for. We never actually claim we have it entirely, because it sometimes slips out of our grasp. What we have is a method which can get us there. Scientific truth is important because it's truth that you and I can share. I can put it on the table, and I can tell you why that is a truth. And we can agree on principles to falsify it or confirm it, right? That's something that's important about science. Other forms of truths, you either accept it, based on your own background or belief system. In scientific truths, there is a right and a wrong. And that's what attracts me to it.
Revolution: You’re a provost at the Field Museum in Chicago, which has a very popular exhibit called "Our Evolving Planet," among other things. You’ve written a best-selling book. You’ve taken the Tiktaalik fossil to schoolrooms. How do you see the importance of people broadly in society understanding science and the scientific method?
Neil Shubin: We have to do that, scientists have to get in the role of communicating what we do. It's important in several ways. Not only communicating the fact of evolution, the facts of the fossil record and of DNA. There's something else there—two other things. One is, science is a process. How do we scientists do it? It's not that we just open a book and say, aha, there's the fact. My “book” is in the Arctic, and we have to work really hard to find that stuff. We have to take some risks. So the “books” of science are in the test tubes and in the field and so forth. But the other piece of it is conveying also why it's fun. I love nothing more than receiving a letter from teachers or kids who want to learn more. If they're lucky to live in an area that has a great museum, that's fine. But the Internet is a great tool, and that's been a great equalizer in a lot of ways in giving people from remote areas the chance to see museums or encounter fossils and so forth. It's ever more important in our society. Look, we live in a society, United States, I don't know the current statistics, but over 60 percent believe in the story of the Genesis over the science of evolution. I think there's a gap there. Here we are in an increasingly technological society—look at what I just said about technology and our future. Yet we as a society are completely unequipped to evaluate that. So we owe it to our children and to our population, not just children—to people who might be scared of science because of experiences they had in school and so forth, to communicate its power and what we do. That was the spirit of my book. And that's also why I think museums are very important places.
Revolution: What do you see as some of the key questions and controversies in paleontology and evolutionary science today?
Neil Shubin: There's a lot of good stuff. Cutting-edge issues include, I think, understanding the dynamics of extinction—how species go extinct, and why. There is an ongoing question about why are certain areas of the world or certain time periods more diverse in species than others? Why is there more diversity of species in the tropics than there are in other places? Why do we see that pattern of diversity—what explains that, what's the mechanisms? Those kinds of questions are very important. And paleontology is actually making strides on those as we speak, but those are very important questions. And the other really big one, in terms of my own patch of the world, is understanding bodies. How bodies came about in the first place. We know a lot more than we did five years ago, and we're going to know a lot more five years from now. And that's going to be exciting to watch as we learn more about how cells came together to make bodies and other big questions.
Revolution: That goes back to the point about microbes—single-celled microbes were the only form of life for billions of years on earth, before multi-cellular creatures came about.
Neil Shubin: They had been coming together for a long time. But they hadn't been coming together in bodies. They had been coming together as mats or sheets of cells. What's a body, and what's really important about a body, is those cells had to have a mechanism where they could interact with one another. Bodies have an integrity to them that other kinds of organization don't. The way that happens is that these cells, these microbes, actually evolved over time ways to interact with one another. And it's interesting, microbes do that. Microbes interact. Microbes sense the outside world. And really what we have—the tool kit that makes bodies—is actually a modified version of that, which helps microbes interact with each other and the outside world. So that's why the continuity is still there. For me as a scientist, there's no doubt that that happened. The interesting puzzle comes down to how that happened, over what time frame, and so forth.
Revolution: Why did you decide to become a scientist, and how did you come to pursue your particular areas of research? Were you interested in science from an early age?
Neil Shubin: I was this kid—still the same way—I would have a hobby of the month. It would drive my parents nuts. They bought me a telescope—"I'm really into astronomy." So I subscribed to Sky and Telescope and I learned a lot about astronomy. Four months later I got bored of it. So I got a stamp collection, got really into it. So I would go from hobby to hobby to hobby to hobby. I would eventually loop back to old hobbies—the telescope never got thrown away; in fact, I still have it somewhere. So I was always curious, and science has always been an outlet for my curiosity. But the actual paleontology end of things—it combines a lot of cool stuff for me that I like to do. It combines strengths—it's important to find a career where you can use your strengths, not your weaknesses [laughs]. I enjoy going out in the field. I enjoy finding fossils—my strength is the ability to find fossils, I've always been good at that. It's nice to have a career where I can put that to good use. But the important thing is, you have to really enjoy it. Because most of the time I'm not finding anything. It's the hunt. It's the exhilaration. I like starting a new expedition, having the expectation and the risk. That's kind of fun. But for paleontology, one of the immediate appeals is the "eureka" moment—there is a moment in paleontology, if you're successful, you find something. And that's something you can hold and say, "aha"—like Tiktaalik. That's what you look for. Now I'm looking for the next one.
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
From May 19 to May 22, nearly 300 immigrant workers were railroaded through a makeshift federal criminal court set up at the National Cattle Congress fairgrounds in Waterloo, Iowa—given five-month prison sentences, after which they will be deported out of the U.S. These immigrants were caught in a massive round-up on Monday, May 12, when armed agents swooped down on the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in the town of Postville with arrest warrants for almost 700 out of the 968 workers there. Officials said that the raid—involving Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security) along with more than a dozen other federal, state, and local agencies—was the largest immigration raid at a single workplace in U.S. history.
The agents took away 389 immigrant workers from the meatpacking plant that day. This is part of the intensifying fascist offensive targeting immigrants in this country—including raids at workplaces and neighborhoods, mobilization of right-wing vigilantes, draconian anti-immigrant laws passed by cities and states, building of walls and other stepped-up military measures at the border, etc. On May 23, ICE announced that their agents had made more than 900 arrests in California in a three-week “sting” operation to catch people under deportation orders. Last year alone, ICE deported 275,000 immigrants.
According to the government, the immigrants arrested at Agriprocessors are “guilty” of fraud—of using fake Social Security numbers and other documents. These workers—mostly from Guatemala—are among the millions of people from Central America, Mexico, and other parts of the world who could no longer feed themselves and their families in their home countries where the economies and whole societies have been devastated because of imperialist domination and plunder. They traveled north, often risking their lives to cross the deserts at the U.S./Mexico border, and came to work at the meatpacking plant in rural Iowa, forced to endure extremely dangerous conditions for low pay. In order to get these jobs, the immigrants had to get IDs through whatever means available. And now they are branded as “criminals” for this.
The huge raid at Agriprocessors—which suddenly put more than 10 percent of Postville’s 2,500 residents in prison—has devastated and terrorized the immigrants and the whole town (and has sent tremors through immigrant communities across the U.S.). The day after, half of the local school system’s 600 students were absent because their parents were arrested or were in hiding. The school superintendent said that the situation “is like a natural disaster—only this one is manmade.” Hundreds of immigrants took refuge in a local church. Dozens of local businesses shut down. One business owner told the British paper Globe and Mail, “We got raped and we got plundered and we got pillaged Monday. Everybody in this town ought to be angry.” (“Hardening the line on illegal workers,” May 23, 2008)
Criminalizing Immigrant Workers
But the size of the raid is not the only thing that is very alarming about what has been happening here. In the past, immigrants caught without “proper documents” have usually been brought before immigration hearings and charged with visa violation, which is a civil law matter. But in an unprecedented move, the government hit the hundreds of workers arrested in the Agriprocessors raid with criminal charges—for simply working without “proper” legal documents. This is a clear and dangerous escalation in the government’s move to criminalize undocumented immigrants—and to drive them even deeper into a caste-like status where they are brutally exploited with the constant threat of jail and deportation over their heads. Juliet Stumpf, an immigration law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, told the New York Times, “To my knowledge, the magnitude of these indictments is completely unprecedented. It’s the reliance on criminal process here as part of an immigration enforcement action that takes this out of the ordinary, a startling intensification of the criminalization of immigration law.” (“270 Illegal Immigrant Workers Sent to Prison in Federal Push,” May 24, 2008)
For the four days of the mass trials at the fairgrounds, the immigrant prisoners were held in a concentration camp-like setup behind barbed wire fences patrolled by armed guards. The immigrants—hands cuffed and with shackles on their legs—were brought into the temporary courtrooms in groups to enter their plea, and then moved to another room for sentencing.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union and others, the federal prosecutors forced the immigrants to accept plea bargains—by threatening that if the immigrants did not plead guilty to a “lesser” charge and go along with this “deal,” they would be hit with more serious criminal charges of identity theft. The heavier charges would have carried a mandatory sentence of at least 2 years, along with large fines.
And the immigrants were blatantly stripped of their rights to legal counsel and due process of law—which supposedly apply to anyone in this country, regardless of their status. A May 21 ACLU statement described the totally unjust proceedings that have been taking place in Iowa: “Groups of more than 20 meatpacking workers are typically represented by a single defense lawyer who for each group must decide complex immigration issues, assess criminal liability and counsel clients who do not speak English. The lawyers, who do not specialize in immigration law, must complete this task under the pressure of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s arbitrary plea bargain deadline of seven days. Within this deadline every lawyer and client must make a potentially irrevocable decision to plead guilty and go to jail and lose any immigration rights or fight the criminal charges and face up to two or more years in prison for allegedly engaging in ‘identity theft’ in order to work.
“The groups of immigrants are rushed through mass hearings that last only minutes and during the hearings are required to waive their right to an immigration hearing in exchange for better criminal plea agreements. Workers with legitimate claims to remain in the country legally—including immigrants with family members who are U.S. citizens or with legitimate claims of asylum or political persecution—are ostensibly barred from pursuing those claims under the criminal plea agreements.”
In a May 22 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) expressed “grave concern” for “the apparent disregard of the rights to meaningful assistance of counsel and due process” for those caught up in the Agriprocessors raid. The AILA pointed out what they called a “most striking” point: The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa issued a press release on May 12—the very day of the raid at Agriprocessors—announcing the temporary assignment of federal judges and court personnel to Waterloo “in response to the…prosecution of numerous illegal aliens…” As the AILA notes, this press release was issued “before any of those arrested and charged had been found to be an ‘illegal alien.’”
In other words, the U.S. government has been openly operating in this case on the outrageous principle that the immigrants are presumed guilty of what they are charged with even before any kind of trial.
The Fascist Clampdown—And the Need
Agriprocessors—the biggest kosher meatpacking plant in this country—opened on the edge of Postville in 1987. At first, the company hired mostly workers from the former Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe. The Globe & Mail noted, “As Stephen Bloom, the author of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America, puts it, the Eastern Europeans didn’t work at Agriprocessors a day longer than was absolutely necessary. As soon as they were established, they moved on to better paying, less dangerous jobs.”
Through the 1990s, the workforce at Agriprocessors became mainly Latino—first from Mexico, and then later mainly from Guatemala. A 2006 exposé in the Jewish Daily Forward revealed the kind of conditions that the workers face at the plant: “One of those workers—a woman who agreed to be identified by the pseudonym Juana—came to this rural corner of Iowa a year ago from Guatemala. Since then, she has worked 10-to-12-hour night shifts, six nights a week. Her cutting hand is swollen and deformed, but she has no health insurance to have it checked. She works for wages, starting at $6.25 an hour and stopping at $7, that several industry experts described as the lowest of any slaughterhouse in the nation. Juana and other employees at Agriprocessors…receive virtually no safety training. This is an anomaly in an industry in which the tools are designed to cut and grind through flesh and bones. In just one month last summer, two young men required amputations; workers say there have been others since. The chickens and cattle fly by at a steady clip on metal hooks, and employees said they are berated for not working fast enough.”
Juana said, “Being here, you see a lot of injustice. But it’s a small town. It’s the only factory here. We have no choice.” (“In Iowa Meat Plant, Kosher ‘Jungle’ Breeds Fear, Injury, Short Pay,” May 26, 2006)
Such super-exploitation has made undocumented immigrant workers indispensable to the capitalist rulers. They need these immigrants to keep the U.S. economy profitable—and the money that the workers send back home has also helped to maintain stability in those countries in the interests of imperialism. But at the same time, there is an intense contradiction for the rulers, who face the necessity of strengthening the whole “cohering glue” of society—to “keep it all together” from the standpoint of their interests. In this light, the presence of millions of people in this country who are living “outside the law” presents serious problems for the rulers, and they are moving viciously to terrorize and clamp down on immigrants, as well as those who come to their aid. And the kind of blatant violation of basic rights going on through this—as seen in the mass trials of the Agriprocessors workers—is part of the overall ramping up of repression and fascistic “norms” in this country.
What is happening to immigrants in this country today is like the rounding up of Jews and others in Nazi Germany. The urgent question is: Will these horrors be allowed to go on, with only a few voices raised by people of conscience…or will there be a huge uproar and determined resistance throughout society to bring these crimes to a stop?
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
On May 2, 2008, Cyclone Nargis swept through the country of Myanmar, leaving in its wake a catastrophic human disaster. Deaths are estimated as high as 100,000 people, and at least one million are now homeless. Entire towns and villages have been washed away. 10,000 people died in one coastal town alone.
The densely populated Irawaddy Delta of 6 million people, with many fishing communities, was hit hard. Yangon (the former capital) on the edge of the Delta, where another 6.5 million people lived, was completely flooded. Flimsy houses in the poor shantytowns around cities were demolished. Some 24 million people in the five disaster-hit states—almost half of Myanmar’s population of 57 million—were affected by the cyclone with its 120 mph winds and 12-foot waves that surged up to seven miles inland.
Even areas not hit as hard are now running out of food and water. Crops, livestock, and fish have been ruined, along with irrigation systems, rice mills, and storage barns. The areas hit by the cyclone make up half of the irrigated farmland in Myanmar—which had produced 65 percent of Myanmar's rice. Millions of people who survived are now facing hunger, disease and lack of shelter.
People around the world are witnessing the terrible plight of the Myanmar people unfold before their eyes. In the face of such immense human tragedy, there is hope that everything possible will be done to provide aid and relieve the terrible suffering.
There is tremendous wealth, resources, and technology in the world that could be used to respond to this disaster. There is no shortage of people with skills and compassion that could be mobilized to help. But clearly, this is not happening.
The Western mainstream media says this is because: The U.S. and other countries are trying to help but a despotic regime in Myanmar is refusing to cooperate and is therefore to blame for the high death toll and continuing suffering.
This article will break down this storyline, look at what’s behind it and compare it to reality.
To understand the situation in Myanmar today you have to examine two interpenetrating contradictions. One is the relations between the world imperialist system and Myanmar as a poor country oppressed and dominated by global capitalism. The other dynamic is the geostrategic importance of Myanmar to imperialism and the rivalry between different capitalist countries in the region. These larger factors have deeply influenced the extent and character of the destruction caused by the cyclone, as well as the rescue and relief efforts.
Natural Disasters and Man-Made Conditions
The official storyline argues: In the face of natural disasters like Cyclone Nargis, humanitarian aid trumps everything. Condoleezza Rice says: “What remains is for the Burmese government to allow the international community to help its people. It should be a simple matter. It is not a matter of politics.”
“The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism.”
In reality: There are terrible natural disasters human beings have little control over. But what happens in the face of such catastrophes is profoundly affected by the organization of human society. So, to answer Condoleezza Rice: It is NOT a “simple matter” of relief efforts. It IS very much a matter of politics, economic relations, and power relations, from beginning to end.
Disaster relief and aid—both within a particular country, and between particular countries—doesn’t take place in a vacuum.
We live on a planet where human life is susceptible to tornados, tsunamis, cyclones, and earthquakes. Scientific understanding exists to predict and prepare, to a certain degree, for such acts of nature. But whether and how this works and what happens in the wake of such disasters is profoundly imprinted with and goes through the workings of the world capitalist system.
Look what did and did not happen before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. Everyone saw how power relations in society, poverty, and the oppression of Black people affected who got out and who didn’t; who died and who survived. Everyone saw how all the inequalities that already existed affected what happened as the floodwaters rose.
Natural disasters do not “discriminate”—people all over the world are hit by tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes. But different people and different countries are not affected equally.
We live in a hugely lopsided world where a handful of rich, imperialist countries dominates the rest of the planet. The U.S. sits at the top of a global capitalist system driven and shaped by the maximization of profit. The majority of people live in poor countries oppressed and dominated by imperialism and by social-economic structures that reflect and reinforce the interests of local elites who are subordinate to imperialism. Development of these countries has been stunted and distorted by imperialism. And all this profoundly affects the capacity and ability of governments and people to respond to a natural disaster.
Myanmar already faced rising costs for basic foods, commodities, and especially fuel. 10 percent of the population did not receive enough food to meet its basic daily needs. In many rural areas 70 percent lived under the absolute poverty line. Shantytowns surrounded the cities.
What we see now is a vivid example of how the poverty and distorted development that comes from being dominated and oppressed by foreign powers can turn a natural disaster into catastrophic human tragedy. As Debarati Guha-Sapir, Director of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Brussels, said: “The villages are in such levels of desperation — housing quality, nutritional status, roads, bridges, dams — that losses were more determined by their condition rather than the force of the cyclone.”
It is also the case that international political relations—where Western imperial powers are generally hostile to the military regime in Myanmar—are behind the contentiousness over aid getting into Myanmar. China’s economic interests and political relationship with Myanmar have factored into international relief efforts. And Myanmar’s economic and political relationships with other countries in South Asia have also figured into what aid has been offered.
“Isolated” from the World?
The official storyline says: Myanmar is run by a bunch of dictators who chose to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.
Reality: Myanmar society is repressive and relatively closed off from the outside world. The reactionary military regime seeks to maintain power and control society through brutal force and by limiting contact with the rest of the world. But this is not why the U.S. criticizes Myanmar.
What the U.S. really means when it says Myanmar has “isolated” itself is that Myanmar has not fully opened its doors to U.S. imperialism. The military regime has not been completely pliable, compliant, and subservient to the United States. And now it has refused to accept aid from the U.S. that has all kinds of conditions and potential “strings attached”—such as Bush’s insistence that Myanmar open its borders to U.S. officials, aid workers and military personnel.
It is not surprising that Myanmar hesitated to accept U.S. help, given there is open speculation and discussion about the use of U.S. military aircraft, troops, and warships to deliver aid. A Time magazine headline read: “Is It Time to Invade Burma?” And France is pushing to invoke a UN “responsibility to protect” doctrine to deliver aid without Myanmar’s permission.
U.S. sanctions on Myanmar (that began in 1997 and have since been extended) ban new investments in the country and prohibit imports into the U.S. from Myanmar. The U.S. says it maintains these sanctions because of human rights abuses. But in fact, this U.S. “isolation” of Myanmar is aimed at undermining and destabilizing the government and creating conditions to bring to power a regime more subservient to the United States.
Reality: In fact, Myanmar is not “isolated” and cut off from the rest of the world. Historically and up to today, Myanmar’s development has been conditioned by its integration into and subordination tothe global system of imperialism.
Burma (which changed its name to Myanmar in 1989) was a colony of British imperialism for over 60 years. In fact the commercial production of oil in Myanmar dates back to 1871 when British colonialists set up the Rangoon Oil Company.
Since formal independence in 1948, different imperialist powers have exploited the country’s people and plundered its resources. It is beyond the scope of this article to review this history. But an example of imperialist control and development of Myanmar’s energy resources provides a picture of the country’s relationship to the world capitalist system.
Myanmar has the world's tenth largest gas reserves. It has been producing natural gas since the 1970s. Today, gas exports are Myanmar's most important source of national income.
In the 1990s Myanmar granted gas concessions to foreign companies from France and Great Britain. Later Texaco and Unocal (now absorbed into ChevronTexaco) gained rights to Myanmar’s gas as well.
In 2005 other countries in the region, including China, Thailand, and South Korea invested in Myanmar’s oil and gas industry.
What did this mean for the masses of people in Myanmar?
In 1996 a human rights suit was filed against the American-based Unocal Corp. A group of villagers accused Unocal of using forced labor conscripted by Myanmar soldiers. Villagers were raped, murdered, and brutally relocated during the construction of a $1.2 billion gas pipeline to Thailand, started in 1990.
The suit, which Unocal settled in 2004, brought to light the kind of horrible crimes that were being committed by a consortium of foreign companies, including Unocal, all of which were receiving support and protection from the military regime.
One woman testified how soldiers came to her home, shot her husband, and killed her baby. Other villagers recounted how their neighbors were executed because they refused to leave the area Unocal wanted. Two girls said soldiers raped them at knifepoint (The Nation, June 30, 2003). Human Rights Watch interviewed hundreds of villagers who were driven from their homes and farms, many forced to work at gunpoint and beaten by guards.
The UN issued warnings of serious human rights abuses in 1995. After such embarrassing evidence came out, Texaco left the country in 1997. But Unocal retained 28 percent interest in the pipeline.
The U.S. State Department even acknowledged forced labor was being used. But still the U.S. government openly defended Unocal in this suit. Then Attorney General John Ashcroft filed a brief denouncing the villagers' attempt to sue Unocal, arguing that the suit (and similar suits) should be dismissed because they interfere with U.S. foreign policy and undermine the U.S. “war on terrorism.”
Today, on the blood and bones of the Myanmar people, the Unocal pipeline transports some 700 million cubic feet of gas per day.
This story provides a window into Myanmar’s relationship to world imperialism – how the development of Myanmar has been conditioned by its integration into and subordination tothe global system of imperialism.
Beyond the interest of imperialism in profiting off the resources and people in Myanmar there is the geostrategic importance of this in the world. And this is a big factor in how the U.S. and various international forces look at their relationship with Myanmar and how they have responded to the current disaster.
U.S. Geostrategic Interests in Myanmar
The official storyline: Laura Bush joined the chorus of U.S. critics calling the Myanmar government “inept” for failing to alert people about the cyclone and standing in the way of getting humanitarian aid to people.
Reality: It is shameless and utter hypocrisy for the U.S. to be criticizing any government for not helping people in the face of a natural disaster. The U.S. has more money and resources than any other country in the world—many, many times those of a poor country like Myanmar. But when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the Bush regime was responsible for horrible humanitarian crimes. It failed to evacuate people to safety, abandoned thousands to die in the rising floodwaters and then subjected tens of thousands, overwhelmingly African-Americans, to the most inhuman and degrading treatment.
The inadequacies and failures of the Myanmar government in responding to the cyclone disaster have everything to do with two defining facts: its reactionary nature, and larger geo-political dynamics.
The military regime in Myanmar is an oppressive and corrupt force that has ruled the country since 1962. It has not hesitated to use the most brutal methods to crush any popular resistance and is widely hated by the people.
The military dominates and administers major aspects of the country’s economy. Only military personnel are allowed to own shares in the military-run corporations that form a significant part of the economy. Military officials occupy top positions in almost every government agency. It oversees a society and economy of great inequality and savage capitalist and semi-feudal exploitation.
In the last 15 years, the economy has in fact become more integrated with the world capitalist economy, especially through the development of the country’s oil and natural gas industries. The military has entered into various kinds of joint ventures with foreign energy companies—and, as in the case of Unocal [[see Part 1]], even provided these companies with brutally conscripted forced labor.
The reality is: The US criticism of the Myanmar government has nothing to do with concern for the victims of the cyclone. It has everything to do with cold calculations about how to use this disaster to further U.S. interests—to pry open the country, to weaken the military regime, and to create more favorable conditions for a full-out regime change. The U.S. wants to bring to power a government in Myanmar that more fully serves U.S. economic and political interests, including in relationship to U.S. contention with other capitalist powers. To understand this, we need to first of all look at the geostrategic interests the U.S. is pursuing in Myanmar.
Three great regions of Asia come together where Myanmar sits on the planet—China in the north, Southeast Asia in the south, and India in the west. Looking at a map, it becomes clear how Myanmar is key to establishing land-links between Central Asia in the west, Japan in the east and Russia in the north.
Off the coast of Myanmar is the Strait of Malacca. This waterway between Malaysia and Indonesia is one of the world’s most strategic water passages. It links the Indian and Pacific Oceans and is the shortest sea route between the Persian Gulf and China. Each and every day, supertankers carrying more than 12 million barrels of oil pass through this strait. More than 80% of all China's oil imports are shipped through this waterway.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has been trying to strengthen its military influence in this region—arguing that this is part of the “war on terror.” The U.S. has set out to further and deepen its empire in the world. The focus of the U.S. right now is dominating and controlling the Middle East. At the same time there is a whole complex of world contradictions in which control in Southeast Asia is highly important.
The U.S. has been virulently critical of the military government in Myanmar—not because of the regime’s reactionary nature. The real reason for U.S. hostility towards Myanmar is because its government is not the kind of pliant pro-U.S. neo-colonial state the United States wants and needs in the region.
It is no secret that the U.S. wants a “regime change” in Myanmar. It plays the “human rights card,” backs pro-U.S. anti-government movements, and aims to demonize and strangle the regime through sanctions and other measures. The military regime in turn has responded by seeking closer ties with China and other countries in the region. And part of the reason the U.S. wants greater influence and control in Southeast Asia (including in Myanmar) is that it wants to counter China’s growing regional strength.
Capitalist China has invested heavily in countries in Southeast Asia and has looked to profit off of Myanmar’s timber, minerals and natural gas. Myanmar provides an overland route for Chinese goods to the Indian Ocean. Trade between the two countries has grown. Since 1989 China has given the Myanmar regime some $1.5 billion worth of military hardware.
For the U.S., Myanmar is a strategically important choke point in relationship to economic and geo-strategic interests. And now the U.S. is looking for ways to exploit the devastating tragedy in Myanmar to step up its maneuverings for a “regime change” in Myanmar. Bush stated: “We're prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country.”
Economist and author F. William Engdahl has written about U.S. efforts to bring about “regime change” in Myanmar and the particular role of the National Endowment for Democracy, an entity funded by the U.S. government and designed to support U.S. foreign policy objectives. Engdahl says:
“The U.S. State Department has recruited and trained key opposition leaders from numerous anti-government organizations in Myanmar. Since 2003, the U.S. has provided the NED with more than $2.5 million a year for activities that promote a regime change in Myanmar. The NED funds key opposition media including the New Era Journal, Irrawaddy and the Democratic Voice of Burma radio... In reality the U.S. State Department has recruited and trained key opposition leaders from numerous anti-government organizations in Myanmar. It has poured the relatively huge sum (for Myanmar) of more than $2.5 million annually into NED activities in promoting regime change in Myanmar since at least 2003.”
All this is behind the scenes and clearly at play now as the U.S. offers assistance and aid to Myanmar in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. Such “humanitarian help” comes with political strings and a whole imperialist agenda. The Bush administration says a condition for aid is that U.S. officials, aid workers and military personnel be allowed to come into Myanmar and directly handle emergency relief operations—rather than let the authorities in Myanmar administer and deliver the aid.
In 1997 the U.S. imposed sanctions against Myanmar, which prohibited new investments in the country. In 2003 the U.S. banned Myanmar imports into the U.S. and restricted financial transactions with named government officials. In 2007 Bush imposed new financial sanctions against Myanmar, freezing U.S. assets of additional members of the military government. One week before the cyclone hit Myanmar, the U.S. ban on trade and investment and the freezing of assets for the country was strengthened even further. Then on May 17, two weeks after the cyclone, Bush ordered the sanctions to remain in effect. This has only further exacerbated the economic plight of the people in Myanmar. Meanwhile ChevronTexaco continues to operate its gas pipeline project in Myanmar, which is the single largest foreign investment project in the country and the single largest source of income for the military regime.
When a terrible natural disaster strikes a country like Myanmar, millions of people are affected; many lives hang in the balance. Humanity’s knowledge and resources need to be brought together. People need to be mobilized to save lives, provide medical care and deliver food. But in the world today—dominated by the global system of capitalism—the driving interests of profit, not the needs of the people, are put first and foremost.
Today in such human catastrophes, the outmoded economic, political and social relations of imperialism stand out in stark relief. The world needs revolution, and things could be a different way. In a whole new socialist society power would be in the hands of the people. Society’s resources and knowledge and, most especially, the compassion, creativity, and political consciousness of the masses, could and would be fully mobilized to build a whole new emancipating society that will be able to figure out and solve all kinds of problems, including how to deal with natural disasters.
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
Check it Out!
A recent New York Times article by Nina Bernstein reported on the death of Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea. Here’s how the Times describes Mr. Bah’s treatment in the New Jersey detention center where he was being held for overstaying his tourist visa: “shackled and pinned to the floor of the medical unit as he moaned and vomited, then left in a disciplinary cell for more than 13 hours, despite repeated notations that he was unresponsive and intermittently foaming at the mouth.”
The Visitor, a new film by director/writer Thomas McCarthy, gives viewers a glimpse into the lives of some of the immigrants held in these horrific detention centers. But it is much more than that. The simple and moving film tells the story of four people whose lives become intertwined. There’s Walter, a 62-year-old white economics professor who is sort of going aimlessly through life, more dead than alive. Walter, sent by his college to deliver a paper at a conference in New York City, discovers that two immigrants, Tarek, a drummer from Syria, and Zainab, his Senegalese girlfriend who sells handmade jewelry at flea markets, are living in his apartment. As the film unfolds, the characters interact and bring into each other’s lives part of the picture of this world we live in, in ways that are surprising but also real. When a disaster happens, Walter is compelled to decide whether he will stand with Tarek, Zainab, and Tarek’s mother, Mouna; or look away from what is happening.
Along the way we get a view of one of the “detention centers,” a windowless warehouse-like building in Queens; walking by, one would never guess it houses hundreds of immigrants who have committed no crime other than being driven from their homelands to the U.S. by the economic and political workings of imperialism. Here immigrants are kept for months or even years, and people are transferred across the country with no warning to the immigrants and their families. Where prisoners, most of whom cannot afford lawyers, are kept in small cells, whose only exposure to light comes from a hole in the roof of a cell they are allowed into for brief periods. Where family is often unable to visit for fear that they too will be locked up.
McCarthy says that the idea for the film came to him when he visited Lebanon with his previous film, The Station Agent, and led an actors’ workshop. Many of the young artists he met became models for the character of Tarek. Returning to New York, he started making friends with people in the Middle Eastern community and started visiting people in detention centers. “All I can do is present it and I do know that all of these experiences are, for me, personal experiences. They’re not fictional experiences,” McCarthy said in an interview.
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
More than a bookstore, Revolution Books is a center of revolutionary ferment, a crucible where re-envisioned revolutionary communism interacts with all the streams of progressive, radical, and revolutionary life.
The store proceeds from an understanding that the problem in today’s world is capitalism/imperialism, and that a communist world brought into being by a revolution would be far better—and is possible.
At the heart of Revolution Books is the work of Bob Avakian. His radical re-envisioning of revolution and communism goes beyond even the best of previous socialist societies. This new synthesis is animating a new conversation at the store.
On its communist foundation, Revolution Books offers a diverse and cutting-edge collection of books on history, politics, philosophy, science, ecology, novels, the arts, poetry, religion and atheism, children’s literature, a section of Spanish-language books and a large selection of periodicals.
Most evenings at the store you’ll find a political discussion, author reading, debate, screening, performance, concert, or informal salon.
Selected events in June:
June 3, 10, 17, 24, 7 pm: Discussion of “Making Revolution, Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian
June 5, 7 pm: Jeff Sharlet, author of “THE FAMILY: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power”
June 19, 7 pm: Julie Salamon, author of “HOSPITAL”
June 23, 7 pm: David Shapiro performing the play “THE FEVER” by Wallace Shawn
Contributions are urgently needed to buy new books for the re-opening and pay for the bookshelves, floor, bathroom, espresso machine… the store has been closed for 6 weeks to renovate its new location. Revolution Books belongs to the people and relies on an all-volunteer staff and donations to survive and thrive in New York City.
Contributors of $500 or more will receive 10% discount on books for 1 year. Give to something that will really matter.
Send checks to:
Revolution Books • 146 W. 26th Street • New York City, NY 10001
Or go to www.revolutionbooksnyc.org to contribute online.
Come join the all-volunteer staff. Full or part-time, or just a few hours a week.
Open Monday-Saturday 12 to 7, Sunday 12 to 5 • 212-691-3345
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
Available on YouTube!
In a stimulating exchange which was held on April 23 in New York City, Chris Hedges spoke about his new book, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, and Sunsara Taylor spoke on behalf of Bob Avakian’s new book, Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World.
The 2 speeches are now available to be seen in 8 segments on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/AtheismGodMorality or search in YouTube for “Chris Hedges Sunsara Taylor”
Watch the speeches and spread the word to everyone you know!
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
BERKELEY, May 17—As parents, graduates, faculty and administration filed into the graduation ceremony at the Greek Theater for UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall Law School, they encountered a demonstration of over 200 people, including dozens in orange jumpsuits and black hoods. The demonstration—sponsored by Act Against Torture, the National Lawyers Guild, and World Can’t Wait—demanded that John Yoo be fired from his position at Boalt teaching constitutional law. The National Lawyers Guild, along with a growing number of other groups and individuals, has called on Boalt to fire John Yoo, and for high-ranking Bush officials and lawyers to be investigated and prosecuted for their role in the torture of prisoners.
The protest challenged people to confront the reality of torture being carried out by the U.S. There was a cage with two orange jump-suited “Guantánamo prisoners” and enlarged photos of Iraqi prisoners being tortured at Abu Ghraib. Protesters held up copies of the current issue of the East Bay Express, a weekly newspaper widely distributed in the Bay Area, that featured a front page article on Yoo titled “The Torture Professor.” A man, his head covered by a hood, stood on a box with his arms spread—a pose that has come to symbolize U.S.-backed torture. Members of the Bay Area Revolution Club held a banner reading “U.S. Imperialism Needs War and Torture. Humanity Needs Revolution and Communism.”
Carlos Mauricio, a survivor tortured at the hands of U.S.-backed death squads in El Salvador in the 1980s, spoke of how the United States trains military forces around the world to carry out torture in order to terrorize the people.
Graduates, their families, and law school faculty were challenged to wear orange ribbons and to take a stand against torture. Organizers estimate that about 5% of the graduates and 10% of family members wore the ribbons. “We called on the students to use this opportunity to go out into the world and right a terrible wrong, to take their degree and use it to prosecute John Yoo for war crimes,” said an organizer with World Can’t Wait. One of the most dramatic displays of opposition to John Yoo was a plane that flew over the graduation for about 15 minutes towing a banner that said “Shame on Yoo & UC—End Torture.”
Inside the graduation, two UC Berkeley students held a banner demanding that Yoo be fired. “I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time, to hold that sign up and know that there was a lot of people standing behind me and that this is the right thing to do,” one of the students holding the banner told Revolution. “When it comes down to it, you’ve got to put your foot down and stand there and be strong.”
Some law students expressed concern that the demand to fire Yoo was a threat to academic freedom and tenure. But as Reggie Dylan wrote in Revolution, “the demand to fire John Yoo is not based on his scholarship. John Yoo is a war criminal. He is a chief architect of the U.S. policy of open, legal torture… According to Human Rights Watch, more than a hundred people have died in U.S. detention in the so-called war on terror. The group has found 11 cases where the deaths resulted from torture, and others where torture was connected… John Yoo played an active, deliberate, and leading role in making all of this possible.”(See “Controversy Over Berkeley Law School’s Refusal to Fire Bush’s ‘Enabler’: Professor John Yoo Has Blood on His Hands!” online at revcom.us)
The fact that someone like John Yoo is teaching constitutional law at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, one with a history of progressive and radical politics, is an outrage and a challenge. Think of what it means to the families and relatives of those who have died at the hands of U.S. torturers—and to the people of the world—that Yoo is teaching at UC Berkeley or that other war criminals of the Bush regime like Donald Rumsfeld (who has been appointed a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University) are taking their places in the academic elite of society. That there isn’t a society-wide uproar about the moves by this government to make torture open and legal shows how far the U.S. has gone down the road where all of this is accommodated to and accepted as a “fact of life.” The current climate, where people are learning to live with torture, imperialist war, denial of basic rights, and more, must be urgently transformed—and, as part of this, the efforts of those who are demanding that Yoo be fired—and that he and others of the Bush regime be held accountable for war crimes—must be supported and joined.
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
The article in last week’s issue, “Response to Obama’s ‘Speech on Race’ Part 3: The Sixties, the System, and the Real Solution,” included a list of several factors that conditioned and gave rise to changes that took place in the U.S. in the 1960s in the situation for Black people. The first point in that list noted “international pressures facing U.S. imperialism.” However, to really understand the context in which the Sixties erupted in the U.S., those international factors need to be explored in more depth. They included contention with the Soviet Union, the upsurge of national liberation struggles around the world, and revolutionary China. As the article noted, during this period, the U.S. was portraying itself as the “great democracy,” in contrast to earlier colonial powers like Britain and France in the Third World. But the U.S. was also contending with the influence of the Soviet Union when it was a socialist country, looked to by people around the world for great accomplishments. This challenge, for example, was part of the framework for the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the long-established principle of “separate but (so-called) equal” that formally legalized the Jim Crow system in the South. The Soviet Union maintained credibility as an opponent of racism and imperialism even after capitalism was restored and the nature of that society changed radically in the mid-1950s. As the Soviet Union emerged as a contending imperialist power, socialist in name, but imperialist in reality, it pointed to the oppression of Black people in the U.S. to argue that alignment with the Soviet bloc represented a supposedly “liberating” alternative to the U.S. All this posed real problems for U.S. imperialism, and influenced some of the changes in U.S. laws and policies in the 1950s and ’60s—it was part of the whole complex mix of factors through which the struggle of Black people and the movements of the Sixties within the U.S. emerged.
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
May 27, Tuesday, 12 noon
The New Revolution Books opens its doors!
May 28, Wednesday, 7 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. Revolution: stereotypes, stage managers and the living process. Revolution arises out of a complex interplay of contradictions, within a particular country and internationally, and the interpenetration between those levels or dimensions. How do we understand this in the real and not with formulas or stereotypes?
Beginning June 4, Wednesdays, 7 pm
New series of discussions: “Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: WHAT IS BOB AVAKIAN’S NEW SYNTHESIS?”
312 West 8th Street 213-488-1303
May 27, Tuesday, 7 pm
Spanish language discussion of “The Science of Evolution, The Myth of Creationism—Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters”—first in a series of discussions of this amazing work by Ardea Skybreak. Why is evolution important for everyone to know? What did Darwin figure out? 2nd session is Tuesday, June 3, 7 pm: Is evolution something that just happened in the past or is it a process that is happening all the time in all living things?
May 29 and June 5, Thursday, 7 pm
Bilingual discussion of the current issue of Revolution/Revolución.
June 1, Sunday, 3 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. How can you make a revolution, how can you build a revolutionary movement, with a newspaper as your main political weapon? The next session is Sunday, June 8, 3:00 pm - Discussion of the slogan, "Fight the Power, and Transform the People for Revolultion."
2425 Channing Way near Telegraph Ave
May 27, Tuesday, 7 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian: “Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution”
June 5, Thursday, 7 pm
Khalil Bendib, author of Mission Accomplished: Wicked Cartoons by America’s Most Wanted Political Cartoonist
June 7, Saturday, 7 pm
Science Presentation: From the Big Bang to the Present—Galaxy Formation and Evolution
2626 South King Street
Every Monday, 6:15 pm
Revolution newspaper reading and discussion group
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” by Bob Avakian. We will focus on Part 2: Everything We’re Doing Is About Revolution.
Starting Sunday, June 15
Revolution Books will host 5 focused discussions on the new book: Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian.
1833 Nagle Place
Sundays, 3 pm
Reading & discussion of current issue of Revolution
June 7, Saturday, 7 pm
Revolution Books Book Group discusses Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian.
(between Cass &2nd, south of Forest)
May 28, Wednesday, 6:30 pm
Discussion of Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian. Taqueria Arandas Restaurant, 1807 Livernois Ave.
1158 Mass Ave, 2nd Floor, Cambridge
Weekly discussions on the new book Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World
May 27, Tuesday, 6:30 pm (Re-scheduled)
June 2, Monday, 6:30 pm
May 31, Saturday, 6:30 pm
Discussion of Raymond Lotta’s article “The Subprime and Credit Crisis: Financial Meltdown and the Madness of Imperialism,” from Revolution No. 127.
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
June 8, Sunday, 4-6 pm (and every Sunday)
Discussion of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity,” Part 2: Everything We’re Doing Is about Revolution: Meaningful Revolutionary Work: A culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization.”
Revolution #131, June 1, 2008
Revolution Newspaper's Expansion and $500,000 Fund Drive
At a moment when much of humanity finds itself in a living hell, when the horror of the U.S. occupation of Iraq threatens to escalate into a war against Iran, and when the future of the planet itself is threatened, Revolution newspaper must be out there much more boldly and much more broadly—exposing what is going on, revealing why, and pointing to a revolutionary solution in the interests of the vast majority of humanity.
from “Truth…in Preparation for Revolution!” (available at revcom.us)
Important things were accomplished in Revolution newspaper’s expansion and fund drive. People from all walks of life came forward and participated in raising funds for Revolution. Now, we are challenging people to donate “economic stimulus” tax rebate checks to something really worthwhile—the Revolution expansion and fund drive.
Much is at stake. If people are going to really understand what is going on, and if something good is to be pulled out of the current storms, a greatly expanded Revolution newspaper must be at the heart of that process.
Send checks or money orders to: RCP Publications, Box 3486 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654 or donate online at revcom.us/fund_en.php